Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Meme: Things I Have Done

I picked up this meme from both Rambling Mom and A Squib's Life. They got it from One Feather Tail and Doc Thelma. It will be interesting to compare experiences. I'll use my own formatting: those that I have done are in bold; my comments are in italics.

1. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
2. Swam with wild dolphins
3. Climbed a mountain
4. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
5. Been inside the Great Pyramid: the summer of 1988
6. Held a tarantula
7. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
8. Said “I love you” and meant it!
9. Hugged a tree: a redwood in Muir Woods in California
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris: autumn 1993, for our honeymoon (nearly a year later)
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
14. Seen the Northern Lights: I would love to see these one day.
15. Gone to a huge sports game: Super Bowl XXIII, Miami, Florida (1989)
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa: no, but I have climbed the entire Statue of Liberty, Notre Dame, St. Peter's Basilica, St. Paul's Cathedral, and McGraw Tower at Cornell University
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars
20. Changed a baby’s diaper: probably hundreds
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower
23. Drunk tequila: and eaten the worm
24. Given more than you can afford to charity: When I was single and had lost a job, I gave my last $5 to a homeless guy.
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
27. Had a food fight
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can: several times a week
32. Held a lamb
33. Seen a total eclipse
34. Ridden a roller coaster: I love rollercoasters!
35. Scored a winning goal
36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking: about once a year
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
39. Visited all 7 continents: 4 down, three to go
40. Taken care of someone who was drunk
41. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country: Spain, 1979, and that's all I'm saying.
42. Watched wild whales
43. Stolen a sign: Does a fraternity's composite count?
44. Backpacked
45. Taken a road-trip
46. Gone rock climbing
47. Midnight walk on the beach: It was how my husband proposed.
45. Gone sky diving
49. Taken a train through Europe: Taken subways in European cities.
50. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love: That's why they call it "first love".
51. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table, and had a meal with them
52. Milked a cow
53. Alphabetized your CDs
54. Sung karaoke
55. Lounged around in bed all day
56. Gone scuba diving
57. Kissed in the rain
58. Gone to a drive-in theatre
59. Started a business
60. Taken a martial arts class
61. Been in a movie
62. Crashed a party
63. Gone without food for 5 days
64. Gotten a tattoo
65. Got flowers for no reason
66. Performed on stage: All the time!
67. Been to Las Vegas
68. Recorded music
69. Eaten shark
70. Buried one/both of your parents
71. Been on a cruise ship
72. Spoken more than one language fluently: Yo hablo español fluentemente. Eu falo portugues muito mal.
73. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
74. Walked a famous bridge: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, October 2005.
75. Had plastic surgery
76. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
78. Wrote articles for a large publication
79. Tried to lose weight seriously
80. Piloted an airplane
80. Petted a stingray
81. Broken someone’s heart
82. Broken a bone
83. Eaten sushi
84. Had your picture in the newspaper: Washington Post, January 1993
85. Parasailed
86. Skipped all your school reunions: from law school
87. Shaved your head
88. Caused a car accident
89. Pretended to be “sick”
90. Swam in the Pacific Ocean
91. Saved someone’s life
92. Fainted: when my oldest SIL gave birth to their first child
93. Been in the room while someone is giving birth: just me.
94. Hitchhiked
95. Adopted a child
96. Been caught daydreaming
97. Been to the Painted Desert: the Petrified Forest, and the Grand Canyon, too
98. Called off a wedding engagement
99. Donated your blood
100. Had an out-of-body experience: first time, as a child, and later on as an adult

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

L Things

I couldn't decide what to talk about today, but "L" things crept into my mind.

LACROSSE: The NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse championships were held yesterday in Baltimore, Maryland. Duke played Johns Hopkins for the national title. (My personal favorite and alma mater, Cornell, lost to Duke in the semis.) Duke could not get its game together during the first two periods and was down 11-4 at the half. They came back with guns blazing in the third period to tie the score. The third and fourth periods were exciting to watch as Hopkins and Duke traded shots at the goals. Hopkins won the game by 1 point in the end. I really wanted Duke to win this year to vindicate themselves after the rape scandal last year. They played a great game!

