The Move - Part 1

Well, there was definitely no time for pictures...but the move that took the last two days of our lives was quite a sight. Seriously, the amount of stuff people accumulate is ca-razy. Remember the pile of things I'd started for donation to Goodwill? The pictures in that last post are two sides of the back of our kitchen. By the time our move was over, the piles of bags and boxes had stretched beyond the little wall right where the bags had stopped, spanned from one wall to the other, and came out beyond the wall by about two feet. In the end, I'd say we had ten boxes and 50 bags for Goodwill.

Otherwise, most of our things have gone into storage. Our more commonly used things are here with us at my in-laws' house. The painting I couldn't live without (and still love, love, love) is going to the caring hands of a friend to protect it from the possible damage of storage (even though it's an indoor facility). My boxes of pictures remain with me. Having control of my photographs is so important to me. I've always felt that, in case of a fire, the children and cats come first, then the photographs, and the rest is replaceable.

So the house we're considering renting (at four bedrooms, a rare downtown find) is being remodeled and our final decision will come when we can see the final phases of the work. We all keep pretty busy so hopefully we'll be able to stay out from under each other's feet until we move again. I hope the other place turns out well, though. I've consulted with the police department about it and the street got a great reference from them. It's just our style and still within easy walking distance to downtown locales (including my office).

Wait...did I really just say "move...again?" I'm afraid so. Every single one of my fingers is even sore, but at least if we do it again in a few weeks, there will be way less to carry. One might even consider that having rid ourselves of so much excess chattel, we may even completely unpack all the boxes.

And the only thing that may be worse than moving? Building...and then moving. It's a labor of love,, Melissa?

Hablamos Español en los Cumpleaños de Edie

Today, my youngest child turned four. It's hard to believe we've totally completed the baby-raising phase of our lives. Now there are new tests to be faced. Stony will be a pre-teen soon and all I can say is...if teenaged boys cry less than teenaged girls it'll be all good. Of course, after that we'll be guiding two more girls through their teen years. I won't even begin to predict how that might go.

So, since Eric is away with the Army until tomorrow night, we decided to have Edie's birthday celebration this weekend. Because we aren't doing the birthday thing until this weekend, today had to be special in some small ways. First, I got her one of the stuffed animals from Taylor Books that she and her sister love. This is, literally, the softest teddy bear I've ever held. She was really happy to have it...and even gave it a bath later....but I guess that was her choice.

After work, I rushed home, changed the girls into some clean clothes, and then we headed out to Habitat for Humanity's ReStore for a very cool event. (Stony was with his dad this evening.) Amy Williams, the artist who created our beloved Press 2 for Spanish signs, was taking part in a show with Mark Wolfe as part of Festivall.

So these are the signs my kids and I spent two fun evenings searching Charleston for. We had a great time and I just love, love, love these signs. Today, we not only got to meet Amy Williams, but the girls got to make their very own stenciled signs!!

Amy had a great idea for the girls to create two signs: "Hola" and "Adios." I helped the girls as they chose the styles for their letters from the piles of stencils, then they placed their letters on the board (and a couple of swirls). Since the paint nozzle was too hard for four- and six-year olds to press, they held their hands on top of mine as I sprayed the paint where each directed. (Plus, when they were trying to spray it, the process included pressing as hard as they could on the nozzle and turning it around to look directly at the hole to see if it was working.)

The birthday girl ended up with a beautifully laid out "Adios":

And Miss Bella created a very original "Hola." I really think the extra-large letter L was just the touch it needed:

They were both very excited and proud when I told them I couldn't wait to frame the pieces and hang it in their room. This kind of creativity is exactly what I love to see from them and hope they continue. I mean, I just love how children aren't as filled with pre-conceived notions about what looks good, what colors might go together, and all that.

I've said it before and I'll say it again...thank you, Amy Williams! It's hard to believe how much family time and fun we've gotten out of your art. It speaks to everyone!! In Spanish!!

More iTunes Treasures

When I survey the play lists on my iTunes, there are definitely a few standout favorites. Running through those today, I have to say that I'm always amazed by the awesomeness that is...Willie Nelson:

Can you believe he turned 75 this year?

Ye Olde Days at Seneca Rocks

In digging through the old boxes, I've come across a lot of older stuff that I haven't seen in a while. For instance, about 14 years ago, I visited Seneca Rocks in the Monongahela National Forest (West Virginia). I found a picture of me, taken atop the rocks. You have to remember, this was the early 90's. Big 80's hair was just starting to make its exit.

So what do you think? I think it's funny but I look at it from a much more philosophical stance than I would have before. In my early 20's, it was the time to wear hiking boots and cut-off shorts but makeup and hair mousse at the same time. Hiking the 1.3-mile trail (on a very steep incline) not only meant that my physical fitness was really good, but that I didn't yet have three small children who would make it about half way before they (understandably) gave out. Climbing over the safety barrier and joining the mountain climbers (and other outlaws) on the very top of the mountain was more of the thing to do.

I just noticed something else...I still had the braces on my teeth then!! Braces were something I had never had when I was younger, but paid for myself when I was about 19. (As an aside, I feel like braces are the best thing I've ever bought. It made a huge difference in my life to be able to smile without being self-conscious. Now I smile every chance I get.) It's also interesting that my arms are so much bigger now but my big ol' knees have always been...well...big ol' knees.

And the view from the top of the mountain? It may be harder to appreciate without the view from the bottom:

If I remember correctly, when the picture of me was taken, I would have been standing right about where the first dip in the top part of the mountain is (on the left side). And you know, I think I could still make the climb up Seneca's steep path because, although I'm pretty out-of-shape, I'm stubborn and have a lot of endurance. Without the big hair, there'd probably be a lot less wind resistance, too. And, yeah, it wouldn't be worth it if I didn't climb over the barrier.


So this week has been packing week. We've moving out of this house and into something more reasonable (in size and cost). As many of you know, Eric hasn't been working for a long time, gas prices are insane (especially when you're driving The Super Duper Mini-Van loaded down with a bunch of kids), and even food prices are going up. So this move isn't something we're too upset about. Once you make a decision to take some action, just having made the decision will often alleviate a good deal of the stress.

