Monday, July 30, 2012

Shakespeare Costumes

Today is begins Shakespeare Camp--this year they are performing Much Ado About Nothing. Since auditions in February, Jacob and Matthew have been memorizing lines and working on blocking. I've been sewing costumes. Every day this week, the entire cast will meet and rehearse. Then they'll have performances on Thursday and Saturday.

Here's a photo of Matthew in his Claudio attire. (His tunic is made of brown velvet, which didn't want to stretch the same way as the lining fabric. grrr.)

Here's photo of Jacob dressed as Benedick, striking a pose. (Yes, I sewed the hat and gauntlets as well as the tunic and shirt. But I made those last year.)

If you love Shakespeare or costumes, here are some links to other costumes I've made over the years. more costumeseven more costumes, and still more costumes. I've got even more costumes, but a couple of years I didn't post photos.

Friday, July 27, 2012

DIY White Washed Cabinets

I've gotten several emails asking how our DIY kitchen refinishing project is going. The cabinets are done!! I was beginning to think I would die of stripping fume inhalation and we'd never finish. Or I'd  be permanently pocked by chemical burns, but the burns have all healed. So here are the cabinets.

This is what they looked like before. Fifties blonde with peeling shellac. Pieces of wood missing. Really ugly. So bad we wondered if they were salvageable. But we decided to give it a shot.

 Here we are in the middle of the process. I'm stripping the inside of the cupboards, and my husband Calvin is stripping the drawers. The house is seventy years old, and I had to rip out six different types of adhesive shelf paper--one from every decade.

Finished product. (Yes, the light coming in the windows actually looks that way. It glows off the cabinets in a cool blue tone. In the late afternoon, the kitchen is bathed in a pink glow.) The garden window was our first foray into kitchen refurbishing. You couldn't even see through the window that was there before.

Another view. Notice the walls--yeah, they're in really bad shape too. I think I've talked Cal into painting them on his vacation. So, there will be another installment of photos from the DIY kitchen.

I don't know if you noticed the plant hanging over the window. It's a tropical pitcher plant, a carnivorous plant. The pitchers are full of watery goo that attracts and digests bugs. I take it outside every couple of days to it can capture dinner. (This plant was my anniversary present. Some women want jewels--I want weird plants. And my husband indulges me.)

Next summer, we hope to fix the floor. Under several layers of linoleum is the original wood floor made of a double layer of 1 x 6 planks! I can't wait to refinish it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Ultimate Reader's Prize

Vacation is coming up soon. And we’ll be near Washington, D.C. We’ve visited DC several times before—there’s so much to see and most of it is free, which is important when you have six people in the family. There are some places we always revisit like the National Gallery—where else can you see a Da Vinci in the US? And we still have a list of places we’ve never visited like the National Zoo.

But there’s one more place I’ve got on my itinerary. And one more thing I want. I want to go to the Library of Congress and get a library card (actually it’s called a reader card, but we won’t quibble over titles). I’ve always wanted a card to the Library of Congress. I don’t know why. But to a reader and writer like me, it seems like the ultimate prize. To have a bit of plastic that allows me access to one of the greatest libraries of our time.

I’ve done the research. I know where to apply (Rm LM 140 of the Madison Building), what identification is necessary (driver’s license/state id/passport), and what paperwork is needed (computer-based questionnaire).

What will I do with the card? I’ll look at some books, maybe do a bit or research. After that, I’ll probably just carry it around in my wallet for two years. That’s how long they last. And I’ll carry even after it expires like a talisman.

Now if only I could get a card to the library at Alexandria…but it’s too late for that.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bad Is the New Good

The other day my daughter said, “Oh, mom, you’ve got to watch this You-Tube video!” So, she played it. I frowned. The singer sang in an off-key monotone about the order of the days of the week.

I said, “Um, I don’t like this. At all.”

Daughter said, “Yeah.”

Me, with a very confused look: “Why are we watching this?”

Daughter, laughing: “It used to be the most disliked music video on YouTube.”

Me, feeling sorry for the poor girl who recorded the song: “We’re watching this because it’s so bad?!”

Daughter: “Yeah. Apparently, she’s making a lot of money.”

