The case of the missing dagger

June 30th, 2015 1 comment »

Well, it’s nothing like the confidentiality or trust that goes with a doctor or priest or lawyer, but I have expectations of mail order. Yes, of mail order.

From the backs of comic books to cereal-box offers to catalogs and now for decades the internet, I order. Things arrive. It’s almost like Christmas, except I’m buying my own presents. I love it.

Now lately with Amazon Prime, my new stuff may arrive in one or two days. Mirabile dictu!

Stabbed by a dagger

Last week, the impossible (or so I’d thought) happened — an envelope came with an empty box inside. Somewhere in the chain of custody, my dirk went missing.

Amazon must not be as inexperienced or naive in the ways of missing mail-order goods as I. They responded in a few minutes to my email complaint. They arranged for UPS to show up the next business day with a label to pick up the envelope. They promised to refund the price as soon as they got the package.

They were better than their word. Shortly after the UPS guy picked up the envelope, they sent email confirmation of the refund. UPS possession was all they needed.

Granted that this was an inexpensive purchase. I would not have suffered financially if I had to eat the cost. Yet this small offense was against the order of things as I have long known them, since I was about 7 years old.

In a previous career, way back, I worked for the original materials-handling magazine. I learned much about manufacturing, warehousing, picking and shipping. With that tedious background, I wondered:

  • Did someone at the warehouse stock an empty box, leading the picker to read the bin and label, choosing a non-product?
  • Did someone at the warehouse lust after a cheap knife and just take one, returning the empty box to the bin?
  • Did someone in the shipping department take the dagger and prepare the envelope for UPS anyway?
  • Why was the envelope not really sealed and not taped or otherwise securely closed?
  • Did the UPS handling cause the loose envelope to disgorge the box, tempting some UPS lackey to take the stabby thing?
  • As the envelope arrived with our #10 mail in the same rubberband, I assume this was a UPS to USPS hand-off. Thus, the previous question goes to the Postal guys.

By Occam’s razor, I’d lean toward UPS pilferage. The vendor is likely blameless, particularly with such a cheap item. There were surely many hands and conveyor belts in the UPS chain of custody. Then there was the pretty much unsealed envelope. I can point to the seller for poor packaging but likely not theft.

Dirty dirk

I should admit that this dagger is to complete my costume. I recently decided to go ahead and spring for a kilt. My eldest son, DIL and even grandson are all kilted. She is very proud of her Scottish heritage.

Of course, the kilt is the least of it. As with the stereotypes of a woman buying a dress, only to need, absolutely need, appropriate dress, shoes, hoses, hat, purse and on and on, so goes the tartan skirt.

I ordered ghillie brogues, from Scotland, as a good mark of frugality, the selection and price was superior to U.S. purchase. I shopped for and bought, frugally, of course, a sporran, a ghillie shirt, kilt socks, and flashes.

Some accessories were flat out for me. You’re not likely to ever see me wearing a tam and certainly not that twee Prince Charles jacket.

I had avoided the affectation of the sgian dubh, the dagger that traditionally goes into one of the socks.Then with everything else in hand, it was, why not?

It turns out there is a good why not. After the failed order and then a reorder last evening, I wondered if my fair commonwealth restricts these. You bet they do.

Massachusetts has one of the tightest set of knife regulation sets around. For example, under our general laws, chapter 269, section 12, you can buy, sell or own virtually any knife. You just can’t carry or wear it. The exceptions are for folding pocket knives like for workmen or fishing sorts, or huge bladed things carried while hunting. Otherwise, the knife has to be locked in a car trunk or box. So there.

My reading of the law is that tucking the traditional sgian dubh is totally illegal, and God help you if you commit any crime and the cops find a knife in your possession. The fines and jail terms compound.

Once burned

I’m known to ridicule Scientologists as once burned, 10,000 times shy. That’s the only justification I can see for their engram fixation and spending all their time and money to go clear. I’m more in the get-back-up-on-the-horse mindset.

Clearly I need to order something today and something else tomorrow. A single purloined geegaw should not alter my self-present purchasing lifestyle.

