North Dakota's overreporter

Home Sweet Home
May 15, 2010, 3:13 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Now, I don’t mean to brag, but I’m something of an interior design nut. When it comes to arranging furniture and picking out design elements, it’s almost like I possess a sixth sense. When I enter a space, I can instantly assess it and determine the most attractive way to arrange all the elements. My mind is like a catalog of throw rugs, slipcovers, and end tables, to say nothing of window treatments. So when I moved into my own apartment, I felt like I had to do something extra special. Something organic and practical that would perfectly encapsulate my aesthetic vision. Something eloquent and understated that captured the zeitgeist of my generation.  After many hours of long deliberation, I settled upon my theme.


I felt this theme was economically viable, and had the added bonus of saving furniture from landfills.

One of my great comforts going in was knowing that the notion one has to pay a lot of money for quality furniture is nothing more than a myth. In fact, there are several discount options available for resourceful designers. I went with a method known, among design circles, as “cleaning out my parents’ basement.” The concept is simple – you find relatives who are moving, or who have acquired more furniture than they realistically need, and you take it off their hands. Using this method, I acquired two chairs, a record player, a CD stand, and a desk.

The drawback of this method is that the various pieces of furniture seldom match. To counter this, I included pieces in my design that were intended to draw the eye away from the furniture, such as an inexplicable ceramic sculpture of a woman in a pink dress, and a Kleenex box cover shaped like a doll’s head that I swear is going to come alive and eat my face off. Guests tend to focus on these elements, and small design flaws tend to go largely unnoticed.

Another challenge was selecting pieces that were multifunctional. Because of the limited space in my apartment, I looked for ways to optimize storage. One of my more clever solutions involved building an end table, night stand, and room divider entirely out of cardboard boxes. For added panache, I covered several of the boxes with sheets and old blankets.

Another little design secret that I’ll let you in on is that things don’t necessarily have to be used for the purpose for which they were designed. For example, a pair of difficulties presented themselves when I moved in. Problem A was that my kitchen lacked adequate storage space and had only two drawers. Problem B was that I possessed two desks. You can probably guess what my solution was. I find that having a desk in my kitchen gives me more counter space, and the drawer is a handy place to throw all mismatched kitchen utensils.


Speak the Speech, I Pray You

I always thought it would be weird to go to college and then become a teacher. I mean, you finally get to leave high school to go to college, but then four years later, you end up right back where you started. Except this time you come in on the other side.

I got a taste of this last Saturday when I signed up to judge the regional speech tournament. When I was in jr. high and high school, regional speech used to be a HUGE deal. I was one of the geeks whose lives revolved around speech, so for me regionals were far more important than, say, the prom. Regionals were the place where dreams lived and died. Regional winners remained winners. Regional losers remained losers. And the people with the awesome power to separate the two were the judges.

And so, I walked into regionals knowing that the happiness of dozens, perhaps hundreds of children was in my hands.

My first impression when I walked into the school was, “Will I be judging these kids? What are they reading? Dr. Seuss?” Sometime in the last five years, our school system was altered in such a way that preschoolers are now admitted as freshmen. I’m quite sure that I never competed in speech at their age – in fact, I’m not even sure I was reading chapter books. But these kids were excited and ready to go.

For my first round, I judged humorous duo. I was happy about this, because I competed in humorous duo for five years myself, and placed in state twice. So I knew the category, and I knew I could offer some good insights.

Unfortunately, this humorous duo round was EXACTLY like the humorous duo rounds I remembered, complete with all the same scripts I heard high school. We had For Here or To Go, a classic script about a fast food server. Then there was a Ken Bradbury script (I’m beginning to fear that you have to be a former speech geek in order to understand this paragraph) about Goldilocks and her lawyer. We continued with a new script about a strawberry seed and an onion seed who are trying to be friends, even though (spoiler!) they seem to be a mismatched pair. Then came a true surprise…Who’s on First? Admittedly, this script made Abbott and Costello famous, and is one of the best known comedy routines of all time, but I think it’s lost some of its magic for me. I’ve seen it performed dozens of times by nervous jr. high students who never practice, which tends to suck the fun out of most literature.

