Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why, again, does the rest of the world consider Americans excessive?

Oh, that's why...

We build big loud trucks whose only purpose is to jump really high into the air and crush cars and make noise.  I donned no sleeves on this frigid Friday in February (because you shouldn't wear sleeves to monster truck rallies, duh) and watched as trucks with names like "El Toro Loco," "Monster Mutt," "Superman," and "Grave Digger" revved their engines, jumped over cars and, in some cases wrecked themselves from jumping too high and landing on one wheel.  The whole thing was totally ridiculous and is probably on the list of things that proves that our collective IQ is rapidly lowering (possibly from breathing in too many monster truck fumes).  I know I killed a few brain cells that night, and it wasn't from alcohol.

The show consisted of a bunch of different events crammed together with no particular reasoning as far as we could tell.  For instance, they started out by "racing" the monster trucks around the track with two jumps per lap, but I still am not sure exactly how the winner was chosen or why.  It seemed to be which ever truck crossed the finish line first, but if I wanted to see things go fast, I would have gone to Nascar without my sleeves!  I was rooting for the car that hit the jumps most recklessly!  There were some ATV races mixed in there too which, after seeing the monster trucks race, looked like a bunch of Hot Wheels toys driving in circles.  That was followed by a ten minute set up for what we found out was snow mobile jumping (the actual performance lasted about as long as the set up and ensuing take down of their ramp).  Oh, did I mention that this did not take place on snow?  Then, thinking that we couldn't get any more confused about what was happening, there was a 12 minute (at least) dub step laser light show.  Still not sure why.

The end of the show was what we all came to see, the monster trucks ran all over the place, crushing cars and driving up the huge ramp in the middle.  Two trucks broke something, which was AWESOME, and they all made a lot of noise and got into the air a few times.  Still doesn't get the testosterone pumping like a fighter jet fly over, but it wasn't bad.  AMERICA!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ansel Adams

I just got back from the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Illinois where they were hosting an exhibit of Ansel Adams original prints.  I have to say, I have been familiar with Adams' work since I took photography in high school, but I never really got much information about his innovations and techniques that he used to produce some of the most incredible photographic images ever made.  The exhibit had a good deal more prints than I had expected being a small museum in Wauconda, and each one was very impressive.  I have never seen an Ansel Adams print that was reproduced so well (these were actually the work of Adams himself), the ones I have seen are usually grainy or faded and do not show what I learned to be one of Adams' signature features of his prints: sharpness and depth of field.

As I read the information next to the prints, I learned that Adams used an extremely deep depth of field to capture as much of the detail of the landscapes he photographed.  After reading this, I made sure to pay attention to the depth of field used in the prints and it was abundantly clear that the aperture was about as small as he could get it.  The image was razor sharp from the pebbles in the foreground to the jagged mountains in the background and everything in between.  He seemed to want to capture every detail he possibly could in his photographs.  It was really interesting to go back and look at the photographs a little closer and see all the little grains of gravel and the textures of the snowdrifts and sand dunes.  The pictures I grabbed above from the internet just don't do justice to the sharpness of the prints I saw in person.

Another interesting piece of information I picked up from reading along as I checked out the prints was that Adams' original plan was to be a musician.  He wanted, if I recall correctly, to be a pianist, and never lost his interest in music as an art form even as he became a world renowned photographer.  I read quotes from him describing how he would "hear" things in the images he captured.  I'm not sure if it was the power of suggestion, but his images did seem to have some sort of aural spirit to them.  I can't say I could hear music as I looked at them but they looked like music.  The landscapes seemed to flow along, or stand rigidly still as a melody or accent moves and stops in a song.  Dave told me not to apologize for getting too introspective when I write, so I won't (but it still feels a little funny).  The images were truly inspiring and I will admit, I got some serious goose bumps as I looked at the staggering beauty of the places Adams photographed.  He seemed to be able to capture them at their most wonderful, intense, and sometimes peaceful moments.  I read that a lot of the shots were taken at sunrise or just after and that he would often wait for the shadow line to cut across the frame at just the right spot to get his contrast just right.

I haven't been seriously moved by an art exhibit in a long time, not sure if I ever have actually, but I was today.  The last day to see the show is tomorrow, so you'll probably have missed it when you read this, but if you ever do get the chance to see these photographs, or better, the places that were Adams' subject matter, do not pass it up.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Checking Off the Bucket List

Just a small accomplishment, but I'm hoping to solicit the help of anyone who might read this in order to more thoroughly achieve my goal.

It all started when I was sent downtown to Michigan Ave. to pick up some cornbread from a restaurant called Bandera.  Doreen brought some of their cornbread the last time Mitch made chili (for Hannah's birthday, I believe) and it was delicious.  I'm not sure what drove me to think this way, but I thought that making cornbread is something that I should be able to do well.  I've always liked cornbread, and it never seemed like something that was too difficult or technical to bake (plus you bake it in a cast iron skillet, which is the most manly way to bake stuff), so I figured I would take it upon myself to learn to bake really good cornbread so that next time, we don't have to go all the way to Michigan Ave. to get it.  So I added it to my "bucket list," figuring that it would be a pretty easy one to check off.

