Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Smashing Pumpkins (Not the Band)

Ask people what they do for Thanksgiving and the phrases “watch football,” “family time,” and “food coma” are bound to come up. Ask me what I do for Thanksgiving and you might get something a little different.

My dad says it started when I was born. My mom says it started two years later around the time my sister was born. Regardless of when it actually started, I can’t remember a Thanksgiving in which we didn’t go over to my grandparents house, dress up like pilgrims and Indians, and then march up to my grandparents’ roof to throw pumpkins off of it.

Every year, my grandfather goes to the pumpkin patch the day after Halloween and buys as many pumpkins as he can get his hands on. The bigger the better. Days, and sometimes weeks before the actual event, my grandma starts to tell us how many pumpkins my grandfather was able to pick up. Sometimes we even go over a few days early and check out the stock, admiring and making mental notes of which ones we want to lob off the roof. The anticipation builds and builds this way until, finally, the day arrives and my family and I drive the seemingly endless thirty minutes to my grandparents’ house. When we get there, the first thing we do is check out all the pumpkins lined up on the porch. Somehow, my grandpa always seems to outdo himself. I still don’t know how he gets so many pumpkins in an aging minivan, but each year, it seems like there are more pumpkins lined outside the house.

The level of anticipation at this point is almost unbearable, but rules are rules, and no one gets to throw a pumpkin off of the roof without the proper garb. My grandparents were both born in Holland, so they (and anyone else present who was born overseas) get to wear full pilgrim outfits. Anyone who was born in America is deemed a “Native American,” and so boxes of apparel are strewn over the surface of the pool table in my grandparents’ game room, and there is a mad dash for the best headdresses and plastic bear claw necklaces. When everyone is satisfied with their appearance, it’s photo time with the pumpkins. Everyone in the family poses together either perched atop or standing next to the soon to be doomed gourds.
The Thanksgiving photo shoot was the worst nightmare for every kid growing up in my family. It was like someone giving you a present on Christmas and then telling you that you had to wait until the Fourth of July to open it. As a kid, all I could think about during the photo shoots was that pumpkin I was sitting on. After about ten or fifteen photos, I was always sure it was mocking me. I remember nearly falling off of pumpkins I was sitting on when I was little just because I wanted to smash them so badly.

Finally, it’s time. Everyone picks up the biggest pumpkin they can find and marches around the house to the metal ladder that goes to the roof. On the side of the house, the roof lowers to about six feet in height, so we hoist the pumpkins onto the roof first, and then climb up to retrieve them. Once everyone and their pumpkins are on the roof, we march to the highest point, directly over the cobbled patio.

When everyone gets their pumpkin to the top of the roof, it’s finally time. At the count of three, there’s a collective grunt as everyone launches their pumpkins and then about two seconds of absolute silence before the pumpkins hit the ground and explode. After a few rounds of this (no, we don’t just throw one each), the patio is covered in orange carnage. You can barely walk through the patio because there are pumpkin pieces everywhere you step. When the last pumpkin has been pitched, it’s the kids job to shovel the smashed pieces into wheelbarrows, and then wheel the wreckage to the creek. Over the years, we’ve dumped so many pumpkins into the creek that new ones have begun to grow on the banks. Once all the pumpkins are cleaned off the patio, we move on to a much more traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the house.

Even though we’ve done the pumpkin toss for as long as I can remember, I can’t fathom ever tiring of it. It has become something that I associate with Thanksgiving just like most people associate bunnies with Easter. It’s a chance to spend time with family and maybe do something a little different in the process. Every family has their quirks. Mine just happens to be that we like to throw pumpkins off of a roof.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


So right now, I'm watching the Barcelona /Inter Milan game. Personally, I would love to watch more soccer, but it's pretty hard to find televised matches in the U.S., and when they are televised, they're often shown at times I either have work or class. When I do get the chance though, I try to watch, especially when Barcelona is playing. For some reason, soccer is still not very popular in the U.S. (hence the lack of televised matches). I think you could definitely argue that it's getting there. In the last few years, I've noticed an increase in the attention sports fans pay to soccer. However, I think that there is one perception that needs to change before soccer can really become popular. (Note: this is my opinion as a casual observer.)

