June 30, 2010

Artist of [Undetermined Timeframe] #8: Ethnic Costume Designer Michelle MacDougall-Kaplan

Blog, as you know, I am all about the cool ethnic music and dance. What, you didn’t know? C’mon, flamenco guitar, “The Lion King,” Bollywood! Okay, so I’m not an expert, but I know what I like, and I like belly dancing. That’s why today’s Artist of [Undetermined Timeframe] is my Facebook friend Michelle, who not only dances but makes her own awesome ethnic costumes.

Michelle lives in Sherwood Park, Albert, Canada (which qualifies this post also as a Timbit of Tribute). She shared photos and videos of her dancing on Facebook and I had to learn more about this hobby of hers. And I was just as intrigued about the process of her creating costumes for herself for her recitals. So here’s what Michelle has to tell us about it:

I started my interest in belly dance back in 2005 after meeting some girls who'd just recently joined up and loved it. After seeing them perform I knew I had to give it a try. I’ve been taking actual classes now for about a year and a half and I’ve felt a strong calling to Tribal Fusion, a branch off of the traditional style which is usually danced to strong electro-industrial beats such as Beats Antique and Djinn.

The costume is quite different as well which is what drew me to making my own. While there are many sources to buy tribal fusion costumes, I’ve always wants to make one and this is where we are now. After about nine months of piece-choosing and hand-sewing (with some small help from my sewing machine) my Tribal Fusion costume was born.

I didn’t know when I started this project that this costume would be perfect for the choreography I recently performed, which was to Maduro's Qanundrum and the theme of “Evolution.” With the dark reds, greens and browns it captured the look I was going for, so I am very happy I decided to create my own from scratch.

As for my next project? Who knows.... Only time will tell, but I look forward to the challenge.

So let’s look at what Michelle did to create her beautiful costume, Blog.

For the bra, she incorporated ethnic coins, cowrie shells, chain, and a “kuchi” pendant—quite a project in and of itself. She made a tribal belt to match, and from the leftover fabric and more cowrie shells, fashioned arm cuffs. Her arm-warmers were made from the dollar store. Says Michell, “Yes, being frugal can be creative.” Her fringe belt was also homemade. The “top level tribal belt” sits on top. Understandably, affixing all those shells made her slightly crazy: “I’m going to have nightmares about stitching these little guys on everything!”

Michelle used a number of elements to make her hair clip. It took only ten minutes and she says, “Thank goodness for hot glue!” The ensemble is completed by hair veils, harem pants and skirt.

The final effect is pretty impressive even when she’s standing still. I only wish I could have been in Alberta for the “Cairo Cabaret” in which Michelle performed! At any rate, as cool as it is to get to wear an outfit so gorgeous, it’s even more fun when you made it yourself.

Thanks so much for sharing your unique and ethnically awesome hobbies with us, Michelle!

June 27, 2010

Painting with clay: "Creation"

I did it, Blog!  I did something artist-y!  That is, I created something that I came up with myself, including some new techniques I invented myself.  Woo-hoo, every once in awhile everything comes together.  I can truly say the completion of my "Creation" clay painting was serendipitous from beginning to end.

So here it is, Blog!  What do you think?

Well, I can't say that I didn't have some inspiration for this work.  It was the clay-on-canvas creations of Gera Scott Chandler, whose stuff I just adore.  It never even occurred to me that you could use polymer clay as a "painting" medium till I saw that she had done it.  Seemed like the perfect venue to explore my love of organic colors and textures.  So, I had this idea to use a combination of media on canvas to express the "bursting forth" of some of nature's main building blocks:  sky, sea, sand, rocks, and plant life.

As I recently posted, I love making rocks from polymer clay.  So that was Step 1, and my pal Martha assisted.  I had a nice sackful of rocks ready to go.  Next I sketched the plan on paper, then transferred it to card stock and made templates for the various pieces of clay.  I also sketched it right on the canvas itself, which by the way is 12" by 9".

Step 2 was the creation of what I call "the God engine."  I wanted to create a ball of energy, reminiscent of the sun but somehow more magical-looking.  And Blog, it really had to look magical.  I wanted it deep and hot and glowing and sparkling, like you'd imagine the origin of the universe would have to be.  I had a theory of how to achieve this but hadn't seen anything quite like it. 

I started by cutting a hole in the canvas, then made a shallow cup of swirled colors of clay.  I embellished the surface with gold and copper Perfect Pearls embossing paint so it looked like copper or bronze.  The trick then was to layer UTEE (ultra thick embossing enamel) with layers of glitter and metallic leaf flakes to create a solid pool of glittering depth.  I did three layers, baking each one.  I have to say, I was amazed at the result:  even better than I dreamed it could be!

For Step 3 I made the sky layer, blending blue and white clay to suggest a slightly hazy summer sky.  The trick was to have the colors swirl into the God engine so the effect would suggest the sky (and other elements) pouring out of it.  Step 4 was the sand layer, using Premo "marble" clay (white with flecks) mixed with tan, and incorporating tan and black craft sand.  To add to the texture I lightly pressed the surface with the rough green side of a scrubber sponge.

