Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rejected (and Two Accepted) Halloween Costumes

In case you hadn't heard I have twins, so I wanted them to dress in corresponding outfits for Halloween. Since I wanted them to match, that eliminated the following cool costumes:

Lobster in a pot. Some friends of ours actually put this costume on their baby registry.

Mr. T. (since Julia's hair naturally grows into a mohawk)

And then there were costumes online that were so awful they almost turned all the way to awesome.

Um, how does this baby stand?

This baby haunts my dreams.

James could be a baby pimp and Julia would be-- wait, never mind.

Out of all my matching costumes ideas, the one that was head and shoulders above the rest was Princess Leia and Darth Vader. I was about to order it and I could have sworn I had told Mark my plans, but apparently I hadn't (or, more likely, he hadn't been paying attention) because he was adamantly opposed. His vehemence was due to his belief that the kid in the Vader costume looked like Louie Anderson. He told me to get whatever costumes I wanted, just not Star Wars ones.

Leia and Darth Louie Anderson

Actual Louie Anderson. In his spare time he fights to give the Empire galactic supremacy and hosts Family Feud.

I also considered this Yoda outfit for James.

I stumbled on this but did not seriously consider the Most Ridiculous Chewbacca Outfit Ever.

Mark and I went as Princess Leia and Darth Vader for Halloween 1997, so that made an even better reason to have the twins go as Leia and Vader.

Those are real cinnamon buns on my head.

I went as Princess Leia again in 2006 (below) but decided to use fake cinnamon rolls that year so they wouldn't stick to my hair.

Obi Cinnabon Kenobi, you're my only hope.

So after Mark nixed the greatest twin Halloween costumes ever Leia and Vader, I considered these Halloween costumes for twins:

Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. I would have felt sorry for James as Peter Pan, and James isn't exactly light on his feet. Plus, I don't see how that hat would have stayed on. Julia would have made a cute Tink though.

Angel and Devil.

Bee and flower. I liked that the flower was in a pot, but I would have felt sorry for James as a bee. Kind of like that kid in the bee costume. Ashamed.

Lobster and Octopus. I really liked the lobster in a pot shown earlier, but wanted to make it work for twins. In the end we decided it wasn't twinsy enough.

It wasn't until after ordering this year's costumes that I discovered this:

Twin Octopi!

And finally, here's what the twins actually will be for Halloween. (I couldn't convince Mark to go as the Tin Man and have me go as the Scarecrow, even though I just learned from his mom that he actually was once the Tin Man as a child.)

One is the best child model ever and the other... isn't. You can decide for yourself who's who.

Weirdly, I found some good Dorothy accessories packaged with a dog costume:

I thought Mark might freak out when this costume arrived at our door. I only bought it for the wig, but it ended up not working out.

At least I didn't get this:

The Tin Poodle. I'm pretty sure if that dog could talk he would say, "Euthanize me."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Babies Go to a Music Class

The Saratoga-Los Gatos Recreation Department hosted a free demonstration Musical Me class at the beginning of September. Since they normally charge about $300 for 3 months of classes, I took advantage of the freebie. The morning classes were all really badly timed for James and Julia's napping and eating schedule, and Julia ended up taking a monster nap that day, so by the time they woke up, were fed, and I drove there, the hour long class was finishing! Thankfully another class followed that one, and we were able to join.. The class was for 9 month old babies and up, and at a few days under 9 months James and Julia were easily the youngest in the room. The babies can mostly sit on their own - though Julia occasionally will fall backwards if unsupported - so I plopped them in Boppy pillows

The moms all sang, hit the floor and clapped while the babies watched. All the babies received a rattle to shake. James and Julia promptly tried to eat theirs. When it was time to give them up, the moms were told the wee ones could hang on to them if they didn't want to return them yet. Julia relinquished hers but James roared when I started to take his away so I let him keep it for several more songs. A few songs later there was a soothing song to help the babies relax and of course that's when James started shaking his rattle. So to recap: during the shake-the-rattle song James ate his rattle, and during the quiet song he shook his rattle.

