Friday, August 30, 2013

Rules of Threes

I'm in a pretty good mood at the moment despite three good reasons not to be:

Reason #1:  First cold of the school year.  Yup.  Took a whole week and a half.

Reason #2:  My car suddenly started sounding like this:

Fast, loud, and constant clicking coming from under my dashboard.  It's only audible inside the car, and it's driving me batty.  I called the repair shop and they can't see it until Wednesday thanks to the holiday weekend.  So I'll be dropping it off Tuesday night and picking up a rental car.  Whoo.

Reason #3: My period.  Not too big of a deal, but the last one was especially bloody so I'm a little grumpy about facing it again.

And yet my mood is good overall.  Why?

Reason #1:  Three day weekend!  Whoo!

Reason #2:  Jason's got a layover at DIA tomorrow, so I get to catch up with one of my BFFs in person (and hopefully start planning next summer's big trip)!

Reason #3:  I get to go see Austenland with Rachel and Lisa tomorrow night!

All excellent reasons to be cheerful, yes?

Friday, August 23, 2013


After enjoying a Back to School party at the biology teacher's newly remodeled house, a long workout at the gym, and a run to Whole Foods, I had just settled on my couch to enjoy a late dinner of yogurt, peaches, and almonds while watching an old episode of "Parks and Rec" when there was a knock on my door.

Since I was in my pajamas, it took me a moment to grab a bathrobe and look through the peephole.  A 20-something guy in a baseball hat was standing in front of my door, casually tossing something up and down.  I opened my door, but only wide enough to greet him.

"Hello," the guy said.  "I'm in the neighborhood doing an opinion poll.  Do you use tissues in your house?"

I was so surprised by the question that I blurted out "No," without really thinking about it.

"Well then these are for you!" He held out the item he had been tossing - a pack of travel tissues.  This was getting creepy.

"No, thank you," I said.

"Take them!" he said in a friendly tone.  Creepier.

"I don't want them," I replied.

"Okay," he said.  "See, I'm doing a poll for my job and if I get one more opinion I get paid.  But I have to go ask my boss.  He's in the van over there," he pointed towards the parking lot.  "I'll just go check in with him and I'll be right back to get your opinion."  He started to walk towards the parking lot.

All of my creeper alarms were firing now.  "I'm really not interested," I called after him.  He stopped and came back a few steps.

"But I don't get paid unless I check with him and get your opinion,"  he said, mildly plaintive.  "It'll just take a moment to check with my boss."

"I'm not interested.  Please don't disturb me again."  I shut my door, locking it as is my habit.

I went back to my dinner, but I couldn't shake the creepiness.  I mean, that was weird, right?  But not really an event that merits a 911 call.  I wanted to tell someone, though.  It seemed the responsible thing to do in case I got murdered or something.  So I called Rachel.

Like a good sister, she listened to my tale, validated the creepiness, and then repeated it to Ben so he could also validate the creepiness.  Then Rachel and I did what we do best - we Googled it.

Lo and behold, the search turned up a couple of news reports of a so-called "tissue scam", one out of Vancouver and one from Norfolk.  Rachel and I read them to each other as I exclaimed how the situations described in the reports sound exactly like what had just happened.  "Except he didn't claim to be a vacuum salesman," I said.  And, according to the Norfolk report, burglaries often followed.

Time to call the police, we decided.  I called the non-emergency number and retold my story to the dispatcher.  She confirmed that it sounded suspicious and said that she would have the deputy in my area check it out.

A few minutes later the deputy called me.  He told me he had found the guys and the van and talked to them, and they seemed to check out.  He acknowledged that the behavior was weird, but "nothing came up on their names or the van," he said, "and they're not breaking any laws.  They said they're vacuum cleaner salesmen."

I paused a moment.  "Vacuum cleaner salesmen?"


I told him about the articles I had found, including the information about the robberies that followed the "salesmen's" visits.

This time he paused.  "Really," he said, not with disbelief, but with new interest.  "And you found it on Google?"

"Yup," I said.  "Under a search for 'tissue scam'."

I heard typing on his end, then silence.

"I'm going to call you back in a moment," he said.

