Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I love it when things work out this way

Yesterday afternoon, Aisling and I were at home together while Meelyn was at her work orientation; Aisling was at the dining room table doing algebra and I was sitting here at the computer playing Collapse improving my mind by doing technical research on web page design.

Aisling seemed disconsolate, which is only what one should expect of a person doing algebra in late June, I thought, but I soon became aware that there was something else bothering her.

"I feel like I don't have any friends," she finally said sadly after much prompting on my part.

I am really sympathetic to this. This is, in my opinion, a symptom of summertime, when we aren't doing any school activities like Shakespeare class or trips to the art museum. But it's also one of the negatives of the homeschool experience: there's never as much time to spend with friends as there would be in traditional schooling, but there's also less opportunity to make friends.

I feel for my girls, I really do. Meelyn has a lot of friends, but unlike her public school counterparts, her friendships aren't in a basic geographical area that tends to be within a few square miles of our home; her friends are scattered all over the greater Indianapolis area. Aisling's problem is somewhat different in that, while there are a BUNCH of girls in our homeschool group who are Meelyn's age, there aren't so many who are Aisling's. It's for that reason that I decided to join an additional homeschool group for this coming year. It only meets once a month, but it is based on social activities and there are quite a few girls who are Aisling's age, many of whom she already knows. As she develops relationships with those girls, we can pick up some extra time with them from there.

Anyway, my heart just melted in pity for poor Aisling. Fourteen can be a hard age. You feel kind of grown-uppish, but there's still so much you can't do, if you're our daughter, anyway. Like, we won't let her go and roam around a shopping mall or go to the movies without chaperonage. We won't let her glue herself to a screen large or small and do either instant or text messaging. We won't let her do MySpace or any of that other online social networking stuff. In short, our house rules make it very hard for her to even communicate with the few friends she does have, and I hate that, I really do. I'm probably the only mother in the world who actively encourages her teenage daughters to call their friends on the telephone.

Aisling has one friend who lives about half an hour away and she asked me if I thought it would be okay to invite that friend over next week when we get back from CousinFest '09. Could her friend come and sleep over and go to the pool with us?

"But I haven't talked to her for about a month," Aisling added sadly. "Do you think she even remembers me?"

"Of course she remembers you," I said. "You call her up. If she can come, we can go pick her up and bring her back home. Half an hour isn't very far at all." I said this with a slight interior wince, remembering that my dearest high school friend Jennifer, who often comments here at InsomniMom, lived about ten minutes across New Castle from my house -- before we could drive, it wasn't a big deal to get together. Poor Aisling. I feel like a sucky failure of a mother for not really working to make sure that she sees or at least talks to her friends on a regular basis. I'm so secure in my own wealth of friendships. Have I been selfishly lazy in not providing opportunities for my girls to make and keep their own friendships?

Oh, I'm so afraid the answer is yes. So sorry.

So the day went on and pretty soon, it was about nine o'clock and the dishes were done and we were all tired and ready to drape ourselves over the furniture to watch an episode of Buffy. The telephone range and my husband answered it and lo and behold, it was the very friend whom Aisling wanted to invite over next week! And she was calling to invite Aisling over to an impromptu party for today, from 11:00 until 3:00!

"Mama, can I go? Will you drive me?" Aisling looked at me with such bright eyes, such hope, that I had to clear my throat before replying "Yes! Of course I can" because all of a sudden, I felt like I'd swallowed a marshmallow, one of the big kind you use for s'mores, not the little kind you use for hot chocolate. My beautiful girl.

So today, Aisling is going to a party. And also today, I am going to turn over a new leaf: I am going to MAKE SURE that Aisling talks to and sees her friends more often. Sweet Meelyn, too. Hold me to it.

First job

It hardly seems possible that Meelyn is old enough to have her first job, but yet all we have to do is take her work permit to the local high school to be signed by someone who I don't know who he is, as Aisling would say -- state bureaucracy hoops to jump through; I wearily told Meelyn to get used to it -- and then turn that form in to her employer, and she will be put on the schedule to work at the cash register of a local chain restaurant. Where she has assured us and her new boss that she will greet customers with a smiling face and not act, as so many fast-food cash register people do, that you are gravely intruding on their personal time and should be punished for approaching them in need of your lunch.

Knowing Meelyn, she will pull this off admirably.

We had to obtain a pair of really ugly black shoes for her to wear; she looked at them doubtfully and said, "I'll pay for these, Mommy," but I just couldn't make the child fork over $25 for something so unattractive. So her dad and I picked up the tab for the shoes, but she said she'd buy the blue jeans and the black belt to complete her uniform -- the restaurant supplies the shirts and the....*gulp*...hat.

"You have to buy a black belt?" I asked, intrigued. "Why is that? Does the management think you'll have to go all Jackie Chan on somebody? Like, 'Hey. You tried to get a senior discount on that coffee but that's only for people 55 and over, but you don't look a day over 54, so hiiiiiiiiiiiiyaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!!!!"

She looked at me.

"I thought you had to work for a black belt. If I'd known you could just buy one, I would have shown that kid who called me 'sir' a thing or two. I would have come across him with a waaaaaaaaaaachaaaaaa!!! And a hi-hi-hi to the head and kidneys."

"Very funny, Mommy."

But you know what she didn't think was funny? When we told her about taxes, that's when. She was explaining that the four hour orientation session she went through would be paying her about twenty-seven dollars and then my husband said but you have to figure how much federal and state taxes will subtract from that. And she said state and federal whatsis? And we told her about how taxes work and that she'd probably end up with around $20 - $22 out of that twenty-seven dollars and she said that seems like a lot and we told her: VOTE REPUBLICAN, girlie.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Stephenie Meyer: Now with more of the hating!

I was reading a couple of articles about the Twilight series at Decent Films ("Twilight Appeal: The cult of Edward Cullen and vampire love in Stephenie Meyer's novels and the new film" by Stephen D. Greydanus) and at National Review Online ("In Love with Death" by Gina R. Dalfonzo) and wound up at Meyer's official website, where I read this absolutely enchanting message by Steph herself:

**************************************

"There are those who think my stories are misogynistic—the damsel in distress must be rescued by strong hero. I emphatically reject the....accusation. I am all about girl power—look at Alice and Jane if you doubt that. I am not anti-female, I am anti-human."

*************************************

Okaaaay.

Stephenie, I kind of hate it that you've put me in the position of having to EXPLAIN YOUR OWN NOVELS TO YOU, but I'm going to point out a couple of things about Alice and Jane.

1) Alice is Edward's sister and she colludes with him on keeping Bella under house arrest in the Cullen home. She enables Edward in his role of the insanely jealous boyfriend/stalker/abuser. If Alice was a strong female character, she would have told her brother to BACK OFF and, I don't know, maybe driven Bella to a women's shelter?

She's also a pushy twit who has absolutely no respect for Bella as her friend: When Bella says she doesn't want a big graduation party, Alice throws one for her anyway. When Bella wants a simple wedding, Alice goes all-out. Alice knows that Bella is uncomfortable with the idea of wearing sexy lingerie on her honeymoon (Bella's more of a t-shirt sleeper) so what does Alice do? She fills Bella's suitcase and closet at the vacation home with sexy lingerie. In short, Alice is constantly trying to make Bella over into someone different. This was Alice's underlying message: If you would just submit to me, you could be as cool and pretty as I am, Bella. You are so lucky to have me to guide you out of your geeky, unattractive ways. Because I am sooo adorable and cute and you are so....not. But your blood does smell really good, so I can see why my brother likes you.

2) Jane is a psychotic vampire, a young girl, who has an unusual supernatural power: She can torture people using the power of her mind. And so she does, and delights in it, relishing the pain and terror of her victims. Now there's some real strength of character. I know when I look for role models for my teenage daughters, I bypass people like St. Catherine of Siena or Helen Keller or Condoleezza Rice or Venus and Serena Williams or even -- God help me -- Hillary frikkin' Clinton and GO STRAIGHT TO THE CRAZED SADISTS.

If this is your idea of strong female characters, Stephenie, then you're even weirder than I thought you were. You live in a strange, strange world, lady.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"I've been thinking lately..."

Watching this video and Cat Stevens' sweet face, I can just....I don't know, feel the love and the hope. It may just be me, but watch it and see if you feel the same. And pray for peace. In our homes, in our country, in our world.

Buffy vs. Edward -- maybe the best YouTube vid EVER

I've been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the girls for the past few weeks, Buffy being one of my personal guilty pleasures. I am well aware that my devotion to the series is more than slightly ridiculous because I am, after all, MIDDLE AGED and a Church Lady of no mean stature.

I've mentioned here before that I am an ardent fan of the vampire genre in movie and literature, although I never could connect with Anne Rice's vampire series for some reason, and I seriously wish I had never read Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot, which I just hated. When I finally became aware of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, three of the four-book series were already available and the fourth was published within two weeks of my starting the first book, named Twilight, of course.

I was really, truly offended by the Twilight books, not only for Meyer's breathless, fan-girlie, gothic-y prose, but also for her barely concealed hatred of women. Yes, I went there. And I believe it: Stephenie Meyer, in my opinion, has an inner loathing of women that she expresses in so many ways throughout her four novels, beginning with Bella's mother, Renee, a mental midget who chooses her new husband, Phil, over her own daughter; to Bella, who is soppily, ridiculously accepting of Edward's abusive behaviors that would have raised a red flag the size of Kansas in anyone with a brain; to werewolf Sam's girlfriend Emily with her ruined face and her homemade biscuits; to the spiteful, jealous Rosalie; to the bitter, vengeful Leah, Stephenie Meyer has given the young women of this decade a group of the weakest, most pathetic characters I've ever seen. My only comfort is that the male characters aren't much better, and I'm looking at YOU, Charlie, Edward, Sam, Jacob and Billy. Carlisle is not enough to redeem you.

