Monday, April 29, 2013

Coastal Defense Study

When we got married, part of our ceremony was a reading from Kahil Gibran's essay on "Love."  He advised:
      "be together, but let there be space in your togetherness.
        The strings of the lute stand apart, though they quiver with the same music"

We've abided with that for the last forty years.  We have many interests in common--but he has some that I don't share, and vice versa.  And that's OK.  One of his areas of interest is military history, and he's a member of an organization called the Coastal Defense Study Group.  From time to time I've kissed him goodbye and let him take off for a few days to Texas or the Philippines so that he can spend time crawling over old fortifications.

But sometimes it's good to check out the other person's world.  Bob has been to the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival with me.  So when we found that this year's Coastal Defense tour was to be in Pensacola, I decided to go along.

Now if you want to know the significance of and the history of all of the fortifications we visited--you'll have to ask Bob or check out Wikipedia.  It's all kind of a blur to me. And many of them don't date to one specific time, because in a very medieval fashion they were rebuilt over the years to deal with new battles and new technology.  Most were started in the early 1800s.   But I still managed to enjoy myself.

We started at Fort Pickens.  I wrote about it when we visited a year ago August.  I must say--it's *much* pleasanter in April than August.  Much of Ft. Pickens is oddly beautiful.  I know that an arch is a practical way to build--it's the strongest way to frame an opening.  But it makes part of the fort look like a church.  Over the last century or so, much of the lime has leached out of the mortar, forming whitewash and ridges and stalactites.

Apparently there are two schools of aficionados of fortifications--the ones who like concrete, and those who favor brick.  I'm in the brick camp myself.  To get all of these curves right thousands of bricks had to be hand-shaped to the correct angles.  Look at the complex layers in this arch.
Appropriately for walking along the cannon edged fortification, a pirate ship came sailing by.  Well, not exactly sailing (seemed to be a lack of sails), but it still looked pretty cool.  Wonder if the cannons make them feel insecure?
The highlight of the day for me when we were walking along the ramparts and saw that the blackberry brambles held ripening fruit.  I was bending down to pick a snack and suddenly there was a soft but definite "thwump!"as a hawk hit the ground.  I don't know what he was after--a lizard or a mouse, maybe--but he was only a few feet in front of me.
I do have to say that the guys get their money's worth from these conferences.  After spending the whole day looking at a half-dozen or so fortifications (and having some unlocked so we could go where tourists aren't usually allowed) there was a break for dinner, then two hours of lectures and presentations.  I skipped that part . . .
In fact--I skipped the next day.  True to form--I woke up with a cold (something about vacations does that to me).  So I sent Bob of to that day's fortification viewing while I stayed in my jammies and read, knit, and napped.  Not a bad way to spend a day of vacation.  I did go along on the third day--because there was a ferry ride out to Dauphin Island involved.  Always love a boat ride.
I even sacrificed the cookie I was saving for my afternoon snack to the gulls that knew that tourists were usually good for a handout.
Otherwise--what can I say? Three more fortifications after we came back from the island.  More bricks, more concrete, more rust.  These guys will look at blobs of rust stains and get excited.  "See!!  Ten bolts, and they aren't symmetric!"  And there was much excitement when we were allowed into another off-limits area and they found a rusty hoist.
Oh, and somewhere around here was where Admiral Farragut made the famous statement of "Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!"  (torpedoes were actually mines back then).  One forgets that cliches do get their start someplace.
And then back home.  I enjoyed my little foray into Bob's world, even if I do not understand bricks and concrete and the secrets of rusty things.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Art and Gardens

 Yesterday was the annual "Chain of Art in the Park"--a high-end arts and crafts show. It poured down rain Friday and Saturday morning it was quite cold and wet--but the sun came out, the weather cleared, and it was a lovely day to stroll and admire creativity

Fine art, stained glass insects--a friend of mine does beautiful enamel work.  What I really love is her eye for texture--she gathers things like seed pods, makes molds, and then casts them in silver for the bodies of her insects.

This little guy followed me home.  I decided that I really needed a snail in the butterfly garden (he's a sprinkler)

We rested for a bit when we came home, and then worked for awhile in the gardens.  I say "gardens" in the plural because we seem to keep making more.  First, it was the vegetable garden.

Bob's latest addition to this is the rain catchment barrel.  He salvaged the inner tank from a water softener out of a building that's being torn down.  The idea is that it catches rainwater, and then we can drain it into the garden as needed.  I think it will hold a bit of water--and the paint job keeps it from sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb (besides, it was fun).

Then a couple of years ago we added the butterfly garden.  Next came the grass garden--it started off with a couple of pampas grass plants, then some volunteer bamboo, and then he added other grasses to help keep rainwater from running off and into the barn.  We've got aztec grass, and lemon grass (good for cooking), some others I can't remember, and the dragon head just for fun.  He put a solar light behind the dragon's head so the eyes light up at night.

Another garden is in the works.  The area behind the barn and my cottage had sort of turned into a catch-all for junk--old storage cabinents with older cans of paint--that sort of thing.  A few weeks ago we cleaned all of that up--and because it's protected by being between two buildings, we put in an orange tree and a lime tree.  No pictures yet--no much to look at but we're fixing it up.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Random Animal Shots

Bob has pointed out that the last few blog posts have not had cat pictures, which is against Margo's law. 

But before the cats come the birds.  We came home one day to our white peahen Ashley sitting among the explosion of azelea blossoms.

I've posted before about the owls that I get to handle at the museum.  They are beautiful, noble, and (usually) dignified birds.  I've been working with the barred owl for about three years now.  I usually try to see if she'll let me touch her--and I usually get snapped at.  But I was finally able to cautiously reach over her head without her being able to grab me--and when I finally started scratching her she suddenly blissed out, getting this look of "ohmygod why did I wait so long for this?"

