Saturday, June 13, 2009

How bad a parent can I be?

Easy: I took my kids to see The Hangover. Actually, Rana and I both did, so we are, I suppose, equally culpable. The movie was, as its detractors have noted, crude and vulgar and juvenile and full of stupid jokes and offensive in a truly amazing variety of ways.

It was also screamingly funny. We all laughed so hard at times that it hurt, and on many occasions one or the other of us would whisper "Awesome!" or something similar.

As we were walking out, Sarah declared that the perfect home holiday or beach double bill would be the unrated DVD versions of Crank 2 and this sicko gem. When both of those DVDs are available, you can bet your ass we'll have a gathering, fill our laps with big bowls of ice cream, and laugh until frozen goodness shoots out of our noses.

If you go to this one and find it's not your cup of tea, you haven't paid any attention to the ads for it. If it's a type of film you can handle, however, you're likely to find it a perfect two-hour stress reliever.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dogs in party hats!

Come on, admit it: You like torturing poor, unsuspecting dogs as much as the next person. Who doesn't?

So, as we were all discussing the fact that yesterday was the sixth birthday of all our dogs, it quickly became apparent that we needed to put them in party hats, just as we did some years ago. Jennie did, though, get them new party hats; hey, we're not mean!

As you can clearly see, the dogs are loving it!

Okay, maybe they're not loving it, but at least they're sitting still for it.

Well, not exactly sitting; more like held in place by my hands and Jennie's; that's her paw reaching in from out of the frame.

Still not convinced? Try these happy expressions on for size.

Fine. I admit it: these dogs were not happy. They were long-suffering pooches, but afterward we rewarded their pain with grated cheese for all! Nothing says love like a sprinkle of cheese on the floor and the permission from all humans present to lick to your heart's content.

For those who do not know our noble hounds, the very short version is that we met them as puppies on a beach vacation almost six years ago, and they turned out to belong to a man in Durham. Our household chose (and named) Holden, the black and white goofy guy on my left. Jennie selected Shibori, the almost entirely black dog her hands are holding. Gina opted for Pixil, who's sitting right in front of me, because Gina is taking the pictures.

These three play together almost every day at our house while we're all working, and I love them all. (If you could see Holden wiggle, you'd love him, too.) They're the best dogs in the world, and if you don't believe me, you simply haven't met them--but you do now know that they look great in party hats.

Bad craziness

According to multiple news reports, several hours ago an 88-year-old man walked into the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, lifted a rifle, and shot a security guard, Stephen Tyrone Johns, to death. Other guards returned fire and wounded the shooter. If the major news services are correct, the man with the rifle is a white supremacist and a holocaust denier.

This is bad craziness of the worst sort, and it saddens and angers me. I can't even imagine the pain of Johns' family.

When President Obama visited the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany five days ago, his speech included this bit:

We are here today because we know this work is not yet finished. To this day, there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened -- a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts; a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.
I wish today's shooter had the same appreciation of the Holocaust.

In one of the most powerful and moving experiences of my adult life, in 1985 I spent several hours walking around the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich. On an information plaque in one of the buildings, I read that the first and mildest punishment of prisoners was to make them stand at attention in a particular spot on the grounds for 24 hours with no shoes or coat. It was early May, still chilly and breezy enough that I was wearing a sturdy Army jacket. I went to that spot, stood at attention, initially comfortable in my shoes and jacket, and waited. In less than half an hour, I was extremely uncomfortable and stopped.

In the same building with the plaque were pictures of two rooms, one filled with the bones of the dead and the other with the shoes of the dead. I went to each one and stood inside it. The weight of the pain and the suffering and the evil of each place was so great I feared it might crush me, and even as I type this I can feel the emotions of those brief visits clench my heart. In each of those rooms I was aware down to the marrow of my bones that I was in the presence of something undeniably and completely wrong, something that should never ever have occurred.

I'm not Jewish, so I do not have that tie to the Holocaust. I am half Armenian, but I learned that fact too late in my life to have any real emotional connection to that heritage as part of my identity. Fortunately, you don't have to have a link to the Holocaust to realize what a horrible thing it was. You only have to think, and then only for a moment.

Denying any fact is a stupid idea and never useful. Denying the Holocaust is simply bad craziness.

The right response to today's event, the good and kind and charitable response, is to feel sadness for all involved--yes, most particularly for the guard and his family, but even for the shooter, a man so wracked with insecurity and hatred and, quite likely, ignorance that he could do such a horrible thing. And, I'm trying, I really am, to hold myself to that reaction.

The part of my heart that is filled with my own anger, however, holds a dark desire that the shooter survive long enough to join the general population of a major prison, where perhaps he might receive from the inmates a suitable greeting for his senseless murder of an African-American guard.