In other lacrosse news, Wizard signed up to play lacrosse this spring. It's the first team sport in which he has ever expressed an interest. I will confess that his father and I gently nudged him towards lacrosse, but he really took to the game. Wizard's height, strength and natural athleticism will make him a good player, if he works at it. He thinks he's hot stuff on the lacrosse field, but to me he looks slow compared to the other players. He'll have to start running and working out to improve his speed and agility. (Maybe that will cure his laziness.) At any rate, he was on a great 11-under team this spring. His coach played on a nationally-ranked team at Princeton and had a really good attitude about sports: he gave lots of instruction and encouragement and didn't holler at the kids like others did. LaxCoach found something nice to say about each player at the end of the season. He called Wizard "very coachable" and "willing to learn". Wizard's team was 5-0 going into the championship game. Their one and only loss was that final, big game. The team parents were very proud of the boys winning season and good sportsmanship.

LIBRARY THING: I found a link to this website on DocThelma's blog. Library Thing allows you to catalogue your entire collection of books and tag them according to genre or any other system you wish. You can discuss books with other people and get recommendations from others who share your taste in books. I have a link to Library Thing over there on the right. You can see what I've logged into my home library so far. We have hundreds, maybe thousands, of books here in The Zone. It will take a long time to enter them all. I'm hoping Library Thing will help me come up with good titles for my book club to read. But for now, I'd really like some great summer reads . . . you know a good Jennifer Weiner novel or equivalent. I have lots of serious fiction on my nightstand, and I'll get to it shortly.

On the short list for reading:
  • The Book Of Fate, by Brad Meltzer
  • Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons, by Lorna Landvik
  • Dark Light, by Randy Wayne White
I just finished Sheridan Hay's The Secret Of Lost Things: good but not great. It was critically acclaimed, but I found it an unsatisfying read. I also just finished Jennifer Gilmore's Golden Country for our synagogue's book club. WineGuy like it, but I thought it was crap. Another author that somehow finagled a book deal for a story that's been told a hundred times, and told better by others. Yawn.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wild Thing is 8

Wild Thing turned 8 on May 14, 2007. He is a typical second-grade boy: bright, goofy, a happy-go-lucky kid. He is also saturnine and destructive. He is a typical middle child . . . alternately a peacemaker and a troublemaker, alternately hardworking and unfocused, sometimes the victim and sometimes the aggressor. Considering his tenuous start in life, he is entitled to be all these things.

He loves baseball and most sports. He is destined to be a runner: this kid can run all day long and not get tired. He is a pretty good swimmer and had a great attitude when he participated in the school's swim club last year. Unfortunately, he could not swim this year because of the homework load. Academically, he is right in the middle of the pack, which is fine. He excels at his work when he loves the subject matter. He is slower than a Galapagos tortoise when he is not interested in the work. WT is a classic Taurus through and through: patient, kind, determined, warm-hearted – but also stubborn, possessive, indulgent and greedy. WT still loves to play with his stuffed animals and Rescue Heroes. Moose willingly goes along with these grand schemes. Wizard will occasionally deign to participate but usually on his terms, which are decidedly unilateral. WT and Moose love to play together outside, riding bikes, climbing trees, digging up what is left of our landscaping. WT loves picking the bougainvillea flowers and bringing them to me as presents. He is forever exploring behind the bushes and in the "forest" behind our house. He has several secret hiding places to which he rapidly retreats when he hears me hollering for him.

WT is absolutely my son. We are cut from the same cloth. I suspect that is why we butt heads as often as we do and why he gets along so much better with his dad than me. But, I love him and admire him for his passion and fortitude.

Although several of you know the high drama surrounding his conception and birth, I will share all the ugly details here. I will preface the story by saying that WT is, first and foremost, a testament to modern medicine. My father calls him a wunderkind.

What follows is no fairytale. It is not for the faint of heart or stomach. If you've had enough, feel free to stop reading.

*** *** ***

I had two miscarriages in 1998, one in January and one in September. After the second one, my obstetrician, Dr. J, a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine (high-risk OB), ordered a slew of blood tests to find out why. She recommended we wait about 3 months before trying to get pregnant again. That didn't quite pan out because I got pregnant at the end of October 1998. My EDD was mid-July 1999.