Now for the obligatory cat pictures.  Nazgul has decided to contribute to our Art Installation:

RiverSong and Noko Marie think it's unfair that they don't get to go outside, and have to make do with a windowsill.
Finally, the big raspberry goes to my brother Michael, who saw the picture of my wee baby opossum and responded with "boy, that is ugly."  It's sort of unfair to judge an unfinished piece of work.  He's still not done--but I've been working on him.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Playing Hookey in the Swamp

We played hookey today.  I guess technically it really wasn't playing hookey--I put in a lot of hours last week so I didn't have to go in today, and Bob worked Saturday so he had today off--but it was a Monday, and we didn't go to work, so it felt like playing hookey.

Recently the weather has been pretty in the morning, and then kicks up a bit in the afternoon, so we decided to take the kayaks out early.  I've blogged quite a bit about drifting around in the lake, so what more can I say?  Except that we never tire of it.  There's something about the feel of that smooth glide when you first start paddling.  The kayaks will get us into areas that even small power boats can't go, so we have it to ourselves.

And the sounds!  I wish there were better words for sounds.  The high pitched screams of osprey, the gutteral grunts of herons, the weird pops and squaks from the gallenules (and the mad slapping of their feet on the water as they try to get airborn).  The "braackk!" of bullfrogs, the rusty-gate creaking of blackbirds, the splash of turtles plopping into the water, the louder mad thrashing of a startled alligator (sometimes followed by the fast paddling of the kayaker).  Sometimes you just have to chill out and listen.

Such a primitive beauty.  You feel that it would be natural to see some ancient prehistoric creature.  And then you do.

Big one--about 10 feet.  It was a good day for gator spotting--warm, but not hot, sunny, cool breezes.  Saw lots of little ones (3-6 feet).  And then we spotted GatorZilla.  Low in the water so we couldn't get a good picture, but you see a really big head, and then you see a huge tail about 10 feet after the head.  We're guessing 13-14 feet long--about as long and wide as Bob's kayak.  We didn't try to get too close.

As long as we were playing hookey, we went to a diner down the road for a hambuger.  It's a small enough place that we could place a special order--a hamburger where two grilled cheese sandwiches are substituted for the bun.  That's right--sandwich, hamburger, sandwich.  Crisp cheesy buttery meaty goodness.  And yes, we split one between us.  What the heck--had some fried pickle spears too.

So tomorrow we got to work.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Gowns of Goodwood

Free at last, free at last!  O thank God, I'm free at last!

The Gowns of Goodwood exhibit has opened--and my job is done!

I've mentioned this from time to time.  It's a fundraiser for the Goodwood Museum and Gardens (a lovely place, I have to say).  They wanted to do a display of gowns from the 1840s to the 1930s (corresponding with the different owners of the plantation).  My department chair asked if I could help out.

"Helping out" turned out to be "responsible for the gown portion of the exhibit".  Others did stuff like the fundraising, advertising, putting out displays of accessories, writing up information panels.  I did gowns.  Problem is--it's not much of a display if you just stick a dress on a hanger and dangle it.  So I had to scrounge a dozen or so dress forms.  To keep things interesting, our staging area was upstairs in the house--and no elevator.  I started in February to have time to fit the dresses--or, to be more accurate, fit the forms to the dresses. 

So . . . dress forms out of the storage area, down the hall to the elevator, on and off the elevator, down the hall to the loading dock.  Into the car, out to Goodwood, carry around to the back of the house, up the porch steps, through the kitchen and dining room into the hall and up the 24 steps of the curved staircase and thence to the bedroom.  Repeat.  They weigh about 25 pounds.

The forms are measured, the dresses are measured, and matched up.  For a few it just wasn't going to happen--some of those clothes were *tiny* and I had a limited number of forms.  So we bought three size 2 forms--and they're styrofoam.  I love them.  They weigh about 4 pounds.  Lovely.

But they didn't quite work.  Human bodies can twist and wiggle to get dressed--forms can't.  And the current popular silhouette is square-shouldered.  Many past silhouettes have rounded or sloping shoulders.  So the forms came home with me to have some "shoulderectomies" done.   (Did I mention that I love the fact that they are styrofoam?)

You can see the modification here:

It didn't stop there.  To fit the civil war gown, I had to take the entire form down another 3 inches.  My room is still covered in styrofoam dust.  But the finished result was worth it.
Sometimes even that wasn't enough.  We had a girl's gown from the 1840's that was impossibly tiny.  So out came the poster board and duct tape.  What's underneath isn't important.  I love all the detailed pleating on this one.  The close-up picture is in my workroom--and shows that even on a form a dress still isn't quite ready for display.  We spent two days with tissue paper and netting to fill out sleeves and skirts, and many hours with steamers to smooth the fabrics (I don't care what the ads selling steamers stay--ironing is *much* faster and easier--but you don't iron 100-year-old fabrics).  The second picture has been fluffed and steamed.


A few posts ago I showed some of the repair work I did on the wedding gown.  Here's the result:
The trick to fluffing out the sleeves in lace is to use nylon net (tissue would show).
A few more:

What with all the gorgeous gowns, the one I was taken with is the rather plain little skirt-and-blouse combination on the right of the group of three.  Perhaps because it was possibly for a working girl--and I have certainly felt like a working girl on this exhibit.  So I used it as inspiration for my opening-night dress (and may my hair forgive me for the teasing and hairspray)
I've been on the radio, I've been on the television, I've made it into the paper.  I'm proud, I'm tired, and I'm glad it's finished  (well, until June, when it all comes down and those bleepin' forms have to be put away)