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Archive for April, 2011

Cupcake Wars

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

I’m keeping it light today, folks.  My job has been a bear lately.  GAP’s job has really been a bear lately.  And sometimes (like now) my brain just loses its capacity to do anything worthwhile.  Please, indulge me or forgive me as you find appropriate.

Tis the season of friendly competition.  March Madness just wrapped up and we’ve all spent the past few weeks ribbing each other about unforeseen upsets (“bracket busters” in pool parlance) and whose team was going all the way.  Admittedly, I had less fun with March Madness this year because I picked Pitt to win it all and, well, that didn’t quite turn out.  But I can take heart, not only because my whole pool’s brackets were crappy this year, but because there is a new competition on the horizon: Cupcake Wars!

A bit of background for you…

GAP’s family is competitive.  They are a family of eight.  Six kids, two parents, and split evenly between boys and girls.  Whether it be a friendly game of Bridge or a full season of fantasy football, the competitive streak never fails to come out.  If you didn’t grow up in this kind of family (I didn’t…) it takes a bit of getting used to.  But I have grown to really love it.  There are some competitions where I am a strong contender (Trivial Pursuit), and some where I am not (anything relating to football).  However, since this family is an equal opportunity score keeper, everyone has their moment to shine.

I’ve been a part of GAP’s family for nearly 12 years now and in that time we’ve all grown very close.  Much of that closeness came from shared beach vacations, shared childbirth experiences, shared holidays, and, lately, shared e-mail threads of our favorite Charlie Sheen quotes.  But some of it came from our little competitions.  We boast about our skills and gravitas.  We taunt and trash talk.  And, with the exception of a couple of white elephant style trophies, we only play for bragging rights.  At some point in time we’ve all been victorious and we’ve all been humbled.  There’s something very equalizing about it.

We will be gathering the whole group together over Memorial Day weekend to have portraits taken of the whole gang – all 19 of us.  It will be fun and relaxing and with any luck at all the little kids will cooperate with the photographer.  My mother-in-law couldn’t leave well enough alone, though.  She has instituted our family’s first ever Cupcake Wars, complete with rules and regulations:  There will be two divisions – sweet and savory.  One entry per person.  Submissions will be anonymous.  Last minute finishing touches will be allowed.  Scoring will be based on appearance (25%), creativity (25%), and taste (50%).  It’s going to be intense!

Even though general exhaustion around here has prevented me from relentless recipe testing these past few weeks, I’m really looking forward to it.  Because no matter what kind of showing I make, I am assured of a few things.  1) We will all have stomach aches by the end of it.  2) We will all laugh a lot.  3) The whole thing will be memorable.

I guess what I’m driving at here (at the risk of getting a little saccharine) is that “friendly competition” doesn’t tell the whole story.  More than being a fun diversion, over time, it builds memories and forges bonds.  At some level, at the end of the day, we all win.  So, I may not turn out my best work (my sweet tooth has been on hiatus lately), but I’ll have my game face on nonetheless.

Censoring a King

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Happy Monday.  I’m excited to announce a very special guest blogger today.  Many of you know my sister Anne from her time over at Life in Pencil.  Though she has recently stepped back from the blogging world, she knows she always has an open invitation to post here, should something thought-provoking speak to her.  I was thrilled last week when she mentioned a certain inspiration, and am honored to be sharing her words with you today.

It’s the kind of film the Oscars adore.  Pedigree cast, period costumes, and British accents.  The King’s Speech had Oscar written all over it, and win it did.  But added to the usual trappings of an Oscar-winning film, The King’s Speech had something else…mass appeal.  Beneath the thick London fog, there’s a crowd-pleasing underdog film we Americans love to love.  You can’t help but root for the stammering monarch, and his supporting cast of feel-good characters. This is one of those rare Oscar winners—unlike The Departed or The Hurtlocker—that you can truly call a “family film”.  Oh, wait.  Except for that pesky cussing and the R-rating.

If you haven’t seen the King’s Speech, then I have two things to say to you.  1)  See it.  You’ll like it.  2)  SPOILER ALERT!!  And with that, I’ll proceed.

In the film, Colin Firth’s Duke of York has to let go of a few inner demons (namely, Daddy) that plague his speech.  The straight-laced Duke cuts loose in front of his speech therapist and unloads some serious f-bombs with – surprise! – no stutter.  It’s not only funny, but illuminating.  It’s a moment that tells us as much about his character as maybe any other moment in the film.  But if you’re the ratings board, you don’t care.  It’s the F-word.  Rated R for, “don’t bring your kids.”

