ZimSculpt at the Dallas Arboretum

ZimSculpt, a collection of over a hundred Zimbabwean stone sculptures, is on display within the Dallas Arboretum, now through July. ZimSculpt 1I first glimpsed the sculptures while attending an arboretum concert. I knew I had to return to see them all! The garden, with its backdrop of brilliantly colored flowerbeds and greenery, frame the stone sculptures perfectly, much like a gilded frame showcases a painted canvas.

The garden sculptures range in height from three to seven feet. The artwork is carved from serpentine and semi-precious stone. In many of the garden pieces, the sculpture seems to emerge from within the stone.ZimSculpt 2 I love the fluidity of the lines and liquid smoothness of the art. Other sculptures mix the textures of rough stone with glossy sculpture. All have a simplistic beauty about them.

Shona sculpture

The tradition of Zimbabwean sculpture dates back to the Shona tribe and the eleventh century. ZimSculpt is a modern version of the ancient Shona sculptures. The renaissance in Zimbabwean sculpture began in the 1960s and continues today. Thematically you’ll find animals, mother and child depictions, and women, along with a few abstract pieces.

All of the pieces in the garden are available for purchase at prices ranging from one to twelve thousand dollars. There is also a ZimSculpt Marketplace where you can purchase more affordable pieces and also watch the artists at work.

Beat the heat

This time of year, it’s tough to beat the Texas heat. To avoid wilting in the sweltering temperatures, visit the arboretum when it first opens at 9 am. It is as much fun to pack a picnic breakfast as to sweat over a picnic lunch. Even better yet, Dallas Arboretum members can enjoy a ‘members only’ early morning on Saturdays from 7 to 9 am. Arboretum colors are at their height during the garden’s springtime Dallas Blooms. That said, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of flowers currently in bloom, even in the summer heat. You’ll find flower beds loaded with color from sunpatiens, winecup, mrytle, and cone flower.

Details

The Dallas Arboretum is at 8525 Garland Road, Dallas. The gardens are open 9 to 5 pm daily (until 8 pm on Wednesdays). ZimSculpt is on display until July 31. Adult admission is $15. On Wednesdays, you can buy one adult admission and get one admission free. Guided ZimSculpt tours are offered without additional charge on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Allen’s Community Theater

Allen’s Community Theater (ACT) is a gem tucked away in a nondescript strip mall. Located in far west Allen, ACT’s outside façade hides a delightful little theater. It’s ACT (800x494)community theater at its best with reasonably priced tickets and well-done performances.

Blithe Spirit

ACT’s current production, Blithe Spirit, is a good old-fashioned English drawing room farce. The Noel Coward play pokes fun at death and marriage. Set in 1940’s England, the play centers around an author, his first wife (a ghost), and his current wife. It’s a night of laughs when the bungling medium, Madame Arcati, is thrown into the mix of characters. My entire family, including my teenage son, thoroughly enjoyed the play. However, go forewarned, Blithe Spirit is a three-hour play, with two intermissions. Blithe Spirit runs through May 15.

ACT has two more plays scheduled for its 2015 – 2016 season. The Superhero Ultraferno runs July 8 – 17; and The Magical Land of Oz runs August 12 – 28. My family is looking forward to both plays.

When you go.

You can order tickets to ACT’s performances online at their website. They accept payment by credit card and PayPal. This is community theater, so don’t expect a fancy venue. That said, I was impressed by the quality of the acting and stage craft of the production. You can buy refreshments (including a glass of wine) to take into the theater. Refreshments are by donation (so be generous). Allen’s Community Theater is located at 1210 E Main Street, Suite 300 in Allen.

Hall of State at Fair Park

Hall of State 1 (800x600)The Hall of State at Fair Park is a one-stop primer in Texas history. This opulent showcase of Texas pride opened its doors to the public during the 1936 Texas Centennial. Years later, the Hall of State continues to educate visitors. Today, the Dallas Historical Society manages the museum.

