Tuesday, November 27, 2012

10 Rules for Re-Gifting

I'm not against re-gifting as a rule, although, every time I try to do it myself, it makes me squirm.  It IS a form of recycling, and recycling is good, right?   Still, I really think there is a time and place for everything, and that includes re-gifting, so if you're considering delving into this form of recycling, here are some rules to live by...

1.  The gift must fit the taste of the recipient.  Your brother and sister-in-law don't want a bright blue, foldable Chinese-themed waste paper basket when their house is decorated in a country theme.

Which leads to  rule number 2..

2.  The gift can't be hideous.  If it's hideous, throw it out.  Your niece may have loved Miss Piggy as a girl, but that does not mean she will appreciate a hand-lotion dispenser in the shape of a pig sitting upright and wearing an unbelievably large floppy-brimmed hat. Save her years of therapy, (or yourself years of being the butt of a secret Christmas laugh) by throwing items such as this one out before you are tempted to re-gift them.

3.  Make sure your re-gift will go undetected by the original gift giver.  If someone gives you a comforter set, for example, at a family gathering, don't regift it to another family member next Christmas.  It's just not cool.  And no, your postman probably doesn't want a comforter set.

4.  If you've complained about a gift, you've got to keep track of who listened to your complaints...  remember to cross that person off as a potential recipient next year...  "oh, so THIS is the obscenely fluffy bathrobe in the weird tie-dyed pattern that you talked about last year..."

5.  Be honest, when appropriate.  "Hey, Melinda, do you like Starbucks?" "Yeah!" "Do you want this 25.00 gift card?"  "Someone gave me this, and I don't like coffee." "Sure!" See, everyone is happy here.  Of course, this person didn't try to pass it off that he'd purchased this gift card just for me.

6.  Try to be timely.  No one wants a Cabbage Patch Doll or a Pet Rock, or a Rubik's Cube now, even if they are still in their original packaging... unless, maybe they are the stars of a show called American Pickers...

7.  Don't unwrap your gift and try it out before deciding that you don't like it and you want to regift it.  Although, if you try to pass off an unwrapped, grungy looking gift as a real present, you may be beyond hope.

8.  Known re-gifts can be funny, and part of Christmas tradition if done right.  For example, if someone gets a very pointy Santa statue one Christmas and everyone else is envious and wants their OWN pointy Santa, you could start a tradition of re-gifting Pointy Santa every year - he can be something like the Stanley-Cup of Christmas.  

9. Don't give someone a re-gift that is just a sad reminder of a larger gift you got yourself.  For example, let's say you are a fan of expensive designer bags, like Dooney and Bourke, and you like to buy them from QVC, where they occasionally come with matching key-fobs.  And if you get yourself one of these nice handbag and keyfob combos, don't then re-gift your tiny little keyfob onto your poor secretary, who may have gone so far as to purchase all the items for your annual Christmas party, for which you got all the compliments.  Your secretary might not even give a rat's ass about Dooney and Bourke key fobs.  She will most likely open the key fob and think, "What the...?"
Just hypothetically, of course.

10.  And finally, if you are the recipient of a thoughtless re-gift, you can always rewrap it and give it back to the original sender next year.

Happy Holiday Shopping!  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fabric Ocean - Construction (for The Little Mermaid)

 As you may remember from an earlier post of mine, I thought we'd do fabric waves for The Ocean, which makes an appearance a few times in the play.  I showed this drawing to the director...

...but she wasn't really buying it.  I was bummed out about this, since she kept talking about wooden cut-out waves, and I thought my fabric waves would be so much better.  Finally, one night when I was at home I decided to make a miniature version of my fabric waves.  I scrounged up some blue fabric and cut it into long strips.  I cut a piece of cardboard into shorter strips and attached the long fabric strips with my scrapbooking ATG 700 gun (crafters, you seriously have to get one of these if you don't already have one).  

When I brought in my sample the next day, she loved it.  "Ohhhh..... That's what you mean.  Oh yeah, I think that will work!  that will be really nice!"  I'd post a picture of the sample I showed her except I can't find it.  I may have left it at school.  Anyway, at that moment, it dawned on me that many people can't picture things unless they have some concrete prompts to help them in the visualization process.  I tucked that little tidbit away in my memory bank for when I tried to sell the other scenes...