For the rest of the day, I didn’t hear anything that was intentionally funny. After humorous duo, I was set to judge serious duo, poetry, and serious prose – the trifecta of depressing subject matter. I talked to one judge during the day who had divided all source material in these events into five categories: murder, rape, drugs, anorexia/bulimia, and non-murder deaths (due to cancer, car accidents, Nazis etc.). This guy clearly knew what he was talking about; during the course of the day, I got to hear long meditations on each of these things.

The serious categories actually wouldn’t be so bad, except that for some reason, students will read ALL serious subject matter in a voice that makes them sound like they’re emerging from a coma on the verge of tears. NOTHING sounds sincere or heartfelt when it’s read in this voice, because it’s not a voice that normal people even possess. I think it was granted by God only to a handful of small children, as a sign that they were to enter serious interpretation categories in speaking contests. This voice must evaporate on the day a child turns 18, because I’ve never heard it in the adult world.

I judged one girl who recited a flowery tribute to a dead dog in this voice. To be fair, this was a tiny girl, and it was probably her first year in speech. So I was glad she wasn’t describing a brutal rape or anything. But I have a personal maxim that says, the death of a pet is sad, but it isn’t a tragedy.

Next time, I really hope I get to hear about a fish baby

But, does your theater have a Russian midget army?

So I think I’m going to start a policy of always keeping a breakfast bar in my purse, because when I’m hungry, I tend to make bad decisions. I base this statement on a board meeting for the LaMoure County Summer Musical Theatre back in January. The meeting was held at 5:30, so I didn’t eat anything before I went. Unfortunately – unbeknownst to me at the time – these meetings always go long, and somewhere around 7:30, the hunger pains started to set in. It was around this time that the board’s conversation turned to our website, which looks like it was slapped together in an afternoon sometime in 2003. In my weakness, I decided it would be a good idea to volunteer to build us a new one.

Needless to say, this turned out to be a huge project, and I’m still nowhere close to finishing. But as part of this process, I’ve been sorting through all sorts of photos of previous plays, and oh, they do bring back memories.

One thing I realized long ago is that, in order to make community theater work, you have to be flexible with your casting. A lot of the time at our theater, we have to go to desperate measures just to come up with enough actors to fill the parts. (Many a spouse has been coerced into joining the cast when they tried to drop their husband or wife off at auditions.) So at LCSMT, willingness to play a part is more important than matching the description for that part. So we often end up taking liberties with our scripts. I remember a Guys and Dolls production where Big Jules became Big Julie, and most of our apostles in Jesus Christ Superstar sang soprano.

But sometimes, I think, we stretch things a little too far. Case in point: Last year our first production was The Foreigner. The characters in this play include a young minister and his girlfriend, and the girlfriend is quickly revealed to be pregnant. Now, the scene where the woman announces she’s pregnant is pretty funny already, but we had extra irony in our production, because it was quite clear that both the minister and his girlfriend were senior citizens. Of course, compared to rest of the cast, these two actually were young whippersnappers.

But my favorite show of all was Fiddler on the Roof. There were a lot of scenes in that show that required a large crowd, and since guys are always hard to come by, we had a lot of women with alter egos. I myself played a man in one scene. But the most classic example of community theater cross-dressing was our Russian army. The big scene for the Russian army is when they crash a wedding ceremony and terrorize the town. Since they pretty much trash the wedding and beat people up in the street, you’d expect the Russian soldiers to be played by large, burly men. Not in our show. We made the decision to have our Russian army portrayed by a troop of young female dancers. It was pretty funny considering that not one of our soldiers was over five feet tall.

My cousin Ally, was one of the aforementioned soldiers. During the wedding scene, she was supposed to beat up one of the main characters, who was played by a fairly tall man. My cousin measures 4’10”, and could barely reach his shoulders. So he had to bend over so she could punch him in the face. That’s consideration for you.

The costumes for the Russian army included some really thick, dark, Groucho Marx-style mustaches. I think the intention was to make our army look a little more masculine. Instead, it looked like our army was made up of petite, preteen girls wearing really comical mustaches.

I wonder if they ever have these problems on Broadway.

On the Road Again
February 26, 2010, 1:45 am
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There’s a long list of occupations out there that I’m not qualified to do. For example, I can’t stand looking at people’s insides, so I’m probably not cut out to be a doctor. Despite years of practice, I’ve never even been flexible enough to touch my toes, so I’m probably not going to end up being a ballerina. But one occupation that’s way way WAY up on the list of things I’m never going to be is mechanic.

