Monday, March 30, 2009

The Didgeridoo Man

This weekend we played tourists in our own city (we like to do that sometimes) and discovered an amazing didgeridoo player in Seaport Village. The didgeridoo isn’t an instrument I think of very often, but whenever I hear one playing I’m mesmerized. I must not be alone, because a crowd gathered as soon as the man started playing.

His modest act captivated passersby. He sat behind his instrument in a small chair under an umbrella. Next to him stood an amplifier topped with a collection box for donations.

On each ankle he wore a thick bracelet of jingle bells, and an extra cluster of cow bells on one. One hand held an egg shaped shaker. In the other hand he held a short stick that he clacked against another on his thigh. That was the simple accompaniment to the echoes of the pipe. Long drones mixed with a combination of trills, clicks and growls called to mind the sounds of nature and the spirit of the landscape.

Besides the haunting music, the musician’s playful manner was welcoming. Every deposit in the collection box was met with a comical tip of the hat and a cartoony whistle, which delighted the kids in the audience especially. I noticed no one wanted to wander off without giving a grateful wave, which was returned with an equally appreciative one from behind the didgeridoo.

I found this short clip of him taken a couple of years ago by someone in Balboa Park. The sound on the video doesn’t do it justice, but you can get a sense of what the performance was like:

Friday, March 27, 2009

You'll Feel Smarter After Reading This

I was driving around yesterday with the gas light glowing on my dashboard, hoping to make it to the gas station in time (I did). It got me thinking of some recent moments that have been a little sub-stellar:

- As I backed my car out of the garage, I noticed my husband had already taken the trash cans out. They were really close to the door, so I kept an eye on them. It’d sure be embarrassing to knock one of those babies over. I kept a careful eye on those big ugly plastic trash bins. So careful, I turned and snapped the side view mirror right off the side of my car. It just dangled there on skinny little wire. On the bright side, no garbage was injured in the incident.

- We ran out of toothpaste. I dug around in the linen closet and found one of those little toothpaste samples the dentist gives out. I put it in our medicine cabinet. Later as I got ready for bed, I reached for the toothpaste, squished a dab on my brush and started brushing away. Only, I’d grabbed a tube of Benadryl cream. I can tell you it does not taste minty fresh. But at least my gums weren’t the least bit itchy all night.

- I got tired of having a different remote control for every gadget in the family room. For Christmas we got a universal remote. It has a million buttons the size of rice grains. I refuse to have my reading glasses around just for watching TV, so I tried to memorize what the buttons are for. The other night I was pressing away frantically and nothing was happening. Finally I gave up and asked my eleven year old in frustration, “What’s wrong with this thing?!”

He looked over at me. “Mom, you’re holding it backwards.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'm Not Indecisive, I Just Don't Know What I Want

I have this problem. A good sort of problem. I decided to cash in some reward points I’ve had sitting around. We hardly ever use a credit card, and I figured the rewards weren’t going to get any better. So I settled on four $50 Target gift cards. I gave one to each of the kids, spent one on a couple of things we needed for the house (after my husband declined to take one), and saved one for myself. I vowed not to fritter it away on stuff I’d get around to buying anyway, like shampoo and toilet bowl cleaner. I wanted to get something I ordinarily wouldn’t buy for myself.

That was months ago. It’s still sitting in my wallet, along with a Starbuck’s card that has $11 left on it, a $25 card to some coffee place I’ve never heard of, and a gift certificate for a spa pedicure that I’ve had since Christmas. Clearly I need some remedial help when it comes to splurging.

So I’m wondering…what sort of things do you treat yourself to?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Marzipan Easter Eggs

When my daughter was six, she was diagnosed with an egg allergy that lasted the next five years. Instead of dying eggs for Easter, we made them out of marzipan.

If you’ve never played with marzipan, it’s like play dough you can eat. What could be better than that? Okay, some kids might argue that you can eat the regular kind of play dough, but I’m sure this tastes way better. And our homemade marzipan tastes much better than any commercial type I’ve tried, but maybe I’m a little generous with the sugar and corn syrup.

