Thursday, December 18, 2014

Meet Alanna Lin Ramage a.k.a. FASCINOMA, Singer and Songwriter

Alanna Lin Ramage a.k.a. FASCINOMA is an Asian-American (Taiwanese), LA-based (originally from OH), folk-pop, singer / songwriter who will be releasing an ten-track album featuring Beatles classics such as "Something" and "And I Love Her" under the auspices of a project reportedly dictated by an alter-ego named Chairmeowww. She has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help her bring the album to completion (mastering, videos, promotion, etc).

You may also recognize her work from FOX'S animated TV show American Dad which included her song, "I'm Walking This Road Because You Stole My Car (Don't Go)," in the episode, "Choosey Wives Choose Smith" in 2008.

1. As someone who didn't encounter The Beatles' music until you were an adult, how did you respond to it when you first heard it? 

I need to clarify--I encountered it lightly before adulthood, mostly through TV and movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I think my sister even had a copy of Abbey Road that we listened to through BMG 10 Cds for $.99--I think that was the deal back in the 80s. When I got to college, I finally met people who were CRAZY about the Beatles. Who were rumored to have Beatles toilet paper, who had posters, etc. Who had good sound systems. I liked it! Who doesn't like the Beatles? 

2. What inspired you to do a Beatles cover album, and how did you choose the songs for the album? 

I'll be brief about this. I have an alter-ego named Chairmeowww who came out of an difficult time in my life. Literally she came out. I became Chairmeowww is the best way to put it. That sounds weird, but suffice it to say--she had the idea. For about five minutes, it wasn't clear whether it was going to be a cover album of the Stones or the Beatles. But Chairmeowww interviewed some people... on a bus... and came to the conclusion that Beatles were it. 

I let my bandmates pick the song. Joey Maramba who played bass, and Mike Corwin who played guitar and Wurlitzer on the album, they both know me well and sent me mix tapes, er, CDs of what they thought I should do, and that determined what ended up on the album. Then we had a Beatles songbook and some lyric sheets printed up in the studio so I could look at the words that I didn't know.

3. Why did you decide on Kickstarter as the means of funding the completion of the album/videos? 

I like the word "Kickstarter." It brings to mind being kicked in the ass. In certain situations, one finds that this image has its appeal. Also, as I thought of my project I started thinking of it as my "Beatles Kickstarter." My Beatles Indie-Go-Go would be too much of a mouthful, even though the terms are better for artists, less all or nothing. HOWEVER--Google search: Beatles Kickstarter and I should come up #1 or #2. Google search: Beatles Kickstarter Chairmeowww and ha, ha, I definitely come up #1.

4. As an independent artist, how do you balance a "day job" with finding the time to create music? 

I've changed my concept of time. :) You don't need a lot of time to be inspired every day. It's nice if you have all day, but if you do have to work or make ends meet, you need a creative life (sometimes only a few minutes a day of writing / reading), a deadline (very important), and an intent to create music. I actually make a little bit of money to pay my bills from music. The fans who find me on American Dad and look me up and buy my music--they help me pay for my health insurance... and nail polish--I like to say. :) It's hard for me to use Spotify for this reason, no matter how great it is. I really like buying nail polish. And I'm so thankful some fans are still willing to pay and support artists for their musical output. It's an old school model, but it's new school if they get the track through Bandcamp. Lots of time folks will send me a message with their order. Then I know who they are. That's personal contact between humans, and it's a real difference that's made possible by new business models and technological developments that have come to market full force in the last 10-15 years.

5. If you could tell people just three things about yourself to help them get to know you, what would you say? 

1. I think I have a heart murmur, but maybe it's the food poisoning I got yesterday.

  2. I had lots of zits as a kid from the time when I was in 4th grade into adulthood. I hated every one (zits, not people).

3. Chairmeowww might be the Incarnation of Hello Kitty and that they should check out the full length Kickstarter video to get to know me better:

Thanks, Alanna!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Introducing the Teasome Tea Infuser

One of the best parts of having a blog is when someone shares a sample product for you to try. A longtime friend of this blog wrote to tell me about the Teasome Loose Leaf Tea Infuser which is available on Amazon. I have to tell you that there are a lot of clever aspects of this product!

First of all, the infuser has a metal strainer cup where you put your loose leaf tea, and the holes are very tiny to make sure that you don't get tea leaves in your tea. Then you snap the silicone top piece onto the metal cup. The silicone is heat-resistant and is easy to handle.

This might sound silly, but my favorite part about this product is that it comes with a matching silicone drip tray where you can set the infuser after you've steeped your tea to the desired level of flavor. I love this because I find that I'm always making a mess with tea dripping everywhere after I've steeped my tea.