I needed to see a high-risk OB because I developed a severe case of a variant of pre-eclampsia during my pregnancy with Wizard. The disease is called HELLP Syndrome. The acronym stands for:
H hemolysis
EL elevated liver enzymes
LP low platelet count

HELLP syndrome occurs in approximately 10% of pregnant women with pre-eclampsia or eclampsia. Severe cases involve high blood pressure and protein in the urine and can progress to seizures (eclampsia). Severe cases are life-threatening to both mother and fetus. HELLP syndrome is associated with more serious cases. It may occur long before a pregnancy reaches term. Many women have high blood pressure and are diagnosed with pre-eclampsia before they get HELLP syndrome. [from the National Library of Medicine]

About 25% of pregnant women develop pre-eclampsia, also incorrectly known as toxemia; it is basically pregnancy-induced hypertension. Approximately 0.2% of pregnant women develop HELLP syndrome. I had a 4% chance of developing HELLP Syndrome in a subsequent pregnancy.

The early part of WT's pregnancy was uneventful. No problems with blood pressure or gestational diabetes. Based on my experience with Wizard's pregnancy, I was looking for things to worsen around my 29th week or so. As I did with Wizard's pregnancy, I opted to have an amniocentesis with WT. WineGuy and I were fully aware of the risks of the procedure, but we felt that the benefits outweighed them. The procedure itself went well; the baby looked good. I rested for a while after the test, and then I picked Wizard (then 2.5 years) up at nursery school. We went to the grocery store later that afternoon, and I felt a gush of fluid between my legs. I thought that I forgot to go to the bathroom, but when I ran to the restroom I didn't have to go. Much later that evening when WineGuy and I were going to sleep, I felt another huge gush of fluid.

Panic time! Two amniotic fluid leaks in one day, following the amnio is a bad sign. WineGuy called Dr. J, who ordered us to the emergency room. We woke Wizard and dragged him, in his pajamas and winter boots, the 19 miles to the hospital. [N.B., the closest hospital was 2 miles away, but we lived in another town 19 miles from the major medical center where WG worked.] Dr. J took us up to her office for an emergency ultrasound. Not good: I had lost a significant amount of amniotic fluid, and the baby was in danger. Dr. J sidelined me immediately: complete bedrest and gallons of fluid everyday.

Because I couldn't rest and take care of Wizard, I hired Nanny, whom I had met the previous summer. She had just left that job and was available, thank G-d. Nanny took great care of me and Wizard for a month. By the end of February, my amniotic fluid level had returned to normal levels, so Dr. J removed my restrictions. I said goodbye to Nanny, but kept in close touch with her just in case. Right around that time I hired a new housekeeper, Amish Anna, who would end up working for us until we left Pennsylvania. She kept a close eye on me, too.

I was feeling pretty good in the early spring of 1999. I was having typical swelling of my hands and feet. My carpal-tunnel syndrome returned, but I wore my splints when necessary. We went away on a couple of trips, and I remember being really miserable at Jazzfest that year: swollen, out of breath, fatigued.

Week 27 arrived; my blood pressure was elevated, and I had protein spilling into my urine. That meant my kidneys were having problems. A 24-hour urine study revealed a marked decrease in kidney function. Further blood tests over the next week showed that both the pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome had returned.

Dr. J ordered me into the hospital at 29 weeks' gestation with the intent of delivering me as soon as she could stabilize me. Being hospitalized in Labor and Delivery – because of high-level monitoring and nursing care – tortured me. I remember lying in that damn, hard bed, completely whacked out by the magnesium sulfate (a smooth muscle relaxant used to treat PE and HELLP), listening to those women howl with labor pains. I was desperately trying to eke out just a little more womb-time for WT. Dr. J warned me if my condition worsened or did not stabilize she would deliver the baby to save both our lives. So, I laid there, sweating and feverish in a 68º room. The medicines made me feel crummy, but they worked. My blood pressure went down. My kidneys started functioning better, and my liver enzymes came down. The saddest thing was spending Mother's Day in the hospital. WineGuy fought me about bringing Wizard to see me, but I insisted. My MIL had come into town to help at home, and she convinced WineGuy to bring Wizard for a short visit. I was overjoyed to see my boy and hold him tight. I was sad to send him home so quickly.

