PNB Nutcracker 2012

Posted by: pat 11 years, 6 months ago

I took Cathy to see Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker last night. I know some families go to this every year, but for us it is more of a once-and-done event due to the cost if nothing else. I would rather mix things up and go see A Christmas Carol or some other holiday themed performance that go to the Nutcracker every year. I took Elizabeth when she was about Cathy's age, after which we had our fateful and nauseating dinner at the Space Needle, an experience not to be repeated! So this is a review of sorts, but I am not qualified to weigh in on the subtle changes made each year, and I am not the Nutcracker expert I know some of our friends are.

We sat in the orchestra section, which is not cheap, and I consider it a special event and not an annual tradition. I enjoy the music, and it is always fun to see the dancers of all ages performing. It is really hard to go wrong with the PNB Nutcracker. The set designed by Maurice Sendak is a treat and local treasure.

The music was great. I love the music of the Nutcracker.  It is so ubiquitous at the holidays and remains enjoyable from year to year.  We took a peek at the orchestra pit before the performance, something I highly recommend if you are taking a child who hasn't seen a ballet or theatrical performance with live music before.

The performance was...OK I guess. It was definitely not the best Nutcracker I've seen. The music was good, the audience was well behaved, the set and set mechanics were wonderful as always.  There were several flubs which given the nature of the Nutcracker and how many children are in it are all par for the course. The peacock fell down. The Chinese tiger fell down. A little boy lost his ballet slipper and valiantly tried to continue dancing, hopping on one foot while trying to get the slipper back on the other before finally giving up and finishing the scene without it. Individually these are all forgivable but the cumulative effect is...well it is still forgivable but was definitely distracting.

My big beef (you knew it was coming!) is with the treatment of the Drosselmeyer character.

Drosselmeyer is the defining character of the Nutcracker. In my opinion he is probably the only character who really has a personality and room for directorial interpretation. The rest of the players are all very two-dimensional. Boys will be boys and play with guns and swords. Girls will be girls and play with dolls. Drosselmeyer however, with his offputting eyepatch and magical powers to bring toys to life, is the character who puts the whole story into motion.

IMDB has an interesting article on the character and some history of how the character is portrayed in different productions.  It even references the opening season of PNB's Nutcracker where he was dark and ominous, the way he should be!  While I remain very grateful that I have never seen what IMDB calls a "dirty old man" Drosselmeye (eww, yuck, that is just plain wrong and horrifying), I have always understood him to be a slightly frightening character.  Why else does he have that eyepatch?!  He should be forbidding and powerful, but still kindly.  He has supernatural powers, but he also gives delightful gifts and brings things to life with his magic.

I was quite disappointed that PNB chose to portray Drosselmeyer as a bumbling and dottering Mr. Magoo-like fool who was often a bit stooped over and surprised at what was happening around him.  He gets pulled this way and that by the party-goers and does not seem wholly in control of his own faculties.  This is a guy you chuckle about after the party, not one that makes small children simultaneously apprehensive and delighted.

What is even more odd is the way they played Drosselmeyer with the boys, goading them on to tease and taunt Clara with the rat king doll.  So not only is he a bumbling fool, but he is a spiteful one too who purposely sets the boys on the path of mischief-making multiple times.  He comes off as both mean and foolish.  This is a character to be scorned and dismissed.

All of this reminds me of the controversy that erupted among die-hard Tolkien fans over departures from canon in Peter Jackson's films, particularly the scene where Gandalf bumps his head in Bilbo's hobbit hole.  Critics state (correctly) that this never happened in the book, and that it makes Gandalf look like a bit of a fool.  Others say it humanized the character.  Maybe that is what PNB was thinking with Drosselmeyer:  make him more humorous and approachable.  Well...Gandalf isn't human, he is a wizard, and is one of the most powerful characters in Middle Earth.  "Approachable" isn't supposed to be one of the top adjectives to describe him, and I argue it isn't doing Drosselmeyer or the production any favors to humanize his character either.

And another thing:  the nutcracker gift to Clara wasn't even a proper nutcracker!  It was a stuffed doll.  Whatever.  You lost me with this PNB.  Too cutesy.

Well that's it.  That's my ballet review.  I will leave you now so I can go off and ponder what is happening that has brought my life to the point where I am reviewing ballet.