Me: “Money? How is that possible?”

Daughter: “Not everyone hates it. And they buy it.”

Me, incredulous: and speechless...

Daughter: “Or people that hate it—buy it. There's a distinct possibility that she made it bad on purpose so she could get lots of attention for the song.”

So that’s where we’re at…being really bad at something is a way to be cool? And it’s a great way to make money. (This seems to be a trend lately...I could mention a certain book that’s very, very popular, which I’ve been told is horrid, but I won't because that would be giving it more publicity.)

And here I was trying to write well. Maybe I need to rethink that. Or not.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Pot of Gold

When your kids are little, they seem to go from one thing to the next making messes. A knocked over plant here, and spilled orange juice there. Not to mention the laundry, the toys strewn everywhere, and fights. You tell yourself that eventually, they’ll be helpful. But you’re not sure if you believe it.

I’m here to say, “It’s true!” While Luke and Ariel had summer jobs doing research, Jake and Matt were part of the unemployed masses. (Gone are the summers when jobs for teens were available to anyone who applied.) So Jake and Matt worked for me. And even though they didn’t get paid, they worked hard. I even heard, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” I almost passed out when I heard that.  (Of course, the quid pro quo between computer game time and chores done might have contributed to their willingness.)

Here’s what Matt and Jake did. They mulched, replaced bathroom caulk in two bathrooms, washed mildew from wallpaper, cleaned bathroom ceiling, raked and bagged yard waste, sanded and painted trim, cleaned/organized tool shed, scrubbed and repainted the deck, scrubbed and repainted back porch, and washed blinds. Thanks, boys! (Yeah, they’re glad the summer is almost over.)

Out of thirty projects I put on a list, they’ve finished all but three. Weeding, pressure washing the carport, and painting the carport.

So there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Just seize it while you can. Before you know it, they’ll be gone.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A, B, or C

I hate elections. Okay, it's not the elections themselves--I relish living in a country where we can elect our representatives. It's all the hoopla beforehand. And it's not even the TV ads. I do despise them, but since we don’t have cable I don’t have to endure political commercials. But that still hasn't saved us from election nonsense.

Instead, we’re getting phone calls. Not the “Please vote for Bob the Candidate” type. These are more insidious. They’re “surveys.” I usually say, “No, thanks.” But they’re very insistent this year. So I thought, “Fine, I’ll answer.” And then I remembered why I hate surveys.

Survey person: Would you call yourself A, B, or C?

Me: Neither.

Survey person:  A, B, or C are your choices.

Me (shrugs): Sorry.

Survey person (clearly irritated by my last answer): How do you like Candidate X’s tv commercials?

Me: I don’t have access to regular TV broadcasts.

SP (sounding incredulous): You don’t watch TV?!?

Me: No. (I don’t have anything against TV. I’m just not willing to spend the money for cable when I can stream what I want to see.)

SP: Would you vote for Candidate Q? (An obscure candidate for a local elected position.)

Me: I don’t know. I’ve never heard of Candidate Q. I’d have to know what he stands for.

SP (offended): Right. (Clearly, Candidate Q’s campaign is sponsoring the survey.)

SP: Do you identify with the bad guys or the really bad guys?

Me (remembering that “neither” is not an acceptable answer): I guess the bad guys. (Why are there no “good guys?”)

SP (after more questions where my answers are not on the “approved responses list”): Thank you for participating in this survey. (I can tell she means “drop dead” you annoying person who doesn’t properly participate in the accepted social/political game.)

Me: Could you all please not call us again. This is the third time in the last 24 hrs. And we’re already answered your questions once before.

SP: It wasn’t us.

Me: Uh, it was all the same questions.

SP: Someone else must be running a survey.

Me: Oh.

SP: Hangs up.

I can’t wait for December.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Crank Calls

We’ve begun getting crank calls again. Thankfully, there’s no nastiness except for the fact that the person is calling several times a day and just listens to one of us say, “Hello? Hello? Hello?” And, since the line is live, someone on the other end is listening.

We do have caller id, but the person has blocked their identification.

