December 31, 2009

Whatta year!!


Here it is, the waning hours of 2009.  In seven hours (CST), we will be in a new year again.  I'm sure this sentiment has been uttered literally billions of times throughout the ages, but I'll say it again - where DID the time go?  Many wild and wonderful events happened this year, including lots of new little people!  So before I go any further I'd like to welcome the following new friends to their first full year on Earth:  Bren Evelyn, Graham Harris, Griffin, Isabelle Juliette Rochon and P.J!  You won't remember it, but Happy 2010!

One year ago tonight we celebrated at Water City Grill, a fabulous restaurant in Oshkosh, WI.  Little did we know at the time it would be our last New Year's there, as it closed in April.  Tonight, we're dining at a new restaurant in Ripon called America, which should prove to be fantastic.  The best part?  We're with the same wonderful people we were with last year, our friends Todd & Dawn.  But even that's a little different - there is a NEW little Todd & Dawn this year!  Bren Evelyn was born in March.

One year ago tonight I had never taught a class in my life - and now I've taught three.  I had never had my work in a juried show, and that happened too.  Two Thousand-Nine was a turning point in the way I felt about my work:  I no longer view it as just a hobby, but a real passion.  I am also no longer shy about telling people that I am an artist.  They may not like my work, but that's not my problem.  :)

One year ago tonight I didn't have a clue as to what a "furlough" was, but I found out shortly thereafter - we had two in 2009, and 2010 is shaping up to be similar, as we already know we're having one.  But where there's one, there's bound to be more - I don't mind!  I LOVE the time off, even if it is unpaid.  We also had a major upheaval at The Reporter this year - the old, venerable downtown location is now closed and in September we moved in with the Action Advertiser, our former rival but current compadres (Gannett makes for strange bedfellows).  It's a beautiful place with far better amenities, but I do miss being downtown.  Alas, such is the way of the newspaper - and 2009 was not kind to our institution.

One year ago tonight my husband Brian would have never thought that his photographs would be framed and living in other people's homes - but he had his first sale this month!  I am busting my buttons with pride and happiness at his newfound success.  Check out his beautiful work here.

As we all grow a little older and MAYBE a little wiser, let's take the time to remember all of the good (and bad) things that happened over the last 12 months.  It may not have been the most stellar year for most of us, but I believe there are better days ahead.  I'll even be so bold as to say "Good riddance, 2009!"

Have a wonderful new year, everyone - and for those of you west of the International Dateline, Happy 2010!

December 26, 2009

Life on the "Street"


Well, another Christmas has come and gone, amazing as that is.  It's hard to believe another year is almost behind us!  I'll do a 'year in review' next week but in this entry, let's travel back in time....

Forty years back to be exact. 

Yesterday, I received many wonderful gifts from my mom and sister Jen and her family.  MANY wonderful gifts.  One of them is a book that Jen gave me called "40 Years of Life on the Street", which chronicles the 40 years (!) that Sesame Street has been on the air.

I have, for literally my entire life, been a huge fan of Sesame Street.  In fact, it debuted the day that my sister was born - November 10, 1969 (I was 13 months old).  I was talking about the show with my mom yesterday and she said that from the get-go I was completely mesmerized by it all.  It gave her a much-needed break, too - after lunch and before my nap, she would have me watch it while she fed Jen.  According to Jones family legend, when I was about 18 months old my uncle Jim was visiting us and we went outside to the parking lot (we lived in an apartment).  I pointed to a letter on one of the car's license plates in the lot and said, "C!".  My mom and uncle were astounded.  I also learned how to read the newspaper when I was three.  I'm sure there was no comprehension there, but I never had a problem reading anything and everything.  My mom credits Sesame Street for both my sister's and my reading skills at such an early age.  I think I do too - the show left an indelible print on my very young brain.

The "40 Years" book is fantastic for so many reasons, but one of the best is that it came with a DVD of the first episode ever.  Jen and I watched it, along with my nieces, who are 10 and 12.  I'm sure it seemed like ancient history to them.  To put it in perspective, it would be like me watching a show from 1940 or '42 with my parents - totally old-fashioned!

If any of you reading this blog are over forty or at least 35, you would probably recognize most of the things on that first show, especially the "commercials" (that's what the show's producers called those segments in between the live action stuff - like the awesome pinball "1-2-3-4-5, 6-7-8-9-10, 11-12" short films).  Remember the chef that says stuff like "ten...chocolate layer....caaaaaakes!!", and then falls down the steps?  That's on there.  Do you remember the "Wanda the Witch" cartoon, where she "washes her wig on windy winter Wednesdays"?  That's on there.  It was amazing - and I couldn't believe how much of it I had retained, even after not seeing it for almost 30 years.

About a year and a half ago, I started seeking out my favorite bits from the show on You Tube.  I couldn't believe what I could find!  I don't know if the segments are still being shown currently or if they're from old VHS tapes or what, but check them out sometime.  Here are some of my favorites:

"We all live in a Capital I" & "Lowercase N"

"Fat Cat Sat Hat"

"Mystic Twenty" (English & Spanish)

"Two Little Dolls in a Little Dollhouse" (was I the only one who was pissed at those cats?)

This is a very small sampling of my favorite clips.  If you search with keywords, I'm sure you'd be able to find your own - there are a LOT out there.

I sometimes wonder, a la "It's a Wonderful Life", what life would be like had "Sesame Street" never been created.  According to this book and another wonderful book called Street Gang - the Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis, the show almost didn't make it on the air.  But thanks to visionaries Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett and a handful of others, their tenacity brought the show to NET (the predecessor to PBS) where it was instantly critically acclaimed and beloved by an overwhelming majority of viewers and their parents.

I hope reading this entry brought back some fond Sesame Street memories for you - if you'd like, please feel free to share your favorite moments in the comment box!  I'd love to hear them!

December 20, 2009

Feelin' Lazy....


Today I did nothing.

Okay, that's only partially true.  I did do all of the week's laundry, wrapped all of the presents and made coffee this morning.  But other than that, not a heck of a lot.  Oh, I did do one other thing - I actually stared into space.

Yes, I found myself, in between wrapping presents, staring into the great wide open.  I can't tell you how long this mind trip lasted, but it's been a while since I've allowed myself such a luxury.

Why is that, exactly?  I felt SO lazy today, and I chastised myself for it.  I usually feel guilty when I "waste my day".  Isn't that sort of ridiculous?  It's my day off today - nearly everything is done for Christmas, and I don't have any "work" work to do.  I mentioned that I did the laundry and wrapped the presents, and yet I still feel like a bump on a log.

Maybe I feel guilty because when I think about how much work had to be done to run a household even just 50 years ago, my chores look awfully weak.  Oh, I did laundry?  Well, la-di-da!  It must've been so HARD to take those unwrinkled, warm, dry clothes out of the dryer and fold or hang them in ample drawers and closets!  Oh, I made coffee, did I?  Yes, it was sheer torture to use my Krups coffeemaker (free with Gevalia membership!) and wait the excrutiatingly endless eight minutes for freshly ground beans to become a delicious beverage!  Oh, and wrapping those presents - however did I survive using beautiful commercially printed wrapping paper in myriad colors with matching bows!  What an agonizing, long and sufferable life I lead!

Now, let's compare that to how my Grammie did things:

Laundry?  How about taking your washed clothes (she did have a washing machine) and running them through a wringer to remove the excess water, hanging them to dry, and then ironing (what's that?) every shirt, dress, pair of pants and undershirt in the house.  YIKES.

Coffee?  Egads.  She probably used a percolator, and it was probably a stove-top model in her early married life.  Percolating is much easier than simply boiling the coffee, but it didn't taste as good as our coffee and no one had an electric grinder.

Gift-wrapping - well, that's pretty much the same, but nowadays you have specific tape for wrapping presents, and it won't turn yellow as it ages.  There are also so many more scissors choices - I'm sure in my Grammie's day she probably used sewing shears!  I don't think those cheap bows existed, either and if they did, chances are they didn't have the adhesive on the back.

Even this blog would've been a huge chore back then - I would've had to write it all out in longhand or type it on a typewriter!  And who would I have sent it to?  That would've been expensive and time-consuming, sending it out to 10 or 20 people every week (even with carbons, I would've only been able to do 3 or fewer copies at a time)!

