Thursday, October 01, 2015

Space Schizophrenia

Does anyone ever think about how aliens are portrayed?

There is The Day the Earth Stood Still where a powerful alien armed with a handful of diamonds (not found on this planet) is shot at and wounded as he was about to offer a present from the galactic worlds from whence the alien came. The whole point of the movie/story is that now that Earth has split the atom and is about to venture into space they must make a choice to abide by the galactic rules or have Gort, the silent, massive and somewhat enigmatic robot cop blast them into atoms or at the very least chain humans to the planet Earth so that they may not venture forth and spread their violence and chaos into the galaxy at large.

Contrast that theme with the many others that followed where Martians attacked the Earth to subjugate its peoples only to fall prey to the common cold, spreading chaos, fear, and devastation in their wake beneath the beams of their tripod war machines. Then there are the myriad species that have conquered the Earth and subjugated its peoples from L. Ron Hubbard's overlords to Independence Day when the alien invaders once again succumb to a virus, but this time a computer virus uploaded to their central computer which is much like a hive mind, or at least interconnected and thus vulnerable.

It bothers me that on the one hand humans are seen as violent and without equal in their ability to spread chaos and devastation throughout a peacefully settled galaxy that must be contained, or at the very least taught to control their very human and equally violent impulses, while on the other hand we are constantly at the mercy of warlike monsters that want to bomb our planet with radioactive meteorites (Star Blazers) or take over and enslave the people for some 4th dimension farmers we cannot see who have been busily remodeling our DNA in favor of planetary water that favors estrogen and females to the more warlike males so that we may be more easily herded like cattle (Invasion: Earth).

Oh, there are still Vulcans making first contact to bring us into Starfleet and the world of warp travel and spaceships that double as condos for adventuring scientists and adventurers like the Star Trek galaxy of TV shows. There still remains, however, that oh, so schizophrenic mind set that we are either beings living on a backwater planet that must be subjugated or a dangerous violent stew brewing chaos for a peaceful galaxy. Which is it?

I think it all comes down to one thing: what sells the most because after all the end product is to be consumed by the viewer. Our movies and stories are as divided as our fictional fare and our politics and all must be placated, or at least mollified by a product that will suit -- and sell. The same type of program will not suit the far left still believing that communism will work (evidently only having read the perfect society set forth by Karl Marx) and continuing to pooh-pooh George Orwell's Animal Farm on the realities -- and misappropriation of applied communism.  There are the far right who, much like the ostrich, prefer to hide their heads in the sand until the world is forced to capitulate and come back to its stone age senses when lifetimes were shorter and every day a struggle to survive. There are the ecologists who forget that ancient humans help to extinguish many species of animals in fashioning cloaks of bird feathers of only one specific kind of bird or engaged in driving entire herds of buffalo off steep cliffs, not to satisfy their hunger and store up food for the winter, but so that the buffalo would not communicate with other herds of buffalo that the two-legged animals brandishing the sticks with sharp points were dangerous and should be run over in a stampede for safety -- for the buffalo.

Maybe the dichotomy between what we hope for -- a peaceful galaxy where all life lives together in harmony and plenty -- and the reality that the galaxy is a dangerous place with beings far more violent and intent on inflicting torture on species beginning their first forays into the vastness of space is the way it was meant to be. We are creatures beset by fears of what is and what may be and yet still believe in magic and the innocence of youth. Oh, there are those who will defile the innocent and the youth in the name of purity and religion and expediency, but show me another race of beings that have not done the same.

We remain fearful and expect violence while nurturing the tiny guttering spark of hope just as Pandora did when the gods gave her that box from which she loosed all the ills -- and the hopes -- of mankind. How can we expect less thousands of years later in our furnished and overflowing homes while still wedded to the fear? After all, there are still thinking plants mutated by a meteor storm into huge walking (or root dragging) monsters that see humans as food, especially the ones blinded by the meteor shower that jump started their DNA and evolution and spores and ancient astronauts thawed from Arctic ice that thrive on human blood and dragons and orcs and the all pervasive bacteria that some mad scientist cooked up in a lab and imparted grandiose dreams of taking over to guard against and battle. And then there are zombies. There are always zombies.

That is all. Disperse.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Face Study

It seems I cannot put my hands correctly on the keyboard sometimes and get the most awful gobbledygook of letters and garbage spilling from the ends of my fingers onto the screen. It's not like I cannot feel the bumps on J and F, but I don't take the time to focus on the tips of my index fingers so I can settle my fingers correctly. Always in a rush -- or seemingly so. SO much to do. So little time to do it in. And it's a work night and I still haven't slept yet, unless you count the occasional doze while I watch random videos and think about the art work staring at me from my desk. And so it goe.

I can hear the thunder outside and the dead needles on the pine trees across the way are brown and drooping as the rain begins pattering on the tin chimneys that poke up like burnt out candles on the roof of the house. I have no idea why so many chimneys were needed, but maybe the restaurant that this structure once held needed all those exhaust holes because they had so many cooking areas or were venting the steam and heat from the thousands of patrons polluting the air with their talk and eating and complaints. One never knows when one lives in a converted building.

I have been working out with the colored pencils and refining my techniques, although it will take a whole lot more time and oceans of practice before my skills equal what is inside my head. I'm getting there, but slowly. Think ant crawling on giant mountain starting halfway (okay, only a quarter of the way) up the slope. At least that is how it seems to me.

In order to get better with drawing and coloring the different features of people, I thought it best to work on the ones that give me the most trouble. Noses, mouths, and noses.

I have found while reading extensively in colored pencil studies and watching videos on drawing that many artists begin with the eyes. Why not, I think? After all, the eyes are the first thing we focus on and good eye contact is what all psychiatrists focus on when interviewing patients acting disturbed in some way. People who cannot or will not maintain good eye contact are those with problems that need, and should be, addressed. Many artists begin their paintings with the eyes, whether it be people or animals. The eyes are the windows to the soul and provide a good focal point to expand upon. I've always thought that way even when drawing. The only time I didn't focus on the eyes was while doing quick study sketches in 1- and 5-minute increments. I was quite good at roughing in the figure and attitude and still managed to imbue the lines with personality. Of course that was 40 years ago, more than 20 of which I didn't draw at all. I could also draw one of my hands (usually not the one holding the pencil, pen, etc.) without moving the pencil from the paper or looking at what I was drawing. Feeling my way through the curves, angles, and details of the hand with the tip of the pencil on the paper. It was a frequent exercise in Mr. Wood's art class when I was in the 9th grade.

Don't know if I can still do it because I haven't practiced lately. I haven't practiced much of anything come to that, except for noses, two of which are drawn above. It took me a while to get the proportions and colors right, and they're still not what I would consider finished by any means. They're a beginning.

Okay, not a lot of noses, but every nose counts -- even though I picked them.

I found an old (very old) photograph my of great aunt Ann in my desk drawer and decided to give it a shot. It's a sepia toned photograph with color added later (not by me) and it seemed a good subject at the time. The jaw is too square and I haven't quite gotten the proportions just right (might as well add chins to the list of anatomy to work on), but it's a beginning.

The colors are still faint, only 4 or 5 layers at this point, but I'm getting there. I even worked on it a little more after I took this photograph. As I said before, a slow process, but a beginning.

Much of the portrait is a suggestion of color and line. The chin is too far from the lips and the lips aren't quite right. The hair is a studied mass of curls upon curls and her hair is much darker. Yes, she's wearing a sable coat with what looks like copper buttons covered in verdigris. (That would be oxidation.)  My rendering makes her look so much younger, but that is because I've not worked on for more than 4 or 5 hours.

I can see my mother in her features and in her eyes, which are hazel. The hair line, the eyebrows, and the line of the face and ears are just like my mother's, but they would since the lady in the picture is Mom's aunt, one of her father's sisters. I can see the Eastern European peasant stock in the features and the line of the jaw, as well as the thick dark hair that is so much like Mom's. Even the lips remind me of Mom's.

I have found that as I draw it's as if I can feel the lines of the face, the heaviness of the jaw, the texture of the skin. When I sketched Connor the first time, I felt the lines of my ex-husband's face and the set of his features. So much for my ex-mother-in-law'ss claims that his grandfather (my ex-husband) was probably not my son David Scott's father. Betty, my ex-mother-in-law went around telling her friends and random strangers that I was pregnant with only god knew who's child because I slept around (okay, she said whored around). Too bad David Scott was born looking just like pictures of his father when he was born and growing up. Imagine that.

And he took my virginity, something only I could know for sure and he could be fairly certain of. I had no doubt and neither did my ex-husband Dave. Only his mother lived in the land of Denial about my son's paternity and her son's culpability in the implantation of his seed in my just deflowered passages.

