Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 29th - Interesting Facts

Since it's "Leap Day," I'm gonna leap out of my chair and not post anything tonight. I'm tired and I'm going to bed early. But, just so those of you who read my blog on a regular basis won't have to go without, I'm reposting this informational article published by BBC News. I think you'll like it.

Here are 10 things to consider - for one day only. Until 2016, that is.

1. The leap year's extra day is necessary because of the "messiness" of our Solar System. One Earth year (a complete orbit around the Sun) does not take an exact number of whole days (one complete spin of the Earth on its axis). In fact, it takes 365.2422 days, give or take.

2. Until Julius Caesar came to power, people observed a 355-day calendar - with an extra 22-day month every two years. But it was a convoluted solution to the problem and feast days began sliding into different seasons. So Caesar ordered his astronomer, Sosigenes, to simplify things. Sosigenes opted for the 365-day year with an extra day every four years to scoop up the extra hours. This is how the 29 February was born. It was then fine-tuned by Pope Gregory XIII (see below).

3. Every fourth year is a leap year, as a rule of thumb. But that's not the end of the story. A year that is divisible by 100, but not by 400, is not. So 2000 was a leap year, as was 1600. But 1700, 1800 and 1900 are not leap years. "It seems a bit arbitrary," says Ian Stewart, emeritus professor of mathematics at Warwick University. But there's a good reason behind it.

"The year is 365 days and a quarter long - but not exactly. If it was exactly, then you could say it was every four years. But it is very slightly less." The answer arrived at by Pope Gregory XIII and his astronomers when they introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582, was to lose three leap days every 400 years. The math has hung together ever since. It will need to be rethought in about 10,000 years' time, Stewart warns. But by then mankind might have come up with a new system.

4. Why is February 29, not February 31, a leap year day? All the other months have 30 or 31 days, but February suffered from the ego of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, says Stewart. Under Julius Caesar, February had 30 days, but when Caesar Augustus was emperor he was peeved that his month - August - had only 29 days, whereas the month named after his predecessor Julius - July - had 31. "He pinched a couple of days for August to make it the same as July. And it was poor old February that lost out," says Prof Stewart.

5. The tradition of a woman proposing on a leap year has been attributed to various historical figures. One, although much disputed, was St Bridget in the 5th Century. She is said to have complained to St Patrick that women had to wait too long for their suitors to propose. St Patrick then supposedly gave women a single day in a leap year to pop the question - the last day of the shortest month. Another popular story is that Queen Margaret of Scotland brought in a law setting fines for men who turned down marriage proposals put by women on a leap year. Sceptics have pointed out that Margaret was five years old at the time and living far away in Norway. The tradition is not thought to have become commonplace until the 19th Century.

It is believed that the right of every woman to propose on this day goes back to the times when the leap year day was not recognised by English law. It was believed that if the day had no legal status, it was acceptable to break with tradition.

6. A prayer has been written by a female cleric for people planning a leap year day marriage proposal. The prayer, for 29 February, asks for blessings on the engaged couple. It reminds them that wedding plans should not overtake preparations for a lifetime together. The prayer has been taken from Pocket Prayers of Blessing by the Venerable Jan McFarlane, Archdeacon of Norwich:

"God of love, please bless N and N as they prepare for the commitment of marriage. May the plans for the wedding not overtake the more important preparation for their lifetime together. Please bless their family and friends as they prepare for this special day and may your blessing be upon them now and always. Amen."

7. The practice of women proposing in a leap year is different around the world. In Denmark, it is not supposed to be 29 but 24 February, which hails back to the time of Julius Caesar. A refusal to marry by Danish men means they must give the woman 12 pairs of gloves. In Finland, it is not gloves but fabric for a skirt and in Greece, marriage in a leap year is considered unlucky, leading many couples to avoid it.

8. The chance of being born on a leap day is often said to be one in 1,461. Four years is 1,460 days and adding one for the leap year you have 1,461. So, odds of 1/1,461.

But Stewart points out that is very slightly out, owing to the loss of the three leap years every 400 years. In any case, babies are more likely to be born at certain times of the year rather than others, due to a range of other factors, he says. Babies born on 29 February are known as "leapers" or "leaplings".

9. Other calendars apart from the Gregorian require leap years. The modern Iranian calendar is a solar calendar with eight leap days inserted into a 33-year cycle. The Indian National Calendar and the Revised Bangla Calendar of Bangladesh arrange their leap years so that the leap day is always close to 29 February in the Gregorian calendar.

10. Explorer Christopher Columbus used the lunar eclipse of 29 February 1504 to his advantage during his final trip to the West Indies. After several months of being stranded with his crew on the island of Jamaica, relations with the indigenous population broke down and they refused to continue helping with food and provisions. Columbus, knowing a lunar eclipse was due, consulted his almanac and then gathered the native chiefs on 29 February. He told that God was to punish them by painting the Moon red. During the eclipse, he said that God would withdraw the punishment if they starting co-operating again. The panicked chiefs agreed and the Moon began emerging from its shadow.

Also of a supernatural nature, on 29 February 1692 the first warrants were issued in the Salem witchcraft trials in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Youngest Son having a busy day?

I don't remember having to be so busy when I was 13 years old! Oh, I'm sure back then I thought I was the busiest and most important person on earth, but looking back I certainly don't remember it that way. Many people will say that our kids today are busier because there's so much more technology and that they're having more and more to do because of school, sports, and civic groups.

If technology was really the reason our kids are busier, then we should have been completely overwhelmed way-back-when! We had to actually write our term papers out by longhand. There were no computer programs to put together nice slide shows or do the graphics for us. If you were artistically challenged, you dreaded any project that required poster board and magic markers.

Most days when Youngest Son comes home from school he doesn't have any homework. I remember walking home from school with a full backpack and my arms full of books so I could complete an evening's assignments. He brings home his trumpet and maybe a worksheet that he's completed that day in class. I'd be really concerned but his grades are high and he's on the "A" Honor Roll each quarter.

Today, however, he was busy after school because it's time for the Spring Theatre Auditions at school. They did the musical "Aladdin Jr." back in November and Youngest Son portrayed The Sultan. He did a really good job. Today he auditioned for a part in "The Borrowers." The director is not pleased that the latest Disney film happens to be based on "The Borrowers" and that the kids will try to imitate it instead of actually working on their roles. Youngest Son paired-up with one of the girls that he's friends with for their read-throughs. Both of them auditioned for lead roles and I wish them the best of luck. I think he only got the nerve to ask her to audition with him because her ex-boyfriend (who's a good friend of his, too) is out-of-town and had already auditioned.

Tomorrow he's got band rehearsals after school. He's been selected to go to the State Band Conference as a soloist and as part of a sextet. He practices at home for an hour each day and is really nervous that the rest of his sextet hasn't been practicing. I told him that when he's there tomorrow to play his best and if the other five aren't as ready as he is, then to keep playing the best he can and show them that they need to step-up and get ready 'cause the contest is in April.

But even with these events and others upcoming in the month (as well as working on the Community Theatre production so that he has some backstage experience), he still has plenty of time to play video games, read lots of books, and surf the Internet (with parental supervision, of course). People say kids today are too busy. I just don't see it. Then again, I'm glad that he's got time to do things he likes as well as having time to rest properly. The typical zombie teenager is not a pleasant sight in the morning -- Eldest Son was a prime example of that and I'd like to not have to deal with it again.

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's worse on the third day....

My oral surgeon left me a note that I should not be surprised if my jaw/cheek/everything else hurts worse on the third day after the surgery than it did on the day of it. Actually, I wasn't in any pain the day of the surgery -- I just had it done 'cause I knew if I didn't I would have to sooner-or-later when the pain would be too bad to suffer. Well, he was right! It's the third day and my jaw is screaming at me. It might not have helped that I had a lot of talking to do during rehearsal tonight.

One of the up sides to community theatre is that you get people who are really interested in making your production work. People want to be seen doing well onstage and they're very willing to do what they need to in order for the production to be a success. Sadly, one of the down sides to community theatre is that there's basically no budget. That means that either the technical director (that would be me) has to find/buy/make all of the costumes and props or he/she has to delegate that job to the actors. I'm a great delegator. I love delegating things to other people, especially if it's something I don't want to do in the first place. If it's very important and is critical to making the production work, I have a harder time letting-go of something. But otherwise, if there's a prop or costume piece that an actor needs, I find it best for them to go out and find it so that they're comfortable with it (not too big/heavy/etc.) and because they'll be using it and I cannot afford to purchase everything. True, there are theatrical rental houses, but I can't afford that, either.

Tonight I started our rehearsals by giving everyone a list of the props they'll need and other set decoration pieces we'd like to have. Many looked at me as if I were insane, asking me to find something for themselves. I'd already told them they needed to bring their costume pieces and that they'd be responsible for their own costumes, so I guess asking for props was a little "over-the-top" for some of them. Then I found out that one of our actors quit, leaving us with a role to fill with just three weeks before the production. That's another down side to community theatre -- they're volunteers so they can come-and-go as they please and there's not much you can do about it.

Fortunately, tonight our director decided to try a few new things with the play and different people took on the parts where the actor that was cast didn't show up tonight (we were missing quite a few). We had a great time as everyone started laughing and having fun and it helped those of us there to continue the "theater bonding" we need to make the show look like an enjoyable performance and not a bunch of strangers reciting lines. Hopefully we'll have as much fun tomorrow night!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Spring Gun Show: Day Two

Today was also a nice day at the annual Spring Gun Show. Not too many people asking stupid questions, like "Is that for sale?" when the item is clearly marked with what it is and how much we're asking for it. Not too many people wanting to stand around and touch everything we have on the table but not actually interested in buying anything. We did have a few people try to haggle on prices with us, and we actually encourage that (unless the price tag says "FIRM" which means we're probably selling it for someone else). But trying to haggle with us for a lower price, us coming to an agreement on a lower price for the item, and then the customer walking away because they don't have the money to buy it is just silly. I lost count how many times that happened today.
But, we returned home with fewer items than we took which is always a success. We did purchase some .45 ACP pistol parts and a reproduction MP-40 "non-gun" (doesn't work, never did, never will) that we'd planned to add to our collections and/or resell and ALL of them sold within a half an hour of our purchases. We were lucky to get an M1 Garand bayonet in excellent condition at a very reasonable price. We plan to resell it but we bought it so close to the end of the day today that there wasn't time to resell it there. That's okay; that's why we have the website.

