Archive for December, 2009

Great cookbook for the veggie-challenged

December 31, 2009

Victory for Vegetables!

One potential source of conflict for many parents is getting kids to eat the green stuff.  I had some success in Gus and Gunnar’s early years with “Green Goop” a pureed spinach and onion concoction that got them through toddlerhood.

Now, this blog is all about finding ways to engage in conflict situations with open exchanges toward win-win solutions.  But when it comes to kids and their need/hatred of vegetables, might I suggest another tactic: lying.

I’m happy (and I must admit, a little surprised) to recommend “Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food” by Jessica Seinfeld (yes, she’s that Seinfeld).  Essentially, she takes the baby food concept one step further, and finds some great and easy recipes that “hide” pureed veges. 

As someone who likes to cook, I find the genius of this method is that the veges are not just shoved in the recipes to be masked, but actually useful in making the dish tasty.  The chicken nuggets cleverly uses the broccoli puree to moisten the chicken to help as an adhesive for the crust.  And yellow squash and pumpkin puree make the chocolate chip cupcakes extremely moist–so much so that Santa actually asked my good little Jewish boys to make them for him a second year in a row (or so we heard through his intermediary–Mor-Mor).

Even if your kids have gotten over their case of the veggie-blechs, this is a very nice addition to the recipe stable, and many of the recipes are fun to do with the kids.  And despite my savaging of Star Wars in past posts, I have to say that the Star Wars Cookbook series, with a little help from Pixar’s Ratatouille, helped inspire both my boys to actually want to cook with their Dad.  Still looking for the magic combination that will do that  for my wife, Kirsten…

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Wars vs. Trek Episode III: Clones Attack Peace

December 30, 2009

The young master prepares for this birthday battle

Let me put it out there right now, I dig Star Wars.  As photographic evidence I bring you pics from Gus’ 4th Birthday Party, where we played games such as “Star Wars T-Ball”  and “Jedi-Jedi-Sith” (I’ll talk more about that and other birthday party ideas later). 

The original three is a grand-but-simple space western that with a few exceptions (ahem, Ewoks, ahem) were tightly told, well acted, and a tremendous amount of fun.  I’m not going to go into detail about the prequel trilogy, which I think I liked better than most, but I think Lucas got stuck in many ways between writing a movie for adults that kids would enjoy, and writing a movie for kids that adults would enjoy.  The result was a hybrid that didn’t quite work in either regard.

The animated Clone Wars series that started with the movie I mentioned in my Ep. I  post is, however, simply kids’ fare, and not very good fare at that.  Once Star Wars got off the main path and started delving into details, it really had to go one of two routes—start giving some depth and dimension to its stories, or make all the stories similar backdrops for watching the main characters slice and blast lots of stuff.  They chose the latter, which is especially a shame because we already know how the whole thing turns out, so the interest lies in any surprising details.

As someone who enjoys Trek, loves a good crossover, and has worked in the peace community for some years, I was actually hopeful of the Clone Wars episode “Defenders of Peace” which included Star Trek’s original Mr. Sulu, George Takei, as a new villain.  The plot has the Jedi stranded on a planet with pacifist inhabitants.  The Jedi essentially berate them for being bystanders against evil until some of them decide to help.

It’s a pretty standard story, an easy one to tell.  Those who don’t want to fight are just naïve pawns in the face of evil, and eventually they either join with the good guys or get their comeuppance from the baddies.  It was standard, boring, jingoistic pabulum.  The genocidal weapon in the episode obviously makes for holocaust references, making the “you have to take a side”  argument easier to make and the story that much easier to tell.

Blow out the candles, we must!

What if, instead of having the locals decide to fight the bad guys, they  fully stuck to their pacifist ways, and the Jedi were forced to flee?  Could the Lurmen (that’s the local race) have a different, more long-term view of the concept of freedom or tyranny?  Perhaps they’re an ancient race that has seen thousands of outsiders come to their world, and see 1000 years of being under a foreign tyranny, or a liberating democracy to be simply a small link in their chain, and their commitment to peace will outlive the separatists, the republic, the empire, etc.

