Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I came. I saw. I baked.

On Saturday, Cameron and I went blueberry picking. Prior to this year, the closest I came to picking anything was... honeysuckles off bushes as a kid. (You so thought I was going to say my nose, didn't you?) Earlier this year, they boys and I went strawberry picking and had great fun. Thankfully, we had the foresight to leave Benjamin home for this adventure. Blueberry picking was a bit more or a meticulous and time-consuming endeavor.
Jason and I went out to breakfast earlier in the morning. Due to putting off doing laundry (and shaving my legs), my Saturday attire was an ankle length skirt. One might think this was a poor choice for blueberry picking, but au contraire. I quickly devised a method of sitting on the ground, laying out my skirt before me and twiddling (yes, that's a technologically agricultural term) the group of berries. I discovered that only the ripe berries would easily fall from the bush. Then, I only had to scoop up my skirt and add the berries to the collection. I was easily able to fill my large basket in under an hour.
Sunday morning Jason made blueberry pancakes (I think from scratch, but you know I was still in bed!). Benjamin has had a Joker-style blueberry grin over the past few days. I have pinned enough blueberry recipes to rewrite the Bubba Gump shrimp monologue to a fruity equivalent (blueberry sweet rolls, blueberry ice cream, blueberry hand pies, and on, and on). (Yes, seriously, "hand pies.")
And, then the cake.
Ooohhh, the cake.
I suggested to Jason that it should have some Victorian or Pioneer name like the "Patience" cake because it took a whole lot of patience to get it done. Jason, on the other hand, suggested the Veni Vidi Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) because making this cake... was a freaking battle.
Let me add the disclaimer here that many eons before I began to detest cooking, I actually had a modest side business in making cakes. This predates the current artistic fondant creations but was during a time when aspiring cake decorators gathered in craft stores after hours to perfect the Wilton rose. My point is, I know how to make a cake. If you were around this house the past few days though, you might think otherwise.
My journey with the Blueberry Lemon pound cake began Saturday afternoon... and it ended four days later. Between feeling sick, then having a back ache, then thinking there was a leaky sink, then having the fam descend on the kitchen just as I was about to go Betty Crocker.
Finally, eggs start cracking and mixers starts beating to realize I added double the amount of cream cheese that the recipe required... but didn't have double the amount of other ingredients to just go ahead and double the whole batch. Baking was halted by trip to store for new cream cheese and lemon... only to get back home and  find that I didn't have enough sugar, even after raiding the sugar container for coffee.
So, the cake was put off until this morning when we could make yet another store run for the needed sugar... and now eggs. Miraculously at this point, four days later, the cake gets baked. Ohh, but wait! As I go to make the glaze, there's a fleck in the confectioner's sugar... and it's moving. An ant? Seriously? An ant in the sealed 10x bag! So back to the grocery store... AGAIN... to pick up the needed sugar for the glaze. So finally, finallyfinallyfinally, I came back home to put the final touches on the cake to discover...
that a culprit bigger than an ant was my problem. More specifically a 3-year old blueberry-loving bandit and helped himself to a few pinches of cake while I was out.
Eventually, the cake is finished... four days later than anticipated.
About to go get a slice now and really hope it was a labor of love!

Lemon Blueberry Poundcake


  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened blueberries
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) lemon yogurt

  • 1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

  • Grease and flour a 10-in. fluted tube pan.

  • In a large bowl, cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar until blended.

  • Add eggs and egg white, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

  • Beat in lemon peel and vanilla.

  • Toss blueberries with 2 tablespoons flour.

  • In another bowl, mix the remaining flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with yogurt, beating after each addition just until combined.

  • Fold in blueberry mixture. 

  • Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake at 350° for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

  • Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing to wire rack; cool for 15 minutes.

  • In a small bowl, mix confectioners' sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Gradually brush onto warm cake, about one-third at a time, allowing glaze to soak into cake before adding more. Cake needs to still be warm!

  • NUTRITIONAL FACTS (Cover your eyes!)12 servings per cake: 1 slice equals 434 calories, 10 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 78 mg cholesterol, 281 mg sodium, 80 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 7 g protein.

    Credit: Recipe from Taste of Home

    Monday, July 29, 2013

    The Birth House

    The Birth House by Ami McKay

    This was the selection for July's Book Club. I had quit attending Book Club when I left the Woman's Club that sponsors it. Just last week I was thinking that I'd like to start attending again and sent a friend a message to only discover that they were meeting in just four days. So, feeling far too much English teacher guilt to attend without having finished the book, I spent a lot of time over the past few days- right up to 30 minutes before the meeting- finishing the novel. It was not a difficult task though because I enjoyed reading it. I really enjoyed it, unlike a lot of other readers in the club it seems.

    The novel is broken into three parts, which are framed by three stages of the protagonist and narrator, Dora's, life. The majority of the book takes place in a small rural shipbuilding community in Nova Scotia. When Dora had become too old for it to be decent for her to snuggle with her older brothers downstairs by the fire during the cold months, she was sent to live Mrs. B. Miss Babineau was the local midwife, often easily accused of witchery due to her potions, prayers, and Cajun ways. A Doctor of Obstetrics and Women's Health moves into town and causes most of the community to question the antiquated and "backwoods" ways of Mrs. B. The men of the village take pride in being able to afford doctor's care for their expectant wives, which though accessorized with the modern tools of chloroform and forceps, does not prove to be the best care available. Thus begins a conflict between Mrs. B and Dora, as her apprentice, of new medicine and the legalities to avoiding such care.

