May 27, 2010

Random Gripe Session #2

I've had a couple mildly aggravating days at the day job, Blog, so I thought I'd indulge my usual positive self in a little griping.  Just because people should care, here are a few more of my pettest of peeves:

1.  The thermostat double standard in my office.  Now in winter, heaven forfend we should expend precious dollars on heating the place.  No no, we are Budget Conscious and Green-Spirited.  Chah, right.  As soon as it hits 80 degrees out, the A/C is cranked to the frigid level.  My guess why, and see if you don't agree with me, is that all the thermostats here are controlled by males.  They are fine in the winter with an office that is 68 degrees.  But let it be 76 around here and they're sweating.  Budget Conscious?...Green-Spirited?  In a pig's eye, Blog.

Fortunately I am blessed to be a rare individual with both a door that closes and a window that opens.  So I counteract the chill air blasting from my A/C vent with hot air from outside.  Yesterday I got it up to 77 in there and was nice and comfy.  One of the guys came in and said my office was a sauna.  I laughed, just like they used to laugh at me in my snowmobile-suit-esque attire during winter in my former office.

2.  Cats who don't respect the carpeting.  Now Pookie and Cody are pretty well-behaved in this regard.  Particularly Cody, who along with his countless other virtues (yes, I am smitten with the you noticed) very rarely pukes.  No, I speak of Selke, who along with being the Champion Vommer of the Greater Milwaukee Area, now has taken to pooping in one spot in the studio.  Fortunately she doesn't pee (yet) and her gifts are the sort that are easy to clean up, but STILL, Selke! 

I know a person takes certain risks when bringing animals into the home.  I know you can't expect cats to put their toys away, not be completely in the way if you are working on something, or sleep on the one article of clothing or piece of paper that you'd like to get at.  But really, hard would it be if you must barf or poop to do it on the laminate or tile floors?  Why must you do #2 on fibers?  And why must you vom either on fibers or expensive electronic equipment?  Here's a REALLY radical idea:  the litter box!  Any of the three of them!

3.  People who dawdle at the green arrow.  We have a saying in our family:  "Look, dude, it's not going to get any greener or pointier."  If there's any chance that the people waiting behind you are not going to have time to turn left before that arrow is gone, you have a moral obligation to focus on the task at hand and GO.  That rule about car lengths you learned in driver's ed also applies here:  one car length for every 10 mph.  And turning cars are going between 10 and 20 mph, so those four car lengths you allowed were completely inappropriate.

I'm also bugged by tailgaters and people who won't let you merge or people who don't yield when they are supposed to.  All that stuff is selfish and risky.  But the green arrow problem is not risky--if you miss the light it will DEFINITELY cost you time.  It's not hard to care about the people behind you getting to their destinations as quickly as possible. 

Look, I'm not unreasonable.  If you're the only person waiting to turn left, take all the time you want.  Heck, sit there and let it turn red if you want, I don't mind.  In fact, I really think you should.

4.  Leaving doors and drawers ajar.  Just ask Davie how much this bugs me (and how little it bugs him, LOL).  I guess I am always bugged by illogical stuff, and it seems to me it's actually harder to leave things ajar than close them.  I mean, don't you have to consciously make yourself stop short in your closing motion?  If you close the thing all the way, the fact that its shut is an easy guide to stopping.  But if you want to leave it open a bit, you have to calculate the shortfall, don't you?

In our house the ajar problem has ramifications other than esthetics ones.  A drawer that is ajar demands that Cody open it if at all possible, and steal the contents.  He has lost my retainer a couple of times this way.  I wish he didn't have such an obsession with things that have my DNA on them, but what can I say, the cat is devoted.  (Please ignore the way I always spin his flaws into assets.  Thank you.)

5.  Telemarketers who keep calling every day even though now I have a Blackberry and don't answer if it doesn't recognize the caller.  This is insane.  No, really:  The definition of insanity is repeating the same act and expecting a different outcome.  This same principle holds true for the salespeople who call me at work and get put into my voice mail by the receptionist over and over.

Sometimes I'm sorely tempted to actually pick up and yell, "Look, what part of your past experience makes you think I'm actually going to answer your call?!?!"  But you see the problem with that, Blog.

Okay, time to turn the Randometer from "GRIPES" and over to "ANTICIPATED THRILLS."  In that category:  This weekend at our Memorial Sunday Cookout, at long last I am debuting The Neverending Ubiquitous Patio Party Playlist!  I even made this way cool sign to post.  Because I'm lame like that, and proud of it, Blog.

I feel better already, how 'bout you?

May 25, 2010

Rock Band, Race Horse, Porn Star

Hey Blog, you and I both know the latest craze at Magic House aka chez us:  playing "Rock Band, Race Horse, Porn Star"!  Well, our own special version of that beloved game.  So let's teach the readers how to play!

You need two people, so grab your mate, a friend, or any handy anthropomorphized creature with a name like Blog here.  Decide which of you is Player 1 and which is Player 2.

Blog:  I'll be Player 1, Diana!

Cool, then I'll be Player 2.  For the first round, Player 1 thinks of a descriptive word, and Player 2 thinks of a noun.  Keep your ideas to yourselves until both of you are ready!  Then Player 1 says his word and Player 2 says hers.  The combination of words is either....wait for it....

Blog:  A rock band, race horse or porn star!

Exactly!  So the two of you discuss, which is more appropriate for the combination of words you thought up!  Okay, let's demonstrate.  Blog, think of your word and I'll think of mine.  I'm ready!

Blog:  Me too!

As Player 1, Blog speaks first.  Go ahead, Blog.

Blog:  "Turbo"!

And my word was "snack."  Together that makes "Turbo Snack."  So what do you think...rock band, race horse or porn star?

Blog:  Works dandy for a race horse.  Although pretty hilarious for a rock band.

I agree.  For a porn star...well, yikes, let's not even go there with a name like "Turbo Snack"!  Oy vay!  Anyway, see how fun?  Now you'll notice Blog kind of spun the game in favor of race horse by using a descriptive word that implies quickness.  Player 1 can also spin in favor of porn star, by choosing certain descriptive words.

Blog:  Like "creamy" or "concrete."