For Step 5 I created a mottled blend of two greens and a brown and laid that down on the canvas.  With the sand and the land in place, it was time to put down my rocks!  They are placed half on the sand area and half on the land area.  To insure the rocks would stay in place, I "glued" them with colorless liquid clay.

For Step 6, I used some mixed moss I got from Michaels' floral department.  I glued it down with liquid clay, and then gave the whole mess a good soak with the stuff, pressing it down a bit to flatten.  I used some leftover clay from the land layer to make the long leaves, and affixed them with more liquid clay to the moss.  (I was really pleased how firm and secure this technique made the flora area after baking.  Awesome.)

Step 7 was the sea, and I used I technique I invented on my Beach Box project a year or two ago.  I used a swirled blend of dark green, teal, and pearlized dark blue for the water.  Then I blended white, pearl, and translucent clays to make the "foam."  Step 8, of course, was baking, 25 minutes at 270 degrees.

When the piece had cooled a bit, I did the final Step 9, which was glazing the water area (foam included) with two coats of Future.

And as the French magicians say when they make a lemon merigue pie appear out of nothing...voila!  And like I said, Blog, I couldn't believe how (a) everything came together in less time than I ever dreamed (about seven hours), and (b) the picture turned out even better than the what-I-thought-was-highly-optimistic concept in my head.  How often does that happen? 

It was clearly time to celebrate with Davie on the patio with a glass of Roaring Dan's Rum and Sprecher Diet Cream Soda with a dash of bitters!  Yay!

So not everything I do comes out like the three-quarters complete doll that lies in my cupboard now like a scary apparition from Hades, Blog.  Once in awhile the muses and whimsical forces beyond the beyond all come together to make something lovely happen.

I like it!  I even think I bizarradore it!

June 25, 2010

Bet your fantasies aren't like this

Blog, I'm indulging in another rerun from my former blog.  Back in October 2008 it got a great response, so I hope our new readers will enjoy.  And for those of you who read this post in its former incarnation, take heart...just like the clip shows on TV, I'm throwing in new material at the end to make it worthwhile.  The subject:  the ridiculosity of my fantasies, illustrated by example.

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.

Lately 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 new here. :-)  [2010 Diana says, pssst, it's author Neil Gaiman.]

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 going...to 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.

Oh the suspense!  Read on after the break...

June 24, 2010

Rocks made out of wood: Sue Mersman

Blog, this past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Lakefront Festival of the Arts.  It was downright incredible to see how much talent was showcased at the event this year.  I loved about 90% of what I laid eyes on.

Among my favorite pieces at this invitation-only art show was the work you see above by marquetry artist Sue Mersman. Had I a bunch of cookie jar money I surely would have bought it. (Unfortunately, our cookie jar Professor Snowcaps has nothing in him but cookies.) Just observe, Blog, how Sue has created a picture of rocks completely out of wood. How much does that blow your mind?

So, Sue Mersman, who lives in Wetmore, Kansas, has been creating wood marquetry pieces for over 30 years. Each piece is handmade and can utilize as many as 250 individual pieces of wood, handsawed and flawlessly assembled. Sue uses 185 different kinds of wood from all over the world in her work. She creates these pictures using only the wood’s natural grain and coloring. In other words, no dyes, paints or stains—only the color nature gave them!

From Sue’s website at http://www.suemersman.com/ I learned that marquetry is decorative inlaid work that incorporates materials like wood, ivory, or metal. It was invented by the ancient Egyptians and reached the peak of its popularity during Renaissance times, when it was used for everything from boxes to furniture to wall murals.

Sue is self-taught and learned solely from books, having started by tackling small projects like belt buckles and ornaments. And over three decades of practice she has cultivated the expertise you see in these examples of her work. I marvel at the combination of skill and knowledge required to produce these gorgeous pieces.

Hooray for you, Sue, and hooray for the MAM for including you in their Lakefront show. My eyeballs and artistic soul rejoiced in encountering your work!

June 22, 2010

Let's make rocks!

As you know, Blog, my friend Martha from Chicago is visiting this week for what she dubbed "Social Media Boot Camp."  And what summer camp experience is complete without arts and crafts time?  So, taking a break from lessons about Facebook (she's already addicted), we had a little seminar about polymer clay.  The theme?  "Let's make rocks!"

I have tried like 50 different things to do with polymer clay, which I swear is the most versatile art medium in the world.  But I'm finding I am best at creating abstract stuff with an organic feel.  You know, imitating themes from plant life, water, and rocks and minerals, some of which you can see in the header of this blog, Blog.  That kind of thing also goes well with the Prairie Style/natural decor in our house.

