Category Archives: Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff

What the hell is Disney Bounding and can it be practical?

Alice in Wonderland Melissa at The Attic

Me and Melissa at the Farewell Brunch at The Attic at Disney’s Boardwalk. I’m in my Alice in Wonderland Disney Bound. She made her dress herself!

Let’s face it—we Disney fanatics love to play dress up. Disney Bounding—the art of dressing to suggest your favorite character without copying it directly—hit my radar shortly after, a few years ago, the Disney Parks didn’t want adults going to the parks in costumes that were too close to the “real thing,” which might confuse guests (truth be told, it was probably around way before that, but that’s when I became aware of it).

I’d been to the parks a few times and seen some pretty amazing and creative outfits, but they were mostly pieces that Read the rest of this entry

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Independent Girl Does the Hula: Why The Writing Life is worth it

Suzanne's Dashboard Hula Girl

My friend Suzanne’s dashboard hula girl! What’s cooler than this?

Recently, I was in Rhode Island with my college friends and fellow writers, Heather Sullivan and Kaitlyn Downing. Late in the night and deep into a few glasses of wine, the conversation turned toward disappointments in life, or more specifically, the disappointments in this thrill ride we call The Writing Life—you are up up up one day, and down down down the next.

In the past couple of years, my productivity has crashed, largely due to personal issues—there have been some publishing triumphs, but in terms of feeling the joy of writing, the joy of creating, since 2015, it’s been down down down. Every piece has been a struggle. Heather and Kaitlyn assured me that I’m one of the most prolific writers they know, and that the ease of engagement was bound to return at some point.

What they don’t know is Read the rest of this entry

Check out JURASSIC WORLD: The Exhibition!

Jurassic World: The Exhibition Banner

Jurassic Park celebrates 25 this year. Where were you? I saw it at the Opera House on Washington Square in Newport, RI, with a couple of friends, and I’ll never forget it.

I’d never seen such realistic, majestic, terrifying dinosaurs—I burst into tears of joy when the Brachiosaurus lumbered onto the scene, and the raptors scared me so badly I slept with the lights on. I’ve been a dinosaur lover since I was a little girl, but nothing…I mean nothing…has blown my mind like that since.

Until the opportunity to visit Jurassic World: The Exhibition presented itself last year. Everyone in the whole world thinks that all the cool stuff comes to the Northeast, but the reality is, it’s rare when limited engagements show up within reasonable driving distance from my home. When we found out it was going to be in Philadelphia—just under four hours from me—we were in (with the full VIP ticket package, which included souvenir photos and books and all kinds of extra perks) and we were taking our friend Bruce Shillinglaw—a thirty-year volunteer at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk—with us. We knew there was going to be nothing quite like visiting Jurassic World with a dinosaur expert (he’s a really humble guy and would probably argue that statement, but I’m sorry, no one I know knows more about dinosaurs than he does)…and we were right! In honor of this weekend’s release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, you can tag along on our super-science field trip to the Franklin Institute in the video below.

Mosasaur

Nathan, me and Bruce are surprised by a mighty mosasaur! I like this pic especially because you can see the JW staff member who “runs the show” in the movie in the background. She kinda dresses like I do at the Norwalk Aquarium when I’m working. Super cool!

Ahhh, if there were only another exhibition to go to! But there isn’t this year, so the three of us (along with a few friends) will be seeing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in IMAX 3D tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. (and yes, I’m wearing my official Jurassic Park: 25th Anniversary Jurassic World dress I just picked up at Torrid).

Want a more full experience of what the exhibit was like? Below my video, there is a link to a FABULOUS, clear, high-def complete walk-through put together by the guys at the Jurassic Park Podcast.

Happy T-Rexing!

 

Franklin Institute Jurassic World: The Exhibition walk-through by the Jurassic Park Podcast

How’d we do? Global Big Day Weekend Wrap-up!

A ruby-throated hummingbird at Audubon Bent of the River in Southbury, CT. Photo by Nathan Schoonover.

