Archive for May, 2010

As I mentioned a few posts ago, my museum is putting the finishing touches on the world premiere of “Cleopatra…” scheduled to open this Saturday.  I spent the past few days putting together and testing out a prototype for an educational program I’ll be running during the exhibit.

The idea is for visitors to get a better idea of what archaeologists do and how they work on an excavation.  All of the artifacts in the exhibit were excavated either from the desert or the harbor at Alexandria.  I also wanted to show how an archaeologist differs from a treasure hunter (careful, methodical excavation with the intention of recording all findings, etc) so a big part of the prototype is finding the right “digging medium”.  Too soft and they’ll sift right through, too hard and they’ll never find anything

Waiting for some visitors

So after much thought and research I settled on a mixture of sand and melted wax.  When the wax hardens the sand is suspended in it, created a nice firm medium to scrape/brush at.  *If you’re trying this at home, be prepared to say goodbye to one of your saucepans… I plan on getting these nifty crock pot liners to throw in our beat up crock pot at work*

I made “stone” walls from modeling clay and arranged/hot-glued them in a shadow box frame to represent the foundations of an ancient Roman dwelling.  Then I poured the sand-wax on top and let it dry over night.

Ancient Roman walls

I tested it on our visitors this weekend and received almost 100% positive results.  There are a few kinks to be worked out but nothing a little bit of tweaking won’t solve.  I definitely want to make sure more of the “walls” are visible above the sand-wax, makes it much easier to start somewhere.  I also want to make flipbooks showing real archaeological dig sites– a lot of kids have a hard time figuring out what we’re looking at (“these are weird dinosaur bones…”)

Progress after 1.5 hours of testing

This is definitely a “family” activity so I think it will only come out on the weekends, rather than our crazy busy weekdays.  I really like that visitors stay for a decent amount of time; it gives me a chance to find out what they know and to guide our conversations along those lines.  You would be amazed at how much kids already know about archaeology and how interested they are in digging around!  I had a really interesting conversation with a young visitor (~8 years old) and her dad today about archaeology in Philadelphia– a few years ago the city dug up the foundation of George Washington’s house before a parking garage was put in.  They were both excited to learn that archaeologists don’t have to work in the desert, sometimes they start in their own backyard!

Covered with dig medium and the floor plan

Final product should be out on the museum Floor in 2-3 weeks, I’m excited!


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We didn’t get a chance to go on a big bike ride this weekend.  Friday was my sister-in-law’s birthday so we threw her a BBQ bash in our backyard.  I love our “private” backyard!  Here’s my “signature cocktail” for the party:

Spiked Strawberry Lemonade

Juice 8-10 lemons, removing the seeds but keeping the pulp

Mix lemon juice, pulp, 1/2 cup sugar and 8 cups water in a large pitcher; add 2-3 cups sliced strawberries. Refrigerate.

Pour 1.5 oz Lemon Rum (I like Bacardi) over ice in a highball glass; top with the lemonade (strain it); garnish with a strawberry or lemon slice– or both!  Taste the summery goodness.

We did get a chance to ride down to the Delaware River on Thursday night to see this mean looking storm roll in:

B. Franklin Bridge and storm

Luckily we were on the right side of the weather this time and dodged raindrops the whole way home.

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Another weekend come and gone… how is it that my days off seem to move at a speed 10 times that of my working days?  I hope our 365 “days off” move at a snail’s pace!

On Friday we set out to Fairmount Park for some sketching and picnic in the woods.  We stopped by the Bicycle Coalition’s Bike Pit Stop on the way.  One of the Bicycle Ambassadors was really excited for our Long Haul Truckers– he had recently completed a cross-country journey on his (only to have it stolen upon his return to Philly… nice).  We got some free pretzels and stickers and headed on our way.

Pat's bike

After several relaxing hours at the edge of a baseball field in the West Park we decided to head for home.  I thought I knew how to navigate us through West Philadelphia so we didn’t have to go all the way back into Center City just to head west again.  Plus we had just received a free map I thought we could use.  I was wrong.