And this time, packing has been different than it ever was before. Why? Because, so far, I've gone through each and every thing we own and have done a great job of pulling out the clothes and extraneous possessions we really don't need. But, seriously...I'm not sure if you can appreciate this process without pictures. We are a family of two "grown ups," one teenager, and three children. With approximately 50% to 60% of the house packed, I'd bet I've collected 25 to 30 full trash bags of clothing and at least four big boxes of general stuff. It's all in the back side of our kitchen. Here's both sides of that space:

I can't wait until Goodwill comes and picks this stuff up. I'm going to have them wait until Friday, though, so I can try to get as much of whatever might be left into the pile as well. Still, it's kind of embarrassing to have think we've ever even purchased so much stuff that this is what can just discard. But I'm proud to be letting much of it go. It's one of the things I've said I wanted to do for a long time.

2008 Whirlwind Scrabble Tour

After my dear friend Martha introduced me to Scrabble, I spent a year or so being fairly so-so about it. I learned the basic words, went to a few Scrabble club meetings, and played in the April 2007 tournament in Charleston, WV. Somewhere between April and fall 2007, my interest in the game got stronger and, by late last year, I was excitedly awaiting the chance to travel to tournaments. So far this year, I've attended four tournaments. And it was going pretty well...until Pittsburgh, which I blogged about here and here. Don't get me wrong. I love Pittsburgh and the people there are some of my favorites in the Scrabble world!! They're all very friendly and say "dahntahn" and "youins."

But Pittsburgh was hard on me. I did so, so poorly. On one hand, it seemed like I was drawing really bad letters the whole time. On the other hand, a good player should be able to work with those a little better than I did.

So...NOW...I've decided to step it up a notch. (Well, many notches, if possible.) With the help and advice, of our local club's loyal director, I've started studying Scrabble words (every day). In order to be well-rounded about it, I've been studying using a three-pronged approach: anagram recognition, word list recall, and flash card study of bigger words. (I bet the non-Scrabblers out there didn't know people actually study this stuff, huh?) Logically, investing this effort into a game I've grown to love (if I'm not hating it at that second), should yield some better play. I should be able to survive the "bad racks" a little better and hopefully play more bingos to give myself a better buffer.

And it's worth the investment in time. Scrabble is about the only thing I do for fun anymore. I have three young children and a demanding job. The past year, since my husband's work injury, there haven't been a lot of extra funds to invest in recreation. But I don't believe you can stay sane, though, unless you have some fun now and then. So, since we're moving to a house that's more affordable (slightly less on the rent and fairly lower on the utilities), I've made a commitment to myself to really go all out this summer and fall traveling to Scrabble tournaments.

Pretty much anything within about a six-hour drive is my target. Based on the schedule right now, that puts me heading to:

  • Rocky River, Ohio on July 12th;

  • Pontiac, Michigan from August over Labor Day weekend;

  • Fenton, Michigan on September 13th and 14th;

  • Hudson, Ohio on September 20th to the 21st;

  • Elyria, Ohio on October 18th and 19th;

  • Lexington, Kentucky on the first weekend in November;

  • Strongsville, Ohio on December 6th and 7th; and,

  • Maybe Durham, North Carolina on October 24th though the 26th.

So, yeah, that's a little more than one a month for the rest of the year. Why? I don't know. Because I've committed myself to putting in a huge effort all around (even if it means traveling on the cheap)? Because we've had a tough year all around? Because I've become obsessed? Because I'm a really nice person and I'm giving myself permission?

Whatever the reason, I decided to do it! My 2008 Whirlwind Scrabble Tour!!! Then I figured, if a New Yorker can use the Internet to get strangers to pay off her $20,000 in shopping debt, maybe people would be happy to contribute to my worthy cause!! What's the benefit?? An investment in hope and my effort and helping someone who has, in the last 36 months, spent 26 months standing in the background of her husband's military service, his dedication as a firefighter, and his subsequent injury. The second half of 2008 is going to be my (half) year!!

So, anyone who feels as excited about my whirlwind tour as I feel about my tour, or who just wants to see if I can pull off this studying=winning thing, or who just figures "what the heck!"...then you may ask yourself, "Why don't I click here?" No contribution is too small (or big...heh). Live vicariously through me as I throw my responsibilities to the wind (except for the studying thing)!!

(A huge "thank you" to Chris. Chris has been one heck of a pal not just since he came to my birthday dinner, but especially this last week. Of course, feel free to link to this post, too!)

Camp Leon

Last weekend, my son departed for church camp...his first time at an overnight camp. Even though his nature can be a little shy at times, I wasn't too panicked for him to go. Since he's an outdoorsy kind of kid, I was sure he'd adjust quickly and then have a great time with the fishing, horseback riding, swimming, and all. The camp is about three hours away and, although it's at a place called Camp Tygart, the week our church is there, it's referred to as "Camp Leon." Father Leon has been one of the most favorite priests in our area for about the last 30 years. My husband attended the camp with Father Leon for years. (In fact, Father Leon's notability in my in-law family includes having taken custody of Eric when he arrested for drinking on the beach during a chuch trip when he was 15.)

So a few people asked me through the week if we'd heard from Stony and the answer was "no." We all agreed that that was probably a good thing because there would probably be no calls unless there was a problem. Then last night the girls and I went up for the family night that was to include a bonfire and skits by the kids. (Eric is on military duty right now.) When we got to the camp, though, Stony was ready to put his bag in the car and leave. I figured the week had been so-so for him and he was ready to go. I was kind of bummed but it definitely could have been worse.

Still, we trekked what I'd guess was 1/4 mile along a path and past the lake to the clearing for the bonfire and skits. Turns out I was ill-prepared. It was already about an hour past the girls' bedtime. I had brought no chairs, no blanket, and no flashlight. There was no bathroom within reasonable walking distance for children. About the only thing I had thought in advance to do was dress the kids warmly. Soon, I was holding my four-year-old (which was killing my back) as she started to get sleepy and my six-year-old was getting tired, too. Two valiant men (Chris and a local doctor from our church) rescued me from bad parent hell by offering up their chairs for us (which I gratefully accepted).