My oral surgeon advised me the other day to be careful with what I ate and drank and to not be surprised if by the end of the second or third day my face began to swell and ache worse than it did when I went to his office. That would have been any amount because nothing hurt when I went to see him and now I'm in excruciating pain! I almost wanted to skip posting tonight because earlier I could barely lift my arms or my head long enough to type anything. But, I sat and watched the Oscars and figured if I'm still up this late I can at least post something. So, here it is.

I'm looking forward to the next gun show we'll be able to attend. Not sure when that will be at the moment but it will be fun as will the search for new items to offer at the next show!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Spring Gun Show: Day One

I'm surprised. I'm very surprised. I'm actually on the verge of being stunned. Today, I didn't have to yell at anyone in disgust during the gun show. And that's a first for me in a long time!

I don't consider myself a rude person. I try to be friendly and cordial with everyone I meet, especially if they're a customer, until they give me a reason not to be. Then, depending on the amount of stupidity or rudeness received, all bets are off. My business is there to make money, not to please the entire world. I've spent years of my life studying and researching information so that I am as close to being an expert as I can be with regards to the items I sell. And since 99% of all of the items are either from the Vietnam War era or earlier (I deal in military surplus, in case you forgot or are new to my writings), a lot of my information has to come from hands-on experience with the items, talking to veterans who owned or were issued the items, and doing a LOT of reading so that I'll know the little details. Not every helmet is the same. Not every weapon is the same. And just because you watched Band of Brothersor Saving Private Ryan doesn't make you an expert on WWII militaria! You might own the entire DVD set of every Tour of Duty season or you have every M*A*S*H and After M*A*S*H episode memorized, but that doesn't make you an expert on the Vietnam or Korean Wars!

The worst thing to do is to come up to my table (which I have spent a fair amount of money to rent so that I can sell my items) after I've traveled a long distance to be at the show (sometimes I'm lucky and the shows are actually at a center across the street from my house!) and made sure that I've brought a wide variety of items (because one of the biggest complaints at shows is that "there's nothing worth buying") and trying to inform me that the polyester-blend jacket you're holding was passed-down three generations from your relative that served in the American Revolution and because you've seen the latest documentary on History Channel that has one "just like it" that I must purchase it from you for an ungodly amount of money. Or, you bring an item to me and tell me how you watched a television show where someone had one exactly like it except for the color, size, and rust on it and that you demand that I pay the appraised amount from the show. I'll make this simple -- do either of those things, and the answer is going to be, "Not gonna happen in this lifetime, buddy!"

Another one of the top items to not do is to bring your item to my table, stand in front of me and give me a very, very long, very, very detailed "history" of the item and how you came to own it and then ask me what it's worth. It's even worse when you start your diatribe with, "Do you know what this is?" not in a manner of "Can you help me?" but with the attitude of "I'm going to teach you something." What's most irritating is when I've answered your question that I do or don't know what the item is and ask if you want to sell the item to me and you respond with a resounding "Of course not!" or "Depends on what you tell me it's worth! Why should I give you an appraisal for free? You don't get other items appraised for free. Why should I utilize the many years research and knowledge that I have to tell you something that (1) you think you already knew or (2) had no clue about and not get anything out of it? I don't work for Antiques Roadshow so my appraisals aren't free!

Also, when I give a "value" on an item, it's going to be one of three things -- (1) the current market value of the item based on others I've seen sell at retail or auction, (2) an estimated insurance value if it's something that I've already been informed is going to stay within the family (and my appraisal fee is paid), or (3) what I think it's worth to me or what I'm willing to pay because I am going to resell it and need to be able to make a profit. I'm not buying your memories or appraising your family's history -- I'm in this game to make money and just because you saw someone else told that their item is worth $30,000 doesn't mean that your's is as well! Not every World War II uniform was worn by Eisenhower or Patton and not every German pistol was carried by Goering or Hitler. And trust me on this, there are a LOT of faked items out there! Collectors and reenactors have demanded reproduction items and manufacturers have been more than happy to provide them, especially if they're Nazi items! They first started reproducing the uniforms but used actual WWII-era materials and thread which made detecting a fake almost impossible. Then they reproduced weapons with old parts found in defunct factories. The parts are "original" but the build of the weapon didn't happen until the 1980s -- so saying it's "real" is kind of hard to do. Now, there are companies that not only fake the medals (and not just the high honor ones but even the ones that EVERYONE got) but they even fake the presentation boxes the things came in from the 1940s!! It's getting so you can't trust anything as "authentic" anymore!

Oh, and when I said "real" above, that word drives me insane. People come up to me when I'm wearing my WWII-era authentic uniform and ask, "Is that real?" I tell them, "Why, yes, it is -- in the sense that it takes up time and space." That usually baffles them for a few moments until they decide to ask, "Is it really your uniform?" I reply, "Yes, it is mine because I bought and paid for it myself and am the only person who wears it." Again, I'll get some blank stares because they're not sure of what to say. What they should have asked is, "Is that an authentic WWII uniform?" or "Is that uniform original to the WWII-era?" or "Was that uniform made during WWII and possibly used by a soldier then?" Then I could answer them whether or not my uniform is "authentic," "genuine" or "vintage." "Real" is a word that has way too many meanings. And asking if it is "mine" implies that I am the person who wore the uniform during World War II and earned the medals pinned to the dress jacket and actually obtained the rank worn from the United States Government. I may be starting to look older, but I'm not THAT old yet!!

So today wasn't filled with as many questions or issues like those. It was nice to have intelligent and humorous conversations with prospective customers. And when some would ask me for my "expert" opinion or for clarification with regards to an item or type of items I've spent a lot of time researching, I was happy to oblige. True, there were a number of people who tapped on the helmets to make sure they were really made out of metal and others who tried to "inform" us that we couldn't own or sell our wares because "it's illegal to own government property" even though the items are edging 70 years old and no one in the government has been searching for them (especially since they discontinued them and threw away what was left-over ages ago).

Hopefully tomorrow will go well. And if not, at least I'm still on my painkillers from yesterday and they help mellow me out for short periods of time.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Whee!! Over 1000 views on my WordPress version of this blog!!!

Yippee! My blog has over 1000 views on it as of late last night!! Of course, it's really easy to get me happy and giggly about something right now. Had to have some minor oral surgery and the anesthesia has still not totally worn-off. They asked if I wanted a "local" or "general" and I said "general" would be fine and probably safer for them because if I was awake during it I'd probably have been trying to talk and ask too many questions. An unconscious patient is an easy patient at times.

Plus, I got my own bottle of prescription pain-killers, too! Those will be fun once I start needing to take them. All weekend Husband, Youngest Son, and I are supposed to be working for my online company at the local gun show. No, not a "gun show" where steroid-riddled guys show off their muscles; a "real" gun show. I enjoy looking at firearms, using them, and having my Second Amendment rights protected. We'll have a few for sale and a bunch of military surplus items as well. We don't get rich off of it but it gives me something to do to help make money when my primary employment doesn't have a huge disaster to which they want me to respond.

But for now, the "voices" and I are going to go curl-up on the couch and let the remote become one with my arm. It's going to be a long day tomorrow and I'm pretty sure those pain-killers will be needed soon. Time to rest, relax, witty that fits there. Yup, the brain is already decided it's down for the count today!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A brief review/rant of last night's debate

I have lots and lots to do today, so this one is going to be quick. I watched the Republican Debate last night and found myself again frustrated by what I heard and saw. So, since I'm busy, this is going to be a quick synopsis of what I saw and remember from the show.

The four candidates were introduced by CNN in an almost WWE "wrasslin'" style as each was given a nickname and funky background music. They all came out onstage and stood for the National Anthem. Politicians need to learn where their heart is -- most of them were covering their spleen with their right hand.

Questions were posed and Frothy Mix (Santorum) and Mittens (Romney) sat and argued like small children trying to one-up each other. Newt (Gingrich) looks as if he's put on a few pounds and the way he sat in his chair holding his right hand made me wonder if he was constantly checking his pulse or if he was just trying to control himself from smacking Mittens for all of his inane comments. DocRon (Paul) sat at the other end of the stage and was often ignored but did make sure that when he was asked to give a "quick response" by the moderator that he said, "No, not a quick response. I get one minute like they do!"

Frothy Mix kept falling into the "John Kerry Trap" of saying that he "voted for something before he opposed it" which the other candidates, with the exception of DocRon, seemed to not notice. DocRon, however, did jump on it. He also made a comment about not believing something that Frothy Mix said was "real." Frothy Mix tried to interrupt by showing his hand and arm to DocRon and saying, "Sorry! I'm definitely real!" to which DocRon simply replied, "Congratulations."

Mittens kept trying to remind everyone about how he was affiliated with the Olympics but never could get the right words out. He said he was "in the Olympics," not that he served on the Olympic Committee. If he was "in" the Olympics, then in what sport did he compete? And, in my own opinion, who gives a crap that he worked on the Olympic Committee. True, he uses it as a way to prove that he's the most qualified to run the country economically, but that's with a budget of billions which only people like he and his friends have, not the type of budgets with which we "regular people" are familiar.

Newt made a great statement that everyone is comparing what they're going to do with what the current government is doing and pointed out that the current government is the problem. Like, duh!! If the others didn't already know that, then they don't need to be up there.

DocRon was patient as he was mostly ignored throughout the night and did defend himself and his ideas when he could. However, I do believe that he often got some of the biggest applause and was the only person who, as everyone tried to make sure to mention as many of the Bill of Rights amendments as they could, mentioned the Second Amendment. And I agree with him that if someone has entered the country illegally and is trespassing on your property, you should be able to call the police and have them arrested (and they can be referred to the proper immigration authorities). Why not? If I can report citizens for trespassing, why do illegal immigrants get a free pass?

