Tag Archives: television

Success in stepmotherhood is like success in ‘Survivor’

I was remembered today on Mother’s Day with a phone call, a card and a Facetime connection that included both stepchildren, my granddaughter and both granddogs. Lucky me.

I survived 40 years without giving Mother’s Day a second thought (other than to thank my own mother), so I’m still a little surprised—and pleased—when I’m thought of on Mother’s Day. Far beyond just being remembered on a Hallmark holiday, I’m fortunate to have two wonderful stepchildren with whom I get along well. Stepping into the role of stepmother hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes, it has been … well … how do I say this … bang-my-head-against-a-wall, heartbreakingly difficult. Days like today make all those other, less satisfying moments worth it.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ve updated a post I first wrote six years ago. “Survivor” is still around and so am I, so it’s worth pondering again, updated for this season’s “Survivor: Edge of Extinction.”

How being a stepmother is like “Survivor”

1. Outwit, outplay, outlast. If you can’t outwit and outplay a 13-year-old, you’ll never outlast one.

2. Do not be the leader. Leaders get voted out of “Survivor” (look how it turned out for Reem), and bossy stepmothers are unlikable all the way around. I learned early on that I had no role as disciplinarian, and thank goodness, my Beloved was up to the task.

3. Don’t be a follower either. Children—biological or step—learn how to push their parents’ buttons. If you let them get to you, they win.

4. Be nice but don’t be too young, too pretty or too stupid. Having to compete for your spouse’s attention helps no one. Be yourself. Be sincere. Help with homework. Care.

5. Keep your emotions in check. The frequent tears on this season’s “Survivor” are a little too much; methinks Jeff Probst might be pushing the contestants a little too far in the pursuit of TV drama. Yes, the actions of my stepchildren have made me cry. Crying is good sometimes. But not on camera or under the hot lights.

6. Being a good cook helps. If you can’t be a good cook, tend the fire. My tastes and my stepson’s tastes do not jive. Thankfully, my Beloved is a good cook. And I clean up after him well.

7. Lighten up. On “Survivor,” lunatics get voted out (hello, Wendy) but people like to keep funnymen around. In the end, the comedians are often the “fan favorites.” In my step-dynamic, Caswell tells the jokes and I laugh at them. In the words of Martha Stewart, this is a very good thing.

8. Avoid lying. Blindsides make for good tribal councils, but blindsided contestants tend to hold grudges when it comes time for the final vote. That goes double for stepchildren.

9. Win immunity challenges at any cost! There have been a lot of challenges in this season’s survivor requiring contestants to stand, balance, figure out puzzles or hold on the longest (even if it means passing out). Similarly, sometimes the best tactic for a stepmother is hold on longer than she ever thought she could.

10. Don’t monopolize the challenges either. If you’re seen as huge threat, you’ll be voted off (can you hear me, Joe?). Stepchildren don’t like threats to their security either.

Enjoy the “Survivor” finale this week! And happy (step)Mother’s Day!

Time for some peace and quiet

“You know, I’ve always thought that technology could solve almost any problem. It enhances the quality of our lives. Lets us to travel across the galaxy. It even gave me my vision. But sometimes, you just have to turn it all off. Even the gypsy violins.”

Uttered by Lt. Geordi LaForge in one of my favorite all-time favorite episodes of Star Trek: Next Generation, “Booby Trap.” Because sometimes the best offense is just letting go.

[Thanks, BBC America, for that Saturday night distraction.]

It’s Travel Tuesday: Let’s check out Waco, Texas

It’s Travel Tuesday and today, in keeping with the theme I began Sunday when I mentioned Joanna Gaines in conjunction with decorating the church-renovation-that-was-not-to-be and the book review Monday of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ memoir over on my author blog, we’re going to visit Waco, Texas.

Waco is south of Dallas-Fort Worth on Interstate 35, and my Beloved and I made a stop there on our way home this spring from Yuma, Arizona. April is a great month to pay a visit to Texas; not too hot, not too cold, just right. We camped at Hamm Creek Park near Rio Vista, Texas (northwest of Waco), and the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush flowers growing in the ditches in April were breathtaking.



