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A bit of cool Christmas trivia…

Ghost of Christmas Present

I’ve always enjoyed getting to the root of Christmas traditions, and seeing how they were shaped over time.

Here’s an interesting thing I recently learned (and thought was cool enough to share).

Charles Dickens’ description of the Ghost of Christmas Present wasn’t just a random characterization. It was actually a representation of the English “Father Christmas,” who himself was patterned after a variety of mythical characters, including, most notably, Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and revelry.

Bacchus

You’ll notice from the depictions here that Bacchus, Father Christmas, and the Ghost of Christmas Present are indeed pretty similar. You can click the highlighted text links above to learn a bit about each.

And may God bless us, every one.

Father Christmas

 

 

 

How to build a creepy Tim Burton Halloween scarecrow

Want something cool for the front yard this Halloween?scarecrow

If you’re a Tim Burton fan like I am, you can easily make a pumpkin-headed scarecrow straight out of Sleepy Hollow or The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Start with a couple of long, fairly straight tree branches. Try to find one about 8 feet long and another about 6 feet long. Lash them together with some rope to form a cross. (The long one is the vertical piece.)

You can use a couple of thinner branches as supports for the crosspiece. Tie one end of a thin branch to the vertical piece and the other end to the crosspiece. Allow part of the branch to extend beyond the crosspiece; this is where the “hands” will go. Do this on both sides. (You can kind of see how I’ve done it in the photo.)

You can give the scarecrow “hands” by tying a few sticks together with twine and attaching them to the ends of the diagonal support branches. (I don’t know why, but those stick hands take the scary factor to a whole new level — perhaps because it’s creepy to imagine them grabbing you.)

The easiest way to put the scarecrow up is to insert the bottom end into a piece of pipe (about 2-1/2 feet long is sufficient) that you’ve pounded halfway into the ground. I’ve found this works better than trying to dig a hole for the base or supporting the scarecrow with ropes and stakes.

Decorating the scarecrow is the fun part. In the past I’ve tied on torn strips of old sheets. More recently, I bought some cheap black fabric to give it more of a “cape” or “batwings” effect.

Top it off with a pumpkin (larger ones look better) with an appropriately sinister grin applied with thick black magic marker, and you’re done! (Shining a light on the scarecrow at night is kinda creepy too, and it makes an eerie shadow on your house if the light and scarecrow are positioned right.)

So there you go. Have fun! Bwaaa-ha-ha-haaaaa!

Staff member dodges locomotive to get the perfect shot


OncomingDesigner/photographer Josh McLaughlin recently put himself in harm’s way to snap this gorgeous color photograph of a vintage Norfolk Southern steam locomotive (subsequently featured on the front page of the Lakewood Observer).

As the steam engine passed through Lakewood on May 12, Josh crept up to the tracks and snapped away at the oncoming train with two cameras, capturing color and black-and-white images along with a peppering of soot from the coal car.

He says it was a small price to pay to get the pictures he wanted: large-scale color to convey the size and power of the engine, and monochrome closeups of the wheels and gears to illustrate its complexity.*

wheels

Big dramatic events are obvious attractions for shutterbugs, but Josh also keeps an eye out for things of interest in his everyday travels.

“I run and bike, so I have plenty of time to look around and enjoy the view,” he says. “Many times after a long run I grab my camera and hike back to the place I just traveled to get a shot of something that caught my eye.”

flowerJosh’s two young daughters, as they progress through childhood, have been frequent subjects of his photos. In fact, family has been his inspiration from the start.

“I became interested in photography at an early age thanks to my grandfather,” Josh explains. “He always had a camera and would take pictures of anyone and anything. He was great at getting people to smile and that’s what showed me the way.”

He shares his grandfather’s passion too.

“I have shot a wide range of photography over the past 15 years, professionally as well as personally, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I enjoy the unique challenges that each product, portrait or fine art piece entails.”

rainbow mist
mountain
* The b/w locomotive image was taken from about 6-8 feet away from the moving train. Don’t try this at home.

