Year End

So here at year's end, we're supposed to reflect and resolve.

What have I done? How should I do it differently? Where have I come from? Where am I going?

My only solid resolution going into 2012 is to fit back into my 1996 post-Weight Watchers clothes again. Should be a solid 30-pound weight loss. Urg. My upcoming college reunion should serve as additional impetus.

I also intend to kick it up a notch or three at my new job. Starting as I did on December 1, it seemed prudent to kind of go with the previous teacher's flow at least through Christmas break. I think by the end of this current marking period I need to have a better more "me" plan for the lessons going forward.

And, I have a thesis to write. Oddly, I think that will be the most straight-forward of the three. Once school lets out in June, I'm going to schedule two or three mornings per week to just research and write. It actually shouldn't take me too long to finish my first draft. What's 40-60 pages between friends?

2011 ended in a pretty good place, and I'm excited about continued upward movement in 2012. I hope you and yours are blessed as well.



Just pretend...

I wrote a witty post this morning. It was about being busy and forgetting our family cookie making night. It included a picture of our past cookies which included a TARDIS and a land shark.

It was good, I promise.

But the Interwebs lost it.



Planning Ahead....

Attention, everyone ... Please someone make these for my next birthday, in lieu of a traditional cake. I love owls. And these are adorable! And ... chocolate!



Merry Christmas!!!

I know this site has been hugely popular off and on in the past, but I'm going to try to put it back on people's radar. Today I have all my students contributing to this season of giving.

You should, too!  www.freerice.com

Learn vocabulary (and other subjects) and donate food to hungry people world-wide.

Merry Christmas!




Fever. Chills. Pain. Pressure. Mucus. Phlegm. Sniffle. Hack. Wheeze.

It's not pretty.

A poem my college roommate, Heather, and I wrote, our freshman year:

Snot fills my brain.
I need a drain.
Fly on a plane?
Don't be insane.
Snot fills my brain.

Thank you.



On My Desk

Things within arm's reach on my desk right now:

A felt-lined needlebook with a Tudor-esque rose cross-stitched on the cover
Two baggies of expired coupons I need to mail to overseas troops
This tiny white duckie
Two voided checks I just deposited (thank you, USAA, mobile app)
Cell phone
Cordless phone
The Broadview Anthology of Romantic Drama
Three pages of notes on Christmas traditions in Greece
Weight Watchers cardboard slider calculator thingy
Notes for my eventual Master's thesis
A random, unlabeled mini digital video cartridge
A bright orange chunky highlighter
Tickets to The Nerdist podcast live in Philly next March
A can of Spam, dating back to 1993
A second mini duckie (when did that one get there?)
My second-prize medal for the Amazing Cozumel Race
A ceramic pumpkin (we're awesome at seasonal decorating, but haphazard about un-decorating)
Flat Stanley
Two Mickey antenna balls
Several hundred business cards for a Congressional lobbying job I had two years ago

Just a little look into my clutter ... and psyche?



Follow Up: My Public Apology to Hans Christian Andersen

Dear Hans,

You seem like you were a fairly decent guy. You had a troubled time in school and that likely contributed to the often-bleak endings to your fairy tales (anyone who thinks Disney created the story of The Little Mermaid is certainly in for a depressing shock when they read yours).

Your history of repeatedly unrequited love, both hetero- and homosexual in nature, is also very sad.

So, you'd think people would leave well enough alone and let your work speak for itself.

That is certainly not the case, and for my part, I'm sorry.

For the last few months I've been involved in an updated version of The Snow Queen, adapted for stage by a Jonathan Graham. I don't know anything about him other than the fact that he clearly needs a better editor and that his word choices for a children's play are occasionally quite bizarre. ("fetishized" ??!?)

Numerous liberties have been taken with your story. I understand shortening the narrative and updating the time period. But some of the other changes are just a bit weird. Why change the mirror from troll-made to elf-made? Why eliminate the Grandmother from the scene and reduce her to a few mentions by Gerda? Also eliminated -- the sorceress, the Ravens, the princess and her prince. The robber hag and her daughter are turned into a robbery scene with an elf in disguise (an elf who doesn't even exist in your story). Similarly, Bae the reindeer is the troll in a set of antlers clattering two coconut halves together (OK, strictly speaking, the blatant-Python-homage coconut halves were added by me and not Mr. Graham). And, all spiritual and religious references have been removed.

In addition, I have the troll (in his King Nicholas disguise) doing his best Shatner impression. I'm sorry, but it's true.

The show is a delight, Mr. Andersen (I cannot type that without hearing Hugo Weaving), but I'm sorry. Other than the names of a few characters and the presence of a mirror, there's little left from your original story. Still, if you were alive and anywhere near South Jersey, I hope you'd come see it.


Opening Night

My play opens tonight!

I am so proud of my cast and so grateful to all of the volunteers that have helped make this a success. This wouldn't be half the show it is without you.

If you read this blog and live anywhere nearby, please come see the show.

Order tickets and even pick out your own seats at cumberlandplayers.com



Merry Christmas!

I want THESE on my lawn!
We're big on holidays. All of them, but especially Christmas.

Yeah, yeah, yeah ... Christmas is getting too commercial and we should all remember the reason for the season, etc. Honestly? I love all the hoopla. A lot. (Don't get me wrong. I love Jesus, too, and we certainly celebrate the Christian aspects of the holiday.)

Anyway, we're blessed to have enough. More than enough. And, we like to get into this holiday as much as we're able. This year we have more holiday than usual. I'm directing The Snow Queen for a local community theatre, and that's adding a certain amount of festive (and stress) to an already festive and stressful time of year. Plus, we're going away for Christmas. As soon as school lets out on the 23rd, we're leaving town for the Poconos and we're staying there until after New Year's Day. So ... you know ... packing and planning and lists and stuff. On top of buying and wrapping and printing and stuffing and mailing.

Well, back to Christmas. And Hoopla.

