Saturday, February 27, 2010

Successful fundraiser! Other stuff!


The comedy show fundraiser I put on on February 18 was -- A HUGE SUCCESS!!  I am so happy!  Even though it was Thursday evening, we made over one thousand dollars!  I am thrilled.  It usually takes eight of us, sitting for hours at a booth at some community festival (and me working non-stop as face-painter) to make five hundred bucks.  This was an almost effortless event.  I got some good publicity (including a cable news spot, that unfortunately, didn't air in Beacon, so I missed seeing myself, but people who saw it said I did a good job) and we filled every seat and then some!  The comics were so funny, and so professional, no one could have asked for more.  Everybody was laughing and smiling, money flowed like water.  It was just great.

Too bad I forgot to bring my camera!  A few days later, I dropped it off my desk and killed it.  It is DEAD.  We need to buy a new one before we take our trip on March 10, to Rome and Istanbul. 


Sitting at home with no employment, I like to keep myself busy.  In addition to the wallpapering job that nearly did me in, I have been working on some woodworking projects.  If you have old furniture, or an antique house, you need to buy some Briwax!   It is a colored wax that you rub on wood, then buff it to a shine.  It doesn't work on wood that has already been varnished, so you have to use some elbow grease and sandpaper first, if that is the case. 

When he moved out of my house in Detroit, Herb Ferrer gave an antique English walnut dresser to my housemate, Dawn Young.  She gave it to me.  I absolutely love this piece.  I have used it as a buffet in my dining room, though for eight years I have been unable to open any of the drawers.  It was literally a mirror and a pile of boards with some water damage when I packed it up to move to New York.  I put it together like a puzzle, held together by nothing but gravity.  When Robert asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him I'd like to have it restored.   He called in an expert who gave us a current price of about SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS for the repairs.  I told Robert that was too much, and we decided to try to do the restoration ourselves.  That required a couple of weeks with dropcloths on the carpet and lots of hammers and clamps and glue bottles lying around, but we finally got it put back together.  A little steel wool and Briwax, and the water damage disappeared.  And the drawers actually open and close!

I was so inspired that I took the doors off our really crappy-looking upper bathroom cabinets.  They had paint dribbles, scuffs and worn sports, and I had figured I'd have to paint them because they looked so shoddy.  But I used Briwax on them and put on some new hardware.  They look great!  I want to make commercials for Briwax!  (It's from England.  You have to buy it from a paint company.)


We were spared during the last two crippling snowstorms.  It was as if a magical dome came down from the sky and settled over Beacon, while everybody around us and all down the coast got slammed with sleet and yards of snow.  This made Robert happy but it made me nervous, because I believe in The Great Leveler.  The fact that we didn't get our butts kicked twice only meant to me that when we DID get our butts kicked, it would be twice as hard.

It was sleeting a little on Tuesday evening when I walked to my writing group.  It is held at a local wine bar.  When I got there, the place was closed (the proprietor had been snowed in and was unable to come there to open up) but no problem, because Simon and the other members of the group were sitting in his car in front of the place, ready to take me to another member's house for the meeting.  During the meeting, though, the snow continued.  Afterward, the drive back to my house (less than a mile) took an hour and a half!  When Simon's tires weren't spinning uselessly on an ice slick, the car was sliding sideways through intersections.  Thank God there were hardly any other cars on the road!  Every half block or so I had to push the car to get it unstuck, and then Simon didn't dare slow down to let me back in.  So I ran most of the way home next to his car (with the theme from "Rocky" playing in my brain), always ready to give it another push.  Needless to say, Simon was our overnight guest. 

On Thursday, the snowfall started shortly after Robert left for work and didn't stop all day.  I began shoveling at about four for his seven o'clock return.  It was very wet and sticky, and hard shoveling.  I would go out for an hour, then come in to throw my soaking wet clothes in the dryer and put on new ones.  And of course, every time the snowplows hit the street, they built an even higher fence of slushy stuff, so the depth at the end of the driveway was at least two feet.  I had to get enough of the driveway cleared so Robert could get the car off the street, and I ALMOST made it.  I was about four feet from my goal when the across-the-street neighbor came over with about four other guys with shovels.  He was apologetic for not coming to my aid sooner.  "Every time I looked outside, you were still out here!"  Anyway, I was extremely thankful he came, because I was about done in.  They also cleared enough of the driveway to free my car (as if I were driving ANYWHERE in the near future!).

This morning, OH MY!  I wish I had not destroyed my camera, because it looks like another planet around here.  There is a ten-inch blade of snow standing on every fence, every electrical wire and every branch.  We have a free-standing birdhouse on a post in the back yard that looks like it's wearing a miter.  Unfortunately, my beloved pink dogwood suffered serious blows, with most of its largest branches splintered.  I am really bummed about that--I enjoy that tree so much.  But at least we'll have lots fewer oak leaves to rake up this fall!  Broken limbs are everywhere.  I'd like to put more birdseed in my feeder, but the snow is hip-deep on that side of the house.  And our electical power keeps flickering on and off.    