Meelyn and Aisling were very disappointed that my husband and I wouldn't let them read the Twilight books. So many of their friends have read the books, after all. I wrestled with this last summer, even giving the books to my husband to read (he made it until the first pages of the fourth book and said, "For the love of God, please don't make me read any more of this crap," only he didn't say "crap") because I thought maybe I had the Twilight series pegged wrong and I was allowing my inner Church Lady too much freedom -- sometimes he helps balance me out. I felt that my instinct was correct when his final assessment of the four novels was, "I can see why teenage girls would think these are good stories, but as a parent, I have to say that these are truly horrible books."

So the books were out. But I can remember how I felt as a teenager when everyone else was allowed to listen to the Eagles and Aerosmith and my mom and dad wouldn't let me buy records like all my friends did -- I used to visit my friend Lisa and feel sooo envious of her stereo and her Peter Frampton albums. That was such a sore spot for me as a teenager that I remember it well to this day: it did not improve my relationship with my parents and led to a resentment that was somewhat alleviated when I went ahead and bought records anyway. So when the Twilight movie was released early last winter, I was hoping that we'd be able to take the girls to see it; that maybe it would be somewhat toned down and less objectionable, or at least that it would provide me with ample opportunities to point out Edward's glaring personal flaws and Bella's marginal intelligence, not to mention the Greek-tragedy type triangle that exists between Bella, Edward and her dad, Charlie.

The movie Twilight proved to be more acceptable than the book so we let the girls see it, which went a long way in fostering happy interpersonal relationships here in our home: Meelyn and Aisling no longer felt like the only teenage girls on the planet who hadn't seen the movie or read the books. We watched it together once in silence, and a second time with me adding editorial commentary that was extremely biased, one almost might say prejudicial. Heh. Because I am a mother and I am allowed to do that.

And then I began to lay some careful plans.

Summer began, and with the cessation of schoolwork came the gift of free time. Only, what to do with all that free time? Gas is expensive and Anne doesn't have a working air conditioner anyway, so none of the three of us was motivated to go anywhere; we hadn't yet paid our dues for the swimming pool, and Kieren was here after his driver's ed class was over for the day.

"There's not much to do," the girls sighed.

"We could watch some television," I suggested brightly.

Meelyn and Aisling looked at me suspiciously. After all, am I not the person who limits their "screen time" and insists they go off with a book?

"I was thinking," I said with elaborate casualness, "that maybe we could watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

"What the heck kind of name is 'Buffy'?" said Meelyn with scorn.

"It's supposed to be ironic," I answered. "You know, 'Buffy' suggests kind of a powder-puff of a girl, someone who pouts if she breaks a nail and uses aromatherapeutic linen spray on her sheets every night."

Aisling rolled her eyes. "Sheeesh, what an idi-- Hey!!!!!" she said indignantly.

"Actually," I continued, "she is anything but that kind of girl. Buffy rocks. She kicks butt and takes names. She would dust Edward's whiny, angst-ridden tushie in about three seconds flat."

"'Dust'?..." asked Meelyn.

"That means 'stake through the heart.'"

"I thought Edward was like marble, impenetrable."

"That's only because Stephenie Meyer is a big, fat cheater and she will not be forgiven for totally reinventing an entire genre of literature to suit her own lame, fangirl agenda," I said heatedly. "'Oooh, Edward, I love your sparkleee skin in the sunlight! Oooh, Edward, I love your sharp, venomous teefies, even though you have no fangs!!!!! Oooh, Edward, I love the way your family can cook Italiano using lots and lots of garlic; you're all so awesome, I bet you serve filtered holy water for drinking in a Brita pitcher!!!!" I sing-songed in a mocking voice.

"Okay," said Aisling in a resigned manner. "I guess we can try it."

So we did. There's a lot to teach kids from Buffy's tightly woven plots. I know that all parents certainly would not agree with me and I admit that using a series about a vampire slayer is an avant-garde method of teaching morality to teenagers, but please remember that it isn't my only method. In the meantime, the girls and I are enjoying the shows, analyzing the plots and talking about the themes presented in each episode and throughout each season's story line.

While I was doing a little mild research for the final two episodes of season two ("Becoming," Parts One and Two), I stumbled across this awesome video on YouTube titled "Buffy vs. Edward." It is a bit of comedic genius and explains EXACTLY what I feel about Twilight, the book, the series and all the stupid movies.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Then the rest of the week happened....

Last Sunday was such a slow and boring day, I thought I would just fossilize from boredom. Things were so dull, I spent about two hours watching different music vids from the seventies and eighties on YouTube and ended up getting all maudlin and weepy over "Peace Train."

Then I went to bed and woke up on Monday morning and whoooooooaoaaaaaaa, here it is Friday! How did that happen? I started writing about four different posts which never got finished and are forlornly waiting in my drafts file to be published. But on the other hand, Kieren is now finished with driver's ed class and the teens, Dayden and I went to the pool twice and to Nanny and Poppy's house once; I made a new kind of cookie from Dorie's cookbook (Baking: From My Home to Yours), Meelyn had her first job interview and I mortified the three teens by giving them a looooooong Church Lady talk about premarital sex after watching the episode titled "Innocence" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer's third season DVDs. Meelyn got the job! It was an eventful week.

The best thing yet is that CousinFest '09 is coming up NEXT THURSDAY. There are lists to make! Suitcases to pack! Lemon bars to prepare! Busy, busy, busy!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A little "Loco-Motion" on a slow Sunday

Here's another great, great song, Grand Funk Railroad's cover of "Loco-Motion." Lots of bands have covered this song, including that Kylie Minogue baggage; actually, there was even an original by Little Eva in 1962. But none of them ever did it the way Mark Farner and Grand Funk Railroad did. I had the 45 version of this song and I played it over and over and over again on my little record player. Love!

My favorite part of this video is when security has to take down a deranged fan, who'd had all of Mark's swingin' hips she could deal with and made the unwise decision to rush the stage and propose marriage to him without a proper introduction. Like two hyenas on a gazelle, it was. But they hustle her away before I could....I mean, before anyone in the audience could yell "DOWN IN FRONT!"

This is from 1974 when I was all of eleven years old, with buck teeth and pig tails and mosquito bites. I loved Mark even then, more than twist cones from Tastee-Freez, if you can imagine.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Technical difficulties

I've been at my parents' house in New Castle this afternoon so that the three teens could earn some money by mowing, digging and washing windows and the cars and it seemed like an opportune time to sit at my mother's computer and type up my reviews of this week's episodes of So You Think You Can Dance.

So I was doing that. In fact, I'd been doing that for about an hour and a half when, having reached the end of a page of my handwritten notes, I reached out with my left hand to turn the page over. In doing so, I hit some unknown button at the bottom left of the keyboard. Suddenly, everything I'd typed completely disappeared. I wasn't kicked off the internet, you understand. I never even left Blogger. It was just the post that went poooof! Gone in the blink of an eye!

I was not too worried. Blogger has a featured wherein what you're typing is saved, something like every thirty seconds. So I opened up another tab, went to my blog and guess what? The post wasn't saved. It was gone.

What IS that button I hit? And doesn't it seem impractical to have a button capable of doing so much damage right there near the edge of the keyboard where your hand might accidentally touch it? And why wasn't there that nudging message that popped up reading:

ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DELETE EVERYTHING YOU JUST SPENT THE LAST NINETY MINUTES TYPING?

POSITIVE?

SERIOUSLY. YOU REALLY WANT TO DO THIS?

IF SO, CLICK "YES."

DOOFUS.

Nothing like that at all. So! I want to go back and re-do it, just because I'm the kind of compulsive person that cannot have a gap in my reviews of this show. I don't know. Really, I don't. Sometimes I think medication would help.

At any rate, I plan to get right on that as soon as I've eaten breakfast and colored my hair.

I wonder if my computer has one of those buttons? What a dreadful thought.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Someone saved my life tonight

I swear, what with the time of day it is (7:00 p.m.) and the PMS I'm suffering, the only thing that is propping up my will to live is the box of Little Debbie Nutty Bars I snuck into the shopping cart when the girls weren't looking.

If I weren't sitting here chewing on the peanut-buttery choco-goodness of one of these delicious, double-wrapped snackies right now, I'd either be running away to join the circus, flinging myself sobbing full-length across my bed or trying to finagle another prescription for Vicodin out of my doctor. And why? you ask. What straits have led you to this sad pass?

Oh, well, it could be the fact that when I spread out the sunshade across the minivan's windshield this afternoon, Meelyn and Aisling laughingly told me that only "old people" use sunshades in their vehicles. And also Aisling was messing with me when I was sitting at the computer and accidentally erased my brand new all-time high score in Collapse!® a little while ago.

I will be very thankful for the menopause. When will it be here? If I send it flowers, will it come faster?

Summer of 1970

Honestly, do you know anybody who doesn't like "Down on the Corner"? It's such a happy song.

I was only seven in the summer of 1970, so my mom still had to go to the pool with me then. I rode my bike while she pushed Pat in the stroller -- he was only a year old, and she'd sit in the baby pool with him while he splashed.

It's funny how so many of my memories go back to that radio at White Estates swimming pool. I'll hear a certain song and WHAM! I'm back at the pool; I can see what beach towel I was using, I know what bathing suit I had on, I know what friends were there with me.

This song, however, was always a popular one, so I get a mish-mash of mental impressions when I hear it. I remember being little and hearing it; I remember being in upper elementary, in junior high and in high school.

White Estates pool is still going strong, although it looks so tiny now that I'm grown. Creedence Clearwater Revival apparently is still around, too. And so am I, although at a different pool now, listening to music that will someday bring back summertime memories to Meelyn and Aisling, I'm sure.

Summer of '76

The summer of 1976 was the summer of "Band on the Run." It was THE song being played on the radio at White Estates pool as my adolescent friends and I lolled around on our beach towels in the weeks before our eighth grade year at Parkview Junior High started. Everyone loved this song and at times, people would sing their favorite parts. Well, the kids would. Not the moms. Moms today probably would, but back in those days, there were still moms who wore cantilevered bathing suits that looked like combination Hazmat garments/chastity belts. And those swim caps with the little flower petals on them. Liberation came late to east central Indiana.

