Monday, April 30, 2012

The right to whine

I have the most amazing support system known to man. My friends and family are so incredibly supportive. I am truly lucky and blessed to have them around all the time to pick me up, dust me off, and help me on my way when I need it.

There is a problem though in having such a fantastic support group in your life. It is impossible to just feel inadequate. I know that sounds like a really stupid thing to say. Who in their right mind wants to feel inadequate? Well I would venture to say no one actually wants to feel inadequate. It is more of the fact that sometimes you feel justifiably inadequate and all that positive support is just frustrating.

I am not perfect by any means. I am really good at a lot of stuff, and pretty ok at others, but somethings I am just not very good at. When I come up upon one of those things that I do not excel at, there is no option to feel bad about not being good at it, or to even vocalize it.

I can say "I am really not good at this" and will be shot down by three dozen voices extolling my virtues. This makes me feel like crap on a number of levels.

First of all, I wasn't looking for validation or pity when I made that statement. I said it out of honest frustration. I don't fish for compliments, and that is what it comes across as.

Second, I am allowed to not love everything I do. I know we are our own worst critics, but it is that self criticism that makes us strive to be better. Thinking I am less than perfect makes me work harder. It is a strange form of self  motivation, but it is the way I work.

Also, sometimes you just need to whine.
Years ago one of my friends developed a phrase she would have to use when people started to vent to her. She would ask if she was just listening or if she was supposed to be fixing things. It was a very good option to give people. Sometimes I don't want to be fixed. Sometimes I just want to whine and for you to let me feel validated in my whining.

So, no I am not great at everything, and that is alright. It is alright that I feel this way sometimes, and it is alright that my friends just let me feel that way. It is great that they will keep me in check if I actually get past the point of whining and to the land of true self deprecation.

I think that is all the whining I have to do about whining for today.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pants on the Ground

This morning as I was driving to work, I wasn't particularly paying attention to what was going on; Jumper by Third Eye Blind was blaring through the radio, I was mentally making a grocery list in my head, and was vaguely aware of what speed I was going since I have seen several speed traps on my commute route over the last few days. All in all a typical morning commute.

As I pulled up to my least favorite light, which is at the tollway and therefor takes forever, I did catch some movement over on the sidewalk that drew my attention. Slowly pacing about near the bus stop was a tall thin man. He wore a baseball cap that was turned sideways, or was perhaps one of those inexplicable caps where the brim is made sideways, a long baggy t-shirt with a random design on it, and jeans that were hanging around his mid thighs. As he loped about he had to hook two fingers into his waistband to keep his pants from completely falling off.

I couldn't help myself, I rolled my eyes. I have never found this to be an attractive or sensible style of dress. I could almost hear the husbeast in my head telling me how that particular style started in prisons as a way to show submission and that you were 'available' to the other prisoners. What would possess anyone to want to adopt this fashion in public?

I am sure that someone cooler than me, or that was hip and in the know, would have some sort of explanation for this trend that I feel was never appropriate and has certainly outlived its welcome. I am sure they would say it is cultural, or a music thing, or a kid thing, or something that could be considered valid in some circles. I am sure it would also make me feel old.

As I was pondering this at the red light that would never end, I looked back at this man as I attempted to figure out why he couldn't just wear a belt. This is when I realized something disturbing. This man was not a young man as I had thought when I first saw him. This man was at least 40.


Alright so I may not understand this fashion, but I am well aware that kids will be kids, and generations will wear what they wear. That being said, there is an age limit when the fashion of your youth is no longer appropriate for you to wear. Just because you wore it in high school doesn't mean you should wear it now. What in the world was he thinking?

Unless you are some sort of hip hop mogul, or are under the age of say 25, I do not think that wearing your pants hanging off your ass is appropriate any longer. Maybe this makes me old, or stuffy, or some other adjective that I am not ready to be called, but I don't care.

You are a grown ass man. Pull your pants up damn it!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sentimental Heart

As those of you who have been with me for a while know my grandmother passed away back in February. I at one point was very close to my grandmother, but for many reasons that I have touched on in the past, we were not close in the end. It in no way means I was not devastated when she finally passed on. As it turns out I am a very caring and sensitive person.

As such, I am also and incredibly sentimental person. I get this trait from my mother, and I personally think it is a fine trait to have. Sure I cry at sappy Hallmark commercials, but there are much worse things in the world than getting choked up over something that evokes an old memory or a strong emotion.

My mother has been working for the last few months with her sister on my grandmothers estate. I have to imagine the worst part of anyone that close to you dying is having to sift through their personal belongings. I can not imagine that I would be able to do it without being constantly in tears, because I am very sentimental.

My mother, being just like  me, I know is having a hard time of it. My Aunt is far less sentimental and thinks my mother is being ridiculous. I know my mother though. I know she looks at something as simple as the old sugar scoop and is overtaken by emotion. To my Aunt it is just a plastic scoop with a broken handle, but she is wrong it is so much more than that.