A couple of days later, Dr. J said I was well enough to go home as long as I did nothing. WineGuy drove me home on a sunlit spring day. The air was filled with the scent of new-mown grass and flowers. I reveled to be outdoors for the first time in a week. I went home and stayed home. By that time, Nanny was able to come back to work for us. She and Amish Anna took wonderful care of us all.

Three days later, my symptoms returned: my belly hurt, my back hurt, everything was swollen badly. WineGuy rushed me right into Dr. J's office. She took one look at me and said, "We're delivering you TODAY." They wheeled me from obstetrics, through the locked psychiatric ward, right into Labor & Delivery. The descent into Hell began with another OB who was on-duty that day. I knew him and didn't like him, especially when he shoved his big hands inside of me trying to put a lead on the baby's head. That didn't work, so they tried external monitoring. I was so overweight and swollen that they could not get good readings on the baby that day. They tried everything to induce a vaginal birth because I really didn't want a C-section. However, as the day progressed, the baby's condition worsened: heartrate decelerations, poor movements, etc. I was rapidly deteriorating, too. Dr. J was on the phone all day with her mentor, a leading researcher in PE and HELLP. His final words were, "Get the baby out."

Around 6:30 p.m. on May 14, 1999, Dr. J came to WineGuy and me and said that induction failed and she needed to get the baby out. I turned to WG and agreed to the surgery. And all hell broke loose. I have never seen people move so fast. Within seconds, I was rolled down the hall to an operating room, hearing emergency pages for anesthesia and pediatrics to L&D: "Anesthesia, 99 to Labor and Delivery! Pediatrics, 99 to Labor and Delivery! Neonatology, 99 to Labor and Delivery!" 99 was "stat". I remember WineGuy taking the glasses off my face. I remember the anesthesiologist placing the mask over my face and saying, "Count back from 100, Mrs. WineGuy." 100-99-98 . . . the last thing I remember is the smell of the oxygen. And then there was nothing.

According to what WineGuy reluctantly told me and the hospital reports I read later on, I was in surgery for 2 hours. Dr. J got WT out within 10 minutes of starting, and peds rushed him down to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I was in such bad shape that they had to give me 2 units of packed cells during surgery. When I finally woke up, I couldn't keep a thought in my head. I remember asking WineGuy several times what we had. Once my brain processed that information, I asked if he was alright. WineGuy told me the baby was alive and down in NICU, that the entire neonatology team was working to stabilize him, and that he was on a ventilator.

Into the next circle of Hell. On the day after surgery, the nurse got me into a wheelchair. WineGuy wheeled me down to NICU to see my son. It was awful. He weighed 2 pounds, 6.5 ounces at birth and was 15" long.* This precious miracle was in a diaper the size of my palm. He had tubes in his nose, leads on his chest, wires hooked up to every part of his body. He was wrapped in plastic wrap and on a warming bed just to keep his temperature stable. He wore a mask over his eyes to protect them from the special bili-lights for jaundice. I could not touch or hold my child. They allowed me to talk to him, but all I could do was cry. "What have I done to him?" I wailed. I was inconsolable. WineGuy had to take me back to my room.

The next day was worse because I had to get out of bed and on my feet. There is no worse pain than getting up after abdominal surgery, except for when they pull the drains out of the incision, maybe. The longer you wait the worse it is; I was two days post. The size 0 nurse kicked my sorry behind out of bed and told me to start getting better for my kids. She was right, but I nearly passed out. I stayed in the hospital for the remainder of the week, and WineGuy brought me home. I was thrilled to be with Wizard again, but we did not tell him about his brother. Frankly, we didn't know whether the baby would make it. Wizard only knew that I had gotten sick again, had an operation, and was home.

I relied on friends and acquaintances to take me to the NICU until I was cleared to drive. I made daily trips to the NICU to see the baby. I would talk to him and sing to him. It was all I could do. When WT was about a week old, I recall cornering the Chief of Neonatology and asking him whether I needed to be prepared to bury this child. Chief told me that this kid was a fighter but that we had a long road ahead of us. At that point I was ready to give the child his English name. His Hebrew name would have to wait until he was well enough to be circumsized.