The Silos

If you’ve heard of Waco, Texas, before it might be because of the government siege of the Branch Davidian’s property near there in 1993. But it wasn’t a religious or political pilgrimage that brought us to Waco. We came for the shopping, specifically Magnolia Market at the Silos, which home designers Chip and Joanna Gaines opened late last year. The couple, who star in “Fixer Upper” on HGTV, spent $1.4 million to transform the vacant Brazos Valley Cottonseed Oil Mill in downtown Waco into a shopping mecca for home décor and food trucks.

Parking is tricky. We found a spot on a nearby street, but apparently there are alternatives. Plan to spend some time there because you might be standing in line. Grab some food at one of the food trucks outside. When we were there, Tyler didn’t even go inside. I stood in line mere minutes, but once inside, it’s a madhouse, kind of like spring break at Disney World.


I took a picture of these tulip bouquets to match my sweater instead of buying one.

For me it was worth it, but bear in mind: It’s a store, not a museum. I left with a T-shirt, a candle and a box of stationery, which is fine with me, but if you’re coming for the design ideas, you might as well stay home and watch the TV show.


Magnolia Market selfie

We would have liked to drive around Waco to see the homes the Gaines’ have renovated, but if there’s a list of such homes or a map that exists somewhere, I couldn’t find it. We found a couple of other cute shops and malls to visit, and we enjoyed that. We did not see the Gaineses. Still, our visit to Magnolia Market felt special being there if only because you can see Joanna’s hand in the selection of items for sale and the way the store and property is decorated. I also found a little bit of inspiration in one of the wall hangings for sale.



Weighty matters

Oh, my gawd, I saw the most compelling news story on the Today show this morning while I was running on the treadmill (thank gawd I was multi-tasking).

Today national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen revealed that fast food served at major chains like McDonald’s and Subway doesn’t actually look as good as the commercials portray (Fast-food face-offs: Does it look as good in real life as on TV?).

Can you believe that?

No, not that Americans are getting short shrift on their fast food orders. That Jeff Rossen hasn’t ever heard of food styling. Or photography filters.

Is it false advertising that you can’t actually see the ground beef patties in your Big Mac (like on TV)? Or is it false advertising that Rossen passes himself off as an “investigative correspondent”? He spent an afternoon and $20 to develop this 5-minute piece of this enlightening video.


This is what’s wrong with television journalism, I thought as I covered the treadmill miles. So I changed the channel, only to find Good Morning America tackling the troubling trend of skateboarders taking to freeways for their hijinks, complete with the hashtag #FreewayChallenge. This was accompanied by repeating loops of the daredevils falling in the street. I felt like I was watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. So if we have Jackass-inspired video and a hashtag, then it’s news?

No, this is the definition of the word irritainment, which I learned earlier this week from a “news” story in the Star Tribune. Irritainment is defined as “entertainment that is irritating but also so enticing that you can’t stop watching.”

So I quit watching. I turned off the TV news and hit the weights.

Latest work based on O.J. Simpson case succeeds in enlightening, entertaining

True confession: My latest guilty pleasure is “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.”

Every Tuesday night the past two months after I absorb the fallout from the latest U.S. presidential campaign primaries and caucuses (because nothing creates an opportunity to rubberneck like bunch of politicians in a car accident on CNN), I turn to FX for my fix on the trial of the century.

As much as I resist watching murder stories, as I call my Beloved’s favorite nap time snoozers–the true-life murder documentaries aired by Dateline and others–I can’t get enough of “The People v.” I guess I don’t want to admit to being entertained at the expense of victims of murder. But as described in The New Yorker, “It’s a tasty Proustian cronut that makes you remember the events of not only 1995 but 2015.” (That would be a “brief, vivid, sense memory” of a lighter than air but delectable croissant-doughnut pastry, for those of you outside The New Yorker’s realm.)

Back in 1995 when Simpson was being tried for the murder of his ex-wife and an ill-fated waiter who may or not have been involved with her, I was a daily newspaper copy editor who read nearly every story written about the farcical circus as it came across the wires. I distinctly remember putting a say-nothing story about some minute detail of the trial on the front page one Friday night for publication the next morning because there was no other news. “What a waste of newsprint,” I thought. The world, me included, was glued to the goings-on of the courtroom even when nothing was happening.

I bought the hardcover of prosecutor Christopher Darden’s “In Contempt” when it came out a year later because I was fascinated with the behind-the-scenes dilemmas he described in his memoir.