Addendum:  I had the chance to chat with my friend Jennifer about the performance.  Jennifer danced in the first season PNB did the Nutcracker with the Sendak sets, and has attended more than 30 PNB Nutcracker performances, including the performance earlier the same day as the one Cathy and I saw.  She informed me that the dancer playing Drosselmeyer in the performance we saw is a known ham who typically overplays any opportunity to insert comedic elements into his performance, so we had the worst of this flavor of Drosselmeyer.  She was also shocked! to hear that the peacock fell...something she has never witnessed.

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Alberona's Chicken Parm

Posted by: pat 11 years, 6 months ago

Time for another sampling of cheap Italian takeout!

This week's sample comes from Alberona's Pizza and Pasta. I've driven by this place on Leary a million times but had yet to try them. Something about the building location and appearance was a bit off-putting, but a review of the menu puts it squarely in the target zone for my ongoing Chicken Parm research project. And I had a coupon!

I bought an Entertainment coupon book from the boy who lives a couple houses down. He was selling it as a fundraiser for the Ballard High School Academy of Finance. I remember these coupon books being more expensive, but I think this one was only $30 or maybe $35. So far I've used the Cupcake Royale coupon, the Luisa's Mexican coupon, and two Bartell Drug coupons. I think the Alberona's coupon is putting me over the top on recouping my investment, so now it is all gravy baby!

I mention the coupon because it was a little bit of an issue. It was a dark and stormy night and I didn't even feel like driving the mile to get to one of these pseudo-Italian joints for takeout. In the Entertainment coupon book there are coupons for Razzi's (an old stand-by), Olympia in Wallingford, and Alberona's. Alberona's was the only one that did not specify "dine in only", so it was the winner. In fact it clearly says "VALID ANYTIME" with no exclusions whatsoever: buy one entree, get one free, value up to $12.00. I ordered online: one pizza for the girls, Puttanesca for Kim and a Chicken Parm por moi. About 5 minutes later the phone rang. It was Alberona's asking about the coupon, with an assertion that it says Dine In Only. I replied that no it did not say that, and Alberona's said Ok they will honor it. This made me a bit grumpy. They should know what their coupons say.  Alberona's if you are reading this, know that the lack of a "dine in only" restriction on the coupon was definitely the tipping point for getting our business.  Otherwise I would have ordered from Razzi's.  Given that we had a good experience, we will be back to pay full price!  

Another nitpicky thing is the handling of side dishes. Apparently at Alberona's garlic bread is a side dish. On our entrees we had to choose a side dish: bread or salad. WTF? I award a point to the old standby Razzi's for including garlic bread in every entree plus either soup or salad.

Delivery was late. I ordered at 5:20 and delivery was predicted for 6:12 and actually happened around 6:20. Not so bad I guess. I have the guy who delivered my coupon and he did a quick $12.00 deduction from the bill and swiped it on his Stripe iPhone thingy, which seemed pretty flaky. It took about 5 minutes.

Anyways, the food.

The food was pretty good!

The pizza was lame, but that is par for the course from this type of restaurant. Don't patronize them for the pizza when there are so many better choices. The pizza is strictly an appeasement for the children.

The side salads had very fresh and crispy romaine with no outer leaves evident.

Kim enjoyed her "puttanesca" -- note this is the Greeky-puttanesca you get at these places.  Usually tortellini, usually includes artichoke hearts, and strangely it seemed to have some pesto involved.  Maybe it was all a mistake, but I sampled some of it and it was tasty.

Chicken Parm was also good.  Presentation doesn't count for much.  As you can see it is pasta, sauce, some breaded/cheesed up chicken, in a foil container and broiled.  But it was pretty good!  The chicken was very nice.  very light breading, with a decent cheese presence.  The pasta was a plain spaghetti.  I like it when there is an option for whole wheat pasta, but otherwise this was a good preparation of the dish, and the portion was enough to save 1/3 of it for lunch the next day.

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eBay Sniping: bringing the BFG9000 to a knife fight

Posted by: pat 11 years, 6 months ago

I just "won" the auction for this Fortress FX-23 anchor. I've been thinking I need a backup anchor for the boat. I guess "be prepared" was firmly implanted in my psyche by the Boy Scouts of America. The Fortress weighs less than 20 pounds and dis-assembles for storage. But they cost about $300 new! Great ebay opportunity.

Anyways, I say I "won" the there would be any doubt. When you really want to get the best bang for your buck on ebay, you've got to get into the sniping arms race.

