Dec 18

Burn the Stage: Homework for the Fam

If you follow me on Twitter, you may know that I already watched the BTS film Burn the Stage on the day it opened.  But I read a review that said, as a non-fan, it felt like a film made for existing fans instead of being a good introduction for newcomers, so this post is for my mom and sister who are going to go see it with me later this week.  It will be my second viewing, but their first.  I figured I’d write a few quick FAQs and then include some videos to watch so they can skim quickly to get up to speed.

Ladies, this post is your homework before the movie so you will hopefully enjoy it more!

The Quick FAQ

Q: What does BTS mean?

BTS stands for their name in Korean - 방탄소년단 – in English, Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates to “bulletproof boyscouts”.  You can watch the first minute or so of this video to get the pronunciation down.

Q: What does “bulletproof boyscouts” mean?

I don’t want to re-write the whole BTS Wikipedia page, but from what I’ve gathered, the idea when they formed was to create a group that would be a “shield” for young people from the “bullets” (criticisms) of the older generation.  They later said it also can mean “Beyond the Scene” in English, but most fans I know hate that anglicized name.

All things considered, they do a pretty good job of living up to the boyscouts image, at least publicly.

Q: Why are BTS fans called ARMY?

ARMY stands for Adorable Representative MC for Youth.  The band’s leader has said to think of it as the ARMY of young people behind them.  The most important thing to know is that the plural of ARMY is ARMYs (no apostrophe!), and it is (maybe?) the largest fandom in the world.  Certainly the largest active fandom on social media, and truly global in scope.

Q: What is Burn the Stage about?

Burn the Stage is a documentary film of behind the scenes footage from their 2017 Wings global tour, interspersed with some clips and footage from various TV programs and award shows they’ve been on.  2017 was arguably the year they truly scaled to a global level, and they broke a lot of records, so the film gives you a look at what it was really like to be in that intense spotlight.

Q: Who are the Members?

There’s 7 of them, and they have stage names in addition to their Korean names, and that can be a little confusing at first.  Also, don’t try to learn who they are by their hair color, because they change that every other day and twice on Sundays.

Why to Love BTS

The obvious answer is their music.  I’ve listed some of their hit songs below so you can skim through those, but the maybe less obvious reason is because of their ethos.  

As the members have matured, and their global influence has increased, they’ve taken on the role of being unofficial ambassadors for Korea, and official ambassadors for UNICEF’s campaign to #ENDVIOLENCE.  They make charitable donations, they speak out about issues that are absolutely taboo in Korea like mental health, depression, LGBTQ issues, and more.  They aren’t saints, and they’ve done dumb stuff in the past, but generally speaking, they are a bunch of young guys trying to learn how to live meaningful, good lives while making good music.  What’s not to love?

And maybe more importantly to me, to be a member of ARMY means embracing BTS -AND- their global fandom.  It’s the opposite of Trump’s horrible nationalism to engage in dialogue with fans from every continent and every language and every ethnicity about a shared love of “our boys”.  It’s still hard to describe how awesome it is to be a part of a TRULY diverse audience of thousands of people and feel 100% welcomed.

The Music

BTS is a boy band from Korea, so I guess you could classify them with the generic K-pop label, but I think they defy genre labels because musically they are all over the map.  They have a lot of hit songs that are 100% pure pop, but their more recent albums are full of non-pop sounding stuff.

You don’t have to listen to/watch all these videos, just skim through and listen to the ones that sound interesting.

I couldn’t figure out how else to do this other than to go chronologically through their biggest hits, but if you want to skip ahead, I have a section of my favorites, even if they aren’t as popular.

Also, most of their music is in Korean, with some English phrases, so I suggest that you turn on Closed Captions on YouTube and set to English for mostly reasonable translations. If it isn’t captioned in English, don’t bother with the auto-caption translation, it’s terrible.

