“You have a body, it works now,” said Ava’s mommy. “Use it!”

On Tuesday morning, Dr. Preema made it happen.

Introducing Ava Grace

Introducing Ava Grace

Here she is!  6 pounds 11 ounces, 21 inches long.  A far cry from the 8+ pounds Dr. Preema predicted, but a very healthy size for a newborn.

Sleeping angel.

Sleeping angel.

She is so very precious.  Of course we have to think our children are precious; otherwise we’d wise up and eat them while they’re young and tender, before they get smart mouths and body odor, before they even think about repeatedly making poor decisions from which we must repeatedly bail them out, only letting a select few rise to adulthood for the sole purpose of perpetuating the species.

Not that I ever thought about it.

Jess and Ava

Jess and Ava

Still, my first grandchild is a terribly wondrous, beautiful little human.  I think we’ll forgo the barbecue and let this tiny girl perpetuate.

Jess is doing great.  She’s glad she had a cesarean; the epidural was the worst part, and if you’ve ever experienced or witnessed childbirth you know that in a regular delivery the epidural is the BEST part!  She is still restricted for a couple weeks but she is up and about, trying to deal with hormones that flip-flop like a slinky descending stairs.  Daddy has been doing a great job of taking care of them.  He’s clueless, of course, and so is Jess for that matter, but they are doing well so I bite my tongue.  Ava is in good hands.

Ava and Oma

Ava and Oma

I have been an Oma for four whole days, and so far I love it!  I knew stuff I didn’t even know I knew, ya know?  Like how to calm our little Ava down even when she’s in the throes of a hot red anger.  Or how to keep her awake to eat.  Or how to keep my Jessie from becoming a panicked mama wolf pacing the room whenever her baby cries out of reach. And how to do these things in the middle of the night with no sleep.

The new family

The new family

The new family went home last night, to Daddy’s house since this house is a madhouse and, with this horrid weather, a hot house.  I thought it best, since he has been doing such a good job, that she spend the weekend there in the A/C. I’ll take care of them Monday when Daddy goes to work.

And so will Uncle Andrew.

And so will Uncle Andrew.

And Great-Aunt Shelly

And Great-Aunt Shelly

And Papa Joe

And Papa Joe

And Grandpa will visit.

And Grandpa will visit.

And Great-Grammy

And Great-Grammy

And Godparents

And Godparents

And lots of other people I don’t have pictures of.  Jessie and Ava will be well cared for.

Being born is hard work!

Being born is hard work!

.

There Comes a Time

And I suppose it comes to most parents.  Not all, but most, I think.  The time to become a grandparent arrives.

My time is due to arrive in May.  On my birthday, to be exact!

hpybday

I don’t think people know how to react.  I for one was happy, but the naysayers had me questioning whether or not I should be.  My daughter will be 21, just starting her adulthood, still with big things to accomplish and dreams to fulfill.  However, she’s older than I was when I became a mother, older than both of her grandmothers, the same age as her great-grandmother.  Perhaps the timing isn’t ideal, but it’s far from ruinous.  Besides, if everyone waited for the opportune time to have children, how many of us would be here now?  Life moves forward whether we’re ready or not, and whether we approve or not.

That being said…I’M GONNA BE A GRANDMA, YOU GUYS!  EEEEEEEEE!!!

*happy dance happy dance happy dance*

*happy dance happy dance happy dance*

Actually, I’m going to be an Oma.  We’re of Dutch descent around here, so most of the grandparents in my family are some form of Oma or Opa.  Now it’s my turn!  YAAAAY!!!

As for the girl, well, poor thing.  She’s all over the place:  ready to take over the world one day, heavy and nauseous the next, usually the latter.  First-time first trimesters are particularly rough, but through it all I see that mother instinct kicking in already.  The force is strong with this one.

Cue Yoda.

Cue Yoda.

 

Gardening Again

It feels so good to have a garden again!  It’s been a long time since I’ve had my own little patch of dirt.  Umpteen years ago I volunteered a nearby botanical garden, in the rose garden specifically, so I became quite the rose expert and had my own little rose garden with space for sunflowers and herbs.

