Monthly Archives: October 2015

Don’t Visit: Kansas

michael putthoff block

When I was still in college, my mom, my brothers, and I went to Kansas to visit my mom’s friend from college.  I had to take three days off work for this trip, so I told her it better be worth it.  She told me to get in the car and shut up.  We left the safe haven of Kansas City, Missouri, and crossed into the forbidden land of Kansas.  For those of you who do not know, Kansas City sits on the border of two states: Missouri, where pretty much everything worth living for is, and the Kansas side, where people go to die.

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           It was only a three hour drive, but Kansas has a way of making anything feel like an eternity. “Flat and boring” isn’t enough to describe the depressiveness that is the state of Kansas.  You don’t even need to stand on top of a hill to see for miles around.  Drop a ball anywhere in the state and it won’t roll away.  I swear, the sign you see when you’re driving into Kansas should read: “Hey, buddy, I think you’re lost.”

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           We stopped at a rest stop that was literally in the middle of nowhere.  You couldn’t see anything for miles; it was like looking out into purgatory.  I couldn’t see any cows either, but there was a McDonald’s attached to the rest stop, so that probably explains that. I imagine this is what Hell really looks like.  No lake of fire, just fields of nothing.  No wonder everyone is so keen to do good these days. Maybe when you’re bad in a past life, you get sent to Kansas.  I can’t see a real use for this state, so I suggested we make Nebraska and Kansas one big state, dig out Kansas and make it a new Great Lake.  My mom asked where all the people in Kansas would live.  I just laughed because obviously no people live here.

           We made it to Wichita later that evening.  I found myself wishing that I would have stayed home and gone to work instead.  I don’t know how people live in these towns in the middle of nowhere; I would get too bored.  It’s already taken me three days to write this article because I can’t concentrate on anything for too long.  My wife is always yelling at me because I don’t listen to her.  I try to tell her it’s not her, it’s everyone, but she still gets mad at me.

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           My mom’s friend lived on this street that was half-pavement, half-gravel.  It’s like the people who were paving the street got bored, said “screw it,” threw down some rock, and got the hell out of Kansas.  The house was nice enough, but it reeked of too many cats.  I lucked out and got to sleep on the couch because I’m the tallest; my brothers had to share a blow-up bed.  My mom’s friend had four little shitlin’s of her own. I couldn’t be bothered to learn their names while we were there, so I just called them “Hey you.”

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           At breakfast the next morning, she asked me what kind of juice I wanted.  Everyone else had chocolate milk, so I asked for that.  She told me no, that I was too old for chocolate milk. Woah, fuck off lady!  Don’t you try and take the elixir from the Gods away from me because you think I’m too old, I want some goddamn chocolate milk. I spent the rest of breakfast sipping the abomination that is Sunny D, plotting my revenge.

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           Later, we went to the local amusement park called Joyland. Two of the rides were closed for ‘Safety Issues,’ so I’m assuming that means some people died on it.  There was a wooden roller coaster in the park called ‘Nightmare,’ and for an obvious reason.  This coaster, built in 1949, shook and threw you around like no one’s business.  We ended up riding that the most, everything else was carnival rides that were still on the trailer as the park hadn’t bothered to anchor them.  I saw some rides without a “years operating” sticker on them.  Needless to say, we didn’t spend too much time in the park.  Last I checked, the park’s status was SBNO, which means “Standing But Not Operating” in amusement park terms.

           Wichita itself isn’t that big, but I’m not surprised as most towns in Kansas are small.  There’s not much to do in that town, so we went to a tiny lake to try and beat the heat of the day.  The beach was dirty and had lots of sharp rocks everywhere.  I saw a few needles: we must have discovered the place where people come to do drugs to forget that they live in this soul sucking place.  There was a sign that said the lake was closed due to high levels of bacteria, probably full of heroin. Thank God we were leaving the next day.

           Have you ever been on vacation, and you’re about to go home, and you get antsy waiting for your parents to tell you that you’re finally leaving?  That was me.  I could not sit still.  Before we left, it was time for me to go ahead with my revenge plan. I got into the fridge and chugged the last of their chocolate milk.  I know I ruined it for the kids, but at that time I couldn’t care less.  Kansas was doing me in.  As we were loading up the car, I walked past my mom’s friend with a chocolate milk moustache and a smile.  I know she saw me, ’cause she had an “oh you little shit” look on her face. Mission accomplished.

