Biff Sock Pow

Finding the humor in everyday life.

Archive for the month “May, 2017”

Garden Spider

I found this black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) literally hanging out in my crepe myrtle tree this morning.

Garden Spider

I was finally able to get a good picture of her with the macro setting on my camera and by manually focusing.  The auto-focus simply did not see her and kept focusing on the branch behind her.  I perhaps rely too much on auto-focus due to my less than perfect eyesight.

The photo is misleading and makes her look huge.  However, she is quite small.  I think the tips of her legs would just barely touch the edge of a dime if spread out like the spokes of a wheel.

I hope she has a good long life and grows to be 2 inches or more across.  These spiders are highly desirable in gardens because they eat lots of pesky insects.  Plus they look really cool!

 

Scenes From Downtown Dallas

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent several hours Friday in downtown Dallas visiting the Dallas Museum of Art.  After visiting the museum, we walked the short walk to Klyde Warren Park.  The picture below is a view from the outside of the DMA looking towards KWP.

01 KWP from DMA.JPGImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

Klyde Warren Park is very unique in that it is built on 5.2 acres of “land” that was created over a freeway.  The Woodall Rodgers Freeway (aka Spur 366) has always run through a concrete valley carved out of Dallas between I-35 on the west side of Dallas and highway 75 on the east side.  They recently put a top over a portion of this sunken freeway and built a park on it.

Here is a picture taken from the edge of the park facing East.  You can make out traffic on the freeway in the center of the picture.

03 KWP and Woodall Rogers.JPGImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

Below is a zoom on the above picture to show the traffic more clearly driving under the park.

03a KWP and Woodall RogersImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

This was my first visit to the park and I was really impressed.  They did a very good job of this.  Throughout the decades I’ve lived near Dallas, the downtown area did not have much in it to attract visitors at nights and on weekends.  It was a joke here that they rolled up the sidewalks at five o’clock.  Except it wasn’t much of a joke.  Downtown Dallas was built for business and commerce, and outside of business hours it was largely deserted.

However, within the past five or ten years Dallas has made a concerted effort to attract visitors and residents to downtown Dallas.  They built a lot of condominiums, both traditional, and high-rise ones such as Museum Tower, shown in the next few pictures.

04 Museum Tower (Condos).JPGImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

In the photo below, it’s hard to believe that there are about 8 lanes of freeway traffic about 20 feet below!

05 Museum Tower from Klyde Warren Park.JPGImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

06 Museum Tower (Condos).JPGImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

07 Museum Tower (Condos).JPGImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

In addition to these new high-rise condominiums, there are a plethora of other beautiful office buildings.

08 IMG_0320.JPGImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

Below is the Hunt Oil Building.

09 Hunt Oil Building.JPGImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

Back at Klyde Warren Park, we decided to eat at food truck alley.

02 KWP Food Truck Alley.JPGImage © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

About 12 food trucks were lined up along the park offering anything from ice cream to barbecue to lobster.  I chose a nice chicken quesadilla with a spicy avocado drizzle on it.  It was very tasty!  Unfortunately, the weather was not very spring-like but instead was 99 degrees in the shade with the humidity nearly 80%.  It was quite steamy!   It was still a nice visit to the park, though.  I’m sure I’ll be going back soon!  (Probably in the autumn.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Trip to the Dallas Museum of Art

To celebrate the start of a 4-day Memorial Day weekend, my daughter and I decided to take a trip down to the Dallas Museum of Art on Friday to spend a few hours.  I haven’t been there in probably ten or more years and even in all the decades I’ve lived in Dallas, I’ve only been there maybe five times.   I am definitely one of those people that give credence to the axiom that people who live near well-known sites never go to visit them.

I found that a lot has changed since my last visit.  Much of their collection was new (to me), but also some of my old friends were still there, such as Church’s “Iceburgs” (see below).  It was a wonderful visit and I highly recommend a visit to anyone who finds themselves in Dallas with a few hours or a day to spare.