Every year we hit the sales when Lowe's, Home Depot, etc start marking down their lights and other outdoor decorations and buy more stuff. We add to our yard display every year. We have lights lining the roof, icicles along the porch, wreaths on every front-facing window, candy canes lining both the front walk and the driveway, C-9 lights on spikes along all the flower beds, lights around the pool, lights climbing our large oak trees in alternating red and white stripes to resemble candy canes, giant plastic balls hanging from our choke cherry tree, 6 plywood deer wearing giant bows are floodlit, and we are already making plans of what to add next. I think we're up to 47 strands of lights.

And we do lots of Christmas activities. We have two school holiday concerts. We go caroling in full Victorian garb with a local theatre group. We host a party and attend parties. We send nearly a hundred Christmas cards. I bake cookies and we exchange with friends. Once or twice a holiday season we pile in the car and drive all around town looking at Christmas lights (incidentally taking notes of things to improve our own display). This Thursday we intend to go see It's a Wonderful Life on the big screen. (YAY!) We play lots of board games, snuggle on the couch to watch Christmas movies and specials (anyone remember the Claymation special from the 80s? Yeah!), drink lots of cocoa.

The kids are into it, too. I can't wait to see how our holiday traditions and enthusiasm eventually evolve into new traditions in their own households.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you all have enough to go around and enough time to breathe and occasionally just enjoy the smell of pine or peppermint, the taste of cinnamon or ham, the sight of twinkly lights on snow, the hugs of greeting or thanks.



Nine Days

My first show (as director) opens in nine days. It's a children's theatre one-act version of The Snow Queen. It's adorable and funny and completely charming. My actors are terrific. My costumer is amazing. My scene painter is a miracle worker. My production manager is a godsend. I don't feel ready, but I'm positive the show will be.

Randomly ordered list of my to-do items:

Glass smashing sound effect
Snow machine
Put wheels on two large cubes
Re-hang a blue curtain
Hot-glue snowflakes to the frame of a mirror
Find a handful of small fake coins
Loop a bit of Monty Python's horse-riding theme from The Holy Grail onto my iPod

It's not a long list, but for every item I've crossed out this week, I've added three. Tech Week starts Sunday. Pray for us.



Han Shot First

I'm a nerd. My husband's a nerd. My kids are nerds. We all come from a long line of nerds, actually. It's part of our heritage. We're proud of our nerdiness, actually.

This is all just a set-up for the premise that follows.

Riding in the car over Thanksgiving weekend, the family (just the nuclear family -- the lineage of nerds was present only in spirit), the four of us began a discussion about Han Solo and Greedo. You know -- that fateful meeting in the Mos Eisley cantina. Greedo is a rather crappy bounty hunter who makes it very clear to Han, his intended bounty, that Jabba the Hut wants his money back and failing that, that Greedo is there to kill him.

Surely you remember Greedo's famous line, "Kuna to chuta, Solo?" (Going somewhere, Solo?) No? *taps mic* Hello? Is this thing on?

Anyway, back to the conversation in the car. Along the way I mentioned Han shooting first. The kids were as of yet unaware of the "Han shoots first" controversy, as they've only seen the altered 2004 DVD-version of the scene. I know. We're terrible parents. Don't judge us.

So, Joe and I explained that George Lucas altered the scene, and that it was a stupid decision because, while we understand that George was trying to make Han's character morally superior to Greedo and to offer Han no choice but to shoot back, that this weakens the eventual change of heart for Han's character, that we want him to be morally ambiguous, even somewhat dark, so that his conversion to the light is more significant.

Anyway, as these sorts of conversations often do (at least in our family), we began to extrapolate other possible Han-Greedo scenarios. Naturally, in each future George Lucas re-release, Han becomes increasingly less culpable.

With apologies to Hyperbole and a Half, I present to you ... Han and Greedo in the Mos Eisley cantina:
1977 original theatrical release: Han shoots. Greedo doesn't fire a shot, but dies in an overly-large explosion.

1997 theatrical re-release and 2004 DVD release: Greedo shoots and misses as Han dodges, then Han shoots Greedo
2014 straight-to-flash-drive release: Greedo rapid-fires all around Han, missing him entirely. Eventually, Han fires once and kills Greedo.
2022 holographic release: Han doesn't even bring a gun. His threatening presence is enough to scare Greedo to death before he can fire a shot.
2042 bio-neural gel pack release: Han sits and watches as Greedo spontaneously combusts.
2052 direct-mental-download 75th anniversary Special Edition: Han doesn't even show up. Greedo thinks about meeting him and spontaneously combusts. Roll credits.
Yeah, my kids actually came up with most of these. Heh. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.



Things I Did Today Instead of Working on My Paper

I don't really write things out by hand like this,
but I'd bet that shopping for some really nice paper
and a really good pen would be a great method for
further procrastination.
I have a 15-20 page paper due at the end of November. I have sources and an annotated bibliography and everything, but I just cannot seem to get settled in long enough to make any real progress on it.

So instead, today I

  • took a 2-mile walk
  • browsed laptops online with my dad (He was on the phone, not here physically. He lives 8 hours away.)
  • went to the doctor for my annual physical and flu shot
  • ate lunch

    ... slowly
  • watched two sit-coms (Parks & Rec and The Office, for those keeping score at home, and an episode of The Good Wife (multitasking while I ate lunch for part of this)
  • sorted my grading into piles and then stacked the piles neatly into one big pile (multitasking while watching TV)
  • took my son's baritone horn to him at school
  • went through the mail
  • recycled a bunch of paper lying around
  • reorganized my desk surface
  • browsed a bunch of Internet
  • Facebooked
  • listened to The Bugle podcast
  • nearly finished my Christmas shopping


I did get 3.5 pages of writing done. So ... I only have to do this 4 more times to have maybe the bare minimum of 15 usable pages worth of material. That should work, right?


My Public Apology to Hair Accessories

Dear Basket of Hair Accessories,

Most of you don't do my hair any favors, so I neglect you. And I'm sorry. You're so shiny and glittery (Really? What was I thinking?!) and colorful and arty and chic and you live in a perfectly lovely Longaberger basket in my top left dresser drawer.


That's where you live. That's where you'll stay.

