It’s a rock-n-rolling weekend with The Chromatics

sonia-and-ballet-2This Friday, we are partying like its 1989 as The Chromatics put on a show full of pure energy that will keep you on the dance floor under the dinosaurs all night long. This totally awesome band is known as the 80s super-group of the 21st century.

 

Don’t let another Friday night bite the dust without you here at Mixers. Find yourself walking on sunshine while enjoying our cash bars and Audi Lounge, which open at 6 p.m. The totally righteous performance begins at 7 p.m. at the smartest scene in town.

 

This week: The Chromatics

 

August 7: Take a trip through the decades with Commercial Art

August 14: It’s salsa night again at the Museum with Grupo Batacha

August 21: Get ready for heart-pounding rhythm and blues with Yvonne Washington & the Mix

The Heart of a Collector: 500 pez dispensers don’t lie

Pez Collection
Creative Commons License photo credit: Okaggi

One day it just happens. You look around your living space and realize, oh-my-gosh, I have 500 Pez dispensers. Well, ok, maybe not Pez dispensers and maybe not 500 of them but you do have a whole lot of one particular item. Congratulations! Whether intentional or not, you’ve got a collection!

Since you’re reading the HMNS blog, I’m thinking your collection probably runs more towards natural specimens and artifacts. But it doesn’t matter whether it’s Pez dispensers or wombat figurines, every personal collection could use some management. And viewing your collection like a museum collections professional can be helpful.

To start, I’m putting on my registrar’s hat to caution all collectors strongly about specimen and artifact collection. There is a myriad of state, federal and international laws about surface collection, sale and import/export of natural history specimens and antiquities. Please be sure you’re up to date on them. Ignorance of these laws won’t get you out of hot water and the penalties are pretty stiff. If you want to know more about these laws contact me or a curator and we can point you towards the appropriate websites. Caveats issued, let’s begin.

Sand Dollars and Shells
Creative Commons License photo credit: Zevotron

First, define your collection – briefly please. Do you collect rocks, shells and fossils? Take a broader approach and say you collect natural science (or natural history) specimens. As you organize further you can break down the collection into its various categories of geology, conchology and paleontology. Next, spend some time pondering the scope of your collection. Are all additions welcome no matter how tangential? Or do you collect with a narrower focus? If your collection has a sharper focus what are the criteria? People collect for all kinds of personal reasons. The scope of your collection might be dictated by color, size, geographic place, cost or a combination of things. The important thing is to define it as one all-encompassing entity.

Now that you know what your collection is you have to know what’s in it. If you haven’t been an intentional collector it’s likely that you’re not so sure how many items you’ve got. An accurate count is essential. Start with an overall count of every item; for example, a pottery collection of thirty pieces. In the highly unlikely occurrence that you collect only one thing identically replicated over and over you can stop here.

Otherwise, the next step is where you truly put your own stamp on your collection. Decide and define the different categories of your collection. You’re not just a collector but a curator as well, so you can lump items together however it pleases you – size, shape, color, date, whatever. If you’re serious about natural science specimens, it is best to follow the Linnaean system. But whatever you use, get an accurate count of the number of items that fit in each category.

Harry Potter
A picture of the artist adds
to your collection.
Creative Commons License photo credit: lakshmi.prabhala

As every devout fan of the Antiques Roadshow knows, documentation is most important. Always document the date and place where you’ve collected. If you’ve added to your collection by purchase, keep the receipt. If your collection has ethnographic artifacts such as pottery or textiles, ask the artist if you if you can take their photograph. Getting yourself in a photograph with the artist also helps to document your collection. When collecting specimens be as specific as you can about location and circumstances.

Good images, digital or film, are very important. Individual images are best but group shots are good too. Brief written statements about your collection add to its educational value. Detailed documentation is of enormous help should you decide to part with your collection by donation or sale. It is absolutely necessary if your collection is lost to theft, fire or water. It’ll also stop your heirs from pitching it, especially if they haven’t a clue about what you collected.