Magical path

We ended up cycling in a HUGE circle around Bala Cynwyd.  Very nice, ritzy neighborhood, but not OUR neighborhood.  We ran into a (I kid you not) 75-year old Girl Scout who finally pointed us in the right direction.  Along the way I hit a massive, hidden pothole and thought I had broken my bum.  It really, really hurt.  But I survived to tell the tail (get it, tail=tale?? ha!).

I will admit that we should have had a better navigation plan BUT the map was absolutely the pits.  Most roads didn’t have names, and those that did were not laid out in real life the way they were on the map.  This just solidifies in my mind the importance of having a GPS on our trip.  Patrick thought he disagreed– he suggested we just get a map for each place we visit– I reminded him that a GPS does exactly that.  I think we agree to disagree.  See, who needs compromise in marriage?? 😉

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Two Long Hauls

Last weekend we rode out to our friend James’ house in Phoenixville, PA.  It’s about 34 miles from our apartment.  Luckily the Schuylkill trail runs all the way out to his town.  Then it’s only 5 miles or so on the shoulder of the road.  It was a little hairy on the skinny country-road shoulder and misty weather.  But we made it there safely and enjoyed some delicious BBQ courtesy of James. 


We built a giant bonfire.  Of course marshmallows were roasted. 

James the goat whisperer

We met some goats.  Hearded them around…

The house James is living in belongs to his boss at a landscaping business.  The boss wants to have a large-scale sculpture in the front yard to act as a kind of billboard.  So Pete and James are constructing a 5-foot tall stone egg.  We watched them dig the foundation pit and carry stones.  James gets to drive a real Tonka Truck Bulldozer.

Where the egg will live

We spent the night and rode back the next day.  I was absolutely exhausted on Sunday at work.  They were great rides though so I didn’t really mind.

Restorative ice cream treat on the way home

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May is National Bike Month and the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia has been celebrating with various activities—from commuter “pit stops” to free road riding lessons to advocacy events.  Last night I participated in the annual Ride of Silence.  The ride is meant to raise awareness of cyclists’ road rights and to honor cyclists killed in the Delaware Valley over the past year.

Silently, slowly down the Parkway

The ceremony started with some remarks from the gentlemen who organized the ride.  I learned that Philadelphia has doubled the number of cyclists on the road in the past year since the allocation of bike lanes on Spruce and Pine streets.  Sidewalk riding is down 70% (a big deal in Philadelphia; last year 2 pedestrians were struck and killed by cyclists riding on the sidewalk). 

Right on!

Before we left on the ride, the organizers read obituaries for the local cyclists who were killed by cars over the past year.  Then they reviewed the 7-mile route, reminded us to wear our helmets, keep to a speed of 12 mph and, most importantly, to remain silent for the ride.  Starting at the Art Museum steps we travelled down the Parkway, circled City Hall, wound through Old City, took Spruce west and crossed into West Philly via the Walnut St. Bridge.  The ride then headed back to the Art Museum on Market and 22nd Sts.  As the cyclists regrouped the ride ended in a group “bike lift” and then plenty of applause.

I have never taken part in a group ride before, let alone a silent one.  I think there were about 300 cyclists at the ride and our slow-moving pack stretched along 5 city blocks.  The Philadelphia Police provided a “rolling escort” so we had the entire road and went through all the stoplights.  It was interesting to see how pedestrians and motorists reacted.  One guy jogged along with us the whole route, pretty hardcore… 

As we turned west onto Walnut street the sun started to dip just below the clouds, painting the sky on the wide, car-free road ahead of us.  Safe in a pack of slow-moving, peace-loving, helmet-wearing cyclists I began to think about the dangers Pat and I will face cycling around the world.  I got really scared.  But then I thought about the dangers I face every day just riding around Philly.  And sometimes just walking around; I can be very clumsy.  I think we’re both willing to take on some challenges to be able to experience the great wide world.

