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Monday, December 31, 2012

Winding Down the Year with Wienerschnitzel

A Beef Tamale coated with Chili and Cheese

When we lived in the house where we raised our dog Sport (Covered in “On Rescuing Dogs: Part 1”), my parents would usually go out with their friends from church after the Sunday and Wednesday evening services.  One night, at the nearby Wienerschnitzel, the pastor, his wife, and the others egged my mother into pouring a few drops of her coffee cup onto my father’s head.  He responded by upending his cup over her precious hairdo.  Gallant his action might not have been, but my father wasn’t a pushover.  He never backed down to anyone.

We never go to our local Wienerschnitzel, as it’s a rather primitive affair, only offering drive-up service, and a few tables outside.  But there’s one in Orange County that has a nice restaurant.  When we’re up that way, we sometimes stop for lunch.  They have a nice range of items, and dining there is a rare pleasure. 

Before we left for Florida, we got an advertisement heralding Wienerschnitzel’s new beef tamale.  I searched for restaurants in Florida, but the chain’s reach doesn’t extend that far.  Smothered in chili and cheddar cheese, the tamale looked terrific.  But they would only be serving it during the holidays, and I doubted we would make it up the restaurant in Orange County before they stopped serving it. 

After we returned from Florida, our days were filled with all our normal tasks, plus getting ready for Christmas.  Finally, at the end of last week, my wife made an extraordinary suggestion: that we pick up necessary supplies at the grocery store, then stop by Wienerschnitzel for their tamales.  We never get restaurant food To Go, as by the time we get home, and get everything else ready to eat, the food has gone cold.  But this time, it seemed the ideal solution.  After waiting in line for about ten minutes (despite the fact that there was only one car ahead of us), we drove slowly home in the darkness, gazing at the glowing Christmas displays.  I had to take the bag off my lap and set it on the floor: they were that hot.  They still got a little cold by the time we arrived home, and got the rest of our dinner ready, but the microwave warmed them sufficiently, and they proved as delicious as we had imagined they would.

It’s been a tough week or so since then.  Apart from expeditions to the doctor and the pharmacies, we haven’t left the house due to lingering illness.  But today we ventured out, as we needed a few items from the grocery store.  We decided against sitting in a restaurant, where the temperature might prove cooler than at home, and the other diners object to my wife’s ragged cough.  So we stopped by Wienerschnitzel on the way home.  This time, we picked up two corndogs to go with the tamales.  The cornmeal covering the corndogs was denser and sweeter than that of the tamales, and the two items went perfectly together, providing a wonderful meal. 

Mexican restaurants usually cook up special tamales for the Christmas season, but I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed them covered in hot sauce or salsa nearly as much as I do smothered in chili and melted cheddar cheese.  If you’re looking for a special dish to ring in the New Year with, you could do worse than the chili cheese tamales from Wienerschnitzel.  Like say, Pimento Cheese sandwiches.  No, not the Sandwich demon!  Alas, mention of that dreaded delicacy (and how I was once cursed with it) must wait for now.

Please, don't everyone cheer at once.

Dragon Dave

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

DTM Cars & "Last of the Summer Wine"

After we booked a week at the resort near Lancaster, we had one more week to spend somewhere in England.  If you’ve been following my blog, you know that we ultimately decided to spend our entire vacation in the Yorkshire area.  To do so, one option that appealed to us, but we ultimately had to give up, was to attend the DTM German Touring Car event at Brands Hatch.  Every year, usually starting in December, we watch the hour-long TV highlights of each race, and have been doing so since Nicola Larini won the championship in 1993.  This year, the series featured brand new cars and a new manufacturer, and it would have been great to have seen them in action, to hear them roar around the track, to catch a glimpse of former Formula One drivers like Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard, or series frontrunners like Bruno Spengler and Gary Paffett.  Ultimately, we chose to visit Holmfirth that weekend, where the TV show "Last of the Summer Wine" was filmed.

