Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Juicing Season One….Complete


After 23 days I have now broken my Juice Fast so that I can enjoy Christmas Eve, eating the same food as relatives when we get together.

That has always been the goal, so it's not as if I'm failing. Have to tell you though, there were times when it was a real challenge to keep going.

Over the last couple of  days I asked myself a few times if I should continue as I still need to lose a a whole bunch of weight? But, I recognized that I've been slowly burning out and the idea of continuing until February 1st (a brief pipe dream) just didn't seem realistic.

Still, I'm happy with the results. In 23 days, I've lost an estimated 30 pounds. I don't know what my blood chemistry looks like as I still need to talk my doctor into allowing me to take another battery of blood tests.

I may start up again sometime after January 1st. If not then, then definitely by March 1st. I'd like to lose another 50-70 pounds by the Summer. But, anything will be a victory.

Right now, I just have to teach myself better portion control and to keep an eye on what kind of ingredients I cook with. I've found a whole bunch of good ones on the Internet. Unfortunately, they're never single portion size!

My first official solid food since November 30th was a mixed green salad, with green onions, mushrooms, Blood Orange sections and water chestnuts. For a dressing it was Panera Raspberry Vinaigrette dressing, which I got for free at Safeway. Can't beat free!!

When that first slice of water chestnut hit my tongue I thought I was in Heaven. Never underestimate the enjoyment of that crispy crunch!

A little bit later I delved into a bag of Tao Kae Noi Crispy Seaweed snacks, which I grabbed at Berkeley Bowl West the other day. So much more flavorful than normal potato chips.

While I didn't have to learn to chew again, as Joe Cross did after his 60 Day Reboot, I was extra careful not to bite my tongue by accident.

Not that I should be considering any type of juicing guru, but should people ask me for advice here's a few things I've gleaned from my juice fast.

1 – Get a really good juicer. You can buy cheap ones for about $100. But, they're a bear to clean up and wear out after extended use. I got a horizontal masticating one because I want to be able to use it for stuff beyond the juice fast. Before starting my juice fast one of the things I made was frozen banana sorbet. The texture was just as good as any fancy store bought variety.

2 – Plan on buying your produce at least a couple of times a week. When I first started I tried stretching it to a week and some of the stuff I bought had went bad. And when going shopping make sure to make yourself a shopping list. Sure enough, you'll forget something if you don't. I did a couple of times.

3 – Properly store your veggies. When you get home immediately remove the twist ties they use to bunch the leafy greens together. Additionally invest in some of those green ethylene produce storage bags. I had my doubts on them till I started using them. I had some radishes which were crispy three weeks later!

4 – Don't be afraid to try different juice combinations. Joe Cross' unwritten rule is to eat 80% veggies and 20% fruits in a day. Originally I had tried writing up a meal plan. However, it just didn't work greatly, and so I ended up adlibbing, usually with a 100% fruit juice for breakfast.

5 – You will probably eat more carrots and kale than you have ever consumed previously! At least the kale part. Kale is the main ingredient in one of Cross' most nutrient rich juices, Joe's Mean Green. Besides kale, it has cucumbers, lemon, ginger and celery. I doubled the lemon and played with the ginger to get a flavor I could drink.

Some juicers handle fruits and veggies differently. The one I bought blew me a way with the way it dealt with carrots. This was great because my favorite Go To juice was Ginger Paradise, which had carrots, ginger and apple. If I wasn't worried about burning out on it, I would have had this every day, twice a day!

6 – Get in the habit of washing your juicer immediately after use. I made it a practice of juicing, and then while the juice was sitting in the catch cup, I'd wash my juicer, scrubbing it with the big tooth brush they included so it would be clean and ready for the next meal.

7 – Don't be afraid to augment with healthy store bought juice if you must. I had issues with getting any juices that I really liked which included tomatoes. I ended up buying a bottle of Low Sodium Spicy Hot V8, and using the same glass size as I'd been juicing.

And as I pointed out, make sure to look for the low sodium variety. It slays me that they still sell the regular variety with all that salt added, when the low sodium one really tastes excellent.

8 – Don't be a scale watcher. Though it was really obvious I was losing weight quickly, I decided to only weigh myself on Sunday evening, and then wearing the exact same clothes as the week before. Seeing the scale go down 7-10 pounds in a week was a lot more exciting than seeing a one pound loss in a day.

9 – Don't buy properly fitting clothes three days before starting a juice fast. I bought some pants on Black Friday and three weeks later they're huge on me. Suppose a good problem to have.

Good luck to anyone that who takes up this type of a challenge!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Juicing update 1…Weathering the Storm


Just a quick update on how things are going. I've survived a week. Well, today is technically Day 7. But, I will round it up nonetheless.

First day was great. No problems whatsoever. By about Day Three, though, I'd grossly underestimated how much veggies I needed to have in house. I had originally hoped to go the whole week without shopping. Obviously unrealistic. With that in mind, I made a meal plan for five days and headed off to Berkeley Bowl West.

It's nicely located two blocks away from an AC Transit bus stop, along San Pablo Avenue.  I can basically hop the bus, do my shopping, and then back to catch a northbound bus on the rebound for only an additional quarter.

In the beginning, one of the things I had decided was that I had better vary my menus, lest I burn out quickly on kale. A couple of the juices I added included parley.

First off let me say that a little goes a long way with parsley. Earlier I had tried the curly leaf parsley in a juice and it basically made it a green sludge.

With that experience in mind I bought flat leaf parley instead. Alas, but the same green sludge with a pronounced parley flavor. And that was with using half the amount the recipe called for.

Because of this experience, I have decided to reconsider any recipe that includes parsley. (And please don't bother to suggest cilantro. That's a non-starter because I can't stand it in normal cooking to begin with).

Yesterday was a pretty miserable day. The weather here was dark and cloudy all day, eventually raining in the evening. That, coupled with the record low temps for Dec. 6, cast a bit of a funk over me.

The dog and I basically sat on the couch all day watching TV, mostly hidden under a warm blanket. This was a continuation of the night before.

Unfortunately, many of the shows had commercials for food. It's truly amazing how much you notice food commercials when you're not eating solid food.

Probably didn't help that Thursday night I watched a Rick Steves' marathon of Europe through the Backdoor where he was visiting France. And what show on France is complete without lots and lots of shots of rich and creamy cheeses, soups and other culinary goodness?

By the end of the night I was ready to kill for a warm loaf of French bread and some gooey Camembert.

After a couple of other juice failures last night I went to bed questioning whether I could continue this much longer, despite having intentions to.

Fast Forward to this morning. The sun is out, with a powdery blue sky. My juice this morning turned out OK, despite my forgetting to put in a cucumber (loaded with lots of water to thin the juice out). I'm listening to Griz playoff football streaming. Life is much better.

This afternoon I will have to go shopping again. But, hopefully, I will come up with some concoctions that will keep me going through December 23rd. To use that over used line from Apollo 13…Failure is not an option!!

At least for now. More later when I feel the urge to blog….

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Let the Juicing Begin…


A few months ago I was at the Albany Library surfing the DVD selection, hoping to find a few titles for the coming week.

Mid way through the collection I stumbled into the F titles, and amongst them was Joe Cross' Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. This 2010 documentary followed Cross as he transformed himself through a 60 Day Juice Fast.

Though it had been recommended to me a few times before, it wasn't even on my radar that day. But, once I saw the DVD jacket, something sparked me to take it home.

