25 December 2008

Ornaments: Christmas Tree

I've shared 24 ornaments here this month, and if you add a couple hundred more, you come up with this. The picture is full resolution, so if you click it, you'll get a nice big image to look around at some of our other ornaments. Merry Christmas.

23 December 2008

Ornaments: The Kiss

This ornament is a recreation of The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, one of Heather's favorite paintings.

22 December 2008

Ornaments: Pickle

It is commonly believed that the pickle ornament is an old German tradition. The story goes that the pickle is hidden in the tree and the first child to find it gets an extra present or good luck for a year. A few years ago, Heather and I mentioned to our German friend Klaus that we had a pickle ornament and were surprised when he asked why. Come to find out, he had never heard of this alleged German tradition. That led to a little research, which seems to point to another traditional holiday custom: the marketing ploy. Anyway, we still hang ours every year.

20 December 2008

Ornaments: Eiffel Tower

This ornament, of course, reminds us of our trip to Paris, the greatest city in the world.

19 December 2008

Ornaments: Maneki Neko

Our home in Sydney was near Chinatown, so we saw these Maneki Neko cat figures in store fronts quite often. According to the Wikipedia page, our ornament's raised left paw indicates it will bring in customers, as opposed to money, brought in by a raised right paw. Others would say the raised left paw indicates our home is a drinking establishment. Whatever.

17 December 2008

Ornaments: Reef

This ornament reminds us of our trip to the Great Barrier Reef.

15 December 2008

Ornaments: Santa and sandman

Here we have another Southern Hemisphere ornament, this time Santa with a sand--as opposed to snow--man.

14 December 2008

Ornaments: Bindi ball

This ornament is one of the few we have that is not made of glass. The decorations on the ornaments are bindis, the decorations worn by Indian women on their foreheads.

12 December 2008

Ornaments: Cat mariachis

Some more cats today, this time as mariachis. There is a third as well with a horn.

11 December 2008

Ornaments: Coronation Carriage

This is an ornament that we actually did pick up in London--the royal coronation carriage. And as you can see, it survived the rest of the trip.

10 December 2008

What is the What

I have just finished reading What is the What by Dave Eggers, one of the most important books I have read in a long time. It is the novelized version of the story of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee from Sudan. I told Heather she needed to read it and she said she doesn't like to read sad books. I replied that while it is often sad, it is also at times funny and awe-inspiring. Besides, the reason I like reading books like this is because they are sad, because life can be sad. I do not want to take my life for granted. I want to be reminded how fortunate I am, for no other reason than the circumstances of my birth, and I never want to forget the unimaginable suffering that others live with every day.

As Americans, it is easy for us to forget the oppression and suffering that billions of others face every day. And when we are reminded, it is easy to ignore. What is the What ends with a comment on this:

Whatever I do, however I find a way to live, I will tell these stories. I have spoken to every person I have encountered these last difficult days, and every person who has entered this club during these awful morning hours, because to do anything else would be something less than human. I speak to these people, and I speak to you because I cannot help it. It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength, to know that you are there. I covet your eyes, your ears, the collapsible space between us. How blessed are we to have each other? I am alive and you are alive so we must fill the air with our words. I will fill today, tomorrow, every day until I am taken back to God. I will tell stories to people who will listen and to people who don't want to listen, to people who seek me out and to those who run. All the while I will know that you are there. How can I pretend that you do not exist? It would be almost as impossible as you pretending that I do not exist.

Don't pretend this doesn't exist. Take a month, read this book, and acknowledge.

Ornaments: Koala

Another ornament for our time in Australia, but it wasn't bought there. Like the India suitcase, this was a gift from Heather's parents.

09 December 2008

Lucky Sevens (late): Independence Hall

I told you a few days ago how Heather and I went to Philadelphia on Saturday for my birthday, visiting Independence Hall, the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The painting pictured above hangs there, depicting one of the signings. Your Lucky Sevens question: which signing is depicted, and what in the painting gives away the answer?

Ornaments: Pizza

I know what you're thinking: Oh great, another ornament completely unrelated to Christmas. But that's where you're wrong. Heather's parents have pizza on Christmas Eve, a tradition that I particularly enjoy.

08 December 2008

Ornaments: Two peas in a pod

This ornament is Heather's favorite--of all ornaments not featuring a cat.

07 December 2008

Ornaments: Snake

It's a snake. I have no idea why we have a snake ornament.