This Christmas, we got two "Last of the Summer Wine" DVDs from family members.  The other night, we watched "Merry Christmas, Father Christmas," in which Seymour convinces Campo to climb onto village roofs in a Father Christmas outfit.  The episode featured some great moments, such as when Pearl catches Norman Clegg sneaking Howard a present from his girlfriend Marina.  Although Norman valiantly pretends that he actually knitted the sweater, when Pearl opens Marina's card, and reads out her message of love, he decides the best option is to take flight.  There’s also a wonderful line, when Seymour tries to dispel Campo’s fear of climbing onto the second-story roof by telling him, “Nonsense!  If that roof were any lower, it’d be a floor!” 

At the beginning of the episode, we felt a special thrill as Seymour, Campo, and Norman walked past Daisy Lane Books.  We don’t remember the bookstore being featured in any of the episodes we’d seen previously, but we happened upon it during our visit to Holmfirth last May.  A mother and son owned the small two-story shop, and every room was crammed floor to ceiling with books.  The man had decided to throw a half-price sale that day, in celebration of his mother’s eightieth birthday, and it was there that I picked up James Herriot’s Yorkshire, a picture book that proved a helpful resource during the rest of our vacation.  There was something about watching three of our favorite characters walk past the shop we visited that is impossible to describe, yet immensely meaningful. 

For Christmas, my wife surprised me with a mug she made on Shutterfly from our visit to Holmfirth.  She’s been working with Shutterfly this year, and has produced a couple nice photobooks from our trip.  But I hadn’t noticed her working on a mug for me.  It resides now beside the teapot we got in Sid’s CafĂ©.  I’m sure I’ll use it someday, but for now, it’s too special to use.

Today, we watched the hour-long highlight show from the Brands Hatch round of the DTM championship.  I enjoyed the little they showed of the race, and all the interviews with Jenson Button, Paul di Resta, and many of the series’ drivers.  It would have been great to have watched all the support races, and even seen some of my former heroes, such as Damon Hill, race around the track in other types of cars.  As with everything in life, we have to make choices, and each choice costs us something.  I’ll never know what I missed by not attending the Brands Hatch event, but I know what I gained by visiting Holmfirth.  I’ll clutch that particular visit close to my heart, forever.

Dragon Dave

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Religious Message in “Cowboys & Aliens”

Last night, we watched a movie we missed last year in the theaters: Cowboys & Aliens.  For a secular, genre film, it had a surprisingly religious message.  Daniel Craig plays an outlaw named Jake, who at the start of the movie has lost his memory.  He arrives at a town called Absolution, shortly before the aliens attack.  A preacher named Meacham tends his wounds, and accompanies Jake and the others intent on rescuing the townspeople abducted by the aliens.  While Meacham generally has something moral to say any time he’s onscreen, his final words to Jake seem at the heart of the movie: “God don’t care who you were, son.  Only who you are.”

Jake doesn’t spend much time being penitent, at least not in the manner of a devout Catholic seeking the divine rite of Absolution, but the story seems in tune with the era of American expansion, when those who never achieved their potential in the more established towns and cities headed west to begin new lives.  Some, like Jake or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character John Carter, might have been running away from something, or had pasts they would just as soon forget.  So rather than accept the limited opportunities life seemed to have handed them, they tried something new, something bold and extreme, and hoped that their efforts would be rewarded. 

As we’re approaching the New Year, this seems a good message for all of us to contemplate.  If we have yet to achieve what we wish to in life, then should we alter our approach?  I don’t buy the adage that success never comes to people who keep doing the same thing: one must first develop one’s skills and abilities, and gain mastery over them, before long term success can come.  But then, a slight correction, or even a radical one, is mandated if one has drifted off-course.  While I feel like I’m making good progress toward developing my skills and abilities as a writer, I also feel I need to refocus my energies somewhat in the forthcoming year.  Specifically, I need to kick my submission efforts up a notch.  How exactly I can accomplish that, I don’t know, as the Divine never gives us more hours in each day.  

I know I’m a hard worker.  (At least, I can be when I really want to be).  The key is not just to work hard (which, if ill-directed, may only lead to exhaustion), but to also work smart, focusing on those tasks most necessary to achieving the desired goal.  I feel that 2013 could be my year for something to break loose and finally get a publishing deal.  But for that to happen, I have to make it happen.  So, I’ve got some thinking to do. 

