25 January 2011

Bears vs. Packers: FAN-atics?

Although I'm a few days late blogging on a subject no one could stop talking about Sunday and Monday, I thought I would let the loss of the NFC Championship by the Chicago Bears to the Green Bays Packers sink in before emotions got the best of me.  And so, on the night before Hump Day after my husband has moved on from the sadness of his favorite team's loss to his brand new video game, I would like to share my thoughts on a decades old bitter rivalry.

Growing up in a family of nerds and musicians, football (and really sports in general) was of lowest priority in our household.  Mom thinks it's stupid and Dad falls asleep during the games, so I grew up unable to care less about football.  Then I met my husband and his family, aka People Who Love Football.  So over the past 5 years we've been together, I have slowly developed an enthusiasm for the sport and watching games.  A double bonus is that, even though he was raised in Wisconsin, Hubby is a die hard Bears fan along with his mother and siblings, and so I could cheer on my Chicago team happily with him.  My father-in-law, born & raised in WI, is a die hard Packer fan but everyone gets along just fine.  Everything was all peaches and cream... and then we moved to Wisconsin.

People in the Dairy State take their football SERIOUSLY. You don't quite understand unless you live up here during football season.  If you tell anyone you're from Chicago they immediately comment on you being a Bears fan... all year round.  Men, women, children-- all nuts for the Packers.  Sometimes it's just plain scary.  These people are complete football nerds, quoting stats, giving backgrounds on players, discussing past games and championships.  If Brett Favre enters Wisconsin on anything but Viking business, he will be shot on sight.  Kidding.

Now, although I'm a football newbie, I consider myself a loyal Bears fan as I love Chicago sports, but my life does not revolve around the Bears.  By all means cheer on your team, but what does it say when domestic violence in the state increases when the Packers lose? When the Bears lost this past Sunday, the most upsetting aspect for many fans wasn't that they aren't NFC Champions or headed to the Super Bowl (though that would've been nice); it was that they didn't pound the Packers into the ground.  Bitter much?  But why is that?  Why do fans of opposing teams such as the Bears & Vikings hate the Packers so much a victory against them is savored more than going to the Super Bowl?

Please don't yell at me, but I must be honest: the Green Bay Packers as a team are great.  They are skilled players that work together both offensively and defensively to win games.  In other words, they play as a TEAM.  That's an issue I've noticed with the Bears being unable to work together on their offense.  Sunday's game was a great example of both team's strengths-- it was close and exciting to watch-- but ultimately the Packers earned that win.  Which I'm okay to admit.  It's not like they creamed us.

Yet all the cheering after the Packers' win was actually jeering from the fans.  Instead of celebrating a win with dignity and excitement, Packer fans shouted "the Bears still suck." This is why people hate the Packers and want the team pulverized-- the negative, hateful poison coming from fans.  Of course, every team has fanatic fans that spew venom at the opposing side (Bears included), but the Packer fans have a reputation.  And PFs, before you start puffing yourselves up and declaring how this shows your loyalty and toughness, know this: it's not tough.  It's annoying and could get your ass kicked. Not by me, of course, but there are some people who just can't take it after a while.  Also, I am aware not all Packer fans are this way, it's just an observation after living here for 2 football seasons, going to a game against the Bears, and encountering them on Facebook.

Overall, I appreciate and encourage the enthusiasm from fans and get into the games myself.  But there's no need to attack each other.  The Bears don't suck. The Packers don't suck.  And it doesn't matter who wins at the end of the day because players all get paid millions more than I ever will.  Everyone's a winner.

23 January 2011

Absent Cook Stew

It's been such a long time since I posted a recipe and with all of this ridiculously cold weather, I thought I'd post one of our household winter favorites: a delicious, super easy crock-pot beef stew.  Also, this is a great meal you can prepare the night before-- just dump everything in the crockpot, store in the fridge, then pop it in the cooker the next morning.

"Absent Cook" Stew
(Makes about 5-6 servings... but if you serve it in smaller bowls you can make this filling stew stretch)

2 lbs. stewing beef, cubed (you can buy it cubed @ the store)
3 carrots, sliced
1 onion, chopped (unless they're really small then use 2 onions)
3 large potatoes, cubed
3 ribs celery, sliced
1 can condensed tomato soup (10 3/4 oz)
1 soup can water
1 tsp. salt
dash of fresh ground pepper
2 Tbsp. white vinegar

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker.  Cover.  Cook on Low 10 hours.  Great with a hot roll.