Below are some of the pictures I took while I was there.  I took well over a hundred photos and there were thousands of things I didn’t take photos of, but these are my favorites.  I apologize for the poor quality.  Flash photography is not allowed and so I had to do the best I could without a flash and with a camera that I’m still not familiar with.

01

Oscar Bluemner

Space Motive – A New Jersey Valley (Wharton)

01 Oscar Bluemner's Space Motive

I really like the clean lines and lush coloring in this painting.  Bluemner used color for emotional expression rather than literal renderings, and that really comes through in this painting.

 

02

Charles Demuth

Buildings

02 Charles Demuth's Buildings

Demuth blended common renderings of everyday objects with cubist aspects.  I’m not a big fan of cubism, but, as he kept the cubist elements to a minimum, using them as accents rather than making them the star of the picture, I like what he’s done here.  The painting as a draftsman-like quality to it and, like the Bluemner above, I like the evocative colors and clean lines of the painting.

03

Edward Hopper’s

Lighthouse Hill

03 Edward Hopper's Lighthouse.jpg

What’s not to like about an Edward Hopper painting?  I love how the strong contrasts between light and shadow capture a very specific moment in time.  The sun, though we don’t know if it is rising or setting, is in a very specific place in the heavens.  It may be telling us the day is young and rife with possibilities, or calling us home for dinner and warning us that it will soon be dark.  But even if it is telling us that darkness will be coming soon, the lighthouse itself strips the darkness of any real power over us.

04

Alexandre Hogue

Drouth Stricken Area

04 Alexandre Hogue's Drouth Stricken Area.jpg

I live in Texas and drought is just a way of life here.  Hogue has captured this perfectly.  Brown is the color of summer here.  The vulture, while here perhaps symbolizing death, to me represents the trepidation that people in drought-prone areas live with constantly.  Whether it is raining or sunny, we live with the ever-present dread of each rain shower perhaps being our last for a while.

05

Thomas Hart Benton

Prodigal Son

05 Thomas Hart Benton's Prodigal Son.jpg

I just enjoyed the imagery of this painting.  While in the Biblical story the prodigal son returns home after living a life of excess and debauchery and was welcomed with open arms and lavished with all manner of gifts and honors, the artist returned from living in New York to his home in Missouri to find things bleak and dour.  Such was life in the south during the depression.   The pain and surprise of Benton’s realization is obvious in this painting.  Even the clouds have a kind of sinister, predator-like look to them.

06

Francis Guy

Winter Scene in Brooklyn

06 Francis Guy's Winter Scene in Brooklyn.jpg

I just liked this painting.  Not sure why.

07

Robert Preusser

Tonal Oval

07 Robert Preusser's Tonal Oval.jpg

I only have momentary and fleeting interest in abstract art.  This one caught my eye and it was interesting for a minute or two, but it is ultimately forgettable and looks like something that would be hanging in the reception area of a corporation.   I do like that this painting has depth (as in the cylinder-like shapes and the ribbing in the elements), and is not just random swirls of pattern and color.

08

Jackson Pollck

Cathedral

08 Jackson Pollck's Cathedral.jpg

I’m not a huge Pollock fan.  I feel his work is mostly a deliberate mocking of the pretentiousness of the art world (and maybe rightly so).  The art world, however, doesn’t seem to get the joke.

I’m not saying I could do what he does (I probably couldn’t), but I also don’t think I could gaze upon his work for any length of time with anything approaching enjoyment.  But since this was the closest I’ve ever been to one of his paintings, I decided to take a picture of it.

09

Gerald Murphy

Razor

09 Gerald Murphy's Razor

Though this is a cubist work, I also feel it has certain art deco elements.  Art deco is my absolute favorite art style, bar none.  I also find myself drawn to pop advertising art for some reason.  I guess that is just the very root of advertising art.  It is a deliberate play for our attentions.  This one succeeds on that account, though it is not an advertisement per se.