I’m not saying that this is the right path to take, but exposing kids within the Star Wars world to this novel concept, that some might look at the things we find so absolutely vital in the “now” as simply a small link in a long chain, and the truths we hold so dear like liberty and freedom may not be truths to all would be a radical, interesting, and fascinating way to add depth to the Star Wars universe.  Instead, it’s “Y’er with us or Y’er against us!” or as the faux-wisdom tagline of the episode says: “When surrounded by war, one must eventually choose a side.”

I must say it was with some joy the day I pushed the button on the DVR erasing all the Clone Wars episodes, as my boys had simply lost all interest in them, without my prodding.

Drat, already broke my first post’s word limit.  Will work on that.

An aside: why the new V series stinks-on-ice

December 30, 2009

Marc and Mike kickin' lizard butt--80's style

I’ll get back to Star Wars in a sec, but all this writing about “can’t judge a book by its cover” and “discerning differences” takes me back a couple of months when I had the misfortune of watching the premiere of the remake of “V.”  I loved this fine piece of 80’s cheese when the original first came out.  Fantastic stuff, and very 80’s.  Evil space lizards dress up as super-hot humans and pretend peace but really want to eat us.  Enter kick-ass action stars Marc “The Beastmaster” Singer and Michael Ironside to whip the baddies.

Much like Ron Moore seized on the opportunity to take Battlestar Galactica and give it new depth and allow it to speak about today’s issues, so too did the makers of the new “V” have a chance to turn this classic but simple tale into something more nuanced, complex and interesting.  So what did we get?  Oooh, they turn the main kick-ass character into a WOMAN!  And the youngster taken in by the Visitors this time is a BOY!  Has the world gone mad?!?

Yes, same paranoid plot, different genders.  Geez.  You have the opportunity to re-tell a story about an alien species that hide their true face and intentions, and that’s the best you can do?  The opportunity to talk about the natural prejudices of humanity, of faith and belief, all seemingly thrown out the window for lizard baddies that want to eat us up.  Yawn.

Perhaps this long break they’re taking will give them an opporunity to be more daring and make this show into something truly worthy of being watched.  But their unimaginative concept has left them with one less viewer to prove their worth to.  And from what I understand of the ratings, I’m not alone.

Wars vs. Trek Episode II: Trek in Dealing with Differences

December 30, 2009

I warmed up for this post going back to “the beginning.”  My father got me hooked on Star Trek back in the early ‘70s when he showed me the episode “Devil in the Dark.” Some of you may know that they’ve recently updated the original Star Trek series with new special effects and cleaned up the print, and thanks to my wife’s Netflix subscription and our new Blu-ray player, I was able to download the remastered episode right from the internet (Yay FIOS!).

Kirk takes on shag carpet © 1967 Paramount Pictures

Frankly, I think Paramount would have been better served by not toying around at the edges and really updating the effects, the music, the cheesy 60’s mat painting backgrounds, etc. and seeing if they could give these amazing stories a whole new look, but they decided to stay faithful to the “60’s feel” which is fine, though the “monster” in this story still looked like a piece of shag carpet that has been vomited upon several times.

The wonderful thing about this story is that it contains action, suspense, thrills, and, most importantly, people being burned to a crisp by a nasty monster.  But in the end we learn that the monster was not that at all, but a mother protecting her eggs from miners who had inadvertently crushed thousands of them, not knowing what they were.  When I showed this episode to Gus and asked him what he learned by it, he at 7 years old answered the same as I did 30 years earlier, “You should not judge something just by how it looks.”

 I think this is a convention that is simply not used enough in entertainment today.  It has such a wonderful ease about it, because your story can be constructed the same way, you can have the same tension, conflict, and, yes, violence, but using the wonderful power of irony, you can flip expectations on their proverbial ear and make the enemy more complex, interesting, and, ultimately, not an enemy at all.