My favorite part has always been as the song is wrapping up when Paul sings, "And the county juuuuuudge....who held a gru-uh-uh-uh-udge....was searchin' everyone...for the band on the run..."

Here are Paul, Linda and the rest of Wings, live at the Seattle King Dome in 1976, in a more innocent world.

BBA CHALLENGE: Pita Bread

Now that I have the book, I have been able to kind of catch up with Kayte's every-two-weeks group of bakers, only I haven't been able to make the bagels which they all posted on their websites a few days ago. I have to order some non-disastatic malt powder from King Arthur Flour (one of my favorite websites, like, evah) to make them taste like the real thing, and until I do that, the bagels are on hold. Brioche is next on the list and I've still got a couple of weeks before I have to post that, so I made some pita bread in the meantime.

The recipe used to make pita bread in The Bread Baker's Apprentice is actually to one for Lavash Crackers on pages 178 and 180 (photograph on page 179.) Since this is a cracker recipe, it makes a flattish kind of bread that has to be rolled out paper-thin, as you can imagine. However, over in the left hand margin on page 178, Peter Reinhart writes that if you divide the dough out into about four 6-ounce balls, roll the balls out to about 1/4" and bake them in a very hot oven until they poof up, and then remove them, cool them and cut them in half, you will have a very tasty pita pocket.

We really love pita pockets, so this seemed like a nice recipe to try out.

I made the lavash dough yesterday: it is a really simple one consisting of flour, salt, yeast, honey, veg oil and water, with some sesame or poppy seeds, if you want. I decided that I'd like to try to knead this dough by hand, so I did, using the push-and-fold-and-turn-and-push method that Peter talks about in the book. The instructions said that I'd need to knead (haha) for about ten minutes so that the dough would be pliable and stretchy and able to pass the "windowpane test": that's when you know the dough's been mixed long enough. In actuality, that took about thirteen minutes of kneading, but the instructions also said that I wouldn't have to use more than 1/2 cup of water, too -- I ended up needing an extra palm-full (maybe a tablespoon or two?) of lukewarm water to make the dough incorporate smoothly.

I decided that I wanted to use Peter's method of retarding the dough, so I sprayed a bowl with oil and put the dough ball in the fridge overnight. This morning, I got it out of the fridge at 7:00, having turned the oven on to 170o , and while the oven heated, I put the ball of chilled lavash dough into my larger glass mixing bowl. When the oven had heated, I turned it off again and put the glass mixing bowl into the oven, covered by a tea towel, and left it to rise with the oven door partially open.

Since the dough was so cold, it took about three hours it to double in size. I just kept an eye on it, and noted that when I got back from picking Kieren up at the driving school, I could actually smell the lovely, yeasty aroma in the air as I came through the back door. "I bet it's time!" I thought, and upon peering into the mixing bowl, I noted that it was, indeed, time.

Now here's where things got a little hairy, mostly because I missed the part about the 500o oven the first time around. I heated the oven up to 350o instead, which was the temp at which the crackers were supposed to bake. I did not know this until AFTER I'd already baked my pitas and had them cooling on a wire rack, more's the pity. You know, if I could just READ THE INSTRUCTIONS and PAY ATTENTION every now and then, I might be able, with a great deal of prayer and a better attitude, be a fairly decent cook someday, but for right now, I'm going to have to say that I'm not working up to my potential and talk too much in class.

So anyway, I divided my dough up into six small balls. This made six little tea-sandwich sized pitas, which I thought would be just too cute with cucumber and a little sliced tomato. I'd like to do this again and divide the dough into four larger balls, which would make lunch sandwich sized pockets. However, the six small balls were easy to roll out into the typical circle shape. Peter said that the dough would be a bit stretchy and springy and that it might be necessary to pick up the dough and "wave it around" from time to time to allow the glutens to relax. This gave me a mental picture of running my rolled dough up a flagpole like Old Glory and allowing it to flap in the breeze, but whatevs. I just picked up each circle and allowed it to kind of stretch this way and that. I did minimal waving.

After the recommended five minute resting period -- all that flapping and waving is very tiring to infant dough -- I put the dough on my parchmented baking sheets and gave them a misting with water and gently peppered them with poppy seeds. So cute! And the slid them both onto the middle rack of my oven, which was, of course, not heated to the proper temperature.

Peter's instructions were terribly vague about how long to cook the pitas. He wrote: "Bake just until they inflate and form a pocket." Huh? Peter, how long IS that? Because, you see, I do not have a wall oven at this house and I did not want to spend a whole lot of time crouched down on the floor peeking through that little window. I made do with just setting the oven timer for six minutes and then checking to see if any little doughy balloons were waiting for me.

They were not.

So I set the timer for five minutes longer.

Nope. Still wasn't happening.

Discouraged, I set the timer for four more minutes and plopped down onto a chair to wait. At the beeping, I got up and noted that the pitas had gone pouffy (bet it wouldn't have taken as long if I'd had the right oven temp, duhhh....) so I whisked them out of the oven and put them on my wire rack.

I was crucially disappointed to find out that my darling little pitas were as solid as hockey pucks. That wasn't pouffiness I had noticed; it was just plain old risen dough, well baked.

Sulking, I let them cool down as I sat at the kitchen table with my head in my hands, and then got out my pizza cutter to slice one in half. Sure enough, it was solid. But... wait! The crust seemed thick-ish and ready to separate from the crumb, so I decided to do a little experiment, as one might do with a bagel or a Kaiser roll: I got out a fork and peeled the crumb away from the crust et voilĂ ! A little teeny pita pocket!

They are so cute. And very tasty, too. I'm not sure how I lucked in to that totally unexpected success, but they're sitting out there in the kitchen where I can see them right now. Meelyn and I were just discussing the possibilities of stuffing them with a couple of spinach leaves, two cucumber slices and a slice of medium-sized tomato, plus a bit of mayonnaise. I think that sounds delightfully summery, maybe a nice little appetizer for a salad kind of meal. Oooh, maybe a slice of bacon, doubled in half, with the tomato and some lettuce? Mmmm!

The possibilities are endless with Peter's pitas.



How to: Make Sure Total Strangers Hate You

Yesterday, the three teens, Dayden and I drove over to New Castle to eat lunch and spend the afternoon with Nanny and Poppy (Nanny served a taco casserole for lunch which met with everyone's approval, except for the black olives which several people left on the sides of their plates.) We left their house around 5:00 and set off to drive the boys home, Kieren at the wheel.

Meelyn took over where Kieren left off, and as she was driving me and Aisling home, my cell phone rang. I looked at the number -- it was a 317 area code and I thought it might be my friend Tracy, whose cell phone number I have been too lazy/without enough technical knowledge to program into my address book.

"Hello?" I asked cheerfully.

A female voice inquired, "Is Sandra there?" Whoops! Not Tracy!

"No, I'm sorry," I responded politely, like my mother taught me. "You have the wrong number."

"Oh," the voice said, with ungracious truculence, and then abrutptly terminated the call.

"Who was that?" asked Aisling.

"Wrong number," I said, closing my phone and returning it to my pocket.

About three seconds later, it rang again. I looked at the display and noted that it was the same number as before. I opened my phone and said, "It's still the wrong number, hon, and you're costing me money every time you call me."

I didn't say this meanly, but more in a spirit of slightly amused tolerance. Mostly because phones are bad enough without someone you don't even know calling you multiple times. Really, I was doing this dipwad a service, letting her know that she still had the wrong number; I could have just not answered it and let her think that Sandra was looking at her own Caller ID and laughing a short laugh -- "I don't think so" -- and letting it go to voice mail, which is not set up on my phone. But no, I am always thinking of others, so I spent an extra ten cents to let Miss 317 know that she still didn't have it right. That's the kind of helpful person I am.

Miss 317 didn't receive my largesse in a grateful manner, however. "You don't have to be so effing rude to me, you effing beeyotch," she snarled. Only she didn't say either "effing" or "beeyotch." Wow! Rage issues, much! How about a Valium the size of a basketball, sweetie?

Shheeeeeesh.

So! Miss 317 hates me and I'm not real crazy about her, so you, dear reader, got a double helping of advice on how to make sure a total stranger hates you: Words o' wisdom for you to cherish.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wash away my trouble

Because this is just an all-around rotten stench of a day, things could only get better with some Three Dog Night.

Here are Danny, Chuck and Cory, looking about my dad's age, but that's okay because they are still rockin' "Shambala" the same way they did when I was ten -- I have loved this song for decades. I remember being enthralled because my friend Stephanie's older brother Vince had a huge 3DN poster on the wall of his room, where we were not allowed to go, but could at least stand in the doorway gawking only if Vince happened to be at the golf course, caddying.

This video has some neat shots of the guys back in the day superimposed over the present-day stuff.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

EXCUSE me?

On Friday, Meelyn, Aisling, Kieren and I drove over to New Castle so that Aisling and Kieren could mow the lawn (Poppy is still in his boot, nursing that broken foot) and so that Meelyn could wash windows. Nanny and Poppy are supporting the Teen Work Ethic Formation program this summer, accompanied by a little folding cash money. This transports me back to the days when Ma and Grandad paid me for pulling weeds and dusting books and cleaning golf balls. Regardless of the cash laid out, it is still important to help family members in need.

We'd had a busy morning, what with the never-ending housework, Kieren at driver's ed class and the girls still finishing up bits and pieces of schoolwork, so by the time lunch rolled around, we were ready to hit the road; I told the kids we could stop by a fast food drive-thru on the way to New Castle, if they wouldn't mind eating in the car. They didn't, and I told them they could each have four dollars to buy what they wanted.

The three of them made their choices as we sat by the menu sign, and I placed the order in the outside speaker. The young man who took my order repeated it back to me (he was correct) and gave me my total, then told me to pull forward, which I did.