Early Stuff

Their first few albums could be summed up as “school sucks” and “boy-loves-girl” type stuff, although to be fair, they were pretty young (15-22 yrs old I think). And the Korean school system is apparently WAY intense compared to American schools.  I guess it’s common for parents to send their kids to cram schools after regular school, so kids might be in school until 8 or 9PM or something crazy like that.  Here are a few representative songs.

NO is about the rigid educational system that makes kids like robots cramming information in their brains but having no joy and no dreams in their childhood.

War of Hormone makes me laugh, it could only be written by lusty teen-age boys. They’ve since apologized for not being more sensitive to women in some of their earlier songs. They’re in their mid- to late- 20s now, so they’ve grown up a lot since then, but I include it anyway as an example of an early work.

Dope came a couple years later, and talks about how they are busting their ass working in the studio and dance practice room while all their friends are out clubbing and having fun. This is the second BTS song I came across and Jimin’s dancing (the one with red hair in this video) is what made me Google them to find out who the heck they were. I love the choreography in this one.


The Songs that Started to Make Them Famous

They started to gain real traction in 2016-17. Blood, Sweat, & Tears is pure art, IMO.  It’s full of visual literary references about temptation, overindulgence, and evil.

Spring Day is one of my favorites and I think one of their most beloved songs the world over, it’s about missing someone you love dearly and waiting for that spring day when you’ll be together again. I’ve read that it was written after the South Korean Sewol Ferry tragedy in 2014, where over 300 people died when the ferry sank, many of them students.  It’s a sad story.  🙁

Save Me is the first BTS song I heard that hooked me.  I listened to it on repeat for like a week or something.

The Big Radio Hits

Their biggest hits are mostly EDM (electronic dance music, madre), these are songs you might even hear on American radio stations.

First up is Mic Drop, inspired by President Obama’s famous mic drop.  It’s a response to their “haters” who said they sucked and would never make it big.

Fire is straight up club music to jump up and down and dance to.  I like it for house cleaning music.

Next up is DNA, a pure pop dance song about that trippy crazy magical phase of being in love.  It’s from the Love Yourself: Her album, which is part of a three-part cycle of albums, sort of like a rock opera.  Love Yourself: Her is part 1, the falling in love/being in love part of the story.

Fake Love is next, it’s from the second album in the cycle, Love Yourself: Tear, which is the falling out of love/breaking up/realizing love isn’t like the fairytale part of the story.

And last is Idol, from the third album in the cycle, Love Yourself: Answer, which has the theme of knowing yourself/you must learn to love yourself before you can love anyone else.  The video is crazy, Mother probably won’t like it visually because it’s too meme-like, but musically it’s very interesting because it has a lot of traditional Korean elements and borrows some African rhythms too.


My Other Favorites

Baepsae is one of their more political songs (so of course I like it) criticizing the wealthy older generation who don’t appreciate how hard it is to make it as a young person these days. Baepsae translates to “crow tit” in English, a small bird. It’s a reference in Korean that’s sort of the opposite of being born with a silver spoon. So a baepsae might be someone born poor trying too hard to make it. Yeah, something like that.

So far I’ve only included official music videos, but I love this video of their dance practice, because the choreography is fun and they get a little silly at the end. 🙂

Lie is one of my favorite solos.  This is a fan-made video showing a split screen of Jimin dancing to his solo song, on the left is a performance from a concert, and on the right is filming the short film for the song’s official release.  The music, the singing, and the dancing are all just beautiful, and Jimin is my favorite.

It doesn’t have captions, but this is the translation of the chorus, for reference:

Caught in a lie
Find me when I was pure
I can’t be free from this lie
Give me back my smile
Caught in a lie
Pull me from this hell
I can’t be free from this pain
Save me, I am being punished

(Also at times the screen goes black, stay with it..)

I have a bunch more favorite songs, but I’ve run out of time to work on this post so I’m just gonna post it.  No worries if you don’t have time to watch/read the whole thing, but hopefully it helps a little so you can enjoy the documentary more!

Looking forward to our movie night, thanks for going with me!  xoxoxo

Jan 14

Kentucky Wisdom: What you do on the first day of the year is how your year will go. In that case, uh-oh.