One year my grandfather asked me for advice on his hedge roses.  He planted two varieties under a big front window.   The yellow ones were okay, but the white ones were sad and gangly and hardly flowered.  I discovered that his white “hedge” roses were actually floribundas, which are wonderful and easy to care for, but they need to be treated like floribundas, not hedges.  No, he said, he needed hedges, so they’d just have to suffer.  How dare he.

So I, in a fairly cute summer ensemble that day, kicked off my sandals, grabbed some clippers, and indignantly threw myself into the middle of those big rangy rose bushes, lopping and chopping and pruning like nobody’s business.  When I was done they looked even worse than before.  The following spring, however, my grandfather called in an excited flurry because those rose bushes had exploded with mounds of fluffy white blooms.  Go figure.  😉

My own rose garden is long gone.  If I find a variety I like when bare-root season rolls along, I may attempt to acquire one using the puppy-dog-eye method.  In the meantime, I’m happy with my herbs.

Sage, thyme, and seedlings

Sage, thyme, and seedlings

Look at my seedlings in the tray!  How many weeks ago did they look like this:

Seeds!  Bell peppers, tomatoes, sunflowers, and hollyhocks.

Seeds! Bell peppers, tomatoes, sunflowers, and hollyhocks.

Three weeks ago!  The sunflowers and hollyhocks sprouted quickly.  We planted the tomato seeds after the rest, and they took like weeds.

Tomato seedlings

Tomato seedlings

Tomatoes and bell peppers

Tomatoes and bell peppers

The two small sprouts on the right side are bell peppers.  I thought those would be the first to pop up, but boy were they stubborn!  I had almost given up on them.  Jess had several of hers going, so she gave me a couple.  Eventually some of my own decided to sprout, so now I have eight bell pepper plants going.

Jess’s boyfriend sprouts all of their seeds by putting them in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel, and leaving them in a dark closet.  So I tried it with most of the rest of my seeds.

Empty seed packets

Empty seed packets

I didn’t get much of a result.  After about a week the paper towel in with my sunflowers started to grow mold.  Jess’s boyfriend laughed at me…I was only supposed to leave them for a day.  *sigh*

So I bought a 72-cell seed starter tray and planted the seeds, hoping I didn’t kill them in those plastic bags.  I had space to spare so I also planted marigolds, basil, and more sunflowers.  Less than 24 hours later this happened:

I think it's a tomato.

I think it’s a tomato.

My herb garden will be shaped like a wagon wheel, with my duranta in the middle and eight wedge-shaped sections for thyme, sage, marigolds, peppers (bell and jalepeño), oregano, chamomile, tomatoes, and basil.  Sunflowers and hollyhocks will be planted along an adjacent fence.  Spearmint and peppermint will go into a big pot somewhere.

plants 5

Marigolds, jalepeños, spearmint

German chamomile, variegated sage, and lantanas

German chamomile, variegated sage, and lantanas

Now that school is in session I don’t have as much time to cook, but I still manage to get a little crafty.  Spaghetti always starts like this now:

tomato sauce

Roma and grape tomatoes and fresh oregano in the crock pot

Last time I made tomato sauce I planned to use it for spaghetti and chili, but I didn’t make quite enough.  So I cooked and pureed some forgotten carrots and added that to the chili.  The vegetable haters didn’t even notice.  This week I made cardamom-orange chicken with turmeric rice. I customized the rice recipe, but still. To.  Die.  For.

And yesterday, I made two of these:

Cheddar cheese pie

Cheddar cheese pie

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re probably right.  But two of our number here have Gout.  The rule of thumb with Gout is meat bad, dairy good.  We gave up beef and now include one dinner every week or two with a dairy-based protein.  So you see, cheddar cheese pie is a medical necessity!  A leftover slice with an apple, a handful of baby carrots, and a cup of tea makes an excellent breakfast.

I have View Club shots, but I will post them tomorrow.  For now, I am off to finish Beowulf.  Wish me luck.

