Thursday, August 02, 2012

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham in the Crock Pot

This was so good that I had to record it right away before I forgot how I wanted to tweak it.  I got it off of a website, but I can't find my way there again so I can't credit the original.  I'm so sorry!  If I find it in my wanderings, I'll edit this post with a link.  So here goes:


4 large baking potatoes, cut into 1/4 inch round slices
1 can cream of chicken soup (careful - not all are gluten free)
1 can water
1 ham steak, cubed
3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
3-4 cups broccoli
salt and pepper to taste

Dump everything into the crock pot.  Cook on low for 8 hours.

Buddy suggested adding bacon to it.  That sounds wonderful!  I think I might add some next time. 

I used fresh broccoli, but I'm sure that frozen would be fine.
The recipe called for only 2 cups of cheese, but I'm upping it to 3.  It wasn't cheesy enough for me.

What other modifications can you think of?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

You Might Be a Redneck If . . .

you have a story like this one.

Every summer my brother and I would go visit our grandmother for about a week or so.  One of the highlights of the week would be when we would go visit Aunt Ruthie and her husband, H.B. (whom we called Papa).  There were always adventures waiting for us at their place.  Aunt Ruthie's 'fridge was stocked with all sorts of sodas in glass bottles.  Papa taught us to ride a four wheeler.  He let us roam around in his welding shop and showed up how to pick up metal rods with this long magnet.  (Later we realized that he showed us how to do that so that we could clean up his shop.)  One of the biggest thrills, though, was that Papa would cuss in front of us!  No f-bombs.  Good ole boys have their standards.  But we got plenty of all of the other stuff.  It was heaven!

Aunt Ruthie and Papa owned a small patch of land.  I honestly don't know if they ever grew anything or bred any animals on that land, but I do know that over the years they kept various livestock there - mainly, I think, for the exemptions.  I remember an Appaloosa horse at one time.  I remember lots of kittens and a few dogs.  There was also the obligatory oil pumper.  And there were the goats. I remember the goats.

For some reason Papa bought a small herd of goats - I have no idea how many in truth.  I remember 15 - 20.  I was so excited to go pet them.  But these weren't normal goats - they were stiff-legged goats.  Go on.  Read about them in the link.  So that day my brother and I spent most of the day clapping, yelling and making some sort of sudden noise trying to get the goats to "faint".  It didn't work so well for us.  The goats were skittish (rightly so) and kept their distance.  Every once in a while we could get close enough to cause a spell, but mostly we came up short.

At some point the heat and our thirst drove us inside.  Aunt Ruthie asked if we had fun out there with the goats.  Then she told us a story about Papa and the goats.

Not long after he got the goats, Papa decided to play a joke on a friend of his.  He invited this friend over for some target practice.  (Yeah, you see where this is going.)  So they loaded up and started out across the field in back of the house.  Papa made sure to point out his new goats to his friend.  Then he proceeded to tell his friend that these goats are extremely valuable and he's planning on breeding them and making a fortune.  Papa was pretty persuasive so I'm sure this guy was wondering how he could get in on this goat plan.  They got to the makeshift range (well away from the goats) and Papa set up the shot.  Then he turned to his friend and offered him the first shot.  So his friend took his aim and fired his rifle.  Mind you, he's aiming 90º to 180º away from the goats.  Ten goats fell over.  Papa roared, "G*dd*mm*t!  What the hell have you done to my goats?  Do you know how much those d*mn things are worth?"  The guy shrunk back and stammered.  About this time, most of the goats got up and carried on about their business.  Papa bent down and clutched his knees in laughter.

I think it's a miracle that Papa wasn't shot that day.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Boxer Story

My brother, Lance Myers, is an animator.  He's been a part of many, many wonderful animated movies (Anastasia, Prince of Egypt, A Scanner Darkly, to name a few) and he's produced quite a few animated shorts of his own.  Click here for his YouTube channel.  You can see quite a lot of his work there, plus some videos of Boxer Story in progress.  What's Boxer Story?  Glad you asked, read on.

Currently my brother is trying to raise money for his dream project, an animated short called Boxer Story.  He's started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds.  He's got 11 days left on the clock and has raised over $15,000 of the $24,000 he needs.  If you are reading this, please consider giving something.  You can back the project for as little as $1.  If you can't afford anything right now (believe me, I've been there), please just help spread the word.  Here is the link to copy and paste:

Thanks for putting up with me shilling for my brother.  He's unbelievably talented and I want him to be able to realize this dream.  

And here's the Kickstarter video:

Thursday, June 07, 2012

R.I.P. Mr. Bradbury

I didn't know Ray Bradbury.  I never met him, never got to go to a signing.  But his passing yesterday made me very, very sad - almost like I lost a friend.  Somehow the world was just a little more interesting because there was always the possibility that he would publish something - an essay, a short story, an interview, a letter to the editor.  I'm so sad.

One of my favorite short stories ever is The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair.  I can't describe it.  I won't.  You must read it for yourself.

Almost four years ago I read the entire Harry Potter series in one month.  (I wanted to read it all and be caught up when the last one hit.)  At the end of the marathon, I wrote a blog post (on my first blog) comparing and contrasting J.K. Rowling and Ray Bradbury.  I thought about that post last night.  I'm reposting it here.

Good night, Mr. Bradbury.  We miss you already.

September 6, 2007

I have recovered sufficiently from the Harry Potter series to start reading again.  I needed a break!  Not in a bad way.  But kind of like you don't need to eat for a while after you've had a really wonderful meal.  You want to savor the flavors and digest.  Then some time the next day you're ready for another culinary experience.  Or just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Well, I have a feeling that my next literary meal is going to be one made up of a string of fantastic appetizers.  I'm going to read "Bradbury Speaks".  It's a collection of short pieces by, you guessed it, Ray Bradbury.

The book that I read just before beginning my tenure at Hogwart's was "Dandelion Wine" by Bradbury.  It was a beautiful read and it has become one of my favorite books.  I could only digest one chapter a night because it was so rich.  After the first two Harry Potter books I noticed that I would have to force myself to put the book down and go to sleep.  That started me thinking about the differences in writing styles between Rowling and Bradbury.  

DISCLAIMER:  I am not trying to say which author is "better".  Neither is better.  I enjoy both.  Both are important contributors to literature.  This is just a post to compare and contrast.  And, as always, I look forward to hearing from anyone who would care to put in their two cents' worth!

I think that the best way to relate the way I see the differences in reading experiences is to describe how I see the authors telling the stories.  I see myself and other friends at Rowling's house on a Saturday night.  We sit in the living room on the edge of our seats while she tells us the latest goings on at Hogwart's.  I see laughter, I see interjections ("No way!"  "He didn't!"  "WHY?!?!?"), I see eye contact between Rowling and all of us.  There's popcorn and butterbeer.  It's a fun, energetic evening with a promise to come back next Saturday night for more.

Bradbury tells us stories on the back porch.  He has a cigar, we all have wine.  He puffs on the cigar, leans back in his chair and regards the ceiling fan.  He speaks slowly.  No one interrupts.  We close our eyes and let his words wash over us.  We smell the flowers about which he speaks.  We feel the breeze across his characters' faces.  We finish the evening and he invites us back next month.

Both are extremely satisfying evenings with superb hosts.   I've enjoyed my time on the floor in J.K.'s living room.  The air has turned cooler now, and the back porch calls.  I'll be sipping wine with Mr. Bradbury for a while.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Scary Clowns

People like to be scared.  Look at how well (most) horror movies do at the box office.  Books about ghosts - fiction and nonfiction - sell very well.  There are websites devoted to the paranormal.  And now there is this little gem: Dominic Deville's evil birthday clown.  (Disturbing, yet also brilliant.)     

For thirteen seasons I worked at several different professional haunted houses.  The Haunted Hotel.  The Nightmare on Fifth Street.  The Nightmare Factory.  And oh, I have stories.  Dominic the evil clown reminded me of one of my favorites.  

I was the "monster manager" so it was my job to make sure that the actors were taken care of and the scenes ran smoothly.  This meant that I was not tied to any one area of the building, but could roam.  It was great!  If there was a scene that was particularly scary, I could hang out there and watch the people fall over each other.  If there was a group that promised to be really animated, I could follow them throughout the house and see them lose it over and over.  Or I could run ahead of a group and give the actor a name and a description so that he/she could single someone out.  Heh.   

Early in the season there were nights when it was really slow.  We would congregate outside and just hang out.  When a car would pull up, the monsters would go back to their "scenes" and it would be business as usual.  One night there were about four or five of us sitting around the entrance talking.  The owner, Steve, didn't like for actors with costumes and make-up to be outside while we were open, so our little group consisted of a couple of security guards, Steve, and an actor or two whose costumes were nondescript black outfits and masks (sans mask, of course).

A car pulled into the parking lot and four teenagers got out.  One girl was especially hesitant.  Her friends dragged her over to our group.

"Hey y'all, is it scary?" asked the first teen.  That was the most frequently asked question.  Sigh.

