Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Mountain of Downton or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Streaming Content

Growing up, I preferred watching TV to almost any other activity.  I liked riding my bike, sure.  Choreographing dance routines, playing dress-up, giggling at sleepovers -- all delightful endeavors.  But TV was always awesome.  Always was, and always will be.

That's why I'm caught off-guard whenever someone ruins a perfectly good conversation by saying, "I don't watch TV."  These folks know very well what they're doing, forcing you to conjure up images of the quiet evenings they spend at home reading The New Yorker, playing classical piano, sketching a still life with pastels.  While you've got your eyes fixed to last night's DVR'd Daily Show, eating off a plate in your lap and dribbling sauce on your sweatshirt, they're out dining with novelists, snuggled into a booth at a jazz club, attending an opening at an art gallery downtown.  What else would a non-TV-watcher do with his time other than every aspirational thing you fail to do on a daily basis? 

For a select few individuals who "don't watch TV," this is some version of the truth.  But the rest of them are just waiting for you, the TV-watching neanderthal, to cock your head to the side, furrow your unibrow and ask, amazed, "You no watch TV? What you mean you no watch TV?"

"I have Hulu plus/Netflix/Apple TV."  Mmhmm.  There it is.  You watch TV shows.  That's the same thing.  Now quit wasting my time.  I have Kardashians to keep up with!

Once the new media cat is out of the bag, they move to convincing you why you don't need old fashioned (cable) TV any more.  And I suppose, in many ways, they're right.  You really can see pretty much everything online or on an iPad or through a PS3 (I just figured out how to do that 5 days ago) or, okay I'm out of my element.  I don't know how else but I know there must be something.  A cranial implant.  A service that sends a show to your phone via text in one minute video chunks.

Through and through, I'm a TV -- nay, a television -- traditionalist.  I like watching shows week to week, roughly around the time they originally air.  It gives me something to look forward to.  [When HBO promotes "watch next week's episode right now on HBO GO," I am horrified.  What would I do next week?!]  I like sitting on my couch, remote in hand, directing my attention to my beloved, outdated flat-screen.  Is that so wrong?  I even like that I have 300 channels and at any given time I hate whatever is airing on all of them.

But, like the aforementioned TV-shunning freaks, I haven't been giving you the full story.  There is one element of the new frontier that I have actually embraced: The sleep-depriving, best-laid-plan-ruining, back-to-back-episode series viewing binge.  It's the kind of thing we brag about, even if we should be embarrassed.  "I haven't worked out in a month. I'm catching up on Walking Dead before it comes back."  "Sorry I didn't call you back, I was catching up on Homeland."  In my case, I managed to watch the first 2 seasons of Downton Abbey in 4 days time.

May I remind you, this is ME we're talking about.  I can't manage to accomplish anything these days.  I don't even know how it happened. Devin was working and I was alone taking care of Oscar for all of the long weekend.  I went to the park, the farmer's market, Target.  I did laundry.  I cleaned.  And, unfathomably, I watched 15+ hours of a show that you have to pay a good deal of attention to or you'll miss a plot point faster than you can say Lavinia Swire.

What compels me, or any of us, to OD on shows in this manner?  Is it just because we can?  Because they're so accessible?  

Or is it in large part to the phenomenon of "catching up" on a series?  Heaven forbid anyone see a single episode of a talked-about show without first viewing the dozen or fifty episodes that preceded it.

It didn't used to be like that, did it?  My memory is foggy, but I seem to remember it was acceptable to simply jump into a show whenever you pleased, relying on the kindness of friends to fill you in if you got confused with a plot line. [Entire marriages perhaps stayed alive because one spouse frequently leaned across the sofa to ask the other, "Wait, now who is that?  Did he blackmail the father in law?"]  During the decade-long run of Beverly Hills, 90210 I only popped in for a few episodes every other season, and I could pretty much make sense of everything (except for what was happening to Donna's boobs).  