 

 

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Disease of the month

June 7th, 2015 No comments »

When I was a tot and lad (I’m a Boomer), Reader’s Digest terrorized the nation. Within a week of the delivery of the latest monthly issue, GPs knew their regular patients would complain of identical symptoms.

The RDs had predictable ToC’s. There’d be an inspirational tale of overcoming seemingly insurmountable cirumstances. There’s be a damning example of government waste and overreach. There’d be that disease. There’d likely be a terrifying research snippet as well.

We’d learn from our grannies that virtually everything was fatal and caused cancer. I remember green beans and cranberries in the 50s. If you tunneled down into the findings, you found that you’d need to consume bushels of this or that to have the same effect as what the lab animals got, but never mind. The point was that string beans and cranberries each caused cancer.

We are so fortunate that the internet now delivers terror so much quicker and more efficiently.

greendragon1Today I walked about six miles from home down to the Fowl Meadow in neighboring Canton. There I braved the fatality of ticks and more on the overgrown nature trail.

Sure enough, I returned from a couple of hours of hiking and wading through the underbrush to play paranoid. I did go to the backyard to water the beds and pots to check, check, check.

I removed my shoes, socks and trousers. While I had left the house with both sunscreen and bug juice, I looked for ticks. Then, I put my clothes in the wash. Then I showered and scrubbed my body with the soapy brush. Finally, I washed my clothes.

Yes, it was silly. I did not see any ticks or other bugs, but as we simple-minded and literal sorts are prone to drone, “Better safe than sorry.”

Is it?

 

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Hyde Park coffee, plants and pols

June 3rd, 2015 No comments »

walshcliapSure, it’s not Eton, but the playing fields of Hyde Park are dear to Bostonians. This morning’s long, varied and elaborate ceremonies at the Iacono Playground and its newly dedicated (tot) playlot saw local pols and staff outnumber the residents.

Ostensibly this was another year of the later Mayor Tom Menino’s coffee with the mayor meet and greet. It was the same and different.

Among the same:

  • Dunkin’ provided coffee and Munchkins, and Whole Foods fruit in cups
  • Boston’s city greenhouses brought 100 or more pots of red geraniums to disperse
  • The Mayor and District Councilor glad-handed all

Among differences:

  • The new Mayor, Marty Walsh, (right) has a strong Dorchester-recognizable accent, but not the gently risible speech stumbles of Menino
  • Walsh also did not insist on personally handing out the flowers, and showing he knew each of our names and family connections in the process
  • While the former District Councilor, Rob Consalvo, appears now as deputy director of Walsh’s Home Center program, his replacement, Tim McCarthy is not the humble font of endless municipal-improvement ideas
  • At-large Councilor Steve Murphy (also from Hyde Park) was a key player. He both helped Walsh dedicate the impressive tot lot to long-time owner of the Hyde Park Pharmacy Richard “Richy” Ferzoco. He also was the originator of DERO (the Diesel Emissions Reduction Ordinance) in Council.
  • Walsh used the event to announce that this signing would be one of many outside of City Hall. Instead of quietly pushing ordinances into effect, he intends to sign more in affected neighborhoods, expecting residents to understand and talk up the good work.
  • This go drew lots of local media, plus heads of numerous Walsh departments, like Public Works, Park and on.

Black smoke

murphymugLest it get lost in, if you pardon, the smoke, DERO is a pretty big deal. It mandates retrofitting diesel vehicles owned by the city and its contractors to modern air-quality standards. According to Murphy (left), this makes Boston the only Eastern city to do this. Also, it seemed close to Walsh’s heart; he said he tried but failed to drive it through the legislature when he belonged in pre-mayoral time.

Murphy cited a 300% above national average childhood asthma rate here, which he attributed largely to diesel emissions. He and other speakers noted this ordinance holds the city and its contractors to a higher standard. It should, for example, mean retrofitting 120 of 400 city vehicles.

In another wise pander to a citizenry still staggered by the last dreadful winter, Walsh bragged about heading toward real snow removal. Instead of blocking driveways and moving the snow and its onus to the residents, he said Boston was buying two elaborate snowblower type of equipment. The idea is that the massive machines transfer snow from the streets into dump trucks, which in turn haul them away instead of blocking intersections, drives and sidewalks. Money well spent I predict.

