Year in Review: 2009

This was the second year of The Sleeper Hit’s existence, and this blog documented a lot of changes in my world in 2009. Granted, 2008 was my first year in a new city, living on my own, buying a car, etc. But 2009 brought lots of new things as well. After all, 2009 was the year I decided to make movies and actually did. As I did last year, here is a recap of the inane and the important, a.k.a., the things I deemed worthy of blogging about.

January: Brandon started his job at OSU. Coincidentally, we stopped cooking dinner in the apartment around the same time. The pipes in our old place froze. Obama was sworn into office. I started the screenplay for “Beacon Alley” (untitled at the time) and read lots of books about how to write screenplays. I cut nearly a foot of hair off, and so did Brandon. The Sleeper Hit turned one year old.

February: I left my car unlocked and someone rifled through it and stole my faceplate but not my stereo. I discovered Club Trillion and did not do much work for a of couple days. Owen and Jamie found out they would be having a girl, which I totally called. I discovered my undying love for curry and finished writing “Beacon Alley”.

March: I began seeking donations from local businesses for the movie but got poor response. Casting for “Beacon Alley” took place this month, starting with heroine Becca and ending with villain Melissa. Brandon and I went apartment hunting and found our new place near campus. I switched from Live Journal to WordPress. I joined and promptly quit Twitter. A generous friend donated some gift cards to use to buy food for cast and crew on shooting days. I bought a high-def camera. Filming for “Beacon Alley” began.

April: Brandon bought me a new faceplate for my car stereo. Surly Girl allowed me to film at their place. Filming took place every weekend this month and I woke up shaking with fear every day of it. During the actual filming I felt awesome, and even better after we wrapped for the day. I named my production company Wilmer Productions, an homage to Owen’s former Willow Films. We made t-shirts. I juggled moving out of our old apartment with the final days of filming. It was slightly stressful.

May: I chose the name “Beacon Alley” after taking a photo of a street sign by our old place. Editing began. I co-hosted a baby shower for my sister-in-law with my aunt. I ran into many technical issues and discovered the importance of lighting. I got the idea for my web series, “Paper Cuts”. I threw a cast party to debut the trailer of “Beacon Alley” and scheduled the premiere with Studio 35. I watched the “Glee” pilot and flipped for that show before the rest of you bitches. Count it. I re-joined Twitter and saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

June: Saw the Decemberists with Brandon after he won tickets from CD101. I began casting for “Paper Cuts” and met my muse, Taylor. Editing of “Beacon Alley” continued, and I wrote the first four episodes of the show. Met Monsterbeard who advised on my scripts. Watched a lot of web series. My beautiful niece was born. Participated in Cincinnati’s 48 Film Project and met the awesome folks of Plum St. Productions: love at first shoot. Michael Jackson died.

July: Production of “Paper Cuts” began as editing of “Beacon Alley” wrapped. Showed episodes one and two before the movie at the premiere, which was well attended to my relief. My blog stats hit an all time high the week of the premiere as people googled “Beacon Alley” after presumably seeing it on the marquee at the theater. Brandon and I planned a fall trip to Colorado.

August: Filming of “Paper Cuts” continued and involved casting new extras for each episode, one of which included child actors. It was weird. Brandon dressed in a borrowed tiger suit. I had a last-minute cameo in episode six after a friend had to cancel her role as a bridezilla. Filming wrapped at the end of the month. I lamented majoring in journalism rather than engineering or nursing or some other field that is still hiring.

September: Realized I had somehow gained ten pounds over the summer. Brandon’s gallbladder attacked him in his sleep. Went to Ft. Collins, CO and San Francisco, CA to visit friends on my first-ever vacation as an adult. I tried to write a one-hour TV show pilot while in California. Got one of the worst sunburns of my life.

October: Plum St. Productions exploded into prominence. I helped them with their short film, “Gnomewhere to Hide” and loaned them my camera. Got an iPhone and began using it to help me lose weight. Brandon got his gallbladder removed and his parents paid us a visit for Halloween. Became obsessed with roller derby after seeing “Whip It!” and visited a retro rink by the interstate.

November: Spent time with my dad on a sad anniversary. Spent Thanksgiving in Chicago with Brandon’s family again, saw Second City. Became very interested in both improv acting and stand up comedy (influenced partly by seeing “Funny People”). Started announcing my weight loss progress (or regress) on my blog. Actually lost some weight.

