Tag Archives: when pigs fly

Holiday ornaments — museum style

Can you spot my favorite purple pig ornament from a 2010 tree at the Heard Museum in Phoenix?

While others were waiting on Thanksgiving for stores to reopen with “Black Friday” blow-outs, the most savvy among were kicking off their holiday shopping at the Heard Museum, which has locations in both Phoenix and Scottsdale.

Thursday was the first day of this year’s “Ornament Marketplace” — which the Heard Museum is holding at both sites through the weekend.

Though many of the ornaments are displayed on Christmas trees, there are plenty of options for folks who celebrate other holidays — like the Native American folk art pigs with wings perfect for co-workers who appreciate sentiments like “when pigs fly.” Some ornaments feature religious images like angels while others represent secular motifs.

This tree at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC features origami ornaments with space and dinosaur themes

Giving and collecting ornaments are lovely ways to mark the passing of time, and revisiting the ornaments we’ve gathered or been given is like running our fingers over a scrapbook come to life. “Some people make scrapbooks,” I quipped to my husband while baking cookies Thursday morning, “but I write blogs.” Others do ornaments — and it’s all good.

When our youngest daughter Lizabeth, a college freshman living in NYC, paid her first visit to the American Museum of Natural History this week, she discovered a giant tree covered in origami ornaments mirroring the themes of two current exhibits — one on dinosaurs, another on space exploration. The size of the tree is meant to mirror the size and scope of its subjects.

Purple Peace Tree featured in a 2010 exhjbit at the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa

Lizabeth’s pictures of the AMNH tree reminded me that I’d seen something similar a year before while exploring the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa with my son Christopher. It was a “Purple Peace Tree” covered in origami ornaments eventually sent to Hiroshima, Japan.

Folks with nimble fingers, good spatial skills and long attention spans can craft their own origami ornaments for the tree this year. But I’m not among them — so I’m thankful to the Heard Museum for hosting an Ornament Marketplace where I can put other skills, like supporting local arts and culture, to good use.

— Lynn

Note: Many Valley museums and cultural venues have gift shops or retail areas where you can find creative ornaments and other holiday offerings. Get the December issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine to enjoy a poignant article about ornaments and memories written by publisher, editor and writer Karen Barr.

Coming up: A pair of Muppet movies — and a cinematic love letter


Oh, Rats!

Stephan Pastis chats with young fans at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe

I’m guessing that something along these lines ran through Stephan Pastis’ mind once he realized that being an associate at a large San Francisco law firm just wasn’t his vibe. Pastis recounted his journey from attorney to comic strip creator at last night’s author signing event at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe.

Seems he used to leave the law firm for lunch and hit the local bookstore — sitting on the floor in a suit and tie as he read through every “Dilbert” comic strip he could get his hands on. By then, he’d drawn oodles of strips, sent them to the folks who place such things in newspapers and started a lovely collection of rejection letters.

When he realized in 1997 that what he’d been doing wasn’t working, he decided to study the work of an artist whose work was all the rage. Hence the daily “Dilbert” pilgrimages. Today Pastis has his own devotees, including the 170 or so who flocked to Changing Hands Bookstore Thursday night.

Pastis poses with a 3-year-old fan at Changing Hands

Pastis’ own father was there, as were fans ages three and up. Pastis treated his audience to a lengthy bit of storytelling ala slides showing examples of his works — which feature the adventures of a rat, pig, pack of crocodiles and other creatures with a gift for sarcasm many call “dark” and “edgy.”

In one strip, a character finds that part of his Christmas nativity scene has been stolen. The final panel shows Pig walking door to door asking “Have YOU found Jesus?” Pastis’ works are sometimes irreverent, but always lighthearted rather than acerbic. Still, he has a sizeable collection of letters from folks who’ve failed to appreciate particular pieces of his humor through the years.

Pastis shared tales of meeting other comic strip legends — Charles Schultz (or “Sparky”), Bill Keane, Cathy Guiseweit and others. Folks who attend future stops on Pastis’ current tour will enjoy hearing stories of “naked Twister” and other misadventures. Not to worry — no real nudity is involved.

“Pearls Before Swine” fans are accustomed to the strip’s violent themes, which others sometimes fail to appreciate. Pastis seems a bit puzzled by their disdain, noting that he grew up watching “Bugs Bunny” and other cartoons with plenty of death and destruction.