It's amazing what he was able to accomplish over a two month period; losing 80 pounds and kicking to the curb all sorts of medicines he was forced to take due to health ailments.

After watching the documentary I thought about it a bit, and realized it might be doable. After all, if it didn't pan out, I could always try something else. But, the most intriguing part, is that it seems nearly everyone who had attempted it, saw a tremendous weight loss, along with improvements in blood pressure and chemistry.

So, with much thought, I spent some time researching juicers. Half the enjoyment of buying a new "play toy" is the research in figuring which one to buy.

Most people who have even a general idea of what a juicer is, have probably heard of the Jack LaLanne Power Juicer. It's marketed very well, and can get a person into a juicer for about $100.

While I've seen it in usage, the cleanup looked like an absolute nightmare. Plus, there was a question about its longevity after constant usage.

Cross touts juicers made by Breville. They are apparently well known with foodies and have models that fit in any budget; from the mid-$100 to $400.

In doing research I always like to check out YouTube for video reviews. There's no guarantee the reviews will be accurate. However, when there's a common thread, I take that as a good indication.

It's through videos from Discountjuicers.com that I was enlightened about the Omega Juicer line.

Omega also has models to fit in anybody's budget. However, one of the big selling points for me was that they warranty their products for 10-15 years (depending on the model). They even have some models that are commercial grade rated.

Bed, Bath and Beyond carries some of the Omega Juicers (right next to the Breville juicers, which included a free DVD of Cross' film). While not all models are available in the store, many others can be purchased from the catalog, and shipped directly to your house.

With, BB/B 20% coupon in hand (the only way to buy big ticket items there!!) I ended up ordering the Omega NC800HDS. This is one of their masticating models.

There are two types of juicers. The centrifugal style which operates at ultra high speed. It juices fast, and models are generally cheaper. But, cleanup is involved.

Then there's the masticating, which uses a relatively slow speed. Supposedly, this has the added benefit of being gentile on the juice, and so it can last up to three days before it starts to lose its nutrition value.

The model I got not only makes juice. But, it can be used for making nut butter and frozen sorbets! Before embarking on the juice fast I tried out these two features and it's amazing, especially the sorbet. Frozen chunks of organic banana were turned into something resembling soft serve ice cream in less than a minute.

I figured that these extra features will be a good use a long time after I've completed the juice fast. However, long that turns out to be. And a big benefit is that cleanup takes about two minutes!!

In preparation for the big push, I've been juicing for lunch every day for the last couple of weeks. I broke that rule for Thanksgiving, and since Turkey Day came so late this year, I also took the rest of the month off (two days).

Anyone who knows anything about my favorite foods, has to wonder how this is going to work? The thought of the next few weeks without salami, cheese and other carnivorous goodies, sends a shiver down my spine.

To prevent temptation, I used up all food in the house, except for a few condiments in the fridge, and some frozen oxtails and homemade cranberry sauce.

Another hard thing will be no caffeinated coffee! To wean myself off coffee, I bought some decaf, so that my morning cup would be 50% regular/50% unleaded. Now, I'm moving on to full decaf.

Hopefully, once that bag is gone I can skip coffee totally, though I really do like the taste of black coffee. to help, I've also picked up some flavorful herbal tea.

And what about that No Alcohol rule Robert? I love craft beer, though I don't drink it all the time due to price. Still, it's nice to grab a pint when the mood strikes. I've went cold turkey before just to challenge myself, and I survived, though Hot Buttered Rum weather is upon us!

Don't expect to see any Before and After photos purposely posted. There won't be any. Stats will probably be kept to a minimum too. It's just not stuff I feel the need to share.

This blog entry has turned out to be a lot longer than I had intended. So much, that I will consider this a "pre-amble" to the main event, which I'll start in a different blog entry; perhaps later tonight.

No need to wish me good luck. Just keep me in your thoughts and prayers. Hoping Jake's kibble doesn't drive me nuts at feeding time. It's made with real herring, after all.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thoughts on Thanksgiving Day 2013


Happy Thanksgiving Day to anyone who stops by to read what I've written today.

For those readers outside the USA, Thanksgiving Day is an American holiday commemorating a meal given by the Pilgrims publicly giving Thanks to God for finding their way to North America, founding their colony and being able to have a bountiful harvest when it looked like their might be no food for the Winter.

Traditionally, it's a time for people to return home, or gather with friends, and celebrate.

This year several of my Facebook friends have taken the challenge to post something they are thankful for each day this month until we reach today. For the two who have faithfully posted ever day I applaud you!

Since I did not take the challenge, this blog entry will have to suffice in some way.

* * *

I have to be thankful for is not being caught up in the traffic snarl, which puts a Bay Area's weekday commute to shame. No matter whether it's a trip to the Central Valley, or clear across the country, it seems like you hear about crazy transportation issues.

This year people dodged the weather bullet because the great snow storm, which covered most of the US, was fairly predictable, and so travelers could choose to leave earlier to ensure getting to the dinner table on time.

How people do this year after year, amazes me; especially when many of them return home less than a week later, only to do it all over again less than a month later for Christmas and New Years Day.

Generally, the farthest my family has ever had to travel was across town, so San Pablo Ave was the biggest challenge.

I'm thankful for warmth. Some of you may be confused by that since it was in the mid-40s this morning. Considering it is likely to be the coldest Thanksgiving Day on record in Washington DC, that low of 46F here in Albany is downright balmy, and is 16F higher than what's predicted as the high in many cities along the East Coast, let alone Alamosa, CO where people woke up to 1F.

Going hand in hand with that, I'm thankful that I can chose to have as few, or as many, blankets on my bed inside a house, as opposed to those who live on the streets, either by choice or circumstances beyond their control, and don't have a single blanket to huddle up with.

I'm thankful for being able to walk to a local super market and select and buy from a veritable cornucopia of food any day of the week, let alone Thanksgiving Day. In other parts of the globe having a meal larger than a cup of rice is a luxury. Sometimes even that single cup seems like a luxury to them.

I'm thankful that I have the willpower not to already be in line at Best Buy or Fry's so I can save on a laptop or big screen television.

Please don't take that as a slight against anybody who is (there were several tents set up at Emeryville's Best Buy as of yesterday). I just find it shocking that people will basically put their lives on hold for some items.

A few years ago, I drove out to Concord Fry's to stand in one of those lines. At 2am it snaked throughout the parking lot, though it hadn't yet wrapped around the building quite yet. Once the doors opened at 5am, it was an orderly rush inside to grab things off the shelf and escape moderately unharmed.

With my cart full, I went in search for the end of the line. This line put the lines at Disneyland to shame. Three hours later I finally got to the checkout register. That's three hours in line, not three hours from when I got there!

The advantage of the time wait was that people, tired of waiting in the long line, abandoned sale items along the way, much like the Pioneers of the American West abandoned household items because they had to lighten their wagons. Items I had given up hope getting, magically appeared before my eyes.

I'm thankful I don't have a job that's requiring me to work on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and especially on Thanksgiving Day.

I'm not going to villainize companies for being open on Thanksgiving, though I wish all but the most necessary occupations had the day off.

When I was young, not nearly as many places were open on this special day, and those that were, were staffed by workers who volunteered to work that day; and they were usually highly rewarded for that volunteerism.

Sad as it is to say, I'm pretty certain many of the larger companies aren't giving their staff the option of staying home with their families, and the only reason they're paying holiday pay is because they're required to by the federal government.

