Tuesday, May 31, 2005

How I Spent My Memorial Day Weekend

Well, it was supposed to be a 2-day project, but the entire effort stretched into Monday afternoon. I'll let the pictures tell most of the story....

Friday (3:00 - 5:00): Removed enormous hideous mirror, ugly cheapo light fixture, and various bathroom hardware, removed toilet tank, scored wallpaper, stripped wallpaper from one wall....

Saturday: 9:00AM - 5:00 PM: Stripped wallpaper (4 more hours.... I will never, ever use wallpaper and I can't imagine why anyone would ever decide to do so either...), removed medicine cabinet, applied 2 colors of paint to walls, blended, to form a faux finish base coat.

Sunday: 12:00PM - 6:00 PM: Ragged on a top coat of paint, in a watered down lighter shade, to complete the faux finish on the walls -- nice venetian plaster effect, I'd say. Installed light fixture. Reinstalled medicine cabinet. Hang nice new mirror. Installed all new towel racks, toilet paper holder, and outlet/switchplate covers. Replaced the toilet tank and turned on the water supply. Once the tank was full, noticed there was a leak, so I promptly overtightened the bolts, causing the bottom of the tank to shatter and and resulting in about 6 gallons of water flooding the bathroom floor. Obtain a new tank, install it, attempt to reconnect the water supply line. The supply line was an old-style flexible metal one that was integrated with the valve stem, and it promptly kinked and snapped, requiring me to replace the entire water supply valve. At this point I realize this ain't getting done today and that Monday is now shot. Decide it's time to quit for the day and drink a bunch of beer.

Monday (9:30 - 2:00): Spend an entire hour trying to find the main water supply valve for my house. Shut off the water, unhook the old supply valve, and head for Home Depot. Buy new valve and supply line, head back home, get halfway there before realizing that I forgot plumber's putty, turn around, buy putty, head home and install new valve. Happily, it goes smoothly and the toilet is back in working order. Crack open the box for the new faucet, read the instructions and realize that the $160 faucet from Delta doesn't include the $.39 worth of silicone I need to install the drain. So, back to Home Depot. Buy silicone, return, install the faucet, install the drain,install pulls on the vanity drawers. Hang hideous roman shade on the window and resolve to remove it as soon as we find something better.

And that's it for now. Next, we've got to get new towels, shower stuff, etc. and hopefully some small shutters fro the window (will look far better than the roman shade, I'm sure...). Here are the results:

Quite an improvement, if I do say so myself. Now I just need to sleep for a day or two, and I'll be ready to clean the paint drips off of the tiles...

Mood: Headachey, but proud
Now Playing: Happy Mondays, "Thrills n' Pills n' Bellyaches"

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Book Tag! Book Tag! Arrgh!

I've been Tagged by Karl! I'll be tagging some folks at the bottom -- five, I believe, according to the rules. If you're reading this, check to see if you've been tagged and do your part in perpetuating the meme...

1) What is the total number of books I've owned?

Hundreds of hardcovers, probably thousands of paperbacks, over the past 25 years. I don't keep them around, though -- my darling wife has cured me of my pack-rat ways, and now if it's not a beautiful hardcover book that I'm likely to re-read they go straight to friends, the local Half-Priced Books, or Goodwill.

2) What is the last book I bought?

"Mediated" by Thomas De Zengotita and "America (The Book)" by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show Folks. Bought them simulataneously on Amazon. "Mediated" is fascinating, but it's taking me forever to finish. "America" is a riot.

3) What is the last book I've read?

Working on "Mediated" right now, almost finished. But the last book I finished was "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas" by Tom Robbins. Fantastic, as is to be expected.

4) What are the 5 books that have meant a lot to me?

"The Chronicles of Narnia," by C. S. Lewis. I read and re-read this series at least 10 times when I was a kid, and one of my most wonderful expereinces as a parent so far has been reading them out loud with my daughter.

