Monday, March 28, 2011

You can't fight Mother Nature

I had planned to record the last chapter of my first book for Iambik but we've had a steady rain interrupted by thunderstorms all day.

This means NO recording. It's hard enough to deal with lawn services, jets, school buses, and house noises but rain and thunder means you pack it in. Sigh. Normally, I enjoy rainy days. Great for reading, watching movies, etc., but I was on a roll with this book with one final chapter and any edits my proof-listener found for me to make. It's after 7:30pm now and it's still raining with a good bit of lightning and thunder thrown in for good measure.

Florida is considered the lightning capital of the U.S. and central Florida is sometimes referred to as the 'belt.' The weirdest part is that it's sometimes more dangerous immediately before and after a storm when people think it's OK to venture out.  I can't remember the specifics of why. There have been numerous cases of people injured or killed by lightning when it wasn't raining a drop. Let's just say I have a healthy respect for lightning.

So, I started dividing up the sections of my next Iambik project while hoping the rain would stop -- at least for awhile. I also began looking at carpet samples for a new rug to go under our dining room table. I'd been putting that off so at least now I have some web pages bookmarked. There are a zillion other things I could have been doing today and some of them desperately need to be done. I guess this was as good an excuse to be lazy as any other.

Song for my day:


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Manatees and Turtles and Armadillos, oh my!

I had a flash from the past a few days ago when I checked to see if a children's article I'd written years ago was still posted online. I had written it specifically for an online publication called Parents and Children Together Online. It included photos George took for me to go with the article. I had two articles published in that issue of PCTO. The manatee article was the one I was trying to find. I have one of the photos George shot framed in our 1/2 bath next to the dining room.
The entire article was still available online until shortly after I posted the link here. It had been up for years so I'm not sure why they decided to archive it now.

More than one person has asked me if George was in the tank with the manatees when he took the photos and I always tell them, no, that the zoo frowns on that type of thing.

The other online article published in the same issue of PCTO was called "Weekend Cowgirls." I got the idea for this one when my sister, Carol, told me about her friend who lived in the city during the week but spent weekends on a working ranch. I decided to write about this woman's two little girls for PCTO, so George agreed to go with me to the family's ranch on a Saturday and take pictures of the girls and how they interacted with the animals. The resulting article is no longer available online. Indiana University has something to do with that because they archived these articles. I was able to post a link to this when I originally wrote this but the article has now been taken down by Indiana U.

I've always been drawn to writing nonfiction for children as opposed to fiction.    My feeling about this is that if I find a topic interesting then I should be able to write about it in a way that would interest others.  As with most stories, it's not the subject so much as how you tell the story that matters most.  I love bananas and I found a way to write about them that led to three different articles in three different magazines.

The first article I had published was called "What Your Tears Do For You" in Children's Digest in 1989.  This was prompted by wondering why most of us feel better after we cry.
Until this article was sold, all of my published work had been in the form of book reviews, mostly for the local newspaper and a few trade magazines.  I felt like I'd found my niche with children's nonfiction.  I continued to write through the 1990's.

Many of the articles I sold were published with illustrations from either a free-lance illustrator or an illustrator on staff with the magazine.  The articles I'd written on tears, why we yawn, the history of the handshake, etc., were more suitable for illustrations.  I didn't think about the addition of photos until I saw that some publications preferred a picture to an illustration.  That's when I dragged George into it.

Besides the manatee and the ranch photos, he also shot pictures of gopher turtles, a Florida panther and a 15 year old girl I interviewed who was writing a sci-fi book.  The one subject I wrote about that George was never able to shoot a good photo of was an armadillo.  And it wasn't for lack of trying. 
They were always digging in our yard at night and there was one in particular who was recognizable due to a big splash of white pigment on his face and snout(?). For some reason I thought of the musician, Edgar Winter, so I named the armadillo Edgar. We had a next door neighbor at the time who was really pissed off at Edgar because he dug a hole under his air conditioning unit. My feeling about this is that, to be fair, the animals were here first so just repair the damage and forget about it. Unfortunately, this guy went into his garage to get a bow and arrow one night and I immediately moved toward Edgar and started telling him to 'run, run'! He was gone by the time the Big-Game Hunter found his weapon. That was a close one.

I have to admit though that I was so desperate for a photo that I actually considered using a roadkill armadillo if necessary. There are usually plenty of those around and I told George that if it still had a 'good' side we could prop it up and get a picture and no one else would know.
Luckily the editor for the magazine I sold my article to decided to use a professional photo (folded into the issue as a poster) and did a nice job laying out my article on the poster. I was happy with that. The roadkill idea never seemed to work.