Fine examples, Blog.  Now imagine if Player 2 had picked "kiss" or "screwdriver."  So it really makes the game more fun if you just seize on the first word that comes to mind and go with that.  Let's try again.  For Round 2, Player 2 thinks of the descriptive word and Player 1 thinks of the noun.  I'm ready.  You ready, Blog?

Blog:  Ready!  I say "bitchin'" because that word was really funny last night on "The Big Bang Theory" when used in connection with the theory of relativity!

Love it, Blog!  And I say "igloo."  Which gives us "Bitchin' Igloo"!  What do you think?

Blog:  Obviously an awesome band name.  Let's try it out once.  "Say, is that great new song by Bitchin' Igloo, 'Love Harpoon,' out on iTunes yet?"

Works nicely, Blog!  And I daresay, Love Harpoon would be a decent porn star name too.  So, readers, see how fun Rock Band, Race Horse, Porn Star is?  Not only that, but it brings you and your loved ones closer together as you share in an activity you both enjoy.  Just another life enhancement offered to you by the blog. 

Now go forth and play, readers!  And if you and your friend come up with any good ones, be sure to post in the comments so we can all enjoy!

May 24, 2010

Stuff I bizarradore, Volume 3

Blog, you remember how Julie Andrews tells us when we're sad, we should think about our favorite things, right?  Well, today is therefore a good day for bizzaradores, because the series finale of Lost left me feeling pretty dang blue.  Not sayin' I didn't love it, 'cause I sure did.  Just sayin', well...Big Fat Sigh.  So, without further ado, some nice, cheering stuff I bizarradore:

Hockey player toughness

Yesterday was hardly a total bummer, Blog.  While we lost a favorite TV series, we gained an NHL Western Conference Champion.  The Magic House fave hockey team, the Chicago Blackhawks, swept the San Jose Sharks in four games to earn a berth in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 18 years.  (The last time they won the Cup, Davie was 11 days old.)  One of the game's heroes was Duncan Keith, who besides having one of the most awesome names ever, is probably the team's best defenseman.  Duncan got hit in the face by a puck and lost seven teeth, one of which he almost choked on.  He missed seven minutes of the game.  Only seven minutes.  Only in hockey do you see that kind of pain tolerance and dedication.  Read how nonchalant Duncan was about it all on this hilarious report from the Chicago Sun-Times.

People who read the blog even when there are plenty of other things to be doing

I spent an inordinate about of time on yesterday's post, Blog, when I should have known it was a beautiful May Sunday when the last thing the twelve people who read this blog would feel like devoting time to.  (Oy, I've ended two sentences with prepositions in this post...I really am losing it.)  So I wanted to give a shout out to those devoted fans and followers who actually read our terribly non-insightful ravings on days like that.  Free cuddles with Cody to any one of you anytime you show up at Magic House.

Tiny food

In my perusings as a polymer clay artist, I occasionally come upon one of those groovy people who specialize in tiny, doll-size food. Sometimes I really can't believe their talent. Take, for example, these ridonkulously perfect itty bitty cheeses and crackers. You know the artist has done well when you really, really want to eat the lilliputian stuff. You can see more mini-foods here.

Matthew Morrison singing the national anthem

I'm not sure that in his role as Mr. Schue on "Glee," Matt is getting to show off the full range of awesomeness of which his pipes are capable.  (See, I managed to not end with a prepo there, Blog.  And total awkwardness ensued.)  However, in this anthem sing from the Mets/Yankees game, you get the drift.  Wow.  Is it unpatriotic to want to swoon over "The Star Spangled Banner"?

Pizza with fig spread, prosciutto and gorgonzola

This was the treat daughter Manzi and boyfriend Nate prepared for our Lost Finale gathering of three, and it was so yummy it really soothed the sting of the occasion.  Our readers can whip it up themselves easily:  just a thin coat of fig spread on a pre-crisped thin crust, topped with bits of prosciutto and crumbles of gorgonzola, then baked a bit more to melt the cheese.

Ben Linus

I've said it before, I'll say it again, and I certainly must say it the day after bidding him farewell:  I love Ben.  He's so much more than just the most beat-up character in TV history.  He's so easy to love as well as to fear, hate, pity and lust after.  (I don't give a crap about that prepo, Blog--I'm in mourning, gol' dang it!)  How did you manage that, Lost writers Damon and Carlton?  How can you be so amazing, Michael Emerson?  How am I going to get along with you, Benjamin Linus? 

Okay, Blog, okay...I'm not going to cry again, here.  Ben and his fellow Losties will live on in our hearts 4evah, and that's what really matters.  Let's sing another rousing chorus of "Here Come the Hawks" and keep those chins held high!

May 23, 2010

Perfect patio life, even on the cheap

Just ask Davie; I'm ridonkulously obsessed with outdoor living.  Why?  Two words: Wis. Consin.  Sorry, Blog, that was pretty bad.  But think about it:  We live in one of the most beautiful states in the nation, but have to put up with snow and cold from November to April.  No wonder I have the proverbial Royal Cow when 70s temps arrive.  And no wonder I'm obsessed with our patio.

We found our condo in February of 2003, and even the gray skies and several inches of snow did not prevent me from recognizing how awesome our patio was.  It's not large:  it's a quarter oval of 150-200 square feet.  And it's not like those spaces you see on "The Outdoor Room," with expensive furnishings, a stone floor, and a fish pond.  But it has a couple really great things going for it:  total privacy due to the hedge, and the beauty and shade of an overhanging maple tree canopy.

In my humble opinion, you don't have to be a millionaire to enjoy paradise-like outdoor living.  There are a few key elements to making the most of whatever you have, Blog, and of course I'm here to share.

Thing 1, naturally, is flora.  Like the flora you see above and to the left, which are actually in our perennial bed on the other side of our house.  When I was little, in the summertime we had a family ritual.  My parents called it "touring the estate," and it typically happened when my dad got home from work or after supper.  We would just stroll around our house and check out all the gardens.  You can tour the estate even if all you have is one flowerbed.  I think one flowerbed is about all this inept gardener can handle, but it's fun trying out different perennials to see which will survive the Wondergeddon that is Wisconsin winters.  I'm really pulling for this spiderwort we just put in.  It has such fun yellow leaves and exotic-y blooms.