Soccer players are a bunch of pansies: At least this is what it looks like every time I see a match. Every time someone comes near them, they fall to the ground grabbing something on their body like they just got shot. By no means is this true for every soccer player, but many of them take more flops in a match than a white center in the NBA.

Having played and watched soccer, I know for a fact that there is a lot of contact in soccer. I don't want to come off like I'm knocking curling here. There is plenty potential for injury over the course of a soccer match. However, isn't it a wee bit peculiar that when a player goes down, he's only "hurt" for as long as it takes the referee to either make or deny him the call? It's a little hard to take a sport seriously when this is allowed to go on. The NBA had a flopping problem and ended up handing out fines to frequent floppers. In soccer, the issue is still allowed to go on.

Here's what I think the real problem is: Too much reliance on referees. In sports like basketball, we see this a lot as star players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James often blindly charge at the basket late in games counting on referees to bail them out with a foul call. In soccer, we see the same thing, with start players like Cristiano Ronaldo falling down and grabbing for their ankles seemingly every time they touch the ball.

On a side note, in the France/Ireland game that ended with a controversial handball by Thierry Henry, the Irish were so sure that they were going to get the handball called that they stopped playing defense and gave up the game winning goal. If you look at the pictures of the goal, you will see Henry's teammate, William Gallas calmly heading the ball home for the winning goal while the Irish defenders around him are looking away from the goal with arms up to signal the handball. Yes, it was a terrible call and the goal should not have counted. However, players can't just count on the referees to always bail them out. This is true for any sport. Referees are human. They're going to miss calls every once in a while.

So, basically, what it comes down to is that soccer players need to focus on playing the game. The game is beautiful when played correctly. However, when there is constant flopping and pleading for calls, people assume that soccer players are a bunch of pansies. In a place like America, that perception can be fatal to a sport. If it's between playing a sport like football (where they can knock the crap out of people without penalty) or soccer (where it can seem like every time you breath in someone's direction, they go down in pain), most young boys in America will choose football. Ultimately, I think that whether or not the flopping issue is addressed will have a huge effect on whether the sport survives.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Case Against Tourism

One of the amazing things about being alive in this age is that it is easier than ever to travel. I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world in the last fourteen years of my life. It started with a trip to Ghana with my parents when I was ten and my most recent longer distance trip was to Montreal last summer. I love travel and traveling, so whenever someone tells me they're going somewhere, I always ask them what they're going to do there.

"Well, first we're going to wake up on Monday and see the Eiffel Tower. Then, we're going to go to Pere Lachaise at 2 in the afternoon for a tour and then we're hurrying to the Arc de Triomphe by 3:30 and then it's dinner in the Saint Germain at 5. The next day..." Ok...good, I suppose.

To tell you the truth, I have no idea. I just want to see Paris." Better!

Right after I graduated high school, I got to take a five week trip to Thailand with a group called The Experiment in International Living. Occasionally, our group leader would give us short assignments to do when we were there. Usually, it involved him giving us a quote to think about, followed by us freewriting our thoughts on it for a few minutes and then sharing. On the plane ride across the Pacific, he gave us a quote to write on. It went like this:

"A traveler sees what he sees. A tourist sees what he has come to see."

This has since become my mantra for traveling. Here's the way I look at it: Any given place you go to has much more to it than any travel book on it you will ever buy. It's up to you to find it while you're there. I don't think it's a bad idea to plan out a vacation. If you go to London, it's not a crime to see the changing of the guard. However, I don't think you should be so distracted on the way to Buckingham Palace that you miss everything on the way. I think that it's important to stop at places that look like they might be interesting because chances are they probably are.

When I went to Australia with my grandparents a few years ago, my grandpa was very specific with my cousin and I when it came to our souvenir shopping:

"Don't buy anything you can get back at home."

For me, this turned into the purchasing of a didgeridoo, a handcrafted boomerang, a kangaroo pelt, and a cement stuffed cane toad. My grandpa took his own advice to heart and ended up with a crocodile hand back scratcher and kangaroo scrotum coin purses for all of his friends. Since the trip to Australia, I haven't been able to travel anywhere without remembering his advice. To this, I've also learned to add a new element as far as eating in other places is concerned: Don't try anything you can get back at home.