"Yeah, it's pretty scary."  The standard response.

"Y'all, I'm not going.  I'm not going!"  It was the hesitant girl.  Much convincing took place.  Her friends tried to convince her that it wasn't THAT scary.  We tried to convince her that it was scary, but very fun.  Finally, it came to this:

"Y'all gotta tell me, are there any clowns in there?  Because y'all, I'm like, really scared of clowns.  They freak me out."

We all looked at each other incredulously.  A couple of us laughed.

"No!  There aren't any clowns in there!  Why would there be clowns in there?  It's a haunted house, not a circus!"

"Okay, y'all, I'll go."  And they went and bought their tickets.

As soon as they disappeared into the doorway, we all ran for the back entrance.  Yes, we had very deftly and blatantly lied to the poor girl.  That year we had a scene based on Stephen King's "It" - complete with a maniac clown with an axe.  Steve got on the headsets and told everyone to meet in the "It" room.  It was about halfway through the house so we had a little bit of time.

We got to the scene and Steve briefed the actor on who he was looking for and why.  I could almost see the actor salivate!  He hid.  The small group came around the corner to find the scene populated with about five security people (and one or two stray actors).  The show was memorable.  I hate to admit that I got so much enjoyment out of watching a teenager scream as a clown towered over her.  I'm just not right.

Her friends helped her up and out of the scene.  The clown high-fived everyone.  Then we all told him to follow her.  It was classic.  He came at her from every dark corner.  We had that poor girl almost scared to take another step. 

When she finally made it to the exit, she lit into us!  However, she didn't get very far into her tirade when the clown emerged from the back door.  She screamed and took off running for the car.  He chased her around the car at least once before the driver hit the remote and unlocked the doors.  She immediately dove in and cowered.  The clown jumped on the hood and just stared at her.  Her friends took a little while to get to the car because they couldn't walk, they were laughing so hard.  They did manage to find half a breath and thanked us.

Just doing our jobs!
Disclaimer:  Lest a reader become upset with me thinking that we were being unduly cruel to this patron, let me clarify a few things.  When she approached us, she was very specific about asking about the clown, almost to the "briar patch" point.  She obviously didn't have a real clown phobia, she just wanted to make it known that if there was a clown, she would freak out. And she did not disappoint.  She did freak out, but it was a teen-aged performance of a freak out.  Yes, she was scared and yes, she screamed like a banshee.  But I have seen enough people become completely incapacitated and refuse to move to know that this girl was having fun.  No, she wasn't laughing, but she was enjoying all of the attention, even through her screams.

No word on whether she ever came back. Based on what I observed, I would bet that she put up a huge show to her friends about how the clown chased her and that she would never go back, but I also bet that she let herself be dragged back at least one more time that season.  

Oh, THAT'S What Nit Picking Means! (And . . . Thank you Joss Whedon)

Buddy brought home the ultimate Mother's Day Gift on Friday - lice.  Woo to the hoo!  This was my first experience with the little creepers.  How my brother and I dodged that bullet, I'll never know.  I remember getting checked for lice a couple of times a year at school, but I was never one of the lucky ones who had them.  *shiver*

Luckily, it looks like we caught them early.  I found less than a dozen adults in his hair on Friday.  I didn't want to use any chemicals, so I went for the natural treatment of smothering the bugs with olive oil.  You douse the hair with olive oil and then leave on a shower cap for 10-12 hours.  That suffocates the adults.  You still have to pick out all the nits and eggs and stuff like that, but you have to do that with chemicals, too.  The olive oil smells much nicer.  And his hair and scalp are nice and healthy.

Looks like we're winning the war, too.  I read where the adults do not lay eggs for a few days after they mature, so if I stay on top of it we should be able to eradicate this little colony.  The eggs that I miss (and I'm sure to miss some) will hatch in 1 to 2 weeks so I'll retreat with the olive oil this coming weekend.  He hates it, but he doesn't fight it.  Thank GOODNESS!

All of this comes on the heels of waiting and WAITING for news about financial aid for Princess for the fall.  None of the classes that I was going to teach made so this news is important.  I have picked up two classes to teach (one is a one day per week class, the other is a two day per week class), so that helps.  But it doesn't cover what we need covered.

Saturday was a very rough day.  It was kind of the perfect storm.  I had promised Princess that I would take her shopping alone that morning.  When I made that promise, I did know 1) that Hubby has to work every Saturday in May and 2) that I would need to spend an ungodly amount of time playing Mama Monkey and picking nits out of my son's hair.  Princess got weepy, Buddy was squirmy and my blood pressure was rising.  Add to all of this the fact that I needed desperately to buy groceries (no milk, no cereal) PLUS we were trying to work around a volleyball game, an end of the season volleyball party and a re-scheduled family movie night and . . . hello Xanax.  So . . . Saturday was not a good day.  Until 5:45.

Thank you, Joss Whedon.  Thank you for pure escapism.  Thank you for the cathartic moment (for me) involving Hulk and Thor.*  Thank you for writing a story and dialogue that transcends age and gender.  Thank you for providing me and Hubby with the opportunity to see our children's enjoyment and delight.  Thank you to the actors/actresses for believing in your characters and having a total blast with the story and with each other.  The Avengers was the perfect way to end a stressful day.  Just wonderful. 

I'm still waiting on a decision from the school about financial aid.  At least I have some more nit picking to keep me busy until word comes down. 

*SPOILER ALERT - I could totally relate to Hulk having so much rage and energy that he just needed to punch one more thing.  Never mind that that one thing was an ally.  He just needed that release.  I get it, Hulk.  I get it.

Saturday, May 05, 2012


Yesterday as we were driving to school, the DJ on the radio said that he would be back in a moment with information on how and when to see the Supermoon.  Princess looked at me with horror on her face.

"Supermoon?  Really?" she said.

"Yes," I said.  And then I explained how not only was there a full moon Saturday, but it was going to occur as the moon passed closest to the Earth so it was going to appear HUGE in the evening sky.  She looked relieved.

Turns out, she thought that the DJ was advertising a large gathering of people showing their butts.  Sort of a Guinness World Record of mooning.  Naturally, she was appalled that they would advertise this, much less organize it.

Buddy, however, was disappointed that we couldn't attend.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Another Writer in the Family? Buddy's Book Review

Buddy's 3rd grade class read an excerpt from Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan.  Their assignment was to write a paragraph summarizing what they read.  Here is Buddy's (in his own words with his own spelling):

"Skyla judges her son (Owen) of how he looks.  She does not judge him from his actions.  Only she does not spend time with him.  And it seems to me that Owen feels left out.  He's very nice and all but Skyla only likes Niomi because she is not deformed.  I mean, she's cruel she left them when they were little to SHOP!  Come on woman! (Skyla)"

He got a 100 on the assignment.  I don't know about you, but this makes me want to read the book!

The Hand You Are Dealt - Sleep Disorders

We have some friends whose kids are behind their peers in quite a few areas. We have other friends whose daughter has a sensory integration disorder. Still other friends whose son has a sensitivity to gluten and must be on a very strict diet otherwise he exhibits bipolar symptoms. And life goes on.

Every time a family that we know comes upon a challenge, I thank God that He has blessed us with such wonderful and healthy kids.  I find myself thinking, "That you, God, that that's not us!"  Our kids don't have any issue that plagues them on a daily basis (well, seasonal allergies plague EVERYONE, so I don't really count them).  They don't have behavior disorders or problems (disregard all of my previous posts on their antics!), they don't have diseases or lengthy illnesses. Our lives are easy!

Sometimes it feels like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. How many "disease of the week" articles have I read that start out, "She was a normal, healthy, fun-loving child until she was (fill in the blank) years old. Then it all started." Ahhh! Is that us?!?!?! I pray quite often that God will protect us from all of that

I watch families who have rough roads and listen to the way they handle their challenges.  The pervasive attitude is one of "that's life" and "you do what you have to do for your child".  You just do it.  You don't think much, you just do it  and you go on.  I often wonder how I would handle it if we had a significant challenge.  How would we cope?  What would it look like?  How would our "just go on" go on?  Then I remember.  We did have a pretty big challenge for a while.  And, in a way, it continues.

In September of 2005, Buddy showed signs of a sleep disorder (he was just over two years old).  He would go to sleep fine.  Never gave us much of a problem at all.  Then between 9:30 and 11:00 he would start kicking the walls and wake up screaming.  He would cry and cry and thrash around until we would come up and comfort him.  I'd walk into the room, pick him up, he'd put his head on my shoulder, I'd cuddle with him for about two or three minutes (the length of a lullaby) and then put him back down.  Then about two to four hours later, it would be the same thing.  At its worst, he would wake up five plus times a night (I would usually stop counting at 4 or 5).  We measured a good night as a night where he only awoke twice.  We would sometimes get one full nights' sleep, but usually it was once every 10 - 14 days.  
As an added bonus, this was also Princess' kindergarten year in a University Model school.  So I was trying to home school her three days a week.  Luckily, it's very hard to screw up kindergarten so I had some wiggle room there.  I may not have always been as patient as I should have been, but she learned to read, she learned to do basic math and we all survived. 

