Saturday, June 16, 2018

Manet, Rousseau, Rivera - OH MY!

Walking up to the house through the gardens
Last week I was one member of a group lucky enough to tour a local area resident's art collection.  Now, when I say art collection, I mean ART COLLECTION.  Yes, this is someone who played with the big boys. Someone who has sold art at Christie's for almost $30 million. But someone who also was the most gracious host.  Who welcomed us at the door of his home in a jacket and tie.  Who, despite the publicly-recognized masterpieces hanging throughout his home, showed me his most precious artwork:  a drawing done by his granddaughter, installed above his desk.

That was the perfect illustration of an art collection built of items that were loved and appreciated.  Yes, the collection had impressive artworks, but most had been purchased by the owner (or his parents) before the artists were famous. They were purchased because the owner loved the artwork and also thought the artist had potential.  The scope of what he loves is very broad.  There were surprises at every turn.  Contemporary assemblage was displayed on the wall next to turn-of-the-century photography.  I couldn't take pictures of everything nor find titles for the works, but here are some of the "big name" pieces I saw.

Manet:


 Rousseau:




Picasso:






Lautrec:



Rivera:


Any favorites?


Monday, June 11, 2018

A Very Good Day



I was able to surprise my dad for his 89th birthday.  Happy birthday, Papa!  A very good day.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Climbing to Condors

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you might have seen this picture not too long ago.



It's an endangered California condor.  We hiked in Pinnacles National Park, along the Hike Peak Trail to Condor Gulch, for the chance to see it.

First off, did you even know about Pinnacles National Park?  The area had been known as the Pinnacles National Monument but in 2013, President Obama redesignated the area, along with an additional 3000 acres, as a National Park. It was new to me.

The craggy landscape seems to spring out of nowhere. The park only gets about 150,000 visitors per year, mostly in the spring and winter.  The temperature can reach 112°in the summer and fall.  That's definitely something to consider before you visit, especially since there's limited shade and no water along the trails.

The day we hiked the temperature was about 85°.  That was warm enough, thank you very much.  In the park literature, the hike we took is labelled as "strenuous".  I'm not in that great of shape but with several rest and water stops along the way, I made it.  We finished the 6.5 miles in about 3.5 hours, including condor viewing and water and rest stops, climbing 97 floors according to our iPhones.

We hiked to the ridge-line saddle you can see in the picture below, where the large form the left side of the picture comes down. The final destination: the stand-alone rock "tower" you can see on the right.  That's where the condors sometimes gather and fly on the updrafts.




There were some sections of the trail where I was thankful the engineers had come before me, cutting stairs out of the rock and adding metal railings.  These all appeared by  narrow and steep inclines with nice drop-offs to the side. 



I stopped often to catch my breath and enjoy the views.  




All that's left to do is hike to the back side of that large outcropping.  It was a bit of a tease.  We seemed so close, but alas, we had to go down slightly before we could climb up.


Seeing the condors wheeling and soaring was amazing.  They have a 9 1/2 foot wingspan.  It's hard to imagine and appreciate that size because they're flying in the open expanse.  Still, we were lucky.  A few soared close enough to get a good sense of scale.  Did you know they weigh 20 pounds?

We also watched large ravens play.  They flew up high and then tucked their wings in, doing barrel-rolls as they swooped downwards.  I'd never seen such behavior before.  Eventually we had to head back down, taking the trail you can see in the picture below.  Not much cover, is there?



Hopefully we can head back to explore other trails in the park, such as the trails through   the caves to see roosting bats.  I recommend this park to anyone interested in some rugged scenery and some good exercise.  A few endangered condors certainly adds to the appeal.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Letter Writing

My youngest is spending the next three months in Wyoming.  She's working as the infirmary assistant at a backpacking / riding / outdoor camp.  She won't return until three days before she has to move back into her college dorm.  

I know she's going to have fun.  The camp has permits that allow them to pack trip, hike and climb in the Tetons and in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  I wonder if she's going to learn how to make splints out of branches or how to treat the flu with plants from the forest.  I know she had three days of wilderness first aid training coming up.....

because the camp is in the middle of nowhere.  There's no cell service or WiFi in camp.  That means, old school communications. Old school = snail mail.  I'm prepping for lots of letter writing.

I'm not like a prolific letter writer like Thomas Jefferson or John Adams, both of whose letters were rich and poetic.