* * *

I could go on. But, this is getting long, and I've got stuff to prep for dinner; which I hope to have cooked before the Oakland Raiders take on the Dallas Cowboys for that other annual tradition…Turkey Day football!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

And the Oscar goes to… (2013 edition)

movie_and_popcornOK, so I'm probably a wee bit late on this one.

Earlier this Summer It dawned on me that pretty much all the Best Picture nominees have been released on DVD by then.

Mind you, my comments below are based on personal preferences, and don't take into account popularity at the box office, which I'd bet fudges the award in Hollywood sometimes.

Additionally, it should be stated that I'm watching these as DVDs become available through the Alameda County Library system, and so the mini-reviews were written over several months, not immediately, back to back.

So without further ado here are my thoughts on this year's Best Picture Nominations for the 2013 Academy Awards presentation.

amour_xlgAMOURAmour takes us through the struggles an elderly couple faces when one experiences some debilitating disorders.

Foreign films are always at a disadvantage when it comes to the Best Picture nomination. In fact, only nine foreign films have been nominated in the 85 years of the Academy Awards.

The film was hard to watch at times because it truthfully captured what happens when an elderly person is stricken with a severe ailment, and they spiral towards the inevitable outcome.

Unfortunately, the movie jumps forward at times with no explanation, and the ending leaves some unanswered questions.

It's really a shame Emmanuelle Riva lost the Best Actress Award to Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook). Her performance, despite having little dialog beyond Stroke-induced grunts and stuttering, is what made this film.

Argo-Movie-PosterARGOArgo depicts the intricately planned rescue of six American embassy personnel, who had got out prior to the 1979 embassy takeover in Tehran, Iran.

Most Americans are probably aware of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Less are perhaps aware of the Canadian government helping six people to escape. I have to admit, I'd never knew the involvement of the American government until I saw this film.

It has to be said that Ben Affleck is an amazing actor, and has now become an amazing director as well. Unfortunately, it can't be said that his portrayal of CIA operative Tony Mendez was amongst his best.

There seems to be no enthusiasm in his delivery, and it pretty much stays the same throughout the film.

beasts-of-the-southern-wild-movie-posterBEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILDBeasts of the Southern Wild, follows young child as she grows up in the fictional Louisiana delta island nicknamed  "The Bathtub."

To be honest, I'm torn on this film. The story and plot kept me watching.

However, at times it was really hard to watch due to about 90% of the film being shot handheld, without the use of a steady-cam. I realize he probably did that to give it a documentary look. But, it became annoying at times.

One the positive side, the acting was amazing when you consider the two lead characters Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and Wink (Dwight Henry) were played by people who had never acted before. In fact, most of the supporting cast was made up of locals from Terrebonne Parish.

django-unchained-final-american-movie-posterDJANGO UNCHAINED Django Unchained, was released to much publicity last Winter. Much of it was pretty abysmal. Some called it blatant racism. Director Spike Lee, when asked what he thought of the film, said "…It's disrespectful to my ancestors…" and would not be seeing it.

Heated racist attitudes aside, I was disappointed when I finally got to see it. It was way too long and uneven.

It started out as an homage to the Spaghetti Western film genre. But, there were comedy sketches thrown in that were more fitting for a Mel Brooks flick, and they interfered with a constant flow of action.

The sound track was all over the place. I'm still trying to figure how someone thought Jim Croce's I got a name fit.

Les-Miserables-2012-Movie-PosterLES MISÉRABLES Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, Les Misérables chronicles the cat and mouse game between Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe).

Musicals are always a hard fit when it comes to the Oscars, especially when talking about Best Picture of the Year.

They took an interesting gamble with this rendition of Les Misérables, as there is NO dialog throughout the entire film. Or more precisely, there is is no spoken dialog. Every line spoken by every character is sung.

The film is gorgeous, especially with the mesmerizing opening act as French prisoners are dragging a huge Man O' War into dry dock.

Unfortunately, it became rather tiresome after awhile, as I awaited the plot to run its course. Not even the stellar performances of Jackman, Crowe, nor Anne Hathaway (Fantine), made me excited.

Perhaps I might have felt different had I seen this on the big screen.

Life_Of_Pi_movie_posterLIFE OF PI Life of Pi, takes us along on the journey of a young Indian boy, who is shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean, with a Bengal Tiger as his only company.

Absolutely stunning. Critics poured lots of praise on this film, and it was justified.

It's a one person cast, with a handful supporting actors thrown into the beginning and end to help guide us along. What makes this even more amazing is that this was Suraj Sharma's film debut. Usually actors have other actors to interact with. Sharma had sock puppets and little black dots stuck on things…nothing more.

Virtually all of this film was shot on one of the World's largest sound stages, using special effects married to footage in a computer. I was shocked to find out that certain scenes that looked so natural had actually came out of a computer.

Lincoln-posterLINCOLN Lincoln deals with the relatively short three month time period between the 1864 Presidential Election and the passage of the 13th Amendment.

Being a history buff, I wasn't turned off by this being a heavily dialog-driven film. The script revolved around the relationships between several Washington power brokers, and carried that off very well. Without this give-and-take, it would have been a really boring film.

Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Lincoln was a career performance. His vocalization had a subtle softness to it not present in many of his other rolls. That, coupled with a wonderful makeup job, completed the package.  

silver-linings-playbook-movie-posterSILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKPat (Bradley Cooper) is a husband who has recently been released to home stay after being hospitalized in a mental facility due to the violent breakup of  his marriage.

When friends try and fix him up with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), sparks fly, but he still intends to get back together with his ex.

First the positive. The acting is AMAZING! Both Cooper and Lawrence did great jobs at portraying people on the edge where very little pushes them over.

But, with that said, it was a very hard movie to watch during lots of it. Mental illness is not something to be joked about, and so the movie treated, many scenes very real, with lots of yelling, shouting and even some violence.

After the first half of the movie I almost turned the DVD off though ended up watching the whole thing to see where it would go.

Fortunately, it never devolved the campiness that it might have.

zero_dark_thirty_movie_posterZERO DARK THIRTY Zero Dark Thirty takes us inside the super secret efforts to find Osama Bin Laden, and the eventual raid on his secret compound.

Film creators chose to take risks by opening the movie with a black screen with a muffled audio track full of actual sounds from the 9/11 attacks. This was followed by several minutes of brutal torture scenes at the hands of CIA personnel.

To be honest, I cringed at this portrayal. After all, we're supposed to be the good guys, right?

However, once this scene passed, the film settled down to an intense "who dun it" path as CIA operatives tried finding someone close to Bin Laden, only to find the head man himself.

The final 40 minutes recreated the actual raid, with lots of night footage, which could have been mistaken for actual military footage. This, coupled with a haunting soundtrack, had me sitting on the edge of my seat during to the very end.

* * *

So what would have been my choice for Best Picture?

The Life of Pi

The acting was superb, especially when you consider 95% of it was done against a green screen, with the actor not knowing what was in front of him.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Son was bullied last week!

My son was bullied last week at his football game!!
That's what a Texas parent is claiming.

Was it in the stands? No.
Was it when he was using the bathroom? No.
Was it walking home from the game? No.
Was it on the football field itself? YES!

Did players from the opposing team taunt him? No.
Did players physically beat him more than what's normal in football? No.

According to complaints filed, the Aledo coaches bullied their son by allowing the score to get so lopsided.

The Ft. Worth-Western Hills High Cougars walked into a buzz saw when traveling to a road game against the Aledo High Bearcats. Final score was 91-0. Y'OUCH!!