Now do you see why I feel so lazy?  I guess that's why Sundays were invented.  :)

Have a WONDERFUL holiday week, everyone!  I wish peace and good will to each and every one of you and yours.
Cheers,
Mel

December 13, 2009

Word Nerd


Yes, I'll gleefully admit it - I am a total word nerd.  I love any and all types of word play - puns, double entendres, malopropisms - you name it.

On the flip side, I perhaps take it too harshly when words are misused, whether unintentionally or out of sheer laziness.  For example, if I'm reading a blog or article and there is a misspelled word or incorrect use of a phrase or word, it truly irritates me.  If I happen to voice my disapproval I'm usually met with indifference or a resigned, "mm hmmm", unless I'm discussing the offense with my fellow word lovers.

Every year, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary, for those of you who aren't as geeky as myself) updates their tome to include new entries that reflect our changing language.  I don't know if this particular word has made it in yet, but I for one hope it never does.

I'm referring to the somewhat new habit of using "gift" as a verb.  OOOH, this just bugs the heck out of me!! I am a big fan of the magazine "Entertainment Weekly", but in an article this week they used it! Why? Is it a matter of economy? Sure, it uses less space than to say "they were given gifts", but it just sounds wrong. Is it just me, or does this new usage reek of somthing made up at the HGTV or DIY networks?  It seems to me that they're guilty of co-opting many words and expressions and abusing them (I'm thinking of words like "crafter" and phrases such as "You're gonna wanna go ahead and..." when explaining how to do a project).

Growing up my mom and dad both stressed the importance of choosing words carefully.  And yes, they were the parents who, when presented with the question, "How do you spell....", would promptly tell us to "look it up in the dictionary".  A lot of times they would purposely use 50-cent words so that we would ask them what it meant.  I know they're the reason I have the vocabulary that I do - it wasn't learned in school.

Is it just me, or does it feel like it's not important to use correct punctuation or grammar anymore?  Texting is only going to make this worse.  I can usually tell how old someone is (with exceptions, of course) by the responses I see to a remark on Facebook, for example.  Generally speaking, people my age and older (40+) take the time to spell out their comments.  But those kids in college and high school?  I see lots of  "Ur gonna be late 4 class" and its ilk.  Egads.

I think it's more important than ever to stress proper language usage!  I know the English language is constantly changing - it would have to, or we'd still be saying "Wouldst thou care to sup with me this night?" instead of "Hey, wanna do dinner at 6?".  But I shudder to think that in 30 years I'll be reading, in a book, no less, "U busy 2night".  If this occurs, I will welcome Armageddon.

December 9, 2009

Losing Control


As I write this, we are in the midst of one of the worst blizzards I can recall in my 41 years.  Really - the last time I remember it being this bad was December 3, 1990. 

Back then, I was a senior in college and working at WFRV-TV, Channel 5 (which at this time was the ABC affiliate in Green Bay, WI - it's now a CBS owned-operated).  Coincidentally, I lived right across the street from the station on East Mason Street, which is now a parking lot for Bellin Hospital, sadly.  So of course I was expected to make it into work - I had no excuse!

This was fine with me - I love all of the hubbub involved in weather-related events, especially as they're occuring.  Right now, I'm sitting at the computer, blogging about this mother-of-all-blizzards, all snug and cozy in my fluffy pink robe and quilted slippers.  It's exactly where I want to be, but I'll have no war stories to share with my co-workers tomorrow about how I nearly died trying to get to work.  But back in '90, especially at a TV station, where emotions are already amped up a notch by the very nature of the job, we had a total blast during the storm.  We were definitely on a skeleton crew, but we managed to eke out a broadcast.  Keep in mind I was also 19 years younger.  It's much easier to brave the elements when you're a fit and feisty twenty-two!

These days, I work at our newspaper, The Reporter.  I had had today scheduled off since last March, which either makes me one lucky so-and-so or cosmically psychic.  So perhaps I'm not in the most fair position when I say we should ALL have a snow day today.

I mean it!  Why can't we just relegate control to the elements for ONE day every 20 or so years?  Will society collapse if we don't show up to work?  Will our already soggy economy really suffer that badly if the good people of the Midwest choose to do the smart thing and stay home, rather than risking life and limb for the assuredly hour-long commute?  Sure, we managed to pull off a broadcast on that December day back in '90, and no one even had a cell phone (HORRORS!).  But why?  We could've thrown on some old Beatles cartoons and 99% of the viewing public would've been fine with that.

Back in the summer of '08, Fond du Lac suffered from the worst flooding in over 90 years.  That storm was truly tragic - many people lost their homes or the damage was so severe, they had to live elsewhere while FEMA or family helped with the rebuilding.  That was a completely different scenario than this storm - we had no choice but to let Mother Nature do her thing, however horrible it was.  But today, if our jobs aren't essential to the well-being of the public, we should choose to not brave the elements and force ourselves to just stay inside and weather the storm, drinking hot chocolate and watching the Weather Channel.  Let's make that our holiday gift to ourselves.  It'll be a hoot!

December 5, 2009

Don't Believe the Hype!

Am I a "real" artist now?  Read my "statement" and judge for yourself:

Work of Post-Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

The mind creates, the chaos permeates. In the material reality, art objects are calculations of the iterations of the mind -- a mind that uses the chaos as a zeitgeist to deconstruct ideas, patterns, and emotions. With the rationalization of the mixed-media environment, the mind is conceiving a point where it will be free from the chaos to transcend immersions into the machinations of the delphic reality. Work of Post-Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction contains 10 scraps of ephemera (also refered to as "logics") that enable the user to make external visual comparisons.


measuring chains, constructing realities putting into place forms
a matrix of illusion and disillusion
a strange attracting force
so that a seduced reality will be able to spontaneously feed on it


Mel Kolstad's work investigates the nuances of modulations through the use of found objects and close-ups which emphasize the Mechanical nature of mixed media. Kolstad explores abstract and interstitial scenery as motifs to describe the idea of infinite reality. Using cursive loops, non-linear narratives, and allegorical images as patterns, Kolstad creates meditative environments which suggest the expansion of art...


Blah, blah, blah.  Isn't this hilarious?  I found it on Market-O-Matic and, while it sounds intellectual, it also sort of brings to light the tremendous amount of bullcrap that swirls around "real art".

In the past three years or so, I have been obsessed with Artist Trading Cards (or ATCs for short).  This passion has spilled over into many aspects of my life - live trades every month in Milwaukee, many new friends, artist workshops, teaching my own classes, connecting with other artists, and having my work featured on several blogs and a couple of magazines.  I am really starting to feel confident about my abilities as an artist, and I'm even getting over the hesitation of calling myself one (but it's still hard to do - I still worry about sounding pretentious).

I think each and every one of us has artistic ability in some form.  I never thought I did until I found my niche, which is collage and mixed media.  I still don't think I can draw, and I don't consider myself a "fine artist" (I'm pretty sure that in most circles that means you have your MFA or something). 

But like art itself, this differentiation is so subjective!  And really, what constitutes "real artist"?  Think about your own expression - be it acting, music, art, photography, whatever you do creatively - how would you define your success?  Do you have to be rich and famous to be successful, or could it be just having a couple pieces selected for a show?  Is it having throngs of admirers, or a couple of really swell comments on your Flickr page or admirers at your gig?  Is it being the star, or being part of the bigger picture?  Do you have to get paid to do what you love, or is it enough to just really love what you do (being paid IS always nice, though!) 

When I look at the high-gloss art magazines like ArtForum or Art in America, and I see what is being shown in the famous galleries, I wonder how these pieces got chosen.  Oh, please don't take this as sour grapes - I don't aspire to show in a New York gallery, because I don't think I would fit in that world - but it does interest me as to why some pieces get chosen over others.  I will admit (as should every other person who's done an art piece) that there have been times that I've said, aloud even, "Pfft.  I could do that.".  Now, I realize that it's not as easy as it looks, but come on!!!  Three lines on a blank canvas?!  For a couple thousand dollars?  As Aretha Franklin would say, who's zoomin' who here?