So, for my next project I'm going to try doing a small (12" x 9") mural on canvas.  I will reveal all about this later, but the thing is, I needed a lot of small rocks.  Happily, Martha is the only other person I know who is obsessed with rocks.  She's been curious about polyclay for awhile, so was the perfect person to be my Polymer Clay Rock Making Sous Chef.  We set up the kitchen with pretty much every polymer clay supply I own, and settled down to making rocks till we could make rocks no more.

It seems people out there are curious about how to make rocks from polymer clay.  So let's start with the basics of what you need for this most simple of polyclay projects.  Get yourself some clay from a place like Michaels or Joann.  Obviously choose rock colors.  You'll definitely what to get some metallic colors (silver, gold, copper) and some translucent (essential), along with white pearl and various neutrals (black, gray, white, browns, and tans).  A mossy green can work too in moderation.  You may also spot the "Granitex" kind of clay which comes with little flecks already in it, another great choice.  The more colors the merrier, obviously!  As far as brands, anything works, but Sculpey III is very easy for newbies to work with and although it's not sturdy enough for many projects, is fine for this.

Clay needs to be softened up when you start to work with it.  That means either just mushing a piece up on your workboard (plastic, ceramic tile or glass), or running it through a clay-designated pasta machine, folding, and running again till blended.

There are a few basic concepts happening in rock-making that you employ individually or in combination.

1.  Color blending.  Take two or more colors of clay and combine them.  You can roll out and stack thin layers of clay, fold and twist them, or just take globs of colors and smoosh and knead them together till it looks cool.  Blend a little or a lot and get totally different effects.  Then make into rock-like shapes.

2.  Texturing.  Add texture to your rock if you want.  I made ridged rocks by rolling them over the crinkles at the corners of my aluminum foil pans.  We also rolled some in kosher salt.  After baking, washing them dissolved the salt leaving little pits.  You can also texture rocks with rough tools like a scrubber sponge, or just poke them with a needle.  But for smooth rocks, remember to smooth out your finger prints!  (Sometimes we forgot.)

3.  Inclusions.  There is no end to the stuff you can try blending into the clay to get neat rock effects.  We used herbs (ground black pepper, oregano and paprika are great choices), plant matter (finely crushed bark, dried flower petals), Perfect Pearls embossing powder, craft sand, tiny unblended bits of clay, metallic leaf, and glitter.  What really worked well too was the scrapings of clay residue from the craft mat (which we dubbed "detritus," quite an accurate term).  Other possibilities are dryer lint, inks or paints, or pretty much anything of fine texture or good blendability that won't rot or stink.  (The "Rot or Stink Test" eliminates ideas like chocolate chips and used kitty litter, neither of which is fine enough texture anyway.)

After you've made your rocks, bake them on a tray, tile, or piece of cardboard.  Polymer clay is non-toxic, but it's still not advised to use utensils or trays with it that you will later use for food preparation.  Bake at 270 degrees.  The time is determined by the thickest size of clay; 15 minutes for every 1/4" is the recommendation but I did our batch for 25 minutes, and the thickest stones were like 5/8".

Translucent clay appears clearer if you go straight from the oven to cold water.  So we dumped our whole batch of rocks in water right away.  This also dissolved the salt we used for texture. 

Dry your rocks and then sit back and enjoy the many cool effects you achieved!  Some may look amazingly like real rocks, others more like something J.R.R. Tolkien might envision, but either way they will pretty much all be rockin'.  Sorry, Blog--you knew that pun was inevitable.

What can you do with your rocks?  Well, you can use them for jewelry by poking holes through them before baking, or drilling holes afterwards, or mounting them in settings of metal  clay.  You can tile them on other clay projects like my mural, or switchplate covers or coasters.  You can build little houses of them, or put them in the bottom of clear flower vases, or sprinkle them in the litter box for a festive look.  J/K on that last, Blog.  Let your imagination go, as we so often do here at Magic House, wild.

Any questions?  Post in the comments!

June 18, 2010

Artist of [Undetermined Timeframe] #7 - Visual Artist Michelle Lorraine

Blog, it’s high time we featured another Artist of [Undetermined Timeframe]. Michelle Lorraine is a friend I met on Facebook whose story I’m happy to feature because I know our readers will find it inspiring. It’s a case of rediscovering the love of art you may have set aside in your younger years, and rededicating yourself to creating beautiful things. And Michelle’s recently-resumed artwork is beautiful! Let’s turn the post over to her to tell us all about it....

I am a blossoming artist. I say “blossoming” because I now finally have the time to dedicate to creating art and I have not been doing it very long. I am taking lessons from another artist and I plan to continue on this path. My mentor is Dean J. Baer, a nationally recognized artist who does amazing work. He has his own studio in West Palm Beach. He also happens to be from Wisconsin. :) Dean and I actually worked together about ten years ago and it is inspiring for me to see how he has become so successful and is now living his dream.

I'm very much a sensual, mildly erotic artist. I take great interest in the emotion of love, passion and the encircling feeling of protection of secrets and inner sanctity that two loves have. My favorite example is probably my painting “Luna Love.”