At the end of the debate, I really got upset when they were asked their final question and only two of them answered it. Newt and DocRon actually answered the question. They passed my first rule of having a debate. When it was Mitten's turn and he started his campaign speech, the moderator stopped him and asked him to answer the question. Mittens countered with, "You get to ask the questions you want; I get to give the answers I want." Frothy Mix took the same approach and both stayed "on-message" and wouldn't answer the question directly.

So, if I had to choose someone at this moment, it would be either DocRon or Newt. Newt actually isn't "presidential" in my eyes, but he at least can answer a direct question! Same for DocRon. You might be stunned at what you hear but he's not going to mince words or go off on his "message" instead of addressing the issue.

They said last night this could be the last Republican Debate -- I seriously doubt it. Everyone's in-it-to-win-it and no one is going home until they mathematically can't win. And some are trying to get enough delegates so they get a prime-time slot during the Republican National Convention, which worries many in the RNC.

I just hope that the next debate is better than this one was and that questions can actually be answered directly. And if they don't, I still think dropping them through the floor or squirting them with water like you do your dog or cat that won't behave would be fine.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My brain hurts....the continuing story

At least today I'm not staring as much at the computer. Today I'm looking at books, sending text messages, and making phone calls in order to help get our production underway. So, since I'm going to be really busy with the show now, I might as well give my faithful readers some information about it.

Our local community theatre group is doing two performances of "Arsenic and Old Lace." If you've never seen the play or the movie starring Cary Grant, then you need to as soon as you can! It's a great story about the Brewster Sisters who perform their "charity" on lonely elderly gentlemen and are assisted by their nephew Teddy (who believes he's Teddy Roosevelt) in "disposing" of the evidence. Another nephew, Mortimer, lives with them and is a drama critic for the newspaper and plans to marry Elaine who lives with her father, Reverend Harper, just across the cemetery from the Brewsters. Mortimer finds out what his aunts have been doing and tries to protect them, but is soon confronted with his long-lost cousin Jonathan (and his associate Dr. Einstein) who has plans on making the old Brewster home his new headquarters of crime. It's a hysterical production and all of the actors have been having a blast working on the scenes and getting their lines memorized. Husband is even in this production. He's not as big on the theatre as I am, but I convinced him to audition since he's seen the movie thousands of times and he will be portraying Dr. Einstein.

I'm the technical director for the production which means I have to help design the set, design the costumes, find the props, manage the technical crews, and act as stage manager during the productions. Finding a place has been difficult since the only "theatre" (actually built for theatrical productions) in town is (1) incredibly expensive to use and (2) doesn't want people to build sets on their parquet flooring they've installed for the annual Gospel Sing that comes through every August. They also only allow the person who sold them their lighting and sound system to operate them during any productions and he's WAY too expensive for us (even though the director and I are perfectly capable of running the equipment). When they built the theatre they even decided to cut-out the fly loft and counterweight system because they figured an additional 20 feet less to build would help the budget but didn't realize that theatrical productions need a way to bring scenery in and out and that often the easiest way is to go up. Plus, our production requires a "practical" (means that they have to be used and built to code) set of stairs for Teddy to imagine as San Juan Hill every time he goes up them and screams "Charge!" Since they'd have to be fastened to the floor, the theatre is a no-go for this production.

We would use the Junior High's theatre/auditorium where Youngest Son's recent production of "Aladdin, Jr." was held, but (1) they want too much to rent the space, (2) the area is occasionally used by classes and our stuff wouldn't be as secure as we need it, and (3) we'd still have to build the set with the staircase and that's going to cost more. Even though the assistant principal of the Junior High is in the play as the evil Jonathan, we still couldn't afford to have it there.

We're currently rehearsing at the church where our director works. There's a nice area that was part of the original church that's been converted into a theatre. We asked if we could use the space but they turned us down because it's not a "Christian production." I'm still trying to figure out if they're objecting to the fact that it's not about a story in the Bible or if they're objecting to the language, violence, and murder that takes place. Last time I read the Christian Bible I saw a lot of violence and murder in there, so perhaps that's not what they're talking about.

Finally, we've found that the local Civic Center will allow us to use their main lobby as a theatrical space. And, to make things even more fortunate for us, they already have a large staircase right in the middle of it! We'll have a thrust stage configuration -- that means the audience will be seated on three sides of the stage and it makes them feel as if they're inside the Brewsters' living room as well. Add a couple of doors, a window seat and window, furniture, and use large curtains to stand-in as the walls (cheaper than having to build them) and we'll have a minimalistic version of the set most people see but it will still work and give focus to the actors and not the background. Plus, it's a LOT cheaper!! That's a big bonus in community theatre!

So now that we've found a place, we've had to work on the dates. On the weekend we wanted there's a soccer tournament scheduled in the exposition hall -- right next to the main lobby area. That's not going to work. There are other events at the schools and in town on other weekends with which many cast members would have conflicts. We wanted to do three performances but have had to scale it back to just two for the dates that are available for the actors, crew members, and the building. But at least we now have dates so we can start selling tickets.

Yesterday I spent the day working on costume designs. I started trying to sketch the costumes for the Brewster Sisters and for Jonathan and Mortimer. Then, I finally gave-in and started looking on the Internet for photos of the types of clothing that I want them to wear. Since it's a community theatre production, each actor will have to create his/her own costume. This is when we love the local thrift shops, resale stores, and free-stores -- especially since this is a period piece (supposed to take place in the 1940s) and a lot of old clothing can be found at those places. A little accessorizing, a little altering, and a little imagination will make them work and on a reasonable budget. I made costume plots for each of the characters and handed them out at last night's rehearsal. They have until next Monday to start finding parts of their costume and have to bring in what they have that night so we can make sure they're on the right track.

Next is the prop list. This one is going to be easy and hard at the same time. There's a prop list in the back of our script books -- but it's as if you were staging a Broadway production (actually, it is the list from the Broadway production) and we don't have that kind of space or money. Our director is loaning us all of the set pieces since he has a Victorian-style house and a lot of extra furniture that will work perfectly in our "make-do" space. I've been calling people who say they have items we can borrow and trying to come up with ideas on how to "fake" the things we need but can't get. Youngest Son wants to major in theatre now and has volunteered to work on the prop crew so he can get some backstage experience. Little does he know that his experience is going to be cleaning a lot of dirty things I find at junk stores, things that people donate (which usually have been sitting in a basement for years), and building/creating items that we can't find but are important to the play. Technical theatre is often a "trial-by-fire" and he's going to get one.

Our lighting is going to be different since we have to use the lights in the lobby and a few additional "practical" lights and up-lights so that we can have brightness and darkness in the "house" as scripted. No theatrical lighting here. I've been working with theatrical lighting and lightboards since I was a teenager, so for me it's going to be different trying to get the mood-lighting I want with very little with which to work. Somehow, though, we'll make it happen.

Fortunately I've gotten new materials for my professional makeup kit because I have to make the actor playing Jonathan look somewhat like Boris Karloff (that's one of the running gags in the show). He's a great guy and really open to letting me experiment on his head. You don't usually get an actor/actress who's willing to let you paint and glue stuff all over them. And the other makeup and hair designs for the rest of the actors will have to wait for now. They'll be doing their own anyway since no one else has special-effect makeup. Well, there are ladies playing male roles, but it's not that hard to get them to look male-ish enough for the theatre. I'm just going to have to be sure the Brewster Sisters have gray/white hair, that Elaine hides her purple highlights, and that the rest of the cast (well, those who have hair, that is) gets theirs styled correctly for their part.

I know in the end I'll look back at all of this and think about what a great job everyone has done and how hard we've all worked and smile. Right now, though, my brain won't shut-up because the "voices" have each taken sections of the play (lights, sound effects, costumes, makeup, etc.) and are arguing about how to get it all done on a budget of about zero dollars. So, you'll probably be able to tell when I'm really busy 'cause my posts might not be as eloquent, insightful, or as long as previous posts. But, the little "voices" nag me every day to make sure my daily post is here -- so I don't think remembering to do this will be a problem.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My brain hurts....

I've spent all day in front of the computer working on costume designs, prop lists, poster designs, and script reference "cheat sheets" for our local community theatre's upcoming production.

Anyone who thinks being onstage is the hardest part doesn't understand what we technical theatre people have to do to make them look good. And right now, my pillow is looking better so I'll write more tomorrow. It's going to be a fun production!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Presidents' Day Sale: Isn't that every day?

Once again we have another Federal holiday and the newspapers, radio, and television are filled to the brim with advertisements for Presidents' Day Sales. Will we ever have a holiday that doesn't involve unbridled avarice? Sure, we're a capitalist society, but we do we have to change our holidays from times of remembrance and honor to just simply buying the crap out of everything?

Of course, I'm also one of the "old fogeys" who remembers back-in-the-day when we used to celebrate George Washington's birthday on one date (February 22nd) and Abraham Lincoln's birthday on another (February 12th). And if you're reading this and have no idea who either of those people are, then please, in all seriousness, stop reading my blog because you're just going to embarrass yourself. Our school classrooms were always decorated with silhouettes of Washington and Lincoln and the red-white-and-blue bulletin board borders were strung around the room and decorated each desk. Sometimes there would be contests to see who could dress-up most like either of them and some teachers who only wanted to have to decorate once in the month of February would put the silhouettes of our first and sixteenth presidents (facing each other, usually) inside a large pink heart. That one always confused me.

After the recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday as a Federal holiday, a lot of states stopped celebrating Lincoln's birthday because they didn't want to have to give their employees another paid day-off. Some states still celebrate it, however, as a state holiday (Illinois being one of the biggest). But if we had a holiday for every president and event in our country's history, the government would never be open and all Federal employees would spend most of their time off with pay. Actually, there are some days it seems like they do that anyway. Technically, there is no "Presidents' Day" or "President's Day" or "Presidents Day" (depending on your interpretation of punctuation rules). The official designation is Washington's Birthday and no formal bill has ever changed that. Some have tried -- Nixon issued an executive order to celebrate all presidents (including himself, of course) but that didn't change the holiday. A bill was even introduced in 2001 but it never made it out of the subcommittee trying to present it.

