Friday, April 23, 2010

Birthdays, another prayer answered, and pictures of Pompeii!


Robert's birthday is April 14.  Mine is April 17.  We celebrate a tradition in our marriage of Robert giving me boatloads of thoughtful and perfect birthday/anniversary/Christmas gifts and me giving him things he already has several of and/or he has never had any interest in owning.  This birthday I had an additional financial limitation necessitated by not having any income (my unemployment is now Gone With the Wind).  I decided to take on some projects he had been planning but dreading doing, including installing a real door between his finished basement office/music room and the rest of our basement.  We had a nice door that we wanted to use -- a heavy, solid-cherry one that used to be in our downstairs hallway.  Robert liked it because it had a textured glass panel, beautiful wood, and antique hardware. 

The main stumbling block to installing the door down there was that the basement door frame was not plumb.  We had actually talked to several carpenters who had all kinds of ideas for ripping things out and installing a new frame.  The door would fit within the frame, but there was a one-inch difference between the top and the bottom of the side of the frame where the hinges would have to go.  We never got anyone interested in doing this job for us, so as a stopgap I installed an old screen door by screwing it to the outside of the frame.  Then, to keep air-conditioned or heated air in that part of the basement, I covered the screen with big sheets of bubble wrap secured with duct tape.  It looked like crap but it was certainly functional, except that every time you swung open the door, it smacked into the hanging light fixture behind it.

It became my goal to fix this problem and give Robert the professional-looking office that he has always envisioned.  I fussed and fussed about the door frame, until I realized that if I would only turn the hinges around and screw them into the side of the door frame as I had done for the screen door rather than to the inside where they're supposed to go, I didn't have to change the door frame!

So I tried to do that by myself.  But while holding it in place with one hand and reaching for the screw driver with the other, the door tilted and crashed to the ground, hitting me on the wrist and causing some interesting bruising.  Of course, the glass panel shattered.

I had to go out to buy something to replace it with.  I was worried about trying to put in such a big piece of glass so I bought a sheet of Plexi, thinking that might be easier to handle.  Home Depot wouldn't cut it to size for me because you have to use a special saw blade, but the guy told me how EASY it is to do.  He said, "You just score it with a knife and then snap it off!  Easy as pie!"  So I bought a sheet and brought it home.  Just to make sure I was doing it right I looked on the 'net for a video showing how to do it.  All the comments were from extremely angry men, complaining about what an impossible thing this is to do, and what big fat liars they have working at Home Depot. 

I tried the score-and-snap method.  What a disaster!  I worked on it for hours and ended up getting a blister on my hand from nipping microscopic bits off with a pair of wire cutters, because of course, the cracks hadn't gone all the way through or had veered off course.  It looked as if a badger had been chewing on it, but I eventually got it the right size to fit into the door.  Because this new pane wasn't privacy glass and that was one of the reasons Robert liked the door, I found some film that was supposed to make the Plexi look like a stained glass panel.  I put that on, then really messed up the pretty wood on the door trying to get the little surrounding pieces of wood off so I could install it.

It's up!  I keep telling myself it looks better than a beat-up fifty-year-old screen door covered with bubble wrap and duct tape, but not by much.

I also moved the light fixture, reupholstered a chair, painted a rocking chair, cleaned out his office closet and put in some recycling bins that he can use for storing cables and wires.  I hung artwork and moved stuff around, got him a cake and some used DVDs and promised to make him some curtains.  Robert was happy.  Mostly he was happy because he HATES doing stuff like installing doors and cutting glass and moving light fixtures.  [Robert adds: I also LOVE sitting on my ass, watching old videos, and eating cake!] 

Robert's gorgeous, professional-looking music room!

On MY birthday we got up early to prepare for our big day at the recording studio. We have been taking training to be voice-over actors, and this was the day they would record our demo tape.  Each recording took about two hours to do, and the product won't be ready for a few months. When we finally get our demo discs we'll send them out to people who might need a voice actor.  It might be for something as exciting as playing an animated character, or as boring as being the person who says, "For Lisa Smith, please press 2.  For Yvette Jones, please press 3."  The demo will end up being just two 1 1/2 minute long tracks on a CD, but they cost us each about two thousand bucks!  But that's show biz . . . .