Now that I think about it, have shows become more complexly serialized because they know the audience could very well be watching a whole season in one thirteen-hour marathon?  That would explain why, when I sit down on Sunday night to watch Game of Thrones,  I wonder if perhaps I suffered some kind of head trauma in the week since the last episode because I can't remember anyone or make sense of anything.

Anyway, the tv-viewing populace is divided into two groups: those who are caught up (with the smug subset of those who watched every episode as it originally aired) and those unfortunate souls who are not caught up.  The latter will forever be making excuses and living under a media black-out for fear of encountering the dreaded spoiler.  It's no way to live.

And, with Downton Abbey, I'm in a not caught up prison of my own making.  I have the third season to watch.  But the finale, with some major major devastating event, just aired this past Sunday and those who were caught up were loudly mourning, conspiratorially.  I couldn't stand not knowing so I went online and found out what happened.  It's bad.  Very bad.  So bad, in fact, that I may not be able to make myself watch the third season knowing what's about to happen.  Surely by the fourth season things will have improved. 

Is it acceptable, these days, to skip a whole season?  I'll pick it back up when the new one premieres, and I'll watch it on an actual TV, one episode per week, like they do in the rec room of an old folks home. 

I think I'm in over my head.  Maybe I'll start throwing a new wrench into television related conversation.  Instead of "I don't watch TV," I'll be the one going around claiming, "I don't know how to watch TV any more."  That's more accurate. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Oscar's First Birthday

Read the last post and this one back to back and you might think my life is one big party.  And I'll go ahead and let you think that because it makes me look like I'm more fun that I am.  Party party party.  It's all one big party at the Mahoney household.

This most recent bash honored the first, and so far greatest, year in the life of young Oscar Finn.  I did not want to screw this one up.

Cheer up kid, it's your party
The Theme: Simplicity

After the deceptively massive undertaking that was The Halloween Party, I concluded that as far as kids parties are considered, simplicity is the name of the game.  No elaborate menus.  Certainly nothing cooked from scratch.  Minimal decor.  Just take it freaking easy.  Since one of my resolutions for 2013 is to learn my lesson, I vowed to keep my Martha Stewart idealism in check.

[By the by, other New Years resolutions include: be thankful for at least one thing every day; be happy for people without being jealous; and the perennial classic, be better at everything.]

The Location

I spent, no joke, most of 2012 knowing that we'd hold Oscar's birthday in one of the covered pavilions at Lake Balboa because the park offered a playground, water fowl, and a private reserved section of picnic tables.

In June, I went online to find out how to reserve a space.  Fearing I'd seem crazy booking so far in advance (needed it for January), I held off.  (Not sure why I'm worried what the Los Angeles Parks Department thinks of me...) In September, I almost put in my application, but again decided to wait it out (for unclear reasons).  Then I forgot about it for a bit.  And when I finally called in December, I was told I needed to book 30 days in advance and I'd missed the window. 

But all was not lost.  There are plenty of other picnic tables in plenty of parks.  After doing a rethink, I elected to throw the party near the Merry Go Round at Griffith Park.

It had everything I needed in a locale... Something to do.  Enough space for us to spread out.  And an intriguing degree of eeriness. 

Done and done.  Invites were sent!
"But what if the weather is bad?" asked my sister.
"The weather is never bad."
"But what if it is?"
"It won't be. It's fine.

The Location Part II

A week before the big day, the weather forecast went from great (70 and sunny), to less favorable yet still doable (60 and partly sunny), to completely worrisome (52 and rainy).  I began to scramble, trying to find indoor venues at the last minute. Restaurants had expensive private rooms that would probably be destroyed in minutes by the onslaught of children.  Kids gyms would be appropriate, but would leave our considerably large number of adult, child-free guests feeling a bit out of place (although, to be fair, everyone loves parachute time).  What we needed, in short, was a house.  As if I hadn't already felt down on myself for failing to own one...

Fortunately, Oscar's Aunt Katie, stepped in with a marvelous solution.  She persuaded her very generous boss to let us take over his house for the afternoon.  Some people are just the best.  I updated the Paperless Post invite.  Crisis averted. 

