So ... Pinterest ...

I've always been a crafty-ish/handy-ish person. I like to knit, always sew/manufacture my kids' Halloween costumes, have painted, wallpapered, spackled my entire house more than twice over. I even refinished all of my hideous 1970s kitchen cabinets.
Best costume I ever made. Blinking lights!

But nothing prepared me for the glut of crafty goodness and inspiration and wonder that is Pinterest.

I've found so many ideas for foods to make, gifts to create and give, and household improvements to implement. And most of them have turned out wonderfully! (not like these) I have a few more things in the works ... but here's a nice run-through of my recent accomplishments around the house.

SOOO much better than before.
This gives you some idea of the kitchen "before."
First of all ... the aforementioned kitchen. In October 2011 we had a minor kitchen fire (everyone's OK!) which resulted in an insurance claim and replacement of the countertops, wallsplash, range and flooring. We took this opportunity to also install pendant lighting over the island (LOVE!) and to replace the grimy and paint-peely range hood with one that vented outside the house. Since I knew paint drips on either the countertop or the floor wouldn't matter, I also took up the challenge of refinishing the cabinets. I used Rustoleum's Cabinet Transformations product in their "Frost" color. The DVD and printed instructions were easy to follow and I think the project turned out great! This was my first time attempting any sort of faux finishing or even painting wood, for that matter. I lucked out on some brushed nickel hardware in the clearance section at Lowe's and a coordinating light fixture in the sale section. I love the finished room! (Please ignore the counter and fridge clutter ...)

Next is a serious of smaller projects. Some took a weekend, some a few hours, some several days ... I'm proud of the way they turned out, or I wouldn't be sharing them here, obviously.  I don't have before-and-after pictures of step-by-step pictures, but if you ask for more info or tips, I'll gladly fill you in.

OK, so I didn't make this. I bought it on Etsy ... but still a great Pinterest idea.

Antique printer's tray purchased on eBay ...
Converted to jewelry storage/display

Using wasted space for measuring spoons and cups.
More are on the door of the neighboring cabinet.
Tie-dye Mickey Mouse shirt!

Remove pictures from frames and spray-paint them all black
Frame out an old builder's cheapie mirror without having to take it down from the wall

Next project due to be finished ... Mod-Podging a world map to multiple Michael's-bought canvases and hanging as a grouping. Pics soon!



My Public Apology to Everyone

Dear everybody who reads this blog,

I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I haven't been holding up my end of the blog relationship, by you know -- actually blogging.

Life has been complicated for the last year or so. Truly, even longer than that.

I'm not one of those people who complains a lot about being busy. In fact, those people generally irritate me -- not busy people, but rather people who parade around their busy-ness like it's some sort of prize. "Oh, I couldn't possibly ... I'm just SOOO busy."

And I certainly know that most of my problems could be categorized into the first-world variety. No one has a terminal illness. Bills are generally being paid.

But I guess I've been rather overwhelmed of late. And, I have the physical proof that I was maxed out -- on top of everything that was evidently stressing me out, I landed an excruciatingly painful case of the shingles. The doctor's advice, "Try to reduce your load and your stress. It's a major contributor." Um, yeah, ok. I'll get right on that.

I won't go into a litany of the various activities and stressors in my life right now. Those of you who know, know. And those of you who don't know, well, just imagine a bunch of irons in the fire with a side of mild depression and you've got it about right.

In any case, blogging has slipped significantly on the priority list. And, I'm honestly sorry for that. I love reading other people's blogs and get mildly irritated/disappointed with erratic updates. But here I am posting once maybe every three weeks, if that. I am my own blogging nightmare.

I'm sorry.

I really enjoy writing. And I enjoy comments. And especially the give and take of ideas. I understand that all of that starts with me. So I'll try to be better about writing. And, hopefully, if my mood and generally outlook allows, I'll get back to the insight and humor that create the sorts of posts I'd want to read if I were you.




Happy Birthday, My Son

So .... now you're 11.

You're an amazing boy and growing into an equally amazing young man. We can see the bones changing under your skin, your face growing angles that weren't there a year ago. Before long we'll really be able to see the handsome man inside you.

But more than that, you're smart. Your brain makes connections I don't see coming.

You're musically talented. Piano, baritone horn ... and your voice ... it makes people tear up with its sweet purity.

You're empathic. You truly feel for others and wish them well. I cannot count the times you've turned to one of us with a comforting gesture just when we needed it most.

