The Rockettes, The Renaissance, and a Really Ridiculous Oz – December 2014

We have had a particularly theatrical month. Actually, a lot of it happened over a single week.  The kids went from the stage to the audience and then to another show.  Cleverly was Toto, a Lady from the 1600’s, and had a chorus/dancer role in a teen production – all in a few days!  Let’s start with NYC.




Top: us in front of Radio City. Bottom: just two of the elaborate sets from the show.  Lower R had a moving double-decker bus and lower L a functional ice rink

We did our usual Christmas trip to Manhattan for a day, and this time we saw The Rockettes!  Only the kids kept calling them the Chipettes – if you are blissfully unfamiliar, I envy you.  The Chipettes are female versions of The Chipmunks and they do really annoying renditions of pop songs, think a chorus of Lady Gagas being played too fast and you’ll have the idea.

Anyway, there we were at Radio City Music Hall a week or so before Christmas watching the renowned holiday spectacular.  It was pretty entertaining, what with the glitter, fireworks, floating light balls, full live orchestra, real camels, and of course the singer/dancers themselves.  The American-ness of the event struck me.  It is a specific mix of patriotism, Jesus, and sex that to me typifies mainstream US culture.  In one act, they removed faux winter coats to show their tighter outfits, in another they made a nativity scene.  The audience was exclusively white and noticably on the silver-hair part of life.  The dancers are as precise in their actions as a drill team.  Their are roughly 50 of them in their sparkly leotards, at various times dolls, reindeer, toy soldiers, Santas, candy canes, and other costumes I am forgetting.  We were entertained, and I can check that off the bucket list.  Seems like something you should do at least once.

Yule Feast



clockwise from top R: Our table, part of the feast seen from the balcony, 3 maidens (Fiercely in center with a friend and Cleverly), the balcony

Well, I couldn’t go to Pennsic last July, but I could celebrate Yule in period clothing with the gang.  We borrowed finery from a local group and went to a gorgeous historic building for the evening activities of a day-long SCA event.  We partook in a 5-course period-appropriate meal with other garbed individuals.  It was kind of like a wedding; we didn’t know anyone, were assigned seating with strangers, but made friends pretty easily.  Once you realize everyone there is willing to dress in pre-17th century clothing and geek out on the details of life from that time, certain social conventions are already breached as a group and you just go with it!  We enjoyed some unfamiliar vegetable dishes (leek casserole, red cabbage with currants) and despite our mostly-vegetarianism tried some of the several meat dishes (chicken/apple pie, a large beef roast), and got down with the dessert table (more currants, spice cake, dearth of chocolate!).  A strolling magician came by and did a few tricks for the kids.  Later, there was Renaissance dancing with live musical accompaniment and a “dance master” who was like a square dance “caller” and described the (very simple) dance steps.  It felt a lot like very slow square dancing, it was easy and social and just fun. In a beautiful space with the clothing (much of it handmade), the food and music, it really felt magical.

The Panto of Oz

This was our homeschool theater group’s third panto.  We were in a much larger theater this year, with over twice the number of seats, a giant stage, and a large downstairs cast hang-out area with dressing rooms!!  The kids loved all of this of course, and set about rehearsing and preening like the divas that they are.


The Panto of Oz featured an obnoxious Dorothy (in silver shoes like in the book), her well-known companions, a disgruntled male mandrill, good and bad witches, Santa Clause (who reminded us he was in book 5 of the Oz series) and a chorus of mice/Munchkins/monkeys.  There was also a giant paper maché neon green Oz head that occupied my basement for several months.  Mr. Fantastic played Glinda and Auntie Em, Cleverly was several small roles, Fiercely was Toto, and the twins were in the chorus.  I was in the audience!


Oz head with the bad witch on L, Mr Fantastic as the Wicked Witch of the South (who is angry at being left out of the Oz film) on R

And that is that for now.  A couple of posts coming on other adventures, stay tuned!


Belated Panto update, general updates, and SNOW! Jan 2014

Panto debuted to raves!

The panto of last month went really well.  It was a take on Robin Hood written by Fiercely, Mr Fantastic, and another crazy father-daughter homeschool dynamo.  Robin Hood and her Merry Girls charmed their audiences with sword fighting, cross-dressing, slapstick, and the mysterious, hooded, evil S.N.L.S. – who turned out to be the formidable Sheriff of Nottingham’s Little Sister.  All of the Fantastics, save yours truly who had to go to work during most rehearsals, did very well onstage and I did help a little with the scenery and costumes so we can all be proud.

IMG_1419 IMG_1415 IMG_1416 IMG_1407

clockwise from top left: swordfighting SNLS in black and Fiercely behind in silver, Cleverly at Right and the twins on knees with brooms, dancing in front of a tree at a faire, and the chorus singing (Fiercely, L of center in green tunic + hat, Really in front of her)

Snow on the East Coast

Yes!  It is wonderful, almost a real winter around here, or completely miserable depending on who you talk to.  We have taken full advantage of the cold and snow, going out sledding and staying in cooking and baking.


IMG_1390 IMG_1395IMG_1374

Downhill Skiing

We also have gone several times skiing as a homeschool group to avail ourselves of the superb deal for school groups at a ski resort around here.  Ten people minimum and for $25 per person they give us rentals, lift tickets, lessons, and LUNCH!  They even let you snowboard and ski the same day if you want.  It is worth looking around for deals like that for such an expensive sport.  I myself had not skied in over 15 years until we went on a deal like this last year.

