Monthly Archives: September 2014

Give Your Star-Lord a Peter Quill Care Package


A care-package for defending the galaxy…or visiting Grandma!

I think many parents might agree that the unsung hero in this summer’s blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy, was Meredith Quill, the mother of Peter Quill.

Moviegoers only got to see Peter’s mom for a short time at the start of a film, but we seemed to learn quite a bit about her from her deathbed. She loved “awesome” music, and used her enthusiasm to not only grow closer to her son, but to make him happy and hopeful when life can throw some nasty curves. She raised a strong-willed and independent kid on her own, despite his dad being an incredibly long way away. Her very last notion before departing this Earth was to feel the simple touch of her son’s hand. Even more than two decades after her death, her memory and strength continued to inspire Peter in the direst of situations. What a great mom!

All parents know the importance of maintaining that connection with their son or daughter, even when they know they might not be physically able to be with them.

Take a tip from Meredith’s playbook, and create something special for your own “Star Lord” with a Peter Quill-inspired care package. This gift will help ease those nerves and fears that can come from a first day at a new school, an overnight sleepover, weekend visits to relatives, or just the rainy day blues.

Start with one plain black backpack or drawstring sackpack and fill it with the following items:

“Awesome Mix” CD
Baby Groot Craft Kit
“Orb” Snackholder and Other Treats
Science Fiction Book or Comic
Troll Doll, Trading Cards, and Stickers


Great for a care package…or make your own for a gift.

The “Awesome Mix.” The Awesome Mix is an essential item. Anyone not living under an intergalactic rock is aware the actual “Awesome Mix, Vol. 1” is available for purchase, but I suggest giving a homemade mix. Use some favorite songs from the Guardians soundtrack, and add a few that meant something to you as a kid. My mix includes selections, “Come and Get Your Love,” “Cherry Bomb,” and “Spirit in the Sky” from the actual “Awesome Mix,” but I added bands like The Stray Cats, Johnny Cash, The Smiths, Social Distortion, and others from my own childhood. If you’re having a hard time thinking of song ideas, Entertainment Weekly put out a hypothetical “Awesome Mix, Vol. 2″ playlist, and it is actually pretty good. Really, it doesn’t matter what songs are on the disc, as long as it is personal. That’s the beauty of the mix tape.

If your child has their own digital music player, sneak a downloaded playlist onto it, and include a hand-written list for reference.

Baby Groot Craft. Simple craft kits are a good way to enjoy some down-time on trips or at recess, and this “Baby Groot” kit uses only a few materials. There are some pretty realistic-looking “Baby Groots” out there right now, but the point of this craft is for it to be easy enough for a school-aged child to put together on their own.


Don’t forget Groot!

Place six light brown chenille craft stems (cut in half) in a zip-top bag, with a handful of dark brown pom-poms and a small paper drinking cup. Cut three small slits of black craft foam, and lightly tape them on the bottom of the cup to use for Groot’s face.

To make things simpler on the crafter, fill cut a small Styrofoam square so it fits in the bottom of Groot’s cup. This will make it easier to just stick the end of his stem in the cup. Also, Elmer’s makes school glue in travel sizes (1.25 oz) that will easily fit in the bag.

I recommend making your own Baby Groot first to see how it comes out, and take a picture of it to include with a copy of “Baby Groot Instructions.”

Book or Graphic Novel. I can never pack an overnight or weekend bag for myself without some sort of reading material. Include a copy of one your favorite science fiction novels or graphic novels. If you want to stick with the Guardians of the Galaxy theme, Dan Abnett’s prose novel, Rocket Raccoon and Groot Steal the Galaxy is a fun read for ages nine and older.

To go that extra mile, the official movie site for the Guardians of the Galaxy has a “Make Yourself a Guardian” activity where you can put yourself of your kid in the famous “line-up” image. These can be printed out on card stock and made into cool personalized bookmarks.


The orb’s a great place to hide other surprises…just not an Infinity Stone.

Treat-filled Orb. Care packages always have to have treats. A neat way to package some loose treats or small trinkets, is by painting a clear plastic fillable ornament black, and drawing some curvy designs on it using silver 3-D paint. Once it dries, fill it with popcorn, candy-coated chocolate pieces, etc.

Include a couple of bags of healthy treats (raisins, granola, or trail mix), as well as something just for fun that meets your own child’s dietary needs. For some reason, I can see Peter (even the grown-up Peter) really getting into Pop Rocks.