"The Crying of Lot 49," by Thomas Pynchon. I loved it when I read it, 17 years ago, in an Experimental Narratives in Lit. class, and it still resonates for me.

"The Prince of Tides," by Pat Conroy. Yes, it's melodrama, but it's beautifully written melodrama, and I've never forgiven Barbra Streisand for jettisoning the incredible, heartbreaking middle portion of the book (the story of how his brother died) so that she could give her manicure more screen time.

"Interview with the Vampire," by Anne Rice. I'm putting this one in to irritate Karl. Truthfully though, I thought this book was wonderful -- beautifully written prose that sounds like it was grown in a hot-house somewhere in the deep South. Rice has gotten exponentially worse with each subsequent release, but this one is a keeper.

"The Sandman," by Neil Gaiman. Had to bring some graphic novels in here, and if you're gonna pick one, this is the one to pick. Brilliant, thoughful, engrossing, and epic in scale. Wonderful.

Extra credit question: What book would you wish to buy next? Well, the next book I AM buying is "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince." Lately the book I WISH I could buy is an autobiography written by Kirsty MacColl, revealing how the boat accident that killed her 5 years ago was just a hoax and she's actually been working on yet another mindboggling brilliant CD all this time. Alas, this seems unlikely....

I'd like to Tag:

Sigh, pretty much everyone I read and who actually reads me has already been tagged by Karl or Ray! I'll go with ...
  • Richard (who never reads anyone else's stuff, and who will almost certainly not see this...)
  • Lisa (his fiancee, who actually *might* see this, and who will then tell Richard about it so he can respond and not seem like too much of a dick...)
  • Mike D.
  • Lisa Snellings (hope she's still reading me -- I ADORE her work!)
  • And a mystery lady, who has asked to not be linked from my site but who I trust will know who I mean and will go ahead and pick up the meme on her own...
  • I'm going to put a sixth here: Lee in AZ
Mood: Mellow
Now Playing: Various Artists, "Late Night Tales: The Flaming Lips"

Friday, May 20, 2005

Preparing for Summer / Funky Frontal Lobes

Yeah, yeah, I know: Wherethehellyabeen.

Just crazy busy is all. The past week or so has been an astonishingly busy blur, but largely devoid of anything particularly blog-worthy. My aunt and uncle from Connecticut flew in last Friday for a long weekend visit, so we had a little bar-be-que/drinking fest at our place to welcome them to town. Saturday was spent largely recovering from said drinking fest, having some brunch, then going to my son's final t-ball game of the season. Sunday was a trip for the entire family to Inner Space Caverns -- lots of fun, there. Then, lunch in Georgetown (awful) and dinner over at my brother's place (I made penne with a vodka cream sauce, topped with smoked salmon and chives -- delicious). Lots of wine was consumed and karaoke sung. Fun fun fun!

Then on Monday my in-laws arrived -- they're staying with up for most of this week, and will then be moving into a condo they have rented out on the lake for the next few months. This is going to be fantastic as a) they will be nearby, which means we have babysitters who LOVE to babysit our kids whenever and b) they are not staying with us. They've only been in the house for 4 days and my wife and her mom are at each other's throats. Same shit every time. Sigh. Tuesday was work work work followed by getting together with my aunt and uncle for their last night in town (yummy delicious ice cream, wine and conversation at mom's after).

Then Wednesday Christine and I had a follow-up meeting with a neurologist regarding our daughter's ADD/ADHD evaluation and testing.

Oh, we could talk about that I suppose. The last month or so has been very informative on that front.

Briefly, my daughter has been doing great in school, but has been showing lots of warning signs/red flags/what have you for potential ADD/ADHD behaviors and her teacher (who we adore) suggested that we might want to look into getting her evaluated before any of these issues become a real problem for her. So far, the main issue that's been caused is her inability to enter the accelerated/creative learning program they offer because they haven't been able to get her to sit still long enough to take the tests necessary for admission, so it hasn't really impacted her yet.