Take my comments with as much salt as you want. I am not a child psychologist. But, I have been members of a few team sports which, frankly, weren't very good.

* * *

Aledo is currently ranked 24th in the ENTIRE nation (4th in Texas). FW-WH is ranked 10,812 in the nation. (To give you some perspective our Albany High Cougars are ranked 13,701 in the nation, while the perennial powerhouse De La Salle Spartans are 8th in the nation)

FW-WH has not won a single game this season (currently 0-7). The first three games this season, they lost 61-7, 62-10, 63-0. Aledo has outscored their opponents 485-47 so far this season.

By the end of the 1st Quarter the score was 28-0, and Aledo coach Tim Buchanan had pulled his starting players. By Halftime the score was 56-0.

Game officials implemented a running game clock in the Second Half, meaning that the clock keeps ticking regardless of whether someone goes out of bounds, or not. (FWIW, it was 77-0 at the end of the 3rd Quarter).

*  *  *

I get that they had the tar kicked out of them. I get that it's no fun being beaten up like that. I get that the poor kids must be counting the days till the season mercifully ends. But I don't get how a 91-0 score equates to bullying.

In an interview on Dallas-Ft. Worth's NBC5, Coach Buchanan sounded generally humble. He said they could have easily scored more, and that he was concerned the score might break 100.

Normally, that might sound like smug bragging. But, the way he said it, made him sound almost embarrassed.

Another thing Buchanan said is very important. He doesn't want to get to a point where he tells his players to not play 100%.

From my experiences playing sports, it's an important fact that if you pull up and don't give your all you're risking the chance of injuring yourself because your opponent isn't holding back.

In a hockey game once, I pulled back because the guy skating at me was about half my size, and I knew we were going to collide. Well, I got rocked good, with my heels flying out from under me and my head hitting the ice. (Thank God for helmets!!)

So now Aledo High School administrators are tasked with having to investigate its coaching staff for bullying. This will also go to the Texas Education Agency for review.

Here's what they consider bullying:

Aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions. Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time. Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.

I could be really sarcastic and say all three of those things certainly happened. But, making light of such very serious charges wouldn't be right.

So did that 91-0 score REALLY constitute bullying on the part of Buchanan and his staff?

No. Especially after the way FW-WS has been playing this year. Add to that, their records from the last two season; 3-7 and 3-7; and it suggests FW-WS simply isn't a very good football team.

Would it have been better to invoke a mercy ruling and end the game early? (Currently, a rule in about 38 states only. Texas, not being one of them.)

From a player's perspective….HELL NO!!

It's very likely that most, if not all, of the FW-WH players won't be continuing on in football beyond high school. Cutting short games just means you're cutting their playing time and it emphasizes the "Winning IS Everything" mentality even more.

Way back in Little League, the poor Albany Redlegs were getting swamped by the Albany Mets. Albany Little League had a mercy ruling that if the score reached a certain point, the game would be ended.

I think they lasted something like three innings before the game was called. All the Redlegs' players felt bad since they weren't getting to play all seven innings, especially the one player who didn't even get to play a single pitch of the game….ME!!!

In all fairness to Coach Kenny, I wasn't a very good baseball player, having made contact with the ball only once in all my at bats before a knee injury, suffered while playing tennis, mercifully knocked me out of commission.

But, I still remember that game 30-something years later and how I sat there hoping to get a chance to play. But, I never blamed Coach Kenny, suggesting he kept me out on purpose. Neither did my parents.

Years later, when I played hockey there were a couple of teams that had players who clearly played in a division below where they should have, so they routinely scored tons of goals against us.

We routinely accused them of "slumming" to run their personal stats up. But, we never accused them of bullying!

* * *

As long as children are going to be involved in competitive sports there are going to be good teams and bad teams. There are going to be close scores and blowouts.

Suggesting to your sons and daughters that the other team and/or coaches are bullying them because the score got lopsided is even worse than if you accused the other team of cheating, and does nothing more than emphasize the end result, and not the taking part, which is what 99% of us can ever take solace in.

* * *

On a positive side, FW-WH needs to keep their heads up. Their final game of the year is against the Wyatt High Chaparrals, the only team lower in the standings than themselves, and who also lost to Aledo…


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Whole in My Heart


As I write this I shortly leave for my last walk over to my childhood home as an owner.

I know it's ridiculously over dramatic to suggest I feel like one of the inmates in The Green Mile. But, it is what it is, and it's perhaps one mile away, so it fits and I'm going to keep it.

Someone once suggested we should just sell it, and be done with it; as I was squandering money by having it just sit there.

Squander rolled off their tongue like a fine honey slowly dripping onto a slice of ripe apple. A heavenly treat for the eyes and taste buds at the same time.

Ironically, it's appraised now about the same as it was back then, so on that aspect it was a wash.

After my parents' passing I had visions of doing just that; only, to face challenges of time, money and, to be frank, will-power at times.

The inevitable has finally come, albeit 13 years later, and shortly after 4pm we hand over the keys.

Sadly, years have taken it's toll, and the house is a faded rose. Whomever the next owner is, will have to dedicate a lot of money to restore the home to its former glory.

* * *

In truth I've lived more time at other locations than I have in that building. But, it was the first place I have any memories of, and some are as crystal clear as if they just happened a few minutes ago.

  • The sweet cherry tomato plants that spread like a spider web over a 6' x 6' planter bed and into the walk way, because my father didn't use a tomato cage to trellis them.
  • Replacing the old, diseased peach tree with several dwarf trees, back in the early 1970s.
    • This included a Satsuma Plum, which is still producing fruit to this day, despite dwarves supposedly petering out after 10 years back then.
  • My painting on the patio area (with water), only to have the brush slip from my hands and fly through a window; and then my reaching through the hole for the soon to be obvious unreachable brush.
    • Then the emergency room visit to Brookside Hospital for stitches on my left wrist. (I still carry a scare which has led to more an one conversation, where I've had to explain it wasn't a failed suicide attempt).
  • The handful of neighborhood friends playing in old Fort Eldrich, which my father cobbled together out of scrap redwood, back when redwood wasn't a commodity you could simply walk into any Home Depot to buy (there WASN'T Home Depot back then!!)
    • The name was a contraction of El Cerrito and Richmond, which I stuck a D in for no particular reason.
  • My father, the school teacher, deciding one year that every month my sister and I would have a home-work assignment on some foreign country, and he'd bring home a real 16mm movie print to project in the kitchen as we ate Swanson International Menu TV dinners.
  • The cranky neighbor complaining that he saw 27 cats sunning themselves on our patio roof one day (we had TWO cats).
    • That same cranky neighbor helping us get Tigger out of the front yard's stand of 10'+ tall birch trees by squirting her with a garden hose, and her immediately falling like a rock.

Those were amongst the good memories and ones that came forth as I was writing this blog entry. (YES, in a macabre way, I have included the wrist slashing, amongst the Good).

Of course, I have some not so fond memories. But, those are for another time because I'd prefer not to dwell on the dark side right now.

I had better sign off now so that I have plenty of time for what must be done today, since it cannot be done tomorrow.

Lord please help my camera batteries have enough charge so that I can take at least one photo of each room.

* * *

For those preparing to send me an email correcting my spelling…Please don't.

It was a typo, which I had already corrected, only to put it back a minute later. Memories of one's childhood home are part of your whole heart, and cannot be erased so, I decided to run with that.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th and Thank You For Your Service


As I write this I am about a half way through a DVD marathon of the HBO mini-series The Pacific.