Troll Doll and Trading Cards. Finish off with a few of Peter’s relics from his childhood, as seen in his ship, The Milano. Peter has a favorite orange-haired troll doll, but any discount store troll doll will work. I used a troll-like fairy toy called a Zelf in my example, since they are similar designs. Also shown in Peter’s sleeping area were several retro stickers, such as the iconic happy face and American flag stickers that adorned lockers in the 70s and 80s, and trading cards (Alf, Garbage Pail Kids). I personally can’t stand Garbage Pail Kids, but did include some retro-style Star Wars and Batman designs.


Mix some retro with some new items to personalize your care package.

This care package doesn’t have to be limited to these listed items, or even include all of them. Whatever you put in there, remember you don’t have to be galaxies away to let your daughter or son to know they are always close to your heart.


Three Ways to Enjoy Alan Rickman in Under Ten Minutes


Dust, a short film starring Alan Rickman, made its way though the independent and short film festival circuits with enthusiastic response. Last month, this twisted little tale was made available to watch online through sites like Vimeo and YouTube.

Created with the help of the online crowdfunding platform Sponsume, Dust is the directorial debut of lifelong friends Jake Russell and Ben Ockrent. It not only made the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Long List for 2014, the result of Round One voting by Academy members, it was an “Official Selection” at film festivals worldwide.

Rickman plays a silent, creepy trench coat-wearing man who follows a young girl and her mother (Broadchurch‘s Jodie Whittaker) home. After lurking in the shadows until nightfall, the man sneaks into their home, where something unexpected happens.

Any more information will give things away, but the ending will not disappoint Rickman fans.

Alan Rickman: Portraits in Dramatic Time. Image courtesy of David Michalek.

Alan Rickman: Portraits in Dramatic Time. Image courtesy of David Michalek.

For those who can’t get enough of this multiple award-winning actor’s work, here are two other short doses of Rickman to enjoy

First, Alan Rickman: Portraits in Dramatic Time. This mesmerizing piece of Rickman dunking tea, then having a table-tossing fit in hyper slow-motion, was part of David Michalek’s “Portraits in Dramatic Time” project. The project features performers from all genres creating a 10- to 15-second scene in a small space. Michalek filmed the scene with ultra-high-speed cameras, fixed on one angle. The result was what Michalek called in his project description “glacially paced” dramatic narratives condensed down to an essence.

There were other wonderful performances in this series, but Rickman’s “Epic Tea Time,” as it came to be called, was the one that got the most attention with social media viewers.

Stretching this simple, burst of frustration into a 7-minute performance demonstrates how Rickman has more emotional range in a few simple gestures than some actors can achieve in a full-length film.

Screen-Shot-2014-08-29-at-10.27.18-AMSecondThe Boy In The Bubble. Rickman narrates this animated story about a classic horror-loving boy who foolishly tries to avoid dealing with a broken heart via a magic spell.

Stylistically, it will appeal to fans of Tim Burton’s macabre and heartwarming stop-motion films like Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride, although Burton isn’t involved in the project. Rickman’s smooth, dark chocolate voice is what brings this charming little tale its enchantment. Despite its monster-laden overtones, this film is also a redemptive tale of how those who endure bullying or heartbreak may be tempted to isolate themselves away from their problems.

Irish director Kealan O’Rourke has won several film festival awards for his live-action and animated films, including The Boy in the Bubble. As the first Irish-made film to use the 3D stereoscopic process, the short won two awards when it premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2011, and won the 2012 IFTA (Irish Film & Television Award) for Best Animation.

According to O’Rourke’s official site, The Boy in the Bubble is currently being developed into a feature-length film. There’s no specific talk on whether or not Rickman will still play a prominent part in the feature film, but it would be a shame if he didn’t.

Cars Land Via Historic Route 66

All photos by Rick Tate

We discovered one of the best ways to enjoy Disney’s California Adventure Cars Land is by getting a look at the historic route from which it was inspired. All photos by Rick Tate

My husband, Rick, and I had talked about taking a trip down the Historic Route 66 for several years. When the Walt Disney Company and Pixar announced two years ago the addition of Cars Land, a recreation of Cars Downtown Radiator Springs, to their California Adventure Park in Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort, we decided to take action.

After several months of planning, and precisely scheduling the trip to coincide with our 20th wedding anniversary and our youngest daughter’s birthday, we set off to “get our kicks.” Time wouldn’t allow us to make the entire Route 66 drive, so we started just outside of Oklahoma City, to “motor west” the end of the road at Santa Monica Beach in California.

