Call for Submissions – Christmas Cookies

•December 5, 2009 • 1 Comment

christmas cookies

I spend nearly every day of my life working in a bakery, and unfortunately due to that fact, over the last year I’d begun to look at baking and cooking in general as a chore. Well, I’m happy to say that Thanksgiving has reignited my passion for the kitchen (and kicked me into holiday music mode as well, but that is for another post).

I’ve begun mustering my resources. Scouring recipes, gathering ingredients and logging hours (double digits worth) each week watching the Food Network. Luckily Anna is just as interested in the cooking shows as she is with most cartoons. She’s already logging her own hours in the kitchen playing with last years birthday present, the kids kitchenette, but I have a feeling that she will be an avid assistant in the coming experiment.

Anyhow, all of this prep work is leading into my first ever Christmas cookie baking marathon. I’m planning on trying as many recipes as I can over the next two weeks and utilizing as much of our bakery as I can in the process. If you have any recipes (particularly unique rolled out cookie doughs) that you would like to share with me, I’d be happy to hear them. I’ll update the blog with any successes I manage to accumulate. Thanks in advance for the help.

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Being a Juror

•December 5, 2009 • 1 Comment

In early November I began serving my second term in two years as a Grand Juror. This may give some of you pause as, if you’ve ever had to serve as a Juror before, you may know that you are generally exempt from service for at least a few years afterwards. While some courts do give you the option of volunteering to enter the pool again immediately after service, that is not why I was drawn again. This time I was drawn for duty on the Federal level. Now, many of you probably dread the possibility receiving a summons, as most believe it to be a major disruption to their lives and work. For some that may be the case, but you might be surprised, at least when it comes to Grand Jury duty.

For those of you who have not served on jury duty before, you may be imagining the stereotypical jury that you see in movies and television. Twelve men and women picked to decide someones guilt or innocence. The grand jury is something different. It is a group of 23 men and women who hear testimony and review the evidence at hand to decide only whether there is probable cause that a crime has been commited by the person under indictment. If the target is indicted, then the case is brought to trial and a petit jury (the one most of you were thinking about) is selected and decides their fate.

The other major difference between a petit jury and a grand jury is the length of service. A grand jury is empanneled for a set length of time and hears numerous cases. When I served on the county grand jury, we were empanneled for a few months and heard probably 15 cases. On the federal level you are empaneled for anywhere from one year to 18 months, and we are likely to hear somewhere on the order of 140+ cases. Granted we only meet for a couple of days every other week, but it is still a lot of time and a lot to take in.

All this being said, I can certainly understand why people struggle to be excused, which I might add is no mean feat in the federal court.  In fact, I myself tried to be excused this time due to the logistical constraints of child care and running a business. In the end though I was selected, and to tell the truth, I was happy about it. Which brings me to the meat of my post.

Everything you hear and see pertaining to a case in the grand jury is of course secret, only to be discussed in among the jury itself in the jury chamber, not even with spouses, and not just for the time of service either. This moratorium on speaking about cases has no sunset. Therefore I can’t share the details of what I’ve seen, but I can tell you that these two stints on the Grand Jury have taught me more than I could have imagined. About the people in law enforcement, their procedures and the depravity and stupidity of the criminals that surround us. About the impact that crime has on those involved, both criminal and victim. Even about the effect of crime on a perpetrators family members. Yesterday I even saw how someone can turn their lives around in prison, though only time will tell if that lasts. The only qualm I have is the lack of support structure surrounding you as a juror.

You see, though you learn a lot as you serve, some of the things you are privy to as part of these indictments can leave you reeling and you are left with no one to vent to. Hell, one case in particular even prompted some serious stress and sleep loss for me over the course of about a week. In that particular case I learned of some things you really never knew were going on in the world around you, or at least that you would never wish to acknowledge. Many of you are probably saying to yourselves, “why, why would I subject myself to that?”. Well, it’s one of the few things that this country asks of you. To play a part in determining the fate of a fellow citizen. As a grand juror, it’s your duty to protect those that are wrongly accused, and to make sure that the scum of the earth are sent on to trial.