Other early influences cited by Pastis include “Tom and Jerry” on television and “The Far Side” in print. “I could watch Laurel and Hardy endlessly,” says Pastis — who also shares that “the most exciting moment of my life” came each week during the last five minutes of “Saturday Night Live,” when “Mr. Bill” came on.

The odds of having a successful syndicated comic strip are infinitesimal, observes Pastis. A syndicated strip, by the way, is one placed in multiple outlets by a single agent representing the artist. “Every syndicate gets 6,000 submissions a year,” according to Pastis, who adds that “they accept just one.”

“In the first year,” notes Pastis, “five out of six new comic strips fail.” Hence, he cites the odds of successful syndication at one in 36,000. You have a better chance, reflects Pastis, of being hit by lightning or dying after falling off a ladder. I suppose the most cynical comic strip creators will run with this lovely factoid — hauling their paper and pens up ladders during rainstorms to do their best work.

Both Jennifer (above) and her sister Lizabeth are long-time fans of "Pearls Before Swine"

Pastis stayed after his presentation at Changing Hands Bookstore to sign autographs inside copies of his latest book, titled “Larry in Wonderland.” Also other books, t-shirts and “Pearls Before Swine” plush toys. He tends to favor the bottoms of the plush Rats and Pigs, noting that they’re smoother than the other body parts and easier to sign.

Pastis was patient, gracious and genuinely engaged with every person he spoke with — including several folks who offered storyline ideas and the many children and teens eager to discuss their own love of drawing or writing. Every autograph Pastis signed Thursday night included a drawing of Rat.

My own daughter, Jennifer, jokingly asked Pastis to inscribe a book with “Dear eBay customer” and got her wish. Sensing my dismay Pastis asked, “Is this going to turn into a fight in the car?” I assured Pastis we’d be on to a different fight by then. He laughed with twinkling eyes and an infectious smile.

Pastis and his wife have two children of their own, whose names are hidden in the cover art of most Pastis books. You can try to find them if ever you’re lucky enough to be standing in line waiting to meet this remarkable storyteller, artist and humorist.

— Lynn

NoteClick here to read Pastis’ “Pearls Before Swine” blog, and here to learn about future events taking place at Changing Hands Bookstore (plus the bookstore’s participation in Saturday’s Arizona Humanities Festival in downtown Phoenix). Click here to read an earlier post about Pastis titled “When Pigs Fly.”

Coming up: Banter with the Blue Man Group, “Midsummer” meets “Arabian Nights,” Celebrating the humanities — festival style

When pigs fly

When our son Christopher was born, we used a “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip to announce his birth. “Calvin and Hobbes” is the work of advertising exec turned cartoonist Bill Watterson, who named the 6-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger after a French theologian and an English philosopher.

I left doctoral studies in philosopy and religion to be a stay-at-home mom, so it’s no surprise that “Calvin and Hobbes” resonated at the time. But nowadays another comic strip speaks to us as parents — and people. It’s Stephan Pastis’ “Pearls Before Swine.”

The first Pearls Before Swine compilation was published by Andrews McMeel in 2003

Pastis is a second-generation Greek American born and raised in an L.A. suburb who says he’s never had formal training as an artist or cartoonist. Seems Pastis honed his art with lots of drawing time alone in his room. He began drawing “Pearls Before Swine” in 1997.

Pastis holds a political science degree from UC Berkeley and a law degree from UCLA. He drew his first “Pearls Before Swine” character (Rat) during a class on the European economic community. Seems boredom was an early secret to Pastis’ success.

I recall Tony-Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda sharing a similar tale when we chatted a few years ago during the cast party for “In the Heights” at ASU Gammage. Apparently the playwright and actor first penned parts of the musical during astronomy classes when he should have been taking notes.

Croc and Rat plush toys

“Pearls Before Swine,” now published in more than 600 newspapers worldwide, was named after a famous saying from the New Testament. It’s about the friendship and foibles of an arrogant rat and a dim-witted pig. Together, Rat and Pig offer “caustic commentary on humanity’s quest for the unattainable.”

Pastis once practiced law in San Francisco. Today he lives in Santa Rosa with his wife Staci and their two children — reading American history books in his spare time. It’s no wonder his work resonates so well here in our house, where Jennifer dreams of a life in San Francisco and swaps history books with her equally history-obsessed dad.