The design is in the shape of a lotus flower--it's a very simple and pleasant design. If you have a friend who is a Buddhist and a tea-drinker, well, this might be the perfect gift! But really it's a nice, practical product that I think many people would like. It's well-made and has a unique look.

If you need a stocking stuffer or just a nice all-occasion gift, this is a nice one, especially if you pair it with a bag of loose leaf tea!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Meet Madisen Thero of Mouse Reels, a Disney Podcast

Madisen Thero is a junior Zoology major at Colorado State University. She is a member of the CSU Marching Band and is currently serving as Flute Section Leader. In her spare time, she podcasts with Jesse Barrett of WDW Through Jesse's Eyes on Mouse Reels and has a video blog channel on YouTube.

1. How did you decide to start a podcast about Disney movies?

Jesse and I talk many times during the week, and one day he said we should do a Disney podcast, so I said "Why not?".

2. What is it about Disney movies that keeps you coming back to them as a viewer?

The nostalgia kick is always there, growing up on all things Disney/Pixar as my family members are also fans. I also put the movies on to remind myself of the beautiful storytelling there; one of the closest things we have to magic is good storytelling, and Disney certainly paved the way for that. Also, as a college student, I need a pick-me-up once in a while.

3. Do you find that you have different feelings toward movies that you first saw as a child (like The Lion King) and movies you saw for the first time as an adult (like Frozen)?

Of course! With my childhood favorites, it's hard to say anything bad about them since they are dear to my heart. I go into the new movies I see with an open mind, and the analysis happens usually happens around the second time I see it. I have both enjoyed and not enjoyed some of the newer films.

4. What are some examples of topics you've covered--and plan to cover soon!--on Mouse Reels?

We've done a lot of the classics--Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, etc--and we also do a lot of lists, such as Top 5 Villains or Top 10 Songs. I really want to dive into the Pixar movies soon, much to Jesse's dismay!

5. Do you have plans to expand the podcast into other projects related to Disney movies?

We try to analyze and keep up with the new material as it presents itself, so if the opportunity arises, Jesse and I will most likely talk about it!

Thanks, Madisen!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Meet Kallie Clark, Educator and Postsecondary Counselor

Kallie Clark is currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration, and works as a graduate research assistant at the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Kallie is an experienced classroom teacher and counselor with experience working in both charter and traditional public schools. Kallie is highly skilled in providing postsecondary counseling to first-generation college students, low-income students, students of color, and undocumented students.

Learn more about Kallie's work by visiting her blog, Scribd page, and SlideShare site.

1. How did you first become interested in working in the field of education?

Like many of my students, I was the first in my family to graduate from college, and my family didn't have the financial resources to help, so I worked as a nanny throughout undergraduate school to help pay the bills. I loved working with young children and really thought I could have been a preschool teacher for the rest of my life and been happy. When I decided to pursue a master's degree, my first experience with graduate teaching was with college freshmen. I was surprised by how much I loved it! I never thought I would enjoy working with older students, but I did. After I graduated, I landed a job teaching in a local high school. It seemed like a natural progression to me. Over the years my role changed, and I moved into counseling. I loved helping students prepare for life after high school, and I really enjoyed the creative aspects of teaching and developing curriculum, but I knew I wanted to have an impact outside the walls of my classroom. That's why I decided to return to graduate school and study education research.

2. Would you tell us a little more about your work in postsecondary counseling?

My first experience working as a postsecondary counselor was with The Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago. I was a college counselor and college seminar teacher: meaning, I did both one-on-one counseling with the students, and I taught a college readiness course to seniors. It was an incredible learning experience for me. Similar to my own experience, my students were predominantly first-generation college students from low-income families. However, unlike me, my students had the additional hurdles of growing up in urban, sometimes violent neighborhoods. They also were predominantly students of color. The lessons I learned from my students not only helped me become a better teacher and counselor; they helped me become a better person.

As a college counselor, it was always my goal to help my student get into the college that would give them the best chances of graduating. Choosing a college is a careful balance between graduation rate, cost, and environment. I am a big fan of small liberal arts colleges. If I had to pick between a large public university and a liberal arts college, about 70-80 percent of the time I would lean towards the liberal arts college. The support services and sense of community is just so much stronger at a smaller school. When I send a student off to a liberal arts college, I know they aren't going to get lost in the shuffle: if they need help, I can be pretty sure someone is going to notice and reach out.

3. What are some of the documents you've created and shared via Scribd, and how can these help students and their families?