In trying to deal with the evidence I’d heard in the case mentioned above, I did come across an interesting article which addressed the very issue of support for traumatised jurors. The article by Donna Pendergast, details the issues surrounding trauma associated with jury duty. It also pointed to an increased awareness of the problem on the part of the court system, and a new trend known as  jury debriefing, which is being used in a few places around the country. Jury debriefing refers to a variety of techniques, though they all share one common aspect. A chance to discuss the disturbing aspects of the case, either with each other or a counselor brought in by the court. For more information, I have posted a link to the article below.

I guess what I want to leave you with is that in the end, it all balances out. The disruption to your life isn’t all that bad, you are guaranteed to learn more than you expected, and may even make some bonus cash by doing it. Yes, you may hear some abysmal things and learn about some real sick people who live around you, but in the end you will be a better person. You will be more alert to the dangers around you and your children, and you will feel like you helped protect the people around you. It’s a rare opportunity that you’ve been afforded. Don’t be hasty in your deciding whether to fight it, and be sure to consider the positive aspects.

Article – Jury Duty: Drama and Trauma – by Donna Pendergast
Banner – Federal District Court Seal and James T. Foley Federal Courthouse, Albany NY

Good Gravy

•December 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Last week I spent all of Thanksgiving day prepping and then cooking with my father. You see, the big holiday meals have always been the men’s department in my family, with the exception of the Christmas Eve smörgåsbord which is my mothers venue.

This years Thanksgiving dinner consisted of the same dishes this year as it did all throughout my childhood. The only real change has been the quality of the food. Now, I’m not complaining about the meals of my youth, they hold a very special place in my memory. All I am saying is that the influence of the Food Network has definitely made it’s impact.

Gone are the days of canned cranberry jelly, the off putting army green peas and most recently eliminated, the powdered gravy mix. It seems that every year brings another new recipie to the table. This year I decided to try my hand, last minute no less, at making gravy from scratch. To everyones surprise it turned out better than any gravy I have ever tasted…. and no, I have not only eaten the powdered kind. Here’s a quick run down of the recipe I cobbled together…

Continue reading ‘Good Gravy’

Letting Go

•December 2, 2009 • 1 Comment

Every Wednesday I do one of two things, either I take an hour and a half drive with my wife down to Canaan NY to attend service at our temple, or more frequently I lament the fact that I am unable to drive an hour and a half south to visit our sangha (community).

Frequently, on those days when we are unable to break away (like today), I listen to a dharma talk podcast, usually one by Gil Fronsdal. One of my favorite talks of the many available online, is one by Gil that I listen to quite frequently on “Letting Go”. This refers to the letting go of our attachments. This does not mean separating one’s self from the world, it means letting go of that which causes you suffering.

Now I know some of you may be completely uninterested in Buddhism, or perhaps just don’t know much about it. But I feel like there is something important to share here today. For those of you who don’t know, in buddhism, there are four noble truths. Put simply they are…

1. Suffering exists
2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path

The first three truths resonated with me from the instant I read them. That suffering exists is impossible to deny. Suffering surrounds us, from the most minor of disappointment to the heart wrenching catastrophes that leave scars on our psyches. That suffering arises from attachment, is not something I had really put together on my own before, but when confronted with the logic, I found it undeniable as well. Especially as someone who suffers from stress induced headaches, irritable bowel and just a pervasive grumpiness from time to time, it made sense that my desire for things to be one way, my attachment to an idea or an ideal, would cause me stress. These attachments frequently feed on themselves, as you build stories in your mind of how things could be better and why things are so bad, and whose fault it is, etc.