I began to understand why sleep deprivation is used as a torture.  After a while, it was hard for me to even try to go to sleep.  I didn't want to drift off because I knew that just as I did, he would wake up.  My memory was affected, my diet was affected, of course my mood was affected.  My relationship with Hubby was affected in several different ways - especially, um, night-time activities.  (Who wants to start something that just may get cut short by a screaming child?)  I look back at that time as if through a fog.  How did I do it?  I just did.  I went on auto-pilot and I got through it.

At one point during the ordeal, I remember telling someone about it and noticing that she looked horrified.  She said that it must be completely awful.  Until then, I hadn't realized that it really was that bad.  It just seemed like another thing to get through - like a cold or a scraped knee.  I was so dulled by the lack of sleep, that I didn't see it as a challenge.  It just simply "was".  It was how our lives were.

I did what I could to try to get help.  We prayed and prayed.  We talked to our pediatrician.  We tried letting him cry it out.  We tried going in as soon as we heard the kicking start.  We tried interrupting his sleep pattern by waking him up just before the usual time of his first episode (that actually seemed to help for a while, but it didn't stop them.)  We grasped at every straw we had.

Did you know that it is nearly freaking impossible to find a sleep expert to help a two-year-old.  I couldn't find one in Austin that treated pediatric patients.  They told me to call a pediatric neurologist, which I did.  Four times.  Never got a return phone call.  I e-mailed a sleep specialist whose website described similar wakings, but didn't list them as being as frequent as Buddy's.  I asked him a couple of questions - one being would he please pass on the name of a colleague in Austin.  The guy e-mailed me back and said that Buddy's wakings were behavioral.  No other name, no other explanation.  Thanks, guy.

My pediatrician told me that they were night terrors.  I know for a fact that they weren't.  My brother had night terrors.*  You couldn't come near him during one of those.  One symptom that was on all the night terror websites was that the "victim" could not be comforted.  Buddy was calm the moment I touched him.  I think that's why the internet doc thought they were behavioral.  But why would he kick and thrash and scream?  Nightmares?  Quite possibly.  Who knows.

The closest thing I came to finding a true diagnosis was on one website about sleep disturbances/disorders.  There's a fairly rare disorder called "confusion arousal".  The sleeper partially wakes (like in a night terror) and doesn't know where they are so they get scared.  It was characterized by kicking, thrashing and crying.  The kicking came first.  That's what clued me in as to what we were probably dealing with.  Every night I knew when an episode was starting because I would hear the boom boom boom of Buddy kicking the wall.  That was followed by a wail and then more booms.  I did a Google search for "confusion arousal" and found that there was no treatment.  He had to grow out of it.  I almost lost it then.  But there was that ray of hope - he'll grow out of it.

He did.  February of 2006 was our first truly good month.  For a while we counted a bad night as one with only two wakings.  It gradually tapered down to one.  Then it became rare to be awakened at all.  And when/if he woke it was usually because he'd had your garden variety bad dream.  No kicking to herald the arrival of screams from hell.  Just regular crying.  One of us would go in, tell him it's okay and he'd go back to sleep.  The whole thing was over in less than five minutes from first cry to door shutting.  (In the worst of it in 2005, sometimes the episode would be upwards of 20 minutes - not counting the time I would have to try to put myself back to sleep.)
Sometimes even now he'll have a night here or there where he has a fitful period.  He'll kick the wall and maybe cry out, but I've learned that if I leave him alone he'll stop within a minute or two and not remember anything about it the next day.  Every once in a while he'll yell something funny and that's always good for a morning chuckle.  

For a couple of years he's had maybe two or three severe nightmares per year - not quite night terrors, but a bit more intense than regular nightmares.  He'd come out of his room and call downstairs for me.  By the time I got upstairs, he was back in bed asking to cuddle.  Powerful feelings, but he was awake.  Now they have escalated into full-blown Screamin' Mimis.  Buddy still is able to walk out of his room and call to me, but he's panting and gasping and shaking like he's barely hanging on.  I've come upstairs to see him curled up on the floor or pacing or even just standing.  He had a Screamin' Mimi on a Cub Scout overnight and Hubby said that at that time he was crawling around the bunk on his hands and knees chanting, "Bored!"  (Buddy found that funny the next morning.  Seems he always says something that will make him laugh later.  Last week it was "I can't say 'thank you' to everyone who's taller than me!" and last night it was a very emphatic "Pretzels!")  It's pretty freaky.  Especially if you've seen The Exorcist.  I can understand how night terrors - or any sleep disorder - would be classified as possessions in less enlightened times.

Last night was particularly scary.  I was on the bed with Buddy alternately holding him (he would clutch me like I was his lifeline and then scoot away just as fervently) when he hopped off the bed, stood straight up, said, "NO!" then walked toward the door, said, "NO!" again and then jumped on the bed, crawled toward me and raised his fist like he was about to punch me in the face.  I didn't cower or flinch and maybe that's why he immediately melted back into a ball on my lap.  I couldn't help but think that I seriously dodged a bullet there and that next time he could hurt me.  I hate, HATE thinking that.  I don't want to be scared of my boy.  I know that he would never, ever hurt me in his right mind.  But while he's asleep, he has no idea what he's doing. 

I'm going to have to start charting his days - what he eats, what events happen, etc.  The first two of his recent Screamin' Mimis I think I can pinpoint the triggers.  On the Cub Scout overnight he was exhausted and the food was so bad that he only ate noodles and cake (Hubby was able to get him a protein snack later but it was too little too late).  Plus, he was sleeping in a strange place.  Hubby was with him, but it was still not his own bed.  The second event was the night of the STAAR test.  He didn't seem worried or stressed about the test on the outside, but maybe he was inwardly tense.  Dunno.  Last night's trigger is a mystery.  He seemed to be well rested and non-stressed.  So we'll just have to look at other things.  Sigh. 

So that is our family challenge.  This is something in our lives as parents that I know other parents look at us and think, "Thank you God that's not us."  We'll get through it.  We always do.  But I firmly believe that the only way we will get through it is the strength that God gives us.  There were days when I hadn't had more than two hours of sleep strung together when I knew I couldn't do it and He gave me His strength.  As I watch our other friends go through their trials with their kids, I pray that God will give them His strength and wisdom, too.  Thank goodness He doesn't leave us to deal with these situations alone.  He is always there to help us and to guide us.  And to sing us a lullaby and tell us it's all going to be okay.     
*In our family they are known as Screamin' Mimis.  In the 70's there were these vitamins that were akin to Flintstone's called Monster Vitamins.  They were in character shapes and one of the shapes was Screamin' Mimi.  One day when the commercial came on, it just clicked and the night terror nickname was born.  I seem to remember that every morning after my brother would have a Screamin' Mimi, Mom would open the bottle of vitamins and my brother would pick out a Screamin' Mimi shape and chomp the snot out of her.  We'd giggle and Mom would have to stop us from picking the rest of her shape out of the bottle and seeking even more revenge.  It was very cathartic! 

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Is That A Crawfish In Your Pocket?

I just received this e-mail from the school (I will not reveal whether it is Princess' school or Buddy's because it just doesn't matter):

Dear Parents,
It has come to my attention that there have been distractions in lunch that need to be stopped.  Students have been bringing crawfish to school in their lunchboxes, sometimes alive and sometimes dead.  Some students have recklessly played with the crawfish by putting them on other students, chasing other students with the crawfish, or rubbing the crawfish on a classmate's body or belongings.  Please speak with your student about these incidences and let him/her know that this will not be tolerated.  Any student found with a crawfish, or any other creature, on campus will be sent directly to the office and I will call the parent.  These incidences are distressing to many students, they are unhealthy, and school is not a place for these kinds of actions.  Thank you for talking with your student about this and feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.
Thank for you partnering with us,
Your Child's Teacher*

Call me weird, but I think that this is stinkin' hilarious.  I asked my student about it and he/she said that yes, some of the boys had been bringing crawfish to school in their lunchboxes and then transferring them to pockets at some point during the day.  Said boys were also using these deceased crustaceans as puppets to gross out the girls.  Brilliant.

I am amused and nostalgic at these shenanigans.  Growing up near a lake, it was a rite of passage to dodge a "crawdad" or two - most being alive and well as they were thrust into faces, down shirts and on top of heads.  Ah, those were the days.

I have cautioned my student about refraining from participating in the lunchtime lunacy.  My student has sworn to resist temptation.  (And if you automatically think that this is Buddy, you don't know Princess very well.)

Let's hope that the mudbug madness stops soon.

*A side note about this teacher - she is also a friend of mine and I think that one of the reasons I laughed so hard at this is that I could hear her voice as I read the e-mail.  I could tell that she had promised the girls in the class that she would do something about the situation and that she could not believe that she was having to type those words.  I adore this woman even more now. 


Saturday, April 28, 2012

The REAL Academy Awards are TONIGHT!

It began like this . . .