Thomas Jefferson Letter to Reverend John Barrow, May1, 1815
Image from University of Cincinnati digital library
No, my letters are very dull by comparison.  I mean, how often can I engage my daughter talking about the basil in my garden?  How can I write lyrically about the daily turf war raging between me and the resident chipmunk family?  Nor do I think The Youngest wants to hear about hot flashes, my deep thoughts about politics and culture, or the themes from the latest book I read.  

Enter the postcard.  I can write snippets and send them off.  They'll be far more entertaining for her than a tome about mulching or dog walking.  And, with this nifty product I found, I can customize each card.  I simply print out one of my pictures on paper, and stick it to the back of the adhesive, pre-printed postcard.  



Look how some of them turned out!  I admit that I took a little memory joy-ride as I was sifting through my albums, finding good pictures to print.




I think they'll also be fun for her to receive.  I'll probably still make a few fabric cards, but these are so quick and easy.  I can probably make and send a few each week.  I managed to get my first off today.  I have lots more to make, to get her through the entire summer.  What do you think; shall I make a card with this picture? 



Too much?  Probably.

All that aside, I do enjoy writing letters and would like to do so more frequently.  It's fun to get something beside junk mail and bills in the mail. Anyone want a pen pal?  

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Migraines

Do you get migraines?  If so, you're one of the estimated nearly ONE BILLION people worldwide who suffers from them.

I get them.  Those are the days when moving is difficult.  When light causes terrible pain.  (How can something that doesn't have form hurt so much?)  I'm nauseous.  All I want to do is lie in a fetal position in a dark room, jamming my fist into my right eye socket.  Scooping out a section of my brain with a spoon seems very appealing. No anesthesia necessary.



It's no surprise, then, that I was very interested in attending a recent screening of "Out of My Head", a documentary film about migraines.  The filmmakers interviewed doctors, migraine sufferers, and their families/caregivers to show how devastating migraines can be, as well as to illustrate some of the difficulties in treating migraines, since they don't present the same way in all people.   A few facts from the film:

*  Migraines are passed along maternal lines. 

*  75% of migraine sufferers are women.

*  Many neurologists don't want to treat migraine sufferers because there's no "cure", no definitive and permanent way to solve the issue.

*  Funding for migraine research is not commensurate with the number of people they afflict nor the $100+ millions of dollars lost due to worker absences on account of migraines.  At the time of filming, only $20million was allocated to funding research.  

* A migraine is more than a headache, though for some it results in enhanced creative output.   Apparently Georgia O'Keefe suffered from migraines and painted things as she saw them during a migraine.  During the Q&A afterwards with the filmmakers, some audience members shared their stories about creativity arising from their pain.

* Your head and your gut are incredibly connected.  Twenty percent of migraine sufferers have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and 20% of IBS patients have migraines. There's also abdominal migraine, which typically afflicts children, and manifests as nausea and vomiting when no other symptoms are present.  My eldest struggled with this.  

A new drug targeting migraine prevention, called Aimoveg, has just been approved by the FDA.  It's the first drug of its kind.  It will definitely provide relief to some.  Hopefully its success will spur other large pharmaceutical companies to invest in migraine prevention medication.  

Do you get migraines?  I hope not.  But if you do, you're not alone.  Learn more and/or be part of the broader migraine community at the American Migraine Foundation. And, there are still opportunities to see "Out of My Head" in the NY metropolitan area and beyond.

(Graphic taken from American Migraine Foundation website)

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Work in Progress

I have a few projects with looming deadlines. I get distracted if there are multiple pieces on my design wall.  Because of that, I wanted to clear off a work in progress that doesn't have a "due by" date.  Besides, all my cut pieces were all over my sewing table.

My goal is to create the feel of ocean waves with the colors and the piecing.  I first wrote about this project here, last October.  Yes, I know; it hasn't moved for months.  (That's a solid clue to how busy I've been with other things.)  This past week, Foam (working title) got some TLC.   I've finished the segments that will make up the larger panels.  But now I don't know.  Do you think the bottom panel looks busier?  Choppier?  I'm inclined to rearrange some of the segments.  What do you think?

"Foam", a work in progress

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Little Bit of Fizz

I ate too much at lunch.  My stomach is like a rock in my mid-section and I have a food baby.

Enter the carbonated beverage.  Thank heavens for those tiny bubbles.  They're my go-to whenever I've consumed more than my good sense should allow me to.

My entry into the 2012 Quilting Arts "Coffee or Tea" challenge.