Later on I gave the babies tambourines and bells and they enjoyed gnawing on those, too.

In conclusion, the class was enjoyable for me and the babies, though I'm not sure the babies got a lot out of it. Also, instruments are tasty.

The babies wear name tags in case they're confused with some other leg warmer-wearing twins.

"You use your rattle your way, I use it my way."

James as Henry VIII with a chicken leg

Julia shows off her new chompers.

"You call THAT tambourine playing? Bitch, please."

Mommy happened to wear striped socks but didn't get the memo to wear striped leg-warmers.

"Bells taste even better than rattles!"

Note James's drool drenched name tag.

James actually uses it as an instrument?

Yay! Victory! He appears to have hit it, well... once.

"Okay. Enough of that. Back to eating."

"This isn't right! Why can't I taste bells?"

"Much better!"

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I Was on Jeopardy, Part II: Strategy

I'd had Bob Harris's Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! on my bookshelf for a long time but hadn't read it. In what little spare time I had, I skimmed chapters that had to do with Jeopardy strategy. Here are some things I took from it that I planned to use.:

1) If I ever was in the lead going into Final Jeopardy against a much weaker opponent I would bet so that if I missed the question and they got it right, we would be tied so I could face them again. (I thought of this years ago but it was also in the book.)

2) I wanted to use the "Forrest Bounce" strategy (named after a contestant who used it very successfully) of jumping from category to category to keep my opponents off guard. I noted that it would be particularly effective to once in awhile throw in one of those categories where all the answers had to, for example, start with "gr," hoping my competitors would forget that aspect of the category. I combined this strategy with my strategy to choose the bottom three clues in each column in the hopes of hitting the Daily Doubles. (Note: The Jeopardy wranglers actually brought up the Forrest Bounce strategy before the taping. Inwardly I was like, "No! No! Don't tell the others!" but I found out while talking to some of my competitors that they already knew about it. The wranglers said we could of course play Forrest Bounce style, but suggested instead to clear out a category by going from top to bottom because sometimes the answers build on previous answers to make sense or be funny. Inwardly I thought, "That's fine and all but why would I do something that helps us all equally instead of helping me?")

I hope I'm not giving anything away, but this was not a category I encountered.

Neither was this.

3) When calling out a category and point value for your question, you're encouraged to shorten the category name ("Make the game go faster," say the wranglers), but it's best to shorten it to your advantage. For the category "3-Named Celebrities" it's best to shorten it to "Celebrities" and not remind your competitors that the answers have to have three names.

4) Keep thinking of what answers could possibly come up throughout the game - especially during the first commercial break.

5) And finally the most important thing of all. In Trebekistan, Harris talks how it's not about buzzer speed but buzzer timing. This was disappointing to hear because I've always been really fast on a buzzer. (Don't you all play "Identify the TV show from the theme song" with your friends?) When Alex finishes reading the question there's some lackey who flicks a switch. When that happens, lights that you can't see at home turn on, and the players can then ring in to answer. If you ring in before the switch is thrown you're locked out for something like a half second or so which is everything in Jeopardy. The wranglers tell you to keep pressing your buzzer when you ring in so if you do get locked out you'll be next to answer. (That's why you see people repeatedly mashing their thumbs against the buzzer when you watch.) Harris suggests the way to beat the other players is by ringing in before the lights come on. It involves getting a feel for lackey's timing and having to increase or decrease your buzzer speed by eighths of seconds as you get a feel for it. I thought it was a risky strategy - Mark told me not to try it - but I kept it in mind in case my plan of ringing in when the lights come on fell through.