Ebay isn't what is used to be though. I've got a box of junk I'm getting ready to dispose of there, and I have no doubt at least one of the ten or so items I sell will have some "complication" due to a dishonorable buyer. Did you know sellers can't even log negative feedback on buyers any longer? It is very easy for scammer buyers to exploit the flawed-by-design loophole-ridden feedback and dispute systems. This guy's experience is not unusual, although when I was in a similar situation, the buyer was required to ship my item back at his expense.

If you don't follow Jeff Atwood on twitter and you are a geek, you are missing out.

If you don't get the reference to a BFG9000, please go back two squares in the game of life and play Doom.

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Is it OK to celebrate the motto "hard work beats talent"?

Posted by: pat 11 years, 7 months ago

I saw something in some communications from Seattle Prep that has been stuck in my head for a few days, so I am going to try to work it out of my head through this post.

Apparently the football team has some tshirts that say something like "Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Fails to Work Hard."  Elizabeth confirmed this is indeed a thing.

We talked about this at dinner because it is consistent with a message we try to convey as parents.  Persevere.  Keep at it.  Work hard and you will be rewarded.  It reminds me of tales like how many great (or just popular) authors only broke through after submitting the same novel 15 or 20 times.  It also reminds me of some tips I read on coaching and parenting:  don't say "oh you are so smart!", say "you are such a hard worker!" because "smart" is a roll of the dice -- some people are born with it, some aren't.  Hard work is a habit that can be cultivated and learned, and will pay dividends for anyone.

This talk often sets one member of our family off on her trademarked diatribe #37 on how common sense and street smarts trumps book learning and how many truly smart people fail to succeed because they don't persevere, lack a work ethic, or otherwise fail to realize their full potential.  I've also been chided by an inebriated friend who once told me that "We had such high hopes for you!", which resulted in another Pat bestowing upon me the ignominious label of "the most disappointing Pat."  I don't take it too seriously, especially given the fact that he woke up the next day with gravel in his hair, missing several possessions, and very limited memory of the preceding evening.  I tell you what, if that guy's name was Pat, that morning his wife would have disputed who exactly is the most disappointing Pat.  This incident provided ample grist for years of ribbing!

Back to hard work vs. talent.  Isn't both always better?  I am positive that hard work and talent beats untalented hard work every time.  Why do these guys get a tshirt with this slogan?  It seems that they are saying "hey you talented teams, just soon as you get complacent and back off from working hard we are going to eat your lunch!"  I guess.  If the talented teams keep up the hard work, Prep doesn't have a prayer.  Which is pretty much how the football season played out.  Or so I gather.  As most of you know I really pay pretty much zero attention to spectator sports of any kind.  I've never set foot inside Husky Stadium and my last Mariners game was in the Kingdome.

And the other thing this "does hard work trump talent" thing makes me think of is the book "Now, Discover Your Strengths."  I used this book and its Strengths Finder tool when I was at Microsoft to help team members understand each other better so they could work more effectively with one another.  Here is the idea in a nutshell:

  • Everybody has different strengths (talents)
  • You will do better in life by playing to your strengths
  • You may enjoy and need to do the things that are not strengths (let's be honest and call them weaknesses).  Hard work at your weaknesses can bring them up to reasonable levels of competence, but they will never be easy, they will never be strengths.

That last bit is always the hard one to swallow.  Everyone loves to hear about their strengths.  It is like doing a Myers-Briggs test and reading all of the wonderful things about your personality type.  They never tell you what a fricking nightmare it is to have to be the extreme INTJ working for the extreme ENFP (been there).  But what this Strengths Finder thing is saying is: you have weaknesses, and they will always be hard for you.  Find ways to spend more time and focus on your strengths (talents) and the world will be your oyster.  People like to think "I can just go to school and I will become an artist, or an actor, or a surgeon."  Well, maybe.  But you may have to work 10 times as hard to get to a median level of success at it, whereas you could turn your strength at shooting 3 pointers into a career in the NBA while sleepwalking.

Back to me (because this is my blog and hey it is really all about me here, amiright?): I love to play poker, but I would never say I have a particular talent for it.  I tend to play my cards and not play the other players as much.  As Doyle says "poker is not a game about cards, it is a game about people."  The exception is when I have spotted a weak player, I think I know how to incorporate that into some positive expected value.  I'm not much of a bluffer.  When I do bluff though, I make sure to show my cards to try to compensate for other players thinking they have me figured out.  It can put them on tilt too.  I do work reasonably hard at getting better at poker.  I own probably half a dozen tomes on the subject, and I've read them too!  But I know I will never be a great player.  I enjoy the social aspect and the occasional thrill of victory, but know I should never dive into online or regular cardroom play.