How you keep track of your collection may also change over time.
This is the very first collections ledger for the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
(Learn more in this year’s history series: 100 Years – 100 Objects.)

So, how do you keep on top of all that documentation and cataloguing? Again, it’s up to you. Many people do just fine keeping receipts, photos, etc. in an archival notebook or album. If you want to keep it all digitally you can scan hard copies (but keep those originals!) and use a spreadsheet for cataloguing. Excel will do, especially if you’ve got less than two hundred items. Should you want to get really serious, lots of collectors use Filemaker Pro, though I hasten to add that I haven’t personally worked with it. There are collection management databases but they’re all geared towards museums and libraries, expensive and way too complicated for the needs of a private collector.

These are just a few suggestions to start maintaining your collection. A future blog will cover basic care and preservation. And if all this seems too arduous, don’t worry about it. Collecting should be a fun and relaxing pursuit. After all, those 500 Pez dispensers are meant to be enjoyed.

I can’t find my reading glasses, but I’ll manage.

You’ve probably noticed the magnifying effect of a glass of water or any other clear beverage (the black text to the right of the glass is the same size as the black text behind the glass):

And you probably have some idea that the magnification has to do with the curved shape of the glass and the water it contains: The water in the glass bends light so it appears to us to be coming from an object that is bigger or closer than it really is.

To explore this more, try making differently sized water drops on top of a sheet of waxed paper (the waxed paper helps the water ‘bead up,’ which improves the effect):

You’re aiming for a large drop about 2 centimeters or 1 inch across, and medium and small drops that are, well, smaller.  If you don’t have an eyedropper to help you, you can either pour extremely carefully or dip a pencil or spoon in water and let the water drip off of it.

Look at a page with words through the drops (don’t use your first editions of The Old Man and the Sea or Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, because the water will eventually seep through the waxed paper and make you very, very sad).  Do you see any differences between the larger and smaller drops?

This looks much clearer if you try it yourself, so go do it! 

You may be thinking “My large drops (possibly puddles) don’t seem to change anything; why do the small drops work so much better?”  To explain this, try looking at your drops from the side (your eyes should be level with the surface of your table:

The shapes are different: The largest drop looks almost flat across the top, while the smallest drop makes a very tidy little dome shape.  Another way to say this is that the smallest drop’s surface is more sharply curved, or is more convex than the larger drops (convex surfaces bulge out, concave surfaces “cave in.” And it turns out that the less convex the surface of the drop, the less it magnifies.  If you want a more in depth explanation with diagrams, check out this site.

Convex and concave lenses are used in all kinds of cool equipment. For more information on lenses and the anatomy of your eyeballs, check out The Anatomy of the Eye. 

Tasty Treats: snacks to revive the weary fossil-hunter

Our guest blogger today is Gretchen, a volunteer at the HMNS who traveled with the Paleo team to Seymour in June. In addition to helping the team excavate in the 120 degree heat, Gretchen acted as head chef, feeding the hot, tired, and dirty diggers at the end of each day. In today’s blog, Gretchen shares with us her best recipes to keep up your energy in the field.

As the chief chef, bottle washer and Dimentrodon digger in Seymour for the week of June 2-7, I was asked to share some of my field recipes with you all!

When you are out digging in the Permian red beds it is important to keep your energy levels high. The best way to do so is to eat home-made cookies! Now, to make sure it will stand up to field conditions, you have to find a cookie recipe that is:

  1. Easy
  2. Not too “crumbly”
  3. Very tasty — even after it has sat in 100-degree temperatures in a zip-lock bag in the back of our truck for days!

The hands-down winner and first runner-up are:

Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

1 (14 ounce) can of sweetened condensed milk

¾ cup peanut butter

2 cups of biscuit mix

1-teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 bag of either (choose one) chocolate chips or chocolate chip/peanut butter swirls.

a plate of cookies
Creative Commons License photo credit: djloche

Combine the sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until blended. Add biscuit mix and vanilla extract and mix well. Put small amounts of the mix on a cookiesheet (1 teaspoon of mix should do the trick.) Flatten with a fork (If you are up to it you can make a pretty crisscross pattern with the fork! But nobody notices this extra effort in the field so it’s up to you!)