Anyway, I do feel the curves and lines and angles of the faces I draw, especially when I know the subjects so well. I knew my Great Aunt Ann fairly well, and she lived with us during the latter months and years of her life when Alzheimer's had her in its unrelenting, debilitating grip. She was a woman of means and creative talents (from what we could tell from her stash of artistic endeavors in stitchery) and style. She had a lot of style, and could indulge her stylish clothes and hats -- and vintage costume jewelry good enough to stand in for copies of a king's ransom of jewels and settings. She also had some pearls, but I don't know what happened to them. They likely ended up in one of the numerous plastic bags of jewelry my mother bought and carried with her everywhere.

The thing about pearls is that they lose their luster and their resilience if they are not worn next to the skin. Oh, well.

So, above are my latest forays back into the world of art and creating art. I still have a long way to go to base camp, but I am making my way forward and upward.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blood Moon and . . .

It is Sunday, September 27th, and tonight will be the best evening viewing this year. The moon is at its closest to Earth and there will be a Blood Moon, the last in a series of full lunar eclipses in a short period of time. So, really big moon eclipsed by the Earth so that it looks bloody. Contrary to Hollywood thought, the Blood Moon is nothing more exciting than a lunar eclipse like so many that have gone before.

This is not, however, any given Sunday or just the day when the moon goes into a full eclipse. It's the day I found out my granddaughters' grandmother and adoptive mother (by law) died last night. Karla was a good person and a good woman. She and her husband David stepped up to the plate and took care of my granddaughters, Alanna and Sierra, when their parents (that would be my son, David Scott, and his wife, Julie) did not because they were either drunk or high, or both in my son's case. For that, I will always remember and thank Karla and I will do my best to forgive the choices she made that led to the death of my grandson, Connor. I'm not good at holding grudges, but that little bit of information does tend to stick in my craw a bit.

Karla has done her best to take care of my granddaughters even while instilling in Alanna and Sierra an unhealthy love affair with the Disney princesses. Not the Disney princess love that I have always had for Snow White, Sleeping Beauty (Aurora), and Cinderella from my youth, but an unhealthy Disney World fueled consumer-driven PR campaign for the more modern day versions. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy Once Upon a Time and the various citizens of Storybrooke, but the kind of rabid fascination that goes with dressing Alanna and Sierra in look-alike miniature versions of the Disney princesses is a bit over the top as far as I am concerned. That borders on the insane.

I will forgive Karla for her obsession with all things Disney, an obsession that would have delighted and possibly repelled Walt Disney if he were still alive and not a Walt-sicle in some warehouse where they store people-sicles for reanimation in the distant future, a future where Disney rules the Earth and all human colonized worlds.

Earlier this week I emailed Karla because it was my turn to fit Alanna and Sierra for Halloween this year. I was browsing through ghost, ghouls, demons, and evil witches to find the right costume since it's my turn at Halloween bat this year. Karla had last year to tart the girls up as Disney princesses -- again. I was looking forward to indulging my Halloween urges early. It was to that end I emailed Karla to remind her of our deal. I didn't expect what I got back. Her badly misspelled answer was that she was just getting out of the hospital and she had bone cancer. Bone cancer. Karla had breast cancer last year so the spread of the cancer to her bones so quickly was not good news. It wouldn't be good news if she had been an enemy instead of the parent of my granddaughters. I was stunned.

Since I had good luck this morning when I woke up and called Megan, mother of two more of my granddaughters, and got through, I decided to give Karla a call and see how she was doing. I took it in stride when her husband, Dave, answered the phone and then was gob-smacked when he told me Karla was dead. I was full of plans for Halloween and hit a brick wall at Mach 5 when he told me Karla died last night. My first thought while I struggled not to cry out loud was for the girls. They are young yet to understand their grandmother/adopted mother was dead, but a constant presence in their lives from birth is now gone. Dave told me he had lots of family and the girls would be cared for. I had no doubt.

The thing is, while I'm chagrined at my timing and the frivolous joy at picking out Halloween costumes for my granddaughters is a bit watered down now, I will actually miss Karla. She was no good at sending emails or keeping up with technology to email me pictures of Alanna and Sierra as they grow up, but she faithfully sent me pictures of both girls every time new pictures were taken. I have pictures of both girls in dance costumes and T-ball costumes and pictures of Easter outfits and school photos now that they are in school. There were no long letters -- or any letters -- but there were always pictures. If some of the pictures also contained evidence of her Disney princess obsession, I let it slide because my granddaughters looked adorable in their Disney finery.

I know that Dave will be better at sending pictures, 8 x 10 size pictures and not just wallet size along with the occasional 5 x 7, but I will still miss Karla's inexperience with all things computer and thank the happenstance that made her my counterpart (and a stalwart counterpart at that) in my granddaughters' lives. I will miss Karla.

Rest in peace, Karla, and thank you for loving and taking care of my granddaughters.

Karla is the one in the center. To the left is the girls' cousin and I don't know his name. Sticking out her tongue on the right is Sierra sitting beside her mother, Julie. Front and center is Alanna, my other granddaughter. I believe this was Easter this year. Next year the scene will be minus Karla.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, September 21, 2015

And Now a Word From Our Sponsors

I am an old-fashioned girl and was brought up in the age of television and radio -- and eventually the Internet. As a child the words, "And now a word from our sponsors,: was my chance to go to the bathroom, get a snack, or talk (quietly if my parents were in bed late Friday night while we watched chiller). That was when the commercials came on. Sponsors paid to have their products showcased on TV -- and radio in the days of the soap operas when soap operas were sponsored by soap companies, but they warned you first. Some people sat through the commercials and considered buying whatever was advertised and some talked or socialized until the program came back on. Out of a half-hour show, losing 2 minutes was not such an ordeal. That was in the good old days.

Advertising has gone high tech now, turning into the online version of Minority Report where everything one does on the computer is tagged, clocked, and ads shuffled into your online viewing on virtually every site you visit. On YouTube the ads are shuffled in among videos that might pertain to your search or are similar to what you're already watching. On Google they come in first before your search results and populate the sidebar to the right. Virtually every site, especially entertainment, newspaper, and magazine sites slow your feed with popup windows and ads that cannot be skipped until you are at least 5 seconds into the advertisement. Even on YouTube users monetize their videos with ads in tiny windows that pop up and must be shut down while they cover whatever you're watching or are of the variety that require you to wait at least 5 seconds before you can shut them down. On virtually every site the pages are littered and clogged and slow down scrolling with ads, ads, ads.

I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of being hammered, pelted, and inconvenienced by the advertising business encroaching on every single bit of my private territory. Ad blockers only work sometimes and become cumbersome to allow certain sites to show their popups. Programs are either Trojan horses with embedded advertisements or come with ads built in and clinging to the code like barnacle explosions to slow down your computer and gum up the works all to sell you something, anything, everything. I paid for a cleaner to get rid of the code, but they're there everywhere. I've invested in a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to mask my online presence and prevent more of the same. Nothing really works. The advertisers will find a way and it's no longer as simple as getting up to go to the bathroom or get a snack, not in today's world where commercials on a half hour show are up to 10 minutes out of every 30. I want my anonymity back.

I want not to have to search a page where I'm reading the text to find out why my ears are being seared with a loud and intrusive video playing somewhere on the page that started up a few seconds after I landed on the page. I gave up my television for two reasons: one to not have to watch a show riddled with commercials and two to avoid the insipid content of reality TV that bears no resemblance to reality outside the idiot box. Is it any wonder that people are going to whatever methods necessary to avoid being sold something every 5 minutes?

It's costing me a lot to avoid the commercials and nowhere I go can I avoid the popup videos, popup advertisers, popup pages that leech onto my browser or having to wade through the advertisements before I can get to the content I was searching for in the first place. I want out of the constantly streaming ad stream and pages that don't take forever to load because of all the ads, commercials, spam, junk, and crap that tag along for the ride.

And it doesn't stop there. Buy a product and before you've had time to open the package when it arrives and try it out for a few days the seller is bugging you with emails and by phone several times a day to ask how you rate their product. I delete most of them from my email inbox, and he more persistent ones I write in their ratings comment box just what I think of their practices. As people keep reminding me, the Internet is forever -- and so are my digital not so neat and clean footprints. Footprints I'd rather being making on the sellers'/advertisers' backs wearing the equivalent of a bed of nails on my feet with very sharp daggerlike nails. Leave me alone. Stop bothering me. Stop begging me to validate you. Stop. Stop. STOP!