    When I first read the summary of the novel, I was not too enthused to read a book set during the war, thinking it would be too historical in nature (yawn). However, the real focus on history through the novel's development is on the rights of women and how women were treated by the medical industry. The big topics, such as suffrage and being trapped in an abusive marriage by society were touched, but much more interesting were the excerpts from medical texts warning women from cold drafts and reading too much.

    In Part One, Dora's younger years, the narrator's voice reminded me some of Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird) but mostly of the young girl from The Secret Life of Bees. I expected the narrator's voice to grow into one reminiscent of The Help, but that didn't quite happen. Unfortunately, in Part Two and Three I think the narrator tried to squeeze in far too much. There are lots of interesting developments in Dora's life, from assisting victims from an explosion in Halifax to moving into an adult orphanage with lesbians next to a whorehouse. But there are just too many developments. So, they are over nearly as quickly as they begun and there is a void of missing details ripped into the seam of the narrative.

    I did like that even though Dora was born into a family with a long genealogical line extending back for generations in the rural community, she found herself only really able to connect with the "others," women brought back from other villages to be the wives of men unable to find one at home. I liked the exchanges between these women and wanted to be part of their clan. I liked the believable ways in which Dora exerted her freedom and independent thinking within a society that wanted to force her into a very sheltered and defined role.

    I also greatly liked that although the ending of the book is predictable, it is not. I would have been a bit angered had the novel not concluded in the direction I had hope, yet the twist given to the conclusion by the author stops the predictability from being boring.

    Saturday, July 27, 2013

    Saturday's Sensational Six

    Several years ago, my Key Club officers were comprised of a group of friends that dubbed themselves the "Fab Five." To rebuff the exclusion, another group of friends on their periphery created their own moniker as the "Sensational Six." It was all very...

    Random thought for a random blog post. I want to write tonight. Perhaps need to write. But my mind is heavy with a topic that I really don't want to take the time organize thoughts about right now, so I am going to do one of the random list postings like the ones so popular on "Five for Friday" link parties... except it's Saturday, so I give you the Sensational Six.
    I need a haircut. With guys, it's a little more obvious when a haircut is in the "need" stage. With the ladies perhaps not so much so. I know, I know, one should visit the hair dresser every six weeks or so (Is that right?) for a trim and touch-up. Reality is though, it is rare that I go more than once a year. But, I am really feeling that I need a "Back to School" haircut.
    I was going to compare the current state of my hair to The Great Oz. However, upon Googling an image of his locks, I realized, sadly, that his hair is actually in far better condition than mine.
    I would really like to go just above the shoulder in length. But I don't think I have the nerve to make that big of a change right now. I really like everything about the hair on the left but I have to admit the fact upfront that I will never take the time to actually "do" my hair.
    Thus, despite how much I love-love-love the "busy-ness" of this hair, I don't think I could ever pull it off. It still may be the pic I take to the hair dresser with me though. This would be a good chunk of hair off but still not feel drastic. Hopefully it would cut most of the perm out, whose remnants is what's really making my hair tragic.
    I spent far too much time today following a blog link party for elementary teachers to post their top ten Pinterest ideas for decorating the classroom. Here are my three fave:
    I currently have three filing cabinets in my classroom. I would love it if I could condense to one and position it between the desk and wall like this. It would open up a lot of area behind my desk I also like the maximized use of the cabinet, especially the impromptu bulletin board on the side (as opposed to taping important papers to the wall by my desk).
    I am going to aim to create an Instagram-inspired bulletin board for the beginning of the year, which shows pics related to all the literature and is labeled with hashtag quotes from the lit.
    I used to roll my eyes (not even metaphorically) at the frivolousness of curtains in the classroom. However... the idea is really growing on me. This method of hanging them looks neat & easy. I am going on the hunt for key or book themed fabrics.
    I was about to watch an episode of "Big Brother After Dark" today and paused to watch the commentary on William and Kate  rather than fast-forwarding to the show. One of the clips showed the royal couple at the alter just about to be wed and you can clearly see William whisper to Kate, "You look beautiful." It near brought me to tears. I am absolutely enchanted by this couple. I cannot wait for the day to come when William takes the throne. They are such a real-life fairy tale.
    I may (or may not) do a post soon about reactions to my favorite reality trash television. I am loving the casts of Big Brother and Project Runway this summer... and I can't wait to see Sugar Bear & June's wedding...
    (Looks just like the Royal Wedding, doesn't it?) The sleeper hit that I may be enjoying most this though is Pretty Wicked Moms on Lifetime Tuesday night. I wish I could get a Live Feed of that show rather than be limited to the 60-minute weekly dose! It's like "Real Housewives" with sippy cups. They are just the most eclectic bunch of frenemies, which I guess is the purpose/premise of the show. My faves are Alpha Mom, Nicole B., and the Southern Belle, Amanda, which is kinda funny because they are nothing alike. The one I think is as forgettable as her post-accident memory though is Meredith. She's dimwitted and she's barnacle clinging to the Mean Girls. 
    As I was bouncing around Pinterest today looking at ideas for inspirations for all the jewelry I am going to make once upon a time, I came across several boards dedicated specifically to Resin Jewelry. I guess I had kinda heard the word thrown around with different jewelry ideas but had not really seen the massive possibilities for creative and inexpensive trinkets with resin until today.
    I really want to get into the craft room and just CREATE. With all the cleaning and purging and organizing, the craft room gets cleaned out, then get more stuff moved into it. I just have to admit that I have become a Craft Hoarder. Have space, will fill. Is there any chance I will ever use half a shelf's worth of foam shapes? Nope, probably not. Unfortunately I really think I am going to have to prioritize and thin some supplies out to make more room to be functional.
    I never played Angry Birds... mainly because I didn't have a Smart Phone in the heydays of its popularity. I am definitely on the tails of this newest game craze though. Honestly, I don't think I play that often. It still is a favored activity among my purposely unproductive time though. Intermittent positive reinforcement, what causes gambling addictions, is the exact principle that fuels this game. I have had enough psychology and education (same theory in behavior management) cases to know this... yet I still get a "Rush from the Crush" each time I reach a new level.