Bake at 375 for 6 to 7 minutes or until slightly golden in color.

Cool on a wire rack.

These cookies are yummy and virtually indestructible!

The runner up favorite was:

Newport Desserts 4lb. Lemon-Fruit Cream Bars1
Creative Commons License photo credit: monstershaq2000

Lemon Crispies

¾ cup of shortening

1-cup of sugar

3 large eggs

2 cups of all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon of baking soda

1/8 teaspoon of salt

2 (3.4-ounce) packages of lemon instant pudding mix.

Beat Shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine flour and the remaining 3 ingredients; gradually add to shortening mixture, beating well. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 farenheit for 8 to 9 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Cool one minute on baking sheets; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

I also made traditional “Toll House Cookies” that are a crowd favorite. Just buy a bag of chocolate chips and follow the recipe on the back!

For dinner (with leftovers for lunch the following day) I like to make soup. You can get the soup prepared; put it in a crock pot on low when you leave for the day in the field — and when you get back to the Ranch the soup is hot and ready to go!

I was lucky on this trip that on my way to Seymour I stopped by a roadside farmer’s stand just outside of Dublin, Texas. (For you trivia buffs, the question is: “What is Dublin, Texas world-famous for?” The answer will be at the end of the blog.) At the stand I was able to purchase sweet potatoes (or yams, I can never tell), red potatoes, yellow squash, sweet onions, peaches and fresh eggs. I incorporated these fresh ingredients in my cooking all week long. It’s cool when you can see the garden that your produce came from and the trees that the peaches were pulled off of and the chickens whose eggs you are enjoying. You know that everything is farm-fresh. A real treat for us Houston City Dwellers!

The hands-down favorite soup of the week was:

Monterey Chicken Soup

3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 & ½ medium onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced (I used 4, garlic is good for you!)

3 (4-ounce) cans of green chilies, diced. (Look for “Hatch Green Chilies” — they are the best and the hot ones are HOT!)

2 yellow squash cubed *

3 red potatoes cubed *

3 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground comino

3 teaspoons oregano

12 cups of chicken broth

3 (14&1/2-ounce) cans of tomatoes, diced with juice

4 cups of chicken cubed (I used about 8 thighs cut up.) You can use pre-cooked chicken.

4 cups of frozen corn, thawed (If I had found good-looking corn-on-the-cob I would have scraped the corn from the cobs and used that. Unfortunately, my roadside stand did not have corn – to early in the season.)

2/3 cups of cilantro

Salt and pepper to add some taste

*Not in the original recipe, but with my roadside stand I found that they added great taste to an already great soup!

Heat oil, onion and garlic until transparent. Add chilies and spices and cook for one minute. Add broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add chicken, corn, extra vegetables, and cilantro. Cook 30 minutes or until potatoes and/or chicken is done. Season with salt and pepper for taste.

I served a wonderful Corn Casserole with the soup; which was great the next day for breakfast too!

½ cup of butter, melted

1-cup of sour cream

1 egg

1 can (16-ounce) of whole kernel corn, drained

1 can (16-ounce) of cream style corn, UNdrained

1 (9-ounce) package of corn muffin mix

1 cup of grated cheddar cheese

In a large bowl, mix together butter, sour cream and egg.

Stir in cans of corn and corn muffin mix.

Spoon into a 9-inch square pan (or 2 quart casserole dish)

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from oven and top with cheese.

Return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Let stand for 5 minutes and serve warm.

Although I really enjoyed cooking for the crew, nothing beats sitting in the hot West Texas sun, digging and brushing carefully through the Permian soil looking for the bones of reptiles and other animals long extinct! We found some pretty cool bones on this trip; including a huge claw and some very tiny bones of an unknown animal!

P.S. Dublin, Texas is the home of Doctor Pepper! You can purchase Doctor Pepper made from the original recipe there. The whole town is covered with Doctor Pepper signs and murals. Dublin is well worth the trip off the main highway to visit.