Monday, December 31, 2007

Keep Those Cards, Letters, And Questions Coming

Thank you to those of you who are humoring me by playing along with my 20 Questions, really it is 10 Questions, game. I am enjoying reading the real things that Inquiring minds want to know. Ideas about how to best address the these burning inquiries are bouncing about in my feeble little brain. So too are the appropriate gifts to acknowledge my favorite questions. It is not too late to join the fun. There are still seven days left. The first installment of answers will be posted on Monday January 7th.

More later . . .

Saturday, December 29, 2007

It Felt So Good!

Though it might make for a more interesting story, the title of this post has nothing to do with the fortune in my cookie last night at the Asian restaurant where we had dinner. It read, "A pleasurable and memorable adventure lies ahead of you." Yeah, whatever.

Instead, it is about all of the knitting that I did not get done for Christmas. In years past I have made a list of people for whom I needed gifts and what I might make for them. This first step was done early, like New Year's Eve. Once I took a realistic look at my list, I chose patterns, made a schedule, and set to work. It did not work that way this year. I had some ideas. In fact, there were several things that I really wanted to make. It didn't happen. I made absolutely no Christmas gifts. What is up with that? This is the first year since I began knitting seriously that I have not made a single thing-not even a washcloth! Now that Christmas has passed, I am making up for lost knitting time.

One of the things that I had intended to make as a gift was a hat for Erin. She is to hats what Emelda Marcos was to shoes. Definitely a hat lady. I wanted to make something to go with her new red coat. This was decided on the 19th of December, when I was in the yarn shop buying the yarn to make the infamous Christmas stockings. I thought at the time that it might be a diversion from the stockings, but no such luck. The stockings were finished in a timely fashion; the hat was not even begun.

It was finally started on the 27th. Better late than never, Right? Because I was no longer forced to adhere to a Christmas deadline, because, well, I missed it, I enjoyed the knitting. Big needles and nice wool make for a pleasant knitting experience. And because the secrecy of Christmas was over, no one asked what I was making. This may also have to do with the fact that the hat was to be felted and knitted objects before they are felted are rather unattractive. No, they are butt ugly! I have decided that with such items that no one asks what you are making because they are deathly afraid that you will say that it is for them.

See what I mean?
This is Erin's hat fresh off the needles. Objects in this picture DO NOT appear bigger than they are! Before felting, this hat was big enough to fit the heads of every diva in town and then some all at one time

Then the magic happened. With a trip to the washing machine, a little hot water, some detergent, high agitation, and a leap of faith (all repeated once more), the result is this.

The felting process is amazing. It didn't seem so when I threw that wool sweater from Grandma in the laundry because I was too lazy to fold it and put in the drawer; then it seemed like the laundry gods were just out to get me. Now that shrinking is a miracle. If only it worked on things other than wool.

Don't forget to send a question for a chance to win.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Another Year

It has been exactly a year since I published my first post on this blog. It's title was, "Are Bloggers Egocentric?" I concluded then that "they" (now I must say "we") probably are. Truthfully, aren't we all? It really only comes down to how we each manifest this characteristic. I do it here. Over the year I have written 152 posts, two more than the psalmists and two less than the number of sonnets of Shakespeare. I am comparing only numbers here, not quality!

I know that there are a few of you out there who actually read what I write. I hope that every now and then I say something that speaks to you in a meaningful way. If not, I hope that you are at least entertained, that you smile occasionally. Truthfully, I will continue to write even if no one reads a single word posted here. Thus speaks my ego. However, I would like to attempt to create something that others can stand to read. So as I begin my second year as a blogger, I would like to incorporate a little interactive fun. Here is the deal:

Around my house, the holiday season officially ends on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, the day Brooke goes back to school and Mike returns to work. Between now and then, I would like those of you who read what I write here to send me questions that you would like me to answer. You can either post them in the comments section or send me an email. I will answer all the questions over the next few weeks. As far as the type of question, anything goes. Yes, anything. You may send one question a day; that means the possibility of ten questions per person. They may be serious or off the wall. The choice is yours. Start thinking.
Here is one posed by my 15 year old daughter. "What happens when someone who has a pierced nose with no ring in it at the time blows their nose?" As I said, ANYTHING GOES!

The good news for those of you who play along with me is that there are prizes. I promise they will be good prizes! I'm sure you are wondering how the prize winners will be determined.

The winners will be chosen as follows:
Those who submit the question or questions that I like best will be the winners. Isn't that simple? No fine print. No rules to follow. Just send your questions and hope that I am amused. Oops. There is that ego thing again.

In other blog news, today is my birthday so I had to change my profile for the first time.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Night Before Christmas

Thank goodness for the Internet! Had I not been able to shop via the Internet in the middle of the night, the presents around here would be virtually (no pun intended) non-existent. I am happy to say that all that I ordered arrived safely with no problems. My successful on-line shopping experiences made me realize just how powerful the Internet truly is. This is both comforting and scary. For all the good that can be done on the Web, I know that there is probably an equal amount of ill that can also be done. I am going to stick my head in the sand and ignore that possibility for the moment.

I was trying to think of a "gift" that I could share with all of you that read my musings regularly. Here I must give the gift via the Internet rather than simply shop for it in that manner.. I remembered a piece that I wrote with a few friends ten years ago. I will confess up front that this favors my knitting buddies but hopefully the rest of you will smile a little as you read as well. I hoped that I could still find it somewhere on my computer. I typed the title on the search line. Because I was not paying attention, I actually typed it into Google. Imagine my surprise when it returned several hits. I thought that someone else must have written something with the same title. As you will see, the title itself is not terribly creative. Because I had nothing else to do at midnight, I started following the links. All of them contained the words that we had written. Many of the sites that I found were blog entries that contained many comments. I read those too. "hilarious!", "Wonderful!", "How creative.", "This made me laugh." Interestingly, all of the sites listed the author as the famous Unknown. For this, I guess I am thankful. I suppose it is better that there is no attribute than that is credited wrongly.

We originally wrote this as part of a presentation for a Christmas program for the Dallas Handknitters Guild back in 1997, I think. My friends Betty Kay Seibt, Phyllis Eccleston and I were given the task of entertaining a room full of frantic knitters who were trying to finish all of their handmade Christmas gifts. The piece we wrote was a small part of our overall program. After this guild meeting, it was published in the guild newsletter. From there, someone (not any of us) must have posted it on the Web. It was at this point that A Knitter's Night Before Christmas began its ten year journey in cyberspace.

I am happy that these words have brought smiles to the faces of many knitters over the years. And, I hope that it, like the original from which it is parodied, will become a story read each Christmas Eve. I offer it to all of you now.

A Knitter’s Night Before Christmas

By Kris Elliott, Betty Kay Seibt, and Phyllis Eccleston
for the Dallas Handknitters Guild Christmas Program December 1997

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all around me
Was unfinished knitting not under the tree.
The stockings weren’t hung by the chimney with care.
‘Cause the heels and the toes had not a stitch there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds.
But I had not finished the caps for their heads.
Dad was asleep; he was no help at all.
And the sweater for him was six inches too small.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I put down my needles to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tripped over my yarn and fell down with a crash.
The tangle of yarn that lay deep as the snow
Reminded me how much I still had to go.
Out on my lawn I heard such a noise.
I thought it would wake both Dad and the boys.
And though I was tired, my brain a bit thick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
But what I heard then left me perplex-ed,
For not a name that I heard was what I expected,
"Move, Ashford! Move, Lopi! Move, Addi and Clover!
Move, Reynolds! Move Starmore! Move, Froelich--move over!
Paton, don’t circle ‘round; stand in the line.
Come now, you sheep will work out just fine!
I know this is hard; it’s just your first year,
I’d hate to go back to eight tiny reindeer."
I peered over the sill; what I saw was amazing,
Eight woolly sheep on my lawn all a-grazing.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard at the door
Santa’s feet coming across the porch floor.
I rose from my knees and got back on my feet,
And as I turned ‘round St. Nick I did meet.
He was dressed all in wool from his head to his toe.
And his clothes were handknit from above to below.
A bright Fairisle sweater he wore on his back.
And his toys were all stuffed in an Aran knit sack.
His cap was a wonder of bobbles and lace
A beautiful frame for his rosy red face.
The scarf ‘round his neck could have stretched for a mile,
And the socks peeking over his boots were Argyle.
The back of his mittens bore an intricate cable.
And suddenly on one I espied a small label.
"S. C." was duplicate stitched on the cuff,
And I asked, "Hey, Nick, did you knit all this stuff?"
He proudly replied, "Ho, ho, ho, yes I did.
I learned how to knit when I was a kid."
He was chubby and plump, a quite well-dressed old man.
And I laughed to myself, for I’d thought up a plan.
I flashed him a grin and jumped up in the air,And the next thing he knew, he was tied to a chair.
He spoke not a word, but looked in his lap
Where I’d laid my needles and yarn for a cap.
He quickly began knitting, first one cap then two,
For the first time I thought I might really get through.
He put heels in the stockings and toes in some socks.
While I sat back and drank scotch on the rocks.
So quickly like magic his needles they flew
That he was all finished by quarter to two.
He sprang for his sleigh when I let him go free,
And over his shoulder he looked back at me,
And I heard him exclaim as he sailed past the moon,
"Next year start your knitting sometime around June!"

