Orphan Black Is My Personal Trainer

Not only are the Sestras of Team Leda my personal trainers, but also, as a result, I can survive car crashes, get stabbed through the side with rebar, run, fight, shoot with accuracy, and dig a grave through a cement floor. Impressed?

Don’t be. I may be exaggerating. Let me back up a bit.

During the summer of 2013, I lost about eighteen pounds. This happened through a combination of hopping up and down on an elliptical machine at Planet Fitness, and eating mostly blueberries and almonds in order to win the respect of  [popular Philadelphia actor and local vegan] Doug Greene. It was fun, for a while. Then,
a) I learned that Doug Greene’s kindness is so vast that he really doesn’t care if I eat things which can not be easily foraged, and

b) The televisions at my local Planet Fitness succeeded in driving me out of there. That’s right. The terrorists’ televisions won.

Here’s the battle. I had a pretty good system for making regular exercise part of my life. Roll out of bed, pull on the pile of work out clothes I thoughtfully placed [okay, dumped] on the floor next to the bed the day before, put earbuds in ears, and with my gym only a few blocks away, I’d be at the gym and on the elliptical, chugging along to “Doctorin’ The Tardis,” before I really woke up.

OB1-596x335  Unfortunately, the Wall Of Televisions across from the elliptical machines were extremely distracting. The morning parade of anorexics, invented health scares, and celebrity bullshit which passes for news drove me far away from sense and sensibility. One day I saw Olivia Wilde, being interviewed about her role in a movie in which her character allegedly liked to drink a lot of beer. I thought, she doesn’t look like she’s ever touched a beer in her life. She’s as light and luminous as a snowflake. She probably eats nothing but organic arugula and pure mountain spring water. Then, some weird part of me thought, you could look like that if you ate only twelve handfuls of almonds a day. It’s possible. And just look how much better her career is than yours.

Fortunately, some reasonable part of my brain (the part that likes eating, moving around and having cognitive function) said, NOPE, that’s not a healthy mind set. I got my priorities in order. After that, the televisions at the gym made me so angry, that I stopped going to the gym. Music wasn’t enough to keep me going, with TV flashing and flickering away in front of me.

OrphanBlack_S2Ep10_251-596x335 Recently, I was talking with some friends about how I wanted to write a Tv drama spec script for my portfolio. My co-worker Kevin suggested that Orphan Black might fit my sensibilities. I hate sitting and spending copious amounts of time staring at something without doing something else along with it, so I thought, I’ll watch it at the gym. I bought the iTunes season pass for the first two seasons, and away I went on Leda’s Big Adventure.

This show is absolutely ideal as a companion for cardio, especially if you’re stuck indoors at one spot*. Its style, as a one-hour adventure-sci-fi-drama- is ideal for a 45-minute workout.

ob121-596x335  TV writing is formulaic, even for a genre-defying show like Orphan Black. Dan Harmon’s narrative structure method shows this formula best. Essentially, with a 40-45 minute show, you’re going to have moments of tension every five or six minutes. Every other moment of tension will be a major moment of tension, and they will increase in intensity throughout the story.

To try to make things simple, these are your big turning points of story.
1) A person is in a place of comfort
2) But they want something
3) They enter an unfamiliar situation
4) Adapt to it
5) Get what they thought they wanted
6) Pay a heavy price
7) Return to where they started
8) Having Changed.

OrphanBlack-Ep5-1-596x335In the case of a serial thriller like Orphan Black, you’re not going right back to the beginning, necessarily, you’re only back to square one in the sense that you’re still fighting The Bad Guys. Your favorite clone makes progress, but not enough for her to win freedom for herself and her family.

So, when you’re working out, these points of tension will make you move faster. The first ten minutes or so, even if they start with Sarah or Cosima or Allison or Helena in a major pickle, are at least a pickle with which the viewer is familiar. The episode is establishing itself, and this gives you time to get warmed up. After about ten minutes, our heroine gets presented with a new difficulty, and that makes the tension pick up. Usually, by about fifteen minutes into the episode, there’s a bar fight, a critical code to be cracked, or a chase that makes the viewer more tense. So, the natural response is to do what? Move faster. Each conflict increases the tension, leading to a plateau, and then another increase, until the inevitable cliffhanger ending, which leaves the viewer wanting more.

OrphanBlack_S2Ep9_20-596x335Mirror Neurons being what they are, we can’t not get tense along with our favorite characters. Every time they get into trouble, we do what they know they should do; tense up, and run, or fight. It’s a perfect thing to keep you going when you’re at the gym. There are some exceptions, however. When Paul pressed the stolen (spoiler object) into the palm of Felix’s hand, I hauled on the brakes on the elliptical foot pads so hard that I almost fell off of the machine. So, be careful. This show is not to be taken lightly.

It’s true that many television shows follow this formula, and probably any one-hour drama or police procedural could fit the bill. Why not just go to the gym a couple of hours after dinnertime, and catch one of the many variations on CSI or Law & Order? Because this is Orphan Black, and it’s a whole new modus operandi in story.