If I continue to buy your product that is the usual sign of someone who is pleased with the product. If something is wrong, I'll let everyone know. If you do good, really good, I'll compliment you, but not every single day to every product I buy. No one has that kind of time.

I want the simple world back when advertisers were confined to the newspapers, magazines, television, and radio where I can easily avoid them and not on every single page I visit online. No one needs that much validation and no one needs to buy everything they see. It makes me want to hop an Indian spaceship and travel to Mars -- except they'd find me there and jack into my hypersleep capsule and feed their content directly into my mind. Enough already.

That is all. Disperse.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

First Steps on the Road to Art

I've been spending more time drawing and a little more time working with the colored pencils. I have found that there is a lot of flex using colored pencils that makes it more like painting and not just drawing, although the drawing is also necessary. Oh, you can trace and transfer the tracing to paper and color or paint the drawing in, but I've always preferred to rely on freehand drawing. My skills, as I've said before are rusty through disuse, but they are basically intact without too much rust needing to be brushed -- or banged -- off. That at least is comforting. I had worried I had lost even that much ability. Good thing something has remained.

The following are a few preliminary sketches and some color experiments with the colored pencil. I still have so much to learn -- and relearn -- but I'm getting there.  As one friend reminded me, the only way to resurrect one's skills is to practice, practice, practice. I believe I may even have mentioned it in previous posts.

I am excited about delving into the realms of transparent objects (glass, water, etc.) and discovering how to do glazes and washes with colored pencil, which will also require the use of solvents and oils. Not oil paints, but mineral oil, like baby oil, especially where the Faber Castell colored pencils are involved. And now, on with the show -- sort of.

In one class I am taking, the assignment was to paint a couple of cherries. I'm afraid my shadows are too dark, but it was a first try. I will redo them when I get the time. It's a good start -- not great but good. Must start somewhere.

In another class, the assignment was to have fun with the circles. And I did. To me, circles mean more than just circles and spheres. Sometimes they can be olives or eyes looking through a hole in a wall or through a hole in the door. The triangular white infiltration on the left side is light from the window shining on the paper. That's actual natural sunlight streaming onto the page and not, as I first believed, a fault in the camera from when I installed new batteries. Murphy's law -- or, if you prefer, Murpy's law. They are the same thing after all.

Yes, those are my granddaughters, Addison and Victoria in one of their modern poses. The sketch below is my attempt at blocking them in colored pencil, a beige, I believe. The positions are a little off, but what would you expect for a drawing that took about 15-20 minutes? Again, beginning somewhere. I really don't like the dark colors of the photos and would have preferred something with more light, like their Easter pictures from a couple years ago, but these are recent and they were what I could download off their Mom's Facebook site and are -- yes, you guessed it -- a beginning. My focus was on trying to get their faces right, even with Tori doing the fish mouth kissy thing. Kids!

As always, if you click on the pictures you might even get a better view of the drawing. It's not bad for a first sketch, especially when considering it has been a couple of decades since I picked up a pencil to draw anything, let alone portraits. It's rough, but it's down on paper.

The debris in the picture behind and around the sketch is my cluttered desk and art supplies. I need a studio, but this will work for a start. Again, have to start somewhere -- and I'm not even finished buying what I need to draw and paint with. Yes, you do actually paint with colored pencils. You can draw with them, but the finished product is painted in a sense, so drawing with colored pencils -- as opposed to using them on a coloring book, especially when you've drawn the images -- is painting. Colored pencil is just another painting medium. Ask any artist.

The final indulgence I will ask of you is a sketch in the truest sense with graphite pencil of my grandchildren, Sierra and Connor, my son's twins. The picture is before Easter the year Connor died modeling the clothes I sent them for Easter.

Connor is the handsome little fella on the right and Sierra is obviously the drugged-out looking Pebbles-looking beauty on the left. The colored sphere in the lower right corner beneath Connor is a sphere I was working on when I decided to take these pictures. I may share it at another time when I've finished the other spheres on the page for that particular assignment.

As you can see, a rough sketch -- very rough -- of the twins. I had decided I needed more practice sketching before proceeding to paint the portrait. It's the largest photo I have of the twins that is usable for a reference. I didn't do too badly, but some of the rust is still showing. It takes me longer to sketch something like this than it used to, but more practice will mend that little hiccup.

One thing I had forgotten over the years is how much I enjoyed sketching and painting and observing the world closely the way I once did. An artist notices all kinds of details, like Sierra's drugged out appearance and the redness of her nose and upper lip where it has been repeatedly wiped and the way Connor's jaw line is so much like my sons (including his father of course), but also his grandfather, my ex-husband, Dave. I drew Dave many times when we were married and Connor has the same rounded and somewhat fat jaw, as a child of 2 years old would have. Sierra also has baby fat and the same rounded jaw line.

I'm not happy with the eyes or Connor's nose, but that is what practice is for, smoothing out the flaws and becoming better at drawing. These likenesses are fair to middling and not too awful (no, compliments are not being fished for here) and that is a step in the right direction.

Click on the photos to get a closer view. 

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cyclopean Rock Walls and Art

At first I thought the neighbors were stacking wood for the coming winter, a winter that may come sooner than expected if the rains over the past 15 months -- or the past long, cold, and snowy winter -- are any indication.  The sound was wrong, which was my senses telling me that my ears were correct. The neighbors were stacking up rocks in various areas of their lot. The rocks have been moved over subsequent days to the pile just outside my bedroom window from the other piles scattered about and rock wall is the only thing I can come up with since the site is too farm from the house for a patio or BBQ pit and far too close to the racing track for the 4-wheelers when the kids come up for the weekend -- or most of the summer. I could just ask, but that would be nosy and rude and I'm not that curious, except that the sound of rocks being kicked, pushed, and dropped out of the bed of the big red Ford truck tends to keep me awake when I want to sleep and closing the window fails to lessen the noise. I am more effective at shutting out the noise -- or at least ignoring it -- when I'm drawing or writing and far more the former than the latter.

The rocks are far too small for a cyclopean structure like the walls of Macchu Picchu or the great monolithic stone structures that predate modern civilization in the Middle East, and far too heavy to just drop out of the red Ford truck bed, and the pile would be much bigger. It would be fascinating to see how such massive multi-ton rocks are moved and fixed together, but I suppose I'll have to wait for a more enterprising type of neighbor to find that out since my back isn't equipped for such a task -- and I lack the equipment to live 200-ton polygonal shaped rocks into a massive monolithic structure to last for all time. I'd rather draw.

And drawing is what I have been doing -- quite a lot lately.

I've been sketching my granddaughters, Tori and Addison, and trying to get their features just right. They do make such odd faces in their selfies, but that's the way things are done nowadays. The point isn't actually to get an accurate sketch for a portrait, but to become better at rendering the subjects with a semblance of likeness that is recognizable so I can finally do the portraits. That takes a lot of drawing, erasing, sketching, and more erasing. It also takes numerous studies of their features: mouth, nose, eyes, hair accessories, and, oh yes, mouths. I have always had some trouble with mouths. I'm better at eyes and hands and hair than mouths, but I'm getting there. It's not like writing fiction, which has always been difficult for me, but more like writing nonfiction, which is a relative breeze. Remember, my sketching and drawing skills have not been taken out of the box for more than 20 years. In other words, one score and a few years beyond. Not enough for the 4 score and 10 I'm supposed to live (twice over and another half score which I wold rather choose), but definitely a whole score and a handful of years of leaving my artistic skills in the box. At least I didn't keep the box in the cellar where damp, mold, and rust could erode them further. Just in a dry box on the back shelf of the closet where spiders spin webs and dust collects even with the closet door shut.

I could probably jump in and be closer to brilliant with something easier, like a butterfly or spider or even a deer and her 6-month old faun. But I've always preferred drawing people and that's where I once upon a time excelled. I plan to excel once again.

I also take out time to practice with my new tools - colored pencils -- and learning how to apply the color effectively and which brand of pencil I prefer. I'm currently stuck on finding the right kind of sharpener so I don't waste the pencil as the hand-held sharpener chews up wood and spits on the color in unusual lengths. I've tried several and will doubtless try several more since I can't just carve it with an X-Acto knife and hone the edge with a bit of sandpaper as I once did with graphite pencils and charcoal. Colored pencil is a very different beast.

I've tried Prismacolor, but the quality is iffy sometimes, though the feel of the pencil gliding smoothly over the roughest paper is as creamy as spreading softened butter over a craggy English muffin that has been toasted, although a bit less tasty.

Colored pencils that come in art kits are far too dry and a bit stiff as they tend to be more filler than color and don't give the brilliance and color needed for a portrait. Might as well go back to pastels if that is my only choice -- and it isn't.