You're funny. Oh my ... you've brought us to tears laughing at your antics, your clever turns of phrase.Ever since you were only a couple of years old ("I'm sorry, but Nini forgot his legs."), you've had us at the mercy of your wit. And your nutball antics? Fugghedaboudit.

You're a ham. Anytime, anywhere you can take center stage with perfect ease and comfort. You may not see it yet, but this is a gift.

You're you.

You're so special to us and we welcome seeing you grow and mature even while we want to cram you back into yourself and fit you on our laps again.

Happiest of birthdays, Matthew!


Past Matthews ......

Baby Matthew

One Year Old

Two Years Old

Three Years Old

Four Years Old

Five Years Old

Six Years Old

Seven Years Old

Eight Years Old

Nine Years Old

Ten Years Old


Tuesday Morning Gripe

My neighbor's dog barks at me every morning when I walk out my door. Not a friendly "Hey there" bark, but more of a "You! Human! Get off my turf!" bark. Every morning when I leave. Every afternoon when I return. Every time any of us steps a foot out of the back door (which is our main door).

Dog -- it's my house. It's my yard. Shut up already.

That is all.



Liberal Arts

This morning on NPR I heard a story on the viability (or not) of liberal arts colleges in the current economy.

If you're reading this you probably already know that I attended Allegheny College, of the liberal arts variety, way back in the early 90s. Odds are pretty good that if you're reading this you met me there. You know ... back when nobody really worried about getting a job after graduation. Back when Freddie Mercury was still alive. Back before (way before) September 11th. Back when we each rode a magical unicorn to classes.

Anyway, the NPR story posits that in today's "uncertain economy" that many parents and students are avoiding liberal arts colleges for two reasons: they're unbelievably expensive and with a "degree in philosophy" graduating seniors are unemployable.


I don't know about your own college selection process. But, here's mine.* After colleges received my PSAT scores through whatever mega-database sells out college juniors, I began to receive brochures in the mail. I don't know if colleges even do this anymore. They probably send DVDs or flash drives. Anyway, these were elaborately produced, glossy, full-color packets. Lots of them. I had two stacks in my closet, each roughly four-feet high.

I distinctly remember one Saturday spending half the day purging the piles and narrowing down my college options to the top 15 or so most viable options. Some of my criteria were based on the type of education I wanted, so I eliminated technical or engineering-type schools. Some were based on environment, so I eliminated all colleges with student populations over 2500 or so. I threw out** every college west of the Mississippi or south of the Mason-Dixon line. Due to my strictly Protestant upbringing, I pitched just about everything with "St. Somebody" in the title.

At this point, I showed the options to my mom and we planned a summer vacation around touring colleges: Middlebury, Gettysburg, Albright, Lafayette, Vassar, Allegheny. After visiting the schools, without knowing the value of an interview or how to really understand what I wanted, other than by how my parents, particularly my mom, reacted to each college's atmosphere and tour ... I applied to Middlebury (wait-listed, not accepted), Gettysburg (accepted), Allegheny (accepted) and St. Olaf's near Minneapolis*** (never heard back from them at all).

So, I wound up at Allegheny. And it was the best. I loved the place. I loved taking classes in a variety of disciplines. I loved being around people who were like me and people who were nothing like me. I loved the small class sizes and close relationships with professors.

And when I graduated, I was not entirely unemployable. At least not in the long run. I admit, majoring in Communications and hoping to get a job in media, I really (really, really) should have done an internship somewhere. And, since Joe's career plans were very firm and mine were sort of a Monet painting .. I followed him to Philly and temp-ed. Which (along with the lovely NeXT computers at Allegheny) gave me invaluable computer experience.

Which is why I now teach computers.

So it all worked out in the end. I graduated with only $11,000 in debt. Which is very little considering the price of my alma mater.

Would I do it again? Yes. Would I recommend a liberal arts education to my kids? Yes.

I think the idea of narrowing down your career path at age 17 is problematic. I think the idea of narrowing down your career options and general scope of knowledge based on the limitations of the focus of your choice of higher institution is less than ideal. I like breadth of experience. I like breadth of knowledge.

I just hope I can afford to provide the same thing for my kids. Ay, there's the rub.


* Let me start by saying that one of my chief skills is an uncanny ability to ace standardized tests. I took the the SATs in 7th grade and again at the traditional time, and took the PSATs in high school with my peers and was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist.I received a full scholarship, including room and board, to Bowling Green University. That sort of thing.

