Tuesday, April 21, 2015

That Time My Basement Became a Sweatshop

[As we are only two days away from The Big Show, I thought I'd run this article, which was in the SoRo Circle, but I forgot to share here!]


One of the things I love about James Madison Middle School is the spring musical. The principal, Whitney Johnson, started the theater department a few years back and in April, their third production, The Little Mermaid, will be performed. Kids can learn so much from being part of a cast or crew - teamwork, conquer a fear of public speaking, not to mention, have a lot of fun. And JMMS makes sure that if you want to be involved, they will find a place for you. 

As an old theater nerd myself, I was glad the girls wanted to try out. They came home from the tryouts smiling. Maggie decided against the counsel of 6th grade girls and sang Let It Go while Morrigan, ever the individual, opted for Carry On My Wayward Son.

When the morning of the Release of the Cast List came, my excitement rivaled the girls’. Any part, from Sea Urchin 7 to Ariel would be a-ok with me, though I was pulling for one with an interesting costume. To their delight, the girls were cast, along with Joshua and Nickolas, in one of their first choices, Flotsam and Jetsam, the evil eels. Clearly fun parts to outfit!

The first text was to my brother, the girls’ Uncle Dominick, who conveniently happened to be visiting over the holidays and is, as an added bonus, a professional costume designer. (You know those Muppets in Sesame Street Live? He makes those.) With great enthusiasm I told him about the play and the girls’ parts and asked if he would help make killer, in all senses of the word, eels. Without a moment’s hesitation, he was in. It was only after this whole exchange that the realization came that I had conscripted my brother’s labor while he was on vacation, and away from his husband, to do the job he does all year. 

Oops.

Luckily he was very good natured about it and assured me he was happy to be involved. When he arrived a few weeks later, he came bearing some supplies and ready to work. Now, in my mind, Dominick, my Mom, and I were going to work on this for a couple of days and produce something much better than my costuming skills would have produced, but not too complex. It was only later that what Dominick had in mind became clear.

We went to fabric stores and hardware stores to procure all the components. Lots of components. This was going to be a production. 

We set up our base of operations in the lower level of the house. It seemed only prudent to remove the chaos from the main living area. Indeed after a few long days of work, there was so much glitter in the basement, it looked as though we had massacred fairies. 

By this point, massive guilt had overtaken me, coming to grips with the enormity of the project and realizing that none of us were going to escape that basement all week. I was running a sweatshop. But then I looked around at what was going on in my forced labour camp. Dominick and I were introducing Mom to all sorts of new music, which she was delighted by since Dad is stuck in the 1990’s. Note to Dad: move on from Collective Soul and the Dandy Warhols. The kids would come down and hang out. Morrigan especially liked playing Skyrim with her Uncle, well versed in the game, at her side providing tips on who to kill and rob. (It’s a nice wholesome game.) I was able to relive my youth as Mom, joined by her protege son, wove an occasional tapestry of obscenity. Granted, it was usually after an injury - but not always!

We were getting close to done when the kids went back to school, Tim to work, and Mom and Dad headed home to Indiana. With mostly hand sewing left, we relocated to the family room, better tv there, and completed the finishing touches. That last day was a long one, but it was delightful. Dominick and I have lived far apart for 15 years with me in Roanoke and him in Minnesota. Family get togethers are expensive and hard to coordinate. It had been ages since we had a whole day to ourselves to talk about everything.

Dominick worked up until the morning of his departure, swearing that adding eel teeth was the very last thing he was going to do. Taking the last few hours of his visit off from sewing, we went downtown, had lunch, and shopped. We chuckled about how out of control the project had gotten and staunchly refused to do a hard estimate of the number of hours involved. I promised that he was safe coming back to Roanoke and next time I would even let him out of the house. But he just laughed and told me it was truly fun. “Some families make puzzles, we sew giant eels.” 

I waved goodbye at the airport, knowing when he got home, Dominick was likely to need a vacation after his vacation. But I was smiling as I swept up the sparkles and sequins, thinking how lucky I was to have a brother willing to sacrifice a week for his nieces and how this week was likely to become The Week Katie Enslaved Us All in the Veldman family lore. 

Post Script: If you are free April 23rd, 24th, or 25th, come check out The Little Mermaid. All these kids are sure to bring down the house!


Monday, April 20, 2015

Blue Ridge Marathon Weekend

This Saturday was the Blue Ridge Marathon, which is becoming one of the best weekends in Roanoke. The girls had play practice most of the day so after we dropped them off, we headed over to the new Casa Fraught, which is on the half and full marathon route.