Which brings me to my original point - is "real" art where it's at?  Or should we, in choosing art for our homes, stick to the pieces we truly love?  Who says that a piece that costs $25 is any less valuable than one that sets you back $2500?  What if you bring a 'valuable' work of art home and totally hate it, but hang it in a prominent place in your home just so you can tell people you own a (insert artist du jour's name here)?  That sort of behavior has always bothered me.  At that point the art in question is no better than the latest designer handbag or hybrid Lexus. 

So, to be a "real" artist, do I have to write a statement like the one above?  I hope not - I would never want to start believing my own hype.

November 29, 2009

Gloomy Goodness


As I write this, it is about 2:30 p.m. CST and gloomy as heck outside.  And I couldn't be happier.

Most people to whom I relate my fondness for gloom think me mighty strange - I mean, doesn't everyone prefer sunny, warm days over 40 degree late fall gloom?  Not everyone!  Perhaps I'm the only exception.

This penchant for overcast isn't new - as a kid I loved cloudy, rainy days.  I wonder sometimes if it had something to do with my allergies.  I've had seasonal allergies since I was four, and they did seem to be alleviated somewhat by rain.  Being a sedentary kid as well, rainy/gloomy days gave me an excuse to stay inside and watch TV or play with my dollhouse instead of being shooed outside by my mom ("It's much too nice to be inside today!  Why don't you go over to Jodie's house?").

In fact, there's an inside joke in my family about my fondness for these days - I believe it was around 1975, and we were at my Grammie's for dinner.  It was this time of year, I believe - maybe even Thanksgiving Day - and the TV was on (chances are it was football).  An ad came on for Exxon, and I remember thinking in my 7 year-old head that the general look and ambiance of the ad made me feel the same way that gloomy days do.  So to this day, whenever my sis Jen calls me, she'll ask me if it's an Exxon day where I am (and now my nieces call them "Exxon Days" too!).  Yes, we're weird.  :D

Flash forward to about two years ago.  I was reading a great book called, "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  In it, she chronicles her life encyclopedia-style; it's a fantastic book.  One of the entries was entitled "Wabi-Sabi".

SHAZAM!!!  This word explained EXACTLY how gloomy days make me feel!!!  Ms. Rosenthal had seen the word in an issue of Utne Reader, and this is how they explained it:

"Wabi-Sabi: As a single idea, wabi-sabi fuses two moods seamlessly: a sigh of slightly bittersweet contentment, awareness of the transience of earthly things; and a resigned pleasure in simple things that bear the marks of that transience."  Bingo.

This is also why I love Dada art so much.  If you check out old or new Dadaist works, you'll find that many of them are on a stark white background.  Letters and numbers are often used, and many times the fonts that are utilized are very stark and Helvetica-esque.  If asked, I would venture to say that, while one might really love the piece, it wouldn't evoke for them happy days on the beach (unless the beach in question were in Norway in January).  I've always appreciated art that has that wonderful tinge of wabi-sabi to it - and not just Dada.  Even some Norman Rockwell paintings have it (I'm thinking mainly of his work entitled, "Homecoming", which shows a soldier arriving back home after WWII.  I love that you can't see his face, but if you could, I'd imagine it to be the epitome of what wabi-sabi looks like).

I say, let's embrace the feeling.  Maybe, in our never-ending quests to be 'happy' (especially this time of year, when many of us attempt to craft picture-perfect holidays that would never exist except in Martha Stewart's stylist's head) we've forgotten that we don't have to be.  All we have to do is just 'be'.  And if we can find comfort in the gloomiest of days, then perhaps we can be content with other aspects of our lives too.

November 26, 2009

Thankful

Below is a very small sampling of the things for which I am most grateful:

1.  My family, which, for the last five years, has included the wonderful Kolstads;

2.  My friends (too many to list, but you should know who you are)

3.  The 'big three' - a roof over my head, plentiful to eat and clothes on my back (and for that, YOU should be thankful - me clothes-less is frightening)

4.  My limbs - I'm able to walk and type (and make art!) without any assistance

5.  My eyes and ears - despite the unfortunate bad news out there, there is still so much beauty to absorb through these very wonderful senses.  I am grateful every day that I'm able to take in my surroundings.

6.  The ability to read and write (according to WikiAnswers, 1 BILLION people worldwide are illiterate).

7.  I have a job.  Sure, I complain about it, but for now I still have it.

8.  I'm grateful I live in a country where I CAN complain - it's a freedom I fear many of us take very much for granted.  I hope with all of my being it will be forever this way, and that in the future more of the world will be able to speak freely without repercussion.

9.  The myriad opportunities that await me everyday.  I'm grateful that I can choose to accept them with a positive attitude, and I hope I do, most days.

10.  I saved my husband for last.  He is the kindest, dearest, most thoughtful and wonderful man I've had the pleasure to meet.  Anyone who's met Brian knows what I mean.  It is absolutely an honor to share my life with him and I give thanks every day that we're together. 

Take some time today to focus on what REALLY matters to you.  Our lives are all so blessed, even if they may not seem so at times.  Hey, we're above ground, right? 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

November 24, 2009

Books, glorious books!


I was just on Jill K. Berry's blog - she explains the one-off class she'll be teaching at Valley Ridge this upcoming Labor Day weekend.  It is a bookshelf made of books, and we'll be making books to place in the bookshelf.  It's really quite amazing, and I'm very excited!  I hope I can take the class!!

Jill's blog entry got me thinking about books in general.  They're such an ubiquitous item, books - but where would we be without them?  One might forget that we've only been reading books the way we do for the past 100 years or so, and to have the types of bookshelves the way we do now?  The last 75 years, tops. It used to be that you'd have a couple of Classics and the Bible.  Now look how we read!  It's incredible to me how many books are readily available.  And with do-it-yourself bookmaking from Websites like Blurb, the sky's the limit with what you'll be able to get your hands on.  It's really quite an exciting time for books!

You might've heard all of the hand-wringing by the major booksellers like Barnes & Noble and Borders over concerns about this year's holiday shopping season; they're expecting less-than-stellar sales.  Some 'experts' say we're not reading as much as we used to; others say that it's the weak economy and that more and more people are utilizing the library.  Whatever the case, I think the worry is for naught; I believe the problem will correct itself in a few years at the most.

While it may be true that we're not reading as many books for our own pleasure, I'd like to wager that we're reading now more than ever before.  In fact, I'd say that in 100 years, illteracy will all but be erased.  Why?  Because if the last 5 years or so are any indication, we'll be gleaning most of our information from this here computer thingy.  And unless you're willing to watch nothing but You Tube and Hulu videos, you'll have to learn to read, if you can't already.  Many people also predict that in the next 20-25 years most of us will be reading our books on a Kindle-type device.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.....okay, I can handle spending time on the computer for things like facebook time, e-mailing friends, uploading photos to Flickr - but READING?  Yes, I realize that I may be rereading this blog entry 25 years from now and laughing, but I'll be damned if I'm going to sacrifice my pages-and-cover books to ANOTHER computer-like device!!!   For many of us book-aholics ("bibliophiles" to you Latin speakers), the rituals of reading are as much a part of the experience of reading as the actual, well, reading.  There is a smell to books that cannot be replicated with a hand-held Kindle thingy.  You can't turn pages on that thing.  You don't need batteries to operate a book.  You also don't need an initial fee of $250 to read a regular book.  Oh sure, you can get instant gratification with the portable devices, being able to download a book and start reading it 10 seconds later.  But unless you've waited until the last second to start a 20-page term paper or you're stuck in the century's worst blizzard that will keep you in the house for the next three months, who needs a book that quickly?  Isn't Amazon's next-day shipping fast enough?  Or head to the mall if it means that much to you!

Perhaps another thing that these fake book hustlers didn't think of was the library/bookstore experience.  True book-aholics (sorry, bibliophiles!) consider these places sacrosanct.  They are my absolute favorite places to congregate, especially with my mom and sister.  Many times when we're together, we make time for a "Borders Run".  We will most certainly part ways once inside, but then we'll meet up again at the end and talk about the books we've chosen.  My mom is so well-read, she could tell you something about nearly every new book out at any given time (and yes, she reads the New York Times Book Review every week).  I tend to read more in the way of non-fiction and memoirs, but Mom gives Jen and me the books she's read, so I always have a wonderful choice awaiting me on my bookshelves.  And our library here in Fond du Lac is a wonderful gathering place, with a children's library, an art gallery, a used book store, a first-rate meeting room and a great staff.  Even with Google, you still need reference librarians!  Let's not forget the sheer pleasure of reading with like-minded souls.