**Chef Hodge Podge's Notes:

When the stew has cooked about 8 hrs and if you're home to do so, check to see if it is finished.  Depending on the crockpot, the stew may take less time to cook and I wouldn't want you to eat dry beef.

This is a fairly healthy meal altogether made up of mostly fresh ingredients.  I am trying to brainstorm a substitution for the condensed tomato soup as that adds a lot of sodium to a healthy meal.  Perhaps a 12 oz can of tomato sauce and a small can of tomato paste?  Let me know if you've got a good substitution.

Finally, I like to add a bit more flavor by using only a 1/4 cup of water then substituting the rest with a mini bottle of red wine-- Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent choice.  You'll really notice the flavors the next day after they have had a chance to marinate.

Looking for a vegetarian option?  Check out my recipe for Aduki Bean Stew in the archives.

22 January 2011

Poem for a Writer

I realize this is a love poem, but it's inspiring for a writer as well, and could even be construed as a poem about the love of writing. I found the inspiration suddenly and felt I must share.

Loving in Truth, and Fain in Verse My Love to Show 

by Sir Philip Sidney

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,

That She, dear She, might take some pleasure of my pain,

- Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,

Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain -

I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe,

Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain,

Oft turning others' leaves, to see if thence would flow

Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburnt brain.

But words came halting forth, wanting Invention's stay;

Invention, Nature's child, fled step-dame Study's blows;

And others' feet still seemed but strangers in my way.

Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite -

"Fool!" said my Muse to me "look in thy heart, and write!"

21 January 2011

Quick-Fire Film Review

I haven't done this in a while-- mainly because I don't go to the theaters anymore due to overcharging-- but lately I've rented plenty of movies and TV shows so it's high time to offer up a few recommendations.

  The A-Team
Not. That. Great.  Honestly, if you can see it for free-- do it, otherwise save your money for one of the other options on this list that's worth watching .  It's your typical action film: predictable, a little too long for it's own good, and oozing with cheesy dialogue.
 Lie to Me
I know this show has been on FX for three seasons now, but thanks to the magic of Netflix instant streaming you can watch seasons 1 & 2 and love them as much as I do.  Though some episodes can be slightly predictable at times, a show about the Science of Lies (or more appropriately the Science of Truth) is intelligent, gripping, and even a bit fun.  Tim Roth's performance as the deliciously eccentric Dr. Lightman is underrated but fabulous to watch, and the show doesn't get so tied up with the characters' personal lives that is becomes melodramatic.

 The American
I liked it, though the film requires another viewing.  George Clooney is excellent as a seasoned assassin with plenty of paranoia and little to say.  Although the story moves slowly, the performances and story are interesting.

The Sons of Anarchy

What a cool show about a bad ass biker gang and their "old ladies." Excellent anti-heroes, the plot has plenty of twists and turns, and there is just enough violence and profanity.  A must see.     
 The Other Guys
Although I never would've chosen to watch this film myself, my husband's rental pick actually ended up being hilarious.  What else can I say? It's ridiculous but quotable and will get funnier the more you watch it.

The Social Network
I liked it. The acting was good, the topic is a great illustration of how culture changed within a couple years of Facebook landing on the scene, even if the story is skewed from the truth.  Did the film change my life?  Is it one of the best films I've ever scene?  Nope.  I get the controversy of making a "based on a true story" film while the main character is 25 and thriving, but overall I saw the film once, enjoyed it, and feel no need to see it again.

Easy A
Love it.  Emma Stone is hilarious and charming, the story is great and not at all cheesy.  Also another film relevant to our current culture.  It's one of the best comedies I've seen in a LONG time.

The Hunger Games Trilogy

One of the ways I celebrated the 2010 holiday was reading The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins consisting of the titles and order of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay.  Though I prefer leaving the book reviews to Miss Elizabeth and her Never Ending Reading List, these books moved me so much I felt compelled to blog about them.

First, let me say this is one of the best, most powerful set of books I've read since Harry Potter.  It has definitely entered my top 10.  In fact I would use Collins's futuristic society and mores as teaching tools over Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World.  This is a story about survival, politics, power, struggles, rebellion, and most of all, love.  The characters are engaging, the world is unbelievable and there is a richness of themes that require repeat readings.