But we're supposed to be talking patios, Blog.  I say, get yourself a bunch of plant stands and as many patio plants as you can possibly afford.  Our array this year cost a fairly typical $200, which works out to a couple bucks a day--well worth it for the joy they bring.  Plus, you can defray your cost by asking for patio plants for Mother's Day like I did this year.  That's how I snagged this beautiful dish garden you see in closeup below.  I just adore the many shades of green and white, and the great variety of shapes and textures.  Whoever planted this one (at Home Depot) knows whereof s/he dishes.

I bizarradore dish gardens, Blog.  I guess because they showcase the variety of flora we enjoy here on Planet Earth, on a very small scale.  There are as many colors in the leaves of this dish garden to the right as there are in the blossoms.  Oh, and speaking of variety, let me point out the plant stand here.  I really love this one, and got it on Super-Duper-Multiple-Discount last year at Kohls.  Being on the lookout for cheap, awesome plants stands is a fun hobby in and of itself.  Garage sales, late season discounts...there are lots of ways to get yourself nice stuff.

I should mention right now, Blog, the cool fact that I am writing this post on the patio!  Another thing to keep in mind for Perfect Patio Living is technology (an optional but beneficial Thing).  Nature and tech are not opposed, as I am proving right now:  without our wireless network and my netbook, Coraline, I'd have to be indoors doing this!  Hells to the no, Blog!  If you have a network and a laptop, your patio living just got even better.  Let's toast that idea with another dish garden!

Please note how we dolled up a commonplace wood plant stand with a rock mat.  Obsessed as I am with rocks indoors, I certainly like to use them outdoors too.  In fact, I incorporated some big art glass chunks in my new hens-and-chicks dish garden you see below.  Yeppers, Blog, I actually made this one myself, in a way cool birch basket we had.  You can see that rocks are Thing 2 about a cool patio.

And Thing 3 is a water feature.  I can't emphasize enough the difference it makes having the soothing sound of splashing water a part of your patio ambiance.  You don't have to put in a waterfall (although if I could I would, Blog).  All it takes is an inexpensive table-sized fountain, like you can get for maybe 25 bucks at all kinds of places.  If you want to go bigger, we saw a bunch on sale at Stein's this weekend, in the $100-200 range.  Our fountain is a one-of-a-kind art piece that was the item I treated myself to with our wedding gift money, found at a shop in Door County, Wisconsin.

Now this is just a personal thing, but we've found the patio is a great place to get whimsical.  That's Thing 4:  whimsy.  We have a Whimsical Sculpture Garden, Blog, and most of the items in it were bought for less than $5 apiece over the years.  Our latest addition is this $3 moose, which rather than being under the hedge with the other sculptures, is using his rain gauge as a vase.

While we're up on the tabletop, let's talk about Thing 5: furnishings.  These days people are going pretty nuts with the outdoor furniture, and I would too if I had the mega-bucks.  But really, a quality umbrella table with four chairs is all you need.  We've had ours six years and it's still good to go.  You can add on more seating as the budget permits.  Oh, and one other must, which I hardly need mention:  a grill.

You'll see some more whimsy in my artsy shot below:  that's Lisa-Bird you see in the background.  Of course it's key to name all your Whimsical Sculptures.

And no discussion of whimsy would be complete without mentioning our cat-birdhouse sculpture, seen here with Cody.  Yesterday Codes knocked that fork loose and you can imagine he freaked himself out a little bit. Speaking of Cody, I have to say it helps to improve the quality of your patio living if you can employ some fauna (Thing 6) with your flora.  The participation of our cats definitely makes one feel more a part of nature.  Below you see Selke and Alice respectively, au naturel as they say.  Cats are great at creating a chillin' mood, but dogs will do in a pinch, too.

A few other things that can enhance patio living:  An iPod with speaker(s) and a kickass playlist like my "Neverending Ubiquitous Patio Party Playlist."  A simple radio broadcasting a baseball game.  A thermometer and a clock.  Candles.  Hanging patio lights.  And last but not least, a fabulously stocked bar like we have here at Magic House.

I'm not sure, Blog, if our readers stuck with this entire long post.  But that's okay, I mostly did it for us.  There are going to be days ahead when it'll be nice to come back here and remember when the patio wasn't in Snow Shutdown Mode...and look forward to the next season of patio enjoyment.  Wisconsin may have long winters, but here's the nice thing about it:  summer always shows up again eventually.

Let's close with a little video tour of the patio (taken earlier, so you'll note a few subtle changes)....

May 19, 2010

Blog interviews the Kitchen Armadillo

Today Blog is back with one of his spectacularly exclusive interviews (spectacularly exclusive because no one else on the planet even believes his interviewees are for real). So, without further adieu, meet the newest member of our household: the Kitchen Armadillo!

Blog: And after all, what kitchen is complete without an armadillo?

K.A.: Where I come from, not a one, Senor Blog!

Blog: And tell us where you do hail from, Kitchen Armadillo.

K.A.: From the Great Southwest, Blog…Route 66!

Blog: A plastic armadillo bank from Route 66, imagine that.

K.A.: Boy howdy, not the tiniest speck of irony there, that’s a fact. Anyway, I was bought from one of them dandy gift shops that flank the Mother Road, by Diana’s daughter Katie.

Blog: Ah yes…we heard all about that 4,500-mile trek o’ fun that Katie enjoyed with her boyfriend, Chris. I’m sure she felt you’d be a fine thank-you gift for Momzi and Davie, in return for their catsitting services.

K.A.: Me ‘n’ some fine Route 66 coffee, I hear tell. Anyway, I was chose outta all them fine rememberances like tomahawks ‘n’ arrowheads ‘n’ even the plastic dinosaurs with their fancy hand painting ‘n’ pointy teeth. And the rubber snakes, of course. Yer rubber snakes are as plenty-full on the Six-Six as squished skeeters on a windshield.

Blog: Swell. And you were well received, I take it, having been placed in the kitchen right next to our long-loved Kitchen Lion.