And to end this blog entry full circle, let's talk about bookshelves!  If we do go the electronic route with our books, what are we going to use our bookshelves for - more tchotchkes?  Yeah, like we need any more of those!  I will take my paper books any day, thank you very much.  I mean, you can't make book art like Jill's with a Kindle!

November 22, 2009

LOST

Yesterday we had our November live trade for our Milwaukee ATC (Artist Trading Card) group - this time, it was held at Artworks in Kenosha.  It's quite a hike from Fond du Lac - about 100 miles.  But I love the group so it doesn't bother me to travel these distances.

What DOES bother me, however, is my atrocious sense of direction.  Everyone knows that eye color, hair color, left or righthandedness, personality traits - these things are hereditary.  I'm here to tell you that I'm convinced our sense of direction is too.  Me, my mom and my Grammie?  We all would get lost trying to escape a paper bag.

This being directionally challenged - its roots run deep.  My earliest memory of being lost occured when I was five.  I lived near a pretty deep woods (considering we were in suburbia) and my best friend Jodie and I decided we were going to explore these woods by ourselves.  It didn't take us long to realize that we had no idea where we were.  We must've been in pretty deep because we didn't hear our parents calling for us.  To make matters worse, I had lost a shoe in some mud and stepped on a rusty nail (Tetanus, anyone?).  When we finally made our way out of the "wilderness", I was crying and yelling, "Are you gonna spank me?".  I had clearly defined priorities, mainly the preservation of my behind (I didn't get spanked - I think Mom & Dad knew I had been punished enough).

My favorite memory of being lost happened about five years ago - my Grammie and I were on our way down to Milwaukee for the day.  I felt so prepared:  I made sure I had all of my Google maps, one for every single stop we made that day.  But of course, these maps don't account for construction and we were there in August (the height of construction season in Wisconsin).  So when we got to Water St. and it said to turn left, and there was no left, we both laughed hysterically.  It took us a good five minutes to get our bearings, but we finally figured out where we were supposed to go.  It certainly helped that the layout of the downtown area hadn't changed all that much since my Grammie lived there in the 50's.

But getting back to the live trades - each month we try and hit a new fun spot in Milwaukee, somewhere art-oriented and willing to take a crowd (sometimes a LOUD crowd) of 20-30.  Now for some reason, yesterday was a breeze.  I gave myself a little pep talk when I got in the car - "You are NOT going to get lost!" - and maybe that worked.  Maybe I'm finally figuring out which way is East.  Either way, I'm not going to jinx it by saying that I've got this direction thing down.  Brian has asked me numerous times (mainly when I'm on the phone in hysterics because I'm going to be late for my trade and he has to walk me through the directions over the phone) if I'd like a GPS.  To that I say, thanks but no thanks!  If I accept my handicap and hand over my fate to a satellite, I'm admitting defeat.  To hell with that!  I will learn the difference between a street and an avenue if it kills me.  And if I'm attempting to read a map while driving, it probably will.  :)

November 16, 2009

Adventures in Eating!


I just picked up "Waiter Rant" when I was at Borders the other day - have you heard of it?  Apparently an anonymous waiter began a blog in '05 or '06 about the perils and pitfalls (and the occasional perks) of waiting tables.  I started following the blog about a year ago - right before he became "known" (you can't put out a book and still be anonymous!).

The book is fantastic!  The author's name is Steve Dublanica, and he's a natural writer.  He gives a little backstory about how he studied in the seminary, majored in psychology, and somehow became a 'career' waiter.  It sounds like he was really good at it, even though he may not have enjoyed it all that much.  The characters he encounters are, well, characters.  I can tell you right now - I wouldn't last ONE DAY in the restaurant industry.  I get annoyed with people telling me they didn't get their paper last night - how would I handle them telling me they're food's cold or that they 'got sick' on the food, so they want a refund?  I'm seeing red just thinking about it!

But speaking of getting sick on the food, there is one section in the book that was fascinating to me.  Mr. Dublanya starts off by telling a cockroach story, and it devolves from there.  Seriously - if you are faint of heart or have a weak stomach, DO NOT read this book!  Of course, he has many points - if you have many people in one area, there will be critters, sometimes brought in by patrons themselves.  One of my favorite anecdotes was one of a well-to-do woman (the restaurant is very high-end) who sent her whole dinner back because there was a hair in her salad.  Now, that IS gross, but it turned out to be her own hair.  So the restaurant had to throw her whole dinner in the trash just because of that.

Okay, I'm going to tell you a little food story now.  It's been six years since it's happened, so I can now step back and totally appreciate the humor of the situation.  At the time?  Not so much.

Labor Day weekend of 2003, I took a trip to Toronto - by myself.  Now, some of you may not think this is a big deal but for someone who didn't get her license until the age of 24 and didn't pump gas until some years after that, this was a a major thing.  I was separated from my first husband and I thought this would be a good litmus as to how I was going to fare as a single woman, and prepare myself for the fact that I may be vacationing by myself for a while.  It was all terribly exciting.  I chose Toronto because I know that city well and I feel very comfortable there - it's my favorite place on Earth.

The first leg of the trip went off without a hitch!  I got to Toronto, found a cab right away, got settled into my hotel room and ventured off to the College Park area of town.  I was on a mission.  I wanted to recreate one of the best dessert experiences ever at a place called Fran's.  Fran's is this wonderful diner that's been around since (I believe) 1941.  It's just one of those places where you instantly feel at home.  So I settled in with my book (I was alone, remember) and my dinner and had a marvelous time.  I really felt strong and independent.  I'll show the world that nothing can stop this girl!

And then dessert arrived.  Oh, Fran's rice pudding - served warm, so unbelievably creamy and spectacular - the perfect comfort food.  It was nirvana.  I was savoring every bite and then

*CRUNCH*

Oh my god - I think I just lost a tooth!  I really panicked - I spit out my mouthful as politely as I could, looking around to see if anyone was watching me and trying not to draw attention to myself.  Sure enough - when I looked in my napkin, there was a tooth staring me in the face.  Now I REALLY sweated, and felt my whole mouth with my tongue.  Everything seemed fine! 
"What'sgoingonhereomygodIthinkthisissomeoneELSE'stooth" was the only thought racing through my mind.  So I very cautiously picked the tooth out of the pudding and examined it.  Sure enough, it was NOT MINE.  I studied it for a while, not really knowing how I felt about the situation.  I was most certainly repulsed, but not to the point of nausea.  I think more than anything I was mad because I had no one to share this moment with!  Had I been with my husband I think we would've been in hysterics and I would've certainly had the courage to ask for my money back.  But things being as they were, I just asked for the check and left.  I found myself smirking on the streetcar ride back to the subway station.

Then, for a long time, I didn't tell anyone about it.  I can't remember if I was afraid to sully Fran's reputation or if this was just too creepy to discuss.  But now that some time is behind it, it's one of my favorite stories!  I mean, it is pretty funny.  But only six years later.  I only wish I had had the presence of mind to take a picture of it!

*An interesting side note:  When I finally told my sister the story, her first question to me was, "How did this happen?  Was someone standing over the vat with their mouth wide open?"  And she proceeded to pantomime her imagined scenario.  I hadn't laughed that hard in a long time.







November 15, 2009

What's so funny?


So, did anyone watch last night's Saturday Night Live?  If you did, then you'll know why I'm asking the title question.

Last night was one of those rare SNLs that just totally sucked rocks.  It doesn't happen very often - sure, there are not-so-great hosts but the cast usually can work around that and pull something fun out of it.  But last night?  Sheesh.  January Jones was the host and she was so humorless even Kristin Wiig didn't seem as funny as she usually is.

I'm going to go on a tear here, but I think the powers that be at SNL should really examine their host choices very carefully before scheduling them.  I know, I know - the whole deal is probably fraught with agents, network execs, producers, advertisers, etc. and that it's not just Lorne Michaels making the decisions.  But after 30 seasons of producing (no, not 35 years - you may recall Dick Ebersole produced SNL from 1980-1985) you'd think the guy would have SOME clout! 

