Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Out with the old..."

It's that time of the year where we bid farewell to the end of a calendar year and say hello to a new one, and lay bets on when we'll write the first check with the wrong year on it (that used to be a bit more humorous before the explosion of on-line payments, of course!)

I don't have the greatest of computer connections today, so I'm truncating this post a bit. Spread across the news and entertainment programs right now are constant year-end reviews of the top stories, be they positive, negative, hopeful, dreadful, comical, pathetic, you name it.

So I figured whattheheck, I'll throw in my link to a website chock full of "Top 10 Lists from 2008" that you can peruse at your pleasure, assuming you have a better connection than I! It's from Time and CNN, so I will assume it is a 'safe' site from which to pick your categories. Just click on the graphic below to go there:


Wacky news, wacky weather...this year is going out with bravado, and not much of it on the positive end of the scales. And yet, hope does spring eternal, and we have the choice to try and make the best of the cards we're dealt. When a door shuts, two windows open, as an old saying goes and I choose to believe. Which reminds me of a puzzler...

You've been put in a sealed concrete room with no windows, with the walls being 4 feet thick with steel rebar in the middle; too, the 12-inch thick steel door was sealed and bolted from the outside after you went in. There are 2 tiny 2-inch air vents so that fresh air can come in. There is a tiny 1/2-inch pipe with a 3-inch drain below it so you can get water. There is a small 25-watt light bulb in the center of the ceiling some 20 feet over your head. The only other items in the room are a small, round wooden table and a small hand saw. While most would despair and would give up before trying, you suddenly realize how easy it is to get out rather quickly and easily. Pray tell how?

If you've ever watched a good magician at work, their sleight of hand tricks work because they divert your attention to places or things that are not where the action is...that is to say when you're watching the left hand, the right is doing else...

Per the word puzzler, many of the details are insignificant, and I could have put more in or drawn the limited details out into more detail to make you think there is important information therein. Alas, outside of the table and saw, all else is fluff...

Oh yeah, how to get out:

1. Take the saw and cut off the table legs.
2. Cut the round table in half.
3. Place the two halves together against the wall.
4. You now have a 'whole' to escape through.

Good thing you can't throw rotten tomatoes at me through the computer....


See y'all next year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"The Tao of cocktail napkins..."

Admittedly, not the combination of words you'd expect to see, cocktail napkins being linked with spiritual paths and principles...but follow me for a moment...

Seems like I'm always picking up a pack of cocktail napkins from time to time to give as gifts, usually because they are particularly humorous or fit someone's personality to a 'T'. It's a fairly inexpensive gift that goes a long way as friends and family get to see them on occasion.

For instance, for the Martini lovers out there is the napkin that says simply,

"One Martini,
Two Martini,
Three Martini,
Floor."

Shaken, not stirred, I'll presume. In like manner is one that I got many moons ago and, alas, I'm sure I don't have the words exactly right...regardless, the gist is there, as is the seed for this blog on the Tao of cocktail napkins (potentially, anyway):

"Get 8 hours sleep.
Eat healthy foods.
Exercise daily.
Get hit by a bus."

Now, before you say I have a twisted sense of humor (which I really, really do), consider the implications of that little napkin. Play by the 'good health' book. Get adequate rest for your body. Eat live foods, minimize red meat if not meat altogether, minimize sugar and processed foods. Get that heart rate up with regular exercise, weightlifting, brisk walks. You'll feel great, chances are you'll look great, and the world will look pretty rosy. Some will then get hit by a bus, making it all for naught (seemingly).

Which goes to say there are no guarantees in Life, unless you subscribe to Mark Twain's reminder that death and taxes are inescapable. Personally, I don't look for guarantees. I try not to have expectations, which is nothing more than looking for a semi-guarantee from someone else, basically. I can control what decisions I make, but I can't control the drunk driver that headed on an interstate in the wrong direction and wiped out innocent lives. I can't control Madoff and his Ponzi scheme that thoroughly financially destroyed individuals up through very effective charities. You just don't know what's around the next bend. The next sunrise. The next moment.

Gene is only 10 years older than me, roughly. The picture of health in body and mind. Vibrant. Funny. Kind and loving beyond the extra mile. Helpful at all times. He lives 2 doors down from the house project I worked on last fall, and though I knew him from earlier times, we chewed the fat quite a bit as I worked on that house, and for those times I couldn't be there to meet with crews or inspectors, etc., Gene would be right there with a smile and no questions asked.

Gene and his lovely wife are employees of Bank of America, which even for non-Carolinians is one of the financial towers expected to greatly scale back the next couple of years by tens of thousands of jobs...and they know they are more than likely high on the cut list for various reasons. No matter, as he's been entertaining thoughts of retirement before too long, and maybe relocating.

Health issues have abounded for them. His wife is a double cancer survivor (uterine and breast), and just recently was diagnosed with Parkinson's. It's a tough road ahead for them, but they have a wonderful love that will provide the strength they need.

