Botanical Inspirations

Here in the northeast things are taking a definite fall-wards turn. However thanks to the “Botanical Inspirations” deck by Lynn Araujo I’ll be able to enjoy the delicate flowers of spring all year round.

First we have to talk about the fantastic artwork. The deck contains 44 cards featuring art by Pierre-Joseph Redoute. In Paris he did paintings of the flowers in the royal gardens. His etchings caught the eye of botanists who taught him more about plant anatomy. Redoute went on to do work for Marie Antoinette and Empress Josephine. That’s the guy whose illustrations make up this deck. Neat, right?

Deck creator Lynn Araujo dived deep into plant’s various roles as symbols throughout culture, leaning heavily on the “Secret Language of Flowers” from the Victorian Era that paired specific meanings to individual flowers. In fact, included with the deck is nice foldout sheet listing the “Secret Language of Flowers.”

Each card presents a flower with its common name, its Latin name, and a quote or key words to associate with the flower. To give you a complete experience I choose the share the Sacred Lotus card. You see “Sacred Lotus” with the alternative name “Nymphaea caerulea” directly underneath. Then there is the beautiful illustration with the word “Enlightenment” under it. It’s followed by the Thich Nhat Hanh quote, “No mud, no lotus.”

When you go to the book included with the deck, which is way more sturdy than your typical white print out style book that comes with many tarot decks, you’ll find more information about the Sacred Lotus and its “Inspirational Message”.

The lotus flower grows up out of the mud, yet each day as they unfurl and shed the droplets of water, the flower emerges perfectly pristine. For this reason, the lotus symbolizes purity and spiritual transformation. With its flower so distant from its roots below the water, the lotus also represents detachment, a necessary step for spiritual enlightenment. The golden center of the lotus is rarely shown in Zen artwork since it represents the elusive perfection of wisdom. The Egyptian sun god Ra is often depicted with a blue lotus. Because of this association with the sun, the lotus signifies rebirth.

Inspirational Message: Honor all the experiences that have brought you to this place on your path of spiritual growth but let go of the things that no longer serve you.

Araujo offers a few variations on how to use the cards in readings, but honestly, with decks like these I prefer to do a daily single card draw in the morning to offer insight into the day ahead.

“Botanical Inspirations” is a beautiful and fascinating deck that I would be hard pressed to find someone I wouldn’t recommend it to.

You can learn more about “Botanical Inspirations” here.

Bowls of Happiness

“Bowls of Happiness” (by Brian Tse and Alice Mak, and translated by Ben Wang) is wonderful little book that entertains with its whimsical art and story, and it also teaches about ancient Chinese bowls. The book is part of a series which aims to introduce children to Chinese culture at an early age. The publisher recommends “Bowls of Happiness” for children aged 4 and older.

First we read a story about a mother and her daughter she affectionately calls “Piggy”. Piggy’s mom decides to create a special bowl just for her, and as she works on it Piggy enters the world being painted on the bowl. Through the story we see classic Chinese porcelain bowl designs and learn their symbolism. Once the story concludes the next section shows photos of actual bowls and talks about the intricate meanings of the images and use of color. You also learn how the bowls were made. The last thing is a bowl you can decorate yourself.

Although obviously geared for children, “Bowls of Happiness” is actually a wonderful source of information for adults too. The original art is enchanting and the photos of the bowls are beautiful. “Bowls of Happiness” is a great little book for children and adults.

To learn more visit here.

The Witches’ Almanac Coloring Book

Let’s face it, there are hundreds, probably thousands (maybe more?), of adult coloring books at this point. I don’t want to sound all hipster, but my mom and I were coloring in coloring books as adults when all you could do was poke around the children’s book section for something to color. In fact, I have a Hello Kitty coloring book right now because if you like coloring, you never outgrow the classics. I’ve reviewed adult coloring books before now and I will again. Prepare thyself.

