Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

More than the stars aligned last week during the Perseids meteor shower. In our family, you're liable to find yourself in the middle of nowhere gazing up at a star-full sky on any given astrological occurrence. This one, which was predicted to be easy-to-see, coincided with an unexpected off day for Erik. So we did what most no one would do in such a situation -we went out for sushi and fueled by saki, loaded up the kids, car, dog and headed east for a Yosemite adventure.

"I hope we see a bear" I thought to myself as we neared the National Park.

We blew through the entrance gates before the rangers and were the first family to arrive at Bridal Veil falls. After a quick hike, breakfast and tour though the visitors center we decided to find a place where the girls could splash around in the Merced River.

The spot we found, was adjacent to the main road. As the girls scrambled over the rocks, I went back to the car to retrieve the dog. It was really beautiful. Breathtakingly amazing. We swam. We sunned. We even coaxed the dog into a brief dip in the frigid waters. Later we were sitting on our blanket when Lula suddenly exclaimed, "Bear!"

Do you see it? I've never seen a bear in the wild before and my biggest thought was that they look remarkably like the ones you stuff at the Build-A-Bear factory. I swear, I wanted to just run up and throw my arms around it and bury my nose in its softness.

Except common sense told me, that bears like to eat little dogs, children and an occasional grown woman. Common sense did not tell me however, that bears might also like a little doggie kibble and one should not leave the dogs bowl next to the car half-full of Chihuahua Chow.

A major foible on my part. Our car was marked with sandy prints from the black bear -all four doors and even the back hatch. I'm thankful it didn't try to get into the car or that the dog was in the car. Or a thousand other things that could have gone wrong. After realizing it was my fault for leaving food out, I felt like the word's biggest naturalist fail. John Muir would not be proud.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Drama At Drama Camp

One of the girls' summer camps I was really looking forward to was Drama camp. It was officially titled Song and Dance Camp and put on by the Alameda Children's Musical Theatre.

Two years ago, the girls spent a week at the Dallas Children's Theatre camp and Lula came home singing Broadway Baby and making jazz hands and really thought I might call an agent had gotten my monies worth. My hope for this year was that the girls would come out of camp with a whole slew of songs that they'd be able to perform for me and at the very least one they could audition with for Hollywood agents local productions.

So when I dropped them off for the first day of camp, I was a tad taken aback by the fact that the camp location was a multi-purpose room of a unfamiliar church vs. the reconverted department store turned sprawling theatrical space. There were also a smattering of kids v. the blond child army that attended the similar camp in Texas. And the only adult in site was the woman who waited to take my check v. the hoards of big-haired board members I had been greeted with at our original experience.

It was a shaky first step, but we all forged ahead. I became less impressed when I picked them up on the first day. And after drop-off on the second day, I decided to contact the camp director.

My main issue was that the camp appeared to being run by two teenage boys. I know this, because after asking about the "counselors" Hazel told me that she knew how old they were, that the boys told them they were 19 and 16.

After leaving two voice mail messages and not getting a return call. I quickly typed out this email:

Hi -

I've been attempting to contact CAMP DIRECTOR by phone today. I was given her cell by one of the boys running the Song and Dance camp. I have concerns about the camp.

I'm going to type out some of my thoughts and would like an adult in charge to call me to discuss.

The camp is not meeting my expectations.

From what I have observed it is disorganized babysitting by two teenage boys.

I had thought there would be theater professionals in attendance.

I had thought it would be more of a learning experience for my kids.

I'm uncomfortable with the fact that there is not an adult leading the camp.

I'm uncomfortable with the activities, supervision, facility and out door time at Jackson Park.

My cell phone is: XXX.XXX.XXXX and my home number is: XXX.XXX.XXXX.

Please call me.

Thank you,


Here is the email I received in response:

Dear Vanessa,

I am sorry to hear this. Unfortunately, I am unavailable until the end of this week, with limited e.mail access. I have forwarded your e.mail to two of our board members.

We have had NINETEEN and SIXTEEN as counselors before and have never had a complaint, (as a matter of fact, just the opposite!) NINETEEN is an adult. He is 20 years old and is a student at FANCY University. He is majoring in theatre. He has had extensive theatrical experience, in fact, his father, (who is the classic English teacher at LOCAL High School), just recently directed my daughter in an ACMT production of "A Christmas Carol", so he comes from a "theatre" family.