Gene had a stroke late last weekend. A blood vessel burst in his brain and he has paralysis on his left side. To his benefit, he has his short and long term memories and mental faculties, though speech is slow and slurred for now. He'll be in ICU for at least another week, then should head into a stroke wing for a while longer. He may bounce back quickly or it may take a long time. While one's mind races with emotions and sorrow and prayers and more, soon enough comes that deep deep stillness and peace wherein you realize you've got a brand new ball game on your hands and you've got work to do. No time for a pity party. The 'cared for' is now the 'caregiver', and if they thought they needed strength before, they need another boatload of it now.

Gene can make and fix just about anything; one of his first thoughts after hospitalization was that he was upset he hadn't finished installing a new commode in the master bathroom, hence his asking for me to come and finish it. I have to say this new low-flush toilet has a funky, cool 'tipper' in the tank area...instead of the tank filling up with water in the traditional manner with a flapper and a float, this has a modern float sitting inside a smaller U-shaped trough that, when you flip the handle, the trough drops the water into the non-flappered hole below and flushes normally thereafter...I must say it was an ingenious design.

Yeah, do everything right 'by the book', and then get blindsided, big-time. It won't always happen. It may never happen. But the wise know it CAN happen. How each of us approaches each day and each moment in terms of mindset and attitude is the cornerstone of a life well-lived. Do you embrace each day or do you complain about it? That's a good place to start. And so we all have our trials and tribulations, some massive, and some small in comparison.

"Of course there is no formula for success except perhaps an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings."

Arthur Rubinstein (1886 - 1982)

What's important is that we never lose sight that we are all One, interconnected, and that there is always something that we can do for someone else. It is that compassionate outreach that this world needs, and it is that compassionate outreach that will help all of us to grow.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Stay tuned...

Due to a friend's medical emergency, I'm changing my schedule around for at least a couple of days to help out; I'll get to the blog when I can, but it may be a day or two before I do. Thanks!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Christmas poem for you...


Twas the morning of Christmas,

and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring
except for Bob's mouse...
and Mercy, and Bob to move
the mouse, of course...


The stockings were tossed
by the washer in a heap,
in hopes that some elves
might come do them in my sleep...
but since that won't happen,
the pile will stay for now...


The children were nestled
all snug in their beds,
while visions of gifts they wanted
danced uselessly in their heads,
because it wasn't gonna happen,
not in this economy...

Who wears a kerchief,
and who wears a cap?
Just good ol' shorts and a t-shirt
made for a warm winter's nap...
not to mention Mercy's
body heat at my feet...


When out on the lawn
there arose such a clatter,
why spring out of bed?
It's the raccoons...no big matter...
or the neighbor washing his car
at some ungodly hour...

Away to the window
I hobbled in a non-flash,
Tore open the shutter and thought,
man, that'll cost me some cash...
cheap-@ss blinds...

The moon on the breast
of the leaves I never blew,
Glistened like mid-day
since heavy rains just moved through...
and Mercy's been bustin' a gut
because she hates going out in the rain...

When what to my wondering
eyes did appear
But a miniature sleigh
and eight tiny reindeer...
no more dark rum in my
egg nog, I tell ya...


With a little old driver,
so lively and quick,
is that who I think it is?
It's Santa! Oh, %$#@!...
the milk is sour and
I ate the last cookie...


More rapid than job losses
his courses they came,
and he whistled, and shouted,
and called out their names:
(he also said some other things as
the pre-flight dinner didn't sit
too well with the antlered team...)

Now ELROY! Now TIMMY!
Now YOSEF and JEHOSAPHAT!
On SCOOTER! On BUSTER!
On CLYDE and now DINGBAT!
Who named you, anyway?

To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Oh God, there's the sirens!
Now dash away all!
(Santa on the post office wall
is not an image we need to see)

So up to the house-top
the coursers they flew,
Santa with his toy hauler,
to escape 'Boys in Blue',
since he was lookin' at
at least10 to 20...


Then in a twinkling
I heard on the roof,
the prancing and pawing
of each little hoof...
the fat guy is paying up if I
find any shingles damaged...

As I drew in ol' Mercy,
cleaning her paws full of mud,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas
fell with a thud...
those andirons HAD to hurt...

He was dressed all in fur,
from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished.
full of ashes and soot...
and soon to have red paint splattered
since PETA must be hot on his trail...

A bundle of toys
he had flung on his back
And he looked like a peddler
just opening his pack...
or a rookie thief who got
some bad fashion advice...

His eyes - how they twinkled!
His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses -
The boy guzzled that Sherry!
(his breath left a little
to be desired, as well...)

His droll little mouth
was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard of his chin
was as white as the snow...
Got Milk, Santa?

The stump of a pipe
he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled
his head like a wreath
...getting ready to choke him...

He had a broad face
and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed
like a bowl full of jelly...
guess the Bowflex gift
didn't work out to well...

He was chubby and plump,
a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him
in spite of myself...
...and I mused that if he flew
on Air Canada he would be allowed
to spill over into a second seat
but pay for only the one...

A wink of his eye and a
twist of his head,
soon gave me to know
Santa's done some hard
drugs in his time...

He spoke not a word
but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings
except mine...
...what a jerk...

And laying his finger
inside of his nose,
said 'Oops, shouldn't do that!',
and up the chimney he rose...
why he doesn't just use the
front door is beyond me...


He sprang to his sleigh,
to his team gave a yell,
and away they all flew
like a bat out of that
dark place full of fire...