December: Visited my mom’s parents in Cleveland with my brother and his family. Lost the ten pounds I’d gained over the summer. Brandon got new glasses. Wrote 2009 Year in Review. Oh, wait…

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So long, Shadow

While I was home last week on vacation, my dad and I took my dog Shadow to the vet to be put to sleep. She was an awesome dog, and it was sad to watch her get so old. She had a hard time walking around toward the end, and she hadn’t been outside in days before my dad made the tough call. For me, I found there’s nothing like knowingly taking your childhood pet to die. It’s not a great feeling.

I spent the first eleven years of my life campaigning for a dog, but my parents always said no. Birthdays and Christmases brought up this one wish, and I never thought it would happen. Our pets were limited to strictly outdoor cats until finally when I was in the sixth grade, they agreed to getting a pooch on the condition that I would walk and feed said dog. Isn’t this always the agreement parents make? And don’t they always end up picking up the slack? We went to the pound to pick out my first dog. We came home with a golden retriever puppy that, unbeknown to us, was infected with parvovirus. She only lived with us for a week and died while I was at 4-H camp. We consulted our town’s veterinarian who advised us against getting another puppy. He said another pup would only catch the virus from the first one’s living area. He told us we could still get a dog, but it had to be full grown one who wouldn’t be touched by the virus.

We went to the humane society in my dad’s home town and I picked out Shadow, who was a year and a half old, they estimated. We never saw her as a puppy, but I’m sure she was pretty cute.

We have lots of family photos with Shadow in them. And I’ll never forget the time Owen came downstairs wearing his Jurrasic Park velociraptor Halloween costume and she flipped out on him. In a funny way, not in a Cujo way. There’s one really great picture of me and my three childhood best friends dressed like hippies or something, circa 1998, all crowding around my dog. I’ll have to dig that up and immediately never post it on here. She was all black then, except for the streak of white on her belly. As she aged, her face and paws started to gray and she was lighter than she’d ever been when I saw her for the last time.

My dog would lay on the floor by my side when I was at home sick and just stay there all day, vigilant. This was something for a dog no one would describe as calm. She had her bad times, like that time she killed a possum before our eyes, and the rare occasions where she would try to bite guests as they got up to leave our house. Those were never good, and they really came out of nowhere, but we think she was just being protective. She was that way until a couple years ago, when she got into a dog fight, dragging my dad down with her via leash. The neighbor’s dog won, and from then on Shadow wasn’t interested in leaving our property. My dad said he later heard the neighbors put their dog down after it attacked the family’s priest during a visit. You can bite your neighbors, but you can’t bite your priest – a lesson we ought not forget.

She was a great dog and I am sad to see her go. She was almost 14, and she’d been with our family for half my life. At least we still have Steve the cat, whose temperament hasn’t changed since the day Owen found him by that dumpster.

Goodbye, Shadow. Hopefully you’re running sprints up in dog heaven with two perfectly repaired hind legs. We miss you bunches.

Shadow, earlier this year

Shadow, in Feb. 2009

Movies I saw this year

Movies I saw in theaters in 2009, in chronological order, according to this list:

He’s Just Not That Into You (or, the last ten minutes anyway, due to a mistake on the part of the theater)
Fanboys
Watchmen (in IMAX!)
I Love You, Man
Adventureland
State of Play
Star Trek
Angels & Demons
Terminator Salvation
Up
The Hangover
Away We Go
Moon
Bruno
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Price
(500) Days of Summer
Funny People
District 9
Inglorious Basterds (x2)
Extract
Bright Star
Fame
Whip It!
Zombieland
The Men Who Stare At Goats
Fantastic Mr. Fox
It’s Complicated

Woah, 27 movies. I actually thought it would be more, although my 2008 list only totaled 23. It appears I saw 13 movies in the first half of 2009 (HJNTIY through Moon), and 14 from July to today (Bruno to It’s Complicated) so you can’t say I’m not consistent, I guess. Movies I wish I had seen include Ponyo, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Coraline, The Hurt Locker, Paper Heart, A Serious Man, Pirate Radio, and a whole bunch of movies that are out now, like Up in the Air, The Princess and the Frog, The Road and Avatar. Brief Interviews came nowhere near me, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for the DVD release.

Best of 2009:

  1. The Hangover
  2. (500) Days of Summer
  3. Whip It!
  4. Away We Go
  5. Funny People

This list makes it obvious I am a citizen of hoodie nation, but whatever. Honorable mentions include Adventureland, Zombieland, Moon and Inglorious Basterds.

Worst of 2009:

  1. Bruno
  2. Angels & Demons
  3. Terminator Salvation
  4. The Men Who Stare at Goats
  5. Extract

Most of these were simply more disappointing then they were terrible. Goats was too hyped, and I was expecting another Office Space when I went to see Extract. I paid good money for movies that were way worse last year (Strange Wilderness, anyone?). Bruno topped my list because it tried too hard to gross people out and didn’t try hard enough to make them laugh.

