Tuesday, December 30, 2008

X-mas Files

Mr. H. reclined even further back in the big leather chair and sighed. An aura of complete satisfaction surrounded him.
“A gold foil-wrapped chocolate coin for your thoughts,” said Mrs. Hall. “I’m afraid, after all the Christmas shopping, that that is the only unit of exchange left in the house.” Certainly that was true- every electronics store within miles, either brick and mortar or virtual, had been scrutinized to within an inch of its lithium battery fueled life, for the latest and greatest in breakthrough technology. The video Yule log was blazing and the mechanical mood jellyfish swayed lazily on the end table. Every gift under the Christmas tree had been purchased for either dual core processing, a terabyte of storage or auto-loading software to control an army of anthropomorphic servo-driven drones.
Mr. Hall stared at his shiny new 47 inch LCD TV, let his eyes drift to the mini camcorder still in Christmas wrap, then returned to reading the instructions for his new GPS device for the big black car. He sighed again. “I’ll take that for a happy thought”, said Mrs. H.
Indeed, the air about Penguin Hall has been very cheerful for the last week or so. The best way to launch anything, whether it be a steamship or an evening, is with a fine bottle of wine, and that was exactly the way the Halls began their Christmas Eve repast. Happily, the toast was graciously provided by Mistress Katie and Master Erick, who had come by to celebrate the nativity with Mr. H. and Co. They were exceptional good sports about the traditional Wigilia dinner, diving into the sauerkraut soup and pierogies like old hands, and pausing only to dare each other to brave the stewed prunes. By the time the plates were cleared and the cookies and fruit brought out, everyone was too stuffed to enjoy them. In many countries, it is still believed that whatever happens on Wigilia has an impact on the following year. If that is true, then the following 365 days hold the promise for much warmth, happiness and good cheer.
Despite the rain early Christmas Day, there was still sufficient snow cover to qualify for a white Christmas, and after another short visit, Mr. Hall wished his children a happy New Year and took Master Erick to the airport to see him off. The rest of the Hall’s residents embarked on a movie marathon for the remainder of the day, determined to bathe in large-scale LCD glory til their eyes bled. Then clutching their electronic tribbles and battery-driven dartguns to their fuzzy bathrobes, the children toddled off to dreamland once more. Merry Christmas to the Hall and to all, a Good Night!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Perusing the local paper, the Monitor found this little tidbit in the Syracuse Post-Standard recipe contest and cookie exchange. Requesting recipes with family and cultural interest, they printed thirteen they felt exemplified the spirit of the holiday and the cultural diversity present in central New York.
The Monitor would like to applaud the Post-Standard's choice of Cookie Recipe Winner in their December 10th issue, recognizing them for: going against the tide of thinking that awards the froth of mere innovation and technique, for acknowledging the long ignored fact of the common man's basic lack of any sort of useful knowledge regarding general baking utensils or history, and for boldly leading the next generation into the blissful acceptance of mediocrity and inexactitude.
When congratulated for her winning recipe, Nanette Szczesny credited her credentials; "I have a degree in Home Ec from SUNY and am fully accredited in Boiling Water (201) and Choosing Which Wooden Spoon to Use, as well as a double major in Advanced Napkin Folding. I spent an intense two years studying under the tutelage of noted authority Daniel Davis, the butler on 'The Nanny'" (ed. note: Mr. Davis is not actually a butler but plays one on TV.)
Ms. Szczezny did express some regrets regarding her submission; "My choice of an all-white cake was a safe one, I know. I thought long and hard about the more controversial statement I would be making using my first choice of a yellow cake with a white frosting. I wanted to say- hey, it's all about the adventure, and after all, it's a new world, Barack Obama is our new president- I mean, it's all just so coming together now, that I thought, maybe, just maybe, that even my little voice in my little kitchen could be a part of all that." She wiped away a tear, shook off her emotion and went on.
Color choices notwithstanding, her unorthodox preparation methods ended up being what set her recipe apart. Eschewing the traditional method of frosting the entire cake first and then cutting it- she chose to cut the cake into 40 minuscule pieces and frost and jelly them individually.
"My feelings on this are that, like, making a dessert is more than just throwing some mundane ingredients into a bowl and calling it baking; it's like a zen thing, you know. Cutting each piece, then dotting each tiny piece with precision, taking excruciating time and effort and patience to prepare all the tiny little pieces, instead of slavishly doing them all at once- this focuses my mind on the actual art and craft of baking, and makes me, like, you know, a better person. Better than, say, that other guy."
When asked what she thought of the winning recipe, Mrs. Hall replied she was speechless.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Colleen Captivates Colbertnation (New Yorkers yawn)