Princess:  Mom, you know the Youth Group Academy Awards*?
Me:  Yes.
Princess:  I kinda volunteered you to direct our movie.
Me:  (pause - thinking about everything else that was on my plate)  Okay . . .
Princess:  We're going to shoot on Wednesday.**  And it's due on the 15th.
Me:  (blinking)  Okay . . .
Princess:  It's kind of like The Hunger Games, but it's with water.  We're going to have a bunch of water balloons and water guns and whoever gets wet is out.  The winner gets a swimming pool.
Me:  Do you have a script or an outline?
Princess:  (eye roll)  Mom.  It's going to be improv.  We won't know who wins until we do it.
Me:  So you don't even have a storyboard?
Princess:  (eye roll) Mom.  No.  It's IMPROV!
Me:  Sweetie, I can't shoot anything without a storyboard.  It would be impossible.
Princess:  (eye roll)  MOM!

So I proceeded to explain how I couldn't shoot an action movie that was 100% improv because I wouldn't know where to place the camera (singular) and I wouldn't know who to follow and I might miss the winner winning, etc.  I got several more eye rolls and "Mom"s.  But I finally convinced her that we should use Wednesday the 4th as a planning meeting (the Youth Group meets every Wednesday evening) and then we could shoot on Wednesday the 11th.

Our planning meeting was fun.  I was so impressed with the creativity of the group.  We were able to get a very comprehensive outline together along with a prop list and costume list.  We decided that (almost) all of the dialogue would be improv, but we determined the order of elimination and the winner of the Games to make it possible to actually shoot and get the action.

The next weekend was a long weekend, so I was able to get three of the girls together (one of whom was unable to come on Wednesday the 11th) and film a couple of segments.***  Then I edited the footage on Monday night and Tuesday afternoon before filming on Wednesday.

Wednesday's shoot was a bit hectic.  Not only was I shooting the majority of the games, we started shooting at 6:00 so we were working against time outside AND I was shooting the most difficult girls.****  We managed to get it all done, though.  And then I finished editing Saturday afternoon.

Now I must apologize for being such a tease.  I do NOT have the permission of the parents of the girls to post the video here.  I am going to send out a request for permission, but if I do not get it, I will respect that and not post it.  I'm sorry because it's really fun!  But I think that you all understand privacy issues.

It was kind of sad how excited I was about this project.  I haven't shot and edited anything since The Foot Dream (warning NSFW because of language - this, too, was improv and, well, adults sometimes improv with cussing).  It was a ton of fun!  As I was editing and manipulating the sound track (I forgot to get ambient sound so I was splicing in two seconds of sound here and three seconds there), I realized that there was probably not another project whose editor was spending THAT much time on it.  But there was probably not another project whose editor has a degree in film.  ;-)

We'll find out tonight whether or not we win an Academy Award.  Princess and her friend are dressing up as Capitol citizens (re: The Hunger Games) using two of my red Ro-tel wigs.  I signed up to be one of the paparazzi on the red carpet (after promising not to embarrass Princess too much).  Princess hasn't given the okay for me to attend the entire event.  Although I want to see all of the entries, I will respect Princess' wishes should she want the event to be hers alone.  Sigh.  She's getting to that age.  And I have to start letting go.  But that's an entirely different post.

If I'm allowed to attend, I'll live tweet it!  ;-)  

*Every spring her youth group has each small group make a short movie (maximum 4 minutes) and then they hand out "Oscars" at a big party where the kids dress up and walk the red carpet and just generally have a goofy, great time.

** This conversation took place on a Sunday, April 1.  No, it was not an April Fool's joke.

***The shot of Princess coming down the ladder was entirely her idea.  I'm so proud!

****The majority of the girls were focused and very creative and helpful in getting an outline of the script together and in listening to and following direction.  However, during our planning meeting there were three girls who never sat down for a moment, who crawled under and over tables, who made noises, ran in and out of the room and were just obnoxious, rude and distracting.  I was appalled and frustrated.  (And, on our way home, I found out that one of them had called Buddy a "retard".  NOT okay in any way, shape or form.)  Keep in mind that all of the girls are in sixth grade (except for one fourth grader who is the neighbor of one of the other girls).  I could NOT believe it.  Princess told me that they are like that every week.  I noticed that the small group leader (a woman around my age) tried to get them corralled, but it was a losing battle.  It looked like she was used to it.  After about 15 minutes, I became used to it and was able to tune it out.  It was a little better during the shoot because they obviously wanted to be on camera and I think they realized that I would cut them out if they messed around.  One did try to pull a diva and pouted that I wasn't shooting her enough, but I  told her that, had she been paying attention to the planning, she'd know that I was shooting people one at a time and that she was a little down on the list, and that snapped her back to focus.  Sigh.  Already a diva at eleven.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

More Than I Hoped For

Yesterday, after sitting in front of my laptop for over an hour contemplating whether or not to hit the "publish" button, I posted an entry about my struggles with depression. I could not have anticipated the outpouring of love and support that you guys have given me. And I could not have anticipated the many of my friends who have come forward and acknowledged their own struggles. I was struck by how many people posted comments here and on Facebook.

Thank you all so much for your love. I hate that others have gone through or are going through this, but I love that we can share this together. I read somewhere that when we share laughter, that laughter is multiplied in our lives, but when we share grief it is diminished. That is certainly true.

Thank you for accepting the real me. Let's always be real together.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Optimism, Christianity and Depression (Oh my!)

This entry is a long time coming. (Even as I type, I don't know that I'll be able to hit the "post" button.)

First, please click here and read the article written by Stephanie Gallman. I'll wait.

I could have written (most of) that article. While there are significant differences in our lives*, the core truth of the article remains: my doctor has diagnosed me with depression. I hate typing that. Somewhere inside of me there is a voice telling me that I "shouldn't" be depressed, that I "shouldn't" be sad, that depression is a choice/weakness/laziness/whatever. There's also a voice telling me that no one really wants to hear about another person with depression. Isn't the world depressing enough without me bringing everyone down more?

And the part about anxiety? I'm a Christian. I'm very active in our church. I know that I would get quite a few well meaning friends/acquaintances sending me Philippians 4:6 "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Yes, I can read those words and I can meditate over them and they do help somewhat. But . . . they don't stop it. They don't take it away. The anxiety will stay until it decides to go on its own or it is helped out the door with medication.

Stephanie Gallman talks about how some people offer their own solutions such as engaging in a hobby or reading a book. Depression saps you of your enthusiasm and some days of your passion. I love music, but it's a chore to even turn on Pandora when I'm in a dip. I always feel better when I do, but it's hard. In the past when I have shared my struggle with a few here or there, I'm met with "Read your Bible more" or "Pray more - this is spiritual warfare" and other comments in that vein. I do acknowledge that reading God's word helps. It can take the edge off. I also believe in spiritual warfare and that prayer helps. But sometimes when I'm in a dip, reading the Bible is frustrating. I try to read passages that talk about prayers being answered like Matthew 7:7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." But all I can focus on is that I haven't heard any answer other than "no" or "not now". (Or I assume those are the answers. Most of the time I just feel silence.) It's these times that I usually go to Psalms. I think David might have gone through just a bit of depression, too. I especially identify with Psalm 142:7 "Bring my soul out of prison, So that I may give thanks to Your name; The righteous will surround me, For You will deal bountifully with me." It acknowledges how depression can feel like a prison or a trap, but it ends with hope - that (eventually) He will deliver me from the prison and bless me.

However, and this is a BIG one, I am not capable of bringing myself out of a dip. I can't talk my way out of it, I can't think my way out of it, and I can't pray my way out of it. I have to either wait it out, or take some form of medication.

My doctor is a Christian. He and his wife used to attend church with us. I know he walks the walk. And he is all about trying non-drug things - tools that God has given us to help - like nutrition, prayer, friends and counselors before writing a prescription. We tried all of those, and it wasn't enough. My doctor asked if I had a broken leg, would I pray to make it better or would I seek medical attention? I would go and get the bone set. I would get professional help to get MY BODY WELL. I would probably ask God to bless me with quick and complete healing, but I wouldn't sit there with my leg at a funky angle not letting anyone touch me and just pray that God would take over. God has given us physicians. He has allowed us to discover medicines and treatments and diagnoses that help us to heal. Yes, He is capable of miracles, but He's pretty much given us what we need through ordinary measures. As for me, my body does not make enough serotonin so I need to take something to boost the production. I am on a low dose of anti-depressant and I have a prescription for an anti-anxiety that I can take if the anxiety gets overwhelming. I've only taken the latter a handful of times, praise God. But the times I've taken it, I've been glad I've had it available.

I have identified some triggers - of course finances are a main one (owning your own business is not as glamorous as it seems), but I think I'm kind of used to that one now. God is always providing for us, sometimes at the last minute, but we are still above water. I'm learning patience in that arena. However, I've noticed lately that if I feel that I'm either being misunderstood or ignored, my heart will start to race and I'll feel that tightening in my chest and my hands will start to shake. The incident can be as mild as Buddy not coming to dinner when I call him or as big as someone telling me a choice I made was wrong but not trying to understand why I made the choice (and would do it again - okay, that's a whole 'nother blog post and it's centered around the Muppets!). It can trigger a dip that can last a few hours (the dinner thing) or a week or more (the Muppets - got you intrigued now, don't I?)**.