In years past, any Patriotic themed holiday had usually seen me watching that other WWII epic, Band of Brothers. While at the Albany Public Library recently, it dawned on me I could finally see this other series.

Unlike Band of Brothers, through the first two episodes, this has been mostly surrounding combat on Guadalcanal. (In fact, the DVD extras said the first three episodes take place during that one campaign.)

However, despite all the attention to make this series as authentic/realistic as possible, it's still not the real thing, and so I want to stop and thank everyone who has ever dawned a uniform, domestic or abroad, in the service of our country.

Without your service I might be writing this in any of a number of other languages, unfamiliar to American shores today. That is, if I'd even be allowed to post my thoughts - unmolested by any government censor.

* * *

Many years ago, my father and I were attending a local monthly meeting of the East Bay Amateur Radio Club. It was some holiday weekend, though which one has faded from memory.

One member, who I think must have escaped with his family from southeast Asia in the early 1970s, decided it might be interesting to visit how other members had served their country over the years. He had proudly spent time in service to his adopted country, and wanted to publicly thank anyone else there who might have done the same.

One by one he went around the room point blank asking each member if they'd ever served. It was a rather uncomfortably long period as veterans, very reluctantly, shared little tidbits of their experiences. That is, if they said much at all.

After what must've been over 30-40 minutes we finally moved on to Ham Radio topics, and you could almost hear a collected sigh of relief throughout the room.

* * *

In my family I can probably count on one hand the few I know took part in actual combat. Thankfully, nobody died in the service of their country.

I don't recollect any of them sharing their experiences; apparently even to their most intimate connections (wives, children, etc.) it was too uncomfortable even after all those years.

One particular uncle had done service in the Army Air Corp many thousand feet over the country where his wife came from so it's easy to understand.

Presumably there's always one exception to this rule, and our exception was my great-grandfather, who serviced in the Austro-Hungarian Army.

My grandmother had stories of how he'd tell the family about how they'd fire the guns and cannons at the Italian soldiers on the other side of the front lines, only to trade rations and socialize with them at night.

Apparently, it was a more civilized war front back during WWI, though this didn't alleviate any fears my great-grandmother had because she would break down and cry every time she heard the sound of the big guns echoing down the mountain passes of the Karawanken Mountains.

My father never served. Depending on one's point of view, he was lucky or unlucky to have been born in 1935, making him too young for WWII.

Should he have been born at a different time, and been eligible to serve, I have no idea whether he would have taken up the opportunity.

We never really talked about service, though he was none too happy when I received a call at home from Sergeant Johnnie, of the local Marine Recruitment Center, during my Senior Year in high school.

Like several of my high school friends I had considered the military. This was back after President Carter reintroduced the requirement for 18-25-year-olds to register for the Selective Service System.

I'm not particularly sure why it was the Marines other than perhaps because one of my best friends was firmly intending to take that route virtually his entire high school career.

He'd always said he'd join the Marines and see the World. Ironically, after joining pretty much all he saw of the World during his three year hitch was the Concord Naval Weapons Station; 31 minutes drive time away!

Had my friend and I actually seen any armed combat it would have been limited if you compare it to service seen by the current generation.

* * *

As each new generation is introduced to war, they experience it with more refined technologies which are supposed to bring precision and clinical methodology to the art of war (was famed military minds Sun Tzu and Carl Von Clausewitz euphemistically called it).

But, in a nutshell, it's no different than many an American conflict from years gone by. Men, and now women, are forced into situations to do thinks they would never do under normal circumstances for their country. Blood is just as red, and a person's spirit leaves the body just as fast.

So, as you're out there watching some parade today, or taking in a fireworks extravaganza this evening, say a prayer for those who have served, as well as those around the World currently serving.

May they may come home safe and sound so their family cannot experience what it's like to make the ultimate sacrifice, as too many have during our country's existence.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Leaves of Three, Let them Be!!

Franco-Poison-Oak-borderPhoto: Franco Folini

Today I was riding along Pierce Street, at the base of Albany Hill. Amongst the Eucalyptus trees was some guy collecting small branches and twigs. For what I don't know.

I remarked to my sister that I wondered if the guy knew he was near several patches of Poison Oak?

Over the past few months, the annual Poison Oak crop has returned. At first, it was a nice shiny green color. However, as the temperatures have risen, and there's been less rain, it has started to dry out and turn a vibrant reddish color.

Every year the patches seem to creep closer and closer to the Pierce Street sidewalk, within arms length of unsuspecting pedestrians.

For those that don't know what Poison Oak looks like, it has three leaves, similarly shaped like Oak leafs (hence the name). The stem has no thorns. It usually grows in small bushes that spread across the ground. However, it has been known to climb up into trees too.

Photographer Hans Kellner has put together a web gallery showing several good examples of what it looks like.

The easiest way to stay safe is to remember the old adage, Leaves of Three, Let it be!

* * *

Tolerances very from person to person. Some people are lucky enough to be immune. My great-grandfather one time picked a bouquet of this beautiful wild plant he found to take home and give to someone. He couldn't figure out why everyone on the street car was giving him a very wide birth as he got on and found a seat.

Unfortunately, not everyone is that lucky. My father was the extreme opposite. Allergic, to the point that, as a kid, his eyes swelled shut, his face puffed up and he was forced to drink soup through a straw anytime it was meal time.

And just because you don't get it the first time you encounter the plant, don't assume you're set for life. I've was pretty lucky for the longest time, especially when in Boy Scouts. Then, sometime in high school, my immunity weakened and I had a reaction.

While it was mild, it reminded me that you always need to give the plant a good healthy respect.

Should you find yourself a bit itchy after returning from your outing, whatever you do DON'T SCRATCH!! No matter how much it feels good. It's through the scratching that the Poison Oak oil is spread across the skin. And if you should break the skin, it can get nasty and infected.

For those brave enough, or who are not currently eating, here are some photos of reactions, including some that are pretty extreme.

Chances are that should you catch it, your case won't be anywhere near the worst examples, and it will clear up in only a few days.

If you find yourself in need of some quick relief, you can make a thin paste of baking soda, so even a solution of good old fashioned vinegar mixed with water, will help.

When I was growing up, one of the go-to lotions was Calamine. It looked awful, because it left you with a white paste look wherever you applied it. But, it felt so good!

Should you find yourself in need of drugs, the pill form of Benadryl, usually knocks down the urge to scratch. However, do NOT use the Benadryl lotion. If you do, you might find yourself with a reaction of some sort that's just as bad as the Poison Oak you're trying to combat.

* * *

On the small chance Poison Oak makes itself to your landscaping, one of the simplest was to get rid of it, is by manually going at it with a hoe and pulling it out.

There are also poisons that can be used to kill the plant. But, a organic option would be to find yourself a goat! It turns out that the goats will munch away on the stuff, and never get sick. Nor will the poison make itself into their milk, should they be dairy goats.

Just make sure you are very careful around your furry friends, should be exposed to the bushes, as the oil will be picked up by their fur.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Go Westeros Young Man!


DISCLAIMER: This blog entry DOES contain spoilers for anyone who has never seen HBO's Game of Thrones television series and never read any of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series.

* * *

  • 9 1/2 weeks
  • Five books
  • 4300 pages
  • 1.7 million words

Let the withdrawals begin!!!

To be perfectly honest, I can't believe I'm already done with all the books. When I took up the task of reading George RR Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, I figured it would take all Summer before I'd be done; just in time for the next book to hit the shelves.