Hall of Heroes

Like most of the buildings at Fair Park, the Hall of State is classic Art Deco, inside and out. Designed by Donald Barthelme, the building is shaped in an inverted ‘T’ – appropriate for a building that commemorates 400 years of Texas history. Every statue, carving, and mural in the Hall of State depicts some aspect of state (and pre-statehood) history and culture.

The towering, gilded statue, Tejas Warrior greets visitors at the building’s grand entrance. The blue, mosaic tiling behind the statue represents our state flower, the bluebonnet. Step inside the building to meet Texas fore fathers in the Hall of Heroes. Stephen Austin and Sam Houston are among the six, life-sized bronze statues.

The Great Hall

From the Hall of Heroes, you enter the Great Hall. I love this room. I’m always amazed at the detail packed all into a single space. Dominating the back wall, the brilliant gold medallion, divided into six pie-shaped reliefs, symbolizes the six nations (France, Mexico, Spanish, Confederacy, Texas Republic, and United States) who have claimed this area. Remarkably detailed murals cover the left and right walls, telling our history in a series of painted scenes.Hall of State 2 (800x600) The murals cover every aspect of Texas history from the 1500 arrival of Europeans to images of higher education and state industries. On the floor, you’ll find mosaics of Texas animals, like the jackrabbit and horned lizard. Even the ceiling in the Great Hall is chocked full of symbolism – designed by George Davidson to represent Aztec motifs of roadrunner, armadillo, and rattlesnake. You can simply spend hours finding new tidbits of history and symbolism throughout the room.

East and West Texas

To the left of the Great Hall, are the East Texas room and G.B. Dealey Library (West Texas). You’ll find murals again in each room, this time above the entrances. The East room murals portray pre-and post-oil Texas. Beautiful, translucent photos by Polly Smith, a Texas photographer active in the 1930s, decorate the walls. Continue on to the library and you’ll discover a completely different motif, this time using brightly colored ceramic tiles on floor and walls.

Storage

Unfortunately, you currently can’t visit the North and South Texas rooms. The historical society lost their off-site warehouse, and now use these rooms for storage of artifacts and documents. Still, you can virtually visit the rooms via an awesome online tour of the Hall of State.

When you go

The Hall of State is in Fair Park at 3939 Grand Avenue, Dallas. Enter the park at Gate 3 for easiest access. Touring the building adds another dimension to our state, especially for children studying Texas history in school. On the second Tuesday of the month, March through September, the Dallas Historical Society hosts a  brown bag lecture series (appropriate for teens and adults). The Hall of State is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Entrance to the Hall of State is free, though donations are welcome.

 

Perot Museum of Nature and Science

If you are looking for the perfect family escape from the heat, try the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. The PerotPerot Museum (480x640) takes science and makes it fun. Packed with five floors of adventure, discovery, and mystery; Perot is everything a science museum should be.

Texas-centric

One of the features I particularly enjoy about Perot is how, whenever possible, the exhibits relate to life here in Texas. The Discovering Life hall boasts dioramas and information about Texas ecosystems, like the Blackland Prairie. Our own Edwards Trinity Aquifer illustrates water cycles, and the Shale Voyager (a 4-D theater experience) takes you into the heart of the Barnett Shale. Even the dinosaur exhibit highlights critters who once roamed our area. The Texas linkage helps kids understand the science on a more personal level.

Encouraging the next generation

In each exhibit hall, you’ll find monitors featuring scientists telling their story. Many of the scientists talk about a middle school class or science project that ignited their passion. It’s a fantastic way to inspire kids to think about a career as an astrophysicist or pedologist (that’s a soil scientist). Several of the featured scientists include women, subtle encouragement for girls to pursue STEM careers.

Call to action

Throughout the museum, placards challenge you to explore even further with projects you can do at home. Interested in astronomy? Check out SCOPE, a citizen scientist project where you classify stars based on the spectrum of light they emit. Concerned about climate change? As a citizen scientist, you can help monitor the budding and blooming of plants at Project BudBurst. There are over a dozen citizen scientist projects highlighted throughout the museum – what an awesome way for kids to participate in real scientific research!