*I was working on this post when a tornado hit my house. So here it is, about a month later than expected, but just in case anyone was wondering…

The results of our Global Big Day–when we try to see as many species of birds in one day as we can as part of an international effort–are in!

We started the day (May 5, 2018) in our yard at 6 a.m. Our neighbor, Steve, joined us for coffee and birdwatching until 8:30. We got 23 species, so it was a great kick-off to the day.

Look at this portly guy!! A Gray Catbird at a preserve in Newtown, CT. Photo by Nathan Schoonover.

I’d jokingly set my goal at 50, and really didn’t think we’d come anywhere near that. But we headed out to a preserve in Newtown, where in under 40 minutes we bagged seven species–the most exciting for me Read the rest of this entry

Notes from the Tornado Zone

Tornado Damage Stadley Rough Road

The roads in my neighborhood were a dangerous maze of downed wires — my landline still hasn’t been fixed because they can’t even find some chunk of cable that disappeared. Here, at the corner of Stadley Rough Road and Great Plain, someone had tacked up wires so cars could “pass through.” It wasn’t as easy as it looked.

If you know me personally, then you probably know that a rash of freak storms tore through western Connecticut on May 15, spawning tornados and microbursts. My house got hit. We are not as bad off as some in our communities, but we sustained heavy damage—my bedroom’s not safe so we’re sleeping in the living room, our back porch was destroyed and what’s left of it is unstable, my husband’s car was flattened by falling trees, and all of our bird feeders and porch furniture were hurled everywhere like so many pick-up sticks. All of this, coupled with the estimated 30 trees on our property that are either downed or contorted in dangerous positions that may not last long, has made my life utter chaos.

Tornado damage back porch

Damage to the back porch. In case you’re wondering, those chairs weigh a LOT.

Everyone I love is safe, and everything that got broken is all just stuff. And, as more and more people chimed in on Facebook and reminded me that this was a good thing—“it’s just stuff, no one died”—yes, that’s true, but there was something about it that was bothering me. It made me realize that people who lose everything in devastating events like the Kilauea eruption and Hurricane Harvey aren’t just losing stuff. They are losing memories, stability, and their concept of home and what it means, even if only temporarily. It is also struggling to accept a state of chaos that may last for a long time—others not affected move on, while those that were will still be dealing with upheaval and a lack of normalcy months, if not years, afterward. It’s incredibly isolating.

If there is one thing I’m going to walk away from this with, it’s a new compassion for people who are left with nothing but wreckage. I understand the deep emotional impact now in a way I didn’t before. It’s probably going to change my life in many ways in terms of how I respond to natural disasters and how I can physically help. The first thing I wanted to do was go volunteer at the shelter that was set up here in Brookfield (there were people who suffered total, I mean total losses and we weren’t one of them, by far)—but once I got home, the roads were blocked, so I couldn’t leave.

Sadly, there will be a next time, and I will make sure I get there.

Below, the most important things rescued from my bedroom—I only needed to save them because of what they meant, not because of the items themselves.

 

Mumble, Dremlite, Pua

Build-A-Bear Mumble, Pua the Pig, and the Penguin Dreamlite—These were all stuffed animals my husband Nathan bought me. Mumble, who is the featured character in the 2006 movie Happy Feet, was the hottest item that Christmas. My husband busted his ass to get that thing for me…I heard the horror story on Christmas Eve of how he conned the lady at the counter to call him the second the shipment arrived. He got me the Penguin Dreamlite when he started working at the movie theatre in 2012—he would often work overnight and he got that to keep me company (I am afraid of the dark sometimes). Pua the Pig was my favorite character in Moana, so he got it for me for my birthday a couple of years ago. I like to cuddle with it…I may be 47, but I’m very in touch with my inner child.

For Kaye who sees everything

For Kaye Who Sees Everything—this painting was a Christmas gift to me from my friend Judith Nagib, who was in the Pencils! Writing Workshop I ran down in Norwalk from 2003-2009.

Uranus by Do'An

Uranus, by dear friend and mentor Do’An. It was the first piece of “real” art I ever owned, and when I look at it, I think of our great times together at Burlington College and how much he taught me about writing—and life.

