Friday, June 03, 2011

Gutter Guards!

When our back gutter partially fell down during a winter storm, I tried for the longest time (more than a year, actually) to reconfigure and refasten the hopelessly bent metal. This was a losing battle, however, as I discovered time and time again after ice, wind, or heavy rain.

And so it was that, this past weekend, I took the plunge and had six-inch, seamless gutters installed on the house.

Wait a minute!? A blog post on GUTTERS!? Yeah, as Julie put it..."Most dads get excited about a new car or something like that. For you, Dad, it's gutter guards."

Yes, not only did I spring for seamless versions (no more water dripping on our heads as we walk in and out of the house!) of extra-large gutters (the normal size is five inches), I also decided to throw gutter guards in for good measure. Will these devices save me time and hassle every spring and fall? Man, I sure hope so! For now, though, they sure look pretty! (See, Julie has it right! But, hey...If this is my mid-life crisis, then it's a cheap one!)

Need...more...gutter guards!!!

~Steve

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Homeless In Beijing: Take Three

In what is seemingly becoming a regular ritual (see here and here), we have everything in place for a wonderful time in China--airplane tickets, visas, work to be done, plans for seeing people and traveling around the country. The only thing missing?

A place to stay!!!

Yes, once again we are going down to the wire trying to find an apartment in a Chinese neighborhood that will allow four waiguoren to move in for a couple of months.

Although the basics of the situation remain the same as before, there are some new wrinkles that we have added to our search protocols.

We are searching Chinese language websites. Although these searches have been useful language-learning experiences, we have not had any luck actually identifying short-term leases through Chinese agents.

We have expanded our ex pat searches. Yes, we are not keen on living in areas that are heavily populated by waiguoren. But last year it turned out that it was Beijing's Craigslist that provided us with our home for the summer (a wonderful place where we the only foreigners in sight). And so, in addition to Craigslist, we are monitoring the classifieds on The Beijinger's website.

The wild card. Yan Ke, one of our Beijing buddies, has it is his head that we ought to live in a traditional Beijing-style siheyuan (courtyard house). Yan Ke is imagining us sharing quarters with old Beijingers who speak heavily accented Mandarin. It doesn't get any more authentic than that! Go Yan Ke, go!

~Steve

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Captain Hook Takes A Fall!

Here is what it looked like when Z, as Captain Hook, took his infamous fall off the stage during Peter Pan. Kids loved it, adults cringed...

~Steve

video

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Playing Captain Hook

In the past, my school has put on school productions. But that was before Julie and I were old enough to perform in them. This year, several teachers decided to bring the old tradition back. The featured show...Peter Pan.

Due to the fact that I was in a production at BISS and enjoy drama, I decided to try out. For several days after school, the teachers got together students who wanted to try out for the same character and had each person act out a segment of the play. On the second day of practices, they casted the main characters...Peter, Hook, Wendy, and Tinkerbell.

Not knowing much about the movie Peter Pan, I chose to try out for the role of Captain Hook. Several other kids tried out for Hook as well. We split Captain Hook’s monologue into several parts and each read a section. As it turned out, no one signed up for the part of Peter. So, one of our teachers asked two of my friends and I if we wanted to try out for the part. One of my friends and I accepted and we read a small segment from Peter’s monologue.

Several days later, there was a rumor that there was a cast list up on the school bulletin board. In between classes, I went to check it and was happy to see that I had gotten the part of Captain Hook. I was also glad to see that my friend had gotten the part of Peter Pan. We then had a cast meeting after school where they told us what the schedule was. We were to have our practices after school on Mondays and Wednesdays. We were told that we should also start memorizing our lines. We were given our scripts and were sent on our ways.

On Monday, we had our first practice. We started out by carrying our scripts with us and not using any props. As time went on and we got better and better at saying our lines and moving around, we were required to practice without our scripts and do proper motions. We were of course nervous that we would mess up. The teachers put tape on the floor showing how big the stage would be and would yell at us when someone would "fall" off the stage.

In the last few weeks of preparation, we had dress rehearsals. I was one of the few required people to buy a costume. After numerous visits to many different costume websites, I found the perfect one. It was a red, long, felt, jacket with gold lining. It had Velcro clasps and came with a silky neck cover. I also bought pleather boot covers and a gold and silver plastic hook.

