Gonzo Christmas Lightshow

There’s no keeping up with the Jones’ here. This takes it up to a whole new level. Wonder if these guys take their magic to The Playa? I’m keeping the kids from seeing this. Don’t need the pressure.

I’m almost waiting for the house to blow-up on queue in a big gas bomb flame out. It’s cool but I’d hate to be their neighbors.

How to Fight… Calmly?

Sticks and stones may break bones and words can never hurt – but they can alter body chemistry. Really? Here’s an interesting article from double X on how to have a fight with your spouse or partner in a more healthy way. Apparently, bio-behavioral researchers at Penn State University have found that specific words, when uttered in a heated discussion or argument, can alter body chemistry. Click here to see the article: LINK

So, if during an argument, couples use analytical words such as “reason”, “think”, “understanding” and “because” , it actually can calm things down… for men.  Funny – the same words don’t have the same effect on women. But what does make an impact is having the female’s partner present, listening and participating in the exchange. The word themselves are less relevant but simply being present and actively engaged helps.

Share this with your partner and next time you can see the train wreck coming down the tracks, get present fast and talk like Pointdexter. Perhaps you’ll only go from a slugfest to a couple of rounds of sparring. 

Tasty Tonic

Occasionally, a cool, clean gin and tonic is one of life’s pleasures (at least for me)… especially on a hot Summer afternoon…or any afternoon… or evening for that matter. And just like other food/drink pairings – each component is critical to the overall quality of the experience. Think really good pizza sauce but crappy crust. Or, fresh crisp romaine but mediocre Ceaser dressing. Same applies to the tonic in a G&T.

Fentimans

I have to admit that I’ve been more focused on the former ingredient, the gin, despite the fact that’s is only 1/3 of a properly mixed cocktail. The other 2/3’s one would think, would be equally, if not more important to the ultimate taste. Up until about a month ago, I’ve been using either Canada Dry, Schweppes or – gasp, Safeway brand tonic – all of which have nearly as much sugar (in the form of high fructose corn syrup) as a can of Pepsi.

Considering that tonic water was first patented in England in the mid 19th century and gin’s birthplace is also England – one would think that getting one’s tonic from the country of origin would serve one’s interests in quality cocktails well. In fact, one would be correct in obtaining Fentiman’s Tonic Water.

My first sip of Fentiman’s was at the Little River Inn in Mendocino on the recommendation from the barkeep. It’s impossible to know exactly what nineteenth century tonic waters were like but with Fentiman’s we get some idea of why this drink took the Victorian world by storm. There’s a sharpness derived from the bitter woody aromas of quinine bark. The complex herbal notes of lemon grass counterbalance this. All the ingredients including the sugar are 100% natural so there’s none of that flat chemical taste associated with mass produced tonic water. Instead a natural sweetness shines through. Because Fentiman’s Tonic is carbonated for longer its fizziness makes it more mixable. And the bubbles last longer too.

Having the small bottle of the tonic next to your drink is very European – they don’t have soda/tonic water guns like US bars have.  The kicker about Fentiman’s is that it actually has a bit of alcohol itself from the brewing process – .5%, so it actually complements and blends well into the cocktail versus diluting it.

Tonic water was first patented in England in the mid 19th century. In the mid 20th century the company Schweppes, known for their ginger ale, introduced it to the United States. It has been popular in both countries since it was first mass-marketed. The popularity owes much to an urban legend regarding quinine.

Quinine became recognized, as early as the 17th century, as a relatively safe cure and preventative treatment for malaria. Quinine derives from the bark of the Cinchona, a tree grown in the Andes. It was brought back to Europe, where it was found to be particularly useful for treating malaria. The British occupation of India was helped by quinine, since it allowed the British officers to stay healthy.

The trouble with quinine is that it tastes horrible. British soldiers would take the medication in a diluted form. The preferred ingredient to dilute the quinine was a great deal of gin, some lemon or lime, and sugar. When tonic water was first produced, people concluded that a few gin and tonics would be good for the health and prevent malaria.

Although the threat of malaria has surely subsided here in the wilds of Marin County CA and perhaps in your neck of the  wood – I fully support the consumption of a few tasty G&T’s for purely…. umm… medicinal purposes.