My mom says that my grandmother Hester used to say that what you do on the first day of the year foretells how you will spend the rest of your year.  If that’s the case, 2014 will be a year of unexpected tears in fences and figuring out how to fix them.

The Culprit:

Curious jumping Indy puppy

Curious jumping Indy puppy

Apparently 6 months is the “terrible two’s” of puppyhood.  Indy has entered an incredibly destructive phase of intense curiosity, increased mobility, and the ability to jump over 3 feet high, as evidenced by her Great Escape through a relatively small and high hole in the fence line.

The Fence:

Wiring mesh to the old fence

Wiring mesh to the old fence

My mom and I put in a split-rail fence last spring, which is still beautiful and amazing, but the very back edge of my property already had chain-link fencing, so we didn’t do anything with that, even in the SW corner where there was a gap.  It was such a small gap and so high up, it didn’t seem like a worry.  There was also a low spot where a tree had fallen down and bent the fence.  This was just the opening Indy needed to test her new spring-loaded jumping skills to escape through the fence into the neighbor’s back yard.

The Fix:

Janey fixing the fence

Janey fixing the fence

We hand-sawed through the tree trunk to get the weight off the fence, and  zip tied new mesh that extended about 7 feet up from the ground.  Even Indy can’t jump over that!

Fleep fixing fence

Fleep fixing fence

Zip ties solve so many problems!

The Lessons:

Indy safely back at home, enjoying the mud and commotion

Indy safely back at home, enjoying the mud and commotion

Curiosity pokes holes in what we thought was secure and established.

Ignoring the gaps and procrastinating on fixing obvious problems might be at your own peril.

Asking for help makes solving every problem easier.

Zip ties really do solve so many problems!


Jul 13

Meet Independence

Meet Independence the Puppy
Meet Independence, affectionately known as Indy the Perpetually Playful
(if she’s awake).

So in my last post, I told the story of how Bauser came to be a part of the family, and how my mom and I built a fence so he could run and play in the yard.  The project went really well, and Bauser definitely loves having full run of the place, but after a few weeks it became obvious that I could never play fetch and toss and tug-of-war enough to keep up with his youthful energy.  And neither could my kitties.  Though they have adjusted pretty well to Bauser, they definitely aren’t interested in wrestling with a big dog.   (Except for Lucy, they are pretty old gatos at this point – all older then 10, Bandit is blind, and Alex is going to be 19!)

After much consideration, I decided that Bauser would probably be happier with a canine companion who could keep up with his rough-and-tumble ways, and started watching the free puppy ads to see what was available.  I also decided I definitely wanted a very young puppy because, though I love Bauser and think he’s adjusting pretty well, I also hated not knowing where he came from and what kind of experiences he had before he came into my life.  It’s far more difficult to correct bad behaviors that have set in than it is to train a pup properly from the start, and even after 8 months, there are still certain situations where I’m not sure if I trust Bauser’s reactions.  I think when you raise a dog from the start, you have a deeper understanding of their psychology and can better work with them to make sure they grow up to be well socialized and happy dogs.  Finally, I also wanted a dog that would be about the same size as Bauser, and definitely a female so we didn’t have any aggressive male competition going on.

Independence came home on the 4th of July, a wriggly, curious, absolutely fearless little bundle of puppy joy.

A Boxer like Bauser, the second she saw him, I mean the very very second she laid eyes on him, it was all over.  She didn’t seem to notice the predatory glare as he eyed this new critter in his home, she simply wanted to lick his face off.

Bauser glaring at Indy
Bauser is not at all sure about this creature in the house.

The first hour or so was pretty tense.  Indy was seemingly oblivious to Bauser’s angst and wanted to play straight away, and he didn’t seem sure if he should eat her for lunch or try to play back.  He definitely wanted to sniff her out good, and it was a little difficult to hang onto her so he could without her chewing his ears off.  He seemed very perplexed about the whole thing, and excited, and a little freaked out.