    Friday, July 26, 2013

    I Do Not Brake for Yard Sales

    Well, technically I like going yard saling, but this is a post in relation to the other side of the coin- being the seller versus the buyer.

    I will not have a garage sale.
    Because I do not have a garage.
    I will not have a yard sale.
    Because I honor my sanity.
    There probably would have been a way to write that in Dr. Seuss verse
    that would have been far more entertaining.
    Earlier this week, some of the blog goddesses that I follow on Facebook (and pretend they are people I know) were telling tales of yard sales woes. From asking to buy the chair you are sitting on. Repeatedly. After being told it was not for sale. Repeatedly. To asking to use your bathroom. To asking how much something in the neighbors yard was for sale. That was not for sale. And in the neighbor's yard.
    Honestly, I have not had anyone as annoying as that. I just do not, will not, haggle. Will I take 50 cent for that? Does it say 50 cent? Did I stay up all.night.long pricing every.single.item so you could ask if I was mistaken about the price clearly stated on the sticker?
    Jason, on the other hand, it quite happy playing the role of Barter & Bargain, Deal & Discount. So... we have still been reaping the benefits of having a Yard Sale (clearing clutter, making moolah) by using the local online yard sale site that has become the norm on Facebook. From a boat to baby clothes to decorative trinkets to more baby clothes and more baby clothes, we have had a revolving door around here the past week, moving in the right direction: stuff out, money in.
    I gather up the junk discarded treasures, take the pics, write the descriptions and e-mail it to Jason. Then he posts it on-line and deals with the sales. Anything that we can't get at least $5 for goes to Habitat Re-Store/Goodwill for donation (as will most of the unsold treasures). Perhaps a benefit equal to the moolah is no mountainous pile of discarded items "to be yard saled" piling up for three years or so, until I convince myself to have another yard sale.

    Thursday, July 25, 2013

    Zoo Day!

    Only rainbows after rain. The sun will always come again.
    Its a circle, circling. Around again, it comes around.

    This was our backyard surprise last night.
    Rumor has it that it has been unbearably hot lately. I could neither confirm or deny those rumors since I have barely made it outdoors the past few days. One thing I can definitely confirm though is that it has rained a lot this summer. A lot. Torrential downpours. There were several afternoons during Summer School when it poured so hard that you could not see out the windows. Flash Flood Warnings became a normal icon on the corner of the television screen. I told the kids that it was good that we were getting pass the rain while still in school so there would be nothing but sunny days when we were out. It still rained. It's still raining. A lot. Once upon a time you watched the weather report to see what day it was going to rain that week. Now, we watch the weather report to see which day has the best chances of not raining.

    Well, today was that day this week. It was also the one, the only day, that Benjamin realized he's a kid, it's summer, and he could actually sleep in. Until 9:30 a.m.! So, it took a real effort to peel myself out of bed and carry the boys to the zoo. But I am so glad I did. It was an absolutely perfect day for a zoo trip. Per-fect! The weather was mild and breezy. Every single visit to the zoo until today has been a game of strategically making it from one temporarily cooler spot to the next because it was so blazing hot.

    It all worked out well because our zoo annual passes end tomorrow and we wanted to squeeze in just one more visit. I don't plan on renewing the passes for at least a couple of years. I waiver back and forth between enjoying the zoo... and feeling guilty for finding entertainment in the animals being trapped outside of their natural habitat for human display. It does help some to realize that with deforestation, industrialization, and poaching that it is quite possible zoo exhibits will be the only remnants of some species.

    I liken the whole conflict to feeling guilty for eating animals and wanting to be vegetarian, or at least Pescetarian (shrimp are lot less guilt-inducing than cows)... until I just need a big hunk of steak from The Outback.

    Following  the pleasant trip to the zoo, we stopped by the playground for a short while... until it began to rain... again.

    Elephant Paintings!

    Monday, July 22, 2013

    Recovery & Celebration

    Wake up early & have more life. I saw this pic when I was stalking casually browsing someone's Facebook page over the weekend. As discussed before, I am Not a Morning Person. However, this morning had me out of the house before 5 a.m. Thus leaving my house when it was still dark and getting to my destination after the sun has dawned is likely to be as close as I come to willingly Waking Up "Early to Watch a Sunrise." The skies were very cloudy, so it never actually got "sunny," but the color of the world at dawn was peaceful. However, I still don't hope to see it at any time again in the near future.

