Sunday, August 24, 2008

Houston in the summertime

Cyn and I decided to take a weekend off and decided to spend it in the vacation spot of Texas: Houston. Not your idea of fun in August? Well, it was a little swampy, but we spent most it it indoors, checking out some of the museums down in the Museum District.

We drove out on Thursday afternoon and checked in at our hotel, the Hotel ZaZa, right across from the Fine Arts Museum and a block away from the Natural Sciences Museum. The hotel was a riot. The place appears from the outside to be a renovated early-twentieth century hotel or apartment building and is decorated in a sort of quirky yet swanky, retro-style, with photos of various celebrities and the occsional animal head.

We were a bit hungry by this point so we had a late afternoon pizza via room service; (foolishly) we went down to an early dinner that evening at the hotel's Monarch Restaurant. We weren't enormously hungry, so we split some appetizers and side dishes (portions are huge). The Salt & Pepper Rock Shrimp and the Deconstructed Tuna were outstanding, as was our "entree" (really, one of the salads, followed by the White Cheddar Truffle Mac and Cheese.

Next morning, we were up early to hit the Natural Sciences Museum. Noteworthy permanent exhibits include a vertebrate paleontology section (including the above T.rex and edmontosaurus), a butterfly garden (a four story tall atrium garden with fountains and waterfalls and countless butterflies swooping all around), and African and Texas wildlife displays.

The highlights of our visit, though, were the Leonardo da Vinci special exhibit and especially the Lucy special exhibit. The da Vinci exhibit included many models of the inventions from his sketchbooks, allowing close up and (sometimes) hand-on views.

The Lucy exhibit started with a fascinating history of Ethiopia section including movies and artifacts. We then moved on to the australopithecus portion of the exhibit which included a video on the discovery of Lucy and then the main event was the display of Lucy herself. The fossil bone fragments are laid out on a slab, with a reconstruction of Lucy standing beside it and a panorama of human evolution behind it. Very well-done and impressive. More images can be found here.

The next day we decided to brave the Houston weather and went over to the Houston Zoo. Highlights included the reptile house, and large mammals, including giraffes and Asian elephants. In most cases, you can get up pretty close to the animals, which is a lot of fun. Also, the zoo seems to have a successful breeding program: we saw baby elephants, giraffes, wild pigs, and many others. (They're also apparently working on an expansion to be completed in 2010, but I couldn't find the info. on the web site). Feeling a bit hot and sticky, we went back to or hotel for lunch and took it easy for the rest of the afternoon, ate, had a glass of wine, and watched news and Olympics.

All in all, a fun weekend - we need to get back there sometime...perhaps in March :-).

Friday, August 15, 2008

In re the Beijing Olympics

So we're at the end of the first week of the Olympics and I have a few random thoughts:

1. Wow. The opening ceremony was spectacular. And a little creepy, especially the part where the goose-stepping soldiers took the Chinese flag away from the little girls...

2. The air quality in Beijing sucks. It makes LA look like it has the atmosphere of a pristine wilderness.

3. Venues are terrific. Whoever designed the Bird's Nest stadium should get a medal. Ditto the swimming cube.

4. The first US medals were a gold, silver, and bronze sweep in women's saber. How cool is that?

5. On the Chinese women's gymnastics team-
Cyn: How old are they?
Me: They're supposed to be sixteen.
Cyn: They are not sixteen.

6. Is it just me or are about half of the swimmers for foreign countries going to college in the US?

7. Does the Chinese government really take children away from their parents at three if they are athletically promising? What happens if they can't cut it? (Or don't want to?). Do they do the same if you're good at math?

8. The best thing about NBC's coverage of the games is that they use Arnaud's Bugler's Dream (which ABC introduced back when they covered the games).

9. NBC's coverage has improved somewhat over the past decade and a half. It's not nearly as sappy as it used to be. Still, they could stand to tone it down a bit.

10. Bob Costas is no Jim McKay. But doing Bela Korlyi's live reactions to the gymnastics was brilliant and hilarious.

11. Michael Phelps is clearly a space alien. So is Jason Lezak. And Dara Torres.

UPDATE: Okay, British swimmer Simon Burnett (who apparently is a former NCAA champion for the University of Arizona, see 6, above) has another take: "I think I've figured out Michael Phelps. He is not from another planet; he is from the future. His father made him and made a time machine. Sixty years from now he is an average swimmer, but he has come back in time to mop up."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Writing, gathering, and other stuff...

Last Wednesday, members of the Austin youth literature community gathered at Waterloo Ice House (north) for an informal gathering and happy hour.

Cyn has an extensive post about it here. (She also explains the pseudo-perforation on my neck (Frances Hill has a matching one)). A number of other folks already blogged rather extensively: Alison Dellenbaugh; P.J. Hoover; Varian Johnson; and Don Tate.

This coming weekend, come on out the the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting to hear Helen Hemphill talk about plot; and check out ArmadilloCon, where Cyn is on panels Saturday and Sunday.
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