Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Do you suffer from yearbook COPD?

Those commercials that show people suffering from COPD with an elephant sitting on their chests reminds me of what it's like to advise a yearbook during the months of February and early March.

Unlike the sad math teachers that have the yearbook thrust upon them because they're the low men on the totem pole, I actually went to school for this.

Kind of.

Even advising a yearbook successfully is never something you can fully learn to do until you've been thrown into the middle of it, just like any part of teaching (regardless of how much you enjoy doing it).

Even more difficult, I have 13 and 14-year-olds working on it.

Yes. I work with middle school students, and they're in charge of producing the yearbook: writing stories, taking all the pictures and designing it.

The typical journalism adviser in high school works with sophomores, juniors and seniors, and they get to keep the same kids for those three years. The kids learn, build, and become the leaders by their senior year, taking over the yearbook and work to make it the best that it can be.

I get new kids every nine-to-ten weeks.

And we're putting together a 152-page book.

I repeat: I am trusting kids, who are barely teenagers, to work on a historical book that documents the events of a school year, and it costs over $20,000 to create.

I mean, parents pay for this thing. People are actually purchasing my students' homework.

No wonder I feel like I'm suffering from yearbook COPD. With two-and-a-half weeks left before the final deadline, there are moments when I feel like a giant yearbook is sitting on my chest. My lungs tighten, and I know my breathing won't get better until the final page has been submitted.

Then, I can breathe easy for another ten months.

Yearbook advisers are just like any professional journalist. We deal with deadlines, and for some reason, we see them approach us like waves in the ocean, and you know what, this journalist is going to approach those deadlines like I've got a surfboard in my hands.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Chariots of Maeve

Maeve is a pup that needs to run. With the help of my GoPro, it's fun to make her run in slow motion. These two can't get enough of the snow. Nigra will whine at us to let her out, but she doesn't need to go potty, instead, she wants to eat the snow. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

That one time I saw all but one of the Oscar-nominated films

There was this one time I actually saw all but one of the Best Picture nominees. I felt accomplished, like I was really being so artsy for once.

This was in 2003, back when only five movies were nominated. I would love to be a movie-freak and chase after all the best picture nominees today, but now that they're allowing 10 nominees a year, that's approximately $70 to $80 just to see those movies alone.

That amount isn't including all the movies I actually want to see in the theater.

These are the times I miss the $3 theater that existed in my city. Sure the movies were second-run, but if they had Oscar-buzz surrounding them, even if they didn't win, it wasn't an investment to go see them. It was a treat.

Then again, some Oscar-nominated films are so heavy, you could tie one of them around your ankle and drown.

Most of the Best Picture nominees this year are actually something I could see myself watching. I enjoyed that about this year's batch. They seem approachable. Some years, I look at the list of movies and realize they could've only been seen at art theaters in New York City and Los Angeles.

I just don't get much joy out of seeing all the movies, filling out a ballot, and sitting and watching to see whether I was right or not. I enjoy it a bit more than election nights, but not by much.

That's what happened back in 2003. A few of us got together, filled out our own ballots and anted up some cash -- the winner took home the pot. For the first time, ever, I saw all but one of the Best Picture nominees.

There was "Chicago" which won Best Picture. I think after it won, the show started touring for Broadway Across America because of its reclaimed fame, and sadly, they advertised it as "Chicago: Live."

Another nominee for Best Picture, which I knew wouldn't win because the first one didn't win and the third film wasn't out yet, was "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (the final installment won Best Picture the following year, which basically told me the trilogy won, since they're all, like, totally linked together).

The depressing movie of the nominees (minus "The Pianist" because that was the one I didn't see, and it took place during WWII) was "The Hours." It was the one where Nicole Kidman played Virginia Woolf (won best actress for it, too) and stuck some rocks in her dress to drown herself. That movie was filled to the brim with depression, and I think my draw to it was because I had survived my own bout of mild-depression the year before.