10

Gerald Murphy’s

Watch

10 Gerald Murphy’s Watch.jpg

As an engineer, I was immediately drawn to this work.  I love intricacy and detail in art, and it is here in abundance.  I also drawings that have a mechanical drawing vibe to them.  I like artwork that has a schematic diagram feel to them.  This is a beautiful combination of all that, plus contrasting symmetry and non-symmetry.

It is also a surprisingly large work (78  square inches or about 2 square meters), which I thought was a contrast in itself:  a giant depiction of a tiny watch mechanism.

11

Leon Frederic’s

Nature or Abundance

11 Leon Frederic's Nature or Abundance.jpg

 

12

François–Auguste Biardh

Seasickness on an English Corvette

12 François–Auguste Biardh's Seasickness on an English Corvette.jpg

I love well-done comic scenes that contain a great amount of detail.

13

Frederic Edwin Church

The Iceburgs

13 Frederic Edwin Church's The Iceburgs.jpg

This is my favorite painting at the DMA and has been ever since I saw it a few decades ago.  This picture of it does not do it justice.  It is a huge painting.  Its framed dimensions are 85 x 133 x 5 inches (2.16 m x 3.37 m x 12.7 cm) and weighs a whopping 426 pounds (193 kg).  The DMA used to have it in its own separate room with viewing benches in front of it.  They also used to have special lighting on it to enhance the eerie green glow of the ice.  Now, however, it is just hanging on a wall in a huge gallery with other paintings.  But I still love this painting.  It is gorgeous and haunting all at once.  I could feel the isolation of the scene and the tragedy that no doubt happened here a long, long time ago.

14

John Singer Sargent

Dorothy

14 Sargent's Dorothy.jpg

Just thought I’d toss in a famous painting.

15

Claude Monet

The Seine at Lavacourt

15 Claude Monet's The Seine at Lavacourt.jpg

Monet is my favorite impressionist of all time.  His paintings always fill me with serenity and peace and a desire to go back in time and view the scenes that he was painting.  Things always seem so placid in his paintings.

16

Claude Monet

Water Lilies

16 Claude Monet's Water Lilies.jpg

One of Monet’s water lily paintings.  It was so odd to be able to get within inches of this (or any) famous painting.  One would think that they would cordon it off with velvet theater ropes or something.

17

Claude-Joseph Vernet

Mountain Landscape with Approaching Storm

17 Claude-Joseph Vernet's Mountain Landscape with Approaching Storm.jpg

Another one of my old favorites from the DMA.  Vernet beautifully captures an approaching storm.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

And thus concludes my day-trip to the Dallas Museum of Art.  It was a wonderful day and the museum, while not the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum, has a lot of very interesting items in it.

Also, it is the only museum I know with a sense of humor!

18 Van Gogh Vana

Poor Biff’s Almanac: Four Day Weekends, Summer Heat Arrives Early, Artful Pursuits

writer

Through the clever use of comp time and a Memorial Day holiday, I was able to take a 4-day weekend this week.  It is already Day Three and I am wondering where the time went.  I am not the first person to ask why weekends go by so fast, and the workweeks so slow, but it is just one of those rhetorical questions like “Where did I put my car keys?” or “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”  The questions are asked, but no answers re expected because, really, no one knows.

But in spite of the weekend going by really, really fast, it has been an enjoyable one so far.  On Friday I went down to the Dallas Museum of Art with my daughter and we had a wonderful day of it.  The only slight pall that was cast on the day was when we walked over to the adjacent Klyde Warren Park to partake of some victuals at the row of food trucks moored alongside.  That also was a fun experience … except for the 99 degree temperature and the 75% humidity.

Some might be incredulous that it is so hot in May.  However, I would point out that it is late May (nearly June).  Obnoxious Summer has pushed sweet, pretty Spring out of the way while announcing her ascendancy with scorching, searing laughter, brimstone and  flying monkeys.  But we Dallasites just quietly capitulated and went about our business with resignation.  We go through this every year.  We know there is no escape.  This will be our life for the next 5 or 6 months.