When he did, he thanked me for the additional information.  He still couldn't do anything - the guys and the van came up clean, but he said he had their names and the van's numbers and they would be keeping an eye out.

I hope this is the end of this story.  I feel like I should write a strong conclusion like how I learned that calling the police when something creepy happens is okay; or how I appreciate Rachel and Ben being around to validate the creepy and to co-Google; or how I'll be sleeping with the golf club next to my bed again tonight and sometimes it sucks to be a woman who lives alone.

Or how sometimes it's okay to have a story that doesn't end with a bang.


Thanks to my role as a member on the planning committee for our ward's annual massive crafting day (a.k.a. "Super Saturday") I've begun using Pinterest.

Here is what I've learned so far:

1.  I am woefully behind on planning my wedding.  I mean, I haven't even pinned pictures of my perfect ring yet.  I bring shame to my ovaries.

2.  There's some strong Benedict Cumberbatch love on those boards...

3.  ...and Chuck Bass fandom isn't far behind.

4.  My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler is brilliant, and I want to name a child Ampersand.

5.  Apparently Teacher Gifts are a thing?  At least I assume so, given the number of apple/pencil/chalkboard-themed knick-knacks with truly terrible puns attached.  "I'm going to be one smart COOKIE with you as my teacher"?  Really?  You know that if you start off the year at level of brown-nosing, you're not giving yourself much wiggle room come finals.

As I scrolled through those pins I realized that in 12 years of teaching, I have never once received a Back to School Teacher Gift.  Unless you count the mild case of pink eye I'm currently sporting.  Which I do, even though it didn't come with a note saying "EYE'm tickled PINK to have an INFECTIOUS teacher like you!"

P.S.  I now feel obliged to link to this.

Monday, August 19, 2013


1. Take a half dose of melatonin to ensure sleep at night

2. Renew gym membership

3. Buy fresh corn and peaches

4. Add a daily dose of St. John's Wort

5. Book a ticket to this:

and then buy a plane ticket to run away to New York for a weekend in November with Jason.

Guess which was the most successful anti-depressant?

Monday, August 12, 2013

And... We're Back

For better or worse, I am a creature that takes comfort in routines.  School began again today, at least for us teachers, and I found myself enjoying the familiarity of my environment and the tasks.  Go to work, forget to eat lunch, carpool home, work out, grab dinner, and get ready for work again the next day.

I am squeezing in a little bit more summer with one last trivia session tonight.  Tomorrow's a work day, which means an extra hour of sleep in the morning.  At least that's how I'm justifying the trivia outing.  Really, I probably should take the extra hour of sleep since anxiety kept me up half the night last night, leading me to then slept right through my "Wake up" alarm.  Fortunately my "Get out the door" alarm woke me up, giving me exactly five minutes to fling off the covers, throw on clothes, brush my teeth, wash my face, pull my hair into a ponytail and throw a can of dry shampoo and my eye makeup into my school bag to attend to later.

I made it to my carpool in time, but oversleeping is perhaps not the most auspicious way to begin the new year.

Other than that, the day went just about as expected.  Faculty meetings, hordes of emails to attend to, big classes, field trips and plays to schedule, and four angry phone calls waiting for me on my voicemail.  Same old, same old.

I put out the fires, did my job, and then came home to get ready to go back and do it again.  But as I stood there in my kitchen packing my lunch and my breakfast and my dinner for tomorrow (Back to School night), I noticed that while routines can be comforting, sometimes they make you feel like you never left.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Brian, Kameron, and I went to see Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna yesterday afternoon.  Brian had originally planned to see the show with his parents, but they unfortunately weren't able to get to town this weekend.  Kameron and I were the first to respond to his "who wants tickets?" email, so we had the pleasure.

It was a good show.  The circus acts were fun, the aesthetics, as always, were beautiful and thoroughly planned out.  Of course, the irony of seeing this particular Cirque show with two guys may become evident when you read the website's description:

Amaluna invites the audience to a mysterious island governed by Goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon.


