Saturday, October 24, 2009

In Love With the Eighties

Last night our ward had a talent show. The activities committee began campaigning heavily for acts several weeks ago, and were immediately satisfied with Janine when she signed up to play some of her missionary songs on the guitar. I felt satisfied too. Janine was performing, she could represent our family. I was off the hook.

Or not.

Here's the thing. The chair of the activities committee is my good friend Jessica, and one thing that comes with being friends with the activities committee chair is not only are you expected to attend activities as a member of the ward, you are expected to attend as a supportive friend. It is also because of this friendship, that last Sunday, after church, Jessica came up to me and asked me what I was doing for the talent show.

E: I'm not doing anything. I don't really have any performable talents.
J: Well, then you can display something. What are you going to display?
E: I'm not sure I really have any displayable talents either.
J: Well, what are your talents?
E: Writing.
J: I'm sure you have a talent we can put in the show.
E: Yes, my talent will be showing up and cheering for everyone else.

She lets it drop, but not really. Later that week, Jessica is making calls to confirm all the acts. I happen to pick up the phone when she calls for Janine, and seeing as Neen is out, I confirm for her.

Jessica sounds relieved. Apparently the majority of her acts have backed out and she's getting desperate. So desperate in fact she asks me again. I start describing my lack of performable talents again, when Jessica comes up with another desperate plan.

"We could do something together. Yeah, I would do something if I was doing it with you. But what could we do. . . tell you what, let's both think of ideas and I'll call you tomorrow night to figure it out, kay? Thanks Elena, bye!"

I hang up the phone and realize something. I just volunteered to be in a talent show, for which I have no talents. Why am I doing this again?

Jessica and I quickly ascertain that the only way to pull off our last minute act is to make ourselves ridiculous. If people are busy marveling at how silly we look, they will not have time to notice how untalented we are. So we agree on the easiest form of ridiculous act; an 80s dance.

Has anyone seen the movie Music and Lyrics? Yeah, I hadn't either, but Jessica had. When I arrived at her house at 4 pm yesterday (three hours before we would be performing said act), she pulled out the movie and showed me the opening credits, where Hugh Grant is pretending to be an 80s popstar and singing a wonderful song called Pop! Goes my Heart. Many of our dance moves were inspired by this scene.

Within an hour we'd choreographed our entire dance, put our hair in side ponytails, and headed to the church to practice our act on the stage. Here's another thing about being friends with the activities committee chair; you have a key to the church so you can go in early and practice your act.

By go time, we were telling everyone who asked that our talent was not an ability to dance, but an ability to imitate the 80s. With these low expectations, we went into our performance.

I think it was actually quite a success. Everyone was so busy laughing at us that they didn't think to critique our dance moves. And if I can get them to laugh, I will consider myself a success.

I went into this act totally unhappy to be doing it. I did not, under any circumstances, want to get up on that stage and make an idiot of myself. I learned however, that making an idiot of yourself is actually incredibly fun.

And besides, I have a great talent for impersonating the 80s.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Homework: Starring Frosty and Thunder

Last week I had my first interview for my broadcasting class. The fact that broadcasting is not a class I take seriously combined with my total lack of confidence with the extremely complex j-cams lead me to take the path of least resistance on this assignment. I chose to do my interview on over-the-phone customer service, in which my friend Leah just happens to work for Scotiabank.

When I approached Leah about assisting me with this project, I was very near groveling. I promised that no one would see it but my professor, we could do it whenever and wherever it was convenient for her, etc, etc. Lucky for me, Leah has never seen me with a video camera and so she shrugged it off and said it sounded like fun. Then, seeing as our mutual friend Colleen was having a gathering on Thursday night, it was proposed we do my homework at her house beforehand. 

Thursday night rolled around, and I rented my monster camera from the library. In this modern digital age we broadcasters use highly advanced cameras that can do a number of fancy things like let you adjust everything to get the picture perfect or let you monumentally mess it up if you assume you can just hit record. They also come in these giant bags that, if standing on their end would come up to my mid-thigh and weigh the same as a ton of bricks. These nice bags also have a single shoulder strap and much to our chagrin, can not be pulled down the hallways like a roll-aboard. They also come with a lovely tripod that is quite hefty as well.