Upon arriving at the window, the order-taker looked out at me and said, "Let me just repeat this back to you one more time, sir, to make sure we have it right."

My spine immediately stiffened. Sir?! I know the Bible says quite clearly that it shows a person's good sense when he is slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense and I cite Proverbs 19:11, NAB as a reference. But the Bible doesn't have much to say about PMS and I sat there for that split second between being called "sir" and the kid's realization that I am, in fact, a woman, wondering what kind of exoneration my criminal defense attorney could muster if I briefly and fiercely assaulted the drive-thru guy, and moreover, if I could convince Jesus that my ill-tempered lack of respect for the scripture was motivated by biology and not my fault at all.

"I mean, ma'am," the young guy amended, somewhat abashed. But it was. Too. Late.

See, the bad thing about PMS is that there are times when you realize you're overreacting, right? There's this place in the back of your mind where reason and good sense reside, tied up in a closet, and you can hear them squeaking, "Let it go! Just chill out! Eat some chocolate! Laugh it off!" but the front of your mind is positively shouting things like, "Oh. My. HELP. Do I look like a man? A poorly turned out transvestite? A mannish lesbian? I knew this outfit was wrong! And I am sooo beyond overdue for coloring my hair! And the darned air-conditioning doesn't work in the van and my hair is frizzy like a dandelion clock! Do I sound like a man? Do I need hormone replacement therapy? Jesus, I know you're not going to like this, but I'm going to have to KILLLLLL HIMMMMMMM!!!"

The drive-thru kid correctly repeated the order again, so I said in retort, with a wry little smile that showed what a good sport I am when someone is confused by my gender, "You've got it, ma'am!"

Drive-thru guy whipped his head around to look at me, startled. "I couldn't resist," I said, and gave him a real smile to show that we were just friends joking with each other.

He gave a hollow kind of chuckle -- See? It isn't fun when people call you what you're not, is it? -- and said, "Right....Would you mind pulling forward? We'll have your order ready in just a minute."

As we waited, Kieren opined that the drive-thru guy probably had the teenagers working the grill spit on the cheeseburgers, which was all well and good for me, since I just got a Diet Coke, but somewhat harsh for him and the girls, since they were the ones eating.

"Sorry," I said grumpily.

"I guess they could have spit in your Diet Coke too, though," he said reflectively.

I chose to ignore him. "Listen, do I look like a man?" I looked at Kieren, then entreated the girls by peering imploringly at them in the rear-view mirror. "Sound like a man? I hate this outfit. I knew I shouldn't have worn it -- these are just work-around-the-house clothes. And my hair. My roots are SO BAD."

"I think you hurt that guy's feelings," said Aisling reprovingly.

"He hurt MY FEELINGS," I said in a high-pitched voice.

"Silly Mommy, you don't look like a man," said Meelyn consolingly.

"Or sound like a man," affirmed Kieren.

I flipped down the vanity mirror on the sun visor. "Are you suuuuuuuure?" I asked nervously, cringing at the sight of my mad hair. "Where's my lip gloss?"

I caught the three of them sharing a raised-eyebrow look at one another, but couldn't interpret if it meant I was being a crazy middle-aged trout with the PMS blues, or if I really do look like a man and they were just trying to spare me the truth. I got out my cell phone and called my husband at work for a fourth opinion.

"You do not look like a man. OR SOUND LIKE ONE," he added hastily, correctly anticipating my next question. "Let it go! Just chill out! Eat some chocolate! Laugh it off!" He paused for just a moment to rally all the forces of diplomacy he possesses and cleared his throat. "You, uh....do realize what time of the month it is, right?"

It's funny, after eighteen years of marriage, that my husband is sounding more and more like the voices of reason in the back of my mind. Or maybe the voices are sounding like my husband? Should I be worried about that? Is this indicative of some kind of mental issue, or is that just the way things are after many years of marriage? Maybe I need to find a therapist?.....

Oh, help. Here I go again.

Friday, June 12, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance? Season 5 - Week 1 Results

The results shows are always fun because they start out with a group number. A group number that is danced is always and forever better than a group number that is sung, like on American Idol. The American Idol group sings are the stupidest things you have ever seen, reminding me personally of having to endure school convocations featuring Up With People. But the group dances are something else and this one is no exception.

The song is "Boom Boom Pow" by the Black-Eyed Peas. Lots of Black-Eyed Peas this season, it seems. We've already heard this song during the Las Vegas week callbacks, plus we heard "Let the Beat Rock" in Paris and Tony's dance last night. Hope we all don't lose our appetites. This dance is a hip-hop piece, very edgy, very sharp. It doesn't look like Tabitha and Napoleon's work, and it isn't strange enough for Wade Robson. Phillip does something cra-a-azy cool with his arms and the camera loves Kayla. Afterwards, Cat announces that Shane Sparks is the choreographer. We should have known! Glad he's back. He's kind of the flip side of TabiNapo.

(I spend a a brief moment wondering where hip-hop choreographer Dan Karaty's got to. Apparently he's going to be doing some choreography work for the show later on this season. I always like him as a judge. He's been working with So You Think You Can Dance in Canada and the Netherlands.)

Whoops! Pay attention! Cat is onstage telling us that it's time to announce the bottom three couples. She calls them up in groups of three, telling them all that she hates Thursdays. Eventually, the bottom three are narrowed down to these partners:

#2 Asuka Kondoh and Vitolio Jeune, who danced a Broadway number choreographed by Tyce Diorio to "Hot Honey Rag" from the Chicago soundtrack. What did I tell you?! Kiss of death!

#3 Karla Garcia and Jonathan Platero, who did a cha-cha choreographed by Tony Meredith to Lady Gaga's "Poker Face."

#5 Paris Torres and Tony Bellissimo, who performed a Tabitha and Napoleon hip-hop routine to "Let the Beat Rock" by the Black-Eyed Peas, as mentioned before.

The six contestants have to dance for their lives now, as the fourteen safe dancers breathlessly hug one another down in their reserved section of seats in the audience. However, before the solos start, we're going to have a special performance of the Argentine tango by Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo.

Miriam and Leonardo dance to the song "Tangueira" from the Forever Tango soundtrack. They have incredible, sharp-as-a-knife moves, including those gancho steps, which are the kicks around one another's legs. Faaaaabulous!!! The only problem I have is that their faces are totally impassive while they're doing this extremely passionate dance. It's like their legs are saying, in a hawt Argentinian accent, "I lohve you...you are my one passion" while their heads are saying, "Did I forget to buy eggs?" Hmmm. They finish up and take a bow. Very nice.

Now it's time for the solos, which go as follows:

1. Paris Torres
Music: "It Doesn't Hurt" by Katie Thompson

Paris is floaty and does a number of leaps and pirouettes. Horrible song choice, in my opinion. She was okay, but I am not left sitting in my seat thinking, "Please please keep her." In terms of subliminal messages to the judges, this is not such a great song choice. I mean, a breakup song?

2. Tony Bellissimo
Music: "Early in the Morning" by The Gap Band

I have the strained feeling that I could get tired of Tony's humorous hip-hop really fast. For instance, there's his outfit: A doofy-looking red bow tie, clam-digger pants, striped stockings like Alice in Wonderland and big red shoes, possibly borrowed from Ronald McDonald. Ugh. Cannot take him seriously as a dancer. He doesn't do a terrible job, but I am already just kind of over him, despite the fact that he seems like a nice guy.

3. Asuka Kondoh
Music: "Did Ya" by BoA

Asuka smolders onstage in a very sassy, frothy skirt which she whisks back and forth as she shimmies around the stage. Fast feet! Is she wearing....a black bra? With a ruffly white bolero jacket over it? She looks very pretty and her dance is very smart and intriguing. Another break up song - bad subliminal messaging, Asuka!

4. Vitolio Jeune
Music: "We Belong Together" by Gavin DeGraw

Vitolio comes out in black pants with no shirt - Tony, take note. He does many high kicks and seems to invest his dance with a great deal of feeling. I like his subliminal choice of songs. "'We Belong Together,' show! Hear me, judges!"

5. Karla Garcia
Music: ("You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin

This moldy oldie song has been done so many times on this show. I give Karla credit for picking a song that has no negative subliminal message qualities, but still. Karla does lots of pointy toes and windmilling arms. She does an absolutely twee arm-and-finger wave at the end of her minute. Oh, please do not do that anymore, Karla. It made me wince.

6. Jonathan Platero
Music: "Krazy" by Pitbull featuring Lil John

Jonathan's dance consists mostly of some footwork, plus some neat acrobatics. It's my favorite of the three male dancers.

The judges go off backstage to confer together and while we wait, we're forced to listen to some hip-hop song that is apparently "hot" right now by a big guy named Sean Kingston, whose very large blue jeans are belted completely underneath his bulging butt cheeks. Dude. Just.....dude. Anyway, that tells me all I need to know about him. We mute the television. The song is called "Fire Burning." Okay. Whatevs.

It's now time for the cuts. Ugh. It's still very early days, but I don't really want to part with any of these dancers. Nigel says that the judges' decisions are unanimous for both the boys and the girls.

Karla, Asuka and Paris are called onstage. Nigel tells Karla that she had a strong solo, but that she needs to make sure that she's actually dancing and not just doing some steps. But she is safe!

Asuka and Paris are left, quivering slightly. Nigel says that Asuka has lots of personality and is a "little star." He tells the girls that the judges consider not just what they've seen in the solos, but what they've seen along. And they also consider how many of the same type of dancers they already have in the competition. Rather abruptly, he says to Paris that her solo wasn't that strong and that they already have a great many contemporary dancers, so......it's the end of the road for her.

Paris accepts the decision gracefully, as the contestants always do on this show. Her eyes are wide open and it's obvious that she's trying to to cry, which makes me cry. We watch a montage of clips from Paris's journey set to Kelly Clarkson's "Already Gone." Ouch. By the time the cameras cut back to Paris and Cat, there are tear streaks down Paris's cheeks. Cat hugs her and whispers something in her ear. What a lovely person she seems to be.

