Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Caveat Emptor

Down the street from where we live is a house that’s for sale. This is not an unusual occurrence. Houses go up for sale all the time. However, this situation is different.

The house was declared “Unfit for Human Habitation” about a year ago when the city pounded a notice on the front door. And the people living there left. Then the notice was taken down. People moved into the house.

I assumed that the the house had been renovated/retrofitted—whatever was wrong with the house had been fixed. I was wrong.

A few weeks later, the people were out. And the sign was back up.

Then came the For Sale sign. As you can imagine, no legitimate realtor has taken on this property. The house is For Sale by Owner. And the UfHH sign was gone again. A few weeks later, the sign was back.

So now the house is for sale with a big UfHH sign on the door—in fact, there are two signs now. Though I’m not sure why putting up two signs makes the city think that the owner won’t tear them down. If you’re ripping down one, doing two isn’t a big deal.

And while I have no idea what the property laws are, I’m guessing that when someone buys a house, the fact that the house has been condemned is somewhere in the deed of ownership.

In the meantime, I’ve imagined the owner and a potential buyer dialoguing.

Buyer: So, uh, I saw your ad in the paper. It sounds like a really great deal.

Owner: It’s great deal. You should buy it.

Buyer: I’m definitely interested. Can my wife and I get a tour of the house?

Owner: This is such a hot property, it probably won’t be on the market long enough for you to see the house.

Buyer: Oh. You know, my wife and I drove by the house. And we noticed two signs on the door. They said, “Unfit for Human Habitation.”

Owner: Yeah, so I put those up to keep away thieves, gangs, and drug dealers.

Buyer: But I did notice some dry rot and termite damage in the eaves.

Owner: Right…I did that to set the scene.

Buyer: And the puddle around the foundation—that’s more of the same?

Owner: Absolutely. So are you ready to make an offer?

Buyer: Caveat emptor. I think we’ll look elsewhere.

File:Fsbo tablet.jpg

Monday, July 29, 2013

Two and Three Year Olds Rock

We are still waiting for our roof to be fixed. Grumble, grumble. But they’ve promised to be at our house at 7am tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, I’m counting my blessings. One of them is teaching Sunday school to two and three year olds. Here’s why they are the best age group.

1. Love. Sometimes a little one will come up to me and bump my leg, when I kneel down, they will give me a heartfelt hug.

2. Honesty. When they are upset at me, they will tell me. Or stick out their tongue. That’s okay because sometimes I want to stick out my tongue at them too. And the rest of the time…hugs.

3. Information. I always know when someone is pregnant—“My mommy gets sick a lot.” Or even better, “The combination of our safe is **,*,**, and there’s money in it.”

4. Absolute joy. “Miss Connie, I go pee-pee on the potty!!”

5. Great press. They think I’m wonderful. Older siblings will say with a sad face, “You were never my teacher.” Parents say, “My child was angry at me this week and said that he was going to go live with Miss Connie.” What can I say…they really love me…or maybe it’s the cool Winnie the Pooh cookies I give them. Hmm.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tinkerbell or Jezebel

Our dog is dumb. It’s a sad fact. Don’t get me wrong, I love her. But she’s dense.

Our first Lab was an alpha female field Lab—the most stubborn animal ever created (once she got angry at me and peed on my feet to assert her dominance), but she was smart. Okay, maybe not so smart because after the peeing incident, I got angry and made her spend the rest of the day outside. But she knew who and what was a threat.  She had four levels of intruder alert.

Level One, nothing. Not a threat, no barking.

Level Two, intruder nearing our property, possible security violation. Initiate rumbling growl.

Level Three, intruder has crossed the threshold of our territory and doesn’t appear to be bringing us a package. Begin deep, threatening bark.

Level Four, intruder is trying to come into the house without proper authorization from the master (or the woman who thinks she’s the alpha female).  Let loose with I-eat-human-flesh-for-breakfast-because-I-am-a-creature-from-the-pit-of-nightmares.

Perfect. This is what an intelligent dog does.

Our current black Lab has no idea.