251-596x335

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

One actress, Tatiana Maslany, plays the main characters, all of whom share the same DNA, but are as different as chalk and cheese. Each of them has secrets, and has to pretend to be something she’s not. Anyone who wants transformation, or has just had a very bad day (why else would you get on an elliptical machine?) can empathize with Clone Club. The clones battle and support each other in similar but unique voices, much as different facets of one human’s personality. Yet they all work toward a common goal; independence and safety for themselves and their family. Because one actress plays all the roles, the viewer gets pulled into the concept of transformation. The body becomes immaterial; what matters is the clones’ desires, actions, and manners of self-expression. For someone who’s trying to get more exercise, this hits home. Ultimately, the premise of Orphan Black is, “Is biology destiny?” Is our body all we are, or can be? For all women, we want to feel like our bodies are less important than our personalities, thoughts, and desires. In the case of Orphan Black, the human body is a part of oneself, but not the entire existence.

OrphanBlack_HelenaGallery_02-596x335  Having this show accompany me as I work out makes me more excited to go to the gym. It makes me think about the body in terms of strength, health and autonomy. It distracts me from all of the usual chatter in which we engage, concerning fitness and working out. Maybe I’m not doing this because I want to look like the women on The Today Show or Good Morning America. Maybe I’m doing this in case I ever have to dodge a sniper’s bullet or run for my life or fight off a bunch of armed goons. The characters on this show are flexible but tough, capable of change, but focused, and always moving up. It’s the best workout companion I’ve ever had.

I have not yet seen Season 3, other than the occasional trailer or sneak peek. Like I said, I don’t have cable (although Episode 1 of Season 3 is available online. BUT FOR HOW LONG???). As far as I can tell, some of what the new season concerns is how big business (i.e., Dyad), can control the human body, how the government and military can get involved (such as in the case of copyright), and what people can do with their bodies. These ideas scares me, particularly since we see this all the time. We see it when women starve themselves to fit a business’ idea of what a clothing size is, when people make choices about food, self-care, residence or birth control based on what corporations say is safe and healthy. I’m glad this show is exploring these ideas, in an interesting and inventive way.

And no, I never wrote the spec script, because I was too busy being in love with the show. I probably will eventually, anyway. Wide Open Spaces made the semi-finalist level for the National Playwrights’ Conference at The Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, so I can’t possibly be that bad at this whole thing, right?

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Illness, health, and creativity

I know nobody’s looking at the Internet on a Friday evening in Spring (and if you are, please, step away from the screen and go enjoy some fresh air). But, I’ve had a cocktail, and since I haven’t posted anything here for a while, now seems like a good time as any to post.

Plague Doctor, Rome, 1656  I’ve been way underground for a while, and here’s why. First of all, I had the black plague. It’s possible I may be exaggerating for comic effect. I had pneumonia for a little bit over a week, probably a by-product of the weather vacillating wildly from warm to cold and back. In any case, I lost several days in bed manufacturing sputum of many colors. I learned something very interesting in the course of this illness.

If you take an SSRI, as many of us do (I think Zoloft will be OTC by 2020, but that’s just my opinion), you may want to consider its interaction with your over-the-counter cold medication, specifically, dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant). It clearly states on medications such as DayQuil and Mucinex DM that this medication should not be taken in conjunction with any medication that is an MAOI. I may be the exception to all of this, but, to make a long story short, the combination of dextromethorphan and sertraline resulted in a case of restless leg syndrome which should have made me eligible to join the Rockettes. Hence, what should have been a 5 to 7 day recuperation period stretched into 10 days because I had to take 36 hours with no medication which suppressed symptoms (other than antibiotics)  to let things get out of my system, which meant I couldn’t sleep. The moral of the story is, Cough Syrup Is No Joke.

Know your drugs, know your doses. It’s elementary.

But I digress. Here’s the heavy lifting which I’ve been doing this semester.

Walter Lowenfels  I’ve been writing a play about poet and journalist Walter Lowenfels. He lived in Paris during the 1930’s, hobnobbing with such literary luminaries as Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. After the Depression hit, he returned with his wife, Lillian, to New Jersey, where he worked in his father’s butter business by day and wrote poetry by night. In the 1940s, he moved his family to Parkside, in West Philadelphia. There, he edited the Pennsylvania edition of The Daily Worker and was active in the Communist Party and the Civil Rights movement. In 1952 he was arrested for violation of The Smith Act, allegedly for trying to overthrow the government, and briefly held at Holmesburg Prison. The case was thrown out for lack of evidence; apparently the FBI does believe the pen to be mightier than the sword.

Lowenfels lived a multifaceted life, stretching between the demands of his family, his community, and his art. In the play created for my Seminar in Community Arts Practices, we’re exploring how he maintained that balance, via the metaphor of  his kitchen table. The play, Walter’s Table, will be presented as part of the Radical Jewish Culture symposium, at Paley Library, on Temple University’s main campus, on April 25 and 26. This production stars Philadelphia veteran actor David Ingram (most recently on the Wilma Theater stage in Cherokee).

Georgia O'Keeffe, photographed by Alfred Steiglitz.  My thesis project is the real elephant in the room. The working title is Dream Of Wide Open Spaces. To make a long story short, from the fall of 1932 to the spring of 1934, Georgia O’Keeffe stopped painting. During that time she had a physical and emotional breakdown, lost all her appetite for creativity, and gradually found her way back to become the visual powerhouse we know and love.  As I’m working on this play, I am madly in love with The Beinecke Rare Book And Manuscript Library at Yale University, which holds much of Georgia O’Keeffe’s correspondence. Reading her letters in her handwriting, and interpreting the nuances with which she wields fountain pen or pencil is an adventure in and of itself. I’m also reading My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Steiglitz by Sarah Greenough, Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe by Laurie Lisle, Georgia O’Keeffe by Roxana Robinson, and O’Keeffe and Steiglitz: An American Romance by Benita Eisler.

