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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Read my lips: No new boxes

Despite over-filling the massive city-issued recycling can every week, and sending just as much to the land fill, we have a lot of stuff. Stuff in the living room. Stuff in the bedrooms. And especially stuff in the garage. I’m not bragging. Actually, it’s obscene. It’s embarrassing. I’m pretty sure we could feed and clothe a few third world countries with the stuff that we have sitting around.

And I’m not sure where stuff comes from. Does it multiply like a bad virus? Come out of the woodwork? Or simply a bi-product of our lifelong hoarding habit?

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It's not quite this bad. But almost.

Wherever it comes from, I’m laying down the law for the new year with a new rule in the Brody household…

NO NEW BOXES!

What does that mean? Well, I’m thinking inside the box. By enforcing a zero-sum box game.

In other words, for every box that comes into this house, the same box has to go out of the house within a week — filled with stuff — and donated to charity.

I’m not talking about mac-and-cheese containers. I mean anything that is bigger than a bread “box.”

So that’s the plan anyway. We’ll see how it goes. Got any better ideas?

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Family, Thoughts

 

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My Top 10 Movies of 2011

As the curtains draw to a close on 2011, it’s time to reflect back on the year that was. In film. So here’s my list of the top 10 movies I saw this year. My list includes box office as well as video releases.

10. Due Date
Funny stuff. Downey plays a perfect straight man and Galifianakis is great as the odd goofball (although by now I don’t see how he’ll ever get a different role).

9. No Strings Attached
I liked it despite knowing where it was headed from the beginning. Cute but predictable amid the usual bevy of wacky supporting characters. After looking all black swanish last time, Natalie is gorgeous in this one.

8. My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
Wow. Yes. Finally a romantic comedy/drama worth watching. Two great twists make this buck the formula. Nice soundtrack. And Alyssa Milano!

7. The Switch
Pleasantly surprised, enjoyed it. Big Bateman fan.

6. Puss in Boots
My 10-year old gives this a 4.5 star rating, and I concur! Fun movie!

5. Crazy Stupid Love
Ryan Gosling impresses again, and spoiler alert: surprising reveal intertwines everything. American Beauty meets The Kids Are Alright.

4. Easy A
Very solid movie, not the typical high school angst movie. Great acting and some hilarity. Enjoyable.

3. Blue Valentine
Supreme performances but devastating plot. Not uplifting but truthful. Watch if you like studying acting or filmmaking. Skip if you’re in a fragile state of mind. Ouch.

2. 127 Hours
Amazing brilliant tour de force performance from James Franco. Gruesome, but triumphant. Look away if you are the least bit squeamish.

1. Horrible Bosses
Best. Movie. Ever.

Honorable Mentions
All of these are worth seeing, but they just didn’t have enough to make it to the best list.

  • Bridesmaids
    Expected a female Hangover but ended up being a sweet, touching chick flick. Definitely some very funny parts but woulda preferred a full on comedy. Melissa McCarthy steals the show and keeps this from being only a 2.5 star rating.
  • Tower Heist
    What a pleasant surprise. Didn’t expect to enjoy this but it was very entertaining. Oceans 11 meets bad news bears.
  • The Social Network
    Intense. Uncomfortable. Really makes Sean Parker look evil and Zuckerberg unlikable.
  • Black Swan
    That is one crazy messed up chick/swan. Can’t really argue that it’s an epic movie, but not really my cup of tea.
  • The Adjustment Bureau
    Sorta hokey premise about fate but suspend your disbelief and it’s moderately entertaining.

Agree or not? Which flicks should have made my list?

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Random, Thoughts

 

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When the game goes wrong

As I sit here tonight watching Monday Night Football between the Steelers and 49ers in the comfort and safety of my own home, the Bay Area setting causes me to reflect on the brutal beating of a San Fran fan earlier this year.

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Bryan Stow

San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow, a 42-year-old paramedic and father of two, was visiting Dodgers stadium for opening day of the baseball season, when he and his friends were savagely beaten in the stadium parking lot by Dodger fans who took a simple sports rivalry to an unconscionable extreme. Nine months later, Stow is still relearning basic things like walking, brushing his teeth, swallowing, and even how to speak.

For the first time since the attack, Stow has been able to speak in an interview on camera.

Watch the video now.

As a former employee of a professional sports team, I have seen my share of ugliness between fans. One night at a Spurs-Mavs playoff game at the AT&T Center, I had to break up a scuffle as an obnoxious Spurs fan began physically confronting a visiting Dallas fan sitting right in front of him (neither guy knew I was an employee until they saw my badge…and then they fell in line. Unfortunately, I had to go back to sitting in the next row over for the remaining three quarters…AWKWARD!)  And while traveling with the Spurs during the 2003 NBA Finals against the New Jersey Nets, there was so much Sopranos-style bile spewed in our direction, I almost feared for my safety.

Almost.

I can hardly fathom that the events in Los Angeles actually could happen.

As I kid playing little league baseball, I was always taught that the spirit of teamwork and competition was equal to respect for the opponent. It didn’t matter if you win or lose, it was how you play the game that mattered. That’s what the coaches would always drill into us, day after day.