So, the sales we're having are actually to celebrate Washington's birthday. But let's look at the phrasing of what's printed on most of our calendars because the greeting card industry and all the politically-correct rulesmongers won't have us ignoring the other 43 presidents we've had. Presidents' Day. A day for all of the presidents.

Now let's add the commercialization part. Presidents' Day Sale. A day to sell presidents? We have that every day, don't we? Look at the current campaigns -- it's a battle for who's got the most money; who can spend the most in a certain area; and who is going to promise the most going back to the citizens just so long as they donate enough to help them get elected. No one without a huge "war chest" could even dream of becoming president. If you don't already have your own large amount of money that's doing nothing but waiting to be spent, a PAC, a Super-PAC, or a Super-Sized-PAC-with-fries-and-a-drink, you don't stand a chance.

Technically, we buy-and-sell our presidents every day. After one election ends and the inauguration occurs, hopefuls for the next one four years down the road start jockeying for position. And anyone in politics who says they're not interested in running is probably lying through their teeth. But behind the scenes, where the lobbyists and special-interest groups lurk while pretending they're not involved, the money gathering begins. If you've got the money, we've got the candidate for you!

It's been jokingly suggested that we should make all of our politicians wear uniforms with their "sponsors" logos on them, like the NASCAR drivers do. There'd be some who'd have to change outfits four-or-more times a day just so every donor would get equal "screen time." Watching them trying to give a speech or meet-and-greet with the public would be hysterical as they try to ensure shaking enough hands while holding a sponsoring beverage in the other. Shoot, the State of the Union address would have everyone sitting and listening to the president while an aide did the old "hat dance" (where the winning driver had to briefly wear a hat from each of the race's sponsors during the post-race interview) as they sat in the gallery. I'd almost pay to see that!

The current political climate is already bragging and complaining about money raised and spent and who has how much. Sure, they say we have "free" elections -- but don't take that too literally. We'll pay for it, for good or for bad, one way or another.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sleepover Survivor's Summary

Last night was hysterical! Youngest Son had two friends over for his first "group" sleepover. One of his friends wasn't able to attend but the other two were more than happy to make up for the missing energy in the room.

Oddly, they wanted to start the evening by watching the DVD we have of this year's school musical. Youngest Son and his friend Leonard were both in the show. Leonard was the lead actor and had not seen the DVD yet (the show was produced in November 2011). Youngest Son, Leonard, and Sheldon were having a blast watching the show, telling backstage stories, and re-winding the action to see the goof-ups and other silly things going on during the performance. Sadly, the student they "hired" to make the DVD only filmed one night out of the three productions and had a field day with the zoom button. Let's just say that if you get motion-sick easily, you do not want to watch the DVD.

After that we ordered pizza. I made sure each of the guys brought their own bottle of soda or other suitable beverage because I didn't want to go out and buy a lot and have a bunch of caffeine-laden sodas (which I don't drink at all) lying around the house. Three large deep-dish pizzas lasted a lot longer than I thought they would. Teenage boys are notorious for scarfing-down anything that's covered in pepperoni and cheese but there was still some left this morning. After the pizza-snarf began, they decided that they wanted to watch a real movie. Leonard had never seen Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope which just completely baffled me since all of the guys are pretty well-versed in nerdy/geeky genre information.

Quick note here -- you may recognize the names of Youngest Son's friends from a television show. They call themselves "The Big Bang Club" at school and each kid has a character and they even call themselves by those names. They even added a female friend of theirs (as Penny) so they'd have the whole core cast.

Back to the story. Since I'm also a huge Star Wars geek (seen the original trilogy movies over 1000+ times each), I asked if they wanted to see the awful 1990's "remakes" with "added special effects," the original theatrical version (my favorite), or the latest Blu-Ray release for the 30th Anniversary. I was impressed that they picked the theatrical release. So, I popped-in the DVD for them and waited for them to be amazed with the movie.

That didn't take long. Not the being amazed part. The being interested part. I forgot that teenage boys also have a short attention span and when it came to watching the entire movie, that wasn't going to happen. Youngest Son and Sheldon wanted to prank-call Penny because Leonard is upset he broke-up with her and they wanted to leave a message on her voicemail about it. (No, I'm not kidding. "Leonard" and "Penny" really were "dating" and have broken-up now.) Then they each wanted to play with their Nintendo DS units. Then they saw Youngest Son's Chess 4 set and wanted to play that. All of this while the movie is still playing in the background. Husband agreed to be the fourth so they could play Chess 4 -- a game designed, you guessed it, so four people could play chess against each other at the same time. Sheldon said he knew he was going to be slaughtered because he and Youngest Son play chess at school all the time and Youngest Son beats him easily. And he did again on this version -- he wiped-out the other three players in almost no time.

After that they talked and laughed and watched the last minutes of the movie before the credits started to roll. Once the movie was officially over, they decided to play games on our PlayStation 3. We have some that are for up-to four players, so they each grabbed a controller and started playing. After they tired of one they'd put in another. Soon they wanted to play Lego Star Wars and took turns trying to play in co-op mode when only Youngest Son knew how the game worked.

Finally, around 11:30 p.m., I told them they needed to get off the PS3 and get their sleeping bags out. They didn't necessarily have to go to sleep, but I was going to bed and wanted to be sure that they got some rest since Leonard's parents would be by early to pick him up for church. Husband had already fallen asleep, so I went to bed to read while listening to make sure the guys were okay. A pillow fight broke out between them. Actually, to hear them tell it, it was a "pillows versus 'bag of wet cement' fight" since Leonard's pillow was a lot firmer than the other two's. Soon they teamed-up and it became a pillow ambush. They finally decided to watch Star Wars: Episode VI, Return of the Jedi because Leonard had never seen that one either and wanted to know why everyone thinks the "It's a trap!" jokes are funny. He stayed awake long enough to hear "It's a trap!" in the movie and then drifted-off. Sheldon fell asleep and then woke up and went back to sleep after the movie was over. Youngest Son stayed-up for the whole thing and turned off the TV and DVD player when it was over. I had already passed-out in bed after the beginning scenes had played.

I got up at 5 a.m. like I do every morning to take my medication and let the dogs out for "walkies." I could tell the boys had tired themselves out because there wasn't a peep coming from the living room floor. Either that or Cat had slept on their faces and killed them, but I was pretty sure that hadn't happened. Usually there's a little snoring out of Youngest Son, but he was too tired to do so. After going back to bed and getting up a couple of hours later, Leonard was awake and playing on his DS; Youngest Son was just starting to awaken; and Sheldon was still crashed-out on the floor. I ordered them up and to get ready so that we could go out for breakfast at the worldwide-franchised evil clown fast food restaurant just a couple of blocks away. While the kids ate, Husband, Celeste and I sat and had some breakfast as well while waiting to return the boys to their parents (who were to meet us there). Husband said his coffee was McCrappy and realized why he never goes there for breakfast anymore. Ever. Once the parents had retrieved their offspring, we returned home.

Fortunately the guys didn't mess-up the house and things were easily put back in order. We thought about taking Celeste to the self-service dog wash a few towns over but they're closed on Sundays. So, I went and took a nap.

I remember the days of sleepovers at my house and going to parties at friends' houses. Everyone believed they could stay up all night and not have to sleep and sometimes punished those who did by dunking their bra in water and putting it in the freezer. At least the guys didn't do silly things like that at our house -- although one admitted they wanted to try the "hand in the bowl of warm water" trick. The only reason they didn't was because Mythbusters had already proven it didn't work. Lucky for them. If they'd tried it or if it had worked on my hardwood floors, there would be three "geeks" learning to sand, stain, and seal 79-year-old wood with their toothbrushes. And I don't believe there's an app for that.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

And now, a brief announcement.

Getting ready for Youngest Son's friends to arrive. Watching the ABC Family Harry Potter Marathon. Finishing my daily post. That is all.

True, I could be doing something more momentous for my 50th post. I just don't have the time today!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dull, dull, dull: Part Deux

Another uneventful day. I should be grateful, I guess. Usually when my days are incredibly busy they're not busy in a "good" way. My job requires a natural/national disaster for me to be employed and it's kind of embarrassing being the only person in a room cheering for a hurricane to make landfall so I can earn a paycheck and pay some bills.

I did supervise Youngest Son preparing for his friends to visit tomorrow. There will be three teenage boys (including Youngest Son) "camped-out" on my living room floor tomorrow night watching movies and playing video games. All of them are highly intelligent and easily bored if they're not intellectually challenged. Fortunately, being a parent and already having raised a child who's now in college, I know that large amounts of soda and pizza will keep their appetites satisfied and the large library of DVDs, board games, video games, books, etc. will keep their minds entertained. At least until the caffeine wears-off and they collapse on their sleeping bags. I get to enjoy the "I'm not tired" protests during the evening as I remind them that they'll have to get up the next morning and then watching them amble around the house like zombies because they believed they could stay awake all night.

There was some good news today from my Internet friends. A "friend" of mine became a U.S. citizen today. I only type "friend" with quotation marks because my friend, his wife, their family and I have never actually met. We're all fans of RiffTrax (from the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 -- that'll be another post someday) and we along with a LOT of other people have become friends over the Internet. But I'm very proud of his achievement. I have another "friend" in that group who became a citizen as well. I'm not collecting non-citizens and converting them, but I'm glad of their choice to join our great experiment and now they'll be able to become disgruntled with their government representation just like the rest of us.

Well, at least I posted today. Some days it's harder to think of a topic or something worth reading. I'm pretty sure by the time this weekend is over I'll have good subjects. Oh, and Presidents' Day has already been writing itself, so be sure to come back that day!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dull, dull, dull....

Pretty boring day. Took medicine and then took a nap. Got up to watch TV and worked around the house. Broke a tooth and went to the dentist. Scheduled another dental appointment for next week to have tooth taken care of. Made dinner. Got a text that Step-Father fell and broke his lower leg. Watched TV. Tried to play videogame and got stuck within the first 15 minutes. Ate dinner. Watched Big Bang Theory. Realized I'd not written a blog yet. Got laptop out and started typing.

