Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Downton Abbey Look Alikes!

My Ford has a bumper sticker on the back that reads: My other car is parked at Downton Abbey. This should give you some idea of how much I LOVE this show!  Following each episode, I go straight to my two favorite Downton Abbey bloggers:  Michael Hogan on and June Thomas & Seth Stevenson on  Every week, I laugh myself silly reading their recaps, then forward their blogs to all my DA-loving friends.

I have to say, despite the abundance of witty analysis available on Downton Abbey, none of the blogs I’ve read has ever mentioned the Look-Alike factor.  Maybe I’m imagining things, but I think we’ve got some serious twin action going on at big house, or at least some eerie similarities. Check it out!

                                         "Jimmy"                              Simon Baker

                                    "Matthew"                                      "Ralphie"

                                           "Branson"                            Emilio Estevez

                                      "Lady Edith"                          George Washington

                                             "Daisy"                                Sasha Cohen

                                      "Vera Bates"                           Mary McDonnell

                                  "Dr. Clarkson"                                Tom Skerritt

                              "Lord Grantham"                               Angry Bird

                             "Mary! Mary! Mary!"                  "Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!"

See? Told you so. There isn't much twin action going on in the Priscilla Willa chapter books I write for eight to ten year olds, but check them out anyway!  I'm off to polish the silver and make a kidney pie. TaTa for now!





Wayne Brady and Let's Make A Deal!

          On October 26, 2012, I got to check one item off my life’s Bucket List.  It wasn’t an epic item like climbing Mt. Everest, or a romantic one like drinking champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower. It was just silly and fun: I competed (and won) on Let’s Make A Deal!
          The show taped three months before its actual airdate. My family and I were in southern California visiting my retired parents.  Looking for something new to do, my mom and I decided a game show would be a hoot. But which one? For me there were only two options: The Price is Right or Let’s Make a Deal. Both were favorites of mine growing up. Research revealed that LMAD offered better odds of actually getting to compete (plus Wayne Brady is A-DOR-A-BLE), so LMAD it was!

            I went online and ordered the free tickets. At six a.m. the day of the show, my mom and I left her home in Laguna Niguel with the GPS set for Sunset Bronson Studios. Nearing our destination, I was sure the GPS had steered us wrong.  This didn’t look like the Hollywood of my dreams. Bars on windows, graffiti on doors…I began to feel like Chevy Chase, crawling through the streets of St. Louis: “ROLL ‘EM UP!”

            Just as I was considering pulling over and re-entering the address into the obviously misguided GPS, the studio appeared like magic, a beautiful white building with a landscaped lawn and a gated parking lot. (I swear I heard harps) Relieved, I pulled in, ticket extended.

            “Sorry,” said the guard. “Contestants park on the street.”  I looked around frantically, hoping Wayne might suddenly appear and intervene on my behalf, but no such luck. I backed out under the guard’s amused gaze, and twenty minutes later managed to find a parking spot five blocks away.

My mom and me

            Arm-in-arm (and costumed, mind you), my 75 year-old mother and I braved the inner city. Thankfully, it was an uneventful walk to the studio. No one shot at us or tried to sell us crack.  In fact our only moment of consternation came from a homeless man indignantly shouting at us from across the street, “I don’t like you!”

            We rounded the last block and there lined up on the sidewalk was a parade of costumed contestants.  Hallelujah, we made it! We took our place in line, chatting with a woman in her 60’s dressed like a slutty French Maid, a brother and sister team from New Jersey decked out like the Blues Brothers, and a bearded man wearing a diaper. More and more contestants joined the lineup. What a sight we must have been!  I dearly wish I could have taken a picture, but cameras are strictly verboten at game shows. I had followed the show’s instructions and left mine in the car.

            Before we knew it, LMAD personnel were out on the sidewalk, assessing what they had to work with for the day. They handed out paperwork, and ushered us through airport-like security with “Vinny” serving as TSA. (Ok, I don’t know if that’s his real name, but he looked and talked like a Brooklyn bouncer). The French Maid from the sidewalk decided she was smarter than Vinny and tried to sneak her cell phone in. Busted! The phone got confiscated and put in a gallon size baggie (just like a crime scene gun!) I inwardly congratulated myself on always being a rule-following, goody two shoes.

            Processing came next. One by one we went through a row of seated staffers.  I handed my drivers license to a young man, who looked at it and said, “No way! You’re from Holdrege [Nebraska]? I’m from Sutton [Nebraska]! Small world, huh?” The other staffers looked on perplexed. Most, I assume were natives of California where this kind of exchange is unheard of.  “You’re from San Diego? I’m from San Francisco! Oh my God!”

            Processing done, we received our nametags and went to wait in a holding area. Everyone was super excited. Without cell phones, the only thing we could do was talk to one another (what a concept!).  A young, pretty thing in trendy glasses came out, clipboard in hand. We clapped. She was the first of about ten staffers to BEG us to be quiet. (Apparently the holding area was near some crabby offices that complained incessantly about the noise from LMADers.)  I’m a teacher, so I know something about noise management. The staffers didn’t have a prayer. There were nearly 300 of us, dressed in ridiculous costumes, with an hour or more of wait time. Quiet? Good luck with that.

            Finally it was show time! We were led into the studio, which was beautiful, modern, and clean. After we were all seated, a staffer in charge of camera aesthetics looked us over appraisingly and started rearranging: “You, giraffe, move over here. That’s better!”