Recipes and Garden Parts

Here are the Noncation recipes for Lemon-Sage Roasted Chicken and Warm Eggplant and Goat Cheese Sandwiches.  I made Broccoli Slaw, too, but that was a cheat:  1 bag of ready-made broccoli slaw, 1 cup of prepared cole slaw dressing, ½ cup of raisins, and 1 small package chopped peanuts billed as desert topping.  Mix, eat, love.

Guess what I found this morning?  Seedlings!  Four hollyhocks and three sunflowers.  The peat pots were nice and soaked, and a little bumble bee was having a grand time slurping the extra water off of them.  My pictures of all this were abysmal.

My fancy water pail

But here’s my fancy water pail for your amusement.

Sometime last Tuesday, while I was gone to The Sing-Off again (which was much shorter this time, and Daddy treated me to dinner after!), my spearmint plant fell over and the whole thing slid out of the pot.  By the time I found it the plant was completely dried out, crunchy leaves and all.  The stems and smallest leaves closest to the soil were still somewhat succulent, so I cut it back hard and brought it inside to convalesce at the kitchen window.

Spearmint before

Spearmint before

Spearmint after

Spearmint after

The rest of my beautiful plant fit into one small teabag.

The rest of the spearmint plant in one tiny teabag.

Spearmint tea

Honestly I wanted peppermint anyway, not spearmint, so I picked up this lovely

Peppermint

Peppermint

along with another spearmint for Jess, to help repel the aphids attacking her garden.  And I moved everything to an east-facing porch so they won’t scorch in the fierce sun and heat pounding down on us.

Aw, so perty

Aw, so perty

The east porch is also adjacent to the site of their future permanent home

Dirt and waning tomatoes today, herb garden eventually.

Dirt and waning tomatoes today, herb garden eventually.

School started for Drew last week.  A smooth transition into freshman year of high school.  He is going to start a club…I told you guys about that already, yes?  The Nerdist Club?  He’s ready to go with a faculty advisor, officers, members, a first activity/ fundraiser, even an endorsement from the creator of The Nerdist!  Now he just has to wait for the paperwork to become available, get 50 signatures (which will be super-easy, he says), and off he goes.

School starts for me tomorrow. I don’t want to goooo!  Technically school starts Tuesday, because all of the classes I registered for are on Tuesdays and Thursdays:  English Lit, Modern Drama, and Short Story Writing.  However, only English Lit is required; the rest of the classes I actually need were full, so I picked up Modern Drama and Short Story Writing as fillers.  I will attempt to add Biology and Cultural Anthropology by showing up to the first class meeting and hope that that teacher lets me in.  I have a list of 8 class meetings to try throughout the week.  If I get into any of them I will drop one or both of the fillers.  Ugh, what an ordeal.  Last year this was all very exciting, but this year I’m over it.  I’m sure once school starts and I’m into my routine, meeting new teachers and new classmates,  I’ll be fine, but today it’s hot and sticky and I’m being a cry baby.

One more load of laundry into the dryer, then it’s off to bed.  Good night, blogosphere!

Super Family Fun Time

On Saturday the folks treated us to a family day trip.  In our family that means choosing a starting destination, then going wherever the road takes us from there.  It’s been awhile since we’ve been able to do that, but with our dauntless vacationers gone only three days, there was some vacation budget left.

Our starting destination was Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, a rather famous store that sells all kinds of small-brand soda and old-fashioned candy.  It’s not very far from home, but who doesn’t love soda pop and candy?  For the first ten seconds Galco’s looks like an outdated neighborhood grocery store full of boxes, old equipment, and unused office furniture.  Then we start picking up soda bottles.  Elderberry soda?  Mint?  Birch beer?

Dandelion and what?! Are you sure this is soda?

They had over 400 types of sodas and beers from around the world, a make-you-own-soda station (a hand-made blue soda named TARDIS came home with us), and vintage candy. (Anyone remember something called a Chick-O-Stick?  Sen-Sen mints?  Zots?)  This place is as fascinating as a museum!  After we left we learned [from one of our more observant, less communicative family members] that they had a small deli, too.  We decided to take our sugary purchases and let the road find us another hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop for lunch.