**It breaks my heart that this was before readily available recycling.

***What can I say? I love snow.


Standardized Testing, Day Three

The students are tired and irritable.

The teachers are tired and irritable.

The entire school environment is tired and irritable ... even the ones who haven't begun testing yet.

We've had to take down or cover up all hallways displays, greatly increasing gloom.

We've had to adjust lunch schedules, grouping students together in new ways causing extra cafeteria chaos and noise while simultaneously rescheduling teachers form lunch duty to testing hall monitor duty, increasing cafeteria stress and chaos.*

It's just unpleasant.

That said, during these stressful times a smile can go even further than usual. I appreciate everyone's hard work and try to remember to say so. Yesterday I brought in cupcakes -- red velvet, even!

I know it's not any easier on the students or anyone else. One more day of testing this week. Then a brief break before we start again on Monday.


* I could share an incident here, but won't.


Standardized Testing, Day Two

The NJASK test is subject to security that I think would rival any document handling procedures at any top-secret government agency.

All teachers in each building in which testing will occur, regardless of whether or not they will actually in any likelihood handle any testing materials must be trained and sign acknowledgement of a district-wide Security Plan.

You'll find instructions such as: (Note: grammar, phrasing, spelling, and capitalization are not mine.)

 "Authorization to Receive Secure Materials form is located in the file cabinet next to the secretary's desk. Only those listed on that form will be permitted to receive test materials. The form must be presented to the courier at the time of receipt."

"In the event a student becomes ill during testing, the examiner will complete an Irregularity Report noting the situation and which section the child became ill in. This report will be turned into the STC* when testing materials are returned that day."

You don't even want to know about the sections regarding Fire Drills & Bomb Scares or about the state-mandated regulation baggies and seals used for testing materials which become "soiled" by an ill student. Let me just say that all testing materials must be returned to the state.

Testing materials (test booklets, answer sheets, instruction booklets, approved manipulatives, etc) all arrive at the building and must be signed for by someone on the Authorization to Receive Secure Materials form. Everything is sealed with sticker tabs on each section and then sealed inside plastic bags and then sealed inside the secure shipping boxes. The STC stores the materials in his or her office until testing begins. On the first day of testing, official test examiners only may go to the STC and sign out the testing materials. Both the STC and examiner must sign a sheet indicating how many of which item were taken for that day's testing.

At no time may the examiner leave the materials unattended. When the class takes their bathroom break, the examiner must collect every item personally. Students may not pass them to the front of the class. If there is any sort of emergency, the examiner must first personally gather all the testing materials before exiting the room. At the end of the day's testing, the examiner flags down a waiting hall monitor who comes and watches the students in the classroom while the examiner returns all the testing materials to the STC. The materials are counted and both again sign that the materials were returned. I cannot imagine what happens if anything is found missing.

At no time are any students, teachers, staff, etc permitted to discuss the contents of the test. Even when the testing is over for the day. This is pounded into the students' heads at least as much as the actual subject matter upon which they are tested.**

Our school is under particular scrutiny as one of the other K-8 schools in the district remains under investigation for allegations of cheating on last year's test -- these allegations come up periodically throughout the state, but are usually dropped within a few weeks ... not this time.

So, that's just a brief look into the byzantine Wonderland of standardized testing security.


*School Test Coordinator, there's also a DTC or District Test Coordinator

**At dinner last night, Emily -- who is testing this week as all New Jersey 7th graders must -- replied to my inquiry about how the day's testing went. "It was good. I had to write a persuasive essay." Her eyes expanded and her voice dropped before she intoned, "But. I. Can't. Tell. You. Anything. More." Um ... ok.


Standardized Testing, Day One

For the next three weeks the state of New Jersey will be forcing public school teachers and students to undergo the institutionalized nonsense torture process known as standardized testing. The New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge or NJASK is administered to all 3rd through 8th graders in the state, in order to determine which schools should receive even less funding are underperforming.

This week is 7th and 8th grade. My own Emily is going to spend hours this week filling in little circles with her number two pencil. She'll also have to write a few short essays and answer some short-response word problems in math. Her high scores will prove to the state that she's naturally very intelligent that her teacher is exceptionally skilled that her school is performing adequately well at preparing its students to take standardized tests.

