May 31, 2007

Americans for the Arts Takes Over Flamingo

I'm here in the Flamingo hotel, Las Vegas, at the coputer kiosks at the registration room for the Americans for the Arts convetion. There is a buzz like no other this year. 800 folks attended last year's convention in Milwaukee but this one has attracted 1200 registrants. Is it the location, mystique or great persenters?

All of Humanity

All of humanity can be found on Southwest airlines. And when you're headed to Vegas they let it all hang out. You would think the party started on the flight. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young mom and her 14 month old terror who puked on me. Thought for the day - don't give your kid peanuts, cranberry juice and 7 Up. They, unfortunately, mix very well.

San Diego go go

Vegas is sow close to San Diego that I took an overnight side trip to visit my friend Julie for dinner and breakfast. The two of us have interesting parallels including living in Houston, England and San Francisco plus having worked at Business Arts Council.

So good to connect with her and get to see beautiful San Diego. Now back to Las Vegas for the Americans for the Arts conference. Gotta love Southwest Airlines.

May 29, 2007

Valley of Fire

When you think of Vegas you imagine The Strip. However, my mother and I have been here three days and have yet to go there. Sure, we see it in the distance but our destinations have all been in Las Vegas propper. I will admit that we've done a lot of shopping but we've also dont some fab adventuring.

Yesterday we explored Valley of Fire. Advised by our cousins to get there early, before the heat of the day, we arrived before the Memorial Day crowds. Just 40 or so miles outside of Las Vegas it was like being on another planet, literally. The landscape is breathtaking. To see photos visit this link (my shots to be uploaded later). There are thousands of petraglyphs.

This morning we're up at 7 am for a walk in Red Rock Canyon just a few miles from our cousins' house.

May 27, 2007

Inspirational Women

On the very, very long flights from London to Philly and on to Vegas I had the pleasure of watching two inspirational films centered around remarkable women. Beatrix Potter the story of the children's book artist and conservationist and Freedom Writers about life-changing high school teacher Erin Gruwell.

It may not seem that these two stories have much in common at first, but they touched me deeply and in surprisingly similar ways. These women had powerful visions of how they fit into the world, bucking traditional roles and using creativity to express their individuality. Each inspired others through books and writing. They never took NO for an answer and as a result were alienated by their families. Yet they made friends of the most unexpected sorts. Despite these obstacles, their work resulted in legacies that continue to benefit others.

Rent the films and see for yourself.

May 25, 2007

Leaving for Las Vegas

Tomorrow I depart for Las Vegas to attend the Americans for the Arts convention. For the start of the trip my mom is joining me to do a Thelma and Louise holiday, without the plunging ending. However, we are happy to pick up Brad Pitt if he needs a ride.

I will do my best to post but computer access may be limited. Leadership posts and convention reports on my other blog Career Goals: Take the Lead.

Catering American Style

Americans know how to cater a party. At least that’s what me and David, our American intern at work, proved yesterday at a reception for our organisation. Of course, being a non-profit, we had a very limited food budget (drinks were already covered). What can you get for 100 pounds ($200 +/-) to cover 60+ guests at an evening reception during the dinner hour? Leave it to me and David.

We hiked up to our local Sainsbury’s, with a side trip to show David the nearby canal, of course, and did a whirlwind shopping spree an hour before the event. Prior to our departure our work associates daftly advised us, “don’t do it American style with lots of sweets, only savouries.” Taking this as guidance and not an insult we kept their words in mind as we dutifully wandered the isles of this grocery superstore.

Finding the most economical veggie, dip, cheese, olive and crackers (aka biscuits) options, we took bets on the tally. I was certain we were over budget but David kept on insisting we didn’t have enough and were definitely under budget. He’s a finance person so I think he had a clue.

As we shopped we threw all British etiquette to the wind and wandered the isles, loudly commenting on prices, randomly asking staff for help and generally being menaces. Did you know that toothpicks are called something else in the UK? I think they're cocktail stabs or something. Now that I think about it toothpick is not an inviting term.