I actually own "The Hours." It is still in its plastic wrap. After 11 years, it will probably never be released from the plastic wrap. I just don't know if I can do people jumping out of windows and drowning themselves for fun.

"Gangs of New York" was the last Best Picture nominee I saw in the theater. I remember enjoying it, but looking back, it's not a movie I would probably go see today. That and Cameron Diaz actually played a serious role. Has she even been in any other Oscar-nominated films?

There were a few others I had seen that were nominated for various categories. So, while I watched the Oscars back in 2003, with my ballot filled out, I was the big winner that night. I couldn't tell you who I chose to win what, but what I do remember is that I won, not by guessing the major categories correctly, but because I was right on all the technical categories.

The only movie out of that bunch that has continued to hold any steam is "The Lord of the Rings."

It's probably because they re-release it every few years with even more footage not seen in the originals. It could also be because movies like "The Pianist" and "The Hours" don't have a geek fandom that came with the adaptation to J. R. R. Tolkien's beloved fantasy.

I mean, I think I remember seeing "Gangs of New York" in the $5 bin at Walmart.

Is that the fate "Birdman" is going to have, too?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Adventures in Plumbing: Episode 3

Clogs must read Agatha Christie. 

Sometimes a clog can be a "Who done it" mystery, and if you know you're visitors, you probably already know who gone done it. It's not as complicated as "And Then There Were None." 

I wish our problem was a "Who done it." Those mysteries can be solved with a plunger. 

Some people, a hanger...

Instead, this most recent plumbing mystery had layers. There were subplots. Luckily, this most recent volume ended and the plot line was wrapped up. There's more to come, but for now, we can rest assured that the protagonist is at bay. 

The latest story started with a conversation between our two toilets. It was like one toilet was telling the other secrets, and the other toilet would giggle. After we showered, after we used the toilet in the main bathroom, after we did laundry, the toilet in the small bathroom would giggle gurgle. 

One of the subplots is that our small bathroom has venting issues. The blue toilet and the sink are connected. The sink is acting as a vent for the toilet. As my father-in-law said, the toilet was "suspect." 

The second clue of this latest mystery was the smell. One day, the green smell of sewer gas began to waft into the house. Luckily, it came and went, but no one should smell pooh in their house. Nobody. 

So, my father-in-law came back to help figure out what the problem was this time. Saturday was spent investigating, and by the end of the day, I had purchased a new toilet. 

The next day, we figured the new toilet would go on and, hopefully, we could figure out whatever the problem was. We tore the blue toilet out of the floor, shined a light down into the pipe, and we saw standing water. 

There was a clog in the main line, something my father-in-law could not tackle. 

It was time to call a plumber. 

We left the toilet off for the time-being, and the plumber came with the big guns: an electric auger. He shoved it through and shoved it down, and after 30 minutes, we had flowing water through our main line again. Tree roots and who know what else (and for who knows how long it was building up) had stopped up our pipe.

Now, there's a new toilet in the bathroom, but we ripped out the old sink. Our outside clean-out needs to be redone, and, lucky us, we'll probably need our main line redone, too, at some point. 

So, yes, the mystery's been solved, but this story is long from being over. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Adventures in Plumbing: Episode 2

This past fall, our kitchen sink backed up. All life ceased to function for a week and a half, and after a ten hours between a Saturday and Sunday, my father-in-law realized what it could be -- the vent pipe that sits on the roof.

People at work were all, "Don't put coffee grounds down the sink."

Which, yes, I do sometimes, but only from my Keurig reusable cups, but I kept wanting to say, "Don't you tell me what I'm doing wrong!"

When I found out that it was the vent pipe, you know, on the roof, I wanted to go up in said peoples' faces and say, "Ha! See!"

But before the problem was figured out on the top of the house, we had to start under the house.

We started at the clean out. Perhaps something died in the pipe. Perhaps. Getting inside the clean out pipe was its own debacle. It's a cast iron pipe, and molten iron (or something) holds the plug in place. The plug was so old that everything about it was twisting, so the plug couldn't come out. So my father-in-law took a hammer and a screw driver and chiseled away the molten whatever-it-was.