Finally, Walsh said the city has planned $20 million in renovation for parks and recreation. He said it was the largest increase in Boston’s history for this purpose. Here too this crowd-pleasing decision should resonate, or as Walsh put it, “Parks can be used by the little guys, the seniors, and everyone in between.”

 

 

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Newspaper Withdrawal

May 30th, 2015 3 comments »

From newspaper worshipers and collectors, we suddenly will get only one Sunday and no dailies on our sidewalk. That is big for us and comes as we felt forced into it.

Not long ago, we had three delivered — Boston Globe, all 7 days; New York Times, all 7 days, and Financial Times, all 6 days. We accepted that was too much, particularly when we also got such demanding weeklies as The Nation and New Yorker. We went down to the Globe at 7 days and the Sunday NYT.  Then yesterday, I cancelled the Globe.

The reasons are prosaic. Yet, we grieve. We’ll try the overpriced and hard to navigate facsimile Globe, but I don’t have high hopes of sustaining interest.

We were both newspaper reporters and magazine editors. I came out of J-school. Until macular degeneration blinded my mother at the end of her life, she got multiple papers daily. I grew up reading two or three she had delivered. It was always the local daily (two when we lived next to Manhattan) and the closest best one (like the Washington Post when we were in Virginia).

I offer a 15-minute rant on my disappointment and grief, and what led to this. Click the player below for that.

The short of it is that the greed of the Globe publisher, John Henry, piled on us and broke our will. He exceeded my chokepoint a couple of days ago. There are far better things I can do or buy with $750 a year than make a billionaire richer.

Alternate view

My wife dismissed the latest price hike to $14.34 a week by saying Henry seemed intent on going out of business. That probably is partially true. Globe management clearly likes the online model, publishing with no extra physical and human costs per copy.

Plus they charge top dollar, $3.99 a week for online. That’s more than any other daily, even a bit more than the NYT. Of course, the Times has tremendous expenses, like foreign bureaus and a still substantial reporting and editing staff. In  contrast, the Globe has slashed its staff for many years. Its local coverage is weak and not as granular as the hyperlocal Universal Hub site.

globTo start the sports analogy, I see the paper going for only the home run. Their reporters seem under an edict to produce potential Pulitzer features and series. The sports comes in as Henry is principal owner of both the paper and the Red Sox.

Until he revamped the Sox, locals would snort disdainfully in the direction of the Bronx. The Yankees, they’d say self-righteously, bought their championships by paying for overpriced players. Mirabile dictu. When Henry did the same and the Sox delivered a long-awaited World Series championship, I didn’t hear anyone slamming the local team for checkbook titles.

In fact, Henry’s attitude is to drain whatever he can from his various customers. The Sox ticket prices are MLB’s highest and his paper charges more for both delivered and online versions that comparable or higher quality papers. He seems determined to push costs as high as he can.

What’s a Subscriber?

Newspapers have long been cash rich and inventory sparse. The earn their profits from advertising, for which they get paid quickly or even in advance by those who want the discounted cost. Then unlike book publishers or grocers or most businesses, papers don’t carry large, costly amounts of perishable inventory.

Newspaper publishers long ago lost perspective on the value of their customers. In particular at a time when most cities have a single daily, they don’t have to care.

Yet, the size of the subscriber base gives them a way to price advertising. Most advertisers can’t prove their get their money’s worth from what the ad reps call “selling space” (ooo, space). Yet, defensively, many don’t want to be the only one in their field to pass on advertising…just in case.

You’d think paper publishers would treasure subscribers and do whatever it takes to keep them happy and renewing automatically. Yet many newspapers buy into two relatively modern ideas. First, they use that dreadful term monetize in erecting paywalls, lest hoi polloi read the paper for free. So if you get the paper delivered or pay a separate online fee, you can look. The second and more recent conceit is that physical newspapers are dead. Everyone will read news online on computer, phone or tablet.

Instead, driving away Boomers and their children is leaving subscribers, influence and money on the floor.

You can tell you’re dealing with the truly dumb when she or he says, “I wasn’t even born yet!” (always emphatically). That is to cover for ignorance of history, ideas or technology. That covers and excuses nothing. Bragging about what you don’t know and won’t think about is a major flaw.

