Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cabinet of Curiosities

This semester I have to design a coffee shop for my Interior Design Studio class and I think I will base my concept for the project off one of my favorite things: a cabinet of curiosities.

I have always been fascinated by the idea of a cabinet of curiosities (Also known as a cabinet of wonder, Kunstkammer or Wunderkammer in German). It may spring from all the nature center visits of my childhood, tapping on the glass pane separating me and snakes, picking up pine cones on nature walks, or simply being enthralled by even the simplest natural object.

I visited the Bell Museum of Natural History right here on the U of MN campus after my last class for the week. I cannot believe that I have not explored the wonders held within that building until now. Having a lecture in the large auditorium connected to the museum this spring and last, I have been mere steps away from a whole world of  wonderful objects without even knowing it. 

A cabinet of curiosities is literally a window to the world, a visual delight, and sometimes a visual overload. Basically they came about during the Renaissance period from rich guys who had time and money on their hands to collect cool stuff, though humans have been collecting intriguing objects throughout the ages. They bring to mind great adventurers and explorers who went to the ends of the earth and decided to pick up a few things along the way, or the anthropology professor who has filled his old creaky office shelves with peculiar things. They are a delight the eyes and the imagination.

I am particularly interested in the cabinets because they house such a variety of not only objects, but stories. Being an aspiring collector of curious objects myself, with every object there is a story and a history. The rocks on my bookshelf were picked up on the shore of Lake Superior last fall, the piggy bank a gift from my parents, and the feathers from a collection of my grandfathers.

We are accustomed now to searching out the latest YouTube sensation, the next big musician, or the up and  coming artist or designer on the internet, yet we are still taping into the age old search for something that fascinates us. I think we need to remember that there are curious things all around us everyday if we just step out our door. 

In the Bell Museum Touch and See room, it's like a cabinet of curiosities was strewn over the entire room. There are animal bones, antlers, rocks, seashells, animal pelts, live snakes and turtles, and many more objects that you can pick up and investigate closely. I felt like a kid again as I knelt on the floor and stared into the red eyes of a turtle, or when I lifted the various antlers to test their weight. In the room there are also cabinets full of various natural history objects, and I could spend hours gazing at the wonders within. For me, looking at the various treasures is more aesthetic than scientific because I could not tell you the difference and names of one bird or another, or identify what animal skull graces the shelf, but it does not diminish their intrigue.

I drool over books such as the 636 page volume of Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities. I spend hours perusing photos of fellow curiosity hunters, such as Curious Expeditions Flickr page. I long to have an array of objects like ones you can buy here from a store in New York. I could spend hours in the Touch and See room at the Bell Museum. Some people collect the same object when they travel such as mugs, t-shirts, or snow globes, I buy something that is unique and will add variety to my collection. I cannot help but be curious about the world around me, I guess I still am that little kid who thinks they found a great treasure when I pick up a perfectly shaped rock, a piece of driftwood, or a fascinating seashell.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Penny Walks

As I write this, snow is swirling outside, yet again covering everything in sight. I meant to write this a few days ago because I think it would have been more timely, but no matter... 

The recent thaw brought to mind penny walks, an important part of my childhood. I have come to the realization that I actually AM quite weird. Yes, I know, you're thinking it's about time that I have understood this...but more than that, my childhood was quite abnormal in the best way possible. I used to think I was rather 'normal' up until very recently, but when you start talking about 'normal' things that you did when you were a child and people stare at you like you're from another planet...well then you know something is up. Apparently I did many strange and abnormal things as a child. Penny walks being one of them.

A typical street in Minneapolis
I think of penny walks and realize that they are very specific to my upbringing. Growing up in the city in Minnesota, where there's lots of snow, where people actually walk outside in the winter, and where people carry spare change for the bus all play a part in penny walks. When I was young, my mother would try many different things to get me out of doors. I would go on walks at the nature center with my siblings, and play outside in the snow all the time, but penny walks originally were another ploy to get us in the fresh air in late winter when the snow is just starting to melt. 

During the winter, the greedy claws of snowbanks will snatch away anything you drop in them, spare change included and when the weather finally warms up they are forced to release their icy grip on the treasures held within. And that's where penny walks come in. I would go on walks with my mom, and my siblings  and we would have a competition to see how much spare change we could find. At the end of our jaunt, whoever had the most money would gain bragging rights until the next time we ventured out. 

The bent and broken street pennies
We found more than just pennies, such as dimes, nickels, and the ever sought after quarters. Once I found a $20 winning already scratched off lottery ticket, and at another time a $20 bill frozen in the ice. Through all those walks over the years my eyes have been keenly trained to spot the small metal disks. At one point I even gained the nickname of Eagle Eyes, because I could spot a penny like a bird of prey finds a mouse. As time went on I would jump at the chance to go on a penny walk, and it ended up usually only being my mom and I walking. 