In all fairness to her, she’s not a heavy barker. And she doesn’t bark because she’s bored. She barks because she feels it’s her duty to protect us. And I understand how she can be confused about the Pomeranian who sometimes prances past the house. Is it a dog? Or a cat with pretentions? Or a rat who’s poorly disguised?

And I understand that she’s got to let the Dobermans know when they’ve violated her turf. (They’re nice dogs who escape their yard on a regular basis and come to visit me. I pet them and wait until their owner noticed they're gone.)

But no matter how many times I tell the dog that the little old lady across the street with a walker is NOT a threat, she still has to bark like she’s a fiend from Hades. And the toddler holding his mother’s hand—he’s NOT going to come and steal the dog food.

On the other hand, I appreciate knowing when the UPS truck arrives. But I knew he was a afraid of the dog because he'd just slide the package onto the porch and hightail it back to his truck. Once time I caught him as he was making a delivery. I told him, “Really, she’s a nice dog. Her name is Jezebel.” He gave me a fake smile and backed away. Slowly. Now he just throws the package at our door from the sidewalk. 

Hmm. Maybe we should name our next dog Tinkerbell.

Here's Jez.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shakespeare Costumes, Fingerless Gloves

This year I promised Matt that I'd make him some costume accessories. His brothers both have gotten huge, feathered hats. And capes and gauntlets. But Matt wanted fingerless gloves. So I said, "Sure."

Of course, there wasn't a pattern. So I traced his hands and went from there.

Here are three paper patterns, and two mock-up gloves that didn't work.

Here's the pattern that did work.

The final version of the glove.

 Here's how it will look on stage. Except he'll have a costume and stage makeup on too.

If you're interested in attending The Comedy of Errors, the troupe is performing it on Saturday, August 3, at 2pm at Roddy Theater, Baylor. The troupe does an amazing job. And it's free!!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Disappearing Garden

Just so I’m clear I do not grow a garden for the neighborhood. Wait, that’s not quite true. Across from our home is a retirement facility and I do grow lots of flowers partly for them. There’s nothing more wonderful than having an elderly man or woman stop by the house and thank me for the flowers they see when they drive home or look out the window.

But I don’t grow veggies and fruit for the neighborhood. First, it was strawberries that went missing. And I blamed it on the squirrels and our dog—Jez is partial to strawberries. Then, when the raspberries came into season, I wrapped them with netting and securely fastened it. But when I went to pick the raspberries, there wasn’t a single berry left. Now it’s the tomatoes. When I went out to pick the first tomatoes of the season, nothing was there. And they weren’t any signs of animal picking and eating, no broken branches, no claw marks, etc.

So I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not the squirrels. I’m wondering if the thief has two legs instead of four. And I’m compiling a list of how to stop the thief.

1. I could leave our black Lab outside at night. Nothing scarier than seeing a pair of caramel colored eyes bearing down on you in the darkness. But Jezebel would be very sad if she couldn’t cuddle up on her blanket and sleep.

2. We bought a lock for the gate, but we actually would have to remember to lock it at night. And the tomatoes aren’t in the locked area anyway.

3. I could put up a sign saying “This garden is protected by tarantulas.” (It works for a jewelry store in NYC.) Of course, I’d actually have to have tarantulas. Not that I’d mind, but Ariel would have a fit.

4. Or maybe just a sign that says “Please don’t steal our food”… Nope. I think the tarantula thing is way more exciting--I’ve heard they hiss.

File:Araña Toro, Macrotheles Calpeiana.jpg
Photo by Rafael Cerpa, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Five, Raindrops Keep Falling

I know many parts of the country are suffering from a terrible drought. I wish I could give them some of our rain. We’re seventeen (yes, 17) inches above normal.

Most of the time, I love rain. It fact, I love the extra 17 inches. Except that those extra inches are coming into my house. Normally, when there's excess water we have a basement issues. This time, it's the roof.

And it wasn't, "Oh, look, there's a water spot on the ceiling." It was, "Oh, look, the shelf of books from the 1800s is swimming in water and the books are ruined. And, "Oh, look, another room has water dripping down the walls." And "Oh, look, the area around the fireplace in our bedroom in leaking and water is dripping down one of Cal's paintings."