K.A.: Yeppers, right there on the toaster oven and proud to be there. And contrary to the belief of one Mister Professor Sno W. Caps and all his puffery, it ain’t so bad being atop that toaster oven. Ain’t no hotter than the New Mexico desert on a fine July day, I’ll tell the world.

Blog: Beware of melty paws, Kitchen Armadillo.

K.A.: We armadillos are melty resistant, Blog. Gotta be.

Blog: I’m sure. So, do you miss Route 66?

K.A.: A bit, a bit, I’ll admit to it. But at the same time, I was always a small duck in a big pond out there, if you get my meanin’. Awful lotta big stuff on Route 66, makes a regular-sized critter like me feel as ordinary as a sneeze in a dust storm.

Blog: We did see some of Katie’s photos from the trip, and you’re right about that, Kitchen Armadillo. Like that monster blue whale!

K.A.: That’s a big one! That’s a mighty big one! Makes me want to ball right up in a ball, seeing that pitchur!

Blog: Well, if I weren’t non-corporeal, I’d be tempted to ball up too.

K.A.: So you see how a critter’d get one of them im-feely-orietty complexes! Everybody and his cousin Slim hops off the highway to see that big thing. But put a plastic armadillo bank on the side o’ the road and them cars just zip on by.

Blog: I see what you mean.

K.A.: Don’t have to be a big critter, either. Just make some big thing and out come the cam’ras. Like them big ole arrows. Arrow can’t hop or roar or even ball up like an armadillo, but make it big enough and you got yourself a spot on the map, Senor Blog.

Blog: So you’re saying size matters.

K.A.: Oh yeah, on the Mother Road it do. Not so much about the HO trains and dollhouses there, Bucko. Teeny tiny maybe they got out East, but on 66, that stuff is as rare as pink on a mule deer.

Blog: I confess I kind of like the dinosaurs.

K.A.: You ‘n’ every pole cat from Delaware! Dinos, dinos, everybody wants to see the dinos! Even worse since ’85.

Blog: What happened in ’85?

K.A.: That movie with that runty bow-tied critter. Pee Wee Herman. Big splash for the big dinosaurs on Route 66. If I had a grub for every time some tourist said “Large Marge sent me,” well, you could call ME Large Marge.

Blog: Well, it seems to me this is a bit of a sore spot. Might be better to look to the future. I’m sure you’ll be getting a fresh start in the kitchen, and you can be sure there’s nothing huge living in there.

K.A.: Ya know, that’s been real refreshin’. The Kitchen Lion’s mighty small for a lion, and Proff Snowcaps ain’t real big for a snowman neither. Not that I ever seen a snowman or snow in the part of the Road where I lived.

Blog: Oh, it’s coming, don’t you worry.

K.A.: And them three cats are pretty much cat-sized. I like cats. They know how to ball up, which is a skill I believe all fine animules oughta know.

Blog: I’m thinking that pointing out how it’s impossible for a molded plastic armadillo to ball up might be a mistake…

K.A.: What’s that you say, Blog?

Blog: Not a thing. So, have you and the Kitchen Lion found some things in common, sitting there together on the toaster oven?

K.A.: Well, we did find out we both started out in a big ole bin o’ other lions or armadillos. The gift shop scene. Both been pawed over by young’uns with hands all sticky from eatin’ peanut butter cups in the car. Both been on the bottom of the pile, both been on the top. Both got similar phil-oserfies about life.

Blog: Really? What’s your philosophy about life?

K.A.: Life is like a big ole bin o’ plastic souvenirs: if a sticky-fingered kid don’t pick you out today, just ball up and wait fer tomorrow.

Blog: Profound, Kitchen Armadillo, very profound.

K.A.: Oh, I got more profoundities than the Mother Road got giant dinos, Senor.

Blog: Well, welcome to the family, and keep those paws safe.

May 17, 2010

TV Mash-Up Party!

Blog, in honor of starting a fresh new week, I thought why not have a party? Just because it’s Monday we shouldn’t be festive? Hells no. So, in the great tradition of our fabulous mash-up parties, today we’re going to do TV show mash-ups! Wahoo!

Grab some cheese puffs and an amaretto stone sour, Blog, and listen to how we play: Imagine combining two TV shows as disparate in theme as possible, and write a fun episode description for the ensuing result. Upload to the online guide of your favorite cable or satellite TV affiliate and enjoy! Well, unless you’re a hacker of supreme skills, you’ll have to skip that last part. We’ll start with Davie’s idea (which started it all, so blame him), and take it from there.

“House Hunters” / “V”

Tyler and Lisa elect to join the “Live Aboard Program” and find a place together on the Visitors’ Mother Ship. Will they find a home with all the amenities they’re looking for?

“So You Think You Can Dance” / “Kate Plus Eight”

Auditions for the Top 20 continue; fresh off her gig on “Dancing with the Stars,” Kate Gosselin coaches the twins and sextuplets in the hopes they can flout the age requirement and compete.

“Clean House” / “American Pickers”

Niecy and the gang find a couple in rural Oklahoma whose marriage is collapsing under the weight of their hoarding of bicycles and oil cans. Mike and Frank intervene in the nick of time by buying their entire yard sale.

“Mythbusters” / “True Blood”

Adam and Jamie test the myth that a shapeshifter of average human size can turn himself into a fly; the Build Team experiments with how much vampire blood is safe to use to cure a gunshot wound.

“Breaking Bad” / “Bobby Flay Throwdown”

Bobby takes on the expert team of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman to determine who can cook the best crystal meth. Can he concoct a recipe that will please like the boys’ “blue meth”?

“Glee” / “Law and Order”

Mr. Schue takes the glee club on a field trip to Broadway, only to find them mixed up in the investigation of who was responsible for axing a famous crime show. The kids perform covers of Jerry Orbach’s hits including “Try to Remember” and “Lullaby of Broadway.”

“HDTV’s Design Star” / “Deadliest Catch”

The contestants have three days to do complete makeovers on the crab boats, while the deadly waters of the Bering Sea and wildly conflicting tastes of the captains threaten the survival of décor and designers alike.