The tests are the focus of the entire school year. Even impressively skilled and remarkably creative teachers are locked into the drudgery of teaching test-taking skills in the weeks and months leading up to The Test.

I can speak to the ineffectiveness of the writing prompts, in particular. I spent two years teaching Basic Skills composition at two area community colleges which draw from a dozen or so school districts in two counties. I have taught the students who have been deemed incapable of success in the standard college-level courses, at least where writing and grammar are concerned. I have also received hours of professional development at the elementary school level in how to prepare students for the language arts literacy portions of The Test.

And I can tell you this .... the two are not remotely the same thing. Writing a five-paragraph essay the right way involves several steps: pre-writing, rough draft, waiting at least 24 hours, revising (for content), editing (for grammar and punctuation), before preceding to a final copy. The essay should consist of an introductory paragraph which includes both a hook and a statement of not only the main idea but also the plan for its development, three body paragraphs each of which has its own main idea supported by details and examples, and finally a concluding paragraph. This process ideally takes two or three days.

Writing for the test involves getting as much down on your paper as you can during the forty minutes allotted for writing, being sure to include as many "compositional risks" as possible, namely figurative language (metaphors, onomatopoeia, alliteration, similes, personification), questioning, dialogue, a title, shifting times and events, sentence variety and personal voice (humor, quirkiness (!!!), surprise). Points are scored for use of these risks, whether or not they actually make sense within the meaning or purpose of the writing. Certainly, points are also awarded for grammatical correctness, supported main ideas, examples -- but even without these key points of good writing a student can score surprisingly well just by integrating plenty of risks. Students are told of the importance of continuing to write until they at least reach the last blank page provided for the writing in the test booklet.

So, except for the particularly intelligent students -- who do enough reading and/or writing on their own to understand how "real" writing flows and sounds and feels -- students develop habitual writing behaviors that have little to do with how real writing (particularly for academia) should work. I received plenty of college freshman compositions* comprised of nothing but questions, with no answers. I have also received papers consisting almost entirely of metaphorical language or language describing something without actually stating what the something is. I have received paragraphs consisting entirely of unpunctuated dialogue between individuals who are never named in the writing.

I know. And at least some of it is not their fault at all. Some of these students, as soon as they're taught a better way to write, can really write quite well. They've been taught the wrong process.

But, it's not the teachers' fault, either. When tenure decisions and contract renewal decisions and (in some states, but thankfully not New Jersey ... yet) salary/bonus decisions can be made based upon the standardized test scores of one's students -- you bet your sweet bippy you're going to spend at least some part of your school day "teaching to The Test." It's simple self-preservation.

Plenty of well-meaning school districts would love to put more money into music, art, languages, technology, field trips, etc, but none of those areas are tested on the NJASK, so none of those areas will get the attention, funding, professional development and staffing with the same emphasis as language arts literacy and math (and science in the 4th and 8th grades). Again, it's self-preservation.

I could go on and on. But, we have three more days of testing this week, followed by at least three days of testing next week and the week after. So, I'll have plenty more to say.


* My "diagnostic" paragraph is assigned during the first class, with no instruction by me, asking them to name the World's Greatest Job and explain why it is the greatest.


Frustrations for a Friday

My frustration exists on numerous levels -- the usual self-loathing, aggravation with family deadlines and plans to complete tasks not matching my own, academic bureaucracy rearing its uglier-than-usual head, everything about standardized testing, and natural irritation with bending intellectually to someone else's ideas.

In no particular order:
  • I lose the use of my classroom/computer lab for the next three weeks so that it can be used for standardized testing.
  •  The laptops I will be taking with me to student classrooms so that I can teach will likely not have all of the software the students need, nor Internet access.
  •  According to administrator instructions, I covered all the signage in my room with newspaper, not bulletin board paper -- only to be informed a day later that we may NOT use newspaper to cover things.
  •  After ripping down all of the newspaper, I received another email stating NOT to rip down the newspaper, but instead await clarification.
  •  My house is in a state.
  •  So is my yard.
  •  I don't seem to have the energy to focus on the house, the yard, my final papers and weight loss/exercise all at the same time.
  •  My professor seems to be insisting that rather than presenting a unique viewpoint on the material, that we basically reiterate his own ideas on the material back to him -- as applied to a new piece of literature -- rather than develop our own academic ideas and voice. This feedback was only given to me after I'd completed 14 pages of writing for a paper due in 5 days.
  •  It hasn't rained in a month and the dust/pollen is extreme. My sinus headaches aren't helping me cope with any of the above.