Tossing back her auburn locks and flashing a smile as she boarded the bus, Mistress Colleen and her friends Mara and Sarah, headed down to the city to attend the taping of The Colbert Report. The trio had planned to make a day of it and spent most of the time simply enjoying the unseasonably mild weather and the unreasonably wild crowds at Rockefeller Center. The girls danced, spun and shouted; and at one point, it is reported that Mistress Colleen actually threw her hat up in the air, a la Ms. Mary Tyler Moore. The populace at large was largely unmoved.
Securing a cab, they arrived in time to snag a spot up front in the line to get into the studio, and promptly began eating the sushi they had squirreled away. The local cadre of homeless sniffed, turned up their noses and shuffled away; thereby squelching the old saying that beggars either can't (or won't) be choosy.

Sitting in the audience prior to the show, the trio managed to spark a connection between themselves and the host, and a lively conversation ensued regarding his high school days and his former geekiness. Mr. Colbert then displayed his fluency in geekspeak by rattling off several Dungeons and Dragons expressions and closing by offering the trio the Vulcan hand gesture for "Live Long and Prosper", thereby causing our little band to nearly swoon. Residents of the five boroughs present nodded off.
Bidding Times Square a fond adieu, the girls headed back to the bus station, light as a feather and full of stories. While New York may be the city that never sleeps, this trio recognized the need to get some shut-eye before work, so racing the last ten blocks on foot, they managed to just make the bus back home to Syracuse in time. Manhattanites effected not to notice and continued snubbing each other unabated.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

We’re (H)all pilgrims at Thanksgiving

Some aboriginal tribes believe we contain something referred to as “blood memory” in us; in other words, something that our species inherently remembers, without benefit of experience, but desires nevertheless. Thanksgiving may be evidence of this phenomenon, because, for whatever mechanism in our brains that is at work, we find ourselves focused on a nameless pursuit of the perfect golden parabola.

The Halls are no less subject to these whims than the general populace, and so, to answer their whimsy (and a delightful invitation from Mrs. H.’s brother Richard Pranitis, and his lovely wife, Gail), they pointed themselves westward and drove at breakneck speeds, to rally ‘round the family in Brighton, Michigan. They were joined by those famous raconteurs of the high roads themselves, Mr. and Mrs. Pranitis, who had just arrived by train.

Ardent Spirits

No family reunion would be complete (nor, would some say, even tolerable) without the benefit of liquid lubrication, and it can be reliably reported that the host and hostess kept the beverages and the conversation flowing with ease. Hot and cold running commentary on everything from the parade to the feast could be heard at every turn. It’s never a dull moment at the Brighton branch of the family tree; so it wasn’t surprising that games were quickly produced and pounced upon. While Mr. H. was observed on several occasions enjoying his festivities in a more reserved fashion; Ms. Perry, who apparently, at some point in her youthful education, was informed that Scrabble was a blood sport, attempted to dominate the playing field.

Certain species of animals retain their prehistoric proportions and it must have been from a herd such as this that the Pranitis’ chose their Thanksgiving fowl. Its tremendous girth required extra cooking time, but the payoff was well worth the wait. At the appointed moment, countless casseroles flowed effortlessly from kitchen to table. Grace was performed, and, save for some satisfied grunts and belches, those were the last spoken words for the next thirty minutes, as the glorious repast was consumed.
Kudos all around to Rick and Gail for their invitation to a most luxurious and fattening holiday!

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Hall-ing" out the seasonal accessories

Even as the sun was shining brightly all morning, the weather seers were warming up their Ouija boards and handing out mittens and cough drops to their camera crews. Throwing a fresh "E-Z" log on the fire and restocking the bar with her favorite sherry, Mrs. Hall knew what was just around the corner; that it was time to forage about in the catacombs and start bringing up the winter gear.

The spiders and ghosts have all been tucked away for another year, the fog machine has gasped its last billow and the synthetic cobwebs have been replaced by their authentic lookalikes once again.
Having finally talked the youngsters into an artificial tree, Mr. and Mrs. H. were able to move into the happy realm of portable (read: folding) pines; but finding the primary scene-setters down in the basement of Penguin Hall may prove to be as difficult or perhaps even more so, than picking the perfect one from thousands of others in a snowy field. Nevertheless, by the time the post delivers the holiday turducken, rest assured Beau and Ty, the Penguin Hall mascots will be waiting cheerfully on the front porch to greet them!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Survey says: Fallout Party was epic!