I would like to ask a favor. Should you ever run across this again, tell all that you know that the author is not Unknown. You know at least one of us!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Birthday Bash

We have just finished a weekend of birthday celebrations. Offspring No. 1 turned 18 yesterday and offspring No. 2 is 15 today. They had very different ways of celebrating their birthdays.

As I said yesterday, I thought long and hard about how best to celebrate the 18th birthday of my first born. I wanted to do something appropriate, something meaningful, something that clearly stated that I acknowledged the rite of passage from child to adult. What can you do at 18 that you have not been able to do prior? Gamble? Buy pornography? Vote? Okay, I will give her a voter registration card for her birthday. I really could not think of anything that I thought she would enjoy or appreciate, so I did the logical thing; I asked her what she would like to do. I was waiting for her to say that she wanted to go get a tattoo or she wanted to "party" with her friends. I was pleasantly surprised when she said that she wanted to be taken to Central Market. For those of you not from Texas, Central Market is a grocery store, an exceptional grocery store, but nonetheless it is still a grocery store. For Brooke's 18th birthday we went to the grocery store. She was thrilled to be buying leeks, and dragon tongue beans, and fresh parsley and cilantro, and freshly baked bread, and tofu, and many other things that jumped into her cart.

The kid, I mean the adult, truly is a nerd; a nerd who is an amazing cook though. When her friends ask what she did for her birthday, she is going to say that she went to the grocery store. You should all hear the rumble of laughter across the country. Fortunately, Brooke does not care much about what others think. Let them laugh. She was happy. Because she was happy, I was happy. What could be better?

Continuing with her cooking themed birthday, we also went to see the movie, Sweeney Todd. There is an uplifting piece of entertainment. Seeing this movie made me greatly appreciate all of the vegan meals for which we had just purchased ingredients.

What to give as a gift to an 18 year old is tough. Though the task was difficult, I think we all did OK. She received a few books and DVD's. She is never disappointed with either of these. Money and gift cards also made their way to her. And, she got the Lego Batmobile. What more could an 18 year old want? We ended the day with a pasta dinner.

This morning we got up and started it all over again. Erin wanted a lunch tailored especially for carnivores at a local Brazilian steakhouse and, she wanted to invite two friends. Your wish is my command. Bring it on. As the waiters brought around an endless supply of freshly grilled meat on a skewer, I tried hard not to think about the plot of yesterday's movie. Lunch was followed by a trip to the mall to finish some last minute Christmas shopping and then a rendez-vous at the house for cake and opening of the presents.

What should I get her for her birthday? I was helped on this one. Last year about this time, Erin played Miss Adams in the stage show A Miracle on 34th Street. She fell in love with a red wool coat that was issued to her as part of her costume. She wanted to "just keep it" after the show, convincing herself that it would not be missed on the costume deck, but that she would miss it. I tried to buy her a red coat last year for Christmas. None was to be had. I had forgotten about the whole red coat thing until I saw one in a store a few weeks ago. That's it! That's the red coat. Birthday present solved. She also received a lovely hat, though it does not go with the coat.

And then there was the package from her sister. Brooke's gift to Erin was wrapped in newspaper and decorated with PETA stickers. "Cut class, not frogs." Pigs are our friends." And so on . . Wearing her knitted critter scarf, Erin carefully unwraps the box, while thinking that any minute she may have to call in the S.W.A.T. team.
When left to her own devices, it is always a little scary to see what Brooke finds to satisfy her gift-giving obligations and then to see just how she chooses to present said gift.. Despite the peculiar wrapping, Erin was overjoyed with what was beneath the PETA propaganda.

Here is Offspring No. 2 all decked out in her birthday haul.

Not pictured here is the pink hooded sweatshirt that says, "Real women drive John Deere." Is this not appropriate for a child who is now old enough to take driver's education?

As of this moment, a well-dressed, old enough to get a learner's permit 15 year old has been born, as has a new, voting non-Republican. What a comforting thought!

A not so comforting thought . . .in 2010, these two will turn 18 and 21 at the same time. How will we celebrate then?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mission Accomplished

Truthfully, today is marked by the accomplishment of two missions. The first, as of 1:37 am this morning, I have successfully raised Brooke to adulthood. I'm not exactly sire what the means; her room is still a mess and we still pay all her bills. That is not the adulthood that I am living. I wonder where I went wrong. I thought long and hard about how best to celebrate her 18th birthday. Tomorrow I will share the details.

Today's other accomplishment concerns the mystery project that I should have said no to last week, but didn't. Here's the story.

On the 8th of December, BK and I, as well as everyone else in Denton county who has been involved in theater in any way, judged a high school drama tournament. Between sessions, BK was sitting in the judge's lounge knitting. Though I often knit at these events, I had left my knitting at home on this day. I was so far behind at that point, I could not decide which project to take so I opted for nothing. The following MOnday, while I was giving the first of my two exams, a person who had been judging with us called BK and asked her if she would be willing to make a Christmas stocking for her. As you might expect, BK's first question was, "For this year?" Truth to tell, I am not exactly sure what the inquirer's answer to this question was. As they discussed the project in more detail, the fact that the stocking included intarsia came up. This is not BK's favorite kind of knitting and because BK had several other projects in the queue, she told this person she could not do it.

On our way home from school that day, BK told me about the conversation about the stocking. The condensed version was that the original stocking had been made by this person's mother. It had been misplaced for a while and when they found it, it had a few problems. So, could we make another one like it. At some point, this person's mother-in-law had made a stocking to match the original for our friend's son. It became clear that these stockings were meaningful family heirlooms.

Last year BK and I knit stockings for almost everyone in our families so I know how important these things can be. And this year, I made Mike's stocking and BK made one for her new grandson, Carson. We hope that the stockings we've made will last our kids, well, forever. But, we know that things happen and this may indeed not be the case. If one needs to be remade somewhere down the line and neither of us can do it, I hope that there is some kind soul out there who will do it. For this reason, I decided that I would at least look at what we were up against, if I thought I could make the stockings. This was late in the afternoon on Monday, December 9th.

Monday night I was writing the pattern for the stocking. Tuesday morning we headed to the yarn shop to buy the yarn. The fact that the store even still had yarn in Christmas red and Christmas green was a miracle. Maybe this was the restocking of colors for those people who want an early start on the stockings they will make for next year. Writing the pattern such that I could re-create the original design was somewhat of a challenge. Here is what I was given to work from.

The is the original "damaged" stocking.
It is difficult to see in this picture, because all of the colorwork is on the fold or front of the sock rather than on the flat side making it more visible, but the intarsia says, "Merry Xmas", has a Santa Claus, and then the name of the person on the leg. The foot is simply stripes.

I was also given the sock that mother-in-law made for her grandson, son of our friend. Here it is.

