Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Very Lucky Person

Yesterday I talked about the anxieties of life with a friend I've known for nearly 30 years.

Today a friend I've had for more than 20 years sent me a text that said slĂ inte.

A lucky person is one with good friends. A very lucky person is one who can be honest with those good friends.

Happy New Year to all.

What You Say About Society

I got an oil change for my Hyundai this morning. It's the last day of the year, FREEZING, right around 10 degrees, and I went at 8:17, perhaps the first customer of the day (they opened at 8:00). So I kind of expected the crew to be on the grumpy side. But of course, assumptions usually leave us feeling foolish. These guys were super cool and very friendly. I sat in the car while they worked. Used to be I'd sit in the waiting room during an oil change, read a magazine, whatever, but now I'm accustomed to chilling in my car while the work gets done. The classic rock station was playing -- a win for me. When Tom Sawyer came on the radio, they sang along. Awesome. One of the guys put extra punch into the line that ends with "what you say about society." That made me happy. Here's the lyrics if you need them. The lyrics have held up well over time. Though his mind is not for rent, don't put him down as arrogant. Good stuff.

So it's the last day of the year and I don't have many resolutions in mind for 2015. I'll continue to keep my eye on society and probably work to improve my skills in the kitchen. I might blog about food a lot in 2015 and share some recipes along the way. Like this recipe for crock pot meatballs. "Meatballs in the crock pot," you might be thinking, "surely you can't be serious." I am serious, and don't call me Shirley. Trust me on this one.

2 pounds ground beef (85% mix)
1 cup (or little less) Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
add chopped fresh parsley
add onion and herb seasoning (I use Mrs Dash)
1 egg, beaten

1 jar spaghetti sauce (if you live in Buffalo-Niagara region, Pellicano's works great.)
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes (Redpack with spices. Redpack is the best.)

1.      In a bowl, mix the ground beef, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, spices, egg and a little milk for moisture. Make some meatballs!
2.      In crock pot, mix the spaghetti sauce and crushed tomatoes. 
3.      Place the meatballs into the sauce mixture. Cook on low for approx 3 hours.
4.      Add one or two tablespoons sugar to the sauce along with pepper and more seasoning if needed.

Source: (Always cite your sources!) I made a few adjustments to the recipe.

Monday, December 29, 2014

You Might Like This Recipe (and/or the Book Naked Statistics)

Nice to have some down time between semesters. Figured I'd show my loyal readers one of my favorite Christmas gifts. My mother-in-law got me a book of crock pot recipes. I'm pretty happy about it because I use my crock pot on a regular basis during the winter. The other book in the picture wasn't a gift. I picked it up at Big Chain Bookstore to read during break. I'm teaching Research Methods next semester and thought Naked Statistics might get me in Methods mode. I'm halfway through. It's an entertaining book with lots of fun examples. My favorite example so far comes in chapter 5, which covers basic probability. The author (Charles Wheelan) writes about the 1981 Schlitz beer campaign that culminated in a blind taste test against Michelob during halftime of the Super Bowl. 100 people who identified as Michelob drinkers were selected for the test. As he explains on p. 69, a blind taste test between any two beers in the Schlitz category (think Budweiser, Miller, Michelob) is essentially a coin flip. It turned out that 50% of tasters chose Schlitz in the test. Success!!! Schlitz got to say "Half of Michelob drinkers like Schlitz better!" As Wheelan points out, Schlitz simply exploited the fact that these beers taste about the same. Still, it looks good when you can say that half of people who claim to prefer a different beer end up choosing your beer in a live taste test.

I'm veering off course. I actually set out to share the crock pot recipe I'm using today. This looks like the easiest chicken and vegetable chowder recipe ever.

I usually modify recipes but I'll mostly the stay the course with this one. I'll use fresh mushrooms instead of ones from a jar. Otherwise I'll follow the recipe.

So this pretty much captures my break so far: reading about statistics and cooking up food slowly. Also catching up on e-mail and attending family gatherings. So far, so good.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Cold Take: Elf on the Shelf

2015 will be the year that I perfect the cold take. What is a cold take? I'm not quite sure how to define it, but here's one I wrote for an example. Whatever it is, a cold take is unlikely to get many page views and has no chance of going viral. What follows is my cold take on elf on the shelf.

Maybe you've read the recent piece in The Washington Post about how elf on the shelf prepares children for living in a police state. I can understand people thinking the elf on the shelf is creepy and that it trains children to be under surveillance.