Hopefully I will work up the energy to post some pictures I took of may day on Friday.  However, after three days off, atrophy is really taking a toll on my energy levels.  Or maybe it is the searing heat.  Or maybe it is just who I am.

Now where did I lay those car keys?

 

Squirrel!

IMG_0202a.jpg

I was in my back yard yesterday evening and noticed this squirrel on the fence.  He was kind enough to wait on the fence until I went back inside and got my camera.  I was about 20 feet away from him and was using my 300mm lens, so was able to get a closeup of him.

Notice his aggressive stance.  He held that position for a good 3 minutes.  I believe he would have jumped on me if I’d gotten any closer.  The squirrels around here are quite bold and will stand up on their hind quarters at you as if to say, “Come at me, Bro.”

I have a love-hate relationship with the neighborhood squirrels.  I love them when they are outside doing squirrel things.  But if they ever get into my attic, it is war.  They have learned that the neighbors’ attics are much more hospitable places than mine.  The Great Squirrel War of 2014 has entered local Squirrel lore and legend and so I haven’t had any problem out of them in years.   (Lest you think I behaved poorly towards the squirrels, I merely had all of the wood soffits on my house replaced with concrete-impregnated Hardieboard.)

So, since this little fellow is outside, he is a good squirrel and the recipient of my benevolent bonhomie.

Just Scratching the Surface — Beware the Lowly Chigger

Itching Man 2

I have lived a long time and have experienced the joy of being stung and bitten by a wide variety of insects.  I have had allergic reactions to various agents.  I have had rashes and lesions.  If something can cause itching, I have no doubt been exposed to it or attacked by it.

But I’m here to tell you, there is no itch in this world like that caused by the bite of the dastardly chigger.

As revealed in my lasts few blog posts, I have taken up photography as a hobby.   In order to find something interesting to photograph this past weekend, I went slogging through a nearby wildlife preserve.  I managed to get a few chigger bites.  Fortunately, I only got a few of them.

A chigger bite will make you want to scratch down through the skin, and any underlying tissue, and right to the bone.  Often even that is not enough.

I consider myself a fairly strong-willed person.  I can and have resisted all sorts of temptations both physical, emotional, and spiritual.

But I, for the life of me, cannot stop scratching these infernal chigger bites!  I try.  It takes every bit of will-power I have.  I have to squeeze my eyes shut tightly.  I have to clench my teeth.  I have to sit on my hands.  My eyes water.  My fingers twitch, just dying to sink my nails into these maddening whelps on my skin.

As an added bonus, chiggers have a predilection to biting people in very intimate areas, so scratching in public requires much subterfuge and caginess.

Over the counter medications only offer very limited relief (usually about 2 minutes).  Hydrocortisone.  Alcohol.  Witch hazel.  Antihistamines.  Vodka.  Nothing works for very long.

One finds one’s self contemplating insanities to relieve the itch.  “I wonder,” I found myself thinking at one point, “If I held a lit candle to my skin if that would lessen the itching?”  But then realizing how crazy that sounded I sought to strike a more reasonable tone in my internal dialog, “Well, not directly against the skin.  Like half an inch away.  Maybe an eighth of an inch.  Maybe the burning would be less distressful than this damned itching!

Fortunately, chigger bites usually only last about two weeks.  Ha ha ha ha ha !  Two weeks!   Ha ha ha ha ha!

I may need to be sedated.

 

 

 

 

 

Thistle Do Nicely

Here are a few more pictures of my photo expedition to the tiny wildlife sanctuary.

Today’s topic is Texas Thistle.  I have always loved how Texas Thistle looks in the springtime.  From a distance, it has a gorgeous bloom and it sends these pink puff balls towering up above everything around it.

Here is what a patch of Texas Thistle looks like from a bit of a distance.