Pearls Before Swine Pig

I used to dream of retiring so I’d have time to read my swelling stack of Sunday magazines from The New York Times. These days I’m leaning more towards Pastis pearls like “The Ratvolution Will Not be Televised,” “The Crass Menagerie,” “When Pigs Fly” and “Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My!” All illustrate “the flaws and shortcomings of human nature.”

Pastis’ latest work, titled “Larry in Wonderland: A Pearls Before Swine Collection,” will be released on Oct 4. It features the antics of Mad Ducker, Cheshire Snuffles, Tweedledum Pig and Tweedledee Idiot Pig. Also Raterpillar, Zebra and Larry the Croc — all well-known to fans of the award-winning comic strip.

You can meet Pastis at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe Thurs, Oct 20, at 7pm. I learned of the teen & adult event thanks to a Changing Hands “Educators Preview” e-mail listing an impressive slate of author events. The e-mail also notes that Pastis is available for high school visits that day.

When Pigs Fly was published by Andrews McNeel in 2010

Be sure and look for us in the history, art or philosophy sections if you attend. In the meantime, head to www.comics.com to explore animated versions of the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip. They debuted in late January, but you can catch up thanks to the online archive.

Remimd me to use a “Pearls Before Swine” strip the next time we want to announce news of a new baby. Though, come to think of it, that’ll only happen “when pigs fly.”

— Lynn

Coming up: A double dose of fairy tales, Valley theater by the numbers, Fun with free concerts, AriZoni nominations

Red dinosaur meets white elephant

If your holiday office parties are bland and boorish, you’re not fortunate enough to work with the folks of Raising Arizona Kids magazine — who held their annual holiday party today at their offices near Scottsdale and Shea.

With salads and pasta from Macaroni Grill, there was no pot luck fare to worry about lugging along. But I was rather intimidated by the “white elephant” gift exchange, knowing that this bunch would never stoop to exchanging truly tacky gifts.

Worry about what to take nearly kept me from going. Knowing it’s a very fit crew, I figured something fattening might be the biggest elephant in the room. Or maybe industrial strength hair goop, since they’re all so perfectly coifed (including the office mascot, a pampered pooch who treated me to a “toe bath”).

I was heading to the party after dropping my daughter off at school figuring I’d hit the Phoenix Art Museum gift shop for a mouse-shaped cheese grater, which seems a nice balance of “white elephant” and understated elegance.

Because the museum is closed on Mondays, I wasn’t able to explore all those fun kitchen utensils that double as modern art.

But I did get to see the museum’s newest work, a giant dinosaur — shiny and red — inside a red cage. This work of contemporary Chinese sculptor Sui Jianguo is displayed on a lawn adjacent to the museum’s Central Ave. entrance.

Happily, the Heard Museum was also on my way to the shindig. There’s nothing “white elephant” about the museum’s gift shop offerings, but I knew I could find something whimsical and affordable for my discriminating magazine friends.

Naturally, I chose a turquoise flying pig ornament — an homage to the incredible magic it takes to put together a monthly print magazine and daily e-zine of such high quality. I got another, this one purple, for magazine publisher, editor and founder Karen Barr — knowing she’d appreciate the “when pigs fly” motif.

Forgive me if I’ve mixed up the colors here. I readily admit to being under the influence of Karen’s sangria, Debbie’s chocolate chip scones and Mala’s red velvet cupcakes (way to rock the icing in Hanukkah colors).

The woman who helped me at the gift shop was truly delightful, taking time to help me find just the right objet d’art (the flying pigs are works of Navajo folk art, and just one example of the museum’s many unique holiday ornaments). I expect to do a lot more shopping there.

But what of the “white elephant” gift exchange? Well, there wasn’t a dud in the bunch — except, perhaps, a little something involving toilets that I think I’ll leave for a braver writer to tackle. It was the humorous hit of the day.

Other gifts exhanged included photo frames (since we’ll all so adoring of our children). Jewelry (which I resisted stealing from Mala only to have Mary do the deed). Wine (for those, perhaps, who are celebrating children preparing to leave for college). And more.

Watch for a future post featuring fun “white elephant” gift ideas inspired by the world of art. And remember my little cheese grater friend at the Phoenix Art Museum — he’s mighty cute and still looking for a good home.

— Lynn

Note: To learn more about the magazine family that can make even pigs fly, visit the “About Us” section of our website. And remember that Raising Arizona Kids magazine subscriptions make great holiday gifts for new or experienced parents.

Coming up: Squishy tiles and children’s smiles