Anyhow, we had a meeting with a neurologist that was recommended to us by some very respected friends where we discussed Miranda and did the whole parental Q&A thing. The entire screening process is designed to identify a broad range of behavioral, psychological, and neurological issues that can fall under the ridiculously non-specific umbrella of ADD/ADHD, so the first step is to meet with the parents, get their view on things, examine family history, and so on.

Then, a week or so later I brought Miranda in for her testing. Pretty much a full-day affair, where they do all sorts of tests and interviews to evaluate motor skills, conceptual and cognitive function, IQ, and psychological and emotional state. It was quite an adventure for her, actually -- she had a lot of fun with the tests and enjoyed being the center of attention (obviously -- I mean, she is my daughter after all...) . I took her out for ,lunch to give her a break and then picked her up a few hours later. After that, she kept me company while I gave blood, which was an ... interesting ... experience for her. She was alternately intrigued, freaked out, bored, and grossed out by the entire process. But it was definitely something new and interesting for us to do together -- I figure it's good for her to see her parent's doing things that might not seem like fun, but that are for good reasons anyhow.

So, Wednesday Christine and I met with the neuro to follow-up and discuss the results of the testing. Long story short: While she has absolutely no sign whatsoever of any learning disabilities or emotional/psychological issues, the frontal lobe of Miranda's brain is wired a bit differently than the "typical" brain, and as a result she has some problems focusing when other stimulants compete for attention, with basic impulse control, with emotional control and with long-term information retrieval. The testing couldn't have been more precise in diagnosing this -- she hit every criteria for it.

The "problem" is fairly minor, however, especially because the testing also demonstrated that Miranda is exceptionally bright. Her IQ registered at about 120 (91st percentile), but the neuro said that that is actually lower than her "actual" IQ, since the problems she has with focus and paying attention interfered with some of the IQ testing procedures, causing her to leave some sections incomplete. So yeah, she's brilliant, which has prevented the attention deficit from affected her scholastic performance and development thus far -- she's at least 1-2 grade levels ahead in nearly every area for which she was tested.

Of course, the trouble is that in time, as the difficulty and amount of school work increases, she will almost certainly eventually hit a point where suddenly the attention problems become an issue, which is why it's good we got involved in this process early. Plus, this stuff can lead to some serious social issues for kids, especially for girls. Kids who have these problems tend to have trouble judging proper behavior in specific social situations, and it can really jam them up over time -- especially girls, apparently. Since girls, particularly in the early grades, tend strongly toward "social ruler" roles, other girls who don't play along, or who more precisely gets the rules "wrong" can really get ostracized. Not that I want my kids to be followers -- far from it -- but being independent is different from being forced to be an outsider. Take it from me: I know.

Which is what's been most interesting in all of this. As we've done the reading and research and spoken with the neuro, well, a lot of things have become much clearer. There's a very, very strong genetic corellation with this sort of neurological development, and, well, let's just say this apple didn't fall far from the tree. Christine and I both were just like this when we were kids -- oversensitive, easily frustrated, very bright but socially awkward and impulsive, odd kids. We both carry a lot of baggage as a result of this, because when we were kids they didn't call this ADD or work with parents to try to identify the issue and come up with ways to work around it -- they just said we were "dreamers" or "flighty" or "easily distracted" or "lazy" or "weird" and moved on.

But, more interesting though, we are just like this as adults. We've just learned some strategies to work around the problems our oddly wired little fore brains present. Keeping lists, multi-tasking, avoiding emotionally charged situations if they are not comfortable for us, forcing ourselves to think before saying something impulsively, etc. For example, anyone who knows me knows I'm a crier -- give me a good sad movie and I'm wiping furiously at my eyes at the end. I'm fine with this, because I'm lucky enough to not be uncomfortable socially and I don't particularly care what people I don't know think when they see some big 220 pound guy sniffling and wiping his eyes. But I also know that if I am going to be somewhere, around people I do know and respect, where emotional outbursts aren't OK (such as work, for example) I need to keep a certain emotional distance on what goes on around me or I won't be able to control myself or my emotions at all.

