Thursday, November 14, 2013

Outfitting yourself for Winter

Compiled a handy guide for the folks in my class who are from warmer climes. I was speaking to someone in the hallway yesterday and he didn't have a winter coat yet. It's already getting below 20 degrees at night, so I think it's probably time! People who have never been in a place with real winter don't always know what they need, so I figured this list would be the best way to help find what they need, keep it in a local radius, and keep the costs down.

If you haven't done so already, make sure you buy yourself some winter essentials.

The Main Event: Winter Jacket - $60-180
Find something that is either down-filled or synthetic-filled (puffy coats) or double-layered. Double-layered jackets and parkas are ideal for winter and spring and usually consist of a wind-breaking and water-resistant outer layer that can be zipped away from a fleece-lined inner layer. Some manufacturers make the inner layer reversible as well. If you're planning on taking up skiing or other winter/snow sports, double-layered is probably the way to go. If you're small and can fit into children's sizes, they work just as well and will be less expensive. Best brands in mid-range price are Columbia, Marmot, and North Face which can be found at a variety of retailers (Appalachian Outdoors, downtown, is carrying a number of these brands). Expect to pay up to ~$180 for these brands, but sometimes you can find great sales that brings the price down to about $100. If you're looking for less pricey options, check Kohls by the Target. They carry brands called ZeroXposure and Tek which are relatively low-price for decent quality (probably 2-3 years of use, if I had to guess).

Gloves/Mittens -  $15-25
Leather gloves will only get you so far, as will stretchy polyester blends. In the dead of winter, you'll want gloves or mittens that are fleece-lined or have other heat-capturing properties. Gloves with water resistant exteriors are great for playing in the snow, and cleaning off cars when it's 10 degrees out. Look for something like this: Gloves. You can spend up to $50 on these, but at Kohls, you can probably find a decent pair of gloves for $15-25

Hat - $8-20
Personally, I'm not picky about hats. You can find fleece bands that just cover your ears, or go for a full hat. You probably don't need help on this one. Most hats do the trick just fine. In winter, I add a fleece lining to my knit hats for additional warmth, but most people don't even go that far. You can probably find PSU hats at every store downtown.

Scarf or Neck Gaiter $8-28
Between your coat and your chin is your throat, and winter likes to bite. Protect yourself with a scarf (not a fashion scarf), or a Neck Gaiter. Gaiters are a tube of fleece fabric that slides over your head and protects your throat and can be brought up to cover the nose and mouth when the weather makes your saliva freeze. Brands like Turtlefur are well-known can be bought at outdoor clothing retailers like Appalachian Outdoors. You can probably also make your own with a quick trip to Joann's fabrics by the mall. Scarves can be purchased at places like Walmart, Target, or Kohls for a decent price.

Boots - $30-$90
Good boots will keep you from slipping on ice, protect your feet from that 4-inch-deep puddle of slush you accidentally walked through, and keep your feet nice and warm. As with any shoe purchase, make sure the boots are comfy when walking around. Wear medium- to heavy-weight socks to try on boots (the idea is to keep you warm). Kohls also has a great selection of boots that should easily last you a couple of PA winters and they're usually on sale. Good boots should reach to at least higher than your ankles and ideally hit mid-calf if you anticipate walking through snow. They should also be insulated with fleece or synthetic material (this is the difference between winter boots and work boots). At Kohls, look for Totes, Sorel, or Therma brand boots. You can also find Totes brand boots at the Sears in the Nittany Mall. Additionally, there is a shoe store in the mall (Shoe Dept) that carries a wide variety of brands at discount prices. Look specifically for Timberland. With boots, you generally get what you pay for, and decent winter boots should run you no less than $30.

Snowpants: Generally unnecessary unless you're planning for a good romp in the snow. Also usually pretty expensive. When buying snowpants, look for a pair that is water-proof and has a separate seal on the ankle cuff that will fit around the outside of your boot to prevent snow from falling in. Make sure you're able to comfortably sit and jump. Look for pockets to keep things like your ID and keys as it's pretty hard to get to these items in your underlayers. When trying on snowpants, they are generally worn over another pant-layer such as thermals, jeans, or sweatpants.

Thermals: Thermal underwear and thermal layers are generally tight-fitting layers that are closest to the skin and can be worn under jeans, sweatshirts or other long-sleeved items. They work by keeping your body-heat in and are great for days when you know you'll be outside for a long time.

Glove and Boot Warmers: you can buy pairs of packets of boot and glove warmers at most clothing outfitters in the winter. They used to cost $8 a pair, not sure how much they go for now. You can buy these for days when you anticipate having to walk home in the cold, or wait a long time for the bus. Crack a packet open and put in your gloves or boots. You'll be surprised how hot these get.