I was super helpful. Once all that nonsense was pulled out of the clean out, I held a bucket.

No excess of water shot out, which was good, so we pulled out the auger and kept shoving it down the pipe. Nothing came out and we didn't hit anything of substance, no mystery tree roots or dead rodent the size of a cat.

The clean out was not the issue. We had to figure something else out.

It was time for Marco Polo. I shouted, "Marco!" and I kept waiting for the clog to respond -- nothing.

With that, Saturday was done.

Sunday found my father-in-law up on top of the roof. First, we pulled out the leaf blower. He stuck it into the vent pipe while I sat in the kitchen with the PVC pipes under the kitchen sink undone. He let 'er rip, and I felt wooshes of air shoot through the pipe. A pebble tumbled out, as well as some leafy dead bits, but I could feel the air.

So, what could it be?

We stuck the hose down the vent pipe and water came out into the bucket through the open drain.

The blockage, it turns out, was somewhere over there.  Some solidified mass the size of a possum was hidden within the piping stuck behind the walls of the house. There was no auger that was going to get to that unless we used witchcraft.

With a look in his eye, my father-in-law wasn't going to allow the clog to beat him. He had a plan, up his sleeve yet.

After a trip to Lowe's, we sealed up the kitchen sink drain. Up on the roof, my father-in-law sat with the balloon contraption he bought. It attached to the end of a hose, and he stuck that down the vent pipe. We let the water run, and once it hit the blockage, the balloon began to swell, sealing the vent up.

At this point, I was under the house, watching the clean out (which had a few freezer bags covering it so I could see) and lo and behold, narsty things shot out of the pipes and sailed away.

So, it wasn't the coffee grounds, OK?

But, that clog was nothing compared to what came this February.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Adventures in Plumbing: Episode 1

My dad calls owning a home "on the job training."

He is so right.

I now understand plumbing. It doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to be able to rip apart a sink and insert a new one -- well, that's probably not true. I probably could replace a sink now. I have helped install a toilet, and I have ripped out an old sink, so who says I couldn't install a new sink by myself.

I've had help, obviously, but with all that help, I've learned how the plumbing of my house seems to work. I know what venting is and why plumbing needs air. I understand how integral those two pipes sticking out of my roof are, and what happens when one gets clogged. I have been around sewer gas. I have had to call a professional plumber. I'm sure my adventures in plumbing aren't quite over yet, but I sure hope to get a break.

I'm no weekend warrior. I want to enjoy my weekends, not chase after house projects.

Our dubious plumbing has been under scrutiny ever since our small bathroom toilet decided to give us clogging issues. Luckily, with two bathrooms in our small house, we've never been without a toilet, but we finally tackled the small bathroom issue.

That's a story for another day. The first story that must be told, the prequel, if you will, deals with the kitchen sink.

The kitchen sink is vital for the survival in any house. I also don't own a dishwasher, so when the kitchen sink can't drain, I'm doing dishes elsewhere -- this past October, it was in the bathtub.

I would've celebrated it by taking selfies, but it felt degrading. I felt sub-human, hunched over the tub, using the waterpik to chisel food off the plates.

For over a week, we dealt with a slow drain. I poured Drain-o down the sink to see if that would alleviate the clog, but instead, the water, with added chemical mixture, came back up. To make matters worse, I didn't empty the left side of the kitchen sink, so we lost many kitchen utensils to poison.

The slow drain turned into a stopped drain. Instead clamoring over the toilet, I chose to do the dishes in the sink, but once I was done with the sudsy water, I would suck it out with a power plunger and dump the water down the tub.

I had to keep reminding myself that there were people subjected to far worse, and that this hiccup of a plumbing issue was no big deal. A week-and-a-half of annoying sink issues was nothing compared to having no plumbing or clean drinking water. I closed my eyes, took deep breaths, and counted to ten.

It took ten hours between two days to figure out the problem.

