Friday, January 28, 2011

To the Bar!

I did a good deed.

I am rewarding myself with a Happy Hour appearance in approximately 30 minutes.

What did I do that merits a bit o' beer in my tummy? (Apart from losing weight and freaking out my physical therapist who prescribed cookies to cure the rapid weight loss?)

I found an iPad. It was on the sidewalk in my apartment complex last night at 9:00 when I went to check my mail. I picked it up and decided I'd turn it into the complex office today.

En route to the complex office, I saw a sign that pointed to approximately where the iPad had fallen, and it listed a phone number to call if anyone found the touchscreen contraption. I called. No one answered. So I left a message and went to physical therapy.

The owner called back, and after I went grocery shopping, I returned the iPad to the incredibly grateful owner, a stunning young Russian woman who hugged the iPad to her chest as if it was a lost child. There are three of them - the young woman, her little sister, and their mother - living in a sparsely furnished two-bedroom apartment.

Still basking in the do-gooder glow, I am taking myself off to Happy Hour at City Tavern.

In the words of Maxminimus: Onwards, to the bar.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Super Subtle Me

My super-duper subtle hinting that I would really really like a needlepoint canvas for Valentine's day paid off.

Super subtle.

So I will receive the one featured on this webpage sometime next week (hopefully). Early Valentine's Day gift. Hooray! Then I'll just have to go buy the wools for it, which will, I'm sure, require me to drive all over the place to find a needlepoint store that isn't the one just down the block (where the ladies are snooty and unhelpful).

Mini road trip!

In the meantime, I'm sitting around, waiting for the other wools I ordered to arrive so I don't have idle hands, which is the title of a 1999 movie starring Seth Green and Devon Sawa (remember him? Huh. He didn't look like that in Casper).

Idle Hands is also the name of a jewelry company that makes mini-harmonica necklaces.


On the upside, I'm almost finished with the fairy-tale I'm writing. The climax of the story has been reached, and now there's the denouement.

And, yes, I spelled denouement without spell check. Sweet.

And yes, interwebz, you're welcome for providing a wealth of links to bring you traffic. I know you don't get enough of it.

Now, I'm going to go back to listening to Toto and playing Tetris.

Super subtle, super exciting life.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Camels, Needle's Eye, Whatever

"And again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." --Matthew 19:24

I thought of the quote, not because of my financial situation, or because there are roaming herds of camels in Dallas (but there are in East Texas at the Blazing Saddles Ranch), but because I just ordered the last batch of tapestry wools needed to complete a needlepoint pillow.

I blogged earlier about a needlepoint canvas I will eventually have made into a pillow, one I finished years ago and stowed away, lugging it from apartment to apartment in its unfinished state. Within the month, I will finish another one, also a design by William Morris, on which I've been working for about 3 or 4 years, now.

It is the Hare Tapestry pictured above, and I've thoroughly enjoyed working on it, even if I tend to use more wool than the stitch guide says I should. I use a stitch called the Reverse Basket Weave, which looks exactly like Tent stitching on the front (diagonal stitches leaning to the right), but on the back looks like - you guessed it! - basket weaving. It provides a sturdier base for the canvas than other stitches and helps to hold the canvas' shape through repeated rollings and crumplings.

Unfortunately, the store where I originally purchased my canvas and tapestry wools is no longer in business. It was run by a wonderfully diminutive family, all of whom - husband and son included - needlepointed. They were the only shop in Dallas that carried the particular type of wools I prefer, Appleton Tapestry wools, which Queen Elizabeth II favors. They were also the only shop in Dallas where, when I underwent chemotherapy, the patrons did not comment on my odd appearance, and welcomed me with open arms because I was a fellow stitcher, bald head or no.

After my little needlepoint shop went out of business, I tried going to another shop, but the employees were frankly unhelpful, and I did not go back.

I cannot find any other shops in Texas that sell my Appleton Tapestry wools via internet, and so I ordered them from Carbondale, Illinois. Hopefully, I will have them within a week so I can continue stitching up a storm.