Ski Socks: The thickest, cushiest socks. Probably unnecessary unless your feet get very cold when walking around. These are pricey though and will probably run you about $15-25 a pair. Covet them.

Monday, September 16, 2013

"An Ancient Tale": The Humanist Response to a values-based assignment

Trigger Warning: rape.

One of the interesting aspects of Business school (B-school, what have you) is that you get to discuss all sorts of hypothetical situations and you usually do it first in a small group (my team has 5 members) and then as a larger class -- where it's usually much more difficult to voice your opinion or have a good, thorough discussion. My team is composed of 4 incredibly sweet and gentle individuals (5 if you include me, though I'm not sure that's quite a fair assessment of me) with rather varied and diverse backgrounds. For future reference, our team composure:

A: Male, American Military, Married with 1 child
B: Male, South American, Married, Background in Supply Chain
C: Female, Indian, Married, Background in Marketing
D: Male, American, in a steady relationship, Background in Public Policy
E: Female, American, Single, Background in Technology.

I'm E. In case you hadn't guessed.

For tomorrow's assignment in our Teams class, we were asked to read and discuss An Ancient Tale by J.B. Ritchey. You can read the assignment as well as the first four questions here: An Ancient Tale

As soon as I read this story, I knew I'd be bringing an unpopular opinion to the table at our group discussion, particularly since my first reaction to this story was pretty visceral. Well, not the story itself, but the implication of the questions.

The link above actually does a good job of explaining the reasoning behind the exercise: help people understand different weighted ethics and moralities that others impose on the world around them. By assigning blame in a situation like that of the princess in the story, we can better understand the relative weights of the beliefs of our peers.

A summary of the case at hand: A princess is married to a wealthy lord who's always out visiting neighboring kingdoms and she thinks he might be cheating on her. A handsome vagabond comes along and she's all, "yeah, you're kinda cute!" and they go gallivanting off to do some away-from-home cheating. But the vagabond leaves her and she realizes the only way home is through a dangerous forest. She goes to her god-father for help and apologizes for her actions, and he forgives her but refuses to help her through the forest. She goes to a white knight who says he'll help her, for a fee, but she has no money. So she decides to brave the forest on her own, where she is found by an evil sorcerer who has a dragon eat her. The End.

Ok. So the big questions on this case are who is at fault? The case only provides you the options of the princess, the husband, the vagabond, the godfather, the knight, or the sorcerer.
Who's the second-most at fault?

My team was split between the fault lying with the princess (personal accountability, yo!), and the sorcerer (guy is convincing dragons to eat people. Not cool, bro).

The reasoning my team delivered was that the sorcerer told the dragon to do it. Alternatively, if the princess hadn't left home with the vagabond, she never would have been in the position to have to go through the forest in the first place. 

Firstly, I want to address that I recognize that the point of the exercise is to generate discussion and high levels of emotional response. The author wants to encourage a conversation about personal values and how it affects decision-making. And in that way, this assignment does exactly what it's supposed to.

BUT. It's problematic because it reinforces harmful societal norms.

I agree with none of the given options. And the dragon isn't an option, but even if it were, dragons don't really exist, which means their relative morality and ethical basis is not exactly a given. I guess I can't really buy that the sorcerer is the end-all-be-all of a dragon's actions. I've read plenty of stories where dragons can talk, reason, and have moral values. I've also read stories where dragons have entirely different moral structure than human society. Them's the breaks. 

Moral aptitude: unknown

What DOES exist is society pressure and victim blaming.  You may have guessed this from my trigger warning up top, but what I see here is an allegory for rape.

Here we have a girl. Maybe she  spends an evening with a guy friend when her boyfriend didn't know what she was up to and maybe she got drunk. She made some bad decisions. When she's ready to go, she realizes she's on the other side of town and she's got to get home. There's a bad neighborhood in between here and there. She calls a family member and admits her wrong-doing but he says he won't help. She calls a taxi, but it turns out she has no money to pay for a cab. She decides to brave the walk and go on her own. A stranger sees her walking home and encourages his friend to rape her, which he does.

Who's at fault here?

The girl's just trying to get home. The actions (or lack of action) of the people around her is not a reflection on her or her previous actions. It is NOT karmic payback. It is NOT deserved. A girl (or guy) walking home should be able to walk home unmolested regardless of their previous decisions, regardless of their character. It's is not the girl's fault for being on the wrong side of town, for being out late, for taking that path home, for wearing something revealing. It is not the boyfriend's fault for not being attentive to his girlfriend. It is not the guy-friend's fault for not escorting her home or kicking her out. It is not the relative's fault for deciding not to take her home (yes, it's a dick move, but his personal accountability in this situation is nil). It is not the taxi cab driver's fault for not driving her home when she had no money. There may be some maleficence to the stranger who encourages the misdeed of his friend and certainly, he's not a good person. But the person who is at fault here is the person who harmed the girl, the rapist.