Probably the most unusual place I ever found an idea for an article came from an episode of Saturday Night Live. Steve Martin was the guest host and there was a sketch where he played a barber/surgeon called Theodoric of York.
He played this character more than once on SNL. I knew that the history of barbers and surgeons were, um, somewhat intertwined. Apparently it wasn't unusual to have your hair cut next to someone having his leg amputated. So, from seeing that sketch, an idea came for an article called "The Days of the Barber-Surgeon" for a boys' magazine called Pioneer. If I should ever meet Mr. Martin, I'll have to thank him.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Picked up a few more little treasures...

I headed out for an estate sale early Saturday morning. My buds weren't able to go to this one and I usually prefer Friday sales to Saturday ones but I decided to check this one out. It was in a neighborhood that was pretty dodgy 15-20 years ago but has slowly been coming back to life. The house was a 'shotgun' style similar to this one.

The house sat very close to the street but had a chain link fence in the front and all the way down the sides and back. The owner was an older man -- a retired teacher. Strictly speaking, this wasn't an estate sale since no one was moving out or 'being' moved out. He had his items inside the fence on tables in the front yard and front porch along with some items inside the house and a few more tables in the back yard. He just wanted to get rid of some things.

I picked up a cute egg cup, a nifty deco looking raised plate in a deep salmon color with a shrimp design made by Shenango China, and a cool looking old glass container with lid that may be for sugar or syrup. There were a number of paintings and small sculptures but they weren't for sale. The artist was the man's sister.

This man told me that when he first moved here from New York to work as a teacher, he had no idea that the neighborhood he'd bought his house in had so much crime. Apparently, his house had been broken into several times the first few years he lived there while he was restoring it. He laughed when he told me that he also didn't know that the street that his house practically sits on was where prostitutes hung out. Apparently there was a group of transvestites who had a regular spot on the corner closest to his house. When they found out he was a teacher, they told him that they would make sure that no one messed with his car. He said that one day when he was standing outside his front door some of his students rode by and yelled, "Hey, Mr. R______ what are you DOING here???!!!" They were shocked that he lived in the 'hood. He seemed to take it in stride.

I've been to quite a few estate sales that turned out to be terrific sales in very modest houses/neighborhoods. One I went to a couple of months ago with my friend, Duane, had been owned by a 95 year old lady who had lived in her house for over 50 years. The house looked very small from the front but it actually rambled pretty far back, room after room all on one floor.

I don't think she had ever thrown anything away. Even her 75 year old wedding dress (similar to the one shown) was for sale.
Besides her cool vintage clothes, there was a fur coat and fox fur stole, tons of pairs of white dress gloves, costume and fine jewelry, porcelain, and furniture. I bought some of her costume jewelry. She had a good eye and there were some very nice pieces.

The strangest estate sale I've been to (so far) was actually inside a 'magic' shop owned by a magician and the woman who used to be his assistant when he still performed. (I talked with the assistant and she had also traveled with Barnum & Bailey's Circus with this magician.) Besides some things he put out in his shop, which was located in the middle of a strip mall, he had a ton of stuff locked away in a storage facility behind his store. There was a service road that ran behind the shopping center and there was actually a storage facility business there. So this guy was selling stuff that his mother had left behind when she'd died 25 years ago. He had put the stuff that family members didn't want into this storage facility and hadn't even bothered to open it during the years he rented it. A little spooky but still fun to rummage through. I'm still waiting to 'top' that one some day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Music, music and more music!

I'm shameless when it comes to my nephews and nieces and my nephew, Sam, has a couple of new songs out.



Sam is a college sophomore majoring in pre-med (Molecular Biology and Microbiology) but I'm so happy that he still makes time for his music. His latest solo is a beautiful song he wrote for his girlfriend, Ali, called Alexandra.

The band that Sam sometimes performs with, The White Kids, have a free download of their mixtape (including one where Sam performs lead vocals
called Grey October) here.

The White Kids are a combination of alternative, indie and hip hop. They also have a new song out (with Sam singing falsetto) called Smoke That.  Give them a listen.

And, for something a little different and a bit older, there's the Death Metal group Brutality.  Tampa was considered the home of Death Metal in the '90's and Brutality released CDs and toured in Europe.  I should mention that the lead singer, Scott Reigel, is the son of my friend, Duane.  Duane is also a distant cousin (that story is for another blog entry) so I consider both of them my cousins. I don't know where Scott gets it from but his vocals are unique.  Here's a promo photo from 'back-in-the-day.'



Scott is on the far right. He no longer has his dreads but he's still rocking. You can listen to Brutality and purchase their music on their website here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The 48th Annual Chiselers Market

If you've ever seen a picture of the Tampa skyline, you've probably seen the minarets of the University of Tampa.
This Moorish style building was originally the Tampa Bay Hotel, built in 1891 by Henry B. Plant. The 500 room building is now home to the University of Tampa and the Henry B. Plant Museum.