Notice the interesting shape of the foot. Perhaps this was made to go over high heeled shoes? Actually, the problem is that the person who made this had no idea how to make a heel flap and pick up a gusset. Based on the knitting techniques that were employed in this stocking, the fact that it looks as much like a sock as it does is a bloody miracle.
The most difficult part of the pattern writing was the charting of the Santa Claus. I couldn't really tell exactly what he was doing, primarily because of bad colorwork. First of all, the floats across the back are pulled too tight so Santa looks like he is seizing up. Secondly, the design is a little strange.
I'm not sure what the green at Santa's waist is. To me it looks like he was impaled with an evergreen, probably not the image that I should replicate. I made some editorial decisions and redrew Santa. One major change I made was to add black boots. In the original design he looks like he is wearing knickers and has not seen any sunlight in . . .decades.

I worked on this project from last Tuesday until this morning. Oh, one more detail: she wanted TWO stockings. I know you are all thinking that she wanted me to remake the high heeled stocking. No. She wanted one for her husband. Here they are.
When I agreed to do this project, our friend said that she wanted to pay me for making the stockings. All of you knitters know that most people are either ignorant of the time that such a task requires or can't afford to pay for the actual time that it takes to make something by hand. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be grateful just to be reimbursed for the yarn. When I delivered the stockings this afternoon, the recipient shed a few tears. Yes, good tears. Truthfully, that was payment enough. She then asked how much she owed me. I replied with, "The yarn was $40." Because she is a crafty person, my friend knew the value of my time. She wrote me a generous check and gave us two beautiful poinsettias. The stockings were immediately hung on her fireplace and I came home and placed the poinsettias on my hearth. All are happy. I am finally beginning to feel a little Christmas joy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Service With A Smile

As I have mentioned, I am way behind on Christmas preparations this year. What little gift shopping I have done has been via the Internet. I was able to take advantage of several online shopping sites that were offering free express shipping. Though these deals guarantee the delivery of the ordered items no later tha Demeber 24th, there is not any room for things to go wrong - lost items, tbe the wrong size or color, etc.

When I got home tonight, one of my purchases had arrived and was waiting for me in my desk chair. The box had the seller's name on it so I knew exactly what it was . . .or should be. I stared at the box thinking that it was awfully big for what I had ordered. Perhaps I should open it now just to make sure all is well. I ripped the tape from the shipping box and pulled the packing slip from atop the item. Relief. The packing slip listed exactly what I had intended to order. Since much of my shopping has taken place in the wee hours of the night, I was perfectly willing to admit that I may have clicked on the wrong thing. Not this time; the packing slip confirmed that I had indeed placed my order correctly. But still the question, why is the box so big?

Inquiring (and procrastinating) minds want to know. I lifted the BIG box from the shipping box and reluctantly pulled the lid off. Oh, this is so not what I ordered! What do I do . . .

I checked the website for return policies. The Help section outlined the entire process. It seemed easy enough. The return shipping label could be printed from the web page and the return would cost me nothing. Then I noticed a phone number on the packing slip. It was midnight; I doubt any one is answering the phone at this time of night, but I'll give it a try. The recorded message began. Several cheerful voices clearly stated my options for proceeding and they offered me the opportunity to hear the joke of the day. A comapny with a sense of humor, especially at this time of year, can't be too bad. Naturally, my problem was one of those that required me to stay on the line until the next available representative could take my call. Again, a cheerful voice spoke.

After I told him my situation, the cheerful voice on the other end of the phone apologized repeatedly and vowed to remedy the situation. He transferred me to another cheerful voice. After reading her a few numbers, she said that the item I originally ordered would be shipped tomorrow via overnight delivery and that they would send someone from UPS to pick up the item that I had received in error. I told her that I would be glad to take it to UPS myself. As long I would receive my original order before Christmas, I was perfectly happy. After we discussed all of the details concerning the shipment of my correct order and the picking up of the incorrect one, the cheerful voice said that they would like to credit my credit card for this order as a way to say that they were sorry. I told her that that was not at all necessary, but she insisted. So, now I am getting the item, by Friday, free. How often does a company treat you like that?

Interestingly, this particular company's advertising slogan is "Powered by service." We all know that much of the time, a company's slogan bears little resemblance to what they really deliver. Here is the exception. They are indeed powered by service . . .exceptional service.

I really have no intention of turning my blog into an advertising site. (I read several blogs that have sold out to consumerism. I am sorry for them.) However, I feel that the wonderful service I received deserves a big thank you. And I know that the best thank you gift that I can give to a business is to recommend them to others. So, if you are in the market for shoes or other accessories, visit I trust that you will not be disappointed.

Thanks to these great people, my Christmas spirit is improving.

(Sorry for the vaguenesses here. The person who will receive this gift reads this.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Puppy Love

With two teen aged girls in the house a discussion of puppy love could get ugly in no time at all. So I will leave the girls to tell their love stories to their friends via text messaging and Facebook. I must admit though that periodically I check the "status" on their profiles just so I know what kind of moods to expect. At present, all is well on this subject.

This is the first time in several months that everyone has been home. Brooke came home a week ago for winter break and Mike is actually working from home this week. Though Adidas is happy to have all of his humans around because that means more suckers to throw the Frisbee, he is not too keen on having to share his half of the bed. Also, with Mike and Brooke home, the couch potato factor at our house has increased exponentially. Therefore, there is competition for the best seats in the house. The dogs are having to share a chair.

"I can't believe that #@*! is sitting in my chair. We are going to have to go sit in Mom's office and I am going to miss the House re-runs."
"If we just sit here and be quiet, he'll get up in a minute for a Diet Coke, or one of his phones will ring, or he'll just start wandering. They do that when they get old, ya know. Then we make our move and the big leather chair is ours."
"Until then . . .Don't tell my friends, but I don't mind sharing a chair with my baby sister. It beats the heck out of sharing with one of those feline things!"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Where Have All The Days Gone?

BK asked me this morning, when we left to take Erin to school, if I had written a blog entry last night. I had to respond with a somewhat embarrassed "no". When I started writing nearly a year ago, I promised myself that I would write "regularly"; myself and I never talked the specifics of what regularly really meant. Somewhere in the back of my mind I think that I intended never to skip more than a day or two. I realized with BK's question that it has been almost a week since I last posted. What I have I been doing?

Considering just how I have spent my time over the last week is a good question. As I look around me, I am immediately struck with all the things I have not done - the laundry, housekeeping, making any progress on Christmas gifts, grocery shopping, played Frisbee with Adidas (I think he has marked me off his Christmas list), changed the cat box . . .I think you get the picture.

In an attempt to see myself as something other than a lazy, irresponsible schmuck, I share with you what I have done since I last wrote.

  • On Saturday, I spent ten hours judging a Texas Forensic Association tournament. Truthfully, I am not convinced that I am qualified to judge these things, but I love to do it. The talent amongst the high school kids who participate in these events is amazing. As I watched the various judges come and go during the day and as I kept track of the Ryan High kids who were competing, I was amazed by how many people in the Denton theater community I have come to know in the past few years. Erin, who was competing, made the same observation. She knew nearly all the judges on a level beyond just acquaintance. Because my Dad was in the Navy, I never lived anywhere long enough to establish this kind of roots. It is an awesome feeling. We can also walk into our favorite diner on the square and the servers will bring our drinks before we ask and then ask if we want "the regular" this time. There is much good to be said about fairly small town America.

  • Saturday night I saw many of the same people as we attended a Denton Community Theatre production of Big, the musicali. Erin was in the chorus of this show. Though she had a non-speaking role, she had a featured swing dance. For her this couple minutes in the spotlight made all the many hours of rehearsal worth it. It all paid off; the dance required her to do a back flip with her dance partner spotting. Over seven performances he never dropped her on her head! In fact, Brooke came home Saturday and saw the show. The first thing she asked after seeing Erin's performance was how many times she had fallen on her head during the rehearsals. Thanks T.J. for sparing her little blond head!

  • Sunday I sang for Mass in the morning and then the choir, with the Texas Camerata, performed a concert of two Bach cantatas. In between the two I had a massage. You would choose a massage over laundry or changing the cat box too!

  • Monday began finals week. I gave my first final Monday morning and then went to the knit shop to wish Alissa (aka The Knitting Fairy) a happy birthday. Also on Monday I said "yes" to a project that I probably should have said "no" to. I will write more on that later. Suffice it to say that much of Tuesday was consumed with the specifics of this project.