Bauser sniffing Indy
Sniffing out the new puppy.

I was a little afraid it would take weeks for Bauser to adjust, but after the first hour or two, when he realized she wasn’t a threat and that she liked to play, he seemed to relax and in no time at all Indy became a part of the pack.  She climbed on his head, she chased his tail, she licked his nose, she playfully tossed her blanket around, and I think she charmed his socks off.

Bauser passed out from all the excitement
Bauser passed out from all the excitement.

The next day, you’d think Indy had been here all along.  I don’t know if I ever truly knew what the expression “Followed him around like a puppy dog” meant until I saw Bauser and Indy together.  It is the cutest, most adorable thing I ever saw.  Wherever he goes, she is hot on his heels, if he lays down, she does, if he gets up, she does, if he gets a drink of water, she does.

Indy hot on Bauser's heels

Checking out the maple tree…

Checking out the garden…

Oops, Indy fell in!

Feeling playful, if only you could hear her tiny ferocious bark!

Chewing Bauser’s collar.

Tearing down the hill together at top speed.

Watching Bauser come back up the hill.

Crashed half on, half off the coffee table after a long day of play.

All in all, I think Bauser and Indy are going to be the best of friends, and when she gets a little bigger, hopefully they will have a lifetime of playing together, too.  🙂

Mar 13

Easter Reflections: On Redemption & Renewal

Since my grandparents passed away these last few years, every holiday without them seems as hollow as the cheap chocolate bunnies lining the store shelves.  On this soggy Easter morning, I miss them more than ever.

My mother’s side of the family was never particularly religious, so for us, Easter was more about celebrating the arrival of spring and having an excuse to get together. There were Easter baskets with jelly beans stuck in the fake grass at the bottom, Peeps and Cadbury eggs, and when I was a little kid, my mom colored eggs and hid them out in the yard for us to find.  But the extended family gatherings on her side were never too big on the egg hunt tradition.  More likely, after eating too much dinner and candy, we’d all play cards or check out Dad’s seedlings that he’d surely have started by now in preparation for planting the summer garden.

With my mom and brother, Easter 1980(?)

My biological dad’s side of the family, on the other hand, was very religious indeed.  They are Pentecostal Christians, and Easter was a Very Big Deal.  The small church they attended always had a contest to see which family could bring the most people to service on Easter Sunday, and I remember the church bursting at the seams with people you never saw any other time of year.  Distant relatives and sons and daughters who rarely came, and everybody dressed not just in Sunday best, but all the girls in frilly pastel Easter dresses and patent leather shoes.  Easter was the only time my dad ever went to church with us, that I recall, and we had an enormous clan with 7 kids and a huge extended family of cousins and great-aunts and uncles.

I think some years we won, some years we didn’t, but what I remember best is after church in the parking lot, us kids would run around in our fancy clothes and the men of the church all gave change – shiny quarters and if you were lucky, silver dollars.  Afterwards, my step-mom would drive us to Hook’s drugstore where we’d take our loot and blow it on so much reduced-price Easter candy that we thought we’d already died and gone to heaven.

With my grandma and cousin Rodney at Easter last year.

As an adult with no kids of my own, Easter isn’t quite as exciting anymore.  I’ve long since lost touch with my biological dad’s side of the family, so it’s been many, many years since I attended an Easter Sunday service in a pretty dress.  And my mom’s side of the family sort of fell apart after my grandparents passed away, so we haven’t had any gatherings on her side of the family lately, either.

Still, there’s something about the smell of spring in the air and the fragile green shoots poking out of the ground that make me feel nostalgic and happy that Easter has arrived.

Some friends and I were talking the other day about how, for those of us who are agnostic or atheist, there seem to be few alternatives for the kind of spiritual gatherings or sense of community that church provides for the faithful.  We agreed that humans seem to have a need for certain kinds of rituals and that even though we aren’t religious in the organized religion sense of the word, we still felt a need for traditions and sacred spaces and a sense of belonging to a community.