For myself, Catching Fire is my favorite, but The Hunger Games paves the way for the powerful story of the second.  And the twists and turns.  However, I am still struggling over Mockingjay.  Though the very last pages brought me to tears, three quarters of the book feels like a struggle.  Collins unravels the main characters she spent the two previous books building.  Thus, Mockingjay is inconsistent with the trilogy's overall tone... almost a separate story entirely.  Some of the changes work once you reach the conclusion, but others are unnecessary.  Plus there is more gore in the third so be wary about giving it to young children.

Actually, I should confess that the whole series put me in such a head space that I had nightmares-- like the main character-- until two days after completing the trilogy.  My husband had the same issue.  Perhaps the result of overactive imaginations.  Despite my odd reaction, read these books.  They truly are wonderful.

20 January 2011

Top 10 Things to Look Forward to in Marriage

Although there is something to be said about the single life and certain opportunities it affords, I've felt the current relationship climate is anti-marriage; that these forever and beyond commitments are doomed to failure.  As a married woman who enjoys this level of our relationship, I'd like to point out a few aspects of marriage that outweigh doubts should you choose to take the plunge.

**Please note this list applies only to couples deeply in love with one another, trust each other completely, and who will work their asses off for their marriage.

10.  Spending each and every day sharing your life with your best friend. It's pretty rad.

9.  Having that extra space in your bed occupied by the love of your life.

8.  Arguments.  Believe it or not these are the moments where your marriage can strengthen and you reach new phases of emotional intimacy.  I should clarify, the process is as such: argument, discussion, compromise, resolution, and makeup time... *wink*

7.  There is someone to come home to.

6.  Finally telling someone all your secrets, knowing it will bring you closer since you trust him/her fully enough not to judge you.  Unless of course, you killed someone-- that's not great.

5.  Being given the chance to serve on a daily basis.  These opportunities, obviously, will increase when I have children.  Hopefully I'll maintain this attitude...

4.  Someone to eat your various culinary experiments and tell you it's okay, you'll get it next time.

3.  Regular sex for the rest of your life.

2.  Even though I've gained 150lbs., have no idea what to do with my career, and there are days I refuse to wear make-up and do my hair, he still proclaims I am the most beautiful woman in the world-- and means it.

1.  The number one best part of marriage is knowing that neither of you complete the other.  You and your spouse are not two halves forming a whole but two wholes forming a brand new unit.  This new unit depends on a balance of mutual love, trust, attraction, and happiness.

In my limited experience, this is what I've learned so far on my journey as a wife.  Of course, as we "grow up" our marriage will grow, things will change, children will come along, and this top 10 will need to be revised.  But for now, marriage is wonderful and I highly recommend it.

17 January 2011

What is Literature?

To accompany the Literary Canon mentioned in a post below (scroll down about 2 entries), I am offering my personal definition of literature.  Which is hard.  Several years ago, when I was fresh out of high school and wet behind the ears, I would have offered up a solid definition with characteristics such as "decades and/or centuries old," "complicated to read," "requires repeat readings and analysis," "what we are forced to read in school," "written by dead authors."  And I would have named 1984, Pride and Prejudice, Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, Of Mice and Men, Our Town, The Divine Comedy, The Outsiders, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Animal Farm... etc. as qualifying titles to this socially made definition.  I was told those works are literature therefore they MUST be literature.

Okay, now before you start huffing and puffing and stirring up your strongest argument for why these titles fall under the honorary genre of Lit., let me clarify by stating that I actually would categorize most of these titles as such, perhaps excluding Orwell because I hate both those books oh so much.

After my first stint at college, a few years out in the pretentiously labeled "real world," and now back at school to study the art of teaching English to the unwilling (aka high school students), I find my definition of literature altered, it's broader and liberal.  The previous definition left no room for current works or unique genres like graphic novels.  If someone had suggested what I thought then to be a "comic book" as a work of literary standards, I would've laughed in their face.  Fantasy and Sci Fi so often get underrated.

Also, defining literature and recommending texts is a matter of taste.  I absolutely love Jane Austen but there are people out there who find her boring, mediocre, unworthy of the title "author."  On the other hand, I dislike 1984 therefore reading Brave New World is not at the top of my reading list.  Yet there is this snooty attitude of "Who cares if you don't like it?  You'll read it, study it, and learn from it."  How can a person develop an enthusiasm for reading and analyzing when he can't get past his hatred of the text?  Though it can be done-- I am living proof of that and I know as a teacher you can't please everyone-- I can't tell you how many people refuse to pick up another book after high school.  These stuffy novels and plays forced on 14 to 18 year olds can have damning effects to the appreciation of the written word.  Thus, entertainment value is also a factor in literature.