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Blog Post-A-Thon

Lent starts today, and although I'm not really giving anything up, I'm realizing that perhaps something I need more in my life is writing. Good writing. Bad writing. ALL of it.

This past November, I sat down nightly and wrote. By the end of the month, I had my second (third, technically, but my first novel is never going to see the light of day) novel written that I believe has some potential, whether I go after an agent or self-publish. In 30 days, I pounded out more than 50,000 words. It was stressful. It was creative. It was gratifying. By the end of each day, whether I liked what I had written, or not, I had created. All was good.

And then I hibernated through December and didn't type a word.

It's time to awaken the sleeping giant.


For the next 40 days (and hopefully longer), it's time to update my website with my musings. Sometimes, I wish I had a major focus like the Daddy Blogs, Mommy Blogs, Technology Blogs, Teacher Blogs, Designer Blogs, Recipe Blogs out there. Instead, my major niche is myself and the catastrophe I can be.

I think that's all I need.

So, let the giant be awakened!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Number Three

Nigra (on the left) changes the rules on us all the time. She writes her own, and then, when she tires of that routine, changes how the evening should commence.

Maeve (on the right) decides to follow along. Older sister knows best.

Nigra used to get goodies (treats, cookies, whatever you want to call them) once a night. It was usually around 7 p.m. or when we thought about it.

A long time ago, she decided to approach us and lick her lips, telling us when she was ready for her nightly goody.

At one point, she pulled out her scroll, reworked the amendment for her nightly goody, and decided it needed to happen right after her 5 p.m. meal and no later.

The way she makes sure she gets her way is by incessant whining. She will not rest, and nor will we, when she gets her way. Her resolve is admirable.

Later, after she tired of just getting one treat after dinner, she unrolled her personal Constitution and declared that not only will she receive one treat after dinner, she shall receive a second one later on in the evening.

This was petitioned by many lobbyists, which all looked very similar to Nigra, and by order of the whine, the bill was made into law. An Amendment was added to her Constitution.

We would be fools to veto.

Nigra needs to run for Congress. That 16 percent approval rating they face right now would change because Nigra is a girl who knows how to get things done.

We were purchasing bags of treats more frequently, and at this point Maeve was now a member of our family, so that's two treats a night for two puppies. It doesn't matter if you vote with your pocketbook or not, these girls needed their nightly double treats.

Then, Nigra began approaching us at around 9 p.m. with a determined look in her eyes, a lick on her lips, and a whine in her throat.

This girl wasn't settling for two treats a night. She worked hard each day protecting our house from the mailman and trying to train Maeve in her ways. It was time for a third, and this time there was an additional lobbyist on her side.

Nigra's whine, aided with Maeve's high-pitched bark, persuaded us to give them one treat right after they ate dinner at 5 p.m, another one around 7 p.m., and a third (and final) at 9 p.m.

When they approach us, we ask if they are ready for "number two" or we ask each other if they've had "number three." The other night, I made the number two with my fingers, and Maeve leapt off the couch in glee, ready for her next treat.

I don't remember teaching them those hand signals.

Lately, Nigra tries to get all three right after dinner. We tell her she needs to pace herself, and that three is all she will be getting. There have been pursuits for a fourth, but it seems like this Puppy Congress is trying vote itself a raise. We are having none of that. We are already doling out 42 treats a week.

Well, OK, not that many, because we have learned to break them in half, but it's not until you have Nigra as your Speaker of the House will you understand.

"Revival" by Stephen King

There are different types of Stephen King fans out there. I am of the fandom that enjoys any word that man puts down on the page (minus his baseball writings -- sports bore me).

After I read a novel, I log into the Amazon-owned Goodreads website to see how others felt about it. Obviously, I disregard any person that disagrees with my point of view and wish them ill. Those that feel the same way about the book, to those I say, "Totally, right?"  The haters must hate with me and the lovers must love with me.