This representation did not play well with my team. In fact, it made them very uncomfortable. As a graduate from an all-women's liberal arts college, this kind of interpretation is front-and-center to me, but my peers at this larger co-ed institution are less inclined to lean this way or be comfortable with a discussion centered around a topic like this. Some would say this is a feminist issue, to which I say it's not. It is a humanist one: Be a human being. Treat others like human beings. These rules, regardless of gender should result in something like a happy ending for stories like the one above.

What makes this such an interesting case is the lack of availability of the dragon as an option for the person at-fault. You're given any other choice but I suggest that the choices provided are an unacceptable reflection of victim-blaming and apologist behavior in our society. The consequence of being drunk is a hangover. The consequence of being on the wrong side of town is sore feet from walking home. The consequence of cheating on your husband is guilt and maybe STDs and/or pregnancy if you didn't use protection. Not getting eaten by a dragon. By accepting the options given as our only choices, we're continuing a myth that a person's actions are a defining aspect of their 'story' and that karma is an acceptable defense for bad things happening to people, rather than addressing the real problem of those who acted in or performed roles in the negative event.

From a humanist point of view, I reject these options. Let's change the narrative and the followup questions to ask: As a human being, what are my rights? As a human being, is it ok for my rights to infringe on others'? As a human being, what are my responsibilities?

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Newest Journey

I've been away from this blog for a little more than four years, owing mostly to my last job which had some level of Fight Club Rules 1 & 2 about it. While there was plenty of content to discuss, I didn't feel that I could reliably do so without endangering my contract.  I avoided writing at all to ensure that I wasn't at odds with the job. I'm still bound by a contract, but I have other things on my mind.

A lot happens in four years. When I last wrote, I'd returned home to New Jersey after working in California for 2+ years. I was in the midst of an in-between job that entailed gift-wrapping goods from a small local overpriced boutique (and you can head over to Head2Desk if you really want to know how thrilling that role was).

In October, I was hired by a company in St. Louis, Missouri to be a specialized on-site consultant at a company in Connecticut. I did two weeks of "training" in St. Louis (where I found that I adored this "Gateway to the West" and the people were just about the friendliest you could hope for, and the food was fantastic). I moved to Connecticut and consulted for 10 months before the host company decided I was a good fit and I was hired there as a full time employee.
St. Louis: Home of the friendliest people, the best barbecue, and the worst sushi
I worked first as Help Desk support, then eventually as a process engineer in 2012-2013. And to be honest, I kind of loved it there. It was stressful and hard to get things done, but I relished working in an environment where my ideas mattered and my coworkers were willing to challenge me. And somewhere in there we had this test.

On the scale of soft-skills acceptance, I'm probably somewhere in the middle. I accept things like the MBTI and discussions about gently coaxing your staff to do what you want like a 10-week-old puppy with general understanding and a few grains of salt. I 'get' it, but I also think people should challenge these "tools" and "scientific schema" because accepting blindly isn't really how science works and it's not how I like to approach the world anyway.

So, this test. A lot of the new-agey stuff about how you are thinking about your work and your role and, ok, yes, yourself. This was a real opportunity to truly consider what what made me happy and was I 'working toward' that happy goal? If not, why not? What was I doing, not working toward being happy?

So there I was, in the middle of this mandated self-reflection having a little bit of an identity crisis. What do I love to do? Lots of things. I have a hobby-problem. Too many of them. But I like baking. And I like feeding people. And I like making other people happy. And it's hard to be unhappy when you're being fed. I've always kind of thought about opening a bakery or a tea shop. Well, why the heck not?!

But here's the thing. I don't have any experience running a business. I don't know about supply chain, or really managing people. I don't know about negotiating contracts or doing the books. I don't know about tax law. Man, there's a whole wealth of things I don't know, and Wikipedia can only get me so far.

The answer to life, the universe, and everything you wanted to know about 30% of life on earth. 
For the other 70% you'll need to conduct your own research.

My mother had been talking about me going back to school for years. Well, for Biology, but still. As the first person in my family to graduate from college, I thought I was already doing ok, and frankly, getting more (and more expensive) education wasn't high on my list of things to do to achieve success in science... it just doesn't pay off at this point in American society. But Business School is probably exactly what I need if I'm going to start . . . well, a business.