The Witches' Almanac Coloring Book
The Witches' Almanac Coloring Book

The latest in my growing collection of adult coloring books is “The Witches’ Almanac Coloring Book”. I have to say I’m happy to see more occult, pagan, and witch oriented coloring books popping up and “The Witches’ Almanac Coloring Book” doesn’t disappoint. It has 7 different categories, although some are larger than others: woodcuts, constellations, the planets, creatures, Egyptians, Americas, and tarot. Woodcuts features a wonderful mix of woodcut illustrations. What is nice about them, and most of the images used in this coloring book, is that that feature bold black outlines with nice spaces to color. Sometimes these adult coloring books are so fixated on having non-childlike images that they forget someone is supposed to be coloring those pictures in! Anyway, you’ve got nudity in here, doesn’t get more adult than that! That’s right, you can color Adam and Eve. In constellations you’ll find the stars in the images of their namesakes. The planets shows the mythological beings that represent them. Creatures is filled with some surprising twists. Instead of more traditional mythological creatures, you get the crazy mish mash that are creature images from the Medieval period. The Egyptians section if loaded with the traditional hieroglyphic images that are immediately recognizable and perfect for coloring. The Americas has Calaveras, Mayan images, and other south of the border pictures. Lastly tarot offers all the classic tarot cards to color. There is a blank page at the very end to test colors before using them on your chosen picture.

I colored this myself!
I colored this myself!

Each section has a brief introduction offering some information about the images and some ideas of what to contemplate upon while coloring. Just in case concentrating on staying in the lines isn’t enough for you!

“The Witches’ Almanac Coloring Book” is a wonderful addition to the adult coloring book category. It’s perfect for those looking for an eclectic coloring experience.

You can find “The Witches’ Almanac Coloring Book” here.

In a World of Gods and Goddesses

You may not have heard of Indra Sharma, but it is unlikely, regardless of where you live, that you haven’t seen his work. Sharma is one of India’s most well-known artists. He came from a long line of traditional painters and studied in multiple traditional painting styles. As such, his work reflects Hindu spirituality, and that is highlighted to great effect by “In a World of Gods and Goddesses: The Mystic Art of Indra Sharma” by James H. Bae.

What I was expecting was an art book; lots of pictures and a bit of text about the artist and his art. What I got was so much more! “In a World of Gods and Goddesses” is loaded with full color images of Sharma’s art, but it is also a wonderful biography of the artist. It offers a detailed explanation of traditional painting styles in India, and covers the sacred mythology of India and the stories of Hinduism’s deities. You can see why it’s a book to get excited about!

Just a Few of Sharma’s Gods & Goddesses

Thanks to the use of his art as posters, in calendars, and as greeting cards, Sharma’s work has made its way around the globe. I’ve personally found it in some new age/metaphysical gift shops on posters. Maybe you have too. “In a World of Gods and Goddesses” is a great way to learn about the artist, enjoy his work, and learn more about a whole artistic culture.

Hillary: The Coloring Book

Yep, Hillary Clinton is running for the Democratic nomination to be candidate for President of the United States. I’m in New York so I had her as a first lady, then a senator, then primary candidate, then Secretary of State, and now this. For as polarizing as a public figure as Clinton may be on the national and international stage, you can turn that dial up to 11 in New York State. Maybe it’s different down in the city, but upstate where I am, she’s loved, she’s hated, she’s put up, even people that love her have hang ups with her, and oddly, even people that hate her, no, they pretty much just hate her. Yet all of those people can unite behind one thing, “Hillary: The Coloring Book” by Valentin Ramon and Kelly Glover.