Thus began WT's medical journey. He was on the ventilator for three weeks. He developed necrotizing enterocolitis, a common preemie intestinal disease which can kill the intestines. He started to learn to nurse but was pulled off oral feedings when the G-I problem re-occurred. He had echocardiograms to check his heart and scans to check his brain. He clotted off at least 6 different IV lines, including a Broviac cut-down that they tried to place in his femoral artery. WT still bears this scar today on his thigh. His medical chart was 2 inches thick and growing daily with all the medicines, nutrition, and supplemental therapies. Occupational and physical therapy started working with him right away.

Finally, when WT was about 5-6 weeks old, he finally started to hold his own. They moved him from the higher level of care into the NICU step-down unit. My dear friend, KellyB, a phenomenal NICU nurse, took care of him or looked in on him daily. She also threw me out of there when I had major cabin fever. Things started to look better, and the doctors were talking about releasing Wild Thing to go home. (It was only then we told Wizard that he had a baby brother.) The last thing WT needed before going home was surgery to repair bilateral inguinal hernias, which are common in preemies.

Wild Thing came home in July 1999. Nine weeks and nearly a quarter of a million dollars later, we brought our second son home to his big brother. He came home right around his original due date, and the fun began. There were daily visits to the neonatology clinic for feeding problems and weigh-ins. There were weekly visits to OT to help him reach his developmental milestones. There were monthly visits to the pediatric ophthalmologist for the retinopathy of prematurity WT had. There were the usual shots and doctor visits, but all with the hypervigilance that preemies require. This went on for months and months. I recall saying to someone, "I look forward to the day when I don't have to drive (the 19 miles) to Hospitaltown." But WT was healthy, and he was growing and soon he was a year old.

The neurodevelopmental pediatrician tested WT at 12 and 18 months and found expectable delays but no cognitive deficits. That's the most astounding thing: his brain is fine, and he's smart. WT finally "caught up" physically and intellectually. He may never have the natural strength that Wizard and Moose do, but he has perseverance to which they should aspire.

Wild Thing wants to be a doctor someday. Considering he is the family's medical consumer, it is appropriate. We gave him scrubs and a stethoscope for his birthday. Look at that happy face. "Paging, Dr. Wild Thing!"

Happy Birthday, Wild Thing! You are a wild and wonderful boy. May you live a long and healthy life!

*Apparently, he stopped growing at 29 weeks; he was listed as IUGR (intra-uterine growth retardation). Many months later, when I was brave enough to read the surgical pathology report, I found out that I had a placental infarct, i.e., 25% of WT's placenta died off during gestation. I don't know how or when it happened, but this adversely affected his growth and nutrition while he was in the womb.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Let's Waste Time With Harry Potter

Like the rest of the world, I anxiously await the release of Book 7 and Movie 5. Actually, Wizard is more excited than I am, but I try to keep him in check. I found the following meme on A Squib's Life and thought I'd answer these questions myself.

Which would you prefer for a pet: Hedwig, Crookshanks, Trevor, Fang or Fawkes?


What would you see in the Mirror of Erised?

Me, at a comfortable size 12 or 14. WineGuy in size 44 pants. Everybody healthy and happy.

What subject would be your favorite at Hogwarts? (assume a nice and competent teacher): Potions, Transfiguration, Charms, Divination, Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures or Defense Against the Dark Arts?


Which would be your least favorite?

Defense Against The Dark Arts: too much like courtroom litigation. You have to be really fast on your feet, and I am not.

In which House would the Sorting Hat place you?

Well, I couldn't decide for myself, so I went to

Want to Get Sorted?

I'm a Ravenclaw!

"Here in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you've a ready mind,
Those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind."

However, if you would describe me as brave, chivalrous, nervy and daring, then I might be a Griffindor.

Could you see Thestrals?


Which Quidditch position would you prefer to play: Keeper, Beater, Chaser, or Seeker?


Which magical object would be most useful to you, Sneak-o-scope, Foe Glass, Time-turner, Remembrall, or Pensieve?


What would be your preferred Hogwarts sweet: Chocolate Frogs, Bertie's Every Flavor Beans, Acid pops, Cockroach cluster?

Acid Pops because I love sour candies.

Pumpkin juice, butterbeer, or elf-made wine?