    Unfortunately the early departure time wasn't to embark on a road trip for summer adventure. I had to have Benjamin at CHKD by 6:15 a.m to register for his surgery. A little over 4 hours later, we left the hospital with two more ear tubes and two less adenoids than we arrived with. How sad is this pic?
    We didn't have "ear issues" with the older boys so this has been all new Mommy ground for me. Benjamin had ear tubes put in two years ago. He has grown enough that the tubes have fallen out of the canal (but not the ear). We are still dealing with excessive fluid though so we had to get new tubes put in. He is a loud mouth breather. I think slightly obstructed breathing is one reason he is such a terrible sleeper. So, having his adenoids removed when it is conveniently coupled with the already scheduled surgery, will hopefully assist those issues. Although the ear issues were probably inherited from Jason, Benjamin's allergy issues are surely 100% my genetics. How bad are my allergies? I cleaned the blinds today wearing sunglasses to keep the dust out of my eyes. From what I understand, removing adenoids will also make Benjamin less snotty from allergy issues, which means less fluid being backed up into his canals, and thus less ear issues.
    The nurses brought me back into Recovery before Benjamin woke up because he was fighting it so bad and just overall miserable. So I rocked him and waited for him to recover from the anesthesia. It was all very sad. Once home though, he rebounded quickly... to the point that I could barely stay conscious from exhaustion and found him with unzipped pajamas trying to hide the rather large label maker in one of the legs. He said it was his "phone." Stuffing "phones" into his pajamas has always been his translation of watching us take our cell phones out of our pockets. (I still don't know where he found that label maker though.)
    Cameron had a pretty big day too. While I was at the hospital with Benjamin, Cameron was at the Orthodontist with Jason.  There are some kids that would benefit from braces but it's not life-changing if they do not get their "teeth fixed." Cameron was not one of those children. It is with pure motherly love that I say the child looked like an aardvark before braces. He was the most extreme of thumb suckers despite every method we tried to curb the habit. His orthodontist treatment began with a palate expander that I had to crank each night and it's been a very long road since then. He should definitely be one of those before & after picture comparisons hung in the orthodontist office.
    Follow-up appointments for both boys over the next several weeks make me very glad I was able to schedule all this during summer break... although it's not quite equal to a tropical drink in the hand and toes in the sand.

    Sunday, July 21, 2013

    Technology: Making Me Feel Old

    Earlier this week, Jason had mentioned wanting to buy a new television for the upstairs den. I was abhorred at the idea, despite the large "box" TV being over 20 years old and thought it was a waste of money when we have a perfectly functioning television already in there.

    Well, of course... OF COURSE.

    It wasn't the den TV though, it was the one in our bedroom, equally old, but this one from my pre-married life, while the one upstairs was from Jason's. I bought the television around November of 1991 from Montgomery Wards. I remember that so succinctly because it was an extravagance I couldn't really afford at the time. It was even longer before I could afford cable. I learned a lot about cooking catfish and painting Happy Trees in those days.

    Fast-forward 22 years, and Benjamin was rolling around in the bed watching Dora while I worked on the lap-top. The TV started running colored lines across it and we just assumed Benjamin had rolled across the remote. When we realized that wasn't the case, Jason tried adjusting the channels and such, while I smelled doom. Doom was the sweet acrid smell of a blown picture tube, and then came the Post-National-Anthem Black & White Snow of a television laid to rest. It was odd how quickly the recesses of my memory remembered that smell. I remember several visits to television repair shops during childhood.
    Thus, Thursday's agenda was highlighted by a trip to the Navy Exchange to buy a new television. I had a friend in high school whose family didn't own a television. I was awed by that. I was equally awed by a recent friend that did not have cable... at all! I am not a fan of the fact that our semi-open downstairs floor plan puts the television at the heart of our home- right in the center with all else pivoting around it. I am not proud that our television per person ratio in this house is 1:1.
    However, if you think I am going to chance missing a single episodes of the new seasons of  "Honey Boo Boo" "Project Runway" from the comfort of my own bed, you are sadly mistaken.
    While shopping, I looked at several thises and that (and finally bought a Keurig!). The odd one that caught my eye (because it was near school supplies on sale... squee!) was a headset with microphone for PS2. It was quite apt that I saw this at the Navy Exchange because it looked like the headset Air Traffic Controllers use to bring in jets on a carrier. That's not why it caught my eye though. We do not have a PS2. I highly doubt we ever will because by the time Benjamin will ask for one, there will probably be a PS5 (which means we'll buy a PS4 by Jason's theory on video game shopping). It struck my attention because it punctuates an ongoing conversation Jason and I have- not such a unique topic I am sure.
    Jason hates when I say we met online because it is not technically true. I met him in person before I ever chatted with him online. However, back in the late-late 90's we both "hung out" in a chat room. Doing so didn't have that sense of anonymity for us that it may have had for most in those days (point of reference: Catfish). It was a regional chat room and we personally met and knew many of the people we talked with on-line. Eventually our "real" lives became too interesting to worry about our "on-line" lives and chatting just faded away... and of course, there was just too much drama. Oh, the drama.
    I had a MySpace account for a while, which like most of the rest of civilization (except Justin Timberlake) morphed over to  Facebook account. And, I like Facebook. I am a people watcher. I like reading biographies and watching reality shows so I like the slices of life of people I am barely acquainted with that Facebook provides. I may have not have spoken to a childhood friend since I was twelve but I know that her ex-husband always brings their daughters home late from visitation weekends. And, I my not have shared one single conversation with a certain popped-collared snobby guy from high school but I now know what he has for dinner at least three times a week. Still... it is easy to define Facebook as "social" media because there is an EXCHANGE of information and ideas.
    Of course, now that all of us "old folks" are populating the profiles of FB, the kids are fleeing. I caught a clip of Jimmy Fallon the other night and he said the kids are turning to Instagram and Twitter or, as they tell their parents, "Nothing" and "Nevermind."
    I signed up for a Twitter account a while ago just so I could use it to enter contests, but was highly unamused by it. I reinstalled the Twitter app during International Convention this summer so I could follow what was going on. I added a few people to my Twitter feed... and quickly grew bored with it again. I don't like the lack of exchange the format offers. I would rather respond to someone's comment than "retweet" it. I also don't care to know every. passing. thought. a person has. I have not yet tried Instagram. However, considering my lack of interest in "selfies" posted on Facebook, I don't imagine I will be a fan of an entire social media format built to promote such narcissism.
    What I see mainly happening is this ongoing human disconnect fueled by "social" media. Ironic. Formats such as chat or Facebook give the illusion of social connection. Through Twitter, and maybe Instagram, you may know  whole lot more about a person because of the tendency to stream every. passing. thought, but you connect with them a whole lot less. Ironic. It parallels to the hour long telephone conversations of yesteryear morphing into day-long text marathons today. Again, there may be an actual influx of a lot more information... but at the cost of a much less connection. And, it has been my experience that you quickly become desensitized to the difference and the "lesser" becomes the standard. The norm. Ironic.
    So, the headset. I won't "Throwback" all the way to Pong, mainly because I was too poor as a kid to own an Atari. But, I do have fond memories of sitting side-by-side with a friend for hours on end playing Tetris on Nintendo in our Young Mom days. Now, I could just lock on my headset "dial-up" my PS2 on-line and play with some random tween from Colorado... except it would surely be a game involving a whole lot more bloodshed than Tetris (and I'm a pretty extreme Tetris player). Thus, it punctuates this ongoing dialogue I have about the ills of technology.
    I am feeling rather Ray Bradbury with these musings.

