My Big Fat Jeopardy! Audition

I put my pictures in a separate entry. Here’s the deets on the reason for the trip.

Back in January, I took the online Jeopardy! test. I’ve taken it the last couple of years. Don’t know if I’ve passed it before — usually there are too many sports or bible questions, which are my Kryptonite. I think I lucked out this time with my standard “if it’s a basketball question, the answer is Kobe Bryant” approach. Because I’m pretty sure it actually was Kobe Bryant.

Anyhoo, got an email back in March letting me know I’d passed the test, and I’d been chosen randomly from among the test-passers to go to the in-person audition. I immediately wrote back saying yes, please, thank you. Booked the vacation time, booked a cheap hotel (well, cheap for the Miami beach area) and this past Thursday, we hit the road.

We killed thousands of lovebugs on the way down. The trip was a little over 200 miles each way, and I have to admit, I’m not up to distance driving anymore. It’s hard to believe that back in 2007, we drove anywhere from 9 to 13 hours per day to get from Seattle to Orlando in 6 days. Even 4 hours on the road (we made several stops to clean off bug bodies) is too much now.

Got to our hotel, checked in, scouted the area. Hoofed over to the Atlantic:

Then we rustled up some dinner, and visited a local mall so I could look for a shirt. I’d brought a shirt with me, but I wasn’t entirely happy with it — the paperwork asked for us to dress as we would if we were appearing on Jeopardy!, so I wanted to make sure I looked the part. Happily, I found a great item on the clearance rack at The Limited — a dark blue button-down. Plain and classy.

Back to the room, and then we suited up and visited the pool for some night swimming. Not only did we have a pool and a whirlpool available, but there were also ladders down to the Intracoastal Waterway. Scott wouldn’t let me even climb down and dip my toe in, since it was 8 to 10 feet down a slimy ladder into questionable and very dark public waters. Full of wildlife. Oh well.

Friday, we kicked around the room for much of the morning, and managed to catch some Lazy Town dubbed into Spanish (WTF that show, I don’t even know) and part of The Abyss (in which the effects don’t hold up). Then I put on my fancy pants (and new shirt, and shoes with heels), we checked out, and we ambled down to the Westin.

Scott set up with his gadgets and headphones in the beautiful lobby, and I headed upstairs. There were a couple of guys there already, but I was one of the first, since I’m always way too early for everthing. I filled out my application form, with full disclosure that I work for WDW (the rules state that nobody can be on the show who works for CBS/Sony Pictures, but this application also asked about anyone working for ABC (Disney), NBC (Universal), or any local TV stations. So I don’t know what kind of grey area I’m in as far as eligibility.

Eventually, there were 20 of us. Some dressed appropriately, some not so much. A t-shirt with a cute skirt? Not good. Ren-faire-inspired clothes? Not good. A ratty, beat-up golf shirt — well, at least it had a collar. But not good. We got checked in, had our Polaroids taken, and moved into the conference room. The casting folks, all very nice, talked a little about what to expect in the audition, and then we took the written exam. Just like the online test, it was a 50-question exam, with 8 seconds to answer eash question. They collected our tests, went out to score them, and the room exploded into “what was the answer to this one?”

We’ll never find out our scores, by the way. It’s totally pass/fail — get 35 or more right, you pass. 34 or less, you fail. Period. And I think I cut it pretty close. I aced the pop music and movies stuff, but there were some sports and poetry and such that I know I got wrong.

Either way, pass or fail, nobody found out their results. We all moved on to the mock game, and they explained that the audition process used to have everyone who failed go home, but they decided to invite fewer people and let them experience the entire process instead. I applaud the choice. So onward to the fake game! We got up in groups of three, and got to use the genuine buzzers. I’m delighted to say, I got the country music question correct. A fluke!

At the end of a dozen or so questions, we got to do a little one-to-two minute interview. And I know I aced this part — clear eye contact, enunciation, personality. It was kind of shocking to me how many people mumbled their answers while staring at the wall above the casting peoples’ heads. But I guess the ultra-smart sometimes aren’t known for their social skills.