Black Hollyhock, Blue Larkspur, 1934

Black Hollyhock, Blue Larkspur, 1934

My process has been to read, read, and read, either before going to sleep for the night, or while on the train commuting, and then either sleep or go for walks, and let the data roll around in my head. Unfortunately, I know what it’s like to be creatively frustrated, as O’Keeffe was during that period, and what it’s like to be in a relationship with un-chosen non-monogamy. I also know what it’s like to be sick, and not to trust one’s own body,  and have to regain that trust. So I let things marinate, and then get up early in the morning and write what makes the most sense.

It’s a slow and painful process, but so far, I feel pretty good about it.

Coming up in the next month, Liz Carlson and I are banging our heads together again, for Temple University’s MFA Playfest. Liz will direct the play which I wrote as an independent study with Ed Sobel this past fall, The Wreck Of The Alberta. It’s a family drama about the weight of history, mental illness, puppetry and the secret life of objects. I love working with Liz, and our previous collaboration, Fox Haven was very successful, so this should be a good time.

Finally, if all goes well, I get to graduate in May. I will be wearing a cap, gown and hood made from the equivalent of approximately 23 recycled plastic bottles. I’m pretty tall, so let’s say 25.

So. That’s all the news that’s fit to print right now. Hopefully, I’ll make it through to the other side with two good scripts, and I can write about something other than balancing art with one’s mental health, someday. Right now I’m really feeling the experience of being on the fence between mentally healthy and productive, and crazy and frustrated. But, I’m walking the fence one step at a time.

 

 

Knock knock. Who’s there? Hamlet.

My brother, Ted, with some of the puppets he's made.

My brother, Ted, with some of the puppets he’s made.

Many years ago(okay, ten or so), my brother Ted asked me to write a script for him to perform with his puppets.

So I adapted Hamlet into a five-minute version for him. The script was lost, found, lost again, and now found again, so I’m putting it up here.

My father says it’s terrible, but he hates Shakespeare, and slept through the Lantern Theatre Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing once (which Ted and I both loved), so this can’t be all that bad.  If you read this and it makes you laugh, great. Comments and feedback are all welcome.

If you want to perform this, with or without puppets, go right ahead. Let me know, because that would make me really happy, but please give me credit in writing for creating this adaptation.  Now I have to get back to reading and writing about Walter Lowenfels and Georgia O’Keeffe.