  • On Wednesday, we made two round trips to Dallas; one for my second final and another for choir rehearsal last night. I must confess to a brief nap yesterday afternoon because in the midst of all that I have done, I am also trying very hard to get sick.

  • A good part of today was spent reading final projects from my theory class and averaging grades. I did take time out this afternoon to have a little fun with the girls. BK and I took Alissa out to lunch for her birthday.We had a good lunch and a fun visit. How can you go wrong with a lunch that involves dessert and a trip to the beloved bookstore? This evening, after going to school with Erin to pick up her PSAT scores and attending a parent meeting explaining said scores, I came home and did some more work on "the project". Brooke kindly made dinner. She asked what I wanted. Because my throat feels like there a million little creatures in there scraping paint with razor blades, all I could say to her was that I wanted something soft. She made some lovely bean soup. And here I sit at 11:25 writing this entry.

I guess that I really have not wasted much time. The massage was not wasted time! Neither was the nap. My grades are done and submitted electronically for the first time. I am making progress on the mystery project and the Internet and I have had some discussions about Christmas presents. I still have much to do before the holidays; I will soldier on one step at a time.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Friday Night

When you get old and sit at home alone on Friday night with only the dogs and your computer, and are easily entertained, what better to do than discover new ways to embarass your offspring. I've got it here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Get Thee To A Nunnery

I usually ask one question on each of my tests in music theory that has nothing to do with the immediate material but is intended to make the students think. One of my favorites is to ask them what they might like to be doing if they were not pursuing a career in music. Because students today seem to have had many experiences and opportunities before they get to college, most have a ready answer to my question. To some extent, I think that they may also get better information about potential jobs from high school counseling than I did when I was in high school nearly thirty years ago. (Wow! That hurt.)

Kids today are given several different tests that are designed to identify both their interests and their talents. Erin came home with the results of her tests this week. This is the child who loves theater, plays soccer, and is on the Academic math team. Her recommendation is as follows:

"Your high scores bring together many characteristics that can be useful to people. You are a creative and outgoing person and you enjoy helping others with their problems. You also have the ability to communicate your ideas and thoughts clearly. You may be a person who likes to teach or to plan fund raising programs for charity. For you, what is important is that you are helping others. Most occupations in this pairing require at least a Bachelor's degree or some post high school courses. It is also helpful to have a Master's degree or a PhD in many of these occupations."

In terms of assessing her strengths, this evaluation is right on. So what career opportunities do they suggest she explore? At the top of the list is clergy or nun. I know many people who would like to send their teenaged daughters to the convent but I have not heard of any getting real support for such a plan. According to the test, such a career path best utilizes her skill set and requires the most education. If that much education is not appealing, she should consider being a teacher. Should Erin want to lean more toward her creative side rather than her people side, she should consider being a writer; again, this path requires the most education. Being an actor requires some education. If she really does not want to go to school post high school, she can be a comedian. Seemingly one does not have to be well educated to be funny. Maybe all those really stupid things that fall out of the mouths of comedians are because they honestly don't know any better.

Erin has several years before she has to decide which career path to follow. At least she knows what some of her options are - and aren't. She scored a zero on the business and management section. She is quite organized and could perform jobs in this area, but I know she would not be happy. So, check back in six or eight years to see how accurate this test is.

I remember taking a similar test when I was in high school. It recommended that I be a forest ranger. I am not sure what this was based on. I do enjoy the outdoors. There are times when I would be perfectly content in a cabin in the woods communing with nature. My second option was to become a lawyer. Yeah, well. Third on the list was a musician. I don't remember if teacher was suggested at all. At this point in my life, though there are many things that I enjoy and I would be happy doing, I can't imagine doing anything that did not involve some aspect of teaching.

Did you take any test like these? Were they accurate? What are you doing now? What would you like to be doing?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blog To Blog

I am relatively new to blogging - both writing and reading. Therefore, I have not yet added to my page a list of the other blogs that I read. I read several. Their topics range from knitting to farm life. Though I was a bit skeptical when I began writing my own blog, I now realize that there is much to be learned by wandering around in the community of bloggers. I feel good when I read some one's post that makes me think, that challenges me to look at myself and the world with new eyes.

One such blog is written by a friend and fellow knitter, Lynn H. I met Lynn when she was a teacher and I was a student at last year's DFW Fiberfest. Since our meeting last April, I have been a faithful reader of her blog, and she of mine. Lynn is celebrating five years of blogging. As part of this celebration, she is posing questions to her readers and encouraging us to comment. Lynn's blog's name is Colorjoy! In her post today, Lynn asks what does colorjoy say to you. What word or song or piece of art reflects your personal understanding of the word colorjoy.

I did post a comment on her blog, but I also recalled an article that I wrote a year or so ago that was published in Spirit of Knitting. It does not address Lynn's question directly though it does express some of my views about color. It is too long to post as a comment on someone else's blog so I am posting it here. Those of you who subscribe to Spirit of Knitting need not read any further. This falls into the category of rerun; it was written in the spring of 2006.

As I sit down to write, it is a beautiful almost spring morning in Texas—March 2nd to be exact. I have just finished my morning prayers, which included a meditation from my favorite book of daily reflections, The Old Hermit’s Almanac, by Edward Hays, a most witty and thought-provoking writer. He reminded me that today is the birthday (in fact the 100th birthday) of someone who has had a profound impact on me throughout my life – Theodore Geisel, better known to us as Dr. Seuss. The words penned by Dr. Seuss were the first that I read by myself, and today, some forty plus years later, I still rely on Seuss as a learning tool both personally and in the classroom.

In today’s reflection, Hays focuses on the creativity and determination exhibited by Theodore Geisel. It is hard for those of us who grew up with the Cat in the Hat, Horton, Yertle the Turtle, and Sam I Am to believe that Dr. Seuss’ first offering to the literary world was rejected by not one or two but twenty-seven different publishers before someone was willing to take a chance on Seuss’ style of creativity, which he calls “logical insanity.” We all crave logical insanity, those moments when our inner child is playing hard and having fun.

When was the last time that you read a book by Dr. Seuss? Not read one of these books to someone, but read it for yourself? Next time you are visiting your local library or bookseller, pick one up and read it. It will take a few minutes to read and a lifetime to digest. The book you choose really doesn’t matter; any of Seuss’ whimsical characters and zany adventures will carry you to that place where “logical insanity” is abundant. Lurking on the pages of every book are life lessons that we are never too old to be taught and re-taught. If more people thought that Horton the Elephant’s words, “a person’s a person no matter how small,” were true, this place we live would be much more tolerable –or is that tolerant? Consider how we, all at one time or another, have been forced to look at life through the eyes of a “small” person. And if we are lucky, we have been in Horton’s shoes and had the opportunity to be a positive influence in the life of someone who is feeling small. Whatever your perspective right now, Seuss and his characters nurture and challenge us all to be the best that we can, wherever we find ourselves.

One of Geisel’s most recent books is My Many Colored Days (© 1996). Although he text for this book was written in 1973, his words waited until a great color artist who, as Seuss says, “ would not be dominated by me,” could be found. Geisel hoped that such an artist could bring “a new art style and pattern of thinking” to his words. His vision was realized, almost twenty five years after he wrote the words, by artists Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. You may recall that the illustrations in earlier books—which were done by Geisel—are line drawings embellished with washed out primary colors. This is not a criticism; it is simply an observation. Why did Geisel feel that My Many Colored Days demanded a broader use of color? Why did he feel that this book needed to depart from what is so clearly the Seussian style? Color has profound effects on us both consciously and subconsciously. Seuss was keenly aware that a book that addressed the colors of moods and feelings begged for illustrations whose colors were as broad and as intense as the emotions themselves.

Whether we like to admit it or not, color has a great influence on how we perceive many things in our world. Bad guys wear black; people who drive red or black cars live on the wild side; boy babies wear blue and girl babies wear pink (how else will we know what they are?); doctors and brides wear white. All of these associations bring forth in us attitudes, opinions—and unfortunately prejudices—that arise purely from our perceptions of color.

