Hamilton

Earlier this year my husband told me the most brilliant marketing decision in the past hundred years was not including the word rap in publicity for Hamilton. Because the kind of people who buy broadway tickets would eschew anything rap.

“What’s Hamilton?”

“A rap musical about Alexander Hamilton.”

“Rap musical? The Alexander Hamilton?”

“Yes– it’s hugely successful.”

“It sounds ridiculous.”

I didn’t give it another thought until I kept seeing references to the musical and articles about it. Brilliant! A work of genius! Shattering all barriers! Okay, I decided, let me listen.

Before I proceed further let me explain I’m a classical music snob. If it’s not classical, I don’t really consider it music. I can enjoy popular songs and find them interesting, emotionally moving, but music… not really. I guess it’s the difference between the Costco food court and a Michelin rated restaurant. It might taste good, but is it really food in the foodie sense? Plus, I have a distaste for musicals in general. I find them stupid and maudlin, with a handful of exceptions: I love most songs from Jesus Christ Superstar and “I’ll Cover You” from Rent is cute.

As it happens the entire soundtrack for Hamilton is available in spades on youtube. I listened to the show in full and have to admit I was surprised. If you’re going to create a rap musical this is as good as it’s going to get. Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda creates an extremely clever, catchy blend of rap, melodic, and traditional musical fodder. But that’s about as far as it went for me: clever. In fact when all was said and done I felt I’d just spent two hours listening to advertisement jingles (beware, like commercial jingles these songs get stuck in your head!). My favorites being “Right Hand Man,” “Guns and Ships,” and “Hurricane.”

So I fail to see what all the hoopla is about. $1000 a ticket? Seriously? I mean it’s a cute show but not the second coming. Though if I recall correctly, there was hysteria over Rent, which I also found lame. I think Steven Sondheim is kind of lame too (although my girls love, LOVE Into the Woods).

I would like to see this one day, as I’m curious how exactly it’s staged. There are paltry live clips anywhere that I can find, but instead of taking the ferry I’ll wait until it’s on PBS. And if Mr. Miranda is out there taking requests, I’d love to see a rap musical version of Vikings. Now that I might pay good money to see.

Socks and My Koran

When my daughter was first interred at the psychiatric hospital, she asked for poptarts. Red velvet, chocolate chip cookie dough, and strawberry. She lost interest in junk food and requested healthier fare: fresh mozzarella, turkey, and rye bread. Then she lost interest in food altogether.

“All I really want, mommy,” she said. “Is a pair of socks… and my koran.”

Allow me two segues here: when first admitted she refused any comforts of home and insisted on surviving with supplies from the short term unit. A handful of clothes, a stuffed animal alligator, her uniform shoes, and a notebook. Since the inmates (err I mean patients) get yelled at if they walk through the unit in bare feet, she wore her school shoes the first few weeks. Then relented and requested a pair of socks. And her koran.

Second segue. Rewind to June of this year (2016). She is at the height of her psychotic break and believes one of her younger sisters is plotting murderously against her. I had to finish birthday shopping for another sister, and not wanting to leave them alone in the house under these circumstances, I invited this oldest daughter to Barnes and Noble. “Sure mommy!” she agreed brightly. Because through sanity and insanity, she loves to go shopping. This was the day after the Orlando nightclub terror attack that left more than 100 people dead or injured.

We browsed the toy section and selected a few items for her sister. Browsed the young adult and graphic novel sections. Then, in the middle of the store, she announced gaily, and loudly enough for all to hear:  “Mommy, can I buy a koran?”

I cringed (remember, this is Staten Island…) looked around to ascertain who might be listening, and recalled it’s generally a bad idea to argue with anyone with a weak grasp on reality.

“Sure,” I said calmly. “Let’s find a good translation.”

And we headed to the religion section of the store.