HAMLET IN FIVE MINUTES

OFFSTAGE VOICE:
Knock knock. Who’s there?
(GHOST puppet comes up.)
GHOST:
AWOOOOO!
(GHOST puppet disappears. Hamlet puppet comes up)
HAMLET:
I’m really depressed.
(HORATIO puppet enters)
HORATIO:
Hamlet, there’s a ghost on the balcony! Come see it!
(HORATIO exits)
HAMLET:
Sure, whatever.
(GHOST re-enters)
GHOST:
BOO-YAH!
HAMLET:
OH! Jiminy Christmas, Dad, don’t scare me like that.
GHOST:
HAAAAMMMLEEETTTT, my brother killed me and married your mother. Now he’s king and you’re not. Do something!
HAMLET:
Dad! You’re really upsetting me! Why shouldn’t I just lie around and slob out my trust fund?
GHOST:
Because I’ve got news for you, kid.
OFFSTAGE VOICE:
Knock, knock!
HAMLET:
Who’s there?
OFFSTAGE VOICE:
Fortinbras!
HAMLET:
Fortinbras who?
OFFSTAGE VOICE:
Fortinbras of Norway! I’m amassing soldiers on the border and we want baked Danish for breakfast!
HAMLET:
Great.
GHOST:
Hamlet! Do something with your life!
(GHOST disappears)
HAMLET:
Well, this sucks.
(POLONIUS enters)
POLONIUS:
What is the matter, my lord?
HAMLET:
Leave me alone, I’m trying to think.
POLONIUS:
Oh, tell me all your problems, I’m here for you.
HAMLET:
Really?
POLONIUS:
No.
HAMLET:
You know what? I’m crazy. Hopping mad! Boogedy-Boo! Leave me alone!
POLONIUS:
What are your intentions with my daughter?
HAMLET:
Your daughter?
(POLONIUS exits, OPHELIA appears, she is an adorable bunny rabbit)
OPHELIA:
Hi, Hamlet.
HAMLET:
Hi, Ophie.
OPHELIA:
Whatcha doin’?
HAMLET:
You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Ophie. A rebel.
OPHELIA:
Just wait till my brother finds out what a head case you are.
(she exits. CLAUDIUS enters)
CLAUDIUS:
Well, well, well, if it isn’t Hamlet. Still crazy and useless?
HAMLET:
If I stopped being crazy and useless, you’d have me killed, right?
CLAUDIUS:
Now, Hamlet, whatever makes you say that?
HAMLET:
Ok, Uncle Claude, I have a joke for you. Knock knock.
CLAUDIUS:
Who’s there?
HAMLET:
Guys that kill their brother, marry their sister in law and make off with the crown.
CLAUDIUS:
I don’t think that joke’s very funny, Hamlet.
HAMLET:
Neither do I.
CLAUDIUS:
Go to your room and stay there till I think of something to do with you!
(exits)
HAMLET:
How about if I go to Mom’s room instead?
(GERTRUDE enters)
GERTRUDE:
Hamlet, baby, why can’t you get along with your uncle and your stepfather?
HAMLET:
Mom. Don’t tell me that you cannot see how there is something completely, intrinsically wrong with that sentence.
GERTRUDE:
You always were a strange boy.
HAMLET:
No I’m not! I am not a strange boy! Look around you, Mom! Everything else is very, very messed up!
(rod puppet pops up of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN)
R&G: (singing)
Oh, we are the boys in chorus, we hope you like our show, we’re really glad to be here, but now it’s time to go!
(R&G disappear)
HAMLET:
You see?
GERTRUDE:
Maybe you need some Ritalin.
HAMLET:
No.
GERT:
Prozac?
HAMLET:
No.
GERT:
Zoloft?
HAMLET:
No!
GERT:
Tofranil? Tegretol? Riseprdal? Ex-Laxx?
HAMLET:
No, no, no, no!
OFFSTAGE VOICE:
I’ll take some Ex-Laxx.
HAMLET:
Who was that?
GERT:
It must be a mouse because there couldn’t possibly be anyone spying on you!
HAMLET:
Ok, well, I’ll just stab the tapestry with my sword, then! Take THAT!
(rod puppet of DEAD POLONIUS appears. Eyes like X’s, tongue hanging out, etc. GERTRUDE exits, replaced by CLAUDIUS)
HAMLET:
So that’s what dead really looks like.
CLAUDIUS:
HAMLET! What did you do this time?
HAMLET:
Oops. My bad.
CLAUDIUS:
Congratulations! You’ve just won an all-expense-paid one-way trip straight to England!
HAMLET:
You know what? If it gets you out of my sight, FINE.
(Exeunt. OPHELIA, still an adorable bunny rabbit, but now a crazy, scary bunny rabbit, appears, singing to the tune of “I Met Him on a Sunday.” GERTRUDE sings backup)
OPHELIA:
I met him on a Sunday.
GERTRUDE:
Oo-oo-oo-oo
OPHELIA:
And his dad got killed on Monday,
GERTRUDE:
Oo-oo-oo-oo
OPHELIA:
Lost his marbles on a Tuesday,
GERTRUDE:
Oo-oo-oo-oo
OPHELIA:
Dissed me off on Wednesday,
GERTRUDE:
Oo-oo-oo-oo
OPHELIA:
Killed my dad on Thursday,
GERTRUDE:
Oo-oo-oo-oo,
OPHELIA:
Disappeared on Friday,
GERTRUDE:
Oo-oo-oo-oo,
OPHELIA:
I said, Bye-bye- Baby…
Doo ron, day ron, day ron, day ron, day, poppa doo ron, day ron, day ron, day ron, day poppa doo, oo-oo-oo-oooo.
Splish splash, I was takin’ a bath, long about a Saturday night, rub a dub, just relaxin’ in the tub, thinkin’ everything was all right…
(OPHELIA exits. HAMLET enters.)
GERTRUDE:
Hamlet! You’re back! Where were you?
HAMLET:
Well, I was going to go to England, but I changed my mind.
GERT:
What happened to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?
HAMLET:
Oh, they decided to stay and hang out.
(Rod puppet of ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN, dead Xs for eyes, tongues bugging out, nooses around their necks, pops up briefly, with a riff of “Rule Brittania” on kazoo.)
HAMLET:
Where’s my girlfriend?
GERTRUDE:
Oh, she went for a big swim.
HAMLET:
How big?
GERT:
Six feet under.
HAMLET:
Well, hope she reserves us all a good table and pre-orders the appetizers.
GERT:
I’ll bring the wine!
(GERTRUDE exits. a little skull on a stick pops up.)
SKULL:
Knock, knock.
HAMLET:
Who’s there.
SKULL:
Yorick.
HAMLET:
Yorick who?
SKULL:
Tag, Yor-ick!
(SKULL drops away.)
HAMLET:
I knew him.
(LAERTES pops up, mad as hell)
LAERTES:
HAMLET! I just got here from Paris-
HAMLET:
And boy are your arms tired.
LAERTES:
And everyone I love is dead!
HAMLET:
Boo hoo. Join the club.
LAERTES:
I’m gonna kick your ass!
(LAERTES exits, GERT returns)
HAMLET:
Good.
GERT:
Hamlet, your uncle brought some wine, wasn’t that nice of him? It’s got pearls in it! And it’s mighty tasty too!
HAMLET:
Mom, wait, stop, don’t you know what they say about pearls soaked in wine?
GERT:
No, that’s pearls before- GAK.
(she dies. Disappears.)
HAMLET:
Okay. Well, everyone that’s left I don’t like very much, so this should be easy.
(CLAUDIUS enters)
CLAUDIUS:
Hamlet, I’m betting on Laertes to pulverize you!
HAMLET:
Hey, Uncle Claude, guess what.
CLAUDIUS:
What?
HAMLET:
Never get in a fight with someone crazier than yourself.
CLAUDIUS:
What’s that supposed to mean?
HAMLET:
Look, a flesh-eating vulture.
(CLAUDIUS looks up)
CLAUDIUS:
Where?
(HAMLET head-butts him. CLAUDIUS dies, disappears. LAERTES pops up, holding a sword)
HAMLET:
Yeah, I learned that from Mel Gibson.
LAERTES:
Hey, Hamlet, wanna see my new sword?
HAMLET:
What’s so great about it?
LAERTES:
Well, your uncle gave it to me. It’s got deadly poison all over it. Tag, you’re it!
(whaps him with the sword)
HAMLET:
Oh well, I guess that means I have to kill you RIGHT NOW.
(HAMLET beats LAERTES up until he disappears)
HAMLET:
Ok. Well, I think that about wraps it up.
(HORATIO enters)
HORATIO:
Hey, um, Hamlet, someone’s at the door.
HAMLET:
Can it wait a minute? I’m dying here.
(HAMLET slumps, dead, over the puppet stage. FORTINBRAS enters)
FORTINBRAS:
Knock knock.
HORATIO:
Who’s there?
FORTINBRAS:
Norway.
HORATIO:
Norway who?
FORTINBRAS:
There ain’t Nor Way that Denmark isn’t mine, all mine! Hah hah hah!
HORATIO:
And I alone am escaped to tell thee, “The End.”