This painting is actually a moment in time for me. I grew up in Oklahoma and my last love, who also happened to be a childhood best friend, recently passed away. This is a memory of a night that we spent making love in the middle of Ponca Lake, at night, with the full moon embracing us with its passionate glow. I'll never forget the millions of stars in the sky and the glittering sparkles on the lake. It was probably the most romantic, magical, loving moment I've ever had.

So...I took some art classes at a college a few years ago as a way of tapping into the ability in art that I had even as a child. Not that I want to toot my own horn too much, but it's just something that has always come somewhat easy for me.

I took art classes at a local college, mostly drawing, and did very well with it. I learned excellent shading techniques and approaches to realism. But when I took the painting class, I really struggled with getting my idea down on canvas and with the instructor. So, there went the painting class. Then travel for my job ramped up again and I had to put school on hold.

I put the paints down in frustration, had my son and now that he's four (and I'm fairly confident now that he won't eat the paint), I've been trying again. I recently reconnected with Dean, and told him about my stress with approaching painting. He has been helping me get past that need to be so precise with various assignments in abstract, seeing visions in the clouds of color and combining realism with abstract. So, I've been experimenting lately with different styles. I literally have only been painting for two months. But I've been encouraged by many to continue and I'm hoping this will be a successful new path for me.

I think my voice is finally coming to its own. Some of it is experimentation in the abstract and is not really going to be my style, but these pieces were works in helping me “let loose” with the painting a little bit--and has helped me tremendously with enjoying painting. You will see in my drawings though, my tendency towards realism.

Thanks so much for taking an interest in me and my artwork!

Thank you, Michelle, for sharing these lovely, romantic images with us. As a romance fiction writer I am certainly drawn to this sort of art. And I know your story will inspire a few “lapsed” artists to re-explore their talents!

June 17, 2010

The sexiness of genius

Some girls go for sexy pecs and six-pack abs. Me, Blog? I’m turned on by IQ.

Nothing else could possibly explain my attraction to Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory,” who is nerdier than a game room at ComicCon. Okay, I admit I’m not exactly having fantasies about the guy, but I do adore him and could listen to him talk all day.

Likewise, I will forgive Dr. House anything even though he is more cruel and insensitive than a roomful of BP execs. Okay, even he is not that bad. But he can get away with bad behavior because when no one else has a clue how to save a life, House always knows.

There’s nothing like extreme genius to get this girl’s heart palpitating. When I began reading Neil Gaiman’s work it was his brilliant intellect as much as his writing style that awed me. (The illustration here is a portrait I did of him.) Musician Jonathan Coulton writes great songs, but it’s the fact that his lyrics are about DNA and the Mandelbrot Set that really turns me on. Grant Imahara on “Mythbusters” is a cutie, but it’s because he can build a robot that can do anything his crazy bosses want is why I’m smitten with him.

Back when I split with my first husband and found myself back in the dating pool, I hooked up with a guy who was a one-way ticket to irresponsible behavior. If you’re me, that is. He was physically totally my type, was a musician who played guitar and had a gorgeous voice, and probably had the highest IQ of anyone I’ve even known personally. I think I could have dealt with Factors A and B if not for Factor C. It was very hard for me to turn away from someone that smart; sure he was bad for me in a half dozen ways, but when was I going to have a romantic shot again at someone so uberintelligent?

So, Blog, this enlightens you a tad more regarding yesterday’s confessed attraction to Dr. Hodgins from “Bones.” This geniusophilia of mine is a recurring thing, I assure you. Other crushes I’ve had in this category would include Sting (he’s not just another pretty face who specializes in tantric sex, Blog), Ben Linus (diabolical genius), Harlan Ellison (SF author I loved as a teen), Klaatu (brilliant space alien), and my high school trig teacher.

Have I ever written about any super-smart guys in my romances? Is the Pope Catholic, Blog? For starters, a couple of the protagonists in two of my favorite stories ever appear in Soulful Sex: The Darker Side. There’s the title character in “Dr. Chambliss,” who is pretty much the academic equivalent of House. And there’s also Riley Madsen, from “The Poet,” the world’s first rock star poet. The mysterious genius Eric in “Fantastic Toys” in Soulful Sex Volume II is also in this category. And there’s Sadhil Narayan, the brilliant filmmaker in my award-winning story “Alloy Love” from Soulful Sex: The Science Fiction Collection, whom you see in the portrait.

Just thinking about these guys makes me all quivery, Blog. Oh stop it, just because you’re a disembodied anthropomorphized being with a masculine vibe doesn’t give you the right to smirk!

Is there anyone else out there smitten with smarties? Any other nominees for high-IQ hotties? Hit us in the comments. Oh, and the hot links you see in this post go to entries on my old Erotica with Sex blog where I talk about said celebrity crushes, so if you’re into any of these peeps, click away for more rhapsodizing.