Pretty sad when you can sum-up your day in less than 100 words. Oh well, not every day is going to be thrilling. Maybe tomorrow will be more exciting. Youngest Son has the day off, and he'll be busy preparing for his sleepover Saturday night. At least I remembered to post something tonight.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Teen drama isn't just for girls....

I have always been very happy that I have two sons. Don't get me wrong, if I'd had a daughter, I'd love her just as much as I do my boys. But, having been raised basically as a boy (Biological Father always wanted a son and I'm the only child he's ever had), I'm not sure I'd know what to do with a girl. I'm not into Barbie and makeup and dresses. I don't watch fashion shows or keep up with the latest dreamboat boy bands. I'm much more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt than I am a skirt or even capris or shorts. The only dresses I own are my wedding dress (which no longer fits) and a costume I bought for Halloween one year that's just too awesome to get rid of.

I remember in school that Valentine's Day was always a big issue. You either got a card or candy because everyone else did or you got a flower/balloon/etc. because your boyfriend/girlfriend/parents sent you something. And the ones who usually got something from their parents were mortified for at least a week. If you didn't have a boyfriend/girlfriend, you got nothing and you went on about your day. If you did get something, you loved hearing your name called over the intercom with the other "blessed" members of your school who would all be mobbed in the office by everyone else who wanted to see which person got the biggest gift.

Or, occasionally, you'd be told you had a gift waiting -- perhaps a balloon or candy sold from one of the school's clubs as a fundraiser -- only to find that you did have something but it was "sent" from someone who actually didn't send you anything. And when you went to thank them for the nice gesture, they would laugh and make fun of the fact that you'd believe they'd actually take the time to send you something, much less pay for anything. I fell victim to that a few times. It didn't help with Biological Father being my school's principal from the time I was in 2nd grade until 8th grade. Then he became an administrator and that was even worse. I always felt bad when I saw it happen to others because I personally knew what they were going through and usually could figure out who'd been the person to pull the prank (especially since he/she usually couldn't keep their mouth shut about it).

The same thing happened this year to Youngest Son. He received a Valentine from one of the school clubs' fundraisers signed with the name of a boy that he hangs-out with in a group before school. Youngest Son told me that evening he thought it was creepy and even posted it on Facebook. I lectured him on how rude that was, especially since the boy was a friend of his through Facebook as well and could read the post. I told him that if someone had the time and thoughtfulness to remember him on Valentine's Day that he should just be thankful.

I was so furious at how insensitive he was at having received a card with a Hershey's Kiss from a male classmate that I went into maximum rant-drive. I told him that perhaps the boy felt that Youngest Son was a good friend and wanted to show his appreciation. I told him that maybe the boy had sent them to all of the guys that hang-out together as a friend. I then explained that maybe he felt that Youngest Son was his only friend and that reading on Facebook that it was "creepy" would be so hurtful that perhaps the boy might become depressed. I explained that maybe this boy had feelings for Youngest Son and the last thing he needed was to be made fun of by Youngest Son and his "friends" and asked how he would feel if the boy didn't return to school the next day. I also asked how he'd feel if the boy who might have been one that was picked-on by many others felt this was the last straw and never came back to school because he'd committed suicide. I also told him that it could, possibly, just be a prank by someone with nothing better to do with their time to try to embarrass this boy and make Youngest Son the newest accomplice (having experienced that myself).

Youngest Son went online and deleted the post but I reminded him that anyone could have shared it and started spreading rumors. Even one of his "friends" posted in the comments: "Gee, I didn't think your door swung that way!" Whether that "friend" was just trying to be funny (and failed) or really believes that Youngest Son feels that way is irrelevant. It's a small town with a lot of closed-minded people who don't take kindly to people who think and feel differently than the "normal" folk do. I told him the best thing to do would be to approach the boy the next morning at school and simply say "Thank you for thinking about me" and leave it at that.

Well, after school today, Youngest Son told me what he did. He went to the boy and said thank you for the card and candy. The boy said that he had been confused the evening before because he had received a card and candy addressed to him with Youngest Son's name as the sender. They both realized together -- they were the victims of a poorly thought out prank. Someone was trying to make them both look "bad" and get rumors started. Both boys agreed that they weren't going to fall into the "trap" that was laid for them and that they'd both enjoy the candy they didn't have to pay for and would still be friends and hang-out in the mornings with the rest of their group. No hard feelings and just laughter at whomever wasted their time and money on the trick. They even told their friends what had happened and all of the other guys and girls thought it was funny that they figured out they'd been "pranked" and laughed that someone would be insensitive and silly enough to try it. The group is still together and Youngest Son is even having a few (guys only, of course) over this weekend for a Star Wars marathon. I still can't believe that these are some of the smartest kids in the school and many STILL haven't seen the original trilogy!! How can that be??

Anyway, at least Youngest Son learned a valuable lesson. He needs to think before he posts and be much more sensitive of other people's feelings. The world has changed and bullying doesn't just happen on the schoolyard anymore. I hope this lesson sticks with him for a long time 'cause I know high school won't be any easier.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My obligatory Valentine's Day blog post

February 14th -- known 'round the world as "St. Valentine's Day" or just "Valentine's Day" if you refuse to put the religious part towards it. Actually, it's no longer a "religious holiday" since the Catholic church removed it from the "official calendar" in 1969 (what an odd year to do that). In fact, it wasn't really a Catholic celebration first.

Arcadian Lykaia (for the Greeks) or Lupercalia (for the pre-Romans) was a cleansing festival to release the purity, health and fertility of a city and its inhabitants. There is debate whether it was a Greek or a Roman celebration first, but seeing how the Romans throughout history basically stole their history from the Greeks, we'll say the Greeks get the praise on this one. It was a celebration to the Greek god Pan (or the Roman equivalent Faunus) and goats and dogs were sacrificed while salt mealcakes were burned by Vestal Virgins. I don't have a goat; my dogs will NOT be sacrificed; and it's pretty darned hard to find a Vestal Virgin around these parts -- so we'll just go back to the more modern version of the holiday.

If you ask most anyone why Valentine's Day is celebrated, those who believe they know their history will say it's because Saint Valentine was beheaded on February 14th. Problem is, which Saint Valentine? There's Saint Valentine of Rome and Saint Valentine of Terni. There is also record of another Valentine who was martyred in Africa but not much information is known about him. True, Saint Valentine of Rome's skull is still venerated by many and crowned with flowers while on exhibit at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Saint Valentine of Terni is also buried on the Via Flaminia but not close to Saint Valentine of Rome. Who knows what kinds of arguments might break out if they were close together.

The legend continues that Saint Valentine (it's not noted which one) was arrested by Roman Emperor Claudius II who attempted to convert Valentine to Roman paganism. Valentine refused, even though he was told he would be put to death if he did not convert, and attempted to convert Claudius II to Christianity. As he was being held in prison, awaiting his execution, Valentine supposedly became enchanted with the jailer's blind daughter. The story ends with either Valentine leaving a love letter that he wrote the evening before his execution to the blind daughter professing his undying love (thus, the first "Valentine") or that Valentine cured the jailer's daughter of her blindness before being beheaded. Either way, his head was lopped-off and it still baffles me why we don't get boxes of little chocolate decapitated heads full of chewy goodness instead of the giant heart-shaped things.

However, the heart-shaped things were introduced into the holiday because of the possible love that Saint Valentine may or may not have had for the blind girl. The first reference of love in connection with Valentine's Day most likely came from Geoffrey Chaucer's poem Parlement of Foules, written to commemorate the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. Because Chaucer refers to Valentine's Day in the poem, many believed that he was writing about February 14th. A little-known fact (unless you're an English major like me and had to read Chaucer whether you liked it or not) is that Chaucer may have been referring to May 2nd, a celebration in the liturgical calendar of Valentine of Genoa. You could have guessed that religion would have crept back in even if the original Valentine story wasn't true. There may have been other writers who referred to February 14th and Valentine's Day in their work, but dating medieval writings can be difficult and Chaucer is pretty well-known (for good or for bad) so I'm sticking with this version. And it would make sense that Chaucer was referring to May 2nd because he spoke of birds seeking their mates and, even back in the 14th century, February was a little early and cold for birds to be thinking of mating. But if this is the true version, then I guess we should be biting the heads off of small candy birds. I do that with Peeps around another religious/pagan spring festival, but I digress.

So, where does it all come from? We know the popular tradition of giving cards was done as a marketing ploy which makes publishers large sums of cash every February as people panic for something to send so they're not picked-out as the one who forgot what holiday it was. And of course florists jump-in with the flowers and candy and balloons which makes Valentine's Day their equivalent of Black Friday for the year (at least until Mothers' Day comes along). Kids in American schools are either (1) required to purchase little cards that they can exchange with EVERY member of their class to show that they "want to be their Valentine" or (2) are forbidden to bring ANY cards, candy, etc. to school to share with their classmates for fear that someone might be forgotten, someone might get their feelings hurt, someone will think it's a religious holiday, or because someone has a peanut allergy. And, yes, I know that paper cards don't have peanuts in them, but the person addressing the cards might have been munching on peanuts while writing their little name on the card or, more likely, the wealthier parents who want to show their child has more and attempts to "buy" the favor of his/her classmates by attaching large bags of candy to the card which could have peanuts. It's a vicious cycle.

The only St. Valentine's "celebration" I can think of that won't offend anyone religiously or cause them anaphylaxis is commemorating the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929. For those who don't know their history on this subject, I'll make it brief 'cause otherwise I could do a huge post on this event alone.

On February 14, 1929, members of Al Capone's South Side Italian gang waited across the street from 2122 North Clark Street in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago. They were waiting for Capone's rival gang boss, George "Bugs" Moran, who led the North Side Irish gang, to arrive at that address. Moran had been lured there supposedly with the promise of cut-rate whiskey from Detroit's Purple Gang, friends of Al Capone. Capone wanted revenge for prior killings by Moran's gang and only wanted Moran targeted in this hit, not the entire North Side gang. Moran's men had arrived at the garage early that morning but Moran and one of his assistants was running late. When Moran arrived behind the garage, he saw a police car arrive and decided to wait elsewhere.