    Wednesday, July 17, 2013

    Zombie Movie & Cemetery Playground

    I noted several years ago that the Regal Cinemas do a $1 kids movie during the week in the Summer. So, when Jason and I went to see "The Heat" (Love it! Gut-busting funny! Still have total girl-crush on Sandra Bullock... and the two of them working together? Stellar!), I picked up the summer schedule... and I built today's events around it.
    Jason and Cameron set out before dawn to go fishing at Bennett's Creek in Suffolk (about an hour away, where the theater is). They only got in a few hours fishing before I picked up Cameron. Still, they caught two croakers. I apparently think that is far more impressive than they do. The low tide was early and it just wasn't a good window of time for bank fishing, I guess.
    I picked up Cameron to go to the movie with Benjamin and me. The hand-out schedule really emphasized "Doors open at 9:00, limited seated, first-in-line basis." This convinced me that we needed to be there an hour before the movie start time of 10:00 a.m. We did not. Not only were we the first movie-goers there; we were just about the only ones until 30 minutes before the start time. At that point, all the field trip groups started rolling in and filling up the stadium seating.
    I got my dates mixed up (typical) and rather than seeing the cartoon about a tropical blue parrot named "Rio," we were left to choose between "Paranorman" and "Coraline"- both rather... dark choices for Benjamin's first movie. He did pretty good though. He was entertained until about the last 15 minutes of the movie when the unplanned purchase of popcorn wasn't enough to pacify him. Thankfully, I think he was just young enough to not know to be scared... or to get the muscle-lad older brother having a boyfriend joke.
    Following the movie, we scouted out a park between the movie theatre and home. Being the nerdy English teacher I am, Cameron and I bounced around theories on what the prefix "para" mean.. paranormal, paraplegic, parasite, parachute... How related? Eventually, after making a few U-turns and shouting a few explicatives at Siri's directions (not really... only because Benjamin was sleeping). Silly me didn't think to turn down the road to the cemetery to get to the playground. (I was really starting to sense an unpleasant theme to the day at this point.)
    I packed a simple picnic lunch of PB&J sandwiches (as conveniently displayed by Benjamin's sticky beard), some sliced watermelon that we picked up from the Farmer's Market yesterday, bags of chips, and a jug of water. My frequent penchant of grabbing food while out was evident though by Cameron telling me he had a gift card to Panera and asking if we were going to Tropical Smoothie... despite a cooler full of food in the trunk.
    The Watermelon Seed Spitting contest was one of the ideas on The Martha's Bucket List I planned on overlooking. You just cannot convince me this is something the Queen of Northern Etiquette would condone. However, as I was sitting at the picnic bench with Cameron and the idea was churning in the back of my mind, I proposed the game. He spit. I spit farther. He spit farthest. Ok, he won, enough with that. I should have just followed my instinct and allowed having summer fresh watermelon a few times this season suffice for that check on the list! 
    During lunch, Benjamin told me about the movie...
    There was a witch and she went ooohhhh...
    Then I got scared, like whoaaaaaa!
    Honestly, he wasn't scared. He just knows how to ham it up... obviously. I wouldn't have taken him to the movie if I thought it really was going to be scary, or wouldn't have kept him there if I thought he was getting scared. The scare-factor , for the most part, was equal to the ghostly encounters  on an episode of Scooby-Doo. And, as I have often said, this is my Fearless Child. After lunch, we hit the playground, and he bypassed the toddler area completely, racing for the tallest slide he sees.