Yes, some people skim news online and pretend they are informed. We saw that even with the WWII generation who began to get all their news from TV snippets. The dumb have always been with us.

Pushed away

The Globe‘s default customer support is, of course, now an online chat. I typed with Jill there, saying among other things that we wanted to cancel delivery. I allowed that we’d try the facsimile version for a bit, even though it was also overpriced. She said they had no mechanism to handle credit-card info in the chat (more tech failures, says I). She’d call me the next morning.

She did and we set it up. I didn’t berate her personally but did say that Henry’s crew was greedy and had pushed too far with the most recent of numerous price hikes. Like a good soldier she said she had no input into pricing, that they just got the memo and worked with the new reality. However, she did let slip that many callers were unhappy and cancelling.

By my long term habit as well as age, I should be the subscriber the Globe wants to keep. They certainly don’t understand how to do that.

Their online subscription model seems unlikely to work well to increase revenue. Perhaps their margins will fatten, but higher percentages of fewer dollars is a poor business model. Plus the fickle 20-somethings and younger are unlikely to play.

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A mess of beans

April 20th, 2015 No comments »

Praise muscle memory and felt sense. Let us not get into the emotion-driven impulse decisions that so taint our lives. Instead, marvel in how our senses take note in background.

From infancy, we learn the likes of how to push food into our mouths without stabbing our lips with tines. We pour liquids. Heck, we know seemingly instinctively what a cup of this or that means in a glass.

I experience this magic personally and at the weekly Haymarket trip. Tell the vendor you want three pounds of grapes and see him (or much more rarely her) grab bunches of various sizes, plop them on the scale, and poof, three pounds almost every time.

They appreciate their skill and are invariably happy when I praise them with a low-key compliment, like, “I guess you’ve done this before.”

I don’t get smug about it, but this is a skill I have too. Sometimes, I display it when forced. I’ll point to the tomatoes or Persian cukes and ask for two pounds. If the vendor tells me to pick what I want and he’ll weigh it, I almost always nail the amount. They are likewise impressed, but invariably put it down to coincidence.

In fact, this is a grandfather-related ability. The dozen summers I spent with him in his massive gardens came with unremarkable and remarkable skills. For the former, put rototilling and hand weeding. Among the latter is picking a mess of string beans.

Yes, I know that almost all modern green bean varieties are stringless hybrids, but we old-school boomers remember when you had to unzip them to make them edible.

The standard quantity of green beans was that mess. In country talk, that translates into two pounds. Granddad has a box of small brown paper bags for such orders. Whether it was for home or a relative or a customer, I picked a mess thousands of times. I just knew when I had two pounds in the bag by the feel. My body remembered and still does.

We each likely have a dozen or more such acts of magic we perform daily, without being aware.

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The Faces We’re Born With

April 6th, 2015 No comments »

Decades ago, I was stunned to be fired from one of my first jobs. I was highly competent and well liked.More on that in a few paragraphs.

I recalled that plunge today as I read a column on looks in Mad Men by Robin Abrahams, the Boston Globe’s Miss Conduct columnist. She wrote of how lookism affected both men and women in the TV series, along with such insights as when it is beneficial to be a babyfaced man (specifically a Black CEO).

I grew up in a home run by a mother who was a manager. She was not a lookist, in fact, did not stereotype people. You produced and behaved or she’d try to make those things happen. Man or woman, old or young, pretty or plug ugly, none of those were relevant to her.

Thus, on jobs where I was the boss, I treated people as my mother taught me As a result, they tended to perform for me. They knew being unctuous or attractive meant little.Doing your job well and getting along with coworkers did. So there.

So just after the Mad Men era, in an office overlooking the Chrysler Building gargoyles, I was perking along as writer/editor at a weekly magazine of a professional society. The biggest part of the job was covering the weekly luncheon meeting of its influential members. The speaker was a powerful and often well-known person who often spoke of big ideas.

It was kind of trivial but still fun. Out of J-school and with considerable newspaper experience, I was in my element. I photographed the speaker and covered the remarks. Of course, I had to be flawless and present the speech coverage to reveal the high points in a compelling narrative. Hell, though, that’s what I’d done for many years in high school. college and  and on newspaper staffs.