And that is how I've come to make my peace with the football team's tshirts:

  • They love the game.
  • They work hard at it.
  • They are developing a work ethic and good habits such as perserverance 
  • They rarely win.  Just like me and poker.  
  • It is all good.

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Eltana Bagels

Posted by: pat 11 years, 7 months ago

A week or so ago I saw a tweet about Eltana Bagels opening up on Stone Way.  Who doesn't love a good fresh warm bagel?  I'd been meaning to try them out since seeing the tweet.  As I was making my way home from the Center for Wooden Boats' surplus sale, I took a flyer and stopped in.

Just like the Chicken Parm, I have some memories of great bagel experiences indelibly stamped into my psyche.  Above all others I hold the bagel with cream cheese, lox, capers, and red onion (classic!) that I bought at Barney Greengrass in Manhattan when visiting Pat Okell way back, oh maybe 15 years ago when I visited him at Columbia and caught a few Dead shows at MSG.  It cost a bundle, maybe $15, but it was so worth it.   The portion size took the sting out of the pricetag.  That and the top notch fresh products.  It was the perfect bagel experience.  I took it to go and ate it in Central Park.  Quintessential Manhattan bagel experience.  When we took the family to New York last spring we made sure to hit H&H.  It was good too.  I'm no bagel connoisseur, but I do know what I like.

So, Eltana.  Now that I am home and digesting the bagels, I look at their web site I see they make "Montreal-style" bagels, whatever that means.  A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that this is indeed a thing.  Is Seattle so flush with great bagels that we need "Montreal-style" bagels now?  

I also see the Wikipedia page reveals that Montreal-style bagels are small.  Yes they are indeed!  These things are tiny.  At first when I walked in I thought "how cute, mini-bagels...OK where are the full size ones?" only to find that this is it.  Unfortunately the prices are not commensurately diminutive.  A buck a bagel.  Baker's dozen for...I think recall it being $11.50.  Spreads from $4 to $10.  So a half dozen bagels and two spreads ran me a little over $20.  Not exactly a cheap treat, but it won't break the bank.

Just so you know what you are in for, here's a photo with a container of yogurt for scale:

The bagels that were clearly fresh and warm were a delight.  Nice and crusty on the outside, soft but well cooked on the inside.  

The problem is that despite stopping in at 9:00 AM on a Saturday, which I would think would be pretty much one of their peak time slots, only one of the three varieties of bagels I bought were actually fresh.  The poppy seed and plain bagels...I hate to say it but they seemed like they might even have been day old.  Not delightful at all.  What is the COGS on one of these mini-bagels anyways?  A nickel?  Fifteen cents?  They can't afford to toss them (or donate them to a soup kitchen) once they cross the "not so fresh" line?  

If you go, watch for the dude pulling fresh bagels from the oven and buy those, not the ones that were sitting around.  Don't count on them to actually be serving fresh bagels just because you came in on a weekend morning.

And I had to eat three of them because they were so tiny.  I asked the friendly guy at the register why they were so small.  His response:  "gosh I don't know.  A lot of people ask that!"  Hmmm...OK...I guess he has never seen that Wikipedia article about Montreal-style bagels.  Or received much of any training on the product he sells.  Here's a tip to artisnal food producers:  when your product is something nobody in your market has seen before and is counter to most everyone's expectations when they come in the door, it might be worth educating your staff with a little "Frequently Asked Questions" knowledge base.  I guess even in "this economy" it is hard to find good staff.

One more thing that I hope they correct is that they are too hard to find.  When you are a retail merchant, what do you want?  People to come in the door and BUY.  So, make it easy for people to find you.  Their web site lists the hours for each store, but you have to dig a bit to find the address.  Why don't restaurants and other food retailers put their address right on their home page in a prominent location?  You can find it on the "Contact" page, and embedded in the content of an article announcing the opening of the Stone Way store, but that is too hard when you are in your car parked on the side of the road looking for this one...vital...piece of information that is required for me to give you my money.  Then when I get to the location there is practically no signage, just a small temporary banner that barely catches your eye from the street.  Well, good luck with that!

tl/dr:  nice tiny bagels that are good when fresh and otherwise nothing special and overpriced.  

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