And so I began the harrowing process of applying to schools. A lot of them. Cornell, UNC, UofWashington, UofArizona, Penn State, Georgia Tech, UofIllinois. And school visits. God, that was exhausting. And interviews, and resume writing, and talking with a smile and a twinkle in my eye, like I know they want me to. As a pretty hardcore introvert, this process was daunting and terrifying and so unlike anything I wanted to do. I wanted the knowledge, but not the process. But that's not how the world works.

I'll probably relate a little bit more about the admissions process some other time. A lot goes into it and I'm already teetering on the edge of long-winded here. But the end result, is that some schools received my resume and did not immediately assume I was a know-nothing poser or incapable of completing the work. And some schools even offered me excellent encouragement to attend their particular institution.  And that is how I wound up at Penn State.

Hope you like mountain lions. They're obsessed with them here.
You're going to be seeing a lot more of this guy. 

And I moved into an apartment that I currently don't share with anyone (though that might change), and I get treated to beautiful views like this at sunset.

The aftermath of a sudden thunderstorm lights up Happy Valley. 
Taken from my back porch.

What remains now is the rest of the journey. I've got 2 years of Business School ahead of me, and 6 years of real-world experience behind me. I'll be giving a little bit of first-hand account of women-in-the-workplace discussions and more importantly, personal anecdotes of my experiences. Not just business-related but life experiences too. Let's take a meander together, shall we?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Review: Mrs. Washington goes to Smith

As a graduate of Smith College, I'd been looking forward to the Hallmark Channel's summer presentation of "Mrs. Washington goes to Smith", a story about a woman in her late 40's (played realistically by Cybill Shepherd) returning to her (and my) alma mater to finish her degree.

Yes that's a map of Smith's campus. Not that it matters.
It's the only time you see the campus at all in this movie.

Let's get this out of the way: Because I'm a Smith graduate, I expected a lot more from this movie than I do from standard tv-movie fare. The Smith campus is beautiful, the academics are intense, and the students are intelligent and well-spoken. Though I know that Hallmark Movies are generally known for their tear-jerking, I figured Shepherd had the acting chops to pull off any kind of gushy plot. Yet even she couldn't save this overly-emotional mire.

Part of the issue might be that there was so little discussion about the program she was enrolled in; the Ada Comstock program for 'non-traditional' students. Three of my 4 years at Smith were spent in Northrop house, which had a surprisingly large population of Adas, and they were ALWAYS given singles. They interacted with traditional students in (might I say it) a traditional way. That is to say, they did not treat other students in the house as daughters, but as other people who happened to be in the same place for the same purpose as they were. Like going to the bank, it hardly matters if the person in line in front of you is ten years younger or 30 years older. Hallmark Channel's script, glossed over the entire interaction between students.

My own disappointment was heightened by the filming location which was clearly not Smith's campus, or even Northampton. Location for the film is listed as Los Angeles. I found myself straining at every shot, trying to find some semblance of Smith's architecture. And it was there. Barely. Hallmark's Smith College has a lot more stairs than the real version, I noticed. Shepherd's Alice Washington was always going up some stairs or down some stairs, noticing a professor on the stairs, calling out to someone on another floor.

Mostly, the biggest issue with "Mrs. Washington goes to Smith" was the ridiculously flat script. The plot, which centers mainly around the interaction of Mrs. Washington, her 20 year old roommate and their poetry professor (omg, We both have a huge crush on him! That is sooooo wrong!), feels stiff and over-acted. The viewer has a hard time becoming really engaged with this movie, since at no point does the plot really leap off the screen.

The realest moments came at the Thanksgiving scene when Mrs. Washington returns home to create a holiday feast for her two children who are by turns impressed, proud and completely horrified by their mother's insistence on living her own life and finishing her degree. This intimate portrayal of a mother doing something for herself for a change and the critical reaction of her self-absorbed daughter are perhaps the most interesting points of the whole movie. These reflections on adult education probably ring true for many Ada Comstock students.

The rest of the story, alas, was too saccharine to reflect upon. Every moment seemed heavy with things unsaid. And every interaction between the poetry professor and roommate Zoe or Mrs. Washington verged on too painful to watch. What might have been a poignant tale of an autonomous woman finally doing something for herself becomes an awkward love-triangle that has nothing to do with the setting or characters involved.

The backdrop of Smith College becomes less than even a backdrop; it becomes a set-up for the title's cutesy switch-a-roo of 1939's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". Had the former movie not been made, this movie would be of no more interest or notoriety than any other tear-jerker hosted on Hallmark. And as "Mrs. Washington Goes to Smith" shares no more attributes with that old classic than the title.