But I heard him exclaim
ere he drove out of sight,
"Which way to Poughkeepsie?
A left or a right?"

--------------------------

Merry Christmas to all y'all!
Blessed be.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Oh, the weather outside is frightful...."

(click pics to enlarge)

Well, at least my brother's has been, up in Massachusetts...the weather, that is. Here at the busy travel and shopping crunch time of year is weather that stymies the heartiest of intrepid travelers, at least in the upper tier of the US from the Pacific NW all the way through the Great Lakes to the Northeast. Can I get an "UGH!" from the choir?...!



Here in NC the temps are warming through the holidays...not great news for our ski resorts, but good news for travel and heating bills. We certainly paid for a very cold November here, as our heating bills attest. Be that as it may, my family anxiously awaited pics of the twins at their second Christmas, which I present to you...

I'm thinking 'nonplussed' is a word that comes to mind...Santa was at least 30 minutes late returning from a break, and the parents and kids ahead of them had started pitching their own little hissy-fits which set the tone for all in the expectant line...glad to see this picture end up as good as it did!!!

Can't say the "Sears Session" went any better, though....

Per the "Child" way, when we take matters into our own hands, things just seem to work out just fine!

May all who read this have a blessed holiday celebration of family and friends...that's what it's all about, anyway, not the gifts and symbols. It's the interpersonal relationships, the familial bonding, the love and appreciation of others and what they mean to you.

Blessed be.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"On a wing and a prayer..."

Friday December 19 was a red letter day for me. It was no less than a monumental consummation of artistic vision and angst, and a year's worth of energy and plenty of 'lack' thereof...never have I had a flute or project so both stymie and propel me, this one taking just over a year.

We artists can be a funny breed. I speak for many when I say we can only truly produce our best work when we 'feel' like it...sometimes we can turn work out without much inspiration, but the rule of thumb is you work when your fire is lit, and you don't touch stuff when it ain't. Whether it's waking and working at odd hours, or going for weeks, maybe months, with 'artist's block' that can be extremely frustrating. There is no real rhyme or reason why the ebbs and flows can be so changeable, and the complexities of day to day life can exact profound influences in this arena.

And so it was with this second special order flute requested by my friend Mike (if you remember way back to the "Jonah and the Whale" flute post, that's his, too). The basic idea was a prayer flute, and we talked about doves, praying hands, etc. being in the design. Mike gives me free reign on the designs, etc., and we agree on some basics before I let my creativity go hogwild. Or stop cold.

My initial thoughts were for the flute to be a closed-end flute and to carve the praying hands at the end...but then I thought I'd carve a dove in flight off the end and put the hand motif in the block...there's always a lot of sketching and thinking through not only the design but how to pull it off. Too, there is the all important wood selection, which can dictate what you can and can't carve given varying grain characteristics of woods. There is a lot of this mentally going back and forth before the first cut is ever made.

Mike wanted an F#, which in the energy field world is right around the heart chakra (and close to being a 'true' Native American key, if there is such a thing), so I began by making 2 flutes in case one 'messed up'. For woods, I opted for the main body to be Papua New Guinea Walnut, a shimmering light tan wood, easily worked, with a nice mellow tone. You may also remember older posts where some sacred woods I used to walk Mercy in were razed in an ugly manner, and I collected some of the Dogwood and Red Cedar from the wastage and vowed to incorporate it into some flutes to provide a 'healing' to the destructive mess that was made...well, I wanted to use the Dogwood in the flute for the block, and add a mouthpiece, too.

As my mind began settling on designs, I had this idea to do multiple stylized doves/birds flying off the end of the flute...don't know where the idea came from, it just did...and I thought how perfect to carve that out of Dogwood, as well. I had a mini sketch of a simple outline of a bird, xeroxed about 2o of 'em, and began taking them and layering them in different patterns and combinations. What looked best...2, 3, 4, 5 doves? I settled on an asymmetrical pattern of 4 doves for this reason: I view music from these spiritual flutes as 'arrows' in flight going out into the world...it's healing music, as well. Mike's Christian faith is very important to him, and I remembered the sand dollar lesson (among others) where 5 doves tie in. Dogwood itself has religious tie-ins to begin with...and the sand dollar has the five 'wounds' or openings on it, and when you break a dried one in half, five little 'doves' fall out to fly away.

Why just the four doves, you ask? Because I immediately envisioned the flute player as being the fifth dove, making music that flies away in the wind. Mind you, Dogwood is a pretty hard wood to work with, but it has a really tight grain...taking a chunk of it and 'picturing the four doves from all angles, and then layering them one over the other as I worked the wood down...let's just say it was a huge challenge with a lot of stop-and-go work on it. Because the dove 'assembly' was to be added onto the end of the flute in an aesthetically pleasing manner, I wanted to design it where it was somewhat embedded into the flute, which was extremely tricky as it was going to effect the final key of the flute. Remember I had to land the flute at F#, and when you cut into a barrel's volume you affect the pitch...to counter that, the bird design had myriad holes which were going to affect the pitch in an opposite manner...it was all rather undaunting as there are no blueprints to go by, only my knowledge and thinking through what knowledge I've gleaned from flute making thus far.

