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The Sing Off

I love a cappella music. I dated a guy in college with an amazing bass voice who introduced me to the genre. There is just something about the harmonies of the human voice that rocks my socks. When I heard a segment about the show “The Sing Off” on NBC, on the radio, I literally dropped everything and ran for the Tivo® remote

I was richly rewarded. In case you were wrapped up in the holiday frenzy and missed it, the Sing Off was the latest iteration of judged musical performance shows. NBC selected 8 a capella groups from around the country to compete for $100,000 and a Sony Music recording contract.

The groups were very diverse in age, race and background. Some were college groups, one was a group of young adults from Omaha and one was a group of middle aged moms from Baltimore, Maryland. The judges were Shawn Stockman from Boyz II Men, Nicole Sherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls and Ben Folds.

The performances on this show were just amazing. The judges were reasonable with the exception of Sherzinger. Every time she opened her mouth, I just cringed. Stockman and Folds had intelligent praise, and constructive criticism. I didn’t always agree with them, but at least I respected what they had to say. Sherzinger, giggled and cooed her way through every round of feedback. She added nothing to the panel. My guess is she’s a Sony recording artist who needed the PR.

The first group to go was Face , an all male “rockapella” group from Boulder Colorado. I thought they were good and liked their interpretation of BonJovi’s Living on a Prayer, but someone’s gotta be first right?

Next went Solo, the group of young adults from Omaha trying to make a better life for themselves. One of their members was a homeless woman. I know this because NBC included the obligatory dramatic background segment on each group. Meh. I feel for the woman and I’m glad they are taking steps towards a better life, but I wished the show focused more on the signing.

Next to leave was Noteworthy, an all girl group from Brigham Young University. These ladies jammed, but I had to agree with the judges that at times girl groups can sound tinny. Still, they had sass without oversexualization (duh, their are Mormons) and I liked them.

That left Nota, The Beelzebubs, Voices of Lee, Maxx Factor, and the SoCals. The SoCals are a group of alumni from the SoCal VoCals at USC. Their dramatic flair was Kelly, a perky blonde with a great voice, who suffers from a type of acid reflux that directly impacts her vocal cords. They had pizazz and great stage presence, but they too had some less than harmonious moments. Still, I was sad to see them go as the group exuded personality on stage.

The last group to leave before the finale, was Maxx Factor. Maxx Factor is four moms form Baltimore Maryland who have apparently made a name for themselves in the world of competitive barbershop singing (who knew?). Of all the sub-genres of a cappella (yes, it does have sub-genres), barbershop is my second least favorite (beat boxing being my first). These ladies made a valiant effort to blent their quartet style with mainstream a cappella, but it never gelled for me. Their interpretation of Taylor Swift’s Love Song, left me cold. However their swan song rendition of Leavin’ On a Jet Plane was awesome. I think they should stick to their strengths.

That left Nota, The Beelzebubs and Voices of Lee for the show’s finale. The judges said their piece and the final decision was left to America. I meant to vote, but truthfully, I liked all three groups. Had I voted, I would have picked the Beelzebubs because the were consistently tight, they had just an amazing stage presence and had a lot of diverse talent in the gorup.

The Voices of Lee blended well and this is the one time I agreed with Nicole Sherzinger, when she called them the a choir of angels. There was a bit of a kerfluffle among the judges abot VOL’s intrepretation of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror. I liked it fine, but Sherzinger and Stockton found it lacking power. Folds said it best, when he said he wasn’t so tied to the original and that VOL’s understated version did the song justice.

The Beelzebubs hail from Tufts University in Medford, Mass. They are the quintessential college a capella group. Throughout the show, their performances were unique, captivating, musically tight and aesthetically pleasing. Their repetoir is also very diverse. The covered, everything from the Beatles and the Who to the Black Eyed Peas. All with charm and pizazz.

Nota is a group of 6 men from Puerto Rico with strong voices and a gift for infusing their performances with a latin feel in a way that made you want to bop right along with them. Their version of I’m Yours by Jason Mraz knocked my socks off and Down by Jay Sean was like crack for my ears. While these guys are good singers, I thought they lacked the stage presence of the other two finalists.