Though the runners said it was a bit hot, the weather was picture perfect for cheering. We had several friends and neighbors run by.

Our neighbor, Tyler, running the half.

The day continued with a concert at the downtown outdoor amphitheater. The headlining act was Big Head Todd and the Monsters.


I was familiar with the band's name so I assumed I would know at least some of their songs. Well, I knew not a one! But the concert was so much fun anyway and heavily populated with pals. The rain held off until Sunday. Another perfect race day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

They Were Beautiful. The Most Beautiful Skies as a Matter of Fact.

You know, life here is Virginia is not nearly as interesting as on vacation. So until I exhaust my tales from Costa Rica, we will remain on tropical topics.

One night as we were walking back from dinner, I looked up and saw there were so many more stars than we ever see at home. I promptly dragged the entire family, down to the beach to get a better look.

And wow. Just wow.

Never in my whole life had I seen stars like this. So many, so bright, and with a bit of the Milky Way visible. Even the children, who generally balked at my insistence they come look at the sky, were impressed.

I had neither the equipment nor talent to capture what we saw. 
This (borrowed) picture doesn't even come close to doing it justice.

Maggie liked it so much that every night for the remainder of the trip, she would gather up any available companions to go star gazing. (Mostly me and Tim.) We laid down on the beach and talked. Maggie was amazed we couldn't get more people to join us. She said, "This is so beautiful that everyone should see it, everything else seems less important. We all need to slow down and look at the stars."

She's right of course. I'm glad I went with her every night. Sometimes there was a game of cards back at the villa that would appear more interesting, until we were staring up at that big, gorgeous sky. We felt small and overwhelmed by beauty. Our late trips to the beach were one of our very favorite parts of the trip.

We came home and the sky had its normal smattering of stars, which made Mags sad. But, she told me, "I'm so happy that I know that sky is out there waiting for me."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Did You Say Addiction?

After the first round of editing all the pictures from Costa Rica, the easy part - getting rid of blurry and botched shots, the real editing began. Now comes taking the ok, or even good, and making it perfect. For example...

Who needs this fella in here ruining, I mean interfering, with my picture?


Tootles chap. And we'll lighten up things a bit for good measure.


Same goes for these happy surfers. Now you see them...


now you don't!


Then there was the lady's head that was messing with my zen at sunset. Now she's just a memory.



The kids were mildly horrified when I took someone we knew out of one picture but admitted that it was a better picture after. Sorry surf instructor.

I put an ad in the latest SoRo Circle offering my services in scanning and retouching old pictures. Maybe I need to add that I can make your vacation pics perfect too!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Dreaming of Nosara

Well hey there! Looks like I needed a month off. In all truthfulness, there wasn't a whole lot going on, up until last week which was our trip to Costa Rica! I'm having a little trouble focusing today seeing as Saturday, I was still here:



We went with two other families to Nosara, Costa Rica. It is a town known for its great surfing on the Pacific coast. 

The trip down was long and painful, including an overnight in Miami. The last leg was the van ride from the airport in Liberia to Nosara, about two hours. The last hour was mostly unpaved and very, very bumpy. But we had a driver who spoke excellent English and told us all about the area as we drove. I was expecting a tropical rainforest and the desert like conditions were a surprise. Apparently, April is the hottest month of the year, followed by rains that make things much more lush. Seeing as we were headed to the beach, it didn't matter much anyway.

We were warned it was a very casual place and not to bring anything "fancy." Indeed, paving of roads was spotty and bathing suits were perfectly acceptable attire everywhere, including restaurants. This was just fine with us. We stayed in a compound of three villas that shared a pool. Great because everyone had a home base, but we could all share the common area.



Our family fell into a routine of early morning walks on the beach, morning surf fun, midday at the pool, and a late afternoon return to the beach for swimming and sunset. Everyone went to bed early. It was great.

Tim was the only one brave enough to try surfing.


But these waves were unlike anything I had ever seen. They were great for boogie boarding or just jumping around.





The kids, all being much better swimmers than me, were constantly trying to give me a heart attack and be further out in the surf than I thought they should be. But no lives were lost. Well, permanently anyway. The first night, the kids beat us to the beach by about five minutes. We had told them they could go into the water together as we were right behind them. They were happily playing when we arrived. I monitored them from the beach as we were chatting with the adults. Suddenly, Eion was GONE. We were closing in rapidly on sunset and we couldn't find him anywhere. As I left the others to search the surf, I headed back to the villa, not even sure he knew how to get there. But happily, I located him along the way, having been found crying outside our locked gates by another American family. (Violent crime is little but petty crime is rampant.) That was as close to tragedy as it got. The rest of the week was smooth sailing.