June 16, 2010

When dream lovers and real guys collide

Blog, I’m doing it old school in today’s post: back to my old “Love, Sex and Romance” pontificating like on my old blog. And I’m thinking about one of my favorite topics of yore: celebrity crushes.

Who’s the lucky guy? Not any of the folks that readers of my Erotica with Soul blog remember, like Neil Gaiman, Michael Emerson/Ben Linus, or Les Stroud. No, my current crush is one T.J. Thyne. Not exactly a household name, but the man has plenty of chicks smitten with him. Blog, I can see on your noncorporeal face you need more info: T.J. plays Dr. Jack Hodgins on the show “Bones.”

I’ve never tried to hide my attraction to geeks in general, and Hodgins is one mega-geek. He specializes in identifying stuff like minerals and bugs in soil samples. He spouts off long Latin names for things (and I’ll bet T.J. has to practice them for hours in order to do that). He’s a conspiracy theorist, but not the kind that takes himself too seriously. He’s cute and funny and has a smile that...okay, Blog, before I get carried away, I’ll get to my point.

In googling T.J. Thyne I discovered he not only has a Facebook fan page, but he actually personally posts to it sometimes. This was both a blessing and a curse to me: A blessing because obviously I am proud to proclaim to the world my crush on him, and clicking “like” on Facebook was the least I could do. A curse because the fact that he actually reads and posts means crossing the Maginot Line of Celebrity Crushes. Uh-oh.

What is “the Maginot Line of Celebrity Crushes,” you ask, Blog? It’s when a fan stops thinking about the public persona, the “performance” if you will, of a celebrity and connects with the reality of that person’s personality and life. All sorts of muddling can happen then if you are not careful, and being careful when you are infatuated can be hard.

See, the typical pattern of a celebrity crush goes like this:

1. You experience a performance by the actor/singer/writer/athlete. (My husband introduced me to watching “Bones.”)

2. You get that tingle of attraction to the character/persona. (I thought Hodgins was a really interesting character.)

3. You suddenly realize you are actually kinda smitten with him/her. (I started wishing every episode would have at least 200% more Hodgins.)

4. You google the person, ostensibly to find photos, or other performances, etc. (I was wondering what else T.J. had done acting-wise.)

5. You find yourself staring at the Pandora’s box of the celebrity’s real life. (Facebook page referenced above, etc.)

And what exact danger do I refer to? Well, it’s like this, Blog: With the infinitely rare exception, when you crush on a celebrity it is because of how they look, the personality of the character they play, or some other thing that appeals to you. Because of the qualities you perceive, you glom on to the person and project upon them other traits that appeal likewise to you. Thus they become the ideal “dream lover” for you.

For example, I imagine Hodgins/T.J. to be this very nice, very smart, quirky guy, who combines being awe-inspiring with being approachable. So long as I don’t learn too much about T.J. Thyne, I can continue my fantasy about what the guy is like and fairly easily distinguish my “imaginary T.J.” with the real person.

But in reading about him on his Facebook page, which includes quite a bit of stuff he’s written about his life and career, I found out that in real life he is this very nice, very smart, quirky guy, who combines being awe-inspiring with being approachable. Okay, not so smart as Hodgins, but close enough. Cue Crush Alarms! Cue Crush Alarms!

This is the point at which a person becomes tempted to somehow court the celebrity, by writing fan mail or creating a fan site or merely commenting on his Facebook status (okay, I did do that last one, Blog). Don’t get me wrong--none of these count as stalking. But here’s the problem once you cross that Maginot Line of Celebrity Crushes:

You open up the possibility of feeling like the object of your crush is not what it truly is: a fantasy lover completely within your control. You start feeling instead like he is a real, unattainable person who cannot possibly return your feelings. Which is not fun.

Oh, don’t worry, Blog. After the approximately 217 celebrity crushes I’ve had, I have finally learned to control my emotions enough that this problem never gets beyond the slightly-painful-twinge stage. Still, I like to avoid it if I can.

But I am compelled to share this cautionary anecdote nonetheless: T.J. updated his status today, a fact that made me happy since he (or rather a sort of Diana interpretation of Hodgins) has been starring in my daydreams lately. In my fantasies I often find myself calling him “Teej,” which I cannot explain except for it being an adaptation of when they called D.J. on “Full House” Deej sometimes. Well, Blog, one of the commenters on T.J.’s status, who may or may not actually be a real life friend of his, called him Teej. A spooky intersection of fantasy and real life, however trivial.

So I must persist in not feeling an unreasonable level of affection for Mr. Thyne the real person. I’m confident I can manage, but sometimes I am challenged. Take, for example, this clip of the real guy interacting at Fox Studios with another very cool person, Cat Deeley (the host of “So You Think You Can Dance”). Anyone who can so naturally segue into such a gorgeous recitation of Hamlet’s soliloquy is pretty ridonkulously hard not to love, Blog.