My first attempt was yesterday.  I used some Target gift cards I received from families of kids I teach (thank you!) to get a skillet and the basic ingredients.  It proved to be every bit as simple as I thought it would be to make the stuff, there's enough milk in the recipe I had that even mixing the batter was a cinch.  I poured it in the skillet after warming it in the oven with bacon fat melting inside and cooked it for about half an hour.  When I pulled it out and tasted it, I was surprised by how moist it was.  I suppose there are different kinds of cornbread and this was definitely a more cake-like version.  I'd like to tweak the recipe a bit and see if I can perfect it.  My main obstacle, I'm sure, will be finding willing recipients for all my mediocre attempts in the meantime as I don't think my family is going to put away a ten inch cornbread as often as I'd like to practice making them.

So, if you have a really good cornbread recipe, or a secret ingredient you'd like to share with a novice (albeit one who can fake a pretty good southern accent if that helps), please do.  I'd like to have this one taken care of well before we have Mitch's chili again (drool).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fruits of Our Labor

I've never been good at following up and, seeing as though this blog started with the idea of getting me doing the things I wasn't particularly good at - or at the very least, keeping me from regressing into a less articulate person, I figured it would be appropriate to follow up on a post I made earlier this year.

Back in the spring, I posted about the garden I planted (one of the many advantages to living with the "room mates" being that they have a yard that is capable of growing edible plants).  The major goals of the garden were, as most gardens are around here,  herbs and tomatoes.  I planted a few different kinds of tomatoes, basil, garlic chives, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, and then also a few other things that I thought might be cool: squash, brussels sprouts, cayenne peppers, ancho chilies, and cauliflower.  As is the case with nature, things didn't really work out the way I had planned.  The tomato plants yielded a grand total of, I believe, two tomatoes.  I think they were stricken with some sort of disease, infection, or infestation of some kind because their branches, after growing up and out with vigor, quickly shriveled and died leaving only a few green branches.  The squash plant produced some small, but tasty looking gourds -  apparently very tasty looking, especially to squirrels.  The brussels sprouts grew strong and took over much more area than I had expected and produced a good number of small but flavorful sprouts.  We roasted these up, after I cleaned off the entire colony of tiny bugs that had made their home in my sprouts plants, with some pecans and they turned out mighty delicious.  Maybe it was the bugs adding that certain j'ne sais quoi...  If anyone has a suggestion on what to do with the leaves of this plant, please let me know, because I felt a little bad tossing away that much of the plant and they actually look like they might cook up well somehow.  The herbs did well, aside from the cilantro, which I have decided is a pipe dream of mine and just plain won't grow well here.  Mom made a TON of pesto from the basil, which we have frozen for the winter.

Oh man!  I forgot about the lettuce, we grew ourselves some real nice heads of lettuce that gave us thick leaves with purple edges on heads that were almost too big to hold in one hand.  In the future, I'd like to see how those plants do if I just cut off a few leaves at a time instead of the whole thing at once.  Will they continue to grow?  I could have gone for more of those salads.

The real successes of the garden were, surprisingly, the cauliflower and the peppers.  I harvested the cauliflower on a cool, wet night in the late fall and brought it in the house to further inspect it.  I had never seen a cauliflower plant before and the thing is really quite impressive.  It stands just under a foot tall or so with big, veiny leaves surrounding the white, waxy "meaty" part like petals.  The moisture runs down the leaves toward the "meaty" part and its waxy coating causes it to bead up and stand on top of the white mass, giving it a shimmering quality that made it tough to chop off.  When I brought the thing in, mom noticed a pink tint to the usually milky white flesh.  It reminded me of the pink algae that grows in alpine snow banks in the summer time.  I chopped the thing up, tossed it in a bowl with olive oil, mint, crushed red pepper, spread it all out on a cookie sheet, baked it up and added pine nuts and parmesan cheese (mom got the recipe from The Girl and The Goat).  It was De-licious!  We were all wishing there were more.

The peppers were a whole other story altogether.  They grew late and produced a ton of fruit.  I really didn't have a plan for these, figured I'd be putting them in omelets or something I guess, but then life intervened and I wasn't at home cooking omelets on the weekend (thank you ultimate).  The peppers kept on coming.  I think they made their way into a few dishes here and there, but for the most part, they cluttered the countertop and our fruit and veggie storage areas.  I was able to cook up a couple of the anchos into something resembling chili rellenos (well a very loose interpretation of chili rellenos - am I butchering this spelling?) which, along with some leftover steak, became my lunch one day at work.