Freshly Selected Free-Range Organic Tunes

If your iPod playlists are a bit stale and sound like a time capsule of Billboard’s top hits from 1987 and you’d like to freshen things up a bit but are at a loss of where to go – here’s one blog that I’ve found to be pretty good at pointing readers to new up-and-coming artists: OCMD (Obsessive Compulsive Music Disorder).

OCMD is a simple, straight-forward blog from a SF Bay Area woman who has her finger on the pulse of new, fresh music with an alternative sensibility. Sure there’s Pitchfork and Stereogum and hundreds if not thousands of individual blogs but I like OCMD’s personal approach which taps into the author’s “obsessive and compulsive” love for music versus the ironic and hyper-critical views of the bigger blogs. Really good bands such as Speck Mountain, Starf**ker and White Rabbits are examples of the artists OCMD uncovers.

Click here to get to OCMD’s Best of 2009 list (which is for the first half of the year) highlighting artists that are crafting amazing music.

I’ve become a fan of White Rabbits recently discovered while checking out the 2009 best of list. My song of the moment is “Salesman”. The main riff could be something off of Radiohead’s “The Bends”. Love it.

The Salesman

While we’re talking about great tunes, check out The Comas. Although they’ve been around for about 10 years (so not very new) their most recent album (from 2007) The Spells is track after track of tight, well-crafted indie pop. The song “Red Microphones”  is also getting a lot of playtime these past few weeks in my car, iPod, office, etc. If you’re a fan of Weezer, Fountains of Wayne or backing-up even further, Apples in Stereo – you will like this.

Red Microphones

Artsy Art from Artists

Sick of all those Tony Hawk and Hannah Montana posters in your kid’s rooms? Maybe you need to update your man-cave or perhaps surprise the wifey with an unsupervised addition to the home’s wall decoration.

Here’s a resource… check out Society6, a great destination for anyone interested in seeing (and buying) all kinds of art, directly from the artist.

Describing itself as a cooperative, Society6 enables artists from all over the world to share, sell and show their work.  I’ve come across some awesome photographs and graphic prints that are truly brilliant. Plus there’s a lot of very cool kid/teen-friendly work as well.

Here are some examples that I thought are noteworthy. Above is “Late to Dinner”.

In descending order below are;  “Dark Side of Deathstar” – luv it!!!, “Aludd: Running Away” and the really cool yellow tiger girl print is “Rock Candy”.

Suprisingly, most of the prints are quite affordable with prices ranging from $30 to $50.

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Scrambled Eggs

I have yet to meet a kid, or know of one, that doesn’t like scrambled eggs. Not considering those who can’t eat eggs or have other dietscrambled500ary restrictions, a warm, moist, gently folded mound of scrambled eggs is usually a slam-dunk meal for any hungry munchkin – anytime of the day (or night).

As it is a ubiquitous meal that can be made by almost anyone – I’ve tasted countless versions of this dish with a very wide range of experiences – mostly negative. Typically the eggs are dry, bland, over cooked – sometimes burned and coarse in texture. I have also seen eggs come out soupy, runny with a pudding-like texture.

So, even though it is a brain-dead simple meal to cook – most mess it up…

Years ago while perusing a copy of Cooks Illustrated, I came across the instructions on how to make perfect scrambled eggs – that is if you like moist, fluffy eggs with a velvety finish. I’ve been doing them this way ever since and have yet to have anyone complain and in fact, have “converted” those who used to think that adding milk or cream or cheese or whatever makes the eggs better tasting.

Like almost anything else in life – less is more… all you need are eggs, butter and some salt/pepper to taste.

1. Heat the pan on medium-low heat.

2. A tablespoon of butter – I like the real stuff (salted Irish sweet cream butter)

3. Break the eggs into a bowl and use a fork to mix the eggs together – don’t over whisk them. You want them to still be runny with some of the egg white still intact.

4. Pinch of salt/pepper to taste.

5. Pour eggs into a pan (when butter has melted and coated the frying pan).

6. Right as the eggs start to cook – take it off the burner and start to slowly fold the eggs over each other – pulling them towards the center of the pan and then put it back on the heat for 20-30 seconds – do this repeatedly.