That sugar scoop represents so much more than that. It is a thousand batches of chocolate chip cookies for Christmas, and hundreds of batches of peanut brittle, and a million bowls of rice crispies for breakfast as we grew up. It represents the wonderful moments that we all shared in that kitchen together as a family. It is a trigger to all those wonderful memories.

Sure it is just a sugar scoop, and a good one at that, but it isn't what it is, it is what it represents. The same thing with old pictures. Sure you may not really remember the people or the events, but they are significant. If you simply toss them aside you are just throwing away memories. It is like you are throwing away a part of them.

Just because someone else doesn't understand a sentimental point of view doesn't make it wrong. If you want to keep an old napkin from a cocktail party because it was where you met your husband, that doesn't make you a hoarder, it makes you sentimental. And if when your mother passes away you want to keep the cocktail napkin that she had, there is nothing wrong with that either.

It isn't a bunch of crap. It is part of someones life. It is part of your life too.

It is a good thing to show your heart sometimes. Call me silly, call me a hoarder, call me what you like, it won't stop me from being this way. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Retail Therapy

Last Friday was not a bad day. It was in fact your average sort of Friday. For me it meant minimal work in the office, lunch out with a friend, and heading home a little early to get chores done before a long faire weekend. Among my Friday chores was a trip to the Super Target by the office for some groceries and stuff.

The stuff on my list was actually just a pair of bike shorts to wear under my bloomers at faire. It is fairly common practice to wear something like bike shorts under your bloomers to help prevent chaffing during the long hot faire day.

I have never actually done this. Usually liberal applications of baby powder and well fitting bloomers do me just fine. This year however I have found that my bloomers like to constantly make a constant progression south, and chaffing is more of a concern.

I easily found what I was looking for in the workout section, and soon found myself standing in front of the mirror in the dressing room. It was at this moment, as I stood looking horrified into the mirror that I realized several important things:

- Whoever designed bike shorts is evil, and only intended someone thin and fit to wear them.

- Bike shorts defy certain laws of clothing physics to create unnatural and unexplainable illusions about your body.

- I should never wear bike shorts, even if they will be underneath something an no one will ever see them.

I really was mortified at what I saw. Trust me when I say every flaw about the lower portion of my body was highlighted and exaggerated. There was stuff going on that I couldn't even explain. This was both distressing and confusing to me. I mean I wear yoga pants all the time, which arguably fit snugger than these shorts did, and they are in no way that unflattering.

More than anything though I found it really depressing and upsetting. I have a very fragile self esteem when it comes to my body image, and I have to actively fight off old mindsets about how I should or should not look. That being said I know when something is unflattering, and I can convince myself that just because one item makes me look hideous does not mean that I am not attractive.

So I did what any rational woman would do; I bought clothes that made me look pretty.

I headed out of the dressing room, made a quick circuit through the woman's clothing and found a couple of adorable cotton sun dresses to try on. Soon I was standing in front of the dressing room mirror smiling at myself as I looked positively adorable in an emerald green dress with a bow, and then a flirty little black dress whit some fun criss crossing across the bust.

I wore both of the dresses this weekend during after hours socializing and was met with nothing but positive feedback on how I looked. Everyone agreed that the dresses were adorable and I looked lovely.

Screw you bike shorts, I am beautiful no matter what you say.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Under the influence

This morning when I was making my daily blog rounds I happened across a post over at Losing Sanity that struck a real chord with me, body image in society. Now specifically Johanna was talking about her young daughter, which is something that is not familiar territory to me unless you count the fact that I was once upon a long ago an impressionable young girl. Still reading her post brought up all of my very strong feelings about being fat in our society.

Now I have talked in the past about, as Johanna called it, the dreaded three letter word. Fat. Fat is an ugly hateful damaging word, unless you are using it in that weird hip hop 90's form in which it means cool. I was never one of those people, so we will go with the former definition of the word.

I try very hard to not let that word have power over me. Yes I am fat. I am not as fat as I once was and will not be this fat in the future, but I am still fat for now. I can allow this to be damaging to me or I can not. I can allow it to be my defining feature or not. I prefer the not option.

I have other incredibly wonderful adjectives in my life. I am smart, I am beautiful,  I am talented, I am creative, I am inspirational, I am loved, and a hundred more positive words, all of which define me much more clearly than the word fat ever will.

This is all easy enough for me to say. Well no it is not easy, it took me until I was nearly 30 to say it and mean it, but where I am now  it is easy to say. I am a mature mostly rational adult. I can see past all the media bullshit and celebrity air brushing lies to that fact that my physical size doesn't mean squat about who I am as a person.