So we called roofers, and they inspected. (I didn’t really expect to have roofing problems since we had the roof stripped down to the decking and replaced just over six years ago.) In any case, according to the new roofers—not the losers who did our re-roofing—we have a section of roof that needs to be replaced, leaks that need patching, and flashing that needs to be redone because the original roofers did it wrong.

They made an appointment to come on Tuesday or Wednesday. It’s Friday, and they still aren’t here.

So I’m beginning to wonder why. Here are my theories.

1. The roofers have no plans to fix the roof. They have a sadistic need that forces them to go from house to house stressing out homeowners on the state of their roofs.

2. My children are paying the roofers money to stay away so they can find out how long it takes me to “snap” due to the stress of having books, furniture etc., stacked all over the house to protect them from water damage.

3. The roofers are waiting for the next deluge so they can charge extra for working in the rain.

4. Since my laptop is now fixed (even the repair people are surprised it’s working), I need a new source of patience-producing frustration.

5. The roofers are in cahoots with builders and they’re waiting for a good case of rot to set in. Or mildew. Or paint damage—oops already got that.

Maybe we need to rethink our roof and go with this. But I wonder how you’d mow it. Or do you have to buy a goat and let him do the trimming?

File:Norðragøta, Faroe Islands (3).JPG
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shakespeare Costumes

Mid-July means one thing for me--sewing.

This year my son Matthew is playing Antipholus of Syracuse in Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors. It's one of Shakespeare's earliest plays and it's about two sets of twins separated at birth. It's full of word plays, physical comedy, and puns.

I picked a simple pattern this year McCalls 5907 because Matt is one of twins and so I didn't want someone to end up with a costume that was too hard. I did make some alterations to the pattern. I put in a slit between the middle seam in the front and back to make it easier to move. Matt tends to be very active on stage--I've seen him do a flip before and I didn't want anything restricting his movements (i.e., making him fall). The shirt is one I made a few years back. It's Butterick 4486. I keep hoping that Matt will outgrow it because I want it--it's made from the softest batiste fabric and I'd love it for an oversized poet's blouse.

Here's one of my favorite of Matt's lines:

I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself. 

Here's another quote from The Comedy of Errors.

They brought one Pinch, a hungry, lean-faced villain,
A mere anatomy, a mountebank,
A threadbare juggler, and a fortune-teller,
A needy, hollow-eyed, sharp-looking wretch,
A living-dead man.

Hmm. Looks like Shakespeare invented zombies.

Here are some links to other costumes I've made. Click here. And here. And here. And here

Monday, July 15, 2013

Who Are You?

As I've posted before, I have prosopagnosia. (I'm face blind--I don't recognize people's faces.) Most of the time I cope just fine. Most of the time.

1. The other day, I was listing the types of cars people we know drive. My kids were shocked that I knew. I was shocked that they didn't. They asked me why I knew. Uh, so when we get to church, I know who's there. It's much easier to figure out who I'm talking to when I know the possibilities.

2. Last week, a little boy I've been teaching Sunday school to for two years opened a door and walked to me. I had no idea who he was until he started talking.

3. I saw a man and wasn't sure who he was. By his height and hair color, I had him narrowed down to two people. The problem was there was something in the way and I could only see him from the chest up. And the way I tell the two men apart is by their weight. (Though usually I can tell them apart by their wives who look very different from each other.)

4.  This morning, I went outside to confront a stranger on my backyard porch. It was my son. So, uh, no confrontation needed.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hosting A Murder

On Monday I hosted a murder. It was set on June 13, 1940, on the last train leaving Paris before the Nazis invaded. Everyone came in costume befitting the character they were assigned.

Among the guests were the gangster, the journalist, and the secret agent.

We also had the spoiled perfume heiress, the princess of a minor European country, and a courturiere extraordinaire. 

As the train left, we had drinks and discovered the dead body. Ack!