For over 52 years, a non-profit volunteer group has worked to restore this beautiful building. This group of dedicated workers call themselves The Chiselers due to the 'chiseling' that had to be performed in the late 1950's to remove paint and mortar from the hotel's fireplace tiles. One of the ways the Chiselers raise money is their annual Chiselers Market. Today was the first time my friend Linda and I had ever attended the Chiselers sale.

Items are collected via donations throughout the year and the market is held one day only from 9am to 3pm. Maps are available as you enter the sale (people line up before daylight for the bargains). Since this was our first time, it was hard to know where to start. Items are divided into different rooms or areas for books, jewelry, furniture, art, collectibles, china, crystal and silver, plants and a room called the 'bargain center.' There's also a silent auction for special items.

To say that you have to be willing to fight a crowd would be an understatement. We made our first mistake by not deciding which area was really the most important for us to check immediately. Linda has been looking for small end or occasional tables so we should have visited the furniture section first. Instead, we headed there much later and groaned at all of the nice tables with SOLD written over the $5, $10 and $15 price tags. Bummer. And those were just the items that had sold but hadn't been picked up yet. Oh, well, live and learn.

I had the best luck in the 'bargain center,' scoring a set of 1960's cocktail forks (in the original box) for .50, a small handpainted (and signed) tole tray for .50 and a Nora Fenton hand decorated bowl for $1. Linda and I both found goodies in the book room. I bought a beautiful coffee table book of the history of the White House Christmas cards (signed by the author) for $5 and Linda found several books and some sheet music from My Fair Lady with a lovely rendering of Audrey Hepburn on the front cover.

All of the jostling made us really hungry so we stopped mid-morning and went out to one of the verandas where the Chiselers had yummy muffins, turnovers and brownies. We treated ourselves to brownies. Many people stay for lunch -- the specialty is the Chiselers' pimento cheese sandwiches.

We know that some of our friends were planning to go but it's hard finding anyone in that crowd. We did see our buddy, Danny, standing in the line outside (before the sale started) as we passed in the car to find a parking space but we don't think he saw us. (Hey, Danny, we honked at you!) Needless to say, after looking in all of the sale areas, we were both tired from all of the neck craning and elbowing but it was a fun experience for a great cause.

The Chiselers are a great group and were very nice to chat with. Besides all of their hard work preparing for this sale, they also worked the booths.  Over the years, they've raised over $4 million to restore this historic Florida landmark. They have a website here if you're interested in finding out more about them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Iambik releases first crime collection!

Iambik audiobooks has released it's first collection of crime/mystery books.  There are eight books in this collection.  They can be purchased individually or you can buy the entire set.
The eight new titles are: All Or Nothing by Preston L. Allen, Death of a Nationalist by Rebecca Pawel, Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips, Getting Sassy by D. C. Brod, High Season by Jon Loomis, Suicide Casanova by Arthur Nersesian, The Tattoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi and Witness to Myself by Seymour Shubin.

Iambik now has a feature allowing you to browse by genre. The books above are all listed under 'crime' here. We'll have much more to come in the next couple of months with another Lit Fiction collection and a Science Fiction/Fantasy group. You can sign up here (upper right-hand side) at Iambik for email updates when new offerings are posted.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My next LibriVox solo

I've decided to record a short book written by three women in 1892 as my next solo project for LibriVox. It's called Three Women in a Flat
and will be a nice break between recording chapters for the longer projects I'm working on for Iambik.

In order to rid my recordings of as much 'white' or ambient noise as possible, I've had to move my new Blue Yeti microphone as far from my computer as possible. I also built a little 'sound-proof' box for the Yeti to sit in. I took a cardboard box and lined the inside of the top, sides and back with egg-crate foam. My beautiful microphone is living in a shack. Something like this but, frankly, not as nice-looking.

Bummer, but it does the trick. Apparently, the fan on my Dell makes a lot more noise than what I can hear. The Yeti picks up everything. By moving it across the room and using the sound box, I've gotten rid of most of the background noise now. You do get a nice clean recording of your voice, too. Now I have to print whatever I'm recording because I'm too far away from the monitor to read it. A small price to pay for a more professional sound, though.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Another solo in the catalog!

I finished recording the novella In the Cage by Henry James and it is now in the LibriVox catalog. You can find it here. This was a fun one due to the short chapters and the subject -- snooping and trying to put pieces together about other people's lives.