That brings us to the finale. Each group had an opportunity to sing with a celebrity. In reality, each group acted as back up for the celebrity. Voices of Lee sang Pocket Full of Sunshine with Natasha Beddingfield. I thought they could have made better use of VOL, but it was a nice performance. The Beelzebubs sang You Don’t Own Me with Nicole Sherzinger and this my friends is where Sherzinger redeemed herself. She may not be eloquent, but dat girl can SING!! The Bubs ate it up and hammed it up. It was a nice pairing and a strong interpretation.

Nota sang Tracks of my Tears with Smokey Robinson. To my way of thinking this was the weakest of performances. Nota had the vocal chops, but lets face it, Robinson while a legend, is not in his prime anymore so Nota had to restrain themselves and they just couldn’t pull off the moves of the miracles. Not so much a bad reflection on Nota as the show’s producers. Bad choice.

The last show also featured 3 ensemble numbers the opener, was a version of U2’s Still Haven’t Found What I’m Lookin’ For and was a zesty kick-off to the show. In the middle, there was a Christmas number with all three groups and announcer-boy Nick Lachey. Lachey still has his vocal chops, and it was catchy. The best part was the fake snow coating the singers and falling in their mouths. Yuck!! The last ensemble number featured all three groups and human noise maker Bobby McFerrin. McFerrin is just amazing. The sounds he gets out of his body are just remarkable and the groups all appeared enthralled. The result was an up beat little ditty that built up nicely to the revelation of the two finalists.

Announcer Boy shook off the fake snow from the Christmas number to resume his duties as staller of time. Eventually, we learned that the finalists were Nota and The Beelzebubs.

After a commercial break, both groups came back with Ben Folds on piano (huh???) and sang the 70’s anthem, Why Can’t We Be Friends. They all looked like they were having fun, but I would have preferred they stick to the vocals only rule that made the competition what it was. Instead it felt like the producers had a specific song in mind then found a way to accommodate it. Boo hiss.

Then came the final agonizing moments before the winner was crowned. I won’t keep you in suspense. The winner was Nota.

As I said, I would have voted for the Beelzebubs as much for the reasons noted above as for sentimentality. I saw their predecessors perform in the late 80’s and early 90’s and they are from Boston, my hometown for 17 years. I am nothing if not sentimental.

Let’s put sentimentality aside for a moment. Shall we? Instead, allow me to indulge my cynical side. Mike Rowe from Discovery TVs Dirty Jobs has said their is no such thing as Reality TV and I whole heartedly agree with him. The simple introduction of a camera adds a dimension that to my way of thinking precludes reality.

The final prize included cash, but it also included something more lasting, a recording contract with Sony Music. Sony is in the business of making money. Nota, has the vocal talent, but lacks some of the polish and stage presence that the Beelzebubs or Voices of Lee have. Clearly the guys have the basic skills in those areas, and with coaching and practice, they can really shine. Nota also comes without strings (other than family commitments). Both the Beelzebubs and Voices of Lee are tied to universities. I’d bet there are trademark and copyright issues with the names. Not mention that those groups are both at least double the size of Nota and made up a college students who are tied down by things like GPAs and final exams. Those tend to get in the way of things like constant performing and PR junkets. From a purely business sense, Nota is an easy choice. Lucky for Sony, they are the group America picked.

I loved the performances in this series. I could have done without the dramatic background pieces and the long soliloquies from the judges, but that is why we have Tivo®.

I hope that NBC will make this an annual event only please next time? Less talk, more song.

Full performances are available for viewing on the NBC website. You can purchase some of the performances at iTunes.

Junk Food Junkie

My mother’s grandmother, Nana Nally, lived with her family and cared for her and her siblings while her mother (my grandmother) made her way as one of the first working mothers.

Nana Nally was an Irish immigrant and made homemade bread for the family a few times a week. Store bought bread was a rarity and a treat according to my mother.