The "plot" of the show (and those of you who have seen Cirque work know why that goes in quotes) is essentially the romantic parts of The Tempest, although they did name the lovers Miranda and Romeo to distance the show from Shakespeare.  If you ignore the moral that a girl can't become a woman without a man, it was actually really interesting to see a show like this with a female-majority company.  The band (who rocked) was all women.  Even the clowns were women, although one of them cross-dressed as a sea captain (think Stephano and Trinculo).  Unfortuantely, the clowns were not funny.  Their bits were actually rather tedious to sit through and were thankfully limited to two scenes.

The Cirque ingenuity more than made up for it.  One of the most beautiful moments in the show came when they dropped LED lights attached to feathers from the center ceiling.  It was in blackout and the feathers, like maple seed pods, "helicoptered" the lights down to make small, spinning, slowly falling little white lights.

There was juggling, acrobatics, gymnastics, pole climbing, and other circus standards, all executed perfectly and in terrific costumes; but surprisingly the most riveting act was also perhaps the simplest: a woman balancing sticks of progressively longer lengths.  She began with one the size of a twig, balancing it on the tip of a stick about as long as her arm.  One by one she lifted the sticks from the ground using her feet and added them to her ever-growing, tenuously-balanced sculpture:


As the sticks got longer, the music gradually ended until the only accompaniment was her breathing, which we could hear from her mic.  As she neared the end the audience was dying to clap, but everyone held back.  It was one of those fascinating unspoken-rues-of-performing moments.  We were all waiting for her signal.  She balanced the sculpture on her head and spread her hands out from her sides at hip level.  It was almost a "ta-da" move, but not quite.  I knew that if she opened her hands fully, the audience would burst into applause, but that we wouldn't make a sound as long as she kept her thumbs and fingers touching.  She didn't open her hands.  So everyone held a collective breath as she raised the final branch from the floor to stand on end, then balanced the mobile on the tip of that branch.  She touched it, steadied it, stepped away, and then smiled.

The crowd went nuts.  Then she reached up, lifted off the first stick, and the whole thing fell to the floor in pieces.

Really, I loved watching the silent agreements between the performer and the crowd as much as the act itself.

I'm glad I had the chance to see the show while it was in town.  I haven't been to a Cirque show in a while, and it was a pleasure to see that they still live up to their reputation and that it still inspires me in my own work.

Thanks, Brian!

Oil Paintings

My watercolor class came through Red Rocks Community College and the oil painting class through the Art Student League of Denver.  There was a world of difference between the two in the quality of the instruction, with the oil painting class coming out ahead.

Both were taught by professional artists, but the watercolor teacher was disorganized, easily distracted, and frequently came late to class (including 15 minutes late the very first day).  Her lessons usually involved her showing us some new technique, and then giving us time to paint.  There were rarely specific instructions on what to paint, which is stressful for new artists.

On the other hand, the oil painting teacher had specific tasks.  Each class he would spend about 10 minutes talking about a concept, then he would demonstrate the task by painting it himself, and then we would have 90 minutes-2 hours to paint what we were given while he rotated around the room giving specific feedback.

It was really intimidating to have him come up, look your painting over, say, "Okay..." and then launch into a list of things you need to change or work on.  I had to fight the urge to immediately start explaining what I was doing.  My instinct was to prove that I already knew what I was doing wrong, that I knew what it should look like but I just hadn't figured out how to do that yet.  Instead, I kept my mouth shut and listened to what he had to say while taking mental notes on what it felt like to be a student doing something new and scary in front of an intimidating professional.

This was good for me.  It's important to remember what it's like to be a student.

On to the pictures!

The Art Student League is housed in an old mansion downtown.  Here's part of the facade:

The interior has been converted into a series of studios, offices, and a lending library of art reference books.  My class met upstairs:

Fun fact:  A bat flew into the room mid-class a few weeks ago.  Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the riveting story of Will The Bat Figure Out Where The Door Is?  The answer is yes, but it takes a long time.  And there is no chance whatsoever of everyone going back to what they were doing, as the instructor asked us to do, until the end of the bat's story because 1) there's a bat circling the room over head and 2) THERE'S A BAT CIRCLING THE ROOM OVERHEAD.