It’s not like this is a new realization – I’ve always been awful at fixing things. When a light bulb went out in our bathroom in my freshman year of college, my roommate and I decided to bring in a lamp, since neither of us could figure out how to change the light bulb. (Does that sound like a blond joke, or what?) I do, however, remember one occasion when I was very proud of my mechanical skills. When our toilet wouldn’t stop flushing, I rigged it with string and tape. True, after that it wouldn’t flush at all, but I was proud of myself for fixing the immediate problem.

But all in all, my lack of mechanical aptitude has never really been a problem for me. I may not be able to fix things, but I’m usually pretty good at knowing who to contact when something needs to be fixed. When it came to home repair, I always had a landlord or some similar person who I could go to for help. And my dad has always handled any sort of work that needs to be done on my car.

Speaking of my car, I have a PT Cruiser, and despite all you naysayers who can’t appreciate its true beauty, I happen to love it. One of the great things about it is that so far it’s been a very reliable vehicle. Dad handles the oil change every few months, and other than that, it really hasn’t required any maintenance.

…Until three days ago. Three days ago, I went to a meeting in LaMoure, which is about twenty miles away from Edgeley. Everything was fine on the way there, but when the meeting was over and I started to drive away, I noticed my car was making a funny sound. At first I ignored it, seeing as how I knew I wouldn’t be able to fix whatever was wrong with it anyway, but as I drove onto the highway and started picking up speed, I realized that even I couldn’t ignore this problem.

Upon inspection of my car, I realized that I had a flat tire. Actually, it took me a shockingly long time to realize even this much. I had to walk around my car twice before I spotted the source of the problem, and even then, I wasn’t completely sure that my tire was flat. I could see it had pulled away from the rim, but I wasn’t really sure if that was the same thing as flat.

This may sound a little stupid, but the knowledge that I had a bad tire absolutely floored me. Seriously. As I sat in my car, I realized that I had absolutely no clue how to deal with this situation. I knew this was a fairly common occurrence, but what did people do when they had car trouble? My immediate impulse was to call dad, but as he was in Florida, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to help. I knew that I had a spare tire somewhere, but changing it myself was absolutely out of the question. I looked in the owner’s manual, and realized that I couldn’t understand anything beyond the location of the jack. After considering several options, I decided to call my grandparents and have them come pick me up.

One thing I did learn from this experience is that I should never speed in the area immediately outside of LaMoure. Within fifteen minutes of my pulling over, two cop cars came up behind me to see what was wrong. The first guy looked nearly as lost as I did, and pulled away as soon as I told him I’d already called someone. The second guy (bless him!) actually stopped and helped me change my tire. And when I say he helped me change my tire, I mean he changed it while I held anything that needed holding.

So with the help of the cop, and my grandpa who pulled up soon afterwards, I did get my tire changed and I managed to make it home. The funny part about this story is that the road to LaMoure has always seemed much longer than twenty miles. I don’t know why that is, but other people have noticed it as well. That night, I spent about 45 minutes waiting to get my tire changed, and another half hour to 45 minutes driving home at 35 mph. That length of time, plus the LaMoure-Edgeley time warp, made it seem like the longest drive EVER. I’m pretty sure the road from Texas to North Dakota was shorter than that sucker. At least I now have a good war story to tell the next time I’m on a long international flight.

The Advantages of Not Owning a Home
February 15, 2010, 12:27 am
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Our basement, although it is technically better than a pit in the ground, is nevertheless not the cleanest or the best maintained part of the house. Instead, our basement is the kind of place where young children aren’t allowed to go alone. Even now, there are rooms down there that I don’t enter unless it’s absolutely necessary. I think of these rooms as a sort of shed or pole barn – we store our things in there, but they aren’t subject to the indoor rules of cleanliness.

The worst is the furnace room. True to its name, that’s where the furnace lives, along with the water heater, and some other large equipment that’s somehow used in running the house, but which I don’t really understand. It’s also where we keep the power tools and home maintenance items, such as paint and scrap wood. Sometimes small pieces of farm equipment will find their way down there as well. So there’s a lot of random clutter, but the thing that really bothers me is that the whole room is basically falling apart. Sections of the walls and ceiling are missing, and there are exposed pipes and insulation sticking out. The floor is made of some kind of really old material, and it’s chipping away in places. The walls used to be painted pea green, but for the last twenty years, Mom has made a point of cleaning all her paint brushes on the wall, so now the walls are a random collage of all the colors used in the rest of our house. And I can never, in my entire life, recall a time when the furnace room was given a thorough cleaning (not that this is anybody’s fault – it’s a truly massive project, and it probably isn’t worth the effort since nobody spends much time there anyway).