I can say that now. I damn sure couldn't have said that ten years ago. I especially couldn't have said it twenty years ago. Back then I can't even blame it on media influence causing my insecurities. I didn't watch popular television (other than cartoons) or listen to pop music. I never read magazines like Seventeen or Teen Vogue because I wasn't allowed to. I didn't even go to girlfriends houses and look at these types of materials until I was in my early teens, and I knew I was fat when I was at least 10.

I came upon the fact that fat was frowned upon before I had blatant media influence. I mean I am sure it was subliminally in what media I did see, but it wasn't so brow beating at the time. Sure I also had family influences. My mother was a serial dieter and my grandmother was constantly complaining about my weight. That had something to do with how my body image was developed. Ok it had a lot to do with it, but I have this nagging feeling that the fat talk didn't start until I was in middle school.

Even outside of my family, you get these sorts of messages from the time you are little, and slowly they build up. What is the first thing you say to a little girl when you see her? Normally it is "My don't you look pretty today." or some variation on that. You talk to little girls about being pretty and dressing up and things of that nature. Most people don't go up and talk to little girls about what they like to read, or about sports, or about anything that doesn't have to do with what they look like. This stresses at a young age that body image is important, even if the little girl doesn't realize it.

I am fairly certain though that my biggest influence was my peers. I am certain that they were not nearly as sheltered from the media as I was, and well they were always tinier than me. I towered over them in height until I was almost in high school, so my weight was always higher than theirs.

Let me tell you something, if you have never dealt with teenage and tween girls, you are lucky. Those girls are evil. I am convinced that when girls start to hit puberty they actually produce a hormone that makes them pure evil. They can smell fear and the one thing they hate more than anything is someone who doesn't conform to what they think is the norm.

I think what it comes down to is gross insecurities. If you were never a teenage girl, you might not be able to understand it, but I have some pretty good insight into that state of mind. Different is bad at that point in your life because all girls at that point feel awkward and ugly. The logic becomes that if everyone looks exactly the same then no one can point out that you are freakishly thin, tall, fat, have glasses, braces, acne, fuzzy hair, out of fashion clothes, big ears, brown eyes, red hair, chewed nails, big boobs, no boobs, no butt, really short, one nostril larger than the other, or any other one of a million flaws that you perceive to be a huge problem.

So it becomes easier to form a group that is identical and ostracize those who don't fit in, to cover your own insecurities about your perceived flaws. It is also easier to cling to an image that is well known through the media to immolate. If that woman is famous then she is 'normal' and therefore I should look like her.

Even if I don't know who these famous people are I should look like, I know almost instinctively that I should look like the people in my social group. If they look like a skinny super model, I should look like that to. Because I want to fit in. I have to fit in.

At least that is how most of society thinks, not just teenage girls. The influence never really goes away.

I suppose we can protect our daughters all we want. We can tell them that they are beautiful and smart and loved. We can tell them that they don't need to conform and that words like fat don't matter. We can love and support them, and we should do all of these things. Still there will be people who don't support their daughters like this, and girls that come under poor influence and will in turn influence our daughters.

It might not always be about being skinny or fat. Someday it might be about something equally as unimportant, but it will always be something. It always has been something. I am not certain there is anyway to not have it be something.

All we can do is keep supporting our daughters, our sons, our sisters and brothers, our friends, and even strangers. All we can do is try and change the influence they receive for a better one.

So remember the next time you say something, especially to a child, that you are an influence. Be a good one.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Money Pit

When we took the plunge and moved to Dallas I  assumed that when we got out on our own we would be in an apartment as usual. If we were really lucky we would rent a house. This just proves I shouldn't think so much.

The husbeast came to me after we had been living in a friends spare room for a couple of months and asked if we could buy a house. I am not sure if I laughed at him or not, but I probably wanted to. I told him no one in their right mind would ever give us a loan to buy a house. This sentiment did not deter him and he asked if he could get a loan if we could buy a house.

I was reluctant to take such a large step so soon. We weren't what you would call stable financially at this point. It seemed like a really big risk. He is very persuasive however, and soon I was on board with the plan. We were going to try and buy a house.

I honestly didn't think he had a chance in hell of getting a loan, so I wasn't really worried too much about it. This yet again teaches me not to think so much, and never ever underestimate the power of a determined husbeast. He managed to secure a loan in a matter of a month.

So we bought a house. I found it online, we secured a realtor we liked through a friends recommendation, and before we knew it we were home owners.

Now if you have never bought a house before, you may think this is all shiny new and exciting. You would be correct. It is also an experience to point out how incredibly stupid and unprepared you really are. The list of things we will do differently next time is long. Very, very, very long.

Everything was wonderful about the house for about the first 8 hours of owning it. When we showed up the day after signing the papers so we could start doing some demo on built in book cases and plan for painting to happen before we moved in the next week, we discovered our first major problem. The air conditioner had died sometime the night before.