Now friends, remember that we are following the people who had two weeks of vacation available to them, and could only handle three days.  There is a reason for this.  My step-dad, Rob, is a notoriously bad driver, so Mom does all the driving.  Unfortunately, Rob is also a notorious backseat driver, and sometime’s Mom can only take so much.

Let's flashback to 2006 for just a moment.

Let’s flashback to 2006 for just a moment.

Seven years ago we took a two-week family vacation together.  We followed them just like we are doing today.  In the Sierra Nevada mountains, about five minutes after the above picture was taken, Rob consulted his new GPS system and told us to exit the parking lot and make a right.  According to the old-fashioned Thomas Bros. paper map, however, we needed to go left.  Rob insisted it was right.  So we followed them out and made a right.  A minute or so later Mom made a tire-squelching U-turn on the two-lane mountain road, passed the parking lot we just left, and pealed into the first turn-out she saw.  It was like watching a silent movie: Mom parked the car, got out, slammed the door with all her might, stormed over to the passenger’s side, yelled at the window with arms flailing every which way, stomped over to the edge of the turn-out to find a rock to throw at the window, decided she didn’t want her insurance premium to go up (and couldn’t find a good rock anyway), marched back over the the car, started yelling and flailing again, threw herself back into the driver’s seat, and drove away.

Flash forward to now. Here’s a gratuitous picture of a beautiful car owned by our friend, John.

So here we are today looking for a sandwich shop: Mom, Rob, and Shelly in the lead car, with Drew, Joe, and me following.  We enter the parking lot of a little báhn mi shop, start to park, and then leave.  We drive a little ways, turn a corner, drive completely around the block, go back to the main road, and keep going.  We turn another corner, enter an alley, drive completely through the parking lot of another sandwich shop, stop in another alley, head back to the main drag, pull over under some trees…

At this point we expect Mom to fling herself out of the car and read someone the riot act.  Alas, not today.

We end up back in Pasadena, at a sandwich place called Ginger Corner Market that sells hoity-toity stuff like a ham and brie sandwich with fig jam and arugula, green pea salad with mint and feta, and lavender lemonade.  Okay that was just my lunch:  everyone else had turkey or grilled cheese with potato salad and iced tea.

Shelly's lunch.

Shelly’s lunch.

The owner gave us free lemon squares for desert, as a Welcome To My Restaurant present.  How nice!

We couldn’t decide what to do next, so we came home to regroup.  Poor Mom and Rob fell asleep almost as soon as their feet hit the living room carpet.  Drew just wanted to plop down, Skype his friends, and play computer games.  Shelly wanted to do anything please Janine don’t make me stay home let’s go somewhere else we’re supposed to be on vacation please please get me out of this houuuuuse!!!

We drove to a nearby garden center and bought these beauts,

Thyme, sage, and spearmint.

Thyme, sage, and spearmint. Note the empty dandelion-burdock soda bottle. Not too bad, that stuff.

came home and started these things,

Seeds!  Bell peppers, tomatoes, sunflowers, and hollyhocks.

Seeds! Bell peppers, tomatoes, sunflowers, and hollyhocks.

and then told Rob about my new herb garden idea.  Today, he bought me this:

Eeeee!

Duranta repens

Sorry I couldn’t get a better picture of it.  It’s a type of verbena called Skyflower, Golden Dewdrop, or Pigeon Berry.  It has the prettiest purple flowers edged in white, which become clusters of yellowy berries.  The flower and berry stems arch willow-like from between the foliage.  Usually they’re big hedge shrubs, but this one is trained into a small ornamental tree that is going right into the center of my herb garden, where it’ll attract birds, bees, and butterflies.  Eeeee!

Tomorrow is the taping of The Sing-Off with Daddy. Yay!  So I’m off to get some shut-eye.  Sweet dreams!

