Sunday, January 27, 2008


Toxic Audio, playing nightly except Thursdays, at 9:00 pm at the V Theater in Planet Hollywood's Miracle Mile (a mall that used to be called Aladdin's Desert passage--The mall is worth seeing even if you don't catch the show!). Ticket prices are a little steep for those of us who have grown up taking issue with BYU asking more than $5 per person. (The cheap seats in the room go for close to $50). It's actually a good deal for a show in Vegas, where people think nothing of dropping close to $100 per seat more than one night in a row. Some tickets here go for more than $200 a seat, without scalping!

The "soft" opening was last night. I gather the way these shows work is they "open" two weeks before they have the press reception and go for reviews. It gives them a chance to work out glitches and lose that first-night case of nerves some performers have.

So we (me and all four kids) went to the "soft" opening last night.

It was awesome. Fun show, flashy, entertaining. They sounded good, had some awesome effects with the lighting, did some really funny things, and I don't want to give it all away. My favorite comedy bits were "Autumn Leaves", which is usually sung partially in English and Partially in French, and as the song opened, the stage hand brought out a poster saying, "This song is presented Entirely in English". The backup singers take issue with that, and It goes downhill from there. Unlike many renditions of the jazz standard, this one never has a chance to get boring. There was a little non-musical gag with a stuffed monkey that was hilarious, and some fake wind that created a little havoc during "Thriller" that was well-played, a bit with a "record player" that was cool if you remember that all the sounds are made by people, and a song from Sesame Street that was funny. There was serious stuff, too, including some live looping using reverb technology, and the song "Stand By Me" that has some dramatic lighting effects (which the cast didn't take full advantage of, but I'm going to mention it to them). "Stand By Me" was my favorite non-comedy piece, I think, although the ending (which was supposed to be dramatic and touching) was a little confusing.

Tim's mom wanted to know what the show is like. That's hard to say. The show is like moosebutter sophisticated, if that makes any sense. It's a cappella comedy, but without the frantic antics and with more subtle humor. It's very theatrical, but there isn't a story line running through the show any more than, say, Blue Man Group. It's a cover band, except none of the songs are strictly Covers. They're all arrangements--and good ones at that. It's like Vocal Point with girls (no, not THAT kind of girls) and a scripted show--and a sound guy with a sound board, and he's not afraid to use the effects.

It's hard to describe. But it's fun. Clean enough for kids (there's not much to complain about in there, actually. One off-color joke that my kids totally missed, and the lyrics to some of the songs originally by Elvis and the Beattles are, well, Elvis and the Beattles. At least they didn't put that song in that Elvis sings where he threatens to chase her down the hall and find her no matter where she hides; this song is more along the lines of "shut up and satisfy me, woman!" which I take issue with, but that's not Toxic Audio's fault--it's just in complete opposition to my beliefs about what women are for).

The opening of the show was stunning. When Tim goes on in his fancy disco outfit and sings the first line, it's amazing. He got screams and cheers right off the bat, and he deserved it. It was cool.

II have no idea if we'll ever have comp tickets for anyone, but you can always call and ask before you come down. I definitely recommend the show, though. Just take ear plugs if you have sensitive ears--or don't sit near the front--or both--because the theater is going for the "rock concert" feel, so the show is loud.

Now I'm going to go watch my baby, who just figured out how to stand up by himself. And he's just nine months old today.

Friday, January 25, 2008

This is a cool idea....

Has anyone tried this? It sounds like fun...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Getting Lost in Las Vegas

I got lost after dropping Tim off at the production office yesterday. It wasn't exactly the nicest area we started in, and I took the wrong route and ended up in a worse area.

I already have trouble with "the strip" area of vegas. I think it's a place where the 7 deadly sins are alive and well--and on sale! It's a place where 40,000 people a day (on average) go to pretend they're having fun and to do things that could potentially destroy their families. I am not opposed to everything on the strip--some of the shows are awesome, and if you've never seen a rainstorm in the middle of a mall, you're missing out. It's the purpose of the place I hate.