Ushered into a foil-lined entrance and processed into the Fallout Shelter, the guests arriving at Penguin Hall were greeted by a masked attendant and a "scientist". They were given a bag of supplies to face the hostile brave new world, and immediately began to PART-TAY! Each participant was tagged with a white Tyvek bracelet, that, when exposed to a black light, revealed which group they belonged to: Zombies, Mutants or Survivors. Periodic bursts of "radiation" occured during the party, and guests were required to purchase "antidote" (with the play money given them in their bags) or suffer radiation damage (evidenced by wrapping a limb in a glowstick)! As there were only enough survival supplies for one "team", the three teams had to decide which would be the victor and the only way to do that, as everyone who goes to the movies knows, is to have a race! Dispatched to the garage and loaded with enough cardboard, electrical equipment, hoses, glow sticks, toy guns and paraphrenalia to build a rocketship, each group proceeded to make their own Deathmobile of Doomsday. At the appointed time, the garage door came up dramatically, and the race began! The Monitor has posted a short video, also available on YouTube, of the last minutes of the race.
After the race, the happy partygoers remained to eat, talk and relive their victory for several hours more. A complete success for Masters Chris, Ian and Mistress Colleen, and the buzz of many a social network this week! Kudos all around to the Penguin Hall crew for another successful "Hall"-oween blowout!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Duck and Cover! It's almost here!

Only three more days til the Fallout party at Penguin Hall! Mark your calendars and break out the iodine tablets; it's "Hall"oween fun coming soon! Stay tuned to the Monitor for pictures and the latest reports from this event!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Time to go home

The Southern Tier was a kaleidoscope of color last weekend as the members of the Ford clan gathered together. Amidst the dancing leaves and Halloween decorations the family joined hands and hearts in their annual get-together in Waverly, NY; and the Halls raced down early Saturday morning to rally round. It was comfort food in every corner and diets were not discussed; this was not a time for abstinence, but determined and steady indulgence. Mr. and Mrs. Hall are no pikers themselves at the groaning board, but this was a hearty group of trenchermen, and Mr. H. had to work to distinguish himself.
Out of the almost twenty five visitors, a disproportionate number of them were celebrating an October birthday (or perhaps there were some cheaters trying to get in on the fun!) but whatever the reason, "Happy Birthday" was sung quite a few times, a huge sheet cake embellished with seasonal flowers was produced, and little candles lit and extinguished on practically an hourly basis.
Several small klotches broke out within the warm confines of Mrs. Kingston's home as the party goers reconnected and related the events of the past year. Photos were produced and old family lore retold; some that were new and lots that were old. As usual, it was the younger set that kept the action lively, and many "Kodak moments" occurred, one right after another. A constant swirl of cameras around the room guaranteed that the majority of them were captured for posterity. The Monitor has posted just a few of the charming vignettes that paraded in front of the Halls.
All in all, it was the event of the season, and as the Halls wound their way back home, their heads were as full as their tummies, with happy memories of the weekend. Kudos to the Kingstons for all their fine hospitality and thoughtfulness!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Carved pumpkins on front porch steps are the neighborhood Rorschach

Since it’s relatively safe here in Wonder Bread Estates, we don’t have to worry too much about smashed pumpkins in the nighttime and the inhabitants haven’t yet gotten so full of themselves that they buy fancy fake pre-carved decorator ones. So the pierced and glowing vegetables, dotting front lawn and driveway, are the real goods.
Here is a simple chart you can carry with you to help determine the host family’s innermost thoughts:

1.) (Simple traditional triangles, smiley face)
There is no hope for these poor feckless souls. You get the feeling that watching the test pattern on the TV would over-excite them.

2.) (Deliriously Joyful)
Whatever these people are on- cut the dose. No one should be this cheerful. These people are either completely doped up or remorseless homicidal maniacs. (In either case, it’s probably not a good idea to let them play with knives.)

3.) (Pumpkin facing backwards)
The “I’m actively ignoring you” pumpkin. Might lull you into thinking they’re as giddy about uninvited guests as Howard Hughes, but chances are, anyone who creates a pumpkin this cloyingly self-aware is probably head of the Welcome Wagon in your neighborhood.

4.) (Suicide pumpkin)
We did this pumpkin several years running. While we expected a petition banning us from the school or neighborhood playgrounds, what we received was, in fact, compliments on it year after year. Unfortunately, that speaks more to what it means to live in our sub-division than anything else.

5.) (The larger demonic pumpkin eating a smaller helpless one)
I happen to know that the child that carved this one has a bedroom decorated with flowers and unicorns, and saves butterflies from spider webs. There are some seriously deep waters going on here. Perhaps we should be wondering what she is doing with all those butterflies she saved.

6.) (Obsessively over-carved pumpkin)
Now this is just sad. Anyone whose sum total of self-esteem rests, at the end of the day, on what people think of their ability to carve a piece of produce, has an ego just begging to be squashed. (Bad pun.) Seriously, it’s clear time weighs heavily on these people’s hands.

