October 31, 2012

Veggie Tray Characters

Flush with success from my Elmo veggie tray experiment, I decided to try some different designs for my boys' class Halloween parties today. I probably should have looked at reference images and not just winged it, because now that I compare what I was going for to what I actually ended up with, this is starting to look more like one of those Cake Wrecks wedding posts (except that I'm not a professional, and nobody paid me or hired me to do these, thank goodness).

What I tried to make:

What I actually made:

What I tried to make:

What I actually made:

October 30, 2012

How I Think

graphic by Susanna King
An email from company HQ suggested that everyone in my division consider getting the Insurance Industry Generalist Certification. It's not mandatory but the higher ups suggest it would be useful. I took a look at what that training involved, and I saw that while it would be useful to have that certification on my resume, doing the required training to get it would be rather tedious.

Then I thought to myself, I could make it less tedious. I could imagine that the rules of insurance are the laws of a strange kingdom (call it "Seguridad"), and I must understand and master these arcane laws in order to win my freedom from the evil queen who has enslaved me. I could even write down the story of my quest (in my copious free time?).

And then I thought, if I have to do that in order to learn these things, should I really be trying to learn them at all? The problem is, I have used this strategy for so many years to stave off boredom that I've worn a pathway in my mind. At my age, I don't think I can erase my proclivity to turn everything into a story. I can only let my imagination have its way, refuse to write it down and try to carry on and be productive.

October 28, 2012

Halloween Wreath

I was inspired by this wreath I saw on Pinterest and decided to make my own.

But after hot-gluing the plastic snakes on the grapevine wreath, I thought it actually looked pretty good unpainted. Then my husband had the idea of gluing on all the cicada skins my boys had collected. I really like the end result. It's a little creepy from far away, really creepy up close when you notice the cicadas.

Like the original blogger who posted the top picture, I also had trouble finding large plastic snakes. I was able to find small ones at Dollar Tree, and I finally found the large ones at Wal-Mart in the toy section. The wreath and the spray paint that's supposed to adhere to plastic (which I didn't use) are from Hobby Lobby.

I bought five snakes, but only ended up using three because my boys wanted to play with the other two, and I didn't have the heart to take them away.

October 26, 2012

Song: Straight Ticket Voter

This year, with South Carolina's elections being so messed up, with so many write-in and petition candidates, it's especially important to think about who you're voting for. If you vote a straight ticket, you may be giving up your chance to vote for some offices, as well as voting for some real lemons.

Here's a little song I wrote about straight-ticket voters:

Here are the lyrics, in case you can't hear them very well over the twangy mandolin.

Straight Ticket Voter

I'm a straight ticket voter, 
Don't want to think it over
'Cause I believe the party line right to my core
I just push that button 
And I don't worry 'bout nothin'
'Cause I know our crooks and liars are better than yours

Well this candidate is shifty 
And he isn't very thrifty
He drove his daddy's business straight into the ground
His nanny is illegal
And he shot his neighbor's beagle
But he's one more vote for our side, so let's keep him around


Well this candidate ain't stellar
But she's written a best-seller
Her list of wealthy donors is half a mile long
To the party she is loyal
Though she has some friends in oil
But the ethics charge against her really isn't very strong


Yes, I know our crooks and liars are better than yours

October 22, 2012

The Irony of InnoMobility

In South Carolina, "transportation" means cars. "Public transportation" means government-run buses and vans for people who are too poor to have cars. "Transportation infrastructure" means roads for cars to drive on. Sidewalks are a genteel amenity, and walking and cycling are recreation, not means of getting from one place to another. Trains are those things that carry shipping containers to and from the port in Charleston and tie up traffic in Columbia.

State funding for transportation infrastructure comes from the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank. Theoretically, they have a list of funding priorities created by experts at the SCDOT and they dole out funds accordingly. In practice, the SCTIB board funds projects in the districts of the legislators who appointed them, regardless of what's actually needed. FITSnews has a good example of this cronyism in Senator Harvey Peeler's summary of the I-526 debacle.
Last week I wrote to you about the horrible system of highway funding in this state, and how our state continues to funnel funding away from the areas that actually need it. The prime example of that was what recently went on down in Charleston with the I-526 extension – where the State Infrastructure Bank promised money above our borrowing capacity to pay for road a lot of people in the area didn’t even want.