So when I came across the Moulin Rouge, I was shocked to find that I was immediately drawn to it. If you stay on the Strip, you'd never know it's there. But I was lost, and it snuck up on me. It's one of the few 1950s casinos that is still standing.

That might be generous. The place was a gorgeous ghost casino in the middle of a "less desirable" "low economic" area (um, maybe a slum?). There was this huge beautiful neon sign, in cursive, atop a low, sprawling building behind a fence and surrounded by two other buildings. I wanted to hop out and go exploring. Except the place was vacant, fenced, and in a scary neighborhood.

I looked it up when I got home. The Moulin Rouge was open for less than 12 months in the mid-1950s. It was the first desegregated casino in Las Vegas, and it was THE hotspot for entertainers at the time. Partly because many of them--Nat King Cole, the Mills Brothers, Harry Belafonte--were not allowed to stay on the strip, even if they did shows there, because of their race. So they and their white friend entertainers went where they Could all hang out and gamble and see shows and stay in an actual hotel together. It closed (probably due to financial troubles) the year it opened, but not before making mark for itself.

And, unlike many casinos that lasted much longer, it's still standing.

Someone needs to turn this place into a museum. Skip the gambling. Restore it and populate it like a living history museum, with actors portraying the great entertainers of the past century.

There is history to be had in Vegas after all, and I'm a sucker for a beautiful abandoned building.

Friday, January 18, 2008

So the Promised Report

I have blogged since I promised the update on everything us-related (ie how the move went, etc), but I didn't update anyone. So here you go:

My brother and Dad came out for a week and did everything, literally, while I stood around bouncing nervous babies and feeling completely helpless and useless. Had they not come, we wouldn't have moved. They even directed the volunteers from the ward who came to help. We didn't fit in the 24' moving truck, so we had to rent a Uhaul trailer to pull behind our van, and even then we left some things I wanted (a ladder; a lawnmower, all our bikes, my vacuum, at least 4 dressers, a window-mount air conditioner, and lots of miscellaneous STUFF).

Then everyone drove and drove and drove. My brother even went through Utah to pick up Mom so she could help. We arrived at 5:00 am on Friday, and at 9:00 am on Saturday, the new ward showed up to help unpack the truck.

Then my family took the truck back and went home, racing a storm.

And we sat around, stunned, for at least 24 hours before we started unpacking, which is ongoing and will probably be ongoing until we move again and then still until we buy a house we expect to stay in for some time.

The new house has the same number of square feet as the old (maybe a little more), but it has far greater volume (read: worse utilities bills expected) with high high ceilings. It also has long staircases, and all the bedrooms (plus 2/3 of bathrooms) upstairs. There is also a guest house out back, which is really a 14x14' room attached to the back of the garage that is inaccessible from the house and has its own heating and cooling system and bathroom.

Despite the fact that it's "bigger", the house is smaller than the old one because it has the spaces all laid out in a way that is beautiful and stylish but not practical for a stay-at-home mother. For example, the bigger kids' bedroom (and only one that fits the two bunkbeds the kids insist on having in one room) is closer to the master bedroom, so the nursery is farther away--so far, in fact, that if the baby cried I wouldn't hear him. And why the baby needs a walk-in closet I'm not sure. The master bathroom is bigger than the kitchen (no joke). The laundry room is smaller than the smallest bathroom, without even space for a clothes basket on the floor if you intend to open the dryer or walk through to the garage. The master bedroom suite is enormous--as big as the kitchen-family-dining room--and includes the master bathroom (which is bigger than the kitchen!) and a walk-in closet that I'm using as a baby room because it is at least as big as the baby's room in our old house, and is closer to me at night. This closet would be the perfect clothes room that I'm always looking for--if the laundry facilities weren't downstairs. The master bathroom/closet section is through a doorway from the bedroom, but there is no door on it, so if someone wants to get up earlier than the other, they can't dress or shower in there without waking sleeping spouse. The toilet is in its own closet, and the light in there also turns on a fan, so you can't use it at night either unless you want it dark or want the light to wake spouse--even if you close the door because of the noise of the fan.