Is your best friend more like Ron, Hermione, Luna, Neville, Ginny or Hagrid?

Hermione, absolutely.

Is the most toxic person in your life more like Lockhart, Snape, Umbridge, Malfoy, Filch or Fudge?


Is your most embarrassing relative most like Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, Dudley, or Percy Weasley?

Blood relative: Aunt Petunia
In-law: Percy Weasley.

What shape would your patronus take?


What is Your Patronus? Version 1

Your Patronus is the Badger! The badger is a symbol of aggressiveness, passion and drive. He is also the mascot for Hufflepuff. As your Patronus, the Badger will bite and claw to protect you. Congratulations!That your Patronus is a badger says that you are very driven in whatever you do. When you enjoy something, you go at it with all of your heart. Unfortunately, you also tend to be aggressive, and this can lead to a bossy attitude. Try to keep that aggression in check, and you'll be a wonderful witch or wizard!
Take this quiz!

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

What I'll Tell Alex Trebek

Part of the Jeopardy application process and audition includes is a personal statement in which you share five interesting things about yourself. They could be your proudest accomplishments, your greatest desire, or embarrassing stories. I was unsure what I would write, but I certainly knew I would not recount any embarrassing stories . . . like the time I [deleted] or when I [definitely deleted!].

I wrote down a few thoughts and then called BFF. She was a law-school classmate and then became my roommate. She was Phi Beta Kappa as an undergraduate and an honors graduate from law school. She is much smarter than I am and is always the person to whom I turn when I need artful wordcraft. BFF helped me refine and polish my list.

Here's what I'll tell Alex Trebek (when and if I go to Los Angeles):
  1. I have been singing in chorales for nearly 30 years. I have performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Kennedy Center. I perform regularly at the [Mytown] Philharmonic Center for the Performing Arts.
  2. My hobby is food. I love to cook it, to read and write about it, and (obviously) to eat it. I aspire to hosting my own radio show or podcast or restaurant review column one day.
  3. I desire to visit all seven continents and all 50 states. To date, I have traveled to four continents – Africa, Asia, Europe, North America – and 29 of the fifty United States.
  4. I traveled halfway across the country only to meet and marry the proverbial "guy next door".
  5. I am an attorney licensed to practice in two states, Florida and Pennsylvania, and three federal jurisdictions: U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Did you know those things about me?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Jeopardy Audition

All in all, the audition went well. I won't know if they have selected me for the contestant pool until (and unless) Jeopardy calls me to come to Los Angeles. Personally, I think I have a good chance.

THE BACKSTORY: I drove up to Orlando the day before the audition. I checked into the hotel and got up to my room only to realize I had left my cell phone in the car. Never fear, the valet guy retrieved it for me and delivered it to my room. I rested and relaxed until dinner time, and then I took myself out for sushi. Protein is brain-food, and I wanted every advantage. I hurried back to my hotel to watch Jeopardy that evening and practice ringing in. I read a little bit of my almanac that night and got a good night's sleep. The next morning, I had breakfast in my room and studied some more. I was feeling weak on U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents, so I brushed up on those. I looked at world maps and capitals. I browsed a section on European Royalty, and it actually paid off in the audition. I checked out of my room, had a light lunch and hid myself away to calm my ever-increasing nerves by reading a novel.

My audition was called for 3:00 p.m., so I arrived a little before 2:30 p.m. I didn't really want to talk to these people, especially the turbo-geek who was studying his flashcards. [Learned from taking multiple bar exams: if you don't know it by the morning of the test, you're not going to learn it then.] A few of us got to talking and -- as usual for me -- I ran into someone I knew: another woman from my town, a stockbroker with a firm who does business with WineGuy's practice and who is one of his patients. Thankfully, we chatted about wine and food and took our minds off our nerves. BTW, DocThelma, she's a graduate of MBC.