I taped the dove group in as I experimented on how to seat it, and as luck would have it it was already very close to F#...once I affixed the assembly on, I simply notched a "V" on the bottom side to bring the flute up to pitch. I liked the symbolism in name and color of Bloodwood, itself a rich crimson shade, that truly offset the PNG Walnut and Dogwood nicely. I added the spacer in the mouthpiece, and was thinking of a way to make it a part of the dove end, but there was no good way to do that. I decided it was worth the effort to countersink Bloodwood rings around the finger holes, which helped the aesthetics even more.

Let me tell you, the 'hands' block was a monumental stumbling stone for me...I am very comfortable drawing and carving animals, but I've never been able to do well with human forms. I am prone to eat elephants all at once, and told myself I was going to make the praying hands block...after 7 months I finally did. I wanted sleeves in there, and I wanted the hands together at a slight upward angle, but not too high...and because the chunk of Dogwood was so large, it was equally as heavy, so most of what you see 'behind' the sleeves was hollowed out (when you play it it looks like your peeking into a little cave of sorts!). Because I'd been dragging my feet for so long on this flute, I knew I had to make myself face my design demons, set a date for Mike, and attack it. It was slow work, let me tell you...the flute was in great shape, I'd tuned it up real fine...now I had to get the block done.

Less than 24 hours before I was to meet up with Mike (we did NOT want to mail this puppy!) I had one of those 'flashes': make a Bloodwood cross and put it in the opening in the hands. Within literally 5 minutes I'd grabbed just the right piece of wood, made the cuts with the bandsaw, sanded down to the appropriate thickness, then took my Dremel carver and roughed it up with first a cutter and then a stone, which made the cross look 'rugged'...with a small bit of shaping on the bottom, that cross slipped perfectly into the hands, and with a dollop of glue and an added pressure and twist, it snugged down in the position you see it in and for the very first time I felt a heavy curtain lift off of me. It was at that point 'done'. It was complete. It was finally where it needed to be to put my Soul at peace.
-------------------------------------------

That's the Cliff Notes version of this flute. When I met Mike at a Food Lion parking lot in Wadesboro, I'd not yet taken pictures of it...so I went prepared with a quilt, flute stand, and royal purple dropcloth and took the pics right there in the middle of the parking lot. Remember you can enlarge any of these pictures by clicking on them...





Friday, December 19, 2008

"Fried Fridays: The things we do for love..."

Well, I don't know if it was for love, or for lust, or for simply showing the world what an idiot he was...or still is, for all I know.

Doesn't really matter, now, since the police solved the problems that arose last May and jailed this rather unthinking young'un...

DATELINE: HOMESTEAD, PENNSYLVANIA

Christopher W. must have felt rather invincible, as many a 19 year-old does. While clearly not the sharpest knife in Dusquene's community drawer, he certainly was one of the more persistent ones.

I'd imagine he had the hots for his high school-aged girlfriend (unnamed in the article)...kinda goes with the territory, age, and hormone production levels, and he feeling extra special because he was "older" and maybe just that much "cooler" to her peers. Dunno, just guessing.

High school is just one of those things a student should complete. Yeah, it's got its ups and downs and good days and bad days and fun days and horrible no-good test days...but the idea is to simply 'do it'.

But ol' Chris must have been one impatient cuss...I mean, just wait a few hours and she'll be out of school on any given weekday, right? Ah, if it were only that simple.

No, Christopher just had to see that firefly of his....he couldn't wait...the world was gonna end if he didn't get to, uh, see her ASAP.


So he phoned in a bomb threat so she'd get out of class early.

No, really.

Technically, I should say 'threats', plural.


Not only did he phone in a bomb threat, the police tracked him down as the culprit responsible for 13...count 'em...13 bomb threats and evacuations between May 15 and 22 of last spring. Caused a lot of trouble at Steel Valley High School in Homestead, he did.

No explosives or any dangerous materials were ever found....just a data trail that led to this hottie Romeo with no brain.

Wiley did plead guilty this past week on various charges, including risking a catastrophe. However, he continues to strongly deny the overall allegations saying he made less than 10 prank calls and no more.

Uh, okay...

Congratulations, dude! You're a real prize for future in-laws, lemme tell ya...



Thursday, December 18, 2008

A 'Bolt out of the Blue'?....

(click pics to enlarge)

Well, not exactly....but a particular flute now has the moniker of "Blue Lightning"....


A few years ago I was messing around with a flute design....certainly not unusual for me, as I like doing one-of-a-kind things and creating things truly unique. I have a special knack for creating super-high key flutes, as well, and decided that "pushing the envelope" suited me just fine.


Witness an Ugly Boy Half-Pipe (flat-bottomed bore) drone, over-and-under, that is keyed in ultra-high C. If you ever even see or hear a high C drone, it will be an octave lower than this "C" drone...

A good friend and flute-maker-to-be (David Fox) became attached to what was, for me, a 'joke' kind of flute because of its impracticality. Many find the high pitches to be on the irritating side, and adding in a drone barrel only adds to that factor.

However, Dave's hands are a bit smaller than my big paws, and he has been naturally drawn to higher keys to begin with...and to this flute, especially.