We are also manipulated by color. Have you noticed how many foods are packaged in green? When the first “healthy” pre-packaged foods found their way to grocery store shelves, many were in green boxes. Now that we are imprinted with this association, foods that are anything but healthy are also packaged in green. Companies that market these items bank on the fact that we can be conditioned by color associations and that we don’t read the labels. Here is another example: next time you eat at a restaurant, take note of its d├ęcor. Bright colors, particularly red, are prominent. Bright colors generate energy in us causing us to eat quickly. The faster we eat, the faster we leave so another party can have our table. Color translates to money in the dining business.

We all have a favorite color (or colors). Mine happen to be blue and orange. Yes, sometimes together. It is not as strange as you might think. These two are complimentary colors on the color wheel. I have been drawn to orange and blue for as long as I can remember. It probably goes without saying that my yarn stash abounds with shades of blue from baby to electric and orange from burnt to neon. I love them all. I have even found some hanks of variegated yarn with both blue and orange. Somewhere out there I have a soul mate with a dye pot! The stash closet also holds yarn that is definitely not me. You know the stuff; coming across it later your reaction is, “What was I thinking?” Most of the time this thought pops in and out of our head as quickly as the yarn is tossed into the “donate to charity” bag. Is it possible that we do ourselves a disservice by not taking that “what was I thinking” question seriously?

Why did I buy those ten skeins of hot pink wool? I am definitely not a pink person! Where did I buy the yarn? Who was I with? What was happening in my life at the time? Dr. Seuss says, “when my days are happy pink it is great to jump and just not think.” So there’s the answer--I wasn’t thinking. On a serious note, I need to ask myself was I really happy when I bought the yarn that now I can barely look at? Or, was I trying to make myself happy because it was really a brown day when I felt “slow and low, low down?” Everything we knit has a story. Each of these stories becomes a chapter in the book that is our life. What do these chapters reveal about where I’ve been and where I am now? What do they say about who I was and who I am now?

There is no doubt in my mind that my eyes (and my heart) will always gravitate toward the blues and oranges that call to me from their nests on the yarn shop shelves, but I am learning to give a bit more credence to that little voice that sometimes says “this is not you at all but I really like it (today).” Buy it. Make something with it. Even if on this day it has lost its appeal. If you really have no affinity for the yarn, find a friend who will knit something with it for you. If you are still puzzled by your reason for buying that yarn, take the finished project and tuck it away in a safe place. A day may come when you say, “that yarn is not so bad. In fact, I kind of like it.”

If you have nothing like this in your stash, set out to deliberately make something with a color that lies outside of your normal comfort zone. What color or colors would you choose? Or, take the challenge further. What can you do to make your creation say something about who you are without relying on its color?

Given a choice, I will always choose bright colors. I shy away from anything in what I call “mud” or “business blahs.” Having said that, one of my favorite pieces that I have made in the last year is a shawl in a variegated yarn in subdued southwest colors. Though I bought the yarn in Texas, I finished the shawl while vacationing in the New Mexico mountains. As I glanced from my knitting to the landscape that enveloped me, the yarn and the land became one. The colors blended together like the paint on a fine artist’s canvas. At that moment, this shawl became the next chapter in my book. Though at the time I thought this chapter was complete, it was not. It took a sad turn. The pattern that I used for the shawl was designed by a local Dallas knitter and teacher. She passed away, after a courageous battle with cancer, shortly after I finished my shawl. What began as a ho-hum project has now become a piece that represents significant moments in my life. Suddenly, all of its subdued colors glow with a brightness that I could not see at first.

Simply stated, we all need to put a little more trust in that small voice that is so easy to ignore. When it whispers, in a gentle attempt to nudge us to try something new or different, listen! Pleasant surprises await those who dare to take the leap toward “logical insanity.”

Though this essay focuses on yarn (because it was written for a knitting publication), here yarn color is simply a place holder for all those things that reside neatly "inside the box". Consider listening to a different kind of music, reading a new author, trying a new kind of food, making a new fashion statement; the possibilities, and the colors you'll experoence, are endless.

And, if you haven't already done so, visit Colorjoy!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving Wrap-up

I have survived another Thanksgiving. It is not that I don't like Thanksgiving itself or that I have nothing to be thankful for, but that I really don't like the "traditions" of Thanksgiving. Mostly, I don't like the traditional Thanksgiving food. I don't much care for roasted turkey. I don't like marshmallows so the sweet potato casserole does nothing for me. I don't like mushrooms; though I can tolerate the green bean casserole with its obligatory cream of mushroom soup, I can also live without it. Basically, if I have to eat the standard fare, I opt for the all carbohydrate version - dressing, mashed potatoes, and bread. I am not even fond of pumpkin pie though I can be forced to eat a piece if it is covered with the empty calories of a big glob of Cool Whip.

Fortunately, I am not much on tradition for tradition sake so our Thanksgiving table looked a bit different than most. No roasted turkey. John smoked our turkey. Smoked turkey is much better than roasted turkey though I still would rather not eat it just sliced. We had white bean turkey chili instead. It was awesome. You can't have chili without bread. Most of the time we have cornbread with chili but this year Mike made both wheat bread and white bread. Not to fear though, we did have a pan of cornbread dressing. Actually, we had two pans - the vegan pan and the sausage pan.

Brooke came home from Chicago, her first time back since she left in September. She managed to get herself from school to O'hare on the busiest travel day of the year without any trouble. Because she says that the vegan food line in the cafeteria at school is less than desirable (I don't know why it would be different than any other food line at any other college) we did our best to make a few things that she would eat. Hence the vegan dressing - vegetable stock instead of chicken broth. For the hardcore carnivores, the cornbread and sausage dressing was made with the standard chicken broth. The mashed potatoes were made with soy milk and vegan butter. Those of you who are making those faces would be hard pressed to tell the difference. 'Try it. You'll like it." And then there is the vegan pumpkin pie. Remember I said I am not a real pumpkin pie fan. Well the vegan pie is amazing. Tofu instead of eggs and milk. Stop with the faces! It is really good - even without the non-dairy Cool Whip.

We had some new friends over this year for Thanksgiving, one of whom happens to be a vegetarian. How many places can one go for Thanksgiving as a vegetarian and actually get enough to eat? I think everyone had plenty to eat. Unlike most Americans who are said to consume some 5,000 calories at the Thanksgiving table, we had a meal of moderation. That is something to be thankful for.

After dinner we had a kick-ass game of Cranium. Okay, it doesn't burn off many calories, but it sure was fun! I wish we took the time to play games more often. The Cranium family of games have become a favorite around here. Maybe Santa Claus will bring us a new one for the Christmas festivities.

As Friday approached, the reality that Christmas is just a month away set in. Can you believe that the stores opened as early as midnight on Thanksgiving night? I don't know how many people were that anxious to make their mark on "Black Friday." I was not one of them. I am way behind on the holiday shopping. Frankly, no one really needs anything. It is hard, and stupid, to go buy things for people who don't need anything. I need to get creative about the gift ideas pretty quickly or the knitted toilet tissue covers may start looking good.

For now, all of the holiday cheer has to be put on hold as tomorrow we all return to work and school for the final few weeks of the semester.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"ET Phone Home"

It has been seven months since the terrible shootings on the Virginia Tech campus. That horrendous event forced colleges and universities all over the country to examine their own abilities to deal with such an event should it occur on their campus. Virginia Tech has been back in the news recently because the system that they implemented to prevent the poor communication on their campus that day was less than successful when a test alert was run.

When we took Offspring No. 1 to Chicago, at the time that students received their campus ID's, they were required to register for UCalert. Each student registered with an email address, a cell phone number, and a dorm land line. Seeing the aggressiveness with which the campus administration and police department exhibited in promoting this program gave me a piece of mind that the university was doing its best to avoid a communication breakdown like happened in Blacksburg last spring. Though I felt good knowing that UCalert was in place, I also hoped that it would never have to be used other than in a test situation.

Aforementioned child usually calls me late in the afternoons after her last class of the day. I was anxious for today's call because I knew that she had a chemistry test this morning. (She and chemistry are having a power struggle and I am not sure who is winning.) I inquired as to how the test went. My questions was met with a definite, "I don't know." In our continuing conversation about what that really meant, she said that she had gotten a text message on her cell phone during the exam from UCalert that said to check her campus email for an important message.

