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Archive for September, 2010

Four-year-old life coach

On Sunday morning Maly and I walked to the grocery store. Among a variety of things we discussed, here’s one of the conversations that stuck:

“May…”

“Yeah Daddy?”

“What do you think I should do for a job?”

“…”

“I mean, I need to do something where I can be of the utmost service to others. I need to find something where I can give back. Something that’s genuinely fulfilling and that I can be really proud of.”

“Well, you could just be a doctor.”

“…”

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Catfish movie review

For Elise’s and my anniversary last year, we went out for dinner and a movie. Elise wanted to see Julie & Julia, and I was okay with that (to my credit, I wanted to see Inglourious Basterds, but I’m a gentleman, so the lady chooses) because I knew, going into the movie, that we were there to see a “chick flick.” I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew I couldn’t yawn, sigh, fidget or complain an any indirect way because I agreed, fully knowing, that we were going to spend 3 hours watching a movie written for and marketed to females.

A year later, for our anniversary, I got to choose the movie. This year, I chose Catfish. I wanted to see this movie because of this trailer:

YouTube Preview Image

Warning: spoiler alert.

To me, the above trailer reeks of spine tingling mystery, suspense, psychological mayhem and horror. And that’s what I wanted to see. In the past few months, Elise and I have rented and watched thrillers such as Shutter Island, Paranormal Activity, Blue Velvet, Chloe, Daybreakers, Funny Games, and The Crazies. I was totally ready for Catfish to jack with our minds.

I purposely avoided reading any and all movie reviews because I wanted to let my imagination run wild and be left in shock and awe. I was preparing myself for an experience in suspenseful filmmaking. I went in knowing that: “The final forty minutes of the film will take you on an emotional roller-coaster ride that you won’t be able to shake for days.” I wanted to see the movie that might be called the next Blair Witch Project.

What I expected in the final forty minutes: homage to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs. When the boys reached their destination – the home of the Facebook friend – I wanted a woman with her previous victims’ severed body parts duct taped to her face to come out of the barn, capture the boys, shackle and subject them to emotional abuse that would make even me cry. Then I wanted her to maim our protagonists with a hot glue gun over the course of four days. Really, really eerie music is supposed to be playing in these final forty minutes of the movie as well. Then she chops off all of the boys’ phalanx bones, brines the finger- and toe-less victims in huge vats of soured Cap’n Crunch sugar milk, barely leaving their heads above the cereal bowls so we can hear and experience their weakening screams and whimpers.

After a week of torture in this movie, and my wife, who is sitting next to me, has curled in the fetal position and is crying because of the sheer horror of the film, the Facebook Psychopath Killer filets the muscle tissue of the boys while they’re still barely alive and she fries and serves her victims as food at the Rotary Club’s semi-annual silent auction and catfish fry.

What I got in the final forty minutes: My Facebook Psychopath Killer is really just a lonely housewife and stepmom of two mentally handicapped boys in podunk Michigan. She lives vicariously, and sadly, through the handful of Facebook profiles she has made up for herself, her family and limited circle of friends to befriend Nev and his two cohort documentarians from New York City.

Thirty minutes before the movie was over, Elise leaned over to me and whispered, “hhmmpptth boring.” Ordinarily I would completely ignore any kind of conversation during a movie, but I heard “boring.” Just to confirm what she’d said, and to justify us getting up and walking out, I leaned over and asked, “what?”

She said, “It sounds like its pouring rain outside.”

“Oh. Yeah, it does.”

So we sat there and endured the final thirty minutes of the movie. The saving grace and silver lining — we saw the movie at the Alamo Drafthouse, so we shared a huge bowl of popcorn and a Dr Pepper, and they showed this great music video before the movie started:

YouTube Preview Image

Catfish wasn’t necessarily a bad movie, it just wasn’t the movie that I expected nor one that I would ordinarily pay to see. I feel like the trailer was false advertising and considering we had to hire a babysitter so Elise and I could see the movie, it stunk like catfish.

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Candied Bacon Bohemian Monster Cookies

Earlier this week Elise brought home a bag of M&M’s from the grocery store. The intent of said bag of M&M’s was for one of her church groups. It was then that I decided that I needed my own bag of M&M’s. The first thing that came to mind was cookies!

If memory serves me correctly, the last time I made cookies was in 1984 with my mom. They were snickerdoodles and they were awesome (because my mom actually made them — I think I was there just to lick the spoon).

I immediately knew that the best place to turn for a good cookie recipe would be Anna’s Cookie Madness. There I found her Jumbo M&M Chip Cookies recipe. I halved the recipe, and since I didn’t have chocolate chips, I just used a cup and a half of M&M’s. They turned out crazy awesome — so much so that I decided I needed to modify, expand upon and create my own Bohemian version (I have no idea what that actually means, other than just making it my own recipe modification).