Pretty, pretty, dangerous snow. 

I just went outside to tell Robert to take a shoveling break.  I must make chicken soup and hot chocolate!

[Post script--I still don't have pictures of the original snowfall, but here are some photos from a few days later (when we'd already had a sizeable melt)]

My favorite tree!  The pink dogwood!

This is an ancient hydrangea tree -- totally destroyed. 


I have made a breakthrough in the work I am doing on my Mom's book (a thirty-year labor of love she was writing about her family).  There is just SO MUCH PAPER I often become overwhelmed.  Not only did she keep all the original source materials (boxes and boxes of ancient letters, crumbling diaries, crates of old photographs, notebooks of transcribed newspaper articles ) but she kept every draft she ever wrote, and every copy of every draft that she gave to other people to read and make comments on.  Then every time one of her computers pooped out on her, she'd re-type the whole thing, so I have various versions of the book.  It is my job (as I see it) to figure out what version she wanted, and to organize the last six year's worth of letters.   All I do is sort! 

Like my Mom, I fear having a computer failure that wipes out years and years of her work, so I, too, have been nervous about throwing out anything that I'm not absolutley certain I have a copy of.  But my breakthrough is --I have actually been TOSSING STUFF OUT!  Just the fact of having less to deal with makes everything manageable!  Even if I lose my computer files, I'll have a printed-out version, that is the closest I can come to her vision.

My only New Year's resolution for this year (See?  I've even given up on the idea of losing weight!) is to get the book published by December.  I feel pretty good about it.

Well, this is enough for now.  We hope you are all well and enjoying the weather (HA!)

F and R




Sunday, February 14, 2010

Help for Haiti's Vegans, I fail as a drug addict

Man.  For a solid year she can't make herself sit down and write a letter, and now she can't shut up.

It is amazing I can do any writing.  Since the installation of the bird feeder outside my window, my desk looks like this:


I report that my fun experience with my knee, lying on the floor at the bottom of the stairs writhing in pain, has not permanently crippled me.  Thanks to Robert's insistence that I stay off it for two whole days, it got better much faster than I imagined it could.  I still feel pangs so I am babying it, in hopes of being completely fine by the time we take off on our Euro/Asian trip next month.  The injury, along with a bout of sinus agony, has caused me to miss several of my writing and acting group meetings, but I think I'm ready to rejoin the creative fray.  (Wait a minute!  Who writes crap like "bout of sinus agony" and "rejoin the creative fray?"  Did somebody put something in my coffee?) 


Perhaps as a result of having few and infrequent medical issues and a naturally high pain threshhold, it never occurs to me to take medicine.  I forget it exists.  I probably ingest four aspirin a year, and I have never gotten the hang of remembering to eat vitamins.

But recently my doctor surprised me, telling me I have a pre-osteoporosis condition.  Now I have to take a pill once a week that has to be taken at the same time, before any other food, while sitting or standing, AND I have to take twice-daily doses of Vitamin D and calcium for a year, to see if the condition reverses itself.  I know how important it is to have strong bones, especially if you are an idiot who amuses herself by jumping off stair railings and tumbling down stairs.    

In spite of my good intentions, days go by before I realize I can't remember when I last took my pills.  I have tried everything-- a post-it on the bathroom mirror.  A note on the fridge door.  Vitamin bottles in the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom.  A big plastic compartmented box with the days of the week printed on it, smack in front of the coffee maker.  But still, I get involved in my morning tasks, and I forget. 

But there is a morning task I could not forget if I wanted to, because my cats won't let me.  At about six a.m., the mewling and frantic scratching begins.  To keep Twerpy from actually digging through or UNDER our bedroom door, I have had to resort to screwing a sheet of tin to the floor, and repeated applications of duct tape.  Handsome, huh?  It is not even worth DREAMING about replacing the carpet as long as he is alive.   Here's some of Twerp's handiwork:

All cats abhore a closed door.

The reason Twerp is so frantic to get to me is because he fears I may forget his morning COOKIES!  My cats have a self-feeder stocked with dry cat food and water, but somebody (Damn you, Dee!) gave me a gift of cat treats, and somehow, these have become my cats' expectation.  Twerp will not stop chattering and whining until I parcel them out on the kitchen floor.  Last week I said to him, "Here!  Take your damned shut-up pills!" 

Voila!  I have not forgotten my vitamins since!


It is my nature to keep busy so I look around for volunteer opportunities.  I saw something on our city website asking for people to donate to a bake sale to benefit Haiti.  So I e-mailed and asked what I could contribute.  The organizer suggested I whip up a batch of my favorite recipe for delicious vegan cookies.