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           We drove three hours north to Formoso, KS to visit my cousins.  It was worse than the drive to Wichita.  At least we saw some town on our way down to Wichita.  Not so much on our drive to to Formoso; there was nothing, and I mean nothing, but corn and wheat.  I think we only passed one McDonald’s.  That’s how you can guess the size of a town, by how many golden arches you can find.  I saw a dead cow, which had probably died of boredom.

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          While driving to our cousins’, I began to think of different ways to reach the sweet release of death and be out of this hell.  Then I realized that if I killed myself, I’d probably just end up back in Kansas, so I quickly changed my mind.

           When we made it to my cousin’s house, I told them outright how boring Kansas is.  They agreed and said when they graduated high school they were going to go to college in a bigger city, and that no matter where you go in Kansas it smells like cow shit.  At certain times of the day, you can’t be outside because it really smells that bad.  You shouldn’t live in a place where the smell of the day makes you want to stay inside your house.

           We went to a local bar for dinner.  There’s no age restrictions there, because it’s in Kansas and nobody cares.  We walked right past a county sheriff, who tipped his hat and kept drinking his beer.  The food was good, and everyone in the bar knew my cousins, so we ended up having a pretty good time.  We played a few games of pools and darts.  I’m rubbish at darts, but I beat everyone at pool, even conned my cousin out of $20.  When we left it was pitch black outside.  The nothingness of Kansas had literally disappeared. Staring out into the black abyss can really make you feel insignificant, alone, and very aware of your own existence. Not me, it makes me happy knowing that Kansas disappears at night.

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           The next afternoon we were off for home, and it could not have come sooner.  I’ve heard of people dying as a result of being kicked by a cow, and that was starting to sound real good.  The drive back was better because I knew I was going somewhere I liked: my house.  I always think going home after a vacation is the best part.  Being away is fun, but getting home to your own space is probably one of the best feelings in the world.  Unless you live in Kansas, then just stay wherever you went to for your vacation.  


michaelbio

Armed Targets

xavier martin block

We all enjoy feeling safe.  That peace of mind allows us to feel in-control and free of worry.  When we’re pulled out of that tranquil state and forced to face a grim reality, we want to refortify our walls of safety and control: build them stronger, higher, thicker.  In terms of gun-related deaths in America, that means all citizens being able to protect themselves from unforeseen gun-toting attackers, right?  But what if in that protection, more targets are created for a surprising (or unsurprising) force?

On November 22nd, 2014, 12 year-old Tamir Rice met his untimely death at the hands of two police officers, who claimed young Tamir brandished a gun at them.  The gun in question was a toy that had never been waved, pointed, or directed at them, as shown by surveillance recording.  In the recording, the officers arrive at the scene of a 9-1-1 call, exit their vehicle, and immediately open fire on the 6th grader.

tamir and john

Just four months before, on August  5th 2014, police officers arrived at the scene of a 9-1-1 call (an Ohio Wal-Mart) and unjustly escorted proud father John Crawford III to his death.  Video surveillance shows John on a cellphone simply holding a BB gun when he’s met with a terrible fate.

These are just two instances in a long series of chilling events, all similar in context: Law enforcement needlessly killing black people due to perceived threats.  In 2014 alone, more than 100 unarmed black men and women were killed by police officers, and almost all were due to perceived threats.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t just stop at law enforcement.  From the Dylan Roofs to the George Zimmermans, anti-black vigilantism is an equally terrifying threat to the entirety of America’s black populace.  
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As of 2014, around 19% of black households owns firearms, while black citizens are still twice as likely than white citizens to be at the barrel end of gun homicide.  In an America where more than 50% of its citizens owns firearms, the rate of gun homicide against black people will undoubtedly rise.  And, by our current precedent, media coverage of these encounters will most likely be anti-black smear campaigns, justifying the public execution of citizens exercising their lawful rights, and praising the “heroes cleaning the streets.”

There’s no winning move for Black America when it comes to lenient gun restrictions.  They don’t just give me the power to protect myself, they also give people who hate me the power to kill me and anyone like me.  In an America where more people have guns, if I don’t have one I’m certainly defenseless; and yet, a gun in my hand makes me more of a target than I ever was before.