What we did get to see was pretty entertaining as there was a huge bonfire that threw sparks into the air like tiny, glowing snakes that disappeared into the night sky. The older kids (I think counselors) had carried the flame into the camp, appearing straight out of the woods in full tribal ragalia, including cute, plastic "grass" skirts. Each group of kids performed a skit and, if I do say so, Stony's group was very funny and seemed well-practiced with their performance of Camp Leon Idol. Stony was the light man for the performance which I think suited his nature.

Right after Stony's group's skit was over, it was just getting too, too late and, being even more helpative, Chris agreed to lead Stony back to the van so I could take the girls there and wait. Even more, Chris loaned me a tiny, LED light which was the only thing that led us safely along the pitch black path (with a steep drop on one side). Do you remember when I said I wanted to go live in the woods? Fuck that!!!! Turns out I only want to live in the woods during the daytime. The woods at night are scary. Beyond the flashlight's illumination of our path, you could not see a thing. There were noises in the woods and the obvious sounds of movement. Deer? Unusually vicious black bear? No way to all. The girls were terrified and the walk probably took 50% longer because they were clinging to me. My older daughter proclaimed it to be "scary as crap." ("Crap" is her favorite descriptor since about mid-way through Kindergarten. It's not always as a bad thing. She may also refer to a cake as "good as crap.")

After what felt like a really long time, as the girls dozed in the van, tiny orange, white, and blue orbs started floating out of the darkess from the direction of the bonfire. As the campers and parents emerged from the shadows, Chris appeared with my son all safe and sound. Then Stony started recounting for me, in that rushed voice that young boys have, about the things he did at camp. His new friend, Jed, came to tell him goodbye and that he'd see Stony at the pool in Charleston and then they did that hand-grab-type-handshake thing. It was awesome and I was so relieved and happy. As Stony got into the van, he began excitely telling the stories of horseback riding, natural waterslides in the creek, putting salamanders in the girls' bunkhouse, and getting bombarded with water balloons through their bunkhouse windows. He said he wants to come back every year and that he loved camp. Later, in our hotel room, he proclaimed that "today was a good day."

My son was all tan and happy and filled with fun stories for me and his sisters. Despite the late hour and all the complications that came with it, it was, indeed, a very good day.

Brick Walls

Supposedly by late this fall my firm will be moving into its "new" building (actually a historic building that being renovated and rehabilitated after years of bad remodeling). Until then, like many of the offices downtown, my office has a brick exterior wall. I love the look of it. But like many of these old, brick buildings, a lot of the mortar has come out from between the bricks. One day I started sticking things in the spaces (with paperclips). I'd actually like to fill the entire wall with smallish things held up by paperclips in the mortar cracks...but I'm not sure I'll have the time to collect enough appropriately-sized (and interesting enough) things. The three things there now are (left to right): my ACLU Board Member name tag; the piece of Scrabble art I won at the NeoScrabble Spring Fling back in April; and my alphabetically-ordered name tag from also from the Spring Fling.

It's not like you can feel a breeze coming through the bricks or anything. The wall is probably a foot thick. There is one spot where, if the temperature is just right, and you look at just the right spot at just the right angle, you can see a sliver of light...but that's about it.

The one problem we do have that I attribute to the vintage walls...tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tinytinytiny spiders. Orange ones. (And some only slightly larger brownish ones.) I know the orange ones are actually Red Spider Mites but if I said, "I have mites in my office," then people would probably consider that a skin condition or the result of poor grooming. And they look like spiders so... AND you can only see them when they get on your papers or get on your skin so, when you smash one, there is left a very visible, bright orange streak.

But do know what happens when you find and/or kill a tiny spider every day or so in your office? You begin to feel like you always have tiny spiders on you. I find myself closely examining my arms whenever I feel the slightest...maybe...something (which I'm probably usually imagining).

It's okay, though. I don't like the paranoia I've developed about them, but I can deal with the spider mites (and the less commonly-appearing but slightly larger brownish spiders). IF, however, I were to locate even one large spider (or a mouse or something like that) in my office, it's unlikely I'd ever bill another hour of work. It'd be too hard to accomplish anything with my chair smack in the middle of the room, my legs pulled tight to my chest, slowly spinning around on watch for any mouse or big spider that might be planning a sneak attack.

Nothing Screams "I'm Important" Like Screaming "I'm Important" Into Your Cell Phone

Who wants to know all about a certain financial sales guy ("B.C.") who works for a certain investment company ("The H.") and his very important phone calls today? Better yet, who wants to know all about B.C.'s clients (and The H's clients) who purchased financial products today, hold old they are, their addresses, and how much money they have to invest?

I'll admit that I'm somewhat possessive of my favorite downtown (but more specifically Capitol Street) food and coffee spots...but if the feel of our quaint, homemade ice cream shop, independent coffee/book/art store, brick-paved sidewalks, and historic buildings is gone, it's just another day at the office. And every day I share this space with my co-owners which are comprised of my fellow Charlestonians and our visitors who usually understand, even if intuitively, that this is a cool space and one should not be, well...uncool.

I'm not a xenophobe. I love people. I talk to people everywhere I go and I'm sure strangers often think I'm nuts for getting all up in their beeswax if the mood strikes me. But B.C. was so clearly not from here, and was so clearly clueless. How do I know for sure? FIRST, the six degrees of separation that exist everywhere else in the universe are reduced to two in Charleston. If you don't know a person, someone you know knows them. And I had never even seen this guy. SECOND, he said he's not from here on his cell phone.

But the problem is, B.C.'s employer (The aforementioned H) supplies him with a cell phone that very obviously has a weak microphone. B.C. is forced to sit in an otherwise peaceful, chill Ellen's Ice Cream and conduct his very important business in a voice so loud that I'm sure he's going to lose said voice any second. I'm sure it was killing him knowing that everyone else was trying to get enjoy a short respite from the office life while he was forced to work work work work WORK WORK WORK.