“House” / “Ace of Cakes”

The Charm City Cakes crew is bummed when Duff succumbs to a mysterious disease that makes him gobble gum paste. House suddenly realizes the cause while making cracks about Geoff’s amazing Princeton Plainsboro Hospital cake.

“Holmes on Homes” / “Lie to Me”

When Mike Holmes recruits the services of the Lightman Group to help naïve Canadian homeowners, Cal helps a retired schoolteacher prove faulty insulation led to the death of her schnauzer.

“Mad Men” / “Lost” / “30 Rock”

Don Draper’s secret past as Dick Whitman is threatened when Jacob travels back to 1963 to urge him to admit his life is a lie. Ben turns the donkey wheel and the resulting time disruption propels Don to an alternative timeline in 2010 where he is now a handsome but dopey pediatrician named Drew Baird.

C’mon, readers, join in the TV mash-up party! We know you have an idea or two, so share them in the comments. Or challenge Blog and I to link your two fave shows in an awesome mash-up!


Glad to see Brewster Rockit is getting in on the TV mash-up fun:

May 14, 2010

Amazon, wtf were you thinking?

Blog, seeing as I have had a continuingly nightmarish week, I am happy to hand over the reigns today and let you have a turn at running the show. So feel free to vent about whatever is on your mind.

Thanks, Diana--I appreciate your handing over the blog to my non-corporeal control. Because I do want to vent about something, and that’s the fact that we now have pretty reliable proof that you were right all along about the peeps at Amazon being crazy. Referencing what they did about ebooks. I may be merely an extension of your psyche and therefore imaginary (with a masculine vibe, of course), but I agree with you it was nuts.

Here’s the deal, readers. Most of you probably remember the launch of the Kindle, Amazon’s proprietary ereader. You may even have been in on the commentary about how unattractive the device was (“bad 80s design” was more or less the consensus). I don’t so much care about that, not being exactly a looker myself. (Like most non-corporeal being, I don’t look like anything.)

What I don’t like is the stuff about which you may not be aware. Which is that Amazon was determined to take over the whole world of ebooks. First--and it was like a year and a half before the Kindle was released--they stopped selling the hundreds of thousands of pdf and lit format ebooks they had offered readers for years. Just took them all off the site. Then they made the Kindle so it would only read one format of ebook: the Kindle format. Authors had to get their books in Kindle format if they wanted them offered to readers. And if readers wanted to read them, they had to shell out $400 for a Kindle device.

At the time this struck us (well, it struck Diana, seeing as I was not yet even an imaginary entity at that time) as just un-American. Sure, in the course of free enterprise, companies strive for market share. But when they strive for monopolies, that crosses a line. Without competition, there’s no innovation. And also, no disincentive to high prices like that $400 tag on the Kindle.

Meanwhile, it really sucked in another way. Diana’s ebooks, particularly her first collection of erotic romance stories, Soulful Sex, were really selling well. That book was far and away her bestseller, and in fact was in the top ten ebook romances for over 18 months. Then one day: gone. Just so Amazon could try take over the market.

And the thing was, Amazon was making money from all those hundreds of thousands of ebooks. They took a huge loss when they abolished them all. Not only un-American, but pretty dumb business-wise.

So, Diana’s books are out for Kindle now as well, and they have been selling okay but certainly not like back in the good old days. Anyone can read a pdf or lit ebook via free software, on their computer or smart phone or certain ereaders. Only people willing to shell out the big bucks for a Kindle can read a Kindle book.

A couple years later, being last fall, Barnes & Noble launched their own ebook program. But B&N’s approach has been carried out in pretty much just the fashion Diana and I would have done it. They have a nice looking device called the Nook, priced at $259 (which, by the way, is the current price of the Kindle--wow, competition works like I said!).  But meanwhile, the software to read Nook books is free and works on other devices like PCs, Macs and smartphones. Do you know what this means? Anyone can buy and read Nook books!

And I’m here today to tell you a very interesting fact: A few months after the launch of Diana’s Nook books, they are already selling at the same rate as they did in their heyday on pre-Kindle Amazon. Imagine that. All those sales could have stayed with Amazon over the years, but they’ve lost them to Barnes & Noble.

And even more interesting: Diana’s print book sales have also shifted over in B&N’s favor! That’s really amazing.

Personally, I feel quite vindicated, and I’m guessing Diana does too. A little greed is a good thing, as it motivates good results like quality products, dedicated customer service, reasonable pricing, etc. But too much greed backfires in the end and really gets you bad press.

Like this press.

Sure, we still shop at Amazon. It so often has the best prices around, and no use biting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Still, product and prices being equal, we are going to shop elsewhere.

And on a more positive note, major kudos (SALUTE! “Major Kudos!”) to Barnes & Noble for doing ebooks right. And if you want to try out a good Nook book and you enjoy spicy romance, right now you can get Diana’s bestseller Soulful Sex for only $1.68 here. Sweet.

This is Blog, signing off from the soapbox! Diana will be back for ya, next entry.

May 12, 2010

Define yourself

Gonna be a bit serious today, Blog. It’s been that kind of a week.

I’ve lived long enough to observe my own life for awhile, as well as the lives of others in my circle of the world. And at this point I think it’s valuable to step back once in awhile and define yourself.

That is, think about who you are as a unique individual, and what you bring both to the world in general and to the specific people in your life. Each of us has gifts and opportunities given to us so that we might make a mark, however big or small, on the story of humanity. Sometimes we get so caught up in the troubles of the moment that we forget this big picture, and its importance.

You don’t have to be Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama to have significance. The person you are, the things you do, the choices you make always matter at least to the people near to you. My point, Blog, is that we all make a difference, which is why we ought to pay attention to how we define ourselves.

So I thought I make some lists to help me focus on this issue, and I invite our readers to do likewise.


A mom, a wife, a daughter: Like most people, I have to make my familial relationships my highest priority. Very simply, that’s because my family depends on me and I on them.

A woman of advancing age and experience: I also look upon myself as someone who can share a little wisdom with others, especially other women. By doing that I make the lessons I’ve learned have greater importance rather than merely benefitting me.


I entertain. I have been given some gifts, particularly the ability to write but also a knack for making people laugh. So I look on it as a duty to bring entertainment to others. A happy duty, for it brings great satisfaction.