Let's take, for example, January Jones.  Those of you who are loyal "Mad Men" followers know January as the icy and sad Betty Draper, Don's (Jon Hamm) long-suffering wife.  And on that show, she's perfect.  All she really has to do week after week is wear gorgeous clothes and threaten to leave Don.  But last night, we saw a side of January that we shouldn't have - her total lack of a sense of humor.  At one point, while the camera was pointed right on her you could hear her say to one of the camera operators, "WHICH camera?!?", which let the audience know right away she probably wasn't in a comedy troupe or ensemble cast before.  She also didn't show any real emotions at all, nor did she react to any of the cast members' lines.  Hey, I'm no Shakespearean actor, but I at least know to anticipate lines and try to react accordingly!  It was all a mess.  Something tells me she'll never get asked to host a second time.  Now Jon Hamm, on the other hand - I'd bet he'll be back.  He was fantastic.  And funny!

I'm going to ask an impossible question now, because it's so subjective, but what constitutes "funny"?  Obviously SNL, that most venerable of US comedy shows, has a winning formula - you don't last 35 seasons (and it's not done yet) without doing something right.  But what is it about it? 

Is it the cast?  There have definitely been better casts than others (my uncles and brothers say it's the original cast; I really liked the Mike Myers/Dana Carvey/Phil Hartman/Chris Farley years).  I think this current cast is fantastic; others say it's stale and they should completely start over.  I own the first season of SNL on DVD; it's amazing how some of the skits hold up, but others I don't either "get" (because I was seven when it first aired) or it's just not relevant or funny anymore. I do think they actually got away with MORE back then than they can now; you just can't call someone the "N-word" or use blatant drug references anymore.  Not that this is a bad thing.

Is it the news?  I love "Weekend Update" and it's regularly one of my favorite parts of the show.  The current host, Seth Meyers, is also the head writer (most of the time, the host of WU is the head writer, like Tina Fey).  I think he's very funny, with impeccable timing.  Others will most certainly disagree; maybe Norm McDonald, or Colin what's-his-name or Chevy Chase is their fave.  It all depends on one's taste and style.

Call me an optimist, but I've never given up on SNL.  I'm sure I will tune in, week after week, until it finally stops airing in 2030.  Next week WILL be better - right?  Right?   :)

October 27, 2009

It's the Best Cartoons Ever, Charlie Brown!


My wonderful husby e-mailed me at work today to let me know that "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" will be airing tomorrow night, and would I like to watch it with him?

This was a very sweet gesture, but also one he knew he didn't have to make.  You see, every year I make it a point to watch "The Triumvirate" - the aforementioned "Great Pumpkin"; "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and of course the mother of them all, "A Charlie Brown Christmas".

As a kid, I LOVED these specials!  The first and foremost reason is definitely the music.  Even as a kid, I could appreciate the fantastic jazz by Vince Guaraldi and Ray Charles on vocals (especially "Little Birdie", from the Thanksgiving special).  Back then, of course, you couldn't download any song you wanted so you would have to wait ALL YEAR to hear that one song.  It was something I actually looked forward to all year long.  I also loved (and still do) the quiet philosophy and melancholy that the shows exude.  I recall wondering why, even though I loved the shows, I always felt a little 'far away' after they were done.  I never felt that way about Rudolph or Frosty - nostalgic, yes, but not melancholy.

The first thing I do every Christmas season is spark up the holiday section on the ol' iPod (it doesn't have the same ring as "haul out my Christmas albums, does it?).  I love all types of holiday music but my favorite disc BY FAR is the soundtrack to "Christmas..."  From the first piano notes of "O Tannenbaum", I get a little farklempt (yes, I'm speaking Yiddish while referring to Christmas music.  What can I say - I'm multi-cultural).

For many years the Charlie Brown Christmas special wasn't aired in the Green Bay market because the downtown Appleton holiday parade pre-empted it. So in '88 my dad videotaped it for me while I was in college (they were already living in Madison). I still have it, 21 years later, old ads and all. I don't have a way to play it anymore but I'll keep it until the tape is brittle. And yes, I know I can get it on DVD (probably even Blu-Ray) but there's nothing quite like the 'event' of watching old holiday specials live.

I could go on and on about how much better these specials are than, say "The Transformers Save Christmas".  And I'd be right.  I feel bad for these upcoming generations and what they'll feel nostalgic for because in my opinion, nothing will compare to these 30-minute masterpieces.  If it's been awhile since you've seen them, I highly suggest giving them another try.  I can all but guarantee that you'll love them.  We can all relate to the messages and I can think of no better way to ring in the holiday season.  You may even feel farklempt yourself.

Thank you Charles Schulz & Bill Melendez, wherever you are.  And thank you, ABC, for continuing to run these wonderful shows (it's not quite the same as when CBS aired them and you got to hear the "Special Presentation" music and Dolly Madison commercials, but it's great nonetheless!).

October 25, 2009

Retreating into art


This past Friday, I was fortunate enough to participate in Raevn's Nest, a yearly artists' retreat held in Cedarburg.  This was the second annual retreat - I hope it's the second of a million more.  Kim Rae Nugent is the hostess of this wonderful event (hence the name RAEvn's Nest).  Three nationally recognized artists (Jill Berry, Laurie Mika and Richard Salley) came from far and wide to teach this year. 

I only took one class, on Friday night (the retreat began on Thursday and ran through last night).  I got to see Jill Berry again, which was wonderful.  Jill taught the very first art class I ever attended at Valley Ridge last March - it was called "Personal Geographies" and it was all about cartography and how it relates to our own stories; we made maps (real and imaginary) of our own lives.  It was a two-day workshop and it was marvelous. Jill and her family live in the Denver area so naturally when I found out that Jill would be back in Wisconsin for this retreat, I signed up right away!

At this retreat, I also got to see many of my art friends from our Milwaukee ATC group (Carolyn, Kathi, Gary, Diana, and Marsha) and Valley Ridge Art Studio (Lisa & Pam) in a different setting, and a few of us ate dinner together.  I also met a new art friend, Carmi, who lives in Toronto.  Many of you may already know that Toronto is my all-time FAVORITE place on Earth, so we hit it off right away, comparing notes on our favorite Canadian things.  We both agree that Tim Hortons coffee is worth traveling for! 

Everything about Friday night culminated into one of those nights that I will forever remember - the colder-than-normal October air; the somehow perfect rainy day; the fun dinner with friends; the fantastic "Make a Scene!" class with Jill and the best part of all - talking art with like-minded souls.

When we were waiting in line to order our food Carmi, who is a full-time artist, asked what it was that I did during the day that kept me from making art.  I thought that was a great way of asking about my job because believe me, there are MANY days that I ask myself that same question.  Of course the most ironic part about this conversation is that it would certainly be more difficult to attend these retreats and workshops if I didn't have a job 'that kept me from making art'.  Someday, I hope to have a job that allows me to incorporate my artwork into a living, but there are certain factors that should really be in place first.  I know some of my friends would offer the advice, "If not now, when?", but there are icky things like insurance and a mortgage to consider, unfortunately.

And that got me to thinking - what sort of line, if any, should be drawn between your vocation and your avocation?  I would really love to hear your thoughts on this.  Really!  So make your comment below or on Facebook, but I really value your opinions - let's discuss!

Happy Sunday,
Mel

October 16, 2009

FEAR.


It was quite a weird day at work - it seems many of the more paranoid people were out and about today.  One of our customers was saying he had been laid off for about a year and when I mentioned to him that the job market is looking up he said to me, in all seriousness, that it didn't really matter because the world was going to end in 2012.  I had another customer call us to inquire why we were calling her, because our number came up on her call-waiting service.  I told her it was probably a solicitation call, but she said it couldn't be because she already receives the paper.  "So what is it, then?", was her very desperate plea.  She was afraid that someone had sold her number to other companies and wondered why we had her number anyway.  I didn't bother explaining the reasons behind this.

Others called today because we have tickets going on sale Monday for an upcoming event, and they were all worried that they had missed the opportunity to get the 'good' seats (they're all in the Fairgrounds' Cow Palace, so honestly, do any of them really constitute "good" seats?).

And these calls got me thinking - what sorts of thoughts are running through these people's minds all day?  Every single aforementioned case has an element of fear.  The fear of the world ending; the fear that someone is going to telemarket them to death; the fear of missing out on something 'important'. 