I bought a box of Faber-Castell and they have been lovely with a creamy feel and great coverage. Best of all, the pencils stay sharp longer than the Prismacolor, though a couple of the colors are a bit drier than the Prismacolor, specifically white and cream. I can see a blending of pencils in the future.

I've also ordered a set of 40 Caran d'ache Pablo colored pencils which are the Cadillac -- or Mercedes Benz if you're European -- of colored pencils. They cost like the devil, but I'll reserve my judgment until they arrive and I've had a chance to try them out.

There are numerous brands of colored pencil on the market, and I'm not about to try them all, but Prismacolor, Caran d'Ache, and Faber-Castell's Polychrome are the best of the pack. Faber Castell is the only brand that is made with a mineral oil base while Prismacolor and Caran d'Ache are wax based and both have a problem with blooming. That's the white stuff that collects on the surface of the drawing in the same what that the wax in chocolate blooms on a bar of chocolate when left alone in the drawer or cabinet for too long. The trick to getting rid of bloom (something that occurs mostly with the darker colors, probably because the lighter colors blend with the bloom) is to use the natural oils in the hands to tone it down by running the fingers over the bloom.

The other problem with colored pencils is color fastness. Prismacolor's colors have a varied range of light fastness, from I and II to VI. The higher the number, the sooner the brilliant colors of the art will fade in the sunlight, and Prismacolor has a serious flaw in that area, as it does with the quality control in making their pencils (breakage, ill fitting color and wood, color falling out of the wooden casing, crumbling, breaking inside the wood when the wood splits, etc.). Caran d'Ache and Faber Castell have a much better track record where color fastness is concern, as they do with quality control. Sometimes when something costs a lot it's not greed but quality materials and quality control that end with the higher price. Add to those factors that the Faber Castell colors last longer and keep a sharp point longer as well as providing superior color coverage and saturation for less work and fewer layers, and at least the Faber Castell, at a more modest price than the Caran d'Ache, is head of the pack -- so far.

It's rather like my days in the past when I worked with pastels. Different colors had different levels of hardness and coverage and I preferred the right pastel for the right part of the face I was drawing/rendering. I'm sure the same will be true of colored pencils. I know that the Prismacolor white and cream pencils are far superior when it comes to coverage and feel on the paper since Faber Castell tend to be drier and require more layers to achieve the same level of coverage and color. No doubt there will be more differences for me to discover as I rediscover my drawing abilities after taking them out of the dusty, spider-web covered box and use them until I gain the facility I once had.

Every day is another chance to keep the specters of Alzheimer's and senile dementia at bay while I exercise my brain -- and my talents. At least this is something I don't have to wrestle into submission as I have had to do with writing fiction. As far as I'm concerned, it's all gravy -- or colored pencil drawings -- from here on out.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Back into the Creative Stream

I begin to think it is inevitable that I finally follow my heart -- to live a life full of creativity and art. I am not the only one in my family to choose to follow the artistic path as I found out a couple of days ago. My brother has gone back to school to become an architect, a fact which Hoity-Toity finds a bit baffling as he began his academic pursuits during the time he was fixing the home he had shared with his ex-wife and the state of which Hoity-Toity blames on their two daughters, both adults (or barely adults in the youngest's case). The house was trashed and much was left behind because it smelled bad (likely like cat urine given the evidence). I'm not willing to cut the Mushroom's ex slack because she is the parent and was living in the same foul-smelling sty and did nothing about it except decamp when it became obvious the Mushroom would no longer pay the mortgage since his obligations ended when the youngest was of age and child support ceased. Oh, well, that's a nightmare tale for another time.

At any rate, my brother, the Mushroom, has indeed gone back to school to study architecture and has completed, or is completing, his second semester, quarter, whatever, a fact which escapes Hoity. She has not decided to pursue further studies having gotten out of high school everything she needed and moved on into adulthood sufficiently equipped for life. My brother evidently feels differently since he also is pursuing another line of academic studies on his way to becoming an architect, something that would probably be just as adequately served if he had chosen engineering instead of architecture. His reason for going back to school isn't a love of art -- as it is with me -- but the need to be able to draw projects, likely building projects, in blueprint form. I know of engineers who do the same thing, but his choice and his path.

I recently discovered art classes at when I was searching for some other classes on cooking and baking and a whole new world opened up for me. I began drawing in the 4th grade when I was panicked about the last day of school when our teacher told us we would be drawing the last day of school. I had never drawn anything in my life and, being the studious type, didn't know what to do? How could I fail the last day of school to produce anything? I didn't know how to draw.

Mom suggested I try drawing. I picked up the first thing with pictures -- my piano book -- and tried copying what I saw. My fears diminished as I produced nearly exactly copies of the simple drawings. I could draw.

Possibilities, endless possibilities, lay strewn before me like a king's ransom of jewels. But was my drawing ability limited to the drawings in my piano book? Could I draw other things? I ventured onward as any good scientist through more experimentation. The comic pages in the daily newspaper gave way to colored comic pages in the Sunday paper which gave way to sketching things around the house, from toys to knick-knacks and finally out into the wide world where I sketched the people around me. I've always gravitated towards people and there is where I found myself happiest -- drawing, sketching, painting people.

In later years after a gift of oil paints and an easel, which I took to the spare room behind the garage when I was 16, I labored for days over an oil painting of Mark Lindsay, the cutest guy in the band, Paul Reverd and the Raiders. The painting was done on paper for oil painting and turned out quite nicely considering I had no instruction and no idea what all the solvents, oils, etc. were used for and how to paint with oils. As with everything in my life, I followed my instincts.

I took art classes and learned to do quick 1- and 5-minute sketches with charcoal and pencil and did very well. My teachers praised my work, but did little to explain how to effectively employ oils, brushes, palette knives, etc. while bestowing praise, As, and scholarships for advanced classes in pastels at the Columbus Academy of Art and Design's Saturday classes for talented beginners. I took to pastels and soon excelled in the class, but still had no idea of what the various techniques (gesso, impasto, under painting, etc.) meant and happily floundered my way through classes, even to taking a few life classes at OSU while still in junior and high school. I worked in clay and carved tiles for block printing, earning a lovely scar I still carry when a blade scooped out a hunk of skin along with the carvable section of the tile I worked on. Blood-spattered and continuing on blindly I explored the still nebulous and mysterious world of art, taking my As and praise in stride as I strove to go as far as possible in the art world. I painted Beanie, my youngest sister, several times, and even took her to school with me during summer school (honors class) while I painted her in acrylics directly onto a 24 x 36 inch canvas, which Beanie now owns since Mom gave it to her when she died. I couldn't be trusted because I would have destroyed the canvas; it wasn't good enough, the product of an untutored artist with little or no direction from my teachers. I've done better -- and worse -- over the years, but Mom used that as one of her prize possessions where every visitor (no matter how close and familiar with the piece) must be taken to see and praise her for my meager accomplishments because she was the one who saw talent in me and supported me without question.

I continued to dabble in paints, eventually doing an oil rendering of the first (and only) school pictures my ex-husband sent me when the boys went to live with him. I gave that painting to AJ who claims he doesn't know what happened to it. I wish now I had kept it, carting it with me as I've carried my medical transcription reference books and my Andre Norton books wherever I've gone. I've sketched interesting face (interesting to me) from time to time and my skills have not exactly diminished with time, achieving a level of facility and ability conferred by time and mature years, though it wasn't until very recently that I picked up what I had put down more than 20 years ago -- the path of artist. My skills have somewhat diminished from lack of use, but my eye remains fairly good. The artistic eye, of course.

My supportive mother told me years ago I couldn't make a living as an artist -- or a writer for that matter -- and should focus on something that would ensure a stable income -- data processing, computers, IT. Anything but art or writing and in spite of my many awards and certificates of achievement, along with my meager skills. I have since turned that creative temperament and ability to hobbies, like cross stitch, but not for sale. Simply because the arts feed a need that is as much a part of my DNA as my grey eyes. And I have returned to the creative arts, specifically drawing, in the form of colored pencils. I have a set of pastels around here somewhere in the box where they were packed, but I'm exploring colored pencils for now with the same single-mindedness I have always shown when it comes to art, limping along and finding classes to help me learn the use and extent of possibilities inherent in the medium.

My work desk has become my drawing and sketching desk and I'm exploring more classes and different kinds of colored pencils to find the one that suits me and my rusty style.