Coping strategies. That's all. And judging by our experience, our lives thus far, that's all it takes.

So, it's been interesting. Basically, we stacked the deck on this kid (and almost certainly on our son as well -- he's certainly showing some of the usual tell-tale signs as well and I have a strong feeling we'll be doing this whole process all over again in a year or so...) but we also know that she's super bright and that bright people find their way through these things. We both managed to do it, without much in the way of assistance or help (since 30 years ago this stuff was all just being figured out). Our kids will do just fine, and wuill probably do better than we did because at least we know what we're talking about and what to watch for.

As for medication, we're avoiding it if at all possible and will only consider it if things start looking bad school- or social-wise. But one of the things we learned form the neuro is that the meds actually address precisely the sort of issue that Miranda (and me, and Christine...) have, which is that they stimulate the frontal lobes of the brain and thereby enhance the patient's ability to focus and screen out distracting info for a brief period of time. One of the reasons these meds have gotten such a bad rep is that they were prescribed to every kid who had any sign of anything ADD/ADHD related. Our culture is so keep on the quick fix, the magic pill, so that's what we do. Still, we're going to avoid them if at all possible -- they are a Band Aid, not a solution.

So next is reading and study. We need to bone up on techniques to help Miranda learn how to keep her thinking and activities more ordered and structured so that the neurological issues don't interfere with her ability to learn and develop socially. So that'll be interesting.

Side note: Just a moment to brag. As we were going over Miranda's tests, we went through the emotional/psychological portion, which was essentially a series of "fill in the blank" type questions. One of them was "I feel safe when..." and Miranda finished the sentence "... my Daddy holds me in his arms."

OK, misty-eyed now. Damn funky frontal lobes.

Mood: Beat
Now Playing: Gorillaz, "Demon Days"

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Rejected "Love Is...." Comics.

I've already forgotten where I first stumbled across this link, so if I stole it from you feel free to yell at me or something.

On another note, I've become hopelessly addicted to the incredibly delicious gelato served at Gelato's (duh) here in Austin. I fear it shall be the end of me. Especially the dark chocolate flavor. And the strawberry cheesecake. And the mint chocolate chip. And the vanilla creme. And the cookies and cream.

You get the idea. Yeah, it's THAT good.

Mood: Satiated
Now Playing: Soundtrack, "Bend It Like Beckham"

Friday, May 06, 2005

Serenity: Post-Screening Follow-Up

Alright, so the Serenity advance screening was last night. Here’s my (spoiler-free) report.

First of all, the evening was a blast. As a testament to just how not a slobbering fan-boy I am, I actually thought meeting with my brother for beers and then showing up an hour before the screening would ensure me a place somewhere in the front half of the line. Silly silly me – having a life tends to blind one to the whole “monomaniacal fan” thing, I suppose. People were lining up as of 5:00PM for the 10:00 show, so when my brother and I arrived at 9:00 we were back in the last 50 or so folks with tickets to the sold-out screening. No biggie, though – I figured we’d just get crap seats and deal with it. Hardly the end of the world or anything.

So, anyhow, there was a camera crew there with a boom mike, just sort of doing crowd pics, walking up and down the line, etc. After hanging for about 45 minutes security gives everyone on line a good wanding to check for cameras and whatnot, and then the doors are open. We shuffle in, looking for whatever seats are still available. As luck would have it, the handicapped accessible row, about 4 rows back, is pretty much vacant, so we head there.

As we sit, I notice that the 6 or so seats immediately to my left have VIP tags on them. Hmmmm.

