Monday, March 31, 2014

Exploring the Exploratorium

I’ve never been a fan of large crowds or excessive noise. Amusement parks, malls, and even some bars (sad to say) can prove too much for me. With that being said, I took a huge step outside the parameters of my comfort zone this past Saturday when I agreed to accompany a friend and the child she nannies to the Exploratorium, at its new location at Pier 15 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

It was a mild day for exploration. It was sunny and cloudy off and on, but not exceptionally windy. My friend Brittany and her watchling, Mait, were anxious to indulge in the process of exploration offered by the museum. The two were veterans of the Exploratorium, usually making an appearance about once a month—but this was my first encounter. Although I do hate crowds and noise, I still possess a bit of a soft spot for children’s museums. They’ve usually got games, shiny things, and stuff you can touch. I really couldn’t ask for much else. Thus, I decided to brave the noisy masses for the sake of childhood wonder.

Founded in 1969 by American physicist Frank Oppenheimer, the Exploratorium is a museum and learning laboratory in San Francisco that provides interactive exhibits for guests, in hopes of igniting curiosity and encouraging exploration. As opposed to the often cold and rigid structure of other educational museums, the Exploratorium gives its visitors the chance to actively engage with the exhibits. The “no touching” rule does not apply here—and therein lies all the fun.

As the three us neared the building’s entrance, Mait was fit to burst with excitement. The closer we got, the more rapidly his 6-year-old mouth began to fire off statements, questions and declarations pertaining to the magical things laying just within the museum doors:

“Did you know they have a machine that lets you stand inside a REAL tornado?? The smoke just floats around you it’s like you’re INSIDE a tornado—like actually inside. Once when I was here I played this game that tests your memory with a computer and I have a REALLY good memory—have you played a game like that? I play it all the time. We can play it inside, I bet they still have it—or the magnet things that look like sand!!—I just know you’ll love it here, it’s SO fun!”

He continued on like that for the duration of our time in line, adding his own observations to the commentary as they came to him. After about 10 or 15 minutes our young explorer’s prayers were answered and we were allowed to pass through the doors.

The main gallery was a vast concrete structure, scattered with exhibits and various objects that showed their true function only after close inspection. Our youngest (and most excited) member wasted no time in herding us toward his favorite area of the museum. He took mine and Brittany’s hand, pulling us with remarkable force to the south gallery, which housed a multitude of tinker machines. There were kids all around the museum, but their numbers were greatest by far in the south gallery. This area was full of interactive games, challenges, and experiments. There were one or two young employees in Exploratorium shirts helping kids and explaining exhibits to them. The two I saw both looked young, probably around my age or possibly a couple years older. I started chatting with one employee while Brittany chased Mait around, trying to tell him he couldn’t take the marbles from one of the exhibits.

“Don’t even worry about it, kids always try to take the marbles,” Nikki Damien, 23, says to me, “we’ve got a big box of replacements in the back.”

“That’s a relief,” I told her. “How long have you been working here?”

“Just about five months,” replied Damien, “it’s kind of hectic sometimes—weekends are pretty busy. But I actually like it a lot, the atmosphere is exciting.”

I was about to return the small talk when the weight of a small boy collided with me. Mait had launched himself onto my back and was now clinging to me with exceptional force. I told him the piggyback ride was going to cost him. He giggled with excitement.

“I put most of the marbles back,” he whispered in my ear, “but I kept ONE in my pocket, don’t tell Brittany!”

I gave him a wink and told him we could keep it between us. That’s the beauty of not actually being the nanny; I always get to be the fun one and tag along on adventures while Brittany has to be the one to lay down the law. Far less awesome for her, to be sure, but I guess someone’s got to do it.

A few moments later we found our warden, panting and winded from chasing her escaped convict, and together we continued to make our way through the museum. Mait rode happily on my back for a whole three minutes until another attraction caught his eye and he began to flail wildly, demanding to be set free to investigate. We followed his hurried footsteps to a collection of tall glass cylinders near the back of the museum. Each of the 7 cylinders held a different amount of water, each representing the height of the tide in San Francisco bay at specific hours during the day.

“What’re these?” Mait asked. Brittany read him the paragraph-long description that was propped on a podium near the tubes. He listened longer than I thought he would, but soon realized he hadn’t much interest in tidal patterns and moved wistfully along to browse the last few exhibits. The Exploratorium’s new facility has huge windows that look out on the bay, so the lot of us spent the remainder of our museum visit looking for sea lions and sailboats. End-of-day-count: sailboats-4, sea lions: 0 (unfortunately).

The crowd had died down only slightly as we made our way back through the museum, stopping briefly at the personal lockers to get our bags and Mait’s toys. When we got to the exit there was a young cheerful employee, doling out Exploratorium stickers and high fives to young and old alike. His name tag read: DYLAN!— matching his personality with equal fervor. We all happily received our high fives and Mait planted his sticker on his chest like a sheriff’s badge. He wore it out proudly and with a very impish grin. 