I know that I must fight and control this lesser part of my nature, I really do, and I try, and I almost always succeed. Some days, though, it's hard, it really is.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Kids Write

Last Friday night, before the ice cream and cupcake tasting, we spent two and a half enjoyable hours at Burning Coal Theatre in Raleigh watching four one-act plays. What made the plays unusual was the ages of their authors: all were students who had not yet started college. Burning Coal was performing the plays as part of the local Kids Write program, in which a group of judges considers a large number of plays from local students and chooses four for production.

We went because, as I've mentioned earlier, Sarah's friend, Katharine, was one of the writers. Though I must admit to being biased, I honestly feel that Katharine's play was the best, most complex, and most interesting of the group. A drawing-room set piece that examined the effects of guilt, it featured well-delivered, rapid-fire dialog that both gradually illuminated the main character and constantly maintained your interest.

All of the plays were worth watching, and all had at least some points of cleverness and interest. Though one had no real plot and another was perhaps too predictable, I'm glad I got to see them and would recommend them to others--had the run not been for only a single weekend.

The actors, directors, and everyone involved at Burning Coal also deserve a special note for giving the work their best. At every point in the production, from the introduction, through the plays themselves, and into the Q&A with the writers and cast, it was clear that the Burning Coal actors and staff cared about the material and worked hard to create the best possible productions in the time available to them. One of these days, I'm going to write a play, and I now know that Burning Coal is a place I will want to shop it.

If you're in this area for next year's Kids Write, you could do far worse with a weekend night than to watch the work of talented young writers and a solid theater company bringing their written words to life.

Monday, June 8, 2009

One way to beat the sugar jitters

This past Friday, I headed straight from work to join others watching a set of four one-act plays written by young authors; more on that in another entry. From there, we went to Jennie's for the ice-cream tasting that I mentioned yesterday. At the same time, we also all tried thin slices from almost a dozen different types of cupcakes.

I hadn't eaten anything since a lunch at noon of about 500 calories.

I was soon vibrating inside from a hardcore, take-no-prisoners sugar rush. It was amazing. Others were feeling similarly twitchy, though to greater and lesser degrees; it appears some of the women I know are particularly adept at surviving on sugar and fat alone.

When I got home, I knew I had to eat something to level out my blood sugar, so I cooked Scott and me each one of my fried-egg protein manwiches. Purely as a public service, I'm going to give the recipe here--and despite the name, the sandwich is good for anyone of either gender (though not for those who keep kosher).

Ingredients (for one sandwich):

2 eggs
2 pieces of bread, your choice--but not too wimpy
slice of cheese, your choice--but cheddar is best
thick slice of luncheon meat, your choice--but ham is best
Take a frying pan and grease it just enough that you won't burn your eggs. I used a tiny bit of olive oil in a non-stick pan.

Fry the two eggs, breaking the yolks unless you want a real mess on your hands (and your chin and probably your shirt).

While they're cooking, separate them, so you can manipulate each one easily. Also, in your mise en place, stack the slice of cheese on the meat.

When the eggs are almost done, put the meat & cheese stack on top of one egg, then put the other egg on top of the cheese.

Keep the whole mess in the pan until the cheese starts to soften.

Now, take it all out of the pan, being sure to maintain the stack's integrity, and put it on one slice of bread. Put the other slice of bread on top of the stack, then put the whole thing back in the pan.

Warm for 30 seconds to a minute on each piece of bread.

Put the sandwich on your plate and eat it, ideally while grunting as you absorb the protein-rich, manly goodness. Making sounds like "nom, nom, nom" is also fine.

Oh, yeah: Plan to exercise a lot the next day, because this thing is a fat bomb...but boy, is it good.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My new favorite ice cream maker

In preparation for Jennie's upcoming party, at which she is considering serving a new brand of ice cream, some of us convened Friday night to taste-test these previously unknown (at least to her and to us) options. Jennie couldn't take the risk of serving untried ice cream to her friends, and we couldn't let her face this daunting task--there were nine flavors, after all--on her own, so we simply had to help. What can I say? We're that kind of people.

The verdicts ranged from, "Wow, this is great!" to "This is my new favorite ice cream brand." I'm in the latter camp. This stuff is amazing.

And just what is this brand of creamy goodness?

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a small, family-owned company based in Columbus, Ohio. I've never particularly wanted to go to Columbus before, but now I look forward to visiting there for the World Fantasy Convention in 2010.

I have to warn you that this stuff is not for those afraid to clog their arteries with creamy goodness. It's so rich, and we had so many flavors, that none of us ate whole bowls of it. Instead, we tasted a single spoonful of each of them, and then we went back for second spoons of those we particularly loved. My favorites were the Wildberry Lavender, which was smooth and creamy and wonderfully rich with berry flavors; the Goat Cheese with Roasted Cherries, which managed to be even richer than the Wildberry Lavender; and the Dark Chocolate, which the site accurately describes as a "chocolate made with the most amount of chocolate and the least amount of anything else." I have never tasted a better chocolate ice cream.

If you're an ice cream fan, you definitely need to try Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.


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