UPDATE Tues., Dec. 3, 2013:
The Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula announced the winners of the Great Mac and Cheese Bake-Off 2013 on their Facebook page.
Peoples Choice Winner:
Siren Hall, location Chateau Grand Traverse
The Cooks’ House, location Hawthorne Vineyards
Black Star Farms, location The Inn at Black Starr Farms
Congrats to these chefs for creating some remarkable dishes. It was a fantastic event, and it is certainly hard to disagree with the outcome. Some fine flavors and wines were had this past Saturday, to be sure.
Original Post Follows
On Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, the wineries of Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City, MI hosted the annual Great Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off.
Mac and cheese is a classic comfort food staple. It is the dish of childhood memories, of friends and family, a go-to meal that is easy to prepare and delicious, almost without fail. But it can also present a complex melding of favors, a template for bolder interpretations depending on the ingenuity of the chef. And let me tell you, the chef’s of Traverse City – they did some good work! The wineries also put their best foot forward, pairing each mac and cheese dish with several tastings of their staple wines.
Our starting point was Black Star Farms Old Mission Tasting Room. The mac and cheese was presented courtesy of Black Star Farms dining service. A few summers ago, my wife and I had a marvelous dinner at their inn, which included duck prosciutto and a beef cheeks entrée. It was absolutely phenomenal and we were both excited to see what their chef would add to this bake-off. Their mac and cheese was topped with a Caprese sauce, crispy prosciutto, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. The tangy reduction contrasted nicely with the tomato-basil sauce, and the dried meat added a nice bit of crunch. It was paired well with Black Star Farms Arcturos dry Riesling and had us off to a terrific start.
We worked our way up to Peninsula Cellars, which hosted Jolly Pumpkin. The restaurant served a very pleasant interpretation that used raclette cheddar, mixed with finely chopped kale and braised short ribs. The kale was a very strong presence, but, unfortunately, in the sample I received the beef was less noticeable. Still, it was a serviceable enough dish and tasted good, with the kale adding a nice “green” zing.
The incredible smell of the slow-cooked pork permeated the air and greeted our arrival at Brys Estate. The Towne Plaza delivered the knock-out dish of this competition for both my wife and I. Their chef did a truly outstanding job, elevating their mac and cheese dish by using smoked fontina and pulled pork. The pork was perfectly prepared and juicy, and the smoky flavors brought an incredible layer of flavor. This mouth-watering dish was savory and cheesy, and the first bite instantly warmed our souls. If this isn’t a staple on their menu now, it needs to be. This was the perfect mac and cheese entree, and one I would return to time and time again if given the chance. I have little doubt Maureen and I will be trying to imitate this dish in our own kitchen soon!
We hit the half-way mark of our tasting tour with 2 Lads Winery. Their building and tasting room is a piece of elegant, modern architecture, resting atop a hill that offers a terrific view of Grand Traverse Bay. Unfortunately, their parking lot and the small segment for overflow parking were not equipped to handle the sold-out event. We braved the outdoor line, with the temp in the low 30s and some gusty winds, and made our way into the loading bay, which was equipped with heating lamps to help us warm up. 2 Lads served 2 dishes from 7 Monks. One was a prosciutto mac and cheese, and the other was pumpkin with sweet peppers. The first dish was good, but it was in their second offering where 7 Monks’ creativity shined. It was delightfully sweet, which was a bit unexpected, and chopped walnuts provided a welcome crunch. I had opted for the prosciutto dish, while Maureen had the pumpkin, and I sampled one bite from hers. While I liked mine well enough, the pumpkin mac and cheese was a definite winner in this round.
Chateau Chantal is always a stop whenever we are in Traverse City. It is one of our favorite locales up north, and we are even members of their wine club. Our house is rarely without a Chateau Chantal wine, we stock up pretty regularly when in town, and their Gewurztraminer and Late Harvest Riesling are two all-time favorites. Their Naughty White wine paired very well with Opa Uptown’s Gorgonzola and feta dish. These cheeses are among our least favorite, however. The sample was heavy and more creamy than cheesy, but the crispy wonton they topped it with were a nice contrast against the noodles. While the wine was great and worked well with the dish, neither of us much cared for the heady, earthy flavors of the cheeses here.