Time after time I shall reach past your trendyness for the plain black Goody hairclip or on a particularly adventurous day, for the tortoiseshell barrette. The rest of you will stay in ignominious darkness in your perfectly lovely Longaberger basket. Just stay put. Right there, in case I ever want you.

But, don't hold your breath.

Headbands, you just don't do my high forehead any favors. Or maybe it's because I can never quite get my bangs to lie properly when I try to use you. Or maybe it's because my head is oversized and by midday I feel as though you are piercing my skull like some sort two-fold trepanning device. Whatever the problem, you're just not for me. I tried, I really did.

Pretty, funky barrettes and craft-fair hair clips, you just make me feel too insecure. I feel fairly confident about my ability to match colors and balance levels of not-accessorized-enough to accessorized-just-right to good-lord-do-you-think-you're-a-gypsy-queen? At least with the parts of me that I can see in a mirror. With you clipped to the back of my head, I'm just never sure if you're clashing with my earrings. Or belt. Or face. Be patient. Who knows? Maybe someday I'll have a dressing room with one of those awesome three-way mirrors so that I can see you on the back of my resplendent, perfectly-coiffed head. Until then ... sorry!

French twist clip, fancy-schmancy-up-do sticks, foam-bendy-gizmo-thing, I don't eve know what I was thinking when I bought you. I didn't understand the directions that came with you and I don't plan to learn how to use you from some well-intentioned YouTube video. I'm sorry, but life's too short for hair doo-dad that make me feel stupid.

Scrunchies, imagine yourself still in the 80s until you come back into style. Be patient. If it worked for bell-bottoms and leg warmers, your time, too, will come. Sorry, guys!

As for you, plain black elastics, plastic clip and plain barrette ... stick with me, babies, and we'll go places.



Thanks, Veterans!

Thank you for my freedoms to all Vets everywhere.

Leon Schierer (my Dad), USNA, Class of '71
Special thanks to my dad, uncle, Grandpas, cousins, in-laws....I love you very much and your sacrifices are just some of many reasons I'm proud of you.



Romantic Scenery

Not the greatest paper I've ever written (mostly because I neglected to note one of the objectives of the assignment ... oops!), but here's a sample of my recent scholarly work.