    And no, I don't know where he gets his "hamming it up" from at all!

    Tuesday, July 16, 2013

    Bucket List, Maybe?

    Summer School ended last Friday and Remediation ended today. Now, I only wait in anxious anticipation to learn how my students do on the state reading test tomorrow. I'm having a bit of a Ron Clark moment tonight...

    Exactly 33 days until I report back to work. I know I had said "No Bucket List" this summer, but then this compilation of summer activities from The Martha graced my Facebook feed and I have reconsidered. I don't know what the "Theme Song" of my Summer will be yet, but I know the keyword of Summer 2013 is "Frugal." It's funny because I will sing in my head "Frugal Summer" in the tune of "Cruel Summer." So tonight I looked up the lyrics to Bananarama's song to see what parallels I could make, lyrics I could rewrite... and ya know, there aren't a whole lot of lyrics beyond "It's a cruel, cruel summer." We keep things simples in the 80's.

    And, this is a simple Summer Bucket List... and a frugal one. Various of these ideas will be revised such as #27 (Have a Garage Sale) will become spend a morning leisurely yard saling and #19 (Host a Clambake) will become a feast of steamed crabs. Some of these ideas will be Summer activities for the family, as a whole, but not me, specifically- #8 (Fishing)- I'm looking at you! And alas, some ideas simply will be put aside completely... #13 (Outside Yoga)? Sounds lovely, but no... unlikely. Also unlikely is #25 (Make Your Patio Summer Ready).

    But, for the most part, here are some fun ideas to spread Summer over the next 30-odd days until I start churning a new school year.


    Monday, July 15, 2013

    Big Brother 15

    While, in many ways, it does not seem like we are near the middle of the summer... in other ways, it is definitely obvious the summer months are upon us. One such BIG way to know it's summer time... Big Brother!

    I watched the first few seasons of Big Brother religiously, then didn't watch for many years. Over the past few seasons though, I have definitely been a Big Brother "Mega Fan."

    Like many, I wasn't too thrilled when CBS released the cast picture of this season's houseguests. I agreed with the streams of online complaints that this looks more like a cast for "Road Rules" or another MTV series than the diverse crowd that CBS usually gathers up and sequesters for the summer months. Thankfully though, the mix of personalities has been anything but homogeneous and those self-labeled "popular" and "beautiful" people are not enjoying the summer break they had anticipated.
    Last year, I faithfully blogged weekly on BB14. That's not going to happen this season though... despite how much I enjoyed watching my number of blog hits those days. (Oh... if only folks in real life could enjoy my snarky criticism as much as blog lurkers, what a wonderful world this would be... eh?) I toyed with the idea of subscribing to the Live Feed this summer. When I decided against that idea, I thought about just subscribing to Showtime for a few months to watch "After Dark." However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it had moved to TVGN, a channel we already receive. After watching a few episodes, I am glad I didn't spend any cash for a few more doses of BB throughout the week. It's cool to see behind the scenes and know the background or "whole story" of what CBS producers decide to share. Moreso though, it's rather frustrated to endure all the whispering and bleeping of profanity. Often too... it's just boring. I have only fully sat through a few episodes of the filled DVR'ed cache.
    That is not to suggest that I am not enjoying the season though. So here's a summary of my input on the contestants, from most favored to least (more or less), of those left in the house after 2 evictions.
    I love Helen! If BB had not taught me to be more racially paranoid sensitive, I would say that I will usually favor a strong Asian woman in these type of reality shows... but that is probably a product of unjust stereotyping. I don't think she has longevity in the game overall because her alliance with Elissa has placed her on the fringe of the nucleus of the power groups. However, I think she is a smart player. Her background in politics is clearly evident in how she speaks and approaches some situations- such as her proposed deal to Aaryn, the very one who put her on the block. Her mild manner is going to keep the target off her back for a little while I think. She is generally likable, such as when most of the house got angry that Aaryn made her a Have-Not for  second consecutive week. In her HOH role though, it has become obvious that a little bit of power may be her poison, such as threatening the guys who wouldn't come clean about their ill-planned alliance with "I will evict you."  She played it safe going with the obvious eviction candidates this first turn at power. Not so sure she may that ruled by logic next time around when the choices aren't so easy. Then again, that could set her up for the kind of "Power Move" it takes to make big things happen in this game. She should also be smarter about discussing her husband and especially, kids, and shedding tears about how much she misses them. This makes it too easy for other house guests to send her home to be with her family- it alleviates some of their guilt in announcing her name in the diary room.