Because it's still so true ....

Look back at Easter-time, 2009 .... sadly, the Flickr link doesn't work anymore.

Santa -- Yes! Easter Bunny -- No.

Through a highly-scientific survey process (read as: I asked a couple of teachers and students during recess yesterday), I have determined the following:

The Easter Bunny is downright creepy.

Not the concept of the Easter bunny. Not the idea of jellybeans, Peeps, Cadbury Creme Eggs, colored eggs. No, it's the actual bunny.

Folks dressed up in bunny suits for children's events, in particular.

I get a lot of e-mail. A lot. I'm not that popular a person, but I sign up for mailing lists, free offers, coupons, that sort of thing. Recently, every restaurant, tourist information board, Chamber of Commerce I've ever had any contact with has been contacting me with various bunny-related activities. Breakfast with the Easter Bunny, Welcome the Easter Bunny to the Mall, Brunch with the Easter Bunny, Steam Train Ride with the Easter Bunny, Car Wash with the Easter Bunny, Lap-Dance with the Easter Bunny ... (OK, maybe I made up one or two of those)

And, we all know what these events will entail ... a giant bunny-suited individual who may or may not talk through a bewhiskered, screened-in mouth frozen in a rictus of Easter-loving joy. An eight-foot, bowtied, tailcoated horror in fluffy white faux fur.

They're downright creepy.

I understand the need to "make fantasy come alive" for children. I understand the props and costumes and so forth to make Santa and Rudolph and all "real" for our kids. I take the kids to see Santa. I encourage the letter writing. I make sure we leave out cookies and milk and that they're at least partially consumed by morning. But ... the Easter Bunny?

I don't get it. And more than that ... it's creepy. I can't find a better word for it. OK, well, maybe I can. Disturbing. It's disturbing.

Some big sweaty men with fursuit fetishes are taking advantage of our children, and I don't care for it, not one little bit. And somehow, the "face" suit bunnies are even weirder. You know the type ... some perfectly genial intern or college student (usually female) dresses up in a pastel jacket, waistcoat (with obligatory pocket watch), plaid pants. Then there are obscenely large furry feet and mitts sticking out of the ends of the garments. Odd, wired-shaped ears stick up from a crooked headband or hood-like contraption. Then there's the biggest ick-factor ... the nose/whiskers/buck teeth prosthesis. There's nothing about this that says, "Trust me, I'm loveable and mean you no harm."

Beware the Bunny, friends.


ps. I'm not the only one to think so. I just Googled easter bunny creepy and found a lot of back-up. Like this gallery, or this Flickr image.


Blogging Paradox

I enjoy blogging. I know I don't do it very regularly, especially recently, but I really do enjoy it.

I like words. I like the way they work together in comfortable, creative, clever, surprising ways.

I like people. I like interaction and conversation and give and take.

I like attention. I know I'm capable of wit and cleverness and smarts and using words well and I like it when other people confirm that now and then. Especially when I'm not feeling witty or clever or smart or good with words.

But that's the rub. When I most need a boost or a pick-me-up or whathaveyou, that's when I blog the least. When I most need someone to say, "Attagirl...keep up the good work!" or "Fight the good fight!" or even just "lol," I am least likely to actually post something, let alone post something worthy of comment.

I've been in one of those phases lately. (if by "lately" you include big hunks of the last 12-18 months)

I don't know if it's age; I turned 40 last year. I don't know if it's weight; I've gained 25 pounds in the last two years. I don't know if it's fatigue; I'm working, parenting, going to school, volunteering, getting less sleep and sleeping less well when I do. I don't know if it's boredom; for which I have no real excuse. I don't know if it's malaise; global warming! Liberal media conspiracy! Racism! Poverty! Health care crisis!

I don't know. All of those things. None of those things.

What do you do when you feel like this?



As Time Goes By

Inspired by Adrienne ... as are so many things ...

Interestingly, I, too, have been reminiscing about the early days of my babies' lives. This is my prep period, and one of the teachers has his 8th grade class in the lab, researching historically-significant women for Women's History Month. The students are on Day One of their 3-day stint parenting "Real Life" babies. The lab is filled with the sound of crying and cooing (most of it coming from the robo-babies).

This inspired me to go back and look at early pictures of my own babies. They're all still up at my first blog. Which looks very dated and low-tech, but it is what it is.