            The show began, and my mom turned on her heretohidden power of x-ray vision:  “The car’s behind Number Three,” she whispered to me. And it was.  Or  “The Zonk’s in the box.” Again, it was. I don’t know how she did it, but she never missed. The only thing she got wrong was her prediction that I was going to get picked. 

            “That producer keeps looking at you,” she said.

            “Mom,” I sighed, “the music guy is RIGHT BEHIND US. They’re just cuing him, that’s all.” Mom smiled, satisfied she was right.  Another contestant came and went (and got Zonked, sad to say) and Wayne announced the Big Deal of the Day.

            Well that’s it, I thought. You didn’t make it on.

            The show went to break, and I looked at my mom, hoping she wasn’t too disappointed. Her grin was still in place. Wayne came back out and, low and behold, had one more game to offer. “Who wants my Let’s Make A Deal ATM Card?!” he called out.  We all jumped to our feet, and damn if Mom wasn’t right….I got picked!

            “Told you,” she laughed pushing me into the aisle. This was it! This was the moment I’d imagined a million times growing up. I high-fived everyone on my jog to the front, gave Wayne an elated hug, giggled like a school girl, and waited for him to give me the keys to my brand new Porsche. Wayne had other ideas, though. He offered me the ATM card and one short minute later, I had $1400 in cash, CH-CHING!  I’d done it!  I’d won! But Wayne wasn’t finished with me yet.

            It was time to make a deal.  I could keep the cash and walk away. Or....I could give back half the amount and take what was in the mystery box.  Or....I could give  back ALL the money and take what was behind Curtain Number One.

            The audience went bezerk, chanting “TAKE THE CURTAIN! TAKE THE CURTAIN!” What to do? My left brain told me $1400 was a nice chunk of change--quit while you’re ahead. But my right brain argued, “What’s the fun in that?” Right brain won.

            “I’ll take the curtain!” I handed the money back to Wayne. The adage “A fool and his money are soon parted” flashed through my mind. They opened the mystery box first (the option I didn’t take). It was a Zonk. Holy cow! I’d won something big for sure.  Was it a car? A boat? A trip to Belize? My heart thudded. The curtain opened, and there sat a huge, gleaming stainless steel stove that looked like it belonged in a five-star restaurant. I don’t remember much beyond that except jumping up and down, clapping, and running onto to the set to check out my prize. A set of bakeware and some gourmet cupcakes were also thrown in, total value: $4082. Victory!!!!

            Mom and I left the studio that afternoon, happy, exhausted, and starving. What a day. I flew back to Nebraska two days later and resumed my regular life. I often wonder, like many people do, why certain events occur in our lives. Was going on Let’s Make a Deal just meant to be a fun experience? Or was it meant as a link to something else? Maybe it was meant to be fodder for the Priscilla Willa chapter books I write for eight to ten year olds.  Who knows?  Even though the show is done, I’m still enjoying the rewards of participating in it. I’ve been invited to speak about LMAD at several clubs. Best of all, people I don’t even know stop me at the grocery store or the Y to congratulate me and chat about my experience. Warm fuzzies all over! Now that’s a deal!

Friday, February 1, 2013

2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

I, Michelle McCormick, worshiper of all things sparkly, got to attend an event that was a billion times better than any Super Bowl:  THE 2013 U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS!!

A mere three hours from my home in rural Nebraska, this year’s championships were held in Omaha.  Not that Omaha particularly cared, sorry to say. The Century Link Center was far from filled on any particular day and there didn't seem to be much promotion of the event.  I’ve lived in Nebraska my entire life, and I can't say I'm surprised. The only way you'd sell out a skating event in this state would be to strap blades to our football team's feet.  But hey, I’m not here to comment on Nebraska’s obsession with all things pigskin.  Let's talk SKATING!

I am not a skater, but I LOVE THE SPORT!!! I idolized two women when I was growing up: Dorothy Hamill and Lindsay Wagner, the Bionic Woman. On any given day in the 1976, you could find nine year-old me racing around the neighborhood in slow motion muttering ddddddd (you know, the bionic sound) or fine tuning my double axel on the front lawn. So it goes without saying, when the national championships came to my home state, I was in attendance.

I don't have the time or space to tell you about all the wonderful skating I saw. Let me just leave it at this: like any other sport, figure skating is a billion times more awesome to watch LIVE than on television. On TV, you can’t feel the emotional vibration of thousands of people reacting to a skater's triumphs or tribulations. On TV, you won't have an off-duty coach patiently explain why the jump you just ogled over actually sucked in the judges' eyes.  Best of all, when you show up in person, you get to rub elbows with the stars of the skating world.

Past and present skating celebrities were everywhere during this year's championships: Kristi Yamaguchi, Paul Wylie, Rudy Galindo, Brian Boitano, Michael Weiss, Sarah Hughes, Scott Hamilton, Peggy Fleming, and Sasha Cohen, as well as the current field of competitors who signed tirelessly at autograph sessions. Most of the skaters were true ambassadors for their sport; gracious, accommodating, and surprisingly accessible:

 Paul Wylie (my fav!)

 Brian Boitano

 Rudy Galindo

Kristi Yamaguchi and her mom
(Check out Kristi's adorable clothing line:+tsu-ya)

Sasha Cohen

2013 Pairs Competitors

To sum it up, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships were everything I’d hoped they’d be and more. I had such a great time, I’m planning on taking my entire family to the 2014 Championships in Boston to cheer on my new favorite, Gracie Gold. 

Oh yeah…I also got my picture with Warren Buffett at the championships, which is perfect since he figures predominantly in my Priscilla Willa chapter books I write for eight to ten year olds. Skate on!