Untitled by Heather Gleason -- This Poisoned Ground

This painting, by artist Heather Gleason, is untitled, but has an uncanny story. She was painting it at around the same time I was writing my novelette This Poisoned Ground, and it’s incredible how the painting describes what’s happening in the story. Talk about a fine example of the collective unconscious at work (no, we didn’t know each other at the time). You can check out Heather Gleason’s artwork here: http://myeclecticmind.com/

THE NASTY NINE: Do you have a narc in your life?

The Nasty Nine

Today, I’m helping out my sister, who runs an online support group as well as the website https://escapinginsanity.org/ for victims of those who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder…I’m coming out as a former victim, and by doing so I hope to spread awareness.

What is a narcissist, you ask? The Mayo Clinic definition reads “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” It then goes on to say this is due to their low self-esteem or some other heart-tugging thing that almost makes you feel bad for them.

I’m going to apologize right now—for me, there’s no way to put a pretty face on this disorder. I’ve had experience with several narcs in my life (two of them romantic relationships), and I can tell you they are nothing more than abusers. I’ve gone through it, I’ve seen my friends go through it, I’ve seen my family go through it. Part of why I’m sharing this is to open people’s eyes. I know enough that if I even smell narc behavior I run, so there hasn’t been a narc–friend, romantic interest, boyfriend of a friend or otherwise–that’s been able to get a foothold in my life in sixteen years.

I want to give others that same opportunity.

If someone in your life does these nine patterns of behavior Read the rest of this entry

How the Great Backyard Bird Count made me a birder

GBBC 1

My first ever bird journal!

Lots of birders recall their “spark bird” – the sighting that gave them the bug to bird – fondly.

I don’t have a spark bird. I have a spark weekend.

There’s this neat bookstore in the nearby town of Bethel called Byrd’s Books. In this do-or-die time for independent book sellers—there’s a lot of competition out there from Amazon, mostly, but from other large outlets that sell books at a cut price as well, such as BJs and Costco—they constantly have to invent new ways to keep themselves alive.

One of the ways Byrd’s does this is through the creation of community. Alice works hard to host a number of interesting events. In late January, her newsletter heralded an introductory session to the Great Backyard Bird Count—an annual event that takes place around President’s Day Weekend. It’s when birders everywhere count the birds in their yards or anywhere else they visit, and make reports each day. The National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology then use these reports to create a real-time snapshot of local bird populations. In prior years, this count has been exceptionally helpful in noting increases and decreases in certain populations and, for example, how changing weather patterns have affected them.

GBBC Confirmation

I signed us up immediately—Nathan has been a birder for years, and I’ll admit I never understood the appeal of it, but it would be an interesting date for us. I was excited, because I knew Nathan would be; I also love going to lectures on just about anything, and I love participating in citizen science. Besides, maybe I could figure out what the heck it is he loves about sitting out on our back porch for hours watching birds.

Whatever it was Read the rest of this entry

Unique perspective: GoPro films inside lava flow…

GoPro Lava Screenshot

I’m not one to go crazy over viral videos. But due to my fascination with volcanoes–and my being traumatized as a child by certain movies (i.e., Devil at 4 O’Clock) when I found this it made my blood curdle, so I had to share.

The first-person perspective while the lava consumes the camera is disturbing–there’s something about feeling hopelessly trapped as the flow moves toward the camera, the relentless crackling of the beast itself, and the flames consuming us while we watch.

https://nypost.com/2017/11/15/gopro-keeps-filming-after-being-engulfed-in-molten-lava/

 

The truth is out there: I called THIS one when I was 14…

Ralos Paper Art

My 9th grade science teacher, Mr. Coleman, gave us an assignment to “create our own solar system” and “describe each planet, its atmosphere, and geological/geographic properties.” Something like that, anyway—I don’t really remember the exact parameters.