7. At the point where the eggs have a moist, glistening finish but aren’t 100% cooked (there’s still a bit of liquid in the pan) – take the pan off the heat completely and let the residual heat complete the cooking process. All the while keep folding and moving the eggs so they don’t over cook.

That’s it! Works every time.

Album of the Week – Cocteau Twins: Heaven or Las Vegas

Shimmering guitars, echo-y vocals singing other worldly lyrics with haunting harmonies, Heaven Or Las VegasCocteau Twins’ 1990 release is on constant rotation on my home-friendly play lists. Elizabeth Fraser wrote many of the songs about her newborn daughter so it’s not an accident that the album has a bright and dreamy sensibility. The album is the group’s most most accessible of their career and the most successful – topping out at #7 on the British charts. While their earlier works – such as Treasure or Garlands are more goth than pop – Heaven of Las Vegas has less dark and ominous sounds with layers of rich and lush melodies layed down by guitarist Robin Guthrie. It’s hard to believe that the album is nearly 20 years old yet it still feels fresh and new. Heaven-Or-Las-Vegas-(Remastered)-by-Cocteau-Twins_Vn6c6zhBjagx_full

What draws my son to the songs besides the evocative music are the unintelligible lyrics (a trademark of the Twins musical style) which encourages him to decipher what is being sung. Conversations about what a particular line means is an exercise in imaginative interpretation.  I love the fact that he can now pick out a Twin’s song on his own (even ones not from HOLV).

Fotzepolitic and the title track are sublime with soaring sweeps of sound and driving rhythms – while Wolf in the Breast and Pitch the Baby are highly melodic songs with the signature evocative yet mysterious lyrics. My favorite – Cherry-Coloured Funk is a lazy, hazy and beautiful track that takes me on a ride every time I hear it.

Cherry-Coloured Funk

Fotzepolitic

Heaven or Las Vegas

Wolf in the Breast

Pitch the Baby

Top 10 Realistic TV Dads

I started thinking the other day about the portrayal of fathers on TV after watching “Californication” – Showtime’s steamy Sunday night guilty pleasure staring David Duchovny as the LA-based, sex-addicted, Porsche-driving, rebellious-author-turned-walking-social-commentator dad of a goth teenage girl.

Although the story lines get a bit over the top IMHO, there’s something authentic about his well-intentioned but flawed attempts of trying to be a stand-up father figure for his daughter.

But since the early days of the tube we have typically been served cardboard cut outs of paternalistic cliches  – either bland, uninteresting prototypes (think Ward Cleaver, Mr. Brady) or the knuckle-headed slob (Al Bundy, Homer, et al).

We’ve all seen the lists of TV dads that exemplify the vaulted model of daddy-dom…Dick Van Dyke and Clifford Huxtabel.  I started thinking – who were the TV dads that actually reflected the real, conflicted, emotionally confused and less than perfect pops who are out there doing the best they can?  So, for your review, reaction and rebuttal – I submit the following:

10. Gomez AddamsThe Addams Family

He was rich, stylish, madly in love with his wife (remember “Cara mia!”) never flinched at stressful or scary moments and always looked at the bright side of things. Although a caricature, his ability to stay well above the normal fray of fatherhood bucked the trend of the stressed out or overly protective dad that would typically be portrayed to TV audiences.

9. Dan Conner Roseanne

He got angry, slammed doors, yelled at his kids and his wife – perhaps not exemplary behavior but John Goodman brought real angst and frustration that I always though was kind of ballsy for a prime time sitcom. Although a hard worker – was constantly stretched financially and those issues were also brought to bear on the show – but he ultimately stayed grounded and worked through the messes – a good real role model.

courtshipsmall

8. Tom CorbettCourtship of Eddie’s Father

Bill Bixby’s character (originally played by Glenn Ford in the 1963 movie that spawned the series) was a role model dad that struggled throughout the show to find a partner – thus the title. His failures with women brought an authentic vulnerability and made him real – not a super dad who can handle any problem or challenge thrown at him (he’d save that for when he’d get angry and turned into the Hulk). BTW – Ron Howard played the son in the movie.