My mom and sister-in law taking a picture of my niece Julie in her pretty Easter dress.  Nephew Joel possibly picking his nose in the background.  lol

I often make the joke that if I have to be categorized by religious belief, that I’m “apatheistic” – don’t know, don’t care – but that’s not really true.  I may not believe in the Old Testament God I was taught about in Sunday school, but I was raised in a culturally Christian community, and at least my biological dad’s side of the family was very religious,  so I’m sure that my internal moral compass is still largely guided by Judeo-Christian values.  I still believe that “love thy neighbor” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” are good rules to live by.

It’s hard sometimes for me to resolve the conflicts I feel about my views on organized religion and the culturally Christian heritage I was raised with, like celebrating Christian holidays or loving the architecture and iconography of churches and cathedrals, but over time I’ve come to believe that it’s ok to celebrate culturally Christian holidays in my own way, and to keep faith in the core meaning of traditions and celebratory rituals that probably preceded Christianity anyway.

So I think for me, Easter is about the coming of spring, about renewal, and a new season of growth.  And it’s about redemption, too, letting go of past mistakes and “sins” and trying to make a fresh start.  Maybe not with an entirely clean slate, the past is the past and our mistakes and history can’t be undone, but we can go forward “reborn”, hopefully wiser and kinder than before, and in anticipation of a new season of possibilities when the warmth of summer returns.

I’m not with my family this year, but I’m thinking of them, and remembering Easters past when we were all together.  Hope you are having a happy Easter too, and feel a little spring in your step today.

Jul 12

Emmaline F. James (1933-2012)

My grandmother passed away this morning.  Thank you to all the friends and folks in my social networks who offered  information about caregiving and Alzheimer’s, patience when I couldn’t be around, an ear when I needed to vent, and lots of love and support during this last difficult year.  I couldn’t have done it without you.

Jul 12

Jellybean (Beanie) Dinkus (2001-2012)

To my kitty Beanie who was, of all the kittens, the bratty one, the spoiled one, the skittish one, the hairiest sheddingest one, the one who when she needed lovins didn’t ask for them but demanded them right this second, with the sweetest purr and the most plaintive meow. We’ll miss you.

Nov 11

Caring for my Grandma, Diagnosis Alzheimer’s

My mom and I have known since probably last summer that my 78 year old grandmother was experiencing difficulties with day-to-day life, and over the course of the last year she began to drop weight at an alarming rate and have more and more trouble with things like using the ATM machine, paying bills, grocery shopping, and just the stuff we all have to do in life.  Her house is about an hour and a half away from us in the town where I was born, and we spent most weekends this spring and summer trying to help her until things reached a point where it was clear weekend visits just weren’t enough or sustainable.  She was forgetting to eat through the week, and it was costing us a fortune in gas driving 3 hours back and forth, nevermind the stress and worry when we weren’t there.

It’s really sad to see someone you love begin that decline, and it was all the more difficult because her forgetfulness and confusion seemed so intermittent.  Some days she seemed perfectly fine, and other days she couldn’t remember how to tie her shoes or use a zipper.   One minute she’s ranting about someone in the family in perfectly normal-for-her fashion, the next she’s lost in the town where she’s lived for 50 years.

To compound matters, she’s been a “collector” (aka a hoarder) for at least all of my lifetime, and her always packed to the rafters house began to slide into an even more disorganized, cluttered, and dangerous mess than usual.  She’s never had furniture or living spaces like most normal people’s houses, but there were at least always clear pathways to the main rooms and around the tv, the kitchen table, etc.  Over time, though, even these areas became cluttered and unnavigable, with cords and wires and boxes and bags and plastic tubs of stuff every which way so that even I could hardly get from room to room without tripping.

And in her confusion and forgetfulness, she began to develop delusions to explain why some thing that she swore she hadn’t moved was suddenly in a new place in her house – someone must be living in her basement and sneaking up to move things.  And the thing she was looking for and couldn’t find – someone must have stolen it.  The delusions became so complex and detailed, and so frightening to her, that she began hiding weapons around her house, and carrying big butcher knives around so that the man living in her basement couldn’t attack her.