It is only logical then that ceasing this circular thinking, letting go of that which initiates the stress, will stop the cycle and relieve suffering. Understanding that has made a big difference for me. I can’t say that I am always able to let go, or that in the heat of my anger or my pity parties I always remember to do so. I mean, remember how I started this piece? Ironic isn’t it that my inability to go to temple and practice in a formal setting should cause me suffering? I guess it just goes to show that even attachment to something healthy can cause you suffering. This does not mean that you should give it up, just that you should accept the way that things pan out and try and better yourself in the process.

The podcast linked below is certainly worth your time. Buddhist or not.

Audio – “Letting Go” a Dharma Talk by Gil Fronsdal via Audio Dharma

Other Dharma Talks by Gil are available at:
Zencast.org
AudioDharma.org

Modern Milieu Mixology

•May 12, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Ok, so I’ve been devouring the Dresden Files. What? That goofy ass tv show on the Sci-fi network? No. Though god help me, I did watch several episodes and am considering a suit for unlawful imprisonment, I was so shocked at how they butchered it that I couldn’t get out of my chair. I’m talking about the incredibly enjoyable series of novels on which that sci-fi network aberration was based upon.

With the Dresden Files, Jim Butcher has created a fantastic series of novels that combine the worlds of High Fantasy and Modern Monster Mysteries in a Pulp Detective setting with impeccable Film Noir sensibilities. Some have even said that it is what you might expect if Harry Potter grew up to be an Auror, I would add that Harry has somehow been merged with Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe. Quasi-latin phrases, wands, staves and potions are all key elements of this magical setting and, more interestingly, they are delicately balanced with chivalrous chauvinism and wise cracking hard boiled attitudes all set in modern day Chicago.

I started the series about 3 months ago and have since voraciously devoured 9 of the 10 novels in the series to date. Much to my wifes lament as it is another stack of paperbacks which now have no home and are just piling up on my nightstand. The series starts off a little slow, but the over arching plot begins to really take shape about 3 books in. It has a somewhat Buffy feel to it as well, with a mix of supernatural sidekicks that wander in and out of the books, showing up in times of need or  better yet, when least expected. Oh and speaking of Buffy, the audiobook presentations of The Dresden Files are read by none other than James Marsters himself, Spike for those of you who could care less about an actors name.

I highly reccomend picking this series up if you have a long subway ride in the mornings, some free time in the afternoons, or even ifyou just enjoy a little hard boiled wizarding action before bed time. Everyone needs a wise ass in their literature, and Dresden is sure to be mine for at least one more book.

Jim Butchers Web Site
Amazon.com: Jim Butcher

Mini Concert: Golden Delicious

•May 2, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Here you are, almost the entire album in live video form. I’ll add in the missing songs as they pop up in decent quality on youtube. Enjoy!


Fort Hood

Continue reading ‘Mini Concert: Golden Delicious’

An Artists Legacy

•May 2, 2008 • 2 Comments

It was 11 o’clock at night when I started digging through my old sketchbooks/journals. For 2 and a half hours I relived bits and pieces of my college and post college years. What struck me during the process was that it will be many years before I am comfortable enough to let my daughter leaf through this legacy that I’ve bundled on the bookshelf. Is it the nudity? Not so much, they are tasteful figure studies. It’s the journal sections of me lusting after this girl or that, the romances, the heart breaks, the memories of snoging, and there is no way that I’m going to redact those bits. So what am I to do if I want to share my history and my art with my daughter?

I asked myself these questions as I read, all the while transported back to memories I had all but forgotten. The plan I came up with is relatively simple. I’m going to expand my scanning project (mentioned in Scanning the Grain) to include some of my favorite pieces in my sketchbooks, and I am going to start a new sketchbook or perhaps series of them, dedicated to drawings for my daughter.

I have already done a couple portrait sketches of her while she sleeps and a couple of her stuffed animals. I figure I can also write in the lyrics to the songs I make up for her as well as poems, journal entries about how she’s changing, and all the funny names we have for her. I may even dedicate a few pages to trying to write an illustrated childrens book or two for her. Only time will tell. And though my aspirations may seem a bit high, I think this is a worthwhile project to pursue.