"Did you have a good time, Mait?" I asked.
He nodded aloofly, but still grinning. I could tell he had a good time. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Day They Made Cats Trendy

Crazy cat ladies, it’s finally your time to shine—the fashion world has officially made cats trendy, so you can wear your over the top cat attire without shame. By now anyone who shops regularly will have noticed that cats have made a cozy place for themselves in almost every mainstream retailer. Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 sell anything from cat loafers to cat-themed home accessories, while Popular retailers Top Shop and Nasty Gal both stock a ton of cat sweaters, as well as beanies and bowlers with little cat ears, shirts, socks, scarves, and more.

Nasty Gal
Urban Outfitters
(boys like cats too)
Book-Urban Outfitters
odd...but trendy

Even celebrities like Miley Cyrus, who are popular with younger generations, have been seen sporting everything from cat shirts to a skimpy pair of feline print underwear at the 2013 American Music Awards. Fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld and Oscar de la Renta have also drawn inspiration from cats for their collections.

Cat prints emerged on the runway in Mui Mui’s spring 2010 collection. From there, they filtered down into wearable, everyday fashions like the ones commonly found in retail stores. Since then cat fashion has grown in popularity, earning the status of “trendy”. But this is not because the newer generations love cats anymore than older generations. Lots of people like cats. Lots of people have always liked cats. The difference this time is that fashion has provided an outlet for cat lovers to share in and express their love through clothing. Whereas it would have previously been odd to wear cats on your clothes, it is now considered quirky and fun.

“They were unexpected. They were intentionally cutesy, which made them funny”, says Katherine Bernard in her Vogue article, “they flipped the notion of being a “cat lady” from something dumpy and lonely to a source of wit and pride. That moment of playing with expectations is what can make fashion interesting.”

However, as with most things that start out unique and quirky, the cat fad has evolved into a popular trend in mainstream fashion over the past four years. Now we observe hipsters and fashionistas feeling frustration, much in the same way indie music lovers do when everyone starts listening to that song that they’ve been “listening to for like ten years now”. It’s the feeling you have when you like something you feel makes you unique, and because of this you feel a kind of ownership over it.

Being an avid and self-proclaimed cat lover for the better half of my life, I often find myself saying “ugh, everyone’s wearing cat stuff now…cats have always been my thing. I’ve been rocking some kind of a cat shirt since 2nd grade”. But realistically, anyone who has ever really liked cats can argue the same. 

“I actually like dogs better in real life I think”, says Taylor Reifurth, a girl I saw wearing a black and grey cat sweater from Urban, “I just see a lot of stuff with cats on it in stores and I like the style. The cat clothes are funny to me—it’s like a joke almost”.

We can’t be sure exactly how long with cat fab will endure, but Karl Lagerfeld’s 2014 launch of cat inspired accessories proves that it’s not quite over yet. And I say, let there be cats. I feel like I’ve been wearing over the top cat attire for years now—way back to when I wore tails into the grocery store and any other public place I could swing it. The only difference now is that the clothes for sale are cute and trendy because the fad is widely popular, giving us more options as consumers. It is currently an option to buy “in style” cat clothes, whereas options in the past were not always considered in style. So, while the option to buy trendy cat clothes is real and alive, I’ll be taking advantage. Let the soft-padded paws of feline style tread on.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Travel - Cincinnatiti, Ohio

This travel article comes from National Geographic's Traveler Magazine. I found it interesting because it talks about cool things to do in Cincinnati Ohio...and I always assumed Ohio didn't have much going for it. On the contrary, the city has a vast collection of underground beer catacombs from the Victorian era. This guy went, explored the catacombs, and sampled all the beer.

I thought the article was a bit long just to talk about a trip to Cincinnati. I got bored reading not because his writing style was off-putting, but more because I don't have a direct interest in beer or how it's made... Nevertheless, I liked his word choice and descriptors and the fact that you can tell he talked to a lot of locals to cover their views on the city. He also shows evidence of extensive research on the places he visits and gives the history of each. If I liked beer, this article would probably appeal to me. Lucky for the author, I'm sure there are a lot of beer drinkers who are now stoked to go visit Cincinnati.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Feline Fashion for the Cat Lovers in All of Us"

I was looking through fashion trend stories on Marie Claire's website and happened upon this little blurb:

The article was very short with minimal words, focusing instead on the visuals, and comparing the latest fashion trends to pictures of similar looking cats.

I was obviously all for it, but it also made me realize that these women's fashion magazines really know their audience. I don't know any real stats, but I'd be willing to bet that a whole lot of women read Marie Claire, and that a good portion of those women really like cats too. Plus, for whatever reason cats are trendy right now, so incorporating a quirky article about fashion + cats could draw in younger audiences.