Sing-Off snacks are ready to go.

Noncation 2013: Day 3

7:00 am:   What am I doing up?  My room never properly cooled off, so I didn’t sleep well.  And at some point the rubber band fell out of my hair, so I spent the last hour or two of semi-sleep flipping my whole head whenever I changed position.  I know I should stay awake but I don’t think it’s going to happen.  One of my eyes feels swollen.  I’m whiny and cranky.

7:15 am:  Andrew is up.  Guess he doesn’t need to change his schedule after all.

8:00 am:  Feed animals.  Start feeding Sprite half of a tiny can of food twice a day.  She eats it with her body as far away from the bowl as possible like she’s stealing it.

Pilot, Sprite, and Sahara.  Missing the fish and a turtle.

Pilot, Sprite, and Sahara. Missing the fish and a turtle.

It’s hotter downstairs than upstairs, which actually feels pretty good now.  I find another rubber band and pile my hair on top of my head.  Screw this noise, I’m going back to bed.  I’ll start changing my schedule tomorrow.

11:45 am:  Wake up permanently.  I am ashamed.   What time should I tell the blogosphere I woke up?  11:00?  10:30?

12:15 pm:  Call Jessica to arrange pick-up.  I tell her about the nightmare I had that her dad started a Nazi-like religious cult and locked a couple hundred people inside, including his family and me.

12:30 pm:  Shelly calls.  She had been looking forward to seeing the San Diego Mission, but her parents got into a big fight so they are coming home instead.  At some point, though, they calmed down and decided to make it up to her, so now she’s calling from the Mission San Luis Rey.  Next stop is Mission San Juan Capistrano.  That’s the one the swallows come back to.  Bug Bunny said so all the time, remember?

1:00 pm:  Shelly calls three times in a row while I’m in the bathroom.  I call her back and get voicemail.  I call Mom.  “Why did you call Janine?”  she asks Shelly.

“To complain!”  I hear her say.

“Oh.”  I can hear my mom roll her eyes.  Shelly put her purse down to take a picture and forgot about it.   She didn’t realize it was missing until they had toured the whole mission.  She and Mom scour the place, but it’s gone.  Shelly wants to come home right now.

Scene of the crime:  cemetary at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia.

Scene of the crime: cemetery at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia.

An old friend of Shelly’s, Janice (rhymes with Bernice), shows up with her mini offspring while I’m on the phone.  They are 2 and 5, and tiny even for their ages.  They’ve had a long day already.  Janice makes them lunch then pulls out her cell phone to make some calls.  The kids bring a bowl of Cheetos upstairs to my room, exploring and chatting while I type. One of them finds a purple plastic Easter egg and oh, it is on and crackin’ now!

They also find my Thinking Cap.

They also find my Thinking Cap.

Our stairs are steep and treacherous, so the five-year-old bounces down them on her tush for safety.  She starts playing one-man fetch:  she throws the egg down the stairs as hard as she can to break it in half, then retrieves it.  Each time she descends, she tries to muster the courage to walk it.  Eventually she gets it.  “Look!  Come quick!”  she calls.  “I can use my feet now!”

2:30 pm:  Make the Friday Night Switch:  Drive to Monrovia, pick up Jess, drop off Drew.  The drive makes me extremely nervous considering my illegal car, but Drew’s face would probably melt off if he missed a Friday night at the weekly street fair.  I leave a pile of picture books for Janice and the kids.

Finally stop at the market for the odds and ends I really need now.  I feel so accomplished.

4:00 pm:  Wipe spilled juice and unidentifiable sticky off the books while the kids are still napping.

There’s never a wrong time for a Christmas story, especially when you’re small.

When they wake up they end up back in my room.  I bring out my wooden treasure chest for them to scrounge through, a leftover from the pirate-themed surprise party my family threw for me a few years ago.  I let them each keep a plastic gemstone ring, a string of party beads, and a plastic cocktail pick shaped like a sword.  They try to con me out of more.  I make a mental note to stock it with more give-away trinkets.