We didn't stop at eggs. We made other things, too, like little animals…

One year we made a whole vegetable garden out of marzipan. We made cabbages, tomatoes, carrots, watermelon, gooseneck squash…

…believe me, it’s a lot easier to convince kids to eat a marzipan squash than the real thing.

We always made extra and packed them in pretty boxes to give away, too.

If you want to give it a try, here’s the recipe:

½ pound almond paste (it comes canned – I found it at World Market)
½ pound confectioner’s sugar
6 tablespoons light corn syrup

Mix together almond paste and confectioner’s sugar in food processor by pulsing on/off until combined. Add corn syrup and pulse again until thoroughly mixed. Mixture should hold together when pressed. Knead until smooth dough forms.

To color, separate into several Ziploc bags. Add a few drops of desired color to each, and squeeze to mix color (this part is also fun for kids).

Some tips for working with it – a dusting of confectioner’s sugar keeps it from sticking to surfaces. You can press it into candy or Fimo molds, or cut shapes with tiny cookie cutters. Toothpicks are great for drawing details.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Not Walking in Style

Yesterday Luna (Doggie of Destruction) jumped and ripped a hole in my favorite dog-walking pants. I went to the nearest clothing store to try to replace them.

I don’t know how many pairs I tried on, but none of them fit. They were too long, too short, too saddle-baggy, too muffin-toppy. Too wandering-up-the-whosits, too sliding-down-the-whatsits. A bit tent-flappish here, a bit vacuum-packish there. I’m a little too old to be wearing a belt down around my thighs, a little too young to wear one just under the armpits.

Finally, I found one pair that fit perfectly. They fit and they looked awesome. They fit, looked awesome, and were ridiculously cheap. They fit, looked awesome, were dirt cheap, and were THE most UNbelievably itchy things ever. They itched like a burlap sack drenched in Mountain Dew, rolled in the sand and worn on a hot day at a country church. I gave up.

I strolled over to the shoe rack. Soon enough the temperature will be in triple digits, and I need a pair of sandals. The kind you can actually walk in, not the kind that looks cute when you kick them off by the pool. Last year I made the mistake of buying a pair without a strap in the back, because that’s all they make anymore. Am I the only one sick of mules? You have to grip those things with your toes. There’s nothing else keeping them on your feet. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when you continuously clench your toes, you tend to clench other parts of your body, too. Besides, every time I want to relax my toes for half a second, I end up flinging a shoe across the room.

I finally found sandals that were pretty comfy, but the color was ugly. I searched around and found the very same pair in a nicer color, only they cost two dollars more. I thought it was funny that you could save a couple bucks if you were willing to settle for the ones that were the color of puke. I decided they weren’t really that comfy, anyway.

And I decided I hate clothes shopping.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Speaking of Fish

Meet Marco Polo, our newest acquisition. He’s a little nicer to look at than Monday’s Mr. Blobfish.

When my daughter went to her water polo banquet the other night, she texted me halfway through the festivities:

I won a new pet fish.

Oh, great, I thought. I hoped that was some kind of code name for the awards they were handing out. A few moments later she sent a new text:

What should we name it?

Good grief. What was she thinking? What were the banquet organizers thinking? I pictured her coming home with some half dead feeder fish in a baggie. The poor thing would probably be gone by morning. I decided not to respond to her text. Better put off naming it, just in case.

I went to the garage and dug out our fish bowl. We’ve had two bettas that lived long happy betta lives, but the bowl has been empty for a while. My daughter texted me again:

Coach Kristy thinks we should name it Kristy.

I thought about texting back that we should name it Stop Texting Me Or You’ll Lose Your Cell Phone Privileges, but that would have taken too long. I now had a fish bowl to clean out. Urgh. If it was still swimming in the morning, I’d go buy gravel.

When the banquet was over, my husband arrived with daughter and Marco Polo, who to my relief was a hardy-looking betta. The fish came complete with a bowl tied with a fancy ribbon that included food and feeding instructions. My daughter had already removed the floating candle that topped off the arrangement. I’ve never been a fan of using live fish for centerpieces, but I have to say Marco Polo looked pretty well attended to.