I decided to mostly not tell anyone I was going to be on the show. (Jeopardy also said no talking about it on Facebook before it taped.) I was worried I might make a fool of myself and do something like finish with a negative score, and if that happened I might be safe from people seeing it. Also, I didn't really want to talk about being on Jeopardy and make myself nervous. In the meantime, even though I told my parents and Mark I wanted to keep it under wraps, my parents told all the relatives on their trip to the East Coast and Mark told all his co-workers. I kept telling myself that just getting on the show was an accomplishment since the online test is so hard that even though tens of thousands of people apply only 400 make it on the show each year. But of course people watching at home don't know that, and crashing and burning would still make me look like an idiot.

This is a real picture and was not doctored. I didn't want to Wolf Blitzer my way through Jeopardy. It did occur to me that going on Jeopardy and missing every question would be a cool performance art piece and get me famous. Someone should totally do that!

Apparently Wheel of Fortune caught wind of Wolf's Jeopardy appearance.

I did tell my hairdresser who was so excited for me he told the hairdresser next to him.

My Hairdresser: You know "Wheel of Fortune"?
Other Hairdresser: Yeah. Is she (pointing at me) going to be on it?!
My Hairdresser: No, she's going to be on the show that comes on before it.

So, in my hair salon, Jeopardy is known as the show that takes up space before the excitement of wheel spinning and letter turning with Pat Sajak and Vanna White.

I miss the ceramic dalmatian days of Wheel of Fortune...

That is indeed a fact.

I also told the woman who helped me find an outfit at Banana Republic. She was very excited that "her outfit" would be on TV, and as I perused the tables of merchandise I would hear her whisper to other salespeople about me.

One other interesting thing that happened before the show was taped: Alex Trebek visited Google! (And apparently surprised everyone with a couple swear words.) He moderated a geography trivia competition where the winning team won a choice of three international trips (Galapagos, Arctic, or Antarctic). Anyway, Alex also visited Google Maps where Mark works. As one of my pre-submitted Jeopardy anecdotes I wrote, "My husband will be meeting Alex Trebek at Google in two days. I may have something to report from this - I don't know." The day after I sent in my anecdotes I got a call from Jeopardy. Alex was not to be told that I would be appearing on the show-- not by Mark nor by any of his co-workers. Because of that Twenty-One scandal in the 50s there are very strict game show rules. Alex was interested in Google Earth and gave his home address so they could zoom in. Mark jotted it down in case we ever decide to stalk Trebek.

I found this interesting past category on an actual episode of Jeopardy. The best is the second to last recording.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Was on Jeopardy, Part I: Preparation

My blog is going on a little baby hiatus.

So remember last year when I tried out for Jeopardy and was so pregnant my belly blocked the projector screen? I told the Jeopardy wranglers at the time that I wouldn't be available until June because I was going to be birthin' some babies. Well fast forward to the beginning of July - I was eating some jerk chicken with Mark and friends, Lila and Brendan, when I got a phone call...

Jeopardy: Hi. This is Robert from Jeopardy
Me: Oh! Hi.
Jeopardy: So, where are you right now?
Me: Um, a Caribbean restaurant?
Jeopardy: I mean, where do you live? It says on your form you might be moving.

Anyway, Jeopardy wanted me to be on the show a month later on August 10th, two days before we were going to move. And I don't know if I've mentioned this in the last hour but I have twins. So we were going to be packing in whatever time we had left over from taking care of twins. That doesn't even take into consideration our anniversary and my birthday being the same week. It was going to be one hell of a week. That was probably a good thing since it wouldn't allow me to fixate on Jeopardy too much and get overly nervous. On the other hand I really didn't have a lot of time to study. And no, just to answer a question I was asked surprisingly often, Jeopardy does not tell you what categories to study.

I read Ken Jenning's book Braniac a few years ago (thanks Kelsi!) which talked about what to study for Jeopardy, and I heeded his advice. (Hello, characters and plots of Shakespearean plays!). I also looked online to read about tips from past players. Jeopardy winner Bill O'Donnell's Quiz Show Study Course had lots of suggestions on what to study.