Some people might argue that "delicious" and "vegan" don't belong in the same sentence together.  [If you don't know, vegan is a more extreme form of vegetarianism where even products like honey and milk, that don't require the death of an animal, are not eaten.]  I said, "Wow!  My extensive collection of delicious vegan recipes is so vast, it's hard for me to choose one!" (I didn't really say that, I just asked her for a suggestion) and she offered a recipe for some molasses cookies.  I had all the ingredients, and made a batch. 

They looked good, but smelled funny to me.  I checked the ingredients I had used, including the canola oil, because I feared it might have gone rancid.  I use very little oil generally and it can go bad fairly quickly.  Robert thought it smelled fine but I wanted to be on the safe side.  I bought new stuff and tried it again.  A better result. 

I was happy to make a contribution to a good cause and the Vegans for Haiti ladies were very happy with my offering.  The little creatures in my yard are a different story.  I put the first batch of cookies in the feeders.  Squirrels pick them up, smell them, then knock them out of the feeder with their hind feet!  Skunks, on their nightly rounds to the grounds below the feeders, have not yet bothered to pick them up!  I am either the worst cookie baker in the world, or there are more anti-vegan animals out there than you would think.


Next week is my comedy show fund raiser.  I feel optimistic!  I would love SO MUCH to make a couple thousand bucks for the shelter.  Cross your fingers for good weather on Thursday and a happy, generous (and drunk!) crowd! 

I am also going to speak to some school kids about becoming writers.  I sent off for forty copies of my book (because I can sell and ship it for about half of the website price) but they were lost in transit and I am so grumpy about that.  The publisher won't do anything about it for six weeks so I am stuck with only about eight books to sell and lots of missed opportunities.  Grump!  Grump!  Grump!

That's all for now!  Drop a line! 

F and R 


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wallpaper- the true test of a marriage

There are certain life lessons every girl is supposed to learn at her mother's knee.  I picked up on most of them, but apparently not the one that goes: "Just because wallpaper is on sale, it doesn't mean you have to buy it." 

When Robert and I bought our house I was still living in Michigan.  While I prepared for the big move Robert made lots of home improvements, such as tearing up the dog-pee-smelling carpet downstairs and installing new stuff, and painting some of the rooms.  I was glad he did those things but I wish he had not removed the wallpaper in the front hallway.  Not that I liked it and wanted to keep it there -- but I did want to get a photograph of it first, just in case there is ever a "world's ugliest wallpaper" contest offering a cash prize.

This stuff looked like someone had thrown buckets of vomit on the walls.  Literally.  It featured dribbles and streaks of brown, tan and pea green.  Robert tore it all down, leaving the plain plaster walls, then a leaking pipe under the upstairs bathroom floor let loose, that resulted in the ceiling of the downstairs hallway being badly damaged.

When you have seventy-five thousand projects going on all at once, you become sort of blind to certain things.  That gaping hole in the ceiling with the lathe showing through, and the stained and cracked plaster walls, weren't things I paid attention to because I was up to my armpits in other projects in other parts of the house.  The hallway -- one's first impression upon entering our humble abode -- stayed that way (BUTT UGLY) for several years.

Then Robert started talking about how he was planning to repair the ceiling.  This job would require knocking down any loose plaster, screwing furring strips into the lathe, cutting and attaching a piece of plaster board to fit the hole, spackling that, then sanding, priming and painting it. 

This kind of repair is never fun and even less so when you have to perform it standing on a ladder with your arms up over your head, while dirt and plaster dust and blobs of wet spackle fall onto your face, and you are dropping your hammer and losing your screwdriver every two minutes.  This is NOT the kind of job that a perfectionist with a short temper should approach.

My method of preventing my perfectionist, short-tempered husband from having a stroke is to keep him entirely in the dark about home improvement projects.  I hand him his sack lunch and kiss him goodbye in the morning, and as soon as his car is out of the driveway, I go nuts.  The most important thing is not to do a good job -- it is to get the job done before Robert comes home, so he never has to think about it again.  So what if I don't have the right tools?  So what if it really needed two coats of paint?  I don't have time for two coats!

So I did a really sloppy job of mending the hallway ceiling.  I never even sanded my crappy patch job.  Before the plaster was even dry I watered down a gallon of latex paint I found in the basement, and slapped it on the walls and ceiling.  As parts of the walls span the two floors, I did lots of it with a long handled roller and a paint brush taped to the end of a mop handle.  Then I put a thin strip of egg and dart-printed wallpaper border around the top.  It looked SO MUCH BETTER, but I never intended it to be a permanent treatment.