At Bowers Harbor Vineyards, we hit a bit of a snag. Literally, I’m afraid. Traverse City had been getting its share of snow in the preceding days, and the operators of Bowers didn’t do a very good job in plowing the long stretch of drive leading up to the winery. They also didn’t salt the road. On top of this, it’s a rather narrow stretch of road, and given their lack of parking spaces, cars were lined up along the shoulders of the road. I was barely a few feet up the drive when I had to pull over to let traffic pass, and then found myself on the wrong side of a snow rut and unable to get out. Every time I went in reverse, we only got deeper. The more we tried to go forward, the more the rut resisted and pushed us deeper off the road, until the passenger side of our car was very nearly jammed up against the vineyard posts. Four good-natured gentlemen tried to pus us out, but were unable to overcome the elements. While waiting for a tow truck, another eight Good Samaritans insisted on trying, and succeeded in pushing us out. In the process, though, the doors were rather badly scratched up by nails and wiring around the wooden post and the passenger side mirror was shattered. Our Good Samaritans rushed off once the job was done, and we weren’t able to thank them properly. So, if by any chance, they stumble across this page – THANK YOU! You guys were incredibly kind to help, and I want you to know it was greatly appreciated.
After that bit of drama, we were in need of wine and comfort food. Grand Traverse Resort’s chef prepared a butternut squash mac and cheese, using ricotta and six-year old Vermont cheddar. The squash was a good flavor component, but the dish overall was too dry and not quite cheesy enough to satisfy. That said, it was a nice use of seasonal ingredients and would be a comforting fall/winter meal if it were a bit wetter and gooey.
Lulu’s (Although the ballots listed Siren Hall at this location, it appeared to be Lulu’s, however both are operated by Chef Michael), at Chateau Grand Traverse, made up for the multiple disappointments at Bowers Harbor. Their dish, composed of braised beef, leeks, and pecorino cheese, was a definite contender for best mac and cheese. Like Towne Plaza’s, I was instantly hooked and immediately satisfied. It was phenomenal, and a perfect way to warm up on a cold winter day. The meat was tender and delicious. This small meal presented a perfect blend of savory and gooey cheesiness, and paired outstandingly well with the winery’s sweet Late Harvest Riesling. The contrast between sweet and savory is what sold me, and the rich flavor components put this in the top two. The beef in this dish also helped to pair well with the winery’s peppery Gamay Noir. It was very, very difficult to choose between Lulu’s and Towne Plaza’s when voting for “People’s Choice,” but I felt Towne Plaza very narrowly edged them out. However, when voting on the best wine pairing, Lulu’s and CGT was a no-brainer for me. If this dish is offered regularly at Lulu’s, we’ll be buying for sure.
Our trip around the peninsula ended at Hawthorne Vineyards, which was paired with The Cook’s House. This local sustainable farm-to-table restaurant has a terrific selection, and this past summer we enjoyed a seven-course tasting menu that left us incredibly satisfied. Given the high pedigree in crafting artisan foods, and the rich culinary background of Eric Patterson, I was surprised to be so disappointed with our final mac and cheese dish. Three cheeses, toasted fennel seeds, and caramelized onions sounded much better than it tasted. While it certainly had the cheesiness, it lacked the wow factor and heartiness of the previous dishes, particularly against some stern competition like Towne Plaza and Lulu’s, who really brought their A-game to the peninsula. Patterson returned us to a somewhat more traditional and basic mac and cheese dish, however the fennel was overpoweringly herbaceous and cloying, and neither Maureen nor I finished our samples. While our brief meeting with Patterson was proof enough that he certainly put his heart and much thought into the dish, it, sadly, just wasn’t for us.