References

Max Ehrenfreund and Zachary A. Goldfarb
Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/06/18/11-essential-facts-about-guns-and-mass-shootings-in-the-united-states/

BBC News “Why do US police keep killing unarmed black men?”
Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-32740523

Mapping Police Violence
Retrieved from http://mappingpoliceviolence.org/unarmed/

Jaeah Lee

Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men

Rich Morin
Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/15/the-demographics-and-politics-of-gun-owning-households/
Photo Credit
Tamir Rice (left) and John Crawford III (right) courtesy of their respective families


xavierbio

Lemon Shortbread Cookies

janine hanover block

I typically find your average shortbread to be boring and uninspired, but it can be a perfect blank slate for creating and experimenting with flavors.  I know I love lemony desserts, and of course I love chocolate (because who doesn’t?), so when creating this recipe, I went with a classic lemon shortbread, dipped in white chocolate.

I made these lemony delights for a tailgate at a Royals game hosted by my mom’s work.  The first thing out of one of her coworker’s mouths when I presented these was. “Well shit, I made brownies out of a box.”  If you ever invite me to a party and ask me to bring dessert, make sure NO ONE ELSE IS BRINGING DESSERT!  I’m classically trained folks, and I always want to make a good first impression.  

Desserts speak to me, so I hope these speak to you too (figuratively, of course, although if the food starts speaking to you too then we should definitely hang out).

Personal Photo/ Janine Hanover
Personal Photo/ Janine Hanover

Preheat an oven to 350F.  Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.  I like to use parchment paper when baking to keep my cookies from sticking and to prevent burning.  In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the softened butter and sugar until smooth.  Add the lemon compound and beat until incorporated.  Sift the flour and mix at low speed until the dough comes together.

Personal Photo/ Janine Hanover
Personal Photo/ Janine Hanover

On a floured work surface, roll out ¼ of the dough to ¼ of an inch in thickness.  Make sure you are using plenty of flour during this part, you don’t want your dough to stick to the rolling pin or work surface.  Use a cookie cutter of your choice to cut shapes out.  Repeat this process until you use all the dough or until the dough becomes too tough to work with.  Gently transfer the shapes to the baking sheet.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before putting them in the oven as this will help keep their shape and not spread out.

Personal Photo/ Janine Hanover
Personal Photo/ Janine Hanover

Make sure the cookies are evenly spaced on the trays, at least 1 to 2 inches apart.  Bake them for 12-15 minutes.  The cookies should just start to brown on the bottoms.  Let them cool in the pan for a minute or so and then transfer to a cooling rack.  Let them cool down completely before dipping them in the white chocolate.

Personal Photo/ Janine Hanover
Personal Photo/ Janine Hanover

Once cool, place the white chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl and zap the chocolate in 15 second intervals until smooth.  White chocolate can easily burn, so be careful!  Once melted, dip your cooled cookies.  I did a half dip but you can do whatever you like.  If you don’t want to dip them, you can also drizzle the chocolate over the cookies.  Place the dipped cookies on aluminum foil or wax paper until the chocolate has hardened.

White Chocolate & Lemon Shortbread Cookie

Makes 4-5 dozen

Ingredients:

2 cups (4 sticks or 1 lb) butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

2-3 Tablespoons lemon compound

4 ½ cups all purpose flour

12 oz. white chocolate (your choice on brand)

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar together until smooth.
  3. Add the lemon compound and beat until incorporated.
  4. Sift the flour and add to the mix, turn the speed to low.  The dough will come together and be smooth like a typical cookie dough.
  5. On a floured work surface, take ¼ of the dough in the bowl and roll it out until about ¼ of an inch in thickness.  Make sure you are using plenty of flour so that the dough does not stick to the rolling pin on the work surface.  When rolled out, use a cookie cutter of your choice.  Repeat this process several times until you have no more dough or the dough is too tough to work with.  Make sure to refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes before putting them in the oven.
  6. Handle the cookies gently and transfer them to the lined baking sheets.  Make sure to keep them all an inch or two apart.  This will give them room to expand and they won’t run into each other.
  7. Bake for 12-15 minutes until the cookies are slightly browned on the bottom.  Let them rest in the pan for a minute or two and transfer to a cooling rack.
  8. Let the cookies cool completely before dipping them in the chocolate.  Once cool, place your white chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and zap the chocolate in 15 second intervals until the chocolate has melted.  White chocolate is easy to ruin if you overheat it, so make sure you are doing it in small intervals until the chocolate has melted.
  9. Once melted dip your cookies how you’d like, either a full dip or half.
  10. Place the dipped cookies on aluminum foil or wax paper to let the chocolate harden.

    janinebio