The Ramen Way

For us, dinner is the most challenging meal of the day.  If you’re not quite sure when you’ll be getting home from work, and you’re only cooking for two, it can be tough to plan and execute a hot meal without also producing a huge mountain of leftovers.  Fortunately, we’ve got lots of really great restaurant options within walking distance, so eating out is always an option — but sometimes it’s nice to have some home-cooked food, too.

IMG_5137Lately, we’ve been turning to ramen noodles as a dinner staple, and it’s worked out pretty well.  We begin with the square, dehydrated ramen noodle soup packets that are familiar to any cash-strapped college student trying to stretch a buck.  They provide just the right number of noodles for two and serve as a kind of base for our supper creations.  But rather than adding the salty flavoring from the foil packet after the noodles are fully cooked, we take the dish in a different direction.

The nice thing about ramen noodles is their absolute flexibility.  You can add just about anything to them and it will taste good.  Leftover meats, in particular, are well suited to the ramen way, so we’ll chop up that chicken breast that’s been sitting in the baggie on the refrigerator shelf, or the remains of the foil-wrapped pork tenderloin.  Even a can of tuna fish packed in water can serve well as the protein.  And then we’ll add other items depending on our whim — perhaps some chopped walnuts and a broken-up hard-boiled egg, or some peas and whole raw almonds, or maybe all of them at once — as well as some seasonings, like black pepper and paprika.  And a little — or maybe a lot — of Srirachi hot chili sauce adds a very nice kick to the concoction.

The end result is a steaming bowl of nourishing goodness that takes about 15 minutes to prepare from start to finish, smells wonderful and tastes great, and makes us feel like we’re putting our new kitchen to good use.  It’s not gourmet, but it’ll do.

Han Senior Citizen

The new trailer for Star Wars:  The Force Awakens is out.  It gives us our first peek at my favorite character, Han Solo, and his faithful sidekick Chewbacca, who gets to utter one of his trademark worried growls.  It may as well be 1977 all over again.

Of course, Han Solo is a lot older, but he’s still looking pretty darned sprightly for a death-defying smuggler in his 70s.  And while he may be older, is he any wiser?  That’s one of the reasons why I’ll be heading to the theaters when the new movie is released.

Russell At Cranbrook

IMG_5215Russell’s time in the master’s program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art is drawing to a close.  In a few days some of his new work will be shown as part of the graduating students’ exhibition at the Cranbrook Museum, followed shortly thereafter by an open studios event and then by graduation in early May.

IMG_5182Kish and I are excited to go up and see Russell’s new pieces as displayed in the museum and also to see what is underway in his studio.  In the meantime, we’ve been reflecting on Cranbrook, the institution.  It’s an interesting and physically beautiful place, with a fascinating history that finds deep roots in notions of American exceptionalism and the uniquely American ability to find a better approach to education, creativity, and craftsmanship, unbound by traditional notions of class and status and settled ways of doing things found in European cultures. Having a Master’s art program on the same campus as a secondary school, sharing grounds that feature lovely buildings, art objects, and carved expressions of sentiments about the importance of constantly seeking beauty in your daily life, is certainly an unusual concept not found in every educational institution.

Cranbrook has also been, I think, a good fit for Russell.  Returning to the Detroit area — Cranbrook is in Bloomfield Hills, a Motor City suburb — after living for several years in Brooklyn has allowed Russell to really reconnect with his Midwestern roots, in ways that have found expression in his artwork and artistic interests.  Cranbrook’s multi-disciplinary approach, in which students in the painting program are interacting regularly with student metalworkers, ceramic artists, architects, sculptors, fiber artists, and photographers, has also allowed Russell to experience different perspectives on art and experiment with incorporating some aspects of those approaches into his own artwork.

It might just be the Dad in me talking, but I think Russell’s willingness to experiment and embrace and understand what other students are doing has been true to the vision of a different, open approach that led to Cranbrook’s founding in the first place.  I think the people who started the Art Academy would be as proud of him as we are.

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The Wrath Of Columbus

Columbus isn’t exactly Hollywood, California, but this week it sort of seems like it, because they’re making a movie on the streets of Ohio’s capital city.

IMG_5153The film will be called I Am Wrath and it stars John Travolta.  According to the IMDb website, it’s about a husband out for vengeance when his wife is killed and crooked police officers can’t, or won’t, catch the murderer.  It sounds vaguely like Death Wish and a number of other vigilante and quasi-vigilante movies.

There have been a number of Travolta sightings around town, including some shooting along Parsons Avenue close by German Village.  Today the film crew was supposed to work downtown, in the alley that runs between Gay Street and Broad Street.  (Our receptionist said, somewhat breathlessly, that they were going to film a scene in a neighborhood eatery and had cast an actual waitress and cook as extras.)  As a result, the parking spots on our side of Gay Street were unavailable so the movie trucks and trailers would have a place to park, and there were a number of random people — women, especially — wandering around hoping to catch a look at the star of Welcome Back, Kotter, Saturday Night Fever, Urban Cowboy, Grease, and Pulp Fiction.

I didn’t get to see Mr. Travolta, but I’m glad that they are using Columbus as a backdrop for a movie.  I’m not sure how much revenue a movie crew and actors pump into a city’s economy, but every little bit helps.