So the bottom line is, I try not to spend too much time in the basement. I go down there, do whatever I came down there to do, and leave. I don’t spend too much time thinking about it, and I definitely don’t make an effort to clean it.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men, and sure enough, a few days ago, life threw a curve ball at me. Apparently, there’s a tree root in our yard that grows next to our sewer pipe, and about every two years or so, the root will grow enough to obstruct the flow.

…You can see where this story is headed.

Starting about a week ago, I noticed that whenever I ran the washing machine or drained the sink, the pipes in the basement would make a funny gurgling sound. I thought this was kind of funny, but I’m not exactly Joe the Plumber, so I figured that as long as nothing was actually exploding it was probably all right. There’s a reason I didn’t become a handyman.

One day, I went down to the basement after taking a shower, and noticed that, hey, the floor was pretty wet. I knew about the root problem, so I did a quick check and determined that yes, the water was coming from the grate in the bathroom, and I figured that was probably the cause. (On a slight tangent, who was the genius who decided we needed grates downstairs anyway? Is there any time, ever, when we need to pour something into the sewer, but can’t use the toilet or two downstairs sinks? And why would we need one in the bathroom? As far as I can tell, that grate’s only conceivable function is to flood the house.)

I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I was angry at the house for flooding itself when I was home alone. On the other hand, this was a problem that I could diagnose, and I knew a plumber could easily fix it. And I could deal with cleaning up a little soapy water in the bathroom.

I called a plumber and, as expected, he fixed the problem quickly. I was already starting to congratulate myself for handling this matter so well when I went downstairs to check on the extent of the damage.

That’s when I stopped feeling so good about myself. I quickly saw that in fixing the problem, the plumber had dislodged some true sewer nastiness in to the basement, and, well, water has a way of spreading things about. I also checked some other areas and realized that a sizable amount of the furnace room was flooded. It was kind of like that feeling Wile E. Coyote got when he ran out over a canyon, and after getting halfway across, suddenly looked down and realized he wasn’t standing on solid ground anymore.

So now, on top of the already disgusting basement nastiness, I had to contend with brand new sewer nastiness. And there was no way I could get out of cleaning this one up. Without going into details, it was truly one of the most unpleasant tasks I’ve ever performed. I broke the cleaning up into stages to make things easier for myself. I mopped the floor twice, using far more bleach than is generally recommended. (My hope was to prevent anything living down there, from spiders to bacteria, from ever reproducing again). After the second mopping, I decided that cleaning supplies I had on hand simply weren’t sufficient, and I had to make a Wal-Mart run to get more. I mopped everything again, then cleaned the small affected area of carpeting, and the counters (yes, it had spread that far). I think I’ve kind of lost faith in commercial cleaning products, because with the amount of chemicals I used, our basement should basically be Mammoth Cave.

Oh, and my cleaning spree was temporarily interrupted when a potential employer called to tell me that, while I was an excellent candidate and I had a perfect interview, they decided to hire a candidate with more experience. Talk about a crappy day.

The Most Dangerous Game
January 17, 2010, 11:16 pm
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Well, I never thought it would happen to me, but I’ve come to see that I’m not immune. So now I have to break down and admit that I’ve become a video game addict.

This was very surprising to me, because when we were growing up, my parents never allowed my sister or me to have any sort of gaming system at all. There was an old Atari in the basement, but really, how many games of Centipede can a person play before they get bored? I think my limit was about two. I did play a few computer games, but they were the educational kind like Amazon Train and Carmen San Diego, so I was really more of a nerd than a gamer.

The result of this was that by the time I got to college, I was completely video game impaired. I assumed that even if I wanted to play, I would be fundamentally unable to catch on. Occasionally I would see people play real video games, like Halo or World of Warcraft, but to me, it all looked like a bunch of random photons firing out of the screen. Even if someone explained the rules to me, I could never make any sense of it. And on those regrettable occasions when someone actually made me play, I quickly proved that I wasn’t faking my incompetence. If it was possible to die, I would die before the level even began. I could die playing Guitar Hero. If it was a racing game, I would get so lost that many times I completed the course backwards before I figured out what I was supposed to do. Needless to say, I figured I would never be able to handle anything more complicated than Tetris.