But these days, John Rocker, the “Malice at the Palace,” Eagles fans throwing snowballs at Santa, and a host of other recent sports misdeeds lead me to wonder if things have somehow taken a turn for the worse. Granted there will always be an extremist element any time there’s competition, but the boundaries of civility no longer seem guaranteed.

This holiday season, we should all take a moment to reflect on what’s important about sports and life, and resolve to actively work towards a return to that place where everyone can safely enjoy a game and root, root, root for their home team.

Even if, as in my case, it happens to be the Eagles. :-)

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Random, Thoughts

 

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Why Words with Friends should restore your faith in humanity

Over 20 million people are addicted.

The maker of some of the most popular video games on the planet, Zynga, has just made a fortune.  Yesterday, the company — which makes Words with Friends, Farmville, and other games played mostly on Facebook and mobile phones — priced its initial public offering at $10 a share, raising about $1 billion for the company. 

Not a bad day’s work.

But what makes this a big deal, literally, is more than the staggering amount of dough.  When you reflect on just how fragile an economy we have in the U.S.– a system plagued over the last few years by mortgage-backed investment scandals, Bernie Madoff, auto industry bailouts, TARP, and so much more — you realize how many things can go wrong.  It’s more than enough to discourage you.

When so many things can be corrupted, politicized, and made to fail, it’s nice to remind ourselves that the basics of our free market economy still work — despite a global economic downturn.  Zynga created (and acquired, in some cases) products that have such a huge demand, people were willing to part with $1 billion to grab a piece.  Their products are so good they’re addictive: 20 million people have installed Words, and 31 million play Farmville daily.  I’ve seen folks unable to remove themselves from picking crops for hours.  And recently, Alec Baldwin was so engrossed in his Words game, he couldn’t put down his phone during takeoff – an act which got him kicked off the plane in the process.

So my message is simply: have hope.  Even if the economy is rough in your neck of the woods, and corruption and fraud are seemingly everywhere, you can still succeed through basic supply and demand fundamentals.  Make a widget that everybody wants, and you can still profit richly.

That’s the American Dream after all, isn’t it?

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2011 in Random, Thoughts, Work

 

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Five baby items I wish existed

As a father of four-month old twins, I’m thankful every day for modern technology that helps us raise these miniature humans. Video monitors, portable bassinets, heck, even disposable diapers…I can’t imagine how they do it in third-world countries or even America, say, 100 years ago.

Still, could it be easier? Yes. There are things that should exist but don’t. All parents who’ve survived the baby stage can relate to the sheer madness of a fussy baby who won’t stop crying. But with multiples, it’s literally Whac-a-mole. Oftentimes, as soon as you get one fed and settled, the other one’s head pops up — screaming at a decibel level exceeding a jet engine, for someone, apparently in China, to come rescue her.

So, with that in mind, I give you my top five baby care items that need to be invented…

Mother's 3rd Arm

This is NOT what I'm talking about.

1) The third arm. Granted, there actually is something with this name already out there. As a matter of fact, we have one. But it’s more like a flexible bottle holder than something you can control. What I really need is something connected to you that would cradle a baby around your body, freeing up your two real arms. Things like slings and Baby Bjorns come close, but don’t position the baby in a way that makes feeding or caring for him possible.

2) The Starbucks bottle washer. Sure you can wash bottles by hand, but when you’re dealing with two times the normal volume of formula preparation, feedings, and cleanings, the job gets overwhelming…quick. What I envision here is a device that connects to the kitchen sink with a Christmas-tree shaped rotating brush that dispenses soap and water and spins like the Tasmanian Devil when the bottle is held over the device. In a few seconds, voila…a clean bottle that’s ready to be sterilized and reused. The closest thing I’ve seen to this concept is the pitcher washer at Starbucks that the baristas use to clean out their containers. (Like how I got a coffee reference in another blog? ;-)

Baby Bidet

Even the dog knows this doesn't look right.

3) A baby bidet. Do I really need to explain why? Yes, the Diaper Genie has made diaper changes slightly more tolerable, but again – twice the feedings equals twice the poop. Enough said. And, of course, any proper baby bidet wouldn’t be complete without the corresponding diaper-changing robot.

4) A Baby-to-English translator. Nothing breaks your heart more than when you know your baby is in distress but you can’t figure out the cause. That’s why the military uses recordings of babies crying as a quasi-torture technique. There’s something hard-wired in our DNA that forces us to act when we hear that sound. But what if we actually could know exactly what was going on in that little head when they can’t express it? Hey, Apple, there should be an app for that.

5) A female-shaped harness thingy. OK, I admit this one is a little crazy, but it’s not about some weird cross-dressing fetish. One of our twins, I won’t say which one, seems fully comforted only when mommy is holding her. Actually, mommy is preferred, but apparently any woman will do. If I try to soothe her or hold her for more than a few minutes, she fusses for someone else. Am I doing something wrong? No. My physique apparently just won’t do. To test this, I rolled up a baby blanket and placed it in, er, a strategic place and attempted to hold her again while she was fussy. Low and behold, she calmed down and fell asleep. I’m sure it’s just a phase that she’ll grow out of eventually, but for those nights when mommy is working or unavailable, it sure would be nice to have another option to stop the midnight madness. Until then, rolled up blankies will have to do.