I don't drink soda anymore, but I almost always prefer cold and fizzy drinks to something warm.  (And let me stop you right there.  No, I don't drink tea or coffee.)  As I sipped my "tonic" this afternoon, I wondered about carbonation.  So I did a bit of digging.

Here's some of what I learned:

* "Impregnating Water with Fixed Air" was the name of the 1772 scientific pamphlet written by scientist Joseph Priestly, describing the apparatus he designed to instill water with carbon dioxide bubbles.  (Fixed air = carbon dioxide) His initial intent was to discover a way to limit meat putrefaction aboard ships and combat scurvy.

* Joseph Priestly, it turns out, was a very important scientist.   He's credited with identifying eight different gases including oxygen, which was named by someone else.

* Priestly described the carbonated water he created as "an exceedingly pleasant sparkling water, resembling Seltzer water." To be clear, Priestly wasn't referring to what we know as seltzer water.  Instead, he was referencing the properties of the waters found in the springs around Seltzer, Germany. Many historians consider this discovery to be critical to the development of pneumatic chemistry.  ("Powerful Effervescence," Science History, 2008)

* Jacob Schweppe, an amateur scientist and an acquaintance of Priestly's, expanded on Priestly's work. In the 1780s, Schweppe introduced artificially created sparkling mineral water.  It was the precursor to today's carbonated beverage industry and, with the introduction of some flavored syrups, evolved into Schweppe's Ginger Ale.

* Some sources say that Thomas Jefferson sought Priestly's advice as Jefferson planned University of Virginia.

* Priestly was a highly regarded polymath and his scientific books were best sellers. 


Sorry that I didn't recognize your name, Mr. Priestly, or your accomplishments.

Joseph Priestly
© Royal Society of Chemistry, Library


Monday, May 14, 2018

The Wall Street Journal Praises Tim Gunn

I've enjoyed watching Project Runway over the years.  Some years there are designers I root for.  Other years I get especially annoyed by the drama.   Every season I'm fascinated by the creative process.  And I'm a bit smitten with Tim Gunn.  He such a wonderful mentor and I'm always impressed by his guidance.  He's one of the reasons I watch the show, season after season.  

It appears I'm not alone.

In October of 2017, The Wall Street Journal published an article called, "Seven TV Shows Every Executive Should Watch" by Alexandra Samuel.   The subtitle was "What you can learn from Tim Gunn, 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine', 'The Young Pope' and more."

You can access the article through this link.   Since I'm not certain how many of you have a subscription to the WSJ, I thought I'd transcribe the section about Tim Gunn here on my blog.  I think the author was spot-on in describing what is so special and effective about Tim Gunn's help in the work room.  (She also makes an interesting observation about the creative process. too.)  We could all benefit from Tim Gunn's critical review and feedback process in our lives.  (The excerpt, photo and image caption below were all taken from the article updated on October 27, 2017.)
==============

Tim Gunn offers a master class in giving feedback on 'Project Runway'. PHOTO: BRAVO TV/EVERETT COLLECTION
Project Runway:  This long-running reality show is a laboratory for the creative process, since each season challenges a group of fashion designers to create a new outfit every single week.  One week they might be asked to create a ready-to-wear ensemble for a working woman, while the next week they have to assemble an outfit out of materials they collect at a hardware store.  Each week's aesthetic mandate and materials list offers a reminder of the value of constraints in fostering creativity: The best designs often emerge from the challenges that offer the least flexibility.  The other key ingredient? Skilled mentorship.

The mentorship comes from Tim Gunn, who provides feedback on each designer's work in progress -- and can teach any executive how to give better feedback.

Step 1: Before providing feedback on someone's work, check in on their goals.  Mr. Gunn always begins by asking what the designer is trying to achieve, so that his feedback is keyed to supporting their vision, rather than his own.

Step 2: Share your most important resource -- your professional history and experience.  Mr. Gunn's feedback often consists of pointing out when someone is echoing the work of a designer they may not know about, or if they're trying to execute a design that won't be feasible with their chosen fabric.

Step 3: If you've got negative feedback, articulate the problem directly, and then invite -- but don't impose -- a solution.  When Mr. Gunn sees that someone's in trouble, he tells them exactly what the issue is, and then points them in a direction to find their own solution.  If you want to deliver feedback that is candid and effective -- without being unkind -- this show is a master class.
===

Thoughts?


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Oil and Vinegar

Olive oils and wine vinegars, that is.