What with my back and neck problems, I never carry these cameras. My classmates, and at times, my sister, are kind enough to assist me by acting as sherpas. My old-womanhood also means that all my camera angles must be shot with the tripod and never by carrying the camera on my shoulder.

I prepared for my interview with all this mind, and as I ran over my professors cheat sheet that said helpful things like, "Select the appropriate filter," and "tighten the clawball," my feelings toward this interview turned from nervous to total dread. 

I arrived at Colleen's  fifteen minutes before Leah was supposed to arrive, my sister Janine operating as my cameraman for the night. She would have preferred the role of gaffer, as holding "the long stick with the mike on it" sounded much more fun, but that is one thing I do not have to haul on broadcasting projects, so she settled for pressing the record button and wearing headphones to monitor the audio.

Colleen ushered us into her house, where she was busy laying out bowls of munchies and getting ready to make virgin drinks. I set up in the kitchen, as it had the best light. Janine set down the monster camera bag and offered to help Colleen, as they both were still assuming I knew what I was doing. Colleen also has two new kittens, named Frosty and Thunder. They are adorable, but very curious and prone to mischief. Every time I pick Colleen up she has to shuffle out the door so Frosty and Thunder don't make a break for it out the front door.

I began the first task of my project; setting up the tripod. Last time I did this it was in my class with four of my classmates hovering around, and it took all five of our brains to figure out how to adjust it correctly. Now my only help was Frosty, who decided to make my task interesting my camping out under the legs and making me sweat bullets should it suddenly collapse. Thunder soon joined in the fun by attempting to use the still-being-adjusted camera leg as a jungle gym.

Next I pulled out the camera and set it up on the tripod. Frosty and Thunder instantly discovered what a wonderful place to play my camera bag was. I hope the media desk doesn't mind one of their camera bags being filled with cat hair.

It was here that my apprehensions about my incompetencies as a videographer peaked. With my camera now secure on it's tripod and my fears of having to replace a dropped camera - as my professor had subtly hinted at when he casually mentioned their price in class - gone for the moment, I turned to the next difficult task on my to do list; turning on said camera.

I'd been over it a dozen times in class when we would put our five brains together. Now that I was alone, I forgot where the button was, but I was confident it would be simple. This button would be clearly labelled "Power" or "On/Off." I found said button and flicked it on.

Nothing happened.

I flicked it again, just to see if it was playing a trick on me. This camera has no sense of humour, it's just mean.

I checked the battery, it was fully charged. I flicked the button again, but to no avail. Now I was panicking. I had to hand in my interview the next day and my camera would not turn on. Not to mention Frosty has grown tired of hanging in the camera bag and had decided to try out the tripod jungle gym. If it tipped I would have to replace both my school's camera and my friend's cat, and I was positive I could afford neither.

Janine and Colleen were enjoying a pleasant conversation until I said in what I hope was a semi-controlled voice;

"Guys, I can't do this! I can't turn it on and I have no idea what I'm doing."

Calmly and rationally they approached the monster camera, not being experienced enough yet to fear its many shiny buttons and switches. Janine leaned down, surveyed the camera and found the button labelled "Power." She flicked it, and the camera came to life. Apparently I'd been using the power button for the hot shoe, a light you can attach to the top should you be shooting in a dark room.

Right. So I am the one who's been in the class for a month and half and she was the one who had never seen the camera before and yet she was the one who knew how to turn it on. My career is looking up.

Needless to say, I was still white balancing when Leah arrived. To make sure she had absolute confidence in me, Colleen related the story of the power button, and Leah sat down for her interview with the journalism student. I then discovered that I'd set the tripod too high. A word to the wise, when you are setting up a tripod for an interview, do not use your 6-foot tall sister as a stand in for your significantly shorter interviewee. I was getting fed up,  so I made Leah sit on a phone book.

Then came the mikes. Leah got to wear the lapel mike on her shirt while I used the handheld to record my questions. Nothing went amiss technically with this portion of the project, but as soon as I pulled out the mike chords and starting connecting them to the camera, Frosty and Thunder went wild with excitement. Apparently expensive mike chords make great chew toys. I began to ponder again what would be cheaper to replace; the kitten or the camera. I think it would be easier to win the forgiveness of my school, but I scooped up Thunder and kept him in my arms until I was set up. Leah wisely chose to do the same with Frosty, and thankfully also was wise enough to keep him away from her mike.