But I can’t figure out why anyone does this. Is it somehow fun to hear my voice? I’m not sure why. I don’t have a sexy accent. Does someone delight in knowing they interrupted me chopping onions for dinner? Or folding laundry? Or sewing Shakespeare costumes? (They’re almost done—I’ll post photos this week.)

This isn’t the first time we’ve gotten crank calls. The last batch was about three years ago. That lovely person would call only when Cal was out-of-town and wake me at 2am. The boys were eager to answer the phone and chat with Mr. I (I for Idiot), but they never woke up in time. I took care of him with a whistle blown into the phone (not the first time I had to deal with threatening calls).

But now I’m dreaming up responses to the latest nuisance caller.

1. Hello, this is Bob. Technical support from India. How may I direct your call?

2. I can give the phone to Luke. He can explain organo-metallic bonding with platinum. (His summer research project.) I can guarantee that will end the phone calls really quickly.

3. Matthew could quote Shakespeare at him. “Hast thou ever been at court, shepherd? No. Then thou are damned. Like an ill-roasted egg, all on one side. If you never was’t at court, then you never learned good manners. And if you never learned good manners, then thy manners must be evil. Then evil is sin. And sin is damnation. Thou art in a parlous state, shepherd.” Or, “Art thou the slave that with thy breath has killed?” Or, “Away, you are an ass, you are an ass.” (Matt is a fountain of Shakespearean insults.)

4. I could put the phone next to the stereo and crank 80s pop music. I’m sure I must have a Belinda Carlisle (Circle in the Sand, Heaven is a Place on Earth) tape somewhere.

5. I could pretend to be a police officer investigating my own murder. “So, sir, how did you know the deceased? What were you doing on the night of July 15th?”

What about you all? Any suggestions?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Voice, Emotion, and Coping

Several years ago, our family participated in the Family Study of Autism, which was done at the University of Washington. (One of our sons is autistic.) They study the genetic aspects of autism. So besides taking our blood, they ran us through a day-long battery of tests. This was how I discovered I was mildly face blind. (Face blindness is common in autistic people.) I was shown a couple of photos of faces and told to “remember them.” Then they showed me a battery of faces, and I was supposed to pick out the faces that I recognized. I didn’t get a single one right. But it didn’t worry me. I thought it was a stupid test—how could anyone do that?

I got an inkling that something was wrong when I was briefly shown several photos of intricate drawings of line squiggles. Not drawings of things, but a tangled mess of lines and colors. They told me to “remember them.” And I was shown a battery of tangled lines and colors photos and told to pick out the ones that I recognized. I got 100% right.

When my husband and I met up for lunch, he told me he got 100% of the faces correct. Then he talked about the “stupid” tangled line test, which he scored a zero on. I knew there was something up.

Eventually, I learned I was face blind. And more than that. I couldn’t “read” people’s faces. I remember as a child realizing that I couldn’t figure out people’s emotions. (People would get upset and angry with me, and I had no idea why.) I figured out that other people understood what was going on with other people’s emotions by watching their faces. And I couldn’t do that. So I decided to figure it out. Step by step. Like a research project. I discovered that eyebrows drawn together was usually a bad thing—frustration, anger, sometimes fear. But it was really hard. Instead, I learned to listen to people’s voices.

The voice carries all kinds of emotional clues. The intonation varies, the speed of words spoken, the decibel, the pauses, etc. For me, they were much more understandable. So I focused on that. And I learned to figure out people’s emotions. It’s come with interesting side benefits.

Last night we were streaming a tv show. In the show, a character receives a phone call. The caller is using a voice scrambler to hide the sound of his voice. I said, “Hey, that’s character X calling.” I was right. My family was amazed. But it was easy—the tones were moved, not altered. And the speech patterns were the same.

And I hear perfect fifths. (Which was wonderful when my daughter was little and had to tune her violin. Eventually, I realized she had perfect pitch. But all six year olds are lazy about tuning their violins, even if they know it’s out of tune.) But it’s really fun to find perfect fifths in the sounds around you. The other day, two babies were crying in church. This never bothers me, and I don’t usually notice. But then, one of the babies dropped his pitch and the two cries were a perfect fifth. Very cool. I’ve experienced it in airplane too. The engines were spinning to get up to speed, and two engines hit a perfect fifth. I wanted to shake the person next to me and say, “Do you hear that? The engines are at a perfect fifth!” But I thought that might get me labeled “crazy,” and my neighbors might asked to be reseated. (BTW, in case you aren’t familiar with a perfect fifth, the sounds fit inside each other perfectly. They ring together.)