My point is, I find a lot of comfort in certain things staying the same. It's one of the reasons I like living in Charleston. I like the places and I like most of the people, who I consider to be open and friendly. B.C. disturbed the peace one can usually expect with your White Bean and Arugula Soup. He was not only obnoxious and obtrusive, but disturbingly lacking in any concern for his clients' personal information. Luckily, we don't get many of his kind round hya. (Melissa was similarly-surprised when she encountered some Ralph Nader supporters on the street, who not only lacked in manners but civility.) So that's all I've got to say about that.

OH! One more thing. Isaiah...the only aggressive semi-street person we have downtown...the one who makes you listen to some wonderful, happy, crap story before he loudly accuses you of lying and racism when you won't give him money...I've had two fairly serious run-ins with him. I mean, ask me for a dollar for a beer, and don't insult my very humanity, and I'll probably give you five dollars. But act like an ass, especially in front of my children? Heh. Both times in the interactions with Isaiah, my occasionally-surfacing fluid temper (the one that makes me extremely calm and makes my words, albeit sharp, flow calmly and coherently) took over and I was not intimidated. Today, never remembering who anyone is, I'm sure...Isaiah approached me with his wide grin and started with a few words. Before he got within five feet of me I shot him a severe look and he said something like "Urrgghhh" and retreated. Score three for Tina.

Duck Hunt

My son's dad hunts and Stony has had a .22 rifle since he was five. During duck season (December and January), his dad took this video:

It strikes me he much younger he looks with his hair uncut. (He's actually almost ten there and had tried to grow it out like a lot of kids do but it's so straight he didn't really get the look he was going for.) Just a month or so later, here's how he looked with his hair cut much shorter.

And, yes, I recognize the irony of saying how pretty an animal is right after you've shot it. Personally, I wouldn't like to hunt...but I eat meat (with the exception of beef) so...what can I say? And they did follow the tradition of not killing any animal just for sport by having duck for dinner. I guess it also follows the trend around our house, which is to eat organic foods and free-range meat as much as possible. (Here's a chance to plug Bluegrass Kitchen, one of my favorite restaurants ever. They serve only organic food.)

The point of my story...and I always get around to the the way Stony talks cracks me up. He sounds like he's reading from a script! Funny how, when he's writing, the typically-slow fourth grade writing speed, along with his tendency to get distracted, hinders the expression of his thoughts. Someone had the great idea once (really, I'm not being sarcastic) of getting him a laptop. The point was getting him to type, and able to get what he wanted to say out before he forgot. It's really too bad The Evil Genius keeps ripping the keys off his keyboard without anyone seeing her.

Colon Blow

I'm sorry about the title, but I just had to say it. I've been watching Saturday Night Live since I was way too young to watch Saturday Night Live so trust me when I say that there's not much that's funnier than bodily functions. (See also Annuale.)

On a related note, my firm does many great things for its of which includes having a big selection of fresh fruit brought in every week from the Purple Onion at the Capitol Market. Yes, we are special. (We also have bottled water with the firm's name on it.) So, if you're busy busy busy and don't have time for lunch or are just uninspired by the selections within walking distance, you can grab some fruit and some very special bottled water and just keep working.

I also keep less-perishable food in my desk drawer (like milk and beef). Okay...actually, I keep almonds and cereal in there. Today, I had All-Bran Complete Wheat Flakes and an apple for lunch...and I read the cereal box while I was eating. All-Bran has 1 gram of soluble fiber and 4 grams of insoluble fiber per tiny, unrealistically-sized, 3/4-cup serving. Hmm. "What's the difference?" I asked myself and set about finding out.

Turns out, eating a lot of fiber is something akin to drinking a lot of poison. Apparently one must work your way up from, say...a flake of All-Bran every day, and develop an immunity to certain health hazards like "dramatically swollen belly," "smelly office syndrome," and such. It's like that guy who injected himself with a little snake venom over and over for a long time so he could handle them without suffering a fatal bite.

But don't you worry, my friends...I've always had only two preferences when it came to cereal: Wood Fiber Health Flakes or Lucky Charms. My tolerance to fiber has been in place for a long time...and I stay away from Lucky Charms as much as possible because they're so delicious I could eat a whole box. (In all fairness, All-Bran is very delicious, as well, and very satisfying for a meal.)

For the rest of you, be warned. All-Bran may be good for your heart, but the more you eat the more you healthy.


I had one art class in college...Art 101. Actually, I had Humanities, too, which involved some art history and art appreciation, but I've only had one class in which I created art. The instructor, Paula Clendenin, was someone I admired right from the start. She had zero tolerance for anyone who cut up in class which, because it was a required course, was sort of often. Her response was either an icy stare or, the next time, a short but firm invitation to leave (which you could not turn down). But what I think Paula taught me for the first time was that everyone has some art inside them.

On and off since that class, I've felt the need to create something. It's rare that I've ever gotten, or maybe taken, the opportunity to do so. For about the past year, though, the need to express myself has gotten stronger, and has lately become sort of an obsession. I've been purposely open to inspiration, in that looking-but-not-looking sort of way (like you're supposed to do if you're "looking" for love).

And last year I took the plunge and bought a pretty decent digital SLR camera but I still haven't gotten to really even explore all of its functions. I think it does a good job, though, and if you've got the eye for subject matter and framing, you can create some decent pictures. Here are two I took at West Virginia's capitol back in January (or maybe it was February):

This one needs exposure adjustment here and there but I was really pleased with the overall look of it. Actually, when I look at it, the darkness conveys how I often feel about what's going on in there.

The dome inside the capitol is sometimes obscured with scaffolding for repairs or cleaning, but this time, on a Saturday, I was actually able to lay down on the floor and take this shot from below. I'm not that much of a clean lines/geometry-style person in real life but I love some good shapes and lines in photography.