This was a sign of things to come. The house had a home warranty on it and so we got someone out there ASAP since it was early July in Texas. Working on demo and painting without AC in the summer in Texas is stupid. The guy fixed it only because we were new owners and he couldn't blame us for the poor care the previous owners gave the unit.

That AC lasted about two years more before we had to replace it entirely. During those two years we had to have it repaired a dozen or so times. When time to replace it came the home warranty company refused to pay for it because they had failed to tell us a vital piece of information about maintenance and declared our warranty null.

A year later we had to have the heater replaced. The heater had never worked and it didn't really bother us. Unfortunately the AC people who replaced the AC unit for us told us that if we didn't replace the heater right away, when we got around to it we would have to replace the brand new AC again as well. Something about compatible inside and outside units, and new laws and regulations having been passed causing them to all but discontinue making the units we had installed not a year earlier.

Needless to say that entire fiasco cost us $10,000. Lesson learned on checking the condition of the heating and AC units in the house.

Also while all of this was happening we discovered some rather serious plumbing issues. The pipes were so old that they started to basically come apart. We had several plumbers out to our house to fix the kitchen sink, which remained unusable for 9 months. We then had to have a plumber out to fix the toilet, and in doing so he shook loose a pipe and from that  moment on the bathroom would flood the house if you used that shower.

It took us a few years to have that pipe fixed because it was super expensive and we were broke. In the end because they had to drill into our slab to get the broken pipe insurance paid for all of it. However in determining that the slab had to be drilled into the plumber first had to remove most of a wall in the bathroom and then the wall on the other side, which was our living room wall.

Now again insurance paid to replace my floors, and my walls, and the pipe itself, but this was still an expensive project that revealed some new problems. For example it showed that the studs are uneven in the living room. When we were replacing the drywall we found that we could not lay it evenly because of this. It was an issue that had always been hidden by the wood paneling that was on the wall previously. 

We also discovered that the previous owners had cut corners in flooring the house. Also wiring the house. That is enough to be a post in itself. In the end the price tag on the repairs were close to $20,000 and we are not done. There is still a hole in our bathroom wall that we have to pay to have repaired. At the time we were doing the work ourselves, and realized in the end we didn't have the know-how or give-a-damn to fix the hole and retile that shower.

The roof currently is in fairly desperate need of being replaced, and we have already filed an insurance claim on that. We are just having to work up the money to cover our deductible on that whole thing. Once the roof itself is fixed we can then file a claim on the damage to the inside of the house from the bad roof.

Most recently though our problems have again dropped into the plumbing arena. The master bath, which is the only functioning bath, has been having issues with us being able to turn the water off. It is pretty much a feat of strength to get the damn water to shut off. This morning I couldn't turn the water on either. I in the end had to have the husbeast both start the water for me and shut it off when I was done.

The husbeast thinks it is just bad washers, but I think with our luck it is much more complicated than that. There is a possibility it is the valve and we will have to cut off and replace the valve. I am not really certain we will be able to do this on our own.

I also am afraid this will put a hole in the bathroom wall, rendering this shower also unusable until the hole is repaired. For those of you keeping count at home that means two out of two showers in our house will be unusable. That makes things awkward since showering is sort of a necessity.

If my washing machine breaks I can go to a laundromat, but what do  you do if all of your showers stop working? This isn't really an easy problem to fix. Perhaps that is why I am dreaming about taking showers in the dressing rooms at Target.

So while I love our house, I hate it too. It has been nothing but one problem after another from day one. It has so many problems with it, that short of winning a small lottery I fear the house will never actually be fully functional. I fear that we will never be able to sell it and come out even because we will never be able to afford to fix it enough to have someone want to buy it for what we have into it.

Really though, right now what would make me happy is simple. I just want to be able to take a shower without assistance to turn the water on and off.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


If you can avoid having a sudden loss of income I highly recommend it. The husbeast has been employed since the beginning of February, and we are still feeling the strain of his three months of joblessness. I am not certain if we really got that far behind or if it is just the extra financial strain of doing faire, but it seems like our bank account is always just on the verge of being overdrawn.

I have always been in charge of paying bills in our home. If I let the husbeast do it, nothing would ever get paid. I discovered this while we were still in college and still maintaining separate apartments. The number of times the electricity and water were shut off at the boys house was just silly. It was sort of a no brainer for me to handle the finances once we merged households.

Still even after paying all the bills for so long I am not always very good at it. I have this really bad habit of paying things too early and then running out of money because of it. The bills get paid but sometimes the grocery budget suddenly gets very tight. I like to think though that I am getting better at it.

Over the last few months though, no matter how creative I got with bill paying there never seemed to be enough. I had trimmed the fat from the budget and was still looking at giant holes that meant something wasn't going to get paid. When we were in college it was always choosing between water or electricity, now it is choosing between being late on the mortgage or a car payment.