So luckily, the director's husband, who is one of the two people doing construction for the play, CAN picture things.  The three of us had an informal meeting last Friday night, and I pitched all of my ideas to him, and he gets them.  We worked out a concrete plan for the waves.  Here it is:

We're going to have 4 groups of two kids making up the front wave.  These kids will be standing in the pit in front of the stage.  Each set of two kids will have one "wave" that measures 24" tall and 10' long. Each kid will be holding it by a handle, and they'll hold it pretty much at eye level.  The bottom of it will cover the edge of the floor and it will be just high enough to conceal the feet of the actors from the audience as they come on stage.  Any higher and audience members in the front rows won't be able to see kids further back on the stage.  

I purchased 6 yards of each of the fabrics I've shown above.  I'm cutting them all into strips about 2 to 4" wide and 10 feet long.   See below...

I cut it on the floor and weighed down the fabric with a couple of heavy items so the fabric didn't shift too much when I was cutting it.  Then I mixed the fabric in random mixes of colors (oh, the white-ish fabric you see in the top picture is extremely sheer, so I may add that on top of the other fabric later or use it somewhere else - it's too sheer to stand on it's own).   Here's my planned mixture of fabric strips...

Once the fabric is mounted on the wooden strips with the handles, the kids will be able to pull it taught across the stage.  They're going to walk back and forth, giving the impression of water moving.  It should be really cool.  

I'll post more pictures when it's fully assembled.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012


In honor of Thanksgiving, I’ve made a list of things that I’m thankful for, as well as things I'm learning.  It’s broader than the typical list because I wanted it to encompass absolutely everything.  Here is my list, in no particular order.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  


When I was younger, I took family for granted.  As I’ve gotten older, I’m learning that just because someone is technically related to you, doesn’t mean they want to have a relationship with you.  Many times, this really can’t be helped.  You’ve been thrown into the same family by destiny and the rest can’t be helped.  I’m learning to appreciate my family members with all of their flaws.  A grown-ups we create families of our own, and they are flawed, but dear as well.  Every one of us is human, after all.


I am learning that friendship is fluid.  On the journey of life, friends come together and drift apart.  Some friends drift into your life and then back out again, based on circumstance.  Other friendships stand the test of time, and most likely you will drift together and apart, like waves on the ocean.  It’s all ok; all these friendships are valuable, each in their own way.  I am thankful for them all.


Change is not my forte.  I am learning that no matter how I resist it, some things are going to change no matter what I do.  I can cry and resist and carry on, or I can let the wave of change take me away from what I knew, and drop me off in a new land.  I might not like it as much as the old land, but it is not my choice.  If I accept this, I can adapt to just about anything.  Like a tree in the wind, the more I am able to bend, the less likely I am to break.  


I am learning that positivity is a gift.  I work with someone who is, as I like to call him, a glass half empty.  I sarcastically joke with him that he just needs to look on the bright side.  He responds by calling me a Pollyanna.  I say that it’s all in the perspective.  He says, “but I’m a realist.”  I say that we are both looking at the same glass, with the same amount of water in it.  He calls the glass half empty, but I choose to call it half full.


Good health is another thing many of us take for granted. It needs constant nourishment to sustain itself, and I’m also learning that it’s interrelated with all of the above.  


Many of us Americans long for jobs we find fulfilling.  We want to do, as Oprah says, “what we LOVE”  Well, no offense, Oprah, but I’ve learned that not everyone can LOVE what they do.  But we can find things to love about what we do, and we can appreciate the usefulness of it... and the freedom that employment give us.  For example, I appreciate that my job gives me a nice steady salary that allows me to pay my bills, interact with other people, and allows me the time to be a mom who can be there for her kids...  all important things that are not to be taken lightly. 


I’ve learned that not everyone has it.  Everyone can nurture it in themselves, but when it’s naturally present in abundance, it is a true gift.  While everyone doesn’t need it for a happy life, most people want it.  When you’ve got it, I think it’s your duty to use it to make people happy.  You should use it to make people smile, appreciate life, others, and what it means to be human.  Creativity should be used for good and not for evil; it’s a gift and a responsibility.  I’m learning to use my creativity more freely, share it more often, and appreciate it  every day.  