When I did a ride-along on my husband's recent business trip to Napa, I had a day to myself to explore.  The typical Napa activity is wine tasting, hopping from vineyard to vineyard sampling their wares.  That seemed a bit irresponsible for me.  I was on my own and didn't want to drink and drive.

Instead, I headed to Round Pond Estate to sample their olive oils and wine vinegars.  I hadn't even known that was something to do.




A few things I learned about olives:
1) Many vineyards will plant rosebushes at the row ends of their vineyards.  If there's something wrong with the soil, rose bushes will falter or exhibit signs of the problems pretty early.  I was told, "They shout pretty loudly when they're unhappy." On the other hand, grape vines don't let you know something's amiss until it's too late.  Because the roses will broadcast the news loud and clear, a vintner can address an issue before it becomes a crisis.  Interestingly, olive trees are also an "indicator" species of plant.  They're planted along the perimeter of the fields.  They share the news differently, but just as thoroughly.



2) All olives are green..... and black.  Green olives will mature into black olives.  There's not a varietal that starts off black and stays black.

3) There's about a six week window for harvesting olives in Napa: November through mid-December.  The "greener" the olive oil tastes, the "thicker" it feels on your tongue, the more likely it is that the olives in the oil were harvested earlier in the season.  Milder, smoother, "lighter", more buttery oils are made from more mature olives.

4) The proper way to sample olive oil is to taste it straight from a cup.  Just sip it, hold it on your tongue for a few seconds and swallow.  Bread is not involved.

CONFESSION: I don't eat olives on their own.  I don't particularly care for tapenade.  I like to dip bread in olive oil and balsamic vinegar in moderation.  Olives on their own don't have a flavor that's on my top-10 list.

You can imagine my surprise at how much I enjoyed tasting the different oils, how intriguing it was to discover how the various olive oils felt on my tongue.  How, in some cases, a lovely aftertaste lingered, and strengthened, after swallowing.  It was all very good.  I also enjoyed adding a bit of garlic and chili powder flavored olive oil to one of my samples.  (That's the orange-ish one.) Yum!

                                    

5) Olive trees don't start producing fruit for about five years.  Most producers will wait about eight years before they use the fruit in their oils.

6) Unlike a wine grape, the composition of the soil doesn't really impact the flavor of an olive.

7) Olive trees live and bear fruit for centuries. Apparently, there's a 2,000 year old olive tree in Jordan that's still bearing fruit.

A few things I learned about wine vinegars:
1) Specialty wine vinegars are made from the same grapes as the wines.  The end result is just very different.

2) The proper way to sample wine vinegar is with sugar cubes.  Yes, sugar cubes.  Dip a sugar cube into the sample cup to soak up a bit of the vinegar and then suck out the fluid.  The sugar will neutralize the acid of the vinegar and enable you to taste the flavor of the vinegar.  Until I tried this, I didn't have a sense of the variety of flavors. I responded, more or less, to the acidity of the vinegar.





3) Sugar cubes soaked in white wine vinegar can, if you can get it into your mouth before it crumbles, taste like candy.  Wonderful candy.

4) It's not a given that the grapes used to make a wine, will also work successfully as a vinegar blend.  The winemaker will assess the varietals and percentages that work best in both compositions.  Organic chemistry is a plus here.

I highly recommend this sort of outing to anyone heading to Napa.  It's a bit of fun off the beaten path.  Let me know what you discover!



Friday, April 27, 2018

Fiddlesticks Redux

A few weeks ago, I sent off Part I of a collaborative quilt  We were supposed to use fabric from the selection we'd received to create the beginning of a quilt, using the prompt "half" to guide us, in whatever way we were inspired.  You might recall, my part didn't go exactly as planned. Nonetheless, I sent off my half, at least knowing that what I was sending off could be worked with.



Here's what my partner, Virginia Quith, wrote as she tried to work with what she'd received:

My partner, Vivien Zepf, indicated that she had tried to make the center pieced part equal the surrounding hand-dyed muslin part, or 'half'. But somehow her calculations didn't quite work out, hence, "Fiddlesticks"! So, I took the math to hand, did pages of calculations numerous times, adding square inches of left over pieced bits around the edges but it was then WAY too big. SO I went back to the math, subtracting some of the plain area and then adding pieced bits to match up. I might have come closer to showing half pieced bits and half hand-dyed but FIDDLESTICKS REDUX! The math and measuring was driving me mad. So I incorporated it into the design and left it at that.