END OF PLAY

I also have to add: This play is much, much funnier when Ted performs it. He reads so fast that you can only understand about 60% of the words, but the intention is clear, and the enthusiasm and determination are like a galloping horse toward Horse Heaven. It’s like Andy Kaufman breaking a land speed record.

Winter baking and sweet treats without sugar shock

The colder it gets, the more my urge to bake crawls up to the surface. It’s very hard to ignore the desire to heat up one’s kitchen and make comfort food. A few winters ago,  I went on a quest to make the perfect oatmeal-cranberry cookie,* and the perfect red velvet cupcake. I learned a lot, gained weight, and had fun, but I spent a lot of time eating ugly, flavorless red velvet cupcakes. I kept eating them by the dozen, dragged in by the addictive nature of complex carbohydrates, even though they tasted like chalkboard erasers.  I’d eat them, wondering what went wrong in the baking process, then I’d have to pass out, then I’d wake up three hours later, and eat more of them***.

The beagle-basset hound in its preferred native habitat.

“I would definitely like a cookie, please.”

This winter, I’m trying really hard to avoid the complex carbohydrate roller coaster. But I still want to crank up the oven, warm up the kitchen, and put effort into something which will result in a tasty comforting treat for my loved ones and myself. Particularly when you write for theater, and you’re putting effort into something with no clear concept of how it will pay off, cooking can be very affirming.  Making batches of cookies is ridiculous, in my opinion. Vince will only eat so many, I’m not a good enough baker to take my cookies to others, and leaving sugary carby snacks around me is like leaving heroin around Kurt Cobain.** But, I have a new tactic.

My dear friend Shelle, who blogs over at BatCookies, recommended Bob Harper’s book The Skinny Rules to me a few years ago. I haven’t followed it strictly, but I like the recipes a lot. One of his easy snack recipes is roasted sweet potatoes.  Through trial and error and negotiation with my oven, I adapted his recipe to suit me. Basically, I chop up sweet potatoes into chunks, put them in a bowl, toss them with oil, garlic salt and whatever else on the spice shelf looks good, and then put them on a baking sheet lined with foil in a preheated oven at 375 for about 20-25 minutes.

Oven-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Left: Sweet potatoes tossed with olive oil, Goya Adobo Light seasoning, and Indian Curry Powder. Right: Sweet potatoes, buck naked.

Harper’s recipe is lower in salt than mine, and I’m sure his oven has less heating issues than mine does, so if you’re on a weight loss trip, go get his book and read it because it’s reasonably good. Also, at this time of year, sweet potatoes are not expensive, and they’re even cheaper around Thanksgiving and Christmas. I got 5 lbs. for $4.40 a few weeks ago at my local supermarket, but my local produce vendor normally has them for 3 pounds for a dollar. If you want a warm, tasty, crisp on the outside yet soft on the inside sweet-salty-savory snack,  try this.

WebMD has a detailed article explaining not only the nutrient profile of sweet potatoes, but also how they are frequently confused with yams and the differences between them. I thought I was buying yams at the supermarket, because they had reddish skin and were labelled “yams.” I was wrong.  However, from hearing me talk about it, my dogs now put the word “yam” in the same category of understanding as “walk,” “treat,” “cookie” and “bed.”  Trying to explain the difference between a yam and a sweet potato to them at this point won’t work.

ME: Bebe, I need to explain something to you.

BEBE: You woke me up, this better be good.

ME: Okay. Just so you know-

BEBE: Holy crap that’s a yam, gimme.

ME: No, I need to explain something first.

BEBE: What’s to explain, gimme. Yam. Now.

ME: This is to a yam, it’s a sweet potato. Yams are native to Africa, whereas sweet potatoes are native to South America.

BEBE: As long as it emigrates across my tongue, down my gullet and into my belly, I don’t care where it’s from. Gimme Yam.

ME: Yams also are dark brown and hairy and can grow up to 100 pounds. So they usually don’t have them in supermarkets in the US.

BEBE: I’m brown and hairy. Quit accusing me of look-ism. All tasty treats are welcome. I have a very liberal immigration policy in Bebestumistan.

ME: So, you understand, right? It’s a sweet potato, not a-

(SNAP)

ME: Thank you for not chomping my fingers, Bebe.