Long story short, this is a flute that only someone like Dave (in this case it IS Dave!) could own and play...'tis he holding the flute...

We coined this flute "Blue Lightning" as the curly Massaranduba wood had a flaw that led to a significant linear crack at the apex of the curved body on the playing SAC (please email for a definition of that convoluted description). I first burned, then routed out a channel for turquoise 'fill', and now the flute is actually better than new...

Even I have trouble with the ultra-tight fingering pattern (5-hole being the only option in this extreme sound range)...but good ol' Dave took to this odd flute like a duck to water...

...and check out the measurements! This flute is only 11 inches long, and the 5 finger holes are just a tad over 2" apart between the highest and lowest hole. It's crazy. Any N.A. flute player will tell you it's ridiculous. It's impractical. But Dave plays it, and plays it well. I need him to record a piece for me so I can let you hear this truly "one-off" flute. Just goes to prove that just about anything is possible if you believe in it...never say 'never'...and always dream, regardless of the craziness of it all...

-------------------------------------------

Trip to Atlanta Wednesday went quite smoothly. For all the rains this fall in portions of the southeast, I just 'thought' that the Greenville, SC to Atlanta corridor got some relief, as they have held on to 'extreme' drought conditions in some areas there. On the GA/SC border is Hartwell Lake...and I'm here to say it remains significantly low, with many docks lying on the mud floor, 10-40 feet from water's edge. Ugh.

However, I did enjoy $1.34/gallon gas near Spartanburg, SC! Aho! Of course, I temper that optimism with the NPR news story I heard that OPEC, or at least Saudi Arabia, wants to cut crude oil production by 2 MILLION barrels per DAY to 'up' the price of crude...

And speaking of news headlines that made me growl, I must investigate further the news story that Goldman-Sachs is using some of the government bailout funds to pay employee bonuses for this year??? I'm smellin' a Fried Fridays, here...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tivo the blog...


No post today (except for this!) - road trip to Atlanta and back...with rain...feel the excitement...


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One down, several to go...

Isn't it funny how just at this busy time of year it can quickly get ridiculously busier? That's last week and this week for me, hands down. Finished up the "Mongrel" shoot Monday in fine fashion, so Day One of this week is 'in the books' as I quickly scramble for Day Two.

Faithful readers know I drive a high-mileage car, now at 267,000 miles. Runs like a top, but every so often another quirk is added to the billowing Quirk Pile. It all began the first year I had the car, in which I put 54,000 miles on it with constant acting auditions from Atlanta to Philadelphia and most cities in between. The tape player (the what?) died after 9 months, which by then the 36,000-mile/3-year bumper to bumper warranty was well-exceeded, so I let it go. More recently, the A/C compressor died, but only kinda sorta...to this day it may work for 5-20 minutes then quit.

But today was an altogether new adventure as I drove several hours up and back for the studio voice-over work. It was my rear windshield wiper.

It wouldn't stop wiping.

I'm now the proud owner of the new Energizer Bunny of the windshield wiper world. I never even cut it on...it just started going left-right-left-right-left-right all on its own. No matter how I jiggled the control or turned it or massaged it or banged it, it simply kept on keeping on.

On the way home it stopped for about 5 minutes, out of the blue....and then, at the snap of a finger, it started again and kept it up all the way home. As luck would have it, I did run into a brief shower a half-hour before reaching the house, which kept me from looking like a complete idiot with a rear windshield wiper going 90-to-nothing in filtered sunshine.

I'll look to see if a particular fuse controls just that arm and pull it...or jiggle wires where the harness passes through the tailgate hinge as I suspect that's where the short is. You can overload your brain only so much in a given day before you know you need to shut it down. The short can wait a little longer.

-------------------------------------

What a wild (and nice) swing in the temperature department here in North Carolina. I think I speak for many of us when I say it made me rather swallow hard when I opened the latest power bill that came in. Doggone cold for the past couple of months, basically, and my heat pump showed it. Made watching "Happy Feet!" feel like you were actually there on the animation set...

-------------------------------------

For so many this is one tough Christmas. And it only gets worse in January and February when the 'rush' of the holiday season comes and goes, leaving the gaping emotional hole in its wake. Success is never about how you handle the highlights but how you surmount the struggles, and there are more than enough of those to go around thrice over.

"Attitude" will always be one of the most important aspects of survival, or the lack thereof. A loving, kind heart triumphs over any selfish force, and pays back in spades. May we all simply be aware of the blessings each of us has, and be open to helping others as opportunities rise in our daily Journeys...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two more gift ideas...

No, the moon isn't for sale...but last Friday we had the largest moon of the year thanks to the moon's closest position in it's orbit around Earth. Just thought I'd post a pic I took from the back deck soon after it rose. (As you may or may not know, I don't stay up late at all, so any night pics I get early!)

Last week I posted some ideas for tried and true tools I use if someone were looking for a solid usable gift. I turn now to the kitchen to show you 2 items that I've found very useful and convenient...the idea started when I warmed up leftover chili this weekend and decided to make a sort of "Cincinnati Chili" with it...nothing more than pouring the chili on top of spaghetti noodles and adding some shredded cheese. Mouth's watering now as i think about it...