But once finished, my hands will be idle, and I'll have to find another piece of needlework. I have a few ideas - possibly turning one of my own photographs into a needlepoint pillow, which would be a mountain of work - but the biggest impediment at present is cost.

A good quality needlepoint canvas usually costs at least $100 (for a 12"x12" canvas), and the really nice ones are in the $200+ range, and neither of those numbers includes the cost of the wools, which can put the total cost well over $400 by the time all is said and done.

I found a website with absolutely beautiful canvases for sale, I like it because it isn't cluttered with cutesy teddy bear needlepoints or Precious Moments kits. Most of its needlework is based on artists' works - Paul Klee and Edgar Degas both make appearances - or they're designed by the likes of Elizabeth Russell, whose name sends stitchers' hearts a flutter.

Anyway, I've found about twenty canvases I'd like to own, but they will undoubtedly have to wait until I'm employed, at the very least, or until one of the random holidays my mother celebrates by lavishing gifts upon my sister and I rolls around.

My mother has always been amazingly generous, celebrating Valentine's Day and Easter with the same exuberance she puts into Christmas, albeit on a smaller scale.

Or perhaps I'll cobble together something of my own design from the wools I have left from previous projects.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Breakfast! Get Yer Breakfast!

I have had, recently, a yen for breakfast foods (particularly if they're wrapped around Justin Timberlake, as seen at left).

Part of this is related to the ever-present nausea I have, which makes me want to eat sweet things, like ice cream. Alas, woman cannot exist on ice cream alone, and so I decided that cereal would be an excellent addition to my daily diet, what with all that fiber, the milk that gives me calcium, and the fact that they're mostly fortified.

Last night, though, I had a hankering for pancakes.

I rarely want pancakes. Usually when I crave breakfast foods, it involves multiple rashers of thick-sliced applewood bacon, with maybe a side of cinnamon toast.

But no, I needed pancakes, so I decided to make them.

I tend to forget that I am not particularly adept at the art of pancake-making. They tend to be black on one side, and perfectly golden brown on the other. But is that a globule of undissolved flour in the middle? Huh, yes it is. Ew.

I managed to make five tiny edible pancakes (out of a batch of 12, mind you), and thought my craving for batter-based breakfast foods was at an end.

I was so wrong. So very very wrong.

Today, at the grocery store, I decided to buy some frozen waffles. So now, I have three frozen waffles awaiting their turn in the oven. There is one thing that alarms me, however: the waffles I bought are whole-grain, so they're a dark tan color. The directions tell me to cook them until golden brown.

They're already golden brown.

So does this mean Cook until a dark umber color or Cook until deep sepia? I suppose I'll find out once I've cooked them. For no less than 10 minutes, otherwise there is apparently some dire circumstance awaiting me. Any less than 10 minutes, and they won't be edible, according to the packaging.

These waffles will self-destruct in less than 10 minutes.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz

I just finished reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.


It won a Pulitzer Prize, so you know it's got to be pretty good. And it was funny, sometimes, but at other times heartwrenchingly sad.

Synopsis: Oscar Wao is a Dominican emigrant living in the northeast (okay, I can't remember if it's Jersey or New York... details) and he is everything a Dominican lad is not supposed to be: hopeless when it comes to the ladies, obese, and waaaaay into sci-fi and fantasy novels and games. This is a boy who eats, sleeps, and dreams Dungeons and Dragons, who was once a 7 year old Lothario but lost his game, and whose only two friends - both Grade-A nerds like himself - are ashamed of how nerdy Oscar is.

The book isn't narrated by an omniscient God, but is told by several different people: Oscar's sister Lola, Lola's boyfriend (who took pity on Oscar and roomed with him in college) and another narrator whose identity I never quite pinned down. Oscar's family history is divulged - his grandfather's persecution by Trujillo and his mother's horrifying fate following the family's breakup - and the various relationships he has with those family members is discussed at length, but always through the eyes of someone else.

The book is breathtaking, and a bit of sci-fi/fantasy knowledge is helpful because bits of Tolkien and Lovecraft are discussed. The book wrestles with Oscar's identity: no longer Dominican, but also not like the other Dominicans living in the U.S.