The mac and cheese bake-off is an event we’ve been wanting to attend for several years. After having missed our chances, it was great to finally take part! This annual competition is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and is a welcome change of pace from the turkey leftovers. It was definitely worth the forty-dollar per person charge. However, if we do this again, I think we’ll spring for the charter services and avoid the hassles of parking in over crowded lots or the hazards of winter. The bake-off was an excellent showcase for the versatility of mac and cheese, and we were able to sample a broad selection of dishes. Our route also helped, somewhat, to alternate between vegetarian dishes with meat dishes. We were never overburdened with too much of one thing, and each chef brought their own personal touches to the dish, which ensured unique creations across the eight wineries. It also helped introduce us to a few new restaurants, and remind us of why we loved those we are already familiar with. Even after eating all this mac and cheese, we were awfully tempted to hit up Towne Plaza for dinner on the off-chance that we could score more of their pulled pork dish!
No sooner have we dispatched with Halloween and begun the march to Thanksgiving than we are inundated with Christmas Merry-making. Retailers seem to approach Oct. 31 with a bit of scorn, as if the holiday were merely a nuisance, getting in the way of preemptive holiday sales and X-Mas adverts. Some greedy corporations are no longer content even to wait for Black Friday, demanding that their under-paid and unvalued employees forgo Thanksgiving with their family in order to man the aisles for crazed shoppers hoping to save a few bucks.
In between all of this, pushing its way through the seems, are the overzealous, falsified cries of persecution. Before the carolers are even out in full force, and while snow has yet to even materialize from still-infantile cold fronts in many parts of the US, we have the loud, obnoxious few shouting that a war has been declared against their religion and the holiday of Christmas.
You know Christmas, right? It’s a pagan holiday celebrating the winter solstice, and was illegal in colonial America in 1660 until it became a federal US holiday in 1836. Oklahoma was the last state to ratify the legalization of Christmas in 1907. Those crazy atheists, huh?!
So, the War on Christmas! “War” is an interesting word. What is the ‘war’ on Christmas? It is a war in which no gunshots have been fired, no missiles lobbed, no rights stricken, no prisoners or hostages taken, and no lives claimed. There have been no bombardments of occupied enemy areas, no drone assaults, no shock and awe attacks, no guerrilla assaults, no deployment of well-trained, heavily armed troops, no destabilization of infrastructure, and zero toppling of any governments. It is a war that only one party has loudly and forcefully acknowledged, and the rallying cries come only from those who are mythologizing persecution for their own inane purposes.
But what would Christianity be without the myth of persecution? It is a concept deeply ingrained in the fundamentals of that religion, so much so that their savior, Jesus Christ, promised rewards to those who endure persecution. It’s little wonder that today’s religious zealots so vehemently insist that they are being persecuted, then. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12, NIV) Christians enjoy feeling persecuted because they think there’s some treats and goodies in store for them in the afterlife, and thus everything they find disagreeable, from abortion to gay marriage, suddenly becomes a battleground against their oppressive persecutors. It’s just one more reason why they think this war on Christmas has to exist. Keep in mind that this war is not declared by the disenfranchised minority, but by the entitled, sanctimonious majority who believe that anybody that has the gall to disagree with them is equated to be engaging in an act of war. The phrase “Happy Holidays,” (rather than “Merry Christmas”) therefore, must be a Weapon of Mass Destruction. The Christian majority say there is a War on Christmas, they say they are under attack, that their religion is being threatened, that their peace and freedoms are in danger. And yet, as with all things faith-based, they offer no convincing proof. Only facetious, fatuous claims that do not bear well under scrutiny.