It got to a point where it was truly dangerous to leave her alone.  She was so upset over the man in her basement she wouldn’t even leave the house to go get groceries or eat even when we came to help and assured her we’d checked the basement.  She was calling the police every couple of days about the man in the basement and was becoming outraged that they wouldn’t even go down there to look for him after a while.

It was clearly time that something had to be done.  But what?  How do you start that process?

A Confusing Process

It turns out that the answer isn’t very clear, or wasn’t very clear to us anyway.  We spent weeks making phone calls and searching the internets for advice, and we discovered that at least in Indiana, most of the social services and institutions that we assumed would be able to help us couldn’t.  Adult Protective Services cannot intervene until or unless someone files a complaint that an elderly person is being abused, neglected, or exploited.  Obviously we were trying to deal with the situation BEFORE any of those problems came to pass.  The police couldn’t intervene unless someone filed a complaint that she was a danger to herself or others.  And though she was certainly a danger to herself, we didn’t feel like the criminal justice system was the appropriate path to take.

We spoke with her doctor, but he was little help at all and in fact was rather insensitive to the situation and made it much worse – after that visit, my grandmother refused to speak to my mother at all and I was caught in the middle.  Though I’d hesitate to allege outright fraud, when we discovered how often her doctor was seeing her, how many tests had been ordered, how many different medications he’d prescribed, all for a patient who was clearly suffering from some kind of dementia.. you have to wonder how much Medicare $$ he made from her visits and if that had any influence over his decision making process.

It was really pretty scary, knowing that she needed help but unable to figure out how to start the process to help her.  In the end, we discovered that she had to have a psychiatric evaluation and then my mother could apply for emergency temporary guardianship, though even that is complicated by a new law Indiana passed this summer to guard against “granny snatching” since we live in Ohio and she is a resident of Indiana.

All of the legal stuff aside, the emotional stress was another terrible weight.  We had been talking to her all summer trying to convince her to move to Cincinnati closer to us, but she didn’t want to leave her house, her town, her community, her friends.  And who could blame her?  She wanted to be in her own house, with her kitties, where she’d lived for many years.  She was adamant about staying.  But it was obvious that wasn’t an option, so what to do?

Diagnosis: Alzheimer’s

Finally she was admitted to the hospital for another complaint and eventually qualified medical staff diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s, delusions, and dementia and that made it easier for my mother to get guardianship, but once that happened it opened a whole new can of worms.  Which facility in Cincinnati was best?  What level of care?  And how expensive could she afford?  My mother and I toured facilities and asked questions, tried to compare the various options with what we thought would work best for my grandmother, even as my grandmother felt imprisoned and angry that she couldn’t go home, stuck in the hospital and sometimes enjoying the respite from her worries about her cats and the thieves she believed were robbing her and other times upset about being away.

We eventually selected a facility but her transfer from the hospital to the new place was frightening for her, and she’s still having trouble adjusting to the new circumstances even as she seems to enjoy the increased stimulation, company her own age, and the activities they have at the memory care unit.  I think for the most part she doesn’t realize what actually has happened and she often wonders when she will be able to go home, and when she remembers, worries about her cats.  Mostly I’m happy to know she’s somewhere safe even if I worry she’s frightened and worried about being away from home.

Reading about Alzheimer’s is scary too, the disease progression is unpredictable and we have no idea how long it will be before she doesn’t recognize us or doesn’t know where she is, and the late stages.. well.  I guess we’ll just have to take things one day at a time and do the best we can to make sure she has good care.