As it turns out, the Weinstein Company has a fool-proof plan to deal with the R-rating, open the film up to more families, and make caboodles of dollars.  They’re going to censor it.  Harvey Weinstein, usually a champion of artsy and gutsy films, has released a PG-13 version of the film in theaters, in which Colin Firth’s landmark cussing is softened and cleaned up. In this article, Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman discusses this decision, and presents it as a problematic precedent, mostly for artistic reasons.

I’ll admit I’m a fan of the well-placed cuss word, and not a big fan of awkward editing.  I don’t enjoy excessive cussing, and it can certainly become distracting if used poorly.  But when used correctly, the 4-letter word can also bear artistic merit.  Ever tried to watch Sex and the City on TBS?  Don’t.  Samantha is all but destroyed.  Numerous famous movie lines contain some colorful language, and one need look no further than another Oscar contender this year—True Grit—to find the famous Rooster Cogburn yelling “Fill your hand, you son of a BITCH!!” at a critical moment in the film. (No doubt riskier when it was uttered by John Wayne in 1969).  “Son-of-GUN” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?  The language makes these scenes memorable and quote-able years later, and the words themselves also make a statement about the character and the moment that no genteel sentence can match.

If you believe this sanitization tarnishes a piece of well-developed character development, then you’re against the PG-13 release.  But how about examining it from a parenting perspective?  According to the Motion Picture Association of America, an R rating means, “Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian.”  So, what in the name of popcorn and jujubes, should prevent a parent from doing just that?  Why not accompany under-17 children to see the (otherwise squeaky clean) film, and then simply talk about the use of language if they’re concerned?  I’d venture to say there’s not a single word in the film that a kid over the age of 10 hasn’t heard before, and in a much less artistic and meaningful context.

Studios these days produce plenty of trash, but trash this isn’t.  It’s well-made, uplifting, and chock-full of fine acting and clever writing.  While the Weinstein Company just started marketing The King’s Speech as a “family film”, it was all along. No editing necessary.

Missing: One Cobra, Found: Some Levity

Friday, April 1st, 2011

It took an escaped Egyptian cobra and the power of Twitter to capture the imagination of this country.  I’m sure that overstates it a bit (maybe even a lot) but there’s something really enchanting about this whole reptilian escapade.

For those who perhaps haven’t been following along at home (hi Granddaddy), last week an Egyptian cobra (about an inch and a half in diameter, 20 inches long, and highly venomous) escaped from her enclosed habitat at the Bronx zoo.  Given the dangerous nature of this particular ex-con, people became highly curious about her whereabouts.  And the whole search took on a much more lighthearted tone when some clever genius created the Twitter account @BronxZoosCobra, documenting her supposed adventures throughout the city.

The best part about this whole thing?  This Twitter feed has more than 200,000 followers.  To put that into context, that’s more followers than all of the state of Texas news organizations’ followers combined.  People ate it up, the very fact of which tells me that we all need some levity.

Some of my favorite tweets:

Gonna listen to some Jazz tonight. You know I love some great flute work. Do they provide it or is it bring your own basket?

Taking the Sex and the City Tour!!! I’m totally a SSSamantha.

On top of the Empire State Building! All the people look like little mice down there. Delicious little mice.

City may not sleep, but I’m ready to. Ooh a chimney! I bet you bragged to your friends about having a working fireplace in NYC. Hi roomie.

We sit here in a world filled with bad news.  The Middle East seems to be crumbling one country at a time.  Our economy is still shaky.  Unions and state governments are at each other’s throats across the Midwest.  And if there’s something fun and harmless that we can all agree upon, it’s that the idea of an escaped cobra going on a Manhattan sightseeing expedition is a hoot.

Yesterday morning the missing cobra was found.  She was coiled up in a dark corner of the reptile house, never having seen the light of day.  And strangely, when I read of her capture I was sad.  As of last night @BronxZoosCobra hadn’t tweeted in more than seven hours, a long time for a snake who’d been updating every couple of hours prior to that.  Her heyday has clearly ended.  Of course I think it’s better not to have a highly dangerous snake on the lam.  But it’s also sad that this thing – this amusement and diversion – is over.  We clearly needed it.

For a blogger I’m not a huge user of social media.  My usage of Facebook and Twitter is cursory at best.  But in moments like this I’m hard pressed to deny their power.  This was a 5:00 news afterthought that turned into a cultural moment because someone with a knack for one-liners opened a Twitter account.

I guess where I’m going with this is, thank you @BronxZoosCobra.  Thanks for seizing an opportunity and creating some fun where there was none.  We need to lighten the mood every now and then.  You were just the Twicket.