I used a feature on my sewing 'computer' that previously I had not tackled, namely script stitch. Supposedly, I could program strings of numbers (therefore calculations) in, then push a button and they come stitching out. What I did not know is that there is little warning between numbers. So it was very difficult to make them look like my actual scrap paper math notes. I decided to go with the "fiddlesticks" concept and keep going. I like the way it kind of looks a little like graffiti. This plain area also has a glistening appearance to it with drops of purples, orange, and blue. Incorporated into the pieced sections are bits of orange and blue silk shantung which makes it all very stunning in person!

And now for the reveal:


I sent unused pieced sections to Virginia, and I like how she incorporated them into the final design, along with her "calculation quilting".  FUN!

My other partner had some family matters to attend to, so I received her "Part I" quilt not too long ago.  Now I have to try to work from her piece and inspiration.  It's harder than I expected to pick up where someone else has left off, particularly if you don't immediately connect with their interpretation of the prompt.  I'm working on it and we'll see how it goes.

Until next time, thanks for reading and be well.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

More Content, if you please

Surprise!
Picture by Vivien Zepf
Lately, I've felt that my world is expanding.  I keep learning new things and it's so exciting.

I've decided that I'm going to share these new things with you here on my blog.  I've occasionally strayed off the art and book topics that were the primary focus of my blog in the past.   But now, I'm going to be more open-ended about what I post.  As I learn stuff, I'm going to share stuff.  It's an anything-goes mentality, though I don't anticipate exploring anything too off-color.  I don't think I'll be espousing political points of view, either.  

The spark for this "blog expansion" was a recent trip to Napa.  My husband had to attend a business conference and piggybacking on his trip was a great way to go somewhere I'd never been.  See new things.  Learn something new.  And I did, and now I can't wait to share them with you.

You can still come here for posts about art -- mine and what's on view in galleries and museums, plus my thoughts on my docent experience, along with posts on books and my photography.  But they'll also be more.  At some point soon, for example, there's going to be a post about olive oils and vinegars, based on a sampling I did while in Napa.

So, what do you think of this new plan? Are you up for the broader content?

Until next time, thanks for reading and be well.

Monday, April 16, 2018

"Through Our Eyes" Training

Redwood Forest, Katie Pasquini Masopust
80" x 76"
The Hendricks Collection
For two days, I worked with volunteers of the Upper Westchester Muslim Society to prepare them for a special tour they'll be a part of at the KMA.  On April 28th, they'll be sharing personal responses to the artwork that's on display as part of the Long, Winding Journeys exhibition.  Each of the volunteers selected one artwork that connected to them, not just visually, but also to their personal stories.  What they plan to share is very poignant and thought-provoking.   I hope you can join us at 2:30PM at the Katonah Museum of Art on April 28th for this special, "Through Our Eyes" tour.

** In case you're wondering why this post begins with an image of this beautiful piece by Katie Pasquini Masopust, it's because Katie was kind enough to give me permission to use the picture of this artwork for training.  I shared this artwork in order to sample a response for the UWMS volunteers because I absolutely love this quilt.  I have for years.   I connect to it on a variety of levels and it was, actually, hard to share a response that was limited to under five minutes.  I can't remember the first time I saw this quilt, but I can say that I've never forgotten it.  Some things just stay with you, don't they?




Tuesday, April 3, 2018

United We Quilt

I spotted a request for quilts for an on-line gallery called, United We Quilt.  Did anyone have a quilt that spoke to themes such as the environment, reproductive rights, free speech, or immigration?  My totem from 2012, "A Show of Hands", seemed a perfect fit.  I sent in an image and now, there it is, on the website.  You can find it in both the Voting and Immigration galleries.  Check it out here, along with all the other quilts they've included.
  
"A Show of Hands"

Detail, "A Show of Hands"

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Collaborative Quilt Project

I forgot to tell you I was participating in a collaborative quilt project!

A month and a half ago, I posed some questions regarding collaborative work on a post on the online forum, QuiltArt.  The next thing I knew, I was part of a group of artists responding to the prompt, "half".

Each participant was tasked with creating a piece that would be sent on to another group member to finish.  The goal: make something that somehow responded to the prompt, but that also left room for creativity from the second participant.

The organizer, Cynthia Busc-Snyder, sent everyone a packet of muslin, black fabric, and hand-dyes to get started.  I gathered scraps to complement the hand-dyes.  I intended to make a composition that would take up half the available (geometric) area of the 10" x 10" canvas the final pieces would be mounted onto.