5:30 pm:  Shelly posts on Facebook that they are at her aunt’s house.  They are definitely on their way home.

7:00 pm:  Warm eggplant and goat cheese sandwiches with broccoli slaw for dinner.  Jess posts on Facebook that it’s the best vegetarian meal she’s ever had, EVER!

7:15 pm:  Shelly calls.  They’re in Arcadia, one city away.

8:00 pm:  The intrepid vacationers arrive home.  They’ve tied their record for shortest summer vacation ever.  Mom still has another week off of work.

10:00 pm:  Reverse the Friday Night Switch:  drop off Jess, pick up Drew.

And thus ends Noncation 2013.

Pre-Noncation 2013: The Sing-Off

It’s that time of year again, my friends!  The folks are off on another road trippin’ adventure, this time South toward San Diego and its environs, while I hold down the fort.  This year’s twist is that rather than merely house-sitting, I actually live here again.  Blerg.

But are we going to let that ruin our Noncation?  No way!  We are going to have a perfectly average time just like last year.

Noncation officially starts today, but the night before Noncation (i.e. last night) deserves its own post because Mom, Joe and I went to a taping of

the-sing-off

AAAAHHHHH!!!!!

The Sing-Off is a competition show for a cappella singing groups.  Each week there is a theme of either a song style or a song type, and one group is eliminated by the three judges.  I love it because no one’s a jerk, there’s no backstage drama, and the singing is awesome.  And it’s a cappella!  Who doesn’t love a cappella?  Like the movie Pitch Perfect but with less insanity.

Here is one of the first opening numbers from last season.  It’s not one of the best, but I want you to see the lighted tunnel that the Dartmouth Aires comes through, at about 1:48:

When we got to the sound stage we walked through that tunnel onto the set.  That was my fan girl moment, when I realized this was THE tunnel and I could see the Sing-Off stage at the other end.  I played it cool but I fought back excited tears.

We weren’t at the end of the line, but we’re old and slow so people passed us when we walked from the holding queue to the stage.  As we were being seated, I noticed with a twinge of panic that these were not chairs, but bleacher-style benches.  OMG, we can’t sit that long on glorified stairs!   But those people who walked around us did us a favor.  The audience wranglers cut the line right in front of us, and we and everyone behind us were moved to a section with real chairs.  Score!

When the show airs it’ll go like this:  a big group number with all the contestants; one performance from each group, including a short intro and ending critiques from the three judges;  the announcement of the two bottom groups; a sing-off between those two groups (one song that they sing together throw-down style); and the elimination of one group.  And of course the host’s banter in between.  Very simple show.  Filming it, not so much.

Taping was scheduled from 7:00 pm-10:30 pm.  This episode will only be the second of the season, so nine groups were still in the competition.  That’s eleven singing performances.  In theory that sounds fabulous, doesn’t it?  But it translated to 2 extra hours of taping.  5 ½ hours of roof-shattering cheering for damn near everything.  We cheered after every performance, before and after every commercial break, before and after every group intro, at the end of every judge’s critique, as each group left the stage, and after every elimination announcement.   Every re-take started with us cheering. Many re-takes were shot two, three, four times.   If we failed to cheer at the right time or with enough enthusiasm, it was a re-take.  As if that wasn’t enough, it was Party Anthem week.  They didn’t want mere applause; they wanted us to bring the entire sound stage crashing down.

The opening group number was shot in its entirety 3 times (which was cool, actually).  The final singing battle was shot twice.  (Not so cool, because we were tired by then.)  It took 40 minutes for the judges to make a decision.  (REALLY not appreciated!)  The audience wranglers wished us a good morning as we dragged ourselves out at 12:30 am.  Our fingers and hands were sore from all the clapping.  We were completely exhausted.

It wasn’t all bad, though.  My hands would’ve hurt less if I hadn’t worn rings, so that was my fault.  We knew that our cheering wasn’t just for TV, but to boost up the very real people who were competing, which made it a little easier to keep going when we were worn out.   And oh, my friends, the singing!  Here are two of my favorite groups, Home Free and Street Corner Renaissance:

I had two other favorites, but I cannot for the life of me find them on the Interwebs anywhere.