This is a fun activity/coloring book that profiles Hillary Clinton’s life and career. It starts with her birth and childhood. Yes, you can color a little Hillary Clinton in her Girl Scout uniform. The book was published before everyone 100% knew she was going to make a go of running for President again so it ends with you helping to design her potential 2016 campaign poster. An example of what you’ll do is this:

A Run at the White House

I have a limited supply of colors to draw from so my choices for skin tone were alabaster vampire or a weird orange/George Hamilton hybrid. I opted for vampire. Insert vampire politician joke here. Also, in looking at the choices I made for the jacket and blouse for what we all know is a pant suit, I realized I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Clinton in that soft of tones. We’ll call this my idealized Hillary. To be honest, my idealized Hillary is Bernie Sanders. And my idealized Bernie Sanders is Dennis Kucinich. I’m going to be one sad young lady on November 5, 2016. Where the hell was I?

Ah ha! The text that goes with my idealized Clinton coloring is:

As early as 2002, Hillary had hinted that she might soon run for president. Speculation grew over the years and came to a head on January 20, 2007, when Hillary formed an “exploratory committee.” She made the announcement in no uncertain terms on her official website with the simple statement, “I’m in. And I’m in to win.” Her story was irresistible; Hillary was the 25th woman to run for president and the first former First Lady make a run at returning to the White House as the president herself.

She received more media attention than any other candidate in the 2008 Democratic primaries, which included a host of male candidates, including Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, and Bill Richardson. As the primary election went on, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, a young senator from Illinois, quickly became the clear front-runners, with many of the other candidates withdrawing within the first few weeks.

“Hillary” is a fun, kitschy, and informative and perfectly priced at a suggested retail of $10.00. Give it to a big Hillary fan for them to have fun with. Give it to children, especially girls, as an educational gift. Give it to your favorite Hillary hater for them to deface! I told you at the beginning, “Hillary: The Coloring Book” is perfect for everyone!

The Three Magi Reunited

Something pretty special is happening at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC right now. For the first time in more than 130 years three paintings of the Magi, or the wise men, by Peter Paul Rubens are reunited for the public. These paintings remained together in the city of Antwerp until around 1876, after which they made their way to Paris where they were sold separately in 1881. They now reside in three different museums: the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the Museo de Arte de Ponce near San Juan, Puerto Rico. The National Gallery’s painting was given to the Gallery in 1943 as part of the Chester Dale Collection and it was stipulated that it cannot travel by the bequest. That means, who knows when the Magi will be reunited again!

However, it’s not just the once-in-a-lifetime-ness of the exhibition that makes it noteworthy in my mind, it’s the story of the art itself. (Before you think I’m some art history bad ass, the National Gallery passed this awesome info onto me.) This is also about the relationship between the artist and Balthasar Moretus the Elder, head of Plantin Press, the largest publishing house in 16th and 17th century Europe.

by Peter Paul Rubens

Balthasar, a close childhood friend of Rubens, commissioned the paintings around 1618. Balthasar and his two brothers were named after the Three Magi (Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar), so these paintings had a special personal meaning for both the artist and the patron. Earl Powell III, director of the National Gallery of Art says, “At the time, the Adoration of the Magi was a common subject in art, but these intimate paintings take the kings out of their usual narrative setting. Rubens conjured them as tangible flesh and blood believers.”

Peter Paul Rubens: The Three Magi Reunited is in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC until July 5, 2015.

Well Seasoned

Originally I had wanted to review this before the holidays, in the thought that people would want to give it as a Christmas gift, but things sometimes don’t work out as planned. However it isn’t that big of a deal because it turns out the “Well Seasoned: Savoring Life’s Lessons” by Rebecca Webb Wilson is the perfect gift for all seasons. So stay tuned as I clue you in on a great book for you, and probably for lots of people you know.

Rebecca Webb Wilson is a professional nature photographer who has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Swiss Alps part of the Haute Route, and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. She began her professional career as a Pan American World Airways stewardess, did a brief stint as a realtor, then went to law school eventually serving several years as an Assistant United States Attorney. The point I’m trying to make here is that Wilson is a creative, intelligent woman who has, and is still, living an amazing life. That life translates to “Well Seasoned”.