Cartoons have gotten a lot smarter.

Adventure Time

Adventure Time characters

The other day I asked my 14-year-old daughter what “Adventure Time” was. (She has a couple of T-shirts that say “Adventure Time” and have wacky little characters on them.)

“It’s a show,” she replied (in that way teenage girls have of wanting to keep something secret yet implying you’re incredibly out of touch for not having heard of it).

“Is it for little kids?” I asked. (The primitive randomness of the characters on her T-shirt seemed tailored to an audience of 3-year-olds. I figured she was wearing it just to be ironic, the way all the kids have lately glommed onto “My Little Pony.”)

“No, it’s funny,” she objected. “We all watch it.” (“We” being herself and the Greek chorus of giggly, shrieky girls with whom she has surrounded herself.)

“So and so’s parents watch it too,” she added, as if to further emphasize my squareness.

The gauntlet had been thrown down. (For those of you under 30, that’s a medieval challenge analogy.) It was time I found out what “Adventure Time” was all about.

So I watched an episode. It was only ten minutes long. But that’s good, because if it had been longer I might have passed out from laughing.

It was really funny. And clever. And, like the characters, randomly wacky.

There were unicorns. There’s a talking dog that’s all stretchy and stuff. And there’s a little vampire girl who feeds on the color red instead of blood and plays a mean bass guitar.

The show, as it turns out, is also big hit and has been on for, like, four years. (Okay, Dad’s a little slow.)

But now I get it. I’m 100% on board with “Adventure Time.” In fact, I’m also on board with “Phineas and Ferb” and a bunch of other cartoons that I’ve discovered are a lot more sophisticated – and much funnier – than the ham-fisted, slapstick stuff cartoon stuff I grew up with. (Seriously, how many times can you laugh at a bowling ball dropped on a foot or an anvil falling on a coyote’s head?)

I’m not sure what to attribute the improvements to. It’s likely that making the humor interesting enough for adults as well as kids to enjoy improves viewership. Maybe the competition of numerous cartoon channels requires a show to be a cut above to be successful. Maybe kids have developed a taste for more sophisticated humor (Zack & Cody notwithstanding). Whatever the case, it’s a positive development.

Out of appreciation, I might even get my own “Adventure Time” T-shirt. (Plus, it’ll be fun to watch my daughter roll her eyes and sigh with embarrassment if I ever wear it in public.)

How Amy designed a charming book cover

Amy Wessel, a graphic designer on our staff, recently had the opportunity to put her skills to work designing the cover for a self-published book by a local author, Mary Kay Mayer.

The book – entitled From Diapers to Dresses: How a mother’s past helped to shape her daughters’ futures – chronicles how the author used her grandmother’s folk wisdom to guide her parenting decisions and to convey important life lessons to her three daughters.

Amy describes her experience with the project:

Mary knew from the start that she wanted the main focus of the cover to be a dress that her grandmother had made for her. So I developed several ideas that centered around the dress and Mary chose the one she liked best.

Along the way, we discussed incorporating additional prop items and personal photographs into the layout, but in the end we decided to keep it simple and just use the dress.

Mary liked the idea of using an illustration rather than a photograph of the dress. As the book is intended for moms, not children, I was concerned about any illustration that appeared too “childlike.” So I used a combination of photography, hand illustration and Photoshop brush techniques to produce an image that has a childlike quality but is still firmly rooted in reality.

The background colors were chosen to complement the colors of the dress. The font combination was chosen to convey a whimsical yet sophisticated feeling.

The book is available at amazon.com here.

Then their eyes were opened…

It takes a certain vision to recognize the potential in a “risky” or unconventional idea.

Check out this story about a local pastor who literally lit up when someone suggested an unorthodox idea for a Bible study.

This story appears in the May 2012 edition of Cleveland magazine.