So as far as I know, I can't draw or paint...but lately I've been wondering why I don't try and do more of this self-expression via the construction methods I've learned over time. I can use most any woodworking equipment (with the exception of maybe a lathe) and even probably most metalworking equipment. I can cut and work with glass which I really enjoyed during a stained glass class I took a few years ago. AND I can arc and gas least I used to be able to so I figure I could pick back up any information I've lost pretty easily.

I've got two things in mind right now. First, I've got six of those giant, metal 3D stars that people put on or around their houses. (Wait, would that be 3D or 2D?) Anyway, I'd like to rough-cut the interior out of them (I guess using a torch), leaving just the outline of the star, the inside lines, etc., then reinforce the back with a welded, star-shaped frame, then build and mount stained glass pieces in that interior space. Second, I want to put the lessons I learned building Brad's Scrabble board to use building boards for myself and for Martha. Here's the board I've already done:

For one thing, I learned a lot about working with the glass-like epoxy gloss coat which is one of my favorite parts about the whole thing. (It makes the paint underneath look like it goes all the way through.) I've also fabricated what I consider a pretty successful prototype of a Scrabble board grid. Before, getting your hands on a usable grid meant finding and ripping apart and old board with a good grid (because new ones have paper/plastic-like surfaces that are just impressed with the grid shape). My first try at the grid-making produced something that wasn't quite right but, much to my relief, needed adjustments I could discern and probably correct. And, since making Brad's board, I've had several strokes of inspiration for various designs and methods.

Part of me wishes I'd gone to RIT and gotten a degree in photography. A big part of me wishes I had the time to go to the much more local WV State University and get another art. Although I'd only need somewhere in the vicinity of 45 hours to do that, most art classes are actually 6 hours of class time per 3-hour credit. Assuming that, at least for now, I'm left with the skills and tools I've got (and perhaps a gas welder to borrow). Luckily, I've decided...if that's what I got, then that's what I got. So we'll see how all this desire to create goes. Right after the move, I'm on it.

Scrabble Blogs

In an attempt to be consistent with the title of my blog, I have been accumulating a list of Scrabble links and other Scrabble blogs. I guess this would be considered a "dynamic" list (does that word apply only to literally moving or can it be figurative?) in that I'm always adding Scrabble blogs as I come across them. Sometimes I'll delete a blog if its 100% technical in nature like to strike a balance between fun and serial.

So...Scrabble bloggers...if you know of a great blog (or link) I'm missing, give me a shout! This includes LiveJournals since I've discovered the OpenID!!! Why, you ask? Because:

I'm simplifying my life and I decided to let go of any regular maintenance or time on my MySpace and focus more on the written (or typed, as it may be) word. And although I know a lot of Scrabble folk use LiveJournal, I have a strong preference for the more colorful, modifiable format of Blogger. Then tonight I was browsing around some of the Scrabble blogs listed on my page, and came across one that, like me, enjoyed interspersing some humor into the non-funny world of game recaps. Even though I don't have a LiveJournal, I explored the OpenID login option and found that I could actually log in using my blog url!!! Maybe this is yesterday's news to you guys (or last month's or last year's) but I'm pretty psyched to have figured it out.

304 Blogs...

...West Virginia, that is (the "304" representing our area code...not the number of blogs). Thanks to 304Blogs for adding not only this, my personal blog, but the West Virginia Scrabble blog! You've got a great collection of cool West Virginia stuff going and I love it!!

Thanks, again!!

The Five Dollar Haircut

Making appointments for myself is something I try to avoid if I can. It's just too easy to become overscheduled, lose efficiency at work, or cut into Scrabble time. This desire to be more appointment-free, and to cut down on driving time and gas money, has led me to try and get as many things as I can done within walking distance from my office. Therein lies the reason for my humidity-sensitive hair curling out around my ears the last few weeks (like extra ears of some sort).

It's not like I didn't try to get a haircut. Trying to walk in to a salon that advertises "Walk-Ins Welcome" is like trying to get a prescription filled at Wal-Mart. They look at you like you're eight shades of crazy and tell you they might be able to accomodate you in about five hours. I'd even tried calling a day or two in advance to the high-end salon at the end of the block. It was frustrating to not even be able to get this haircut I so desperately needed when I was willing to pay a premium price for it!! And now...I'm so glad that didn't work out...because I've discovered the five dollar haircut.

In the opposite direction of the day-spa salon, but still on the same block as my office, there's a school of cosmetology. I KNOW...I know. The idea of getting my haircut at a beauty school scared me, too. My hair is short, and, in theory, getting it cut will only make it shorter. There's not going to be much room there to repair anything which might go wrong.

But yesterday I'd finally had it with the hair, and there was no way I was going to spend hours sitting in one of our local walk-in salons, waiting for my turn to be fit in between people who actually had appointments. Besides, I'm still in counseling for the walk-in-mall-salon experience that made me cry the night of my birthday dinner. (Crying because of a bad hairstyle is hard to explain, but all that's a whole other story. I will say that Eric thought I had wrecked the car when he answered the phone to find me choked up so badly on the other end, and Melissa eased my pain by reminding me that it never looks as bad to anyone else as it does to us.)

So I marched into the beauty school, as confident as always when I'm doing something I haven't thought through enough (which is "very"). I reminded myself that: (1) cosmetology students are likely to be very careful to not make mistakes; and (2) from what I've heard an instructor checks each hairstyle during the process and double-checks the style before you leave. And it's a fivedollarhaircut.

I guess the next student who was "up" on the list for was Taylor. ("Taylor" like Taylor Dayne and not Taylor Hicks, although Taylor Dayne was kind of masculine back in the 80's.) About twenty minutes later, Taylor had done a great job with my hair and, although my hairstyle, it looked exactly like my other short cuts. I was so pleased that I snapped a picture of Taylor and me BUT the angle was odd and a piece of my hair looked weird (although it's not). I didn't think it was fair to post it because then it would look like I didn't really get a good fivedollarhaircut...but just need new glasses. Anyway, the one thing no stylist has ever understood about how I like my hair is that, unless I'm wearing cocktail dress or something like that, I don't like my hair to look too neat. And I don't mean I want it to look that purposeful sort of messy....which looks too planned.