A Photo From Summer

The book is divided into four seasons. Surprising, I know. Wilson discusses how we often draw parallels between the seasons of our environment and the cycles of our life. Traditionally we view spring with birth and childhood, summer with adulthood, fall with maturity, and then winter with decline of the elderly. But she comments that this isn’t necessarily based in reality. That for many, the later years of life are a time of rebirth thanks to retirement. New careers are started. Educations are continued. New passions are discovered, or old passions are pursued once again. That could make those years spring time. Suddenly the seasonal metaphor is all kinds of exciting and up for grabs.

A Photo From Winter

With that in mind, Wilson starts us off at summer and childhood. From there it’s autumn, winter, and spring. Each chapter shares her personal insights, reflective poetry, and the lessons learned in each season. And of course, beautiful photos.

Rebecca Webb Wilson has crafted a book of wisdom that can speak to new parents, recent retirees, graduates, and anyone else looking for a different perspective on a new phase of their life.

The Geek Month in Review: December 2014

By JB Sanders

Happy Yule!

Alien Fonts
Great article on the fonts and symbols used in the movie Alien, and how they influenced other scifi movies. Bonus points for a tie-in with The Secret Doctrine by Helena Blavatsky.

Touchable Holograms
Yeah, you read that right. Projected images that have haptic feedback — meaning you can feel them. Go ahead and let your brain explode on that one.

Hand-Illuminated, Hand-Bound Copy of the Simallarion
You remember that Tolkien book, the one that is basically lifted from his hand-written notes about the world of the Lord of the Rings, but it is basically unreadable except as a reference work? Yeah, this German art student decides to just go ahead and create a copy of the book by hand. It’s awesome.

Margaret Hamilton, Lead Software Engineer, Project Apollo
Yeah, that headline pretty much tells the whole story, but for the details, read the article.

Interactive 3D Display
Nope, not the same as the link above. This is more like a telepresence version of that toy with all the pins in it that everyone always presses their hand into. Only with color.

Lord of the Rings Partially Explained
Ever wonder how Gandalf got to be so badass that he could go toe-to-toe with a Balrog? Check out the video!

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog:

Sunrise, Sunset

Perhaps you remember a recent book review I did for “The Grateful Life: The Secret to Happiness and the Science of Contentment” by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammon. If you were inspired to try to bring more gratitude into your life, could I suggest trying a beautiful little book called “Sunrise, Sunset: 52 Weeks of Awe & Gratitude” photographed by Kim Weiss.

When I say photographed, let me explain. Kim Weiss lives in coastal Florida and takes photos of sunrises and sunsets from her terrace. “Sunrise, Sunset” features 52 of the most gorgeous photos you can imagine of these scenes. Then, paired with these images are reflective thoughts from Ann DeMarle, Jack Canfield, Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr., Candace Bushnell, Frank De Caro, and of course many more.

A few favorites of mine:

The night came stealing my heart away, a billion sparkling diamonds and the call of the coyote. Lost in an endless eternity of questions, only darkened clouds for paths. The edge breaks, a golden seal, a blazing sun announcing a new day’s miracle. – Ann DeMarle

Every sunrise is an invitation to what could turn out to be the best party ever. Dress for it and pack a snack – just in case you feel puckish – and you’re sure to have at least a little fun that day.

Watching a sunset makes me feel warm and surrounded by love, and a part of a fabulous adventure that’s just beginning. Plus it means there’s cake in the offing.

I’ve never met a sunset I didn’t like.
It means dinner’s almost ready.
– Frank De Caro

Yeah, I like cake.

I also love the idea of spending a little time getting to admire a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Something I don’t take the time to do here in New York, or if I do, I’ll readily admit they don’t look like these bad boys. Sometimes the words paired with the images resonated with me, and sometimes not. However that’s how it will be for you too when you buy your copy. Because I highly suggest getting a copy for yourself.