Lord have mercy. Okay , I’ve got it under control, really I do.

JULY 31 UPDATE:  Forget that last video, here's the one you want to watch.  This is the creation of T.J. himself and encapsulates 5 years of Jack Hodgins in 5 minutes.  So very, very nice....

June 14, 2010

Blog interviews Son of Hibachi

From our Consumer Tips and Patio Parties Department, Blog is here today to introduce you to the newest member of our household at Magic House.  Please welcome Son of Hibachi!

Blog:  Glad to have you with us, Son of Hibachi!  Whoa, saying that out loud I just realized the pun.

SoH:  Ah yes, it is funny, you think?

Blog:  Very clever and late-night-TV-infomercial-worthy, Son.  So by way of introduction, what brings you to Magic House aka Chez Diana?

SoH:  Well, you see Magic House patio has fine gas grill, very fine, but nothing which might incorporate charcoal briquets.  Diana recently enjoyed her daughter's Smokey Joe cooking with mesquite charcoals.  Big tasty.

Blog:  I see, so she had a hankering for that wood smoke flavor.

SoH:  Yes, yes!  And for hibachi cooking of her childhood, you know how in 1960s American suburbs, they love hibachi.  And from the Interweb she learned about me!

Blog:  And what's your schtick, Son?  You don't look exactly like a hibachi or any other grill.  And what the H-O-double-hockey-sticks is a Snuff-Out Pouch?

SoH:  I am happy to tell whole story of use of Son of Hibachi, Blog.  You begin by unfolding Son to open position, like so.  And put charcoals on each side, like so, and some in center tray with little firestarter maybe.  Put on some lighter fluid, good douse.  Instruction say not needing to put on side coals, but maybe better you do.

Blog:  Following you so far.

SoH:  Light coals in center tray, then fold up Son of Hibachi.  Clip at top like in picture, this all makes chimney effect to light charcoals!  Very clever!

Blog:  That IS clever.  And may I say, you're sort of an Asian Billy Mays, aren't you?

SoH:  Billy Mays, greatest master of all infomercials!  I humbly thank you for comparison.

Blog:  You're welcome.  So I imagine with that "chimney effect" the coals are ready faster than with a traditional grill.

SoH:  Yes, yes.  Maybe ten minutes, Son is ready.  Open up, spread coals out, maybe rearrange.  Then put on food, like tasty tequila lime chicken prepared by Diana.

Blog:  Yummy.  And then you work like, well, a charcoal grill!

SoH:  Yes, you see in photo, result of cooking is tasty grilled tequila lime chicken.  But now Son of Hibachi do even more crazy stuff!

Blog:  Not anything like on those wacky Japanese game shows where people jump through weird cutout shapes to avoid being knocked into the pool...

SoH:  No, no, ha ha!  No, Blog, not like game show.  Like this:  fold up Son again, push in ash drawer and top clip, creates vacuum to extinguish and save coals!  Also burns off grills to clean!

Blog:  Wow!  Do you need an oven mitt to do that?

SoH:  Not even.  Aluminum legs and handles stay cool to touch.  Then, in goes Son of Hibachi to Snuff-Out Pouch!  That finish job, and also you can right away put Son in garage or car.

Blog:  While you're still roasting hot?

SoH:  They make pouch from same stuff as firefighter suits.  Will be very warm but not hot to burn you, Blog!

Blog:  Sweet!  And what might I have to pay to get my own Son of Hibachi, Son?

SoH:  Order straight from website www.sonofhibachi.com, 75 American bucks, free shipping!  Very heavy with cast iron, but still, shipping free!

Blog:  Well, I'm sold and I know Diana is too.  Otherwise why would she have me interview you for no remuneration from the manufacturer, just as a service to our grilled-meat loving readers?

SoH:  Good for corn too!  Very good for corn and veggies!  170 square inches for any food that won't fall through slots.

Blog:  So you won't be good for making bacon spaghetti for Diana's dad next weekend, then.

SoH:  Not so good for spaghetti, fall through slots.

Blog:  Sort of like on those wacky Japanese game shows where people jump through weird cutout shapes to avoid being knocked into the pool.

SoH:  Blog very funny guy.  Very funny anthropomorphized being with masculine vibe.

Blog:  Right back atcha, Son.

June 13, 2010

How two years of goodness undid five decades of harm

Blog, I know very few of our readers are hockey fans, but I think we can still make this post relatable to those who are not.  I just want to tell the interesting story of one sports franchise and its fans, because it's a story in which good triumphs over bad in a very special way...not an unfitting theme for a romance author like myself.  So I hope you all will read on.

It's doubtful you know the back story of the Chicago Blackhawks, so I'll give it to you in a nutshell.  They won their last Stanley Cup Championship in 1961 (six days after my husband, a life-long fan, was born).  Those were the glory days when Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, names all Canadians and even a lot of Americans know, wore the Indian Head sweater.  As one of the Original Six NHL teams, The Blackhawks had much to be proud of, and during that time they were truly great.