Did I mention the kitchen is smaller than the bathroom?

The kitchen counters are higher than at the old house, so I can't hold my arms up to clean them off or cook--I'm chopping veggies on a cutting board that I set on top of two stacked boxes instead because it's a better height. The cupboards are correspondingly large and high (So they don't look stupid with the high ceilings), but that makes them almost impossible to use. I can't even open the ones over the fridge--can't reach them--and I've had to move all the shelves in the others DOWN to more reasonable heights. I couldn't even reach the second one without a chair when we got here. Plus there just aren't enough cupboards.

So we have ended up using the trick my Dad taught us years ago: we took all the old bookshelves and used them to make walls that separate the "dining room" from the rest of the family room/kitchen space. That is now my clothes room/pantry/ extra cupboard space. Ugly, but functional and next to the laundry, so now that's the dressing room.

We also only use the kids' bathroom for everything. It's brighter, easier to use at odd hours or when someone else is sleeping, easier to clean (whoever invented showers with glass walls that must be squeegied to avoid hard water marks didn't ever have babies). Keeps the laundry more under control, too.

Slowly but surely we are getting unpacked. I've found most of the clothes now and put them away. I have enough dishes to cook. We got the table and toys set up, mostly, and the school/mom's work space table set up, with two printers set up and ready to go. And I get through a box or two of other stuff every day. I still don't know where to put most of the stuff. But we're working on that.

It really is a lovely home, and is for sale to someone who values neighborhoods and popular housing designs. Most of our neighbors (and most of the ward) are these kinds of people. That's why they live here.

I have spent some time looking at the housing market in Vegas, just in case we stay longer than a year, and I've found a couple of properties that are more "like" me. One was a 4000 square foot house on an acre in an unincorporated area of town. It was foreclosed on. Despite the fact that it is zoned residential, the previous owner on record was a Thrift Store. It's not necessarily the kind of house I'd move into. I'd have to see it first. It is TOTALLY the kind of house I'm drawn to, though. A house with character. Character and a Master Bedroom that is 26 x 18', which we would use as a music/rehearsal studio, without a question.

So, we moved. We live in a house that's okay. School is going okay. Tim LOVES his job. If it weren't so darn cold here (27 degrees last night!), I'd be pretty well content.

Oh, and Tim's show is opening on January 25: Toxic Audio at the V Theater in the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino on the strip. Shows nightly at 9:00 pm except Thursdays (a "dark" day, to use the industry lingo). Tim will be the tallest guy on stage, and probably the one who used to have a beard. Fun show, I hear: music, comedy, and wild crazy antics. And no, there are no topless women (every time I hear that, I think of the magician's saw trick--and the legs just hopping up and running away). PG rated show, I think. (I haven't seen it yet).

Home School in Nevada

People told me home schooling in Colorado was great--it was easy, the laws were lax, etc. I went along, not knowing there was any difference. In colorado, homeschooled children are required to do 4 hours of school a day, and their parents are required to keep records of what was done. The parents have to take attendance every day, keep samples of work, and agree to have their records examined on demand. Their children have to place over the 17th percentile (or something like it) on standardized tests every 2 years (when the public school kids have to take them), and the kids have to take the tests in a public facility (which is not really ideal for the kid, since many homeschooled kids are not accustomed to the rules and 'norms' of test taking--ie many have never even seen a scantron, much less had it drummed into their heads that they must "completely fill the circle, like this"--so they can easily fail for non-academic reasons). The law lists the subjects that must be covered, and it's a fairly long list including US Constitution. You have to report to the district every year that you are homeschooling, and they can't talk to you or even recommend books for the kids, or even tell you what the kid might learn if they were enrolled in the public school because there are "non interference" laws, which apparently mean they can't help you, but they can evaluate and check on your homeschool any time they want.