I am not alone. Many people who have reached -- and passed -- their middle years have gone back to pick up where they left off or unpacked a long held dream and followed it in their twilight years as I have done with art -- and specifically portraiture. My parents are dead and I make a decent living with medical transcription, but nothing fills me with the joy or feels my soul the way art does, and I'm finally discovering the bedrock of art that I should have learned many years ago when teachers patted me on the head and sent me to honors classes on scholarships without really giving me the grounding I needed in the mechanics and uses of the media they passed quickly over. I'm really learning now and I have the tools to delve as deeply as I wish -- and all the classes I can afford to take.

I won't waste time thinking about what I've lost over the intervening decades or bemoan the unrealized abilities that could have been part of the dust of my decomposing corpse had I not reached this age (60 for those of you who prefer details to dreams) with the ability to reach back and take what was once mine. I'm not going to worry about what I can and cannot do, but simply reach for more and take to my soul all that I can as I venture back into the creative stream to capture the world as I see it without the struggle (sometimes fruitless) for the right words and constructions that will take me from the first fire of discovery in a novel or story through the doldrums of the middle and the elation of the end of the tale. At least with art, I need not worry about critics and complaining readers, but do what I will with the tools at hand and render the life around me as my hands and talent allow. I have no one to tell me no and no one to browbeat, bruise, and cudgel into a more lucrative and acceptable form of work. This I do for myself and the devil take the hindmost.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Through Their Eyes

These are two of my granddaughters, Tori (short for Victoria) and Addison (not short for anything). They are originals in every way and as different from each other as they can be while still being very much alike in that they are young and enthusiastic.

I learn so much of the world from their perspective and thus find a new way to relate to the world through their eyes.

For instance, I didn't know that school lockers (one of Tori's favorite things about going back to school this year) had accessories. My old lockers were pretty much of a type: gray, attached to a school full of others, and a place to keep my books, papers, coat, and galoshes for those rainy days, right next to my umbrella, which I seldom used. One semester my locker was where I kept my crutches. I used them for a couple of days after I severely sprained my ankle during gym class but after that I left them in my locker and only used them to arrive and leave school. I didn't need them for sympathy or perks, although they were useful for getting out of class a little early to avoid the crush in the hallways and keep me from being crushed and damaged even worse. I felt the crutches would be better in my locker.

Going up and down the stairs was an experience and I learned a valuable lesson: using the handrails and hopping got me up and down the stairs faster. I had awesome glutes that semester from hopping up and down the stairs, especially the up part.  Back to the subject at hand: locker accessories.

Tori wanted (didn't need and didn't have, but wanted) wallpaper for her locker. I talked to Megan, her mother, afterward and she told me that Tori had asked for a pencil holder and I think a mirror for her locker. I'd already gone shopping online to find the right wallpaper for Tori. I should've asked Megan what color she settled on for the pencil holder and mirror. At any rate, I sent a package of wallpaper with a pattern of sunglasses in various colors on a black background because everything goes with black. I also go Tori a set of mustache magnets for her locker because the locker is metal after all, which is what makes the wallpaper so fascinating. It is plasticized and attaches to the inside of the locker with magnets. What a concept. I wish I'd thought of it because then I could give up wage slavery and still be able to write and read lots of books.  Oh, and bake. Baking is an expensive habit when you get into quality ingredients and tools.

Anyway, back to the locker. What a concept. There are rugs for the bottom of the locker and shelves that attach to the bottom of the top little niche to provide extra shelf space as well as little shelves with legs that add space and keep wet galoshes and such from contaminating the rest of the locker. Great idea. There are mirrors and boards with dry erasers and heaven help me chandeliers and lights that turn on and off with a motion sensor and are battery operated. (Just a note, do not buy Procell batteries. They do not last, unless you're into throwing your money away in the landfill or other ecologically responsible place. Procell batteries just plain suck! You heard it here first. I have experience.)

A chandelier in a locker. Things sure have changed since my day when the height of decorating panache was composed of pictures taped to the inside of the locker door. Live and learn.

There are a lot of color and pattern choices, some cheap and some more expensive. There are kits with pencil holders, trash cans, magnets, flower decorations, lights, rugs, wallpaper, and anything a kid's heart desires to accessorize and trick out the school locker. The mind boggles. My mind boggled and delighted in the choices. We truly have become all about the accessories, and I would not have known had I not asked Tori what she would like to have that she didn't need but wanted all the same. I'm a grandmother after all, and Tori is one of my favorite granddaughters.

The other favorite thing about going back to school for Tori is a longer lunch hour. She's in junior high school now and is moving into a very different world from elementary school where Addison remains for now. Tori is in the 7th grade and Addison is in the 4th grade.

When I asked Addison the same question about what she wanted, but didn't need I found out she is still my little pink princess. A pink lunchbox that is all glittery with -- you guessed it -- pink glitter. What else? I didn't have much to go on beyond pink and glittery and plastic, but I found a lunch box that should make her eyes light up with pink glee. A glittery pink plastic lunch box. I almost got the one with fairy wings that was glittery with pink and purple, but decided on the strictly pink because she is all about the pink. Nothing new to learn there. A lunchbox is a lunchbox is a lunchbox and carries food from home to school. It is a far cry from the red tartan plaid lunch box I got for school before I decided to move to the paper bag because it was less generic and wasn't red plaid tartan. No more sour milk in my not so cold keeping thermos bottle with the red plain tartan design and no more carrying the clunky lunchbox that wasn't the one I wanted, which I think was Wonder Woman or Superman or something like that. One of those lunchboxes cost more than my mother was willing to shell out for me, so red plaid tartan lunchbox it was -- until I convinced her that a paper sack was better and I could pay the nickel for milk out of my meager allowance (25 cents a week). It was the 1960s and everything was cheaper then, but the 5 cents was for milk and chocolate milk didn't cost more. I prefer water these days, but you live and you learn -- and hopefully evolve.

I had a good time filling my granddaughters' requests and I like the view from their eyes. Tori is all about the sports and her favorite subject is PE. Addison likes mathematics and art class. I can relate to both . . . almost. I loved PE when I was working the parallel bars or the pommel horse but was less fond of PE when it came to showering in a big gang shower with the other girls. I was not into group nudity, not even with soap and water. I'd rather keep my sweat and finish my classes than get into the shower naked with all those other girls and I could only manage 1 red flood a month. The teacher got suspicious when I had a period every single week and wanted to have the school nurse take a look at me if I was bleeding every single week.

The only way to use the private shower was if Aunt Flo was in town.

Shyness in communal showers is to be expected when one is shy about being naked with others and feels that she is the ugliest girl in school. And the fattest. Well, I wasn't the fattest because that was Shelley who had massive old lady boobs at 13 and rolls of fat from where they disappeared underneath her gargantuan mammaries all the way down to just above her pubic hair. I heard how the girls made fun of her and I didn't want to be the new butt - or breast - of the joke. I didn't know that I had a lovely figure or that I was not fat until I got older and saw pictures of me from that period of time. I had a daily reminder that I had a pretty face and what a shame it was attached to such a fat and misshapen body from my mother who was reed slim and had perfect breasts. Dad may not have seen her naked, but I did -- many times.

Anyway, talking to the girls about school and what they looked forward to the next day was as much an eye-opener as a stroll down memory lane. I always learn something new talking to the girls and I learn what about them is like me. Tori loves baseball. So did I when I was her age -- and younger, although she plays on an all-girl traveling team and I played as the only girl on a boys baseball team. Then again, I lived in Panama on an Army base and the rules were a little more fluid for a girl who could win first base every year for 3 years against every boy on the team.

Addison loves art and math and science, just as I do. I love English (Language Arts for her), but I can give a little since she does love to read. I even enjoyed explaining what was special about Language Arts and we chatted about learning a language, which is what I thought Language Arts is all about. Live and learn.

She wants to learn Italian, but I think she means Spanish because she does know some Spanish and absolutely nothing about Italian. They are similar languages, but not the same. She would also like to learn French and Spanish and maybe German, but she has time. At least she wants to learn. Now she knows a few more words in Italian and some in Spanish and she knows the difference. She will remember because she is a very bright little girl. She's in the accelerated classes -- just like I was. She is my granddaughter for sure.

The girls are short, but they may still grow, and they are definitely fascinating to get to know and a joy to chat with -- even when Addison would rather go to a pool party instead of talking to her grandmother. I understand. I was young once too and I would have preferred going to the pool party than talking to my grandmother. She went to the party and we talked later after, Megan assured me, she had had a nap and eaten so that she would be less moody and grumpy.

The girls are very different and yet still the same. They love to sing. They love to perform. And they give me the greatest gift of all -- their time. For me, next to seeing the world through their very young eyes, getting to know them and chatting for a little while is priceless. It's what being a grandmother is all about.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Freed Mind

"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. . . ."