As I gesticulated with a staff person trying to explain toothpicks David had gone all California on the “ghetto style” grocery cart (his words not mine) for which we had to pay a 1 pound deposit. He cleverly tinkered with the coin holder and got his coin out.

College Advisor: David, what did you learn on your UK internship?

David: How to finagle my deposit money out of a ghetto style shopping trolley.

College Advisor: Good man, you’ve made our country proud.

David: Oh yeah, and how to cater a party on a shoestring budget

College Advisor: I see a future for you in non-profits.

We get to the checkout and boldly inform the checker that we’ve taken bets on the total. At first she is not amused but as we cheered each item as she rang them up I think she felt the power of positive thinking. By the end she too was taking bets. Grand total: 51 pounds. Great news, we’ll go back for more. And so we went back into the bush to scavenge more grub. We finally topped out at 81 pounds. That's the American spirit.

Preparing the spread and placing it on the buffet table, for now it was a buffet in our minds and not some simple finger food gathering, our associates were impressed. Of course we had the one plate of cookies aka biscuits (why are both sweet and savory biscuits called the same thing and not cookies and crackers which makes so much more sense?)

All night the guests commented on the quality of the catering. We had only one black mark against our spread, no butter for the biscuits. Well, frankly, that’s plain weird. So with that one criticism aside we felt very satisfied with ourselves. Even the little pickles were munched up and that was our one risk item.

I will admit that the only plate that was full at the end was the sweet biscuits selection.

May 23, 2007

Finally, Etchings Exposed!

Too many etching chemicals results in funky self-portraits. Here I am preparing to enter the aqua tint room.

Tonight was my final etching class at the London Print Studio. I loved the entire five week series and will miss my Wednesday destination. Here are some shots of the studio, our inky table, and the press being turned.

I'm very please with my final work which derived from photo I took in March at Harpers Ferry in Virginia. Here is the original photo and then a black version, reverse image and finally, two colors.

May 20, 2007

Searching for Third Place

Working in the social sector I often refer to the concept of Third Place when it comes to building community around a non-profit organisation. The idea is that in our lives most of us have a first, second and third place in which we dwell. First is usually home, second work and third traditionally has been a communal, comfortable place where we connect with like minded people. In the past this could have been a religious group or perhaps an art group. In modern times it is often Starbucks or a favourite pub.

Third place has taken on new meaning in the cyber age. As I keep moving around the world I maintain a string of internet linkages to my family and friends that is fast becoming my third place. For instance, this blog may very well be my third place. I write a tidbit about my happenings every few days and trust that there are people out there reading my notes. It is a bit one sided except for a few readers who write comments. So, is it really a community that I’m building or more of a voice I keep putting out there to maintain some kind of continuity and presence?

I am in search of a third place that takes me beyond the computer screen since that already occupies much of my work day. The etching course I took allowed me to do something different from the day to day ordinary. It feels like perhaps the studio could be my third place, reminiscent of my college years happily spent in the darkroom.

But really my third place needs to thread through my life on a daily basis. In San Francisco and even to some extent Houston this came in the form of all the organisations in which I was involved. My closest friends were the people that were also passionate about these projects. I have yet to make this kind of community connection in London.

May 17, 2007

Making an Impression

I've just completed my fourth week of etching at the London Print Studio and it has been a tremendous experience. It is so nice to have a non-work hobby, a place to get dirty with no consequences. These are my images from the first four classes - this last week's work is still drying.

May 13, 2007

Surreal Thing

Surrealism is a state of mind, at least that’s how I felt after viewing the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition on Surrealism and Design. Here’s a surreal photo of Stephen with my new mobile phone lens by Gummi. You can tell how happy he was to be at the exhibition.

Here's Stephen having recovered from the exhibition. It's the real thing.