We would swing by penny street, not it's actual name but the one it gained because you were always guaranteed to find some spare change on it. My mother and I probably looked quite strange as we walked placidly down the sidewalk, only to suddenly burst into screams of "PENNY PENNY!!" and "I SAW IT FIRST" while pointed madly at a spot in the road or on the sidewalk, the rule being whoever sees it first gets it. At other times we would suddenly lunge towards the pavement to snatch up the copper disks. The curb was also a coveted position because it gave you a perfect view of the street and the sidewalk, I would walk along it like a balancing gymnast ready to leap off at a penny's notice. We always tried to walk side by side, because whoever was in front had an unfair advantage, and if someone started walking ahead the other would walk even faster, and soon we would be sprinting and sweeping our gaze back and forth rapidly searching.

Being away here at college I've been able to experience the wonders of penny walks. I haven't been counting....but I think I've found 37 cents this thaw. My friends laugh at me as I suddenly stop in mid stride to pick up a penny, nickel, or dime on the pavement, but I don't think they understand that...

...To this day I can't pass a humble penny on the sidewalk. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bus Surfing

Rain or shine, snow piled deep or shallow, as a student at the University of Minnesota I spend much of my time going to and from classes on the Campus Connector. I enjoy my time on the bus, letting my mind wander, people watching, or listening to strangers conversations. Lately though, I've needed something new to occupy myself on the bus. Since I can't read my homework, and I don't always like to have headphones stuffed into my ears to shut myself off from the sounds of the world, I've invented a new sport. 

The ever faithful Campus Connector

That's right, I've created the brand new sport! Bus Surfing! Now what you need for this is a bus, and just yourself, no surfboard needed. A backpack is optional, which I will explain later. Rather then just sit or stand back and endure a simple bus ride, I have invented a way to make every bus ride more exciting and interactive than ever before.

This past summer I went to Hawaii and tried surfing for the first time ever. I fell in love with it. Alas I live in Minnesota, a land locked state, with plenty of bodies of water (our lovely lakes), but not any ocean. So in order to bring the feeling of Hawaii to the snow covered Midwest, Bus Surfing was born. It's rather simple really...

The correct Bus Surfing stance
In order to bus surf, you have to be standing up, which isn't a problem if you ride the bus at the bus times of the day. Position your feet and body as you would if you were on a surfboard, and make the necessary adjustments when packed like sardines with all your fellow college students. Normally when one rides the bus, you hold onto the poles to keep yourself from toppling onto the other riders, but with bus surfing the goal is to keep your balance without any support. When the bus moves keep your balance and imagine that you are riding the thundering waves in Hawaii. This sport is guaranteed not only to help you pass the time on your commute, but make it fun as well.

There are a few things you can do to improve your Bus Surfing skill such as ride the bus during the winter. The added snow on the road makes for a bumpier ride, and thus a more challenging bus surf ride. For added difficulty you may also carry a backpack full of 5lb textbooks. Bonus points for a laptop, your lunch for the day, and any large homework projects. To continue to improve your bus surfing skills, add additional textbook, bricks, or hand weights as needed.

Happy Bus Surfing!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Google Earth

I spent the majority of my day typing a paper about the uses for Google Earth. It's actually quite an amazing program, and if you haven't downloaded  it and zoomed around the earth, I strongly encourage you to do so. In my research I uncovered some unique ways people have used the program like a skydiving simulation!

Or what about looking at 13,000 satellites around the earth in real time? Check it out here.
Have a bunch of time to waste? Check out this website. It has a bunch of images that people have found in their hours of searching Google Earth images. 
This one also updates with the newest info about Google Earth, right now they have aerial images of the protests in Egypt. 

Okay, so this one uses Google maps actually, but I thought it was so cool! A graphic designer from Turkey came up with the idea. Make an envelope with a map on the inside. you can type in any location in the world, and it will put the Google map of it, then just print it off, cut it out and enjoy how awesome looking it is!

I know this post is super link happy, but I thought I would share some of the things I found. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Places I want to go

It's about the time in the semester when I wish that I was elsewhere, roaming freely and exploring new territory. I often dream of traveling to many places as I'm stuck in my desk chair reading a 65 page chapter on means of egress for building code...loads of fun.

I long for wide open spaces, and a realm of possibilities. I want to learn and change. Exploration and adventure is so dynamic, travel is an ever changing art. I dream of going many places, and awhile back I made a list of all the places I must go to in my life, which amounted to 25 countries. My list in no particular order:

New Zealand,   England/Scotland,  Ireland,  Iceland,  Japan,  China,  Australia,  Czech Republic,  South Africa,  Greece,   Italy,   India,   Turkey,   Egypt,  France,  Peru,  Brazil,  Russia,  Spain,  Netherlands,  Tanzania,  Uganda,  Germany,  Israel

And those are only the places I must go to, not the places I would just like to go to. The reasons for going to some of the countries are strong, some not so much. In the end, I just long for new territory and places I've never been before, so that I can come back to my home and see everything is a whole new way...

We shall not cease
from exploration 
And the end of all
our exploring 
Will be to arrive
where we started 
And know the place
for the first time.
~T. S. Eliot