The defense team/FX Network

“The People v.” casts light on many elements of the case I hadn’t realized even though I was following it so closely 20 years ago. Like who would have assigned such empathic soul to Simpson friend and attorney Robert Kardashian, played masterfully by David Schwimmer in the TV series? (I love him in this role!) The amount of evidence against Simpson was monumental, yet the defense team deftly overcame it. I witnessed but hadn’t understood the racial strategy they employed that played on the sympathies created with the Rodney King riots. Yesterday, the series explained why the jury all wore black one day in court. And I had forgotten such juicy details as Faye Resnick’s tell-all and the dancing Itos.

There are two episodes left in this “American Crime Story,” and I won’t be missing a single minute. If you haven’t given it a try, check it out.

Storyteller appeals to my baser instincts

I’ve come to dread the voice of Keith Morrison.

Even if you don’t know who he is, you probably know who he is.

He’s the voice of murder.

So to speak. Literally. Speaking of murder.

He’s the guy who narrates all the murder recaps for Dateline and other true-life crime documentaries. A profile of Morrison in the Chicago Tribune that caught my eye described his voice as a “deep and expressive baritone that soars and dips.”

Can’t you just hear him say, “But why would there be a half-eaten cherry pie on the windowsill?” “How could broom handle end up in the trunk?”

No? Thank your lucky stars.

My Beloved’s favorite way to relax lately is to watch these Dateline murder re-enactments, and I hate them. I couldn’t care less how some meek housewife in Idaho turned out to be an evil, gun-toting volunteer on the PTA who killed the treasurer or how a conniving salesman in Salem tried to fake his long-suffering wife’s suicide with a bottle of bleach and a toaster oven.

I don’t know these people. I don’t live in their towns. I’m not a PTA member. These murders, while tragic stories, do not affect my life. They already happened; I can’t stop them. Knowing how psychopaths operate doesn’t help me predict future psychopathic behavior.

But they are so compelling (Dateline producers have been writing this stuff for two decades for a reason). As soon as Keith Morrison poses the key question in the case — “How could his daughter travel back in time to bludgeon her father with a stuffed moose head? — I’m hooked. I’ve got to know how she did it. How did the police catch her? What did the jury do? How many years in prison did she get?

These television shows appeal to my baser instincts and I hate myself for it.

The same profile that described Morrison’s voice as mellifluous also described why the journalist has made a career of these types of stories.

“[H]e recalls a ‘big surprise’ early in his career when he was ordered to get a ‘pick up’ for a story about a crossing guard who had been hit by a car and killed. He pulled up to the widow’s house just hours after, feeling ‘like the worst person in the world’ and asked her for a picture of her late husband. And she invited him in, gave him tea and biscuits, and talked for a long time — which is when Morrison realized people want to get their story out. You don’t exploit victims. You facilitate their agenda.”

I get it. I was a reporter once. I was the rookie who was asked to call grieving spouses and parents about the latest accident or murder victims. Some of these people hung up on me or said “no comment” or bitched me out for intruding on their sorrow. I politely left those people alone. I wasn’t the pushy reporter portrayed in Hollywood disaster movies.

But more often than not, bereft mourners were happy to describe their loved one’s life and personality. They were glad for the opportunity to talk about the way the person lived, instead of just leaving the world with an impression of how they died. They wanted to have a say, and I was their megaphone. I believe in storytelling that illuminates the human condition.

I still dread hearing Morrison’s voice because I know it’s just an invitation to waste an hour of my life in front of the boob tube.

But, after learning a bit about Morrison’s personal story, I can appreciate the role he’s fulfilling as a master storyteller.

Believe deeply

The veteran actor with the bushy eyebrows and the glum visage — who seemed ancient 40 years ago when he was playing a tired police detective on “Barney Miller” — died yesterday.

Abe Vigoda is dead. For reals.

If “enjoy” is the right verb, I enjoyed his obituary in the newspaper this morning, which imparted this little bit of wisdom for those among us who are grasping for meaning as we age:

Vigoda quote

Lower the bar

I don’t know what other people do when they get sick, but I binge watch “Bar Rescue.”