Allow me yet another segue. The religion section of Barnes and Noble is interesting. There’s a ton of fluff Christian books (because christians love to buy christian books. Ka-ching). There’s a ton of books on buddhism (because Buddhism is cool, thank you Steve Jobs). There’s a ton of books on Judaism (more ka-ching). And there’s a ton of books on Islam (because it’s cool to be tolerant of Islam- most of the books were western apologetics for the religion)  And interestingly, exactly zero books on Hinduism.

We paged through a few korans and I gave my opinion on the best translation. I’d read the koran in college for a comparative religion class. We got in the checkout line, and bought it.

Over the drive home she poured through the book. “Hey it has Moses in it! And Joseph!”

“Look up the surah where mary gives birth under a date tree.”

“No…!” she said, incredulously, but found it in the table of contents.

And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, “Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.” But he called her from below her, “Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream. And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. So eat and drink and be contented.

“This is so cool!” she said. “Two birds with one stone. Who needs the bible if it’s all in here? It’s so efficient.”

Fastforward to present day, and I kept conveniently forgetting the koran she requested (I did bring the socks). But she kept hounding me, and finally I typed memo on my phone:

bring daughter koran

And that I did this week. Do I hide it? In my purse, tuck it under my arm? How exactly do you smuggle a koran in these parts?

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I opted for tucking it under my arm, title facing in. They buzzed me into the unit and once in her room I slipped it to her hands.

“Don’t get radicalized,” I said.

“Oh mommy… would that really be the worst thing?”

I stopped myself from saying “Yes!” and instead joked she might end up with a Syrian husband. I briefly envisioned a bunch of Isis militants breaking into the unit for their bride. And the crazy grandchildren that would ensue.

She paged through the book as we chatted. She absolutely HATES when people spell koran with a K! It should be a Q! That is just the worst offense imaginable… and rambled on about learning arabic. She pointed to her roommate’s dresser.

She has a bible,” she explained.

“Does she read it?”

“Nah…. but she reads a bunch of other shit.”

And that was that. She gave me a bear hug on my departure, told me she loves me, announced “It’s my MAH-MEE” to the ward (as she always does), I got buzzed out by the grouchy police officers, and I drove home.

The Terminator

Somehow I managed to reach the tender age of 42 never having viewed The Terminator. I’d seen one of the later iterations, and more recently my husband forced me so sit through Terminator Genisys (a painful experience). Since his company has put out some Terminator books, I decided to finally watch the original version to see what exactly has been paying the catholic school tuition.

  • There are a lot of car chases and gunfire. At least 80% of the movie contains either a car chase, or gunfire. It gave me a headache.
  • While Linda Hamilton is a decent actress, the Sarah Connor character utterly lacks gravitas. Her pet iguana has more depth. No way can I believe the savior of humanity issues from her loins.
  • Michael Beihn is very good as Kyle Reese, the hardened time-traveling soldier sent through time to rescue Sarah. The love story between them is kind of sweet, and in theory could occur in an infinite loop.
  • Arnold is brilliant as the terminator. What stage presence! And hardly any lines. I asked my husband how he was cast for the role, and he says James Cameron got the idea for a near-silent character from Conan the Barbarian, where Arnold likewise barely speaks.

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strong silent type

  • I find it impossible to believe a ragtag, starving army of humans would have any chance against robots and cyborgs. If the robot apocalypse ever does transpire, we’re toast.
  • On that note, the portrait of humanity portrayed in The Terminator is so grim (note how Sarah is mistreated as a waitress) one wonders why it’s worth saving.
  • Squishing the terminator works, but blowing him up multiple times with nitroglycerin doesn’t work. This doesn’t make sense.
  • Why does Sarah embark to Mexico to wait out the robot apocalypse? If anything life will be worse in post-apocalyptic Mexico than in the states, particularly for a single woman traveling alone. In fact, life is so dangerous for women along the border that female migrants go on birth control so they won’t get pregnant when (not if) they’re raped during the crossing.
  • Where did Sarah get the money for the new vehicle and german shepherd? My sister’s german shepherd cost nearly $2000.