06 December 2008

Halfway to 70

Today was my birthday and I am now halfway to 70, or as Heather likes to say, 490 in cat-years. She surprised me this morning with a day trip to the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Given my pursuit of World Heritage Sites, the primary purpose of the trip was Independence Hall, but there were several other bonuses we squeezed into the day.

Independence Hall is one of the few World Heritage Sites in the United States that is not a natural park and was the location for the signing of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It also served as the home of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and was the former home for the Liberty Bell, now on display in the building across the street.

After a quick visit to Benjamin Franklin's grave, we headed over to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They had a special exhibit called Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt that Heather wanted to see, but the highlight for me was the Rocky statue. Heather was nice enough to do a Rocky pose for me, though, including her blue mittens/boxing gloves.

Other features of the day:

  • we drove through three states, a big deal for people from Texas
  • I ate a real Philly cheesesteak from a sidewalk cart (street-meat, as Heather says)
  • it snowed on my birthday--a first ever

Ornaments: India suitcase

No, we did not get this ornament in India. It was a gift from Heather's mother last year before we went to India.

05 December 2008

Ornaments: Double decker

When we went to London last year, we made sure to take a ride on the famous London double decker. This ornament commemorates that trip.

04 December 2008

Ornaments: Cat with fish

Given that Heather likes cats so much, it should be no surprise that we have quite a few cat ornaments. I won't share them all, but here is one of them.

03 December 2008

Ornaments: Santa surfer

Our first holiday season in Australia was a bit unusual for us given that it was in the summertime. It's a strange time Down Under, where you see a mix of typical Northern style, wintery Christmas scenes and the influence of the actual weather conditions around you. In our time there, we picked up several ornaments of the Australian Christmas persuasion, this one probably being my favorite.

02 December 2008

Ornaments: Yellow rose/boot and fishing lure

After our Mexican-style Thanksgiving dinner, a hit or miss affair but fun nonetheless, Heather and I put up or Christmas tree. Over the years, she has collected glass ornaments, but because we have been overseas, she has never had all of her ornaments, about 120 total, in one place. That makes this the first year that we have had a full tree, although she says we still need 120 more. Our collection is quite eclectic, ranging from the bizarre to the sentimental. We have had a few adventures getting these, including a recent trip to Neiman Marcus, where we were surprised to learn that they only accept cash, check, NM card or American Express. No Visa, no MasterCard. What can I say: we aren't frequent shoppers and Neiman's. I'll share one a day with you until Christmas, but because I missed starting this yesterday, you get two today.

The first is a reminder of where we came from: a cowboy boot filled with yellow roses. This is one that Heather and her mom found four or five years ago. Note the golf ball next to it--that one's from Neiman's, paid for with cash.

This one Heather bought a couple months ago and was new to me, but it immediately became my favorite. I like the ones that are a bit silly, and a big glass fishing lure fits the bill there.

Check back daily for more.

01 December 2008

Jørn Utzon (1918-2008)

When the New South Wales government decided it wanted an opera house, they went on an international search for its architect. Jørn Utzon's submission in the design contest broke several rules for entries, but was selected nonetheless due to its originality and majestic design. At the time, his submission was little more than rough sketches, lacking detail and specific plans for construction and cost, but it was clear that this was the building to house the new opera house.

However, the design proved problematic when it came time to actually build it. They could not figure out how to construct the shells that would make up the roof without making them too heavy or too complex. It was such a problem that it nearly wiped out the project in the middle of construction. But Utzon himself found the solution while eating an orange. The shells would be based on sections of a sphere, allowing for mass production of the elements and keeping the weight, and cost, at a reasonable level.

Despite the international acclaim the Opera House receives today, including World Heritage status, it was very controversial during its construction, with Utzon himself eventually being forced off the project by the newly elected Liberal government looking to cut costs and leverage for power. At the official opening of the Opera House, Utzon was not even mentioned. Utzon returned to Denmark and never returned to see his most famous design.

However, over the last decade, the Sydney Opera House has again reached out to Utzon, naming him as an advisor on the future development of the Opera House. And although Jørn Utzon has still never returned to Sydney, his son Jan, also an architect, has, where he works in conjunction with his father on the other side of the world. Some have again criticized Jørn, questioning how he can work on the Opera House without having ever seen the finished building. He responded by saying that he carries the Opera House with him in the same way a composer carries his music in his mind.

Jørn Utzon, Danish architect and designer of the Sydney Opera House, died in his sleep in Copenhagen on November 29. The Australian icon of Danish design reigns over the world's most beautiful harbour as his legacy to the world.