Then I realized - pretty much all of our emotions stem from one - FEAR.  Seriously, think about it - why do we get angry?  Fear!  Anger is fear realized.  We get angry because someone or thing has wronged us.  If we didn't care about what that person had said or done, we wouldn't have gotten angry.  Prejudice is 100% fear-based.  We are afraid of people who are different than us.  Seriously!  Why should we care what color someone's skin is?  Why should we care what or who someone is praying to?  What does it matter what sort of meat people eat or don't eat?  Why in the hell do we care if someone is sleeping with someone of the same sex?

You guessed it - FEAR.  We're afraid that our tiny worlds are going to be turned upside down if anyone different changes our narrow ways of thinking. 

Jealousy also totally equals fear.  Why are we jealous?  Because someone has something that we want - a bigger house, hotter spouse, more money, better job, kids/no kids, better clothes, etc.  Why do we want those things?  Because people will like us more if we do (of course this isn't true, but it's what we think, right?  That, or that we'll be happy only if things are better).  And if we don't have these things, and someone else does, then everyone will like that person more than us, and we'll die alone, homeless and penniless and 20 pounds overweight and no one will ever love us again.

So how can we combat some of this fear?  Let's start getting a little more selective about what we choose to hear on TV, the radio and over the internet and the kind of attitude we take in our daily lives.  Take the case of the Balloon Boy yesterday - had anyone confirmed that the kid was in the balloon?  No, obviously NOT!  But all of the stations were talking like he was, and we all believed it.  The entire nation was duped by a bratty 6 year-old and his nutty family!!!  And what was the basic reason we watched?  Out of fear!!  We were all terrified (for no reason, it turns out) that some kid was going to die a horrible death and we were going to see it happen live (for many people, I'm sure it was the morbid curiosity that kept them tuned in).

So this Halloween season, let's all be afraid for the right reasons - getting more candy.  Unless you're afraid of gaining weight.

October 13, 2009

I Heart the Grocery Store!



I just returned from a power-shop at Festival Foods.  Yes, for those of you outside the N.E. Wisconsin area, we have a grocery store called Festival.  I imagine that the owners wanted to create a carnival-like atmosphere whilst shopping for your pork roast.

Works for me!  I LOVE the grocery store!  Who's with me?  I may be in a very small minority, but I truly enjoy slowly (but not so slowly that I enrage those around me) perusing the aisles in search of tasty meal ideas.  And oh my Lord, there are so many choices!!  I would love to find out the number of new products that come out every year, and how many fail.  Wouldn't that be the coolest museum ever?  One of my Flickr friends has an awesome collection of old packaging, mainly from cereals and snack foods.  If you're interested, take a look:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/25692985@N07/

My fondness for the grocery store goes back a looong way.  When I was a kid, every payday my mom, dad, Jen and I would all go McDonald's for dinner, and then the grocery store.  Sure-Way was a great one for looking through all of the great mags like Tiger Beat and "16" and the fun cheap toys that were made in Japan.  But the best shopping trips were the ones we took about once a month, to Copp's Warehouse.  In my 5th grade world, that place was HUGE (in reality, it was probably much smaller than a typical regular grocery store today.  In 1979, though, it probably was huge).  But it was big enough that we would take our walkie-talkies and hide behind all of the stacks of food  and play hide-and-seek (it was a true warehouse, where you had to mark your own groceries with a grease pencil).  A couple of times, we ran into our friends from down the block and had a BLAST!  It's actually one of my favorite childhood memories.

I've even had a collection of play food nearly my whole life.  When I was 8, in the summer of '77, my great-grandpa died (he was a wonderful man - my mom's maternal grandfather).  He had this huge 6-bedroom Victorian house in Hoopeston, IL and my Mom, my Grammie and her sisters, plus all of my mom's brothers helped clean it for the estate sale.  There were TONS of toys that Jen and I got to bring home, and one of them was a play grocery store complete with play boxes of food from the 30's (these were my Grammie's and great-aunts' toys)!!  I adored this set and when we cleaned my Grammie's house when she went into assisted living a year ago and it was still there, I was ecstatic.  It got a little rusty, unfortutnately, but miraculously the food boxes survived.  I've attached photos for you to see.

When I started doing ATCs about three years ago, I realized the potential of making some fun art with grocery store-related items, and started collecting even more.  I currently have a set of cardboard foods that are fairly tiny, some of which I've used in my cards.  I also have some vintage tiny foods from 1965, and some vintage French and German versions of play food as well. Here are some photos of those as well!

As with most collections, it didn't end there.  I started thinking about all of the arcane objects associated with grocery stores of the past - the cha-chink stamper used to price cans; old plastic signage that's been replaced with LCD screens around the store; old labels, stickers, price tags, etc.  that the price scanner took care of 20 years ago.  If you search Ebay you can find some of these items very cheaply, but people are starting to catch on that the way we shopped years ago is in danger of becoming totally extinct, so they're buying up all of this vintage stuff.  I'm probably partially to blame for increasing the value of it all!

I hope I always find the fun in food shopping, instead of the chore that most people feel it is.  Granted, I don't have kids, so I can afford to be leisurely.  I'll be one of those 90 year-olds, mowing down people in my motor scooter, too stubborn to stop driving, just so I can get my weekly grocery store visit in.  Hell, it'll surely be the highlight of my day.

October 6, 2009

Getting older...


Tomorrow is my 41st birthday - it sounds weird to say it. I am now the age that my mom was when she graduated from college.  I was 18 at the time.  I remember that day like it was yesterday, and I remember thinking that when I was 41 I'd probably be married and have two kids. Well, I got the married part right (twice).  Back then, 41 sounded like the dark side of the moon.

Isn't age relative, though? I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that living in your own skin, your age doesn't seem so bad when you get there. Does this make sense?  Perhaps it comes from having multi-generational parents - my mom and dad were 26 years apart (my dad was born in 1920 and my mom in 1946). So technically, my dad could've been my grandfather. As a matter of fact, my own grandmother (my mom's mom) is 4 years YOUNGER than my dad was. I have a half-sister who's four months OLDER than my own mom!! CRAZY!! Try explaining that to your grade school-age friends!

So when I was born, for those of you trying to do the math, my mom was 22 and my dad was almost 48. In the gift of hindsight, I can't possibly imagine being 22 with kids. Now, before anyone reads this and gets defensive, I said I couldn't possibly imagine ME with kids at 22 - maturity-wise, I was on par with Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell. Still am, actually. On the flip side, try and picture yourself at 48 or 49 with newborns. But that's exactly what my dad did (he had just turned 49 when my sister Jen was born). Doesn't that sound exhausting? But somehow, it worked. My dad, because he walked 3-5 miles a day (up to 10 in the summer) was in FAR better shape at 60 than I am at 40.

Which brings me back to my original point - relativity. In my head, I'm still 19 and probably always will be, although I hope I've grown a little and have learned from my mistakes. I will say that I'd rather be the age I am now than back at 25. Oh sure, I was far thinner, but I was also very uncertain about where I was and who I wanted to be. I honestly don't mind aging one bit. It is weird to think that my journey on this planet (barring catastrophe, Lord willing) is halfway over, but maybe this is the lesson we all must learn - we'd better make good choices, be true to ourselves and others, try and not mind the small stuff (a lesson I'm still learning), and be healthy (damn you, warm apple pie!).

September 27, 2009

The Cult of Personality

No, I'm not going to be talking about Living Colour (and if you're under 20, you probably have no idea what that sentence means anyway!) :D

I got my latest Entertainment Weekly mag yesterday - I really like my subscription. It's the only magazine I read cover to cover every week; I can't say that about any of my other subscriptions! There's not a lot of celebrity gossip; it focuses on the entertainment industry as a business.

Anyway, in this week's issue there is an article about how all of these celebrities' deaths mean big money. Get ready for my long rant....

This struck me as more than just a little creepy. Big business? Yes, I know this is nothing new - the first celebrity death I can really remember is Elvis. I was 8. I remember seeing all of the people filing past his casket and weeping. Even then I wondered how he got such a big family.

Because really - unless you knew the celebrity personally, why would you be upset by his death? There is no rational reason for this. That being said, I am also guilty of this behavior, to a certain degree. I remember being a little sad when Jimmy Stewart died back in '97. I even got a little choked up watching ALL of the networks run 'in memoriam' segments when Walter Cronkite died.