We knew we wanted to take in as much of the historic quirky, kitschy weirdness that was once America’s most prominent byway, but what about our daughters? Our route would be roughly 1,300 miles (a good four days of car travel), with several “back road” stops along the way. How could we make a long stretch of American concrete and often deserted buildings interesting for a 12-year-old ‘tween and a very, very active four year old anticipating her upcoming fifth birthday?

Thankfully, Disney had already done the job for us, as Disneyland Park was located in the Los Angeles area, near the end of the Route 66 line. We gave our girls the task of seeing how much of Route 66’s features they would recognize during their Cars Land visit. After all, four days at Disneyland was a good incentive to put up with what they probably felt was a traveling history lesson.

Once we reached our Disney destination, it was evening when Cars Land’s neon was in full glory. Our girls immediately begin recognizing all the details, shops, attractions, and features inspired by Route 66. Having just seen the “real deal” made the adventure that much more exciting.

Here are a few of the most obvious Cars Land/Route 66 comparisons we made:

Route 66 Road Stamps.

shield-signs-660x289These stenciled Route 66 shield stamps are periodically placed along the highway to mark areas of some of the original stretches of road or historic districts. Some of the signs we saw were marked with the state’s designation, and some had an extra bit of detail added, but they were all pretty much the same, classic shield design.

The over-sized Route 66 shield stamp in Cars Land was set in a centralized location, but much bigger than many of the ones on the actual highway. It was a perfect “welcome” the evening we arrived.

The “Here It Is”

This sign was the tail end of an over-the-top “anticipation” method of advertising, where signs featuring the same bunny image were placed along the highway nearly every mile for around 100 miles. The idea was to wear down the driver with such a sense of curiosity, they just had to stop to see what “IT” actually was. The answer: a big fiberglass saddled bunny outside of the Jackrabbit Trading Post, between Holbrook and Winslow, Arizona. Today, only the final sign is left along the roadside, but the trading post is still open for business. The big bunny is still well cared for ready for photo ops.

The Cars Land “Here It Is” Sign is an adorable tribute to this sign, including the little “Stanley” bunnies aligning the top of the billboard. There was no giant bunny, but Mater’s “petting zoo” is near the sign, with a single tractor to pose with and pet. Unlike the jackrabbit, Disney discourages guests from sitting on the tractor.

The U-Drop Inn.

ramones-660x312Disney Pixar’s most faithful recreation of one of Route 66’s historic roadside buildings takes after Shamrock, Texas’s U-Drop Inn, and its distinct Conoco Tower. The Art Deco style building was completed in 1936, and is currently the site of the town’s Chamber of Commerce and visitor center.

The building was the inspiration for Ramone’s House of Body Art gift shop, which also boasts a unique tower and shape. Ramone’s, by the way, is the only place in Cars Land where people will find a hidden Mickey Mouse in the design. The Mickey heads aren’t easy to spot, but cast members will be glad to point out where they are found.

Also easily comparable, were the Cool Springs Camp along the windy road to Oatman, Arizona, and Lizzie’s Curio Shop.

Cadillac Ranch.

cadillac-ranch-660x204Even those who aren’t interested in the Route 66 history would find the Cadillac Ranch public art installment outside of Amarillo, Texas, interesting. The installment is not right on the route, but is a popular side trip for travelers. This line of upturned Cadillacs was commissioned by eccentric art lover Stanley Marsh 3, and built by the artist group “Ant Farm.” It seems isolated in pictures, but it is nearly always swarmed by people armed with colorful spray-paint cans, wishing to contribute to the ever-changing designs. Our family was no exception, and when we left, the words “Bad Wolf” adorned on a couple of the Caddys.

Cadillac Ranch is so popular, it inspired a similar lesser-known installation, “Bug Ranch,” created with Volkswagen Beetles, in nearby Conway, Texas. Someone else had already beaten us to marking it with, “Bad Wolf,” in the exact color of paint as ours, no less.

Cars Land’s tribute to this world-famous piece of pop art is a prominent part of Radiator Spring’s “natural” landscape in Ornament Valley. Cadillac Ranch’s famed tail fins can be seen in this landscape that makes up the back drop for Cars Land’s main attraction, Radiator Springs Racers.