We did the recording in Schenectady, about a two-hour drive.  Then we drove home.  I got to open my presents before going out for our birthday dinner.  I got a new quiche pan, a new frying pan, a new flour sifter.  The best gift was a laptop computer that I can take to my new job!


Yes!  I am a five-dollar-an-hour dog nanny to Annette and Casper!  The job starts Monday!  I'll keep you informed!


I had invited our friend John Mendelssohn, over for dinner.  He is a very talented musician and web designer who knows a lot about setting up a recording studio, which is something we need to do in order to get VOX HUMANA, our audio book recording business, off the ground.  He offered to come over and look at our equipment and give us advice on software we should buy, etc.  He declined my dinner offer, which I thought at first was a bad thing because I had purchased some gorgeous-looking veggies.  I had planned to prepare a beautiful, fresh fennel bulb, some tightly budded broccoli and some lovely ears of corn.  I know that corn isn't in season now so it probably came from Argentina, but I decided to get it as a special treat.  I bought six ears.

It would be a lie to tell you that I am a great cook.  Because I am a fabulous cook.  Everything I touch turns into a culinary masterpiece!  So after John left I made dinner for just Robert and me.  I split the fennel bulb to discover that the inside was full of holes and had turned black.  While preparing to steam the gorgeous broccoli I had to change knives because it was like sawing firewood to cut through the stems.  They were dried up and hollow and as tender as two-year-old bamboo.  I never had such bad broccoli to work with in my life!  Finally, the corn was pretty but had the consistency and flavor of soggy talcum powder.  I only managed a few bites.  Thank God John turned me down!

So you ask, "Franny, is the existence of God proven by he fact that He caused John Mendelssohn to have other dinner plans so you were spared the embarrassment of a truly inedible meal?  Are you THAT hungry for the peace of a Grand-Plan-for-All-Things that you grab at such flimsy straws as this to support your non-conformist spiritual beliefs?" 

NO!  The existence of God was proved to me when, just as I was sitting upstairs wondering what the heck I was going to do with FOUR EARS of fresh corn that I had no intention of eating, Robert said, "Franny, come here!"  I joined him at our front door to see two of the fattest and boldest raccoons I have ever seen, sitting on our front porch like expectant Trick -or-Treaters.

Take THAT!  Non-believers!

(Robert begs me not to encourage critters like this onto our porch and insists I feed them at the bottom of the porch stairs.  I feed the ground hogs [known by you Michigan folks as woodchucks] by leaving treats of stale biscuits and wilted celery at the entrance of their burrows.  I put chicken bones in the garden for skunks.  I hope this makes that squirrel-hating lady who lives next door CRAZY!)   


As promised, here are a few gems from our trip to Pompeii.  I have always wanted to go there and I know a lot about it.  When I brought up the idea of using one of our few days in Rome to go there, Robert was hesitant.  But our good friend Carolyn Carroll's family is from the Amalfi Coast.  The Carrolls had recently visited them, and they showed us their slides of Pompeii.  That got Robert interested.  [Robert amends: No, I was always interested, and always sympathetic to the idea.  The only issue was whether we wanted to see Pompeii rather than Rome for a whole day.  I loved Rome, but I think we chose right.] 

We investigated various means of getting to Naples from Rome but found nothing inexpensive.  There are tours you can take but they cost a fortune, and include a bunch of crap you have no interest in and they don't permit much time in the ancient city (Carolyn and Steve spent over six hours there, and still didn't see everything).  But our other option, to figure out train schedules and maps and  ground transportation on our own, was just too much hassle.  We would have preferred being able to do what the Carrolls did, to wander around on our own, and we would have loved to spend hours there, but we couldn't.  So we bit the bullet and signed on for a tour.

We were picked up at our hotel and got on a nice bus for the trip.  Our guide was ridiculous.  His name was Fabio but you would not have any problem confusing him with that OTHER Fabio.  He spoke about six different languages and repeated things in Spanish, German and Greek, as well as Italian and English, but his English was amazing.  He added a vowel to the end of almost every word.  "Here-ah you see-ah the ancient-ah Roman-ah walls-ah, built-ah by the Emperor Justinian-ah ---"  But he was friendly and nice.  We became friends with an interesting Greek couple we met on the tour, Effie and Spyros.  He is a professor in Athens.  We hope they'll come and visit us in New York soon!

