Monday, July 15, 2013

Mama's taking us to the zoo tomorrow....

As part of my rediscovering Boston summer tour, yesterday we went to the Stone Zoo in Stoneham, MA (the smaller of the 2 zoos in Boston) on a whim.

It started with breakfast at a local dinner and me feeling kind of bad ass in my tight jeans and tank top with a drawing of a cat with wings sitting pretty.  I always feel kind of bad ass when I'm wearing a tank top and yesterday, doubly so given the return of the heat to Boston.

I saw, "Always be ready to have the time of your life" written on the specials board over the counter.  That and my attitude made me suggest we "do something."  My husband said, "Want to go to the zoo?"

Um... that's a silly question since 99% of the time the answer will be "YES!"  I let him pick which one and he chose the Stone Zoo.

I am glad to see the Stone Zoo is back up and running.  In 1990 the Commonwealth of MA and Zoo New England closed the place for financial reasons but a small group of volunteers formed the Friends of the Stone Zoo and fought hard and long to get the place reopened in 1992.  A fabulous and visionary head of Zoo New England helped to redesign and refocus the place into the small wonder that it is.

On the way there, the highway sign had an added bonus, "the koalas are here!"  Double score baby!  This was even better than the time a couple of years ago when the sign had "Jaguar Babies" on it because, well, one word: koalas.

Of course, the sign should have said, "The koalas are sleeping," but that's OK because that's what koalas do.  They were there in their fuzzy cuteness and it made me go squee.  They are part of an Australia exhibit that is there for the summer and I will go back at some point to see if I can catch them awake in their fuzzy cuteness to make me squee even louder.

Now the big laugh of the day was not from me singing the Kookaburra song to the kookaburra or me talking to the animals, it came from this:

 Yes, the roadrunner exhibit is next to the coyote exhibit.  I should have checked for the Latin names to see if they had "Accelerati Incredibilus" and "Carnivorous Vulgaris" or "Ultra-Sonicus Ad Infinitum" and "Nemesis Riduclii" or even "Birdius Tastius" and "Poultrius Devourius," but to be honest, I was too busy giggling about the situation.

I was also being stared at by people around me who didn't get the joke.  So it goes.

But along with the koalas, there are lots of babies this season.  There are the baby black and white colobus monkeys (which are cute and white and furry and hidden from view by the adults who form a monkey shield around them in the back of the pen).  There are also baby flamingoes that aren't pink yet.

There were three that I saw hanging out with the flock of adults just being all, "Hey, how's it going.  I'm a cute baby flamingo.  What are you up to?"  The flamingoes tend to smell really bad, particularly in the heat, but I didn't mind because the little fluff balls were just being so cool about the whole thing.

I was excited to see the capybara was back.  When the boys were little and we spent a lot of time at the Stone Zoo (back when Major the Polar Bear was alive), we'd always hang out and talk to the capybaras who are truly rodents of unusual size.  This is a photo of Scooter and he was just chilling with the llamas in the shade behind the educational resource center.

I have always described the Stone Zoo as the perfect toddler length zoo.  About the point your kid is done, you're back at the beginning.  For someone like me, I could spend a long time just hanging out watching one set of animals without feeling like I'm missing anything or having to rush.  For people who are leery of Franklin Park, this is a nice alternative.

It also sparked my desire to add "Ecotarium," which is part zoo, part science museum, to my list of summer rediscoveries - even though it's in Worcester and not Boston.  But if you're looking for a way to spend a nice afternoon, the Stone Zoo is the place to go.

And they have koalas.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

She cried "MO! MO! MO!"

 The Pigeon has been trying to drive the bus for 10 years.

Wow.  That means I was running the kids' section at Borders 10 years ago because the day that book came out, I read it for story time to a group of pre-schoolers who loved yelling, "NO!" when the pigeon just begged and begged to drive the bus.

It means little Chesley isn't so little anymore... particularly since he's a college graduate.  The book took on a whole new meaning for him after a bus driver in Poland let my son drive the bus - and the pigeon should know it's not all it's cracked up to be and it's more at the same time.

What can I say beyond what interesting and creative children I have.  Chesley has discussed his idea of a children's book in Latin, See the Bee Fart, with Norton Juster of "Phantom Tollbooth" fame.  He discovered he and Chris Van Allsburg have similar views about Dali and squirrels in a conversation.  The first time he met Eric Carle, the poor boy was tongue tied and, years later, has had some rather eloquent conversations with Eric about some odd subjects.  He and Mo Willems have joked about how he is one of a couple of dozen people who used to watch "The Off Beats" and "Sheep in the Big City." And that's only the beginning of how my children have been positively molded in unexpected ways.  All this has happened because of one magical place - the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Out in Amherst, MA, this hidden gem of Pioneer Valley is on the edge of the Hampshire College campus and always has a variety of events that inspire us to hop in the car and drive out from Boston on a regular basis.  Right now it's the exhibit "Seriously Silly," an exhibit of Mo Willems work, mostly his picture book stuff.  It coincides with the release of "Don't Pigeonhole Me" - a rather large book containing 20 years of his sketchbooks including the early versions of the book "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus."

What I loved were a million little details - the scavenger hunt to find the different color pigeons and the little bits of art around the bottom of the gallery at a kids' eye level.  It shows the process with sketches, detail and a short video of how an idea goes onto the page of his sketch book to being roughed, inked and then scanned to be cleaned and colored.

In the art studio, kids can create the pigeon and the bus as well as other things.   All in all, this is a wonderful little exhibit that reinforces the idea that rarely is art "perfect."  Something kids need to remember as they grow older.  Too often we see the finished product and not the process.  This is a delightful way to see the process and the product all together.  While this exhibit will be there for a while, the other two will not.