The Wigwam Motel.

wigwam-660x382We saw all types of “giant concrete items” and shaped buildings along the route, including the big Twin Arrows in Arizona, and the Milk Bottle Building in Oklahoma. The Wigwam Motels in Holbrook, Arizona, and Rialto, California, were the most charming. Both of these sister motel sites still take guests, too, but they do tend to fill up fast.

The Cars Land answer to these is the Cozy Cone Motel, which serves are a set of five little snack booths surrounding a small food court and the motel’s lobby. In addition to being able to hang out in Radiator Springs’ most popular motel, this is also the site where Lightning McQueen and Mater take turns posing—as well as cars can—with guests.

Hackberry Gen Store and Bottle Tree Ranch.

fillmores-660x319There have been several stories about the people who inspired the characters in the movie Cars. One of the possible inspirations for free-spirited Volkswagen Microbus, Fillmore, was the late artist Bob Waldmire. Waldmire supposedly wasn’t that thrilled with being associated with the fictional talking van, but his Hackberry Gen Store in Hackberry, Arizona, was certainly as creative as Fillmore’s hippy haven. The Hackberry site contains a large display of found item art, a somewhat eerie soda fountain recreation with costumed mannequins, and even a little koi pond “oasis” in the desert. Fillmore could also feel easily at home in Elmer Long’s “Bottle Tree Ranch” near Helendale, California, a front yard forest of bottle trees topped with everything from toilet seats to road signs.

The “geodesic dome” shape of Fillmore’s psychedelic-colored building was also typical of the design of a few of the remaining buildings we passed.

Another common building shape we saw again and again along the route was the cylindrical military buildings known as Quonset Huts. After World War II, private citizens and business owners, for extra garage space, surplus stores, barns, and other purposes, repurposed these huts. Sarge’s Surplus Hut gift store next to Fillmore’s was no exception, including its slightly rusted exterior.

“Burma-Shave” Signs. burmashave-429x470

The Burma-Shave liniment and shaving cream first created their unique brand of roadside advertising in 1925, and was one of their major advertising means in most contiguous states through 1963.

Travelers likely won’t see many original Burma-Shave signs intact, but the well-preserved stretch of road west of Seligman, Arizona, has placed several reproductions along the route for nostalgia buffs to enjoy. This made the long stretch of empty desert highway more entertaining.

Some of these “episodic” road sign messages were straightforward ads for the product, but many were safe driving messages in verse form. Our family favorite: “Got insurance?…Remember, kiddo…They don’t pay you…They pay your widow….Burma-Shave.”

Since cars themselves don’t shave, the Burma-Shave style signage outside the entrance to the Radiator Springs Racers advertise, of course, Rust-eze: “Mind your speed…As you go…Sheriff’s old…But he’s not slow…Rust-eze.”


neonBoth Route 66 and Disney parks shine best at night.

Two locations where Route 66’s neon seemed stand out the most were Albuquerque and Tucumcari, New Mexico. This was no surprise in Albuquerque, since it was a main urban college-area street, but in the smaller community of Tucumcari, the restored neon signs were beautiful, most notably the Tepee Curios and the Blue Swallow Motel. We had the good fortune to spend the night at The Blue Swallow, one of the more photographed signs along the route. Its neon accents also continue the entire way around the motel’s comfy courtyard.

I try not to fall into that “Disney does it better” trap, but I have to admit Cars Land—and all of California Adventure, actually—has some of the most beautiful neon displays I have ever seen. The neon-lit streets of Cars Land are so dazzling, there is even an official “neon lighting” ceremony around dusk each evening. This was a spectacular way to end the day….or kick off the evening.

Knowing where all of these “Disney details” came from made the adventure that much more fun for the girls, as if they were privy to insider secrets they couldn’t wait to share with others.

As for how the rest of Route 66 feels about Disney’s take on America’s Mother Road, there were plenty of tributes to Cars found along the historic sites, from murals to re-imagined vehicles bearing a strange resemblance to some favorite Pixar characters. There may have been a few places along the road that might have internally grumbled about the Disney-style sanitized treatment of their historic route, but most seemed to embrace this new unofficial partnership as a way to get new generations excited about this piece of American heritage.

For our family, the journey was a long and sometimes tiring, sometimes thrilling drive down history, and into another world none of us will ever forget.

Summer Artist Inspired Projects: Alexander Calder

My Roswell Calder mobile using plastic folder sheets and jewelry wire.

My Roswell Calder mobile using plastic folder sheets and jewelry wire.

