Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I was near the White House the other day, so I took some time to visit the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery.  It's free and just off of Lafayette Square, so all around perfect.  Currently, the gallery is hosting nine artist installations in a show called "Wonder," meant to inspire the creative mind through the reimagined use of every day objects.  The exhibit will run through July 2016 if you happen to be in the Washington D.C. area.  And the best part?  Photos are encouraged!

The first installation you see as you walk in the main door is "Untitled" by Sara Donovan.  These rock-like sculptures are made from pieces of paper, but you don't really see them unless you are up close. The shadows and contrast are perfectly generated to give the illusion of eroded limestone rock faces.

The installation that seems to be getting the most attention is Gabriel Dawe's "Plexus A1."  He wove colored thread in a rainbow pattern to create what looks like light rays traveling through a prism.  The sculpture is beautiful in its material simplicity and its contrasting complexity, in that the movement of the colors look different from all angles.

Upstairs, the room with Janet Echelman's "1.8 Detail" netting design on the ceiling encourages visitors to lay on the floor and look at how the lighting hits the nets to create different movement and shapes.

In the adjacent room is a giant felled tree made from wood blocks and suspended from the ceiling.  I actually preferred the view of this installation by John Grade through the doorway.

The remaining five exhibits included giant birds nests made from interwoven sticks that swooped up into the ceiling, glass marbles that appear to be slowly consuming a room - creeping up the walls and over the floor, a threatening fence made out of black rubber tire spikes, a room that transformed its walls into a giant entomology display (with real bugs!), and a dripping light chandelier.  Definitely stop by the gallery if you have the time - even 5 minutes will inspire you.

Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2016 by Julie


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Since October, my dining table has been taken over with my big winter lego project - Brickenridge Ski Resort!  As of last night, I finally finished it -- after taking apart and redoing the design for the ski lift I don't know how many times.  I tested out the lift and it works, but when I put the chairs on it, it was too heavy to move more than an inch with the motor I was using.  Good news is that I'm taking it apart and am going to make this an annual project to improve upon the previous year's design, so maybe next year I will get the lift working with chairs.  I'm thinking that the motor needs to be located on the top wheel and not the bottom.  Anyway, let me give you a tour!

Any day on the slopes starts at the lodge.  My lodge is two levels, with the ski rental shop and lockers on the first floor, and a cafeteria that serves only cookies, cupcakes, hot chocolate, beer and soda on top.  Of course, there's a nice deck by the cafeteria to enjoy a bluebird day with a good view of the resort. And all tables are communal picnic bench tables, just like in a real ski lodge.  Out front, there's a nice fire with which Game of Thrones' Jon Snow and his direwolf, Ghost, are making s'mores with a friend, while an unlucky fellow limps on crutches after an accident on the hill.  Behind the fire pit are the typical ski and snowboard racks.

Now, to actually get on the hill, you will need to take the lift to the top.  At both ends you are greeted by some very cheerful lift operators! Pardon the crudely made "tips up" sign at the top, I made it quickly just before taking photos.

Brickenridge Ski Resort features a variety of trails for every level of difficulty.  There are groomed runs and tricky powder trails amongst the trees. 

And, for the park lovers, there is a terrain park with rails and a jump, as well as a half pipe.  Today at "Brick", the Dew Tour competition is in town (look at the bibs and the camera follow guy!).  You may also notice I've added in some costumed characters on the slopes because there's always at least one!  

Finally at the mountain summit, you will find your expected Hot Chocolate Hut that also serves as the Ski Patrol office, then if you peek over the top and down the other side, you will see a frozen waterfall and two brave guys doing some ice climbing.

This project has been super fun because it was a challenge to build and know what types of bricks I needed.  I first had to figure out how to get the heights I wanted without filling it completely with bricks (=$$$!).  I went with some 1x8 arches, and it worked out really well.  I also had a challenge of obtaining all of the white bricks I used.  I definitely over purchased on slope bricks! Also, next year they are all getting a long bath in some hydrogen peroxide because some of the used ones were quite yellowed!  While I think I could do better with the detail on the mountain side and better on the trails on the front skiable side, overall I think it turned out cool!  I hope you agree!

Posted on Tuesday, March 08, 2016 by Julie


Monday, March 7, 2016

Now that the piles of dirty snow from the massive January D.C. snowstorm have finally melted (it only took a month) and meteorologists have reclassified our winter as just "average" and not the predicted "severe," I thought I'd do my winter recap - even though technically there's still a month left in what I consider the winter season. This recap covers four  winter S's: Skiing, Slopestyle, Sledding, and Silliness.


Once again, Mother Nature did not disappoint during her colder months this winter.  Unlike last year where the snow coverage was abysmal in the Pacific Northwest over the Christmas holidays, this year it dumped 8 feet in one week, which perfectly coincided with the time I happened to be out there.  See ya Santa, I'm off to hit the slopes!  Colorado continued to have their early season snow making operations dialed in, allowing some lifts to start operating as early as late October.  Of course, true mountain snow coverage really doesn't start to build until December.  And finally, Sundance Film Festival ski conditions at Park City Mountain Resort were fantastic, with nice groomers and sunny 40 degree weather - a relief since the town festival scene and films the first weekend were not that great this year compared to previous years. It was so dead at Sundance, I couldn't even scrape together enough to make up a separate festival recap post.  Very strange experience!