The message was an announcement that a UC international graduate student, in chemistry, had been shot and killed a few blocks off of campus last night. Though the UC police department and the Chicago PD are working on the case, no one has been arrested. As you can imagine, such a message is unnerving to all of the students on campus as well as parents who are hundreds of miles away.

I am glad to know that the communication system works. But, I am saddened that its merits were tested by a tragic event such as this. I am thankful for this holiday weekend aand that she is coming home for a few days. I pray that the case is resolved quickly and that last night's shooting is an isolated incident.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Checked Baggage

Every now and then it is important for us all to unpack our baggage and look closely at what we are carrying around. I'm not talking about your backpack, briefcase, and purse type baggage, but personal baggage-the type that seems to get heavier and heavier even if you don't add anything to it. It would be nice if we all travelled lightly, but the fact is, we don't. And if you think that you are not carrying around baggage that is weighing you down, beware. Your baggage is about to be labeled with one of those fluorescent orange tags that says, "HEAVY" and you will have to pay extra to carry it along. Or, you can get rid of something that is in it so that the bag is not overweight. How heavy is your baggage?

It is not fair to pose such questions if I am not willing to answer them myself. I must admit that I have serious baggage when it comes to dealing with people's egos. I have spent all my life in academia. I have known many smart and talented people, some are even brilliant. I love to be around such people, people who are willing to share their knowledge and abilities. These are people who want you to feel the same joy and excitement for something as they do. They want to share everything they have with all those with whom they come in contact. As a sponge trying to absorb all that these people have to offer, I know that I will never achieve the level of competence that such people have, but nonetheless, they don't radiate a feeling of superiority, where they are the god, and thus to be worshipped, and everyone else is a peon whose sole purpose is to worship them.

Here is the question I find myself pondering: How do I differentiate arrogance and healthy self-confidence in others?

Self confidence, I believe, is a realistic opinion of one's own abilities, judgements, and power. One must also have a realistic perception of their personal weaknesses as well. Arrogance is an offensive display of superiority and self-importance. This is often accompanied by an UNrealistic opinion of one's own abilities, etc. I can't stand arrogance!

It is when we believe ourselves to be bigger, better, more importance, than someone else that arrogance rears its ugly head. We all have different talents and gifts, but we all have something to offer other human beings. As I said earlier, I have had many great teachers in school who have taught me wonderful things But, I have learned equally important things from animals, children, prisoners, strangers, homeless people, students in my class. I live life as a perpetual student, always wanting to learn and believing that there is so much out there still to learn. What a great way to walk the path of life! I hope I never get to a point where I truly believe I know it all. At this point, there really would be no purpose in living.

This is where humility comes in. Humility, a good Franciscan characteristic. What does it mean? Humility is a modest opinion of one's own importance. Modest? As I am using it here, modest means free from vanity, egotism, or pretentiousness. Ah yes. I like people who are humble. Remember Wilbur and Charlotte?

I know how I want to live, but that really doesn't help me deal with the arrogance I encounter in daily life. I am not sure what to do here. I have learned that screaming "arrogant asshole" really doesn't accomplish anything. Okay, there is that brief moment of pure bliss, but it is short lived.

Maybe if I get rid of my harmful baggage, I will have room to carry around the answer to dealing with this hang-up of mine.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I'm Home . . . Who Cares

I just returned home from a fun filled few days of fiber and fleece. (Wow, where did all that alliteration come from?) Anyway, I spent the weekend in the Texas hill country at The Kid 'N Ewe an Llama Too festival in Boerne, Texas. We had a booth in the vendor pavilion, trying to sell a few patterns and yarn. The show was a little slow, but we had a good weekend nonetheless. Though it is hard to get away from home because animals and children need tending to, I did manage this time. I always feel a little guilty about leaving my responsibilities behind; however, I also know that time away is important.

I returned home to, well, a rather cold welcome. I called home at 4:15 to say that we were on our way home and should be home in about six hours. Thanks to cooperative traffic, we did get home exactly as predicted. The dogs greeted me. The human beings in my house didn't notice I was home. Erin sat glued to the TV giving me a look like a "hi" would cause her to miss a crucial detail of whatever brain candy she was watching. Mike, whom I have not seen in a month because he has been in South Africa on business, could not manage to stay up to make sure I got home OK. I don't think anyone really cares if I am home or not. Maybe I should leave again. Where could I go? Right now I am too tired to figure out where to go but with a little sleep I am sure I could dream up a workable plan.

For now I guess I will be happy knowing that the animals missed me. The dogs said they have not been fed or played with. Adidas met me with his tennis ball claiming that he too has been ignored. The puppy's papers seem not to have been picked up or changed the entire time I have been gone. At least now that dog bowls have been filled, Adidas' tennis ball has been thrown and the puppy has clean papers. Boy is it nice to be needed for something.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

An Extra One

The last few weeks have been crazy - doing props for Dracula, getting the current issue of Spirit of Knitting to the printer, preparing for this weekend's trip to Kid and Ewe in Boerne, transporting Erin to rehearsal for Big, the musical, every night, and then there is school and laundry, and meals. Like I said, crazy times!

I thought that I would really appreciate the extra hour that we got because of the time change last weekend. I usually think of this as an extra hour of sleep. I got little sleep last weekend; if anything, it was an extra hour of work. The problem is that I did not even notice that I had an extra hour in my day (or night as the case may be). I often say that I need more time in my days. Apparently it needs to be more than one hour. I am still behind and still tired. Why is it that extra "ones" of some things are incredibly noticeable and this one hour seems to have come and gone without me being aware of it - except for the fact that my microwave and oven now have the wrong time on them.

Think about those things where an extra one really does make a difference.

One more piece of cake makes a difference. There are the calories that manifest into one more (undesirable) pound. Or, into that sick feeling that makes you want to kick yourself if only you could move enough to do so.

Then there is one more beer. One more beer really can be felt. I'm not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, just that you definitely notice one more.

How about an extra person. We have all been in situations where two is company, three is a crowd. Sometimes one is company and two is a crowd. Things are rocking along just fine - everyone is playing nicely with their friends - then one more person joins the mix and the whole situation takes a turn for the worse.

How about an extra cup of coffee? I can't tell I have had it. I can drink pot after pot and am unfazed by the caffeine. However, there are the extra trips to the bathroom. The same is true with tea.

Do you feel the savings with a 10% off coupon? Basically, that save you the tax; so you pay the price that is actually on the price tag. What a novel idea. How big does the savings have to be before we really notice it? 100%? Free is noticeable!

Do you remember when you were a child and you found a penny on the ground? As kids, we thought this made us rich. Not so much anymore - even with kids. Pennies are not even worth bending over for. The same is also true for nickels and dimes as well. Younger children may make an effort to pick up a quarter. Bills usually gather attention, probably because you have to at least bend over to determine their value. Once you are bent, you may as well pick it up. Do you feel the value of an extra dollar?

A dollar will buy a (cheap) cup of coffee. No Starbucks for a dollar but QT (our favorite gas station) has pretty good coffee for less than a dollar. A dollar will buy most daily newspapers. OK, the news isn't worth a dollar, but the New York Times crossword puzzle and the daily Sudoku puzzle make it a dollar well spent.

I know there have been times when I have had only a single dollar in my wallet and have said that I have no money. Having only a dollar feels like no money most of the time. I really can't explain why I feel this way. Maybe my dad was right back in 1976 when he told me that I did not understand the value of a dollar.

According to the TV ads, a dollar will buy a double cheeseburger at Mc Donalds. Why can't I feel that dollar when it is in my wallet in my back pocket and I can feel it if I change the dollar into a cheeseburger? They both reside on my rear.

I guess we need to remeber that, just like the pounds from those cheeseburgers, pennies, nickels, and dollars eventually add up to something noticeable. If I got an extra hour every day, eventually I would feel the effects of them too!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Benefits Of A College Education

Back in September, when we sent Offspring No. 1 to college, you may remember that I wished that for the incredible amount of money we are paying them to keep her that they would teach her to use a telephone. I am pleased to say that we are getting our money's worth. The kid has probably used her phone more in the last six weeks than she has in the last six years.