The reason I'm writing this, well what prompted me to write this tonight rather, was that I just put the last of the fruits of this year's garden in the food processor and added it to some pizza.  I had hung the last of the cayennes on some thread between the cupboards in the kitchen window above our sink to dry, and dry they did.  I took them down this evening and they were as brittle as old leaves.  I easily cracked off the stems and broke them in two or three pieces with the same ease before dropping them in the food processor and chopping them up.  I could smell them as soon as I removed the stems, a surprisingly sweet, but potently strong, spicy aroma that made me think twice about taking in too deep a sniff, lest my eyes should start to water, filled the space around my cutting board.  Some of them were still dark green when they were strung up, but all were a bright red by now.  I had Mom, Matt, and Dad smell the container of chopped up pepper bits and they all said, "Mmmm, fresh, crushed red pepper," which I thought was a little funny, as the peppers had been sitting above the sink for probably over a month.

All in all, I'd call the garden a success, certainly not in the way I had expected it, but a success none the less.  Next year, more cauliflower, better tomatoes (please), smarter with the brussels sprouts, peppers, but not as many and maybe some different kinds, and definitely no cilantro this time, I know, it doesn't work, maybe some mint too to go along with the cauliflower.  I welcome your suggestions, tips, and knowledge if you'd be so kind as to share.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I was flipping through the news paper this morning before leaving for work and an article in the Dining section caught my eye.  The article’s headline was Yelp’s power grates on wary restaurants.  This is something I’ve often thought about since having a scalding review written about someone’s experience at Lush with me behind the counter.  That particular situation was handled shortly after it happened and the review is no longer posted on however, there are plenty more like it up there for restaurants all over the country.  Today’s article covered the issues that arise when people are given the opportunity to make uniformed and unqualified critiques of businesses and other people use them to decide whether or not to patronize that business.  I, personally, find Yelp to be a forum that is entirely uninteresting to me, but I can not deny the sway it has among “foodies” at least here in Chicago.  The problem I have with Yelp is no fault of its own, it’s merely a side effect of the internet itself: it affords its users an unrestricted and unchecked opportunity to vent (or speak, rather) their personal feelings and have no concern for any recourse by the proprietor of the business (but also offer the proprietor no opportunity to change their opinion).  When a restaurant is reviewed on Yelp, the person writing the review is never obligated to stand by their words or justify them in any way, and I think that is wrong.  In fact, the article today had an example from the owners  (husband and wife) of two restaurants here in Chicago in which the wife was at another restaurant waiting for her husband to arrive when she overheard a person at another table “trashing” their restaurants.  When her husband arrived, he recalled the man’s face “go[ing] white” and, after the wife telling him “we own those restaurants,” the man “ran out of the place.”  This makes me wonder if people really mean what they say on Yelp, or at least are prepared to stand by their words once they’ve written them.  I think that if you are going to make a bold statement about someone’s work, you should first be qualified to make such a statement, and second, be comfortable with making it a dialogue, let the person defend them self before you go and publish it and let other people put stock in what you say.  The internet is a wild place and I think that is good.  Ideas can spread faster than ever and we can do and learn things any time we like but, like the Spiderman comics say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”  In fact, the article states, a correlation has been shown between Yelp reviews and the level of business with regard to restaurants.  The only person keeping you in check on the internet is you and there’s nothing wrong with that.  We can be mature enough to handle that responsibility, it really doesn’t take that much foresight to realize that, when you say something publicly, it could potentially could be heard/read/whatever by the person it concerns.  There’s really nothing wrong with that either, except when the criticism is cruel, personal, or just plain mistaken.  In my experience, the people who own restaurants want people to have a good experience at their place and, given the opportunity, will do almost anything to make sure people do.  When the review was written that involved me, it was hurtful and it included very few critiques of the store and really focused on insulting me and calling me names, frankly it was pretty juvenile.  The person who wrote it took it down as soon as I wrote her about it which makes me wonder if she thought it was valid.  I suppose that, in this realm of little or no regulation, we need to be ready to keep ourselves in check and take a step back and think about what would happen if what we wrote or said got back to the person it concerned before clicking “Send.”
By the way, I understand the irony of commenting on the website that allows people to comment, without restriction, on pretty much whatever they want.  I hope I have been fair and just here and if not, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Adorable/Awkward/Hilarious/WTF?! Child Moment of the Day

A sixth grade boy walks up to my office door and asks me, "Mr. Flynn, may I worship you?"  I, of course respond, "Yeah, duh."  He does a burpee and walks away.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Adorable/Awkward/Hilarious/WTF?! child moment of the day

A ten year old boy came up to me today during a game of "Freeze Dance" (you just dance until the music stops and you have to freeze in your dance motion), and informed me that he "didn't know any dance moves."  And asked if he could therefore "just move to the music."  I was preparing myself for the "you can dance, it's ok if you look silly" pep talk, but he seemed totally fine with his idea of "just moving to the music," which, of course as I informed him, was in fact dancing.