Alas, vanity and ego came visiting the office, not mine though. The founder and long-term executive director of the society was old and retired. His middle-aged junior promptly jettisoned me.

I was stunned. Several coworkers were not. Moreover, the printer of the weekly magazine I filled took me to lunch for a talk right after the news.

The printer was a bright, highly competent, very flexible and particularly nice fellow I had a lot of business with on the job. Turns out he was also black Irish (thick and dark hair, ruddy skin) which came into play as he spoke. He said he had figured that would happen when the old man stepped down.

It was obvious to the printer and several staff members that I threatened the new boss and he was biding his time to dump me. Word is the ascendant chief told people I was jockeying for the top job.Moreover, the traits I figured ensured my longevity foretold my demise. Competence and likeability are too much for the mediocre to tolerate.

I had no interest whatever in taking over a professional society and making insincere kissy-face to0 big shots. I wanted to report on speeches and take good pix.

Once number two got it in his head that I was a snake waiting to slay him, I was dead as soon as possible.

The printer was very positive though. He said I was well rid of the job and would find something better quickly. He was right on both counts. In addition, he offered a truism likely from his own experience that has stuck with me — “It’s never going to hurt you to be a blond WASP.”

That’s a very dated, remarkably lookist comment, but spot on.

 

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Creeping toward humanness

March 7th, 2015 No comments »

I’m with Uncle Joe Biden on one of the craziest, dumbest Republicans. The Veep ridiculed Ben Carson’s inane gay bashing, noting the widespread disdain for the lunacy.

Carson has proclaimed he intends to win the GOP nomination for POTUS next year. More to the point, he is yet another proof that expertise in one area (he is a physician) means nothing beyond that. He went on and on about homosexuality being a total choice with his alleged evidence being that straight men are raped in prison, hence choosing to change.

From the MSNBC reportage:

But Biden on Friday was not sure how to respond. “Every ridiculous assertion from Dr. Carson on — I mean Jesus, God,” he said. “Oh God. I mean, it’s kind of hard to fathom, isn’t it?”

Still, the vice president pointed to the “universal ridicule” Carson suffered as evidence of progress for LGBT rights. “That wouldn’t have happened two years ago, five years ago,” he said.

And that is exactly it. Unlike Carson’s perverted fantasy, such advancement is observable, palpable proof that we can and do improve as a species.

I recall the moment I first became keenly aware and thus hopeful of such growth. It was in the Yankee in Beaufort, South Carolina in the mid-1970s. It was a dive, a beer and burger joint, but very Low Country. Three middle-aged guys  I didn’t know by name were about 10 feet away at the angle of the bar at lunchtime. One of them fell down the at-home well and ranted briefly about black folk, using the N word twice.

I wasn’t ready for the immediate response of his two buddies. They told him quickly and firmly that was not cool and they didn’t want to hear it. They guy was chastened and behaved himself afterward. I am pretty sure that he ws likely to behave himself with them and maybe others going forward.

That is both evidence that we can advance as a species and the method to advance that process. Do not let the crazies and the bigots slide. You don’t have to be pious and obnoxious about it. You do have to be quick and sure. Tell the bigot what’s wrong and look directly at him. It works the miracle of conversion to humanness.

Of course, the other thing is not to pretend it doesn’t happen in Yankeeland or the Wet Coast. Bigots and buffoons don’t respect geography.

 

 

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Farewell to our Spock and to mine

March 2nd, 2015 No comments »

llapIt’s not a stretch to say I was raised by Spock, or at least a Spock. As so many of us note the passing and mourn the death of Leonard Nimoy, I felt particular twinges remembering my mother, Wanda.

We see that Science Officer Spock’s live-long-and-prosper hand is ubiquitous lately. That’s as it should, or rather that is logical.

When the Star Trek original series started, I immediately recognized Spock as Wanda. That as not at all bad, merely entertaining and even assuring.

Wanda was unlike other mothers, other fathers, and other parental pairs. Like Spock, she was a cooly logical as a Vulcan, yet with a very human half.