The Eric Carle gallery's "Feathers, Fins and Fur" is up until September first.  It's a wonderful chance to see not just the picture book stuff but also some of the tools Eric uses to create his art and some different mediums for him.

The small gallery in the middle has Robert Zakanitch's "Garden of Ordinary Miracles," a lovely A-B-C walk through a garden complete with a case of things like sticky notes with sketches and thoughts and ideas that runs through November.

When you're done there, there's always the Basketball Hall of Fame down the road in Springfield and the Dr. Seuss sculpture garden in Springfield, home of Ted Geisel.  I should also recommend a trip to the R. Michelson galleries in Northhampton, which have the original "Don't Pigeonhole Me" sketches as well as some original Dr. Seuss work and a whole slew of other children's artists as well as photos by Leonard Nimoy and beautiful artwork from many, many others.

I admit, if this little pocket of loveliness were on the coast, I would have moved there years ago but I'm just not a mountain girl... I'm an ocean girl.  At least I can hope in my little bug and head on out there to enjoy, and you should too.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

It's in the wiring....

There are three things on my "must see" this summer.  The first, the Michelangelo sketches before they left the MFA is done.  Number two: the Dead Sea Scrolls at the the Museum of Science is also now checked off.

Entering is a great quote, "None of the dead can rise up and answer our questions.  But from all they have left behind, their imperishable or slowly dissolving gear we may perhaps hear voices, which are only now able to whisper when everything else has become silent." The quote is from Bjorn Kurten, a Finnish paleontologist (and yes the They Might Be Giants Song got stuck in my head at that point - not helped the quote from Deuteronomy, "Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it...") and sets the tone for the whole exhibit.

The whole exhibit is built around a number of the finds that went with the scrolls themselves, namely the remains of day-to-day house lives that were buried along with the scrolls in the caves and such of the area.

But one thing that hit me: the foot bath.  That's right, a foot bath carved out of stone for ritual foot washing.  I think a lot about traditions mentioned in various bits of historic texts along the way and a big one is foot washing.  Keep in mind that I am Catholic educated and chose to throw my lot in with the Jewish people after lots of study, thought and discussion with all sorts of mentors along the way.  One thing that gets talked about in biblical materials is the idea of washing a guests feet.
foot bath

ritual tub
Now logically I know that it's a part of the world that is dry and dusty and when you're walking to get from here to, well, anywhere, your feet get nasty.  It's a practical thing to wash feet before entering the home to try and keep things clean.  But as I stood there, I wasn't thinking about Biblical admonishments about shaking the dust of an enemy from your feet or Jesus washing the feet of his followers or anything like that.  I was was thinking, "Perhaps my desire for a pedicure is hardwired to ancient times..." and glanced down at my neatly pedicured toes.

Yes, I can be that shallow at times.  On the other hand, the two big display points on the exhibit map were the foot bath on one side of the room and the bathtub on the other.  The bath tub wasn't a take a Saturday night bubble bath kind of thing.  It was from a religious ritual area in the caves where the scrolls and artifacts were found.  So whomever designed the exhibit had a big fixation point on those two pieces, giving them the same sort of map priority as the scrolls themselves.

There are various vessels of various importance peppered through out the exhibit, whether it's a carved jar or a goblet of some type or an ossuary used to collect the bones of the dead and be placed the family tomb.

I loved this basic utilitarian job with just a little bit of a decoration on it.  Think about the various bits and pieces of things we all have because the shape is kind of cool or the pattern is interesting.  So here's this standard storage jar from ancient days with a carving that's just kind of cool.

Hey, maybe we're not that different after all.

The story of the scrolls themselves is interesting in that a Bedouin shepherd found them while chasing a stray goat.  The people who ended up with them knew they had something, but no idea what.  In the end, through a bit of intrigue, all the scrolls ended up back together in Jerusalem.  Another odd thing about the scrolls that struck me, the night the scrolls were identified as something of serious value was the same night the UN voted to establish the state of Israel.

 The section on Masada had "potsherds" - shards of a broken pot with names written on them.  At Masada it is said that ten of the fighters were designated to kill everyone rather than surrender to the Romans.  Once that was done, one name was drawn to kill the other 9 fighters before killing himself.  The potsherds with the names on them give credit to the story.  It makes you ask yourself, what is so beyond the pale in your vision of the life, the universe and everything that would push you to killing yourself rather than accept that fate?

The scrolls are difficult to read.  In part because the scholars reassembling them during the Cold War years may have been scholars, but they weren't archivists.  They used things like scotch tape to hold pieces together, exposed them to air and sunlight as well as tobacco smoke.  I noticed the bit of Isaiah, the most commonly copied book in all the scrolls, on display (with the verse, "In the widow's mouth I was a prayer") was in the shape of the UK.  Now William Blake's "Jerusalem," as performed by Emerson Lake and Palmer, got stuck in my head.

There is a piece of the Western Wall there where you can leave a petition or prayer and it will be placed at the wall in Jerusalem.  There is the new tradition of exiting through the gift shop and then I exited to see the polarized mural.  For years I have looked at pieces of it but then it hit me: I have new, polarized lens sunglasses and put them on to see the whole thing at once for the first time.

It cemented the whole idea of a mind-blowing day at the Museum of Science for me.  In the end, I couldn't go through any other parts of the museum, not even my favorite dinosaur parts because it was too much to process.

Good thing I bought a membership on the way in and can go back again to revisit my dinosaur friends as I do like to imagine owning a pet triceratops named Spike that I could ride around and we would eat broccoli together and be best friends.

But that's for another day.....