Cat sends Paris backstage and calls the three male contestants forward. Nigel starts right in by telling them that none of the three of them danced solos that will keep them in the competition very much longer, so they'd better step it up. The three of them look absolutely stricken, making me feel that getting the boot is emotionally harder on guys than it is on girls.

Then Nigel turns to Vitolio, who looks like he's entered a territory so far beyond terrified, I wouldn't be surprised to see Nosferatu pop up behind him. Nigel sternly tells Vitolio that they have not seen. One. Bit. Of the exuberant personality Vitolio displayed at the auditions. Come to think of it, neither have I, Nigel. Oh, but wait....I didn't see very much of Vitolio in the auditions because SOMEONE kept making me watch stupid dancers or people like David Soller, who is indeed many things, but definitely not a dancer, no matter what his mother says.

Nigel tells Vitolio that he has been spared the axe and Vitolio's blood immediately rushes out of his head to crouch around his heart: He's so relieved, he looks light headed. He jumps off stage and into a big group hug. Awww.

But now we're left with Tony and Jonathan, who collectively look about four months shy of puberty. Nigel tells them again that their solos were not strong. Then he does one of those incredibly manipulative Property Ladder pauses: "We are keeping.......[wait for it]...................[wait a little more]..........[longer!]....Jonathan."

Tony looks crushed and Cat gathers him up, murmuring something about how things have only just begun. His video montage shows several shots of him sobbing at points during the audition process; he was the one who made me wonder if he was emotionally strong enough to deal with the pressure of the competition. His swan song is "On Your Own" by Green River Ordinance.

Cat ends the show will some cheerful words about tuning in next week, and all the safe dancers pour onstage to love bomb Tony and Paris, both of whom are tearful. Wrenching! *sob!*

See you next week!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance? Season 5 - Week 1 (Top 20)

It took me a long time to get this posted because I had to lie down for awhile after taking about six Tylenol: I had a powerful headache from all Mary's screaming. She's a doll and I love her critiques both good and bad, plus I appreciate the way the dancing can move her emotionally, but whoooooaaaaaaaaa. Mary was LOUD last night.

There was a sign of grave portent as the show was coming on, warning me that it was going to be loud and screechy; some unseen girl in the audience was shrieking like an air horn as the live show was coming on, over and over and over and over again. Security! Stop the squealing!

Things start off with the beauteous Cat Deeley coming out to greet us wearing....what? What is that? It's a dress that is kind of silky, kind of lacy, kind of chiffony and kind of braidy, with a big spiderweb on the front and lots of large jewels bedazzled onto the bodice. It looks like a 4-H clothing project gone sadly awry. Byuck.

As soon as I can drag my attention away from that revolting and distracting garment from hell, I realize that Cat is telling is that we're going to see how everyone made it to the Top 20. There's a montage of all the dancers set to The Fray's song "You Found Me," and I swear, does ANYBODY ever listen to the lyrics of songs anymore? Yes, the title of the song fits in with the whole kids-came-and-danced-and-proved-their-talent-was-genuine-so-we-the-judges-chose-them, but nothing else does. Here, have a look:



Lost and insecure
You found me, you found me
Lyin' on the floor
Surrounded, surrounded
Why'd you have to wait?
Where were you? Where were you?
Just a little late
You found me, you found me



I'm thinking this tune is more appropriate to be the theme song of the hundred-and-some kids who didn't get chosen to be on the show. But maybe that's just me.

There's a bunch of talk back and forth between Cat and the three judges for this evening, who are Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy and Adam Shankman. They all look bright-eyed and happy. And then we're off with Cat telling us that Phillip and Jeanine are going to be up after the break.

1. Jeanine Mason (contemporary)/Phillip Chbeeb (popping)
Dance style: Hip-hop
Choreographed by: Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo
Music: "Mad" by Ne-Yo

Tabitha and Napoleon's choreography rarely disappoints, which is a strange thing for me to be saying because they do hip-hop routines, which is a dance style I never expected to like. But anyway, their charm is infectious, and they tell the audience from the studio that this dance will be a about a couple who are angry with one another and can't go to sleep until their differences are resolved. The scene opens with Phillip and Jeanine lying on their backs, side by side on the stage floor, looking irritable. Lots of spinning, popping and lifting ensues; it's a nice piece. I can feel the emotion. My only quarrel with the piece is that Phillip and Jeanine aren't dancing in pajamas. Wouldn't that have made sense? There's a spoony ending; very sweet. Adam calls it "Un-freakin'-real!" and Mary shouts that she hates to disagree with Adam, SO SHE WON'T. I saw that one coming, didn't you? She also says that they've given us a "chemistry lesson." Nigel calls them "fabulous." It was a great opening to the show.

But then, uh-oh....

2. Asuka Kondoh (Latin ballroom)/Vitolio Jeune (contemporary)
Dance style: Broadway
Choreographer: Tyce Diorio
Music: "Hot Honey Rag" from the Chicago soundtrack

Broadway. Oh dear. That's the one with the capering and frolicking and the heee-yooooge smiles. In the annals of So You Think You Can Dance, Broadway numbers have taken out quite a few talented kids. If you could picture the Grim Reaper with his cloak and scythe doing spirit hands as he delivers the kiss of death to a dance style, Broadway would be the one. Anyway, this number features Vitolio as an old-fashioned film director. He's got kind of a Charlie Chaplin thing going on. Asuka is the "actress," dressed like Morticia Addams auditioning for a movie role. She somehow manages to make her awkward costume work. Oh dear. Oh dear. They're both adorable, but Broadway....I am filled with misgiving.

3. Karla Garcia (jazz/contemporary) /Jonathan Platero (salsa)
Dance style: Cha-cha
Choreographer: Tony Meredith
Music: "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga

Karla and Jonathan start out their number with a strobe light -- aaaaaaahhhhh, my eyes! There, that's better. Jonathan looks to be about twelve years old in his meshy male dancer shirt. Kayla's wearing a saucy little white and black frock. Maybe she'd be better dressed in a cougar costume, with a ear'd headband? Anyway, they're pretty good, despite the age discrepancy. I sense that many of Jonathan's dreams are being fulfilled right now. He does some a sliding split maneuver through Kayla's legs that is actually rather spectacular. I think they're good! Cat cheekily refers to Our Little Man as "Jon-jon-shake-your-bon-bon" as he and Kayla approach the judges. Will she ask him next if he has to make a peepee? The judges were very enthusiastic; Mary very screamy. Kayla was led away in handcuffs by some police officers. No, really, I just made that last part up. Mary makes some remarks about Jonathan's hotness and she is cuffed as well. Okay, I made that up, too, but Mary was being a little creepy and I was driven to it.

4. Randi Evans (jazz) /Evan Kasprzak (Broadway)
Dance style: Jazz
Choreographer: Tyce Diorio
Music: "I Only Have Eyes for You" by Jamie Cullum

Yowza!! Vereeee sexeeee. Since Randi pointed out that she is married, I feel like I'm watching something inappropriate. Their dance is well done, though, very romantic and pretty. As the two of them are being judged, Adam points out that they are both very short -- Cat is towering over them like a ponderosa pine over a couple of apple trees -- but they "danced like they're eight feet tall." Mary yells out a great big train-whistley Woooooooooooooooooo, but it isn't the famous Hot Tamale Train that's a-pullin' into the station; it is possibly the Red Bull Express coming to take her away. They are smoldering! she gushes. Fluid! BELIEVABLE! (Does Randi's husband need to seek legal counsel?) I am so overwhelmed by the forcefulness of Mary's critique, I can't remember what Nigel said.

5. Paris Torres (contemporary)/Tony Bellissimo (hip-hop)
Dance style: Hip-hop
Choreographers: Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo
Music: "Let the Beat Rock" by The Black-Eyed Peas

This should be good because hip-hop is Tony's style and it would be hard to go wrong with TabiNapo. Regardless of Tony's hip-hop talents, Tabitha and Napoleon tell him he looks too "nice." Tony practices what he calls his "stank face," and I begin to feel a moment of misgiving. My eighty-six year old step-gran has a better stank face than that. Tony is coming off like a seventh grader who wants so badly to be taken seriously as a man, but is still just too cute with the puppy-dog eyes and the rosy round cheeks. When Paris and Tony come out, they are dressed in the worst costumes. Tony appears to have stolen his jacket from Ace Frehley's closet. There's just a lot going on, including a pair of black PVC pants for Paris. This is just never a good look, especially when paired with clumpy sneakers. They both look really silly. The dance is okay. Adam likes it. Mary and Nigel feel that they were both just "doing steps." Nigel wittily adds that Tony's "stank stank." I'm thinking "bottom three."

6. Caitlin Kinney (contemporary)/Jason Glover (lyrical/contemporary)
Dance style: Bollywood
Choreographer: Nakul Dev Mahajan
Music: "Jai Ho" from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack

Oooh, this is more like it. LOVE the Bollywood, it is so fun to watch. The costumes are great and Caitlin and Jason look like they're really into it and having fun. In their pre-dance interviews, they both talked about how Bollywood is so intricate, with the hands, the feet, the exact angle of their heads...It appears that they've put their rehearsals to good use. Caitlin does do an ungainly handstand that has her exposing her hoo-ha; not so crazy about that. But she does it well, with the legs and the feet dancing along without her while she is upside down and lost in her skirt. They have lots of energy and make a nice couple. Adam hollers, "YOU GUYS ROCKED!" Mary, who is looking a little frazzled, shouts, "I'm glad Bollywood came to Hollywood, YES I AM!!!!" Oh dear. Mary, I love you, but you simply must shut up. Once again, I miss Nigel's commentary, although I do catch him flinging his arms in the air and shouting, "JAI HO!" Er...namaste, Nigel. Now hush.