BEBE: You’re welcome. Thank you for the yam.

So we have to use the word “yam.” That’s all there is to it.

I do make sweet potato treats specifically for the dogs, thanks to Thug Kitchen’s Sweet Potato Dog Treat Jerky Recipe. It occurred to me that maybe letting the dogs mooch off my garlicky, salty sweet potato chunks was probably a terrible idea, so I make them buck naked.

My friends who have kids are falling into the “baking cookies” trap as badly as I have; it’s cold, you have to entertain some bored kids; voilà, bake cookies. Teach them measuring and procedures and chemistry and science and cooking and follow it with tasty tasty sugary snacks. But, I’m wondering baking sweet potato slices or chunks could be just as entertaining. True, you don’t want to give the kids knives, but what I’m wondering is if you cut the potatoes into wide, long slices, bake them for fifteen minutes to soften them, then cut them into shapes with a cookie cutter, then put them back in the oven for another ten or 15 minutes, if that would solve the problem of the cookie trap?

Or would kids say, “Don’t fucking try to fake us out, now come across with the cookies?”

——

* The Quaker Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Recipe. Accept no substitutes. Except that I substituted cranberries for raisins, because Vince doesn’t like ’em.

**Recomended Reading: The End of Overeating, by David A. Kessler, MD. An approachable yet scientifically sound  and fascinating book about the human brain, biochemistry, and how we manipulate ourselves and each other to over-eat, keep eating, and never be fully satisfied.

Also, for what it’s worth, I love Thug Kitchen so much. There is something about those recipes that flip a switch in my brain and I get a level of  satisfaction from flavor and nutrients and mouthfeel that is as deeply profound as scratching a seven-year-itch.

*** For what it’s worth: I tried a lot of different recipes for Red Velvet Cupcakes. Of the best I have ever tasted, which I did not bake, they have come from Philly Cupcake at 1132 Chestnut Street and Cookie Confidential at 5th & Gaskill.  I have not tried Flying Monkey‘s red velvet cupcakes, though I have tried their other cupcakes and they are amazing and delicious.

Of the ones I have baked:

All box mixes I tried were chocolate cake dyed red. NO.

Paula Deen’s recipe was the worst. The recipe called for 1 & 1/2 cups of vegetable oil, but no butter, which seemed really odd to me. But I went ahead with it, and followed instructions. They were rubbery and sad and I hated them and myself for bringing them into this world.

The most successful recipe I used was one which I found online and now can’t find again. However, The Parsley Thief’s Recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes seems to be the closest to what I remember.

Good red velvet cupcakes, apparently, are supposed to be balanced between sweet and bitter and tangy. They’re supposed to have a hint of chocolate taste to them, but they’re not supposed to be a chocolate cupcake dyed red.  From what I can figure, if it’s a cake recipe which cuts no corners, but also includes unsweetened cocoa, buttermilk, baking soda and distilled vinegar (and requires that you do the vinegar-baking soda trick when you make it) you’re as close to a true red velvet cake recipe as anyone south of the Mason-Dixon line will let a Yankee.  I think the popularity is due to the challenge and controversy of how to properly make one, and how easy it is to get it wrong.

And now, as you can see, I’m still completely obsessed, and will have to content myself with roasted sweet potato chunks.

sometimes, having an autistic brother is funny.

It’s not often enough that you have to say this sentence, “Electric fences don’t work on my brother.” Not because my brother is Iron Man, but simply because he is who he is. By way of explanation, I wrote the following story, and it seemed good enough to share, so enjoy.

IMG_1534

My brother, about 40 years ago.

My brother, Ted, has an official diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder with autistic-like symptoms. He’s relatively high-functioning and his behavior tends to be somewhere between Rain Man and Forrest Gump, with a fair amount of Captain Jack Sparrow and Vincent Price thrown in for good measure.

When Ted was in his 20s, he had all the same daredevil urges that most guys that age do. Fortunately, he wasn’t interested in kegstands and extreme sports (although he did like to ride around on a mountain bike, until he was run off of a road by an asshole aggressive driver and broke his collarbone). He also liked to spend a lot of time walking around in the yard in costumes or his pajamas, talking to himself.

His pajamas at the time consisted of a red V-neck giant t-shirt that (thank God) came down to his knees. I got used to it. Looking back I realize that it may have seemed odd to others.  At the time, he was over six feet tall, blond, and built like your basic frat boy. but he would wander around the yard scheming about his imagined future career as a late-night horror movie host.

My father had a swimming pool built sometime around 1991 or so. We now call it Lake Mistake. Ted would spend his afternoons by the pool in his concept of a pirate costume with all of his stuffed animals and his Playmobil pirate ship set (which he acquired when he was about six or seven and in which he didn’t lose interest for another 20 years or so). His pirates would do battle and then he took a wooden plank, weighted it with bricks at one end of the pool, and made all of the stuffed animals walk the plank to meet their watery graves.

We were finding teeny tiny pirate accessories in the pool filter system for years. The stuffed animals never quite dried out.