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned a few things from this process that I wanted to share while it was on my mind, in case you or a loved one ever has to face these difficult decisions:

  • No matter how young or old you are, you (yes you!) NEED to have a living will and durable medical power of attorney documentation drawn up, signed and witnessed, and filed somewhere easily located (and hopefully shared with your designated caregiver) so that when the time comes that you are unable to care for yourself, someone you know and trust can do this for you.  DO NOT WAIT.  Do not think that you’re not old enough to worry about it.  Everyone should have this, and especially if you have children.  It will make what is already a horrible situation so much easier for your loved ones who need to be able to help care for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and colleagues about their experiences with aging parents.  Some of the most helpful advice for both me and my mother has come from our social networks and from friends who have gone through similar experiences.  It really helps to know that others have faced what sometimes feels like having to choose between least worst options for someone you care about.
  • And above all, talk with the people you love and trust about your wishes regarding end of life issues or what you would prefer if you become incapacitated.  While thinking about such things is not particularly pleasant, I feel closer to my mom too, as a result of all of this, and feel that I have a better idea of what she will want when the time comes, and I’ve also talked to her about what I would want if something should happen to me – and that gives me some comfort.

Thanks to my friends and colleagues who’ve sent well wishes as we’ve been going through this stressful process, and thanks to the friends and communities I’ve neglected in recent weeks for their patience.

Sep 11

How an Online Conference 5 Years Ago Led Me to Share #CookieLove with my Grandma

The opening keynote at SLBPE 2007 – Look at all that bad system hair!!  
Image courtesy: Rosefirerising

Back in 2007 when Second Life was still at the peak of its hype cycle, I and a few others who had been working to explore how virtual worlds could be used for education decided to hold a conference in Second Life to discuss it with other educators.  I know, it doesn’t sound very novel now, but it was the first time it had been done and the Second Life Best Practices in Education Conference was born, with over 1400 unique avatars in one 24 hour period talking about the cutting edge of education.

One of the people I met through that conference had the cutest dog avatar I’d ever seen and on a day when I was so stressed out I hadn’t slept literally in three days and was panic stricken that horrible things would go wrong and the whole conference would be a disaster, this cute canine avatar named CDB Barkley was cheering us up a storm and helping us go with the flow.  At the end of the conference when it was all over and I felt like passing out from fatigue, there was this magical moment where all of the organizers and the real trooper attendees who had stuck it out to the very last session all congregated, and I very clearly remember CDB telling us what a great job we had done and I cried right there on the spot in gratitude.

Five years later, it’s still going strong (though now called Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education to account for other platforms), and many of the connections I made at that first virtual conference have become the kind of net friends every gal should hope to have – great professional colleagues, many of whom I’ve since met in person, and great life friends, sharing stories about their experiences not just with technology but also life in general.

Fleep hanging out with Alan and Joanna at NMC Summer Conference 2007.
Image courtesy: J0 anna 

CDB Barkley, otherwise known as CogDog (or Alan Levine if you’re Google+ and demand to know his real name), was one of those people.  He worked at the New Media Consortium and was one of the early and tireless supporters for those of us trying to start our own campus projects in virtual worlds, and over the years became one of the bright stars in my online universe – tons of great links, resources, thoughtful blog posts – but also plenty of humorous tidbits, loveable crankiness about this or that, and just plain good stories about living life in this crazy digital age.

When I heard last week that his mother had passed away unexpectedly, it brought back all-too-fresh memories of Dad’s passing, and reminded me again how tenuous life can be – and how very real our relationships developed online can be, too.  I remember how painful Dad’s death was and how comforted I felt that my online friends were thinking of him by thinking of me during that rough time, that his life was being honored by so many people from all over the world really meant a lot to me then and now.

CogDog’s mom, Alyce.  Image courtesy: cogdogblog

I never met CogDog’s mom, but through the ether of the net, my sympathy for his loss is no less real for having met him online, and his beautiful tributes to her on his blog are moving to anyone who has experienced the deep grief of losing a loved one.  More than that, when I think of all of the thousands of people’s lives who have been enriched by knowing Alan, I think all of us in his network, through him, have a deep appreciation for the lady who raised him to be such a generous, caring, good person, too.