7. Janette Manrara (salsa)/Brandon Bryant (contemporary)
Dance: Fox trot
Choreographer: Louis van Amstel
Music: "Come Fly with Me" by Michael Bublé

Oh, my....They are a gorgeous couple. Jeanette, a Cuban salsa dancer from Miami, looks gorgeous in a candy-floss pink sparkly gown. Brandon looks beyond incredible in black pants, white shirt and black vest with a pink pocket square that matches Jeanette's dress. They confide in their interview that doing the fox trot is actually hard. "I don't feel like Ginger Rogers," says Jeanette, looking nervous. "I just feel like....Jeanette from Miami." They swoop about the stage and if you ever thought that the fox trot was some dull dance that your grandparents did out on the dance floor at the club, well, you'd best think again. (Self, I'm looking at you.) There is an amazing lift, with Brandon effortlessly carrying Jeanette over his head, upside-down and twirling. They are soooo good. After we hear Adam's excited critique, Cat asks Mary to "give us an eyebrow"; Mary, in a moment of rare humor, says "I can't anymore because of Botox." Heh. That was a good one, girl.

8. Ashley Valerio (contemporary)/Kuponohi'ipoi "Kupono" Aweau (lyrical/contemporary)
Dance: Jazz
Choreographer: Wade Robson
Music: "Felt Mountain" by Goldfrapp

Glad to see Wade back this season -- we missed him in Season 4. He's done one of his strange, fun pieces for us, of course, and the concept is "crash test dummies" falling in love. Kupono is an older dummy who's been through a lot: his blade hands are trembly and he has a tire tread mark across his chest. Ashley is new on the job and she is awed by his experiences. She comes onstage, moving like a marionette (thankfully, not like a robot) with a little crash test dog. We watch the two dummies fall in love and eventually run backstage, hand-in-hand, where we hear a large CRASH. A tire comes rolling out and loses its hubcap. All must be well in the land of crash test dummies. This dance is sweet and quirky, but I am put off it by the music, which is that bloopy, bleepy atonal stuff that I automatically associate with Wall-E, one of my most hated movies ever. Nigel says that Wade is a genius and that it wasn't just the dancing that was good; the characters were good. I do agree, but this is not my personal favorite.

9. Melissa Sandvig (ballet)/Ade Obayomi (c0ntemporary)
Dance style: Comtemporary
Choreographer: Mandy Moore
Music: "Right Here Waiting" by Richard Marx

Mandy starts out by telling us that this is a dance about falling in love -- "that first time you look at each other and just know" -- but she has them dancing to this song about unrequited love? I don't get it. Plus, this song was popular when I was in my twenties. It's not a standard like "Come Fly with Me" and it's never going to be, and it isn't aged enough otherwise to be a memorable golden oldie. It's just a tired old song, even though it was one I liked way back when in the days of the westward expansion. Odd choice. Anyway, Ade and Melissa do some amazing lifts and bends and twirls....it's really a beautiful dance. They are so graceful. Surprisingly, Adam is all teared up by it and calls it "special." He also says that Melissa, who is twenty-nine, is "getting better with age." Like she ought to be wearing support hose and tottering along with a cane? Nigel says it's great to have a ballerina on the show. Mary must have passed out under the judges' table because I recorded no comment from her in my notes.

10. Kayla Radomski (jazz/contemporary)/Maksim "Max" Kapitannikov (Latin ballroom)
Dance style: Samba
Choreographer: Louis van Amstel
Music: "Jum Bah Day" by House of Gypsies

Quite simply, Max and Kayla just look like they were created to dance together. Their smokin' hot samba nearly catches the stage on fire. Kayla is wearing this great fringed pink dress, reminiscent of a flapper's garb, but she is workin' it in a way the Lindy hop never could. There is one maneuver in the dance that has Kayla astride Max (they are both standing up, but still...) and it doesn't meet with my approval. Church lady! But other than that, it is fast and furious and really fun to watch, all bendy and twirly with the great music. Adam looks like he has a migraine, his hands plastered to his face: "That was SO GOOD" he yelps. "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?" Mary brings out the Hot Tamale Train and gets so unwound, I fear for her. I think the stage hands may have to sop her up with shop towels and send her home in a bucket.

That wrapped up the evening!

Bottom three predictions:

#2 Asuka and Vitolio
#5 Paris and Tony
#8 Ashley and Kupono

So You Think You Can Dance? Season 5 - Episode 1 (Top 20)

Review will be published later on this afternoon! It was a great show last night.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Because "happy hour" is not a state of mind

I told the teenagers today that I wish I could just....I don't know....like, black out, between the hours of four and seven-thirty every evening. It occurred to me recently that that's why the traditional happy hour in bars starts at 5:00. Could it be, I wondered, that this time of day is as harrowing as hell for everybody?

The problem lies in the fact that I don't go to bars, have no interest in going to bars and am always way too out-of-sorts, lazy and grouchy to haul out the blender to make myself a bucket-sized margarita every afternoon.

Uuuuuugggghhhhhhhhh.....

It's 7:25 and I'm still looking at the world with narrowed eyes and tight lips.

BBA CHALLENGE: I finally got the book!

Meelyn, Aisling and I went to the public library today while Kieren was out on his first one hour drive with the instructor from the driving school. My sole purpose, other than getting another couple sacks of books, was to see if The Bread Baker's Apprentice had ever been returned (it's been, like, WEEKS) and if it had, to find it, and if it had not, to put a hold on it at the circulation desk.

Can you imagine my joy when I found that it was actually upstairs on a shelf? Waiting for me? And it truly was a glorious day, because the employee at the information desk not only looked the book up for me on her computer (the stupid computers that serve as the card catalog were down) and wrote down the call number on a piece of paper, she also said, "Oh, that's okay, hon. I'll run upstairs and get it for you" when I reached out to take the slip of paper from her hand. I know! The days of miracles are not yet over!

It was truly a delight to finally get my hands on this beautiful book. The photographs are gorgeous, the recipes look wonderful, and the text itself, written by author and baker Peter Reinhold, is very interesting. I sat all afternoon with my head buried in the book.

So! I think I may now be able to not only bake some bread, but also learn about bread. There was a piece at the beginning of the book when Peter was explaining how he knows when his students start to get it about bread: how they develop a feel for it and how they start to develop an instinct for what a recipe needs, not only because they know how each ingredient develops what will eventually be a perfect loaf, but also because they just know their bread.

I got a little frisson of pleasure when I read that, because I actually have started to develop that sense. Not because I understand how all the ingredients work together, you understand. And not even necessarily because I am one with the breadmaking process. No, I would say that I am more like one with my bread machine. I know from the way it sounds if the dough needs more water or more flour. I know -- because I've scribbled notes in the margins of my bread machine pamphlet cookbooks -- that I prefer 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter in the French bread recipe, rather than the 1 tablespoon that's called for. I've found out through trial and error how much flaxseed I can add to whole wheat bread to maintain a chewy texture and a nutty/seedy taste and how much makes the bread taste like something scraped off the forest floor, made of twigs, pine cones and dry leaves.

I'm really hoping that this knowledge will translate as I try to make bread the old fashioned way. And by "old fashioned" I mean "in bread pans in the oven" because? You didn't really think I was going to knead it myself did you? Eeeek!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I tried, but I can't stop laughing

You know that four book Twilight series about vampires that it seems that every girl in the United States has read except for Meelyn and Aisling because I think that Bella Swan is as dumb as a suitcase full of carrots and that the series author, Stephenie Meyer, hates women?

Yeah. That series. Even as I type these words, I am preparing for the onslaught of tearful hate mail that will come in from Twi-hard fans of the bedazzling Edward. I just don't understand love!!! I am too old!!! What Edward and Bella have is totally for realz!!! Somehow, whenever I write about this topic, they find me. All I can say is that I'm sorry, girls. I am! I wanted to like these books because I have been devoted to vampire lore all the way through the classic movies seen in my childhood with Frank Langella and Christopher Lee up to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, although I still maintain I wish I'd never seen Bram Stoker's Dracula because it scared the bejabers out of me.

But I can't like the books. Since I have teenage girls, I tried. I really did! Blame Stephenie Meyer for creating a human female character whom I utterly despised, a vampire character who wearied me with his angst and freaked me out with his abusive tendencies, and a plot line that was so....so....eighteenth century...in its way of depicting girls as people who are just carried along by the whims of fate with absolutely no power and control over who they are and what kind of people they should be....AAAAAGGGGHHH. Haaaaaaate!!!!

Anyway, here's a set of cartoons from the brilliantly funny artistand humorist Lucy Knisley that you have to read if you've brushed up against these books in any way (I own all four.) The first is titled My Lost Weekend in the Meyer and accurately describes how easy it is to get sucked into the Twilight. The second cartoon is sixteen panels (scroll down from "My Lost Weekend") that will take you through all four books, if you're lucky enough not to have read them. Lucy Knisley, I've never heard of you until now, but you owe me a new keyboard, girl. My old one has coffee all over it.

Here's my review of Twilight, which I did last summer. I intended to review all four books here at InsomniMom, but they just suck so bad and irritate me so much, I just couldn't do it.

And here's my favorite Twilight movie spoof video from YouTube.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Why I am the best auntie, like, ever

Today was Kieren's first day of driver's ed classes, which commence at eight o'clock in the morning. Heavens to Betsy. Here I was thinking that eight o'clock ayem was just about daybreak, but it turns out some people go to work then. Or to class as the case may be.

You know, come September, I am really really going to regret this business of staying up until two or three o'clock in the morning and then sleeping until ten....

I didn't sleep until 10:00 this morning, because that's when I had to be at the driving school to pick Kieren up. He was already out of class, leaning against the building in a cool manner that I'm sure enhanced his hearthrobby essence with the girls in his class. Does he know how good looking he is?

Anyway, Kieren's had a lot of driving practice out at his grandpa and grandma's house, where they have this super-fun dirt track around their pond and a couple of go-karts. The problem is that he doesn't have a whole lot of experience with stoplights and stop signs and the like. Or, you know, turning corners on residential streets. Or for that matter, driving on streets that have parked cars on your right and oncoming traffic on your left.