I was not this lame in my preparation.

Done right it can make a cute Halloween costume (the one on the left that is)

This is what I chose to study:
  • Shakespeare
  • Greek and Roman gods (I've always lamented that the other 7th graders learned mythology while I got stuck in "English for Idiots"; possibly the class was officially listed by a different name.)
  • English monarchs
  • Opera
  • Authors and Books/Plays/Poems
  • State nicknames
  • International leaders
  • Current U.S. Cabinet
  • Amendments to the Constitution
  • Recent Oscar winners (I'm a weirdo and for fun I used to memorize winners of Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress by year, but I needed to bone up on the last ten years.)
  • Potent Potables (I'm not much of a drinker so, like Ken Jennings who's a teetotalin' Mormon, I needed to brush up on this one.)
  • A smattering of explorers, composers, and philosophers

I should say right now that nothing I studied helped me on Jeopardy.

That's pretty much how Jeopardy works. You can study all you want but then you get a category like Soap Commercial Jingles.

I made spreadsheets with information and printed them out to study on the drive to L.A. Mark made the Shakespeare spreadsheet into computer flash cards which I practiced with for about five minutes, and that was it flash card-wise. I could see how flash cards would be useful for Potent Potables or Books/Authors, but not Shakespeare play plots.

Speaking of which, here are a few Shakespeare plays as summarized by me on my spreadsheet. See if you can identify the plays. Answers are at the bottom of the post.

1) Everyone dies, lots of amputations and raping.
2) Twins cause misunderstandings... and beatings ensue.

One thing that gets Mark's goat when watching Jeopardy is how badly people wager at the end. The second place player in particular often risks everything when they could have instead risked just enough to win if the first place player missed Final Jeopardy. As a result I studied Final Jeopardy Math, and Mark tested me with sample Final Jeopardy scores if I was the first, second, or third place finisher so I could calculate my best wager.

Jeopardy tells you to only bring three days worth of clothes. I thought this was surprising since someone could win on a Monday and be on for five days. I only purchased one outfit for Jeopardy but I brought five (four involved the same pair of pants). It wasn't because I was so enamored with myself that I thought I would win that many games, I just thought if somehow that DID happen I didn't want people to notice I was wearing the same outfit. They tape a week's worth of shows in one day, and as it turns out the three-time winner I faced (who was thus on for at least four days) only brought three outfits. On top of that, one of the outfits was deemed not TV appropriate because the stripes were too close together. That left two outfits to sort of mix and match for his episodes. Maybe guys can pull that off with suits (just change up the tie), but women not so much.

I wear glasses when I drive, and I knew I'd have trouble seeing the Jeopardy board so I decided to get contacts. I felt a little foolish getting them just for Jeopardy but I figured if I liked them, I'd wear them every day. My enthusiasm for them faded when I practiced taking them in and out at the eye doctor's, and after an hour and a half only got a single contact out once. Even after some extra practice, putting them in or taking them out still took me 20 minutes each time. Somehow the Jeopardy stars aligned for my contacts the day I was on because I actually got them in and out on my first try. In my opinion, the answers on the board are still too small - even with contacts, and you'll no doubt see me squinting repeatedly throughout the game.

By the way if anyone is interested in trying out for Jeopardy, drop me a line. The wranglers gave me a flyer wherein I could recommend people for Jeopardy. (After you take the online test I contact the wranglers and presumably help you get on the show.)

Alex wants you... to try out for Jeopardy

Answers to Shakespeare questions:
1) Everyone dies, lots of amputations and raping. = Titus Andronicus
2) Twins cause misunderstandings... and beatings ensue. = The Comedy of Errors

Next time: I Was on Jeopardy, Part II: Strategy
  • Wolf Blitzer: Not a role model
  • My hair stylist is totally unimpressed
  • What I miss about Wheel of Fortune