Clearly I’m not the only one who felt that way, as some other folks came up with an idea to share his mom’s awesome generosity with #cookielove:

In tribute to Alan Levine’s mom, who passed away unexpectedly last weekend, we’d like to invite you to participate in Cookies for Cogdog. One of the wonderful things that Alan’s mom did was bake chocolate chip cookies every Sunday and then give them away to strangers. This Sunday, September 4th, we’re hoping to get people to follow in her footsteps. Bake some cookies and then brighten a stranger’s day by giving them away.

So I’m heading out to visit my grandmother today to share the #cookielove in honor of CogDog’s mom, in honor of my grandmother who I’m lucky to still be able to visit, and in honor of the power of online friendships and support networks that endure through all of life’s challenges, whether it’s a stressful conference, joyful celebrations, or helping each other through the most painful of times.

Three generations, my mom, my grandma, and me.

Cheers to CogDog and Alyce and to all those sharing the #cookielove today.

Update:  Just got home a bit ago, here are some pix from the day spent with my grandma (we call her Momo) enjoying cookies..

Feb 10

Cincinnati Restaurant Review: Queen Mary Family Restaurant

@Sine922 in front of the Queen Mary Family Restaurant

Braving the Snow for a Hearty Breakfast

Before he passed away, my grandpa loved to take us out to breakfast at locally owned “hole-in-the-wall” style diners.  It was a family tradition to get up early on Sunday mornings and trek out rain or shine to whatever business he’d decided to favor.  In the spirit of finding a similar place nearby, Madre and I braved the cold and snow to try out a newish local restaurant right up the street in Cheviot.

From the outside, the building certainly looked like a Dad-style joint, but as we walked through the doors we knew right away this place was too fancy for Dad – it had cloth napkins, tablecloths, and art on the walls!

Bright morning sun streams in on a table at Queen Mary’s Family Restaurant in Cheviot.

Despite the fancy linens, the menu was more in line with Dad’s pocketbook – great recession-friendly prices that won’t break a family’s budget if you want to come for regular meals.  The two pancake breakfast looked like a steal at $2.50 but Madre decided to have the most expensive item on the breakfast menu.  The Queen Mary Omelet Surprise rang in at $6.35, but according to her, it was worth every penny.   (And had a surprising ingredient, so the omelet lived up to its name!)  I had a simple eggs and bacon breakfast, but it came with delicious fried potatoes and a side of toast included.

Breakfast is served – including delicious fried potatoes
which won the seal of approval from these two Irish gals.

The menu has traditional American fare, so you can get burgers and fries or steaks and chicken, that sort of thing, but it also has a number of ethnic offerings I can’t pronounce but want to try the next time we go for lunch or dinner, including shish kebob, Macedonian sausages, Sarska Pleskavica, Karadjordjeva, and Hungiarian Beef Goulash, to name a few.  It was a nice surprise to find some unusual but delicious sounding dishes, and we spent more time than we should have drooling over the dessert case.

We had a terrific first experience at Queen Mary’s and plan to make it our regular breakfast spot.  Not sure how Dad would have felt about the Karadjordjeva, but he definitely would have liked the prices and the great coffee!

Queen Mary Family Restaurant

The Queen Mary is located at 4050 North Bend Road, just across from Harvest Home Park in Cheviot, OH.  They’re open from 8AM to 10PM Monday – Saturday, and 8AM to 8PM on Sundays.  They offer casual dining with American and ethnic fare, a take out/To-Go menu, and catering services (including roasted lamb and whole roasted pig!) for special occasions.   (513) 661-8400

Apr 09

In Memoriam & Thanks to Friends

Dad’s Army picture, 1951

Just a brief update to apologize for the several months of silence on the blog. As many of you know, Dad passed away a couple weeks ago and the last few weeks have been spent trying to catch up on all the things that got left by the wayside while we were caring for him at the end. I should be back to blogging regularly again soon.

My sincere thanks to everyone who offered kindness, understanding, and advice throughout the last 18 months. The support of my professional and personal networks helped tremendously in learning about the cancer and how to cope with being a caregiver. I feel lucky indeed to know so many wonderful people, and you helped me be a stronger support for Dad.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Dad smiling in 2005