Now I need to figure out which book I'd like to record for my next solo.
I've found myself checking out the bestseller lists for the early 1900's. I hadn't realized that those lists even existed then but they did and it's interesting to discover what people were reading at the time.
I've found some little jewels that make recording a true pleasure.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mrs. Peel's Most Excellent Adventure

Duane and I hit the road early this morning for several juicy sounding estate sales in South Tampa. We had maps we'd printed from the night before (good old MapQuest) and, once again, Duane was at the wheel as I navigated. Big bummer at our first and most promising stop. A handpainted sign on cardboard sitting on the front porch of the house. "Estate Sale cancelled for Friday." WHAT???!!! We suspected we were not the only prospective buyers who were extremely annoyed by this. It was still listed on the Internet estate sale site this morning (Duane checked) and later, when I got home, I checked and it was still there with Friday AND Saturday for the dates. The nice thing about the 'net is that the poster may correct their listing at any time. NIGHT OR DAY. It would have taken less time than it did to make that sign, although they did need to have the sign up for anyone who hadn't checked the latest on their ad. Sigh.

That sale had been the closest (to Duane's house) and the most promising, due to the lengthy listing of items, we had chosen. However, I had printed the listings and small maps for two other South Tampa sales -- both much further away. We set out for the closest of these sales.

Much better! This sale was in a lovely older home where the daughter of the owner was selling what she didn't choose to keep of her mother's many collectibles. Along with a pristine copy of The Desiderata, suitable for framing, Duane snagged a beautiful calligraphy set -- blue and white ceramic pieces -- and I found the coolest silver button hook.
I've never come across one of these at an estate sale before. I also found two enamel on copper pieces. I have a weakness for enamel. This lady had quite a few lovely small items carved from ivory which were obviously very old but still a bit pricey and not what either of us was looking for. Nice, though, for anyone interested in ivory which, if I'm not mistaken, may no longer be legal, at least not in the U.S. One item was a beautiful carving of an elephant. Actually, we saw numerous figures of elephants of various ages and various materials. (Danny, take note.)

On to the third and last sale of the morning. We could tell from the small map that I'd printed that it was located in an older neighborhood bordered by two main streets we were familiar with. Easy peasy. Unless, of course, you find that the street names aren't exactly echoing the map. Many of the streets in this area stop and then begin again at various locations. We did see some very nice houses during our journey although we wondered (not for the first time) why so many people in Florida like to paint their houses either a too-bright pink or too-bright yellow. (Are Miami Vice repeats still airing?) In and out and in and out of half circle streets, dead end streets and circular streets (those were pesky) and still no sign of the address we were searching for, although we did travel many of the streets noted on the MapQuest map that supposedly were near our destination.

We decided to go a little further down one of the main streets on the map and noticed that we were now in Port Tampa. A little trivia for anyone who cares -- reality TV 'personality' and former wrestler Hulk Hogan, a product of too much sun and peroxide, grew up in Port Tampa. End of story. By now, Duane and I were getting punchy and began going back and forth from irritation to laughing. MapQuest had become that 'bleeping' MapQuest. We finally headed back to another main street that was supposed to be near the elusive estate sale but not as close (according to MapQuest) as the street we originally took. Presto! We suddenly saw an actual sign for the estate sale on a side street that we passed. We doubled back and, ta-da!, we had arrived.

After losing an hour to find this place at least it was worthy of taking a look. Once again, a woman was selling her mother's items that she didn't want and everything in the house was for sale. Nice selection of, well, a little bit of everything. Besides being a collector, this lady was also a 'crafty' person so there were lots of items related to painting, sewing, wedding cakes and, unbelievably, calligraphy! Duane scored a very nice tablet of calligraphy paper and a beautiful old laser cut Japanese bookmark. I found a lovely silverplate bookmark in the shape of Queen Elizabeth I still in it's original package from the U.K.

Apparently this lady bought bookmarks when she traveled. The pics I've shown here of the bookmark and the button hook are both as I purchased them -- they haven't been cleaned yet.

We found a Panera's and treated ourselves to chocolate croissants with hot Chai Tea for Duane and iced coffee (nectar of the gods) for me. Oh, well, we've now both seen parts of town that we'd either never seen (me) or hadn't seen for so long that they had greatly changed (Duane). Ta! until the next trip.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Recording, recording and more recording...

I've started recording the first of two books for Iambik Audiobooks. It's fiction and is called One Vacant Chair by Joe Coomer.  So far, I really like the book. I've uploaded the first two sections for proof-listening and plan to record the third section today.
Unfortunately, many books don't have actual chapters so it's up to the narrator to divide the book into sections or parts for recording purposes.

Next up, after I finish this one, is another work of fiction, With or Without You by Lauren Sanders. The main character is a murderer so I think that's going to be interesting. I always wanted to play a 'bad' girl.