IMG_0159.jpg

Image © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

And here is one of the puff balls that the Thistle sends up into the heavens to attract bees.  (Bee sold separately.)

IMG_0133aa

Image © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

Beautiful, isn’t it?

But the thing to remember about Texas Thistle is that every part of it except the puff ball is prickly.  And not just a little bit.  I mean tear-through-your-jeans prickly.  Buds … stalks … leaves … everything about it will hurt you.  Here’s a close-up.

 

IMG_0161a

Image © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

Even the buds look a little daunting.  It’s hard to believe these turn into the pretty puff balls.

IMG_0143.JPG

Image © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

But the most insidious part of this plant is when it is just a fledgling and just starting its life.  In its larval stage, it consists of a starburst of leaves that are almost perfectly flat against the ground.

IMG_0151

Image © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

They are green, so they blend in well with grass.  Stepping on one of these in your bare feet or sock feet will introduce you to a new level of pain you didn’t know existed.  We used to call these “Devil’s Tongues” when I was a youngster, and they flat cured me of ever going anywhere outside barefoot.  I have not been barefoot outside since I was in the second grade just because of the memory I have of stepping on them.

So there you have it:  Texas Thistle, ladies and gentlemen.

I think these should be featured on the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag instead of the snake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help Stamp Out Non-Relaxing Weekends

Biff in Stamp

It was a good weekend in Biffville.  I achieved the perfect balance of getting things done and not doing too much.

In this modern age, even after our forefathers and foremothers fought so hard to bring us the five-day workweek, we tend to violate the spirit of that hard-won battle by filling up our weekends with chores and errands and to-do lists and must-do lists, obligations, duties, and drudgery.  Now, I realize we can’t completely shirk our responsibilities on the weekend, but I do try to maintain a balance.  For example, what’s wrong with taking a well-deserved nap after mowing the yard?  Why not, after fixing that phantom-flushing toilet, engage in a little calligraphy or philately or toy-trainery?  (It is too a word!)

Do I always follow my own advice?

No.

But, gosh darn it, I try to!

Maybe I should take up philately.  I need a hobby I can stick to.  Or vice versa.

 

 

Bee On a Firewheel

IMG_0113aa

Image © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

Here’s a busy little bee going to town on a Firewheel wildflower.  I used the macro setting on my Trusty Canon T6.  The lens was about 6 or 8 inches away from the industrious bee as she was busy pollinating like all get-out.

It wasn’t until after my photo excursion that I realized these could very well have been Africanized bees.  Lucky for me, they weren’t.  I was very happy to see that the honey bees were in abundance at the tiny wildlife preserve where I took this picture.  They  were almost literally swarming around the patches of Texas Thistle, Firewheel, Bastard Cabbage, etc.  It was a good day to be a bee.  And a good day to be a photographer.

I left the colors, saturation, contrast, etc. alone.  It’s beautiful just as it is.

 

 

Rambles Through the Brambles

IMG_0098aa.jpg

Image © 2017 by Biff Sock Pow

Here is a picture I took with my trusty Canon Rebel T6 while out taking a ramble through a tiny wildlife sanctuary in one of the surrounding suburbs.  It just goes to show that there is beauty even in a dauntless stalk of prairie grass that has somehow risen above the chaotic melee of Texas brambles and has raised its arms to the heavens as if to say, “Here I am!  Do your worst!”.

I juiced up the saturation a bit to bring out the colors, but not much.  I love the cinnamon colored seed pods against the blue of the Texas sky.

The yellow flowers speckling the background are, I believe, Bastard Cabbage.  Even though I dearly love that name, it is an invasive species.  In fact, I believe most of the plants in this shot are invasive species.

I’m not sure about that lone red flower.  It looks like a Drummond Phlox, but that seems highly unlikely.  More likely it is a Firewheel or a Trumpet Creeper.  Whatever it is, it seems a little out of place.

 

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