Or so I thought. Martin is nicknamed The Great Bearded Glacier for good reason! He writes at his own pace, and is reluctant to acknowledge estimated release dates. It now looks as if the soonest The Winds of Winter will be released is sometime during Spring 2014.)

* * *

February 2012, I signed up for Comcast's Triple Play Package, and the deal included free HBO. Until that time I had a vague understanding of the Game of Thrones TV series. But, didn't know much of else about it.

Like some unexpected addict-to-be I surfed the On Demand menu until I found Game of Thrones.

Watching the first episode, I was intrigued. By the time I got through the second episode I was floored. I think it took me about three days to work through the entire season, only to find out Season Two wasn't due for several weeks.

Fast forward to late April 2012. I was eagerly anticipating the new season, and what would one do in that case? Well, naturally watch the entire Season One all over again to refresh their memory.

NOOOOOOO! I thought, as they flashed the 2013 release date for Season Three at the end of Episode 10.

One of my bigger frustrations when I decided to cut the cord was the thought I would be missing Season 3 of HBO's Game of Thrones television series.

Shortly thereafter, I found a couple of Barnes & Noble gift cards, forgotten and collecting dust.

I figured maybe it would be a good idea to dive into the original novels since, at that time, HBO didn't offer their current season through iTunes or Amazon, and a Season Three DVD release was nowhere on the radar (and still isn't).

So in April I took the plunge, and downloaded the sample.

I found the first novel very readable and didn't want to put it down. When I reached the end of the sample there was no question I would buy the series.

A word of caution. If you decide to get the eBook versions, I highly recommend buying the INDIVIDUAL books, rather than the special 5 book collection.

While the $10 savings might seem attractive, it's not worth the headache while reading. The collection is ONE VOLUME with all five books smooshed together so it takes over six minutes to open every time you want to read it! And it doesn't matter if you might be on the fifth book. You STILL have to load the first four books into memory.

* * *

Anytime something gets translated to the screen there's bound to be some changes. Sometimes it follows the source material pretty close. But, sometimes about the only thing left are the names of the characters and the title of the book.

Fortunately, for fans of the novels, this hasn't turned out to be the case. The first book was pretty close to what made it to my TV for Season One. Material left out really didn't hurt the continuity. This is a direct benefit of having Martin take an active role in production of the series.

Overall, the TV show has aged most of the main characters a bit, especially the younger characters, who Martin placed in their early to mid teens. While a young teenage King Robb Stark might be believable in a book format, which relies on the reader's imagination, I don't think it would have translated very well to the TV.

But make no mistake in thinking these are a series of children's fantasy books. While there are wolves, princes and princesses throughout, there is also blood and gore at every turn, as well as a major plotline of incest running though out.

Had the producers stuck with the youthful ages I'm fairly certain they would have run afoul of groups who found the visualizations objectionable.

But, I will readily admit that perhaps my perception of what the characters should look like was clouded by watching the series before reading the books. Martin goes at great lengths to describe physical characteristics of his characters, and a good portion of them do not match what made it to TV.

Seasons Two and Three (which I watched in one 10 hour sitting thanks to someone who still has HBO) have some major diversions for some of the characters as compared to the original source material.

A couple of characters have been combined, who had passages in the book, which had them doing things in different parts of the world at exactly the same time.

This will make for some tough editorial decisions down the road since I think they both might become important parts of the novels' story line in the remaining two unreleased titles.

Another thing which caught my eye were the cities in the opening credits. These stylized credits zoom over a map showing us which cities are likely to be visited in that particular episode.

Yunkai and Meereen are two cities that have very important storylines in books 3 and 5. However, there seems to be no room on the map for the latter city. We will have to wait until April 2014 to see if this was just a glitch by the animators, or whether we diverge even further from what Martin created.

There's a very detailed wiki which collects all the differences between the books and the TV show.

* * *

So am I glad I went ahead and read the books, effectively knowing where the TV series will be going over the next three seasons? Yes.

The world that Martin created is so rich, that there's a lot of stuff that simply won't make it to the screen. And the producers have already said they don't see it being stretched to ten seasons, which would be necessary to save some of the less important stuff.

Can a person get by with only watching the TV series? Sure. But, you're cheating yourself of the fuller experience.

* * *

if you are still looking for something to do between TV seasons, I highly recommend subscribing to The Boiled Leather Audio Hour podcast.

These guys make a super detailed examination of all facets of the world Martin created! Be forewarned every episode is basically loaded with spoilers if you've not read all five books.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Asphalt for Parking, Sidewalks for Walking

Since I fell in December, I've been hobbling around with a little help. First with the aid of crutches; and since about January by the use of a hand-me-down cane that used to belong to my father.

Without health care my rehab and physical therapy has consisted mostly of walking around town. Our being blessed with such nice weather this season, has made it a no-brainer, except for when I developed a bit of arthritis in my good knee.

I'm not quite ready to put the cane back in the closet for the next time I wrench a knee. But, walking IS getting better with more and more mileage I add to my tally.

* * *

There've been a couple of things that I've observed the more I walk around town.

First off, the number of other people walking around with a third leg of some sort. We're not just talking about elderly either.

Before starting to walk with a cane, the most I'd really notice were those walking with a four legged walker. Now it seems like there are people with canes everywhere I go.

In fact, on one trip to church on Sunday, I saw no less then three other people in a span of three blocks of downtown Oakland walking with canes. All were in the 30-40 year range.

I'm hoping I'll shortly be at a point where I won't have to use it. But, having done so now for going on six months has created a fuller appreciation for those who are afflicted with permanent disabilities.

* * *

The other thing that I've noticed is the continued encroachment on sidewalks by parked vehicles, especially in residential areas.

Years ago, a family friend was visiting our house. One morning he came out to find a parking ticket on his front windshield for blocking the sidewalk.

Mind you this was probably 15 years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The driveway of my childhood home was pretty short by today's standards. However, it was also extra wide, with enough room for people to walk around the vehicle, with space to spare.

Flash forward to 2012.

Last year, Albany, CA's Planning & Zoning Commission took up a discussion about the narrow section of Washington Ave between Pierce Street and Gateview Avenue.

Not sure when it started. But, residents have taken to parking with the right wheels of their cars on top of the sidewalk.

The explanation given was that this was a narrow street, and if cars on both sides of the street parked legally, then there would barely be enough room for a vehicle to get through (especially a large SUV). People were basically concerned about their cars getting hit.

As I remember it, several options were to be studied. Making the block one way; keeping it two-way, but eliminating the parking on one side of the street; possibly others. I don't remember all of them off the top of my head.

That study must've went by the way side. Either that, or they've decided to continue to allow people to park illegally, because it seems like nothing has changed.

Being that this block of Washington is extremely steep the chances of someone using a wheel chair to go through are probably not great.

The same CANNOT be said for Pierce Street.

At least a couple of times a week I walk the full length of Pierce Street. For the most part people park legally. However, there's a narrowing of the street, north of Washington Avenue, right around Calhoun Street, where there are more than a handful of vehicles which seem to constantly park over the sidewalk.

Sometimes only a little. Sometimes taking up over half the sidewalk, leaving only enough space for a person to walk crabwise through. (Heaven help anyone who might be in a wheel chair. They would simply be out of luck!)

Big SUVs, vans and trucks, I might understand an owner's rationale. But, once there was a Mini Cooper which had more car on the sidewalk than in the street!

No matter how you try and rationalize it, illegal parking is…illegal.