IMG_1546 IMG_1541


I gave it a try, so did Mr Fantastic.  This snowsport seems to have developed over the 15+ years I was off the slopes, and it looks so darn fun.  I know people my age who enjoy it, so I thought why not?  Well, for starters, people say it takes about three times as long to get comfortable snowboarding compared with downhill skiing.  I always thought downhill skiing was a challenge and I was kind of proud I can do it, but it looks a downright cinch next to snowboarding.  Guided by a surfer dude instructor half my age, I went down the baby hill, the one you walk back up in your skis/snowboard, five times.  Each time I was scared just looking down that minuscule, snowy grade as toddlers around me whooshed down, carefree.  I fell backwards and hit my head so that my hat and glasses flew off, not once but three times.  Once I fell forward, and once I didn’t fall at all.  Fiercely, 13 and pointing at her own helmeted head, opined that maybe I should wear head protection.  After maybe 40 minutes, I gave in to the twins who wanted to ski and needed a parent.  It was my out, I’m not gonna lie.  Mr Fantastic soldiered on but said he was ready to burn the snowboard after another hour or so.  That said, we both want to give it another try.   Brave? Stupid?  Discuss.


OMG the refinance went through TODAY!!  We started back in October and after abundant snafus and several almost-dealbreakers, we got a bunch of checks today.  Unfortunately, all but one are to our creditors.  The upside is that we have been eschewing the credit cards for several months at this point and hopefully can stay on target to budget for RTW 2015.  Or at least Not Losing our House 2014.

RTW update

Unlike yours truly, Mr Fantastic is a bit of a reluctant traveler.   These days, he is so happy teaching physics, hosting games nights at our house, planning events with the homeschool teens, teaching a model airplane class to the younger homeschoolers, managing his properties, and getting involved in neighborhood issues such as new businesses and plans for vacant lots.  Planning to leave for two years makes him a bit nervous.  We had a big talk a few weeks ago during which he realized that a one-year RTW trip felt better to him, ideally two one-year trips spaced a couple of years apart. While I worry about budgeting – two trips are sure to be more expensive than one longer trip – I have to admit the benefits are many.  Easier re-integration for us and the kids after just one year away, less issues with the houses being rented out and managing from afar, time between trips to better plan the second one, and Mr Fantastic’s comfort level.  So, my next planning will be about how to organize our time for 12 months rather than 24.  From my research so far, the main factor affecting the trip is how we get from place to place, such as cruise from Vancouver to Tokyo vs. fly or cruise to Europe to begin and how to go from there.  Crossing oceans is a big expense and will determine how and where we go.  Stay tuned!

England – Holiday Pantos, from the middle ages to today!

No, sadly, we Fantastics are not in the UK. But if we were, if I suddenly had £10.000 and a few weeks off, I know exactly what we would be doing.  We would head to some random small town and take in a local amateur production of a panto.

I heard of pantos about two years ago from our homeschool theatre group co-director, Mr. Fantastic’s partner in crime.  Up to that time they had directed kids in shows that featured mainly historic monologues, the idea being that there was no lead so each child had an important part.  Two that we did were “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village” by Baltimore children’s librarian Laura Amy Schlitz and “We Were There, Too” by Phillip Hoose about children’s roles in US history.  These were both excellent and I can’t praise them too highly.  The kids, however, were getting older and looking for something different.  They had tired of monologues and wanted comedy, slapstick, and general silliness.  Pantos fit the bill.

A panto, short for pantomime but not the same as mime theatre, is a UK holiday theatrical production roughly based on a fairy tale like Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk.  These have been extremely popular in England through the ages; even The Queen was in one.  The earliest pantos were silent due to Parliament restricting spoken theatre to limited London venues and fairy tales were chosen because everyone knew the plots.  The restriction was eventually lifted, but by then fairy tales, audience participation, and exaggerated visuals were a part of the genre.  Fine Manchester theaters and grade school auditoriums alike became panto stages for big names and locals, and the tradition continues today.  Apparently the well-known (to Brits at least – I had to look it up) tale of Dick Wittington and his cat are a popular English panto story that attracted the likes of Joan Collins.  Those crazy Brits!

One of the defining, and perhaps to the uninitiated, alarming features of panto is the shouting of audience members to the actors.  Audience members hiss the villains, warn the protagonist, and call out classic panto lines such as “it’s right behind you!!!” and “Oh, yes it is!!” to an actor’s “Oh no it isn’t!!”.  Other panto details that have become standard over time include: a female playing a male lead, a man playing an older woman’s role, an animal played by an actor, a “messy scene” of slapstick pie-in-the-face style antics, double-entendre jokes to entertain the adults, and a chorus.  It is a lot of fun once the audience gets the participation part – there are explanations and practice bits before and even during the performance.  Sometimes I explain it to people as a family-friendly Rocky Horror Picture Show live theater experience.

See Mr Fantastic and Fiercely (next to him, with blue sash) below, cross dressing as a mother and son.  The villain and animal also can be seen.  That’s Aladdin in the green sash.  The show was awesome!!  The twins and Cleverly also had small roles.  In fact, there’s Cleverly barely seen between Poppa and Fiercely.  Wish I had more pictures.

This year our production is “Robin Hood and her Merry Girls”.  It debuts next week- yikes! We still need several bow and arrow sets, an anvil, a tea set, and something called an ‘insultometer’, among other strange and interesting costumes and props.

Pantos have spread beyond the UK to the US in places like San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, heck there’s probably one near you wherever you are.  We saw this professional Aladdin panto last year after our production, which was really fun since we had produced the same one. Of course, no two Aladdin pantos are alike – there are hundreds of scripts for each fairy tale and each theater company does unique adaptations, often referring to local geography and politics.

That’s all for now, fans, until next time: happy travels and happy holidays!!