Then we moved to Nevada, which just passed new homeschooling laws last July. They are laws written largely, in part, by the homeschoolers.

Now I know what good for homeschoolers means, and I will never go back to cyberschooling.

In Nevada, you report ONCE that you are homeschooling, and not until the child is 7 years old. Then you have to turn in an educational plan, which must include English (reading, writing, speaking), Math, Social Studies, and Science, but you can't be disallowed to homeschool because anyone disagrees with your plan, and the plan can be as simple as "We plan to cover English (reading, writing, and speaking), Math, Social Studies, and Science" or giving the name of the curriculum you are going to use, if you homeschool that way. Religion is expressly ALLOWED. You don't have to prove your curriculum is "equivalent" to the public schools. You sign up, turn in your plan, and you're done forever. No updating them except of your address if you move (so the new district can be notified you are home schooling). What's more, the home schooled child is allowed to participate in any activity or class in the public system, provided they qualify the same way other kids do (for example, they have to audition for the high school play just like public schooled kids do). For systems that require academic qualifications (like the kid has to have a B-average gpa to play football, or whatever), a letter from the parent is sufficient and not to be questioned. The kids don't have to take any kinds of tests, but if they do happen to want a high school diploma (which most states deny home schooled children), they have to pass the same High School Proficiency Exam that other high school students have to pass to graduate here. Then they have a diploma.

It's a very "Let them be" philosophy, which is nice because for all their saying, "We're just requiring them to do the same thing as public school kids have to do" in Colorado, they weren't really. Public school kids are not kicked out of class, held back a grade, or forced to switch schools if they miss a day of CSAP testing. They can get the flu that week and not take any of the tests and still stay on their educational course. And, sad as it is, I think that LOTS of kids who aren't in the 17th percentile are moving on with their classes. Otherwise we wouldn't need reading remediation teachers in 8th grade who are working with the illiterate kids who fell through the cracks.

So now we're homeschooling, joyfully, and I have discovered that the kids have a good feel for the best ways for them to learn. Everyone is now signed up for, and we've discovered that they have TONS of resources available, produced by CompassLearning, that Cdela didn't give us access to! I'm very upset about that, or would be, if we hadn't moved on. They have lesson plans, activities (including cross curricular ones that are really fun), worksheets, and answer keys for the parents, all available for download as pdfs on the site. Cdela gave us math and language arts worksheets, but only because they are available from the activities page on Odyssey, so they didn't have a choice. Then Cdela provided monthly "calendars" of lesson plans that included some of the same topics, but not taught nearly as well as Odyssey's materials.

So I downloaded the k-3 stuff, burned it to a cd, and am printing it. I'm sticking the pages into sheet protectors so that the kids can use dry erase markers to do their worksheets and then just erase them to do them again or to let someone else have a turn. Also, if we need to, say, cut and paste on one, we can just print it and stick it in its right place again. It gives the kids some flexibility if they don't feel like working online one day, and it gives me ready-review pages if I think someone might need more help on a topic.

We are having a lot of fun with the freedom we now have to work with our kids the way they need.

The kids have a good sense of when they best learn, even at their young ages, so I have told everyone as long as they do one lesson in each of their subjects online every day, I don't care when they do them. Anda very happily finishes everything right when she gets up; Caleb works best right at bedtime, so he does his then (which is wrecking our schedule again, but he's happily learning. Finally.). And they are enjoying it so much, they usually do several lessons instead of just one.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Agents Catch Up on their Mail in December

Because agents are out of the office, some of them, for the Holidays, December is catch-up time for them. So the week after Christmas, when I was trying to move, I got like four rejection letters.

That was just what I needed.

I decided to forget about that manuscript and go on to the next. I was going to "put it under the bed", so to speak, and I even dragged the file off the desktop and dumped it in the archive folder.