So we spent an entire hour after his class today gaining that experience so that he wouldn't feel like a total piker on his first solo drive, which will be this coming Wednesday. We drove downtown, we drove out in the country, we drove in neighborhoods. And coming home, we drove on a state highway! He did a fantastic job, only terrifying me once (oncoming farm truck pulling trailer, narrow-ish bridge, way too close to the right-hand drop off into a fairly steepish sort of ditch) and scared me once (Anne's side mirror wasthisclose to the side mirrors of some parked cars along the side of the road.)

Tomorrow, we'll find a church parking lot and practice pulling into and backing out of parking places.

I have nerves of steel, man.

Happy 18th Anniversary to us

Eighteen years? Are you serious?

It is true. Eighteen years ago, at high noon -- although I think that's the time reserved for meetings at the O.K. Corral -- my husband and I got married, totally innocent of any idea of what marriage is all about. Which is like most first-time-marrieds in their twenties, I suppose. We got initiated into Life's Hard Club our very first year, with job changes and some personal crises, but we hung on. Two months before our second anniversary, Meelyn was born. Twenty-six months after that, Aisling came along. And even though times have been hard since then, I can't think of any other husband and father (or any daughters) who could have done it better.

Since Father's Day is coming up in a couple of weeks, I thought it would be nice to post this beautiful video montage of scenes from Father of the Bride, which was the summer blockbuster in 1991, the year my husband and I were married. The music is John Mayer's song "Daughters" and contains the following lines about a dad's relationship with his little girl that I find particularly moving as the cycle of life continues in my own family.

**********************

Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers and turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters, too

On behalf of every man
looking out for every girl, remember
You are the guide and the weight of her world

So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters, too

**********************

It's a truly lovely song and a touching video of a little girl growing up in front of her father's eyes, from jump ropes to braces, from a driver's license to a marriage license; from a graduation gown to a wedding gown...to a hospital gown, as she births her first baby.



Friday, June 5, 2009

My pulled-pork sandwiches may be famous!

Today I was surfing aimlessly around on the internet and I discovered something that made me smile: My recipe for slow-cooker pulled pork sandwiches has been linked to from a blog called Kathy Maister's Start Cooking.com. She included a link to my recipe from a page called Start the Party With A Bang!, which is a guide to planning a Fourth of July picnic. Scroll down to "Main Courses" and click on the link that reads "Pulled Pork" and you'll find yourself back at InsomniMom.

Thanks very much for that, Kathy! I hope that any of your readers who decide to make those pulled pork sandwiches will enjoy them - we think they're fabulous.

I've browsed around StartCooking.com's website and it is a real gold mine of information for inexperienced cooks. There are tons of how-to videos to teach foodie newbies kitchen basics like how to cook corn on the cob, asparagus, pork roast and the like, along with videos that can guide a busy person through actual recipes. What a marvelous idea! How's come other people always think of this stuff before I do?

So You Think You Can Dance? Season 5 - Las Vegas Top 20

After Wednesday night's confusing hash of a second auditions show at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, I felt we all deserved something a little less frazzled. Because heaven knows the Top 20 picks are tense enough without having to deal with a bunch of goofy stuff from the producers.

Thankfully, we got a pretty straightforward evening with a few surprises, some pleasant, some unpleasant.

Things opened up right away with Janette, a spunky, feisty dancer who confided that this has been just about her most stressful week ever, coming right on top of her boyfriend of four years breaking up with her, and the car wreck she was in, not to mention having to move back in with her mom. Yikes. She could use some good news, methinks. And the news is good! She's made it into the Top 20! Janette starts babbling her thanks, mentioning the boyfriend and the break up, until she finally gets a grip and goes off to jump through the backstage curtain shrieking, "I'm in!"

The next girl, Diana, wasn't so fortunate, in spite of the fact that she was carrying her lucky monkey. For a brief moment, it seems like she's going to be one of the chosen ones, but then she's let down with a bump. Tears commence to fall and she leaves the stage whimpering. I hate it when they do that - makes me cry, too.

Now we see our first boy, an energetic Vitolio, who informs us that he's so nervous, he's been having "diarrhea moments." TMI, Vittolio! I would rather picture you executing athletic dance moves than crouching over a toilet with a pained expression on your face. Vitolio is from Haiti, and was raised by his grandmother until she grew too poor to support him and his brother. He spent the remainder of his childhood in an orphanage, and somehow got to the United States and learned to dance and ended up here in Las Vegas...how? I don't know, but I assume that we'll find out at some point. Because he made the Top 20!

After Vitolio makes a run for the men's room, a montage of disappointed dancers begins to roll and Cat says on a voice over that for the next half hour, things are very bad. The judges cite the need for more dance experience, more training. Cat busies herself commiserating with the Unchosen Ones, hugging and comforting and encouraging them to keep their chins up. She's such a lovely girl.

Next up is Kayla, she of the adorable and supportive Nana and Papaw. It's Mia's turn to be the one to break the news, so she starts in on how much she loves male dancers, how she just really connects with them (I just bet she does. Or at least tries) and she's saying all this about men and their consummate danciness while Kayla is patiently standing there thinking, "What is this COW rambling on and on about?" Oh, wait. That's what I was thinking. Finally, Mia manages to grope her way to her point, which is that she, Mia, really feels connected to Kayla, even though Kayla is not a man. Errrmm....Credit to Kayla for not running screaming from the auditorium: she has obviously sensed that if she flees, Mia might chase her down. Mia, with what is supposed to be a friendly smile but which looks more like the bared fangs of a jackal, says she "can't wait" for Kayla to be a part of the show; she part of the Top 20. Okay! (Kayla, watch your back, hon.)

Kapono comes before the judges next, and for the first time, I note that he's done something to that whacky hair because now it doesn't look like Mia's anymore. We see a brief film clip of him making an obsessive list, and I really wish the producers would cut it out, because Kapono is so nervous and trying to be so bright and cheerful for the camera, he's coming off looking like a bit of a head case. "I make lists!" he squeaks, holding up a piece of paper with notations on it preceded by Sharpie-drawn check-off boxes. One of the things on the list is "breathe." Another is "get iPod." A third reads "Make the Top 20." Much more of this, and the number one item on my check-off list is going to be "Buy vodka." Anyway, the judges thank Kapono for being so teachable. They say he's done everything they suggested he do to make himself a better dancer. He's a worker! And a nice kid, but really high-strung right now. I hope he calms down. He makes the Top 20 and I am happy for him.

Time for another montage, this time of people getting through to the Top 20. My notes from last night include these names: Paris, Gigi, Ade, Karla and Jonathan. A later list reveals that no Gigi made it to the Top 20, or perhaps was even on this show. Gigi, where did I come up with that name? I guess it doesn't matter, because I barely know any of these people. Producers, NO MORE DAVID SOLLER.

It's time for Natalie Reid's friend Brandon to take the stage and he comes out with such a hopeful look on his face, my heart just contracts. It's Mia's turn to break the news again, and only heaven knows why she was chosen to do so, because she immediately bursts into a personal attack: She "can't stand" his attitude and his "fake smile" and his dancing "annoys the [bleep] out of her." Throughout this whole thing, Brandon is still standing there, his smile gradually fading while he attempts to remain respectful, because after all, this person is one of the ones who holds his future in her hands. I am just....horrified. I can't remember when I've ever seen anything so painful. Oh, wait, yes I do. It was in Season 4 when Mia unleashed on Kherington after the Viennese waltz choreographed by Jean-Marc.

Meds check, Mia!

Finally, Debbie Allen speaks up. Or tries to anyway, because Mia just boosts the volume to continue her diatribe. Nigel finally interrupts and tells Mia she's said her piece, and now it's time to let someone else talk. Mia subsides into quiet snarls after shooting Nigel a look of death. Debbie is all about the affirmations, telling Brandon that he's a beautiful dancer, but then Lil C chimes in and says he personally doesn't know what all the Brandon hype is about.

It's at this point in the drama when Mary Murphy -- who tearfully said during the city auditions that she thought she'd "just die" if Brandon didn't make the Top 20 this season -- rose up in high dudgeon and, in a voice that was trembling with rage, says that she has HAD ENOUGH. She goes on to say that the other judges' criticisms of him are ridiculous and that she is not going to listen to any more of this crap. He is not cocky! Mary says. And I don't know, but I'm so used to Mary and her big smile that I am, like, afraid of her right now. Although I am TOTALLY behind her. Mia is way out of line and back to being her old nasty, hag-like self.

S0mehow, things get smoothed down and Nigel tells Brandon, whom I deeply admire for his poise under pressure, that he has made it into the Top 20. All the judges clap except for Mia, who sits like a toad on a stone, jaw thrust out, eyes glittering. "What do you think it will be like when we're in a room together?" she asks Brandon in a dangerous voice. I'd be hard pressed at this point to say just how much I dislike her.

Brandon, who still somehow appears calm and unflustered, says something like, "It'll be the bomb." I didn't quite catch it. The judges all seem to think he's scored, so they all clap and cheer. Even Mia claps. I wish he'd said something more like, "I could fell you with one kick from my well-muscled left leg, old woman, so be nice to me or be prepared to eat some flooring," but I admit that that wouldn't be diplomatic.

Yeeeesh. And Vitolio thought that he was having a diarrhea moment!

After we've all had a chance to catch our breath -- and I assume when the medics have had a chance to subdue Mia with some kind of horse tranquilizer -- the process continues with Tony. Tony is the guy that I couldn't remember from Wednesday's show, and frankly, I can see why he slipped my mind. He danced a contemporary piece to "Somebody's Watching Me" with Nigel's picture in a briefcase, his suit jacket, his newspaper, but frankly, it was too gimmicky for me to appreciate and I didn't see that much actual dancing. Although I do credit him with a clever sense of humor. In the review I posed yesterday, Tony was the kid who with a bad case of the whim-whams: he could not get a grip. Nigel tells a quivering Tony that his dance technique is not as strong as it should be, but that he's in the Top 20 anyway. Hmmm. Tony smiles and shouts out a big, "YESSSSSS!" which makes me feel better about his mental state.