Don’t get me wrong. Nothing can replace the joy of parenting and raising children. I mean, just look at these faces! But that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to make things easier, right? What baby products do you wish existed?

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Family, Thoughts

 

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Yo, mama: we’re proud of you!

I know an extremely talented author who lately has been picking up a lot of steam — as well as accolades. In fact, I happen to be her son.

20111214-101703.jpgMy mom, Marjorie, who retired as a psychotherapist several years ago to pursue her dream of becoming an author, now writes full-time. She’s constantly jotting down ideas, developing plot lines, meeting with other local authors, and sending manuscripts to publishers.

Recently, the publisher of the Short Story America Anthology, which contains two of Marjorie’s short stories, nominated her for the 2012 Pushcart Prize. According to mom, the Pushcart is the “Oscars” of the writing world. We’ll find out the winners soon, but it’s a huge honor just to be nominated. Congratulations, mom!

“The Pushcart Prize – Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976 – is the most honored literary project in America. Hundreds of presses and thousands of writers of short stories, poetry and essays have been represented in the pages of our annual collections.” – pushcartprize.com

If you want to learn more about this fantastic up-and-coming author and see a captivating performance of one of her works, watch the following video.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Family, Thoughts

 

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Three tips for baking the perfect loaf of bread

There is nothing like the smell of freshly baking bread. It fills the air with four hours of warmth and coziness that few things in this world can match. But while getting the aroma to waft through the house is easy, making a decent loaf can be a challenge. I’ve created more than my share of hockey pucks and mushroom cloud loaves, so here are my tips for getting the highest-quality results from your flour-filled fun.

Tip #1: Choose the right machine. Baking purists will say you should knead the dough by hand and bake the loaf in your oven. But with today’s technology, you can achieve more consistent results and more precise control using a good bread machine. But not just any old machine will do.

My first bread machine was given to me as a wedding present almost 14 years ago. While it served its purpose, the results were always hit or miss, and I wanted something that I could rely on to produce consistent high-quality bread. So I recently purchased the Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme 2-Pound-Loaf Breadmaker from Amazon.com. At around $250, you might say that it’s overkill. But trust me, the results speak for themselves.

Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme 2-Pound-Loaf Breadmaker

The dual-blade Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme makes rectangular-shaped 2-pound loaves.

Two things make this machine awesome. First, it makes rectangular, horizontal loaves, rather than the vertical rocket ships that most machines produce. This result is even baking and a nicely shaped loaf that more closely resembles what you would buy in the store. Second, it pre-heats all the ingredients to the exact right temperature before beginning the process. This is critical, as you’ll see in the next tip.

Tip #2: Use the right ingredients in the right way. With only four basic ingredients (flour, water, yeast, and salt), you’d think this would be pretty easy to get right, but bread is a surprisingly tricky thing to make.

The key ingredient is yeast, a living organism related to fungi that eats and breathes just like us. It’s this breathing (actually, the process of fermentation) that gives off carbon dioxide gas, which is in turn trapped by the gluten in the flour, causing bread to rise.

But it’s also the most finicky of all ingredients. Heat the yeast too high or too low and it won’t rise. You’ll end up with a dense, heavy dough ball. The ideal temperature is usually between 75-85 degrees F. In addition, you must add the ingredients in the proper order. Since water causes the yeast to activate the fermentation process, if the water and yeast come into contact too soon, you’ll get a bad loaf. Generally, you place the water (and any other wet ingredients) into the pan first. Then you cover the water with the flour, and finally add the yeast on top of the flour, being careful not to get the yeast wet.

The proportions of the ingredients to one another are also extremely important. Be sure to follow the baking directions from your recipe precisely. Even a tablespoon of water or flour can make a huge difference. Beginners can use an off-the-shelf bread mix with nearly flawless results. As you get more experienced, you’ll want to start experimenting with different flours such as wheat or rye, and tasty add-ins, like fruit or nuts. Note that non-white flours will not rise as much as their traditional counterparts, and most sweet add-ins will also weigh down the loaf. Experiment with different ingredients, realizing that your result may not look perfect but might still be delicious.

Tip #3: Let the loaf cool. This last one may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to ruin a good loaf by attacking it too soon. Once the bread machine is done with its thing, gently shake the loaf out of the pan onto a cooling rack. Use a soft plastic spatula to help get sticky sides off the pan. Once the bread has rested for 15-30 minutes, use a long serrated bread knife to cut the loaf into 1/2-inch slices. If you try cutting it when it’s still hot, you’ll crush and disfigure the bread.

Bread making and golf have a lot in common. You can miss the fairway all day, but it only takes one good chip-in to make you keep playing the game. So whatever results you get, be sure to take notes. Just like your golf swing, once you get that perfect loaf, you’ll want to be able to reproduce it every time.

I’m sure there are many other ways to achieve good bread baking results – what are some of your tips? Let me know!

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Family, Random, Thoughts, Uncategorized

 

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