Experience is the secret weapon of age.  I appreciate it as only a person with some life experience can.  As we age and our bodies show their wear and tear, our experiences only become richer and more nuanced.  While our stories were short and sparse when we were younger, now they are long and interesting.  I am learning to keep my mouth shut when someone with less experience tells me something as if they know the Complete Answer - they need to arrive at their own more nuanced conclusions on their own, in their own time.    


“I don’t know if I believe in God, because I’ve seen no concrete evidence that there IS a God,” a friend once told me.  “Well, if you had evidence, then you couldn’t call it faith, then, could you?” I replied.  I don’t know the facts.  I don’t know who is correct and who is not, I only know that I believe.  It is logical to me, even though this logic is not based on traditional logic.  I believe because it seems right to me, I feel its rightness.  I don’t have any empirical evidence, I just know it, and my knowing says, how could it not be so?  I am thankful for my faith, but I am learning just because I don’t want to push my views on others, doesn’t mean that they do’t want to push their beliefs on me.  This is true of religious as well as secular beliefs.   Some people think they know better than the rest of us.  I’m learning to take a deep breath, and listen with an open mind.  I just hope they learn to do the same. 

This Moment

This moment is the only one we can live in.  I’ve heard some version of this phrase for my whole life, but over the years, it’s taken on more meaning for me.  (see Experience, above).  The past is done, and unchangeable.  The future is a question mark.  The only time we have is this time... right NOW.  In each and every one of my This Moments, I have choices.  I can make good choices or bad choices.  If I live each moment independently of the other moments, then I can make changes in an instant (see Adaptability, above).  If I take each moment separately and independently of every other moment, then I have before me, a wealth of possibility.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ursula's Lair - another scene from The Little Mermaid Jr.

Ursula's Lair is another scene from The Little Mermaid.  If you remember, Ursula is the sea witch, and her hide-out is a dark, sinister place depicted in purples, black and pinks.  It's where she looks into her crystal ball and bosses around her two henchmen, the electric eels, Flotsam and Jetsam.

At first I thought I'd make the lair out of the turned-around and seaweed draped columns from King Triton's castle, but the more I thought about that, the more problematic it seemed.  I'd have to really disguise the columns so they wouldn't look like columns, and it would take a lot of doing to get hanging seaweed (my disguise of choice) to look like it was floating UP instead of hanging DOWN.  Hence, plan B, shown above, which I think might be even better.  It's a whale skeleton.

I take the platform with the step shown in the Triton's Court scene, and add another step or two on the back.  This can attach with some swinging latches on each side of the platform.  (Don't know what you call them, but there is a peg like thing on one side, and a swirling hook on the other side that swivels around and then loops over the peg.)  Big whale bones would be attached to the back, taller platform, but the front platform (also used for Triton's throne) would have square peg-holes in the top that the bones would slip into.  I think I'd have to make the whale bones out of 3/4 inch plywood so it stands upright.  There would be a pair of bones on the step, and two pairs on the platform.  They'd have to bow out quite a bit toward the front part so that the audience can see what's going on in the back, but it would make a nice creepy look and best of all, it moves the action UP into that problematic vertical space.  Ursula could climb up and down the stairs to accentuate her points, and she'd be framed by those whale bones.  In front of the platform there could be a pointy crystal-ball holder and get this - if I can find a clear, plastic ball shaped item, WE CAN MAKE THE CRYSTAL BALL LIGHT UP with our battery operated light packs we bought last year - Whooo HOOOO!!  LOVE IT!   You know what else I love about this scene?  It's not much work for me, other than designing it.  The painting is relatively easy.   Moving right along...  