7.) (Pac-man eating dots)
Awww. There’s no school like the old school. These are pumpkins carved solely to fulfill one’s obligations, when, in reality, the mind is elsewhere.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Color spectacular at Penguin Hall!

Fall is officially here and the views in the little valley of Marcellus could not be more beautiful. Warm sunny days and cool dry nights have brought perfect conditions for fall foliage, and scores of drivers along the famed “Gorge road” leading to this charming hamlet have been slowing down just to gasp at the painted hills surrounding them.
Master Ian and Mistress Colleen have been spotted running back and forth throughout the Hall, toting books and sweaters, so it can clearly be seen that school is in full swing now. Between classes and part-time jobs and friends in and out, Penguin Hall has become a regular Grand Central Station. The refrigerator is Information Central, with calendars sporting color-coded legends for quick reference on the inhabitant’s whereabouts and upcoming events.
And the big event on the horizon: Waverly Family Reunion! Coming up in October as always, the residents of Penguin Hall eagerly await shining up the big black car and heading for the Southern Tier. Stay tuned to the Monitor for late-breaking reports and pictures.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Waxing lyrical in the face of doomsday

Tony Soprano said it best about Wednesday, Sept. 10th @ 3:3o EDT: "Everything just goes black."
In honor of the firing up of the Large Hadron Collider tomorrow, the Penguin Hall Monitor is publishing a little ditty:

"Stephen Hawking took a whack

At finding where Higgs Boson's at-

And when his hundred bucks were won,

CERN swallowed Earth and everyone."

Most likely it will just rip open time and space and unleash a flurry of alien head crabs to terrorize humanity. Grab your crowbars now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Penny Arcade Expo 2008!

Devotees of the digital age agree that that the only thing better than getting six or eight of your closest friends (or foes, depending on the game) together in a room, is getting 50,000 to 60,000 of your closest friends (or foes, depending on the game) together, in a convention hall, wirelessly connected and perpetually communicating; along with the prospect of winning tons of glorious and relatively esoteric swag. That pretty much describes the experience of PAX 08, run by those geniuses at Penny Arcade: Gabe and Tycho. Penny Arcade has been described as equal parts comix and commentary, and has been a staple of the webcomic world for years.

So when Master Chris heard that his old school chum Ted, from RIT, was working it in Seattle this year, he broke out the piggy bank and hopped the first bird to the left coast to be there. The Penguin Hall Monitor does not have enough space to post all the wonderful shots he brought back but can provide these tantalizing snaps of just a few of the great moments Chris enjoyed. Lucky break number one: also playing at the same time as the expo, was a robot exhibit at the Seattle Science Fiction Hall of Fame, which Chris was able to catch. Lucky break number two: Chris scoring the prize of the convention by drawing one of the random winning tickets- for the Vault Boy puppet! While he was dogged with several offers of cash for it all the way up until he boarded his plane home, he held fast, and the relentlessly cheerful little face is holding court over Chris' room as this goes to print. Kudos, Chris!

Convention at the Sagamore

As the Junior Past President of the Onondaga-Oswego Funeral Directors Association (affectionately referred to as "OOF-DA") Mr. H. looked forward to rubbing elbows with directors from all over the state at the NY State Funeral Directors Convention, held this year at the historic Sagamore Hotel in Lake George, NY. The weather was picture perfect, a glowing 72 degrees the whole time, and Mr. and Mrs. H. had a hard time picking their big black car out of the sea of big black cars in the hotel parking lot.While the Monitor will not go into the delicate details of the subjects covered at the seminars, suffice it to say, there were some very interesting moments, including the demonstration by a magician, levitating one of the OOFDA officers on the stage! Mrs. H. was persuaded confidentially by the magician, between speeches, to participate in one of the tricks, and she played her role to perfection.

After the seminars and the exhibits by the sponsors, Mr. and Mrs. Hall strolled the village and enjoyed the waning days of summer by the lake. At eventide, they were invited to join the executives of one of their providers in the Trillium Dining Room; there they swapped stories and managed to exhaust not only the wine cellar but the sommelier as well.

It's Hall Good

NY State Fair
Hot, crowded and wonderful; that's the way Central New Yorkers were describing this year's fair, and the Halls would certainly concur. Going from building to building, seeing and being seen is SOP for Mr. H. Here are some sights from the happy fairgrounds. What fair could possibly be complete without the opportunity to eat anything and everything, then entice you to ride on a multitude of amusements bent on inducing nausea? Every year Mrs. H. likes to try something new; this year she opted for the kangaroo spiedies. Her quote: "While the gaminess complemented the spiedie marinade nicely, it's not something we plan on serving regularly at the Hall." Marcellus residents will be relieved to hear that.

Tell your friends!