At last the interview began. Everything was set up in working order, and I'd even had the foresight to remove the bottles of daiquiri mix from the background. I sat and asked questions like the professional I have been trained to be, and Leah gave long, insightful answers.

Thunder was jealous of all the attention he was being deprived of. Seeing the chord to Leah's mike lying innocently on the ground, he decided it would make a great game and decided to bat it around.

This time I could not simply scoop him up, I was supposed to be staying out of the frame. Colleen, who had already picked up Frosty before he could make mischief, didn't dare enter the frame to rescue Thunder. The best I could do was subtly lean to the side and try to gently tug the chord away from him. Unfortunately he just thought this was another game, and became even more animated. Leah had to try very hard not to laugh.

In the end, it was not so terrible. Frosty and Thunder had a grand time jumping up after the chords as I wound them up, and were even nice enough to get out of the bag so I could put the camera back. I handed in my tape completely raw, or unedited as my professor wanted. Though if he watches it and wonders why Leah keeps looking down and giggling, he should know that that is a reference to one of my projects starring characters; a kitten named Thunder.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Belated Thanks-giving

I know the official holiday was a week ago, but all this week I've been thinking of Janine's Thanksgiving post. I've given it so much thought, I'm going to copy it with my own grateful list.

I am grateful for my new commute to school of parking at the institute and busing to Mount Royal. While it may take longer, it gives me free parking and allows me to have some down time for reading everyday.

I am grateful for classmates, and their willingness to help me carry that ridiculously heavy camera around, even though they all hate carrying it themselves.

I am thankful for my brightly coloured pens.

I am thankful for Petey, who keeps me informed in the world of professional hockey and assesses my ankle when I thought I rolled it in the 17th Ave chapel parking lot last night.

I am thankful for writers like Rick Riordan, who give me hope for the future of children's literature.

I am thankful for my art history class.

I am thankful for the thesaurus and big words.

I am thankful for my Uggs, which keep my feet warm on cold days.

I am thankful for my Bishop - Bis. Wolff, and for Sister Wolff.

I am thankful I was raised to not watch much tv, so I don't depend on it even when we have cable.

I am thankful for Neenie, and how she calls everyone "lovey."

I am thankful for BBC, which makes so many good movies of the books I love.

I am thankful for the quilt Grannie helped me make, and her teaching me to quilt.

I am thankful for my family and everything that makes us unique/crazy; vitamin C, our fascination with mountains, words/phrases we invent such as boobishay and in the chips, Thai food, potatoes, and the seven ibbi and their crazy games.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Forget the Turkey, Let's Get to the Pie!


I was 14 when I realized one of my missions in life. It was the eighth grade, and for some reason I cannot explain, I began developing out of my awkward shy stage and accumulating social skills with one rather unusual conversation starter. I would go up to members of my class, my church group, or really anyone and say;

"So, what's your favourite kind of pie?"

The overwhelming majority was apple, which I thought left a lot to be desired in terms of originality.

It wasn't until grade 11, that my next notable encounter occurred. In an attempt to to get the students of Bowness High School more prepared for the greater world and capable of human speech in front of a crowd, the social department decided to host a speech contest for all the Social 20 classes that semester. My teacher, Mr. Campbell explained it as follows:
  • A speech could be given about any topic, so long as it was a persuasive speech.
  • We would all perform said speeches for the class before three finalists would be chosen to go to the school-wide match.
  • The winner would be given a pie.
A PIE?! I looked up from the French Revolution project I had been working on while listening to Mr. Campbell's announcements. The winner would get a pie? Now I was motivated. Thankfully, before I could spread the good news of this misunderstanding, Mr. Campbell corrected me. "No, Elena, you will not get a pie. You will get a plaque."

Dearie me, how boring. A pie would have been much better motivation. But the idea stuck with me, so much so that when I was writing my speech and brainstorming all the topics I could speak on to make myself sound intelligent, I felt it was instead my duty to speak on why pie was the greatest dessert, and would have made a much better motivator for this contest.

I gave my speech, and was sent to the school finals. My friend Kellee was so moved by my speech she brought a pie to celebrate my birthday a few days later. She put candles in it and everything.