Into this morass, we welcome InnoMobility 2012, an international conference for "industry, academia, entrepreneurs, and investors who are interested in exploring partnerships to develop emerging business opportunities from the global transformation of mobility." [1] Why, one might rightly wonder, is a conference about cutting-edge transportation being held in South Carolina, of all places? According to the conference web site,
The southeast region is an epicenter of a large, transforming global mobility industry with an innovative ecosystem of forward thinking mobility companies and academic centers.
On this morning's South Carolina Business Review, John Warner listed some of these companies and academic centers: BMW, Michelin, Clemson. Granted, they are car-centric, but change has to start somewhere. At the very least, we do possess the knowledge and expertise to drag our state's transportation network into the 21st century. But do we have the will? I doubt it. We can't even figure out how to actually fund the road projects we mean to, or how to run buses in our state capital.

So on November 7, InnoMobility will come and show off exciting creations that could change the way people and goods get around, innovations that could change our way of life for the better. Meanwhile, on the same day, the people of South Carolina will be voting to maintain the status quo. And then on November 8, everyone will pack up and go home, and nothing will have changed. 

October 19, 2012

Margin Doodles No. 34

More doodles from my freshman Latin notebook. I'm getting a little tired of wallowing in the 80's, so I'm being a little more selective about what I scan. Only a couple more pages' worth before I reach the end of the notebook.

I included this as an example of the side ponytails
I drew on a lot of my doodle girls. Dig the scrunchie.

October 17, 2012

A Moderate Pinner Is a Popular Pinner

Just because you created a new Pinboard doesn't mean you have to fill it up right away. Because although you may feel a sense of satisfaction upon seeing your brand-new board filled with pins, your followers will log on to Pinterest to find their pinstreams clogged with 100 images from the same damn jewelry site, or 50+ uncredited scenic landscape photos from tumblr. For example.

Think of your followers, and remember that they follow people other than you. People whom they actually know and like and who are more selective about what they pin. Those who pin with careless abandon may find themselves losing followers, namely, me.

October 15, 2012

Living in the Future

Today while driving home, my 3-year-old son was chatting about the moon. He has quite an imagination. He said that there were robots on the moon.

I replied, "There aren't any robots on the moon. The robots are on Mars."

It was a perfectly factual statement, but the true impact of what I had said hit me in that moment. We are living in the future. We are living in a time of human history when there really are robots on Mars, robots that we built and sent there.

It's a good time to be alive.

Artist's rendering of one of NASA's Mars Rover robotic vehicles

October 13, 2012

Slashdot Chai

Years ago while browsing Slashdot, I came across a recipe for chai in one of the comments. I'd never tried chai before (this was before Starbucks had infiltrated South Carolina), so I copied down the recipe and made it.

The recipe was imprecise, using measurements like "2/3 of a latte mug" instead of cups or milliliters. But the resulting chai was rich, spicy, and delicious. I adjusted the recipe to make it a touch less sweet and more tea-y and to have more familiar measurements, and now it is my favorite cold-weather beverage. Every other chai I've had since has paled in comparison.

I've also had good luck using Splenda, skim milk, and decaf tea with this recipe. It's very forgiving, so adjust it according to your tastes!

Slashdot Chai

3 c. water
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
4 green cardamom pods
black pepper to taste
1/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. milk
3 black tea bags (or 1 tbsp. loose tea)

Pour water into a small sauce pan. Add spices and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat, covered, for 10 minutes. Add sugar and milk, stir well, and return to a near-boil. Turn off heat. Now add black tea, cover, and steep for about 7 minutes. Strain and enjoy. Makes 4 cups (about 3 servings).

Tip: The original recipe said "strain into your latte mugs," but I like to
use a giant measuring bowl with a spout for straining the whole pot at
once. Unless you have a saucepan you can easily pour out of, this step
can get a little messy!

October 12, 2012

Margin Doodles No. 33

Really, the 80's weren't all that different from today. Another doodle from my freshman Latin notebook:

October 10, 2012

Who I'm Really Afraid Of

Ever since I started making my desktop picture Photoshop collages, I've done something a little bit different with the October collages. Instead of selecting random images based on a word or phrase, I create the October collage to represent a scary person.