So why am I writing this blog post? I've hinted about my struggle here and in some locked posts to close friends, but nothing like this - nothing revealing how low I really get. And I've never cross-posted so that Twitter and Facebook friends can read it. Even as I type and edit this, I don't know that I'll publish it for more than a few to see.

I want people to understand who I am and how I work (or don't work). I want them to know that when I don't return a phone call I'm not ignoring them, I'm just not able to function beyond basics at that particular time. Thank God for texts and e-mail or during a dip I wouldn't be able to communicate at all! (And sometimes I can't even manage that.) I want people to know about my struggle, but . . . I don't want people to feel sorry for me, to withdraw from me, to feel weird around me, etc. I don't want this knowledge to affect the way people treat me. I don't want people to walk on eggshells around me and I don't want well meaning people (hi, Mom) to constantly worry or constantly ask how I'm doing with their head cocked to the side and in a singsong voice. I don't want to be treated differently. I just want to be understood. (Hmmmm. Back to that trigger.)

The main reason I'm hesitant about sharing my depression is that in the past, people I've loved and trusted have accused me of being too dramatic or of being a hypochondriac to get attention. Looking back on those particular times, I realize now that I was truly depressed and trying to get help, but was . . . misunderstood. I tried to express how deeply the pain went, but was "too dramatic". I exhibited physical symptoms (I've learned that depression can manifest itself as physical as well as emotional) and yet had no fever or no infection - therefore I was a hypochondriac. In their defense, I don't think that at the time those people understood what depression is or how it manifests itself. I surely didn't. I thought that I was being too dramatic and blowing things out of proportion and seeking attention. So I shut up. Which made it worse. Sigh. Vicious cycle. (Even now, during each dip my inner voice will silence me by saying, "Snap out of it. You're just being dramatic and self-centered." Hence my hesitation at clicking the "Publish Post" button.)

Through all of this, just like Stephanie Gallman, I'm an optimist. I like to see the good in people and in situations. (Sometimes almost to a fault.) I can say, and (mostly) believe that things will get better. I know that my dips are temporary. And I'm blessed that the majority of the time I'm able to function during a dip. I still see humor in some things and I can even Tweet one liners during a dip! I'm working hard to identify my triggers and to be more proactive in preventing or shortening a dip. I have a select few people to whom I reach out. I'm learning to force myself to be more active during those times. It seems that getting out and accomplishing something, anything helps - even if it's just getting the mail. I'm trying not to be afraid to take a Xanax when I feel I need it. I'm researching diet and nutrition to see how I can boost my moods in a natural way. I have researched aroma therapy (I have a vial of essential oil in my purse) and herbal teas (look in my pantry - and in my garden). I'm working up to getting into an exercise routine. (The problem I've had with exercise is that whenever I have started to work out, my mind starts working overtime and I finish just as stressed out as I am when I start - if I do finish at all.) I'm working on it.

I'm working on it.

Who knows if I will ever conquer it. But I'm working on it.

Now if you will excuse me, I'm off to listen to Erasure and sing at the top of my lungs. That, too, helps. (But I think that it has the opposite effect on Princess.)

*I have never Hula Hooped at Wal-Mart. But I do make it a point to jump on the bed every time we check in to a hotel.

**When I write the Muppet post, I'll come back and link here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Gardening Update 3/18

Since watching the pilot episode of Touch, Buddy has been calling today (March 18, or 3/18) "Touch Day". Watch the pilot and you'll see why.

So now I have all of my garden and containers planted. I planted carrot seeds in the garden on the 11th. I planted my little containers on the 12th. I planted cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and cantaloupes in the garden on the 13th. Today I planted oregano, lemon balm and snapdragons in various pots around the patio.

I have updated pictures!!!! Here are the basil, tomato and pepper seedlings. Nothing from the peppers yet, but the basil (in back) and the tomatoes (on the sides) are awake!

I forgot that I got a lavender plant from the Natural Gardener. It's in the middle in this picture. It's now in its own larger container on the patio. I didn't start the lavender from seeds because they didn't have the variety I wanted in seed form.

The little carrots in my garden have sprouted. They are SO cute! I hate that I'm going to have to thin them out. Do you think I could cheat and not thin them?

When I was out there putting up the netting (for the cucumber and cantaloupe vines), I noticed that one tiny cucumber plant was pushing its way out of the soil. I really love gardening!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Gardening 2012

I loved having a garden last year. Of course, I chose the driest year in recorded history to start my new obsession, but we made it work.

This year I have decided to start the garden from seeds (mainly). Last week, before the deluge, I planted four rows of carrots. I figure, we love carrots so . . . why not?

Today I started tomato, basil and pepper seeds inside. Here's the scoop:

I got these little "kits" from Wal-Mart for $1.00 each. Yes, I know I probably should have gone to The Natural Gardener like I did last year, but we are on a serious Budget (capitalized because it has taken on a life of its own) so I need to cut corners whenever and where ever I can.

I used the pots provided, but they had significant drainage holes. I didn't want to make a huge mess so . . . .
I added a coffee filter.

Then added water to the little pellet they provided. That was fun!

Put the seeds in and covered them up.

Then I misted the top of the soil to make sure the seeds had enough moisture to start germinating.

I labeled them all and now they'll go in a window to sprout!

I'll let you know how they turn out.

I just went out to check my carrot seeds. I hadn't expected any sprouts yet, but I also didn't expect what I found . . .

Interesting indentations plus . . .
A tuft of hair on the fence above equals . . .
perhaps the neighbor's cat used this area as a getaway? Horacio has nuthin' on me! (Cue "YEAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!")

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Showmanship (and Family)

Back in the mid-nineties I was in a cover band called RoTel and the Hot Tomatoes. (I was the red-headed Tomato.) We were (and they still are) a very popular and fun band. We played all over - private gigs and public gigs. It was a complete blast!!! I got a tiny taste of what it was like to be a rock star. Tiny, but oh so sweet. And surreal - at one show three ladies came up to us and told us that they had gone as the Hot Tomatoes for Halloween the year before. Have you ever had someone tell you that they were YOU for Halloween? I mean, a stranger? Freaky.

I was thinking about that feeling as I watched Madonna's halftime show. A few minutes into the show, someone in the room said, "She looks like she's really having fun." And she did. The nerves melted away and she KNEW she had the audience right where she wanted them. She was doing what she was born to do. And who really cares if she was lip-syncing? If she hadn't been, then people would have criticized her for not sounding exactly like her recordings. I commend her for lip-syncing in a situation like that. It's a SHOW, people. A full-on performance with engineered sound and unbelievable visuals. A SHOW!!!! Are you going to criticize her for not having a live band? Sorry . . . I digress.

I know (almost) exactly how she was feeling. No, I've never performed for a Super Bowl audience, but I have performed for a packed house. It's indescribable. But for me it's not something I did (or do, or will do) for the accolades or the praise after the fact. I loved it because I knew I was good at it and I knew I did a good job. It was the satisfaction of knowing that I was in the right place at the right time doing what I was born to do. I would imagine that an architect has the same feeling when seeing his/her building go up, or a doctor has when he/she sees a patient improve. It's job satisfaction. And yes, I miss it. (Can you tell?)

However, it was not all about me. Not by a long shot. I was only as good as I was because of the people I performed with. Jimbo, Phil, Big Al, Craig, Jamie, Danny, Larry, Rod(.com), Thad, Pilar, Laura, Lisa, Kira - they were (and are) stellar performers and wonderful people. It was not a one person show ever. We were a band. We were a team. It was . . . yeah. I miss it.

I share that experience with my brother. He was in a band in the 90s, too. His band, though, was all originals (well, almost all). They were a ska band called Gals Panic. My brother was the front man, Lance Fever. He was a showman - as were all the members (Lance was just up front most of the time). He was a natural on stage. He had (has) charisma and charm and energy. He could work the crowd up like nobody's bidnez! I loved going to their shows and bragging that he was my brother. I even have a clipping (somewhere) where both bands (Rotel and Gals Panic) were listed as "Best Bets" for the same night.

Our worlds collided one night, though, and proved to me that sibling rivalry extends into the "real" world sometimes.

Rotel played a huge outdoor festival one night in the summer. We were on a big stage at Auditorium Shores on Town Lake here in Austin. As we walked off the stage, there were two young teen girls and their moms at the chain link fence calling to us. We put on our stage personae and pranced over to them. When we got about 10 feet away the two excited girls screamed, "Which one of you is Lance Fever's sister?!?!?!?"

(Just for fun, here are a links to a couple of videos of Rotel, Gals Panic and The Bloody Tears - the band I was in a couple of years ago:

Proud Mary (Rotel) - I'm in the orange (on the right)

Gals Panic
- the sound is HORRIBLE as I was right next to the speaker, but you can see what a showman my brother is.