I bought my copy of the book at Half Priced Books, because there were four paperback copies marked between $8.00 (pristine) and $5.00 (looked the same as the $8.00), and I scooped up the $5.00 copy.

I forgot to check to see what on earth could have led to the book being marked so cheaply, and then began reading. Oscar Wao is laced with bits of Dominican slang and snippets of Spanish, and the reader before me appears to have had the same grasp of the Spanish language that I have:

We know just enough to know when to be offended.

The harmless words that translate to "wicked" and "disgusting" are underlined with abandon, and the translations are penciled into the margins. The curse words, however, are all left alone.

It's like we were separated at birth! Or, at least, at the end of college.

The book does not have a happy ending, but it's also not completely a sad ending. Oscar takes a stand, and he suffers for it, but he also reaches new heights of ecstasy, both physical and spiritual. He is, by the book's end, changed in both mind and body, and I couldn't help but be happy for him. Throughout his wretched life, he let the things he wanted slip away, but at the end, he took what he wanted and he was blissfully happy, if only for a short time.

Oscar isn't an entirely lovable character. I wanted to shake him, several times (and did, in fact, find myself jerking the book around, as if Oscar could feel my frustration), but his faults are what make him so endearing as a character.

And no, his last name is not Wao: it's an in-joke that I didn't learn the meaning of until midway through the book, and then I couldn't help but smile, despite the fact that the nickname "Wao" is meant as a bullying tease to Oscar.

Oscar Wao is a wonderful book, and is truly wondrous, but it's also not for someone who wants a "feel good" book to read. There are no tidily wrapped up murders with jokey detectives, and no "happily ever after," but I'm glad I read it, all the same.

(The picture is the author's photo from the book cover; I think he's wearing makeup)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Keep Your Hand Out for Handouts

Yesterday, I called the billing office for a consortium of doctors that doesn't negotiate with insurance companies.

(Just FYI, if you go to the ER at and Texas Health Resources hospital, you will get a $450 charge on top of your insurance ER copay. Or, if you're me, you'll get two of them, on the same day, along with a charge for $200 from the hospital for one of those ER visits. Aaaaaaand I'm unemployed. Neat!)

The upshot of the telephone conversation I had with the lovely lady from billing is that I'm supposed to call the hospital, and, since I'm unemployed now, they might be able to help me out. As in, they might wipe out my hospital bills, since I'm considered indigent and all that.

Or they might just reduce the bill.

Bear in mind, she also might have told me that just to get the crying girl off the phone. Who knows?

I sent an email to the Business Office - a.k.a. the Gimme Money Department - and I was supposed to have heard from them by 5:00 today. It didn't happen. So I will have to call them tomorrow to ask if I can pretty pretty please apply to their indigent care program for those two visits to the ER back in December - at which time I was not receiving a paycheck, mind you. I haven't received one since the end of November.

If the hospital says, "Oh, okay, you poor widdle thing, we'll forgive the debt" then the third party billing office will also forgive the debt.

And that would be sweet.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Stealing the Mystic Lamb" by Noah Charney

I recently finished reading a book entitled Stealing the Mystic Lamb. It's about the Altarpiece of Ghent, a.k.a. the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, and its past.


The Mystic Lamb is the most stolen artwork of all time, having been stolen 14 times since its painting by Jan van Eyck in the 15th Century. In addition to being considered the first painting of the Renaissance (eat your heart out, Michelangelo) and the last painting of the Middle Ages, it was considered to have miraculous properties. None of this "healing the sick" nonsense, though. Oh, no. Supposedly, it would lead scholars/treasure-hunters to not only the Holy Grail (where Eric Idle would greet them, undoubtedly), but also to the Crown of Thorns, the True Cross, the spear (can't remember its fancy-schmancy relic name) and much much more!

I read a review of the book in The Economist and thought it sounded interesting. Interesting in a possibly dull kind of way, but hey, it would look good on my bookshelves, right?

It reads like a frickin' John Le Carre thriller! You have American mobsters (no, not joking here), German Resistance fighters, spies, corrupt churchmen, and the mystery of whether Jan van Eyck actually painted the thing, or if his brother should be credited with it.