FIRST, a talent assistant informed us we'd be starting a little late because the morning sessions had run long. She laid out several papers we needed to pick up; then she directed us to a talent coordinator who took Polaroid pictures of us. We filled out Contestant Information forms and received blank answer sheets for the written test we would take later. Miss Talent Assistant tried to break the ice by finding out where everyone was from. There were lots of people from within an hour or two's drive. Three people boasted that they were from Jacksonville. I spoke up for my local contingent, saying "We live in [SW Florida city], and it's a 3.5 hour drive from here." That shut everyone up. Miss Talent Assistant started calling me "Miss [SW Florida city]"; I was very pleased to have been noticed. She mentioned they had just come from Washington, DC, where they held auditions the week before. I replied, "My friend, DocThelma, was at those auditions!" She asked me to remind her who DocThelma was, and I did, glowingly.

SECOND, we filed into the meeting room filled with conference tables. A digital projector was set up in the middle of the room. There were two conference tables up front, at which were seated two production assistants, the Senior Talent Coordinator and Tony Soprano, the talent assistant who had just taken our pictures. Tony Soprano got up and started lecturing about how to play Jeopardy: to phrase responses in the form of a question, to wait until the question is fully read before ringing in to answer, to show your potential as a contestant.

THIRD, Tony Soprano conducted an informal Jeopardy round, giving each person a chance to raise his/her hand and answer a question. Tony read the first question. I waited until he finished reading and then shot my hand up in the air. He called on me, complimented me on my timing, and told me I answered correctly. He encouraged us to raise our hands if we knew the answers to subsequent questions, but he would only call on each person once. I made sure I stayed within his sightline and raised my hand for nearly every question.

FOURTH, was the written test. I agree with DocThelma that this test was the same degree of difficulty as the online test. There were 50 questions, and the whole thing was computerized. Each question appeared in written form on the screen while the announcer, Charlie Gilbert, read it aloud. We had 8 seconds to respond to each question. They told us to write neatly and not to worry if we skipped on or got out of order because they would hand-grade each one. I got a bit nervous in the first 5 questions. I definitely knew the answers to 2 questions and guessed on the third . . . about British royalty, which I had reviewed in the almanac that morning!! The rest of the test went swimmingly well. The obscure stuff I knew easily. The easy stuff tripped me up on a couple of questions. There was a question about a company Google acquired in 2006; apparently a lot of people did not know the answer was YouTube. Duh. One question was about performing on-stage, and I drew a blank. (Duh on me.) I wrote an answer and prayed the correct one would pop into my head. It did after a few minutes, and I corrected my answer. Tony Soprano and Miss Talent Assistant collected our answer sheets, photographs, questionnaires, and personal information forms. They took the tests outside to grade them by hand, but they did not and will not give us our scores.

FIFTH, was the practice round. Every person got the chance to play a practice round of Jeopardy. They called us up to the front in groups of three. We got to hold an actual buzzer (it's really a clicker) and practice ringing in. As I predicted long ago, the key to winning at Jeopardy is how quickly and accurately you ring in. There is a real science to ringing in first, and I first read it in Michael Dupee's book, How To Get On Jeopardy ... And Win! You must scan the question quickly and formulate your answer while Alex Trebek reads the question aloud. As soon as he's finished, neon lights illuminate on the side of the Jeopardy board. The critical thing is to ring/click in repeatedly as soon as the lights go on. I rang in a few times and answered correctly.

SIXTH, was appearance, stage presence and personality. IMVHO, I was "all that" and more than most of my group (20 people, of which 5 were women). About appearance: we all received prior instructions to dress as if we were going to appear on TV. Most of the men were dressed in jacket and/or ties. Note to male contestants: regardless of your girth or size, wear clothes that fit you, that aren't too tight, too short, or too threadbare. One fat guy -- a dead ringer for Baby Huey -- failed in all those categories plus was wearing a tie that was at least 5 inches too short. A couple of men were dressed neatly but casually and looked presentable. The men spent a lot of time telling the talent scouts about the stuff they collected: war memorabilia, postcards, boring. Some of them had funny stories; the ones who had good stories and good speaking voices made great impressions.