Hands-on

Each exhibit hall combines information with hands-on activities. Make a rainbow, play the Prey/Predator video game, or experience an earthquake. Kids (and adults) don lab coats and goggles before conducting experiments on fruit flies in the Bio Lab. A real kid favorite is the Robot Arena where you can build and program robots.

More is less

My family found the Perot overwhelming. It is five floors. And it is packed with exciting activities — too many activities. Sensory overload set in for my family after exploring two floors of exhibits. Limiting your visit will improve your experience. If you have older kids, the top three floors work well. For little tots, the Moody Family Children’s museum is ideal. If your kids love video games, interactive activities in the Texas Instruments Innovation and Engineering hall will be a sure winner. My advice is not to try to see the entire museum in just one visit.

Samsung tablets

For all you techies, a digital visitors guide is available from Google Play. Bring your android phone or check out a Samsung tablet in the museum lobby. If borrowing a tablet, you’ll need to leave a personal id, like a driver’s license.

Museum admission discounts

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science does not have a free day, but Perot does have numerous discounted admission programs. They include free admission for military and military veterans, and educators. You must present documentation at time of purchase (see the Perot website for more details). During summer months (Monday through Friday), admission is $10 after 4 p.m.

When you go

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 12 to 6 p.m. Paid parking is available in nearby lots.Perot Frog (640x480) There is an outdoor children’s play area for little kids — though even adults may be tempted to play leapfrog in the frog park. An onsite Café is open daily serving pizza, burgers, and sandwiches.

 

National Weather Center

Meteorologists, storm chasers and weather hobbyists will want to visit the National Weather Center (NWC) located on the University of Oklahoma (OU) campus in Norman, Oklahoma. What a great summer boredom-buster!

National Weather Center - North Texas RamblingsIn a unique partnership, OU, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and state agencies share space within the impressive seven-story, NWC building. Built in 2006, the NWC can withstand a significant tornado not because it houses the weather agencies, but because of its post-911, anti-terrorist construction. The building has both bulletproof glass and Kevlar reinforcements.

NWC Tour

Tours begin in the lobby. Remember the 1996, storm chasing movie Twister? The tornado-monitoring invention Dorothy used in the film is on display in the lobby. You can also see TOTO (TOTable Tornado Observatory) the actual tornado-monitoring device that inspired much of the movie.

From the lobby, the tour takes visitors to the vehicle bay. While Norman gets more than its share of severe weather, scientists also have specially outfitted vans for deployment to severe weather locations. The mobile monitoring stations allow the meteorologists to gather data in the field. What looks like kitchen sink plumbing on top the vehicles’ roofs are actually high tech, sensitive equipment used to measure and monitor weather events.

The NWC has its own observation deck with an unobstructed, 360-degree view of the surrounding area. Here meteorologists view local weather. The OU School of Meteorology is located on the fifth floor. The school has about 300 undergraduate and 100 graduate students, and is ranked as one of the country’s top schools for meteorology.

Working Meteorologists

Perhaps the tour highlight is an opportunity to go into NOAA watch centers to see meteorologists at work. Have you ever wondered who issues tornado watches and warnings? It’s the forecasters right here at the National Storm Prediction Center who track, monitor, and warn about potential tornado and other extreme weather events. The NWC tour takes visitors into the center’s workspace. Next to the storm prediction center, visitors can also observe meteorologists at work providing local weather forecasting.

Details

The comprehensive NWC tour lasts between one to two hours, and offers a unique glimpse into weather research and storm prediction. Enthusiastic OU students lead the tours. The students readily answer questions and provide humor-filled anecdotes on research conducted at NWC.

Public tours begin at 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Tours are free but require advance reservations made through the NWC website. Be sure to reserve at least two weeks prior to your visit. Please note security policy requires that foreign nationals arrange tours at least two week in advance and provide passport information.

The Flying Cow Café, located in the NWC lobby, is a great place to grab lunch. I’m a big fan of their t-shirts, which feature their logo of an airborne, cartoon cow.

NWC is easily assessable from I-35 and is located at 120 David L. Boren Boulevard in Norman. It is about 180 miles north of Dallas.