Interesting things happen when they film this show.  When it came time to announce the bottom two groups, the crew took “beauty shots” of the contestants waiting to hear the results.  The groups were all placed on stage atop portable stairs, like little individual class pictures.  During set-up the contestants chatted and laughed, but when tape rolled they had to stare at the judge’s table without smiling, while two cameramen whirled around them.  If the table was empty, the footage was called “worried shots,” but if the judges were there it was called “tense shots.”  And there was nothing else going on: the host wasn’t talking ,the judges weren’t deliberating, we weren’t even cheering.  So on TV, when they cut away to close-ups of the contestants looking anxious, those are the beauty shots. 

Another eye-opening moment came when the host announced elimination results.  For most of the show he reads from a teleprompter, but to reveal the bottom two groups he reads the results off of a card.  Or does he?   When the time came, he opened a card and started ticking off the names of groups that were safe.  That’s when my radar went up:  there wasn’t enough room on that little card for all of that!  They stopped taping briefly to reset camera angles, and during this time the host refolded the card.  He opened it again and pretended to read it when he announced the first group in danger of elimination.   Another reset, and he folded the same card again!  And opened the same card again to announce the other group in danger!  The same blank card!

And all that tension while everyone is waiting to get the results?  Fake.  Sure, everyone wants to hear who stays and who goes, but there was so much time between those particular takes that the contestants goofed around with each other, one of the engineers played party music, our warm-up guy threw candy at us and led us in sing-alongs…by the time they finally started taping those segments, the announcements were little more than cues for the contestants and the audience to react for the cameras.  The host (or in one case a judge) just pauses for about 15 seconds to heighten the suspense.  Even that dramatic anticipatory music isn’t there; it’s added in later.

My favorite part of the night came while the judges were deliberating.  According to a former contestant sitting nearby, they usually don’t take longer than 10 minutes or so to made a decision.  They came back, sat down, cameras had just started to roll on the final segment… when the director cut, two producers approached the judges, and then the judges, producers, and director all left again.  They were gone for 40 minutes!  Uuuuuugh!  Maybe if they had come back with burgers for us we wouldn’t have minded so much, but it was already late and we were running on fumes.

In the meantime the show’s host went back to his trailer, too, the bottom two groups were stuck standing on-stage (chatting and laughing as usual…no tension), and our warm-up guy ran out of candy. The party songs were getting old, so Mr. Warm-Up wracked his brain for some good sing-along songs.  Eventually he tried Blurred Lines, a current pop song.  Turns out it was in the repertoire of one of the groups standing on stage!  So when we started singing they started beat-boxing and filling in the background with their version.  We all stopped to listen, but then the other group on stage joined in with improvised backgrounds, so we took the hint to keep singing.  Some of the other contestants joined in, too.  We didn’t get very far, but it was still frickin’ amazing!   We sang with the Sing-Off people!

Electronic devices of any kind were prohibited, including cell phones, so we couldn’t call home to let them know the taping ran late.  My step-dad gets panicky over this type of thing, so of course when we got back to the car Joe and my mom had a bunch of missed calls.  My sister, Shelly, left a message on Joe’s voicemail, so he called her back and explained what happened.  Not two minutes after hanging up, my step-dad called my mom!  Shelly had relayed the message but it wasn’t enough.   He’s getting crankier and more anxious in his old age.  Anyway, I drove home at what felt like warp speed.  My bed was calling to me, but perhaps not as loudly as Mom and Joe’s beds were calling to them.

Still, I’d do it again.  Anyone else up for it?

Orange Storm

Kitchen window, et al.

Kitchen window, et al.

Last week we had the strangest weather.  Rain and thunderstorms followed by humid, unbearable heat.  Last Monday we got up to 101F (38C).  Sitting in my car waiting for my class to start at 6:15 pm, it was still about 95F (35C)!  Which is why I was in my car, engine idling, AC full blast.