I continue to believe that no matter how bad the economy gets, I will not give up going to the movies. I am truly happiest sitting in a theater waiting for a movie I’ve been looking forward to to begin.

YES

As of this morning, those 10 pounds from the summer of 2009 are gone. I know it’s not Friday, but God only knows what I’ll weigh then and I wanted to make sure I got my smug bragging in before it all collapsed around me. Ten pounds in two months… slow but steady, I suppose.

On Friday I’ll be doing the last of my online shopping for Christmas, and Saturday I’ll finish all the in-store shopping. It’s sad; I’ve been shopping a lot since Thanksgiving, but I haven’t bought a lot of Christmas presents. For other people. People who aren’t me. Ughhh. At least I have lots of ideas.

I have next week, the week of Christmas, off from work. I’ll be going to my hometown that Monday to see some high school friends and catch up. My uncle who lives out in California will be flying in Tuesday night, I think, so it will be nice to see him again. We’ll be spending Christmas and Christmas Eve at my aunt and uncle’s, as we have since 2007. We have always gone to their house for presents and lunch on or near Christmas Eve, but it is very nice of them to include my dad and me on Christmas Day. While I was happy to practically skip over Thanksgiving with new traditions that in no way resembled the old ones, I still like Christmas time at my aunt and uncle’s house. That’s a nice feeling. I’m thinking about making those red velvet cake balls dipped in chocolate again. My aunt joked I’d better bring those to Christmas after she liked them so much at my sister-in-law’s baby shower this past summer.

My mom’s parents

My brother, sister-in-law, niece and I visited my grandparents in Cleveland yesterday. They are 97 and 95 and until this year, they lived in their house where my mom grew up. Now they are in a nursing home but they are still who they are. My grandma is having trouble with her memory, but she knows it, which is comforting and a little sad at the same time. Yesterday she and my granddad met Hannah, my niece, for the first time. My brother and I admitted we were a little reluctant about the visit, because we were sure it would be in no way fun, but it was actually a really amazing day.

Hannah meets the great-grandparents (emphasis on "great")

We all woke up early on Sunday morning and piled into Owen’s car, made the two-and-a-half hour drive to the east side of town and got there around 10:30. My uncle met us at the nursing home and gave my grandparents printed sheets of paper that said the date, all of our names and our relation to them. He also made us all name tags. These proved to be very helpful and saved my grandma from some embarrassment. Also, my granddad is very deaf so reading was probably a lot easier for him then listening.

Jamie showed off Hannah to them and I went over to sit by my grandma.

“And you are Mary’s daughter?” she asked me. This information had been omitted from the print-out sheet from my uncle and once she asked the question I was afraid she’d ask it repeatedly throughout our visit.

“Yes,” I told her.

“And how long has she been gone now?” she asked me.

“Two years,” I said, holding up two fingers.

“Oh, two years,” she repeated.

And that was the only time my mom, or her absence, was mentioned. My grandma did, however, ask how old Hannah is every few minutes. “Five months,” Owen and Jamie told her patiently. We sat in a visiting room together and enjoyed watching my grandparents interact with Hannah. We got tons of pictures, at my dad’s request. He really wanted to make sure they got to meet the baby and now they have. I wish I had talked to my granddad more, but he is hard to talk with since he is so hard of hearing. But he seemed to enjoy the sugar cookies we brought with us from Cheryl & Co., so the visit was not without its perks for him I hope.

My grandma’s hair is all different now, and my granddad has different glasses. They are in wheelchairs but they can still walk, kind of. They are the oldest people I have ever met and I know there are people younger than them in worse shape. The best part of the day was when uncle asked my grandma if she wanted to play us a song on the piano. He helped her sit on the bench in the sitting room, and she asked what she should play. He suggested “America, the Beautiful,” and she played it. I filmed her playing the piano last Christmas, when they were still living at home. I had no idea she’d still be able to play a year later, since her memory was starting to go even then. After she finished a couple songs, I asked her if she knew any Christmas music. It turns out she knows all Christmas music. She asked for titles of carols, and one by one played them each upon request. She struggled to come up with song titles on her own so we just kept naming them for her. She couldn’t hear me say “Joy to the World” so I used what little piano knowledge my mother made me learn in lessons and played the first few notes of the song in the key of D. It was then that she knew the song I meant, and she played the rest far better than I ever will. My granddad hummed along loudly as she played.