What I liked about the hook that I bought was that there was a piece of fabric that covered part of your arm. I felt that this would help if my sleeve rolled up during the show. I also wore black pants and a white t-shirt with my dad's boots. My hat did not have a feather, so my mom and I went to the store to buy one. We bought a big black plume that was totally Captain Hook.

The stage finally came two days before the play. It was several feet high and was made of wooden squares held up on metal poles. Curtains surrounded the stage as well. Before it arrived, three feet did not sound so high. When I saw it, i got pretty nervous. Did I forget to mention that I had to fall off of the stage? As Captain Hook, I had to be defeated by Peter. I died by being pushed off the "ship" during a sword fight with Peter. Only in our version, I fall off stage.

I tested out my fall a few days before the opening night. My first test was to fall off without a mat. To describe it in one word...OWW!!! Landing on tiles from a three foot drop is not something I would recommend. I then took one of the PE mats and put it in the spot where I fall off stage. Not completely painless, but an improvement from nothing.

After about thirty practices, I was ready. Then came opening night. There was the hectic running around looking for missing things. My big issue, my makeup. The first time I tried, my eyeliner got all smugged. One of the moms had to drive to the store to buy remover. The second time went better. One of the cast member's mom spent about twenty minutes perfecting it.

The theatre was packed. Kids were sitting on the radiator, running in the hallways, and playing basketball before the show. Teachers and parents filled the seats and stood in the back. There was a concessions stand that was getting quite a lot of business. They were selling snacks and drinks and also gift bags that you could send to the cast members backstage. During the down time before the show, some of my friends in the cast went outside and played baseball with my sword and a ball of tape.

The stage crew did their last check and the show began. Due to the fact that I don't come on until scene three, I don't know how the first two scenes went. Scene three is "the crossover." The whole cast stays frozen on stage except for the Darlings and Peter. They have a quick dialogue and then flyaway. It doesn't look it, but it is tough to stay still like that. I was on the verge of laughing. Not because something funny happened, but because I just had that funny feeling.

When the scene goes dark, we rushed off stage and I ran to the microphone backstage because I have several lines that I say off stage during scene four. I watched the rest of the scene through the curtains. After scene four, there was the fifteen minute intermission. During this time, we were given the gifts that people sent us. I received a bag of candy from my grandparents who came to see the play. The fifteen minutes seemed like an hour.

I was excited for the next scene to come because the fourth scene is all pirates all the time. Several of the pirates start out on stage while three of the other pirates and I stayed at the back of the stage. We walked through the aisle while singing a song. After the song, I had a long back and forth with the pirates. Then I ran off stage because I heard the approach of the crocodile that bit my hand off.

Several minutes later, I came back on stage because I heard two of my pirates talking about me behind my back. There was a quick battle between me and Peter, who was hiding on stage, and the scene ended. The next scene was the Lost Boys in their hideout. The pirates and I snuck on stage and grabbed the Lost Boys on their way out. When Peter fell asleep, I snuck back on stage and poisoned his medicine and sang a long victory song.

Then, after a scene change, I was back on stage under the burning lights talking to one of my pirates about my numerous victories. Due to my boredom, I thought about ways to enjoy myself. The shocker to most people was that the song that they played during my thinking scene was the Jeopardy! song. I almost couldn't help but laugh. I then decided to make the prisoners walk the plank.

Then, Peter arrived to save the day. We called each other names and taunted each other...and then it began. Our sword fight was a simple 45-second routine. I was asked to choreograph the fight. I decided that we should rotate and fight using simple moves that we would not forget or mess up during the play. At the end of the fight, I scared everyone and fell off stage. It made me laugh when I heard the gasps and saw people jump. It must have looked pretty real.

I ran around the stage and come back on stage with the rest of the cast to bow. Throughout the whole play, I felt excited and anxious to get back on stage but I wasn't scared at all. Every time the crowd laughed or had a reaction, I felt rejuvenated and tried to be louder and have a better stage presence. I learned from this play how much I love acting and that I will definitely try to continue acting into high school.

~Z