Category Archives: That’s entertainment!

Well, I’ll be


Thank you, Matthias Shapiro, displayed under CC license,

This weekend the grandkids were with us. Actually they came over on Thursday and left about two on Sunday afternoon. If I had a dime for every, “No-o-o-o-o,” or “M-i-i-i-n-n-n-e,” that came from our two-year-old grandson, and the accompanying “Sto-o-o-p it” from his eight-year-old sister, I’d now be on a sandy beach with a cold drink in my hand. (No umbrellas, I don’t care for sticks in my drinks.)


VERAThe Super Bowl was played this past Sunday. Again I didn’t watch. And, again, by Tuesday I don’t remember who won. My biggest upset on Sunday was not having a new episode of “Vera,” (a cop show, nothing to do with Wang or Bradley),  to watch on Brit Box. This is why we stream at our house. When networks are so callas as to preempt shows, I can get my fix by watching old episodes while waiting for the new.

If you’ve never seen Vera, it’s typical cop-with-probs show. But, for a writer, it’s a great lesson in character evolution. In the first season, Vera is pretty terrible with people. Murderers, muggers, and victims are all treated the same. Children are anathema. We are now in series eight and Vera has grown! She is now able to put her hand on a weeping victim’s shoulder without gagging. The gesture is awkward as hell, but I suppose when your mother dies when you’re young and your widower father is a sullen poacher/taxidermist, who lives at the crossroads of No and Where, there is little need for deportment.

If you have access to Hulu you can see the first three seasons.  Acorn TV (streaming) has seasons 1-7, and Brit Box (streaming) is the only place to get season eight.

And so, I wait.





Learning by doing…

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

How does one learn to tell a story effectively? My apprenticeship took place in the time-honored School of Hard Knocks. I fell in love with the power of stories through reading books, but basic story skills were built through teaching children.

Children are honest. If they aren’t getting it, if I am not connecting, I will know right away. First comes the fidgeting, and then the faces. Those expressions can be priceless, right? The listeners in this picture are dialed in. Hats of to the storyteller!

I teach middle and high school, and the feedback there is top-notch. For years teens have helped hone my comic timing. Nowadays I can be a terror when crossed, for my students never quite know what I will say.

To illustrate, one hapless 7th grader was talking to a girl at the scoring table recently. Over the top of my reading glasses I gave him the Death Ray Look. “Mr. Smith,” I said, and the rest of the class rustled to attention. They know that tone of voice and waited to see what would happen next.  “I realize that you are irresistible to women,” I said crisply. “But you must resist them. Go sit down.” Amid laughter the poor boy went slinking back to his seat, but smiling too, because my rebuke had included a compliment. Well, kind of.

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

Photo: Zhao! (Creative Commons Flickr)

The most challenging audience–and I taught this age group for 12  summer quarters–is the 3-4-5 year-old crowd. I was the one to present the junior church Bible lessons, and I learned to keep 30-40 of them (plus parents and student helpers) in the palm of my hand through dramatic storytelling.

Unexpected special effects helped.  I came up with all kinds of illustrations, raiding the church kitchen and janitor’s closet and my classroom (our Christian school is on the campus) for supplies. Fortunately, when I burned the prophet Jeremiah’s scroll (like King Jehoiakim did), there was not quite enough smoke to cause a problem.

Learning by doing–sink or swim–do or die. When you’re in front of a live audience, you have no choice but to deliver!

So what skills have you learned in the School of Hard Knocks? What new skills are you trying out now?

Confessions of a Reality TV Lurker

Photo Credit: (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: (Creative Commons)

As a teacher of teens, you’d think I’d have my fill of freakish behavior. Like I need to watch more on my own time? Ah, but I do.

Reality TV is, like, a lurker’s Shangri-la. Yes, these shows are scripted and heavily edited. Yes, the contestants are chosen because of their entertainment value. But the mix of personalities makes a fascinating study in human behavior.

Years of essay writing have me listing these in reverse order, with my favorites at the bottom. The first three I surf, watching only snippets. Because too much drama is too much. But the last three? Those I go to school on.

SayYes-LogoThe right dress can make all the difference to a woman. As a “non-girly” girl, I marvel at how this works. And at how much money some gals can blow through–other people’s money! As for their opinionated friends and family, oh my word. Get over yourselves, people. You’re not the one wearing the dress. And is airing your fine opinions worth damaging your relationship with the bride?

ProjectRunway-LorealLogoThe designs that contestants come up with fascinate me. Combine a bolt of cloth, accessories, and attitude. Voila, an outfit. Not necessarily an attractive outfit or something I would wear, but still. The something-from-nothing is a hook, and also the fact that the designers must actually do work. I tune in for the final 15 minutes.

TopModel-LogoI watch to see the photo stills at the end. How is it that the camera loves certain faces? And how can an image be so vastly more glamorous than the actual girl? And how important is it for an attractive young woman to keep her petty complaints to herself?

Treehouse-Masters-LogoBecause Pete Nelson is just so likable. The camera work is excellent, the locations are easy on the eyes, and who doesn’t want a tree house? This is another show where the “stars” are workmen, not drama queens, and they love what they do. This one I watch from start to finish.

DirtyJobs-LogoDitto for Mike Rowe. He delights in being Everyman, is comfortable in front of the camera, can toss off one-liners with ease, and willingly puts himself in shiver-worthy work situations. Plus the man’s a darn good writer.