Embracing Visual Realism and Technological Advancement:
Romantic Scenery and Stage Design
            In the second half of the 18th Century, theatre design became increasingly reliant on the visual over the literary. In contrast to the bare stages of Elizabethan theatre or suggested scenery of the Restoration drama, Romantic drama became a “theatre of illusion” (Carlson 492). During this time period, not only the “off Broadway” style of theatre depended on larger-than-life spectacle. Even the legitimate patent theatres relied on attracting and keeping audiences by means of set design and special effects.
            As entertainment options mushroomed throughout 18th Century London, as well as throughout Europe’s other great cities, theatre-goers became ever more immune to the charms of minimalist theatrical interpretations. Once Garrick began employing natural and emotional intonation and inflection in his interpretations of classic and new plays, the audience was immediately involved at a more intimate and emotional level. And, once theatre managers saw the audience’s deeper involvement in each play, they saw the opportunity for future theatrical successes. Eventually, this led toward the spectacular trend. Each show built on the effects, scenery, emotional pull, effects, etc of the prior one. Although he intended it sarcastically, even Wordsworth could hardly help but notice how spectacular shows “fitted the taste of the audience like a glove” (qtd. in Glance). In addition, as theatrical auditoriums and stage spaces grew in size, it became more and more important to present grand and spectacular productions. “The size of the stage and its distance from spectators require that they are given more, larger and more spectacular things to see” (Carlson 497).
            Furthermore, playwrights began to notice that increasingly complicated visual effects could lead to critical and financial success for their shows. Stage directions within manuscripts grew wordier, more complicated and more specific. Playwrights wanted nothing left to chance in the interpretation of their creative visions. In The Castle Spectre, Matthew Lewis gives the following stage direction:
The folding-doors close, and the oratory is seen illuminated. In its centre stands a tall female figure, her white and flowing garments spotted with blood; her veil is thrown back and discovers a pale and melancholy countenance; her eyes are lifted upwards, her arms extended toward heaven, and a large wound appears upon her bosum. (emphasis added) (IV:2)
But, just one year later – perhaps due to improved technology, perhaps due to the growing demands of an ever more jaded audience – George Colman the Younger insists upon the following climatic moment:
The door instantly sinks with a tremendous crash, and the Blue Chamber appears streaked with vivid streams of blood. The figures in the picture over the door change their position, and Abomelique is represented in the action of beheading the beauty he was before supplicating. The picture and devices of love change to subjects of horror and death. The interior apartment (which the sinking of the door discovers) exhibits various tombs in a sepulchral building, in the midst of which ghostly and supernatural forms are seen -- some in motion, some fixed. In the centre is a large skeleton seated on a tomb (with a dart in his hand), and over his head in characters of blood is written The Punishment Of Curiosity. (emphasis added) (II, 3)
The nature and quantity of special effects is increased monumentally. In the first example, there are closing doors, some dramatic lighting on an actress and then the sudden appearance of a wound on her “bosom.” However, in the latter, the stage crew must quickly lower a door through the stage, creating a “tremendous crash.” Meanwhile, the scenery and pictures in the room must all change appearance, streams of blood must pour down the walls, and within the inner chamber there are tombs, a giant skeleton, and moving and stationary ghosts. Later, the skeleton must stab an actor with the hand-held dart and drop through a trap door with its victim in tow. The demands on the scenic designers, set builders, and stage hands are great. And these demands grow greater with each new spectacular staging.
Scenery and special effects were as much a part of these performances as the actors, music or dialogue. Donahue notes, “For a century of more after play-going recommenced in 1660, the playbill remained mostly a listing of titles, actors’ names and roles, preceded by the name of the theatre” (10). Romantic period playbills, however, celebrated the elaborate landscapes, detailed set and thrilling effects as much as or even more than the performers themselves. Lists of the varied and exotic locales, heaped with superlatives filled patrons minds with the vivid imagery of what they might expect to see. Many of the posters and playbills would dedicate very little space to listing the actors in a given show, but instead would illustrate the various scenes and spectacles to expect during the performance. After all, if audiences are drawn to this sort of spectacle, it makes sense to advertise the visual delights of a production. Word of these spectacles would spread and fuel the public imagination. According to The Morning Post review the morning after the Blue-Beard opening, “The object of attraction was less than the merits of the romance itself, than the embellishments of which rumor had spoken” (334). Clearly, theatre gossip had paved the way for what thrills a patron might expect.
So, reviewers, too, came to expect a certain level of spectacle in the design and effects of a performance. Within the Broadview Anthology of Romantic Drama, numerous reviews comment on not only dialogue and acting, but also on the effectiveness (or not) of the scenery and mechanics of the performance. Emphasis was placed upon the successful execution of an elaborate trick, as well as upon the novelty of the effect or scenic display. Reviews of Harlequin and Humpo include such criticisms as, “there is a deficiency of rural scenery” and “the tricks are dull, and afford little that is new” (385). Whereas, Coleridge’s Remorse receives the following praise, “The … scenery, decorations &c. [contributed] to the success of the play…. The invocation scene was one of the most novel and picturesque we remember to have witnessed” (Cox 309-391).
Exotic spectacular melodramas such as Blue-Beard and Timour the Tartar receive particular praise, and it is interesting how frequently the reviewers seem to understand the effort on the part of stage personnel to achieve these complicated effects. Several reviewers extolled the scenic effects and elaborate constructions of the Blue-Beard production, but lament the difficulties with manipulating such complicated scenery and with managing the numerous special effects. The experienced eye apparently recognized that these difficulties would alleviate themselves with time and rehearsal. According to one reviewer, “The conduct of the whole betrayed a want of practice, which the necessary attentions of a repetition will remove” (Cox 331). Another review notes that “the gratification which the audience experienced from the exhibition … amply compensated for the inconvenience” (Cox 330). Where dramatic effect and spectacular exhibitions are concerned, it seems that the emotional and sensory end justified the laborious and ill-timed means.
Audience demand for spectacle and stimulation were not the only motivation and drive for theatre designers of the Romantic stage. The great landscape painter Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourgh saw great possibilities for artistic realism in the theatrical environment. Working with Garrick at Drury Lane, Loutherbourgh revolutionized the nature of scene painting and set design. “Loutherbourgh’s project was to present ‘realistic’ and pictoral images … that his audience would recognize and authentic and topologically accurate” (Baugh 309). The stage was no longer to be embellished in the audience member’s minds, but to be laid out in as richly detailed and accurate manner as possible.
This emphasis on realism was new. For the first time, sceneography had a purpose. Along with Garrick’s new emotional accurate method of performing both new and classic plays – through natural intonation and pacing, rather than rhetorical recitation – lush and detailed scenery allowed for “the birth of the stage picture as a coherent, harmoniously conceived whole” (Baugh 310). It was no longer acceptable for a contemporarily-dressed actor to plunk himself down in the middle of the audience, on a thrusting forestage, and deliver a sonorous, but monotonously intoned, soliloquy. Rather, with each far-too-frequent theatre fire and subsequent remodel, the forestage shortened and shortened until it disappeared altogether. By the end of this period, actors were all costumed as authentically and comprehensively as possible, framed in a gilded proscenium arch, posing and emoting, all the while surrounded by lavish, elaborately-designed and executed scenery – all part of a carefully researched and detailed visual spectacle.
As emphasis on scenic design grew, individual scenic artists developed their own specialties, and were known for their execution of particular techniques. Loutherbourgh was famous for his grand, sweeping landscapes, including waterfalls, mountains, seascapes, and crumbling rocks. Loutherbourgh’s counterpart, William Capon, was known for his “meticulously researched architectural scenes” (Baugh 314). Extensive historical and geographical research was put into ensuring as much accuracy as possible in every detail, whether interior or exterios spaces. Not only new plays, but also classics, including Shakespeare, were given this scenic treatment. At this time productions of Shakespeare are produced in “period” dress, taking place in an accurately portrayed Elizabeth England, a magical fairy glade, or even a Saxon interpretation of King Lear, complete with “Druid stone circles, round helmeted soldiers,” and so forth (Baugh 317).
Eventually this almost slavish attention to scenic detail would become almost an end unto itself. Designers would employ numerous scenic artists, builders, seamstresses and researchers in order to more fully develop plays, including Shakespeare’s, for the audience. The scenography of the plays rapidly established itself as the meaning and purpose and even text of the theatre, rather than the words of the play, itself. William Poel, founder of the Elizabethan Stage Society, mocked this inclination, saying artists must “accurately produce the colouring of the sky, of the foliage, of the evening shadows … of the men’s and women’s eyes; for all these details are important to the understanding of the play” (Qtd. in Baugh 321).
Naturally, some middle ground must be established in the dramatic world. Modern critics and theatre patrons would agree that great theatrical experiences cannot exist in the absence of a great text. To post-Romantic eyes, neither can great theatre exist in the absence of a complete and appropriate setting. Our modern theatrical experience relies heavily on the scenic advancements and other changes made throughout Romantic drama. Modern audiences, like their 18th Century counterparts, expect professional theatrical productions to please the eye, provide some glamour and delight, as well as presenting costumed actors within a beautifully framed and richly detailed scenic experience.

Contact me for Works Cited.

Copyright 2011.


Cutting the Cord, Part VI: Fail!

Well, we now have a lot of electronics to box up and ship back to their various vendors.


We got my new PC up and running and swapped my old PC over to its new PVR duties (the last week or so of my free time has all involved formatting archived media files' metadata and properties files). We bought a MCE-remote and IR-receiver combo (this one from Amazon for $15.95 ... we're pitching the remote just to use the USB IR-receiver) and got our Logitech Harmony remote talking to our TV, Xbox 360, and DVR-PC. We looove this remote.

Today we put the antenna up in a temporary configuration up on the roof and even went out and bought a compass to aim it properly. We set up the tuner software on the PC and set SageTV to scanning for stations. And ... FAIL! We can't get FOX-29 to tune in better than 40%, which results in Sage not displaying it at all. Fox and CBS are the stations we most wanted to receive over the air. In any grading scale 50% success is still a failing grade.