My how far we’ve come.

This week, my children’s elementary school sent home a letter announcing new procedures regarding food for classroom celebrations. I had heard through the parent grape vine that the change was coming, but I wanted to wait for the letter to try and understand the specifics.

They are now asking that parents/guardians to contribute a small, voluntary financial donation towards the purchase of celebratory items. The teachers will now be responsible for procuring party items etc.

The reasons cited for the change are:
safety measures for students with food allergies,
proportional food offerings,
greater ease with preparation of the celebration for teachers.

What about this policy is easier on teachers? Most classrooms have at least 1 parent chomping at the bit to be involved in the classroom in some way. Coordinating food for a celebration is a perfect use for a parent. This new policy now demands more of a teacher’s time outside of school hours to shop for the food. It also shifts liability from the parent providing the food to the school.

According to Mr. Principal, the teachers find managing food for parties to be a challenge. I know for a fact this is not a universally true. However, If an individual teacher prefers to manage the classroom celebration, I think they should be allowed to do so. I seek out specific teaching styles for my children to best suit their educational needs and I think teachers should be given the option to run their classrooms as they see fit. In my opinion making this a unilateral, unfunded procedure is wrong and disrespectful to those teachers who welcome parent involvement. Kids need to learn that life is not consistent. Teachers, like future bosses have different working styles and it is crucial that children develop the skills to adapt to their environment.

As someone who deals with food allergies, (both mine and my husband’s) on a regular basis, that argument holds no merit with me. I read labels like some people read best sellers. NOTHNG goes in my cart without prior careful scrutiny. Have you read some of the things in prepared food from the grocery store? Even something as straight forward and “healthy” as a veggie platter with dip can have substances in it I can’t pronounce and that my husband can’t eat. Trust me, store bought doesn’t automatically make it better.

Whenever I coordinate food for parties, my first question is are there any known allergies in the classroom and we’ve had a few along the way. I’ve communicated the issue to the parents bringing food and we’ve never had a problem. We are fortunate that we have a scant few kids in the school with allergies, and I am painfully aware of how dangerous even a whiff of peanuts can be to some kids, but I view food allergies as an opportunity to educate students and parents alike. This is part of teaching tolerance for difference. Sometimes, you have to forego something you like for the benefit and safety of others. Food allergies exist in the real world and everyone needs to adapt.

When discussing proportional offerings, the subject of childhood obesity came up and how teachers must model good behavior. I agree that obesity is an issue in this country and in our school, BUT, we also must be wary of other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. I’m not a believer in the abstinence works mentality. It is crucial that we not demonize food one way or the other. I think it is far better to model balance and self control. These celebrations are rare occurrences that happen 3, maybe 4 times a year? Children need to learn balance and personal responsibility. The message should be junk food is okay once in a while as a special treat, but it must be balanced with healthy food.

During my exchange with Mr. Principal he stated that it was his hope to eventually eliminate all food based celebrations (i.e. birthdays etc.). I sincerely hope it never comes to that. I would much rather have my kid eat a cupcake with partially hydrogenated oils once, than play with a lead laced little toy purchased from the dollar store for days on end.

I have debated this issue at length with Mr. Principal and we have finally decided to agree to respectfully disagree. He is known to be a brick wall and that school runs his way, or no way. It is a policy that works well with respect to discipline, but I think it fails with respect to this issue.

I plan to express my concerns at the district level (and told Mr. Principle this). I’ve already accepted that this policy will not change, but my hope is to stem the tide of insanity.

Excuse me while I go eat a Ring Ding and some Ho Ho’s for lunch.

Chirstmas at Canterbury

xmas at CanterburyVisiting Canterbury Shaker Village is another one of our Christmas traditions. It started when they used to run the Gingerbread Showcase the weekend after Thanksgiving. While most would be partaking in Black Friday insanity, we’d pile in the car and admire the handy work of some talented artisans and inventive children. After picking our favorites we’d head downstairs to decorate gingerbread cookies and listen to a holiday story.

