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Archive for December, 2010

Duckpin bowling

SILVER SPRING, Md. –

Jeff took me bowling the other day. It was unlike any bowling I’ve done before: It was duckpin bowling.

Jeff, gentleman that he is, let me beat him on our third game.

There were, of course, balls and pins and alleys.

But we had to keep our own scores. (Something I’d always let the computers and TV monitors do for me.)

Duckpin bowling allows you three attempts to bowl, as opposed to two tries in the bowling I'm used to.

Instead of being sent back under the alleys, the balls were sent up via a tube aboveground and between the gutters. We also had to manually reset the pins and clear the alleys of fallen pins by pushing buttons on the ball bank — rather than having the machinery do it for us.

The balls and pins are smaller in duckpin bowling.

It was bowling at its basics. No fancy machines or flashing lights or neon decals.

What you see when you walk in.

And it was great. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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Throwing things

Today may be Christmas Day, but my younger brother was in his usual state of lethargy — until he opened his presents from my older brother and sister-in-law. Then he was so excited that he flailed his blanket-wrapped legs in the air.

What did he receive?

A set of throwing knives…

In the backyard.

…and a throwing axe.

The targets: A wooden board and my younger brother's archery foam target.

So, naturally, my brothers had to make sure the gifts were functional.

A target later on: Two soda bottles filled with water.

Merry Christmas indeed.

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A month ago, I took my first significant step toward domesticity by volunteering to take care of Thanksgiving dinner, sans the turkey. The soup, three side dishes and condiment were a rousing success, which led me to declare confidently that I had “totally killed Thanksgiving.”

My Martha Stewart-esque Thanksgiving success emboldened me to volunteer to take care of Christmas Eve dinner.

The full Christmas Eve line-up, sans the soup.

This decision was noteworthy because:

  • My brother and sister-in-law, whom we haven’t seen together since their wedding last November, would be returning to the 48 for the holidays. (The Navy has stationed my brother in Hawaii since the wedding.)
  • We have not had a home-cooked Christmas (Eve) dinner in years. For at least six years, we’ve joined my grandparents and uncles at some fancy restaurant whose food is always overcooked. While complaining with my parents about the formality and the bad food, I impulsively suggested that our nuclear family (plus my sister-in-law) have Christmas Eve dinner on our own — and at home. Pretty major.
  • I volunteered to take care of the whole thing, meaning, this would be my first time being in charge of a significant piece of meat. I left the Thanksgiving turkey up to my mother, but for Christmas Eve, I decided to go all-out. (Fortunately, my sister-in-law was on-hand to assist.)

So, the meat? I ordered a dry-aged rack of prime rib — four bones.

This 8.something pounds of meat cost $172. When I ordered it over the phone two weeks ago, I heard only the "$72" part of it. Talk about sticker shock at the Whole Foods meat market when I picked it up on the 23rd.

The price of this piece of meat directly correlated to my nervousness in prepping and cooking it right. Following many anxiously-taken temperature checks, the meat turned out to be a perfect medium rare. Unfortunately, the jus wasn’t that great, which is why I say I think I killed Christmas Eve dinner — in contrast to my confident declaration of victory over Thanksgiving.

Red meat off the bone!

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I’ve never made gingerbread, and I’ve never seen molasses before, and I’ve never used cocoa powder in a cookie recipe before.

Until today!

Today, with the help of my sister-in-law, I made chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies. They contain ginger, molasses and chocolate chips, and are dredged in sugar before going into the oven.

Dredge dredge dredge. We took our rings off our fingers for this part of the process.

Oddly, they don’t taste quite like gingerbread. My sister-in-law said she’d never before known of a recipe that called for so much molasses, so maybe that’s it. Also strangely, our cookies are much darker than the ones in the recipe‘s photo. Regardless, these are fantastic cookies, and I wish I’d gone ahead and made a double-batch as I’d planned to do but didn’t.

Cracked tops!

Delicious.

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My family has, for as long as I can remember, made only one kind of Christmas cookie each year: Spritz cookies. The concept is fun and simple, especially for young kids: The same basic butter cookie dough is pressed into different shapes that are conducive to different kinds of sprinkles and toppings.

This year, I’m trying to shake things up. We’re still doing the Spritz cookies — mostly because my brothers would probably mutiny if we didn’t — but I’m adding two other kinds of cookies to the bunch. I made the first one today, thanks to Cookin’ Canuck’s recipe and directions: peppermint bark.

Peppermint bark cookies: one big sheet of baked cookie, topped with chocolate, peppermint snow and white chocolate.

Tomorrow, my brother and sister-in-law arrive from Hawaii. I’m not sure when the second cookie will get baked, but it’ll happen soon!

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Just dance… the Y.M.C.A.

How old were you when you learned the “Y.M.C.A.” dance?

A bridesmaid and the bride's brother-in-law help the two flower girls - both in the first grade - learn the Y.M.C.A. dance at Hannah and Nathan's wedding reception.

