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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Some Randomness Heading Into Date Night

The 3 day Memorial Day Weekend was weird, because it was about 60 degrees in Southern California and we had rain! Growing up "away" from here--in Tulsa, Philly and New York, Memorial Day Weekend was always a big event because it was the official start of summer. The pools would open with big events, like tossing a bunch of coins in the bottom of the pool, blowing a whistle and all the kids would dive and collect as much as they could. The quarters and half dollars were usually in the diving pool and only the really big kids, you know like 5th or 6th graders could get those. There would be a watermellon tossed in and whatever kid could get it out got to keep it and eat it. All sorts of different games.

This weekend we honored our nation's veterans and their sacrifices by painting Jenna's room...yellow. I know not exactly the color for veterans, but maybe the official color of the Democrats if they succeed in surrendering to terrorists in Iraq. (Low blow, but really.) Jenna is a trooper and for years has wanted us to paint her room, which was a hand me down from Blaire as we set it up as the nursery and Jenna never moved out. Leslie had painted a fantastic barnyard scene in the room, with a huge barn, cow, horse, pigs, chickens, silo, gorgeous sky and clouds. All this went up in 1999 before Blaire was born. Jenna came along in 2002 and from about 2004 when she started talking on she has asked for a different room. We finally succumbed and painted it--probably because she finally named a color other than pink. So no more barn, but the room is very nice with the blue sky ceiling still and yellow walls. So other than a two and a half hour stint at ballet, church and Home Depot, and painting how was your weekend Dennis? I loved it, a lot of good family time.

A lot on my mind over the weekend as big-bro Mike called on Thursday to let me know he has an amelanotic melanoma. He was typically positive and upbeat, but admitedly anxious. He has fought off a lot of crap in his time, from numerous surgeries on knees, backs, shoulders, to meningitis to a staph infection from the hospital. When this nasty little bugger came along his body must have said, "Okay troops, here's another piece of nasty shit for us to deal with, let's get it done, you know what to do." He goes/went in today for meeting with specialist to see what the options are. I hope they can rip it out, put some Neosporin and a band aid on it and send him home. My buddy and doc Doctor Larry said his dad had one on his arm and while he has a divot in his forearm that looks like the result of a Tiger Woods wedge from the fairway, six years later and no problems. That is what we want, a divot in Mike's back and no more muss, no more fuss. This weighed on my typically over-reactive mind this weekend. A lot of chance to put into use my positive attitude, thoughts and beliefs mantra and direction I have been working on.

I am still in disbelief that our crappy Congresswoman, Laura Richardson, fell delinquent on three properties, had one foreclosed on and in interviews with local rag and the AP tries to blame the bank, blames she had too many jobs in a short time frame (three of which were elective offices she sought), blah, blah, blah. The lack of accountability and personal responsibility from our elected officials is so disheartening. What is worse is she is completely protected and will probably suffer nothing because of her actions. Our district is about 60-65 Democrat, so she knows even a dead person wins the election as long as dead and a registered Democrat.

Date night tonight, Leslie is excited because her main boy will be on the big screen tonight--Harrison Ford and the Raiders part 3 is on the menu. I will post and rate in the next couple of days. I love that we continued our Tuesday nights out after 13 straight Tuesdays earlier in the year for our class at church. The kids love it because they get the cool and fantastic Tracy babysitting, Tracy loves it because she picks up $40 per week to play with the kids for a few hours before putting them to bed (and they go to bed real easy, seriously they have always been great at going to bed and sleep) and we love it because we get one night a week to be grown ups, partners and friends. We said for years, "we need a date night" and always tried to figure a Friday (now MAPN--see below) or Saturday; but Tuesday is great.

Fingers crossed for good news from Mike, hoping that Harrison's latest Lost Ark movie is not one or more Z's on the rating chart.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Barbecue Tour! Beachwood BBQ and Johnny is BACK!

A good friend of ours is getting paid to do a barbecue tour of Kansas City and I am jealous. Truthfully he is has been travelling to Kansas City for work and since he happens to be staying overnight has been able to venture through the epicurean world of smoke and pork--but he is getting paid and he is touring the KC smoke spots so I stand by my opening line.
Locally Leslie and I did a mini-tour of local barbecue joints this past Friday and Saturday evenings and since there were some similarities (small, family owned) our weekend excursions provided a perfect opportunity to compare our Friday dining at Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach and Johnny Reb's in Long Beach.