I have received the typical college freshman pleas for care packages of food because the dorm food sucks. Then there was the call asking if it was OK to buy a wool coat. You may remember also the whole coat ordeal before she left. I calmly asked, "Why do you need a coat?" The reply came, "It is not too cold, but it sure is windy here." Hmmm . . .Chicago . . .the windy city. Maybe we aren't getting our money's worth.

Brooke's Fairy Godmother, who also happens to be Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, took pity on her chilly little soul and made her a pair of wool wrist warmers. Brooke called to say that they had arrived and were way cool. Yeah for the telephone! She then called the next day to say that her friend thought they were cool too. And, she (friend) would like a pair in yellow and orange. Perhaps giving her our phone numbers wasn't such a good thing. Brooke then called to say that the second pair of wrist warmers had arrived and that two more friends really liked them. Would we please now send a black pair and a red pair. Is it bad to pray that the kid's cell phone battery dies and that her charger miraculously disappears? I guess it could be worse. She could be asking for hundred dollar bills instead of wrist warmers.

Yesterday she called to share her observations about all the T-shirts that she has seen on campus.
  • "University of Chicago . . .where the squirrels are prettier than the girls and more aggressive than the boys."
  • "If you had wanted an A you should have gone to Harvard"
  • "Beat me. Spank me. Make me read the Iliad."
  • "University of Chicago . . .where the only thing that goes down on you is your GPA."

Yep, I do believe she is getting a good education!

I am glad that she calls and truth to tell, she has been fairly communicative. In addition to the T-shirt run down, she has also shared what is going on her classes. She has decided that she hates Plato and likes Russian. Chemistry is kicking her butt and her writing is improving. Intramural soccer is fun but dodge ball is better. And, you should not date anyone in your dorm. That is known as "dormcest".

Brooke's conversations with her sister have been a bit more juicy. She is calling Erin for boy advice. What is wrong with this picture? I think they have also discussed the tattoo design that Brooke thinks she is getting when she turns 18 next month.

Why did I ever encourage this phone thing?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick Or Treat

I must say that Halloween is not on my list of Top 10 holidays to celebrate. When the girls were little, I enjoyed it a little more. I used to host Halloween parties at our house and I made the girls' costumes. Some of them were very cool - the Eeyore costume with all the individually pulled strands for the mane, the bookworm costume that involved a hand painted cover of Black Beauty, the Cat in the Hat, the cute little gray mouse, etc., etc. As the kids got older, none of the costumes that I was willing to make appealed to them. Then we moved to the country where trick or treating doesn't happen. For the past several years we have done something really festive, like go to see a movie, on Halloween.

This year Erin was invited to a party, a party that required a costume. My enthusiasm for making costumes has long since died. Her enthusiasm for coming up with one from things at home was equally dead. So, we made a trip to our local costume shop. They had many choices - from Sponge Bob to Hillary Clinton. Fortunately, before we got there Erin had decided that she wanted to be either Cinderella or Minnie Mouse. With no trouble at all, we found a Cinderella costume that fit perfectly. Mission accomplished!

If Disney were running a Cinderella look alike contest, Erin would certainly be a contender.

She had the dress and, thanks to her Fairy Godmother, she had the hair. She is missing only a few things that would give her away if she tried to convince everyone that the castle at the Magic Kingdom is her primary residence.

No glass slippers . . .

and no handsome prince.

She also lacked those little mice, but she has an awfully cute puppy!

So, Erin went to the party and I stayed home. That was OK. I have not been home much lately. I almost had to use Mapquest to find the way from my bedroom to the kitchen; it has been so long since I have actually cooked a meal. What did I do tonight to celebrate Halloween?

I cleaned out the refrigerator! Believe me, there were no treats here; it was all tricks! It is a good thing that I have not cooked anything lately because the only things in the fridge were salmonella and botulism. Now it is all cleaned out and the only things in it are butter, jelly, and pickles. I suppose that one could make a meal of such things if one had bread for a butter and jelly sandwich. You guessed, no bread. And pickles are just not an effective delivery system for butter or jelly.

I also ate a few pieces of candy leftover from what I took my class this morning. They left all the Milk Duds. These are not my favorite candy, which is good because I was able to keep myself from eating all that remained. However, Milk Duds lose their teeth extracting capabilities when they have been softened by riding around in the warm car all afternoon.

Since I have an empty refrigerator and because I did not eat too much candy today, I can hit the 50% off Halloween candy sales first thing in the morning and take advantage of both of those situations. Treat time!

I leave you with a message from Cinderella . . .

Bibbidi Bobbidi BOO!

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Bloody Details

No, all that blood is not ketchup (or catsup, if you prefer). I am surprised how many people truly believe that stage blood really is ketchup. If only it were that simple. All of the considerations for the blood used in a show such as Dracula are more complicated than feeding an entire room of people with every food allergy known to man. It is not so much that the actors are picky, but that several different effects are required.

There is fresh blood verses dried blood. Dripping blood verses spurting blood. Animal blood verse human blood. Edible blood verses non-edible blood. The only place that there really is no choice is in staining blood verses non-staining blood. It all stains.

Many different recipes for stage blood can be found. Some simple concoctions and others that require the talents of a mad scientist. The choice of ingredients in many of them may surprise you.

In making non-edible blood, the crucial ingredient is blue laundry detergent. Yes, using this as a base does help to keep the red dye from setting, but more importantly it is used because the blue coloring when mixed with any of the various red colors (food coloring, jello powder, kool-aid, etc.) makes the overall color more realistic in both color and consistency. Other recipes add a flour mixture to this basic recipe. Some add a hint of green coloring to enhance the blood color.

The edible blood recipes are a little more interesting. Obviously the blue detergent is no longer a main ingredient (unless you need characters to foam at the mouth). Corn syrup is a popular ingredient because of its viscosity. However, when this is used as a base, the sticky mess that results is just gross. Truthfully, any of this stuff is pretty gross in the amounts that it is used in this show. Another common ingredient in the edible blood is Hershey's chocolate syrup. This too creates an awful sticky mess but at least it tastes better than plain corn syrup. Several other recipes use either jello or Kool-aid, usually black cherry flavored, mixed with water. Sometimes these colors are tweaked with a few drops of blue and/or green food coloring.

Obtaining the correct color and consistency of blood necessary for the desired effect on stage is an art in itself. Then there is the vessel that must deliver the blood on stage. Blood packs are the most common means of this. Fortunately these can also be bought rather than made fresh for each performance. Blood packs are like a water balloon filled with some mixture like those mentioned above. The problem with them is, like a water balloon, they don't always burst like you want them to. The actors are responsible for hitting the pack "just right" so that the blood appears. This too is an art as is the placement of the packs by the various technical crew. It is quite an operation. This is one instance of when it is done properly a bloody mess results.

Then there is the clean-up of all the dispersed blood props. In the case of Dracula, by the time the shoe is over, the stage and several of the actors are covered in the red stuff. The stage is not such a problem. A good stage crew and a little soap and water can ready the stage for another go of it tomorrow. The costumes are another story. Because in this show many of them are white, they must be washed and bleached after each performance. The cast here is great. I washed everything last night and several other people have volunteered to take a turn. I am grateful for this. I would have a hard time justifying doing theatre laundry every night when Erin and I don't have any clean clothes! So, I think we have a system for keeping all the costumes tidy for performances.

Then there is the audience. The other night during rehearsal, blood from the scene where Lucy has the stake driven through her heart spurted out onto the first three rows of the audience. Fortunately, it was just a rehearsal and these seats were empty. We joked that the front rows ought to come with ponchos and a warning, much like the close up seats at Sea World's Shamu attractions. Maybe just a sign with the warning, "Splash Zone" would do. Hopefully the problem has been fixed. Now Lucy is very careful to bleed in the proper direction.

This has been my first experience with stage blood. Though I have learned a lot, I can';t say that I have had much fun with this. Luckily, other people are responsible for doing most of the blood work. I did get to build the bleeding rat. That was fun. Actually I have two different versions - the pathetic little rat who must live in a really clean city and thus is starving, and the big, fat, hairy, sewer rat. They both bleed really well!