The Bloody Tears
- It's Gonna Work Out Fine just because I'm featured! We also had a lot of original tunes, but I'm only back up on those. ;-) )

Monday, January 30, 2012

Anxiety, Depression and Guilt - Oh My!

Anxiety - what is going to happen next? Is this little period of disquiet over? Have I placated everyone who needs placating? Have I done enough? What have I missed? What is around the corner?

Depression - I'm not able to keep up with placating everyone. People - my family, my friends, my co-workers, my students - they are all counting on me for things and I'm not doing those things well. Or I'm not doing them at all. Depression defies description. It's a gateway to and also a result of anxiety.

Guilt - seriously, there are SO many other people who have it SO much worse and I don't see them losing it. I should get out of my own head enough to go help them - to be there for them and be strong. Or at least learn something from the way they handle themselves and their situations. Who am I to think that my problems are so big? It's not about me. The world doesn't revolve around me. My problems and feelings are relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. There are so many people who have it so much worse than I do - how can I be bothered by such little things?

These are the thoughts in my head every time I get upset. So I stifle the feelings. I pound down the disappointment, the sadness, the anger or whatever I'm feeling at whatever event has just taken place. How can I be upset about "x" when people I know have just experienced "y", which is SO much worse? I cannot seem to give myself permission to have a bad day. Or at least to SHOW that I've had a bad day. I will tweet about it, but that's about it. Most of the time if I actually interact with a person face to face, or even over the phone, I'll say that I'm fine or I'll downplay the pain. OR I'd stay home until the feeling passed so I wouldn't have to see anyone face to face at all.

But I'm not dealing with it. I'm packing it away to be dealt with some other time. Only . . . I never get to the other time on my own so it builds and builds and it's its own vicious cycle. Some things I've never really dealt with. And they do come back up only to be pounded back down.

Will this post ever see the light of day? Will I be courageous enough to put it out there? Or will I lock it down tight and put on my game face? And if I do post it, will I tell anyone it's here?

* * * * * *

I'm feeling better today - one day after I wrote this and locked it down. I feel almost normal again. I guess I succeeded in packing it all back up.

So my question to myself is - do I now just have perspective on what has been troubling me and can see that it's not what I thought it was? Or have I packed it so tight that I'm not allowing myself to work through it? I do know that I have a tendency to accept my circumstances and "deal with it" rather than even investigate whether or not those circumstances can change. Am I THAT afraid of change? ;-) Or . . . are my problems really that insignificant that a good night's sleep (or two) show that to me? I remember when we were going through a horrible time with Buddy, I just kind of accepted it and endured. I did try to find help, but when I kept being met with "no, we can't help", I didn't question it. Am I doing that now? Am I just accepting that I'm going to have ups and downs and that when I have a trigger I just suck it up until I'm functional again and then move on? Or do I address the trigger, eliminate it and THEN move on?

I don't have the answers. Not even to the question of whether or not I'll post this. All I know right now is that I'm not on the verge of tears, my heart is not threatening to beat out of my chest, and I can breathe without sounding like I'm in a yoga class.

So now I'll try to get caught up on all the stuff I didn't do yesterday - like laundry, lesson plans, blocking a scene, grade book, etc. And I'll pray that I things will continue to smooth out.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Spectacular Spectacular

Several weeks ago a friend of mine invited me to join her for the Alamo Drafthouse Moulin Rouge Singalong on January 26. I jumped at the chance. I had never been to a singalong at the Drafthouse, I love spending time with Jill, and I really liked what I had seen of Moulin Rouge. Sounded like fun. Fun is an understatement.

I had never really seen Moulin Rouge. At least not all the way through. I had seen segments of it here or there while channel surfing, and then there was the time I tried to watch it on our portable DVD player only to have it die 10 minutes in, but I had never watched from opening credits to closing. Even if I had seen Moulin Rouge from start to finish, I couldn't really say that I had seen it because I had only ever watched it on a small screen. Nope, that's NOT the way to see - to EXPERIENCE - Moulin Rouge. It is a Big Screen Movie.

Oh, Baz, how I do love you.

I wasn't sure what to expect. They passed out props (a small rubber frog, a glow stick, a light-up ring and a maraca) so I knew that the interaction was more than just singing. I was almost afraid that it was going to be a Rocky Horror type of experience. That's fine and I love Rocky Horror, but I thought that Moulin Rouge wasn't cheesy enough for a full-on Rocky interaction. The guys at Action Pack who created this singalong know what they are doing. None of the interactions were cheesy. None of them disrespected the love story and the passion. They were all just clever additions to what was happening on screen. Three moments stand out: I think my favorite prop participation was the glow sticks during the absinthe induced fairy scene. Perfect. Then the Moulin Rouge version of Roxanne was enhanced beyond belief by the audience stomping to the beat. It was amazing to feel the beat through the floor. But what really gave me chills was the confetti cannon during the height of the two love songs - when the screen filled with glitter/stardust/confetti, they shot off a confetti cannon and the entire movie theatre was filled with ticker tape! The effect was magical.

Moulin Rouge is a masterpiece, and I don't say that lightly. (Sometimes I get caught up in the hype of certain films - I tend to gush over movies that, upon second viewing, were just mediocre. I do that less and less now as I, ahem, mature. It could also be that I don't watch films as much as I used to - time constraints and budget constraints will do that - so I tend to do more research into quality.) Declaring Moulin Rouge a masterpiece is not me going overboard just because I had a fun night. And it's not just because of the visuals, the style, the performances, the genius way that modern songs were integrated into turn of the (last) century Paris. It was also the effect that the film had on the audience. I was very conscious of the people around me and how they were experiencing the film. Every one of us in loved the movie. Not just an "I really like this movie", but in a deep, respectful, almost reverent way. (One or two people tried to shout a heckle and were very quickly shut down - not by "shush" or "stop", but by silence. No one was going to come out of their viewing experience to give attention to someone who obviously didn't "get" it.) The entire audience viewed the film together - it was not just a bunch of people watching a movie in the same location.

I've mentioned before that I'm a theatre brat. I grew up on and back stage. This is a perfect movie for me - the story of the performers, the theatrical nature of the cinematography and direction, the lights! The costumes! (Sorry. I got carried away.) It's a very powerful experience for me when a film transcends the screen and becomes more tangible and more immediate. (Like the climax of Jaws.) In the hands of a genius, film can be more than just a story told on a screen. Even on its own at a regular screening or, not ideally, on the small screen at home, Moulin Rouge is a cinematic treat. The genius of Baz Luhrmann is that his film is so passionate and creative that it inspires the same passion in its viewers. It is not content to be merely on a screen - large or small. It almost literally demands to be more. I am so thankful that I live in a city where there are people meeting those demands. Many, many kudos to Action Pack and the Alamo Drafthouse for experiences like this one. And many, many thanks to Jill for sharing the experience with me!!!!

Now I hear that they are working on a Little Shop of Horrors singalong . . .

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rock Polishing

The word "change" can elicit a multitude of responses. Some are verbal ("Yes!", "NO!", "When?", "NOW!", " 'Bout time." etc.), and some are emotional (panic, dread, excitement, confusion, etc.). It's a loaded word. And no matter if the change is good or bad, it is almost always unsettling. Something is going to be different.

This week I have felt very conflicted, frustrated and just plain unsettled. I do not have a counselor or therapist to talk to, so I will either tweet, blog or just sit and stew until I figure out what's going on. Many tweets and stew sessions later, I realize that the past few weeks has been all about change. No wonder I feel shaken.

For starters, my teaching schedule for next year has changed. I was going to be teaching 5th-8th grade Musical Theatre for two sessions, 9th-12th grade Musical Theatre for three sessions, and Film Making for three sessions. (We're on a three trimester system in our school. Or . . . we were.) After several versions of schedules were discussed, I'm teaching one session of 5th-8th grade (in those grades we went back to a two semester system), three sessions of 9th-12th (still trimesters there) and two sessions (trimester 2 and 3) of Film Making. All of this is going to work really, really well. I'm not complaining about the change - I'm actually happy about it because my courses don't overlap as much and I think I'll be a more effective teacher as a result. But . . . it's change. I'm having to shift my thinking for next year (and yes, I've already begun to think about next year - sometimes teachers do that in January. Especially when course descriptions for the course catalog are due).

The children's ministry at our church (in which my husband and I are very involved) has lost both the director and the assistant director in the past two months. Because of this change, the staff has decided to change the entire Vacation Bible School model this year. They want to "take it to the communities" and have meetings in back yards and community centers. This would effectively eliminate my involvement. I have been heading up the program for VBS (the opening and closing assemblies where we have skits, worship music and activities) since 2006. I love doing it - it's like doing a week of children's theatre once a year. It's a blast and we reach a LOT of kids. I told the head of the committee on Sunday that I thought the off-site idea was a big mistake, but I don't know if I have any clout. This particular change is upsetting and disappointing on top of being different. (However, it might mean that I just had two weeks in July open up. Road trip?)