The next time you pull your vehicle up over that curb ask yourself what it would be like if you, yourself, had a disability, and were forced to ride a wheel chair everywhere you go. (And also, check into Uninsured Driver coverage on your auto policy.)  

* * *

In case anyone is wondering where I've been, I haven't given up blogging. I just decided to take the month of May off to recharge my batteries. Then I looked at a calendar today and realized I'm almost half way through June as well!

Hopefully, look for at least one new entry a week. More, if things come to mind.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

movie review: PIRATE RADIO (2009)


(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

* * *


Back before the Internet and mp3's were part of main stream vocabulary, people consumed their music by listening to vinyl records, or more than likely, broadcast radio.

While licensed radio stations were the norm, there was an underground movement of radio broadcasters who sailed the seas in converted ships to skirt around the unofficial British policy to avoid playing evil Rock N' Roll. Hence why they were called pirates.

I can remember vaguely listening to some European pirate radio stations back in the 1970s on my Hammarlund HQ-160 short wave radio, which my father bought the day I was born.

Pirate Radio takes place in the Spring of 1967 aboard Radio Rock, which sails the North Sea spinning records 24/7, much to the disdain of a particular member of the British Ministry of Communications.

Initially we accompany Young Kevin (Tom Sturridge), as he boards the ship one stormy night. He's being sent by his mother (Emma Thompson) because he needs to straighten up after being kicked out of his prep school for smoking.

Young Kevin's adventure is just one small plot, among several plots, in the film. The most obvious one is the somewhat one-sided battle between government officials and the pirates over their broadcasting. Unfortunately, that plot is treated almost like an afterthought for most of the picture.

* * *

From the self-proclaimed rock royalty Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to the wild-haired Bob (Ralph Brown), the supporting case of DJs represented the open ended music style of the period.

And just as hip as the DJs were, the government officials Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) and his scheming lackey, played by Jack Davenport, were properly stodgy in their battle to overcome perceived lawlessness by the Radio Rock crowd.

Bill Nighy plays Radio Rock's maverick owner. He felt like a cross between Sir Richard Branson and Phil Spector. It's a shame he didn't get more screen time because his character added a bit of common sense, in a hip and offbeat way, to counter the DJs.

Though the cast is primarily male, January Jones and Talulah Riley play a couple of sweet, seemingly innocent albeit naughty, girls along for the ride.

* * *

As great as the ensemble cast may have been, bigger kudos goes to Stephen Price, the music editor. He must've felt like a kid in a candy store with all the tracks at his disposal.

I suppose it was a case where rights were easier to come by in 2009 than back in 1973 when George Lucas made American Graffiti, and the studios forced him to cut back his soundtrack due to the monumental fees they would have had to pay.

When Gavin (Rhys Ifans) made is slow motion appearance onboard, to the Rolling Stones' Jumpin' Jack Flash, there's a swagger to his character that wouldn't have been there had they used the original idea of the MoTown sound of either The Supremes or Temptations.

* * *

The R rating is is for language and crude humor, including some brief nude scenes. Probably not a good film I'd let a child watch, no matter how open-minded you might be.

The film is also a bit long, weighing in at just over two hours, plus there's over 30 minutes of Deleted Scenes in a bonus track which, for the most part, added nothing to the film.

RATED: 6.5 out of 10 STARS

* * *

Pirate Radio is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming at Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tantalizing your taste buds


I'm sure by now most people have seen the commercial with Eva Longoria losing her mind over which of three potato chip flavors are her "new favorite" and then after she says she can't decide pitchman Chef Michael Symon tells us we will decide which one is America's favorite by voting by May 5th.

Now, we're not talking about deciding between mundane things like Barbeque, Sea Salt or Plain. Competing to break into the Lay's Potato Chip line up are Sriracha, Cheesy Garlic Bread and Chicken & Waffles!!

These three flavors were the top finalists in a contest held late last year where people could submit their own flavor ideas, and then vote on submissions. (I submitted Spicy Shawarma, a Middle Eastern treat!!).

If any of those three finalists sound odd to you, consider these mouthwatering options: Marshmallow, Watermelon, Bubble Gum, Mint Chocolate Chip. I kid you not. When I was going through voting I saw those among the options we could vote on.

One of the biggest problems has actually been getting my hands on a bag of any of the finalists so I could make an educated choice. Not sure if it was a case of under estimating demand, or an intentional scarcity to bump up popularity.

In either case, with the exception of the first week they went on sale, they have been scarcer than Hen's teeth, to the point that people were selling bags on Amazon.com for $25!! And to think I cringed at the $4.29 MSRP.

* * *

Here are my thoughts after having been able to sample the chips.

SRIRACHA – This was my pre-sample favorite. I love chili and hot spicy foods. For those that don't know it, Sriracha is that bright red chili paste sauce you may have seen at your favorite Asian restaurant. It comes in a tall plastic bottle with a neon green cap, and usually has a rooster or tiger on the label.

Sadly, this flavor just didn't hold up well when compared to foods that I've drenched with copious amounts of the spicy sweet goodness of Sriracha, and never stood up and said, "HEY THERE DUDE!! IT'S SRIRACHA TIME!!"

CHICKEN & WAFFLES – Of the three flavors, this one has probably generated the most Internet chatter. People seem to either be intrigued by the idea, or repulsed by it.

For those that can't figure the combo out, it's a traditional late night, after the bars close, menu item that originated in Harlem, New York (despite all the non-Southerners trying to claim it's a Southern thing).

With an open mind, I finally got the chance to try this most sought after flavor just last Sunday.

It starts off with a syrupy sweetness which reminded me of Mrs. Butterworth's Butter Flavored Pancake Syrup. Then the back of your tongue kicks in and delivers a flavor reminiscent, not so much of chicken itself, but of the golden fried batter you get on the outside of a properly crispy crunchy piece of fried chicken.

As much as I did find the Chicken & Waffles flavor tasty, it wasn't to the point where I'd want to buy a big bag and wolf it down in one or two sittings. Admittedly never a good idea, but a sign of a good flavor.

CHEESY GARLIC BREAD – This was actually the first flavor I was able to get a hold of, and the one I originally thought I'd be least likely to vote for. It just sounded too normal compared to the more exotic offerings.

As I was eating this flavor, it honestly tasted like I was eating a piece of French Bread, crispy from the oven, with that garlic and parmesan butter, spread you can buy, slathered all over it. The garlic was just right.

So in the end, the flavor I thought I'd be least likely to vote for earned by vote. Now, will just have to wait to see which one earns a place next to other Lay's flavors such as Dill Pickle Chip, BLT and Honey Mesquite Barbeque.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Remembrances of Easters gone by


Actress, writer, and fellow Albany Patch blogger, Michele Strider, today shared a blog of hers from a couple of years ago, regarding her experiences with Easter and how, when she was growing up, she used to behead rabbits because she thought it was humane.

Don't freak out. She was talking about the chocolate variety…not the ones that go hippity hop across Mrs. McGregor's carrot patch. Same thing for Peeps apparently.

I commented about how I used to start on the tips of the ears and slowly work my way down the head, jokingly asking whether that was torture?

This got me thinking about Easter when I was growing up. Dare I say, a wee bit longer ago than Michele.

* * *

Maybe I'm just not looking at the right place. But, pretty much all the big chocolate bunnies they're selling these days seem to be made from hollow milk chocolate. Sure, there was the one oddball I saw at Safeway, which was six inches of solid milk chocolate (and tasted so good!!). But, that seemed to be a maverick.