This lovely cherub, my first-born, my little peanut is turning 13 in eleven days. I goggle.

And, this one ... my baby, my ever-smiley sensitive boy. This one is now 5'1" tall and wears a (men's!!!) size 10 shoe. At 10-1/2 years old. Again with the goggling.

My babies. I find it hard to remember that I built them inside of me way back when. The brain and body both forget so much. The pictures and the memories do evoke powerful feelings and misty eyes, though. Some part of the heart never forgets.



This Week

In the past seven days, I ...

woke up each day with an increasingly painful sore throat
developed a stuffy head and worthless cough, as well

woke up at 5am more often than not
grumbled and tossed and turned until the alarm went off at 6am

ate Buffalo wings
and enchiladas
and mixed nuts
and strawberries

read three medieval romances in Middle English
as well as Hamlet
and two articles

watched Glee, Castle, Criminal Minds, Parenthood and Sports Night

knitted for several hours

cooked steaks, roasted potatoes, butter-garlic rolls, Parmesan-garlic broccoli and made a big salad
and made some of the best chili ever

picked up 34 rubber bands from my Behaviorally Disabled class which insists upon shooting them
picked up a chair after one of same students threw it
shut down computers 729 times when same students refused to stay on task and tried playing bloody first-person shooter games instead

taught word-processing
and spreadsheets and formulas

explained what a self-portrait is to kindergartners

researched travel options between the Hawaiian islands

made reservations for Disney World dining in August

went grocery shopping and found clearance chocolate-covered fortune cookies in the Valentine's Day section labelled, "Emily's" so I had to buy them

helped set up a Wine and Cheese soiree at a local community theatre
and attended same

organized coupons and prepared menus and shopping lists for next week's cooking

made broccoli salad to take to an Oscar party
and attended same
and ate ribs, brisket, broccoli salad, and homemade guacamole and Bev's cinnamon cream on Irish cream bars, and two Irish potatoes
and added several movies to my must-see list

finished Week Two (again) of the Couch to 5K plan
researched 5K races in late April through May
tentatively decided to run in the Philly Race for the Cure on Mother's Day
procrastinated about sending in the registration form

disinfected 28 computers, keyboards, mice several times each

researched replacement screens for Joe's so randomly broken laptop

cleaned out my car

took down Valentine's day/winter decorations
and switched them out for Easter/spring ones

moped over wrinkles and grey hair entirely too many times
same for my current weight

wrestled and laughed with the kids and the dog all in "the big bed"

played family board games in my pajamas


ps. And most of it I'd love to do all over again next week.


Disney Planning: Dining Reservations

This past Sunday was a significant landmark in the Disney trip planning cycle ... 180 days to our arrival in Orlando.

As all experienced Disney planners know, reservations for Disney restaurants can be made 180 prior to the reservation date.* So, on Sunday, I dutifully logged on to the Disney dining reservation site and made our first-night reservation.

When we first arrive in Orlando, we don't usually visit a Disney park on the first day. After traveling, checking in to the hotel, getting settled ... most of the day is burned and we don't want to waste a park ticket day. But we do like to have dinner on Disney property in order to sort of break into the Disney spirit. This dinner is followed by a ride around the entire monorail system, both the Magic Kingdom loop and the Epcot loop. I'd hoped to get us a table at the Hoop De Doo Revue (HDDR) at the Fort Wilderness campground, near the Magic Kingdom. I figured we'd ride the boat over to the Magic Kingdom and hop on the monorail from there.

But ... the best laid plans, etc, etc. No reservations were available. I didn't think that the HDDR was a wake-up-first-thing-in-the-morning-and-start-hitting-refresh-twnety-minutes-before-reservtaions-open sort of meal.** Some online message board research revealed that many people were having trouble with August HDDR reservations and the prevailing thought is that it's shutting down for refurbishment. Bummer.

I admit I was more disappointed than I had any right to be. I even went through a brief moment of "Here we go ... all my planning is for naught" self-pity.

Then I regrouped and made a reservation at the Wilderness Lodge's Whispering Canyon Cafe. Then I rethought things once again, and decided a new experience is always preferable to a repeated experience (we'd eaten dinner at the WCC in 2006), so I made a new reservation at Ohana in the Polynesian Resort, instead.

And I'm happy with it. We'll be right at a monorail resort and we can ride around to our heart's content before getting to bed nice and early in anticipation of an early start at the Animal Kingdom the next morning.