The day of the party, I stepped outside to walk Seamus, expecting to be confronted with the bitter cold and rain I was promised.   Instead, the sun had the nerve to shine warm on my face.  The air was cool, but in a pleasant crisp way that any light jacket could handle.  Damn it.  Too late to go back now!

The Party Plan: Two Hours Of Non-stop Fun!

Depending on how you look at it, the collection of activities and decor either completely obeyed the principles of simplicity by being a grab bag of easy solutions, or wholly missed the mark by being an incongruous cluster-eff.

A week before the party I realized "simplicity" was not necessarily another word for "do nothing" and that I really needed to get in line.  So I started ordering supplies on Amazon.  Dinosaurs?  Sure, why not.

Dinosaur bake cups.

Dinosaur masks.

And dinosaur rubber duckies.

Rounding off the decor and activity smorgasbord
  • a neon green vinyl tablecloth leftover from (wait for it...) my bridal (yes you read that correctly-bridal) shower
  • 4 (no more, no less) beach balls I bought at Target
  • glittery plastic maracas (more Amazon)
  • 2 Halloween themed garlands (1 skulls, 1 bats) leftover from the last party
  • A bubble machine that I overfilled and broke the handle off of in the first minute of use
And of course, the piéce de résistance, the homemade ball pit.

As an observant +1 in Oscar's baby birthday party circuit, I'd concluded every party needed a somewhat secure place to dump squirmy babies so adults can eat, drink, and mingle in relative peace for 5 minutes.

So why not make a ball pit using a kiddy pool?   We already had the blow up pool.  And I ordered the plastic balls from Amazon.

Note: If you're considering doing this yourself, check to see if anyone is selling ball pit balls on Craigslist.  They're the sort of a limited use/annoying to store item parents are always trying to get rid of for cheap.  I was actually going to buy two trash bags full off a Craigslist post before the 'yatch went and sold them to someone else while I was waiting for her to email me her address.  Hopefully you'll have better luck.


This was easy.  I ordered the biggest pizza I could find. 2 of them, actually, because the helpful gal at the pizza place told me 1 of them would feed 15-20.  I assumed she meant 15-20 adult humans, but I guess I should've asked her to be specific.  Guests were sent home with giant foil bundles of extra slices.  No one complained. 

Other snacks included a bowl of Cheetos, Cheerios for the kiddies, a plate of rice krispies treats, and a veggie platter (assigned to Becca to expertly prepare).  That's how you do simple, folks.  My total prep time: 20 minutes... not including the homemade (from a box) cupcakes, which were probably another hour or so, but totally worth it as the birthday boy thoroughly enjoyed his dessert.

Final Thoughts

Like any event thrown ever in history, there were hits and misses.  But overall I'll go ahead and call this one a success.

And should any of you readers find yourself planning a 1-year-old's birthday party in the future, and should I have given you any reason to trust my advice whatsoever, here are a few other nuggets of wisdom:
  • Let someone else be the photographer so you can enjoy yourself/worry about everything else.   I learned this from one of my mom role models, Miriam, who always hires someone to take pics.  I duped Becca into taking on the task.  
  •  Keep the event to 2-3 hours max.  Unlike adult parties, which are only cool if they end at ?, if a kid party went on ceaselessly, everybody would go crazy.  A short and sweet party means guests arrive on time, fully enjoy themselves, and then peace out at your predetermined hour so that you can be all cleaned up before bedtime. (Your bedtime or the baby's, if the two are even different.  Mine basically are the same.)
  • Order pizza.  Or have it catered.  Pizza is cheaper.  And everyone likes pizza.  Seriously.  Pizza. 
  • Paper snail-mail invitations are adorable.  But email invitations can easily be updated with important information like "Oh by the way the weather is bad and the whole party is moving!" or other fun surprises.  
  • If you work full time, hold the party on Sunday instead of Saturday.  You'll need the Saturday to do stuff and you'll work yourself in a frenzy trying to get things done on weeknights.