Joe's on the phone right now with Comcast attempting to re-negotiate our rates. We're also pricing out DirecTV.


I feel like I've wasted SOOOO much time on this project. "At least now we know," Joe says, pragmatic as always.

So, I've cancelled our Hulu-Plus subscription. Playon's cancellation is in progress. We're going to box up and return the following components: Antenna to Best Buy, USB tuner stick to New Egg, Pre-Amplifier to Amazon, 100-feet of ethernet cable to Home Depot.

Right now we're thinking we'll keep the remote because it consolidates several other remotes, the IR-receiver (so the remote can still talk to the PC), and possibly the HD HomeRun tuner (we can save $ by using our DVR instead of Comcast's).

If Comcast is a pain about lowering our rates, we may switch to DirecTV, which would include a DVR for free. If we go that route, I don't know if we'll keep the tuner or not. We may just use the PC for storing archived media and not for DVR-ing (or is PVR-ing the preferred abbreviation now?).


So irritated.



First Day of School!!!!

The kiddos are heading into 7th and 5th grades this year. Whoa. Matthew's last year in elementary school.

Some past First Days, in no particular order:





*sniffle, sniffle*



Ree Drummond vs Pioneer Woman

THIS is a pioneer woman.
THIS isn't.
Neither is this.

Some years back (2006?) I started reading ThePioneerWomanCooks.com. I enjoyed the comfort food recipes and seeing pictures of each step along the way. Eventually I sidled over to the main website. Ree's self-deprecating humor and folksy stories were a lot of fun, too.

I enjoyed her pictures or ranch life, tolerated/ignored her homeschooling anecdotes (at the best they're unrelated to me and at the worst, as a public school teacher, they're vaguely offensive to my sensibilities), and tried a few of her recipes (Joe complained, and rightly so, about the greasiness of each one of them ... so I always modified the recipes to lower the fat content). I even got past cringing at the way she calls her husband Marlboro Man. Nothing like glorifying a cigarette advertising icon. Ick! I vicariously enjoyed her Black Heels to Tractor Wheels saga of how she and her husband met and fell in love, impressed at her level of detailed recollection.

But then things started to change. Ree became less folksy. I think my first insight into this was when the Drummonds began a multi-jillion dollar remodel of The Lodge back in 2008, just to use it as a kitchen-photography location and a guest house. "Who are these people," I thought? "Blogging must pay pretty well, or else I now have better insight into why beef is so expensive."

But I didn't know the half of it.

Recently I grew even more weary of of Ree's 5-star hotel room tours and gratuitous basset hound pictures, not to mention her continual self-hype. It's not that I like her folksiness any less ... it's more that there's less folksiness and more caricature. It's all Pioneer Woman now, without any Ree Drummond.

To be fair, I think that once the site got sufficiently lucrative and time-consuming that Ree's life changed. She's been on multiple book tours by this time and now has a new show on The Food Network (which disappoints me, Food Network....I watch The Next Food Network Star and you're always going on about having star power, but that the most important thing is being able to really cook well and extensive culinary knowledge ... this move feels like you're just trying to make a few bucks off of Pioneer Woman's enormous popularity. Her recipes are sometimes unsafe* and sometimes just make her look clueless**). She's not the person she was when she started blogging. Her life's not the same.

Anyway, a few months ago I started Googling around looking for non-party-line info on the Drummonds. Idle curiosity quickly became surprise and even occasionally, alarm. Other than in my sidebar, I'm not going to link to Ree's page. Everyone knows how to find it. I'm not going to add any links to any Pioneer Woman re-education sites, either. There's one in the sidebar. You can Google others verrrry easily. There are a lot of people out there.

I feel as though I've had the scales removed from my eyes.

First of all, the Drummonds are loaded. Big huge bucks even before she started blogging. This isn't really a strike against them, or anything. Good for them for making piles of cash (apparently housing the nation's wild mustangs is extremely lucrative ... ). But don't try to tell me you're just like me, only ranchier. You're millionaires several times over. I'm thrilled that you garden and have laundry and all those other normal things to do, but you're not just like me. And, you're not even like most cattle ranchers, either.

Secondly, Ree is apparently quite a snob. All her readers know she grew up on a golf course with ballet lessons, etc. But part of her whole schtick is that she left that life all behind her to become a folksy Pioneer Woman (Sorry...Ma Ingalls, she ain't). Ree hung out to dry at least one other "mommy blogger" she hired, apparently just because Ree was afraid of what her readers might think if she stuck up for the woman's personal experience with teaching religion to her own homeschooled children. According to many sources, the locals around her town don't like her much, either, for what that's worth.

Additionally, Ree and Ladd (that's Marlboro Man's real name) seem to be kind of dumb about horses and keeping their children safe around and on the horses. At the time I read it, I was really alarmed by a post wherein her youngest child (four at the time) was plunked on a horse to follow along while the rest of the family and professional cowboys were on horseback, driving cattle. Except for Ree. She was standing nearby, shooting pictures through a ginormous telephoto lens. (Which is fine...I don't detract from her for photographing her life. Lord knows I've done the same thing plenty of times.) But then she notices that her son is scared on the horse and is starting to cry. He's doing all the wrong things and the horse is getting jittery about the unclear signals, and pain in its mouth. But she just keeps taking pictures. Lots of them. Who does this? Who puts a four-year old alone, UNHELMETED?, on an unled horse, loose in a field? There are a bunch more examples of bad riding throughout her blog: sawing on horses' tender mouths, holding the reins improperly, plenty of unhelmeted kids riding, even ... tying a horse to a barbed wire fence (!!!). I don't know much about horses, but I can ride a little. I spent 6 summers at horse camp for just a week each time, but even I can tell that some of these experienced fourth-generation cowhands are being unnecessarily cruel to their animals. Apparently on her TV show premiere she and her children are riding on calves as the calves are being dragged across the ground to be processed. How is this OK? Why are people not all over her? Why are her own people who monitor her and her blog and her image not all over her?