So, would I recommend this film? I guess, if only because it has grown iconic to our society. For example, I never knew the precise context of “I’ll be back” until now. As my husband informed during the final credits: My dear, you’ve officially been inducted to geekdom.

The Accidental Vegan Baby

Back when I was vegan, I never expected my kids to be vegan. I made chicken and scrambled eggs for them on a regular basis, and they devoured blocks of cheese like locusts while I enjoyed my quinoa. In fact, one of my 17 year old’s first words was “cheeeeeeese.” Of course those days are long gone as I’m now a hardcore, low carb carnivore. I rarely crack 30 carbs a day.

Thus it was with some chagrin that it recently dawned on me that my 20 month old has been, essentially, a vegan baby since he weaned. And if breastmilk doesn’t count as “an animal product” he’s been vegan since birth. No, I don’t have him on a lettuce diet. He’s just a terribly finicky little eater, as were all my children. He lives on guacamole, crackers, fruit, and water (he absolutely refuses anything but water in his bottle). Yes, I have offered him milk, cheese, lamb, bacon, chicken, steak, fish and mayonnaise!! He shoves it all away with an annoyed glare.

As you can see, he’s withering away from this plant based diet:

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(Now that I’ve started allow me to spam you with more baby pictures:)

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If gobs of protein are so vital for human growth, why is he robust, beautiful, and healthy eating nothing but grain and avocados? I don’t have an answer, except for an opinion I’ve voiced previously on this blog. I think we humans are more like rats when it comes to food than we care to admit. We can thrive on just about anything- so long as it’s not outright poisonous or carcinogenic, and we don’t go overboard (or underboard (nothing like overuse of parentheses when writing!)).

So go ahead and enjoy your vegan diet, or your meat based diet, or your cookie diet (as long as you’re not diabetic!). Just take things in moderation and go for a long walk every now and then. And don’t forget to occasionally take a bath in the sink.

Vikings Better than Vikings

When I wrote my review of BBC’s The Last Kingdom I had not yet finished the 8 episode season. Binge watching is difficult with so many kids nipping at my ankles, my four year old being the absolute worst in this regard. When she’s awake she asks for something or requests my audience at regular 1-3 minute intervals. Sometimes she just wants to stare at me like a creepy stalker, or press her face against my stomach. It may sound cute- and it is, for the first few hours- but after 14 straight hours of being followed, demanded upon, and clung to, I’m ready to lock myself in the bathroom with shaking hands. Then she crams her hands through the space under the door, like the clever velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

Anyway, while in the midst of trying to watch The Last Kingdom in three minute intervals I recommended it to my 14 year old daughter who is the one who clued me in to Vikings (which she watched while in Game of Thrones withdrawal). I warned her it wasn’t as good as Vikings and seemed much lower budget. However, like Vikings, it includes a wonderful bromance- between Uhtred and Leofric. She managed to burn through all 8 episodes in 24 hours and returned the next day with the pronouncement: Mom, it’s better than Vikings!

But what could be better than Vikings when it comes to vikings? Maybe I just wasn’t ready to be unfaithful to King Ragnar, but by the time I did finish The Last Kingdom I realized she was correct. The Last Kingdom is far more cerebral, nuanced, and sophisticated in terms of characterization than is Vikings. I’m going to assume this is because the book series it’s based on is well written- next time I place an order on amazon I’m going to buy it.

King Alfred (played by David Dawson) comes to the fore in brilliant manner as the season unfolds, both while in exile and in a decisive battle against the viking hordes. While my husband kept accusing me of watching yet another viking series to ogle the hunky danes, King Alfred is by far my favorite character in the series and is beautifully played by Dawson.