Ultimately, the only word that sums up Hallmark's "Mrs. Washington Goes to Smith" is "disappointment".

Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer TV Preview Countdown #2

2) Psych

Oh James Roday. You're so cute. And swoon-worthy. And, of course, a complete fake. This fun series returns this summer, and I will be absolutely glued to my TV set. For one thing, Psych is not just the story of two best friends getting in and out of trouble. It's also a fast-paced journey back in time with numerous 80's references that only those of us born '85 and earlier will get.

Then there's the show's unique brand of humor and focus on friendship. All the characters have different relationships to each other and play those parts well. The young ingenue detective, Juliet just wants everyone to be happy and cheerful. She was a sorority sister, and probably also a cheerleader at one point. She's happy and sunny, and the only thing that brings her down is when her partner, Lassiter just doesn't want to be happy. Which is always.

The cast has fun doing each taping, and you can tell. The excitement is palpable. Shawn's twitchy over-acting for his part of the SBPD pet psychic is just right here. And after last season's fantastic Tuesday the 17th episode, I can't wait to find out what else the writing team has in store for us.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More shrinky-dink earrings

Another pair of earrings for my friend today. This time using shrinkydinks. I know that she's a huge Zelda fan, so I figured I'd work with that. I also figured today would be a good day to experiment with using permanent markers on the shrinkydink plastic.



The colors come out MUCH darker with permanent marker. Parts of Link are done only in colored pencil, and some parts are also a mixture of both media.

I also sealed the drawn side with clear nail polish. Without the nail polish, the rough side feels like painted wood, and I worry that if the piece gets wet, the colors might run (who the hell knows. It's permanent marker, but then, it's also been through the toaster oven).

I'm pretty certain my friend's gonna love these earrings.

Origami Earrings

A friend of mine recently posted in her journal that because she had recently gotten her ears pierced, she had been looking through various shops and finding slews of earrings that she wanted to buy. She provided a link. I'm a curious sort of person, so I followed the link and found that all of the earrings she was looking at were $10 or more! One pair was even $20! "Enough," I told her, "I will make you some earrings and send them to you and you won't have to pay a cent. Additionally, the cost of my materials comes in at a bit less than $15 and I can make maybe 20 pairs of earrings with them. Not a bad deal.


Thread (Yellow silk) - $1
Origami Paper Srips - $2.50
Origami Squares - $2.50
Clear Nail Polish (not pictured) - $1
Beads - $5
Fish Hook Earring Bases - $2.10
Optional: 2" Head pins ($2.10), Needle Nose Pliers ($8)

Because I didn't have the head pins, I ended up using needle and thread instead of the pins and pliers. The needle and thread is actually a nice way to lower your overall costs if you find yourself without pliers which can be hard to find and/or costly.

The Origami strips come with directions which allow you to fold them up into handy little stars. When I was younger, my friends and I used to make them by the dozens and fill pretty jars with stars. Fold your stars first.

Next, I threaded my needle with the silk thread. Silk thread can be tricky to work with. You need to really bulk up your knots to make sure stuff doesn't slide right off. So I put the thread through the needle 3 times before tying off a knot on the bottom and trimming it.

Silk thread is also very slippery. To ensure my knots don't come out, I brush the knots and the knot tail with clear nail polish and I wait for it to dry before I trim.

Thread your stars on. I always push stars onto the needle "crotch" first (concave side) so that the needle comes out through a point. I placed beads between my stars to give the earrings a bit more flexibility. You'll find that if you stack stars one on top of the other, they come out stiff and sometimes crooked.

Finally, tie on your fish hook. Again, you should brush with clear nail polish before you do any trimming. And Voila!

I also made her a pair of crane earrings. Same principles apply. I love putting cranes on thread because the knots get hidden inside the crane's body.

Before and After

A pair of Crane Earrings

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Summer TV Preview Countdown #3

3) (It's a tie!) Monk & Royal Pains

Monk is saying goodbye. Maybe even to wipes? We can hope.

With this summer comes the 8th and final season of Monk. And, I'm sure, quite a few revelations. Monk may have lost me as a viewer around season 4, but that won't stop me coming back when I have a feeling that a lot of old strings will get tied up this season (well, they'd have to, right?).

My dad and I have some theories about what will happen this season:

Plot line the first
a) Monk will finally confront Trudy's murderer.
b) Trudy's murderer will be killed in some way that is only marginally Monk's fault.
c) Because Trudy's murderer is dead, Monk will start making headway on conquering some of his OCD
d) Monk will be reinstated to the police force
e) Natalie will be paid, in full

Plot line the second
a) Monk will finally confront Trudy's murderer.
b) Monk will fall in love with a secondary or tertiary character
c) This love interest will help Monk get over some of his fears.