Silent Bike Ride 2010

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One of the (many) reasons why I love museums is that their exhibits frequently let you travel the globe without leaving the gallery.  Archaeology museums are one of my favorites because of this.  I remember visiting the Field Museum in Chicago as a child and being sucked into the story of life in South Africa—the colorful buses, exotic foods, people in different clothing and, of course, tales of struggle I didn’t really understand at the time.  That experience, along with countless others (my sister still bemoans the fact that the majority of our vacations were spent at educational venues…), helped fuel my interest in world cultures.  For me, a well organized exhibit can turn the tools, trinkets and images of a culture into an imaginary field trip to that corner of the world.

Situating the 3-ton statue

That’s why I am really excited about the upcoming Cleopatra: The Last Queen of Egypt exhibit at my work.  We are the first venue for the new exhibit so I really don’t know a lot about it.  We did see a little sneak preview at a staff meeting; it sounds like there will be a lot of things like coins, pottery and even a few scrolls.  But the “centerpiece” of the exhibit will likely be the two, three-ton marble statues brought from the bottom of the Mediterranean at Alexandria.

Yesterday I had a great birds-eye view of the statues being moved into the building.  Since they are so heavy and tall they couldn’t be brought in on our freight elevator.  Instead a HUGE crane lifted them in through the window of the travelling exhibit space.

First they loaded the box containing the statue onto this platform.  They uncrated it and then wrapped it up in what looked like 100 boxes of Saran wrap.  Once secured, the crane lifted the platform up to the window.  The crew slid it into the building on rails with the help of some fancy lifts/jacks.
The exhibit is really tightly guarded (understandably so, with the priceless Egyptian artifacts carefully excavated and conserved lying around…) so I didn’t get to see them winch the statues upright.  I do know they had to reinforce the floor under them, I’m still a little nervous to go in the gallery below!

Heading for the window

It kind of looked like this guy was pushing it in single-handed

I hope Cleopatra helps me travel back in time to the sands of the Saharan desert and the banks of the Nile where this mysterious woman ruled.  Stay tuned!

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What a nice, relaxing weekend.  Patrick and I spent Friday cruising out along Forbidden Drive.  It was practically abandoned, very different from our last visit on Good Friday.  We found a nice patch of grass to spread our picnic blanket on and chilled out for a few hours.  A goose heard me opening a bag of trail mix and came up to investigate.  I was too scared to throw him a bite; I think he would have settled in with us!

Feed ME!

On the way back we noticed that they are doing some repairs on one of the bridges.  There is a huge net hanging under the bridge to catch any falling debris or anyone trying to walk a tightrope I guess.

Cirq du Bridge

Speaking of which, when I walked past our park yesterday I saw two guys practicing on a tightrope strung between two trees!  They were being coached by an old, old grandma smoking a cigarette.  And I thought Ann Arbor was strange… West Philly is the best Philly, that’s for sure.

Anyway, on the way home from Forbidden Drive we checked out all the regatta action happening on the Schuylkill River. This weekend Philadelphia hosted the annual Dad Vail Regatta (named for Harry Emerson “Dad” Vail, what a nickname…) which attracts over 100 crews.  I was on the novice team for a year at UofM so I convinced Pat to let me reminisce and watch a few starts.

Riding my bike reminds me of rowing sometimes.  Great for your legs, you get to enjoy the outdoors, and you’re encouraged to wear spandex.  I’m just glad my bike doesn’t have a tiny person strapped to it screaming at me to go faster.  Though I’m sure I’ll redact that statement in a few years…

Getting set

On Saturday we rested and watched a ridiculous amount of “My Name is Earl” on the Xbox.  I think it’s funny that the show has the exact same premise for every single episode and yet it continues to be pretty entertaining.  I guess if you find the right premise you can make a show about anything.

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