I would imagine this is a fairly new phenomenon, wouldn't you think? I mean, yes, seven of our presidents were either asassinated or died in office before TV, but I doubt the newspapers or radio stations interviewed throngs of mourners the way the networks do now. There really weren't true 'celebrities' before the movies, and our presidents were respected so much more than they are now (even the really bad ones like Harding).

But now, because there's so much time to kill on 24-hour news, you have to get every angle: where the celebrity died, the exact time of death, how they died; and of course right away the talking heads have to start speculating about whether or not it was accidental or if there's someone to blame (think Anna Nicole Smith or Michael Jackson on this one).

What REALLY kills me is seeing the "RIP so-and-so" status updates on Facebook. Now honestly, what is the point of this? Do these people truly care that someone famous has died, or do they just want to be the first of their friends to break the news and have the most comments after their post (I was so tempted today to put "RIP William Safire" as my status update, but I figured most people would've said, "Who?")?

It's pretty sad that we feel emotionally invested enough in these actors' lives that it would warrant tears or sadness. It's funny who the media pick for us (yes, they do) to posthumously worship, too. Patrick Swayze and Farrah Fawcett died from horrible cancers - they're prime candidates. So are celebs who died mysteriously. Come on now - did you not make fun of Anna Nicole Smith or latter-day Michael Jackson when they were alive? Then suddenly they die (which shouldn't have been a big surprise to anyone) and the media are ready to canonize them. And when the media get involved, many people follow suit, which is pathetic. I think about the time and effort it takes to organize a candlelight vigil, and I think, don't these people have anything better to do? Who are they really doing this for, anyway? So they themselves can get on TV?!

It's too bad that some people care more about John Hughes dying than some great-uncle that passed away last month. Unless that great-uncle was someone famous....

September 23, 2009

Playing Hooky


I have the day off today. What am I doing with it? Well, so far, not much. I've made a couple of galleries on Flickr, and am currently writing this blog entry but other than that, zilch. And that's okay. I might just stay in my jammies all day!

This year has been interesting as far as my vacation and personal days, because in the beginning of the year Gannett announced we would have two weeks of furloughs as well. So all in all I will have about six weeks of time off for 2009. I say, bring on the furloughs for 2010!!

That may seem like a lot but in the grand scheme of things the US is SO far behind other developed nations. For example, in Finland, the average is 30 paid vacation days and 14 national holidays. That's 44 days, or NINE WEEKS off per year. I would've thought Canada would have more than we do but they actually average about a week less.

Now, I was in the fortunate position financially of not having to worry about those 2 furlough weeks we had in the first half of the year. And let me tell you, I enjoyed every minute of them. The first week I took individual Wednesdays off (like today). It was luxurious! I would hang out downtown, spend the day with my Grammie in Green Bay, schedule hair/dentist/doctor appointments without having to rush around before or after work - it was wonderful! The second week was spent on a fabulous vacation to Denver. During furloughs we were forbidden to contact work in any way, so it was the perfect time to get away!

My whole life, even when I was much poorer than I am now, I've always favored time over money. Some people would view this as lazy and in this country, a strong work ethic is very important. It should be. When you're at work, you should work as hard as you can; you're getting paid to do so. The problem with that work ethic, however, is that it's becoming harder to separate our work from our LIFE. To me, work is not life and I don't see that changing. I hate having to think about work when I'm not there. I have many friends, though, who seem to think it's normal to be 'on call' 24-7. Their whole life revolves around work - their friends, their schedules, their entertainment, everything. That's too bad. What happens if that job isn't there next year? But I digress. Back to vacations.

If we had more vacation time, wouldn't we all be less stressed? And in turn, wouldn't we all be better workers? And wouldn't our home life be more rewarding? Wouldn't it be nice to have more time for personal enrichment instead of plunking ourselves in front of the TV because we're too exhausted to even think about doing anything else? Sorry to get on my high horse, but I think that a happy worker is a good worker. Corporations need to start showing their personnel (what few there are remaining) some love. Because when this recession is over, and there are more job opportunities, people are going to leave in droves for greener pastures. Time to stop thinking only about your shareholders, Giant Companies, and start sharing the wealth with the workers who got you where you are in the first place. Or, months or years down the road, that little start-up you laughed at will replace you and you'll be left with nothing.

September 20, 2009

Public Speaking, or Death?


Today I've spent the majority of the afternoon tweaking my presentation for next week's collage workshop at the Greendale Public Library. I like to do this about a week before the class, so that I make sure I haven't forgotten any major talking points or have any misspellings.

So here I am, six days out, and I am cool as a cuke. I have never really had a problem with public speaking, thankfully. In fact, I believe I'm more at ease in a group than I am with someone one-on-one. This is probably unusual.

I just read an article about anxiety by Robert Leahy in the October issue of Real Simple that really helped me get a grip on any worries I do encounter when thinking about how the class is going to go. For example (and I know this is ridiculous): what if the class laughs at me? What if they hate my presentation and they all feel like it's a colossal waste of their time and money? For this worry, Dr. Leahy says, "Make it worse. For instance, if you feel your mind will go blank during a presentation, fake it intentionally in the middle of your next one. Say, 'Gee, what was I just saying?' Notice how this makes no difference. It's nothing to worry about, right? I did this at a lecture once and no one raised an eyebrow (perhaps they weren't listening anyway!)."

Of course, he's absolutely right. Remember the Simpsons episode where they go to a concert and start booing, and Lisa says, "Why would you pay money to go to a concert and heckle someone?" Again, she's right on.

It makes me wonder what, in our collective pasts, makes us so wary of talking out loud so that more than one person can hear us. Is it that we're all really self-centered and believe that we're so important, that we can't screw up because all eyes are on us? Or is it the opposite; we think we're so insignificant that no one would want to hear what we have to say anyway.

I think it's a little of both. So that's why I'm making sure people have a good time by bringing fun treats! I'm going to break the ice by having a table full of collage supplies that people can use. So even if they're not fond of my presentation they can at least say, "Look at the fun stuff I got!" Hey, it worked on the 3rd Grade playground. :D

September 19, 2009

Cemetery Walk


This morning, I had the good fortune to spend two hours with dead people. It was a lot of fun, although they didn't say much.


I kid, of course - sort of. My friend Jessie told me about this cemetery walk that Rienzi Cemetery hosts every year, so I joined them and about 25 others for a guided tour of that very large cemetery (so far, it houses about 30,000 and counting); large for Fond du Lac, anyway! There were supposed to be costumed actors at various gravesites around the cemetery, but someone was in error (either the cemetery or our newspaper), because it was actually supposed to take place next week. I'm actually kind of glad that it didn't happen - sometimes, if the acting is over-the-top or just plain bad, it sort of dampens the whole experience. Instead, we had a very knowledgable guide from the cemetery itself, a woman who has done extensive research of the former residents of Fond du Lac and the surrounding area.


Anyone living in the Fond du Lac area for the past three weeks knows we're living through a rare loooong high pressure system - it's been almost Floridian here. All of September, we've had highs in the 70s and 80s and sunshine every single day. Today was no exception. It was perfectly chilly to start the walk and became warmer gradually throughout the two hours. But it certainly made the walk more pleasant, if that's possible. One of the highlights for the tour, for me, was the discovery of a rare elm tree by the Rueping plots (the Rueping family started a very successful tanning business, called Rueping Leather, that thrived for nearly 100 years. They shoed entire regiments for the Spanish-American War). I don't believe I've ever seen an elm tree, because most succumbed to Dutch Elm before I was born. Does the fact that it was exciting to see an elm tree make me old? It was also fun to learn that about twelve years ago, the cemetery implemented a pet cemetery. Viewing those very heartfelt grave markers was the only time I got a little choked up. These people viewed their pets as members of the family and gave them quite a wonderful send-off.


I was suprised there were special sections for the Greeks, the Lithuanians, and a separate Jewish cemetery, which is part of the whole but has its own gate, and is dedicated to the 6 million. Our guide didn't take us through it, but I would've loved to have seen it.