It is not only when I sleep that my mind unravels the knitted sleeve of care or solves the problems that plague me during my waking hours, but when my mind is set free from the constant struggle of understanding the why and wherefore of everyday life. When I do mechanical or repetitious tasks and my fingers/hands are busy, my mind is set free to knit up the raveled sleeve of care or just simply go and solve puzzles and problems, answer questions that have baffled the world -- and me -- for centuries.

Or years.

Or decades.

Or just because. Things that make you go, Hmmmm.

It is at these freed mind times that answers come unbidden, like that 3 a.m. moment in the midst of deep sleep when you sit up in bed and cry out, "Excelsior!" or "Tom Hanks" or whatever the mind has been cranking away on when the answer was on the tip of the tongue and couldn't be grasped. Sherlock Holmes is still a virgin! Jon Snow is released from his vows. The skid mark is a result of men's favorite past time - farts! All the answers are clear at last.

I like to watch series that I've watched before and enjoyed. The second or third time through I pick up little details that have been lost in the overwhelming amount of input that happens on the first watching. Like Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch.

In series 3 when he has at last taken a girlfriend in order to get close to the world class international blackmailer it wasn't until Sherlock was in the hospital after being shot by Mary Watson that Janine mentions that they should have had it off at least once, which is Brit speak for, "We should have had sex at least once." Sherlock, or Sherl, is still a virgin and he has been a gentleman, although I'd rather say that Sherlock has avoided the messy romance stuff that goes on between the sheets. After all, he has been off cultivating a drug habit to convince the blackmailer that his pressure point is drugs when all the time it is and has always been John Hamish Watson, his best and onliest friend. I missed that still a virgin bit the first time through, but caught it on the second. The words and the Eureka! moment floated up to the forefront of my mind while cross stitching, or maybe it was when I was mindlessly playing solitaire online. Either way, the brakes were not engaged and my mind churched up that little titbit.

Then there were the skid marks, those unsightly fecal stains on men's underwear, the brown stain that freaked out Miranda on Sex and the City and have baffled women forever. It's a simple formula. Men fart. Men create games around farts. Men are unbridled and unleashed when they fart. It is during the fart that the skid mark begins. The sphincter loosens, the gas is released, and any fecal material locked within the sphincter's folds is also released to stain the pristine white of the Fruit of the Looms. Skid mark!

The only other possible reasons for skid marks have origins in less than fastidious wiping after BMs and rumps that have been ranged too vigorously and too often. Take your pick.

And that, fellow readers, brings us to Jon Snow's death at the end of the last season of Game of Thrones when his brothers in the Night's Watch unceremoniously, and I would say viciously, cut him down in the prime of his life.

When a ranger dies, his brothers eulogize him with "And now his watch is ended." I seriously doubt that Jon Snow will ever be eulogized since he had so blatantly and openly rescued the free folk from the King of Winter and let them through the gate to settle in the Gift on Night's Watch lands. That was a very unpopular move and his brothers expressed their opinions by stabbing Jon Snow almost as many times as the senators stabbed the tyrant Julius Caesar in the last days of Rome's greatness. Romans could not abide a tyrant, although dictator was an accepted position. Jon Snow was the Watch Commander and deserved to be Commander. He had been tapped by Mormont as Commander to be when he was alive, before the black brothers killed him. Mutiny they would have called it on the high seas, but it was unthinkable on land or sea, and even in the air if the Westerosi had the power of flight. Allowing the Wildlings through the gate when the Watch has been keeping them out for centuries was more than the black brothers could take, hence turning on the one man who can protect them from the White Walkers.

Jon's watch has ended. He is dead. Melisandre, the Red Witch, will bring him back to life because that is in her Lord's power.  R'hllor the Red God will grant Jon Snow a return to life to finish his job, but it won't be the job of the Commander of the Night's Watch -- or maybe it will - but Jon Snow is no longer bound by his oath. His watch is ended. He died. He was murdered by his black brothers and is now free to take a wife, bear children (maybe?), and sow his wild oats.

He is also free to return next season with short hair and wow audiences while he joins with Danaerys Targaryen and the dragons to fulfill his destiny of defeating the King of Winter. This may or may not be what George R. R. Martin has in mind for the final chapter, but this does make sense, even though Martin tends to kill off his stars in the bloodiest manner.

Jon Snow may or may not be Azor Ahai, the prince of prophecy, come to defeat the White Walkers forever, but at least he will be in a position to fulfill his part of the legacy he was given since he is the son of Leanna Stark and Rheagar Targaryen. He is the union of Ice and Fire. Azor Ahai may be Danaerys, but she will need to unite with the Prince of Ice, Jon Snow, in order to beat back the Winds of Winter.

There are two times when my mind is most fertile and active. One is when performing tasks that leave my mind free of constraints to shuffle the data and latch onto answers such as those above. The other is that time between true sleep and waking when I doze and slip easily into REM sleep and my dreams are at their most vivid. I don't get much in the way of refreshing rest, but at least I finally have a path to the answers.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, August 10, 2015

An Excess of Almonds

I had 2 egg whites in the fridge. I know they will keep practically forever in the freezer, but I needed to do something with them and there was a recipe that stayed on the edge of my mind, maybe because the recipe was always on my computer on a tab that kept popping up. Almond cloud cookies.

The recipe was fairly simple and it would give my 2 egg whites a place to end up.

I'm a fairly good cook and baker and I pride myself on the finished products that come out of my kitchen. I fearlessly go where no cook has ever gone before in many cases, like the time I decided to make corned beef in my refrigerator. That went really well. I love corned beef hash, corned beef sandwiches, hot corned beef, corned beef in every permutation, especially when it ends up with me eating it. I love almonds the same way and I'd never tried working with a 10-ounce lump of what is essentially marzipan (almonds processed with sugar into a paste).

The almond cloud cookie recipe I used requires two kinds of almond extract: regular pure almond extract and bitter almond extract (smells like cyanide or rather cyanide smells like bitter almonds). I took my brand new bottle of bitter almond extract from the drawer and set it on the counter while I collected the egg whites and a few other things from the fridge. I turned around juggling the egg white container (BPA-free plastic) and knocked the bottle of extract to the floor, flooding the floor and my senses with the overpowering aroma of almonds. Well, that bottle was ruined. The fall onto the ceramic tiles resulted in a broken bottle cap and most of the contents spreading quickly across the kitchen floor. I mopped up the oil, but the scent lingered on.

It still lingers on because it is an oil without alcohol and oils do not evaporate quickly. The kitchen smells of almonds now 2 days later, and it's not just the cookies, which also smell wonderful. I'll have to buy another bottle to replace the damaged one. Probably best to get 2.

Anyway, if this is what cyanide smells like, it's no wonder that criminals -- and the Feds -- use cyanide. It smells pleasant even though you die when you drink it in a cocktail or bite down on that faux tooth or cyanide capsule. What a way to go. It's rather like coming and going at the same time, at least from a gustatory standpoint.

The cookies still got their shot of bitter almond oil and pure almond extract and I have 2 more cans of almond paste (marzipan) to use again before the cap-less bottle gets spilled again. I think it might be a wonderful oil to rub on the wooden cabinets to keep them from getting dried out and just because it smells so good. It smelled good when I put the almond paste into the mixer, added about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar and turned it on. The almond extracts and the egg whites and a dash of salt went in after the lump of almondy goodness was more like pebbly sand until the egg whites turned the mass into a lovely slurry that I scooped out and onto the greased cookie sheet before I dusted them with powdered sugar and put them in the oven where the aroma was intensified by the heat.

Yes, I did try the cookies before they were completely cooled. I did wait a decent amount of time so I didn't burn my tongue, but they were good. I still have some in the cookie jar on the kitchen counter if you'd like a taste of what crisp around the edges and soft and luscious in the middle. It pays to learn to cook -- and to stretch your skills to a new recipe.

Overlaid with the almond scent today is the scent of pepperoni, garlic, mushrooms, butter, and cheese since I decided to make calzone for supper. That's another aroma I like and it was my first time making calzone dough from scratch. Delicious, although I did have to clean the over afterwards. Some of the olive oil in the pesto I used as a base for the ingredients smoked up the inside of the oven. Since the oven was still hot, it seemed a good idea to clean it. I would not need the oven for the next 3 hours. I'd be busy eating my calzone and working on a new editing project happy as a clam.

I wonder, are clams happy?  How does one tell?

There will always be mishaps in the kitchen if you spend enough time in it cooking and baking, but at least the mishaps don't end up on anyone's plate -- or in the garbage. I don't have any animals to feed those kinds of mistakes and my mistakes are more of the spilling variety than the cooking disaster variety.