Then there are little things - Hubby's schedule changing from week to week, basketball games changing, one of Princess' teachers abruptly left and now I have to break in a new one (ha!), I'm trying to fit in a workout now so my daily schedule has changed. It's a lot. I think it's enough to account for the unsettled feeling I have been experiencing.

Now, add all of this to the student issue I had this week (lying) and the parent issue I had (too long a story - but basically they are not happy with anything), and I've had a . . . week.

I skipped my workout this morning just to sit in the parking lot of the church and pray. No, I didn't go in. I didn't want to risk running into anyone and having to talk. I was afraid that were I to be addressed by anyone, I would either explode in anger or melt into a tearful puddle. I read a few of the Psalms (God bless having a Bible app on my smart phone!) and just laid out all of my frustrations before God. I feel more calm now. I know that change is inevitable and that it is what I make of it. I know that I'm not doing it alone. And I trust that God is using all of these situations to mold me and to make me into what He wants me to be. Sculptors are not gentle with the marble they use for their statues. They chip away forcefully with hard implements. Rocks on the river bed are not created smooth and polished, they get that way from being tossed and tumbled. Right now, I can relate to those rocks.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Note To Self . . .

If you've committed to posting (or trying to post) once a day for an entire month, do NOT start a can't-put-it-down book.

Finished The Hunger Games last night.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stories to Impress a Young Co-Ed OR How The Snake Thaws

Way back in 1985, a man named Robert Burge opened a film studio in Beaumont, Texas. They cranked out such hits as Sno-Line and Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter. They also produced a couple of trade films about the evils of drug use. Then, surprisingly, they were gone.

At this time, my dad was still head of the theatre department at Lamar University. He got notices whenever the studio was casting. It is because of this that my high school boyfriend now has a Bacon number of three. It is also because of this that I got to work at the studio - both on-screen as a teen experimenting with cocaine, and off-screen working in their prop department. It could have been tedious, as I was cataloging and organizing all of the props used in both movies, but the studio manager was a colorful ex-stuntman named Larry who had great stories that would make the time pass quickly. I only remember one of his stories, but I need to share it.

Larry was working as a stuntman on a film involving natives in a jungle. There was a big scene where the natives were to sacrifice an outsider to their snake god. Larry was the sacrifice. They had to tie him to a pole and then wrap a huge (living) python around him for the shot. To protect Larry from becoming boa chow, they iced the reptile down to make it lethargic. They set the scene, got Larry all secure, and then brought out the snake-sicle and wrapped it around him. All went well for the first couple of takes - the drumming, the dancing, Larry looking scared, etc. Then the snake started to warm up.

Apparently when a snake of that size tries to bring down large prey, one of the things that they do is stun it into submission by whacking it with their large, powerful head. Larry said that the snake started waking up and then realized that it was already wrapped around lunch. It sized Larry up and then WHAP! It knocked its snout squarely into Larry's forehead. As the stars dissipated, Larry realized that the snake had started to tighten its coils. Larry opened his mouth to call for help just as WHAP, the snake took another opportunity to beat the snot out of him. So now not only was Larry brain-scrambled, he was also bleeding from a large gash in his forehead. Thankfully, it didn't take long to realize that the make-up man had NOT applied his art to the living sacrifice and the crew rescued Larry and put the snake back on ice.

I'm not sure if they got all the shots they needed, but I don't think that they were able to persuade Larry to be snake-wrapped again.

Footnote: I looked Larry Swieboda up on IMDB. He's only listed as working on the two Beaumont films. Thinking back, he could have been passing down a story told to him, and I heard it as his own. He also could have just been uncredited on whatever film. Or he could have made the whole thing up just to impress a college co-ed. But it's a great story and I choose to believe it!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Willing Suspension of Disbelief

My father was a theatre professor for most of my life. If I learned one thing from him, it is that there is only one thing required from an audience - Willing Suspension of Disbelief. (It is so ingrained in me that I MUST capitalize!) That is the one thing - well, other than a paid ticket - that is required of an audience member when he/she walks into a theatre to be entertained. If they do not possess that, then they might as well have thrown their money into a gutter because they ain't gonna have a good time.

I remember one time Hubby and I went to see the Bruce Willis flick Armageddon. It was just a fun, goofy action movie and I really enjoyed it, but at one point something happened (and I don't remember what it was), and Hubby turned to me and said, "Now that was stupid. I don't believe that would happen." I replied, "Oh, you'd buy the fact that we could send a team to a moving asteroid and blow it up, but you wouldn't buy that this guy would do that particular thing?" And that's when it really hit me. There are Rules to Willing Suspension of Disbelief. People still have to be people. Characters still have to be true to themselves. You can't just throw something in and bank on the audience's WSoD to take over. You have to establish Rules and then stick to them religiously. One broken Rule, however minor, can destroy the movie-watching or theatre-going experience.

Within the context of the Rules, however, it can be "anything goes". Take the Peter Jackson remake of King Kong. I thoroughly enjoyed that movie. Some people didn't like it as much as I did, but I had a great time! (Spoiler alert!!!) In my opinion, there was a critical time during the dinosaur stampede when Jackson solidified the Rules . As I watched the cook running for his life between dinosaur feet but never missing a puff on his ever-present cigarette, I remember making a conscious shift in my attitude. Here was a hard Rule to accept - the guy could run from dinosaurs while puffing on a cigarette AND not freaking out that he's running from dinosaurs - and yet I had to accept it in order to continue to enjoy the movie. For me, the choice was simple. From that point on, I just let go and had a great time. The reason that it was easy to do was that the characters were consistent in their actions and reactions (even the cook) and THEY bought the Rules.

It's a delicate balance! Especially in live theatre when things can (gasp) go wrong! Luckily, audiences for live theatre are more forgiving because of the "live" aspect.

And then . . . there are children.

When I was a freshman in college I was in a children's theatre production of The Emperor's New Clothes. Performing for kids is just a complete trip! Talk about WSoD! They will follow you anywhere you lead them, but they won't let you get away with anything outside of the Rules. It is such a rush!

I played one of the two con artists who fool the Emperor into believing that he's wearing clothes. I am 5'2" tall and Zach, the guy cast as the other con artist, was over a foot taller. Great visual! But Zach was incredibly sick. When I first met him, he weighed almost 300 pounds. When I saw him again, six months later at the auditions for the children's show, he was less than 170. He had anorexia. Halfway through our two week run, he didn't show up for a performance. (We found out the next day that he had been hospitalized for his illness.) It got later and later and finally, about 30 minutes before curtain time, we panicked. DJ, the costumer (a very talented actor who had decided to sit this performance out and just design the costumes), stood by and snickered that he was really glad that he wasn't in the cast having to work this mess out. It all hit us at once that DJ was just about the same size as Zach and could fit into his costumes. DJ hit the door running, but he wasn't fast enough. Several of the other cast members were quicker and drug him back in for make-up.

That performance was one of the most magical theatre experiences that I've ever been a part of. The director came on stage and told the kids that we had a special treat for them. One of the actors was going to be carrying a book with them, but if they (the kids) thought hard enough the magic of the theatre would take over and they would not be able to see the book. The kids thought that was great! And you know, after a few minutes I couldn't see the book. It was amazing. DJ and I got into this rhythm where I would basically say my line and then, if he lost his place, I would say his line and pull him to the area of the stage where we were supposed to wind up. It was a whole new take on the show - one con artist leading the other into mayhem instead of them working together - and it worked. DJ made it work. The kids made it work. The other cast members made it work. And it was wonderful.

After the performance we all lined up in the lobby to meet and greet the kids - like we always did. That afternoon instead of scattering to the wind and going our separate ways after the last kid left, we all stayed in the lobby looking at each other with wide eyes and breathless smiles. We did it! We pulled it off! It worked. No one wanted to go. I know that I wanted to hang on to that feeling for as long as I could. We just all hugged each other and finally wandered to the dressing rooms to take off that world and go back to our own.

I often think about DJ and the "invisible" book when I go see live theatre, or even when I go see a movie. The bottom line is - do the actors see the book that they are asking me to make invisible? The answer to that question determines whether the experience is worth the price of admission.

What about you? Is there a particular movie or play that you saw that tested the Rules for you?

(Update on Zach - he recovered and went on to marry and have a beautiful family.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Boot Camp Day One

I started a fitness boot camp today.

I haven't worked out consistently in over a year.

I am seriously out of shape.

I did not throw up.

I will be sore.

I will go back.

But right now I can't move.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Glimpse At My Future?

When I was in college, I lived in a small apartment complex off campus. Across the courtyard from me there lived the Crazy Holiday Lady. She never took down her holiday decorations EVER. Her porch/veranda/outside area was always adorned with the decor of whatever season had either just passed or was approaching. Her Christmas stuff stayed up until she decided to put up Valentine's hearts. The red and pink was replaced at some point by St. Patrick's Day which was quickly traded out for Easter. There was never a time when her apartment was not embellished.