SharkTank-LogoThis one is my current favorite. I like the banter, the crisp intelligence, and the practical advice. Again, I’m watching working people who have learned by doing, and the questions they ask are excellent. In the process I’ve come to realize that I am more than just in business for myself. I am an entrepreneur–a scary word! –both as the creator of my fiction and its promoter. As a marketer, I kind of stink!

In our social media-driven world, what I need to learn about getting out there–being likable, being real, being myself–is a lot. So this teacher is going to school, Reality School, with Pete Nelson and Mike Rowe and the six Sharks. And I’m reminded about what NOT to do from the others.

Are you a Reality TV lurker like me? Which shows are your favorites? Ah, but are there some you love to hate?

President’s Day with the Pooches

This pic of the Obama family dogs was tweeted by First Lady Michelle Obama.

This pic of the Obama family dogs was tweeted by First Lady Michelle Obama.

While President Obama golfs in California and the First Lady skis in Aspen, the First Dogs, Bo and Sunny, have made their own plans to celebrate President’s Day. After all, no one wants to be alone on such a festive holiday.

Imagine our excitement when our pups received their invitations in the mail!

Bo and Sunny
request the honor of your presence
at a White House Tea Party
in recognition of President’s Day.

Since the JSI ladies couldn’t be spared from their duties in order to travel to Washington, we decided to honor the invitation by having tea parties with our own beloved pets.

Toby and Chloe enjoy tea with Robin and Gayle. Doggie treats and water were on the menu.

Toby and Chloe enjoy tea with Robin and Gayle. Doggie treats and water were on the menu.

If Laura had a dog, they'd go to Starbucks!

If Laura had a dog, they’d go to Starbucks!

I think Jane would be quite pleased with us, even though there was a scarcity of scones.



Leonardo da Vinci or Lady Gaga?

In my YES column of “What I Would Like for Christmas” is this wonderful instrument originally designed, but never built, by Leonardo da Vinci. Polish pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki spent four years building his own version of it and debuted the instrument at the Academy of Music in Krakow, Poland last month.

According to Gizmodo, this is how the instrument works:

In the place of a piano’s felt hammers, spinning wheels draw across the strings like a violinist’s bow. The player operates a foot pedal to spin the wheels, playing notes on a keyboard identical to a piano’s. But the sound, sinewy like a stringed instrument but with a piano’s direct, well-defined tones, defies comparison to traditional instruments.

The instrument would require a great deal of skill, as the performer would have to pump the pedal constantly and play the keys in the crawling style of an organ (since the pedal would not act as a damper pedal, allowing the tones to vibrate). I am an organist as well as a pianist, so I would dearly love a chance to try it.Lady Gaga

Colin-hand in hair
What I find absolutely creepy is the new Lady Gaga life-sized doll. (Just in case you can’t tell, the real Gaga is the one in red. I think that one looks more like a doll than the others.) Santa can leave that off my list. Now, a life-sized Colin Firth as Darcy might be decorative . . . hmmmmmmm . . . no. Mannequins who look like living (or dead) people standing or sitting around the house are just too weird, even if they look as good as Colin Firth.

My Fatal Mistake – The Mortal Instruments

I have made a terrible mistake. I started reading The Mortal Instruments series, and I can’t put it down.

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

The Mortal Instruments
by Cassandra Clare

This fantasy world of Downworlders (werewolves, vampires, demons, warlocks, and fairies), Shadowhunters (human demon killers), and mundanes (regular humans) has captured my imagination. I am almost as fascinated with this series as I was with The Twilight Saga. Warning: this series is not as conservative as The Twilight Saga. It’s more liberal in philosophy and theology.Mortal Instruments movie The series has been endorsed by Stephanie Meyer, and to my satisfaction, Clare is a better writer than is Meyer. Meyer excels in storytelling, but her writing style is too modern for the English teacher in me. Clare doesn’t write narrative in fragments; she saves that for dialog.

Sadly, I already had too many distractions interfering with my concentration in writing, and this isn’t helping me right now. I just have to finish reading, and I’ll be fine. At one book a day, I should be through on Wednesday. I’m practically inhaling them.

I really liked the first movie, The Mortal Instruments City of Bones, and I’m glad to hear that the second movie in the series has resumed production and should be out next year.

Fifty is the new thirty?

According to a new survey done by Harris Interactive, the ideal age is fifty.

Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Williams

“Lots of people don’t have grandchildren by fifty so you’re not necessarily tied down babysitting,” psychologist Barbara Becker Holstein told The TODAY Show. ”Of course, given how slowly young people mature now, you may still be dealing with someone in their twenties who loves living at home.”

Lisa Kudrow

Lisa Kudrow

I would like to add that some people in their twenties live at home for reasons other than their maturity levels.

The results varied by geographical location, ranging in answers from forty-seven to fifty-three, and politics also played a part. The more conservative a person was, the more their perfect age went up. The more liberal people were, the more they correspondingly chose younger ages.

John Stamos

John Stamos

This past summer, the Center for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics reported twenty-three and sixty-four are the best ages. They concluded that happiness levels decline after the early twenties, pick up again in the mid-fifties, and fall again after seventy-five.

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp

Celebrities who are or will be fifty this year include actress Vanessa Williams, designer Marc Jacobs, actor John Stamos, and “Friends” star Lisa Kudrow. Fifty-year-old Johnny Depp said, “It’s great fun growing old,” while director Quentin Tarantino, also fifty, bemoaned having to wear reading glasses.

I like my age, but I wish I physically felt and looked like I did at eighteen or twenty. How about you?