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world conquest in his eyes

A surprise close favorite to Alfred is his nephew Aetholwold. I won’t give anything away, but Aetholwold is faced with a moral crossroads that could have altered the course of human history. And the scene where Aethelwold deflects attention from Uhtred during their dual punishment is priceless and not to be missed.

The vikings are given less screen time in this series, though The Scariest Viking Award goes to Skorpa (played by Swedish actor Jonas Malmsjo). For some reason he always has blood on his mouth and a deranged look in his eyes.

skorpa
someone had a low carb breakfast

So, if I haven’t yet convinced you to watch Vikings, I better have convinced you to watch The Last Kingdom! On that note the four year old just woke up. Like Skorpa, I think she would eat me for breakfast if she could.

Guess Who

Who’s the lovely lady on the right?

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Kudos, you guessed correctly! Smart lady she is, Melania Trump has followed the golden rule: if you’re going to have dirty pictures of yourself floating around, you better make sure you look gorgeous.

But I’m sure Donald forgives her past indiscretions, like the true gentleman he is.

Costco Caesar Salad Review

Have you ever bought food at the Costco food court? They have salad, ice cream, sandwiches, pizza, the famous $1.50 hot dog, and a few other concoctions. I usually avoid the food court because I’m in a rush to get home, though once, when pregnant with my youngest son, bought a turkey sandwich. It was ok but I slathered the inside with mayonnaise when I got home to make it edible.

Today in line, hungry, I stared at those tempting poster sized images of the offerings. Out of them all the caesar salad looked the lowest carb- or I should say appeared to be their only low carb offering- assuming I left out the croutons. If you’ve never read my blog before, I’m type 2 diabetic and have so far managed to control it completely without meds or insulin by eating very low carb. Case in point the blood work I received just yesterday. I think I deserve a medal for this. Or flowers.

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I’m not even in the prediabetic range; the highest I’ve been, since eating low carb, is 5.6. This, of course, doesn’t mean I’m no longer diabetic, and this a confusion you often get from the general public. Type 2 diabetes can be controlled but not eliminated. If I drank a glass of orange juice, my blood sugar would spike close to 300. All this means is that over the past few months I haven’t ingested more carbs than my body can metabolize, which as far I can tell is around 30-50 grams a day. A non-diabetic can metabolize at least 250 a day, and the average American consumes well over 300 carbs a day.

Anyway, back the caesar salad. It’s $3.99 plus applicable tax, and is made with romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken breast, dressing, grated parmesan, and croutons.

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an actual costco caesar salad, but not my actual salad; croutons not pictured

Once I unpacked it at home I could see there isn’t nearly enough dressing. So- you guessed it- I got out the mayonnaise and in a separate bowl slathered the chicken pieces with it. There wasn’t enough parmesan either- less than in the salad pictures above- in fact so little I couldn’t taste it in the mix. I’m not sure why Costco would skimp on the dressing; apart from the lettuce and croutons it’s probably the cheapest part of the meal. Whereas the chicken, which is definitely one of the more expensive ingredients, is provided in plenty.

The dressing, aside from being too sparse, was too salty, watery and nearly flavorless. I mean it was ok, but the mayo I put on the chicken tasted better. The romaine wasn’t cut finely enough either. I even found a whole, uncut leaf at the bottom of the dish! That is just bad salad preparation. If this were a food show, I’d eliminate the chef.

The cherry tomatoes were tasty and the chicken was absolutely delicious! It looked grilled but tasted poached, so I’m not sure exactly how they prepare it. In fact it was so delicious I may just buy this salad again, but put my own dressing on it once home.

I didn’t eat the croutons so I can’t tell you how they taste. However, my daughters loved them and said they taste like garlic bread.

In summation I’d give this salad a weak 6 on a 1-10 scale. Were it not for the chicken, it would be a 3.

 

Uhtred Son of Uhtred

While in Vikings withdrawal I noticed a series on Netflix called The Last Kingdom. It had a lot of stars (viewer ratings, not actors) so I gave it a try.