Thankfully though every time I was certain we were going to end up having a utility shut off or to live off of Ramen for a few weeks, we have received a financial boon from absolutely no where. There was a random escrow overage check from one of our mortgage companies, there was a random gift of money from my parents, and most recently a refund of maintenance fees on a checking account.

The money is never enough to put us ahead of the curve but it is enough to allow us to breath for another two weeks until we get paid again. Even if I think it is going to be that little bump to get us just ahead it turns out to be the miracle money that will pay off the speeding ticket that was forgotten about, or the portion of our taxes we had to pay right now, or to replace a tire that got impaled.

It really sort of makes me feel like I am in some sort of financial pinball machine. I am getting batted about like crazy, but I haven't lost yet. It is insane, and more than just a little stressful. This month should see the start of commission checks though, and then after next month we won't have the added expense of faire so that should help put us ahead a little as well.

We are also waiting on the unemployment insurance* to be activated on a few of our credit cards which should knock out the balance on those, and hopefully get us a reimbursement of everything paid to them since the insurance should have kicked in. If so that will be a nice little chunk of cash coming back our way. It will only go to paying something else off, but I will take every penny I get.

In the meantime all I can do is just hold on and hope I don't make anymore mistakes. I am really ready for this particular ride to be over.

* Seriously the biggest pain in the ass ever. They have 'not received' our paper work twice and then randomly asked for extra paper work that they really should have requested up front. Honestly the extra paperwork seems pointless since they already have the unemployment paperwork, I don't see why they need a letter from his previous employer as well. If I had known it was going to be this hard I wouldn't have taken out the insurance in the first place.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Yesterday was my kids 21st birthday. About a week or so ago she came to me and asked if I could arrange a dinner with some of our closest friends, apologizing that she waited so long to ask since she knew everyone is very busy this time of year. I told her not to worry that I would make it happen. Everyone on the list eagerly replied they would be attending. A menu was set and presents were bought, everything was ready to go.

She showed up an hour before the guests started arriving. She happily helped clear off the back deck of a winters worth of leaves while I prepped the vegetables for dinner. The husbeast went about marinating the steaks as she and I cleaned off the outdoor table and chairs. The weather was so nice we decided that dinner would be had outside.

Slowly people began to arrive. There were nine of us in total, so the house was soon full of the smells of cooking food and the laughter of good friends. The smile on my kids face could have lit Broadway, and it didn't stop all night.

The boys hauled the dining room table out onto the deck so we would have room to sprawl out as we ate. One of our friends is a sommelier, and he began pouring glasses of wine and passing it around to those who were partaking. The steaks were divine, a specialty of the husbeast, and the asparagus was grilled to perfection. Everything was just right.

I sat back after my plate was cleared and watched my friends chatting in the moonlight and enjoying their meals and eachothers company. There was an easy comfort that comes from truly close friends. Conversation easily flowed from one topic to another and laughter filled the warm spring night air.

Finally the june bugs got to us and we quickly headed inside. The entire house smelled like cherry cobbler, which was still baking in the oven. My mother taught me long ago to put the cobbler in just before you sit down to eat, and by the time you are ready for desert it will be ready.

Everyone settled in around the living room and the conversation began again. This time there were three or four conversations going at any one time, and people would pause to answer another conversation before returning to their own. It was an organized chaos that comes from people who know each other so well.

My best friend curled up beside me as we chatted. My kid laid on my other side allowing me to pet her hair the way she so likes. She mostly sat quietly watching and listening to the group. I could see her enjoying watching everyone enjoy each others company, knowing that they were there together because of her.

Finally we had to admit it was a school night, and one by one the guests began to head out for home. Kisses and hugs were exchanged, we told each other 'I love you', and affirmed that we would see them in a few days. At last it was just my kid curled up in my lap.

"Did you have a good birthday?" I asked as I ran my fingers through her hair.
"Perfect." she said with a sleep contented smile.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My momma always said

If you can't say something nice don't say anything at all. I really can't even tell you how many times I heard my mother say that when I was growing up. I am not certain that the phrase was specifically aimed at me or if it was being used to chastise someone elses hurtful words, but either way it was meant as a lesson to me on how people should behave. My mother would be proud to know that I took that lesson to heart.

I am not saying that I don't say hurtful or ugly things. That would be a lie and my mother hates liars, so lets just avoid going there. I am just as likely to say ugly things as the next person. I can think of several examples from last night alone.

I can say that I try and keep negative comments confined to situations that are most certainly  not public. If I am calling someone a vapid cow, typically it is not to their face. Of course that makes me sound like I talk about people behind there back, and that is not really me either. Sometimes though people frustrate you to the point that you have to say mean things about them, and I try and save those moments for when I am with my more trusted confidants.