Disclosure: I have been a big fan of Johnny Reb's since working across the street in the mid-to lat 1980's. Sealing my personal affinity was game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Our tickets for the series put us in seats directly in back of several guys who worked at JRebs, after the Dodgers lost game six to force game seven they said, "Don't y'all worry bout dogs tomorrow, we're bringin' the pork." And bring it they did. Big pans of pulled pork, sausage, corn bread, biscuits. What a way to watch a game! When the Dodgers opened it up in the 2nd we're holding dripping biscuits filled with pork in one hand a beer in the other and spilling both all over each other--and loved it!

Further disclosure: Cheryl Carter, owner and founder of Johnny Reb's, is a friend of our family and has been our girls Sunday school teacher with her daughters for the past year.
Friday at Beachwood was a night out with two couples who we know from the PTA and whose kids go to school with ours. The had told us of Beachwood and Tom's eyes rolled back in his head a bit when he told me about their beer selection. Being a lover of both barbecue and beer Leslie and I were excited to try the place out. Beachwood has a great location, it has about a storefront and a half it looks like, with one side being a bar and the other the tables and sit down restaurant. The place was crowded, but not obnoxiously so, and the single bartender (who someone told me was one of the owners) was doing a great job of ensuring the bar was tended well, taking care of those seated watching the Lakers and those of us standing and conversating.

The bar at Beachwood, or rather the offerings at the bar at Beachwood, is what differentiates this place. There were sixteen, seventeen possibly eighteen different beers being offered. The offerings were not the standard American bar beers (Bud, Coors Light, Amstel Light...) but were small distinct brews ranging from ales to lagers to stouts to Belgian Trappists. It was fun to have a couple of beers before dinner and sip and taste the choices others made and compare.

For dinner Leslie and I both chose a two combo plate with sides so we could share and compare. I chose babybacks and brisket with cole slaw and baked beans; Leslie got the sausage and pulled pork with asparagus and baked beans; cornbread was served with both. The portions were generous and the price was very good (about $15-16 for the combo). The food arrived dry as there was sauce on the table, spicy and mild. In a taste test we could not differentiate between the two sauces. I make my own sauce and am able to adapt for several variations of heat and flavor, so I know this can be done--for some reason it was not at our table. The sauce is very good, and it needs to be as some of the meat products were over cooked a bit and needed the sauce to moisten it up.

The flavor on the ribs was good, but a bit tough and as I said dry. I like moist meaty ribs and these were tight; flavorful but not the texture I like. The brisket was excellent. Three or four slices that were moist and full of flavor. Leslie's pulled pork was dry I thought, the flavor was okay but not something I would go back for at this point. Her sausage links were fantastic and mental note for self, next visit concentrate on sausage and beer. On the sides we were both very disappointed in the beans, a bit crunchy/hard, little flavor--Leslie makes great beans so we always compare those and she wins this round. Her grilled asparagus was terrific and a good addition to the menu. The cole slaw was very good and I will re-order that probably every trip. Leslie tasted Ann's sweet potato fries and said they were very good and she would order next time. We were both very disappointed in the cornbread, very small portion, dry and not a whole lot of flavor.

Overall I would say definitely visit Beachwood BBQ for the beer, taste the various offerings and have fun with it; eat the barbecue because you need to eat when you drink! The beers and barbecue are a great combination and with some good base flavors I think over time the pit master will hit his or her stride and deliver better meat in the future. We will definitely be back. A great place to spend an evening with friends, some great beer and good food--but not great food.