    We are big Amanda fans in this house! During the first night of "After Dark," Amanda donned a makeshift flight attendant suit and directed the "passengers" of the aviation themed Have-Not room, f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Seriously, I think she was acting out this shtick for the full two hours. So, early on? Not such a fan. As the weeks have passed though? Big fan. She too is a smart player. She is able to figure out what is going on with the other players and uses her "Pizza Boy" to deliver the news when she can't. (Deliver... ha, get it?) She definitely has a lot of control in the game but doesn't directly manipulate people to get it. Candace may get credit for "discovering" the boys' alliance but I think Amanda is the one responsible for single-handedly bringing an end to it. She is like a bug zapper, a bright light they all gather closer to not knowing their demise may come soon at her hand. I think she is perfectly balanced between having control but not being controlling. Unfortunately for her, I think Spencer clearly sees this and it could become a Puppet Master battle directly between the two of them. I also like how frankly honest she is, most evidently shown in her confrontations with Aaryn. Mostly though, her snarkiness in the house is unrivaled and worthy of admiration.

    Aaryn. Do I like her? Hell no. But she has to rank high for me right now purely for the entertainment factor of what a total train wreck she is! First, this summer brought us the Butter Queen Paula Dean's fallen empire for a twenty-year old utterance to a "white" woman who was offended. Then, this summer brought us the explosively controversial Zimmerman trial, whose vigilante street violence following the ruling shadows the LA riots of Rodney King's days. (Can't we all just get along?) Now, we have CBS running disclaimers prior to episodes of BB that the prejudiced comments of house guests are a product of reality tv and not a reflection of producers. (Fearing a little law suit there?) Rather than sitting in judgment of whether or not I think she's racist, and to what degree, I'm simply enjoying her show of self-victimization. Her image of reality is so distorted that its mind-bogglingly hilarious. When she won head of household, she immediately threw a key around her neck and grew devil horns from her crown. She was unabashingly evil, directing her wrath at whomever she though had a role in the eviction of her bedmate. Then, the very next week, she cries "Why me?" when the target lands on her back. Then (!) Amanda tries to explain to her that the house is offended by her racial remarks (and that's only the ones that they hear!), and she finds that "funny" and "wishes" should care, but doesn't. And when Amanda loses the Have-Not competition, Aaryn says "Karma" punished her for being mean. Wow, just wow. She is Queen Bee of a dying clique and she is going to play sour grapes ("I am just ready to go home") until she walks out the door because she is too delusional to think she can be unliked ("They're just jealous") and defeated by a bunch of "losers."

    I don't feel like I have much of an idea of what Elissa is like at all. I feel like she has really pulled back and contained her personality to try and squeeze under the radar as much as possible with the huge target that has been on her back since day one. I don't see how anyone can call themselves a Big Brother fan and have not seen the resemblance to Rachel. I seriously hope CBS didn't think there could be any chance of that remaining a secret for any length of time. I cannot believe Elissa even tried to hide or lie about it. I mean, seriously, those two sisters are so cloned from the same gene pool that I imagine Mummy gets them confused after a few too many glasses of wine at dinner. My main respect for Elissa right now is her cockroach-after-nuclear-fallout level of survival in this game, having been on the block twice, initially the vocal target twice, and still standing. Now, I think that hasn't been mostly of her own effort but rather how others chose to pawn her in the game. Like Helen, I think her longevity is limited by being on that fringe of any power nucleus in the game. I don't think we'll ever see her personality fully break out because her head will always be laying a little too close to the guillotine until the night she is evicted and it is chopped off. In the mean time, I do hope that someone else gets MVP and shakes up the game some. 
    Spencer is known more fondly in our house as "Choo Choo Man." He looks, speaks, thinks, and has the mannerisms of Jason's brother, Shawn. When, CBS first released the cast picture, Spencer stood out because he was expected to be pushed outside of the group of beach bunnies and babes. That has certainly proven true. Most of what I have learned about Spencer has been from the "After Dark" episodes because as he himself points out, his speech is laced with far too many explicatives to make the producers' cuts. That really must be the case because CBS is far undershining the hand he has been playing in the BB plot. He too is a smart player. He can read people well. It is appropriate that he is often seen playing chess because he thinks beyond his immediate move in the BB game. As mentioned earlier, he sees the threat that Amanda is. Those two and Nick were the smartest players in the game. Nick is gone, and whichever of the two brains left that leaves next will determine a long chain of power and events in this game I think. Amanda's control is a lot more evident because of her sycophant pizza boy. Other than Nick, who is no longer a threat, I don't think anyone realizes the power Spencer has. He can discuss the game in such a rational way that his audience is led to believe whatever he thinks the best conclusion is. He is smart too in that he doesn't always shows those cards at one time, but splinters off who he speaks to, never showing himself as a leader to the whole. I think he may manage to avoid the target for quite a while.

    I don't like Jessie. She reminds me of the kids that I called "Barnacles" in high school. She never quite made it on to the popularity ship but clung to the bottom of it like a crusty barnacle just trying to ride along. She is expendable no matter which side of the house she aligns herself with. She mainly gets my respectable nod this week for jumping off that popularity ship and snubbing with the "uncute" of the house. Of course, that was decision made easier when she ran out of options for a showmance. The night she was following Nick around in his room hoping for a kiss? Could you not hear the whispers of Psycho's Eek! Eek! Eek! in the background? That was straight creepy. I don't think she's a bright player... or all that bright, in general. I think she is motivated mainly by the desire to be "liked." I think she is easily manipulated and will be pawned several times until she is just casted off.