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The fridge from outer space

It’s well past Thanksgiving, but boy do we ever have bountiful food and reasons for thanks.

Earlier this week, my mom bought a bunch of groceries from the Asian supermarket. My brother and I went grocerying later so I could make dinner in time for my parents to arrive from the hospital on a few separate occasions. Finally, one of my dad’s coworkers brought food yesterday while my brother and I were at the wedding.

I don’t normally post vertical photos at full width, but for this, I am. Here’s our fridge:

From outer space.

My dad’s coworker rounded up food from other coworkers and brought:

  • a lasagna big enough to feed 20 people
  • a mystery casserole that’s just as big and heavy as the lasagna (this casserole has since been transferred to the freezer)
  • a bucket of KFC
  • a big thing of salad from Olive Garden (that’s the alien-yellow whatsit in the top right corner — yellow because of the fridge light)
  • soups from Le Madeleine
  • breadsticks from Olive Garden (not pictured, because they’re on our kitchen table)

Not to mention leftovers from each of the dinners I’ve made this past week, some prepared foods my mom bought at the Asian supermarket and a whole slew of produce and other random foodstuffs.

And there must be room for the rack of dry-aged prime beef roast that I’m getting from the Whole Foods meat market on Thursday.

Believe me, I’m thankful for all this food. I just wish my older brother were here already to help us finish it all before the Christmas Eve feast.

  • ADDENDUM — Dec. 19, 6:10 p.m. CST –

One of my mom’s running partners also made haleem for us. This dish will not be going into the freezer alongside the mystery casserole.

Additionally, I forgot to mention that we have a full soup pot of homemade chicken stock, made from chicken thighs that had to be cooked soon or get tossed out.

  • ADDENDUM — Dec. 19, 7:45 p.m. CST –

With a little help, Jeff has identified most of the foodstuffs in the fridge and tagged notes on the photo in Flickr. Check it out — hover your cursor over the photo to see where the tags are and read the notes.

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Wedding: Hannah and Nathan

For a long time, the only twins I personally knew were Hannah and Phoebe — my second-cousins, who lived about 20 minutes away from us. My brothers and I grew up saying “Hannah and Phoebe” all in one breath, but that’s changed since Phoebe was married last summer.

Yesterday was Hannah’s wedding. I was one of several hundred guests, but I nevertheless brought my camera. Whereas a designated wedding photographer (or a bold guest) would roam the church and hotel ballroom, I stayed in my pew and remained on the sidelines.

Here are a few shots I captured during their ceremony and reception. Everything was shot with my 50mm lens.

The groom (Nathan) and ringbearer wait at the altar for the bride. The ceremony took place at Chinese Lutheran Church on Bellaire Blvd. in Houston.

Side note: I’d gone to preschool at this church, when it was formerly Canterbury. I remember being a kangaroo in the Noah’s Ark play, on the very stage where Hannah and Nathan spoke their vows.

The bride is escorted to the altar by her parents.

The wedding cake.

The bride and groom's first dance, at the Hilton Westchase. Converted to black-and-white because the white balance couldn't be reconciled and, as a guest, I didn't bring a flash.

It should go without saying that, had I been the designated wedding photographer, you would be seeing a lot more photos here. And I’d have brought a flash unit, and more lenses.

But I’m sure their hired wedding photographers did a great job, and I’m so happy for Hannah and Nathan. Congratulations to them and their families!

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This week

It’s been kind of a rough week. Inexplicably, “I’ll Fly Away” (as sung by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch) is playing over and over in my head.

Hence, these pigeons at sunset, on the top level of the Virginia Avenue Parking Garage in Columbia, Mo., on Nov. 19.

Life this week, in brief:

  • I ordered a dry-aged prime rib roast for our Christmas Eve dinner. I’ve never prepared a big chunk of meat before, much less ordered one, so I’m reading up on the subject and accepting any/all advice.
  • All my Christmas shopping is done — and the wrapping, too!
  • Except, we are to shop for gifts for ourselves (to be “from” my parents and grandparents) because…
  • …My dad is now undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer, which has him and my mom pretty preoccupied.
  • This also means I’ve been assuming more responsibilities in the house, to help out my parents.
  • Finally, I’m also trying to nail down my housing situation in York, Pa. I’m supposed to start my six-month internship in almost three weeks, so this is pretty crucial. I hope to get that wrapped up by early next week.

Next week, the holiday baking starts in earnest, my brother and sister-in-law arrive from Hawaii and I should really start packing for my upcoming move.

And breathe. Breathing is important.

(I also created my about.me profile/splash page. Check it out!)

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Two weeks ’til Christmas, and I am about 90 percent done with my Christmas shopping.

As of last night, I am also about 90 percent done with wrapping presents (or, 100 percent of the shopping I’ve completed thus far). And, despite my attending prep schools from kindergarten through high school, I have never, ever, been this preppy before.