Jack Valenti Summoning Cthulhu, October 2002
Karl Rove: Puppetmaster, October 2003

This year, I've had a hard time coming up with a subject for my October collage. It's not that there aren't plenty of scary people in the world. But I haven't been able to think of anyone who truly scares me the same way past collage subjects did. I began to wonder why this was so.

One thing I noticed, looking back at past collages, was that none of these people scare me anymore. Heck, I couldn't even remember Jack Valenti's name until I looked up the blurb on my web site archive. It's like all my past monsters have been, not slain, but diminished. They've lost their power to inspire fear.

Tower of the Neocons, October 2004
Jim DeMint's House of Horrors, October 2005

Finally, I realized something: at the time I made each of these collages, I felt that their subjects' power was underestimated. What made these people scary to me was not just their ideas or their agendas, but the fact that they were power-hungry and almost no one seemed concerned about checking that power.

The World According to Glen Beck, October 2010
(Yes, I'm aware there's a significant gap in my ouvre.)

Since I made each of these collages, the people in them have all either been fired, retired, or acknowledged as a threat (sometimes all three). Nobody underestimates their ability to manipulate or their lust for power anymore.

And that's why I'm having trouble thinking of a subject for this year's October collage. Bashar al-Assad? He's a scary guy, but he's also got half the world trying to stop him. Texas Judge William Adams? Also scary, but also a known quantity. Plus, since this is about people I personally am afraid of, I do have to consider that a judge in a distant state has very little power to affect my life.

When it comes right down to it, there are only two people I can think of who really, honestly, scare me, and I don't know that either of them are a fit subject for a picture collage. The first is an unnamed North Carolina social worker who took a friend's child away; I don't have any way to get a picture of her to use for the collage. The second is a local businessperson who's running for political office, and I'm leery of vilifying someone I occasionally see around town (I live in a very small town), even though I know this wouldn't be the first time she's been portrayed negatively.

I'll keep trying to come up with a truly scary person to immortalize in pixels before the month is over. On the one hand, it's good not to be afraid. But on the other hand, it's bad for my art.

October 9, 2012

October 7, 2012

Mic Fright

I have no problem getting up in front of people and performing. I've been doing it since I was a five-year-old squeaking out "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on the violin. Two people or two thousand, friends or strangers, solo or in a group, it doesn't phase me. Want me to put on a pink wig and sing a song I composed myself in Spanish? Dance to "Baby Got Back" in front of the entire student body? Earnestly recite poetry or psalms or lead a group discussion? Been there, done that. Needless to say, I don't suffer from stage fright.

Put me in front of a microphone, in front of an audience, and I'm fine. But put me in front of the same microphone and hit the "record" button, and my nerves turn to water. I forget everything I've practiced, everything I know. All I can think is "No mistakes! No mistakes! This is permanent! Don't mess up!" Every tiny flub is magnified a thousand times: A slightly misplaced finger that would otherwise be smoothed over becomes an obvious wrong note; a tiny glitch in the rhythm becomes a stumble, and suddenly I'm hopelessly lost.

I don't know why I suffer from "mic fright." Maybe I haven't had as much practice recording myself as I have playing for others. Maybe I'm too much of a perfectionist. Maybe I just need to get really, really drunk before I try to record anything so I'm incapable of stressing out. I don't know.

What I do know is that I have 32 years' worth of songs I've written stored inside my head, and if I want my music to outlive me, I'd better start backing it up somewhere. That means recording my songs, whether I like it or not. I've tried to do it before, and was always able to find some excuse to stall. I couldn't record yet because I needed this piece of software or that piece of hardware. Well, basic sound recording is so brain-dead simple now that I have no more excuses.

I'm setting myself a goal of recording one song a week. They don't have to be in any particular order. They don't even have to sound good. They just have to get done. If this helps me to get over my mic fright, so much the better, but that's not the point. I need to push past what's holding me back and get my songs out in the wild, where they can be heard and sung and, with any luck, enjoyed.