Rienzi Cemetery is one of the most beautiful places in all of Fond du Lac, in my opinion. It's an enormous place; it's wooded and hilly and somehow quiet, even though it abuts Highway 151. It's really close to my house; before the highway cut the path, it was quite easy to walk there. But it only takes three minutes by car (I do have to take the car - I'm not walking across the highway!), and it would be a lovely spot for a daily stroll. It's a shame that Brian won't go but alas, he is not as fond of cemeteries as I.


Neither is my sister. When I told her yesterday that I was going to take this tour, I was met with several seconds of silence. I couldn't tell if the silence was because she thought it was creepy, or because she would never think of spending her Saturday morning this way, or because she thinks I'm a geek (she would be absolutely correct in her assessment, by the way).


I encourage all of you reading this, if you haven't done so in the past, to visit a local cemetery. They're really not 'creepy' at all, and just looking at the headstones is interesting. Look for Victorian symbols like laurel wreaths, chafs of wheat, inverted torches, head stones that look like wood stumps, etc. Exciting stuff! Honest!
*Photo of Rienzi Cemetery stone by Rosebud81 on Flickr.

September 17, 2009

Restaurant Obituaries

I just read that the illustrious Tavern on the Green restaurant in NYC filed for Chapter 11 protection. News like this always shocks me - you think places like this are going to be around forever, but I guess tastes change and trends emerge. This makes me sad.

Actually, any time a restaurant, boutique, or any local shop goes under it makes me sad. Sometimes you can tell the minute they hang their sign that they're not going to make it. There's just something 'off' about the place, and you can't put your finger on it.

But the others - the established restaurants and shops - it hurts a little, doesn't it? I am thinking about two of my favorite restaurants of all time that closed this year - Fusion Mediterranean Bistro in Fond du Lac (pictured at left) and Water City Grill in Oshkosh. Both served bistro fare far better than you'd expect in such small cities. Sure, they were on the pricey side (for our area, anyway) but you always knew you were going to have a wonderful time and have a terrific meal.

The first to go, Fusion, had managed to stay around in one form or another for 8 years. One of the neatest things about Fusion is that it was housed in the old downtown theatre lobby - local business owners bought it and really spiffed it up. They had their flush years and their lean years, but the food was wonderful (I was particularly fond of the Beef Tenderloin with Gorgonzola and Haystack Potatoes. It was sublime. Transencendent. All of those adjectives reserved for real food critics). The head chef, Mark, had his rent raised so high he was forced out. He now works for a country club, so it's not likely we'll be sampling his cuisine anytime soon.

A mere month later, Water City Grill closed. This was just as, or possibly more, heartbreaking than Fusion closing. I had been going to WCG for about 8 years, and we spent 3 wonderful New Year Eve dinners there (they put on quite a show - 10-course meals!). Their meatloaf was to die for - it was rolled and in the middle was a wonderful mixture of Gruyere and mushrooms. Heaven! The ambiance was perfect - a lot of wood and old brick (it was in the old Oddfellows Lodge). I tried bacon fudge there this past New Year's. Yes, you heard right.

So why is it that we feel like we've lost a friend when a favorite place closes? Is it the fear that we'll never find a replacement? Are we mourning the fact that we'll never make new memories at an old haunt? Did the shop have a specialty item that will be hard to find somewhere else? Probably all of these things. Perhaps it just feels like the end of an era, and a period in time that now has a beginning, middle and end.

This year, I'm sure almost all of us have lost a great little place we liked to call 'ours'. This economy hasn't been kind to restaurants. But here's hoping a new spot will open up that will pique our curiosity and will have the foresight to remain open for years to come.

September 16, 2009

Civic duties


I had the WORST day today! It's not often that they're this bad. It was just one of those days that went from bad to worse - you know those days. I'm sure all of you have had them, right?

Well then imagine my utter delight when I opened the mail when I got home and found my summons to appear for jury duty! I'm already WAY behind at work. Oh joy! Just what I needed! The timing couldn't be more horrible.

But to tell you the truth, I'm kind of looking forward to it, if only in a macabre and nosy way. I secretly hope (at least it was secretly before I told you all) that it's a gruesome murder case that has many plot twists and turns, and that the prosecutor looks like Perry Mason. Of course in real life, it'll probably just be some boring business-oriented case of which I will have no previous knowledge, and then I'll have to try and stay awake.

Actually, that would be okay too! It will be very interesting to see our court process firsthand, but I've always been terrified that I'd put away an innocent person for life. I mean, that decision is major! I wonder if most jurors understand the gravity of the situation - am I the only one who feels this way? Certainly I can't be. I'm all for democracy, but can't our Poli Sci grads do all the jury work? I'm just afraid that I won't understand the legalese and sound like a dumbass when discussing the case with my peers. PLEASE god, don't make me foreman!

I am having fun telling people that I'm a rural juror (this only makes sense if you watch 30 Rock. But try saying rural juror really fast - you will probably sound drunk).

Of course I won't be able to discuss the trial, but I'll keep you posted as to how things pan out. Maybe I'll don my Princess Leia costume to get out of doing it. :)

September 15, 2009

Civility Disobedience


On the front page of USA Today, er, today, the big headline read, "What happened to civility?". For those of you unaware, and there are probably few of you by now, this question was raised in response to the very rude antics of Kanye West at the MTV VMAs on Sunday night.


Taylor Swift, a 19 year-old country singer, had just won for "Best Video". In the middle of her speech, which was tearful and heartfelt, Mr. West came up onstage and grabbed the mic right out of her hand. He then said that "I'm sorry, Taylor, I'm gonna let you finish your speech, but Beyonce had the best video of the year!". Poor Taylor (and the rest of the crowd, especially Beyonce herself) was completely flummoxed. Beyonce mended everything by allowing Taylor to finish her speech when SHE won her award.

Also this week was the whole "YOU LIE!" incident, which I'm sure needs no explaining. I'm still really upset about this one. This is the epitome of rudeness. Mr. Wilson should be ashamed of himself.
But let's get back to where civility went. It went bye-bye. Call me old (or old-fashioned), but since when has everyone started caring more about themselves than anyone or anything else? When we answer that question, then we can possibly start regaining the civility that's so important in a society.

Some people think that the beginning of the end was when children stopped addressing their elders with titles, and started calling them by their first name. Actually, almost everyone called other people by a title until the person being addressed gave the okay to use a first name. When I was a newly-engaged 22 year-old, I called my future in-laws Mr. and Mrs. B until we got married, and then I called them by their first names. My first boss at the Press-Gazette was Mr. Miller until he told me that was his dad's name. So even into my 20's I was still using titles. It wasn't until my late 30's, and more of a peer to most adults, that I stopped.

I was in Radio Shack today, and while I was waiting for the clerk to come out of the back room with my scanner I was purchasing, the other clerk began his small talk by telling me how badly he wanted to go home. Really? Since when is this rude behavior okay? I've always hated this practice, but it's getting more and more prevalent. I'm sure everyone reading this has had their meal interrupted by a waiter/waitress who launches into some diatribe about how bad her day is, or some other customer who upset her, etc. Do these people ever think that maybe not everyone really cares what a crappy day you're having? Oh, and where the hell is my mayonnaise, by the way?

Rule #1 in the Jones household growing up: DO NOT IMPOSE YOURSELF ON OTHERS. My dad was so strict on this. If you're speaking to someone, don't snap your gum, interrupt, talk about yourself too much, or use foul language. If you're going to someone's house, always call first to let them know you're arriving, always follow the rules of their household, never overstay your welcome, and bestow many thanks for the invitation. If you are dining with other people (yes, even your own family), keep your elbows off the table, never slurp your soup, NEVER burp or belch, never sing at the table, keep the conversation light, speak when spoken to, use your utensils the right way, keep your fingers out of your mouth, clean your plate and always offer to help with the dishes.

Seem like a lot of rules? Yeah, I thought so too. But Dad was totally right, and I'm really glad he taught me these things. These little rules of civility help in nearly every social situation, and they made me a better person, I believe. I never have to worry about how to act, anywhere. I am at ease in any setting. Thanks for that, Mom and Dad!

So if we start with the little things, could it possibly change the way we feel about everything? If everyone started showing little courtesies to those around them (not butting in line, getting off your phone in the checkout line, shutting up at movies, saying 'please' and 'thank you' more often, or at all), wouldn't the world be a lot nicer place?

I say it's high time we get back to that place. Let's start tomorrow.