Finally, I no longer believe there's much of her site that has anything to do with one of her favorite assertions -- that she's "keepin' it real." Based on some things she's posted, some things she's deleted or edited in past posts (does anyone remember when she used to call her mentally disabled brother her "retarded brother, Mike?"), and some things I've read on various other sites ... I'm certain she has a rather extensive staff comprised of teachers for her kids, housekeepers, web designers, publicists, guest bloggers, etc. While none of these things is damning, really ... I mean, "Good for you if you can afford a staff," right? However, I think it's disingenuous, even fraudulent, to keep most of this information from her own blog posts. Why keep your readership in the dark, when you're so fond of being "real" for them? Why not throw some busy working moms a bone and admit that the many things you do (homeschool your kids, garden, cook, blog, take pictures, Photoshop the frak out of them, write books, tour the country, remodel buildings and rooms, appear on TV shows, clean your house and do your mountains of laundry) so effortlessly can't actually all be done by one human being? Throw us a bone, here. Why go back and delete old less-flattering blog posts in your past? How is that being real? If the posts were real for you at the time, Ree, why don't you leave them alone? I've come to the conclusion that this five-star-hoteling-book-touring-Today-Show-appearancing lifestyle was the goal long ago and that her I'm-just-a-back-country-agoraphobic-school-marm thing was all schtick.

I think it's because Ree Drummond has left the building. The Pioneer Woman, Marlboro Man (and their publicists) have taken over. I still go to her site, albeit way less than I used to. But, I read PioneerWomanSux.com every day as well. I enjoy a reminder that what's portrayed on someone's blog is frequently a character he or she has created and not a real person. I'd lost sight of that.

Anyway, this is what's really on my mind this morning. I don't have a following, or publicists or advertising revenue from my blog. I don't even have a real domain name. That's as real as it gets. Though, it's be nice to wind up with a book and Food Network deal, so I could start posting pictures of $600/night hotel rooms. So, if anyone out there wants to pay me to do what I do, feel free to get in touch.


* You NEVER use your used marinade as a sauce on your meat unless you've boiled it a good long while, first. And, you NEVER stick a metal utensil into a jar of hot jelly. Etc.

** The curvy part of the canning lifter thingy is the end that goes around the mouth of the jar....that's WHY it's curvy.


Better Safe Than Sorry

I kept the computer off yesterday, updating people via iTouch on Facebook and texting some friends and family. So apologizes to anyone whose primary source of contact with me is this blog (is that anyone?).

We're all fine here. The scariest part of the storm was the Tornado Warning from 9-ish until 10-ish Saturday night, and then going to bed around midnight with it really raining and howling outside, wondering what would happen overnight. The worst of the storm in this area was around 2 a.m. apparently.

Irene made landfall not far from here as a low-end level 1 hurricane. I have no idea how bad things got for the barrier island or Shore towns. Here our power flickered a few times but didn't go out. The cable cut out several times, too. The gutters and downspouts did their jobs, but we wound up with some leaking in our garage around our furnace chimney. The yard is a big mess -- leaves and sticks everywhere, even a few alarmingly substantial branches.

Emily was pretty bummed about the power staying on, and I felt a weird sense of disappointment, like missing out on an adventure somehow. We spent several hours playing board games yesterday, by candlelight, even though the power stayed on. It was nice to have had all our activities canceled and just hang out at home with family. I even felt a little duped by the "Storm of the Century" media hype. But, I remembered that I had just commented on someone's status that I'd rather be over-prepared and not need it, than under-prepared with regrets.

So, today it's back to business as usual. I have my classes to prep for and a PowerPoint to finish for some of Joe's classes.

I hope everyone more seriously affected by Irene is safe and restored to normal soon, too!




Apparently she's sped up. Irene is now supposed to hit here Sunday morning, rather than Sunday evening. We've been in a State of Emergency since yesterday.

Right now it's sunny and calm.

Neighboring counties have mandatory evacuations, but we're supposed to stay put. Several regional roadways have been closed in the shore-bound direction to allow more traffic to head away from the danger. Our workplace is being used as an emergency shelter. The casinos are closing for only the third time in history. Prisons and convalescent homes are evacuating.

So far, we've been robo-called by the College (yesterday they called to announce their closure from noon today through Monday morning ... methinks that will go longer), The Boy Scouts of America (all South Jersey events have been canceled), Atlantic City Electric (don't call us, just expect to be without power for 3-4 days at least).

I've decided to cram as much food as I can into my sub-zero freezer in the basement. If we don't open it, the food should stay frozen for several days. We're going to clear out the fridge as much as possible and we put a bunch of water jugs in the refrigerator-freezer. We plan to use this as an icebox. I put a few easy-cook items in there.

We'll make good use of our Coleman stove and gas grill.

We also hit the library today to have plenty of new books to read.

The storm is moving slowish, so we're supposed to have nearly 24 hours of tropical storm force winds and rain. I think 8-10" of rain is the latest estimate. Joe is cleaning out gutters and duct-taping our diverter thingies to our downspouts.

I know some of this seems like doom-and-gloomy-media-hyped paranoia, but I'm a firm believer in better safe than sorry. I'd rather be over-prepared and not need it than under-prepared with regrets. Plus ... I loooove storms. I hope we get smacked. (the blackest humor in my mind wants a tree to fall across our pool (crushing it), concrete patio (cracking it), and into the back wall of our house near the kitchen and dining room -- necessitating repairs that result in a new pool, deck and kitchen remodel) But I mostly want everyone to stay safe and for my immediate family to not try to kill each other in the stress, boredom and non-air-conditioned heat and humidity that will follow until our power is restored.

Will continue updating occasionally until the power goes out. Really very certain that's an "when" and not an "if."


ps. Hoping our power stays on long enough for "Doctor Who" tomorrow night!

[UPDATE 8/27 2:41: Woke up this morning to the windows all fogged up from the increasing humidity outside. Drizzling/misting started around 10:30. Actually started raining around 11:30, but continued off and on as storm bands washed over us. It's been raining lightly, but steadily for the past couple of hours, though. Occasionally there's a breeze enough to sway the treetops a bit and flip the leaves over, but nothing much. With all the rain we've gotten over the past week, the pool has been overflowing, through the skimmer, since the rain started.]