There were all sorts of exotic animals everywhere. Lizards, crabs, and howler monkeys, just to name a few.


The howler monkeys let out a noise that sounded just like the Island Monster on Lost. After days of speculation about the noise's origin, a local put all the crazy theories to rest, saying it was just the monkeys.



On one morning walk, Tim and I even got to see two wee just hatched baby sea turtles make their way across the sand to the ocean. This was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. And it naturally occurred on a day, possibly the only day in my life, that I was not armed with a camera. But neat all the same.

The less desirable creatures were out there too. When we commented on the massive number of ants (indoors) that Eion insisted all needed murdering, the owner calmly remarked that it was "ant season." But soon we didn't need to worry about them as they were vastly overshadowed by the scorpion and the many cockroaches. If you went to the bathroom in the night, which was to be generally avoided since the water, seemingly to the entire town, was off from 10pm to about 7am, when you turned on the light, the roaches scattered, if you were lucky. If less lucky, they were hiding behind the toilet paper.

When the water came back on one morning, I turned on a faucet. Water came out but so did the dozen ants that had been hanging out in the nozzle. Such is life in the third world. Did I mention when we left the bugs behind, we went to this?



In the questionably desirable creature category were all the snail like things all over the beach, which endlessly fascinated the girls.


Morrigan definitely needs to be a marine biologist! She was also my resident translator. My background in French allowed me to understand many things but I speak not a word of Spanish. She, and to a lesser degree, Maggie, were cheerful interpreters all week, if a bit embarrassed when I would just use French words when I was stuck. 




I was, happily, the team photographer for the week. My goal was 1,000 pictures, which I surpassed easily, taking over 1,700. Anyone who has seen me at work knows that I am all about volume to make up for talent in this regard. We ended up with about 450 after editing so you'll have to excuse this especially photo heavy post! [Any interested people (read: grandparents) can be sent a link to the full complement of photos on request.]



Nosara was friendly and safe and the kids enjoyed the freedom to wander around and go to the little market for sodas. By the end of the week, we were known to several locals, including Juan Surfo, Tim's surf instructor, and a number of beach souvenir vendors. Morrigan and I bought wooden turtles early in the week, haggling not at all. For a day it seemed they would be plaguing us with other goods to buy, but once they realized we were done shopping, they just smiled and waved and asked us about how we were enjoying our trip. It is just the kind of place that makes you want to be friendly.



The week went way too fast for all of us and leaving the laid back surf town for reality was sad for us all. On the plus side, I have 450 new images to photoshop!



Sunday, March 15, 2015

Oh The Things We'll Learn!

As the deadline for the Crystal Spring yearbook rapidly approaches, conveniently situated right before spring break, I've been spending a lot of time at school trying to get all the needed pictures. The teacher of the year was chosen recently and necessitated multiple trips. They chose the music instructor and I scheduled several sessions in order to photograph her with as many different classes and instruments as possible.

One day it was 5th grade band. Another was 4th grade on the xylophones. Then, to my complete surprise, it was 3rd grade learning guitar!


Naturally, E had not mentioned this at all. Nor had he practiced at home on Tim's old guitar. But it was a pleasant surprise to find them all strumming away.


And hilarious as they played the opening notes of Smoke on the Water, which, while part of the soundtrack of my childhood, was completely unknown to all the kids. Who knew Ms. Jensen liked to rock out.

I did an informal survey of the other 3rd grade parents and, apart from one, they were also unaware of their budding Hendrix. As for us, we're going to hope one of these instruments takes and Eion develops some interest in music. But if not, I know xylophones and band are on the docket for the next two years!

Friday, March 13, 2015

It's Good to Have a Professional on Call

As soon as the girls were cast, I told the principal of the middle school I would be happy to help with costumes. So this week, she sent Ariel's mom my way. The costume had been purchased but the shirt needed to be longer and they wanted it to be more "fishy." I googled some ideas, thought about it, and did what any smart girl with a professional costumer for a brother would do, I texted him these pictures and asked for help.



He told me to make a peplum (don't worry, I had to google that one too) and sensing my confusion, sketched it out and sent me a text with instructions.


The end result was slightly less fancy than his design, you have to correct for talent, but all sparkly and fishy! And a reminder that I have the best brother ever!