What, if anything, will you do differently next year?  Is a course correction called for, or do you merely need to continue along the path you are currently following?  I wish you all wisdom as you contemplate what, if anything, you will do differently in 2013.

Dragon Dave

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Real-Life Hobbit

My mother and our friend frequent a particular Denny’s.  They travel there to see a waitress they have befriended.  She looks after them well, and they only go there when she’s working.  They exchange Christmas cards and gifts with her, and one year, when we were spending Christmas with them, we attended a Christmas Eve service at her church.  I’m not sure that my wife and I ever hoped to forge such a strong relationship with the staff at our local Denny’s, but we found one waiter we always looked forward to seeing.  I can only wonder at what might have developed, had the manager chosen to value us as well, instead of making us feel unwanted.

My mother had told me that they would be collecting The Hobbit cards for me at Denny’s, and the first night of their visit, she handed me an envelope.  I opened it to find a thick stack of cards.  I hurriedly dug out my own cards, and went through her stack.  Although she had many that were the same as mine, in some cases multiple examples, I ended up with three new cards.  This meant that I had nine out of the ten regular cards.  As I had never hoped to receive one of the two Limited Edition cards, I only needed one more to complete my set.  If I didn’t get it, I figured nine out of ten was pretty good.  More importantly, I had Bilbo Baggins, who along with Gandalf, are the two characters from the novel that mean the most to me.

The dwarves Balin and Fili,
and my first hobbit friend, Bilbo Baggins,
have graced my humble home. 

Of course, the cards are really just something fun to collect.  So, although we thought of dining at a Denny’s while in Florida, we opted for restaurants we couldn’t visit as easily back home.  But on Christmas Eve, when my mother offered to take us out to lunch at Denny’s, I didn’t complain.  I figured they would most likely be out of packs, as the movie had been out in theaters for a while.  Still, I held out hope of getting that final card.

We selected another Denny’s within easy driving distance.  Our waiter laughed and joked with us as he took our order.  My mother and friend asked about the cards, and explained that I had nearly completed my set.  Although he didn’t seem to think they had any left, he promised to look.  We ordered three meals off The Hobbit menu, and midway through our lunch, he came by and solemnly placed a pack of cards before me.  “I scrounged up a final pack for you,” he told me.  I thanked him, grateful that he had searched on my behalf.  Then he reached into a pocket and withdrew another packet.  “Don’t tell anyone, but I took these from my own collection.”  My eyes widened: I hadn’t asked him to do that!  Staring down at me so somberly, he dug into his pocket one final time…and withdrew a third pack of cards.  “Ha ha, there you are my friend,” he announced.  Bursting into laughter, he bent down, clutching his fists, and did a little dance.  “I’m looking forward to seeing what cards you get,” he told me, when his merriment subsided.  I started to open one pack.  He laid a hand on my shoulder.  “No, wait, enjoy your meal first,” he told me.

After we finished eating, I opened the packs, and he leaned close to watch.  The first pack, and then the second, contained only cards I already possessed.  Then, on the third, I got a Limited Edition Frodo card.  I lifted both hands into the air in celebration, and he cheered with me, laughing, clutching his hands into fists, and doing his little dance again.  When we rose to leave, my mother asked him if he would be there in a couple weeks.  He asked, “What happens then, another prediction from Nostradamus that the world will end?” and laughed again.  “No, my son’s having his birthday,” my mother replied.  “Come in, and I’ll give you a really nice breakfast,” he told me.  “And I’ll keep an eye out for those two last cards you need.”

Getting that Limited Edition card certainly took me by surprise.  The food at Denny’s tasted great, and thanks to his attentive service and jovial attitude, dining there with my mother and our friend proved a pleasant and memorable experience.  Is it too much to hope that we might forge a relationship with this particular restaurant, and become friends with this kind and considerate waiter?  He might not burst into song while he serves us, or juggle plates and cups with skill and panache, but he seems like someone I’d like to know better.  Perhaps, even befriend.