So I bounced back to my office (as in "light-footed," not like 2006 Hip Hop slang) and ran my fingers through my hair until it felt more natural. Are you dying to see the result? Are you? Are you? Are you? Beg no longer, my friends...and bask in the glow:

Hablamos Español, Parte 2

My post about Amy Williams' "Press 2 for Spanish" city-wide art installation piece drew a lot of positive feedback. Maybe the combination of a simple art piece, a primary color, and trying on new vocabulary words draws us back to a time when life was easy and happy and, even if there was a bump in the road, we were very resilient.

So this light feeling about the signs has stuck with me since the morning I first saw el reloj on my way to work. A few people sent me hints about where I might find other signs including the statement that, if we were to head out for gourmet pizza and red wine, we might just happen upon a sign.

And along those same lines, there was a sign marking one of my favorite restaurants ever, Bluegrass Kitchen...where you can enjoy a popular favorite like the Black Bean Burrito or one of the special entrees that are almost never the same, but always divine:

And although I've never gotten around to trying the hand-made selection of baked goods at Charleston Bread, I've heard only great things about it.

Then as I trekked around the block today (running errands during lunch), I passed the transit mall (or is it called "bus mall"?)...and I hadn't noticed how big the trees in that area were getting. Everybody deserves a retreat from the midday sun...and although there are a few people can make walking through this particular park uncomfortable for a woman, many just have no place to go during the day. I suppose sometimes it's hard to pass the time waiting for a cooler resting spot and good meal.

Finally, the kids and I used another nice, pre-bedtime drive to cruise around and capture some more of our now-beloved signs. The kids munched on tiny fish sandwiches (the bread...I'm not sure how big the fish started out) which are perfect for a less-than-messy meal in the van. Right before heading home again to put our two youngest in bed, we stopped in front of Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream and gave the new, young man working there a run for his money. I'm sure when I walked in alone to get our treats, he didn't expect that I would be ordering five different flavors of ice cream scooped into five separate cups. Like all of Ellen's employees, though, he was good-natured so I gave him a nice tip. (Work is hard, ya'll!!)

And, these, so far, are the last of the signs we've found:

That last one is the East End Dog Park, by the way. The boys in the picture were pretty set in their positions right behind the sign and, since they're kids, I didn't want to make them very recognizable on the Internet. (Yes, I know I've put pictures of my kids on the Internet, but I'd rather leave those decisions up to a child's own parents.) Plus, there's only so long a 30-something-year-old woman can stand and take pictures of early teen-ish boys before it just starts to look weird.

So that's 18 signs for us. Far as I can tell, there's at least one more that's on the artist's MySpace profile page. As of today, that one still eludes me! Sadly, at least one of the signs has already been taken (liberated? removed?) but I have a feeling the one I can't find is in a spot that I could would come across if I were walking down The Boulevard instead of driving. So we'll see about that one and if any others are revealed.

Thank you for all this fun, Amy Williams! I love what I interpret as the more serious message behind them and I've love the lightness of searching all around Charleston for them.

Viva Festivall!!!

Fran & Dave

I don't really know Fran and Dave, but I know that they've moved into the woods. I'm so jealous. I want to move into the woods. I want to chuck these giant piles of crap we've accumulated around here, pack up the three-tents-in-a-tent that we've yet to even use, and go cook on a fire.

Hablamos Español

¿Qué es todo esto? Hablamos Español en Charleston, West Virginia. Un artista denominó a Amy Williams lo demuestra.

I noticed the first of these signs as I approached my office today on Capitol Street and I thought it was probably something for a school field trip. Immediately I was reminded of signs I would see when I lived in San Antonio...the ones that marked the transition into the migrant neighborhoods, where all the signs would be in Spanish. The basic colors of the signs and the simple, stenciled transmission of the necessary information always stood out on the cluttered backdrop of the city. So I still didn't know what this particular sign on the clock was for, but I really liked it.

Later in the morning, I walked back out of the building and, coming from that direction, I noticed another sign in the windows of Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream:

Finally, I walked out about lunch time, heading to my favorite coffee shop (slash cafe slash book store slash art gallery) a few doors down. Spotting yet another sign (in the coffee shop window), I asked the woman at the book and art counter what was up with the signs. She said they were part of city-wide installation piece called "Press 2 for Spanish" by local artist Amy Williams. She said there were even more signs around Charleston and suddenly I was hooked! All of a sudden this cool sign mounted on a clock post became a hide-and-seek that was way even more cool!! I decided to find out more, and e-mailed the artist. (If you go to her MySpace page, and add her as a friend, you can see pictures of any of the signs that I haven't yet come across..or may have already seen yourself.)

So as I walked from my office at the end of the day, and headed for the parking garage, I photographed the three signs I'd seen and prepared to look online tonight for the rest. (The Man has blocked access to MySpace in our building.) On the way to the garage, I saw this:

Then, on the way to pick up my youngest sister, Anna, from her job, I saw this...

...and then I saw this...

I had, just in the nick of time, snatched Anna from the jaws of insanity (she works eight hours a day in the infant room at a daycare center), when we saw this sign and I pointed it out to her:

Maybe we're just an overly-excitable bunch, but Anna was a San Antonian for only the first six months of her life. Assuming she didn't get out much for random street sign reading at that point, she isn't at all used to seeing street signs labeled in a language besides American English. When I told her that they were art and that there were a lot more of them around, she was drawn into my quest to undertake this sort of scavenger hunt with no clues.

So we went home, finished up the second bath of the day for the girls (which the babysitter had been so very helpful to start after a hot afternoon at the park), and took the kids to get something to eat. After we had packed the children back into the van, bellies full and sleepiness setting in, we set out to find whatever others signs we could. We drove back-and-forth on the four streets that run parallel along the river in our small city. We made our way down The Boulevard, then circled back toward town, making sure to pass the hospitals and the downtown fire station (all places we thought a sign might be spotted). We jumped and pointed when we saw anything red, white, and square (including for-sale signs and yield signs).

