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.