I bought more peaches today. I bought peaches earlier this week, but those are all gone. I could not resist the sweet, melt in my mouth, juicy peaches, so I ate them. I bought more so that I can make peaches and cream ice cream, peach clafouti (French cakey cobbler, and my grandmother's peach cobbler recipe. I have the iron skillet and I know how to use it. I also have some baker's sugar to go on top.

No, I will not use the homemade peaches and cream ice cream. Growing up, whenever Gram made peach cobbler, we put our pieces in a bowl, poured on some cold milk, and stirred in a bit of vanilla extract. It sounds weird, but try it. You'll like it.

Yes, I still do occasionally put a piece of cornbread in a bowl or glass of milk and eat it that way too. My dad was a country boy and he did it that way. He also stirred maple syrup into peanut butter to spread on bread or toast. I sometimes do the same thing with honey. Yummy.

Food is good for you, but don't forget to play with it from time to time. There's nothing wrong with playing with your food as long as you don't decorate the walls (or the kitchen floor) with it -- either on purpose or by a clumsy accident.

Well, that's all for this week's food diary. I have editing to do.

That is all. Disperse. 

Friday, August 07, 2015

Hot Time in the Old Office Tonight

Oh, the webs we weave when we practice to deceive.

It's also not a good idea to let employees check all the databases, especially after being told that a certain function is used to generate statistics.

Statistics are data and thus are immutable -- unless one is an employer bent on making sure that upper administrative levels get all the money and wage slaves get as little as possible.

Today, I decided to run the statistics through all the databases available to me through the company. I had just seen my weekly statistics for the week ending July 31st and do not remember seeing any of those numbers. I have been told how the numbers are derived, so I decided to find out for myself. Always go to the source -- unless the source is bogus.

I ran the numbers through every available permutation for the week ending July 31st and, following their stated logic, three weeks back, and then four, and then five. I could not find validation for ANY OF THE STATISTICS I HAD JUST BEEN SENT. Not on the date of transcription, the date of dictation, or the date of review. None of the numbers matched no matter what I did, not even when I pulled out my calculator, pencil, and paper to do the numbers by hand. The numbers did not exist in any available database.

Someone is obviously cooking the books and they're roasting them into carbon ash.

Is this the way to run a company, especially an international company with thousands (and probably tens of thousands when India and Pakistan are included) of employees?

Evidently, the answer is yes.

I wonder if the IRS or the Dept of Labor know about THIS particular weenie roast? I wonder if the lawyer for the class action lawsuit against this company knows about this little development in the way the company generates the numbers in order to pay (or rather NOT pay) their employees? We could be looking at a much bigger lawsuit with a much larger pool of employees and several felony violations that would bring the company down. Am I willing to deny the company elite a job and a vacation to a federal facility? Nope!

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Not an Isolated Incident or Situation

One of my favorite lines from a book comes from The Hogfather. by Terry Pratchett.  That would be Sir Terry Pratchett. Death tells his granddaughter that if you grind the universe up to a powder and put it through the finest sieve you would not find a single molecule (or atom) of justice. Justice, like fair play and honest bosses/businesses, is a lie, the kind of lie one tells oneself to be able to make it through the day to the next day and the day after that. It is like the lies we tell our children couched in fairy tales so that hope is born and the ember of that hope tended so we can keep going from day to day. Justice. Honesty. Fair. Freedom. Equality.  These words have meanings we think we understand, but seldom do those meanings have any weight in the outside world -- unless we fight to make them real.

The real truth is that of the jungle. The strong prey on the weak and the strong in business keep the weak down to continue preying on them, much like a warehouse full of bodies hooked up to nutrients and bled to feed the vampires. To those bosses, the employees are little more than slaves, cows to be milked and slaughtered to feed them, while the employees get the scraps. The guts and debris left over when they are done carving out their choice cuts. Socialism, equality, mercy, charity, decency, honesty, fairness do not figure onto the bottom line. In this particular class struggle, no one moves up unless they are ruthless enough to climb over the bodies of their peers so they too can dine at the table from the choice cuts.

If you thought my complaints about the company where I work are only mine, think again. It seems there is a class action lawsuit afoot to address some of the issues I have mentioned on this blog. It can be found here.  At last, something is being done. The MTs/MLSs are angry and they aren't going to take it any more.

Reminds me of Network, the movie where the news broadcaster said the same thing. The only thing is that he was paid more than the slave wages MTs/MLSs currently earn.

Go team!

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Whip Me, Beat Me, Make Me Write Bad Checks

No, this is not a French tickler. It's a male cat penis. Those barbs are actually barbs and very sharp.

Have you ever seen cats mate? The male mounts the female and sinks his fangs into her neck while savaging her vagina while he humps and pumps. It's a sadomasochist's dream -- a painful and ugly dream, but a dream in the face of reality all the same.

By the way, those barbs are sharp and I think they're made of the same material that makes up nails, sharp, filed, pointed, dagger-like nails. Ooh, hurt me good.

I believe that is what was used on me earlier this week when I found out the latest way in which my bosses are raping me financially. It goes like this: statistics are based on lines typed/edited, but the statistics are also not available for review by the employee because the statistics that show up in the neat little doohickey we are supposed to use is not set up to detect when a job was typed, only when it went through QC (quality control) and was flagged or corrected and points deducted. Let's forget for a moment that often the way in which the employee is corrected is often wrong since their understanding of the grammar, punctuation, and spelling rules are different from old dinosaurs like me, and I have actually read the AAMT Style Guide (which is the bible of the medical transcription industry). We may request a reversal of errors counted against the employee, which is how they keep slapping us with outdated data (2 weeks are allowed for reversals to take effect). Now I find that the statistics that I have been told to rely on are not reliable.

Does it hurt enough yet?

Do it harder!

Statistics -- the ones the company rely on -- are based on the date that the mistakes were actually made and not the date when they show up on the erroneous database. Ooh, deeper, harder!

By the time I had finished navigating the erroneous database it was obvious that there is no way an employee can win against their crooked system. The statistics that I have relied on are about as useful as tits on a boar. Oh, goody.

Just when I thought I couldn't be reamed any more, they found a way. Well, actually, they already had a way, but that didn't become apparent until I questioned the statistics they send me every week. I showed a very different set of statistics and emailed my boss to show her (cut & paste) why. That's when the news came out that I had been relying on an unreliable database only there for employee peace of mind, the kind of peace of mind one has when one is fed lies and reamed without the benefit of Vaseline or K-Y.

Consider me reamed again.

Oh, well, what does it matter?

I spoke with one of the employee herders last night when she asked me to fill in at one of the other hospitals to clear their backlog. As we bantered back and forth, I found out that she used to make $25/hr doing what I have been doing for over 30 years. I used to make $3600/mo, but that is not possible any more, not with the new statistics and unreliable databases and supervisors and managers and corporate bean counters. I'm lucky if I make $15/hr and that's working flat out and picking my way through the mine field set up to explode in my face -- or my backside -- at the merest brush of air.

I have decided at last to supplement my income -- by going back to writing. At least I control more of the product and my results and the only people I have to deal with about the quality of my work are editors who remind me of my grammar, sentence structure, story architecture, and punctuation. That I can handle.

And I'm getting back into editing -- for select clients in case you wanted to jump on the bandwagon and load me down with so much editing I won't be able to do my own writing since I am engaged in wage slavery day job and still have to make my bills and necessary expenses. Sorry, but that is the way it goes. Wage slavery Day jobs require actually working and being there a set number of hours per day -- or every day if one works for my employers (calls when I'm asleep, calls when it's my day off, calls during work to cover their collective asses and bail them out, calls, calls, calls . . . ad infinitum ad nauseam). They keep telling me what an asset I am to their company while stripping me of every possible penny I have already earned because I cannot and have not met their statistical models with any effectiveness.

Hurt me some more.

Oh, well, it was ever thus. And probably always will be -- until I learn to game their system as well as they do.

And so the feline penile barbs raking my insides to force my body to dance to its evil raking tune. Just in case throughout this rambling you have forgotten what this is about, please let me refresh your memory. 

They are designed to rough up the walls of the female cat's vagina, supposedly to stimulate ovulation. That's akin to 1000 maniacs making sure the virgin is impregnated with their evil spawn.

It looks small and somewhat harmless, but the pain is in the barbs. Pity the female who is faced with a double-headed barbed penis. Those barbs hurt so good.

The only lubricant is the one you add yourself. The problem is there is no time for lubricant when the perpetrator comes at you from behind in the dark while you're bent over looking for the flashlight.

That is all. Disperse.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Blogtalk Radio: The Women Show

I just finished listening to The Women Show with Bennett Pomerantz. His guests yesterday were Valerie Douglas and Mary Ann Peden-Coviello. A third author was supposed to be on, but canceled at the last minute because of a family emergency.