What Moran didn't know was that the police car was there as part of Capone's plan for his associates to escape. Capone had hired hitmen from outside the Chicago area so that Moran wouldn't be able to recognize them. Two of the men wore police uniforms and entered the garage as if conducting a raid. The five members of Moran's gang and two associates were lined-up against the brick wall as if they were to be searched. As the men were facing the rear wall of the garage, two more of Capone's men entered and the four hitmen, using two Thompson submachine guns and two shotguns, murdered the men inside and then escaped by having the "police officers" escort the other two men to the waiting police cars. Witnesses told the police that they saw policemen leaving the area with two men "in custody."

It wasn't until Highball, a German Shepherd owned by one of the victims, began barking and howling that anyone came to look inside the garage. Highball and Frank Gusenberg, who despite being shot fourteen times refused to say anything about the killers before dying three hours later, were the only two survivors. Photos of the gruesome aftermath were posted in newspapers around the country.

The infamous wall from 2122 North Clark Street (minus a few dozen bricks sold over the years by its previous owner) is now on display at the Las Vegas Mob Museum, so I guess if you want something non-traditional for your Valentine, you can take them there.

Me? Maybe I'll take the Thompson into the garage and fire a few blank rounds towars the brick walls in commemoration. It's less fattening than chocolate; it won't die like cut flowers; and it's a tradition I can do every February 14th.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Snow Day!!!

It's the first snow day of the year, so I'm taking the day off. Youngest Son is out of school. Husband listened to the scanners and watched the news this morning and saw all of the accidents occurring on his route to work, so he wisely decided to stay home. The dogs have frolicked briefly in the snow and don't care for the bitter cold. The cat won't go near anything that looks like it's got snow on it. It's still snowing and the continued forecast says it's supposed to start sleeting soon. We've cancelled our play's rehearsal for the evening, too.

The rest of my schedule is nap, fix dinner, watch the Westminster Dog Show, and possibly nap more before going to bed. And get this post published. We still have Internet and electricity, so I've got to post something!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Battle of the Pets: Winter Edition, Day 2

Well, we didn't get the snow or rain they forecast yesterday. The weatherpersons in our area have decided that it will be tonight/tomorrow that it shall arrive. Actually, today is much nicer outside than it was yesterday -- that always gives me an awful feeling of wintery foreboding. I'd blame my knee hurting on the impending snow, as it usually does, but it's still hurting from the reenactment back in January. Maybe I should get a professional to look at it sometime.

Anyway, this afternoon after running our errands and fighting the crowds of people in the grocery aisles who believe that any weather forecast for a single snowflake means they should go and stock-up on bread, milk, Pop-Tarts, and beer like it's the coming apocalypse, we decided to allow the dogs to play in the backyard for a while. Since it is warmer today they both were much happier frolicking around and chasing the football Youngest Son would throw towards them. Husband commented that he was stunned at how quickly Celeste could run and what sharp turns she made. I told him that he'd just never seen her at her playtime enough to get to watch her dig those extra dewclaws Beaucerons have into the ground and make her spin on a dime. Large divots and ruts began to appear in the moist soil from her high-speed turns as she raced Harley for the ball. Poor Harley, being a Schnoodle, has Schnauzer-like front legs which gets her really running but is stuck with the stick-like Poodle back legs that don't give her a lot of balance when turning quickly. Or the ability to walk on snow well -- they just poke right through and her belly freezes. Celeste is also a massive 85-pound dog designed for herding and running in the mountains of France, so she'll outrun Harley who's a lot younger any day -- regardless of weather, terrain, or treat waiting at the finish line.

Oh, allow me to digress for a moment. I'm sure some of you are wondering why I put the Pop-Tarts and beer in the list of things to stock-up on before a storm. Yes, I know you read it and thought it was there just to be funny or tried to skip-over it but still wonder what it has to do with anything. I can't find a copy of the report I read at the moment, but after Hurricane Katrina there was a survey done of the items that sold-out the fastest in the New Orleans area before the hurricane made landfall. Items number one and two were beer and Pop-Tarts. No kidding. You don't have to cook Pop-Tarts, so I assume that's why they made the list. Beer was for all the landfall parties that ended up not going quite the way they planned. So, there -- a little trivia for you. Now back to our regularly sponsored blog post.

After the dogs ran themselves silly I brought them back inside the house. I figured they'd each find a place on the recently-mopped hardwood floor or my new area rugs to crash. Nope. They're still wandering around the house, just like little kids who get wound-up on sugar or a good does of fresh air and sunshine. Celeste is still hunting for Cat but having no luck finding her. We were gone for a few hours, so Cat got quite the head-start on hiding today.

I will say that I was very impressed at the big box mart when we were shopping over how many people were respectful of Celeste's job as a service dog. I heard many more people telling their kids to not pet and trying to keep them out of the way when we were passing through. No drive-by pettings that I noticed, anyway. One young man, about age 8 or 9, had his hands full taking milk back to where his parents were. He walked past Celeste, making sure not to touch her at all, and said, "What a very nice dog you have, ma'am." I thanked him and waved at the parents when he got back to them. I had many other people come up and ask if she was a German Shepherd or a Doberman or both. I quickly explained that those breeds came from the Beauceron and was met with many "ooohs" and "aaahs" from interested people. Celeste kept watching everyone and making sure no one snuck up on me.

We were in one aisle and suddenly a lady with a thick German/Eastern European accent came up and started not quite yelling but really raising a fuss about Celeste. I couldn't quite understand what she was saying and since she came from behind me, I couldn't hear her very well. (I have a hearing problem where if I can't see your lips, I can't understand you as clearly.) It sounded something like, "Dog, very scared, danger" or "Dog, scare me, danger." Regardless, I have no idea where she came from 'cause we'd not passed her nor were we approaching her. If she wanted to run across the store to yell at me, she could at least have made sure I heard her. When I turned to face her, she ran away and we didn't see her again. Everyone in the aisle was stunned. I shrugged, gave Celeste a pat on the head, and everyone went on about their business.

So, that's the big excitement for the day. I'm sure they'll run around outside again later and keep searching for Cat all evening. Tomorrow night I'm going to watch the Westminster Dog Show -- Celeste's "niece" (for lack of a better term) Chaumette is going to be there. She was one of the top-five Beaucerons to be invited this year. Last year, Chaumette (who's three months younger than Celeste), En Theos (another Beauceron that's now a service dog), and Elias (also a service dog and specialized as a gluten-sniffing dog) all appeared at Westminster. Celeste received her championship and Rally Novice titles a few years ago, so she'll sit with us watching the show on TV. We'll be cheering all the Mes Yeux Vigilants dogs!!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Battle of the Pets: Winter Edition

Holy crap on a cracker! It's flippin' COLD outside! What is it that has Mother Nature thinking she can just suck us in with spring-like temperatures all through December and January and then drop the bottom out of the thermometer like this?

Even the dogs who've been long awaiting the new fence being built so they can romp around the backyard at their leisure are dashing out, getting their "business" done, and racing each other for the door. Celeste has become very good at hurdling Harley -- not jumping over one side and landing on the other but jumping from her butt to over her head -- in order to reach the warmth of the house. And both of these dogs have coats designed for cold weather! You think they'd be running themselves silly until we'd have to drag them across the yard and up the steps to get them inside.

The one really going crazy in the house right now is Cat. Because it's so cold and the dogs don't want to be outside much, they now want to play with her. She's very old and doesn't like dogs in the first place. Heck, the only person/thing she likes is Husband and he hates cats. So now, she's wandering around the house trying to find new places to hide because all of her old spots have been discovered. Even as I'm typing this I've had to call Celeste into the room and put her in a down-stay so she'll leave the cat alone long enough to get a bite to eat. Celeste doesn't want to hurt her. I'm not even sure if she really wants to play with her. I think she's just really curious about this small blue-grey meowing thing that bats her on the nose when she gets too close and doesn't want to be around everyone else.

Celeste is a herding dog and Cat is not going to be herded. We can't even herd her into her carrier when it's time to go to the vet. You have to grab her & turn the carrier up on its end and drop her inside before she claws the crap out of you trying to escape. When we get to the vet's, you then have to turn the carrier open-side-down and shake her out of it 'cause she's gotten really good at spreading her legs where she becomes an immovable object in there. The first time we did this the vet technician thought we were being cruel and said not to do that. After trying to reach-in and grab Cat and coming away with enough scratches and bites to where she thought she'd need stitches, the technician took the carrier and shook it until Cat "fell" out (from about 6 inches). That's why when we decided to move a few years ago I purchased an inexpensive cardboard carrying box from a major national pet supply store where we could just drop her inside, close the top, and then she'd have a bigger area to escape from once we got to the new house. Easy as pie.

Harley isn't paying any attention to Cat. She's already tried all of the chasing and playing and getting whapped on the nose. She's had three years with Cat and they've finally come to an understanding -- I don't bother you and you don't bother me and neither of us has to shed any blood on Mommy's new couch/pillows/rug/etc. They're finally able to walk past each other as if they don't have a care in the world. They do that "as if" because you can bet your sweet patootie when it comes to feeding time or, even worse, when the vacuum cleaner comes out, they'll tackle each other to be the first through the doorway. Neither likes it and all of the behavior training we've done to get them to at least tolerate the sound of the vacuum still hasn't worked.

The day is getting colder and now there's a forecast for ice/snow/mix for our area beginning tomorrow and into Monday. If it's just snow, the dogs will love it. Both think they can burrow under even the tiniest dusting and it's pretty hysterical to watch. But if there's ice, that's going to be a whole other issue. They may have four-paw-drive when they're running, but we all know it doesn't work on ice. Last thing I need is them being stupid and one (or both) ending up at the vet's for either falling off of something or sliding into something else. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Friday, February 10, 2012

My fence! My Fence! My kindgom has a fence!

Oh, I'm so happy right now!! I didn't think the contractors would come today because the weather forecast is for rain, snow, single-digit temperature lows, and the ground is wet and crappy. But the cement for all of the posts of my new privacy fence cured well and they came and finished it!

Now I don't have to look at the majority of the massive hoard one neighbor has behind the house where he's living (he doesn't own the house, just the hoard). I can only see the top portion. And the pack of dogs in the other neighbor's yard are now invisible to me and I can't hear their barking as loudly as before. It's nice when a "privacy fence" actually gives you that -- privacy.