So anyway, they close the doors, some guy from Universal named Scott does a quick intro/thank you and then someone pounds on the emergency exit. He does the basic “Hmmm! Who could that be?” shtick and opens the door, and in walk Ron Glass and Nathan Fillion. Woot! Crowd goes nuts. Fillion is a very popular guy, and well, Ron Glass was on Barney Miller ;-).

So they introduce themselves to the crowd and then sit down 2 seats down from me. I get LOTS of dirty looks from the people who had been online since 5:00. See, having a life has lots more advantages than the basic getting kissed and laid bit.

So, the movie. In my opinion, what we saw last night varied from “very good” to “great,” with a couple of minor problems that will probably be worked out in edit and post-production.

This screening was in fact the first showing before any audience, including the actors, of a finalized work print. In other words it’s more or less what the movie will be, content-wise, but it still has a ways to go in the spit-and-polish category. I’d say that what we saw last night was in the 80-85% completed stage.

The screening started off with a brief intro/trailer of Whedon’s talking head, thanksing the fans and making some pithy comments about how the movie shouldn’t even exist because “failed TV show’s don’t get made into feature films” and that the entire movie happening “because of you, the fans” so, “if it’s good, tell lots of folks, and if you don’t like it, keep it to yourself because it’s all your fault.”

A lot of the early portions of the film looked pretty rough – clearly rushes that had been enlarged, color balance WAY off in some portions, and most of the early SFX shots looked iffy. It seemed almost as if the working order for the SFX team goes from the end of the film to the beginning, because the later scenes looked way more polished than the early ones. Go figure.

The soundtrack was incomplete – distractingly so at times, particularly during a couple of space-chase action sequences toward the end of the film where all you’ve to go on are CGI spaceships – and music cues -- and the film has some ways to go in the editing department before it hits a nice tight pace. This is particularly noticeable in the early scenes, which are necessarily exposition-heavy. Lots of backstory, and lots of forced/clunky dialogue-driven character sketches to attempt to make the uninitiated feel at home. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t work so much, but none of it was terrible. The opening sequence on the Serenity, in particular, I felt was fairly rough and pace-challenged as they go through the motions of introducing all 7 members of the crew. I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about, really – fixing this sort of stuff is what work prints are for, so I expect the opening will be significantly tighter come opening weekend.

“I expect the opening will be significantly tighter .” Heh. Yeah, I’m just gonna leave that there for y’all to play with.

After the bumpy intro section, the movie got far more solid. The story is terrific – no spoilers, don’t worry, but I will say that it is FAR darker than the series, with some developments that will certainly anger portions of the fanbase. Whatever – I think it worked, and I’m glad that Whedon didn’t create a candy-coated franchise vehicle.

So, the movie ended, and we had a nice hour or so of Q&A with Fillion and Glass. Being a fan function, the questions quickly degenerated from intelligent (impressions on the whole TV vs. movie process, character observations, impressions and experiences on the whole con/interaction with fans thing, etc.) to goofy (of the “were you upset that you didn’t get to kiss so-and-so?” variety) to downright pathetic (questions of the “on a scale of 1 to 10 how mad do you think Fox is for canceling the show?” variety which are always asked by people who are both overwhelmed by the presence of an adored actor and the desperate desire to talk directly at them, regardless of what they actually have to say). Afterward, we got some autographs and a keychain, chatted briefly with Fillion and Glass on my way out, mentioned I’d hopefully see them at Dragon*Con in September, and drove on home.

For those who are interested in such things, Fillion and Sean Maher both go shirtless at some point or other, but otherwise the film is essentially (and sadly ) skin-free.

This morning, my wife (who was dead to the world when I rolled in the door at 1:30 or so this morning) said “So, who did you say was there last night? Ron Glass and who else?”

“Nathan Fillion was there too, and he sat about 3 seats to my left.”

“Oh. You totally suck.”

Sigh. L’amour!

Mood: So... sleepy...
Now Playing: Beck, "Guero"