Now that I think about it, Ted went through a period where he built a wooden raft in the barn out of whatever scrap wood he could find, and he and his teddy bear would set sail on Ridley Creek (which is about 2′ deep at the most near our house). The raft was about 3’x4′, had a mast and sail, weighed a ton and was as seaworthy as a cinderblock, but he kept dragging it down to the creek and back, along with his teddy bear, Captain Junior Foozergraph Bear, who also wore a pirate costume, and who bore many knife wounds from various steak-knife skirmishes with the other stuffed animals. Between the old rusty nails and the questionable cleanliness of Ridley Creek, the whole thing was a massive testament to hepatitis and tetanus, but somehow Ted survived. He did get really sick from playing in the creek too much, but he managed to sleep it off somehow.

as a result of the sickness he got from too much creek swimming, he tried to launch his raft in the swimming pool once. I don’t know how he got it out, but he never did it again. He and my mother managed to reach a compromise that the raft could be next to the pool and he could imagine sailing it across the ocean more enjoyably than actually trying to float it in the pool.

so, for a couple of years, we had this treacherous pallet of scrap lumber and found nails sitting next to the swimming pool, along with the chaise lounges and chairs.
“what’s that?”
“oh, that’s Ted’s pirate ship.”

I’m totally digressing away from the point.

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My brother, last month.

We had a golden retriever named Chowder (my family’s never been good with pet naming), who was completely nuts, a jumping, barking, running tornado of blond hair and love. My parents installed an invisible electric fence to keep him from running up to a particular house about a mile away where there were two golden retrievers, where, of course, he would fight with the made dog and have sex with the female dog. he was a four-legged viking (There is no such thing as a story about my family that stays on one tangent for long. It just doesn’t work). Chowder managed to figure out that if he made a beeline from the front porch to the furthest downhill corner of the yard, he could build up enough speed that he could zip across the fence with little to no ill effect. Either that, or his dog brain just said, “GO! GO! GO!” and he was going so fast that he didn’t even realize he was in the danger zone until he was out of it. The invisible fence people kept telling us to crank the signal higher and higher, and we said that the electric shock was now high enough to cook a Thanksgiving turkey, but it wasn’t stopping Chowder when he put his mind to it.

So, one day, my boyfriend Dave and I were at the house wandering around the yard, as was Ted, and of course he was in his red V-neck t-shirt, covered in food and ink stains. Thank God Dave also had an autistic brother, so he understood the behaviors pretty well.

TED: Have you tried out the electric fence yet?
ME: What do you mean, ‘tried out’?
TED: Have you walked across it while wearing the dog’s collar?
ME: No. Have you?
TED: Huhhuhhuhhuh…
ME: You did, didn’t you?
TED: Maaaybe.
ME: What does it feel like?
TED: Like Frankenstein being brought to life!

Yes, my brother took a dog’s collar with an electrical box with two metal prongs sticking out of it on his neck, lined up the prongs on his neck, and walked across an electrical fence cranked up to its highest setting. For Science. you know. as you do. I’m kind of surprised it didn’t seriously hurt him, but I’m also kind of not surprised.

Anyway. A few minutes later, the dog decided to take a run from the front porch to the far downhill corner of the yard, again, and of course he made it across the fence and off to someone else’s yard. We ran after him, and back then Ted was a really fast runner, so he managed to make it across the yard, the bridge over the creek, across the street, and into a neighboring yard, where he grabbed the dog and dragged him back. We caught up with him about ten feet away from the other side of the electric fence.

Now that the dog was moving at a normal pace, he refused to cross the invisible fence. The collar makes a warning sound, a high-pitched beep, when it gets in close proximity to the fence, so the dog has some warning before it gets zapped. The collar was beeping, so we took the collar off of Chowder and hung onto his indoor collar to see if he would let us drag him across the line that way. Nothing doing. Chowder was a big dog, and he settled his full weight down and would not budge. Finally Dave picked up the dog and carried him across the line. Dave was not a big guy, and the sight of him carrying a giant yellow dog half his size was hilarious.

It was so intoxicatingly funny that I completely forgot that I was holding the collar, by the box, with the two prongs stuck between my fingers.

The image that flashed through my mind was a giant gold and silver rattlesnake biting my hand off. I screamed a high C bloody murder and threw the collar as far as my arm would flail. I also probably levitated about four feet off the ground. Dave dropped the dog, who went back to his usual routine of jumping up and down and barking and rolling in the grass. We managed to get the collar back on the dog, and the adrenaline rush made me completely useless for about the next four hours.

So, in the great scheme of things, I will never know which is the biologically superior being, my brother or me, but I’m pretty sure it’s him.

And, SCENE.

I love my brother.

Ted Harris at Rose Tree Park.

Ted Harris at Rose Tree Park.

My brother, Ted, is part of The State Street Miracles, a singing group for people with developmental disabilities in Delaware County, PA.  Earlier tonight, they performed as part of the Delaware County Summer Festival in Rose Tree Park.

I’m sorry I didn’t get their performance of Leiber and Stoller’s “Houn’ Dog,” which included some great Preseleyesque dance moves on the part of some of the Miracles.  But, I did get some footage of a couple of their songs.

The last time I had to do anything resembling performing in front of a room full of people, I had to read a piece I’d written for my Solo Performance class.  I had to read the script in front of twelve supportive classmates and one supportive teacher. I was so nervous I thought my uterus was gonna fall out.

This should give you a bit of an idea of how proud as punch I am of my baby brother, who sang in front of hundreds of strangers. The State Street Miracles are a pretty darn good group.

Now, if I can just get Ted to eat spinach salads without covering himself in salad dressing, it’ll be a great week.

Free Range Theatre!