Navigating the college application process can be overwhelming. Things have changed a lot in the last ten years, and college admissions have become very technical and very competitive. Finding the right college takes planning and follow-through. That's why I am sharing the documents I created and used as a college seminar teacher. I am constantly uploading documents as time permits, but eventually parents and teachers will be able to access support documents for everything from building a college application list to building a class schedule. The "Matriculation Check-list" is one of the most important documents I share. It helps ensure that a student completes all the steps necessary to actually show up on campus in the fall, something many students take for granted after they have been accepted.

4. For families who currently have a student in high school who would be a first-generation college student, what are some resources that you might recommend?

There are a lot of resources out there when it comes to planning for college. The problem I found was that they were either too broad or required too much time to navigate. Most parents don't have time to read an entire book about applying to college. I also found that for first-generation college students, these resources often avoided giving parents the unspoken truths that those of us who have already been to college know first-hand. For instance, not all colleges are created equal. Yes, there are actually lemon colleges, just like there are lemon cars. I also talk about the importance of environment and recommend families put long-term goals first when deciding if living at home or going away to school is going to provide students with the best chance of graduating. I have a series of PowerPoints on Slideshare that do a great job of helping parents get a crash course in college admissions and financial aid.

5. What are some ideas you've seen prove helpful for students when it comes to avoiding student loan debt?

Telling students to avoid student loan debt is like telling them to avoid buying a car. If you live in a major city with great public transportation or have enough money to take a cab every time you need to go to the grocery store, then sure, you can avoid buying a car. But, for most of us, buying a car is an important step in moving towards financial independence, even if it requires taking out a car loan. That car loan is seen as an investment if it gets you to work every day, right? We don't tell our kids to not buy cars; what we tell them is to buy a reliable and dependable car that will get them to work every day, and do it within a sensible budget. The same goes for student loans.

This conversation is really about long-term goals. It might sound like a lot to ask of a high school student, but really what I am talking about are those kids who already have their mind set on something. If a student is pretty sure they want to become a doctor and has the academic record to support those aspirations, then student loans will most likely be unavoidable (unless their family has the money to foot the bill outright). Getting into med school is an incredibly competitive process, so picking an undergraduate program with a strong reputation is important. For students who know they want to pursue a technical field, consider two-year colleges, and absolutely do not take out student loans. No student should ever take out student loans to attend a community college. For everyone else who is pretty sure they want to graduate from a four-year college but maybe not 100 percent sure of what the future holds, choose a college with the best graduation rate and reputation that you can get for an affordable price. I usually tell kids not to exceed the standard $5,500 student loan unless the school is top-notch. For low-income students who receive PELL and state grants, this is usually possible. For middle-income families, state schools are not always the best deal. Look to the small, private or faith-based colleges who have more liberal financial aid parameters.

What I would avoid doing at all costs is taking out personal loans for undergraduate study, and absolutely do not attend a for-profit college. All loans at the undergraduate level should be federal student loans to accredited not-for-profit colleges. I also recommend that parents do not take on PLUS loans unless they are financially savvy, understand that these loans will need to be taken out every year, and understand that these loans are not forgivable (even if the student doesn't graduate). There are loan forgiveness programs out there, but they are usually for specific fields, and most require that you work in a certain industry for a given time after graduation.

My last bit of advice is to start where you plan to graduate from, meaning that you start somewhere that offers a degree you can live with in case you aren't able to transfer. Transferring is a very risky plan, unless the student has strong family support and parents or guardians who can be involved to ensure the student actually gets (and passes) the classes they need to transfer and maintains the grades necessary to be admitted later. Life happens, and transferring is banking on the fact that the future will happen as you have planned. Rarely in life does anything happen as planned.

Thanks, Kallie!

Introducing Will Web Hosting

How can you resist a web hosting company that names its hosting packages after pandas? At you have the choice of the Baby Panda, Little Panda, and Big Panda, depending on your hosting needs; the packages start at just $2.95 a month for the Baby Panda, designed for people who are just hosting a single domain.

Will is a green, wind-powered hosting company that was founded in the UK in 2013. Using green power, they've maintained 99.9% uptime for their servers. They also pride themselves on quick customer support, with live chat and the promise to respond to customers' questions within minutes.

Will's website is clear, informative, and easy to navigate. They have reseller packages available for web designers or anyone else who wants to sell web hosting services to their own clients. And if you want a Wordpress site custom-built for you, Will can do that, too.

I really get the feeling from the website that Will is a small, responsive team, and they value their business and their individual customers. I like their emphasis on green power and customer service. The tone of the site is light-hearted yet direct and serious. If you're tired of giving your web hosting dollars to a big, faceless company, why not give Will a try?