During the five course meal, we asked each other questions, trying to artfully dodge the questions posed to us. Everyone has a motive to commit the murder and you can't lie about the information revealed about your character in your secret dossier. 

We opened secret clues and looked over diagrams of the murder scene while wondering which clues were red herrings. And who the guilty party really was. 

(Note two other players, the Duke with the eye patch and the RAF Captain.)

Several of the participants had acting experience and were able to stay in character and play up the campy aspects of the game--I haven't laughed so much in months.

At the end of the party, we all had to make our accusations. Two people guessed correctly. I was not one of them. Grumble, grumble.

Our fourth course was this decadent dulce de leche torte. (Are you wondering what the fifth course was? Chocolate!)

We're already planning our next Murder Dinner and trying to decide between "The Chicago Caper" and "Roman Ruin."

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Wheel Fell Off the Car. Sort Of.

Right now, my life is consumed by my computer woes, which I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing about. So I’ve reimagined yesterday's conversation with tech support—imagine my laptop is a car.

File:Car wheel change in desert.jpg
Photo by Saibo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

My phone rings. I pick it up.

Mechanic (in an excited voice): Mrs. Keller, we finally figured out what’s wrong with your car!

Me: Great. What is it?

Mechanic: Your car needs a new tire!

Me: Uh, that’s what you said the last time—and I bought a new tire. And, honestly, since the wheel has actually fallen off the car, I don’t think the tire was the problem is the first place.

Mechanic: Are you sure the new tire works? Maybe the rubber is defective.

Me: You had me test the rubber twice already. And I’ve done a tread count.

Mechanic: Oh.  (Silence follows.) You know what it is? It’s the lug nuts.

Me: We replaced the lug nuts too.

Mechanic: Right. Okay, so here’s what it really is…the transmission.

Me (wondering if unbeknownst to me I’ve become part of a Monty Python skit): What?!

Mechanic: Those transmissions are sneaky things. They are part of the engine, and it’s the engine that turns the axle that turns the tire. So I think it’s the transmission.

Me: It’s NOT the transmission—the wheel has fallen off the axle!

Mechanic: I’m not sure the wheel has actually fallen off the axle—it’s more like lying near the axle.

Me (sputtering in disbelief)

Mechanic: We’ve already looked at your wheel twice. I suppose (insert heavy, condescending sigh) I could look at it a third time.

Me: Yeah, maybe you should look at it again.

So now I’m trying to decide whether to contact the Better Business Bureau, or let my husband talk to the mechanic. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Friday Five: Writer's Block

As I've mentioned before, I'm writing a new novel. (Yes, I'm editing one too.) And everything's been going perfectly--I'm about a third of the way through the first draft. Then, yesterday, I hit a snag. You would think that I'd be "in touch" enough with myself and my work that I'd know I hit a snag. But it doesn't work like that. First drafts are odd creatures and often have warts and birth defects--but that's okay because they get fixed later. So when I first hit a problem--I couldn't finish a scene, I assumed it was a wart. By day two of the scene, I knew there was a problem because...

1. I still couldn't finish writing the scene. This ought to have been a neon, blinking sign of a problem. It wasn't.

2. Then, I wandered the house looking for random things to clean. I didn't polish the silver, but the rugs got vacuumed more than once.

3. I got this unsettled feeling--as if the zombie apocalypse was coming and I didn't know.

4. I became grouchy, wondering why my children weren't eager to clean the house. Just because yesterday was a holiday and not even our normal clean-the-house day doesn't mean we can't embrace it as a middle-of-the-week clean-the-house day.

5.  Finally, after the tenth time of working on the scene, I realized it wasn't going anywhere.

Now I know why I've been wandering the house and irritating myself and my kids. I've got a minor (hopefully) case of writer's block. To beat it, my plan of attack is pretty simple. I sit down with a ream of notebook paper and start writing. I'll start with trying to identify the issue. What the heck is wrong with the scene? Is it plot or character? Did the wrong character take over the scene? What was/is the purpose of the scene--did I get off track? What scene will follow this scene? Am I missing a segue? Is this scene misplaced in the novel--should it come later? Once I identify the problem, I'll brainstorm fixes.