And then I moved to Las Vegas, and being in the actual place where my stay-at-home mommy CIA agent story takes place, I suddenly got lots of inspiration about it, and completely re-outlined the entire beginning. I realized that for the story to really suck the reader in, it had to be extremely personal to Maggie. Not just that an organization she had fought previously was there and her family was in danger, but that the son of the only man she ever killed was there with the bad guys--and he recognized her and is personally out for his revenge he's been wanting for 5 years. It makes it heavily a story about fathers and sons--the two antagonists are men who lost their fathers, both of whom died in pursuing their unorthodox work, and about how the men want to connect with their fathers and are mistakenly using violence to do so. I also fixed a plot problem that was rather glaring.

Then today the neighbor brought over our mail, which was stuck in his box by mistake.

Another rejection, from the last full ms I sent out before Christmas. I knew it was a rejection without opening it because it came in the self-addressed letter I put in the package, and it's my understanding that if an agent wants to represent you, they call. So if you see that envelope with your own handwriting on it, it's a no.

I almost didn't open it. I've had a pretty crappy week, and a very difficult month what with moving and all, and everyone getting sick.

But I can't just throw away mail unopened. I even open every piece of junk mail I get.

So I opened it.

It was only half a rejection! It was actually a long, very detailed letter about what worked and what didn't in my novel, and what I could do to fix it, and it ended with an invitation to rewrite and resubmit. This may not seem exciting to you, but it is extremely exciting to me. Because her comments jived with me, and with the more vague comments I've received in the past, and I think I agree with her and I think I know how to fix the manuscript. And all the agent blogs I read say that when they say they'd like to see the changes, they mean it. They've already put work into the manuscript, and are testing the waters to see if you are willing to change your work, how good you are at editing, and how open you are to hard work, as well as testing to see if you can go from potentially good to great.

So I dragged it back to my desktop.

Back to work, this time the carrot of possible representation dangling in front of me.

Disney Cereal--Is this a joke?

We went to a local dollar store called the 99c store. It was awesome. Produce. Dairy products. Canned papaya and guava. A huge aisle of every kind of cookie could could imagine. Garden stuff. Medicines. Christmas candies (like filled marshmallows) for 25c a bag. We had a lot of fun.

One of the things they had was cereal. So I let each kid pick out a box.

Anda got one with Disney princesses on the box. Caleb got one with Mickey Mouse on the box.

When I got home, I looked at them more closely.

The Princess cereal says on it,
"Disney Princesses
Fairytale Flakes."

Just like that--in two lines, like a newspaper headline and subheader. I'm not kidding. I laughed out loud when I read it. Who Wrote that?

Then the Mickey Mouse Cereal. The cereal is little and kind of puffed-grain shaped. It really looks just like....brightly colored mouse poop. I mentioned that at the store, and it wasn't until I got home that I realized it was Mickey Mouse on the box. Holding a big bowl of rainbow colored sugared mouse poop. How's that for something Disney would create?

Eggnog Bread Braid

One of my best recipes came from here:

I call it Cream Cheese Eggnog Bread. They call it Egg Braid. It's a delicious sweet bread with a nutmeg-cream cheese filling.
I don't follow the instructions printed there. I follow standard bread instructions (instead of the first three they list): mix the yeast, sugar, salt, oil or butter, and hot-to-the-touch tap water; when the yeast starts foaming, add the flour and eggs and let the Kitchenaid work it's magic. When it's mostly mixed, take it out and put it in a greased bowl. Microwave for ten seconds, turn the dough over, microwave 10 more, and then let raise twice in a warm place for 30 minutes each. Then go on to the regular instructions. I also don't put in butter (I use margarine), I skip putting egg on the loaf before it bakes (it only makes it shiny), and I use 5 cups of all-purpose flour instead of bread flour mixed with whatever they have listed there. It works GREAT and is on my list of "You can give this to people or take it to ward parties and not be embarrassed" recipes. Really worth trying.