Now our pets represent four animal classes: fish, bird, reptile, mammal. Make that five, if you count the spiders in the bathroom.

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's Fun and Educational, and Teaches Line Drawing, Too (Sort Of)

The new issue of National Geographic Kids just arrived at our house. The kids went through it from cover to cover, like they always do. The item that made the biggest impression on them this month was a deep sea creature called the blobfish, which scientists nicknamed “Mr. Blobby”. If you aren’t in the middle of eating something, feel free to get a load of Mr. Blobby here. To me he looks like a boneless chicken breast with eyeballs.

Shortly after the kids had reviewed the latest issue, their conversation went something like this:

“You’re a blobfish!”

“No, you’re a blobfish!”

“No, you are!”

Okay, time for a little review. Over the past months my kids have affectionately called each other Fatty, Stupid, Stupe, Scary, Ning-Nong, Disgusting, Disgrace to human society, Slippery git, Flame-broiled steak, Mutt Williams, Rosa Klebb… the list goes on. Besides that, they routinely have to remind each other that they suck.

But this particular conversation ended like this:

“Ugh. Let’s agree not to call each other Blobfish, okay? That’s just wrong.”

So relieved to know there is a line. And it has finally been drawn.

As long as we’re on the subject of line drawing and ning-nongs, check out this fun animation based on the nonsense poem On the Ning Nang Nong, by Spike Milligan. It’s only 37 seconds, and one of the characters even looks a little like Mr. Blobby:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Haven't We Had Pasta Twice This Week Already?

My husband was going out of town for a day, and I asked the kids what they wanted to eat for dinner. “Shrimp!” they chimed. They only get to eat shrimp when Dad’s out of town, since he’s allergic to it.

I was glad to have something different, and not to have to think it up. There must be more people like me who get in a rut of rotating the same eight or ten tired old meals. Suddenly you’re sick of everything and too numb to come up with anything new. Oh, the menu changes a little each season, but in no time the novelty wears off.

I jot down pretty much the same things every week on the grocery list. (Why haven’t I bothered to type it up yet? Who knows.) When I get desperate for ideas, I flip through my bulging folder of recipes I’ve ripped from magazines and never once prepared because they have more than six ingredients. They call for things like smoked paprika and guava paste. Those are not weekday ingredients. I have to search for those. The most exotic item they sell at Food4Less is instant mashed potatoes with chives. Ooooh.

So I thought – why not find out what everyone else is fixing? Surely we’re not all making the same tired old meals every week.

The best thing in my current repertoire is turkey burgers with cheese on the inside. I really need to come up with a name for that. Inside-out cheeseburgers? Okay, the name needs work, but they are yummy and no one’s sick of them yet.

So, how ‘bout it? Whatcha eating? Anything good in this week’s line-up?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Just For Fun

I've been playing around with character studies, and range of emotions. A few of my favorites so far:

I think she may have issues she'd like to address...

This one might be willing to negotiate...

This one doesn't find Cheerio's all that fascinating.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Why Don't We Rent Movies Anymore?

Four people enjoying a movie…a perfect way to spend an evening in together, right? Unless…

Two like anything with robots in it; two are unconvinced.

Three like action-adventure; one thinks lots of stuff getting blown up looks the same in every movie.

Two wouldn’t mind seeing a grownup movie once in a while, but two no longer go to bed by 8 pm.

Four still appreciate a good Disney classic; at least two probably don't want to admit it.

Three like the occasional spooky movie; one gets nightmares.

Two never ever tire of Spongebob; two think Spongebob’s appeal wanes after the first hundred showings.

One wouldn’t mind checking out a British drama, three scatter like cockroaches caught in the light at the mere mention of anything Victorian.

At least one is sound asleep on the couch by 9:02 no matter what movie is playing.

One is not quite ready for everything labeled PG-13.