It was quickly evident that The Last Kingdom is a BBC spinoff on Vikings, focusing on the same historical era but from the vantage point- more or less- of the Saxons. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is the true-to-history protagonist, a saxon lord by birth but adopted by vikings, raised as a firebrand, trinity denying warrior.

While The Last Kingdom is not as “sexy” as Vikings, we get lots of battle scenes, Saxon-Dane historicity, quasi rape scenes and sparknotes on King Alfred the Great, albeit all on a seemingly lower budget. I also got the sense, while watching this, that this was all based on a book (why I don’t know). And sure enough it is. The Saxon Stories, by Bernard Cornwell is the inspiration for the series.

Alexander Dreymon (a german actor who speaks english without accent) is good, but not necessarily great, as the oft beleaguered Uhtred son of Uhtred; some Christ innuendos are not unintended, but you have to watch it to see! David Dawson is simply phenomenal as the seething yet intellectual King Alfred the Great- he even looks like the ancient portraits of the true king! However the king is given less screen time than the sword wielding Uhtred, but to no ill effect.

I have to say the series plays delicately and notably with the visceral conflicts young Uhtred experiences between cultures. This is something I can identify with personally, as someone who was raised Christian but received tremendous “cultural” influence from Judaism. Just as Uhtred is caught between two worlds, I often feel caught between two religions. At times his fictitious plight brought me to tears; I neither believe in Jesus as Christians do, nor do I disbelieve in him as Jews do. Perhaps I should just settle for Hinduism.

Either way The Last Kingdom is highly recommended to any fans of Vikings!

What Ails You

Two weeks ago I woke up, stretched myself out in bed as I always do, and felt my right calf muscle seize up.

Now: I know some of you out there in blogland have had muscle cramps and spasms, but when I get a cramp in my calf muscle, it is a searing, blinding, excruciating pain. I’d say it’s beyond description but I have an absolutely precise description: it feels like giving birth without an epidural. The “contraction” in my leg feels exactly like the contractions of hard childbirth. Thankfully this typically happens once every few years, and lasts only a few seconds.

But this cramp didn’t stop, and once it did begin to fade, it seized up again. And again.

By the third “again” I was screaming in agony, my hands desperately pressing my calf in an effort to get it to calm down. I’d never experienced anything like this before! What was happening to my body?

I screamed for my husband and begged for a glass of water (thinking I might be dehydrated) which I glugged down. And a second glass. I was limping for the next three days, and couldn’t drive as it was my right leg.

But the spasms and cramps kept coming- not as severe as that one, but persistent, and not just in my calves. I began to feel them in my ankles, my thighs, even in my upper arms! What the hell! I began to wonder if I might be dying. So I turned to google.

According to google these spasms and cramps are caused by mineral and electrolyte deficiencies, namely magnesium, calcium, and potassium. They can also be caused by dehydration or starvation. I don’t eat much, but I doubt I’m in an official phase of starvation. I almost never eat less than 1200 calories a day.

I began loading up on magnesium, calcium, and potassium supplements. I bought NO SALT, a salt substitute made from potassium chloride. I stir 1.25 teaspoons in a glass of water and sip it throughout the day (yuck!). It helped, but the spasms kept coming like obnoxious sea waves.

So I finally broke down and scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician, a serious Syrian with a strange grasp on anatomy. When I went to him once for severe rib pain, he surmised it might be coming from my ovaries.

He looked at my legs. Pressed on my ankles, my calves, and under my knees. He wasn’t convinced the problem was muscular, he advised, but perhaps a vascular issue. He ordered bloodwork and prescribed a muscle relaxant, which I’m afraid to take.

Thus, here I sit dreading the next leg cramp, though I’ve learned to predict them and flex my foot upright to quell any oncoming cramps. And my right arm is killing me from the kid who drew my blood today– he looked all of 12 years old. You know you’re getting old, when the doctors start to look young.