May 10, 2007

Select Your Title

Want to feel super special for the day? Maybe you’ve fancied having a regal title? Then I suggest you visit the Yorkshire, England visitor website and signup for their email list. They ask you to “Select your title” in the registration form and here are the options on their pull-down menu:

Gosh, I am so ordinary and just picked Mrs although last year I could have fit under Professor. Perhaps I’m actually a Lady?

Noticeably absent are King and Queen. I suppose they don’t imagine Queen Elizabeth II is computer literate and Charles is still just a Prince so no King title needed as of yet.

Go ahead, be a Princess today. I've just changed my title to Professor since that was a career highlight.

May 8, 2007

Day Tripping in Oxford

Today I had yet another work holiday, a four day weekend all told. So, I took a day trip to Oxford. Why have I waited so long? The train trip was less than an hour and it felt like I stepped back in time by a couple hundred years. Making the visit even more enjoyable was the audio tour I downloaded to my iPod for $10 from Tourist Tracks.

Eager to get into the country as soon as possible I began with audio tour 3 exploring Christ Church. One of the largest colleges at the University of Oxford it is the most idyllic as it sits a quarter of a mile from the River Thames which locals call The Isis. Fields bordering the river were filled with yellow and white wild flowers and a meandering herd of cows.

This team of rowers looked to be pre-teen, got to start them young if you want to win the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race.
Oxford was once surrounded by a stone wall which still stands tall near Christ Church.

Speaking of standing tall, Tour 2 took me to Oxford University Museum of Natural History to view bits and pieces of impressive dinosaurs. From outside this looked to be a solid stone building but once inside the Victorians' love for glass ceilings was fully visible.

On display are the remains of the remains of the last known Dodo. That is to say, when the bird became extinct they had the only remaining bones and an egg by which to prove that this bird ever existed. According to Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything, the Museum apparently, accidentally, disposed of the bones. So, only the egg remains. In fact, they aren't even certain how the bird looked so the model they have on display is only an estimation.

Tour 1, yes, I know I went backwards, took me to one of the most architecturally beautiful spots on my visit. The Radcliffe Camera, which I had hoped would be a Camera Obscura because of the building’s round shape, turns out is a reading room (camera being Latin for room). It is picturesque none the less.

Across the plaza is Saint Mary the Virgin’s Church which has a secret tower. For a few pounds I threw safety to the wind and took a climb. It felt a bit like a pending Mafia hit as I went through back doorways, up obscure staircases, onto the roof, around pigeon nests, up a stone staircase that barely held my feet and then emerged at the feet of a Saint.

The view was amazing and here I have shots of The Radcliffe Camera from above as well as All Souls’ College and The Queen’s College. All Souls’ College is interesting in that it has neither undergraduate nor graduate students. There are just 75 to 80 Fellows conducting research. All that space for so few people.

Prior to returning to London, a city with far too little space and many people, I visited the Covered Market. These secret shopping areas are my favorite finds. The little shops ranged from produce, flowers and prepared foods to the expected touristy stuff. Here a butcher plucks and prepares pigeons. Yum. The baker is preparing a graduation cake made of fondant. Ah yes, my favorite white cake with white icing. Just in my dreams since I’ve now learned, through personal exploration, that the cake is actually fruitcake. Sometimes I miss ye olde Safeway bakery.

May 7, 2007

Walk for Life

June 10 I will be Walking for Life 10K raising funds for HIV & AIDS Giving Hope to People in Poverty. I'm joining Stephen's office associates in a team called The Fifth Business Sauntering Society.

Consider sponsoring me at

May 5, 2007

Canal Cavalcade

Along my favourite stretch of London’s Inland Waterways is this weekend’s Canal Cavalcade, a celebration of the boats, people, art and traditions of the canal boat way of life. The heart of the celebration is an area called Little Venice where the Grand Union and Regents Canals meet at Paddington Basin. The junction is a 10 minute walk from our flat.

The canal is overflowing with boats that have migrated here for the event. Each are done up in their finest with all the surfaces polished. Although I’ve admired these boats for months yesterday was the first time I fully appreciated the artwork adorning their internal and external surfaces. Colourful, glossy scenes of all sizes depict imaginary castles, canals and bridges all surrounded by flowers. This photo (from captures the artwork on the back doors of the inner cabin – a popular spot for paintings.