Anyway, after a not-that-good luncheon that took way too long and featured a bad singer crooning "O Sole Mio" at us, a quick tour of the city of Naples, and a boring stop at a cameo factory (read, crappy jewelry shop) we finally got to go into the ruined city of Pompeii.  We had planned our trip perfectly--the week before the start of the regular tourist season.  That meant we were able to walk around ancient Pompeii (it is acres and acres and ACRES and ACRES of excavated streets and buildings!) and not run into many other people. 

With only two hours to spend there, we didn't get to see many of the best preserved and grandest houses with their fabulous murals (such as the Hall of Mysteries) but we enjoyed what we saw.  It was a real experience to walk on the streets of a city frozen in time since the year 79AD.  The level of ornate design everywhere was incredible and it was easy to imagine what it must have looked like then, when the paint colors were fresh. 

My foot, on the streets of Pompeii

I was particularly impressed going into a bathhouse that, because it employed Roman arches, is the only building with a roof that didn't collapse under the weight of the ash and pumice stone that rained down on everything that day.  Here's the ceiling:

Even the mattress of a metal bench was preserved.

These "strong men" divide little cubbies where bath patrons left their clothing.

Most of the art treasures found in Pompeii have been removed to museums, but perfect copies have been left in their places.  The remaining objects and plaster castings that were discovered (like the famous and tragic chained dog, and some castings of people) are kept behind bars in this "antiquarium."

My favorite things were a very small mosaic of doves, stealing pearls from a jewelry box (here is is, with Robert looking down at it--I wish I had taken a close up of it) and the famous "Beware of the Dog" mosaic, laid in the front hallway of a house.

These are the remains of the counters in a storefront.  Things like olives, pickles and wine were kept in the round wells.

Here's a watering trough.  I wish I had taken more pictures of these!  They were ornate and clever.

These are pedestrian stepping stones (the streets ran with raw sewage...ick!) that allowed chariots and carts to pass.  You can see the ruts carved by cart wheels.  

This is the courtyard of a grand house.

And here are a few other pictures that I liked, that express the feeling of the place.

Above is Vesuvius, as seen from Pompeii.  I picked up a handful of the pumice stones that litter Pompeii everywhere, and which, with tons of ash, are the reason the city is so well preserved.  They are lightweight, about 1/2 inch wide.  But when you hold the cold rock in your hand and then look at the great distance from which they flew, you remember that what the residents of this city dealt with was not the light pitter-patter of pebbles, but a torrent of burning missiles.  

Our visit to Pompeii was a gift from my beloved mother-in-law, Muffy.  I was so thrilled to be able to go there.  We thought about her a lot during the trip, and I hope somehow that she knows how much we enjoyed it.

Well, this is enough for now!  Hope you are good!  Hope to hear from you!  I have a Facebook page!  (I think!)  If you have a Facebook page too, it makes it easier for me to let you know when I update this blog.

We love you! 

F and R


Friday, April 9, 2010

Rome! Arty-fartsy stuff! A--(gasp!)--JOB FOR FRANNY!


My real life is the fun, creative one, where I get to run all over the world and see fabulous things and pretend to be rich.  My fake life is the one where I look for employment and fuss about money and do laundry.  Sometimes that fake life swells up and crowds out my real life, as it did the other day when a job interview reduced me to tears and I wrote about it.  I felt stupid about that later and thought about deleting that last entry, but I decided against it, because I am human, and because I am sure that SOMETHING GOOD AND WONDERFUL WILL HAPPEN, EVENTUALLY.

So here's some good stuff. 


Robert, being Napoleon, in front of our hotel

Despite the fact we do not have any money to burn and I haven't had a job for more than a year, when we received Robert's inheritance from his mother, we did some thinking about what she would have wanted us to do with it.  We decided she would want us to take a vacation.  

Robert said he would like to see Turkey, but the time he could get off from work was limited.  I found a great deal on a trip that included three days in Rome and three in Istanbul. 