The topic was Amazon reviews and it is worth listening to even though the authors involved did not stay on topic the whole time, veering off into cover art (professional or amateur) and editing, choosing genres, etc. I had imagined that the co-hosts would get into the topic of Amazon's policy book reviews, algorithms, and why certain authors cannot review the books of authors they know, but that was not touched on at all. Maybe a topic for another time.

Since I was unable to post a comment on the show, I've decided to do so here regarding some of their discussions. As I said, the show is worth listening to. I applaud Bennett Pomerantz for being willing to disagree with his co-hosts. Bravo!

Now on to my comment:

As a reviewer, "honest reviews" are not always honest. One of the reasons I quit reviewing professionally is because I was told I had to make all my reviews positive. My reviews were always polite, but always honest. If I didn't like a book I said so, and vice versa. Polite is one thing, but telling me I had to leave a positive review wasn't honest and was not going to happen.

Having said the above, not all reviews are honest reviews. It's easy to tell. I have read reviews where it was obvious the reviewer had not read the book at all and the ignorance showed in what they wrote about the book. I have a few of those on some of my books. There is no guarantee the review will come down even though it is not honest or accurate and obvious the reviewer either had an axe to sharpen on the author and had not read the book. Like Joe Konrath said, ebooks are forever. So are reviews: good, bad, and indifferent.

I do not believe that asking family members or friends to read and review one's book is dishonest or a bad practice. One of my cousins, who up to this point is "...not a book reader," read one of my books and loved it. I urged her to write a review. I didn't specify what kind of review, just that she should write a review. The same goes for anyone, friend, family, or stranger, who reads one of my books. Write about what you read and how it affected you. One's first critics are often family and friends. It's not asking them for a review that is dishonest, but asking for a certain kind of review that's dishonest.

As writers, we must use our words carefully and, as Anne Rice demonstrated amply when she went off on an Amazon reviewer after a negative review a few years ago, responding to reviewers personally is always a mistake. So is not differentiating between the kinds of reviews a writer asks for.

Yes, it is wrong to stack the deck. No, it is not wrong to request that the people who have read a book review the book, whether they be family, friend, or stranger. I am all for readers taking the time to review a book they've read -- and review it honestly, but, as has been mentioned, they should READ the book first. The whole book and not just a blurb or regurgitating what someone else said about a book before reading it. And reviews are not the place to settle a personal score. If one cannot separate the person from the author/book, then one should not review the book. /end of comment
Many people read books, but few ever write reviews. The reviewers often are writers. I review books of people I know personally, and often people with whom I have had differences, but my personal feelings do not enter into the review process. If I find my anger or dislike of someone is too strong to remain neutral in a review, I don't post the review. I have had that happen with only one or two authors over the years. I recused myself on those occasions. Luckily, it does not and did not happen often. 

Amazon has become a bit draconian in their review process, especially with regard to authors not reviewing the books of authors they know personally. There is no accurate algorithm for sifting out the axe-grinders and the boot lickers and banning all authors reviewing personal friends who also happen to be authors is not necessarily the best policy. If Amazon cannot write an algorithm to get rid of negative reviews from people who have not taken the time to read what they're reviewing, they should step back and let nature -- and the Internet -- finds a level. 

Good and bad reviews come and go. Yes, they are forever on the Internet -- as long as there is technology available to access the reviews -- but ultimately reviewing a book is subjective, a personal like or dislike (not necessarily of the author) of the reviewer. There will be ugly reviews. Count on it. Get used to it, writer. Take it like a duck in the rain. Let it roll off your back and then go write another book or story -- or even review. Keep it clean. Keep it honest. Be real.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Death and Immortality Before 30

I've been reading about the Persian empire, Sparta, Greece, and all things ancient. I even took a little while to watch some of Troy, which I have already seen, in 2004 when it debuted and several times since then. I like the scene where Achilles (Brad Pitt) kills Boagrius with a single sword thrust into his shoulder. Pure poetry, and not just because the 41-year-old Pitt was very buff and cut. That brings me to the point of this post -- the age of the actors and modern perceptions of what constitutes maturity and responsibility.

In ancient times, about the 4th or 5th century BCE, people didn't live as long as they do now. They were promised 3 score and 10 (70 years) because Christ has not been born and his words reported until several decades after his death in the early 1st century. Christ was 32 when he began his ministry, a mature man of his time, and at an age when most men had married, had children, and were probably expecting grandchildren. Thirty-two was well advanced in years even then. Even before he was crucified.

The world was a violent place. Wars were fought not from drones and but remote control in armored vehicles, but on the ground, face to face, and sword to spear. Men died early and they went to war early. Hollywood would have us believe that men were still children in their teens when in fact many men had been blodded at 16 or even earlier. Brad Pitt, no matter his physique, would have been an old man.

Think about it. If Ulysses had gone to war at 40, he would not have returned to his wife and 20-year-old son until he was 60. Not possible. He would have been in his late teens early twenties when he went to war and his wife barely 16. Even in the Middle Ages, women were given in marriage at 14 to 16 and were often betrothed before they could walk in many cases, but usually around the age of 3 in royal families. The poor married early as well and were often dead by 35. Forty was ancient in times when work was hard and food scarce during lean times. Even among royalty, women were worn out by childbirth, often having a child every year or two. All that birthing and nursing and breeding took its toll and childbirth was dangerous for child and mother, both often dying of fever, unsanitary conditions, or simply the luck of the draw -- or the favor or disfavor of the gods.

People in today's world equate maturity and responsibility with age, usually above 30, and often not at all in the 60s and 70s if current social conditions continue. Children are coddled until well into their 20s and often not released from mama's apron strings even in their twenties. Life happened much earlier -- and lasted all too little.

Men didn't need to go to the gym to get buff; they worked out with sword, spear, shield, and fighting from the earliest ages, going to war as soon as they were men, usually between 14 and 16. That is not something considered or even countenanced in our modern world. Children fighting other children or men in their 20s that have survived a war or three. Kings were younger as well, though some did live to the ripe old age of 40 and even fifty if they didn't actually fight on the battlefield but stayed behind the lines. Men -- and women -- learned early about life and began living it as soon as they could stand up and prove they could hold a sword. It is likely the real Achilles was in his late teens or early twenties when he sailed for Troy and fought during the 10 yars of the siege. He probably looked a lot more like the Brad Pitt who starred as Chris on Another World and would have been dead at the age he starred with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise at 28. Young as he looked in those days, he would have been a dead man come the end of the seige at Troy, or very nearly the end.

The world is so different from the one that Hollywood portrays with old men like Sean Bean and Brian Cox playing the kings of Ithaca and Mycenae. It was a very different world. Helen would have been barely 16, or maybe even 17 or 18 when she wed Menelaus, Agamemnon's brother, and he not more than 2 or 3 years older. Those facts put a very different face on things as they were instead of how we see them.

And think of the cost of provisioning an army of 50,000 men for 10 years. They would have drunk rivers dry and descended like a plague of locusts on the fields around Troy. Foraging parties would have had to invade the surrounding countryside and relieve the peasants of their livestock and harvests, and may even have had to settle in and sow the fields around Troy and tend the crops while fishing the sea and surrounding rivers. The countryside would have suffered as the army foraged farther and farther afield to supply the men with sufficient food to keep fighting for 10 years. And there would ahve been children born to the women captured as slaves or brought in as camp followers. An army 50,000 strong would have had great needs and been none to polite about filling them.
It doesn't bear to think on the cost of war in those times, the great distances traveled, the hardships, the loss, the disease, and the devastation to the countryside where they fought. On foot or in chariots in the mud, the blood, and the sand beneath the ever present brazen stare of the sun. Troy is part of modern day Turkey and a long way to row from Greece to their shores, which is why it took 10 years for Odysseus to get back to Ithaca.

War is not the magnificent spectacle we thrill to watch on the big screen and war in ancient times was a far more brutal undertaking. It is obvious we cannot put things into ancient perspectives and all those old actors must either get jobs in the private sector or work behind the scenes while children fight their pretend wars and romance their pubescent lovers on the screen. The world has grown up, but our view of the ancient world has been twisted into something beyond our understanding.

I like movies as much as anyone, sometimes even more than most, but at least I understand it is make believe and only the stuff of modern day dreams. The truth would be far more difficult for many to take, especially as people seem to be intent on keeping the children irresponsible and childish well past the age of consent -- at least in terms of ancient social mores and practices. Still, it bears keeping in mind. The world then is far different than we imagine in the insulated and protected bubble in which man -- and woman -- lives.

That is all. Disperse.