Just before the guys got started today, Mr. Next-Door Neighbor (who isn't the one who's caused all of the problems for us that his wife and kids have) came over and asked the contractors for a bid on their property. Guess he recognizes quality when he sees it. And, I hope, he's finally gotten over the fantasy that we're going to sell him a two-and-a-half foot wide, 200-foot long strip of land that he paved part of his patio on last year without consulting a surveyor -- making it now our two-and-a-half foot wide strip of concrete. We said we weren't selling and now he'll have to pay to remove it. He's frustrated because his wife advised him that she was correct on the placement and that a survey showed it was their property, not ours. Sadly, her eyeballing of a "line" between a post and a tree doesn't constitute a legal survey and she was wrong. Now he's upset because he realizes that I've been right all of these years that (1) their property line is not as close to our house as she thought it was and (2) my readings of the platte maps and GIS photography was correct and that the other side of their property is actually inside their other neighbor's house (because people didn't bother to survey before building).

Regardless, the dogs are happy they can romp through the yard wherever they like. Well, they would be if it wasn't so freakin' cold outside right now. Both needed lots of encouragement to go into the yard and then they only did their "business" and ran straight back for the house where it's nice and warm.

Summer will be more fun when we can stay out for hours and throw the balls and frisbees for them. And, just like any other toddler, they'll play and wear themselves out and sleep for a long time. That will be nice.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Political rant for the day (prospects for more are good).

I've been trying to stay out of the political fray in this blog because I know there are TONS of bloggers who are better at it (and many who are not), more popular, and people like a variety of subjects to read. But today, I've just had it. I've had it with the media and the taking heads of the national and local news stations yammering about certain topics while completely ignoring others and I'm tired of it. Not just tired; sick and tired. And everyone knows that's the worst tired to be. So, for today, I'm gonna rant 'cause it's my blog and I'll rant if I want.

First order of business in this rant -- there were two caucuses and a primary this week. Just two days ago on this past Tuesday for those who didn't know. They were held in the states of Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, respectively. Rick Santorum won the majority of votes in all three contests. However, Mitt Romney, days before the Missouri primary, said that Missourians were having a "beauty contest" instead of a primary because their votes "wouldn't count." Hmmm....clever way Mitt to get people to not turn-out to complete their civic duty and participate in a right given to them by the government in a state where you weren't very popular.

For those who kept saying the Republican Party was wasting millions of dollars in having a Primary that "wouldn't count" and that it was incredibly irresponsible on the part of Missouri to allow it -- let's look at the law. The State of Missouri has a law that sets the date of the primary and for 2012 it was set, by that law, for February 7th. The law was enacted when other states had moved their primary dates forward and Missouri wanted its primary to still be "relevant" in picking the candidates for president, regardless of political party. The Republican National Committee (RNC) set the rules that required all states with the exception of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina to wait until March 6th to have their "contests" or risk losing having of the delegates for their state when it comes time for the RNC Convention later this year. That rule was enacted after Missouri and other states had changed their primary laws. Because the law is on the books in Missouri, the State legislature attempted to pass a resolution to move the date so that the primary would be in "compliance with the RNC" and that they wouldn't have to risk losing delegates. Whether you believe the statements that the Missouri Legislature just didn't act in time or that the Governor (a Democrat) helped to block the change of date in order to cause the problem, the fact remains that a change couldn't be passed and the State of Missouri was required by law to hold the primary last Tuesday.

So, of course all of the Republican candidates who weren't going to have a great showing in Missouri decided to make fun of the predicament the people of the Show-Me-State were in or, in the case of Newt Gingrich, didn't appear on the ballot at all. What people are conveniently forgetting is that the primary wasn't only for Republicans. Democratic candidates and even a Libertarian candidate appeared on their respective party's ballots in Missouri. Even Republican candidates who have long since cancelled their campaigns appeared and some even got votes! Everyone just assumes that President Obama will receive the nomination again for the Democratic Party, but technically the votes cast by any Democrats towards the choosing of a candidate would count since the Democratic National Committee (DNC) didn't make any changes to their rules/regulations regarding primary dates. So the delegates selected by the primary in Missouri for the Democrats will count. Only the Republicans have to assemble again on March 17th in a caucus to select the delegates for the RNC Convention. And, any registered voter in the state who declares themself to be a Republican can participate in the caucus -- so even though the popular vote was for Santorum, the caucus vote could change.

But to say that "Missourians' votes didn't count" is just wrong. The people of Missouri who went to vote weren't there just for a presidential nominating primary. Many cities, towns, counties, and municipalities had issues on the ballot that needed votes. Many, regardless of their political affiliation, went to vote on some controversial issues. Those votes most certainly counted. The decisions they made that day on those amendments and/or referendums impact the lives of Missourians very much and those who were dissuaded from voting by presidential candidates saying that their votes "wouldn't count" were completely misled. And they were misled by the people who want to be the next leader of the country! How despicable is that? It's like waving a flag that says, "Yes! You can trust me because I'm an honest leader but only when it suits me and I really don't feel the need to waste my time on you!" Any candidate who would directly or indirectly try to influence a registered voter to NOT vote should NOT be allowed to be a candidate for president (in my opinion, for whatever that's worth).

The second order of business in this rant is my complete frustration and disgust with the media, especially the national media, to continue their blackout of Dr. Ron Paul's candidacy. And don't act like you've not noticed it -- even major networks like CNN have admitted that they've been purposefully non-reporting anything about his campaign. Just watch the debates -- who gets pushed to the side of the group and not asked very many questions? And it's incredibly stupid for the media to do that (1) when there are questions for which Dr. Paul is more than competent to answer (medical issues come to mind) and (2) when the public is watching closely to see just how biased the network really is. And regardless if you're a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or any other party affiliation, you should be demanding that they treat Dr. Paul with the same courtesy they do the other candidates. Last night I was watching the NBC Nightly News and it was said, loud and clear, that there were three Republican candidates. Who dropped out?? Romney? Santorum? Gingrich? If they're saying that there are only three Republicans left in the fight, then it had to be one of them because Ron Paul has said he'll stay until it's "mathematically impossible" for him to win enough delegates and that time certainly hasn't come yet.

Is this a campaign speech in favor of Ron Paul? Not necessarily. I have the candidate in mind that I would like to win. I'm incredibly glad to see many of the candidates drop-out of the race and feel some of them took way too long to do so. However, I certainly know that if I were running for office that I would want to have the same coverage that the other candidates receive. I'm not saying that every single candidate should get 24/7 news feeds and you can usually tell who is and who isn't really in the race for the long-haul and committed to actually getting elected. If I didn't have enough money to put as many commercials on television as the other candidates, that would be my issue and I'd have to really work hard on fundraising. But to give a speech somewhere or participate in a televised debate and be basically ignored while the media fawns all over the "big name" (i.e. "big money") candidates is just not fair. And to be completely omitted by a national news program when you're (1) still on the ballot, (2) still campaigning, (3) haven't stopped your campaign, and (4) are the number-one recipient of campaign contributions from active duty service members and their families is offensive.

Children are taught in school that anyone (who is a native-born citizen of the United States over the age of 35 and has lived in the US for over 14 years) can grow up to become the president. The media is teaching them otherwise. And since the American people are becoming more and more "educated" by mass media and turning into sheep that follow only what the famous and wealthy have to say, I guess I shouldn't say I'm surprised at this turn of events. It still ticks me off royally, but I shouldn't be surprised. What I am doing, though, is educating my children in their political rights and making sure that both (only one is eligible to vote at the moment, though) understand that it is a civic duty; it is a right given as part of their citizenship in this nation; and that if they decide they don't want to or don't care about voting, then they really have no right to complain when things don't go their way.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Drawing a blank.

Nope....I got nuthin' here today. It was supposed to rain; it didn't. It was supposed to snow; it tried to but didn't. Went to weekly therapist session and didn't accomplish much. Started to do the dishes; didn't get around to doing them. It's a boring, drab day with nothing inspiring me to write. Of course, when you're a depressed person and it's a depressing day, you kind of expect that.

Maybe tomorrow will have something. Right now, I'll just give the ol' brain a rest and see if something does come up worth posting. the way....I've got the "voices" tied-up in the back of the brain right now arguing over things that I "should" worry about but in all reality I can't "do" anything about. So, they can stay there for a while. Or at least until they chew their way through the ropes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

200th anniversary of shaking, rattling, and rolling in the Midwest.

Yeah, yeah, yeah....go to Google or most any other site today and you'll see that today's the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth. Or they'll talk about how the Beatles arrived in New York in 1964. But February 7, 1812 is actually known for something much bigger here in the United States, even if 99% of the population has no idea what that is.

Today is the 200th anniversary of the largest of the 1811-1812 earthquakes known as the New Madrid Earthquakes. It's also the day the Mississippi River "ran backwards" for three days or just several hours, depending on which historical account you believe.

Now, I grew up living in the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) and the houses I lived in were all near or almost on the fault line itself. I remember growing up we'd see the chandeliers swaying during church services if a small tremor happened. You could always tell who wasn't originally from the area because they'd be the ones freaking-out about it while the rest of us just continued on as if nothing had happened. For years when I had friends over I explained to them that if the house felt like it was going up-and-down, that's because a heavy train was going by (we lived near the tracks). If it felt like someone was shaking the house back-and-forth, that was an earthquake. And if it sounded like a large truck had crashed outside and the back-and-forth shaking started, that's a bigger earthquake and to hold onto something!

I remember in 1990 everyone in Southeast Missouri was making earthquake kits and planning to sleep in their clothes -- with their shoes on, too -- from December 1st to December 5th because Dr. Iben Browning, a climatologist, and Dr. David Stewart, director of the Center for Earthquake Studies at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, announced in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Dr. Browning's "prediction"of a magnitude 6.0-7.5 earthquake along the New Madrid Fault with the specific dates of December 2nd and 3rd to be of the highest risk. Many were suspect of Dr. Browning who had claimed to predict the Mount St. Helens eruption and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that interrupted the World Series in San Francisco. When Dr. Stewart jumped on-board the prediction bandwagon, some felt that gave new validity to the prediction, but others (mostly scientists) didn't believe it. However, a 4.6 tremor near Cape Girardeau in September 1990 got the public in a panic. I remember sitting on the floor of my apartment that morning when it happened and the shaking was so intense that I couldn't stand up. Of course, my apartment was in the upper level of a really old house which shook like Jell-o even if a large truck drove by. We did end up with damages from the natural gas line to the furnace becoming separated in the shaking and a few knick-knacks knocked off the shelves. But other than that, it wasn't any worse than any others I'd weathered previously.