Anyway, cabinets overstuffed with odd-shaped pots and pans are a way of life for most of us, and a standard colander is a big space-waster. Silicone is the new wonder-material for kitchen uses...it's flexibility and heat-resistant qualities make for innovative products like the two to follow.

First up is the collapsible colander found at "Bed, Bath and Beyond, among other places (some of you will know that store for its constant barrage of 20%-off coupons in the mail...!). Not only do I like the rectangular shape, but I like the extending arms to fit just about any sink or space (it can also sit in the sink like a regular colander). It folds nicely 'flat' for efficient storage, too.



Measuring cups are the other nemesis to efficient order in utensil drawers. The collapsible cups are found in many different stores, come in a variety of colors, and this particular set as earth magnets at the end of the handle...I guess for nesting them, though I'm not sure of what great value that is since they're much flatter and stack nicely as-is....




Thus endeth this brief posting...with voice back (yay!) I hit the road for Day 2 of 2 of the "Mongrel" shoot, today just a few hours of voice-over work in a studio. Voice-over work is nice work if you can get it...no wardrobe, no make-up, you just plop your tush on the edge of a stool or chair and yammer away with your best enunciating skills into a very expensive microphone. Ah, if it were only that easy...!

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Fried Fridays: A No-Brainer..."

While on any given week choosing a "Fried Fridays" is like shooting fish in a barrel, this week lent itself to just one big stinkin' fish that wasn't worth wasting an arrow on...

DATELINE: CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Look, let's cut to the chase. While I believe like most of us that someone is innocent until proven guilty, there are those times where 'innocence' is in the land of make-believe and fairy tales. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has created a mess worse than global warming at the North Pole at Christmas.

(AFP/Getty Images/Scott Olson)

Trust me, I could go on and on, point by point of what he has been accused of and associated with, but that would be regurgitating that which has already been heard around the world several times over. You've either already heard it or can find it on a hundred search engines.

He's a pathetic excuse for a leader and should step down immediately, though his raging ego has other ideas, so it would seem.

Given the light of this holiday season I thought that, instead of lambasting him, I should create a Fried Friday's "Top 10 Gift List" of things on Santa's List for Illinois Governor Blagojevich at this tender time...

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10. 5 free consultations with Dr. Phil

9. A Vidal Sassoon hair make-over

8. A free copy of "Senate for Sale" by I.M. Alouse

7. Executive post at "Deny-ers Annonymous"

6. 3 directorship jobs for his wife so she won't feel left out

5. V.I.P. meeting with Goofy at DisneyWorld

4. Week-long bonding visit with his father-in-law

3. Live appearance on "Deal or No Deal"

2. Tickets to "Hamlet" at the Kennedy Center in Washington

and the #1 Christmas gift on Blagojevich's list....

1. A "Get Out Of Jail Free" Monopoly card.

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Ho, ho, ho, y'all!!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

One down, one to go...

It was a close call.

Have you ever left your car parked for several days and then tried to start it, especially if it were a cold morning? A little slow out of the gate and a tad rough, but after idling some it smooths out. Hold that thought...

That's how yesterday's shoot started. I hadn't used my voice, for all practical purposes, for a few days...oh, sure, a few tests here and there, but as I drove up in the increasing fog and rain with the elevation change, there was undeniable swelling in my throat. Among myriad items I made a little bottle of salt water that I first used at 8:30a. I pulled over on a turn-out, got out of the car, and snorted saltwater up each nostril, as that seemed to best get to the swelling around the vocal cords. It wasn't pretty or neat, but there was no one around to see it, except maybe a deer or a squirrel off to the side.

I always carry a 'shoot' bag which has everything from make-up, ear prompter, scripts, directions, and for the day a veritable apothecary of items: herbal teas, honey, lemon, Chloraseptic spray, lozenges, Advil, Kickapoo Joy Juice, Vick's Vaporub, pseudoephedrine, a couple of packets of TheraFlu, and that saltwater...just wanted it all available in case I needed it.

I arrived at the factory and began small talk with the director, meeting the photographer and his assistant, etc. So far 'okay'...I'd never met or worked with any of them, so for all they knew that was my normal voice. I did mention up front that my 'allergies' had been giving me fits...you have to be careful how much info you throw out and go with the flow.

As luck would have it, the first scene we filmed was in the production room where floor cleaning chemicals were auto-loaded into containers, labeled, and boxed, an elaborate array of conveyor belts and fascinating machines that did the work. It made for a good bit of ambient noise in the background...instead of a boom mic, they used a lavaliere mic on my shirt, and the room-noise helped mask my voice a little. I was pleased that my voice got a tad better as I practiced, and like the 'sitting car' paragraph above, my voice improved just enough where I was not as worried as before. Mind you, it was far from 'normal', but I felt I could make it work.

For given scenes you do multiple 'takes' as they tweak camera and light positions, background conditions, and re-takes when I flub a word. Ah, yes...they had NO teleprompter and did not communicate that in advance, which is exactly why in the acting world you HAVE to be prepared for anything if you want more work. Nobody likes a drama-mama on set. The shoot would have been sunk had I not taken my ear prompter kit...and so I quietly put it on, laid down my tracks on the recorder as we did each scene, and the ship sailed, as they say.