Week 1

The Task:  Paint a monochromatic still life of the cup and plate below.  Focus on the shapes made by the shadow and the light and do not use more than three values of gray (which you should mix for yourself using the colors in your palette, none of which are gray or black):

My result:

Week 2

The Task:  Paint the still life set out for you.  As a bonus challenge, try to find an interesting way to say something about what the still life means to you.

My result:

I didn't finish this painting, as the white spaces and the missing parts indicate.  I suppose I could have worked on it at home, but I really didn't like the subject so I was pretty happy to abandon it when 9:00 hit.

Week 3

The Task:  Paint a landscape using the picture provided by the teacher.

My result:

The instructor for this class is very much an impressionist, and this week is where I started imitating his style.  This one kept bringing Matisse's landscapes to mind.

Week 4

The Task:  Another landscape.

My result:

This is where I really started playing with what textures I could create.  I tried painting with the palette knife, and once I started laying the paint on thick I found that I liked the results.  It's not done, and I really didn't succeed with the texture of the rocks, but I am pretty happy with how the water turned out.

Week 5

The Task:  Paint a portrait (just of the head) using a live model.

We weren't allowed to photograph the model, so you'll just have to assume that she looks exactly like this:

Again, I could have easily spent at least another couple of hours on this one.  There's a lot going on and portraits are intimidating.  I also felt my lack of training in how to draw faces.  Still, it looks like a woman's face, so there's something.

That's our teacher in the background, by the way.

Weeks 6 & 7

The Task:  Paint a subject of your choice, either from a photograph or from a still life.

The instructor told us that whatever we chose needed to be something that we felt strongly about.  He encouraged us to bring in ideas the week before for feedback.  I printed off a bunch of photos from my travels, but I already knew I wanted to do a Sahara scene.  I had actually tackled that subject in the watercolors class as well:

and I wanted to do the same subject in oil to compare the two mediums.  I showed the instructor these desert photos to see what he thought.




He flipped through them with tight lips.  "Okay," he said, "the idea is to paint something that you have a personal connection to.  I mean, this is like you decide you want to paint a picture of Brad Pitt.  What would you have to say about Brad Pitt?  You're just painting a picture because he's good looking or something.  He's not your neighbor, your relative.  You have no personal connection to him.  You need a connection.  I mean, what's your connection to this guy?"  He pointed at the middle photo.

"Well," I said, "that's Said.  He was our guide in the desert."

"Oh," he said.  "So... you took this photo?"

"Yeah," I said.  "That's the Sahara.  I went camping there last summer."

"Oh."  he said.  "That'll work then."

And so I painted it.

It's still not something I want to hang up in my home.  I find that I like it better from farther away:

or when it's up close:

but not so much in between.  I learned a lot while making it and realized about halfway through that if I wanted it to be a good painting, I should really start over again from scratch so I can use all of the things I learned without having to focus so much on fixing early mistakes.  But again, my objective was to learn, not to create art, so I feel like I accomplished what I wanted.

I'm pretty pleased with the sky.  I wanted it to look rougher than the sand (and, for that matter, rougher than it did in real life) because of our experience with the sandstorms.  So I painted it almost exclusively with a palette knife using what I had learned from the waterfall painting, and mixed in far more colors than you might expect for a blue-sky-white-clouds subject.

The sand colors were better at the beginning, but I had to fix things so many times that I lost the original hues and they turned out brighter and more orange than I wanted.  Most of the fixes came with the figure.  Remember how human figures are the bane of my paintings?  Still true.  I painted him and scraped him out four times before getting what you see there.  The instructor and I got into an argument over the scarf.  He claimed it looked like a tail or an arm and told me to paint it out all together.  I can see his point, but I put my foot down.  "The scarf's important," I declared.  "I'm leaving it."

All in all, I'm pleased with the art classes.  I don't know how much painting I'll do now that they're over, but I already notice a change in how I look at paintings.  I know more.  I appreciate more.  And that was exactly the point.


Both of my art teachers this summer seemed to think that everyone who took their classes did so to become an artist.  They talked about framing every painting, displaying them at home, preserving them to pass down to our grandchildren and the generations to come.

Yeah, no.