I couldn't put it down, particularly once the book reached the part where the Altarpiece was in Nazi hands, being stored in a salt mine in the Austrian Alps, and these American special forces espionage types were trying to reach it before a crazy Nazi officer could blow it up.

It was so exciting, I had to tell somebody about it. So I regaled Major Tom with the story.

He's not as into art history as I am, but he thought the battle sequences were pretty riveting.

At this point, I can't wait to reread it, and I only finished it on Saturday. It's that kind of book! If you're looking for an exciting, informative read that will give you fantastic conversation for cocktail parties, then read it. If not, read it anyway.

That amazing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Round Two

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about being put on unpaid leave. I wasn't laid off, per se, but was just put on "unpaid leave" until the work in the office picked up again.

This morning, around 9:00 a.m., I received a phone call from Mrs. Robinson, saying that I needed to come in to get my chair, and that the guys needed my CAD license key back, etc...

In other words, I was laid off without actually being told I was laid off.

Kind of crappy.

I immediately got up, got dressed, and checked the internet for what I'm supposed to do in regards to health insurance. Our firm - er, my former firm - was under 20 employees, so no COBRA for this gal. However, the State of Texas requires that firms grant me up to 9 months on the group health insurance plan, so long as I reimburse the firm.

Whew. I went ahead and applied for unemployment benefits - which I can't receive until the last week in January, even though I haven't received severance pay or anything - and then awaited the arrival of my sainted (and tired) mother, who was loaning me her minivan so I could clear out my stuff at the office.

I showed up at the office, and the first words I said, right after, "Hey, Mrs. Robinson!" were "So I'm assuming this means I'm actually laid off, now."

She said yes, that until that morning everyone in the firm had been working on different assumptions.

Oldsmobile and our book keeper - not the most competent woman - were dead certain that I had already been laid off. Mrs. Robinson was instructed last week to write a letter to the insurance company telling them to cancel my health insurance benefits.


Radio, Scooter, and Pacman were all working on the assumption that I would eventually be back in the office and that my unpaid leave was temporary.

What we have he-ah is failyuh to communicate.

I informed Mrs. Robinson that, pursuant to State of Texas Regulations, I had the right to 9 months of insurance, so long as I reimbursed the company. I didn't mention that, seeing as they failed to go over all my health insurance options with me at the "exit interview" (which never happened), I could file an official complaint with the Texas Department of Insurance.

I'm nice, though, so I won't file a complaint... unless the book keeper tries to tell me that they're going to defy State of Texas regulations.

I cleared out my physical possessions (including my Ice Age III action figures, aluminum desk accessories, and wireless mouse - both of which were purchased by myself) and loaded them onto my Aeron chair, which served as a handy dandy cart for transporting all my stuff.

I will return on Wednesday to download the digital files showing all the work I performed at the office (I took the extra copies of Specifications I had, since the firm already has record copies).

Because of some rumored hiring going on at my former employer's office (not Oldsmobile's, but a different firm... the one that laid me off in 2008), the guyzos all thought I would have a brand spanking new job to go to all wrapped up and tidy in a little bow.

Heck, I was pretty certain I'd have another job, but wasn't really getting my hopes up. I'd been talking with the former employer every week about the possibility, after they first approached me to discuss my coming back.

About thirty minutes after I returned to my apartment, my cell phone rang.

"That was XYZ Firm," I said to my mom, who was napping on my sofa. "They don't have a job for me, right now." I shrugged. I wasn't really certain about getting the job in the first place, and as time dragged on (almost a month) I got the feeling that it just wasn't going to happen.

My feeling was right on target.

So now I'm looking for a job. One I won't have to move to take. There's plenty of great design jobs out there. They are all, however, in Baltimore, or Shanghai. So tomorrow, I send out resumes, and a letter of introduction for my little entrepreneurial venture (which is now up and running), and we'll see how things go from there.

Once again, I'm back to playing it by ear. But this time, I have rent to pay.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Like a Thirteen Year Old

I have not worn foundation (a.k.a. "wet makeup") for a few months, now. I used to use Clinique foundation, until I became hyper-vigilant about my sunscreen and became even paler than I used to be.