I promised the bloody details and there you have them. The discussion of blood stops here. It will now turn to something just as amazing - the massive amounts of chocolate that this cast has put away while hanging around in the green room. It is a good thing that it is Halloween and candy comes in those big bags! Perhaps chocolate makes a great blood chaser.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's Showtime . . .Again

I finished my role as (lame) stage mother while Erin was doing Best Little Whorehouse, and now am working nonstop as prop master for DCT's production of Dracula, which opens this weekend. Needless to say, the prop list for this show is a bit weird. Blood, blood, garlic, stakes, a hammer, blood, a rat, garlic, working blood transfusion apparatus, a bloody crying baby, blood, a meal of chicken and vegetables, rosaries, flaming crucifixes, blood, and communion wafers. Every one knows where to find these things. Right?

Surprisingly, the most difficult thing to find was artificial garlic. I looked every place in Denton that I thought should have it. I came up empty handed. BK and I tried several more places in Dallas that also should have had it. We visited some areas that no respectable women should be seen . Still, no garlic. We enlisted some friends on our search. They made some great suggestions. Unfortunately, we still had no garlic. Finally BK's sister, MH the super hero, found artificial garlic in El Paso and shipped it to us 2-day. It came today and I have made five lovely garlic braids. Thank goodness for friends in other places.

Shopping for some of the other props was a little more entertaining. Retailers in our area are usually polite and willing to help. In the case of looking for these props, however, the response to their question of "How may I help you?" shocks them a bit. When I was looking for the rat, I replied to the offer of help with, "Do you have a life-like rat that is hollow so that I can slit him down the middle and fill his belly with a blood pack?" The clerk quickly showed me one that she was sure would work. I suspect she thought I was smoking something and that she could find me any rat and send me on my way before I asked for anything else. She was lucky that she did not work at my next stop, Toys R Us.

This was my second trip to the dreaded toy store this year. But, I needed a baby doll. The pleasant clerk who is obviously used to making kids happy by pointing them to the shelf that holds the newest Elmo doll, or PlayStation game, or superhero action figure, was not prepared to help me find a doll that kicks and cries and whose limb can be ripped off and replaced after each performance, and again, whose body can be filled with blood packs. She simply pointed us towards dolls and left me to find the one I needed. Surprisingly, we found one that works great, as long as you hold her upside down. She kicks and cries while upside down and coos and gurgles when held in a comfortable position. We don't want any of those happy baby sounds. So, it is three weeks of being upside down for this little doll!

The crying baby first appears on stage in a burlap bag. We made a trip to Wal-Mart to purchase the burlap to make the bag. It was early in the day so the woman in the crafts department was cheerful and chatty. "What are you going to make with this?', she inquired. "Um, you really don't want to know.", I say. "Yes I do.", she replies. "I am making a sack to hold a kicking, screaming baby who is about to have her leg eaten off." With a funny look, she manages, "Oh.".

Then there was the visit to the Catholic bookstore. We needed several rosaries. There were many choices - from the ones with plastic glow in the dark beads to some very beautiful ones made with precious stones. I kept praying, literally, that the one woman who was working at the time would not ask for what special occasion we needed a rosary. I am fairly certain that she would not have taken well to hearing that we needed a rosary with a large crucifix that would rid our lives of vampires. I also did not ask her for a crucifix that would spontaneously burst in to flames. I made that myself. A girl must earn her keep as a prop master!

The Catholic bookstore did not sell communion wafers so we visited the Methodist bookstore for these. Again, I was hoping that they did not ask why I needed them. When I asked where I would find the wafers, the friendly clerk pointed me to them with no questions asked. It was like I was asking where the Oreos with the orange filling were; no big deal. Since the wafers are not consecrated, using them in the show also is no big deal. They are just like any other piece of Styrofoam that you go to the store and buy. Right next to the communion wafers was ash from palm leaves. I also needed a little ash. This was my lucky day. I paid for my stuff and left without any questions about what I was going to do with these things.

I have just about completed my collection of prop items. One of the few remaining needs is a bottle of wine. Unfortunately for the actors, they can't have the real thing on stage. So again, I must earn my keep and empty a bottle for them. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Those on stage will have pomegranate juice because one of the actors is allergic to cranberry juice, my usual red wine substitute.

And the blood - that is an art in and of itself. Stay tuned for the bloody details.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Day With Big Tex

Yesterday we spent the day at the Texas State Fair. If you know anything about this event, you know that Big Tex is the master of ceremonies and that you can get just about anything deep fried.
Here is Big Tex keeping an eye on all of the last weekend fair goers.

This year's addition to the list of deep fried favorites is fried cookie dough. To thoroughly enjoy the fair, you must throw all worries about your cholesterol levels to the wind and just promise to do better tomorrow. After watching the dog trick exhibition, we succumbed to the cookie dough. We had been on the fair grounds for almost an hour before this happened! Six of us shared one serving (by fair standards) so we cut our caloric intake from 12663 calories to a mere 2110.5. That left us room to try the fried ice cream, fried green tomatoes, fried burrito, fried cheesecake, or the infamous fried state fair corn dog later on. And then, for a well rounded fair meal, there is the funnel cake. It all sounds soooo good. I only had a corn dog later in the day. I had intended to have a funnel cake as a night cap, but after a few rides, my desire for food had been suppressed!

We made our way through the car buildings so that everyone could salivate over the new cars that we are not getting. Erin, who will be 15 in December and is anticipating that learning permit, thinks she needs a Nissan Titan truck. She crawled in the cab of the demo at the fair just to check out the fit. She looked pretty good, but the sticker price . . .not so much!

We are all big softies when it comes to animals-even livestock. The number of 'Aaaww"s" from the six of us was a little on the pathetic side. On the amazing side was Boris. Boris is a 1171 pound hog. His sole purpose in life is to sit around and be admired by fair goers.

During the afternoon, the kids went to see the Lion King. Seeing this show has been on Erin's "Must Do Before I Die" list. Mission accomplished. They all thought the show was pretty awesome. John and I spent the afternoon in the exhibit halls listening to vacuum cleaner sales pitches, admiring woodwork, avoiding the many gimmicky sales people, and looking at a whole lot of unimpressive knitting and photography.

I usually really enjoy looking at the juried arts and crafts, particularly knitting and photography. Both were on the lame side this year. Some of the things that won knitting first prizes were things that we knit all the time - Carol Anderson's Ramblin' Rows afghan and the felted hedgehog (maybe he won because he was turquoise?). Even John, who is not a knitter himself, asked me what was so special about the items that won. He said, "that looks like the stuff you guys knit all the time." And, it did. The deal is that those people who won prizes took the time to submit their work, and we didn't.

The finale for every fair visit is a night time ride on the big Ferris wheel. That is for everybody except me. I have had issues with Ferris wheels since I got stuck on one when when I was four. I'm sure there is a support group for this problem somewhere; I just haven't found it yet. In all the years that we have gone to the fair, I have never ridden the Ferris wheel and I had no intention of changing that this year. Except that I was the only one who was not going to ride so I would have to sit and wait all by myself. Being alone is usually OK with me, but it did not sound appealing last night in the midst of a very crowded fairground. Erin asked me to ride. In a moment of weakness I agreed. What the heck was I thinking?! I considered a beer to dull the senses. However, I decided that was not the best plan. In the end, I rode because Erin promised me a gold star.

I knew I had to take pictures to prove that I was a big girl . The problem with picture taking is that your eyes should be open; it makes for better pictures. So, here are the pictures for proof of my bravery. The first one is taken from the ground. The next one from the cart way up high! All these pictures were taken on my phone rather than my camera because I was too lazy to carry my big camera around all day. I do have a few regrets about that.

Once I had survived the Ferris wheel I was feeling gutsy. I also rode the swinging pirate ship. Okay, I did sit in the middle rather than at either of the ends. That should at least earn me a silver star!

We had a great day. Though there were many people, everyone was polite. And though it was nearly 90 degrees, a breeze blew most of the day. A beautiful day filled with fried food and pig races . . .it doesn't get much better than this!