Usually, though, we would zip by a sign somewhere we weren't expecting it, yell and point as we drove by, then make a quick circle around the block, timing the stop lights so we could get a picture without obstructing traffic. As simple as it sounds, this was a fun time. The almost-four-year-old, like nearly any child her age, was lulled to sleep by the warm night and just driving around. My older daughter and my son showed off the random Spanish words they could think of from school. Anna asked good questions like "What makes that art?" and talked about trying to schedule an art class this fall, her first semester of college. It was a continuation of our conversations during a recent art show near our house where she got to see people her age (and younger) recognized for their urban art and realized that artists don't always look like old hippies or wine-sipping, black-turtleneck-wearing pretentious folk.

So we circled the blocks and photographed all the signs we could find before the time set in to get the other kids home for bed, too. Here they are:

It's time like this that make being a parent seem easy. It's not easy...but sometimes it seems that way for a minute.

Oh! And we were glad that we didn't know in advance where the signs were. I still don't know where they all are, but know for sure that I missed at least one, based on the artist's front page of her MySpace. I'm not sure I'll look at the her other pictures for a while. It'd seem like reading ahead to the last page of a book. But in this book, you get to interpret your own story. Whatever it means to Amy Williams, it can mean a dozen other things to you, or maybe nothing at all.

(Feel free to share with me any signs you might see, too!!)

If A Unicorn Were On The National Security Council

McSweeney's cracks me up. So clever it is. And although I purposely intend to not go too much into politics on this blog, this piece is allowed because it's damn funny. So, without further ado, discourse, or description...

If A Unicorn Were On The National Security Council, by Ken Saji:

The unicorn starts out by laying out its plan to counter the North Korean nuclear threat. It says, "Create a giant rainbow over the entire country that lasts 100 years and then flood the DMZ with thousands of puppies—er, kittens. Because nothing's cuter than a kitten scratching and meowing to get in somewhere. Then, after we break through, the Marines go in and take over any nuclear facilities, turning them into 'Happy Centers,' filled with flowers, cupcakes, popcorn (low sodium), toys, smiles, trust, and kinship."

The vice president is swayed, but asks for tactical specifics. The unicorn presents a briefing memo written in watercolored rebuses. It's 630 pages long. The unicorn states that it's no small feat writing out "operational malfeasance" in pictures, and the president says, "Well, ain't that the truth."

The unicorn moves on and explains that increasing the Special Forces covert operations in the tribal areas along the Pakistani border would be productive. Currently in that region, says the unicorn, "there are way many factions, anti-U.S. sentiment, cobwebs, and frowns."

The director of national intelligence questions the unicorn's assessment, specifically the number of operatives needed. He says the undersecretary of defense stands by the current numbers.

The unicorn immediately questions any troop assessment coming from the Department of Defense. "How about," it says, "that leprechaun? Whenever we talked about Iraq, the leprechaun magically appeared and said our ground forces were sufficient."

"Leprechaun?" asks the secretary of defense.

"The one who celebrated Rosh Hashanah," says the unicorn.

"Wolfowitz," mouths the national-security adviser.

The unicorn nods its noble head.

The secretary of state is concerned about conducting clandestine missions without congressional approval.

The unicorn holds up in its mouth a document of legal indemnification, crafted by the White House counsel. It's written in crayon and contains language like "all busted up and such," but the unicorn maintains that it's ironclad.

Talk turns to Somalia and the growing threat of Al Qaeda in the capital city. "Have you thought," asks the unicorn, "of sending a legion of robots?" "Just one legion?" asks the secretary of the treasury. The unicorn lets the chief of staff take that one—it's not exactly sure how many make up a legion, as it's probably metric.

The unicorn remains silent for most of the conversation on Iran. In a break in the conversation, it interjects, "In developing contingencies against Iran, council members had suggested I contact a specific person at the International Atomic Energy Agency. My advisers soon told me that there is no person at the IAEA named Nukey McBombalot. This after multiple attempts to reach his secret office in Kapowville, as well as hundreds of dollars out of my own pocket spent on calligraphy on his invitation and place card for my tea party. Does anyone have any other contact information on him?" The unicorn thinks he hears the director of national intelligence stifle a laugh.

The vice president talks about supplying arms to Kurdish rebels. "How about," says the unicorn, "we swap out guns and use love guns." The unicorn starts to draw a rifle with an oversized barrel under the words "Love Gun!" and stops. "Let's shelve this for now," says the unicorn. Everyone quickly agrees.

The president emits a loud groan and points. There's a large pile of manure on the Situation Room couch. The council members look at the unicorn. "That's not me—and unicorns don't lie," says the unicorn. The president looks at the vice president. The vice president averts his eyes. They move on.

Talk turns to Iraq, and the unicorn wishes he had his teddy bear. The teddy bear who served on the Council on Foreign Relations. The one the unicorn took to Syria, and the unicorn saw the look on the Syrians' faces, like "Oh, man, don't let this teddy bear look me straight in the eye." And the meeting was going great until the teddy bear said that Damascus reminded him of his ass. So now Hezbollah is stronger than ever and the teddy bear is teaching social studies somewhere in New Paltz.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sternly opposes the unicorn's idea to airlift sunshine across the tribal areas of Afghanistan. He says something under his breath. "I heard that," says the unicorn. "Calling me just a horse with a horn is like calling Justin Timberlake just a singer or the secretary of state just a mannequin for Dress Barn suits."

To clear the air, the unicorn calls for a bathroom break. After a few minutes, it comes back and says how cool it is that the Sit Room bathroom has textured toilet paper. "Why is that?" asks the unicorn. "Because we're the government," says the secretary of defense. "Boy," says the unicorn, "I wish I used toilet paper." And everyone stares at the unicorn, and suddenly it wishes it hadn't said that. And then the unicorn wishes it were something else, like a monkey. One of those monkeys who use toilet paper. One of those wise, wise monkeys.