Three of the five women there looked dreadful. The other hometown woman was an intelligent but weak-chinned woman in a drab grey business pantsuit. She spoke fairly well but looked weak overall. The other two women were from the Jacksonville area, where apparently they don't have decent hairdressers or clothing stores. The bigmouth from Harvard, in her red Sally-Jessy glasses thankyouverymuch, had on a crappy black t-shirt tucked into too-tight dress pants and sported a too-small sweater haplessly tied around her more-than-ample shoulders. She looked like she hadn't combed her hair that day at all. She spoke up but didn't answer too many questions in the practice round. The other woman was an accountant. Enough said. No? She looked to be in her late 40s with long, dishwater blonde hair pulled back in a Hillary Headband. That one forgot her reading glasses and wore her "vintage" prescription sunglasses so she could read the screen. She was in a red jacket that began as an Indian blanket, complete with pilling and pulled threads. She looked like a total dork, and her personal stories were dopey. Bzzzzzt -- next! The one other woman who was well-dressed and interesting appeared to be in her late 50s or early 60s. She was a handsome woman in a beautifully tailored, but drably colored, pants outfit. She was a former business executive who spoke very well and had an interesting story.

My appearance: I dressed in a bright red linen jacket (carefully pressed, PA Mom!) with a black Slinky tank and pants underneath. I had on a little bit of jewelry and took great care with makeup that morning, including my red lipstick. My hair was freshly clean and brushed and looking marvelous (thank you, David). I looked fabulous . . . but I need to start my diet now.

Stage presence and personality: I have loads of experience performing on-stage, and it doesn't phase me. I smiled a lot, spoke up and out often but in turn. I used my best stage voice in telling my personal stories. When asked what I would do with the money if I won on Jeopardy, I responded that I would endow a fund for the Cornell Chorus, where I earned my chops. Everyone else said they needed the money for their children's education or wanted to use it to travel . . . to places like Cooperstown and Europe. I said I wanted to take my family to Australia and New Zealand for a month and then, perhaps, to Israel. Like Mr. Sondheim said, "You gotta get a gimmick." And, Ms. Marcy Syms concurred, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

I am confident that I came across better than 98% of my group. I feel like I did as well on my written test as I did on the online test that brought me to Orlando. Now, it's just a waiting game. The odds are slim: over 125,000 people took the online test. Countless other people had live auditions in Los Angeles and elsewhere. There are only 400 contestant spots each year, and I auditioned towards the end of the process. Hopefully, that's a good thing.

The Senior Talent Coordinator explained that Jeopardy will call people from June 2007 through April 2008 from this contestant pool. They give you 2-3 weeks' notice for you to fly to LA for taping. They only tape on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, five shows each day. Each contestant is responsible for paying his airfare and hotel room, until he has won five times. Then, Jeopardy will pay for the return airfare. Third place winners receive $1000; second place winners receive $2000. As ABBA said, "The winner takes it all."

That's my story. I hope to compare notes with DocThelma. I hope we both get called to LA, but not on the same show.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Quick Update

Jazzfest was lots of fun. More details to come later.

St. Louis was obligatory but enjoyable. No details needed.

Headed to Orlando tomorrow afternoon for my Jeopardy audition. Wish me luck! I read that only 10% of those who take the eligibility test qualify for an in-person audition. I'm off to fill out my contestant questionnaire now.

Check out another August Mom's new blog: Maine Mom now writes A Squib's Life. She'd love to have some new readers and your feedback. Welcome to the blogosphere, Squib!

In meteorological news, the national weather feeds have failed to cover the wildfires that have been plaguing SW Florida. A fire burned over 19,000 acres in a state forest about 10 miles from here. Smoke and fire jumped Alligator Alley (I-75 from Naples to Fort Lauderdale) and forced the road's closure several times last week, including right before our drive to Fort Lauderdale last Friday night. Fortunately, we've had a few rain showers in the last day that have calmed things down.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Popping In

I realize it's been days since I last posted, and it's going to be a few days more before I get back into the routine of writing.

Briefly, we were in New Orleans for 5 days for the 38th Annual Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazzfest). Our family makes this trip every year, and we had a great time. I'm drafting a post about our adventures in The Big Easy. It will have to wait until we return from a quick trip to St. Louis this weekend. WineGuy's niece is being Bat Mitzvahed there.

During the three days I'm home this week, I've had to do a ton of laundry and rehearse for the last chorale concert of the season. I should never have committed to sing this week, but I did, and I'm going to honor my commitment. Our alto section, which is normally about 20 voices, dropped to a measly 11 or 12 voices at dress rehearsal last night. However, I'm only singing one of three concerts, so the overall balance will suffer.

See you later!