I create. I’m one of those people who makes new things, things that weren’t there before. These creations bring more beauty and pleasure into the world, just as the creations of others do for me.

I enjoy. Sometimes what you take from life defines you as much as what you give. It’s important to me to enjoy as much as I can: people, experiences, things. My enjoyment helps to validate what others give and create.

I care. I’m not some big philanthropist or devoted volunteer, but I do have a gift for empathy. Even when I barely know someone, I feel it matters to provide them sympathy, understanding, input and a little support.


I love my family: my husband, daughters and dad. Being close to them (emotionally and hopefully physically) is my top priority.

I love stories. Telling them, reading or hearing or watching them, thinking about them, talking about them. Storytellers of all kinds are the most interesting people to me and I’m honored to be counted among them. I’m no philosopher or theologian, but I believe stories are the key to everything.

I love my home. Travel is fun, but my home means the world to me. I’d rather invest in making it more comfortable and beautiful than spend that money elsewise. I like sharing it with others and making it a haven for my family members and pets. It’s the happiest place on earth to me.

I love creativity in all its forms—the wonders of nature, animal, vegetable and mineral (God’s creation), as well as personal expression (human creation).

I love music and dance. I can’t imagine being completely happy without them.

How does such a list help a person, Blog? Well, I think it helps one focus on one’s values, see what’s really important, and that can really help when you’re trying to make an important decision, choose a path, prioritize your time, and avoid regrets.

And when the story of your own life is over, you’ll be able to look back on it and feel content and at peace, as will those who loved you. What could matter more than that?

May 10, 2010

Ecclesiastical embroidery, huh?

Blog, one of the more unusual experiences I’ve been privileged to enjoy was learning the art of ecclesiastical embroidery. If you had a tangible face, I’m sure I’d see it wax puzzled right about now, Blog. But hang on, here’s how it all went down back in 1979-1982, and what it means for 2010.

And during my story, you’ll learn about these four liturgical stoles that you see here, in the four traditional colors of the liturgical year of the Christian church. (For those of you keeping score, green is for “ordinary time,” the majority of the year; red is for the power of the Holy Spirit, the Pentecost season; purple is for penitential seasons, Lent and Advent; white is for Christmastide, Easter season, certain feast days and weddings.)

My first husband studied for his Masters of Divinity at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. One of the benefits of this was that I was able to partake of the seminary wives’ courses, things like apologetics and dogmatics. Way fun, actually. I also took ecclesiastical embroidery, the art of sewing Christian symbols onto vestments (clothing) and accessories for worship services. I took this class circa 1979, and it was not easy stuff. (By the way, the course is still taking place there these days.)

The difficulty of it is my excuse why it was not until 1982 that I actually finished making these four stoles. Why did I finally get my act together a year after my husband was ordained? All the credit goes to the Milwaukee Brewers. That fall was the team’s glory days, when Robin Yount, Paul Molitor & Co. had their great playoff run. At our parish in rural Fort Dodge, Iowa, I had a lot of time on my hands. So during the MLB post season, while we Milwaukee transplants watched the Brewers ultimately lose in the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, I finished the stoles.

My husband left the ministry some years later, and in our divorce gave me custody of the stoles. They languished in a storage bag for the past two decades. Recently an idea came to me for what to do with these stoles, which took me dozens of hours to embroider (two symbols per stole, Blog) and sew (also very tricky).

Our good friends Liz and Dave are devoted members of a lovely parish, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dousman, Wisconsin. This congregation was founded in 1836, and its first real church, which still stands today and until this year was the sole building of worship for the parish, was built in 1870. That history alone is inspiring.

St. Mary’s takes part in The Haiti Project, a joint effort of the Milwaukee diocese of the Episcopal Church, and has a sister parish in Haiti. I couldn’t think of a cooler home for my stoles than this. So I took these farewell photos of my handiwork and will be donating them to St. Mary’s this weekend. It’s an honor and a privilege, and just thrills me to think they will find new life in a country that certainly needs love and support.

I still think ecclesiastical embroidery is an awesome hobby. If our readers would like to know a little more about the subject, this site has some good information. My stoles are very traditional, making use of ancient Christian symbols, but more contemporary designs are also created using the same techniques.

I’m sure I’m making use of the practice I got during the 1982 MLB playoffs for stuff I still do today, like Herbert G and my sock creatures. Funny how life works, eh Blog?

May 8, 2010

Why "Lost" may be the best TV show ever

Sadly, Blog, in a mere couple of weeks we must say farewell to the Island and its beloved residents after six seasons of gripping stories. And with only four hours and some minutes left, I am inspired to join hundreds/thousands of other people who are reflecting upon the experience of watching this unique TV series.

My comments are made from the point of view of what I am: a storyteller. As such I tend to look for, above all, good plots and character development. And in those categories I am hard pressed to come up with a show that exceeds the levels achieved by Lost. I could name you twenty shows I’ve possibly enjoyed as much, entertainment-wise, over the years. But Lost stands above the rest simply because no other show has tried to do what this one did.

What do I mean? Well, let’s start with the fact that with the series finale only two episodes away, not only do I not have the slightest clue how the show will end, I don’t even know what sort of ending it will be. Typically the end of a story comes down to a couple possibilities. Will the protagonist survive/win true love/achieve his goal/save the day? Normally the question is yes or no, with some suspense as to just how the yes or no will come about.

But Lost is not like any story told on television before. While the survival of the characters is indeed a key question, just as much at issue is the very meaning of everything that has happened to them. The story to date has posed immense philosophical questions about good and evil, fate and free will, life and death. These are not simple issues and, in my opinion, the questions cannot be answered in a clean, factual, standard fashion. The answers are metaphysical ones, undoubtedly best addressed symbolically or mythically, in the manner of Greek philosophy, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell. And I’m quite confident that’s how they will be presented, whatever answers they turn out to be.

Since when does TV attempt to be so ambitious? Hasn’t it always been true that the “Boob Tube” goes for the lowest common denominator, especially when seeking broad appeal? If you were in program management at ABC, would you greenlight a show that explores the deepest secrets of the universe using elements like allegory, secret code, storylines that play havoc with the space/time continuum, concepts from quantum physics, and the complex details of the entire lives of a couple dozen characters?