In recent years, they’ve revamped the event and moved it into December (a craft fair now takes place over Thanksgiving weekend). This year it is called Christmas at Canterbury and takes place on two successive Saturdays. Along with the gingerbread houses, and Christmas ornament crafts for the kids, the new format includes a visit to several of the Shaker buildings, demonstrations of Shaker life (broom making, chair weaving etc.) and performances by a magician, musicians and choral groups. Oh and I can’t forget the horse drawn wagon rides!

Christmas at Canterbury is probably better suited for older children. The crafts this year involved origami and threading beads onto wire. My nine year old was up to the tasks, but my five year old struggled some. We have also found that the performances are lovely, but again attention can be an issue with our younger child.

There were fewer entries in this year’s Gingerbread contest but the structures were no less impressive. I am always amazed at the way people combine creativity and food to make enchanting designs. Each admission includes a chance to win a Gingerbread House and of course you can purchase additional chances to increase your odds.

We were all very disappointed that this year, they discontinued the decorating gingerbread cookies. It was something my kids looked forward too. Hopefully they’ll bring it back to future events.

Admission is $17.00 for adults, $8.00 for children 6 to 17 or $42.00 for a family of 4 (2 adults, 2 or more children). Children 5 and under are free and Members are free. This year, there was a ham and bean supper or coffee and apple crisp available for an additional fee.

The second installment of Christmas at Canterbury takes place this Saturday, December 12th from 3:00pm to 8:00pm. Canterbury Shaker Village is only a few miles off of either Route 106 or 93 in Canterbury, New Hampshire. For more information, visit the Canterbury Shaker Village web site.

Gingerbread Houses

War Is Hell


I guess I started the battle, but it has seriously gotten out of control.

Remember back to 2003. A time when inflatable outdoor decorations were just hitting the market. Most were small (4 feet or under) and still relatively expensive ($60 and up). It was the day before Christmas and I was cruising for last minute stocking stuffers at the drug store (WHAT? where do YOU shop for stocking stuffers???????).

I spied an inflatable Santa Claus for half price. Just the night before we’d had dinner with my in-laws and were bemoaning those silly things. With a gleam in my eye, I called my husband. Should I? It’s half price! The deed was done and I headed home with my inflatable friend. While my in-laws were out, he set it up in their front yard in all of its breezy glory. My mother-in-law was horrified. “Did you put that tacky thing in my yard?”

“Who us?” we smiled innocently. She promised revenge, but actions speak louder than words. The next year, my husband got to the Christmas decorations first and constructed a perch for dear old St. Nick so he could tower over all comers from the second floor window of her barn. Tee hee, gotcha!

Except a few weeks later, as I rounded the bend in the driveway, there stood a 9 foot inflatable Snowman. My kids were barely taller than Frosty’s boots for Pete’s sake!! We fired back with an 8 foot candy cane arch with “twinkling lights” that would chase each other. Now that my friends is T A C K Y tacky!

There have been other volleys in the war of décor, such as the lighted wire frame bear that Home Depot called “Yard Art”, but sadly not all of our soldiers returned from battle. The arch was so well made, it lasted about 2 seasons, before finally meeting its maker after a wind storm. There were the 1970’s era plastic angels handed down to a friend who volunteered them for our cause. The original owners (her parents) requested they be returned for a mission in, well, I can’t disclose their exact location as they are undercover somewhere in the mid-Atlantic region. There was also the lighted reindeer who’s heads turned, back and forth. They met a grisly end at the paws and teeth of the collie, he claims he cracked under the constant surveillance. It is the majority of the “fluffies” who have had the staying power. There was one new recruit who didn’t last even a day, but alas, that is a tale for another time.

It was only this year, that the original Santa Claus was deemed unfit for battle. As my husband and I were plotting our next offensive, grousing about our inability to locate TRULY tacky Christmas decorations, it dawned on us, we have become desensitized. We have become THAT yard. The one that has been so taken over by Christmas decorations you can barely tell there is a house.

How did this happen? Isn’t this some kind of syndrome? The one where you find yourself surrounded by your enemy and find that maybe, it isn’t quite so bad?