Last August Leslie and I were in Tulsa with Dad and sister Sharon visiting family and friends and attending the PGA Championship being played at Southern Hills. While there I was checking in on emails and whatnot and one evening clicked on the Press-Telegram site to see what was happening back in Long Beach. I was stunned to see that Johnny Reb's had a big fire and was severely burned. We were both sad for Cheryl Carter and the workers, and selfishly sad that we would not be able to enjoy JReb's cooking for some time. Over the several months we kept inquiring of Cheryl how the rebuilding was going and anxiously awaited the re-opening. On more than one Saturday afternoon we thought, "we could get some smoked chicken salads for us and some ribs/chicken for the kids....oh shoot they are still closed."
Last week Cheryl contacted us and invited us to a pre-re-opening party they were throwing at Johnny Reb's to get their legs back and the rhythm between the cooks, servers, etc. and would we like to come? Uh, gee let me think about that and get back to....YES! What time??
The restored Johnny Reb's is just that, restored. The place looks like it did in 1984 when it opened. Same decor, same layout, same ambiance, just fresher and newer. We were pleased to see that the servers were back as were the busboys and girls. It showed the loyalty and dedication of management and the employees to each other that during the closing shifts were taken at other Johnny Reb's locations and everyone worked together to ensure when re-opened the staff would stay together. It is that kind of place.
We started off with the appetizer platter: smoked sausage, hot links, hushpuppies, onion rings and big cup of sauce for dipping. The sausage is so good. This is usually a better way to start with a bigger group than just the four of us, but we missed it!
After that the girls tucked into beef ribs (Blaire--she looked like Fred Flinstone chewing on his brontosaurus rib it was so big) and chicken strips (Jenna--these are tasty as they use the same batter as the fried chicken I believe). Leslie and I went our separate ways. Leslie had been missing the grilled chicken salad, which is loaded with fresh tomatoes, bacon, cheese, chicken-lots of chicken, and other stuff. I went for the combo of St. Louis style ribs and chicken. And they were cooked to perfection, as I expected. The meats at Johnny Reb's are always moist, full of flavor and solid portions. My biggest complaint is that they tend to smother their thick sauce on their meats; I don't ask for it on the side because I like the sauce and it works for me to just scrape it off--I get the right amount on my food and the taste comes through without overpowering the main event. Finally, either biscuits or cornbread--tough choice but you cannot make a wrong one as both are excellent.
My sides were the cole slaw and dirty rice, and both were very tasty; I really like their rice and slaw and they really compliment their meats. Blaire ordered the beans and the contrast in flavor and texture to those we had tasted the night before was very apparent. After almost 25 years Johnny Reb's has maintained great quality. Every item on their menu is full of flavor and served the way I personally like (with the exception of too much sauce for my taste), the menu is broad and never disappoints--at least the Long Beach location. I will say that in the past at work we had ordered large lunches from the Orange location and the quality and flavor has been significantly lower than the Long Beach location. I do not know if this is the store and personnel preparing the food, or if it is because it is large lunch order that requires shorter cooking time and therefore we get food a little before it is finished. But the Long Beach location has never disappointed us.
Welcome back Johnny! We missed you, as did your legions of fans in the area.
Scorecard for the weekend barbecue-off gets titled to our local favorite, Johnny Reb's. The quality, flavor and texture of our meats was better and the sides. Beachwood gets the tilt on the beer, outstanding and worth the trip. As well Beachwood gets the nod for the separate bar and restaurant to allow for comfortable enjoyment of a beer, or two, while waiting for a table to open up.
I rank Beachwood BBQ above Naple's Rib Joint (our last experience there was very disappointing with dried meat, lack of flavor, poor quality--just not that good) but below Johnny Reb's from a food perspective; but I give the newcomer big pluses for the location, the beer and the atmosphere.
Visit both and tell me what you think!

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Normal Day

It is a Friday. May 9th. Mother's Day is Sunday.

The crisis with Iran must come to a head soon, will it take U.S. troops? The U.N. seems incapable of doing anything, or will not since the longer the madman runs the country the more the American nose gets tweaked to the delight of most of the rest of the world.

The incumbent in the White House has incredibly low approval ratings, Congress is right there with him. With a Presidential election happening in six months both parties are gearing up for their conventions and nominating the candidate they feel will win in November. On the Democratic side the initial front runner is getting very negative press--unheard of before this primary season.

Due to the Middle East situation gas prices are fueling inflation in our markets and causing a lot of concern for all Americans, very much in the stump speeches of the candidates.

The Lakers and Celtics are in the playoffs and there is an excellent chance they will meet in the NBA finals, the Lakers with a superstar.

Terrorism is a concern in Europe with splinter groups setting off bombs in crowded areas over the past three or four years.

It is a Friday. Friday May 9th. Friday May 9, 1980 and I have just gotten home from school, I am a senior, and the phone has rung in our apartment and it is my Dad's New York office calling for him.

As Dad talks on the phone I stand at the window six floors up looking over the park. After he hangs up there is a prolonged silence, then, "Your mother died a little while ago."

It was a Friday. Today is a Friday. Friday May 9, 2008. Twenty eight years since I heard those words. Twenty eight years from a scrawny (about six foot 140 pounds), pimply (severe acne), somewhat insecure kid that was somewhat socially inept, to who I am today. At forty six and approaching my 14th anniversary with Leslie, I have lived with her almostas long as I had with my Mom.

This distance in time place in life would seem to diminish the memories of her as life's routine has not included her for almost three decades; but contrarily many memories are reappearing that had been forgotten. This is for two reasons.