One of the Christmas gifts Robert got for me was ten samples of William Morris wallpaper with the idea that we would invest in some nice paper for the hallway that suits our antique house.  This stuff is SO expensive -- hundreds of dollars per roll! -- and it would require at least sixteen rolls to do the job.  I told Robert that was just way more money than we should think about spending until everybody buys my book and we are rolling in dough (Ha!).  I said I would look around for some less expensive papers and see if I could find something acceptable.  What I actually intended to do was to put this project on the maybe-ten-years-from-now list.

Robert told me he'd seen a sign for a wallpaper sale in a store window and asked me to check it out.  They only a few designs available but the price was ridiculous -- $60 a roll on sale for five bucks!  So I decided to take advantage of my massive load of I-don't-have-a-job-and-I'm-not-helping-Robert-enough guilt, and apply it toward making the hallway look better. 

Mom told me that Dad only swore at her once in their life -- when they were attempting to put paper up on their bedroom ceiling.  Also, she only heard her own father use a curse word once, and this occurred during a similar event, when he was assisting my grandmother.  Mom said:  "Wallpaper is the true test of a marriage."  So I promised myself I would NOT ask Robert to help me in any way.

Stabbing a wet paint brush at a faraway corner is one thing.  Deftly lining up wallpaper joins and patterns, smoothing out air bubbles, wiping away excess paste and trimming around mouldings is another thing.  It simply can't be done from the far end of a mop handle.  I did everything I could do safely by myself on a step ladder, but when it came to the dangerous business of tall ladders perched on too-narrow stairs, and having to straddle a fifteen-foot drop, I waited until Robert came home.

Dig that crazy wallpaperer's hair-do!

Robert was so cool!  He never even flipped out!  He hardly even swore!  He handed me things and showed me where the rucks were, and we finished all the hard parts, then he took me out for a nice Italian dinner.  Here's a picture he took of me. 

Then I spent hours and hours searching for the perfect one-inch wallpaper border.  Border is so ridiculously expensive, I usually try to find a roll of some kind of compatible paper with a stripe, then and I hand cut strips to use as border.  But wallpaper is so expensive now!  Having spent only $40 on the paper, I balked at paying $64.00 just for the stupid fancy edging.  Luckily, I found something that worked in the bargain bin.

Most of the job was finished.  I had only the border to put up and a few spots to patch.  I knew I should have waited for Robert to be home, but I thought, "Oh, this is easy.  I'd rather he come home to a finished product."  I put up the strip of border in the scary place, at the very top of the stairwell wall, where I had to straddle the stairwell with one foot on the hallway windowsill and the other on the stair railing. 

I managed to do that without falling to my doom, but when it was time to get down off the stair rail, I realized I had not pulled my little utility ladder close enough to be of use to me.  I had no choice but to try to "hop down" from that (about 2 1/2 feet).  Of course I landed wrong, fell over and smacked my head against the doorframe.  I lay there for a several minutes, trying to figure out whether I had broken any bones, all the while chewing myself out for being so fricking stupid as to try to do that job by myself.  I figured I was OK, and got up and started walking down the stairs.  Then my bum knee (the one I had landed on) gave out and I bump-bump-bumped on my butt all the way down.

So now, LESS THAN FIVE WEEKS from the day I expect to be wandering around the ruins of ancient Rome and Constantinople, I can hardly move because of a throbbing knee and a bruised tailbone.  I don't know how to spell the sound of a Bronx cheer, but if I did, I would be typing it now.

The good thing is that I am so pleased with the way the hallway looks, that it somewhat mitigates my misery.  Here are before and after views of the hallway.

Before - After


I have formed a company called Pen-in-Hand Press, to publish short fiction.  I have also joined an acting class here in Beacon, taught by my friend, John Mendelssohn.  I have not done anything like this (acting class) since I was in college, but I hope it will help me in my future life as a voice actor!  Robert and I have decided against "Readers for Writers" for our business name, though we hope eventually to specialize in producing audio books for writers.  Instead, we have decided on "Vox Humana," because that opens the way for all sorts of other jobs, like being that voice that tells you to push #7 if you have a complaint about the product you bought on line.  Vox Humana will be me, most of the time, but when Robert retires, he hopes to do a lot of voice work, too.

Job wise, everything stinks.  I can't even get hired at WalMart, because I'm over-qualified.  I have been applying for every part-time attorney and writer job I can find, and I have done a few little editing gigs advertized on craigslist, but I have yet to be paid for anything.  I am also enjoying being a volunteer reading tutor through a group called "Literacy Connections." 

So if you need a voice, if you need wallpapering advice or assistor ance, you need your manuscript critiqued or edited, you want to buy my book, contact me!

We hope to be seeing our friends Colleen and Brian Murphy.  Chant healing prayers for my rotten knee!  We hope you all remain healthy and groovy!  --

F and R