That speech set my role in stone. I was known for the duration of my high school life as "The Pie Girl," and after I had professed my love for the dessert in public like that, my family immediately concluded that I must want to make pies for them forever. Guess what I do every Thanksgiving now?

This year, when my parents announced that they were running away for Thanksgiving and leaving their children turkeyless and alone, I was distraught. I'd been having visions of cherries with a lattice top for weeks, I was going to make my own lemon curd, how could they do this to me?!

Janine and I originally made plans for our own thanksgiving, where she would find a smaller bird to stuff and I would blow the wad on pies. But without a working dishwasher, this plan was quickly discarded in the face of an invite to another family's Sunday dinner.

I still needed to make my pies, so on Saturday evening, Adi came over and we made pies. My Thanksgiving is considered adequate.

We didn't have a pie extravaganza, we made two; a lemon meringue, and the apple pictured above. Most of all it was a rewarding experience because Adi has never made pie before. We had a riot and our pies weren't even that bad.

Still, I feel the need for a blowout. Thank goodness we are celebrating American Thanksgiving, so I can try my planned lattice top.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nenzie Wins Major Geek Points



If you lived in my computer, this is the image you would see quite frequently. Or at least, this image minus the bug eyes and me looking more studious, but I thought that would make a lame picture.

Although I consider myself to be an avid book lover, I do not often blog about the books I read. My sister Katey does a good enough job at being the regular book critic blogger that I do not feel the need unless it is something truly exemplary. This time however, I am blogging about my absolute favourite book of all time.

Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking:

"Her favourite book? How strange. One would think that her favourite book would be an actual story. What a geek my sister/ friend/ sister-in-law/ granddaughter/ cousin/ girl I have never met is."

Or, you could be suffering from the prejudice I myself was plagued with for many years:

"The thesaurus is for people who have a limited vocabulary. She must not be a very good writer if she has to use a thesaurus."

Both these thoughts are wrong, except maybe the part about me being a geek, because yes, my favourite book is the thesaurus, and I'll tell you why.

This summer, when I was beginning work on my second novel I had a task I have never faced before; I had to write a riddle. I was slightly terrified by this prospect. In grade school, I would beg off all forms of poetry by writing twenty extra pages of creative writing, I was that bad at it. Plus my cousin and fellow writer Mikyla had been written a riddle for her book, and I'd seen her agonize over it for hours. I was not looking forward to it.

One day, while I was avoiding writing by reading about writing and getting motivated whilst procrastinating, I read a tip from one of my favourite authors, Gail Carson Levine. She suggested that when trying to write riddles and jokes, to use the thesaurus and look for obscure words that worked as puns.

Not knowing what else to do for this blasted riddle, I began using the online thesaurus. I was sure it wouldn't work. After all, how do you find an obscure word for troll?

Troll noun Definition:elf. Synonyms: demon, dwarf, giant, gnome, hobgoblin, kobold, leprechaun, monster, mythical creature, ogre. See also fiend.

I saw fiend, I saw monster too, and thus began a rather peculiar hobby. In my riddle making efforts I would decide what the main ideas of a stanza and write down theme words. For example, one paragraph was about a rainforest, witches, moddiness, and hair. So I looked all these words up. I looked up other words I liked, and I'd write out all the synonyms for each. I have pages and pages in my notebook full of synonyms I liked. As a result, I wound up with a riddle I was very proud of and yet another quirky thing to do in my spare time.

Through my riddle writing, I discovered that the thesaurus is not just for people who can't think of another word for nice (likable, superior, admirable. See also excellent). Anyone can learn new big words. It's fun, even for people think they're too smart for it.
 In fact, it may even be more fun.

I discovered the old thesaurus pictured above on our family bookshelf, and I've boobishayed it (that is actually a Redd family word for borrowing and then just keeping as your own. In a family with five girls and five closets, we needed a term for this). It rests on my desk and is used often. Just last night I was writing a cover letter for this advanced writing class I am applying for next semester, and guess what I used to make myself sound smart? That's right, the thesaurus.

So next time you can't quite find the word to describe what you mean, don't be too cool for the thesaurus, pull yours out or go to the online one. You will find the experience most remunerative (rewarding).