October 6, 2012

Sailormoon Theme on the Mandolin

image from the Sailor Moon Wiki
Last time, I played the closing credits. But that's not the song everyone knows and loves, so here's the main Sailormoon theme song on the mandolin.

Sailormoon Theme Song (mp3)

This has been one of my warm-up songs for years. I play it almost every time I sit down to practice. Of course, as soon as I hit the "record" button in Garage Band, I turn into a complete butterfingers and forget all the notes. This was the third take, and I think it turned out well because I was so mad at the effing software for messing up the previous two takes that I almost forgot to be nervous.

October 5, 2012

Margin Doodles No. 32

Today's ancient doodle comes with a riddle. I liked to make up my own secret codes and word puzzles, and the phrase with the missing letters below is an example. Unfortunately, I can't remember what it was supposed to say.

Other than that, another perm makeover doodle, a declaration in Spanish that I am strange, several decorative monograms, and the oh-so-80's command to "Twip out!"

Update: I've decoded the message, and it's kind of embarrassing, scary, and hilarious all at the same time: GEORGE MICHAELS, PATRICK SWAYZE, AND LARRY (FROM THE NEW MONKEES) ARE FINE!
What did they all have in common? Blonde mullets.

October 4, 2012

Variety or Success

Variety or success: Pick one. As I near the middle of my life, I'm having to come to terms with a lot of the choices I've made. One that occasionally frustrates me is that my success is not commensurate with my potential. But when I think back on what I could have done differently, I realize that, faced with the option of single-minded pursuit or variety, I always chose variety.

I'm glad I had the opportunity to try cheerleading.
That's me on the far left.
One reason I chose to go to Sewanee was that they didn't require me to declare a major until my sophomore year. Looking back now, I do wish I had maybe majored in art, but at the time, I had studied so much art already, I was eager to try all the things I'd never tried before: film history, cheerleading, religious studies, Greek life. I was eventually forced to pare down my activities because there are only so many hours in a day, but I continued that eclectic approach to my studies for the rest of my time on the Mountain, taking electives in choreography and Japanese.

Making an ice cream cone out of feathers wasn't part of
the official curriculum at AIA. This was a project for a
creative club my friends & I started.
When I realized that I needed to go back to school to get a job in the field I was really interested in, I chose the Art Institute of Atlanta over the other available art schools mainly because their new Multimedia degree program let me take classes from several different disciplines: design, video, animation, and web/interactive. I did well enough there that I got a good internship, which turned into a good job. But once I was settled there, true success eluded me because, once again, I couldn't make myself focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else.

I could have taken off on my own to create a start-up, as some of my co-workers did, but that would have meant putting all my time and effort into that one thing. I wanted to keep playing in a band. I wanted to have a boyfriend, and get married. While I do regret some missed opportunities, I don't regret any of the things I did. I don't know that I could have made any other decision and been happy.

My career, such as it is, has been like crossing a stream by hopping from rock to rock. There's no particular goal in mind other than not falling in and drowning, so when one rock seems about to tumble away beneath me, I hop to the next closest one. I figure as long as I'm safely above water, I'm doing all right. And now that I'm carrying a family with me, jumping in and letting myself sink or swim isn't a viable option.

So I'm trying to find peace with the fact that I just don't possess the sort of single-minded drive required for true success. I am grateful for all the wonderful life experiences my pursuit of variety has given me. I need to remember that gratitude, and somehow translate it into happiness and contentment, because at this point in my life, I am who I am, and I don't expect I'm ever going to change.

October 1, 2012

Half-Mask with Glasses

I've decided to participate in BlogHer's NaBloPoMo for October. The theme is "Mask."

It's hard to wear a mask when you wear glasses. The glasses just get in the way. Because I've worn glasses since the age of four, I've either had to sacrifice the mask or the glasses each year for Halloween.

But when my husband and I went to a charity masquerade ball recently, I got an idea for how I could wear both. Here's my half-mask, with glasses.

I bought a cat mask at the Halloween store and added maribou around the ears and a jewel
on the nose to jazz it up a bit.
Then I cut the mask's elastic band, wrapped it tightly around my back-up pair of glasses, and
knotted it.
Voila! I have a mask, and I can still see! Also, no elastic to mess up my hair!