I loved doing homework, and I especially loved projects (my home life sucked, so anything that could help me mentally escape—and have an excuse to not do ridiculous chores—was a win). I threw myself into this one whole hog, but strayed a little bit from the hard-core science paper by adding lots of fiction and poetry (like, seriously? Who does that? Who even thinks it’s a good IDEA to do that?) So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Mr. Coleman called me in to “discuss my paper” because it “was of some concern.” I don’t remember the conversation as a whole, but I do remember, word for word, a few things he said, among them, “I mean, planets moving back and forth like clocks? Planets that don’t spin at all? It’s ridiculous!” and also, that what I had dreamed up was scientifically impossible.

I remember thinking, as I left the classroom to go to—lunch, I think it was—that while he was a science teacher, he was kind of not too swift. Yes, it’s true, I didn’t give him what he asked for, but I mean, why couldn’t planets move in ways we’ve never seen? Wasn’t it true that there were whole expanses of space that had never been explored? Didn’t we just get done learning in biology class that a long-extinct fish called the Coelacanth had turned up in someone’s nets in Madagascar?

Later on, I felt stupid: Of course not, silly. Of course planets can’t move contrary to whatever we’ve already seen. It’s laws of physics.

I never forgot that conversation, but I kept my admittedly cringe-worthy paper.

I never dreamed the day would come when it would be proven that some of what I’d dreamed up was not only possible, it existed. I recently read that scientists had discovered a planet (known as 55 Cancri e) with a permanent day and night side—which means the planet doesn’t spin as ours does. You can read more about this place—which they now think might even have an atmosphere—here: http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2017/11/nasa-scientists-debate-alien-planet-55-cancri-e-does-it-have-an-atmosphere-like-earth-venus.html

We’ve still yet to discover a planet that moves back and forth like a clock, but…you know, I’ll keep hoping.

If you’d like to read my really bad science paper, I’ve included it below—you can judge for yourself if I really deserved that 19/25 (which works out, I think, to a B+, if each grade is worth five points…I guess he didn’t hate it that much?)

9th Grade Science Paper — Ralos

 

Eight films with immersive abandoned settings

If you’ve been following me on any social media or have read some of my work, you know I have a thing for all things abandoned. On a recent Dark Discussions episode, we reviewed the 2001 film Session 9—it has some small issues, for sure, but you can’t beat the atmosphere; it was shot in the real former Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, which today is home to luxury apartments (yes, really).

I decided it might be fun to pull together a list of my favorite movies that are set in abandoned locations. I didn’t include films that have one or two stunning scenes in such places—believe it or not, the animated love fest Happy Feet would rank high on that list, with its most disturbing scene playing out in an abandoned Antarctic whaling station—only films that are almost entirely set in them.

Please note: The only thing these films have been judged on is the quality of the abandoned setting. Check out your favorite review venue if you want more detail on the film’s other aspects before watching.

8 Abandoned Session9

David Caruso stands amidst the ruins in SESSION 9.

Session 9 (2001)

An asbestos cleaning crew takes on a big contract at a crumbling, abandoned asylum, not realizing that they’re going to get a lot more than they bargained for when they find cassettes of a patient’s hypnotherapy sessions. Many people consider this one of the most terrifying movies of all time, but I maintain it’s because of the claustrophobic setting. Shot at Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts (before it was gutted and became Bradlee Danvers Luxury Apartments—check it out here), this is a fine example of how setting is sometimes the biggest player in what makes a movie scary. Watch Session 9

8 Abandoned Ghost Ship

An abandoned state room in GHOST SHIP.

Ghost Ship (2002)

A salvage crew thinks they’ve hit the jackpot when they find a passenger liner that went missing forty years ago—one that had long been rumored to harbor massive treasure. But it also harbors something else: ghosts for sure, but I’m thinking more along the lines of splendid furnishings corroded by four decades worth of exposure to the salt air. For most of us, this is as close as we’ll ever get to exploring a derelict liner. The set is so ably rendered it’s easy to envision the grandeur that must’ve been. Watch Ghost Ship

8 Abandoned Reincarnation

Something’s amiss in the surprisingly bright abandoned resort in REINCARNATION.

Reincarnation (2005)

A filmmaker and his crew go to an abandoned hotel twenty years after Read the rest of this entry

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