First the girls. From the time they were old enough to ask, "Where's your Mama?" we have spoken of their "Nana" or "Nanners" as I would like to think we would have called their Grandmother Nancy, as living in my heart, my siblings hearts and the hearts of everyone who knew and loved her. Just as we all do and will. As well they know Nana lives in their hearts as well. It was very difficult coming to grips with the death of Mom when we were all very young; it has thankfully been less difficult in discussing and teaching the girls. By acknowledging and recognizing her place in our hearts I am able to call upon her spirit to bring back stories from my youth that included Mom for the girls. As one memory is recalled it triggers other memories as well. Happy memories that warm and instill the joy of remembrance.

The second reason for the regeneration of memories forgotten has been my spiritual awakening and learning the past year. A believer in reincarnation for many, many years it has not been until the past year and more intensely the past several months that I have been able to use the tools of prayer, meditation, affirmation and communion with God to properly place my previously disjointed beliefs into a more focused and positive Belief. Without proselytizing nor getting off track to my purpose in writing this essay, my place today has allowed me a more living experience with Mom and memories than I have had since her passing.

It is a Friday. Friday May 9, 2008. A little groggy from staying up too late I eschewed the 4:38 a.m. alarm and did not go for my morning swim. I rolled over following my back up 5:43 alarm and finally dragged myself out of bed at Leslie's initial 6:00 alarm--our home is alarming. After my quiet time of reading and writing with some coffee, the girls were already up when the school day 7:15 "Daddy Alarm" was ready to rouse them from their dreams and get their morning started. While I showered and dressed they got their school uniforms on then we gathered in the kitchen. I made them breakfast and lunch for Blaire to take to school, Friday is pizza day which Jenna likes and Blaire does not. And I shared with them that today was a birthday, or anniversary that was very important to me, their Aunt Sharon, their Unkey Monkey and their Opa. I told them that on this day in 1980 their grandmother, my Mom, had passed away.

"But she still lives in your heart Dad," said Blaire; Jenna nodding her head in agreement. Soon thereafter their Mom came in and gave them hugs.

Yes she still lives in our hearts. Off they went to school and me to work. It is a normal day. A Friday. Friday May 9, 2008; a normal day. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

All In For "21"

Winna Winna Chicken Dinna!

Last night being Tuesday night Leslie and I went out for our date night (bad on me for not posting review on our excellent dinner with friends Susan and Dan at La Parolaccia on Broadway in Long Beach for our date night last week--we want to hit new place near us that is also Italian cafe style and then I will do a dish by dish comparison; back to the show..). It was movie night so we headed to the theater.
Tuesday night is a great night to go to movies. The ticket sellers and takers we have noticed are more mature than the ones we see on the weekend matinees with the kids, therefore more friendly, engaging and helpful. There are no lines at either the ticket window or the concession stand. The theater is almost empty. The advantage of no lines and no patrons is that you can take your time.

Typically for a 4:00 show with the kids on a Saturday or Sunday we know we need to get there about 3:40 to get in line for tickets and be able to secure four seats in a decent location (personal preference when with kids in a crowded theater is I want an aisle--many of these movies are from Z to ZZZ so I want to stretch out a bit) which means we see all the ads and all the trailers. We learned a couple of weeks ago that the actually movie starts twelve minutes after the posted time on the marquee. Thus a 7:00 movie allows us to hit dinner around 6:30 and stroll into the theater at 7:12 right as it starts. We can do this because not only are there no movie patrons on Tuesday nights but there are no restaurant patrons either.

Last night we saw "21" (official site here; IMDB site here). I had read the book "Bringing Down The House" that was the basis for the screenplay and was excited when they made it into a movie. The book is a great read and while there is some Hollywood license, the movie does a really good job of portraying the story. Kevin Spacey does not disappoint and the kid who plays the lead is very good at creating sympathy when needed. I happened to notice that Kate Bosworth who plays the female lead is somewhat easy to look at for a couple of hours. The plot moves, makes sense and there is no sudden non sequitor taking you into fantasy and ruining the movie.

The only thing that almost ruined the movie were the two jerks sitting a few rows back. With only ten people in the theater everything is magnafied, especially when those burping long and loud, talking in normal conversational voices as if they were watching in the privacy of their living room and otherwise behaving boorishly are directly behind you. Thankfully the theater was empty so we were able to move to seats well behind the jerks and enjoy the film.