In any case, it looks to be a nice little wrap-up. And I'm excited to see how the whole thing concludes.

As for Royal Pains . . .

Concierge Doctor with denial is a hottie.

I caught the pilot of this little gem last week. Frankly, for the most part, USA could take just about any actor and any plot and keep their writers the same and I'd be all over it like iguanas on a warm rock. Royal Pains is slightly different from their usual fare. The camera work is slick and clean. The main character isn't the wise-cracker but the straight man, while his brother is the main comedic force of the show.

The pilot was actually a very nice balance of drama and comedy. And you really get the sense from the show that you'd love to punch some of those rich people right in the face. If that's not good story telling, I don't know what is.

Potential down-sides: Will Americans want to see rich people living high-on-the-hog and throwing away money on fancy cars and postage stamps, particularly in this down-turn economy? I'm not really sure. This is definitely a slow-starter series. And I can see it either being pulled late-season, or becoming a sudden break-out hit. In the case of the latter, the writers WILL need to step it up. This is not really a medical mystery show so much as a interaction drama. We get to sit and watch all these rich people relate to one another and money change hands, but for right now, none of the major characters (save one, the female hospital doctor) have a long-term goal.

It can be truly unnerving to watch these people prance around the screen in their yuppie/preppy suits, acting on whims and not on future plans. So Royal Pains is a waiting game. As it stands though, I'll be tuning in each Thursday to catch it (perhaps even at the cost of missing "The Fashion Show").

Friday, June 12, 2009

Summer TV Preview Countdown #4

Let the countdown of Summertime TV continue!

4) Project Runway (Season 6)

Heidi and Tim weren't sure if you were aware that
they've moved their whoring over to Lifetime TV.

Now you don't have to feel bad when the contestants
design something so bad, it makes you cry.

So here's the thing. I've been an avid PR watcher since season 1 aired while I was in college. The girls in my dorm would gather in someone's room and eat popcorn and critique like mad for an hour and the whole experience was very cathartic. There's something splendid about just being mean about someone else's creative output. This is obviously an emotion that Bravo knows only too well, since they made sure to have an extensive line-up of shows based solely on this premise (Blow Out, Top Chef, Flipping Out, Tabatha's Salon Takeover, etc.). When they sold it to Lifetime TV, I thought they were nuts. But it turned out they were in talks to start up The Fashion Show (and we can see how well that turned out).

In any case, Project Runway will be starting up on August 20th this summer, and despite the change of venue, I remain as faithful as always. I only hope it contains less bitchery than The Fashion Show contains; shouldn't be too difficult.

Summer TV Preview Countdown #5

Alright folks, now that I'm moved back to New Jersey and have most of my stuff in order (and I'm unemployed), the unofficial GG hiatus is over! And we're starting the summer off with a bang to talk about some of the upcoming TV shows (and a few that are already in full-swing) that I'm looking forward to watching. Let the dizzying array of TV-brain-meltiness begin!

5) The Fashion Show

Boy Isaac, for someone who always complains
that the contestants don't use enough color,

you sure do wear a lot of black!

While Project Runway was being shuffled over to Lifetime Network, Bravo was scrambling to recoup their losses. "Let's make a copy of it," they likely said to themselves. "We'll set it in the same city, with the same number of contestants, the same number of judges. But we will change the shape of the runway. We won't give the designers a mentor. And we will make sure that when we critique a design, we will do it in the bitchiest and most inane way possible."

And while the producers were likely squealing with joy at their own "good" ideas, they probably also jumped up and down and hugged. That's my theory.

The Fashion Show is trying. It's trying soooo hard to be the new Project Runway, but despite my initial excitement over this show, it's fallen flat. The guest judges sometimes have no insight into fashion at all, a lot of the designers have NO sewing skills of which to speak, and the challenges are frequently pointless or of little consequence. Not to mention, giving someone immunity for designing a high schooler's t-shirt strikes me as the height of the inane. Bravo isn't even manufacturing drama for the sake of drama here.

Unfortunately, I really like design shows, so although I'm not happy with it, I'll probably continue watching it.

Stay tuned for the rest of the countdown!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Misti's Lists: Top 10 Timeless Educational Games

I'll be frank with you, readers. I was an only child. And as such, on various holidays and birthdays, I was frequently gifted with fantastically complex and fun board games. If only I'd had some siblings or the presence of mind to learn how to drive when I was merely eight so that I might drive myself over to my friends' houses to play with them. Since that was not the case, I was frequently relegated to playing games by myself. Thankfully, the majority of popular games available on the market today and yesteryear are profoundly based on luck. Monopoly, Trouble, Life. They all relied on dice, so it was very easy for me to create an alter-ego to play with.