    Having spoken of stereotypes earlier, it certainly seems that the CBS producers are trying to cast Andy as the "flamboyant one." He, of course, makes it easy for them to do so. When he is not facing directly into a camera and putting on a show, he is no where as buoyantly outgoing as the chosen air-time segments make him seem to be. He's likable for the most part, and therefore will rank him higher than the players I simply don't like. However, he doesn't have a real strong game. I don't have much respect for the game that he is trying to play. I don't like the fact he tries to secretly align himself with the "other" side when he think he's safe from being discovered, to the point that he lies about his vote to win their favor... even though by "admitting" (lying) he voted against them, which is just ironically funny.

    Pansy is the word that comes to mind when I think of how to describe McCrae. The greatest tidbit involving him yet was when, on the first night, several of the houseguests thought he was a secret genius, lying about his pizza boy cover. Of course, after spending a few days with him... no one questioned that much longer. The potential for a lukewarm showmance between the Pizza Boy and the Realtor to the Stars is entertaining and funny... until it becomes sad when you see how softened and broken down he is by a little affection. He's indecisive, whiny, and weak-willed. It is already obvious to the smarter players that he and Amanda need to be broken up because he is so easily manipulated by the extra X chromosome.

    I do respect that Howard, unlike most (all?) of his predecessors, has been a man true to his faith... thus far. The only potential conflict with that was when he claimed needing to pull himself away from the environment of bigotry with the "popular" kids or else he may get violent. It didn't ring true for me. He comes across as the type of person who claims to remove himself from conflict to save himself from getting riled up when, in reality, is just scared of that conflict to begin with. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he truly wants to "turn the other cheek" to the negativity surrounding the prejudice issues in the house... but he seems more interested in playing "protector"- to Candace from the racial slurs and to the house, from his potential (and doubtful) wrath to me. I don't think he's a smart player. He's a renegade when it comes to following the plans of his alliances. I think he's dead weight that can be cast off without much effect. When the heat is on the much more visible targets though he will probably "grab  a life vest" and float along for a while.

    I think Jason most aptly described Judd when he compared him to Hank's neighbor on "King of the Hill." Most conversations with Judd go something like this... brr, grr, mumble, mumble, I like beer, mumble, mumble, grr, brr... only not that logical. Now imagine that magnified by him whispering his muttering nonsense during the "After Dark" clips. I just have to fast forward through any segments with him. He is wallpaper, purely unforgettable in the game. You could watch an entire episode, not see Judd, and not even realize it. During the first couple of weeks, someone would mention something about Judd, and we would ask, "Who?" Like Howard, he will manage to float through the eviction of all the targets and then he is expendable at any time. The only event of his that is even mildly interesting is this new impetus to protect Jessie from the Mean Girls, that's kinda "presh."
    Wallpaper would be a good way to describe Kaitlin in the game also- another name that we would ask "Who?" to when we heard it in the early weeks. She is a hemorrhoid conflicted as to whether she would rather attach herself to Aaryn or Jeremy. Of course, Jeremy would be be the preferred derrière. It is obvious that she is the girl that defines her identity by the man she is with. To Katie, success in the BB house is having the cutest boyfriend. She probably doesn't even know there is half a million at stake here. Jeremy, however, is not as stupid and would heft her over the BB fence himself if that's what it took to advance him in the game.
    I don't like Candace. If Aaryn had not made it so easy for her, Candace still would have found conflict in the house. The Net is littered with her pageant and cheerleading pics. When it became obvious to her that she wasn't going to be "the pretty one" in the game, she would have had to build a stage herself for the Drama Queen performances. Unfortunately, Aaryn gave her all the reasons she needed to the throw attention-getting pity parties and temper tantrums. I think it's hypocritical to be offended by Aaryn's portrayal of her "acting ghetto" and then turn around and DO "act ghetto" in defense. I really hope she keeps stirring it up and is out the door soon. I fear instead, being at the center of the race conflict, is going to make any of the houseguests apprehensive with putting her on the block for a while.

    Odd picture to choose of Gina Marie, right? I couldn't resist. I remember wayyy back when Kelli Clarkson was on the first "American Idol." She looked like two completely different people when she was in vs. out of make-up. My morning deejay even commented that her husband didn't believe it was the same girl. Same thing here. Gina Marie, without make-up, looks so very different than the glamorized version of her spread all over the Net. I can't mentally connect those two images any more than I can connect the brash-mouth, crast, annoying-loud-cackling Long Island hooch on BB with a high-fashion model and pageant coordinator... and trust me, I have seen my share of "Toddler and Tiara" disasters to make the comparison. All this was even before Nick left. It may be harsh, but was rather funny to watch the blubbering ball of slime she became when Nick unexpectedly walked out. Even Julie Chen joked about it. I understand the "Summer Camp" mentality of getting close to people quickly because you spend so much time together... but get over it already and play the game.

    Last, and certainly least, is Jeremy. I disliked Jeremy from the time they showed his promo introduction before the houseguests even arrived at the CBS studio. He puts far too much effort in making a caricature of himself as the "Cherokee Heartthrob." On the first night of "After Dark," he was explaining to the others how he always took two girls to a dance in high school... not like this was a big accomplishment, but just like that's how being the Cherokee Heartthrob works. He's a hypocrite and tries to play pivotal roles in both alliances. He thinks he has far more control and power than he does, when the power has shifted in the house and he is on the outside looking in. He is fake... whether it's fake bravado for his lady audiences or fake sincerity that he thinks is fooling the opposing side of the house, it's not. The target on his back should be growing like the circle around a tick bite.