Nevertheless, that is exactly what Lost has done, and in the process it has become wildly popular and the object of cultish devotion the likes of which we haven’t seen since “Twin Peaks.” It arrived on the scene at the perfect time, just when the idea was catching on that you could supplement TV programming with online enhancements, and just when social media took the place of the office water cooler. The “Lost viewing experience” became a multi-faceted form of entertainment that engaged the imagination like nothing before.

Well, Blog, I say all this is well and good, but to me it’s still all about storytelling. And that to me is this show’s long suit and the bottom-line reason why it will never be forgotten. From the very first episode, which I and many people expected to be “X-Files” meets “Castaway,” the excitement driven by paranormal phenomena and the challenge of survival, Lost quickly proved to be another animal entirely. Its innovative flashbacks focused on telling the individual stories of very large stable of main characters, and each character was unique and fascinating. The mysteries of the Island unfolded bit by bit, but meanwhile we spent an amazing amount of time off the Island, dabbling in the far-flung lives of this intriguing bunch.

The writers of the show did a consistently good job of avoiding clichés. The characters were archetypal (Jack, the group’s shepherd, Sawyer, the scoundrel with good heart, etc.), which is always helpful to meaningful storytelling, but they were never predictable. Best case in point is my favorite character, Ben Linus, who has managed throughout the show’s history to walk a fine line between uber-villain and antihero. How is it possible that we are rooting for a man who committed genocide? And yet he has served as a Good Guy many times and the story of his childhood was painfully poignant. To me he is easily among television’s most complex and compelling characters.

And a case could be likewise made for so many of Lost’s alumni: John Locke, Kate, Sayid, Jack, Sawyer, Hurley, Claire, Charlie, Desmond, and the list goes on. Meanwhile, few shows can boast of such an arsenal of secondary (and even tertiary) characters who truly won our hearts: people like Juliet, Penny, Richard, Daniel, Libby, Miles, Jacob, Dogen, Lapidus, and of course Rose and Bernard. The importance of even the most short-lived character to the viewers is demonstrated by the delight we've experienced as each of them reappeared in the “Sideways” timeline.

And speaking of timelines, how improbable is it that a TV show could succeed with concurrent and sometimes intersecting timelines in present day, the 70s, and an alternate present day? Viewers were certainly confused at times, but not so much that we didn’t enjoy the complexity. Because yet another brilliant talent of the writers was to make this story interesting whether you picked it up halfway through, didn’t follow half the symbolisms and internal references, or put in the effort to figure out every little detail.

I’ve been picking up on the puzzlement of non-Lost viewers as to why we fans are agonizing so much over its imminent conclusion. I hear “My favorite shows have ended before, what’s the big deal with Lost fans?” I’ll attempt to address that question, Blog.

Part of the big deal is that we have been very intimately involved with the Losties, Tailies, Others, Dharma-ites, etc., and the nature of the show has made them more vivid than typical TV characters. It was hard saying goodbye to each Star Trek crew over the years, but it’s not as if we got to see glimpses of their childhoods, struggling marriages, family turmoil, and the very darkest hearts of their conflicted souls. When “Friends” packed it in we waved goodbye to some likeable people whose adventures we’d shared. But on Lost, we’ve spent these six years coming to terms with the cast’s deepest struggles and sharing in their efforts to make sense of life itself.

We’ve also been part of a complex, detailed world chock-full of mysteries and magic, meaning and revelation. Along the way we haven’t been mere observers: we’ve also asked ourselves, very seriously, the same questions the Losties have asked. Why are we here? What does it all mean? Do my choices matter? Is it worth it to side with Good? And what’s going to happen in the end?

Which leads me, Blog, to why the end of this show is such a big deal. Sure, facing TV series finales, we always ask “What’s going to happen in the end?” The thing is, this time we’re really hoping that “the end” will tell us something truly meaningful about “the real end.” Before you accuse me of making television into religion, let me complete my point. Throughout the show, the writers have drawn upon the thoughts of many wise human philosophers, clerics, and scientists. Through the story they’ve explored the key questions that have plagued our species for millennia. Whatever the ultimate answers are on Lost, they will simply be a fresh look, a new interpretation of very ancient ideas, genuine glimpses of the Truth that, in all likelihood, the human mind cannot grasp in its entirety.

All this on a weekly television drama series. Forgive me if I must compare this kind of epic storytelling to the classic works of Homer and Shakespeare. And the fact that television dared to aspire to this level is something we ought to recognize and celebrate. Lost has not been without flaw--it really ran off the rails the first half of the third season, but the writers heeded criticism and turned the remaining three and a half years into a beautifully scripted, captivating saga. Not every episode has been stellar, not every character perfectly-conceived and executed. But the aspirations of the show were so high and so often attained, it’s absolutely remarkable.

Blog, I’m taking an entire box of Kleenex with me for the finale. I’ll be weeping to say goodbye to some very dear friends, none of whom may survive the conclusion. I’ll be weeping at the loss of some of the finest entertainment I’ve enjoyed in my life. And I’ll be weeping at the possibility that it will be a very long time before this caliber of storytelling is seen on television again.

Kudos and thanks to creators Damon Lindelof, J. J. Abrams and Jeffrey Lieber, additional executive producers Bryan Burk, Jack Bender, Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Jean Higgins, Elizabeth Sarnoff and Carlton Cuse, ABC Studios, Bad Robot Productions and Grass Skirt Productions, and the incredible cast and crew of Lost. I’m quite confident your creation with never be forgotten.

May 7, 2010 your fantasies aren't like this?

Blog, even though I broke up with my old blog, aka Erotica with Soul, there were some fun posts we had together over the years.  No, I'm not thinking of cheating on you, Blog.  I'm just sayin'.  So, once in awhile I'd like to share one with our new readers.  This is one such post (from October 2008) that a number of people found pretty interesting at the time:  a peek into my admittedly wack imagination.
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When I was in grade school, a conversation with my best friend led to the discovery that not every child makes up stories for at least thirty minutes every night in bed. I was honestly convinced I was normal until that conversation. But other kids, it seemed, did not make a point of going to bed at least a half hour before they needed to go to sleep, just for the purpose of fantasizing. Sometimes these stories lasted 45 minutes, an hour, and/or ran night after night like continuing soap operas.

