Wednesday, December 29, 2010

SERIOUSLY??!!!'s my latest "cause"...

I received a plea from my high school French teacher recently, because, due to budget cuts, there's a possibility that they might "axe" the French program at FHS.  Here's my letter to the school board...

Dear members of the Fairfield Community School Board,

I’m writing today to express my concern for information I received recently that the French program at the high school may soon be the victim of budget cuts. I hope that you can find another way to balance the budget, because I took four years of French when I was in high school back in the early 80’s, and the teacher of this class (name omitted in this blog for confidentiality) opened the world to me! Through learning about her experiences as a foreign exchange student, I was motivated to explore the world beyond my small part of it. As a result, I spent two years teaching English in Japan.

In numerous travels around the world, I continue to rely on the language skills and cultural awareness I gained from this class. My time with this teacher remains one of my most treasured memories of my high school career. I had no desire to learn Spanish. If French had not been offered, I would not have taken any foreign language classes, and would have missed out on experiences that have shaped my life.

This teacher has such a FLAIR for teaching, and made it FUN to learn a language, which, according to the Embassy of France in partnership with the American Association of Teachers of French is “understood in 55 countries across five continents and by over 200 million people”.

According to the Admissions Testing Program of the College Board, an organization representing hundreds of colleges responsible for the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), the Advanced Placement (AP) program, and various equity efforts, “as years of foreign language study increase, math and verbal SAT scores increase. Children who study a foreign language often have higher standardized test scores in math, reading, and language arts. Foreign language study can help to increase problem-solving skills, memory, and self-discipline.”

I am the coordinator of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program in South St. Paul, and can, without a doubt, state that being bilingual is a skill that will not only be a bonus to your students, but a necessity as the world becomes smaller, and 21st century skills in technology and global communication come more and more to the forefront of “minimum job requirements”.

Thank you for your time. Below are a few facts for your consideration:
· Students who have studied French earn higher scores on standardized tests (SAT/ACT/GRE/LSAT).
· French is the second foreign language taught in the U.S., behind Spanish, and the only language other than English taught in all countries.
· A list of languages deemed as critical was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, and French was among them because it is spoken in countries which have a strategic importance.
· Candidates with proficiency in a language other than English earn higher salaries.
· In a listing of international jobs distributed by the U. S. State Department on August 25, 2008: 78 required or preferred French, 27 a UN language (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish), 17 Spanish, 10 Arabic, 5 Russian, 3 German, and 1 Chinese.
· Canada is an officially bilingual country (English and French). The number one trading partner of the United States is Canada. The number one trading partner of many states, including New York, is Quebec.
· Since studies have shown that students tend to continue study of the language begun in high school in college, the elimination of French study in secondary schools deprives students of exposure to a language of global status, and one that is integral for initial training in international careers.
· French is the official language of 32 countries. French is the only other language, besides English, to be spoken on 5 of the world's continents. With French, students will be understood in more than 56 countries by more than 200 million people who use French in their daily lives.
· French is an official working language of the United Nations, UNESCO, NATO, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Labor Bureau, the International Olympic Committee, the 31-member Council of Europe, the European Community, the Universal Postal Union, the International Red Cross, and the Union of International Associations (UIA).
· Montreal is the second largest city of native French-speakers in the world (after Paris) and is located only 1 hour from New York City by plane.
· France has the 6th largest economy in the world. U.S.News and World Report states that France has become one of the leading countries capable of exporting technology around the world.
· French companies alone have created more than 550,000 jobs for Americans while U.S. companies employ 750,000 people in France

I hope it helps, because I mean every word of what I wrote.  I credit this teacher with opening my eyes to the broader world, and for giving me the skills necessary to be who I am today.
Here's hoping YOU were able to fight for a cause in which YOU believe recently!!!!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Good Grief, Charlie Brown!!!!

I can't believe I haven't posted since the 1st of's been a CRAZY month!!!!!

"Amahl and the Night Visitors" went very well!  We only got to do three of the four performances because of THE GREAT BLIZZARD OF 2010, and, unfortunately, the cancelled performance was the last one, so all of our costumes, makeup, personal items, etc. were stranded at the theater until we could dig ourselves out and go and claim them.

It was a REALLY fun group to work with, and a little anti-climatic to not have an "all out, don't-have-to-save-the-voice-for-more-performances-so-let-her-rip" final show.  We didn't really get a sense of closure either...I ran into Karen, who played mother as I was leaving with my stuff, and she was on her way in to get her things.  Quick hug in the parking lot, and "you were AWESOME", and that was it.  I didn't have a chance to see my fellow kings, or the girl playing Amahl, or any of the shepherds again.

I'm sure most of us will work together again someday, and there's always Facebook, but I'm seriously reconsidering doing theater in the winter...all of that work for three performances just doesn't cut it!