As I put away my Christmas decorations (yes, three weeks after the holiday), I feel that I can relate to her. The Christmas tree and its trimmings make me so happy. I don't want to box them up for another eleven months. I fear that, left to my own devices, I would keep my tree up year 'round.

I have this horrible feeling that some day I'll end up either the Crazy Holiday Lady or the Crazy Cat Lady. Or both.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Exactly How Big Was That Bug?!?!

This afternoon I got an automated call from our credit union. The recording wanted me to verify some charges made to our debit card. After the obligatory identity questions (none of which asked for my card number so I knew that it was legit), the automaton said that it would list several of the latest charges and then ask me to verify them at the end of the list.

Online music store: $8.32 Yep.
Target: $23.78 I got out cheap that day.
Pest control: $108 Got it.
Pest control: $78,000

Wait . . . back up Jack. What was that charge again? Yes. Seventy-eight thousand dollars. Wisely, our credit union had blocked that charge until it was verified.

Of course I couldn't push the number corresponding to "no way on God's green Earth did I have $78,000 worth of pests to treat at my house" fast enough. The automaton then told me that it was going to cancel my card and I needed to call customer service to get a new one.

Immediately I called the number, dreading the ordeal ahead of me. After talking to Joshua, the customer service rep, we both figured that the number hadn't been stolen, but that the pest control company had just made some sort of billing error so I wasn't in any danger of other unauthorized charges. He reinstated my card. No need to get a new one at all. Whew! That saved me a lot of hassle and juggling of chauffeur duties.

However, because the enormous amount and the correct amount were from the same company at about the same time, BOTH charges had been denied. He told me to call the pest control company and let them know their error and the reason I blocked them so that they wouldn't think that I was trying to get out of paying.

Jennifer, the woman I talked to in the billing department was SO apologetic. She was astonished and embarrassed at the error. She said that she had been training a new person and that obviously something went through that shouldn't have. I told her that I completely understood and made sure that she knew that the $108 had been cancelled and needed to go through again. She said that she would do that right away and that she'd knock off $10 for my inconvenience.

The entire episode from the first telephone ring of the automated service to the "good-bye" of the pest control billing department was less than 10 minutes. Both people with whom I spoke were articulate, kind, helpful and efficient. Within 5 minutes I had an e-mailed receipt from the pest control company with the corrected amount charged to my debit card. The credit union rep did indeed reinstate my card - I used it later this evening with no problems.

Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is how you serve customers.

Kudos to University Federal Credit Union and to ECO Smart Pest Control.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

More Birthday Blessings

The kids made coupons for me for my birthday. I think my favorite is the one that is redeemable for "one uninterrupted episode of Breaking Bad during the day". Emphasis is Princess'.

My kids know me pretty well, don't they?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I'm 44 Years Old!

Since yesterday I have been beginning many thoughts with "I'm 44 years old . . ." and then following up with something that I should/shouldn't know/do/feel, etc. A few examples from this morning:

I'm 44 years old, I shouldn't be surprised that the fast food place has crappy coffee.
I'm 44 years old, I shouldn't have to STILL deal with zits.
I'm 44 years old, I should know what to do with my hair.
I'm 44 years old, I can eat this bag of chips if I choose.
I'm 44 years old, why the hell did I eat an entire bag of chips?

You get the point.

So I'm creating a Twitter hashtag and inviting you to play. What expectations do you have for me (or for yourself ) as I (you) spend more time on this planet?

Come play on Twitter at Cabin77. Or you can leave comments here. I'm looking forward to your input.

Monday, January 09, 2012

A Birthday Post

Today I am 44 years old. When you tell someone that you are 44 years old, there is baggage that goes with that. Add to that the fact that I'm a (somewhat) stay-at-home-mom, a Christian who is active in church and a part-time home schooling mom, then . . . WOW what baggage. I feel claustrophobic here in the corner I've painted myself into!

But I look back on my life and I'm so much more than the labels that I automatically put on myself right now. In my 20s I was a comedienne, a singer, a performer, a writer and, toward the end there, a newlywed. In my 30s I was a singer, a teacher, a mom, an office manager and, for a very brief but defining time, a patient.

Now in my 40s I'm trying to sort out what I used to be, what I am and what I'm becoming. My 30s seemed to be about going with the flow. I gave birth in my 30s. When you have infants, toddlers and then young kids, your time is not yours. Frankly, most of your time is spent making sure that your kid doesn't die. Think about it! YOU have to feed them, keep them warm/cool, change their diapers, then you concentrate on teaching them to feed themselves, to walk without falling, to keep themselves clean, etc. The first 5 years or so (longer if you have boys) is all about survival. Some lucky moms figure out how to have their own lives during that time (some pay others to keep their kids alive), but a lot of us just get caught up in the day to day of THEM. I know that I did.

Do I regret that? Hmmm. Good question. No, not really. I knew that I was going to sacrifice and I was prepared for that. What I wasn't really prepared for was reentry. That's been rough.

I forgot that if you back off from the performing world, they forget about you. If you say "no" a certain number of times, they stop asking. I see listings all the time where my former band mates are gigging all over the place. My first thought is always, "Why isn't it me?" I know why. It's because I chose to stay home. I chose my family. I stepped away and let everyone know that I was stepping away. I don't really regret that, but I do wish that there was a way for me to fit both in - my family and performing. I have random opportunities to perform here and there. I emcee our church's yearly Vacation Bible School and that is a hoot! Sometimes I perform in skits or plays at church. That helps to scratch the itch, but it's not 100% fulfilling.

What I miss is the opportunity to go all out and get lost on stage and surrender to the moment. I miss singing and dancing and getting the crowd involved and riffing and ad-libbing and not having (many) boundaries. I miss the spontaneity and the passion. I love the feeling of being on stage and completely trusting those with whom I'm performing - trusting them to be on the same page and to go where we, collectively as a group have wordlessly decided to go. It's magic. I know that's kind of cliche and trite, but I can't describe it any other way.

I miss all of that. A lot.

But what I miss most of all is knowing that I'm doing something at which I am good. I knew when I walked out on stage that the audience was not going to be disappointed. It's not a diva thing, it's not narcissistic, it's a fact. I was good at what I did. I prepared well, I knew what worked and what didn't, I took it seriously and I was a damn good entertainer. I'm not great at being a housekeeper. I'm not that great at organization (although the kids do get everywhere on time). I can't stay on top of maintenance and bills to save my life. But I can rock the socks off an audience.

I would love to be able to perform again. The cruel, hard fact of the matter is that I'm getting too old. Oh, I'm pretty much as good as ever. Let me work out my voice a bit and I can get back into stage shape. But audiences want young and hot. As much as I want to believe that I am that, I'm not. At least I'm not young any more. ;-) Could I get gigs? Maybe. Would they be gigs that I would want? Maybe not. Since I've been "gone" for over a decade, where would I fit in? Do I still have "it"? And, more importantly, am I willing to work my butt off to get back into the game that may have changed so much that I can't play it any more?

Sigh. It's a lot to think about.

There is a new game. There's a new stage; a new medium. You may laugh, but I invite you to think deeply about it. My new platform is the internet. I use Twitter, Facebook and blogging as my means of creative expression. I am no longer a live performer (at least full-time), but I do engage an audience regularly.

I invite you to read this blog post by Amanda Palmer*. She is an amazing performance artist/songwriter/poet/ukelele goddess. (Just FYI, there is colorful language so be warned.) When I read this post, I was just beginning to see that I had been using Twitter, Facebook and blogging as a substitute for being on stage. I noticed that random people (not strangers, mind you, but people with whom I am not close) would come up to me at church or in the grocery store and tell me that they enjoyed reading about Buddy's latest exploit, or they would ask me how my dad was, or just tell me that they always look forward to reading what I have to say. Amanda's post hit the nail on the head for me - I'm using these forms of social media as a form of performance. I am using them as art.

I started blogging as a way to keep friends and family informed on what was going on in my life and to record the kids' milestones. It's become so much more. I find my thought processes are similar to what they were when I was writing sketch comedy - I am more observant and I actively think about events in terms of how I'm going to relate them in words. I find myself thinking about my "audience" and the voice of my tweets. It's strange, but it's also liberating. I CAN have an audience. I CAN perform. I CAN be creative. My life has changed and so has my means of expression. It's not the same, but can we ever keep things the same?

In keeping with my rule of not making New Year's resolutions, I will set a goal. My goal for this year is to actively explore the internet and social media as an art form. I want to experiment. I want to expand. I want to actively seek an audience.

Are you on board? Will you help me with encouraging words and with gentle criticism? Will you let me know that you are out there and are reading? I have to admit that I'm better on Twitter than I am at blogging. I seem to think better in 140 character chunks. My Twitter is the same as my blog: Cabin77.

I look forward to what this next year brings.

*I found Amanda Palmer through Neil Gaiman's blog - Neil being one of my favorite authors. I adore Ms. Palmer. Her posts often bring tears to my eyes because she is so passionate and her posts are so heartfelt. I love her view of life and of art. And as a bonus, she has one of the most beautiful smiles ever. I don't always agree with her, but I respect the hell out of her.