Being a good student, I fulfilled the project requirements; although I didn't create a single piece that I actually want to hang up in my home.  I'm kind of picky when it comes to my personal art collection, and I want it to be good art.  Or at least art that I like.  Not awkward beginner's art, the pieces made as exercises to learn and practice a particular skill.

I understand how this conclusion can be drawn.  In fact, there were vocal students in both classes who talked enthusiastically about displaying their work, of how proud they were of what they could do. Me, I was there to learn something new.  I know I had a little experience/talent for illustrations, but I am no prodigy.

Plus, I came to these classes immediately after visiting the National Gallery, the Hermitage, and the Louvre.  That'll humble anyone.  I know what good art looks like.  This isn't it.

Disclaimer aside, I did create art this summer, and some of you have been nice enough to ask about it.  Here, then, are some of the paintings from my Introduction to Watercolors class.

One of the first tasks I set myself to was creating a color chart showing the effects of mixing each of the colors in my palette, one with the other.  It took a full studio period, but I referred to it every time I picked up a brush thereafter, so I count it as time not wasted.

I was surprised by how much control and opportunity for manipulation watercolors affords.  I was less enthusiastic about the watercolor class than my oil painting one, preferring the aesthetic of oil.  My watercolor teacher didn't really help with this, since her personal style of painting is the kind of watercolor look and technique that I dislike.  Generally I am drawn to careful, highly controlled, detail-packed.  She's of the "let's pour paint all over this sketch I just made and see what happens!" school.

However, once I learned some of the ways to work with the paint, I found that watercolor could be manipulated in ways quite pleasing to control-happy me.

For example, watercolors are much easier to put in and take back out again than oil.  I tested this by making a quick sketch and then created highlights by using just a wet brush (no pigment) to go back into the flesh tones and lift out paint:

(based on this photo)

The more ways we learned to manipulate the paint, the more I enjoyed it.  I worked on a night scene using frisket, a liquid latex that at first whiff took me back to my days (and nights) of stage makeup prosthetics.  By putting down layers of washes in different shades of blue, and sprinkles of frisket, I went from this:

to this:

I didn't like the trees at all, so I wound up chopping apart the painting to collage it for a passable final project:

You can actually use a lot of different tools to affect the look of watercolors, from alcohol to sand to bubble wrap.  Here I used kosher salt to soak up paint and give a textured effect:

I wound up using this page as a background to a small rendering on hot press paper of the umbrellas we found in London.

And I used the same salt technique to create the background texture in this painting of Phra Bart in Thailand:

 (original photo)

I learned this summer that human figures are the bane of my painting existence.

The piece with which I am most happy is actually a piece I did at home as a "thank you" gift for my parents:

I created miniature "city clusters" from our trip in June based on what stood out to me in each location (and based on what I could reasonably draw).  Each cluster is pretty small - about three inches square.  Here are the close-ups:

(featuring Rameses' head from the British Museum, the Globe, Big Ben, King's Cross Station, and the pickle peeking out in the background in reference to a claim Mom made while there)

(featuring St. Basil's, the elephant from the circus, the Great Patriotic War Memorial, and the Jewish Museum)

St. Petersbug
(featuring the Samson fountain from Peterhof, the Mariinsky curtain, the Great Horseman statue, the Hermitage, the Church on the Spilled Blood, and the heart balloon from the wedding party on the bridge)

and Paris
(featuring the Eiffel Tower ((of course)), a part of the Louvre, a drummer from the Fete de la Musqiue, the giant chessboard from the Cluny, and Rodin's Thinker with surrounding roses and whispering shrub)

Despite it being a highly-controlled, detail-focused piece, my teacher was pretty pleased with it.  She immediately declared that it was my "thing" and that I should do a whole series based on my travels and then make them into a book.

Again she didn't seem concerned about what my objective was.  I actually really enjoyed creating these city clusters, although  I find that inspiration wanes the farther my travels are in my past.  Perhaps for future trips.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Breakfast at Lucile's

As I sat down to breakfast this morning with Lisa and Tammy, I found myself instinctively reaching for my cell phone as the food arrived to snap a picture.  I hesitated, reminding myself that I was not out of town.  But then I thought, why not?  I'm out at a new (to me) restaurant with good friends and the food looks delicious.  Why shouldn't I document this meal with the same dedication I do on my trips?