Of course, there is the issue of language.  Two issues actually.  The first is foreign texts.  Now, I am all for international reading, but does the literary value of a translated work decrease because of meaning that might be lost in translation?  Personally, I don't think so.  A woman suggested this question in my English class this past semester and I thought she had a valid point.  However, if a translated work is powerful then it can only get better in its native tongue and so the title of literary work still stands.

The second issue of language is quality.  Books were first used as teaching tools to educate students in language and writing, not necessarily on reading.  Many stipulate that for a work to be considered literature it must be have complicated language.  In other words, hard to read.  Not that I don't love a challenge, but this brings me to another argument: once again, how can a person see the depth and value behind a text when he has to define every other word on every other page?  Building vocabulary is one thing; however, trying to melt a person's brain with archaic words and grammar is just mean.  Unfortunately, the education curriculum does not usually allow enough time for repeat readings of a text which could greatly improve this second issue.

Finally, we've reached the point of this whole thing: my definition of literature.  Here goes...

I believe there are two definitions of literature: both personal and societal.

Society deems literature as texts that require analyzation to understand their full meaning, a tool to expand vocabulary, and an attempt (albeit a lame one) at culturing young people.  These novels & plays are usually pre-1923 with a few scattered from the first half of the 20th century for good measure, usually stemming from the category of "Dead White Male Authors," with a few exceptions.  Entertainment is not a factor.

On the personal side, I believe literature can be current, from the past, exist in almost any genre, and requires a connection between the reader and the work.  If a reader cannot connect with a work he might as well analyze it in a different language for all the good it will do.  Literary works require repeat readings, entertain their audience, offer cultural relevance both in the time they were written and universally, and challenge the reader to dive deeper past the words on the page.

So that's it. This is a working definition, not set in stone by any means, and I realize its vagueness. Yet this is what I have gathered so far to define literature and open up the genre to more possibilities as a way to encourage reading in younger generations, as well as offer a truly varied collection of works from which to choose.

14 January 2011

Hello and Welcome to Two More Fellow Bloggers

I would like to extend a hearty greeting to my newest Friends: Laura E and Lucid Dreamer, authors of Boris the Bird and Two Shots of Euphoria, respectively.  I believe both are entering the blog-o-sphere for the new year, they are excellent people and writers, and I encourage you to take a gander at their contributions to cyberspace.

On that same note to LE and LD, feel free to click on the blogs represented under "Fellow Writers."  There's some great stuff there and I love how everyone writes from the heart.  Oh, and some people use pictures, too!

P.S. I would also like to apologize for the slow load time of my blog due to all of the videos I posted for my music entry.  It may be removed in a couple days if it continues to annoy me.  :)

12 January 2011

The Power of Music

For those of us blessed to enjoy the gift of music and who possess enough soul to let it move us, music triggers emotions, creates moods, and inspires.  And some songs are just fun.  Lately I've turned to melodies when I need an exercise boost, want to create a steady rhythm while cooking, require relaxation while I write, or want to have a sing-a-long in the shower.  I've posted a few videos of songs that evoke certain moods-- I hope you enjoy!

The first is "Sweet Disposition" by The Temper Trap.  The beat and overall tone of the song opens my imagination and gets my thoughts flowing.  Be inspired.

Whenever I am feeling down about myself, I immediately go to my iPod and find "Firework" by Katy Perry.  Now I realize most of you are skeptical about "pop stars" and pop music in general, but she has an excellent voice and this song never fails to boost my mood and provide a ray of light when I'm wondering around in the dark.  My 6ft 7in heterosexual man friend even likes it.

Because of the artist and style of this next song, I almost avoided putting Ke$ha's "We R Who We R" on the list.  No, I don't get any deep emotions or artistic inspiration from a girl with a dollar sign in her name; however, this is a great workout song.  Yes, her voice and the way she chews her "R's" can irritate.  At the same time, I always increase my speed on the treadmill when this song starts to play so there are benefits to electronic pop music.

Love Mumford & Sons.  Love "Little Lion Man."  Love the British.  'Nuff said.