After a scene was completed, there was always a lag time of 15 minutes or more to shift locations and reset the equipment. After the first scene, my voice was dry and scratchy, and I went to the very thing I brought that I knew would fit the situation perfectly: the Kickapoo Joy Juice. Not available on store shelves, Saddle Pals, just the ingredients...I made up a small bottle of my honey, lemon, and Rock & Rye, and a quick little swig burned and coated my throat in a good way. Quick, easy, and looked like ice tea...desperate times require desperate measures, and that combo worked, along with swigging water with a goodly amount of lemon juice after the Kickapoo.

Bottom line, I made it through the day well enough...being my own worst critic, I know it was not my best work by far, but the client was happy and that's what always matters most. Too, a HUGE help was the decision the client made to handle the mountain of voice-over work this coming Monday in a sound studio, which is fun and relatively easy work as I don't mess with wardrobe. The voice will be fine, and I'll be in my slouch clothes, and the client will be happy once again.

Possibly one of the best things about yesterday, though, was that I slept through the night for a solid 7-8 hours, which for me is a rare thing of late. Now if I can only get Mercy to go out in the rain this morning....!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Here goes nothin'...

I started writing this blog entry before retiring for the night, Tuesday, and will tweak and post in the early morning hours...I am not one to get sick often, but my semi-laryngitis set in Sunday morning and, well, I'm still not back up to snuff. Not even close.

I've lived a life with allergy attacks, sinus and asthma issues, and have had copious experiences dealing with colds and drips and coughs and fevers while performing professionally, be it on stage, on TV, talking, singing, acting, you name it. And here for the first time, or maybe one of extremely few times, I'm staring down the barrel of an industrial video shoot that is less than 24 hours away, a bigger than normal 'gig' that could not have come at a more opportune time...along with health issues that could NOT have come at a more INopportune time!

I know me, I know my voice, I know my 'head' situation...and this is an uncomfortable circumstance to be dealing with. Tuesday, I actually had a voice when I used it, but it was all in the upper register and a bit raspy. I have no bass ringing through, and when you do acting and voice-over work, let's just say ya gotta have that. Maybe it will back some by the morning. I don't know.

I do know I can't ask the company to wait a few days. They book the camera crew and set schedules well in advance, and had I told 'em two days ago that I was 'suspect' they would have hired someone else, in this case. And so I keep as positive an attitude as I can, stay as quiet as I can, take as much vitamins, herbal supplements and teas as I can...and also grimmace when I sip on the age-old remedy of Rock-and-Rye with honey and lemon. Just too sweet, not to mention the willy-quivers you get when it goes down your throat! But it really does help...

And so I am just sitting here musing over it all and figured I'd throw it out there. We all have our trials and tribulations, just in different ways. I know enough to be humble and be smart about what I do, as well as plan and prepare for emergencies or twists in the plans. The shoot is almost 3 hours away up in the NC mountains, and for you 'Enquiring' minds the video is for a new industrial concrete and stone scrubber/scraper/cleaner. In fact , click on the link for the for the .PDF file of the product itself:
"The Mongrel"
I like the name! Being into 'tools' and having taught science for 9 years in a prior 'life', these types of jobs fit me comfortably.


With that, I'll sign off on the the Tuesday evening portion of this blog, keeping it real, and will update in the early morrow with more...
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(4:28am update)

Well, awoke with a voice no worse, maybe a tad better, but no bass register. I have spoken precious little the past few days, so haven't really taken the voice for a test drive, and won't until I'm on location.

I did awake to an email from my agent written last night around 8:30p, which is past my bedtime...it was a forwarded note from the project director with the attached scripts for the video. I've seen a lot of last-minute scripts, but never one this late, and this is the very first one they've sent me. On top of that, it is rather significant amounts of dialogue to boot, and in the best of health and voices this would be a bear of a project to grind out.

My crossed-fingers hope is that the director clearly knows what will be on-camera dialogue and what will be voice-over next week...many times even on a shoot they're not sure so they double up all the dialogue and edit later...that would NOT be a good solution for today as I know the voice wouldn't hold.

I have also had no direct communication with the director about anything, but having been in this business since 1991 I know to take my own make-up, and take along my ear-prompter. It's a pricey, small gizmo that lets me 'talk' script thanks to a wireless earpiece that picks up a tape recorder signal (in my pants pocket). I basically have my voice recorded and talk behind it a split second as it replays...watch a TV show or ad and try to say what the other person says immediately after them, on their heels. Some find it easy, some don't.

The best solution of all would be that they'll have a good teleprompter, but if they don't, it will add a goodly amount of hurdles through the day. This is far far far beyond the scope of any last-minute memorization options.

Well, there's the anatomy of a shoot, albeit this one having peculiar details others don't normally have. I have to go into Charlotte to get out of Charlotte, so will jump early to beat the traffic and then go against traffic when it's heavier. While my call time is 10am, this will comfortably have me there by 930a at the latest, which is just perfect.

The most important thing I can do is just relax and realize much of this is out of my hands at this point. The 3-hour ride will afford time to scan the script and make a few notes...
one of my strenghts is my ability to cold-read, which is reading something out loud the first time you see it, as if you've known it forever.