Guess what, folks, I, Lindsay Harris Friel, Crazy As A Loon Playwright, am having a CRAZY LINDSAY’S GIVING IT AWAY FOR FREE SALE!  Are you looking for a  short play for your theater company, church, school, speech class, ESL class, whatever, with four characters, a simple setting, and a timely conflict to perform, but can’t afford the royalties? Well, WORRY NO MORE!  With all the hubub and froufrou about reproductive rights, pregnancy as the latest fashion accessory and tabloid cover headline, and personhood, this play guarantees that your audiences will have plenty to laugh or complain about for weeks! Just read the following and copy or paste it into the text editor or word processing software of your choice, print it out, memorize the lines and let theatrical MAGIC ensue! All I ask is that you credit me as author.  I own the copyright, and you can’t change the script, but I’ve left you plenty of room for subtext, and all you have to do is pay me in exposure!

Thanks, and have a super day!

BREAKFAST IN AMERICA

CHARACTERS:

MICHAEL: a man in his late 30s to early 40s

KATE: a woman in her late 30s to early 40s

FREDDY: a waiter, a beefy, overly-jovial lad in his early 20s

EILEEN: a waitress in her 50s

SETTING: A diner in Northeast Philadelphia. Typical diner accoutrements: formica and chrome table and fittings, so on & so forth. Television on the wall broadcasting the news.

TIME: The present day, a lovely Saturday in springtime, noonish.

AT RISE: MICHAEL and KATE sit at a table sipping coffee. The table is right next to a wood and glass partition, slightly higher than the diners’ shoulder height. MICHAEL is playing with his cell phone.

KATE: I’m so glad we have this time together.

MICHAEL: What? You’re as bad as I am with the whole cell phone thing.

(FREDDY comes bouncing up behind the partition)

MICHAEL: Oh, crap.

KATE: Don’t say anything, stay low.

FREDDY: Hi, guys!

MICHAEL AND KATE: Hi.

FREDDY: How y’seguys dooin’?

MICHAEL AND KATE: Fine.

FREDDY: So, y’seguys gettin’ breakfast or lunch?

MICHAEL AND KATE: Breakfast.

FREDDY: Ehh. Y’seguys go out last night?

MICHAEL AND KATE: No.

FREDDY: oh, Y’seseguys goin’ out tonight?

MICHAEL AND KATE: No.

FREDDY: Yer not?

KATE: Nope, this is our big adventure for the day.

FREDDY: Why not?

KATE: I have a research paper to do.

MICHAEL: Yup, we’re got stuff we have to do.

FREDDY: Ah, I hearya. I never get out any more either. I won’t be gettin’ out for a while neither, cause my girl, she’s havin’ a baby.

MICHAEL: Yup, we know.

KATE: You told us.

FREDDY: yeah, my girl’s havin’ a baby. I’m so scared. I’m terrified.

KATE: mm-hm.

MICHAEL: mm-hm.

FREDDY: An’ this time, it’s not like the las’ time, cause this time, it’s a boy, and my daughter, I don’t know, I mean I see her, but she’s a girl, and-

KATE: Wait a minute. How many kids do you have?

FREDDY: Well, I got the one, my daughter, an’ like I see her sometimes, an’ her mom, we’re like, friends and stuff, but-

KATE: Oh, look, the president’s on TV. (starts playing with her fork)

FREDDY: -but like, now, you know, I got a son, and it’s with my girl.

MICHAEL: Mm-hm.

FREDDY: You guys got kids?

MICHAEL AND KATE: Nope!

FREDDY: Ah, come on! No? No kids?

(KATE starts stabbing the palm of her hand with her fork)

MICHAEL: Nope!

FREDDY: Why not? What’s wrong witchyew?

(KATE starts corkscrewing the fork into the palm of her hand to keep from stabbing FREDDY in the eyeball)

MICHAEL: Cause we have stuff to do. We’ve got projects. Right, honey?

KATE: Right!

(MICHAEL and KATE high-five)

FREDDY: yeah, but I mean, come on, what would you guys do if you had, like, an accident?

(KATE continues stabbing herself in the hand with her fork, looking at MICHAEL)

MICHAEL: You cross that bridge when you come to it.

KATE: What kind of accident? Like a car accident?

FREDDY: No, you know, you know what I mean, if it happens?

MICHAEL: You just cross that bridge when you come to it.

FREDDY: Cause, like, my mom, she had my brother when she was forty-six-

(EILEEN comes rushing out with a tray of food, talking just a little bit too loudly.)

EILEEN: Here we are!

KATE: Oh, scrambled eggs! That’s me!

MICHAEL: There’s our breakfast! Yum!

EILEEN: Can I get you two some more coffee?

KATE: That would be lovely! Thank you!

EILEEN: Is there… anything else I can get for you?

(KATE dives into her food. MICHAEL looks up, FREDDY is gone.)

MICHAEL: I think we’re fine now, thanks.

EILEEN: I’ll be right back with your coffee. (she exits)

KATE: That is absolutely not okay. That is not okay AT ALL.

MICHAEL: It is not okay.

KATE: I mean, what if you asked someone why they were using a cane? Or told them to just drop the cane? It wouldn’t be appropriate. It would be rude.

MICHAEL: Honey, I just want to have a nice breakfast.

KATE: I wanted to have a nice breakfast too.

END OF PLAY

And SCENE. Questions? Comments? Anecdotes? Let me know!