I know. I didn't think it was possible, either.

So the lightest shade of makeup manufactured by Clinique was too dark for my porcelain skin. Bear in mind, I'm not the one who originally called my skin "porcelain." No, that comment was first made by a fellow in my sophomore drawing class when he drank a little too much of The Champagne of Beers at a party and started hitting on me.

He failed studio, and I never saw him again, which was a good thing because he also brought to my party - in addition to a 40 of High Life - his 14 year old cousin.

Ahem. Cousin got Coke instead of beer, and the poor kid was scared out of his mind.

Back to make-up!

Sorry, I lost my thread.

So, I have looked and looked for the past few months for a make-up company that manufactures hypoallergenic make-up that either doesn't have sunscreen in it, or that uses all natural ingredients for its sunscreen.

It ain't easy, folks. Almost every hypoallergenic makeup out there includes Parsol 109234798375 in its ingredients, and I'm allergic to Parsol 0934859873428. It makes my skin burn and, eventually, break out in a rash.

After much research, I finally discovered that Fresh Cosmetics manufactures their make-up with all natural ingredients, and their sunscreen is provided by iron oxide and titanium oxide.


I went to their store at Northpark, today and a wonderful makeup artist named Jacob made me absolutely gorgeous.

Yes, I still look like myself. And I still look fresh-faced and glowing, and as if I'm not even wearing foundation (instead of the Noh mask look that Clinique gave me).

I look, as one of his assistants kindly said, like I have the glowing skin of a thirteen year old. And she's kind of right.

I also bought some blush (woohoo!) and a toner/moisturizer/makeup remover. I don't usually use these, but I'll be danged if the stuff didn't make me look uh-mazing even without the makeup.

I glowed. Like a thirteen year old.

I like to think I have better fashion sense than my thirteen year old self, though.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bum Elbow

Today, I had my third session of physical therapy.

The first session was uneventful, and consisted mostly of Physical Therapist #1 pointing out that although my hips are perfectly aligned vertically, my left shoulder is higher than my right, and my sacrum is slightly rotated out of place, towards my left side.

I have a C-shaped bend in my spine just above my waist, but that's old news, and it's been there since 7th grade, prominent enough to attract notice, but not severe enough to warrant surgical treatment.

After listing off my physical failings ("You have very weak thigh muscles"), I was given a few stretches to do and sent home.

On my second day of treatment, the muscle that appears to be giving me trouble was identified by Physical Therapist #2 - the piriformis - and a few more stretches were added to the daily regimen. After which PT #2 gave me a butt massage.

Yes, really.

The massage was actually referred to as trigger-point therapy, and involved finding those spots on my gluteus that are tender, placing her elbow on them, and pushing down with her body weight. She gave me a tennis ball wrapped in a long gauzy tube so I can do the same thing at home using the wall.

Today's therapy consisted of doing some exercises in the physical therapists' gym. I wasn't the only one in there, either. Nope, an elderly gentleman named Ed arrived a few minutes into my workout and joined me. I was riding the stationary bike, at that point - which is the only kind of bike I'll ever be able to ride - and he hopped onto the cross-country skiing simulator next to me.

There was an additional therapist, too, one that I had not yet met. It might just be my opinion, but I want my therapists to be in excellent physical condition, not overweight and wearing khakis without a belt. Could just be me, though.

For most of the session, I lay on what amounted to a naugahyde upholstered king-sized bed, contorting my body this way and that and informing Physical Therapist #3 that, no, in fact, I did not feel any muscles stretching in that position. Nope, still no stretch. (sigh) No, I am not made out of rubber. Okay, yes, I feel that. OhdearGodmakeitstopthathurts!

PT #3 commented that I seem to be stressed, seeing as I kept my fists clenched so tight my knuckles turned white. He was amused when I told him I had to consciously relax my muscles at night before I was able to go to sleep.

I was okay with the supine exercises until good old Ed joined me. On the king-sized naugahyde bed.

You could tell he wasn't 100% A-OK with it, either.