goodtimes2

7. James Evans, Sr.Good Times

Although angry and frustrated with the indignities and struggles of being a working man, James Evans, Sr (John Amos) still brought an even-handed rational approach in relating to his wife and kids. You could tell that he was trying with all his might to leave his troubles at the door. And with a son like JJ ( Jimmy Walker), he was a shining example of restraint, as JJ’s repeated “dynomite” would cause a lesser man to toss his butt out the window of their high-rise.

timothybusfield1

6. Elliot Weston ThirtySomething

Michael Steadman was too stoic and restrained, while Elliot Weston (Timothy Busfield) was the emotionally charged, passionate but at times misdirected father figure in the late ’80’s yuppie drama. Although his infidelities take him outside the bounds of accepted “fatherly behavior” – his love for his children while dealing with his conflicts with marriage and reconciling unfulfilled dreams, in short – his complexity as a character made him way more interesting than most of the other characters on the show.

 

Happy+Days

5. Mr. Cunningham– Happy Days

Mr. Cunningham is on this list despite the fact that he’s on most other top TV dad lists because Tom Bosley really brought forth the exasperation and surrender a father feels in dealing with their teenagers. He always redeemed himself in the end but the journey towards redemption was filled with the struggle of doing what he thought was right despite everyone around him encouraging him to do otherwise for the sake of keeping the peace. His desire to stay true to what he believed in and stand against the “would you rather be right than happy” mantra rings true now more than ever.

fredflinstone

4. Fred Flintsone The Flintstones

Although he came across many times as a bit of a dufus, Fred – based on Jackie Gleason’s character from the Honeymooners, always represented a dad who maintained respect in his household despite his occasional gaffes. He was a true blue collar kind of guy – bowling, pool, cards – he was a guy’s guy and his aggressiveness and loudness served him. He loved his Pebbles and his interactions with Wilma serve as a pretty decent model of a loving, attentive, well-meaning husband.

as-michael-bluth

3. Michael Bluth Arrested Development

As the only sane and somewhat decent adult figure in a cast of selfish, manipulative, co-dependent, mean and dysfunctional characters, Michael Bluth’s efforts to raise his son – George Michael (Michael Cera) stands out in stark contrast. His efforts to keep the family together while they all careen around him on drugs, booze and subversive sexual behaviors are noble and almost heroic. The struggle to keep from being pulled into his convicted father’s neurosis and paranoia while maintaining some semblance of a moral compass is hilarious AND exemplary.

californication

2. Hank Moody Californication

He’s a sex addict. He’s a recreational drug user. He’s a brilliant but burnt-out writer. He’s a dad. Juxtaposing the rock-n-roll LA lifestyle Hank lives with the sometimes mundane duties of being a dad is part of what makes Californication a compelling watch. He wants to do the right thing – and often does but his lessor instincts sometimes gets the best of him and he, like a lot of dads, has to figure out how to surpress the selfish streak that runs through all of us.

Carol OConner

1. Archie Bunker All in the Family

Considered the greatest TV character of all time by TV Guide, Archie Bunker was the quintessential bigot – loud-mouthed, ignorant, rude. But underneath the crust, Carroll O’Connor’s character was ultimately a man who was never motivated by malice or hatred – but was simply channeling a provincial and prevalent mindset of the times. Remember the episode he tried to stop a KKK cross burning? Or when he took in his Jewish niece? Whether you liked him or not – he’s on the list simply because he reflects a real perspective that very much still exists today.

What are your top picks? Send me yours and I’ll post them to this one. Either comment below or send an email to info@poppapa.com.

Not So Wimpy Story Telling

We read to our kids every night – it’s something that they now expect and want – which is great. They’re becoming readers. For our eight year old boy, we try to balance the book selections from historical, to autobiographical, to action/adventure, some mystery and last but not least – funny, goofy stories too. Reading is reading

Wimpy KidOne series of books that both my son and I really enjoy equally are the Wimpy Kid books. Author Jeff Kinney has penned a line of fictional journals based on the misadventures of a lazy, selfish, manipulative but ultimately very smart and self-aware seventh grader Greg Heffley.