[UPDATE 8/27 3:35: Raining moderately hard, wind really picked up in the last hour. Also .. we're under a Tornado Watch until 8p.m.]

[UPDATE 8/27 9:22 p.m.: Raining very hard for a hour or so now. Winds steady and strong with occasional gusts. Tornado Warning until 9:45 p.m. Joe just went out to clean out a section of gutter that was overflowing and making a giant puddle up against our foundation. Our roof is leaking into our garage around our furnace chimney (this has happened before, but not to this degree, so I'm wondering if some flashing or shingles have shifted). Kids tucked in bed. Power has flickered twice, but we're still on for now.]


Advance Preparation

We're not under any watches or warnings -- not thunderstorm, not wind, not flooding and not hurricane.

But Irene is coming.

She's not the hurricane of the century. She's no Katrina-Rita one-two punch. So far, she's actually remarkably similar to Gloria back in '85. Gloria resulted in sustained 80 mph winds in New Jersey and mangled the shoreline, but wasn't too-too bad in this area.

I'm not panicking, nor am I acting the least bit concerned, really. Matthew is a little storm-shy, and if he picks up on any sense of tension or urgency in me, he'll be a basket-case for the next 4 days.

There's a Location Link waaaay on down at the bottom of the post so you can see where our house is in this mess.
And in any case, there's no real reason for panic. Right now the storm path doesn't look too bad for us. There's sort of a Good Side and a Bad Side of a hurricane to be on. I'm not sure why this is, and I'm not in the mood to Google it right now (since I should be outside gathering pool toys into the garage), but if you find out, be sure to let me know. Of course, the storm could track more to our left and then we'd get smacked.

Back in 2003 (that's the second time I've said "Back in ." What am I? This guy?). Anyway, back in 2003, when hurricane Isabel hit, we were new to this whole coastal living thing. We'd only been here two years and had no idea what to expect. I took normal storm precautions (moved most refrigerator food to the freezer in the basement and bought several gallons of fresh water) and we did just fine. The power was out for four days from Isabel and some major trees around here broke like toothpicks. The storm didn't even pass through here, formally. It hit near Virginia Beach. But, we were on the Bad Side of the storm, so the effects were worse. Or something.

This time it looks like we'll be on the Good Side of the storm as she makes her way up the coast intent on destroying New York and/or Boston.

Still, we're taking basic precautions. There's a list here of what to do and when to do it. All the loose stuff outside will be shedded or garaged. I'm buying some water and making sure I know where the flashlights and batteries are. I'm going to fully charge all our portable electronics. Any food I can move to our subzero freezer will be moved there sometime on Saturday and we won't open the freezer again once the power goes out (I see a power outage as an inevitability, not a possibility). I'm going to make sure both cars are gassed up in case of the (extremely unlikely) event of an evacuation.

I don't think it's going to be that bad here, though. We're not planning to plywood our windows, for example. I don't know. Maybe we should, but we aren't planning to. I don't think we'll flood here, either. We're about 108 feet above sea level here and three miles from the nearest river, which a pretty long distance from water in this part of South Jersey. Our biggest danger personally will be falling branches and trees.

So, off I go to rally my troops in (calm and careful) storm preparation mode. And if I'm not online for awhile come the weekend, you'll know why.

[UPDATE: Hurricane Watch now in effect through Friday, 2:00a.m. when I presume it will become a Hurricane Warning. A Watch is 48 hrs in advance, a Warning is 36 hrs in advance. The onset of Tropical Storm conditions is likely to begin Saturday afternoon.]

[UPDATE: Hurricane Watch now in effect through Thursday, 11p.m. Irene is now 3 hours closer to us?!?]



Needing a Fix

I miss the theatre, especially being onstage. Granted, I've only been onstage a few times, but it's like any other sort of adrenaline/epinephrine-based pursuit ... once you've developed any sort of taste for it, you want more and more. Either you hate it or you crave it. I don't think there is any middle of the road.

My last role onstage was in spring of 2010. That's a long time to go without a fix. Sure, I've been involved in theatre in a variety of ways since then -- volunteering for local theatre companies, stage managing two huge musicals, stage managing (for money!) for a murder mystery dinner theatre company. But I haven't been onstage. I've managed to get a few quick "fixes" in the meantime. I acted with Mystic Realms at the Wheaton Arts summer Fantasy Faires and at the Halloween Fest they also hosted. But, there's something about being onstage. The lights, the darkened auditorium, the tight bonding with the other actors throughout the rehearsal and performance period. It's unlike anything else I have any experience with.

The whole family was cast in small roles recently in My Fair Lady, but even in the first week of rehearsals it was readily apparent that the bonding we'd hoped for throughout the summer rehearsal period was quickly going to devolve into painful stress and grief for the entire family. The payoff of performances seemed a small rewards for 6 weeks of family anxiety and upset.

The kids are currently in rehearsals for Fiddler on the Roof, Jr., and Joe is still on the fence about auditioning for an upcoming performance of The Sound of Music (I think he should go for it!), but I don't see any theatre of any sort in my personal future, other than my aforementioned part-time stage management gig.

This isn't due to a sudden decline in local theatre. On the contrary, there are three community theatre groups and the college all providing musicals and straight shows galore throughout the year.

No, the problem is time. Because I haven't found a full-time job for this year, I've decided to try to finish my Master's as quickly as possible. I'm taking a full 9-credit course load at Rutgers this coming semester, and anticipate the same for the spring. Taking classes three nights a week from 6-8:40, plus a 45-minute drive each way does not allow for much family time, studying time, reading time, breathing time, let alone rehearsals, memorization, teching, performances. No, theatre is simply not in the stars for at least the next 9 months. Maybe the next year.

Of course, should I land a full-time job in the next week and a half before classes start, I'll take the semester off from school. Then I could consider some acting later in the year perhaps. But I don't see that happening.

*twitch-twitch* I need my acting fix! This year's Halloween event can't come soon enough!



A Hint of Fall in the Air

There is nothing on the calendar today. Nothing! How does that work?