If you've been a reader since around this time a year ago, late March actually, you may remember that last year's ski season, for me, did not end favorably.  Severing my ACL was definitely not fun, though after hearing other knee injury stories, I feel I got away with a relatively easy fix.  This year, I was a little bit nervous to take the new knee in its brace out for a spin.  Admittedly, I slacked off on the rehab activities after my insurance stopped covering the treatments, and my contributing muscles are remarkably different, mostly weaker, than before the accident.  Residual minor knee stiffness is my new norm too, apparently. Thankfully, my confidence returned quickly after my first few runs of the season and remained, though I stuck to groomers as much as possible and did not test my limits for quantity of runs.  Also, I quickly learned skiing in powder this year was a mental disaster! Fortunately, winter is ending with a relatively injury-free status.  I only had my lovely Christmas morning present to contend with: a sprained ankle that I proceeded to then ski on that day, which has continued to be a big a pain because ankles take forever to heal, but at least it didn't require doctor visits.


Since its debut in the 2014 Winter Olympics, I am still amazed and intrigued by the increasingly popular freeski slopestyle competitions.  Dew Tour in Breckenridge is the first major event of the year, and I jumped the opportunity to check out both men's freeski slopestyle and super halfpipe events over the weekend!  All of the top level competitors, most of whom were at Sochi, come to Dew Tour because it has not only better prize money but they earn more ranking points for the season at a Platinum level event.  I would suspect only XGames is held in higher esteem by the athletes than Dew Tour - not surprisingly considering it's been around longer and has greater TV coverage and sponsorship exposure.

Slopestyle is a tough event to watch.  I equate it to going to a Formula 1 event, where all you see is the one track corner where you are sitting - or in this case the one jump.  The other option is to stay at the bottom and watch the runs on the projection screens, but what is the difference between that and watching it on your T.V. or computer?  Only the most dedicated hiked up to the top of the course for the rail sections, and I was not one of those.  Everything I shot was on my iPhone, so considering the speed at which these guys come flying down the mountain, I was impressed with some of the photos I captured.  I even did some burst mode photos and later combined them to create a multi-shot image like the one below of Jesper Tjader (pronounced yesper chahtter). And, of course I had to grab a shot of two of the top American competitors: Bobby Brown and Gus Kenworthy!

Later in the day, the Men's Freeski Super Halfpipe finals went down during some light snowfall.  I love watching halfpipe, since in contrast to slopestyle, you see the run from start to finish.  While I did run into snowboarding's Shaun White earlier at lunch, I am 100% interested only in the skiers when it comes to pipe.  Their tricks look (and maybe are) more complicated because there is more to do with two skis rather than a board, and I love that there's always a chance that a run may somehow be timed such that the skier executes one of his hits right in front of you.  The amplitude of these guys coming out of the pipe is incredible too!  Again, all shot on my iPhone.

Sledding (Technically Tubing)

I was trying to think if I have ever been tubing before, and I can't recall that I have!  While out visiting family in Seattle, I took the kids up to Snoqualmie Pass to hit the tubing lanes.  The tubes really got up there in speed, especially on the steeper lanes!  And it was quite a workout hauling everything back to the top if you opted to not wait for the tow rope.  


Finally, it wouldn't be winter in Colorado without a bit of the ridiculous.  I happened to be out there the same weekend as the Ullr Festival in Breckenridge.  Your guess is as good as mine as to why a Colorado town is celebrating the Viking god of winter! Also why pirates would be involved in the celebration.  The main events of the weekend are the record breaking shot ski attempt, the parade down main street, and the ex-Christmas tree bonfire.  This year, locals and visitors alike tied or screwed together some shot skis (old skis with circle cutouts to hold a few shot glasses) to create one giant shot ski made out of 277 skis and completed with 831 shots of liquor provided by the Breckenridge Distillery.

The shot ski is immediately followed by a parade, or what I may call a "kitchen sink parade" because there was a little bit of everything thrown in there.  There were some floats, some quasi floats, various questionable sleds being pulled by trucks, a bike being pulled by dogs, and then there was the random port-a-potty disposal truck.  My favorite float was one where, between two consecutive trailers, a ski hill had been made with real snow and two skiers raced from the first trailer to the bottom on the second trailer.  In addition to the pirates and vikings, there was also a solid representation of Star Wars characters, and the finale float recreated the Ferris Bueller parade scene. The best and most disturbing Star Wars float had to be the one with dancing Princess Leias and very creepy Chewbaccas.

And to end a great celebration of a Viking god in the middle of Colorado, of course you need some Viking helmets and a giant pile of fire, with the slopes of Breck in the background.

All in, a pretty weird and fun winter I'd say!

Posted on Monday, March 07, 2016 by Julie