In Rome we stayed in a fancy old hotel near the train station, in a neighborhood where everything is covered with graffitti and all the stores and coffee shops are run by Asians.  It was a fun place to stay and we had a great time there.  The weather was rainy and chilly, but that didn't keep us from walking our feet to stumps.  We wandered into any interesting church, museum or shop we came upon.  We were very near the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.  It is one of the most decorative and beautiful churches in the world -- as impressive as St. Peter's, but on a smaller scale.  There were fabulous paintings, mosaics and stonework (lots of porphyry!) everywhere. 

In the center, under the floor, is a reliquary of St. Matthew the Apostle with a huge statue of a pope kneeling in front of it.  The church's other famous relics include wood and hay from the nativity manger, the original swaddling clothes, and some holy breast milk.  Who would have thunk to save that?  Mary?  What did she save it in?  Did one of those wise men tell her, "Hey, you better keep some of that!" 

I like relics.  I am SURE they are all genuine, just as I am sure that no scheming pope, gullible crusader or money-grubbing king had any part in their creation or collection.  When I was traveling around Italy when I was sixteen, I saw three different wedding rings of Mary, each in a different town.  I guess she kept losing them.  Somewhere in an undisclosed Italian location is the only part of Jesus that sitteth not at the right hand of the Father. Write to me and I'll tell you what it is. 

Anyway, here are pictures of the interior of Santa Maria Maggiore, and looking down toward the reliquary and the giant pope: 

We saw another fabulous church, Maria of the Angels and Martyrs, that had a special exhibit about Gallileo Galilei.  There were beautiful models of some of his scientific experiments and machines.  He was quoted as saying, "In order to understand creation, you must look at the stones."  We also visited Saint Peter in Chains, where Michaelangelo's Moses is, and all sorts of really gruesome memorials featuring skeletons and spooky representations of death.   

We didn't see the Vatican City or Sistine Chapel, as we'd both seen them before.  We'd also had no plans to visit the Colosseum, but I had promised my pal Mavis I'd have my picture taken in front of it, so here you have it.  As I am the photographer in our family, this is about the only photo of me from the whole adventure, so it is unfortunate that I am making a silly face. 

When I was in Rome in 1971, the Colosseum was open to the public.  You could walk through it anytime, and there were little shops in the niches inside where you could buy postcards and candy.  It was closed to the public for several years for restoration and reinforcement, and was only recently reopened.  Now you have to pay money to go inside, and they have built some sort of walkway over the middle so you can look down into the maze where the gladiators' rooms and animal pens used to be, under the floor.  It was closed for teh day when we got there, so we didn't get to go in, but I didn't know if I really wanted to see a "new and improved" Colosseum, anyway.

Writing this, I realize I've been assuming that everybody knows that I spent what would have been my junior year in high school hitchhiking around Europe.  I lived in Perugia, Italy, for a time and went to Rome or Florence every weekend on my quest to see everything ever sculpted by Michaelangelo.  I managed to do this except for the Madonna of Bruges, in Belgium (which I saw in 1990) and a pair of angels that are in the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg.  I didn't have any money, so I spent lots of time doing free things, like sitting in the ancient Roman Forum watching feral cats snooze on ancient stone walls and clean themselves.  

I had hoped to go there again.  My memory of the Forum was of a big, wild area that was oddly quiet in the middle of the noisy city.  You could wander around and try to imagine what the streets and temples had looked like, that were now just paving stones and remnants of toppled pillars lying amid weeds.  And there were scores and SCORES of cats.  But now the Forum is surrounded by an eight-foot high fence, cement sidewalks have been installed and the grass is perfectly manicured and edged around every fallen stone.  All Robert and I could do was to peer through the bars of the fence.  I didn't see a single cat!  Of course I understand that these treasures must be protected from vandals and souvenir pickers, but I am very glad I had the opportunity to experience that history it in a much different way, before. 