And...we're back

I've just arrived home from the Pittsburgh Scrabble Tournament, and the report on my tournament results is only slightly better. I ended the weekend with a 4-and-8 record...but at least that put my play today at two victories for four games. Turns out Cross-Tables had only predicted that I win five of the games. I guess that's not so much worse than I thought...but then, on the other hand, several of the unrated players on Cross-Tables, though playing in their first tournament, weren't exactly beginners. In reality, I'm sure I didn't qualify for my seeded position.

So I think a tournament of 48 players that has nine new competitors (although most are not new to the game of Scrabble) is really awesome! It doesn't necessarily mean more people are playing Scrabble...because most people don't invest the time, money, and effort in a tournament when they first start playing. But it certainly means that more people are playing more seriously. Is this geek chic we're seeing? Maybe in our age of all-digital communication, the new, desirable cave man will be one with a big brain instead of a big biceps. Natural Selection, after all, is a constantly changing thing. (First...two Darwin references in one week make me really proud! Second...I'm seriously digressing here.)

Okay, so....second-to-last, but by no means second-to-least (whaaa?)...three out of our four WV Scrabble players at the Pittsburgh tournament did very well!! Chris, who was playing in only his second-ever Scrabble tournament, took second place in our division! Adding a mini-sweep to that very same division, Martha took home her first-ever first place win in a tournament!! AND...Martha's husband, Brad, took first place in his division (the middle division of three).

After the initial sting of my defeat wore off (and my late Saturday desire to "never fucking play Scrabble ever again"), my resolve was only strengthened. I'm not fooling myself about the situation...and if I ever want to get much better I'll have to invest some real time and effort to the cause. Plain n' simple. So we'll see. Life can get pretty hectic and there's not always time to be studying word lists. How is it not logical that one could absorb under-the-pillow word lists by osmosis? (Why, oh, why are the gods of simple physics against me?!?!?!)

And more worth it than a win was seeing the friends I've made on the regional Scrabble circuit...and making a few new friends, too. I loves talking with some smart people. Speaking of which, spending my four-hour drive chatting it up with Martha was refreshing. She's got a whole can of peas. Brad watched a movie on the way up, and napped some on the way home...both of which I hope were a very tiny, mini-vacation for him.

Okay, conclusion. I'm truly proud of my fellow West Virginians and the weekend wrapped up pretty well. Stan and Terry put a great deal of effort into this tournament and then made it seem effortless as it went so smoothly. And, yeah...I know that other paragraph up there was supposed to be second-to-last. It's the New Math.

Steel City Scrabble - Day 1 least I'm still cute and funny. Maybe.

Today didn't go so well for this wanna-be Scrabble expert. The eight games I played in this first day of the Pittsburgh tournament left me with a record of 2-and-6. And, as I'm known to do, I just got so excited and worked up about this tournament so I didn't handle a subsequent disappointment very well. My dear friend Martha tried to treat my disappointment with hugs and assurances that "you'll win the next game!" She even acted like it was completely normal when my eyes would tear up after reporting yet another loss.

My fellow West Virginia Scrabble players have had a pretty good day, though! They've all got significant winning records and I'll report on that after tomorrow's second (and final) day of the tournament.

But like I've talked about before, part of the fun of Scrabble tournaments is the after-hours Scrabble and poker (of which I chose the second). I had a great time playing Texas Hold 'Em with seven other tournament goers...and even took third place (netting me a profit of $10). Poker is a different brand of fun, too, because the rules of behavior are more relaxed. While smack-talking your opponent in a Scrabble match would be cause for a warning and maybe dismissal from the tournament, smack-talking your fellow poker players is permitted...and fun. You'll never find me talking it up too bad, though. I don't want to have to eat those words.

So wish me luck tomorrow, friends. I need it.

I'm playing Scrabble today!

Okay, well...technically today. Brad, Martha, and I just got here to the hotel outside of Pittsburgh and start the tournament in about 9 hours. Wish me luck!!!

Cave children

I don't remember if it's shaky science or just a disregard for the probable balance of "nature versus nurture" in human development (and I don't feel like doing the research right now), but there's a theory that children seem to look like their fathers at birth more often than they look like their mothers...AND that the reason is because Cave Fathers were more likely to protect and care for their children if there was a physical resemblance. Darwin and his (more scientifically sound) Theory of Natural Selection would indicate that children resembling their mothers would be more vulnerable and less likely to survive, ensuring that the next generation would also tend to look like their dads.

Of course, the genetics of our physical attributes aren't as mathematically simple as all that...but I have a point here, people!!! Don't distract yourselves with minute details!

So I have been raising the epitome of these dad-dominant-genetic kids. My daughters, in birth order, have always been my husband's Mini Me and her Mini Me. (There's two-and-a-half years difference in their ages.) They share a room and I checked on them a few minutes ago, using only the hallway light so as not to wake them. Looking down at my older daughter's bed, I honestly could not tell whether it was her or her sister. Looking over at my youngest daughter's bed, it was equally impossible to discriminate between the two. In the dim light of the hall light, and looking at them several seconds longer, only the moderate difference in their size gave it away.

And, although my son has no brother to whom I could compare him, he's always been a white-blond-haired version of his dark-brown-haired father (my husband from a previous marriage). At 10 years old, I always figure his hair will turn darker sometime soon. Then in the winters it's blond, and in the summers it's white. Aside from his childhood hair color the only physical resemblance to that I can see to me...the woman who carried him for almost nine months and endured nearly three hours of epidural-dulled his teeth. He's even got his father's smaller mouth, from which several of his big, mom-sized teeth have to be pulled before the remainder can be straightened the rest of the way out. Here's an interesting fact about this young man, too...he's "double-jointed" (a misnomer) wherever a person can be. For instance, he can wrap his left arm around his head so tight that he can reach around and place his left hand flat on the left side of his face. He very much enjoys showing off that and his other tricks (like flipping both his legs behind his head) to surprise other kids.