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate, a New England Colonial home with a spotlight in the yard, white candles in the windows and a wreath on the door, but the kids love the fluffies and every time I walk by one of the front windows, I chuckle. *sigh*

From where I sit, there is only one thing to do. It is time to redouble our efforts and dear readers, I need your help. If you spy truly tacky outdoor Christmas decorations (especially at bargain prices) PLEASE, PLEASE tell me. At this point I think we’ve exploited the brigade of fluffies as much as we can. We need something shiny and spinny and with lights that twinkle and chase each other. If you spy something that you think meets my criteria please email me at imreesie (at) g mail (dot) com. WE NEED YOU!

New Hampshire Tourism in the 21st Century

Just read this article* about how the NH Division of Travel and Tourism development is offering discounts of fans of the VisitNH Facebook page.  I love the use of social media to share the benefits of New Hampshire.

*This is a link to Boston.com.  I tried to Link to a NH entity, but no one had it posted.

Public Transit – Preschool Entertainment on the Cheap

Mim is in pre-school/daycare 3 days a week.  The mornings are a structured pre-school program and the afternoons include a rest (Mim doesn’t nap anymore), a snack and as much outdoor free play as the weather allows.  He loves it.

The other two week days are mostly devoted to domestic activities (for me) and free play (for him).  He’s equally as happy as home.   I on the other hand tend to get a little stir crazy with an active four year old bouncing off the walls. Last year, he took a gymnastics class, when I asked if he wanted to go back this year his answer was an emphatic NO! There are art and music classes offered locally, but none that jive with our schedule.

I’m always on the lookout for inexpensive, novel activities for us to undertake.  The nearest city to us recently expanded its public transportation offerings to include two trolleys that make a loop through the down town area and out to the local community college. BIG doin’s for a four year old little boy.

It took a grand total of 1/2 of an hour (excluding driving to the pick up point) and cost me $1.00 (he rode free).  He loved it and it gave us an opportunity to take in some of the local sites (banks, the Capitol building, police cars, fire trucks, there was just no end to the excitement).

I’m a huge proponent of public transportation.  I rode the T in Boston for 10 years before I got my license.  If we lived in an urban environment, I’d own a car, but ride public transit as much as possible, but alas, buses don’t run out in the sticks!

Most public transit systems aren’t as inexpensive as ours, but still you can’t beat $3.25 and a temperature controlled ride for some cheap fun.  Make sure to ride outside of rush hour to insure a relaxed experience.

All Aboard!!!

How it all began

First, I was born.

No, really, I was.
39 some odd years later, I was working as an event manager for a human resources conference. The moderator for that conference was a gentleman from Texas named Mac Fulfer.

Mr. Fulfer is a “reformed” attorney (his words, not mine) and now works as a face reader. Face reading is the art and science of interpreting someone’s facial features to learn more about who they are and predict how they may behave. Mac first learned the skills to assist him with jury selection. He has perfected the art and now travels the country educating others (including the FBI) about face reading.

Mac is an affable man from Texas. While we were waiting for the speaker’s dinner to begin the night before the conference, he read my face. His description of me was spot on, almost frighteningly so. I was working, and I was distracted with making sure that the dinner ran smoothly, so I don’t remember everything he said, but a few things stuck. He said I was an impatient person (VERY true), but at the same time a perfectionist (also very true and something I’ve been trying to tame of late). It was a perfectly accurate description of me.

This is not my first blog, I have one related to my business interests, one where I rant and rave and one where I talk with my Dad who passed away in July of 2007.  My identity on those ranges from completely identified to completely anonymous.  Here, I plan to discuss my personal life including my family life with a husband and 2 kids.  A-Man isn’t nearly as out going as I am and my kids (Fish and Mim) are too young to understand the concept of privacy, so out of necessity, I blog semi-anonymously here to protect the innocent. Some of you know me and my family, I ask you to respect their privacy.
So, buckle your seat belts and let’s see where this takes us shall we?
Thanks for reading