For me, one of the most exciting things about going to a new place is the opportunity to try new foods. In particular, I really like trying different meats. When I was in Ghana, the locals sold something along the side of the road called grasscutter (to non-Ghanaians, grasscutter is barbecued rat on a stick). While at the time I was appalled, now I can't stop wishing I had tried it. Granted, the idea of a rat on a stick isn't really appealing, but the chance to eat something truly unique like that in a place like Ghana is to me. Since then, I've tried not to pass anything up that looks or sounds unique. My first experiment was a crocodile pot pie in Australia. I followed that up with a kangaroo steak a few days later. After that, my appetite for trying new meats had been whetted and I was just getting going. Since then, I've been able to have crocodile again in Thailand, snails and a reindeer pancake in Holland, a wild boar sandwich in London, and rabbit in Paris. On the home front, I've been able to try frog legs, buffalo, deer, elk, eel, crickets, kudu, just about every kind of fish imaginable, and, most recently, sea cucumber.

I absolutely love trying new meats, but there are a few lines that I wont cross.

1. Nothing that might kill me- While you could argue that grasscutter might fit into this category, I'm still putting grasscutter on my safe list for now. The number one thing in this list has to be fugu. Fugu is the name given to pufferfish meat. While, if prepared correctly, pufferfish has the potential to be delicious, I'm staying away from that one at all costs.

2. No weird body parts- I like meat, but there are some types of meat that I'm not a fan of. If someone offered me weasel brains today, I would probably think: "Hmmm...weasel...yes." A few months ago, a friend let me try a cabeza taco at a local taco stand. For those not familiar with Spanish, cabeza means "head," so you can see where they're going with the cabeza taco thing- cow brains. While it wasn't the worst thing I've ever had, I think the idea more than anything else got to me. Therefore- no strange body parts.

3. No endangered animals- As far as I know, I'm still good on this one. I've eaten a lot of strange meats, but I would never eat anything endangered. This includes animals like whales, dolphins, gorillas, pandas. I don't care how good looking a piece of panda meat looks, I won't touch it.

4. No pets- Having had both dogs and cats as pets, I think it would be nearly impossible for me to eat one and keep a clean conscience. Now, I know that the boundaries on this one are kind of vague. There are probably those out there who would consider a rabbit and maybe even a kangaroo as a pet. For now, I'm sticking to the traditional ones- dogs and cats. I'll throw horses in there too. Guinea pigs, you're still fair game.

I think the biggest mistake that people make when they're traveling is being afraid to try new things. Obviously, you shouldn't just go for everything. Streaking down a back alley in Caracas or urinating on Angkor Wat may be new but they wouldn't necessarily be good ideas. Every new country should be looked at as an opportunity to try new things, not just as a chance to see what everyone else has already seen there. So go out, try new meats, explore new places, and see what you see.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I Got the Blues

So it is now 1 a.m. and I'm procrastinating (as I often do). I have about 400 things to do by 9:30 tomorrow morning so, naturally, I'm spending time here. I've been thinking about posting some of my work on here for a little while. I don't really know if it is in the hopes that someone "big" will read it and I'll get "discovered." As cool as that would be and all, I'm not really that naive. I think I would just kind of like to be able to type in an address and see my work there. There's something about seeing my work online that makes me feel important, like I've made it and I'm being published, even if it's by myself. As silly as all this may sound (and maybe because I'm running on enough coffee to put most people into a caffeine induced coma) I really may do it. Until I decide whether or not to post some of my "serious" stuff, I leave this- the one thing I have finished today since I started working at around noon. The class is called "History of the Blues" and the assignment was to write our own blues lyrics.

Best Friend Blues

I woke up this mornin’ and I head right out the door
Well I woke up this mornin’ and I head right out the door
My baby done left me, she ain’t comin' round no more

No cakes on the griddle and no bacon in the pan
(Said there weren’t) no cakes on the griddle and no bacon in the pan
My baby done left me, done left a broke and hungry man

Walked around the corner, saw that rope tied to a post
Yeah I walked around the corner, saw that rope tied to a post,
Baby, leave me broke and hungry, just don’t take what I love most

Followed that rope to nothing, sat and cried there in the fog
(Don’t you see)I followed that rope to nothing, sat and cried there in the fog
I know I done you wrong, Sugar, but did you have to take the dog?