What my mother would be proud of me for is the post I have deleted at least half a dozen times now. I have this thing that is ugly, mean, bitter, and hurtful that has been bubbling away at the core of me for a long time now. Years. Recent events have pulled up this long seated ugliness and made me so want to vent it to the world.

I mean I have a blog, why not let out all my feelings on it? I have this place as an outlet I should use it. The offending parties will most likely never read it, so where is the harm. I can tell the story in all its nasty details and get it off my chest. You all might even find the story interesting and sympathetic. I would suddenly have some validation in my anger.

I tried. I tried to write it several times. I told myself I had to tell it. I had to let it go. I have told the story and shared my feelings on it with many of my friends in person, but somehow that anger is still inside. I wanted the whole world to know about these personal injustices, this thing that haunts me so.

The thing is though, that once the words were down, I didn't want to publish them. They didn't make me feel any better. All they did was dredge up all these awful memories and feelings, and make me look like an angry bitter person. Painting others in such an ill flattering light didn't make me sympathetic, it made me petty and ugly. It wasn't right.

I am not sure what is right. I am not sure there is anyway to take away the anger and bitterness I feel about this thing. I am certain that even when I think I have pushed it all aside, someday it will rear its ugly head again. When it does I will deal with it as I have always dealt with it.

For now though I am going to let it lie. I am going to take the lesson my mother instilled in me, and I am not going to say anything mean or ugly. I am going to say a lot, just not about this one thing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

My everything hurts

If you read the title of today's post and thought to yourself "I have no idea what she means by her everything", then you have obviously never worked a Ren Faire*. I know you are probably thinking now that working a Ren Faire can't possibly be that physically demanding, and I totally get that thought. I am not really one of the more physically active among the cast. I don't do any stage combat, or dancing, or wrestling, or climbing trees and walls. That doesn't mean I don't do my fair share of pain inducing activities.

Lets do a small break down of what I wear for starters. I am in a corseted bodice all day long, which means that my ribs are squished in a most unnatural way for about ten hours a day. This also means that I have perfect posture while corseted which is something I do not have in my daily life. My shoulders are pulled back, my chest is out, and my back is straight. This posture also demands that my arms rest and move much differently than they normally would.

Then I have my skirts. Now I only wear one skirt being a gypsy where as most of the other women wear two skirts. My skirt is however a full circle skirt which means it has almost three times the fabric of most peasant skirts. I also used a number of heavier materials to make my skirt. When dry my skirt is heavy. When it rains, like it did Sunday, my skirt can absorb and hold enough water to weigh close to 60 pounds.

I have on a lot of other things, but the skirt and the bodice are the major contributors to physical pains come the end of the day. Carrying heavy clothing + unusual postures = sore.

I know you are probably still thinking that I am whining and it really couldn't have been all that bad. Allow me to continue to expound on my daily adventures at faire so you might understand my pain a little more.

I am in costume by 9:00 every morning, and I don't get out of costume until just after 7:00 in the evening. I stand for the majority of the day, because sitting is neither easy nor comfortable most of the time. Also sitting is not conducive to actually doing my job as a performer. Certainly there are opportunities to sit and have conversations with patrons, but the majority of my work happens walking around the lanes.

Now while I said I am not one of the more physical people on cast, I still am physical. Our grounds are 35 acres, and I cross the faire site at least a dozen times a day. One of these days I will wear a pedometer and see exactly how many steps I take in a day, but I promise you it is a very  high number. I also do a good deal of spinning, running, and jumping. When it rained on Sunday I spent the 45 minutes that the rain was coming down running from puddle to puddle jumping in every one of them. That is a lot of fun, but it is a lot of exertion.

I have bad knees and a bad back. I am pretty sure if I asked my doctor what activities he would not recommend, running in the rain and jumping in mud puddles would be on that list. I automatically over compensate for my injuries, which in the end causes me to over use muscles I wouldn't normally use.

Also I spend a lot of time getting down on the ground and then standing up again. Trust me, when you are wearing a corset and a very full floor length skirt, getting onto the ground and back up again is quite a process. Normally I can manage this on my own, but I have had more than one occasion where I needed to be hauled to my feet by another person. At least I am no longer a court lady, because it is easy to turn into a turtle when you try and lay down.

Finally I want you to consider the number of times a day I have to curtsy. I play a gypsy, who is the lowest of the low. I pretty much have to curtsy to every other character on cast. If you have never curtsied before you might not understand, but again you have to trust me on this. You have to bend both knees and keep your back straight and it puts a good deal of strain on your hips. If you have done ballet you will more understand the motion involved. A couple of curtsies is not a big deal, but after a few hundred your joits will scream in pain too.

So as I sit here I notice that both of my knees and hips hurt when I move them, my left shin and the fronts of my thighs throb when I walk. My ribs ache when I breath and my shoulders and neck are sore when I move my head in the slightest. The muscles in my upper left arm send sharp jolts of pain when I move it as my arms in general protest in pain as I go about the business of moving. My feet of course are making me particularly aware that I spent the last two days standing and moving fairly constantly.