For one specific, when she was raising my sister and me by herself, she did not betray reason with the extreme stupidity of, “Because I said so.” Wanda has reasons for every decision, every pronouncement, every argument.

Awanda1nd for arguments…my friends were astonished to hear her policy. If my sister or I could provide better reasons to do something than what she proposed, we prevailed. If not, she held sway. Not only did that make us feel invested in decisions, but it also inspired (me particularly) us to analyze what was going on or proposed, to pay attention, and to present our own positions.

Yes, Wanda was a single parent, an awkward status for the boomer generation just coming to terms with the flood of post-WWII marriages and almost as large flood of divorces. The term broken home was muttered like a diagnosis of leprosy. My sister and I found much humor in the expressions of pity as we moved every few years while  Wanda slowly advanced to support us, getting to see and know many families of friends and relatives. We had no doubt we were far better off than kids raised in homes with one or both married parents were drunks, where the children were regularly beaten, where mom, dad or both yelled at each other and the kids, and where the parental units were, well, illogical.

Wanda was an omnivorous reader. We had several thousand books, including multiple sets of encyclopedia and other reference texts. Wanda knew tremendous amounts on many subjects. That was a precursor to Wikipedia when I was very young. I’d ask a why, what or how question and she almost invariably knew. When we didn’t, she’d hit the books and tell me.

Tuen when I was in elementary school, she’d say, “Look it up.” We had to references. I did look it up. It drove me to read random volumes of our various encyclopedia, random pages of our unabridged dictionary, random entries in the world almanac and book of facts or pages in one of several atlases. “Look it up” served me well throughout school and beyond. I still do.

Wanda did not stay Spock to her death. Yet, she was while I was growing up. Toward the end, cancer, chemo, hormonal changes, financial reverses and love disaster all changed her. Most of her massive pressures came in a short period and I can’t think less of her for changing.

On the other hand, for all those years, she was my Vulcan mentor. When other kids lived under the arbitrary and emotional rule of a Kirk-like parent(s), I had the better of it.

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Elves working on JP Porchfest

February 8th, 2015 No comments »

111 bands this year for the JP Porchfest…plus:

  • theater performances
  • storytelling stage
  • dance stage(s)
  • circus acts

We were in the group who fought the rages of winter to fill the hall at the First Baptist to view the wee documentary of the first version last year. The website and FB page have details already on the second annual one, on the sked for Saturday, July 11th from noon to 6PM.

Band signups start in mid-March. The organizers have been churning along for months though. Watch the sites for ways to volunteer and announcements of the musical/potable/comestible fundraisers.

At today’s show, you missed free seltzer, popcorn and Hersey’s kisses…plus a lengthy performance by Jamaica Plain Honk.

jph3 jph5
jph4 jph2
jph1

 

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May I See Icy Maze?

January 3rd, 2015 No comments »

They’re trying hard to get the name Innovation District to stick to South Boston at Fort Point Channel and the new convention center.  A ploy to lure folk in the windy, wintery times includes the Lawn on D.

To less boosterism types that is really a medium-sized park in the desolate space on D Street behind the Westin. Otherwise, unless you work there, you’d avoid the spot.

This weekend (through Sunday, January 4th, there are things. Several moving sculptures, a couple of food trucks, an outside bar with wine and beer, some tables, and (ta da) a maze of ice blocks.

Honestly, the maze is scaled for 2 to 5 year olds. Its walls are under five feet tall, so adults peer over. Little ones love it. Certainly you’d have to be as dumb as a household pet to get lost in this one.

However, they got artsy with it. numerous colored LEDs add contrast and color. Prints of National Geographic photog Paul Nicklen are the real humor — pix of polar bears on ice in blocks of ice. Subtler art is in colored and carved ice blocks.

It’s not a must see, but if you are in South Boston…

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

 

If you’re the right size, the ice maze works just fine. SBmaze1
SBmaze5 Many LEDs liven up the blocks.
Paul Nicklen’s snow and ice wildlife images are (har har) embedded in actual ice. SBmaze2
SBmaze6 A lot of detail went into the carving and coloring.
Adults can peer over the maze, keep track of their kids, and admire the construction. SBmaze4
SBmaze Don’t expect to read in the local tabloid about families getting lost in the maze.

 

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