Hopefully, I can figure it out quickly. On the other hand, if it takes a couple of days, the upside is that I'll have a really clean house.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What Does Customer Service Mean?

The summer before I started college, I worked at a satellite receiver company in customer service. While there, I learned one important lesson. Always, always apologize and take responsibility for the problem. Customers are calling because the product failed. So it's the company's fault.

The computer repair company which is servicing my laptop has not learned this lesson. Yesterday, I called to check on the status of my computer.

Me: I'm calling to check on the status of my computer.

Customer Service: It takes 24 to 48 hrs. for a diagnosis to be made.

Me (not pointing out that it was around that time): So, you'll contact me when a diagnosis is made?

Customer Service: No. The company you bought your computer from will contact you.

Me: Okay. Could you make a notation in the file or ask the techs to test the system and verify the repair before the computer is sent back?

CS: We always verify the repairs.

Me: Okay. Well, this is the second time my computer has been in for the same problem.

CS: Clearly something else went wrong with your computer after it left here.

Me: Uh, my computer has the exact same problem that it had originally.

CS: (silence)

Me: Right.

CS: Anything else I can do for you?

Me (biting back the words "I'm not sure you've actually done anything for me"): No. Thank you.

It would have been nice at some point for the customer service agent to say, "I'm sorry you're having a problem." Or even, "I'll send the techs a note to do a thorough check."

Instead, the CS reps are hostile. As if it's my fault the computer isn't working. In any case, I hope that when I get my laptop back, it works. (This time they told me it would take two to three weeks to get it back--and that's without a diagnosis of the problem. I'm beginning to feel like they're trying to punish me so I'll give up and buy a new laptop.) But if the laptop comes back after all this time and still isn't repaired, I'll be contacting the better business bureau.

Monday, July 1, 2013

My Parakeet Hates Me

When my oldest son went off to grad school, he left his parakeet Ralph behind and asked me to take care of it. I said, “Sure.” Sounds simple enough. Feed and clean cage. Done. Except not.

Ralph has a bad habit. He likes to rip out his feathers. So his breast is naked. He looks like those body builders who shave their chests. And while this may not look bad on a body builder, it looks hideous on a parakeet.

So I Googled self-mutilation in parakeets. It turned out that it’s common. One day, a parakeet is grooming his feathers and decides, “Hey, I’ll pull one of these out.” For some reason, he thinks, “This is really cool. I’ll pull a bunch out.”

According to Google, stress, boredom, and habit are the main causes. Apparently, you can buy a cone to put around the bird’s neck so they can’t puck their feathers. (A bird version of the cone of shame dogs wear after surgery.) But that sounded really stressful—to me and the bird. So I went with other treatments—keep the bird entertained and help him relearn proper grooming habits. I bought him new cage toys. I rearranged his perches and toys, so he was stimulated. And I talked to him—“Hey, Ralph, how are you doing? Please stop ripping out your feathers—it makes you grossly unattractive.”

And twice a day, I mist Ralph with distilled water. It forces him to regroom his feathers. And he hates it. Consequently, he hates me. Now when I walk into the room he turns his back to me. Though he tracks me with one eye, always giving me the evil eye. He plays ring-the-bell with my other kids. But when I try to play, he flies to the other side of the cage and refuses to acknowledge my existence. (I’m a victim of bird shunning!)

Now when I approach the cage with the misting bottle, he glares at me.  And I know he’s thinking, “Open the cage door, bird torturer, and I will gore you.” (I bought him a new beak stone and his beak is now razor sharp.)

On the other hand, he now has a single feather growing out of the middle of his chest. So score one for the evil bird torturer. 

File:Parakeet young.jpg
This obviously isn't a photo of Ralph (who looks just like this, minus the feathers across the chest) because my computer, which has all the photo processing software, is again at tech repair because they sent it back without fixing it. GRRR. Thanks to Wikimedia for the parakeet photo.

N.B. Screwing Up Time is currently on sale for 99 cents. The sale ends tomorrow, July 2. Click here to buy SUT at Amazon.