New montage of people making it! Max (Faina's partner), Caitlin, Melissa (the "naughty ballerina") and Jason are through to the Top 20.

Next up is Ashley. It's her fourth time auditioning, poor girl. Mary says she's a "fighter." The rest of the judges say that she has improved a lot. She makes the Top 20 and is understandably delirious with happiness. Awww!

Randi comes onstage next, and once again, we have to hear from Mia. WHERE IS SONYA?! Mia bloviates on and on about Randi's committment to her unitards as the audience is shown a montage of Randi sporting several different unitards and it is all just more unitarded than you can possibly imagine, especially with the judges braying with laughter in the background like donkeys. Randi makes the Top 20 and presumably goes off to do a wardrobe check.

Professional ballet dancer Alex comes out next and I am puzzled by his whole deal. The judges want him to be in the Top 20, but there's the small matter of Alex's being under contract to the Miami City Ballet for their upcoming season. Oops. Nigel says that he has contacted the MCB to see if Alex can be released from the contract, but that the answer was no. Alex looks crushed, but I don't get it: he knew he was under contract, so what did he think was going to happen if he was chosen for SYTYCD? The judges wish him well and Debbie is encouraging as always. He's invited to come back when his contract is up. He leaves, and I feel sorry for him. Shame.

After the break, another montage, this time of people being cut. Ricky Sun, partner to the sassy Asuka, goes home. Bummer.

Next up is Phillip Chbeeb and I am worried for him. He is so adorable. Phillip tells the judges that this week has been stressful, but that he has enjoyed it anyway. Adam Shankman says that Phillip has improved and grown over the week and that the judges can see that he really loves dancing; all dancing, not just his own genre. Phillip agrees and Adam tells him he's made it to the Top 20. Phillip and I are both so very happy!

We're now down to the last two girls: a contemporary dancer named Deena and International Latin ballroom dancer, Asuka. To me, there's no question of who's in the Top 20 and who's on the next flight back home and I'm right. Asuka gives the devastated Deena a brief hug before going all "yippeeeeeeeeee!!!!" There's something about that girl that bugs me. She seems a little too certain of her own sexiness. I find that off-putting, but in order to avoid any uncomfortable comparisons to Mia, I'll keep my thoughts on this to myself for now.

Last but not least are the Brothers Kasprzak, and I don't know about anyone else, but I feel very maniplulated by the fact that they're left to the last, together. Producers, you are jerks. This was a nasty thing to do to these two very nice guys. I hate it when television pits two kindhearted people against each other. Fortunately, Evan and Ryan are supportive of each other no matter what and hug one another and cry manly tears until I think I'm going to just plotz.

Evan is the brother who makes the Top 20. I could have gone with either one, but I did like Evan's Fred Astaire-like dance better, so all is good. When the brothers get backstage and go through the curtain, Ryan gives Evan one last hug and gives him a gentle shove toward the excited throng of dancers so that he can begin celebrating his victory. Ryan's eyes meet the camera for one fleeting glance and the disappointment is evident, but he smiles a crooked little grin and moves on out of camera range. Well done, Ryan. If there was a show called So You Think You Can Act Like A Person of Sterling Character, you would win it.

And that wraps up the Top 20 show! Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Ade, Ashley, Asuka, Brandon, Caitlin, Evan, Janette, Jason, Jeanine, Jonathan, Karla, Kupono, Max, Melissa, Paris, Phillip, Randi, Tony and Vitolio.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance? Season 5 - Las Vegas 2nd auditions

"I love cutting people," Mia growls at the assembled dancers trembling on the stage, glaring at them over the rims of her ugly glasses, her hair standing straight up on end like something from A Flock of Seagulls. "I love cutting because I love seeing people who aren't good at what they do go home."

Oh-kay! Well! Looks like it's gonna be a fun time in Las Vegas!

Last night's show highlighted the fact that we have seen very, very few of the dancers who made it through to the one hundred seventy-eight nervous people assembled before us. Just a thought: maybe if the producers had wasted less time last week on David Soller, his mother and that other talentless guy, we could have seen more people who have the real thing? I don't know. Anyway, five minutes into the show, people are already passing by in blur. There's someone I sort of remember, although her name escapes me. And he looks familiar, but no....no. I am just as bewildered as some of the dancers seem to be.

The only people I know for sure are the judges, that panel of experts sitting at a long desk in front of the stage: Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, Mia Michaels, Debbie Allen, Adam Shankman, Lil C. Thank goodness Tyce Diorio has been locked into a supply closet somewhere in the hotel. Tabitha and Napoleon aren't there; I'm sure they're out in Las Vegas somewhere being about a thousand times better looking than the rest of us, and I don't mind that because they're both so nice. Where is Sonya Tayeh? Can we trade her for Mia?

What the dancers are going to do is this: They're going to dance in a number of different styles, with dancers being cut after each round. That seems relatively straightforward, doesn't it? Not confusing at all! Just you wait! This show is a strange mish-mash of events and I can't keep everything straight. If I'm confused by what's going on, sitting there on the couch with my popcorn, imagine how the dancers must feel. Choreography here and there, small groups, more choreography in different styles, people being told they are the worst dancers to ever grow legs in a womb, but then being told that they can dance for their lives? I don't get it.

Not necessarily in this order, the dancers have to learn the moves to a jazz piece choreographed by Sonya. There she is, at last! TabiNapo choreograph a hip-hop routine; Jean-Marc Genereaux and France do a ballroom piece. Mia does some contemporary choreography that nearly brings people to tears, and someone lets Tyce out of the supply closet so that he can do two Broadway pieces for the guys and the girls separately, set to music from West Side Story. Plus there's the group dancing thing where all the dancers are split into groups of six, pick a music CD out of a box that our beloved Cat Deeley is holding aloft, and then have all night long to choreograph their own bit.

Looks like a tough few days ahead for the dancers.

Now I come to a difficult part of this review, because I can't even pretend to know the names of all these people. All I can say is this: some people from the city auditions that we really liked were unmercifully cut in Day 1 and Day 2, including Natalie Reid. Sad and shocking! Megan Kinney hugs her sister Caitlin goodbye and trudges off to the airport (but wait -- I just realized that happened on Day 3!) Philip's girlfriend, Ariel Coker, is sent home and it's just awful. Sammy Ramirez of the "hair choreography" leaves the hotel, still smiling that awesome smile. Tap-dancing Silky heads home on Day 3. I'm glad I don't have Cat's job, or I'd probably be outside the hotel telling everyone that the judges suck swamp water and getting my butt fired.

At the end of Day 2, the small groups are formed and Cat lets them choose their CDs. This is generally an interesting night as viewers watch the dancers tryin to pull together some kind of choreography that won't stink the place up. There are usually some clashing egos somewhere along the line, along with a couple of dancers who feel that they could best pull a routine together by going upstairs to bed. THAT never sets well, let me tell you. As you could imagine. Strangely, we're shown very little of this kind of thing, which is a departure from past seasons, which reveled in the petty jealousies, hurt feelings and the inexplicable need for a little shut-eye.

"A lot of people think that today doesn't mean anything," Nigel says preachily on the third morning, when all the small groups are going to be doing their thing. This kind of statement makes me crazy. The remaining dancers have seen people being cut left, right and center during the different styles in the past couple of days. Tension is running high as time draws short. Why, Nigel, would any of these people thing that today doesn't mean anything? Sheeeesh.

The different groups get up to perform, nearly all of them to annoying music that just jars me with its silliness. I think the judges do this on purpose. If they gave the dancers good music, it would be easier to choreograph a good routine, right? So if you can choreograph a good routin to BAD music, then that would be a sign of awesomeness that would shine through the heavens. Evidently not. People are cut and go home.

Now it's finally time for Mia's choreography, which just about makes people cry. "Do not give me empty steps, because that's when my horns will come out!" she drill-sergeants at them, stomping around the stage. Oh, so that's why she's got the crazy hair: to hide the horns. Glad we've got that cleared up.

Evan and Ryan Kasprzak are still waiting to see if they're through Mia's choreography, and I think they look fabulous, but then I thought Natalie Reid was great, and she was sent packing. I also like Caitlin Kinney's dance-for-her-life solo, but the judges were all up in her stuff for doing an "old-fashioned" contemporary dance, whereas Mia's choreography was "of this time"? Huh? You'd have thought that Caitlin was out there on the stage, leaping around while wearing hoop skirts and a bonnet. Caitlin, I thought you were wonderful. The judges send her on through to the next round, leaving her very grateful and me more confused than ever.

Then there's a guy named Tony Bellissimo who has been featured in just about every segment of the show. Not that I'm complaining: he's a good dancer and did a clever solo, but where did he spring from? At any rate, Tony starts to fall to pieces emotionally as the show progresses: it's like the producers have given us a window into his private nervous breakdown. Is Pfizer, the manufacturer of anti-anxiety medication Xanax, a sponsor of this episode?

Tony does Mia's choreography and Debbie calls him forward on the stage afterwards and tells him that he's really let them down. Tony bursts into tears. Then he has to dance for his life, and the judges tell him his solo wasn't that great, but they're going to pass him on because they like him. Wha-? If they were going to send him through because he was likeable, why did he have to dance? Couldn't he have just given all the judges a hug? Tony cries through the whole thing. He is one raw nerve. As am I.

This brings us to Tyce's West Side Story choreography. Thankfully, he's so busy bossing everyone around and doing those Jets/Sharks finger snaps that he has little time left over to be annoying. The girls dance first while the boys lounge poolside, and then the boys dance while the girls ditto. Things are narrowed down still further, but at least the West Side Story music is cheerful and familiar.

This Las Vegas episode ends with sixteen boys and sixteen girls, all of whom are to dance a solo which will be the final criterion by which they are judged. We're left waiting to see which twelve will be cut in Thursday's one hour show.