The national and international media picked up the story from the Associated Press and ran with it. There were news and documentary crews from around the world descending on the little town of New Madrid. For days you could barely move through the streets because of all of the satellite trucks and big-name press talking heads who wanted to be there when it happened. What mostly happened, though, was a lot of people interviewing each other. There was a news crew from Japan that was there to measure the differences between a Japanese quake and a "big one" from the NMSZ. Every major network and publication had someone "on the ground" ready to report. In hindsight, it was rather silly of them to do that. If they had read the accounts of the actual 1811-1812 earthquakes, they'd have known that approximately 1000 people died during them -- and that's only because the area was very sparsely populated back then and there were no official counts of how many Native Americans still lived in the area. So, just for the sake of a story, everyone decided it would be best to put their top people in a small area right next to the levee holding-back the Mississippi River and wait for the big disaster to occur.

It became one of the biggest non-events ever in media history. December 2nd and 3rd came and went and nothing happened. The media and disaster tourists packed-up their things and went home. The New Madrid Museum printed t-shirts about "surviving the big one" which made fun of the fiasco that happened in their town. Dr. Browning said there was a 50% chance of it happening -- but technically there's a 50% chance of it happening any day of the week! It either does or it doesn't! But that doesn't mean it won't again....

The "New Madrid Earthquake" began on December 16, 1811 at about 2 a.m. Another major tremor happened a few hours later that reportedly knocked people off their feet and the ground could be seen rolling with the seismic waves. Landslides even destroyed small towns. Large trees were snapped in two and huge cracks appeared in the surface of the ground with large sulfur pockets being opened to the air. Sand blows erupted and the scars from them can still be seen to this day in the fertile farmland that grows soybeans, cotton, corn, milo and rice. There wasn't a seismic scale back then, but from the reports of those who survived and the geographic evidence, it's estimated that the earthquake was approximately a magnitude 8.6.

The February 7, 1812 quake was the largest and is still presumed to possibly be one of the largest earthquakes in human history. It's estimated that it would have measured a magnitude 8.8 and reportedly rang church bells in Boston and caused bricks to fall from buildings in Cincinnati. Local diaries reported people watching others walking across open fields, then feeling the shaking, and then seeing the person walking disappear into the ground. The Mississippi River began to churn and large whirlpools were created. At this time, a portion of the riverbed rose and created a fluvial tsunami which gave rise to the reports of the Mighty Mississippi "running backwards." Large waterfalls were also created and river traffic was doomed as a reported 30 boats were thrown over the falls, killing all passengers aboard. Islands in the river were completely washed-over or simply subsided, never to be seen again. And in Tennessee, the Reelfoot Lake was created as a large mass of land subsided due to the shaking and river backflow filled-in the hole. Tourists today to Reelfoot Lake will enjoy the large bald cypress trees that have grown over the centuries in this shallow lake created by geological violence.

No one knows if or when another major earthquake will occur along the NMSZ. The first report I received this morning from the U.S. Geological Survey was for a 2.5 along the NMSZ not far from one of the places I lived. You wouldn't feel one that mild, but it still shows how active the zone is. And it's another reason I'm glad I moved away from that area -- I really didn't fancy having liquifaction from the groundwater coming up through the sandy soil and creating a nice quicksand that would cause my house to sink. Nor was I very thrilled about the idea of having to fend-off neighbors and strangers who didn't stay prepared for any disaster while trying to ensure my family still had plenty of the water, food, and other supplies we'd stockpiled.

It's actually quite sad, in my opinion at least, that even though there are areas conducting "Shake-out" drills at schools and government buildings today, they're really not saying why they need to have these drills and how important it is to be prepared. Everyone thinks that earthquakes are a "California problem" and no one else should worry. Well, when the next New Madrid Earthquake strikes, millions of people in large cities like St. Louis and Memphis along with millions of others in the U.S. will find out just how dangerous a quake in the Midwest can be. And the country will never be the same after that.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A fence! A fence! My kingdom for a fence!

Anyone who says "Backyard neighbors/friends are best" can just kiss-off for all I care right now. We moved to our house in 2009 and have had nothing but issues with the long list of people who have moved in and out of the houses behind us. Thankfully, though, my desire for a privacy fence is coming to fruition and I can't wait for it to be finished. Heck, right now I just can't wait for it to be started!

I like our backyard. Oh, it has its issues like any other -- weeds that you try to kill but won't go away; flowers you try to keep blooming every year that die quickly, etc. There's a depression in the middle of the yard that we've been trying to figure out since we bought the place because it doesn't always drain well after a large rain. It looks like there might have been an outbuilding of some sort there but we can't find anyone who knows. And with the house having been the oldest built in this area of town (it used to be the only thing out here for years), a lot of people "know" the house but they don't know enough to give us a good history. We know it had a name but that only lasted as long as the person who built it lived here. Later as the town grew, the land was divided and sold and other houses were built around it. Many people only know the house because of the way it sits on the lot. Since it originally faced a private road, the "front" of our house doesn't face the current paved/mapped road. People look at our house at first with an expression of, "Oh! How quaint and charming! They don't build them like that anymore!" which then changes into, "What's wrong with that? Where's your door? How do you get into your house?" as if we couldn't figure it out for ourselves.

We have large trees in our backyard which is very nice in the summer when they're in full foliage and provide nice shade for the yard and house. Today I noticed that our red-headed woodpecker is back again and has a smaller friend with him/her. It's up there pecking away at the same spot on the tree I can see outside from my home office/library/catch-all room. The smaller woodpecker is trying-out its skills on a small branch and keeps getting dizzy and falling off. The larger one, however, just needs a little thrash-metal music going and it would probably make a great YouTube video.

If the woodpecker is back, that means that soon the squirrels will start commuting again soon. One neighbor's boys keep asking us if we want them to shoot the squirrels. I tell them no because (1) if I wanted them shot I could do it myself, (2) you can't shoot them within the city limits, and (3) they're a great source of entertainment for the entire family -- dogs included. Our first winter here we found out just how resourceful our squirrels are because we forgot to bring inside the cushions for the small patio chairs on the front/side/whatever porch. After the first good freeze came, we realized that when we looked outside at the cushions that they were smaller. Knowing that many materials contract in cold temperatures but never having heard that about cotton and batting, I went to investigate. The squirrels had come down from their trees and ripped-into the covering to steal the stuffing for their nests. I know that's what they did because they weren't too shy to continue doing it as I watched through the window and each carried away as much as they could in their cheeks. So now, every winter, we leave a pillow that's been worn-out past its usefulness and let the squirrels rebuild their nests and stay warm.

As the days get longer and their food supplies run out, the squirrels will have to start foraging again. This is when our backyard becomes Grand Central Station. They've learned to hop from the trees in the front yard (where the nests are) to the roof and run across it to the back of the house. From there they drop down onto the weatherhead that protects the main power lines coming into the house. They trot across the lines into the nearest tree and then scurry and jump from tree to tree on their way to the big walnut tree for "work" each day. In the afternoons, they follow the same path back. You can almost set your watch by it. It keeps Harley entertained because she loves to look out the window and watch them go by. I know she secretly wants one to miss a step so it will come down and she can play with it, but I seriously don't think she'd know what to do with one if it did.

As Spring gets nearer, we'll soon hear the whapping of their new progeny against the side of the house. It's a rite of passage all of the squirrels in this yard must go through. After the adults allow the younglings to leave the nest, they have to learn the high-wire act just like everyone else. Most of the time, however, the younger squirrels don't quite have the strength or depth perception to jump from the tree back to the power lines to make it to the roof. For about a month or so we'll have a serenade of thumps and thuds against the eaves of the house as they try to make the leap and miss. Fortunately, they've never been seriously hurt and we're not cursed with squirrel carcasses of the not-so-talented littering our yard. They just get back up and try it again.

But with the neighbors behind us now, I'll be glad when the fence is up. Not just for ourselves and the dogs, but to preserve our little habitat. One neighbor just moved-in with three large-ish dogs staked-out in their backyard and puppies running in-and-out from under the house. All they do is bark and bark and bark when I take Harley and Celeste outside for their "walkies." The last thing I need is one getting loose and trying to attack either of my dogs. They won't like it too much if that happens and not only are they charged for damages to my pet but also can be arrested for the injury/death of a service dog which ranges from a misdemeanor to a felony in our state depending on the severity.

The other neighbor has been there since before we moved-in, but it's not his house or his property and he keeps trying to come over to tell us what we can and cannot do with ours. One night he showed-up on my back steps unannounced and was just waiting there for one of us to come out. He's darned lucky he wasn't met with one of the many pistols I keep handy for instances like that. Now that he's seen the fence contractors coming by to bid on the construction, he keeps saying how he's promised us that he'll help build the fence to make sure it's correct. I've informed the chosen contractors that if he begins to pester them or attempts to "build" anything on our property line to let us know and the police will have another discussion with him.

It just figures, though, that the incredibly warm winter we've been having will come to an abrupt end this week as the contractors try to get the concrete for the posts to cure. Days upon days of Spring-like weather and now we start getting temperatures in the "seasonal" range. Oh well, they have a one-year warranty on all construction and materials -- and I made darned sure that it included construction during the winter. So, if the thing starts to lean, they have to come fix it. I'm nothing if not thorough (and perhaps a little nitpicky) over contracts and making sure I get what I want.

Now I have to decide....planks facing out where I have to look at the posts and cross-beams from my window or planks facing in which could give the annoying neighbors a ladder to climb into my yard.... The city laughed when I joked about wanting a 6-foot chain link fence with razor wire on top. Too would be cheaper....