Then, this Christmas, my parents bought a Wii. I have absolutely no idea how this happened. My parents, remember, were the ones who never allowed me to play video games, and they were even more incompetent at them than I was. But for whatever reason, they finally decided to join the twenty-first century.

My parents got three games for Christmas. Wii Games and Wii Sports were safe enough for me, but somehow – and this is probably the most pathetic thing ever, in terms of video game addiction – I got stuck on The Complete Lego Star Wars. The thing that I like about this game is that you can die an unlimited number of times and still finish a level. You may be stuck on a certain part for a while, but there is absolutely no way to fail. Also, I’m pretty sure this game was designed for four-year-olds, so I find it fairly challenging.

I started playing it with my sister before she went back to college, and I’m happy to say that she was almost as addicted as I was. We would lay awake at night, replaying scenes from the game and thinking of strategy. Once, when we were sharing a room at my grandparents’ house, I woke her up in the middle of the night to say, “Nicole, I just got a great idea! We need to buy Watto! He can fly!” And Nicole was just as excited about this as I was.

But I knew it had gone too far when one night I had a strange dream. I dreamed that I was standing outside this huge house, an enormous mansion, really, and it took forever just to walk around it. Then, my family was with me, and we went into the house. I somehow knew that this was the house my great-uncle had just bought, and we needed to look through it because he’d just died. It was a fairly somber occasion; my great-uncle was lying in the first room we went in, and we paid our final respects. After that, we started wandering through the house, trying to decide what to do with different possessions. At last we came to another room in his house, and this one had another body in it, covered by a sheet. Nicole lifted off the sheet, and we realized that this was my great-uncle’s sister, and we had never known that she existed before. Needless to say, this set off a wave of shock and surprise amongst my family, but at that moment, something else caught my eye. I had just noticed that the window was open, and it led out to the balcony. And on the balcony were COINS!!! LOTS AND LOTS OF COINS!!! PURPLE AND BLUE COINS, YAY!!!  I got my sister and we went onto the balcony to collect them and that was the end of that dream. When I woke up, I realized that this game had left me with a really messed-up sense of priorities.

That’s pretty much how things stand now. I’ve tried to limit my playing time, but I can’t pretend I’m not addicted. As of right now, I’m about 25% done with this game. I can only hope that once I’ve finished, it will let me go. I’ve decided one thing because of this experience – l will NEVER buy a gaming system of my own.

Because I already have my two front teeth
December 27, 2009, 11:28 pm
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So I think I’m a little bit weird. I know, big surprise, right? I mean, if I didn’t know that by now, I don’t think anything would convince me. But as I was opening my Christmas presents this year, two things occurred to me. One, I really love everything I got this year, and two, I’m a really random person. To show you what I mean, here’s a list of what I got for Christmas:

1) Chopsticks – I love eating with chopsticks; I especially love eating things that aren’t meant to be eaten with chopsticks, such as hot dish. In fact, when I got my first pair of chopsticks, I learned how to use them by eating ice cream out of the container (by the way, that’s an excellent way to limit your portion size). I got these from my sister.

2) A Felicity doll – Because even as an adult, there is nothing cooler than playing with dolls (hey, if my grandma can still play with them, I’m allowed too). American Girl dolls are (and this is a fact) completely awesome, and Felicity was always my favorite. She really isn’t like me at all (she’s a colonial girl who loves horses), but when I read these books, she was the oldest, and she had the coolest dresses.

3) Alma Mater – The Pope’s new CD. Yes, I rock out to Latin chanting. I can’t actually give a good assessment of this CD yet, since I only listened to it in the car and the volume was low, but I assume it’s awesome.

4) An autographed copy of Matchless by Gregory Maguire. I actually read Wicked and I hated it, but I do love autographed copies of books, so I’m very glad my sister got this for me. And even if this is a crappy book, it’s very thin, so at least I won’t be spending much time on it.

5) An Aggie gator key chain – It’s a little baby alligator wearing a Texas A&M shirt. It’s adorable, and I’m bringing it with me just as soon as I drive somewhere.

6) The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus – Because if any group encapsulates complete randomness, it’s Monty Python. I used to use their skits as speech material, and this is still one of my favorite TV shows of all time. British comedy is amazing!

Happy New Year, everybody!