Update:  I heard a little earlier today that instead of a crystal ball for Ursula, we're going to do a bowl with a fan hidden inside blowing some billowy fabric up in the air...  which solves my problem of locating a plastic bowl to use as a crystal ball.  I might still even be able to use lights in the bottom, too.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Little Mermaid Jr. - sketch of King Triton's Court

This is my sketch the King Triton's Court Scene.  This scene appears 3 times in the play.  Ideally, this is the layout I'd like to use, but as I'm sitting here sketching my ideal scene, I'm realizing that this stuff has to move on and off the stage VERY QUICKLY, because it changes in a matter of minutes between when the curtain closes one one scene and opens on another - yikes!

Some scenes will take place in front of the closed curtain, which is handy for me because there will be more time to move things behind the curtains - other transitions - we might need 20 very organized kids moving things on and off the stage to get things done.  At any rate, here's my plan for this scene:

The centerpiece of King Triton's Court is his throne.  I had originally sketched this out with the throne made of round cardboard cement forms with a cut-out piece of plywood for the back and for the seat as well.  When we went down into the prop room on Friday, we found a tall-backed wicker chair that the director wants me to turn into the throne.  So that means that I have to cover the wicker back and seat of the chair with fabric and shape it so that it looks like an open clam shell.  Maybe we'll use some of those cardboard tubes to cover the bottom of the chair, but I just don't know.  This whole chair will be sitting on top of the one step platform we used in last year's play - the one that I painted to look like bricks.  the advantage to that is that it is large enough, and it already has an appropriate step so that Triton can climb up easily to sit on his throne.  My plan is to cover the sides of the platform with some shaped wire and then spray foam so that it looks like the throne is sitting on a very regal pile of rocks.

The controversial parts here are the columns - I was aiming for something that fills the vertical space on stage.  It's not that easy to do, since although we have a pole hanging up and fly space above, the pole doesn't move.  My plan here calls for 4 (we can certainly cut it down to 2, but doesn't 4 look regal?) columns that are about 10 feet tall and approximately 2 feet wide.  They'd have triangular legs, kind of like chalkboards do, with wheels on the bottom.  We could cover up the legs with round pieces like columns would have - I tried to show it in the picture.

The top of each column would be graced with a nice mermaid cut-out.  I'm going to take a picture from the internet, copy it onto a clear sheet, and blow it up to the appropriate size using an overhead projector, and then trace it into some foam core.  Each one could be mounted on each column using  velcro, so they can be removed and the columns can be swiveled around to the back side for another scene.

I planned on using the columns to hold long pieces of kelp seaweed in another scene.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Little Mermaid Jr. - Sketch for The Ocean Surface

Of course, I should be doing 50 other things right now, particularly coming up with a craft project for Girl Scouts, which is tomorrow night, so that means I had to quickly sketch out this drawing of scene 1 from The Little Mermaid Jr. It's "The Ocean Surface."

The majority of the waves are made up of ribbons or strips of fabric stretching horizontally across the stage and held by stage crew kids on stage left and stage right.  There are kids holding one strip behind the main curtain, and another pair of kids holding a second set of wave strips behind the mid-curtain (is that called a traveler?  I think it might be...)

Kids can also stand in the "pit" in the front and hold wooden waves on sticks.  There is a glittery sun hanging at the ocean surface on the back curtain - we can leave fishing line strips with loops at the end, and there can be hooks on the back of the sun for easy attachment and removal.  OR, we can get the lighting guy to make us a setting sun of light - or we can do both.

Finally, if we are WAY ahead of schedule and full of ambition, we (notice I said we?) can make a flat ship on wheels that another stage crew pair can pull across the stage - yahoo!

Ariel can dance in between the waves and look like an expert swimmer - all without filling the stage with water.

Triton's Court next...

... and now back to chores...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

No electricity? No Problem!

As everyone not living under rock knows,  Hurricane Sandy made its way up the East Coast just about a week ago.  Not living in a flood zone and barring an ancient tree falling in an inopportune direction and hitting my house, hurricanes don't particularly worry me, after all, I'm not afraid of a little power outage...

So Monday afternoon, I was sitting here at my computer, uploading some photos and making a mental list of a few more things I wanted to do before the "real" storm hit.  The worst of it was supposed to hit my area between 5 and 11 p.m. I wanted to do another load or two of laundry, empty the dishwasher (which was running at that time) and fill up some empty containers with drinking water.  We have well water, so when the electric goes out, the water you have in the tank in your basement is it.  A few toilet bowl flushes will kill a full tank.  The wind was blowing the trees around, but it didn't seem like anything serious yet, and then that ominous HUMMMmmmmmmmm and suddenly...