Typically, I avoid Rap at all costs.  It's just not my thing.  However, even though I never will be a bad ass by any stretch of the imagination, Eminem's "Till I Collapse" definitely makes me want to walk into a biker bar, challenge everyone in the place, and kick outlaw asses to the curb.  Instead, I'll just work my "toughness" out on the elliptical.

On the opposite end of the spectrum I'd like to present "Sexy Silk" by Jessica Cornish, heard in the film "Easy A."  Like the scene in the movie, when listening to this song I feel I should be wearing a corset, eyes decked out with mascara and smoky eyeliner while walking in slow motion, long hair blowing from an invisible wind as every head turns.  Epic.

Here's a favorite band of mine: Phoenix. With their song "Lisztomania."  Their music never fails to brighten my day.

Also, I'd never be able to create a list of great tunes without adding a song by Beck-- my absolute favorite artist.  Doesn't matter what you're doing, Beck is great for anything-- I love listening to him while I cook.  Here is "Elevator Music."

Need a moment to wind down? Meditate? Pray?  Look no further than John Rutter, a most excellent English choral composer and director of The Cambridge Singers.  Although I love "What Sweeter Music," "All Things Bright and Beautiful," and anything he's ever written for Christmas, "Esurientes" from Rutter's Magnificat is breath-taking.

What? I forgot to represent country music?  Well that would be because I don't like country.  At all.  Unless you count old school country sung by cowboys and Johnny Cash.  However, I would like to give props to young Marc Broussard and his song "Home."  He possesses an old school voice: a bit of grit mixed with rock and roll.  Even though they dress him like a douche bag in the video, Marc sounds like a 6ft. 5in., tight jean wearing, scruffy faced, muscled man whose eyes are covered by the shadow of his black cowboy hat while he rides off into the sunset on his trusty steed.  ... too much?

My final thought-provoking piece is "Far Away" by Jose Gonzalez.  The power behind this song isn't simply in its haunting melody or the rich, beautiful acoustic guitar accompanying its emotional lyrics.  No.  The real power in "Far Away" is its purpose: this gorgeous song was written for the video game "Red Dead Redemption" and could hold its own against any Academy Award nominated piece.  It represents the artistry and cinematic quality now added to many video games, the thought and work behind this billion-dollar industry, and the future direction of the entertainment industry.

04 January 2011

New Years... Determined Solutions?

The definition of "resolution," though there are several, suggests either determination or a solution to a particular situation.  I guess this makes sense in terms of New Years Resolutions: determining an answer to having a better year than the one before.  However, more than not these solutions are gradually abandoned once we fall back into routine.  So much for regular trips to the gym, cutting out junk food, and staying away from caffeine.  Our lives are chaotic-- our schedules too busy, our energy too scarce, our bank accounts too slim.  Once the holidays roll around again, we feel defeated, having failed to complete even one resolution, and the cycle begins again.

I propose to change my New Years Resolutions from unrealistic "resolutions" I'm dreading to carry out to practical goals that build from one to another, snowballing into a list of achievements leading into a new phase of life and myself.  Instead of seeing the 150 pounds I couldn't possibly lose in one year, I am attempting to throw away 20 pounds before my brother's wedding in April.  Then I will go from there.  Perhaps another 20 for my birthday in July; perhaps just 10.  Rather than swear never to take another sip of Starbucks, I will try for less frequent visits, ordering smaller sizes, and making better choices (fat free/ sugar free/ tea... haha, that rhymed).  Thus, every few months I create quarterly "resolutions" that keep up with my life, schedule, and the reality of my situation.  And so, here's a few I'm working on:

1.  Lose 20 pounds by April.

2.  Stick to the "Biggest Loser" program to the conclusion on 4/9/11.  And don't worry about the prizes; the real prize is a healthier, happier me.

3.  Drink less Starbucks (not everyday) and stick to the "Skinny" options.

4.  Write more blogs. A couple a week should do.

5.  Write a short story by the summer.

6.  Begin serious work on a script.  Have a step outline by spring break.

7.  Try new experiences.

8.  Find a decent paying, enjoyable, part-time job that I can stick with for at least the next couple years.

9.  Cook at least 4 dinners a week (unless there are plenty of leftovers), make fresh lunches, and take my vitamins everyday.

10.  Be a better friend in whatever way is required.

11.  Once a regular school/work schedule is determined, find a way to volunteer.