The books are slightly subversive – with a somewhat healthy skepticism of authority and a subtle critique of the hypocritical and inconsistent nature of parental rules. But they’re really good – on the New York Times Best Seller list for children’s books for 18 weeks as of May 2009. And they’re laugh out loud funny with simple but effective illustrations and passages that bring me to tears. I find my son likes to re-read the sections that make me crack-up as we laugh together.

Just last week on Oct. 12, the fourth in the series was released Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. Some parents might find the occasional PG language and attitude of the protagonist objectionable, but my feeling is that, in the end, our wimpy kid learns valuable life lessons that resonate meaningfully with the reader.

The first book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid came out in 2007, with the others coming out in early parts of 2008 (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules) and 2009 (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw). I’ve found that my son, along with other children, devour them quickly, sometimes in just one day – which is a testament to the skillful writing and story telling delivered by Kinney.

The story first started on FunBrain, but split it into a series when the author decided to publish it as a book. It’s been made public that the books are being made into a 20th Century Fox movie slated to be released in April 2010.

Click here to get the books at Amazon:Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days Diary of a Wimpy Kid Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw

Album of the Week: Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada

I can’t really say that I discovered Boards of Canada’s first album Music Has the Right to Children(MHTRTC) more so than it discovered me. I remember clearly in Spring of 2000 coming back from lunch one day and finding the CD placed squarely on my desk at work. It was a small office – about 15 people yet apparently no one fessed-up. After the initial listen (with headphones – which I highly recommend), an entirely new world of music opened up. I had been familiar with electronic-based music but BofC’s approach (which I now know was/is rooted in work by Aphex Twin, Brian Eno and other pioneers in ambient compositions) was something that I had not heard before.

music-has-the-right-to-childrenThe mysterious cover with its washed out imagery of faceless parents and kids circa 1970s, gives more than a hint of the hazy and ominous yet sometimes eerily cheerful analog-synth tracks enclosed within. Released in 1998, the duo Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin from the Northern coast of Scotland had previously released several EPs, so they had developed a signature sound and style, and they took that sound to a new level creating what is considered a landmark recording spawning countless copycats and effectively establishing a sub-genre of ambient music.

For those of us older than say 4o or so, we can all remember watching film strips in class with the Pavlovian “dings” heard from the cassette or record that was playing in the background to signal forwarding the strip the to the next frame. The name “Boards of Canada” is inspired from those documentary films specifically from the National Film Board of Canada, which produced the educational filmstrips in the 60’s and 70’s. This music subtly conjures up, from our distant memories, those grainy images and fuzzy background music that serve as a backdrop for themes of childhood and nature and the tension between innocence and its loss as children inevitably experience the “real world”.

The album has a mix of short vignettes that melt into longer substantive pieces that range from dark brooding, almost creepy – “Eagle In Your Mind” to the trippy and somewhat medicated cheer of “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” or “Aquarius”. “Olson” is a brilliant short track that elicits specific imagery for me every time I hear it… I leave it to you to have your own experience.

An Eagle in Your Mind

Turquoise Hexagon Sun

Aquarius

Olson

The combination of hip-hop beats, analog and digital samples and keyboards creates a rich, evocative otherworldly soundscapes that I’ve not tired of listening to repeatedly for almost a decade.

When asked by my son what kind of music BofC had made on this album, I’ve described it as background music for a movie about the future that was made before we were born. This stops the questioning but doesn’t provide a real answer – which is the way it should be. Music this ethereal and magical shouldn’t be neatly categorized.

I love this album.

Click here to get it: Music Has the Right to Children

As a bonus… although not off of the album MHTRTC, this track “In a Beautiful Place in the Country” epitomizes everything about BoC that I cherish… haunting, beautiful and slightly disturbing – the one line of lyric in the song (which is rare in their music) is actually from a recorded interview with Amo Bishop Roden – the wife of a leader from the Branch Davidians (the cult founded by David Koresh whose camp was burned to the ground in the infamous FBI raid in Waco, TX) talking about their camp and inviting people to “come out to live in a religious community in a beautiful place in the country”. Lush, dreamy, weird. Beautiful.

In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country