In short right now Tylenol is my friend.

The pain will fade and come next weekend I will be ready to go back out into the lanes. Come next Monday, and every Monday for the next 7 weeks, I will have these same pains. While it is unpleasant, I can't help but enjoy them.

Each ache and pain is a sign that I went out and gave it my all. I did what I was supposed to be doing and a little pain come Monday is a small price to pay for the joy I brought to so many people over the last two days. It means I shared the magic.

My everything hurts and that is alright by me; it means I did it right.

*Or you know played full contact sports, or done lots of physically demanding work, or anything of that nature.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

We're not in Kansas anymore

I am fairly sure it was national news yesterday, considering I was getting panicky texts and calls from all over the country, but Texas was hit with some pretty  nasty tornadoes. I believe the last number I heard was 12 confirmed touchdowns, and most of them were in the DFW and surrounding areas. Arlington and Lancaster have been declared disaster areas. In short this was some serious scary weather we had going on all around me.

Now I have lived in tornado country my entire life. As a child in elementary school we did a lot of drills which had us in the hallway ducking and covering. Tornado safety is sort of one of those ingrained responses. We hear the sirens, we check the weather, we crawl into our bathtubs and pull mattresses over our heads, and we are good to go.

I must say though, that it has been a long time since I felt threatened by a tornado. I have seen serious devastation from tornadoes close to home, but by close I mean a good 45 minute drive from where I actually live. Yesterday there was a confirmed touchdown about a mile from my house. If you know anything about a tornado, you know a mile isn't really that far if it is a sizeable funnel.

I was in the office when all of the reports started coming in about Lancaster being ravaged by the first tornado. We started pulling up radar images and saw we were in the path of the storm and I began to worry. I called the husbeast and asked him to run home and put the dog inside in her kennel. Even if the tornadoes didn't come close to us there was baseball sized hail accompanying this storm. Last thing I wanted was my poor dog to get bonked by a killer piece of ice.

He called me to say he was on the way to the house and about two minutes later everyone in my office was made to go take shelter. Normally a shelter is the interior most room in the building on the lowest floor. Basements are preferable, but the first floor will do. You want someplace with no windows or glass. For us it was our little break room, which had no cell reception.

So here I was sitting in my breakroom, waiting for the storm to pass, and all the time wondering if the husbeast had made it home alright and then back to work again. Stupid cell phone and its no reception. I figured though that it would be fine. The funnels were all being reported well away from us. Which of course was about the time that someone with a smartphone came and told us one had set down a mile from my house.

Yea so maybe I was a little panicky at that point. Of course I wasn't the only one. Lots of people in the office were a little freaked out. Mostly though my mother was the most panicked. When I finally got back to my desk and got reception I was flooded with texts and calls from my mom and my brother. My brother and I both live in DFW and he actually lives a lot closer to Arlington where the most damage was done from the storm. As far as my  mom was concerned us being within 50 miles of the storm was too close.

I was more concerned about the husbeast and began texting him. When that didn't work I began calling him. That didn't work either. I kept telling myself that he was just working and he was fine. I had gotten a text message while I was in the breakroom that was him telling me he was almost back to the office. He was fine I was sure. Still I have an over active imagination and it took him almost two hours to finally call me back. His bosses apparently didn't think that it was important for their employees to answer panicked hysterical phone calls from their loved ones amidst a natural disaster.

In the end you couldn't tell there was a tornado a mile from my house. We have had thunder storms do more damage to the property. It looked mostly like a light rain with no significant wind. The verbena in my garden points to signs of possible hail as it is all wonky looking now, but nothing it won't get through. The storms have all passed and me and mine are all well.

We are lucky to be so, and I feel for everyone who was hurt by these crazy storms that passed through us yesterday. I'm just happy I don't need my ruby slippers just yet.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Room to breath

All the Single Ladies is blasting through the speakers on a bright sunny and already warm spring morning. Across a stage that has been made to look reminiscent of  a Shakespearean theater, a line of ten women in 1533 English court gowns glide in a circle as they shake their hand in the air. The audience is on their feet cheering and laughing. I am sitting clutching at the hand of the priest* next to me and throwing glances back at William Kemp** to see if he approves or not.

What? It is a typical weekend for me.

As I have mentioned more than a few times, I work for a renaissance festival. Quite technically I work at two different festivals, the Texas Renaissance Festival in the fall and Scarborough Renaissance Festival in the spring.

At the former I work in a shop selling jewelry and statuary while wearing 16th century like garb and speaking in a British accent. It is fun, but really it is more of a job considering I get paid for it. It is much less creative and a lot more running about trying to get things done in order to make money.