I finished up my exercising with some heel-lifts (also known as Hell Lifts), and was delighted to be told that my exercising was over.

Stretching, cycling, and humiliation weren't all they had in store for me. No, there was more butt manipulation to be had.

PT #2 had me lie down on my stomach on a table - in a room apart from Ed and PT #3 - and used a tennis ball to do trigger-point therapy once more.

Afterwards, she treated me with ultrasound, which involved slapping a wet papertowel on my bare backside and placing a ring-shaped instrument on top of that. Ultrasound waves beamed into my bum, and twenty minutes later, I was allowed to leave.

I had to leave my dignity behind, though. Heh. Heh heh.

Really, it's not that bad, but it's a bit embarrassing. I'm the youngest person in the therapists' office every time I go, and the elder folks who are there for post-hip-replacement therapy, or who sit so much (by the looks of them, eating Cheetos and frosting) that they can no longer function properly look at me funny. Why are you here? I know they want to ask. You look perfectly fine.

Yes, yes I do look fine (except today, because something happened with my undereye concealer, so I looked exhausted), but I'm not entirely fine. Better than I was previously, but still not great.

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

And bum massages.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

When It Rains...

In my universe, when it rains, it generally rains dog turds, and lots of them.

After being kind-of-sort-of-but-not-really fired (so I can't claim unemployment, but I also don't get a paycheck), my car's blinker quit working.

I thought it was just a bulb that was out - even though it didn't work on either the right or the left side - or a fuse that needed to be replaced. My car was also past-due for an oil change, and it needed to be inspected.

In the end, yes, I did need new turn signal bulbs, but I also had to have the whole turn signal assembly on my steering column replaced. What with the oil change and the inspection, I ended up forking out $475 at the mechanic's shop.

I was miffed.

In addition, my dentist gave me a little lecture about grinding my teeth, and how my grinding my teeth when I have a migraine (or in my sleep) can exacerbate the problem. I need a night guard to prevent teeth grinding (in addition to a filling for a brand-spanking-new cavity), which is going to run me about $400... on top of whatever the filling will cost.

And then, there's the hospital bill I received today, for that three day stretch I spent lying in a hospital bed getting pumped full of drugs to try to combat the migraines I was having. That's another $575. Granted, without insurance, it would have been more like $10,500, but that's pretty cold comfort to this gal.

And I have no way of earning money, right now. Except for that entrepreneurial spirit I was talking about a while back, for which I now have a website, and am awaiting my logo (being designed by a friend) before I start publicizing it and, hopefully, earning a bit of extra cash, too.

I still have a couple of other tricks up my sleeve, so I'm not ready to commit seppuku just yet (I am kidding! Totally kidding!) but the next 24 hours - at the end of which I find out if this trick is an ace or a deuce - seems to be dragging by horribly.

I think I'm going to start accessorizing with umbrellas.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Well, S***

I returned to work this morning, and immediately felt apprehensive. After my last bout of unpaid leave back in August, I returned to a clean desk and effusive greetings.

This morning, all I got was, "Oh, hey," and a desktop covered in drawings that were unfamiliar. Nobody really wanted to talk to me.

Dun dun duhhhhhhhh!

I am back on unpaid leave, and not by choice, or because my health still requires it. Nope, I'm on unpaid leave because there isn't enough work for me.

Oldsmobile took me into the conference room, and informed me that I couldn't come back to work, yet, for the reason that there isn't any work for me to do. I have to admit, I saw it coming, what with the hurricane of crap on my desk and the fact that even Mrs. Robinson didn't want to talk to me.

I kept it together pretty well, although when Oldsmobile asked me what exactly was wrong with me (I've explained multiple times but, you know, when you get to be 300 years old, you forget stuff), I kind of lost it. I did manage to tell him that the reason I've been having all these health problems stemmed from the terrible ergonomics of the office workstations, and that I'd spent $1000 on a chair to try to solve some of them.

I think he felt a wee bit guilty, at that, but not guilty enough to say, "Well, you can rearrange the storage room again, then."

On the upside, it didn't matter that I forgot my ArchiCAD license-key at home, after all.

But not really