Unfortunately, the owner of the team, Bill Wirtz, would make many critical mistakes in the 46 years to follow.  In 2002 ESPN would name him the third greediest owner in sports.  He alienated Hull and Mikita, and other beloved players like Tony Esposito and Denis Savard, in the process tarnishing the heritage of the team.  And he refused to televise home games, so that Chicagoans might see their team play on home ice.

When I met Davie in 1992 and was exposed to Blackhawk hockey, I could not help but become an instant fan.  It helped that the team had once again become good, with stars like Ed Belfour, Chris Chelios and Jeremy Roenick (the NBC analyst who cried after the Cup win last Wednesday night).  The team was a joy to watch.  Unfortunately, management once again made poor decisions:  J.R. was traded to Phoenix, Ed Belfour was not resigned, and Chris Chelios, a Chicago local who was both captain and the face of the Hawks, was traded to arch-rival Detroit.  Pat Foley, "the voice of the Blackhawks" on radio for 25 years, was fired.  The team was in a severe decline, to the point that in 2004 ESPN called it the worst franchise in sports.

But by then, Davie and I had bailed as Hawks fans.  And we weren't the only ones.  Frustrated by the poor management and its disinterest in the fans, people who loved this team couldn't bear to watch anymore what Bill Wirtz and company were doing to it.  Almost to a (wo)man, every Blackhawk fan had the same thought:  there was no hope for the team as long as Wirtz owned it.

On September 26, 2007, Bill Wirtz died, and the reins of the Chicago Blackhawks passed to his son, Rocky.  Within a month, negotiations were underway to televise home games.  Davie and I watched with interest, amazed to see changes happening so soon.  Rocky also reached out to make Hull and Mikita "ambassadors" for the team, and worked to restore the pride of the fans.  Denis Savard came back as head coach.  Pat Foley returned as the Hawks' TV play-by-play announcer.  Management changes long desired by Hawks fans were made quickly, and smarter personnel decisions started to affect the quality of the team's play.

The Hawks had missed the playoffs (which in hockey means being in the bottom half of the standings) for six straight years, but in the following season they were good enough to make it to the Western Conference Finals (third of four rounds).  That was just last year, Blog.  It only took them one more year to become Stanley Cup Champions.

The media has made a pretty big deal of the fact that that Hawks were suffering the longest championship draught in the NHL at 49 years.  But what non-fans don't know is the depth of misery Blackhawk fans had endured.  Older and younger fans alike had watched favorite players dispatched, and the team they loved sink into such neglect that even winning seasons seemed hopeless.  A Stanley Cup?  How could we ever hope to see that trophy in Chicago again?

Who could have dreamed that two and a half years would be enough time to transform this team from despair to the NHL champions?  Back in 2007 when the stands were full of empty seats, no one could watch the famous "cheering anthem" on TV, and the story on the ice was pathetic, who would have imagined the team we watched this year?  I've watched a lot of hockey, Blog, and even the Red Wings didn't skate and pass like this Hawks team.  Who are these guys and how can it be that they're wearing Hawks jerseys?

So now you may understand better why we are so overwhelmed by this.  We spent all day Thursday listening to radio coverage, half the day Friday enjoying the parade and rally and then celebrating with our family, and yesterday making a pilgrimage from Milwaukee over the Illinois border to snag some Cup swag.  We'll be partying about it all summer as the Cup enjoys its day with each member of the organization, one by one, until next fall when we watch the 2010 Stanley Cup banner join its (very) elder brothers in the rafters of the United Center.

In fact, Blog, we'll probably party about it all next year.

I close with this awesome final 45-second spot from the "History Will Be Made" campaign the NHL used this year.  It pretty much says it all....

June 10, 2010

Hockey Snacks’ Shinny is back!

Blog, I made a deal with Davie if the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup (which they did Wednesday night), I would bring back an old friend of his for the occasion. Retired in 2002, this little guy still occasionally gets fan mail. He and I hosted the weekly ezine of NHL humor, Hockey Snacks, from 1998 to 2002, and garnered thousands of readers.

It staggers me that some of them still ask me about Shinny, aka my left index finger dressed in a tiny Blackhawks goalie mask. Shinny interviewed all sorts of crazy characters back in the day, including the Buffalo Jumbotron, the Hockey Tooth Fairy, a scrap of Vezina’s pads, etc.
So, for Davie (aka “Snacks Fact Guy Dave”) and all you faithful fans, we welcome the return of Shinny. And this time, he’s on the other side of the interview desk!

Blog: Shinny, there are a lot of reasons to be happy the Hawks won the Cup, but I for one am delighted the event brought you back into the limelight once more.

Shinny: Blog, I’m just dang happy to have lived to see Stanley come to Chicago. I’m gonna have to hook up with the big guy while he’s in the Windy City if I can. It’s been a long time since he and I tipped back the bubbly together. And as for that sneaky puck that no one but Patrick Kane could see in the corner of the net...well, Snacks fans, remember Burger the Puck? He who once got caught in Flyers goalie Bryan Boucher’s mask?