Now the latter is an entirely different beast. For Scarby I am a member of the performance company. What this means is I am a costumed performer who walks around in the streets portraying a member of the village or court or someone else from 1533. I get to be one of the people who try to make the experience a little more real for our patrons.

Photo by Donald Allen
Currently I am playing a gypsy at the festival, though in the past I have been a village messenger as well as a French noble woman. All of the roles have their own quirks and are fun to play for different reasons. I am personally  not a fan of playing court, but that might have to do with my dislike for walking in a hoop skirt.

Gypsies are fun and jinggly and a great community group to be in. The accent is a little harder to start but hard to lose once you get into it. The costuming is also much more involved than any other character. I seriously spend 45 minutes on my makeup and another 45 minutes getting dressed. I am pretty sure ten minutes is devoted to jewelry alone.

Performing is not my only responsibility at Scarby. You may have noticed in recent posts how I have been going on about being insanely stressed and doing a large amount of sewing. Well this all stems from being a member of the costuming staff for the SAPA ***.

Costuming falls under the Character department, so technically the head of Character is the head of costuming. That isn't me. I am one of the two costumers who works for the Character director. This is my third year in the position, and over the last three years we have been slowly moving the cast towards a certain look.

There is this strange balance that has to be maintained when it comes to costuming faire. For one thing we are dealing with the giant hurdle of historical accuracy. Our faire is set in 1533 England. That is a pretty specific time frame to work within. As much as the history geek in me would love for us to be as close to historically accurate as possible, we have other issues that prevent that.

The second challenge is the fact that this is in fact theater, and there are things we have to be able to do. A lot of our performers have to be able to do stage combat work that certain costuming will make impossible. We have modern physical limitations that require us to cut certain corners.

Then there is the fact that we perform in April and May in a cow pasture in north Texas. We experience everything from snow to 120 degree heat. There is a need to make our costumes as light as possible while still being durable. I am constantly having to think of ways to vent costumes or make them detachable so that when the oppressing heat sets in, I don't have actors falling out from heat stroke. 

Now I also don't design every individual costume. There are roughly 120 performers and I don't have enough time for that sort of thing. I have individually designed a few of the costumes, such as my own, the husbeasts, and the kids, as well as a few random peasants and the like. For the most part though the designs come from the actors themselves. They know their characters, and they know what they want them to look like.

What I do is more helping define the overall look we are trying to achieve with the cast as a whole as well as the individual groups that make up the cast. My partner and I get to approve color choices, material choices, basic designs, trims, and all of the other details that go into making a costume a costume. We help steer the actors within the lines we have set for them. This is a lot of work.

Ive been getting official emails since January on costuming. Once orientation happened at the beginning of February things really took off. Since then I have been in the thick of it. Not only was I making a complete new costume for the husbeast, doing maintenance on my own costume, and making a few shirts for a friend, I have been fielding questions, putting out fires, and problem solving like crazy.

Ive pretty much spent the past two months staring at 120 or so actors trying to make sure they look right and that their complicated costuming would be completed on time. The deadline was technically two weeks ago. We always get them to finish a week before the big reveal so that we can have any alterations done before we hit the run.

This year everyone was running further behind than they should have been. Health issues, deaths, unemployment, and other unexpected disasters had put my core group of seamstresses somewhat off their game.  I spent the majority of my last week in a mild state of panic as to whether or not my cast would be in functioning costumes for the reveal and preview event.

The whole costuming process culminates with a Costume Parade. This is a lot of fun for the cast, and a lot of nail biting for us. We separate everyone into their visual groups, pick some silly fun music, and let them dance around on stage. Honestly there is something incredibly entertaining about watching the clergy dance to Born this Way, and peasants meandering about to Red Solo Cup. All the while my counterpart and I sit with the director and discuss what we think of the way the cast looks as a whole.

I always feel like I need to have a flask on hand to get through this event. Everyone else is laughing and cheering and having a good time. Meanwhile I am sweating and trying not to panic. We sit and listen to him pick at small details. We preempt several of his comments telling him we already know of some problems and they are already being remedied.

Finally the king and queens are traipsing off the stage to get their pictures taken for our records and the show is over. Our director was incredibly pleased. He had lots of detail notes to give us, but nothing that was really major. If all of my notes include hoop bones showing and some missing trim work I am a happy camper. There was no one that was a disaster and all of our groups looked cohesive. We also had several looks that could be considered iconic.All in all, they look beautiful.

My job as costumer never really ends, but the hard part is over now. Everyone is dressed and everyone looks damn good. Now all I have to do is maintenance over the next two months and focus on being a performer myself. It is so much stress, but in the end, as I look out at my beautiful cast, it is so worth it.

We are the pretty faire, and I helped make it that way.

*My other costuming person plays the village priest.
**Our director plays the actor William Kemp.
*** Scarborough Academy for the Performing Arts.