I had never been so happy to see my grandparents. They were ancient even when my brother and I were little, so we never really got to know them the same way we know my dad’s dad, who is in his early 80s. My mom’s dad has always been deaf (although very jovial and witty despite this) and my grandma has never really been terribly warm with us. A lot of my memories of her are her telling me how to wash my face properly and how long to brush my teeth, and since I was a picky eater, I remember not liking much of her cooking. She gave us very random Christmas presents, commonly the free things she had been sent by the many charities she donated to as thank you gifts, things like calendars and paper weights, or strange mail-order gadgets from catalogs we’d never heard of. But, she always made sure she had our favorite kinds of ice cream or cookies for dessert and she never forgot our birthdays.

We are each others’ last biological links to my mother and I feel like I saw her yesterday, in a way. Maybe my mom would have grown old and looked like her eventually, had things ended differently. And maybe my grandma feels like she saw her, too, in me. I like to think that’s true.

Hannah was a hit, not only with my grandparents, but with all the nurses, orderlies and other visitors there yesterday. Jamie held her most of the time, since that’s when Hannah behaves best, but my grandma held her for a little bit too, which was nice.

Whosthatguy?

As we got into the car to leave, I turned to look at Hannah in the car seat behind me.

“You were a hit, kid!” I told her.

“But I think Grandma upstaged you a little bit at the end,” Owen said.

So true.

Weigh-in time and Chicago re-cap

There’s good news and bad news. I have lost eight pounds since Oct. 12. The bad news is, it’s been almost two months since I started the iPhone diet and I’ve only lost eight freaking pounds. I am glad I haven’t gained anything back, and those pesky ten summer pounds are almost gone, but I would like to see another 13 or so go away. I am setting a goal to lose another five pounds by the end of this month. Surely that is a low enough bar that I even I can measure up.

I have started watching NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and I am completely enthralled. These people are pretty big to start with, and they’re losing pounds in the double digits every week. I realize they’ve got more to lose, but they are also working way harder than I am. Team Amanda!

Being sick all week didn’t help or hurt my efforts. I didn’t exercise but I didn’t gain weight either. Now that I am recovered I’m heading back to the gym tonight for the first time in over a week.

Chicago was amazing. I had a great time and got to spend more time with Brandon’s older brother and sister-in-law then I’ve spent before, and we had a great time wandering the city, the four of us. Amy is a very funny person and we have more in common than I thought. And Brian looked through the music on my ipod and discovered we have a few bands in common, to our mutual surprise. As before, Brandon’s parents were extremely generous to share their Thanksgiving with me and I enjoy their company.

We stayed at a hotel with a great location, the same one from last year, on Water St. very near Michigan Avenue. We spent a lot of time on Michigan, which I have come to know very well after three Model UN conferences in Chicago, two family trips, and now two Massengill holidays there. Oddly enough, the Model UN conferences were all held at the same Water St. hotel and took place in November each year, the week before Thanksgiving.

We did lots of Christmas shopping, ate Gino’s pizza after waiting in a long line, visited the Signature Room of the Hancock Tower, watched a Tennessee football game in a sports bar and went to Second City. Seeing Second City has been a dream of mine for a long time and I finally got to do it. The famous improv theater is the former stomping grounds of many SNL alums and other comedians including Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd and tons of others. The actors we saw were so talented. There’s some local improv activity here in Columbus, I recently discovered. One of my actors in the Parental Discord video (see post below) is an improv actor. I thought it was ironic that I cast a comedian in my first and only dramatic piece to date. His troupe, “See You Thursday,” is performing twice this month at Wild Goose Creative on Summit, on Dec. 11 and 18. I’ll be checking them out one of those two evenings. Bonus: If you are feeling really adventurous, they are offering beginner improv classes starting Jan. 9.

Here’s some pictures from the trip:

Me outside Second City, called "Improv Harvard" by Vanity Fair, as you can see from the quote behind me

Obligatory photo of "the bean"

Amy and Brian at Gino's East

View from the Hancock's Signature Room

Brandon's parents at Maggiano's, where we ate Thanksgiving dinner

We had awesome weather until the morning we left

Brandon loved Chicago and said it would be cool to live there, but the 11 percent sales tax is a real bee-yatch.

Video update

After going to Chicago for Thanksgiving I got really sick so I have been absent for a while. On the plus side, I edited a couple short videos.

First up, a six minute montage of the Chicago trip, starring Brandon’s family:

And, though I am reluctant to share it, Abby’s video for school. The only reason I am in it is because one of the two actresses playing the daughters had to cancel at the last minute. Enjoy my cheesy acting.