I've already booked reservations at Boma, at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, for dinner the next day and Raglan Road, in Downtown Disney, for dinner the following night.

Hopefully things continue to run smoothly, planning-wise, from here on out.


*This is for Disney guests staying off Disney property. Disney resort guests have 180+10 days for reservations.

**Prior to the online reservation system, I used just this sort of technique on the dining phone line to score a coveted first sitting of the day reservation for breakfast in Cinderella Castle.


New Product Review: Dole Shakers

I coupon. I love browsing matchups between weekly specials and coupons and saving tons of money. I also love trying new products and figure if the financial investment is minimal then it's worth the risk of a new product. And, although I don't really do product reviews in my blog, this disaster could not go unremarked.

This time the couponing/bargain-shopping gamble most certainly did NOT pay off.

I present to you: Dole Fruit Smoothie Shakers.

Lose the blender ... simply add juice, shake vigorously and enjoy. Right? Simple, tasty and remotely healthy. Right?


I followed the directions (add juice until one reaches the "fill zone," shake for 30-45 seconds, open and enjoy) and when I re-opened the lid I was greeted by a fresh, pleasing aroma and a satisfying pile of foamy goodness at the top of the canister.

I took a sip ... yummy. A few more swallows ... hhhmmmmmm, unpleasant bit of pulp** here and there, but nothing too bad.

I put the canister down to take a breath. Joe and Emily were watching me expectantly. I commented on the pulp. Joe gave a knowing look, "Wait 'til you get to the bottom." Again, I figured I shouldn't waste the money I'd spent and that I could just power through. I mean, how bad could it be?

It could be very, very bad. That's what. After a few more seconds of sipping, the pulpy sludge began to accumulate along my upper lip. I opened my mouth wider to accommodate swallowing the goop in one big*** gulp. The resulting sensation in my throat triggered a violent gag reflex.

My eyes watering, I dumped the rest of the nasty concoction down the kitchen drain.

Eeew. SOOO wrong despite tasting quite good.

I wrote to Dole's customer service department. The berries reconstitute really very poorly and most certainly do not form anything that should be described with the adjective "smooth," as in smoothie.

Bleah. Avoid at all costs.


* To be fair, I was duly warned. "Try one of the smoothie thingies," Joe said, "Watch out, though, they're nasty." I figured he must have done it wrong. I was wrong. He did it right. Dole did it wrong.

** Again, to be fair, I'm not a fan of pulp. We buy pulp-free OJ, too. The flakes of fruity matter always make me think I'm swallowing little caterpillar legs. (good luck shaking that image the next time you drink some freshly-squeezed juice!) I could never handle a Survivor-esque eat gross creepy, crawly things contest.

***I initially typoed "bug" here. Freudian?


What a BAAAAD Idea

There is a proposal afoot in New Jersey to merge Rowan University and Rutgers University's Camden campus and to rename the merged institution as entirely Rowan University.

I think this is a terrible idea and would love to discuss my reasons with anyone willing to listen. The following is a list of talking points with which I wholeheartedly agree.

1. The plan robs South Jersey of the benefits of a university with a world-class reputation. South Jersey residents have been paying taxes and tuition for centuries to build Rutgers into a world-renowned university. If this plan goes into effect, South Jersey residents will instantaneously lose all of their accrued principal in The State University of New Jersey. That is fundamentally unfair.

2. It will take decades or centuries for an unknown regional university to attain anything like the status of Rutgers. This is one more example of South Jersey being treated as a second-class region of the state. Central and North Jersey will continue to be served by world-class Rutgers, and South Jersey has to settle for an institution unknown beyond South Jersey.

3. Rutgers–Camden has top-flight faculty because we are Rutgers. We can recruit people at the very top of the field, who bring their expertise to the South Jersey region. Jacob Soll’s Macarthur is a recent example. Rowan cannot do that and will not be able to the same for the foreseeable future.

4. Economically successful regions are driven by the presence of several strong diverse institutions of higher education. The Bay Area in California draws from the research outputs of Stanford, multiple campuses of the UC system, multiple campuses of the Cal State system, and many private universities. The Research Triangle is driven by three research universities. Boston and its 128 corridor are driven by the presence of innumerable colleges and universities. Yes, helping Rowan grow and improve will bring benefits to the region. But South Jersey needs more higher education activity, not less. Folding a campus of a great research university into a minor regional university is a net loss for the region.