SIXTEEN is a teenager.....17 years old, but he has also had extensive theatrical experiences, and has performed "professionally", (he is not equity), with Berkeley Rep., the Altarena and Virago Theatre Company. He just did the choreography for our three-week summer camp play, "Thoroughly Modern Millie", and the dancing was wonderful, the parents were very happy.

Regardless, these counselors have not been working out for you. I just wanted to give you some of their background to possibly allay some of your concerns. I will be available next week and will call you then.

Thank you,

Call me crazy, but I don't think two teenage boys are qualified to run a paid camp unsupervised. (I'm not really sure what to make of the age discrepancies, but I didn't want it to turn into a fight over what the boys told the kids their ages were and what the Camp Director thinks their ages are.)I don't think a 20 and 17 year old are old enough to run a camp either. If I was hiring a babysitter in my home, maybe. But as a customer, I don't think they are qualified to lead. And even the most trained theatre professional in my opinion, still needs a specific skill set to care for a group of children all day long. I've had over 8 years of this "training" and would hardly call myself a professional. Although, I have finally grasp that if you're going to put up your hand in protest, you'd better be prepared to pull your kids from the camp. Which we did. I still have yet to receive a phone call.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Jersey Boy

On occasion, the girls and I have been known to kill some time at our local Borders bookstore. The girls are in it for the amazing hot chocolates from the Seattle's Best. (Seriously an excellent cup of cocoa that comes with every kind of chocolate - milk, white and dark for the equally outstanding price of under $2.)

So today, we found ourselves in the children's section, which is located right next to the humor section. I've been working my way through Artie Lange's comedy memoir Too Fat To Fish since before Christmas.

Back in the day, I had the pleasure of knowing Artie when he was a comic in New York and would often hang out in the office of another comic/copywriter at a large advertising agency in New York City. This was before MADtv and Howard Stern.

I'm sure having known him years is ago is the only thing that drew me to the memoir, because the cover art alone is enough to turn most people off.

It's the kind of book that is best taken in small doses. If the language doesn't do you in, then the too true tales of drug, alcohol and other excess are sure to make you wish you were reading something more worthy of your time. But like listening to Howard, it's often that most disturbing bits that make it hard to turn away.

Today, I was rapt with the tales of the first season taping MADtv. As a side story detailing a forced intervention and subsequent second stint in rehab Artie retold a tale about a bit part he played (and that was later cut) from the hit film Jerry McGuire. He described what it was like working with Tom Cruise and Kelly Preston. He said that the whole crew would wait while Tom jumped rope to the point where he felt ready to perform the scene. When he was ready Tom would tell the director Cameron Crowe to yell "action" and Tom would toss his rope to his handler and begin his lines. Tom apparently reworks much of his scenes and deviates from the script and eventually ended up yelling at Artie who only had a brief cameo. The story continued with Artie's retelling of how he'd pass time between takes by throwing a baseball with one of the PA's. Apparently a small boy ran up to them and Artie rolled the ball to the 4 year old. At which point, Kelly Preston appeared and accused the two of trying to hurt her son. The PA revealed that the entire crew had to sign a contract not talk or interact with either Tom or Kelly during filming. The boy was Jett Travolta.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this story exactly, just that it was fascinating to be caught in the time conundrum between someone I knew in the past and celebrities I kind of feel like I know and the strange death of a child that occurred after the book was published. The story ended with Artie mercilessly making fun of the child's name. I can only imagine what he'd have to say about the moniker Suri.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Lula is crying out on the patio.

"I want to be with Anyaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!" she cries.

Anya is an only child who was in Lula's class last year. They're friends. According to Lula, Anya has got it good.

Lula has a succulent. Anya has an entire garden.

Lula has a CD player/radio. Anya has a karaoke machine.

Lula usually gets something for dessert. But Anya?! Anya gets chocolate ice cream with sprinkles and whipped cream in a parfait cup with a cherry on top and served with a gold plated spoon - every! single! night! (Save for the occasions where her parents take her to the town ice cream parlor, which according to Lula, is at least three times a week.)

I know that Lula is playing me. She creates these little "cry wolf" dramas to get out of doing the most basic of things: like making her bed, tying her shoes or even putting on her underwear -after being asked a minimum of forty-five times. She knows she can divert the attention away from the task at hand and if she keeps at it long enough, she'll hit upon something that will catch me off guard.

Like the time she proclaimed in all seriousness, "It's just not fair! Over half of my class has swam with dolphins."

Really? I thought. And then I laughed.

Meanwhile, she's shoeless, face down on an unmade bed crying about how she had to sit on the bench during recess three years ago on her birthday. Anya never has to sit on the bench.