So I used Anna’s recipe again, except I added macadamia nuts, Heath bar chips and Blue Ribbon maple smoked bacon.

Candied Bacon Bohemian Monster Cookies

2 heaping cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 healthy pinch kosher salt

1.5 sticks cool, unsalted butter, cut up 

3/4 cups granulated sugar 

3/4 heaping cups brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 crushed macadamia nuts (roasted & salted)
1/2 cup Heath English Toffee Bits

1/2 cup M&Ms
3 strips candied bacon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

To candy the bacon, generously coat both sides of bacon strips with brown sugar. Place on baking rack atop a sheet pan (I lined my sheet pan with foil to catch drippings) and bake for 20-25 minutes. Allow bacon to cool and chop into bacon bit sized pieces.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Cream butter in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer. Beat in the sugar and brown sugar until creamy, then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Continue beating, scraping bowl, until well mixed. By hand or using lowest speed of mixer, gradually adding flour mixture. Stir in macadamia nuts, toffee bits, candied bacon and M&Ms.


Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls, 2 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until light golden brown. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets.

Yields about 14 cookies

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The Maly babbling video

One evening a few years ago, Maly and I had dinner in the kitchen while Elise was out for the night. After dinner, Maly just started, out of nowhere, discussing something that was very important to her in her native tongue. I poured a big glass of scotch, got the camera and reveled in her speaking her mind.


(Here’s the YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftEuNzfIlQU)

Three years later, some people (~2,600 since yesterday) found the video. Some of those people have asked me, “what’s your daughter talking about these days?” I usually just point them to her own website: www.Maly.TV, or a couple of my favorites, which were when we cooked together when she was 2-years-old, and, more recently, when we dined on $80 Cilantro Spaghetti together on the deck.

A complete stranger and new Facebook friend wrote yesterday and said, “This child [...] is going to save the world.” I can only hope that she does.

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My content, my property

The other day I was perusing Facebook to see what my friends were up to and I noticed, up in the upper right hand corner of my browser, that my neighbor had sent me a “Personal Message.” I clicked on the text teaser link that read: “I need a printer/scanner for my home use and…” because I thought she might just need to use our printer. Upon reading the message, I realized that she’d sent me that message via Facebook almost a month ago.

Then I went into my Facebook messages “inbox” to find that I had 60 unread messages, all from friends. I took the time to read all of these messages and reply appropriately. Although tempted, I purposely neglected to tell them, “you’re my friend and you have my email address. If you want to send me a message, send me an email!” at the risk of sounding rude.

I’ve had the same email address for going on 10 years. I own this email address because I own the domain (Janicek.com). Before Facebook, if you wanted to send me a message, you’d email me. Nothing’s changed there. You and I don’t “own” what’s on our Facebook walls, photo albums, notes and personal message inboxes — Facebook owns that stuff. If Facebook disappears, so does all of your content and correspondences. Maybe you don’t care, but I do.

Elise and I took a trip to New York City a couple years ago. Ordinarily I’d take a couple hours at the end of each day of a trip and write about our adventures and experiences and post them, along with photos and videos, on Janicek.com. Instead, I decided to micro-document the trip on Facebook because, as you well know, the rest of the world needs to know that we just saw a cardboard box full of geoducks in Chinatown AT THAT VERY MOMENT! A year later, Elise asked me if I recalled the name of the restaurant at which we ate in Little Italy. I told her to look on Facebook. She looked through months of my posts on Facebook and couldn’t find it. She couldn’t find anything about our trip to NYC on Facebook. I couldn’t either. After poking around on Facebook’s help forums, I found that Facebook only (at the time) archived 90 days worth of posts. The rest were thrown into the virtual void, never to be recalled.

And that’s when I decided that Facebook would henceforth only be a repository for inconsequential snippets and witticisms. It boils down to: you get what you pay for with any free social media outlet. Don’t get me wrong, I see the value in the likes of Facebook, Blogger, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, et al., but if it’s my [digital] content, I want it on my property.

Here’s a strong case. Recently some folks have been writing to me and saying, “I just saw that hilarious video of Maly babbling on so-and-so’s Facebook page!” After doing a few searches and reading some friendly and appreciative comments, I pointed folks to the same video on YouTube because if a video is going to go viral (hey, a guy can dream, right?), YouTube would be the medium to employ as it’s YouTube’s bandwidth, not mine. But I don’t own YouTube and I have absolutely no control nor explanation should something go wrong.

Less than a day after pointing people to the YouTube video, I noticed folks commenting that the video wouldn’t play. YouTube says, “An error occurred, please try again later.” So I decide to post a comment on YouTube that would direct people to the original video on the website that I own, that I have control over, and that I can remedy should the video no play for whatever reasons. I get an error when I try to post even a comment on YouTube. And I have absolutely no control over that. I don’t own YouTube and I don’t own even my own content on YouTube.