Barn in the suburbs.

Barn in the ‘burbs.

A few days before the heat we had a crazy storm blow through.  I thought a neighbor was moving trash cans  I kept hearing the familiar plastic rumbling sound.  The thing about moving trash cans is that there’s sort of a slow Doppler effect: the sound starts out far away, gets louder as they roll even with wherever I am, then fades away.  This rumbling was sustained as if it was on an asphalt treadmill.  There was never a big clap, just this sort of roiling.  I’ve never heard thunder like that before.

Facing south at sundown.

Facing south at sundown.

It was early evening and already chilly, so I grabbed a blanket and told my sister, Shelly, to sit with me on the porch.  We hunkered down and watched the lightening, which would streak across the sky in jagged pink cracks.  “OOOOOO!”  we’d holler, loud enough to echo across the street, and count down until that grumbly thunder started.  My step-dad went on-line and found the storm’s exact location and trajectory.  It was dumping buckets of rain to the north and east of us.  We were situated in a little pocket of clear, but the storm was closing in.

orange storm yard 7

Dollops of rain.

Eventually giant dollops of rain fell around us.  My mom came out to join our little storm-watching party.  My step-dad pointed out a huge  black and yellow swallowtail butterfly perched on a corner of the roof, sitting perfectly still with its wings closed as if intentionally making itself razor-thin to avoid being bombed by the huge raindrops.

Retreating storm

Retreating storm

A low shelf of dark clouds passed over the mountains and headed straight for us.  About every 3 minutes a lightening bold shot horizontally across its underside.  “OOOOO!” we’d shout like a bunch of 7-year-olds in a science class.

orange storm sky 6

California post-storm

The best came last.  It looked like a giant spider:  I saw at least three bolts shoot out from a spot on the sky hidden by a tree.  “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  OMG did you SEE that?!”

Orange storm clouds

Orange storm clouds

Once the storm passed, I caught these shots from my parents’ backyard.  The post-storm dusk was amazing of course, but the colors everywhere were breathtaking.  They made even the utilitarian parts of the yard seem magical.

Like this.

Like this.

The Bee Story

I forgot to tell you guys what happened with the bees from Easter Eve!

Um...

Um…

Right after I posted, or maybe while I posted, my step-dad started a search for someone that would remove the bees without killing them.  He knew they were harmless because he stood right in the middle of the swarm and didn’t get stung once.  He was worried, though, that they’d find their way into the walls of this old, holey house, and decide to stay.

He found a local guy, on You Tube of all places, who removes bees and gives them to people who need a colony, usually owners of small orchards in nearby Tujunga Canyon.  He said they most likely came from a larger colony somewhere in the vicinity, and were either scouting for a better spot for the whole colony or were a smaller branch-off group looking for their own space.  Just like you smarties said, he said they’d probably move on the next day, but that the idea of them colonizing in our walls was a very real possibility, too, and then they’d be a bear to remove.

He had quite and audience while he was here.  My step-dad, sister, and I watched from a side porch while my mom, kids, and a neighbor squinched together with their faces pressed to a nearby window, mesmerized.  We peppered the poor guy with questions the entire time, but he didn’t seem to mind.  I’m sure he thought we were amusing.  It was all so fascinating to us city folk!

He took an ordinary cardboard box, cut out a small window in the side, and taped a piece of mesh to it.  Then he taped all the seams around the box and donned his beekeeper duds.  He gingerly placed the box under the bees and then raised it up in agonizing increments until the entire cone was inside.  Then he shook the branch they were sitting on as hard as he could.  Immediately, but calmly, he closed the box and sealed it with more tape, then drenched the rose bush with an insecticide.  He assured us it would only be effective long enough to kill any stray bees from this colony, to keep them from bringing back any of their mates from the main colony.

After the bees were safely in the beekeeper’s truck, my step-dad said he wished he could’ve let them stay, because he has a young avocado tree that would benefit from the pollination.

“They’d be great for the tree,” the bee guy said, “but your neighbors wouldn’t be too thrilled.”