Two enjoy an occasional chick flick; two would rather slice onions with a dull knife than watch anything to do with weddings or shoe shopping.

One thinks he/she is grownup enough to see something; two think he/she is sadly mistaken, and the other one says ha-ha, you don’t get to watch it either.

Two protest but all my friends have seen it; two say, I don’t care what other parents let their kids do, you’re still not watching it.

Four agree that musicals are slightly ridiculous.

This weekend we finally settled on Prince Caspian. Two saw the whole movie, one was sound asleep before the kids even left the train station, and one took a short nap somewhere in Narnia. Not a bad showing, for us anyway.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Spring Preview

Half the country is perfectly sick of snow, but some of us have been teased all season with images of picture perfect winter wonderlands.

I grew up on the east coast, where winters were long and grey. Now I'm in the west, where summers can be long and brown. Nothing’s perfect...but springtime comes close. Depending on where you are, spring might come earlier or later, but it does come. Green things start popping up out of the ground. People get all giddy with energy.

We’ve had a spell of warm weather. Despite a shameful amount of neglect, my garden still rewards me with splotches of color.

So what if they are hiding under tangles of weeds...

There’s a reason I have to crop the pictures so tightly. The rest of the garden is not fit to be seen.

I’ve enjoyed the pictures of winter from the rest of the country. The cold confetti swirling in the sky. The sugar-dusted branches and white meadows. Snow-capped mailboxes. Frost -covered windowpanes. Even if you can’t stand the sight of the stuff, somewhere there are people who still get wistful at a glimpse of it.

Hang in there...

Spring is coming.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I'm Going To Get It Right This Time

In a move that was either clever or crazy, I had the drawings for my current project critiqued at the same time as the manuscript. I might be a bigger glutton for punishment than I thought.

The art director took one look at my dummy, and based on some of the other images in my portfolio, decided I should go in a totally different direction for this book. I actually didn’t get too upset about the idea; in my gut I had the nagging feeling she was right. Even if her being right meant I had to start aaaaaall over from scraaaaaaaaaaaatch.

I spent weeks working away with all kinds of new enthusiasm, much happier with my new possum drawings. Then, when the roughs for my new dummy were nearly finished, I saw this:

C’mon, that doesn’t look like a possum to you? Actually, I was sitting across the table, so I saw the upside-down image of this in the knotty pine. A lightbulb just blinked on in my head. I went to my sketchpad before I could forget about it, and scribbled my favorite sketches so far. Even the rest of the family unanimously voted the new sketches were way better than the old ones.

So here I go again. Starting all over.

Third time’s a charm, right?

Monday, March 2, 2009

All You Need is Love, and a Dry Place to Sleep

Farewell to February, that month of hearts and love. Toulouse the tortoise did not love you, February; you were much too wet.

Last month brought rain, forcing Toulouse to stay indoors. A sun-worshiping desert fellow like that does not like to be shut in. The red lamp doesn’t fool him for a second. That is not the sun.

Toulouse has weathered wintertime in several different houses already. When he huffed and puffed and knocked down his homemade wooden house, we bought him a sturdy Rubbermaid shed. When he folded the Rubbermaid shed like a house of cards, we got a horse trough and turned it upside down. We cut a nice big doorway. We made a lamp out of an upside down flowerpot to keep him warm at night.

When the rains came and seeped under Toulouse’s new horse trough house, leaving him marinating in mud, we added a cement floor. He protested; we stuffed him inside anyway and boarded the entry until he decided it was a nice floor, after all.

When the rain on the roof of his new house pooled and threatened to short out his toasty heat lamp, we added a canopy to shelter the entire house.

And still, once in a while on a stormy night, Toulouse the desert loving tortoise will not have the sense to come in out of the rain. We’ll find him planted like a tree stump in the corner, all sopping wet and befuddled. Then we’ll climb into his yard and push and pull and heave and ho, ankle deep in mud. It’s like trying to drag a 70 lb. boulder that fights back. Eventually, we’ll manage to wrestle him back into his nice, dry house.

Oh, the things we do for love.