5. The commission began with a charge to study medical education, and they never really got past that frame. The whole analysis is driven by the fact that Rowan is connected to the Cooper Medical School. The Cooper Medical School is not even offering classes yet, so the significance of that relationship is far less than the significance of the relationships of all of the Rutgers-Camden programs to Rutgers. If we are to reorganize higher education so drastically, it should be driven by a study that looks holistically at higher education, not as an afterthought to an analysis of medical education—which is important, but isn’t the only important issue.

6. The commission was studying higher ed and medical education. It contained two lawyers, no physicians, and just one former higher education official. These are honorable and respected citizens, but we should not make such a drastic change without having the right mix of knowledge and experience in the room. We need proposals based on the right mix of expertise, and we need careful deliberation that includes the residents of New Jersey and our elected representatives.

7. The recommended path represents the worst kind of government over-reach—just the sort of thing Chris Christie has built his reputation opposing. Rutgers and Rowan have been growing successfully despite dwindling state support and a bad economy. Rutgers continues to cement its strength as a world-class university, and Rowan has become a successful regional university. The recommended reorganization puts all of that at risk because five people behind closed doors think it’s a good idea.

8. Rutgers-Camden is helping make the right kind of revitalization happen in Camden—the slow, steady growth of jobs and an increase in education levels in the city. Folding Rutgers-Camden into Rowan will shift the focus away from the necessary revitalization of South Jersey’s urban center.

Thank you.



Disney Planning

OK, we'll also be visiting the Kennedy Space Center, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure (Hogwarts!!!), but we all know what a trip to Orlando means .... Disney World!!!

I love planning trips. I'm a planner. I also love to travel ... so it works out really well. I often think my dream job would be a trip planner/coordinator. Or a guidebook writer. Travel, travel, travel.

I also love Disney World. Not in a go-every-year-and-never-vacation-anywhere-else kind of way. But, in a Happiest Place on Earth, take my breath away, I know the castle doesn't have an "apostrophe s" in the name kind of way. I adore the level of planning and detail that Disney puts into every aspect of their theme park experience. I'm kind of a planning and details kind of gal ... so it really appeals to me on vacation, too.

And a Disney vacation is a vacation with pre-planning. Piles and piles of pre-planning. Yay! I mean, sure you could just show up and buy your tickets at the gate and pick up a map and wander around and eat wherever you can manage to get a seat, but honestly ... I am completely convinced of the value of pre-planning a Disney trip.

That's how I did our family trip in 2006, and the trip Joe and took minus the kids in 2009. So, it's how I'm setting up for 2012.

I've already subscribed to TouringPlans.com and bought their 2012 edition of the Unofficial Guide. I browse AllEars.net and receive their weekly email newsletter. I've scoured restaurant reviews and examined charts of which parks are likely to be more or less crowded on any given days.

The result of all of this research is compiled in a color-coded document I call At-a-Glance. When complete, it will include which parks we're visiting on which days, all of our dining reservations and confirmation codes, as well as which meals I'll need to buy groceries for. We stay in a timeshare and have a full kitchen ... saves a LOT of money on dining out.

It's too early to have much of the information. I can't make dining reservations until 180 days in advance of the trip, which begins in February. But, I just thought I'd give you a glimpse into the (neurotic?) way I plan a big trip.


Friday 8/17Saturday 8/18Sunday 8/19Monday 8/20Tuesday 8/21Wednesday 8/22Thursday 8/23
Main IdeaTravelAnimal KingdomMagic KingdomUniversal StudiosMagic Kingdom
Park Hours9-79-109-10
Special Events
Breakfast, 7amTimeshareHouse of Blues Sunday Gospel BrunchCrystal PalaceTimeshareTimeshareTimeshare

Downtown Disney
Lunch, 12:30pmLiberty Tree Tavern

DinnerHope-de-Doo RevueBoma


Friday 8/24Saturday 8/25Sunday 8/26Monday 8/27Tuesday 8/28Wednesday 8/29Thursday 8/30Friday 8/31
Main IdeaEpcotEpcotDisney StudiosIslands of AdventureEpcotTravel
Park Hours9-99-99-99-9
Special Events
Breakfast, 7amTimeshareTimeshareTimeshareTimeshareTimeshareTimeshareTimeshare1900 Park Fare

Lunch, 12:30pmRose & Crown

DinnerBiergartenLe CellierMama Melrose’s