But I have a much simpler take. The elf on the shelf is fun. My kids had a lot of fun with it for the past two Christmas seasons. They are 7 and 4. Each morning during the past few weeks they would run down the stairs to find the elf. It was fun for them to see where the elf was perched each day. My wife and I would take turns moving the elf. Some nights we forgot, so the elf stayed in place, which led to us lying to our kids by saying "I guess the elf really was comfortable in that spot." I acknowledge a downside to elf on the shelf is that it involves lying to your children. It reminds me of something a student once asked in my class. I can't remember what the topic was, but I think he brought up Santa or the Easter Bunny and passionately asked: "Why do parents lie to their children?" I didn't have an answer then and I don't have an answer now. I still think it's a good question.

But in the interest of tradition and fun, I think it's okay to have your kids enjoy the idea of a shelf hanging around the house for a few weeks. It's nice to see your kids have fun. For us, the elf on a shelf wasn't part of a behavior modification master scheme. But I will say this in a way that is intended to be lighthearted and humorous: make no mistake, we used elf on the shelf as an attempt to temporarily get an edge on our kids. If you think our kids listen to us just because, well, the fact of the matter is, they don't. Well, to be more specific, our 7-year-old listens to us most of the time. Most of the time, our 4-year-old does not listen to us. Our 7-year-old tends to follow instructions. Our 4-year-old, as Terrell Owens might say, beats to his own beat. I don't want to crush my 4-year-old's rebel spirit and I don't want my 7-year-old to be obedient. I love that my kids are different from each other. I guess I might like some balance. I suppose it would be nice if 4-year-old listened more and 7-year-old listened less. Practically speaking, it helps to have cooperation sometimes, such as when you want to leave the house. In such a case it would be nice if 4-year-old agrees to put on his sneakers. And if it takes less of a hassle to get those sneakers on due to the presence of elf on a shelf, I will take what I can get. Frankly speaking, elf on the shelf made close to no difference in the behaviors of my kids. 7-year-old listened as he normally does, 4-year-old refused to listen as he normally does. I have to remember something I've learned during my 42 years on this planet: people will do what they do. Maybe 4-year-old listened 3% more than usual. I'm not sure. You can't quantify everything, no matter what Big Data says.

Now I'm just rambling and this is a factor in why my think pieces average 14 page views per week. So let me wrap this up like a Christmas present. We had fun with the elf on the shelf and it had little or no impact on the behavior of our kids. If we were looking for an edge on our 4-year-old, I don't think it happened. I think he overpowered us as usual. Good for him. As for coming to grips with living in a surveillance state, that's a think piece for another day.

New Habits? Maybe Who Knows Let's Find Out

Click click click check check check.

Seems that's so much of what I've been doing for sooooooooooooooo long.

I was reluctant to buy a smartphone knowing I'm an information junkie and then I bought one and sure enough I have the phone in my face way too much.

This is not to say phones are evil and we shouldn't have them.

It's to say I'm always looking. Always looking.

For a while I've thought one of the reasons we like to text and tweet and interact with phones is the real feeling that whatever is happening in front of us is less interesting than what's happening anywhere else. The conversation in the living room pales in comparison to the universe of people saying smart things and sharing pictures.

I'd like to cut down on my checking. And I really don't expect to replace my checking with more time spent looking at the sky and the trees because I already do that. Much of my life is spent looking at trees and birds and people and cars and my kids. I think I'm just trying to change the habits of how I go through everyday life. Less checking. Less expecting. I still want to know exactly what I've been checking or expecting because I really don't know.

As a first step I have dropped off from Twitter for now. I like Twitter and will probably return to Twitter. I decided to depart for now because it was the thing I was checking the most. Check check check click click click. I tried to check less and click less but I was constantly drawn in and just so curious.

I guess I want to see what happens when I'm doing less checking. Maybe I'll write more or write differently. Maybe I'll drink more coffee or eat more chocolate or do more push-ups. Maybe I'll write a symphony except I don't know how to and don't want to learn. Maybe I'll stop writing bad sentences or change my maybes to definitelys. I just checked to see if definitely comes in plural. I don't think it does but it should. So far I'm still checking Google as much as I usually do.

Check please.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Skating in Buffalo (and other Good Times)

There's a new ice rink in downtown Buffalo. It's one of the attractions at Canalside in downtown Buffalo. We had a blast going to Canalside in the summer when our kids played in the huge sandbox and took advantage of the other play activities. They're ages 7 and 4 and wanted to give ice skating a try. So yesterday we took them skating for the first time. They fell down a bunch of times so there was more falling than skating but they had fun anyway. I busted out my CCM Super Tacks that seriously might be thirty years old. They were handed down to me by my uncle who played a lot of hockey in his youth. I can skate okay but still can't stop properly or cross over. But one day I will.

I'm amazed by what a great job they've done at Canalside. Years ago it felt like there wasn't much to do in downtown Buffalo. It seemed you really had to work hard to find things to do other than go to bars. I definitely like bars but I also like to have options available to me that don't center around drinking. The ice rink is big and beautiful. Here's a picture I took with one of Buffalo's largest buildings in the background. It looks like an artist's rendering come to life.

