I love the holiday season! I love Christmas music, the food, and most of all, the all-pervading feeling that it’s finally time to relax and be of good cheer.

Last December we spent a long weekend in Las Vegas. We wanted to see Sin City all done up for the holidays and get away from the Strip to see how everyday Vegas lives. We drove downtown to Fremont Street on a Saturday to see something special: The Great Santa Run.

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My first time at the DIA, I stumbled across Kehinde Wiley’s Officer of the Hussars, and I was instantly hooked.

There’s a baroque richness to Wiley’s (huge!) paintings that puts him on par with the old masters, but his subjects are very modern. His Officer is a black man, circa right now, dressed in Timberland boots, baggy jeans and a wife-beater, brandishing a cavalry saber and looking back from the saddle of a rearing horse. It was completely unexpected, and so awesome that I couldn’t stop grinning.

Every time we go back, I revisit Officer of the Hussars, and it always makes me smile. When I heard that Wiley’s art was coming to TMA, I knew we had to go, and I’m really glad we did.

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Meijer was clearing out their Italian foods, so I picked up some crunchy hazelnut nougat (torrone). Not bad with a cup of coffee!

Following up on my post about the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London, I wanted to write about its descendant, the Zoological Society of London (or Z-as-in-Zed-S-L) in Regent’s Park.

London Zoo is a bit out of the way by public transportation. The Underground skirts the edge of Regent’s Park, making a single stop at the southern gate before veering off north for Camden. From there you board a crawling bus headed up some charmless back street, or take a pleasant (but very long) walk to the northern edge of the park. Michelle and I did both one May afternoon and got to the zoo about an hour before closing time.

ZSL isn’t a big zoo, but it manages an impressive collection. The exhibits are all very modern and as natural as they can be given the limited space. We spoke to a few of the keepers and they seemed enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

As is often the case in London, ZSL has some unique history. It was the first zoo opened specifically for scientific research; for its first twenty years it wasn’t even open to the public. Charles Darwin became a fellow of the zoo in 1839 and one resident, an orangutan named Jenny, inspired him with her near-humanity.

With limited time to look around, there was one animal I knew I must see: the okapi. It’s not much to look at, but this awkward, donkey-like ungulate, native to the Ituri Rainforest of central Africa, is famous for managing to elude science until 1901.

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A snack

Got some new flashes with tax return money, so I’m having another crack at food photography.

The British Museum is one of the world-class museums. Except for the Louvre in Paris, I can’t think of any other place with such an impressive collection of world-famous artifacts. It’s┬áconsistently ranked Britain’s #1 tourist attraction; last year almost 7 million people came to see such famous artifacts as the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles, Greek and Roman sculptures, golden treasures from around the world, Samurai armor, an Easter Island Moai, and much more.

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The Tower of London has been many things in its thousand-year history. Built immediately after the Norman conquest, its first incarnation was as a symbol of power, a proto-Death Star from which William the Conqueror could exert control over his new capital.

William’s successors were increasingly reluctant to live in central London, never more than a drawbridge away from the fickle mob. As the monarchy left for greener (and more isolated) pastures, the Tower was turned to darker purposes; it served as an armory, a prison, an execution ground, and surprisingly, a zoo.

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