They asked me what I do at WDW, and I told them that I host a game show about Velcro. At which, the other woman in my group laughed out loud and said, “Oh my god, that’s where I know you from! We did that show when we went to Epcot for my birthday!” As they say, it’s a small world after all.

It took a little over 2 hours for everything, then we were set free. I gathered up Scott, changed out of my fancy duds into shorts, and we hit the road back to Orlando. We could have stayed another day, but we opted to get back home so we could have a leisurely Saturday off here. And happily, there were a LOT fewer lovebugs on the way home. I don’t know if the swarm moved on, or if they’re more active in the mornings, or what. But we didn’t have anywhere near the same death counts on the return trip.

So now, the waiting game. None of us will know if we passed the test or not, or if we made the contestant pool or not, until we maybe possibly get a phone call at some point in the next 18 months inviting us to LA to appear on the show. So for all I know, I’m in. But for all I know, I failed the test. Or it may be that my employer eliminates me from consideration. I’m not going to wait by the phone with bated breath; if a call comes, it’ll just be a fantastic surprise.

In the meantime, we had a fun road trip with many a laugh, and I got to walk on some beach. And have a fun experience that few people get a chance to have.

Trip to Miami – Photos!

So we just got back from a quickie trip down to Miami (Well, okay, to Hollywood. Which is right next to Miami.) for reasons I’ll explain in the next text post. I figured I’d make a seperate entry for my snappies.

First off, BUGS! The first 100 miles or so of our trip from Orlando to Miami was through lovebug country. If you don’t know about lovebugs, count yourself lucky. You could look them up on the Wiki, but the short version is that they’re pairs of bugs joined at the junk, both of them trying to fly at the same time, which ends up in a staggering, shambling trip through the sky. I don’t know if it was time of day or location, but the bugs were heavy over the turnpike.

This was just after the first stop. We had to wash the windshield, and I scraped corpses off the bumper. 40 miles further along, we had to make another stop for another wash-n-scrape. My car looks like it has a flame job from all of the bug guts. We’re hitting the car wash this morning.

We stopped at a couple of service plazas along the turnpike on our way down. They’re so much more than a rest stop — it’s like a rest stop meets a food court meets a truck stop. A few quick-service restaurants, large restrooms, stands selling perfumes and belt buckles, and tons of brochures and coupon booklets. We were surprised to find Earl of Sandwich representing, so we had that for lunch.

Our hotel was the Crowne Plaza at Hollywood Beach. I priced it out at $170 per night, then managed to get it for $75 at Hotwire. This may well be the first hotel I’ve stayed at that supplied fluffy white robes. I think the only problem is that there aren’t enough pillows.

Here’s our view to the east. Our room was on the top (10th) floor, on the north side of the building. As you can see, we’re right across the street from the Atlantic Ocean. Faboo!

And our view off to the west of the Intracoastal Waterway. There’s our hotel’s pool down below, too. Nice pool, nice hot tub, expensive pool bar beers. I mean, five bucks for a Miller Lite?

And there was Friday’s goal: The Westin Diplomat. About 5 blocks to the north, on the beach side of the road. Man, that place was nice. But I wasn’t about to pay $300/night to stay there.

After all, we were already staying someplace with the gall to charge five bucks for a bottle of water.

We did walk over to the beach and got our sandals full of sand. Which I guess is what they’re made for. I find with the Atlantic, approaching the beach is prettier than the beach itself. Because the beach itself is just a uniformly wide strip of sand, lined with hotels and condominiums.

So yes, Miami was lovely. Well, not actually Miami, but Hollywood. And more technically, Hallandale beach. Did we have fun? This sign says it all:

Unloading the Phone Camera

Every now and then, I realize that I have a load of vaguely-interesting snappies on the ol’ phone. So here’s a bit meaty wad of them.

Lots of construction walls are up in the Magic Kingdom, and instead of just telling us something like “This area is being refurbished for your enjoyment”, they have signs on them with inspirational quotes. The grammar on this one perplexes me. I think the period after the first word should actually be a comma, to make this one complete sentence. Either that, or an additional word needs to be socked in there, like “it” after “me” — although “Togetherness. For me, it means teamwork.” still sounds awkward. I’m sticking with my preferred two-comma, one-sentence approach.

And you know what? Don’t even get me started on the font. What a weird mishmash of lowercase and uppercase letters.

There really should be a “People of Costco” photoblog. I never see anyone weird enough at Wal*Mart, but there are frequently good snaps to be taken at Costco. This guy was totally into the pool table display. That’s right, this guy. And did you know, I have a phobia about ultra-long, untrimmed hair? Can’t stand the idea of it touching me. Neatly trimmed and well-kept isn’t nearly as bad, but when you can tell they haven’t had a haircut in a decade? Ewwwww.

This display was at a McDonald’s out on the coast. They had their Easter display all set up, with the glitzy tinsel cross and the creepy, doughy bunny. Both of which seemed inappropriate for a McDonald’s.

Last but not least, I visited the mall with a buddy this last week. And we always like to try on weird and unusual things. I paired together this ribbon-shouldered shirt (Tommy Hilfiger, forty bucks!) with some ghastly plaid shorts — the waistband is almost all the way up to lower boobsville. Add in some ankle socks and sandals, and I think I could fit in with the best of the tourists.

Quick & Easy Gadget Sleeve (Phone, Kindle, iPad, etc.)

So Scott has acquired a gadget. I’m sure from the photos coming up, you’ll figure out what that gadget is. He also has a birthday coming up in less than a week. Combine that with me and a sewing machine, and I knew what to make him for his big day.

I studied a couple of other gadget case blog posts, namely the Padded iPad Sleeve Tutorial and the Slightly Self-Cleaning iPad Sleeve. I liked the padded sleeve because no closure was necessary, but I liked the soft idea of a self-cleaning sleeve. So I built a fleece-lined sleeve that I think hits both nails.

I started by cutting, freehand, four rectangles of fabric. Two of the grey fleece (I thought about using black, but the only choices at the Wal*Mart fabric section were grey, maroon and navy blue) and two of the outer patterned fabric. I gave myself a good healthy inch on all sides of the gadget, so I’d have plenty of room to maneuver. I’d just trim the excess off later.

Next, I put one panel of fleece and one panel of pattern together, with the right sides together. I stitched across the top of each, so that they could then be flipped right-sides-out. This made a two-piece front and a two-piece back, pattern on the outside and fleece on the inside, with a nice neat lip. As you can see, I didn’t stitch all the way across the top; I knew I’d be cutting some of the sides away, so I stayed about an inch in from the left and right sides so as to not cut through any of my stitching.

After flipping the panels, I made a gadget sandwich. The two double-fabric panels should have the right side of the pattern facing each other, and the right sides of the fleece on the outside. Line up the top of the gadget with the nice tidy sewn-and-folded edges, and pin it tightly on the sides and bottom. The key is, you’re not going to sew where the pins are; you’re going to sew a little bit outside the pins. Because when you flip this thing around right-side-out, there’s going to be a little bit of space taken up by the extra fabric just outside your stitches. If you pin this tightly, then sew outside the pins, it should give you enough room for that extra fabric while keeping the pad a snug fit.

Sew outside the pin lines, all the way around the outside. As you can see (if you squint really hard), I started and ended my stitching about a quarter-inch below the lip; they won’t come undone, because I back-and-forth stitched a couple of times, and this way I won’t have any little bitty thread ends sticking out the top.

Trim the edges. And on the bottom corners, trim diagonally. That way when you flip this thing right-side-out, you won’t have big waddy bulges of fabric down in the corners. I cut this fairly close; probably a little less than a quarter-inch.

Flip the whole thing inside-out, poke a finger or the end of a pen down into the corners to square them out, and you’re done! Your gadget of choice has a cozy, fleece-lined, happy little home.

I also made a smaller one for my phone. (Different fabric — for the phone, I used the same grey fleece and some cute material I got in a set of fat quarters.) Same steps as above, but on a smaller scale. And you’ll want to stitch outside the pin lines a bit further, because there’s not as much wiggle room in the smaller format. This case fits, but it might be a little too tight.

And hey, you’re wondering — is Missy going to talk about the fabric she used for Scott’s case? Why yes, yes she is. Here’s the deal: I had it made at Fabric on Demand. They gently walk you through the whole process, from uploading an image or pattern, deciding how you want it displayed on the fabric, and what fabric weight and amount you want. I chose the 6 oz. cotton; it’s a little tougher than the 4 oz. (typical quilting and calico cotton is 4 ounce) and feels almost like a good cotton duck. I made one PNG file of the six-logo flower, and they laid it out in a half-brick repeating pattern for me. I ordered a “fat quarter” (18″ x 21″ rectangle), which was more than enough for this project and a matching phone case.

The turnaround was amazing. I ordered April 28th, was sent a proof of how it’d look on the 29th, it shipped on May 5th, and it arrived today, May 7th. Less than a fortnight from having a crazy idea to having the fabric in my grubby little hands. I love the internets, and I love living in the future!

And speaking of things I love: Happy Birthday, Scott Meyer!

More Marvelous Minute Muffins

I posted previously about the Atkins Muffin-in-a-Minute recipe, and my tweaks to it. Well, I’ve continued tweaking.

I’m still making these with coconut flour, instead of the original recipe’s flax meal. We just now got a bag of flax meal, so I’ll have to play around with it and see if I like it. Meanwhile, the base recipe:

1 heaping Tbsp coconut flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp sweetener (1 packet of Splenda)
1 tsp butter
1 egg

And the add-ins:
1 tsp liquid flavoring
1 tsp powdered flavoring

Now, you can be as creative as you want with the flavorings. Usually I do cinnamon/allspice with cream, or with some sugar-free maple syrup. But here are a couple of other options.

Banana nut muffin: add 1 tsp banana flavoring and a dozen or so pecans, chopped.

Lemon poppyseed: add 1-2 tsp lemon juice or extract, 1/2 tsp poppy seeds, and make a lemony frosting from 1 Tbsp cream cheese, 1 packet of Splenda, and 1/2 tsp lemon juice. Tart and tasty!

Thanks to our buddy Bob and his red mill (ooh, that makes me want to visit Red Mill Burgers in Seattle) we’re all set for various flours and meals. In the past, I’ve used the almond flour for cookies and cheesecake crusts. I bet that would add a bit of body to these muffins. And the flax meal is a popular choice for low-carbers, since it’s almost all fiber. I’ll have to go light on that.

Phones & Photoshop

A couple of days ago, I posted about our trip to Texas de Brazil, our local awesome Brazilian steakhouse. I put up pictures I took with my cameraphone. Scott has since then sent me pictures from his own phone, so I thought it’d be interesting to compare the quality.

Here’s the picture I posted of my salad bar choices:

It doesn’t look awful, but it’s not all that great. And this took an extensive amount of tinkering in Photoshop — mainly adjusting levels and color balance. So for the sake of comparison, here’s the same picture, without any tinkering, taken by my HTC G1:

The light wasn’t great in the restaurant, but we were in probably the most well-lit place (I’ve tried taking pictures in there before; the “mood lighting” makes everything dark and red). I had my back to the big wine room, which added a little more light.

But Scott also let me take a picture with his phone, which has a flash! Well, it’s not the brightest flash in the world — mainly just a gentle little bulb that turns on at the exact right time … which I guess is something that could be loosely defined as a “flash”. Anyhoo, here’s the picture from his camera, again without any tinkering:

The salad items look great, with true-to-life colors. However, the flash made a hot spot, and the more distant items (like the bowl of amazing lobster bisque) are much darker. I tried adjusting this image in Photoshop, and there’s no way for me to neatly balance everything out. Bringing the soup up in brightness washes out the salads.

Despite the sharpness of Scott’s picture, I think I prefer what came out of my camera. Sure it needed some tweaking, but most pictures do. It’s weird — when taking them, I thought I’d like his pictures more. I guess I’m just a flash-off kind of girl; after all, I leave my point-and-shoot flash turned off, and only use it maybe 5% of the time.