I'm really in the mood for a county fair or something, but around here they're not like the Crawford County Fair near where I grew up. (granted, that's the largest agricultural fair in Pennsylvania (according to their website), so I grew up pretty spoiled that way)

And now that I look more closely at their website, there's a reason I'm feeling in the Fair mood. Apprently the Crawford County Fair opens today. It must be the hours of daylight or something or the (albeit fluky) cool crispness in the air last night ... like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, I feel a compulsion to wander through well-trodden, straw-strewn pathways, cooling myself with a local politician's paper give-away fan, munching on funnel cake; perusing countless sheep, cows, horses, ducks, geese, pigeons, pigs, canned fruit, oversized pumpkins and gourds; tuning out the midway noise and the grinding drone of the truck pull underway in the central arena while commenting on the ridiculously huge John  Deere on display.

August 2002, Emily's first Crawford County Fair
I really miss the Fair.



Nice One, Google!

Happy Birthday, Fermat!

(now if you would only send Joe the proof of your last theorem ... in a dream, perhaps? ... all our financial troubles would be over)



The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Several items that have recently caught my eye, a la Adrienne's Many Things posts ...

In her latest blog post, my friend, Josette, is right on the money. As she usually is.

Alton Brown is always right. And in the simplest things, he's even more righter still.

I wish these were iTouch sized.

Despite the obvious charm and kitsch (which only adds further to the charm), I can't help but think, "This would be so awkward in my purse."

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Amy's returning ... but more importantly ... only 12 MORE DAYS!

Dogs can fly.

For those who dismiss knitting as too feminine or girly or some other such nonsense. (also check out other projects in Dave Cole's gallery for more odd knitting)

Speaking of The Doctor, and knitting.



Cutting the Cord, Part V: Attic Fail

Yesterday we once again tested our antenna reception. This time we used various combinations of bring on the roof, in the attic, with a close-to-the-antenna tuner (FYI: I hadn't read the specs on this device and was extremely surprised at its diminutive size!), with and without pre-amplification, and we have some interested, but slightly frustrating results.

The major frustration is that attic-mounting the antenna is simply a no-go. I'd read that antennas lose 40-50% of their gain when they're moved from the roof to the attic and that our aluminum siding was going to be a major attenuator, but I also know that in my childhood, my parents' attic-mounted antenna in an aluminum-sided house was able to pick up stations from London, Ontario, 88 miles away (CKCO-13 currently broadcasts from a height of 291 meters, at 325 kW.). So, I remained optimistic about our chances picking up the Philadelphia stations.

Gratuitous Table of Philadelphia Broadcast Stations:

Height (meters)
Distance (miles)
*According to Wikipedia; however, our experience leads me to believe AntennaPoint.com and otherantenna-finding websites, which list roughly 270 kW.

Gratuitous map placed here mostly for Chris.
Side note: there are a lot of websites that can help with the over-the-air process. The three I've used the most are AntennaWeb.com, AntennaPoint.com and more recently, TVFool.com. TV Fool, especially, easily creates some great maps that can help you determine the size and placement of your antenna. For example, in the extremely colorful map, we are located at the red pin, and WTXF, FOX-29 of Philadelphia is located at the green dot at the center of the rainbow bullseye. This station is of particular interest to us, as they will be broadcasting nine of the sixteen Eagles regular season games. For those keeping score at home, the second-most-important station we want to receive over-the-air is KYW, the Philadelphia CBS affiliate (two Eagles games, but also primetime programming which won't be available through Hulu).

According to TVFool, interpret the map as follows:
  • White is extremely strong.  Beware of signal overload on amps.
  • Red-yellow-green are all quite strong. You can expect reasonable coverage with an indoor antenna.
  • Cyan is where it's advisable to move the antenna up to the second floor or attic.
  • Blue is where it's probably necessary to install a good antenna on the roof.
  • Purple is quite weak and you really have to work at it for any chance of reception.
Anyway, enough hypotheticals ... it's time for some actual results.We started out using the antenna in the attic, aimed at what we thought was due north (more on that in a bit), with the tuner. We received a measly 5 channels when we scanned, and all but a few wouldn't even really tune in when we tried to view them. Despite Chris's comment (as Kristin) on my last Cutting the Cord post, we decided to try the pre-amp along with it. After all, we had the thing, why not give it a go, right? It turns out it helps a bit, but not nearly as much as with the addition of the tuner. We received 7 stations.

    Back out to the roof. We had to disassemble the antenna to get it out of there, and then reassemble it for roof mounting. And we were in a hurry as there was a storm coming (Had I been on my computer yesterday, I'd have captured a shot of the radar map, but I didn't. And, for what it's worth, it's apparently difficult to find yesterday's weather maps online.). FYI, sticking a broom handle on the back on an antenna provides you with a nice pole with which to aim and transport your antenna array. And, it also provides a great temporary mount -- just drop the pole into the tile insert at the top of your gas-water-heater chimney vent.

    We aimed the antenna due north (we thought) and attached the tuner: 25 (!!!) channels, but still no FOX-29.
    We double-checked Google Maps and adjusted our aim: 36 channels (including FOX!)
    We added in the pre-amp: 41 channels


    However, out of six possible bars, the Fox station wavered between three (when it came through clearly) and two (when it began to pixelate occasionally or get choppy). This isn't ideal. Joe is concerned about the quality of future feeds, while I remain optimistic that the weather wasn't ideal between here and Philly and that we should consider this a good result. We were both surprised at the difference that aiming makes even over such a distance, even with a "multidirectional" antenna.

    We're also both hoping that some of the hiccuping and choppiness is due not to the actual quality of the antenna reception, but rather to the antiquity of the computer displaying the feed. (2.0 GHz and minimal RAM ain't what it used to be.) Due to a well-timed Woot this week, I've ordered a new computer for myself, and my computer (3.0GHz and plentiful RAM) will become the new DVR. That's the final piece of this puzzle. At that point, we'll test everything one more time, before working on permanently mounting an antenna to our roof (pointing the right direction this time). Then we'll unwrap and program our nifty remote control and our new over-the-air to DVR, combined with Hulu and Netflix on the Xbox system will be fully functional.