The Geek Month in Review: September 2014

By JB Sanders

Woo! Fall!

Alien Landscape on Earth
Because it’s very isolated, the biome of Socotra island (off the coast of Yemen) is unique on Earth. And looks it.

The Nerd-Fu is Strong With This One
So, your typical person looks at a box of crayons, and thinks: “I can make art with these!” This guy? He doesn’t draw an elaborate picture with the crayons. He carves the crayons. Into scifi nerdy sculptures.

Loudest Known Sound
The loudest sound known to have occurred, on Earth mind you, was the eruption/explosion of Krakatoa. How bad was it? People 100 miles away suffered permanent hearing loss.

Plum Island for Sale
If you aren’t aware of Plum Island’s reputation, you’re in for a treat. It’s long been rumored to be the site of the US Government’s biological warfare research, or something even more sinister and oddball. Officially, it’s been the Plum Island Animal Disease Center since 1954. But now it’s for sale, and if isn’t going to be the source of the zombie/plague apocalypse, then it’d be a swell place to survive one of those. It has it’s own power plant, and water treatment facility. Plus tons of other interesting features.

For some background, the Wikipedia view of Plum Island:

Brain Surgery & 3D Printing
For some particularly difficult brain surgery procedures, doctors have started taking very high-resolution scans of the patient, printing a replica of their brain in a semi-solid medium, and testing the procedure ahead of time. They even print the blood vessels in a different color medium. How wild is that?

Postcards from the Great Exhibition
If you’re not familiar with it, the Great Exhibition was the first world’s fair, encompassing 13,000 exhibits under a purpose-built structure called the Crystal Palace. It’s a popular destination for time travelers, since it was easy to blend into the crowd of almost 6 million visitors, and everyone went. The engravings are themselves beautiful examples of High Victorian art.

Cheap and Easy Hydrogen Production
One of the downsides of renewable forms of energy is that if you don’t use it when it’s produced, it’s gone. And there aren’t any good storage solutions, to hold onto that energy for later use. In comes hydrogen. If you can use the renewable energy to extract hydrogen from common sources (like from water), you can store up the volatile gas for later use — either burned directly, or combined with other elements to produce electricity directly. Some scientists have found a way to produce hydrogen far more easily than was previously possible.

Don’t Screw With the Swiss
I think they invented the term “ruthlessly neutral”. Here’s a primer on why it’s never worth it to invade, despite their strategic deposits of chocolate.

Massive Old Prison for Sale
It was built in 1886, and is no longer in use. It has 85 acres, 47 buildings, a baseball diamond, basketball court, and of course, a lot of barbed wire. Need a little vacation place? Or an apocalypse compound? Here you go.

DC Superheroes Like Norman Rockwell Would Do ‘Em
Ever wonder, in an idle moment, what comic books might look like if famous artists had done them instead of the slightly-less-famous-artists who did? Wonder no more!

What Real Space Battles Would Look Like
Ok, this video is more instructional and party-pooper than cool special effects. But take a look at the silliness that is Hollywood space battles.

Largest Medieval City in the World? Angkor
Yes, that Angkor — the one made famous by the largest religious complex in the world (three times the size of the Vatican), Angkor Wat. The city recently discovered surrounding it was over 1000 square kilometers at its peak — it took 700 years before London was that big. How did they discover this massive city? Lasers.

Eye of the Tiger — On Dot Matrix
I’m sure you’ve heard tunes played on dot matrix printers before — the benighted wailing of a lost generation. But this is so awesome, you have to give it gander. That’s right, gander, because you can watch it produce it’s remarkably close rendition.

And on floppy drives, just for comparison:

Make Your Own Cloaking Device
No, really. It’s all about optics, man.

Fighting in Full Plate? Yuch!
So some French medievalists demonstrate how maneuverable those knights in full plate armor really were. Answer? Pretty damned maneuverable. Though I can see why they might not be the stealthiest bunch out there.

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: