Geeking Out – Community

Dear Erin,

Okay, by “next week” I obviously meant “two weeks from now,” but that’s only because more important things intervened in both of our lives between then and now. (Note to readers: Not our story to share, so I’ll leave it there, vague as it is.)

This is the second-to-last week of the Summer Series for me, and the last entry on what might in any way be called a “cult classic.” Next week will be about as mainstream as you can go. (Think about that for a week, and see if you can guess what I’ll be writing on!) But this week, I share my love for something so niche (apparently) that it got cancelled several times, and a considerable piece of its legacy is the constant labeling of the audience as both “devoted” and “small.”


An NBC sitcom – sort of – about a diverse group of people becoming friends and finding second chances in a community college. But of course as we now know, it was really about paintball, pop culture references, and behind-the-scenes drama. At least those are what it will be remembered for.

Community premiered in the fall of the year I started teaching at a community college, and I started watching only in order to snark at how wrong this silly network sitcom was going to get the college realities. As I remembered it, the pilot was a little too neat, the first episodes generic, and then it got good around Halloween. I have no idea why I thought I had kept watching that long if it wasn’t all that great.

I just rewatched the pilot again, and now I know why I kept watching: it’s because most of the elements of what Community would become were there from the beginning. The eventual weirdness was certainly toned down, but it had the arch, clever dialogue; certain ridiculous elements (like agreeing to trade a Lexus for a semester’s worth of test answers); and the good-heartedness that provided a foundation for the group of main characters.

The show’s presence on Facebook recently did a Top 5 episode countdown, which saves me some trouble (all of these are good; maybe not my top 5, but good):

  1. Remedial Chaos Theory – the group is at a party and rolls a die to see who has to go get a pizza from the delivery person at the front door; depending on which number comes up, reality changes. Incredibly inventive and clever in a Groundhog Day kind of way.
  2. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – the group plays d&d with a suicidal student to make him feel appreciated. They take it way too seriously but accomplish their mission. Impressive for how complex a fantasy world is created in the mind of the viewer just through dialogue.
  3. Modern Warfare – “the paintball episode” where reality was thrown out the window and all the stops pulled out. Epic fun considering it’s taking place on a community college campus.
  4. Pillows and Blankets- this one features the world’s biggest pillow and blanket forts, and their associated communities (North and South), which are at war with one another. Think Ken Burns’s The Civil War. Don’t really remember this one well, to be honest, but I do remember it being ridiculous.
  5. A Fistful of Paintballs – another paintball episode that was Western themed and just as clever as the first, although it didn’t seem quite so funny since it was no longer unexpected.

I’d also add the epidodes “Epidemiology” (a Halloween party turns into a real-life zombie scenario) and “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (the whole episode is done in stop-motion animation).

All good – if you like that kind of thing. If you’ve been following this series, you might have a good idea of what I like, and it’s usually cute, clever, and/or weird. Often all three. Community is just the same, and it really doubles down on the clever and weird fronts, so be warned. You might not want to be a part of that “small but devoted” fan base the show was known for.

Next time, we go mainstream.


The Top 5 Necessities for Air Travel with a Toddler

Dear Erin,

Poor Little Man! That’s really kind of awful, although I’m glad it seems not to have bothered him for long.

It’s good to get back to the writing, starting afresh for the new year. The only trick is continuing to think of things to write about; well, that, and not getting sidetracked by all the other life things going on.

As you mentioned on Monday, we spent the holidays on the East Coast, visiting lots of family. Thankfully Little Mister managed to avoid significant injury, unlike his younger cousin, although we might have come close by the time we were almost home.


He didn’t want to wear his own mittens, but he was perfectly happy with my gloves.

See, much as we love being with family, the travel there and back is a bit of a bear at this point in life. There’s just no denying that. And on the very last flight, LM finally lost it. He had done really well up to that point, but those last three hours were a bridge too far, in his opinion.

Nevertheless, I’m going to play advice columnist and act as though the previous five flights of this trip (and somewhere between 20 and 30 in the last year – at least, I think that’s what Charles calculated) are what really count. This entitles me to give what is surely expert advice on air travel with young toddlers.

So here is my advice – the five things you need to survive a plane ride with a toddler.

  1. Good planning. So, let’s say you’re trying to cross the country, from California to Virginia or Florida. Just as a “for instance.” That’s about 6 hours (more or less) of flying time. Without young kids, you probably opt for the cheapest flight you can bear with the fewest, shortest layovers possible. With kids, it seems to be better to break it up and give them time during a layover (if possible) to stretch their legs and work off some energy. This adds some travel time, but during the journey seems totally worth it. Also, if you can get a seat in the front of the cabin – or plan to have one of you in front of the kid who will kick the seat – that takes off some of the stress of feeling like you’re making everyone around you miserable. Finally, packing the carry on bag wisely is super important. Let’s just leave it at that.


    Christmas morning at our hotel. One of the few pics I could get of him smiling.

  2. Good luck. No getting around this. All the planning can fall in the face of bad luck. Did you try to time your flights around nap time? Better hope the kid decides to sleep and isn’t kept up by another unhappy child two rows away. Hope he doesn’t get sick. Hope you’ve fed and watered him perfectly so that there are no diaper blowouts on the plane, especially while taxiing (or stuck on a runway – an especially exquisite form of torture when traveling with a one-year-old) when you really cannot get to the one lavatory with a changing table.
  3. Non-digital distractionsWe’ve had varying degrees of luck with these, and the more novel they are to him, the longer they will entertain him. Books with lots of flaps he can open like this one or this one, or books with lots of pictures like this provide relatively extended quiet times. Small toys like cars or trains can be good. And stickers have been a surprisingly reliable hit. I provide him with paper, but he prefers to stick them on himself or me.
  4. Digital distractions. Perhaps unfortunately, but without a doubt, the best distraction is the ipad. Charles has found some good apps for LM, and he also gets to watch some saved videos on YouTube. That can satisfy him for nearly an hour at a time (when the good luck is holding). But then there’s the issue of breaking the addiction when you get home. So far, though, I’m finding it still totally worth the hassle today for the peace on the plane.
  5. Husband. Again, if at all possible, it’s best not to try to do it alone. I couldn’t do it without Charles. When one of you gets totally frustrated, the other can take over, because even with all the planning, luck, and distraction in the world, you’re still likely at some point in the journey to get to where we were late Jan. 1st, with a child who hadn’t napped all day, who was on East Coast time, who was no longer amused by any of his distractions, and had had it with not being able to move much throughout the day. And at that point, it became a matter of who had the longest fuse at the moment and could handle him. Until LM completely broke down, at which point he just sobbed in Mommy’s arms until he fell asleep, in less than 5 minutes. Then he slept the rest of the way home.


    Enjoying hibachi dinner and especially the fire.

So there you go; there’s my “expert” advice. Maybe some of that would be helpful for car trips, which you guys do more of. But then again, you have plenty of experience with that, and some of the constraints are very different. You can bring more things to entertain and stop to get out if you really need to. But on the other hand, it’s probably harder to separate them once they start fighting.


Top 5 of the Week

Dear Erin,

It looks like your new chalkboard fits its new space perfectly, and not only will it be fun for Munchkin in the years to come (once she can reach it) and useful for you and Matt, it’s really cool that it has those special, personal memories that are part of its creation. It also looks pretty much gorgeous. 

Speaking of gorgeous, that picture of the farm is amazing. If you haven’t printed and framed that one, you should give it some serious consideration.

My post today isn’t very unified either. There’s a little of this and a little of that to tell you, and none of it is closely related. Oh, I know! I’ll do a list.

1. It’s raining today. Yay! There’s not much in the way of thunderstorms around here, as I think I’ve said before. No bang! flash! downpour! done! Instead, it will be gray and soft and wet all day today (and hopefully for a good chunk of tomorrow as well), while the rain drips down lazily. It makes us all sleepy, but we’ll take it! Any rain is good.

2. Here the progress on my Empty Shelf.

Empty Shelf Feb


The post-it says +375 (pages). So, making progress. Slowly. I feel like I’ve read more, but those were audiobooks, which don’t have pages, and which I am consequently not counting.

3. Speaking of audiobooks, I’ve started listening to The Fellowship of the Ring again. I got this for Christmas, and it is so good. I already knew this, having listened to it before, but it’s been several years, and it’s quite a pleasure going back into this world as read by this reader. I still know many of the inflections of his voice, which implies that I might have listened to it a little obsessively last time around.

4. This week’s knitting update also comes from Christmas time. Remember how I was worried that a blanket I was knitting was going to be too small? I was seriously debating getting another skein because the two I had were just going to produce this tiny scrap of cloth. As I recall, you and Mom talked me out of it, and it’s ended up turning out fine.

Chalice Blanket 5

Chalice Blanket 2-001

Chalice Blanket 4-001So, it was a scrap of cloth when I finished it, around the time we returned from Christmas. But then, last night I blocked it, and it made all the difference! It’s still a bit smallish, but a good size for a little one to carry around and love on. Blocking it (which, in case you don’t know, is gently washing it then allowing it to air dry in the position and dimensions you want the finished product to have; most knitted things will keep this shape for awhile as long as they’re dry) really opened up the lace and thinned out the whole fabric. I’m very happy with how it turned out. Pattern: Baby Chalice Blanket; Yarn: Three Irish Girls Springvale Worsted in “Aileen”. (The color is much more vibrant than it appears in the pictures; maybe when we have sun again I’ll reshoot it to give you a better sense of it.)

5. Have to have a fifth thing, right? Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a Top 5 list, at least not officially. I suppose I could talk about personal stuff, but let’s keep it light. Last Saturday, Charles and I spent a nearly perfect afternoon together. We went up to Palo Alto for lunch and ice cream; then took the scenic route home, through Los Altos and Cupertino and up into the mountains (where it was chilly and fresh), then down into Saratoga and back into San Jose proper; and finally we went to see the Lego movie.

After all the raves I’d heard about it, I was expecting it to be utterly transcendent, but it didn’t really get there. Still, it wasn’t a cleverly disguised feature length ad for Legos. Or at least, it wasn’t only that. The movie was cute and clever, energetic and good-spirited. (It’s maybe worth noting, though, that one of its main messages – that everyone is special – seems to be in direct conflict with the message of The Incredibles, where that sentiment is what comes out of the mouth of the bad guy. It’s a contrast I find interesting to ponder when I’m not listening to Frodo and Sam on their perilous journey.)

Five Good Things

Dear Erin,

Amazing to think that it’s been 100 posts already. I know I wouldn’t have kept it up if we hadn’t been sharing this blog, so thank you! It looks like the next milestone will be a 1-year anniversary.

Again, our lives here on the left coast are taken up with planning things and trips and stuff, so although last week was busier than usual, there’s not much to talk about here. Instead, I think I’ll bring us back down to a level of daily matters and offer up a list of the little things that are making me happy at the moment.

1. I’ve been blown away by our church family, especially lately. It really is starting to feel like we have, not just friends, but actual family here in the Bay Area. With all of our biological blood thousands of miles away, it can get lonely, even with good friends, and even though we really like hanging out together by ourselves. But I think they’ve adopted us, and it really is lovely.

2. I finished my winter hat, and I think it came out well, but it has yet to be blocked, so I’ll put up pictures on Friday.


Being goofy with our friends at Disney a few years ago

3. So excited that it’s almost November!! Otherwise known as Doctor Who month. Two new specials are coming out, and as a bonus, this month’s 50th anniversary short story should be the one written by J. K. Rowling. (I’m a big fan of her other work.) By the way, I got the coolest disappearing Tardis mug from a friend this past week and have been enjoying tea, coffee, whatever I can make an excuse for, from it since.

4. Soon and very soon we get to see family and some of our oldest and best friends, and it’s going to be awesome! It even (well, far and away, to be honest) outweighs my excitement about the Doctor Who stuff. We love these guys and can’t wait for a fun visit with them. I’ll tell you about it in the next couple of weeks.

5. And finally, just to round it out, last week I made these brownies from Bakingdom, one of the blogs I check nearly every day, and they are still making me happy. Her photographs are so delicious themselves that you could put on the pounds just looking at them. I’ve only tried a couple of the recipes and both have been easy and good, and these brownies are something else. The pretzels are the only part keeping me from eating the whole pan in one go; if it was just the straight brownies frosted with Nutella, they would have been gone long ago.

I hope your week is as happy as mine is shaping up to be, full of family and sugar and crafting and maybe some goofy TV.

Upcoming Autumn Evenings

Dear Erin,

The other day, Charles and I went to see The Wolverine (better than I expected), and when we came out, several of the theatre employees were in the hallway asking people to fill out a survey from Nielsen about the movie. We obliged; we’re like that.

One of the questions they asked was what websites we often visited. I put down Ravelry, and somehow that made me think I might not be in their target demographic.

Another question was about what TV shows we usually watched, and that’s led me to realize that summer is almost over and the fall season will soon be upon us. We will have to consider what we’re willing to give our time to, TV-wise, this year. These were on the list I wrote down for Nielsen, and they’re pretty likely to stay in rotation for the foreseeable future.

1. Football. This is a given and has nothing whatever to do with me. The thing I like best about football on TV is the theme music of one of the channels, maybe Fox? It always makes me think of fall and cooler temperatures, and I haven’t been out of Florida long enough not to be overjoyed by that thought every year. (To understand how silly this is, know that it’s noon and 70 degrees here today. In August.)

2. Community. Assuming they come back in the fall instead of the spring. I will always make time to watch Community. Did I ever tell you why I started watching it in the first place? I had just started teaching in a community college the year it came out, and I wanted to laugh at how inaccurately they would portray that world. The promos, as I remember, seemed very sappy 80’s group-of-friends kind of stuff. Well, after four seasons, I’d say they were certainly inaccurate, but that that’s beside the point. Instead, we got inspired insanity. Which is why I keep watching.

3. Elementary. The timing on introducing this show was perhaps unfortunate, as it appeared to be exploiting the popularity of the BBC’s Sherlock. It’s turned out to be a pleasure, though, with fairly realistic dynamics among the characters, adaptations that make sense in terms of both the source material and the modern world of the show, and a well-realized and distinct world. Not as stylized and self-aware as Sherlock; more mainstream. But still good fun.

4. Person of Interest. Scratches the paranoia / spy thriller itch that 24 used to fill in our household, I think. Jim Caviezel thrashes bad guys with style, and somewhat more humanity than Jack Bauer used to. But it’s also pretty funny, more often than you might guess, and they make good use of some fantastic actors. My favorite might be the dog who plays Bear. Interesting enough to keep coming back, predictable enough to be able to knit while watching, which is good enough for me in some of my TV watching.

Addendum: We have also been watching Once Upon a Timebut after almost every episode I kind of want to hurl something through the screen, so I don’t know how much longer I’m going to subject myself to it. I keep expecting it to get better; I don’t know why. Also, Doctor Who is a glaring omission from this list, but there are only two episodes of that coming for the rest of the year, and it therefore didn’t seem to fit. (Speaking of which, what do you think of the new Doctor?!)

That’s it, really. It sounds like a lot when you lay it all out like that, but I suppose it’s really not. It would be much more impressive, probably, to pretend like we don’t watch TV at all, but I gave up on trying to be impressive a while ago. At least we try not to be television-zombies, consuming whatever is available, mindlessly.

Anyway, I can’t wait to see you and the Munchkin! Less than a week, now. It will be so fun!