Blog: One and the same?

Shinny: You betcha.

Blog: Wow that’s something! Well, we know you’re focused on that Cup win, Shinster, but there are a lot of folks around the Internet who’ve been asking after you. I guess a finger in a goalie mask can make a lasting impression.

Shinny: That’s really gratifying, Blog. Di and I haven’t forgotten all the Snacks fans who used to fill her email box with ideas for Separated at Birth (like Jeremy Roenick and James Woods), and who tuned in to keep up with the characters on The Real Rink (remember the Waukesha Western Box Turtles?), and who proudly called themselves Canuckophiles.

Blog: A term I believe you coined.

Shinny: Well, it’s hard to love hockey without loving Canada, Blog.

Blog: True dat, eh? Tell us one of your notable memories from the days of Snacks, Shinny.

Shinny: Well, I’ll certainly never forget when I got cut and had to have stitches. But of course, that sort of thing is life for hockey players.

Blog: Rumor was that was a bagel-slicing incident, and not actually from a skate in game-action.

Shinny: Well, when you’re a finger, people make assumptions. In the grand hockey tradition of keeping info about injuries on the d.l., I’m not going to confirm or deny that bagel business, Blog.  Another great time was when I got to work on the production of the NHL Naptime series of hockey cards.  Not a lot of fans can boast that they got to see famous players like Wayne Gretzky in bed.

Blog:  I hope not, Shinny.  Ahem.  But you know, a lot of people have wondered how it came to be that a finger got the gig hosting an ezine, Shinny. What’s the story there?

Shinny: Well, the boss started her website to promote her first two published books, and threw in some fun stuff like her collection of hockey stuff. Me in my tiny mask, borrowed from her Ed Belfour action figure, made an appearance. Her regular updates quickly turned into a weekly thing, and thus Hockey Snacks was born.

Blog: Were you surprised when you suddenly found yourself the star host of an internet craze?

Shinny: Aw, Blog, now you’re making me blush. “Internet craze”?

Blog: 6,000-plus regular readers was pretty good ten years ago. I think that’s like a thousand times what I get, Shinny.

Shinny: Well, you’re non-corporeal, Blog. Having a physical appearance helps a lot.

Blog: I’d work on that if I could, Shinny.

Shinny: But to answer your question, it was a huge surprise. The author was awfully new to hockey, she only became a fan in 1994. I think when she started Snacks she still hadn’t quite figured out offsides.

Blog: I heard she thought the goalie’s blocker looked like a stuffed leather muffin tin.

Shinny: Had never heard of Timbits either.  But before we were done, she was savvy enough to teach her cat Cake to play goal.

Blog: Hard to believe.

Shinny: What was really hard to believe was the fan response.  We got so much input and material from readers, and that was what made it fun.  The contributions people sent in to “Burger the Puck's Hockey Freaks of Nature” alone were worth the price of admission.  Like the Jesus Playing Hockey Statue.  Awesome.

So, what have you been doing for the six years since Hockey Snacks packed it in, Shinny?

Shinny: Well, I’ve been exploring a lot of other options, Blog. Typing...pointing at stuff...petting cats...testing the temp of hot liquids once in awhile.

Blog: Pretty eclectic lifestyle.

Shinny: Really, that was why we retired Snacks in 2002. Putting that much work into one subject was tough.

Blog: Same reason Diana retired her Erotica with Soul blog.

Shinny: I guess it’s hard to pigeonhole a writer who has focused both on hockey and on erotic romance.

Blog: Sometimes simultaneously, like in that “Je t’aime Etienne” story in Soulful Sex Volume II.

Shinny: Are we allowed to do product placement like that?

Blog: Well, we did it for Timbits. Timbits has its own tag in the right-hand column.

Shinny: True. Anyway, while we’re enjoying the eclectic lifestyle, with the romance, the cat-petting, the crafting, the pointing at stuff, it’s sometimes still truly fantastic focusing on hockey.

Blog: You can take the finger out of hockey, but you can’t take hockey out of the finger, eh, Shinny?

Shinny: Exactly, Blog. Those days of presenting Golden Finger Awards and writing songs like “Living La Vida Hockey” are some of the best of my life and I’ll never forget them. And I want to give a shoutout to the amazing Snacks fans out there. To any of them who find this post and used to read us, I hope they will comment and tell us about themselves.

Blog: Me too, Shinny. And what’s next for you?

Shinny: Well, hopefully pointing at the TV and saying, “Look, the Stanley Cup is really in Chicago!”

Blog: Amen to that, Shinny. Amen to that.

So there you have it, friends, and there you go, Davie. And I’d like to add one more thing: A big Happy 16th Anniversary to my wonderful husband, without whom I’d never have discovered hockey and the Chicago Blackhawks.