Dragon Dave

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Christmas Whirlwind

So much has happened in the last few days, that I’ve found it difficult to process.  My mother and friend arrived Sunday night, and since then, it seems as I’ve been caught up in whirlwind of events, activities, and the kind of moments that make for great memories.  As with finishing a great novel, it’s difficult to process all that’s occurred, and summarize its meaning for my life.  So rather than attempt to do that, I’ll share with you a few aspects of what’s occurred in the last few days, and hope that reading them adds a little enjoyment to your holiday season.

While perusing a used bookstore in Florida, I stumbled upon a find that was beyond compare: a hardcover novel from Roger Zelazny called To Die in Italbar.  I started reading it on the plane ride home, had to set it aside for a while, and finally finished it last night.  There was a time in my life that I searched the library, the grocery and department store spinner racks, and the bookstores for any Zelazny title I could find.  While I’ve not read everything he wrote, I usually recognize titles from his early-to-middle years.  This one was new to me.  As I held the faded, time-worn hardcover in my hands, I couldn’t help but feel like an archeologist who has just unearthed artifacts from a previously undiscovered race or culture.  According to the Wikipedia entry on the novel, Roger Zelazny hastily wrote the novel to fulfill a publishing contract, and forever lamented it as his worst novel.  I’ll agree that it’s not perfect, that the narrative could have flowed better, that he could have developed some of his characters and ideas a little more, but still, this is early Zelazny fueled by passion and optimism, transforming a central fantasy element into a rousing Science Fiction adventure novel.  Despite its brevity, the story holds a potency that many novels lack.  Even a day later, I can’t help feeling a little like Moses, after his audience with God.  Can others see the light radiating from my features, after my proximity to the great man through this early novel?  I certainly feel like I’m glowing.

In my family, when it comes to gift giving, our tradition is to overdo it at Christmas.  Sure, this means that we spend more money and time shopping than others do, at least on a per family member basis.  Perhaps it’s silly; I’m willing to admit it’s extreme.  But a part of me is glad that we haven’t succumbed to the mentality of “We’re mature now, we only need to give each other one or two gifts.”  Maybe I’m the only one in my family who loves this tradition: perhaps if I grew up in this manner, everyone else would too.  But there’s a part of me that couldn’t bear to do so, that would die if Christmas only became another day on the calendar in which we gave each person a token present, and then spent the rest of the day eating, partying, or reflecting on the origins and religious significance of the holiday.  Christmas is a link to my past, when life was carefree, when each day seemed magical and full of possibilities.  I’m already way too adult.  I already view things way too seriously.  Allow me one day each year to be a child, please!

Despite all the great times, the days were not all ice cream and Brownie Cherry cobbler, as illness celebrated the holidays with us.  It pressed into my chest, making it difficult to breathe, and sapped my concentration.  Due to the burning in her chest and throat, my wife found it difficult to talk, and her coughing kept her awake at night.  So after my mother and friend left, I took her to Dr. Gross, a physician we had never visited before, who turned out to be nice, despite his unfortunate name.  While we waited for our prescriptions, we enjoyed Vanilla Rooibos Tea Lattes at Starbucks.  As we don’t drink coffee, we tend to visit such places once or twice a year.  A kind barista (who confided that she also doesn’t like coffee) gave me the taste I was looking for with a few extra pumps of Vanilla syrup.  I know it’s more calories, and I’m not burning them off right now as I’m mainly eating, reading, and sleeping, but then, the doctor didn’t give me a prescription.  We’ll call it medicinal Vanilla, shall we?

Roger Zelazny, opening presents, and Vanilla Rooibos Tea Latte (with extra Vanilla syrup).  Those are just the tip of the iceberg, the most memorable and visible from a host of holiday events.  Supporting them were wonderful meals, great times filled with love and laughter, and quiet moments to savor.   The Christmas season may not be over, but for now, I’m content that the whirlwind seems to have died down.  I hope that your Christmas was rich in family, friends, and fun times, and filled with those special moments that you will savor in the years to come. 

Dragon Dave