Anyway, that’s life how I experience. I hope you aren’t bored by these posts, but so many people have expressed interest in face blindness that I thought I’d do another post on it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Identity Theft, the drama continues

If you were reading my blog back in February, you'll remember that we had yet another experience of identity theft. In this occasion someone filed a false income tax return under my husband's social security number. (Click here for the whole story.)

Well, we still haven't gotten our tax return--we filed in January. And several new insults have occurred. Be warned this could happen to you too.

The latest thing we discovered (after my husband produced a driver's license, US passport, etc., to verify who he was) is that the thief gets to dispute it. After Cal proved his identity, then the IRS sends a letter to the thief giving him three months to prove that Cal's social security number is really his (the thief's). After those three months, The government sends the thief another letter, and the thief has another three months. After those six months (or more given the government's slow methods--we've been told to expect a year's wait) have passed, then they can begin to process our tax return.

Oh, and by the way, when we first reported the identity theft to the IRS and filed all the legal paperwork (affidavits, etc.), we discovered a month later when Cal checked up on the paperwork that the IRS agent made a "mistake." Instead of filing our claim as "identity theft," the agent filed it as a "change of address." Oops. Sorry.

Just when we thought that we understood the onerous process and were making progress, Cal got a letter this week. The Social Security agency sent him a letter saying that his social security number of 000-00-0000 didn't match their records. Really?! Imagine that. I'm not sure what that means. Except we won't be getting our tax return this year. Maybe next. I wonder if the government will pay us interest...

Monday, July 9, 2012

A New Novel is a Promise

Saturday I started writing a new book. (This is not a new YA, instead it’s another literary fiction like the platypus novel, which is still with agents. Because the lit fic market is slower and smaller, it takes even longer to hear back than YA.) This new story had been pinging around in my head for more than a year. But I’d never started writing it because I couldn’t figure out who the story belonged to. I knew the incident that set everything in motion, but which of the characters was going to narrate? I played with thoughts of multiple narrators, but it didn’t feel right. So, I let the story stew. And stew.

Then, one day, the final scene in the novel popped into my head. When it did, everything fell into place. I knew the story arc. I knew the narrator. And the scenes started writing themselves—it was like watching short movie scenes in my mind.

At this point, I always feel less like a writer and more like an amanuensis. It’s as if I’m simply transcribing the story that the characters are showing/telling me. Though that doesn’t mean I’m removed from the situation. I always feel their pain and suffering. And it’s like a stone hanging on my heart.

And as much as I might like to ignore the story, I’m compelled to put it on paper, even though part of me cringes at the thought of going through the darkness with the characters. But Saturday, I opened a blank document. It’s a weird feeling, staring at that blank page. Knowing that once you start, you’re committed to that novel for the next year or two. But I started writing. I put 500 words into that document, gave it a title, and made the characters a promise to tell their story. Because that’s what writers do.

N.B. For those of you waiting for the sequel to Screwing Up Time, don’t worry this isn’t taking time away from that. Right now I’m waiting to hear back from beta readers. When I do, I’ll focus on that book.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Should've Just Stayed in Bed

It’s a good thing that when we wake up in the morning, we don’t know what the day holds. Because if I’d known when I’d woken up yesterday what the day was going to be like, I’d have never gotten out of bed.

It started early. Cal went to get something from the basement. When he came back up, he said, “The neighbor’s cat must have snuck into our basement. It smells like cat poop down there.” So, I rustled up the boys and assigned them “basement de-felinization.”

They came back and insisted there was no cat in the basement. But they added, “It really reeks down there.” I grumbled, mostly to myself about my communist laborers, and got ready to go down to the basement. As I neared the door, stench met me. And I thought, “That does not smell like cats.”

I went downstairs. Not only did it not smell like essence of cat poop, it smelled like sewage. Raw sewage. So I took my flashlight and began inspecting the dark recesses of the basement. I found a “puddle” and a 16 inch split in a sewage pipe.