Complete quiet.

It was 1:50 p.m.  Oh crap.  

So now we go into damage control mode.  No one opens the fridge without forethought and a concise plan as to exactly what is needed, where it is located, and a plan to get it out of there and get the door closed in less than 10 seconds.  No one runs the water at more than a trickle, and most importantly, NO ONE flushes the toilet.  Any flushing happens with a large pitcher of water filled from the rain barrel in the yard (thoughtfully filled by my husband BEFORE the power went out) and poured directly into the center of the toilet bowl... we don't care if you have to hold your nose while doing it.

While I am reviewing the procedures in my head, getting ready to impart them to my kids via the time-honored Lecture Method, my husband thoughtfully wanders through the house and into the bathroom, and in no time at all I hear him flushing the bowl...

"NO!"  I yell, "You flushed the bowl!"

"It was an ACCIDENT!" he yells back.  He stalks off to the refrigerator, and opens it, staring at what I can only assume is nothing, while he contemplates the cold air that rushes out and across his face and body.  I summon all my strength to keep my mouth clamped shut.  Ah... stress!  The silent killer.

This was quite different from the last "big deal" hurricane I remember - Hurricane Gloria.

In front of  my parents' house Sept 27, 1985 - Hurricane Gloria

Way, way back in 1985, I don't remember much of the lead-up to the hurricane.  I just remember that there were extra people in our house (they lived near the shore and had to evacuate), and I remember my dad running outside to shovel trenches in the front yard so the water wouldn't go to close to the house (Was he kidding?  No, he was not!).  The eye of the storm was a weird, greenish, odd quiet when you were waiting for the other shoe to drop.   Oh, and one more thing.  I remember the nine days without electricity.  Yes, that's right, nine days. But no problem.  We could handle such set-backs.  We had grown up learning to perfect the "minimal flush method", taking "showers" with just one teapot of hot water to mix with the cold (a handy skill) and eating food in order of what might go bad first.

Back in 1985, when our electric went out, we knew it wouldn't be turned on for a while.  When it did come back on, I had already scoped out alternative showering locations and everyone else in the world had long since put Hurricane Gloria behind them.  Nine days, I tell you.  We had well water and no generator.  Bottled water was for drinking and cooking ONLY.  By the end of nine days we had drained a noticeable amount of water from our above-ground pool.

Surviving was not the most difficult of skills, however.  Refraining from killing each other - now THAT can be difficult.  When I watched my all time favorite PBS mini series, Frontier House, I remember in the wrap-up, the evaluators stated which of the families might make it through the winter.  They did not discount the hazards of "cabin fever" - being cooped up in a small space with the same people for days on end with not much to do.

As for us, we got a lot of sleep this past week... about eleven or twelve hours a night.   I have to say, I haven't had this much sleep since before I became a parent 13 years ago.   When it's dark, there are not a whole lot of family entertainment options.  Scrabble is one.  Cards might be another one, if my son had not recently gone through a phase of learning to flick cards with deadly speed and accuracy (ala, Mythbusters) and in the process, lost 3/4 of the deck of cards to the dog, who hunts down misdirected cards with deadly efficiency, and chews them to a fine pulp before you can spit out the words, "ZOEY, NO!!!"  So for us, a game of cards was out.  Sleep was our other option.

It's an odd thing when you can go weeks at a time feeling like you have no time to blow your damn nose, and then suddenly you're confronted with a solid week with nothing to do.  Nothing at all except wait for time to pass.  We did have some fun moments, however.  We made shadow puppets. We talked in funny accents.  We visited with some friends and some family members.  We joked about how hooked we were on modern conveniences (how many times did YOU walk into that darkened room and automatically turn on the light switch, even though you had no electric?)

Yesterday, when the electric came on, my son and I opened a bedroom window upstairs and yelled, "YAY!!  THANK YOU!" to the LIPA man.   Our next door neighbor laughed.  So long, pioneer life.

Now, if only I can fill up my car with gas...