Tax Torn

Well, it’s Tax Day — April 15, the due date for most federal and state income tax filings.  The butt of jokes by comedians for decades.  The annual source of angst for millions of American taxpayers.  A rallying cry for conservative anti-taxers ever since the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified in 1913 and allowed the federal income tax in the first place.

My feelings about Tax Day are decidedly ambivalent.  I recognize that taxes are the price we pay for living in a free society, and I pay them willingly.  A modern military with modern weaponry, a welfare state system that tries to help the poor and elderly, and a government that shoulders far-reaching tasks like disease control or preventing alien species from invading the Great Lakes can’t be funded by the system of duties and tariffs that supported a much more limited government during the colonial era.  I also think it’s ridiculous for people like Ted Cruz to talk about abolishing the Internal Revenue Service.  If you accept that taxes must be paid, as I do, there must be an entity that collects the tax.

At the same time, it’s hard for me to feel warm and fuzzy about our tax system or the IRS.  Last night Kish and I watched the latest Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and it tried to make viewers feel sorry for the IRS, because IRS jobs are boring, the Internal Revenue Code is constantly being changed by Congress, and IRS funding has been cut.  Good luck with that effort!  The IRS may be necessary, but don’t expect me to give it a hug, okay?  And when I sign my forms and send in my payments, don’t think I’m a nut if I wonder about the presence of unfairness in our tax code and abuse and favoritism in the highly political process by which tax exemptions are determined and tax rates are imposed.

Every year, as I look at the forms and the complicated instructions, I wonder if there isn’t a simpler, fairer way to do it.  Say what you will about the sales tax, but it’s a straightforward percentage that anybody can calculate, and it targets consumption rather than work.  If you want to soak the idle rich, wouldn’t a tax when they buy ridiculously appointed $200,000 SUVs be a good idea?  And user fees that are triggered when a specific federal service is used — say, for use of ports and customs, for airline security, or for drug or vehicle testing to ensure compliance with safety standards — also seems fair.  Couple that with an income tax and withholding system that involves fewer exemptions, exclusions, deductions, tax rate levels, and schedules, and maybe you’ve got a workable system that won’t cause so many Americans to take the IRS’s name in vain come every April 15.

Rearing “Free Range” Children

It’s high time for another screed about how America, at least as I understand it, seems to be vanishing.  This time, the precipitating event is a news story about parents in Silver Spring, Maryland who are under investigation by Child Protective Services because their kids walk the streets alone and play unsupervised in a park.

The parents recently were found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect” because they let their kids — a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old — walk home, alone, in December.  Now the parents are being investigated again because the two kids were playing together in a park at 5 p.m. on Sunday and another parkgoer reported the “unsupervised children.”  The parents, who are both scientists, believe that their “free range” approach will encourage their kids to develop independence and self-reliance.

UJ and I started walking alone to school in Akron when I was a five-year-old kindergartener and he was a six-year-old first-grader.  Mom packed our lunches, bundled us up if the weather required it, and set us off on a mile-long trek to Rankin Elementary School.  This was viewed as normal behavior in those benighted days of the early ’60s, just as it was viewed as normal in the ’70s when UJ and I rode our bikes to our junior high school in Upper Arlington.  Nobody talked about “free range” children back then because every kid was a “free range” kid — even though the “free range” phrase wasn’t invented until years later in connection with chicken.  Amazingly, kids were viewed as capable of walking to school, riding bikes to their friends’ houses, and playing sandlot baseball or a game of tag in a park without having the watchful eyes of parents on them every waking moment.

At some point that all changed . . . and in a poisonous way.  Now we apparently view our neighborhoods — even in Silver Spring, a suburb of Washington, D.C. — as so inherently dangerous that children can’t be alone on the streets even during daylight hours, and what’s more if kids are spotted outside without parents nearby our instinct is to report the parents for child neglect, even if the kids seem healthy, happy, well-adjusted, and fully capable of playing by themselves.  Rather than making our streets safe for unsupervised kids — if in fact they are truly unsafe, as opposed to the focus of overblown concerns brewed in the fevered imaginations of helicopter parents who must arrange every element of their kids’ lives — our approach is to investigate parents and put them on the watch lists of government agencies just because they don’t monitor their kids’ every move.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d want to live in Silver Spring, Maryland, where busybodies apparently feel good about reporting unsupervised kids in a park on a sunny Sunday afternoon and authorities dutifully investigate such claims and hassle responsible parents who hope to encourage their kids to develop a sense of independence.  Is every town in America like Silver Spring, Maryland these days?  Have we really gotten to the point where parents who simply let their kids play outside unattended are viewed as so irresponsible that we need to sic Big Brother on them?  What kinds of lost adults are the constantly cosseted kids of modern America going to turn out to be?

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

IMG_5152I have a new favorite place.  It is in the back yard, on some smooth stones.  I like to stretch out on them when the sun is out and the stones are hot.  When the sun is shining, the stones feel warm and good against my belly and legs and head. I can lay down and look at the yellow bush and green pot and smell the mulch.  It is a very good place.

Kasey likes doing it, too.

I don’t like going for walks any more.  I never really liked it very much, anyway, but now my leg hurts all the time, so I like walking even less.  I am tired, too.  Who cares about walking?  I don’t need to see anything.  Everything and everyone I like is right here, behind this fence.  The Leader is here, and so is Kasey, and my food is here, and that is good enough for me.  Even the old boring guy is here.

Speaking of food, isn’t it about dinner time?