But this entry is not about those Parker Brother juggernauts. My own parents always tended to gift me with something very different. My house was a haven for fun educational games which encouraged intellect and skill. And I want to share a list of my favorites with you. The items listed below are both fun and classic. They may be simple or have few pieces, but can create fabulously complex games. And most importantly, many of them are things you can do with children who have just started grade school.

10) Fluxx

I am sure there are people out there who don't consider Fluxx to be terribly educational. And for the most part, they're right. But it's certainly a lot of fun, and it does have that wonderful side effect of telling folks that sometimes, life just isn't fair! Aside from that though, here's a great way to talk to your kids about goals and rules. Why are they different now than before? What do you have to do to accomplish this goal. A crazy card game for those of us with ADD.

9) Bananagrams

Bananagrams is Scrabble for people who don't like interacting with others. You can play in a group, but it's just as easy to play this game by your lonesome. Use Bananagrams' 144 letter tiles to create your own free-form Scrabble board. It's actually a LOT of fun to play. There IS however a lot of luck involved in which tiles you pick. But what better way to learn more about spelling and arranging words? Even the carrying case is in the shape of a cute banana.

8) Carcassonne

To be honest, I'm not really sure how well Carcassonne translates for younger audiences. But for anyone older than 12, this is fun tile-based game requiring strategy and risk-assessment. There is an element of luck about it, but it's much more about interaction with others and your ability to understand complex land values.

7) Boggle

Boggle! One of my absolute favorite word games! Boggle combines reading, spelling, and pattern identification with speed (though you can get rid of the timer if you don't feel like being competitive). Extended boards are available for more advanced players. Younger players can expand their vocabulary and also start learning about prefixes and suffixes. And when the Boggle grid starts feeling too confined, you can take the letter dice out and use the dice to make your own word games.

6) 24

You don't even have to go out and BUY 24 to play it. Just get yourself a piece of paper, choose 4 integers and get cracking! The point of the game is to use basic math operations (+,-,/,*) with the numbers to get a result of 24. Older students can also use powers and roots or larger numbers. This is among my favorite math games and it can be dressed up or dressed down for any age.

5) The aMAZEing Labyrinth

When people think "Labyrinth", a lot of them think of David Bowie, or that weird, frustrating marble game where you have to get your marble through the maze. This puzzle game is far more intriguing than even David Bowie. Use the tiles to set up a grid board of hallways and items. with one extra tile, you push the halls around to get your piece to the treasures. This game is great for developing your spacial skills. There's a little bit of luck and a whole lot of logic. Depending on how the pieces are arranged, the game can range from very simple to maddeningly difficult.

4) Set

This game is great for pattern recognition. You've got 12 cards on the table and all of them are different. Can you find 3 where all their characteristics are similar or different. This is also a great game to help teach very basic skills for understanding "same" and "different". As kids get older, you can adapt the game to be more challenging by relying on speed.

3) Once Upon a Time

You have a kid, and they love stories at bed time. Actually, they love stories ANY time. How about a game that gets them to use their imagination and lets them make their own story in the process? Once Upon a Time is a card game that has a number of motifs and themes classic to fairy tales and fables. Each card has an element of a story; either a plot point, a character, a location, and so on. Your job is to use all your cards to create a cohesive and entertaining story. Kids as young as 6 will enjoy making their own stories. You can help your kids out by writing down their stories as you go along so they can read them at bed time in the future!

2) Mancala

A simple game but not for the faint of heart. Also not for very young children as there are a lot of small pieces. I've played Mancala with a variety of different rules, and each new set of rules requires a different adaptation to win. Try to get all the marbles in your own bank, and steal the marbles from under your opponent's nose. No luck here. All skill.

1) Quarto

Quarto is not only a fantastic game to exercise your mind. It's also beautiful. With 16 carved wooden pieces and 1 wooden board, minimalism is the idea here, and although the set can be heavy to carry around, it's a nice addition to a trip to the beach. Consider Quarto when you're concerned about getting sand in your Scrabble set. Quarto's 16 different pieces (like Set) are all different. They are light, dark, tall, short, round, square, solid, and hollow. Your job is to get any four in a row on the board with a similar characteristic. The catch? You choose the piece your opponent places on the board and vice-versa. You can teach the basic concepts of this game to children as young as 5 or 6. And by the time the child reaches 9 or 10, you can begin to introduce the concept of strategy. A gem.