I had told Robert that one thing I really wanted to do was to visit Pompeii or Herculaneum, or both.  So we took a side trip to Naples, but I'll write about that next time.  We saw the Pantheon and I took pictures of Italian sandwiches (amazingly artistic!) and we ate great food.  We went to the Piazza Navona at night to see Bellini's incredible Fountain of the Four Rivers.  Unfortunately for us, they were working on it, so it was drained and surrounded by a huge plywood barrier! Urgh! Oh well!  It was still pretty!      


Well, now I am tired and must pack for a trip to visit Robert's sister.  I'll write more when we get back! 

Happy Passover and Easter!


Just before Christmas I decided to do something about our parlor fireplace.  It was boarded up but if I tapped on it, it sounded hollow.  Several years ago I purchased an antique gas jet insert just because it looked pretty.  I put it in front of the mantle and burned candles in it, which is as close as I could get to having a roaring fire.  I thought it would look better if I could open up the firebox (which is all of about six inches deep) and set the gas jet inside it.  I assumed I'd have to fashion some sort of interior walls and insulate it, but I thought I could get it done before our Christmas guests arrived. 

Well, the joke's on me.  After destroying my home with a chisel and hammers and getting plaster dust and grit all over everything, I learned that I can't put the gas jet in that space.  For some screwy reason there is a chimney within the chimney (which comes from nowhere and leads nowhere) that is only half as wide as the fireplace opening.  So unless I felt like risking having two stories of bricks fall down on my head, I was stymied.  Pooh!    

I covered everything up with a tartan curtain for Christmas but realized I'd eventually have to board up the space again.  I decided I should do something with tile that would look nice in our Victorian house.  We shopped for ceramic tiles in Italy and Turkey but didn't find anything useful or affordable.  I ended up making my own fancy tiles by decoupaging pieces of a very expensive William Morris wallpaper sample ($10.00 for a 18" x 24" piece!) to pieces of cheap bathroom tile I had cut to the correct size.  I used them along with plain black and glass tile to make a fancy "firescreen" sort of thing.  Also, I had salvaged an antique cast-iron fireplace surround from the alley behind my house in Detroit.  I brought it to New York but it was too short to use for either of our fireplaces.  But I found if I built a fake raised hearth, it fit just great!  Here's my masterpiece.  (I accept your applause graciously.) 

I am pretty happy about the result, but still hoping we'll get rich and we can have a real wood-burning fireplace some day.


It is incredibly depressing that I can be so excited about getting a job that is only four hours a day, five days a week, and pays five bucks an hour.  And in fact, I am not yet sure the job is really mine!  But if it turns out that I, with my multiple university degrees, management experience, awesome creative talent and general genius, am not qualified to be a DOG BABYSITTER, I might as well just shoot myself.

But I will not shoot myself, because I have finally experienced an epiphany.  

Nice ladies come to my door with magazines and tell me that if I do what they do, I can have a personal relationship with God.  I used to be vicious to these people whenever possible because I thought they were idiots.  But God has personally told me that as He made everything, even idiots, there is a place for them and I should respect them.  So I do.  I am nice to these ladies, and I take their magazines and I tell them that I am all set, thanks.

God communicates with me on a personal level all the time.  He has sort of a quirky manner of doing this.  Sometimes he says, "Had enough yet, smartypants?" and sometimes, "Ha!  Ha!"  Sometimes God holds my head underwater until I am about to pass out, then says, "Cry Uncle!"  So I have finally accepted that if employers have no work for a person like myself, I'll have to make my own work, or more specifically, to make the work I do make money.  

So I am very excited to have this opportunity (taking care of two miniature doggies whose master has accepted a job in NYC) because it will get me out of the house (where I tend to spend my time doing things like making fake fireplaces) to "go to work."  I hope to use the time to do more writing, and look for editing jobs.  I also have quite a bit to do getting the voice-acting company off the ground.

The dogs' owner is on vacation for a week.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Well, I guess this is enough for now.  Drop me a line!  Thanks to those of you who have written reviews of "Gift Hearse," especially since I tried to show my sister-in-law how to navigate the website to do it, and found out what a massive pain in the butt it is.  If you have trouble, call me at (845) 838-6248.  I am trying to get a website up to make it easier to find, and to jump through the hoops I need in order to get it in bookstores and Amazon.  

And thanks to you who have bought it!    Enjoy spring!

F and R