One of the highlights of the whole experience, though, was after what ended up being the final show...a little six year old boy came up to me, and he was carrying something.  It turned out to be a box, with licorice inside, and he was wearing beads.  If you know the show, "This is My Box" is my character's big number, and this little kid knew the song, knew the show, and had his own Kaspar box!  His mom and grandmother came up a few seconds later, and asked if I would take a picture with him (like they even had to ask...!), and I got to sign his program, too.   That's the kind of thing that makes all the time, and all the effort, and all the craziness worth it!

Here's a photo from the show:

Between weekend performances for "Amahl", I started working with Ashland Productions on "Bye Bye Birdie".  It was extremely strange to be performing one show, and starting to develop a character for another.  I don't know how "real" actors do's quite a mind game!

"Birdie" is going to be COMPLETELY amazing, and I'm intimidated as HELL working with this group.  It doesn't help that they'd already been in rehearsals for two weeks by the time I was able to join them!  Shana, with whom I share a bunch of scenes, was already off book for several of them by the time I was begining to write down my blocking...oy!

One of my first nights there, I had a choreography rehearsal for "Put on a Happy Face".  The teenagers in the show (who are UNBELIEVABLY excellent!), were rehearsing the telephone song, and my jaw hit the floor as soon as they started.  Kayla, the choreographer (who's very young, and very energetic!) had them holding receivers attached to elastic bands tied to their feet.  They were strumming the elastic like violas, throwing them back and forth in time to the music, looping them around their knees and making "v's" with them, and GENERALLY looking like they'd been working the number since August (as opposed to, say, a few days ago...).  Wow!

We're rapidly progressing (too rapidly for my personal comfort, but "that's show business"...!).  We were "off book" (no scripts) for act I last week, and block all of act II next Tuesday, then have a few days off for the new year's weekend. When we come back, we'll be learning all of the choreography for act II, polishing up the blocking from next week, getting the songs learned, and memorizing. 

I'm just glad it's FINALLY winter break, and things can slow down a little bit for this slightly overwhelmed OLD man!!!

Here's hoping YOU'VE had a little bit of "theatricality" (the good kind...not the bad...) in YOUR life recently!!!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

TECH WEEK for "Amahl and the Night Visitors"

Not sure when I'll get back to the blog for the next couple of's tech week for "Amahl", and I'm only home from work for a little while before heading to Woodbury for rehearsals. 

We worked with the orchestra and were finally on the stage last night.  It was rough, and long, and frustrating, but we got many things worked out.  Tonight is costumes and (hopefully!) microphones and the finished lighting scheme...

Here are some rehearsal shots that Michael, one of my fellow kings, and Kristopher, a journalist from, took over the last few weeks. 

Again...if you're anywhere near Woodbury, Minnesota this weekend (or next)...come see the show!

Here's hoping YOU are EXHAUSTING yourself doing something that YOU enjoy TOO!!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving in Iowa and the Christkindlmarket in Excelsior

I had a LOVELY, relaxing weekend in Tingley with the family for Thanksgiving!  I spent two and a half days laying around, eating, catching up with the parents, seeing extended family at the big dinner, crafting, and antiquing on the way back.

Today, Duane and I went to Excelsior for our annual excursion to the Christkindlmarket.  After coming back from Dusseldorf a few years back, we came across an advertisement for a holiday market in Excelsior, and really enjoyed it. 

We were able to stock up on German goodies from a lady whose store is usually run out of her walk-in basement in Lakeville (and to which we've been a couple of times), but has a booth during the market.  We bought home made candies from a lady who we see during the summer at the farmer's market in Minneapolis.  We bought cupcakes from a bakery that had a new booth this year (because anywhere is ALWAYS the right time and place for cupcakes!).

This was our THIRD time back, and, for the first time, it was actually warm enough to feel our toes and noses THE ENTIRE TIME WE WERE THERE!!!  The last two times were so cold, I didn't think we'd EVER thaw out!

Here are some shots from the day:

Me enjoying my FAVORITE part of a Christkindlmarket...the Glühwein (mulled wine) 

Closeup of Glühwein

the handbell choir that was playing while we were there!

the strusel truck

Jeff and friend

Duane and friend

Here's hoping YOU had a chance for an international experience where YOU live!!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas...

Yes...I know Thanksgiving is the next holiday on the slate, but, with the snow falling, and my Christmas lights on (I've actually had our place decorated for Christmas since November 4th, but don't tell anyone!), it's feeling VERY Christmas-y at the "Jeff and Duane residence"!

Here are a couple of photos I took when I got home tonight and turned stuff on...

Off to wrap some presents!  Here's hoping YOUR holidays are off to a good start!!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Two Shows and "Dubodia"

I've been COMPLETELY remiss in my blogging responsibilities of late, but with good reason (I think).  I'm currently rehearsing TWO musicals, and FINALLY getting over a bad cold/pneumonia (or in the nose-plugged state in which I've dwelt for the last month..."dubodia"), while continuing to work full time at the three jobs that were crammed into my one job last year...!