Grosgrain ribbon, stiff card tags and tissue paper wrapping.

Dad: “So, how did you get into this Martha Stewart moment?”

Me: “I think Martha Stewart would’ve done better. Sharper corners, you know.”

But I do enjoy my occasional fits of domesticity.

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A few hours ago, The Washington Post published a story about a mother who died soon after giving birth to her first son.

A tremendously tragic story, no doubt. Everyone who knows me knows I have a soft spot for babies, small children and expectant/new mothers, so these kinds of stories do hit me pretty hard.

What separates this particular story from other, previously-reported unexpected-death-after-a-happy-milestone stories is how it was told: The reporter, Ian Shapira, and his editor decided to use Facebook. That is, they used the mother’s own Facebook status updates.

Excerpts of how Shapira used Facebook to tell Shana's story.

Be sure to check out the story if you haven’t already, before you continue reading. Shapira explains in this blog post why he decided to use Facebook and Shana’s own updates.

The tragedy/newsworthiness/value of the story aside, let’s think about the storytelling method. I’m a little conflicted over this.

It’s a different approach to storytelling, for sure. We at 10,000 Words have discussed various storytelling tools and methods, but taking Facebook status updates and using Facebook’s code/language are something new. But so what if it’s different? Does that mean it’s effective? Does that mean it’s the best way to tell a story?

Shapira explains in the blog post: “Beyond showing readers the gripping dialogue between Shana and her friends, we thought such a story could capture and tell us something about the very modern way that we communicate these days.”

Here’s my response. (I submitted the below as a question/comment. You, too, can submit questions/comments about this story until the discussion goes live tomorrow at 1 p.m. EST.)

Did you ever feel like maybe you weren’t doing your job as a reporter/storyteller? On the one hand, we’re getting about as intimate as we can to Shana — we’re getting the raw data, the untouched facts, from her perspective in her status updates. On the other hand, we’re not getting anything deeper — nothing beyond what she posted on Facebook, nothing that a reporter would be expected to get.

As a photojournalist, I pressure myself to go the extra mile and try to get deeper. It doesn’t always work, but I do try. And I feel like, apart from a new — if gimmicky — storytelling format, nothing elevates this piece to go above and beyond the surface of a very tragic story.

What do you think?

  • ADDENDUM — Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m. CST –

The live chat with Shapira happened while I was out and about today. Mine was his second response in the queue:

This is one of the challenges my editor Marc Fisher and I discussed before doing the story. And we felt that, ultimately, for the experimentation to be as true and organic as possible, we wanted to not intrude too much. We purposely avoided interfering too much. Yes, the reader needed some guidance, so we provided that with several annotations. And I do think those annotations, and our editing, transform what was once her Facebook page to an actual story. We  made decisions on what to cut, what to preserve, and what to annotate.  Perhaps we could have added more annotations, but then again, I wanted to show readers how Shana herself communicated her own story. If I helped the reader out too much I feared that it would take away from the experience and perspectives of her friends who had been following her ordeal in real time. It’s a good debate and maybe it would have more powerful if we had gone more heavy with annotations. But, based on what readers are writing me, I feel very satisfied.

The next question in the queue also addresses whether or not this storytelling method is a gimmick.

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I totally killed Thanksgiving

I can’t believe it’s December.

I also can’t believe that I volunteered to take over Thanksgiving (choosing the menu and cooking all but the turkey, that is).

My mom's reaction while chopping up cremini mushrooms for the stuffing: "Look! It's a Siamese!"

And, furthermore, I can’t believe that I’ve now volunteered to do the same for Christmas Eve dinner and the Christmas cookie-baking.

Anyway, I’m a bit behind in blogging, but here’re some goodies from Thanksgiving. I’ll backtrack from there and post some earlier photos — later.

I wrote the recipes out because inkjet printouts tend to smear if they get damp.

We — my grandparents, some of my immediate family and another family (10 people total) — began the meal with squash and corn chowder. This was one of the dishes we made when I visited some friends in Roanoke in July, and it was a resounding success.

I doubled the recipe for 10 people, and it was far too much. I also added a lot more seasoning and herbs, as it was otherwise a little bland.

One of the reasons why I volunteered to take over Thanksgiving was, I was a little tired of the usual dishes. Squash casserole? My older brother is the dish’s biggest fan, but he’s in Hawaii. I nixed that one and decided to introduce the soup course.

Then, with the turkey, we had three other dishes plus the usual Thanksgiving condiment.

Mushroom, onion and sourdough stuffing, a la Bobby Flay:

I forgot the egg and the parsley. It still came out fine and tasted great. Definitely the most labor-intensive and time-consuming dish to prepare, though.

I’ve never been a fan of stuffing — or dressing, whichever — but the week before, Jeff and I watched the “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” episode wherein Bobby and The Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond) went head to head on a full Thanksgiving meal. This was Bobby’s stuffing, and both Jeff and I decided to give it a shot in our respective homes.

It was pretty good.

(more…)

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