The religious right bemoan the imaginary loss of their individual rights, while, with nary a second thought, those in power work hard to remove and limit the constitutional rights of others. ‘Tis the season for the War on Christmas, but let’s not for a single minute forget about the last few years of politicizing civil rights and launching a religious crusade against women and women’s health. Unequal pay, the closing of clinics, mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds, limiting the prosecution of rape and access to birth control. In Michigan a pro-birth group recently garnered enough signatures to start pushing legislation through the State Legislature that would require women to buy additional insurance riders to cover abortion. Women who become pregnant from rape or incest would be further restricted in their options to have a safe and legal abortion. Same goes for women who may find their life in danger from complications during pregnancy. If passed, it would likely make tragedies similar to that which occurred in Ireland in 2012, or in El Salvador earlier this year, rather commonplace in the mitten-state. These right to life groups refute science in favor of their religion and they mislabel their cause with the title of ‘right to life,’ while continually proving they are not in the least bit pro-life, but simply pro-birth. The distinction should be obvious and readily apparent in the rhetoric and deeds of groups such as these. The religious right, in so many ways, are standing on the wrong side of history, working to limit a great number of people’s options and maneuverability in society, and yet they have the audacity to claim they are the ones under attack.
There has been no forcible removal of Christmas decorations from private property. The average man and woman, and even churches, can decorate their houses and yards however they like, without fear. Government institutions and tax-payer funded public schools, however, have been lobbied and occasionally sued, in order to force their religious minded officials into maintaining secularity and to prevent the favoring of one religion over another. The First Amendment guarantees that the government shall not favor a particular religion, and the goal of the establishment clause is to keep church and government separate. These are the ideals of our Founding Fathers. They are not acts of oppression.
Yet, in recent years, the religious right has been more forceful in its attempts to circumvent American laws and to twist the United States Constitution to its own devices. It is 2013 and we are still witnessing fights begun by the religious right to insert Creationism into U.S. public education. The latest round of nonsense in this arena was merely a week ago, but thankfully science won despite the best efforts of zealots on the Texas Board of Education. While this battle has been won, it’s unlikely that the religious war on science is over. And this war isn’t just about the ability to say Merry Christmas in public (nobody is stopping anybody from doing that, either, by the way). The minds of every future American generation is at stake in this war, with the choices being simple: teach them science, or teach them bullshit. Why is this even a choice? It directly impacts the future of this country: we can either be a thriving, advanced first-world leader, or we can wallow in the muck of a divided, ruined third-world nation that lacks the basic comprehension of the important things that make this world function. If you deny today’s students a basic fundamental grasp of science, then you are destroying our future as a nation. Our national education system has already taken a blow on the global stage – we are not leaders in industry anymore, we are not the top nation in math or science. Yet, rather than trying to correct these issues and build a stronger foundation to improve this country and move us forward, the religious right are intent on making everything worse. Take a look at global education rankings of eighth-graders here. Notice anything about those bible belt areas? Mississippi and Alabama “students scored below the international average” in math and science, “meaning their scores were on par with Kazakhstan and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. West Virginia, Oklahoma and Tennessee students scored below the international average in math.” Do we really want to water down the educational systems of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee any further with even more religious discourse clouding their comprehension skills?
The religious majority are free to make their faith public. They wear crosses and publicly present themselves annually with smudge marks on their foreheads. They have bumper stickers proclaiming God’s Will and Jesus Saves, and fish icons on their trunks. Meanwhile, some atheists face difficulty getting personalized license plates so that they, too, can put their beliefs on public display and exercise their free speech in the same manner as their religious brethren. The New Jersey Motor Vehicles Commission has a bit of historical prejudice in allowing these sorts of plates for atheists, but not for believers. As the linked story from “Friendly Atheist” notes, a license plate saying “8theist” was deemed “objectionable” by MVC, but the word “Baptist” was hunky-dory.
In addition to trying to limit the free speech of atheists, some Christian groups are evening trying to limit atheists ability to help their community. Read this recent story about a Christian rescue mission in Kansas that has banned atheists from helping to feed the homeless. The Kansas City Atheist Coalition posted news of their offers to help being declined, writing “The reason is unfortunate: Kansas City Rescue Mission has decided to use the meals they deliver as a chance to proselytize to its recipients by inserting religious literature into the meals. They informed us that we “would not be a good fit” (emphasis theirs) for volunteering with them, and declined to respond to any further inquiries.” In short, this rescue mission has put their religion ahead of helping the homeless. They would rather proselytize than have capable, charitable hands assisting them with an act of good will. In October, a South Carolina soup kitchen also refused the help of atheists. The Soup Kitchen’s executive director, Lou Landrum, as reported by Raw Story, said “We stand on the principles of God… Why are they targeting us?”