I'm really opinionated about weird things. I won't stick my neck out there in the political world and tell you how I feel, but if I hate a commercial, you shall know, and you may even feel violated by my forceful opinion about it and tell me to stop over-reacting.

When I read the reviews of the haters that aren't supposed to hate, I get peeved at the people who complain about how King has lost his touch. That his "old stuff" is so much better. That he's just not scary anymore -- which makes me wonder...when was he ever scary? No offense to King, but as much as I love his writing, and it can be thrilling at times, it nary ever scares me.

Nightmares? Please. If I want nightmares, I watch Brian Williams at 6:30 p.m. on NBC.

Those people obviously missed "Lisey's Story" and "11/22/63." Those books are not scary, but lyrical and strange and tall glasses of literary water that quench. Go after those, my friends. Find them. Read them.

I don't scare easy, I suppose. I've been reading the horror genre for eons...so I must be immune to all of its nasties by now, which was the last 100 pages of "Revival." The website and the inside flap of King's latest yarn told me that it "spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion King has ever written."

WOAH, inside-flap writers. Woah. Don't EVER do that. Don't. Please never set up a book like that. I read that in trepidation, knowing that I shouldn't hold that close to my heart in lieu of being disappointed.

Let me tell you what"Revival" is: King at his most recent comfort level. I'm not saying that it was subpar, and the writing was just OK. It was well-written, a good read, and I could even see myself picking it up for a second go-round, but it visits some places King has been lately with some of his most recent stories the past decade.

It touches on the addiction that's featured in last year's "Doctor Sleep." It's dark, especially that bleak ending, and he was definitely down that road in his novella collection of "Full Dark, No Stars." The last 100-pages of strange that finally shows its face in "Duma Key." The ending is big-fun, similar to the crazy he wrote at the end of "Under the Dome."

What's new, at least, for me, was his ability to write about one character (Jamie Morton, main character) through five decades in just 403 pages. That pacing is what makes this one a quick read.

We are introduced to Jamie Morton as a small child, first meeting the new pastor of his country church Charles Jacobs. After reading the inside flap about Charles Jacobs, and how he's the yin to Morton's yang, I kept looking for the terrible in Morton. I wanted him to be evil from the very beginning.

"He's going to be an evil pastor!"

Because, thanks to the inside flap, that's what I was looking for.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Charles Jacobs, throughout the book, isn't evil, and I finally disregarded the flap -- whoever wrote that did King a huge disservice. Charles Jacobs' road to hell is paved with good intentions, intentions that Jamie Morton gets tied up in, and that's where their yin and yang unite.

Jacobs shows Morton his fascination with electricity, and uses that fascination to aid in his Bible-teachings and his sermons. Sure, it begins to wear on the kids and the church members, but Jacobs is true in his belief and his presence. He really is a good man. Its when he loses his wife and child, during the first decade of the book, when Jacobs falters and starts to lose his way.

We don't hear from Jacobs for a couple of decades, and so we travel with Morton as he grows up in his country town, learns to play guitar, falls in love for the first time, and then moves on from college to become a bass/guitar player in numerous bands.

As a musician, especially during the 80's and 90's, we learn that Morton struggles with addiction, and that's when Jacobs' life t-bones with Morton's. Ever after, their lives are forever threaded together. They both become obsessed with each other, and the rest of the novel showcases that obsession.

I got obsessed, too. Jacobs continues his studies and experiments with electricity, Morton begins to research him, and Morton's curiosity becomes the reader's curiosity, and we both want to find out what Jacobs has been up to with all his crazy electricity, and why it's so important to him.

In the beginning of the novel, King thanks authors for building his house: Shelley, Stroker, Lovecraft, among others. Margaret Atwood compares "Revival" to Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. Those influences show up in a big way at the end of the novel when Jacobs and Morton are in each others lives for one final time, and it all takes place in a palatial inn during a fervent lightning storm that is so Gothic.

It was like King was writing a thank you letter to those that came before him, while giving his current congregation a lesson in where he came from -- even if those current readers never visit the aforementioned authors.