If I create something — a photo, drawing, video, story, observation, thought, affirmation, anything — I want to own that creation. I want to look back in 1, 5 and 10 years time and re-read and re-experience that creation. A free service like Facebook or YouTube doesn’t afford me the peace of mind that in even as short a timespan of 6 months, that my creation will still be there.

In a similar vein, I’ve witnessed the proliferation of “professional” photographers who market themselves by means of ITakeCuteBabyPhotos.blogspot.com. If I was to hire a photographer, I would immediately weed out those who use a free Blogger (or other) account. To me, a photographer who uses the digital medium must equally understand and master both the art and the technology. The photographer has invested thousands of dollars in photography equipment and countless hours in training or self-taught methods to achieve an aesthetic balance of technology and vision. If you expose and advertise your personal brand and your investment in yourself via a vehicle that you don’t own and have little or no control of its fate thereof, then I know what I’m going to be paying for.

If you create great things, own them. In the end, they only matter to you, right?

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The wave

My parents and I moved to Cat Spring in 1987. Prior to that, my entire 11-year childhood consisted of a suburban life in Houston — the fourth largest city in the United States. In 1987 I was plunked into a rural sprawl and a township that consisted of a post office, a gas station/beer saloon called Crossroads and a population of 38 and a ‘coon dog. At the time, I hated it. I hated moving away from my friends, my neighborhood, the big city where everything was at my fingertips. What used to be a quick trip to the movie theatre was now an all-day event. Going to the grocery store with my mom was an outing, not an errand.

Cat Spring is an hour west of Houston. It’s close enough to Houston so you can go there if you needed to, but not close enough to go if you wanted to. At 11-years-old, I had no other choice but to acclimate myself. And my parents had to acclimate as well to our new community. Part of my family’s acclimation was understanding “the wave.” Most of Austin County is veined by farm market roads on which the locals travel to and fro. And the locals, without fail, always waved to oncoming vehicles. The men, while leaving their left hand at 12 o’clock on the steering wheel would lift their single index finger to say “howdy” with a single digit salute. The women usually wave with all four fingers while keeping their thumb on the steering wheel, as if they almost would prefer to pick their entire hand up, show you their full palm and jiggle the entire hand in full and excited waving motion.

It only takes a few times where you, as the driver, are compelled to reciprocate the gesture. It’s like you’ve been bitten by a zombie and have now become one of them. You’re now a tribesman (or woman). As a city dweller, the first time you return a wave, it feels silly, almost childish. You’ve grown accustomed to hostility among seas of strangers on interstates and the notion of waving to someone on the road means you’re either in need of help, or you actually know the person that you’re waving to. Your brain cannot comprehend the idea of a friendly hand gesture while driving.

After traveling for a few days on a farm market road in Austin County, waving becomes a habit. It’s now second nature. Now you’re the instigator of the wave, instead of waiting for the oncoming traveler to wave. Gone is the thought that perhaps this waving business was just a fad that you happened upon. You moved to their county and they waved to you to simply say “howdy” — to remind you that people are inherently nice and good and might actually care that you have a decent day, doing whatever it is that you’re going to do.

At first, for me, as a pre-teen, the farm market wave was laughable. But I quickly learned to appreciate and expect the wave. When I turned 15, and against state law, I started driving. And I immediately started waving at the folks that I passed on my commute to school, football or track practice, Tae Kwon Do, or an outing to visit with friends. It always felt good to give a wave and to receive a wave. The wave meant community.

Not really conscious of it, I waved goodbye to the wave when I moved to Austin in 1994 for college. Like any college kid, I made many a trip back to my parents’ house for weekends, and was always comforted by the farm market road waves when I returned. It reminded me of that widely adopted notion of a community that just doesn’t exist in urban settings.

Just this past weekend my daughter and I drove the 10 miles to Shultz’s general store in New Ulm for fishing worms. I waved to the 7 vehicles that we passed. One gentlemen, in a pickup truck, hesitantly waved back. In my mind, as that guy drove on past me, he probably thought, “That was nice, but I guess that guy just doesn’t know that we don’t do that around here anymore.”

People on the farm market roads in Austin County (and surrounding counties) don’t instinctively wave to oncoming vehicles anymore. And it’s been that way for at least 5 years, as far as I can recollect. I think too many people from larger cities have since moved “out to the country” and didn’t allow themselves to actually become part of the community. Instead, they kept their hands at 10 & 2, with NPR on the radio to remind them of the “real” outside world, while they kept their eyes focused on the country road, in a hurry so they can get to the antique store to procure “authentic” country goods with which to furnish their quaint country cottage.

Country folk have a saying: “Don’t be a stranger.” When my wife, daughter and I go back to visit my mom out in Cat Spring, it feels like we’re strangers once we exit Hwy 71 and make our way down the farm market roads. It might take me passing a few cars before I remember to instigate the wave. I just hope that one day they start waving back again.

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