Because there’s nothing that’ll make me feel better than watching an alcoholic who can’t clean his ice machine get yelled at by Jon Taffer and then get wowed by the backlit liquor bottles behind his remodeled bar. Throw in a new menu of salty tater tots and superfluously cheesy burgers, and it’s reality TV heaven.

At intermission (aka a series of commercial breaks), I crunched through half a bag of Spicy Nacho Doritos and an unknown number of slices of cheddar cheese.

Well, when you lack the energy to change the channel, it could be worse.

This is what happens when you neglect to get your flu shot. You get the flu. And spend your Saturday feeling like an ugly bag of mostly water (yes, Trekkers, that was a Next Generation reference).

I figure by now I’m on the other side of the worst of it, despite coughing like a seal.

Please pass the remote.

Good TV, bad TV and ugly TV

I was once addicted to television.

I grew up the daughter of a guy who sold TVs for a living. We always had the greatest TV in our living room. We didn’t go so far as to watch it during dinner, but let’s just say, there was no lack of television viewing in our house.

I remember spending many a Saturday afternoons watching reruns of Star Trek, In Search Of and Bionic Woman. Who stopped watching Saturday morning TV just because morning was over? And who needed to be outside in the middle of a Minnesota winter? Or the middle of summer for that matter?

There were also Sunday afternoons (Wonder Woman reruns) and Sunday nights (The Wonderful World of Disney), Tuesday nights (Happy Days)  and Friday nights (The Incredible Hulk, Dukes of Hazzard) and all the nights in between. I loved curling up in front of the boob tube.

I watch a lot less television as an adult. The quality if probably no worse, but I’ve found a lot more compelling ways to spend my time (can you say iPad Scrabble? And Facebook?).

Tonight, I’m watching the Oscars. TV about movies (navel gazing, anyone?). And fashion (more navel gazing).

But I’m still shaking my head over my Beloved’s latest binge-watching compulsion: The Sopranos.

No, I didn’t watch it when it was airing and collecting awards and kudos like no one’s business. And boy am I glad I didn’t.

I watched six seasons of The Sopranos over my Beloved shoulder for the past two weeks.

What garbage.

Sorry Sopranos fans.

I hated Tony Soprano and everything he stood for. Sure, James Gandolfini was awesome–he deserved whatever accolades he got because he actually found some humanity in a completely unlikable character. But I hated Tony and his woman-chasing, gun-wielding, flagrant-murdering arrogant self. Yuck. And all the other enabling or just plain mean, ridiculous characters? Why couldn’t creator David Chase funneled his talents into a more uplifting story?

And then the ending!

Do you know about the ending? The highly controversial ending that left viewers wondering if The Sopranos broke their TV sets? That ending? That was the ending I witnessed this morning. I knew it was coming (I peeked at Wikipedia), and when my Beloved turned to me with his mouth hanging open, asking “That was the end?” I couldn’t stop laughing. We took only two weeks getting to that 10 seconds of black screen. I can’t imagine was fans who had been watching for six years thought!

With weeks binge watching Big Love (which I liked) and The Sopranos behind me, I’m looking forward to some good television this week when The Voice and Survivor return to my weekly schedule.

Who needs scripted television when there’s reality TV, right?

Guilty pleasure: ‘Big Love’

We’re late to the party, but my Beloved and I have started watching “Big Love,” the HBO series about polygamy that ran from 2006-2011.

It’s available on Amazon, and despite my better judgment, I’m hooked.

Why? Certainly not because I aspire to be a sister-wife and live the Principle, heck no (my Beloved couldn’t handle more wives than me anyway).

I’ve always liked Bill Paxton, who plays interesting supporting characters in James Cameron’s movies. Remember Hudson in Aliens? “Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen!” Or how about Simon in True Lies: “No, I sell cars! That’s all! C’mon, I’m not a terrorist. I’m actually a complete coward, if I ever saw a gun, I’d… Oh God, no, please don’t kill me. I’m not a spy. I’m nothing. I’m navel lint!”

Paxton plays the patriarch of the Hendrickson family, which includes his three wives, eight or nine children (depending on the season), three houses in suburbia and enough drama to fill, well, five seasons of episodic television.

The series does a decent job of portraying polygamy more or less without being judgmental. Polygamy, when you think about it, is as rich a landscape for drama as a family of Dallas oil barons or New Jersey gangsters.

Already had your fill of “Big Love”? Don’t tell me how it ends.