As a busy adult I don’t spend quite that much time fantasizing before I fall asleep. And often, this is the time I use for planning for the fiction I’m writing. But sometimes I still do as I did as a little kid and just make up stuff for fun. What kind of stuff? Are you sure you want to know?

Okay, at the risk of revealing what a total weirdo I am, here you go.

I’ve been working on a really great 19th Century, Dickensian tale featuring my current fave celebrity crushes. In it, I’m a 16-year-old homeless orphan girl named Pip. I was living miserably on the streets until, cold and starving, I was found one night by a renowned hero of the “dodgy element” of London, a fellow called Mister House.

Think Fagin meets House M.D.

He has converted an old decrepit workhouse to a clothes making shop/dormitory for homeless kids like me. And instead of training us in pick pocketing like Fagin, Mister House operates the place as a legitimate business. The older kids sew simple clothes, the younger ones do mending jobs and make easy things like handkerchiefs. I happen to have learned from my deceased mom how to embroider, so they set me to work doing monograms.

Mister House is a stern, curmudgeonly taskmaster, but actually much more beneficent than his modern TV doctor equivalent. He uses the profits of the business not to get ahead, but to provide food and shelter to as many kids as he can. He may not show it, but we all know he loves us from his deeds. Naturally he’s just as humorously belligerent as the TV version. And, of course, I’m sweet on him in my girlish way.

All goes well until one day on the streets I encounter a new fellow--or at least, he’s new to me. Handsome, with dark, curly hair and a long black coat, this guy arouses my curiosity right away. He’s a storyteller, and goes around the neighborhood telling tales, mostly to crowds of children. I’m intrigued, but before I can check him out more closely, Mister House intervenes. This stranger is no stranger to him; he’s the Man in the Black Coat, and House’s urchins are forbidden to go near him. Why? No explanation, just orders!

If you can’t guess who plays the role of the Man in the Black Coat, you must be one of my newer friends. :-)  Here's one of Mr. Gaiman's more flattering portraits for you.

Well, one day I’m out wistfully staring at a fairy tale book in a bookshop window, coveting it. Who should appear next to me but the Man in the Black Coat! Before I can escape, he engages me in a fascinating conversation about how I don’t need the book, I have fairy stories, complete with pictures, in my head. I’m enthralled. But then he tells me he knows I belong to Mister House, and understands why I can’t come hear him tell stories to kids in the street.

Which results, of course, in my sneaking out to hear him tell stories. And of course he’s incredible at it and I’m head over heels. Still, I don’t want to disobey Mister House and know there must be a good reason for his command. Oh the conflict! There’s nothing like a fantasy with two charismatic protagonists at odds!

At this point in my fantasy, House M.D. character Dr. James Wilson insisted on joining the cast. Hey, no problem. He plays a wealthy, successful doctor from the upper crust, who also has a heart of gold and therefore provides free care to House’s kids. The two of them are longtime, trusted friends.

So, after my surreptitious spying on the Man in the Black Coat telling stories, I end up lost, and he ends up finding me. You know where this is his rooms, of course. Soon I’m fed, entertained with more tales, and bundled up in bed. Now the innocent Pip, so naïve and trusting, learns why the Man in the Black Coat has a bad rap with Mister House. But the thing is, I don’t mind doing what the Man suggests, because I think he’s super dreamy.

Meanwhile, back at House’s place, my having gone missing has become an issue. But just then, Doctor Wilson arrives, having seen me with the Man and suspecting where I ended up. Mister House expresses his vehemence not to go anywhere near “that vile Gaiman fellow” and recruits Wilson to rescue me.

In the morning he arrives chez Man, and demands my release into his care. The Man in the Black Coat complies in a most genial manner. I’m confused as heck. But the doctor seems very kind. He takes me to his office to make sure I’m okay and talk to me about what’s happened. With amazing candor for the 19th Century, we discuss the issue; I still don’t understand what I may have done wrong and Doctor Wilson tries to enlighten me about the inappropriate nature of the Man’s advances.

He takes me home. I get back to embroidering, musing all the while on my situation. Evening comes and with it our master, who has made an especially big profit on our wares and brought us a feast. Ham, bread, potatoes, carrots, etc. and even a lovely big almond cake--it’s like Christmas. All us kids party it up, but all the while Mister House ignores me. I’m afraid he’s really mad. At long last it’s lights out, and we all curl up on our little pallets. It’s only then that Mister House tells me to come to his study. What will he say? I’m so worried!

And there it is! Can’t you see why I’m eager to go back to bed?

I told my husband about this fantasy and he just shook his head in disbelief. Needless to say, nothing like this goes on in his brain at night.

Now you might say, this is just how it is with writers, we just write stories in bed. But I still think it’s all kind of weird. For example, here we are in London, and Mister House could legitimately speak with a British accent like Hugh Laurie actually does...but he’s American. Why? I have no clue! Meanwhile, it’s not so strange that the Man in the Black Coat has a British accent, on any count (all the years in Minnesota haven’t put a dent in how Gaiman speaks). But it’s really wack that Doctor Wilson is British too, not American.

And I really got excited about that almond cake. Why an almond cake? Who knows?

So truly I am not so deliberate with nocturnal fantasies as I am with story-writing. I would never, in a story, have a character that resembled Neil Gaiman in any way be possessed of a nefarious character like this guy; it’s really sick and wrong. But in large part this whole thing is happening to me, you understand--I’m not totally in control.

Sorry this entry was so long. I caught you up on like a week of stuff here. But yeah, this is what it’s like being me.
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Now, Blog, back to present day:  I'm happy to report that this fantasy continued for many weeks thereafter.  I was engaged to Doctor Wilson, ran away with the Man in the Black Coat for awhile, etc.  But that's all neither here nor there....

I just want to know if there's anyone out there who can relate to my crazy brain!  Click the "right-on" box if you can.  Or comment, even better!