Alas, 'tis time to go pack, walk Mercy and be like Santa - gotta check my gear list twice!

Some holiday humor fer ya!

(click on images to enlarge)

Chuckles are always good for the soul, even if you've seen it or heard it before. Having spent some time around the reservations in western South Dakota, I had to laugh at this one (sent to me by my Lakota friend Dee - thanks!)...


It's almost too easy to take pot shots at the 'gift that keeps on giving'!...



Santa can work almost any kind of magic...'almost' being the operative word...



And can I have a big "AMEN!" from the choir for this next one???!!!



Photoshop is a wonderful thing, isn't it...



The Grinch meets the Anti-Grinch eye to eye...


I may have even shown this one last year as it looks familiar...still made me smile~!


Enjoy your day and get ready for some solid Carolina rainfall to head our way!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A few gift ideas...

First, all but one of these four are tool-oriented, but these are tools that I own and use...having gone through myriad tools in my time, I've found these very useful and reliable around the house...and I figured just maybe someone might like to know a good gift idea and a good deal on a useful item.

First up is my cordless screwdriver. I've been through countless Black & Decker straight handled ones that sit in a charger, but this one at Lowe's caught my eye a few months ago. It's a small angled KOBALT drill with a lithium-ion battery...it charges quickly without using a cradle, comes with a neat little case for everything, and most importantly it has a long-lasting and strongly-torqued motor. I've been very impressed with its power packed in its small affordable package. It takes all hexagonal based bits, be it screwdriver, drill bits, or socket wrenches, too:

All tape measures are not created equal. However, all are lost equally as easy! This particular Stanley 'LeverLock' model has been my favored tape measure of all...as you extend the tape, it holds securely without sliding back in in the least. Admittedly, lots of tape measures do (even other Stanleys)...however, it's the mechanism that handles the retraction that is oh-so sweet to deal with:


...it's this black bar on the bottom, and all you do is depress it and it reels flawlessly back in. My other Stanley had a yellow tab on the front, but was not a very easy and natural thing to use to lock the tape. This model you don't have to lock the tape: it locks itself and with a simple finger press you're back to square one.

I was given one of these glass waterers earlier and was told they really do water your plants when you're gone for several days, if that's a concern. I'll admit that the glass globe might look overwhelming in a smaller potted plant, but I'll also tell you it WORKS. You fill it with water and stick it down in the soil, and by natural processes releases just the amount of water needed to keep the soil moist. And so I looked for such a thing for the Christmas tree, as a good fresh one will drink a good bit of water...if I'm out of town a few days, it would be nice to know the water could be replenished. Alas, Wal-mart had nothing...Lowe's had nothing...just not the gardening season, I guess. Lo and behold, I walked into a True Value Hardware store Saturday for something completely different, and there, in my face were 2-packs of these useful items on sale for $9.99:

You have to treat them with care as they're blown glass, but if you know someone who likes taking care of plants and can't always be there to water them, this is a great idea. Well packed in styrofoam, too...and they're already set up under the tree to give extra water in case the tree needs it.

Last up is a tool I use and abuse in my flute work and other household repairs. The most common name is a "Dremel" tool, though that is but one brand name. It's a variable speed shaft that accepts grinders and cutters of various types, allowing one to carve, cut, sand, bore, polish myriad materials like wood, plastic, metal, etc. I have a variable speed Dremel that has a powerful motor and scads of bits I've collected and replaced. However, this past summer I had gone on a trip and took a cheap imitation of one with me that I got from an online cheap tool distributor...oh, I got some use out of it, but eventually it rolled over dead thanks to the cheap metal components that just couldn't run with the big dogs. And so, I went to the nearest store, in this case Wal-Mart, and only had a couple of choices...this Black & Decker RTX was the one I picked:

At around $25, it was quite inexpensive, yet had 3 speeds and touted its "quick change" mechanism as a strong selling point. Especially when I'm working on my flutes and blocks, I'm constantly changing bits, and the idea of doing so quickly without a wrench or pliers was attractive...as long as it worked. Let the record show it works extremely well:

You just pull back on the tab like I did above and it locks the shaft...simple hand pressure turns the knurled knob, take out and slip in a new bit, hand-tighten, then flip the lever down and you're ready to rumble. I wish this unit had a continual variable speed instead of 3 switch speeds, but it is my current go-to unit. Affordable and easy to use, and heretofore has run the race I need it to.

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The aside to this blog is that the above pictures were taken by my newly repaired Canon S2 that I turned into Best Buy for warranty repair back in October. When I turned it in, I sarcastically blogged that it would take 2-3 months to get it back...the Geek Squad commandeer that took my repair in said "no, only 2-3 weeks" and gave me an estimated October 28 return date.

Halloween came and went. Thanksgiving came and went. The calendar flipped into December and FINALLY it returned that first week. It has a whole new lens and motor mechanism, and I have to say that after initial test I made, it's actually better than new. It took a long time, a few days shy of 2 months as the repair center had to wait on special parts to come in, but it's back to it's wonderful functioning self. I am well pleased, to say the least.

Happy Holiday-ing, all y'all! And stay healthy! I'm battling larynghitis for a third day, and VERY glad I don't have any on-air responsibilities right now!