 Of course, Star Wars is a different animal, but it recently had a great chance to build upon its legacy, and chose a way that, to me, cemented its decline.  I’ll save that for Ep. III.

Star Wars vs. Star Trek at the end of the decade: Episode I

December 30, 2009

As anyone who knows me knows all too well, Science Fiction has always been my favorite genre.  It’s interesting that the two most prevalent Sci-Fi phenomenon have both been cropping up on the “decade in review” lists. 

Glebe Elementary Star Trek Club

On the “Trek” side, the new Trek Movie has garnered rave reviews, and Rotten Tomatoes gave it a “best remake/reboot of the decade.”  Those fans of R2, C-3PO and the gang are in a little worse shape, as the Star Wars Clone Wars animated movie received a serious rotten tomato from the Washington Post, naming it the worst film of the decade.  There’s some serious competition for that as far as I’m concerned, but here’s how the Post validated the claim:

“If “Finding Nemo” represents the best of the animation decade, this misfire represents the very worst, punctuating a decline in the “Star Wars” franchise that began in 1999 with “The Phantom Menace” and continued its downward spiral through “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith.” Sad.”

 

Gus & Friends Hanging with The Shat

I admit a little Schadenfreude at this turn of events for the two franchises, for two reasons.  First, as an unrepentant Trek nerd, it’s nice to have a little validation that my chosen Sci-Fi vice can indeed reach a mainstream audience.  Second, having passed down this Trek-nerd gene to my poor unsuspecting 8-year-old, I now have renewed hope that if his obsession remains intact into adolescence, there might be a chance that he’ll still manage to get a date or two, unlike his old man.

But why has Star Trek come back to life where Star Wars needs life support?  There are a number of reasons, but in the next part of this, I want to take a look at these two series from a “how do they view the world?” view which I think hints at where Trek has, and hopefully can continue to go right, and the opportunities Star Wars is wasting in that regard.

Welcome to SHYB!

December 28, 2009

So why in the world would you want to check out a nerdy blog like this?  Well, if you’re into pop-culture, are tired of shows that are either so much fluff or bleak exposés into the depths of human depravity, this might be a good place for you to gain and share ideas.

Indy--Conflict Partnership Style

SHYB is an admitted nerd’s look at pop-culture through a “conflict partnership” prism as espoused by my friend-and-mentor, Dr. Dudley Weeks, an author and entertainer who also just happens to be one of the pioneers of the conflict resolution field.  His concept when applied to entertainment is simple, but I believe revolutionary.  You cannot avoid conflict to teach good lessons about teamwork, cooperation, and victory through means other than violence.  Indeed, you need all those elements to help teach those lessons.

I believe that pop-culture for the most part takes the “easy way out” by either making things all sugar-and-spice without a hint of conflict, or defaulting to the “kill the enemy” point of view.  I think there is enormous room and opportunity for amazing story telling that flips both of these ideas on their heads, bringing the conflict out in ways that brings thrills and laughs, but brings surprising resolutions that show that challenges the notions of the “enemy” or that victory comes only by defeating your opponent.

While I’m sure I’ll meander to other subjects, THAT is what this blog will be about at its essence.  I hope to be a “conversation starter” on this topic, and benefit from those interested in the discussion.

I'm the goof kneeling on the right

If you’re a parent, I think SHYB holds some additional interest.  My experience as the father of two boys (Gus—8, and Gunnar—5—yup, that’s them on my home page logo) has helped me gain some insight into how the conflict partnership philosophy can help with parenting.  My 8+ years on the job has left me with something to say about subjects from talking to your kids about TV shows and movies, to coaching sports teams, to figuring out how to do birthday parties where your boy might want to beat his friends over the head with light sabers into something just as entertaining (if not more so) but ends up helping to teach great team-building and “power-with” skills that might just last them a lifetime.

I’m also aiming for this to be about the longest blog I write, though the word “verbose” has been used about me on many occasions, so no promises there.

So I hope you enjoy this foray into pop-culture and parenting, and that you’ll join in the conversation and pass SHYB along to your friends.