One more observation pointed out by my hot date; it is easy to see the connection between the butt that is thrice as wide as mine and the extra large popcorn that you pour the fake melted butter over, then dump out the top half into a carry-carton so you can pour even more fake melted butter into the bottom half, shaking to ensure even coating of the latex like additive then pouring the original back on top. Of course the 64 ounce soda was diet.

Rating for "21" : Wide Awake Go see it.

To refresh the rating system
Wide Awake: Excellent, go see
Comfy on the couch: Good movie, worth the theater money or top of the Netflix list for home viewing
Z: Dozed off for a few minutes
ZZ: Slept through "critical" plot development/resolution
ZZZ: A $10 nap

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mappin' "Anchor's Aweigh!"

photo courtesy of

The beauties of Netflix are many, among them is the opportunity to expose the kids to some classic movies (one of Leslie's plusses is the ability to watch Gene Kelly again, and again, and again, and...) Recently we viewed Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in "Anchors Aweigh" and it remains a wonderful movie. It was an easy one to put in the DVD since both girls, especially Jenna, love "Singin' In The Rain" and this one does not disappoint. Seeing a very young Frank Sinatra crooning and playing the dumb rube from Brooklyn, Gene Kelly performing amazing dance after amazing dance and a great love story plot made for a great MAPN (pronounced "Mappin' " for MovieAndPizzaNight).

Every Friday when we are home we have MAPN and rotate who gets to pick the movie. We started this a couple of years ago and it has become a great routine/tradition for us on Friday nights. We all start to think ahead when it is our week to pick a movie we enjoy. Netflix has really opened up to variety we watch, for some reason it is so much easier to browse and pick on-line than it was to cruise the aisles of Blockbuster. We have seen a lot of the old Disney movies from the Sixties (Appledumpling Gang, the original Flubber, Ugly Daschund...), plus the musicals and movies from the '40s and '50s.

As an added variable we also rotate which local pizzaria to enjoy the different offerings and pies (Dad has a rule: no Dominos! tastes like cardboard!). So while keeping a routine we add some variables to keep it from being a rut.

I envision the time far in the future when the kids are back from college, or visiting over a holiday and we all gather for Mappin', we will have to, it's Friday night!

"Anchors Aweigh" gets a solid: Comfy on the couch

(See below for rating system).

Start your own Mappin' with your family!

If you are like Leslie and a big Gene Kelly fan here is a site of pictures

Friday, May 2, 2008

True Musings For Friday Afternoon

If the kid is a jerk I bet one or both of the parents are as well. While there is a certain amount of behavior that is genetic disposition, there is a lot that is learned; including but not limited to being rude, obnoxious, self-centered and mean.

Why would anyone raise their children in a church, or school, or community organization, in which they are told they have no hope of success, that they will be the subject of systematic and organized oppression from all directions and to mistrust everyone but "us?" Then while doing this falsely preach "hope" for everyone but your kids--and their ethnic group. Anyone caught preaching and/or teaching my kids they have no hope, are doomed to oppression or otherwise give them the foundation of hopelessness instead of the foundation of striving to be the best and a success will not be seeing much of my kids.

Starbucks Grandes have an average price of $3.00 per cup ($48 total divided by 16 offerings). A Grande drink is 16 ounces. There are 64 ounces in a gallon; there are four Grandes in a gallon. Starbucks costs on average $12.00 per gallon. Think of this when someone you know hits Starbucks, or other high end coffee place, religiously...then bitches about the price of gas at the pump.

Milk is also more expensive than gasoline but is falsely so since it is supported by U.S. government subsidies and guaranteed prices.

How do you get a volunteer to quit? "Please go spend your free time somewhere else?" "We want to put you on payroll so we can fire you?"

I was reminded a while ago of a study a guy I knew did on high achievers. He found there are very few people he would designate as "Happy High Achievers". Most high achievers are very driven, their drive prevents their complete happiness as they are always searching for the next success, the next challenge to conquer that they feel will make them happy. I would rather be happy than be a high achiever; I think I am a happy achiever, let's leave out the "high" modifier.

We have an employee who is really good at her job, call her Judy. Her co-worker in the same position is a perfectionist and really gets bogged on small details that usually are not as relevant as she feels they are, call her June. I told June that Judy is excellent at being really good; I need June to quit trying to be really good at being excellent and be like Judy--be excellent at being really good and every one will benefit.

Often when I am by myself cooking I pretend Alton Brown or Tom Colicchio is either watching or will be eating what I am preparing.

Achieve happiness, be an achieving high happier!