When we had our sewage line replaced a couple of years ago, I thought everything was good to go for the next 50 years. But apparently this is a secondary sewage line the flows to the other one. (Isn’t that lovely?) I called the plumbers. They were pretty nice. Obviously, they understand what a split sewer line means in terms of grossness and odor, which was getting worse. The scent was beginning to penetrate the whole house.

I sent the boys to a friend’s house (thank you, Sandra). And waited. I started sewing (Shakespeare costumes). And I waited some more. Finally, the plumber arrived and inspected the damage. And gave me his estimate. Gulp. But my rule of thumb is if it’s under $1000, I’m thankful. And it was. And he promised he could get it done before my dinner guests came.

Fast forward an hour. I hear yelling from the basement and a smell penetrates the entire house. And the smell transmits a stink that says “failing waste treatment facility.” The plumbers call me. Apparently, when they were trying to remove the split pipe, another pipe section exploded. “Exploded” is the correct word. Gross, filthy yuck everywhere. Even across the basement where we’d moved everything to keep it far away from the toxic effluence.

Suffice it to say, plumbers fixed the pipes and left us with the mess and a smell that made me want to vomit. I made trips to WalMart for contractor bags and kitty litter. Then, to Ace Hardware for pelletized lime. After Cal and I did litter treatment and removal, then the spreading of lime, throwing away contaminated boxes, etc., the odor was completely gone and everything was sanitary. (Better living through chemistry!)

When the guests arrived, the house smelled like the lilies I’d cut and brought inside. Everything was great until the power went out and stayed out. We ate dessert outside—it gets really hot without AC. But that’s another story.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4th of July Trivia

Happy 4th of July!

Here's some 4th trivia for you.

1. The Declaration of Independence was first read aloud on July 8, 1776.

2. John Hancock was the only man to sign the Declaration on July 4.

3. The Declaration was signed on August 2, 1776, by 50 men.

4. The last man to signed the Declaration was Thomas McKean, and he signed it in January 1777.

5. In 1941, Congress declared the 4th of July to be a federal holiday.

6. The first Independence Day was celebrated on July 8, 1776

7. The vote for independence was taken and approved on July 2, 1776.

8. High school student Robert Heft was assigned to create a new “national banner” for America that would recognize the statehood of Alaska and Hawaii. Heft simply added two extra stars to the flag to give it an even 50 and stitched his own design. His teacher only gave him a “B-minus” for his effort, so he sent his project to President Dwight D. Eisenhower for consideration and a change of grade. Eisenhower chose his design personally and the new flag was officially adopted in 1960. His teacher then gave him an “A” instead.

9. The Declaration was only stolen once--by Benjamin Gates. Oops, nope, that was just a movie. Have a happy 4th!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Beating the Heat

If you aren’t personally experiencing it, you’ve surely heard about the nasty heat we’ve been experiencing in the South. Thankfully, it did not get to 109 yesterday. (Or maybe it did. I stopped paying attention once it reached 106.)

In any case, I thought I’d share my top ten beat-the-heat suggestions.

1.  Make iced hot chocolate. I know “iced hot chocolate” is a paradoxical name, but you’re too hot to notice or care. So, put 3 cups ice cubes, 1/2c chocolate syrup, 1 c. fat-free evaporated milk, ½ t. vanilla in the blender. Blend. Drink. Bliss.

2.  Go to work. My daughter’s doing research in a computer lab this summer. Because of all the computers, the room is cold. My daughter brings a sweater to work.

3.  Mooch your friends’ swimming pools. Though after a week of extreme heat, the pools are turning into saunas.

4.  Iced tea and a good book. I’m reading The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. BTW, iced tea is even better with some bourbon added. Sadly, we don’t have any.

6.  Wear a Scarlett O’Hara hat when you go outside. (Yes, I’ve been doing a bit gardening, mostly watering.) You can vamp out in the heat and say, “Great balls of fire!” (hiccup) Poor Scarlett had too many iced teas with bourbon.

7.  Okay, I owe you five more suggestions. But it’s too hot. So why don’t you share some suggestions with me? Thanks.