The festival includes a collection of booths selling all kinds of knickknacks created or previously owned by canal boat owners. There are several types of people that live in these vessels and each has their unique collection of stuff for sale. Some offer maps and self-published books about canals. Others have prepared jams and fudges. My favourite are the hand painted tin items that feature the Roses and Castles artwork.

Categorising folks would go something like this:

Tried and True – folks who are second and possibly third generation of boat dwellers. Their anachronistic style of living is a reminder of the Victorian roots of these boats. The men have sunburned faces, beards and handkerchiefs knotted around their necks and their wives are often next to them on the stern of the boat with their family dog loyally standing at their feet.

RV Retirees - folks who have chosen this as a retirement lifestyle, roaming England via the waterways.

Off the Gridders – these folks have their boats moored in groups. The vessels appear to be filled with bits and pieces of stuff that is sun bleached and cob-webbed. Their windows are covered over with bumperstickers that profess green living.

Alternative Lifestylers - The most surprising set of folks are the ones in their twenties who seem to live an alternative lifestyle on these vessels – as though they have dropped out of society and prefer to live in groups, drink beer and kick back on the roof. I suppose it is a bit like communal living on the 70s.

As we walked around the festival and enjoyed the crafts and food we happened upon a long boat company giving rides. We joined the cue and lucked out with the last two seats amongst a crowd of at least 75. The two hour roundtrip adventure took us into tunnels, through the London Zoo, past countless boats to Camden Lock. On our return trip there were fewer riders and we were able to spread out and fully enjoy the relaxing ride. Back at Little Venice the crowds were thinning and all the ducks and geese had their chicks and goslings out for evening exercise. It was really spectacular. If the weather is nice I’m heading back today to try kayaking!

May 3, 2007

Pigeon Feeding Eccentrics

Pauline, one of my work associates, identified with my pigeon frustration story and explained that here in the UK there is a brand of person called the Pigeon Feeding Eccentric. I think she coined the phrase.

I could immediately picture the type. There is definitely one of these PFE's providing our resident pigeon and his ladies with plenty of dry lentils and rice – directly below our bedroom window.

Photo provided by Pauline.

The following is a link to a New York Times article from October 2006 called Pigeon Wars. It even mentions pigeon feeding and eccentrics in the same sentence. I think we’re on to something.

May 2, 2007

Crap Speller

Okay, you've noticed, I am the world's worst speller. In fact in my post earlier today I wrote "weather" and then later looked it up on the internet and actually changed it to "whether". Other classics include Spring Weading instead of Wedding.

The beauty of blogging is that it is quick and painless. So, sometimes my spelling is well, painful.

Go ahead, embrace the nuances. I'm making up my own version of English.

Spring and Fold

So you've heard that London is grey, foggy, wet? I am witnessing otherwise. Global warming or urban legend we're not sure but why second guess great weather?

As I was taking this photo of the community garden outside our flat I was lucky enough to see a woman on her folding bike. This is huge in London - the folding bike craze. I've been scoping out options which range from 150-600 ($300-$1200). The most popular being the Brompton Folding Bike which springs into fold position as soon as its lifted. What happens when you hit a bump, I keep wondering.

If I get a folding bike it will fit in our flat and I can carry it upstairs to my office at work. Riding to work would be 80% along canals which is beautiful. I tried walking to work - took two hours. Monday I tried a different route from work to home and it again took me two hours. The time isn't of concern because I love walking but arriving at work tired before you start is not an easy way to start the day.

Our Head of Finance at work was telling me that the government allows employers a tax break if they provide breakfast to their employees who ride bikes to work. I can just imagine my eating frenzy - Eggs Benedict, Pancakes, French Toast (all in caps because they are so yummy) resulting in a sugar crash. Now that does sound appealing.

Illustration from Brompton Bikes website.