Lovely, lovely scraps

Next, I started to piece the strips together.  I've made other quilts with sections of slightly wonky strips, and I enjoy the process.  I cut my groupings into 2- and 4- inch sections.  That seemed the most manageable size.


Measure twice, cut once
I arranged, and rearranged until a composition finally emerged.

Working through the composition.  Almost there

I stitched the segments  together once I liked the layout.   I didn't want to frame it in plain muslin, so I spritzed the background with some gold and bronze metallic misty paint.  Voila!  A finished "half" that left enough space for my partner to work with.

Fiddlesticks, now in the hands of another.  What will happen to it?

Here's what my partner received. (Her lighting is better in the picture than what I had.)  I've called the piece, Fiddlesticks, in part because I didn't account for all the seams correctly, so the finished size was smaller than what I had planned. Hmmm.  I thought the composition might look like a Pick-up-Sticks kind of game -- wasn't there something called Fiddlesticks out there? --  but I didn't immediately find anything like that.  What I DID find out is that a fiddlestick is a traditional percussion instrument that allows two people to play the fiddle at the same time.  COOL!  That seemed a perfect pairing to my initial "oh rats" sentiment.

Next up: waiting for the composition someone else has made that I get to manipulate and complete.  (We don't have the same partners for our first and second "parts.)  That should arrive soon and I'm intrigued by the challenge.  I'll keep you posted on the final reveal on both of my "half"s.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

I Spied with my Little Eye

.... a robin.



Yes, they're all over the States and Europe.  But I had never seen the European species before.  When I was at Kensington Palace in London, I didn't recognize the bird at first.  It was so charming and tiny.  

I didn't know it's a whole different animal.  The Robin is a perching bird / flycatcher, whereas the American Robin is actually a thrush.  European robins' eggs are white or cream.  Only American Robins lay blue eggs.  Robins sing throughout the night, sometimes being confused with Nightingales.  American Robins announce the dawn, and it's a song I look forward to, especially as we sit through another Nor'Easter.   

Please come soon, Spring.  I'm not sure my poppies, with their lush foliage, can take much more.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Unexpected Details

Some of the wonder of Gothic architecture comes from the elaborate ornamentation.  Can you imagine designing and creating all those elements?

The downside to such ornate surfaces is that many wonderful details can be missed.  The gargoyles above the public entrance to Westminster Abbey were a surprise. The whimsy was unexpected.

Each of the gargoyles is unique!

Here's a close-up
Seen from below
Architecturally, this is a good example of implied symmetry and having fun.  Westminster Abbey proves that something can be majestic and have a bit of silliness, at the same time.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

L * O * N * D * O * N


A member of the Queen's Guard
I've just returned from LONDON!!

Perhaps you've been to London, but I'd never been.  When my husband had to travel there on business, I hopped at the chance to join him.

We had to cut our trip short (to three days) due to the impending storm in New York, but the trip was still an absolute delight.  I'll be oohing and aaahing about it for a while, I'm sure, and reflecting on all I learned.  Some things I discovered:

* Did you know that you can observe Parliament in action?  I didn't.  I stumbled upon the opportunity and found it fascinating.  I got to observe debate on prison reform in the House of Commons provided, of course, that I promised not to shout out in response to anything said on the floor.

* Did you know that some of the underground trains have no car dividers?  It's like being inside a long snake as it twists and curves. Rather cool.  But it bungles up some of the James Bond tube foot chases, though.

* Did you know that you can go to free organ recitals at St. Paul's Cathedral?  We used that as an opportunity to see the cathedral on a Sunday, when tourists aren't allowed in unless they are attending a service or a special event.  The organ was a breathtaking instrument.

*  Did you know they still have all the original room keys in the Churchill War Rooms?  It's true.  Even after all these years.  They also still have the asbestos cloths they kept on hand in case of a fire.

I could go on and on, but you'd likely get bored -- or perhaps you have all already visited London.  I'm going to have to restrain myself.  I'm still all giddy from the experience and would otherwise likely do a play-by-play travelogue. So I'll limit myself to a few snippets and images.

The National Gallery at dusk

Sunflowers, 1888, Vincent VanGogh at the National Gallery

St Stephens Hall in Westminster.  The last public place you're allowed to take pictures on the way to the House of Commons



Courtier clothes rendered in paper at Kensington Palace

Regent Street at night

Magnificent Gothic architecture