Afterwards we grabbed a meal at Dinosaur BBQ. It's easier than ever to find a place to eat in Buffalo. So many good options. I love the fact that it's also easy to find Buffalo-made beers in restaurants. At the Dinosaur restaurant I enjoyed a Sponge Candy Stout from Resurgence Brewing Company. Really good stuff.

The kids fell asleep on the drive home. My seven-year-old is a bookworm and fell asleep reading. Seeing my kid sleeping peacefully with his hands on a book gave me a feeling of happiness.

Now it's Sunday, the day I'm usually making soup or chili in a crock pot to warm our bones on a chilly winter day. Today I've got sauce and meatballs in the crock pot. Can you really use a crock pot to cook meatballs? I'm about to find out in three hours.

A weekend like this makes me grateful for the simple adventures of family life. Tomorrow is gift wrapping and other preparations for a week of family gatherings and gift exchanges. I'm in the holiday spirit more than usual this time of year.

Happy holidays everyone.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cold Take: Review of Bruno Mars Halftime Show

All year I've been meaning to say how much I enjoyed this show. Bruno delivered. Dude can dance. And I had no problem with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. People made fun of Anthony Kiedis because he went shirtless but I think he looked awesome. I'm late on this review but got it in before the 2015 Super Bowl halftime show. This is what's known as a cold take. Hot takes were the rage in 2014. Being late to the party with a super cold take will be trendy in 2015.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

2014: A Poem

Remember this summer when you were mad at me because I wouldn't take the ice bucket challenge?

I said "It doesn't look right or feel right to have ice dumped on my head when people are getting tear gassed in Ferguson" and you replied "Why won't you just support a cause?"

And now we're arguing about protests happening all over the place and you keep saying "Why are these people so mad?"

I have tried time and again to answer as best I can but you keep talking louder and louder.

You haven't listened to a word I've said.

My question for you is why won't you support a just cause and since you're doing all the talking maybe you can tell me what you mean by these people anyway?

Monday, December 8, 2014

To Be Continued

It's the last week of classes where I teach. Sweet. I've been tired.

Last night I fell asleep on the couch at 8:30. I slept until 5:00 this morning. I haven't slept that much in one night since 6th grade.*

*Maybe. Point is I'm not a great sleeper.

Driving to work this morning, I passed someone who was fixing her hair while she was driving. She had one hand on the steering wheel and at least one eye on her rear view mirror looking at her hair. Seeing her made me think of how I do stuff like that too during my morning commute (checking on my appearance to get ready for the day and whatnot). It's part of going into society. Then my mind wandered to how we all get ready for our day and how some of us send our children off to school to eventually become grownups in society. It's still weird to see my 7-year-old get on a bus. There goes a little person who used to be a baby who used to sleep on my shoulder.

So much ugliness in the world there are times I say to my wife "What were we thinking bringing kids into this sick world?" I've had that thought a lot in the last year.

To be continued...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Readings about Michael Brown and Ferguson

These are some of the articles I've read about Michael Brown and Ferguson. I'm sure this list will grow. I'm collecting articles to use in my classes and to share as resources for teaching and learning.

Why We Still Have to Say #BlackLivesMatter - Jenifer Bratter

Ferguson Must Force Us to Face Anti-Blackness - Michael P. Jeffries

Telling My Son About Ferguson - Michelle Alexander

Mike Brown's Shooting and Jim Crow Lynchings Have Too Much in Common. It's Time For America to Own Up - Isabel Wilkerson

Ferguson: The Fire This Time - Bob Herbert

The Death of Michael Brown and the Search for Justice in Black America - Mychal Denzel Smith

Chronicle of a Riot Foretold - Jelani Cobb

The Anger in Ferguson - Jelani Cobb

Ferguson, U.S.A. - Teaching Tolerance

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dancing in September Struggling in December

Yesterday was the first day back in class after Thanksgiving Recess. We're at the point in the semester when energy levels are very low. It was pretty obvious in looking around the classroom that my students weren't energized yesterday. I asked a general "How are you" to my students and didn't get much of a reply. So the best follow-up I could manage was "It's December. What do you think about that?" A student said: "Checked out. I'm checked out." I always appreciate a honest reply. Her candid response captures how a lot of students and professors feel this time of year. In September people are smiling and ready to run through a wall to teach and learn (okay run through a wall is too much, point is we're really excited) but by December fatigue has set in and we're ready to wrap up the semester (and presents). We still have papers and final exams to deal with and that's not something that makes us happy. It's a struggle to close it all out. September is awesome. December is less than awesome. So there you have it. Dancing in September struggling in December. You may use that poetic phrase to sell t-shirts or coffee mugs if you like. I do hope you'll send me a portion of the proceeds.