Where have all the big bunnies gone that were filled with the delicious ooey gooey goodness like when I was a kid? They were enough to make you sick if you kept eating, and you knew that. But, you just couldn't help yourself!

One year I got one of those stuffed bunnies. I swear that thing must've been a full foot tall; every inch filled with fluffy goodness. Can we say, "SUGAR SHOCK?!?!?" 

Then there were those first Cadbury Eggs our parents bought us. I'm not talking about the industrial glop they pass off these days. I'm talking eggs filled with a smooth creamy filling more a kin to what you get inside a Milky way Bar.

It's probably not just my imagination. But, it just seems that the bulk processed candies made today just don't taste the same as back then.

Of course, See's Candies is still going strong. You're going to pay a price, and it's probably too expensive for most, except for the occasional holiday like Valentine's or Mother's Day.

Sadly, gone is Hooper's Chocolates, the long-time Oakland Chocolatier, in the pretty pink building on Telegraph Avenue. While the building is still there, it's now occupied by a couple of 20-something skateboarders, selling stuff far removed from what made the building famous.

* * *

Chocolate isn't the only thing I fondly think back to. Just like the children of today, my sister and I experienced many an Easter Egg hunt during our youth.

Back in the 1970s, one of my aunts lived about a half dozen blocks away and on sometimes we'd go over for a family get together.

Her kids were a few years older than us so they drew the chore of keeping us busy inside the house while the adults were busy in the backyard going about hiding hardboiled eggs all over her big yard.

They'd eventually come and get us, and we'd go wild looking for eggs. They had lots of succulents and leafy plants, and you had to look closely, or you'd easily miss your treasure.

Another hunt I look back on took place in the Richmond Annex's Central Park, virtually around the corner from where we grew up.

Parks & Rec had an official Easter Egg hunt one year. Older kids would hunt real eggs over on the baseball field. While, those of us who were younger, were stuck in a 20' x 20' sandy area, where they hid plastic wrapped candy eggs.

As I remember it, there were only a dozen, or so, of us running around. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Everywhere you looked, the shiny candies stood out from the plain tan sand. We were all happily filling our little baskets, and it looked like we would all make it out with a big haul.

But then it happened!

I can't remember whether I ran into something, or tripped up in the sand. My haul of eggs went absolutely everywhere!! Kids being kids, the others turned on me like sharks after a wounded seal pup.

I wasn't physically hurt, but I was mentally scared from watching my sister and the kids across the street scoop up over half of what I'd previously had sitting in my basket.

Later on, I told my parents what had happened, and they coerced my sister into giving me back some of what she'd grabbed. But still, a pre-teen's feelings bruise easily. I've forgiven her over the years, but I still remember! <grin!>

* * *

Our mother used to love it when Easter came around every year, because she got to dye Easter Eggs with us. I'm not sure who got a bigger kick out it, her or us kids.

I think part of that stems from the fact that her parents were originally from Russia, and as is fairly well known, Russians and Ukrainians are World famous for their ornately decorated Easter Eggs.

I can still smell the hot water and vinegar used to liquefy the little Paas pellets. My favorite was the Robin's Egg Blue.

You would balance a hard-boiled egg on a wire hoop, before sinking it into the dye for 30-60 seconds. You'd then carefully lift the egg out, and let it dry.

If you wanted to get fancy, you could wrap the egg with twine, or drip hot wax over parts of it, before plunking it into some other color. Once you were satisfied with the dye job, you'd peel off the twine and wax to reveal your masterpiece.

I'm sure they really looked like a hot mess. But, to us kids they were real works of art.

In fact, I always wanted to keep mine in the fridge and look at them from time to time. Of course, being hard boiled eggs, they didn't last, and eventually started stinking up the refrigerator something awful.

Nowadays, since I have no children of my own, eggs are pretty much relegated to Egg Salad Sandwiches and the occasional Bacon and Egg breakfast.

It's a little sad just thinking of that, so perhaps I'll look to pick up some Paas at a deep post-Easter discount while I'm trying to score on left over holiday candy!!

Monday, March 18, 2013

movie review: The Call (2013)


(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

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THE CALL (2013)

Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator in the nerve center of a Los Angeles area emergency Call Center. She's on top of her game, handling call after call with coolness and ease. That is, until a momentary lapse of judgment causes a serious situation to go from very bad to even worse.

Shaken to her very core, she leaves the hectic front lines for the comfortable position of instructor. This wouldn't last.

While showing a new group of recruits around, she's drawn back into the line of fire when one of her previous recruits becomes flustered by a call, which seems remarkably similar to her very last call.

From this point forward we're taken on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs as police try and track down the latest kidnap victim.

Overall, the film kept me watching for its short 96 minutes, and I would have been happy to have seen the cat and mouse action stretch the movie out. Unfortunately, all stories have an ending, and it's in the ending where this film stumbles a bit.

Not only did the resolution seem unbelievable, and somewhat slapped together, the acting simply fell flat in the last scene.

All through the film the kidnap victim was frazzled and freaked out. Then, she somehow gains a backbone, which I found hard to swallow.

* * *

Berry gets top billing, and I'm sure people will be flocking to the theaters because this is being portrayed as another action movie for her. While she is definitely the biggest name on the screen, her character is just one part of the ensemble, and I'm not sure warrants the marque treatment she's getting.

When she is on screen, she plays the emotional scenes with great verve, capturing your attention, not only with her dialog, but also with the emotion in her eyes.

Sorry guys, but don't go to this film expecting to see her in slinky ultra-tight leather pants, or an orange one piece swim suit. She's matured enough in her roles, so she could trade that in for a comfy pair of blue jeans and a polo shirt.

This film's eye candy is Abigail Breslin, who plays kidnap victim Casey Welson. Breslin has come a long way since starting her career as Mel Gibson's young daughter in Signs (2002), or even more recently, as Emma Stone's younger sister in Zombieland (2009).

Happily, the film doesn't try to rely on Breslin's good looks, and she generally does a decent job as the naive teenager turned kidnap victim.

Our psycho du jour is Michael Foster (Michael Eklund). We never really get a firm grasp on why he is doing what he does. There's a quick montage of shots which makes an implication. But, the viewer is left to fully interpret them. Perhaps the creators felt it wasn't necessary since Foster's violence is what people will mostly take away from the theater.

At the helm was Brad Anderson, probably better known as a director on the small screen (Fringe, Boardwalk Empire).

While keeping us engrossed with the near constant action, he went too far with some of the violence and gore. One particular scene could have been stopped just before the blood started flowing, and it would have been just as effective.

Keeping pace with the action on the screen was a snappy soundtrack penned by Academy Award winning composer John Debney.

One other thing comes to mind. Perhaps the cell phone network of towers is more complete in Southern California, but it's sure not good enough to get the constant Five Bar signal strength seen nearly throughout the entire film.

Anyone who is plagued with the notoriously bad cell phone coverage we experience here in Albany, should be astounded by constant connection which facilitates much of the dialog.

* * *

The R rating is justifiably earned.

If you have an aversion to violence, gore and blood, or any combination thereof, do yourself a favor and skip this one.

It's not just one scene, and then you're safe. There are multiple scenes that could easily give people nightmares for days to come if they're bothered by that type of action.

RATED: 5.5 out of 10 STARS

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Nearby theaters currently showing The Call are the Shattuck Cinemas, UA Emery Bay 10 and Century 16 Hilltop.

A full listing of show times and locations can be found at Fandango.