So, enjoy these games. Go out there and better yourself! Click on the links below to go to the Amazon product page. And if there's any game you think that I'm out of my mind to have excluded, put it in the comments! I want to know what else is out there!

The aMAZEing Labyrinth
Once Upon a Time

Friday, February 6, 2009

Misti's Link of the Month: Project Rungay

For February, my link is all about pop-culture. Tom and Lorenzo over at Project Rungay are a pair of gay guys named Tom and Lorenzo who give snappy on-point reviews of the latest in reality television programming. They're best known for their loving recaps of Project Runway, however they frequently review other shows as well, and discuss celebrity fashion.

Why do I love Tom and Lorenzo so much? It could be their ability to get in good with our favorite reality stars. It could be their fabulous give-aways. It could even be their scathing clothing-related comments. It's probably all of these things, but also they are kind to their readers and always honest. The site is well-designed and very well-maintained. I definitely can appreciate a website with a minimum of gimmicks and a strong focus. Well done, Project Rungay!

You can visit Project Rungay by clicking on the banner below:

Or you can visit Tom and Lorenzo's other blog, click the image below:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Games and Fun: Magic Pen

When I first heard of "Crayon Physics" through Penny-Arcade's 1/11/09 comic strip, I was really interested in seeing it in action. Believe me, there's quite a few videos of it on YouTube. But this particular visual physics engine is as yet unavailable for people without a tablet pc or an iPhone. So I decided to seek out an online version. And lo and behold, there was "Magic Pen". Although this free online game only has 26 levels, it's plenty. You can keep playing to see the fewest number of shapes needed to finish each level.

For those unfamiliar with "Crayon Physics" or "Magic Pen", these are 2-d physics engines which allow the user to draw elements into the world which interact with existing fixed and moving parts. Your goal for each level is to get the red shape to any and all red flags on the level.

Quirky and fun, the user can create circles and polygons and use hinges and pins to create more complex machines and shapes (you can make a car by making two circles with hinges in the center of each and a box over the hinges). Remember to take gravity into account!

You want me to get the ball to a flag floating in SPACE?!??!

You make it look so easy.

You WILL, however find yourself cursing at flags which are obnoxiously higher than your shape's starting point, or confused by flags which appear to be floating serenely in space. It's a solid challenge that kept me entertained for a good 6 hours last night. I didn't even find the music obnoxious!

To check out Magic Pen by clicking here

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Upcoming Film: Coraline

It's been a while since I was last psyched about an upcoming film release. Most notably, I'm seriously looking forward to X-men Origins flick, "Wolverine". But that isn't projected to come out until May this year. So until then, I'm going to have to sedate myself with the variety of twee tween fantastical-romances that are griming up the movie pipeline. And "Coraline", which the trailer promises to be every bit as amazing as Mr. Tim Burton's first clay-mation feature film, "Nightmare Before Christmas" (Burton's first clay-mation short was "Vincent" in 1982).

Careful, Coraline. Curiosity supposedly killed the cat.

What makes "Coraline" so much more thrilling in concept is that the story was created by Neil Gaiman, the same mind who wrote the brilliant "Stardust", and BBC's "Neverwhere". All the trailers I've seen so far indicate that "Coraline" is a very promising film that Burton's dark vision lends itself to perfectly.

Seeing "Nightmare Before Christmas" still imbues me with a child-like sense of wonder, so I'm certainly looking forward to more from both Gaiman and Burton. Not to mention that although I'm not really a fan of Dakota Fanning (or, admittedly, her voice), the voice acting in the trailer seems SPOT ON. I'm very excited for this and the release date is thankfully quite soon, to save us from "Twilight" dregs.

Coraline comes to theaters February 6th. See below for the trailer.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Misti's Link of the Month - Association of Smith College Blogroll

Well, it's a brand new year and one of my resolutions is to blog more and get more connected with the other alumnae from my college. So it was perfect when the I received the Smith College Alumnae Quarterly which contained a quarter-column blurb about the Alumnae blogroll that had been created. I already have a list of about 15 blogs that I read on a regular basis, but I can always make room for more, particularly those written by fellow Smithies.

The blogroll is hosted on Wordpress and the founders are aiming to have at least one blog from every class between 1960 and present. Obviously, more recent classes are well-represented, but the most interesting writing (I've found), comes from bloggers in the classes between 1960 and 1989. These are women who are living their lives well and have made great advances in their careers. They sell houses, they are politically active, they have children, do crafts, travel... There is so much LIFE to be found here.

The Smith Alumnae Blogroll can be found at

My favorites so far include Mamarazzi, What Not to Buy, and A Girl's Garden of Menopause. So go ahead and check the blogroll out. Let me know what you find! Staying connected is what it's about in '09!