The first show I'm doing is "Amahl and the Night Visitors" with Woodbury Community Theater, in which I play deaf King Kaspar.  "This is my Box" is my big number...don't ask...actually here's a version from youtube:

The second show I'm doing is "Bye Bye Birdie" with Ashland Productions, in which I play Albert Peterson.  Albert's big number is "Put on a Happy Face".  Here's the Jason Alexander version from the remake of the movie:

I've never done two shows at once, and it's COMPLETELY stressing me out, since I don't like conflicts in my schedule, and my TYPE A organizational framework of life is completely "out of whack" right now.  I am not sure how it's going to work (I've been busy with "Amahl" up until now, and JUST got the part in "Birdie" last week).  I guess I will find out soon, since both will be in rehearsals starting tomorrow.  I'm thinking I'm going to be putting a lot of miles on my car!

On top of all of this, I've had a bad cold for about five weeks now, and went to the doctor a few weeks back.  He diagnosed pneumonia, so I went through a round of antibiotics (let's hear it for the z-pack!), but didn't improve enough to be satisfied, so went back and had to see another doctor (don't you HATE that??!!), who thought it was he prescribed cough syrup with codeine and a nasal spray.  Bottom line, I'm still coughing, my voice is still scratchy, and I haven't completely recovered yet.  I decided yesterday, however, that I'm DONE with this, and will get better now!!!

Here's hoping YOU are doing something that you enjoy, but that you aren't doing it QUITE as "over-extended-ly" as I am (and that you are not sick while doing it)!!!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day Trip to D.C.!!!

I LOVE Washington, D.C.!  I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE it!  From the SUPER EASY to use Metro system, to the National Mall with it's white gleaming marble, to it's distinct and diverse neighborhoods, D.C. is an AMAZING place to go.

Turns out it's a GOOD thing I DO like it, because it was about the ONLY place we could get for ANY length of time during this MEA (Minnesota Education Association) weekend!  Traveling on MEA weekend is kind of like trying to type without fingers...PRACTICALLY IMPOSSIBLE!  We looked at flights to Paris, Amsterdam, London, New York, Savannah, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, Austin, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Kentucky, but couldn't get standby on ANY of them!

It's also a GOOD thing that this was our 6th or 7th time there.  We knew WHERE to go, WHAT to see, and HOW to get there.  If it had been our first time there, I would have TOTALLY freaked out trying to see everything, and, since we got there at 11:00 a.m., and had to fly back out at 7:50 p.m., that would have been COMPLETELY overwhelming (as it was, Duane's pedometer said we walked 13,000 steps with what we DID do...!).

We started out at the White House Visitor's Center. We've never actually TOURED the White House, because we get there too "spur of the moment" to get tickets, but the visitor's center had some cool displays of stuff FROM the White House, and a video that went "behind the scenes", so we checked that out instead. Very interesting (and informative!).

We DID actually walk BY the White House!!!!

After the visitor's center, we headed to Ben's Chili Bowl, an AWESOME diner that's been around since the 50's.  I had TWO chili dogs, and potato salad.  They also have SWEET TEA, which, if you know me at all, is one of my FAVORITE beverages on earth (even more so than wine!), but which I never make on my own, because it just doesn't taste right...

After lunch, we headed to Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens.  It was founded by American collector and heiress to the Post cereal empire Marjorie Merriweather Post.  You can find out about the BEAUTIFUL mansion and gardens by visiting the official site at

We toured the gardens (Japanese, French, Lunar, and Cutting), the greenhouses full of orchids, then went through the mansion, which featured French and Russian Imperial art, as well as items from Marjorie Merriweather Post's life...very ornate...very beautiful!

We just had time to catch the Metro back to the mall, and run around (literally!) the Lincoln Memorial before dashing back to the Metro to go to the airport.

It was a brief trip, but it was REALLY, REALLY, REALLY great to be in the nation's capital again!  Here's hoping YOU were able to enjoy a brief "getaway" from your life recently too!!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fall Walk

Yesterday Duane and I took a walk along the river.  We started out at the scenic overlook, with a lovely view of the marsh below the airport, then headed over to Lilydale to walk the paths.

Between the stone wall and Lilydale, we happened upon the remnants of "Mendota Work Camp no. 1", which was built during the depression to house the homeless, who had been hired to build the roadways, and do work in the area.

There's a crumbling sign that tells about the camp, which, apparently was only around for five years, then the war started, the buildings were torn down, and the people housed there moved on to jobs created to support the war effort.  You can find out more about the camp at the following link:

All that remains is the chimney of the recreation hall:

A gorgeous day to explore some Minnesota history!  Here's hoping YOU were able to learn something about the area in which you live recently too!!!!