The Artist: Alexander Calder

American 20th century artist Alexander Calder did a little of everything in the world of visual arts, from abstract paintings to large-scale monuments, theater set pieces, and jewelry. And, yet, it is as the originator of the mobile where his style really stands alone.

Calder created the mobile as a type of kinetic (movement-based) sculpture, where the components are perfectly balanced. When balanced, these suspended components can move to natural air currents (wind), or in some cases, a motor.

In 1926, he created a miniature kinetic circus model he called Cirque Calder, using string, wire, rubber, and assorted found objects.

He displayed this portable model in both Europe and the United States, and even gave some improvised “performances” from the little circus performers, who moved while suspended by thread. The sculpture can be seen today at Washington, D.C.’s Whitney Museum of American Art.

Cirque Calder is seen as a start of Calder’s love of kinetic art, although it was fellow artist Marcel Duchamp, who first dubbed

Calder's work demonstrated his meticulous attention to balance. Images from Public Domain and Wikicommons.

Calder’s work demonstrated his meticulous attention to balance. Images from Public Domain and Wikicommons.

Calder’s pieces, “mobiles.” Calder’s non-movable sculptures, by the way, were called, “stabiles.”

Some of Calder’s mobiles were quite large. One of his mobiles, White Cascade, was installed in 1976 in the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, the city in which Calder was born. This mobile of stainless steel rods and 14 white aluminum discs measures 100 feet tall and 60 feet across at its widest point. It weighs around 10 tons.

Calder died in November of 1976, not long after his epic mobile was installed, but White Cascade is still considered the largest mobile in the world.

The Project: Space Mobiles

Calder’s mobiles are all about balance and movement, so this project is easy to construct, yet a bit tricky to hang properly.

For first-time mobile-makers, this project works best using a light plastic material, such as the poly plastic some school folders are made from. These can be found with most school or office supply areas, and often come in packs of three or more folders in bright, solid colors.

These can be hung with plain (not cloth-wrapped) floral stem, and shaped by hand or with with a pair needle-nose pliers. The pieces can be attached to the wire using large jewelry chain links, or placed directly on the wire by centering a hole at the top of the mobile piece. Two identical pieces can also be glued together at the end of the wire for some designs.

Fishing “pin connectors” can also work to attach pieces, and are fairly inexpensive from any sporting goods store.

Many types of lightweight materials can be used to create a good mobile.

Many types of lightweight materials can be used to create a good mobile.

When possible, avoid using any string or thread in building mobile pieces, with the exception of the very top hanging thread. Calder’s wire-based mobile designs are great for all ages, because the lack of string means no risk of tangled pieces.

Younger, beginning artists can also use chenille craft stems and colored card stock or craft foam, and more experienced crafters can experiment with other materials like aluminum sheets, clay, balsa wood, or even found objects.

Once the materials are gathered, cut the plastic or paper into simple shapes (circles, squares) or long swirls. These can be random shapes to look like a galaxy, or even shapes inspired by simple spacecraft.

Keep the shapes simple, similar in size, and, most importantly, weight. They don’t have to be completely identical in shape, but they should balance.

Now for the tricky part: the final balance. Think about how these pieces will hang. Will they be balanced on both ends of a wire? Will the pieces be hanging at one end of a wire, all originating from a heavier piece? Will they resemble a hanging bouquet of flowers or a large fireworks display? The Calder Foundation site features plenty of his mobiles for idea inspiration. This will also give an idea of how he created balance with various shapes and materials.

Once the idea is determined, hang the top piece of the mobile from a counter or table edge, and hang pieces one by one, checking the balance each time. Te be extra certain, try hanging these pieces together with paper clips before placing any permanent holes or links in them.

Be prepared to do a little “trimming” here and there to get the pieces to hang properly. Also, be ready to adjust the shape of the wire—a lot. For example, maybe the loop in the wire shouldn’t always be in the very center. Calder, who had studied mechanical engineering, was very meticulous about his designs, and made drawings or blueprints of his work. For crafts and beginners trial-and-error is fine, too.

Once the design is finished, hang it from an area with plenty of surrounding space and a good, gentle breeze. Make sure it is in a space where others can enjoy it as well. Calder didn’t care if people interpreted his works the same way he did, but he did want others to get a chance to use their own imagination.

He said as much in his 1951 essay, “What Modern Art Means to Me”:

“That others grasp what I have in mind seems unessential,” he wrote, “at least as long as they have something else in theirs.”

TARDIS in balance, Calder-style.

TARDIS in balance, Calder-style.