So here's my breakfast at Lucile's:

Lucile's is a Creole cafe that serves breakfast and lunch (po' boys a plenty!).  While having dinner at a different Creole restaurant a week or so ago, Lisa was shocked (shocked!) when she discovered that neither Tammy nor I had been to this institution.  She immediately proposed breakfast during our last week of summer vacation.

Family o' Mine - we should get breakfast here the next time you're in town.  If we can get a table, that is - apparently the place is packed on the weekends.  And for good reason.  I mean, look at these beignets:

Not to mention the buttermilk biscuit that comes with almost every breakfast entree:

(Not pictured: the blueberry jam, strawberry-rhubarb jam, pepper jelly, apple butter, and orange marmalade for said biscuit.  The waitress asked which ones we'd like and, taking after my father, I said, "All of them.")

And for my entree, I got a "Cajun Breakfast":

Poached eggs with Hollandaise served over red beans which were cooked with bone-in ham
with grits and fried potatoes on the side. 


On Location

Brian's been working on a short film off and on for a few months now.  He's had some trouble rounding everyone up to shoot, but the planets aligned on Saturday and he invited me along to act as a production assistant.

He's been hunting for a large open room in which to film the final scene.  We discussed my school cafeteria, but it actually doesn't look much like a "normal" school cafeteria.  Happily, his boss offered him the use of her... barn?  Horse arena?  Giant dirt room?

This place:

which is housed inside this place:

and is lined with these:

which are filled with these:

who occasionally ruined takes with loud whinnies.

Their terrible death whinnies.

I'm not sure how much of the movie I'm allowed to describe.  It's a horror movie, of course.  Short, cannibalistic, with a twist at the end.  Just what you'd expect from Brian.

While this is a hobby for him, you have to admire the quality of the equipment.  I mean, they rented lights!

Well, light:

Which I helped operate using Jeff's Professional Camera Guy Gloves:

The masking tape is mine.  I learned long ago as a techie to keep tape on my wrist and pencils in my hair.

My getup couldn't hold a candle to Brian's, though.  Here he is in outfit for his role as writer/director/sound guy/undead extra:

The other extras were friends that he talked into driving to the outskirts of Longmont on a Saturday to wear all white and lay down in horse dirt.  He also has Mavi and Shawn playing the leads while Jeff lends his expertise and his equipment as cinematographer.

Brian has good friends.

In addition to my stellar work with the light, I also worked (operated? clapped? manipulated? Vanna Whited?) the slate, took notes, and managed the talent.  The last task meant that I was the one to escort the extras from the ranch gate to the barn.  It also meant that when the daily Colorado rainstorm hit:

and suspended production for 45 minutes:

I drove the extras back out to the gate to meet their ride.  It was a very exciting 3 minute drive what with the downpour and the mudslides and the poor visibility and my undead passengers and prophesying old cowboys* and all.  Someone should make a movie of it.

Unlike Brian's though, mine would have a happy ending:

P.S.  I drove a long distance with a change in altitude, sweated in stifling heat, was rained on, ate Doritos, and came home covered in dusty dirt and smelling of horse.

I am therefore counting this excursion as a camping trip.

This brings my total number of camping trips as an adult to two. 

Two!  I know.  I'm as shocked as you are.

* Scene:  Near the horse stalls in the barn.  

Me: Bites a cookie while eying the horses with curiosity, suspicion.

One of the workers saunters up.  He's an older fellow and is dressed, as all of the workers are, in exactly what you imagine cowboys wear.

Old Cowboy:  There are buttons on the wall next to the big doors.  Red ones.

Me:  Swallows bite while eyeing the older cowboy with curiosity, suspicion.

Old Cowboy:  I just wanted to make sure you knew.  There's a storm blowing in.  Y'all might need to shut the doors.

Me:  Nods.  Thanks.

Old Cowboy:  Nods back, then walks away with boot heels and jangling spur sound effects.

Thunder rumbles in the distance.

Nearby Horse:  Whinnies.

And... scene!