Excuse me. “Targeting us?” Really? “Targeting”? You had a group of people trying to help feed the homeless. People who were volunteering their time to help fellow human beings who are desperately in need. And Landrum believes she is being “targeted?” Seriously!?
For apparently being such a war-mongering tribe, you’d think atheists had the upper hand in American society. You’d think we would have, if not an overabundance of, than at least some semblance of, the same levels of equality and fairness that the more religious-minded claim entitlement to and share amongst their like-minded ilk. With all of the complaining and whining from the religious right, you’d be forgiven for thinking, briefly, that they must be a poorly funded, impoverished segment of the US, rather the beneficiary of the majority of American charity. But alas, religious organizations are among the most well-financed, and they use that money to carry forth pogroms of discrimination against their hated outcasts of the day.
Despite the mythologizing from hucksters like Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin, there hasn’t actually been any persecution of Christians for their religious beliefs, nor has any damage been done to Christmas. Atheists have certainly treated Christians far better than Christians treated atheists in the days of old. There has yet to be a single inquisition or crusade across the continents to spread the words of reason and the joys of rationality. Atheists have not burned anybody at the stake or tortured people into submission for denying science. There is no such thing as a “war” on Christmas. It is an imaginary battle created by people who have too little faith in their imaginary gods and too much self-inflated importance in themselves. The “war” on Christmas is as legitimate as the Dark Side’s corruption of May The Fourth Be With You Day, which is to say, not at all. These proclamations of “war” are merely a smokescreen from the ignorant and the snake-oil salesmen hoping for a quick cash grab from a spike in their book sales or TV ratings, with the end goal being only the furtherance of the “us vs. them” mentality that they foster to further pad their bank accounts or to help hide their shallow, troubled minds from reality. They perceive themselves as being oppressed simply because other segments of society refuse to submit to them. They confuse disagreement with war. As Jon Stewart wisely said, “You have confused a war on your religion with not always getting what you want.”
This “War on Christmas” is a ridiculous lie told by ridiculous people with hollow beliefs. Many atheists, myself included, enjoy Christmas every bit as much as our Christian friends and relatives. The only difference is that we have a greater appreciation for the actual history of the holiday, and the company we choose to celebrate it with, than we do for the dubious fables that surround it.
Over the weekend, my wife and I watched Man of Steel, the Zack Snyder-directed Superman reboot. I liked it a lot. Granted, Superman was never my superhero of choice (he always seemed too powerful and too goodie-two-shoes to be really interesting), and while I appreciated the first two Christoper Reeve movies, I was happy to see a grittier, more action-packed take on the character. Bringing in Chris Nolan and David Goyer to kickstart the reboot on the heels of their fantastic Batman trilogy gave Man of Steel a fresh, grounded approach to the material, and Snyder did admirable work developing the production into a special effects extravaganza. It had plenty of spectacle and action, and it was cool to see a Superman who wasn’t so afraid to get his hands dirty, rather than rise above it all and speechify about how the villains won’t win. He was an active, take-charge hero, which I really appreciated. And Russel Crowe as his Kryptonian father, Jor El? Awesome stuff, and quite an ass-kicker in his own right. Definitely a far cry from Marlon Brando’s brief million-dollar performance. I also appreciated Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent, Superman’s adopted father who, in this new picture, was very conflicted about his son’s role and development, and kept him sheltered. My father was of a similar mind-set, and was very over-protective, so I could relate to Clark’s frustrations regarding familial expectations. Ultimately, the movie just really worked for me, and I felt it was a solid reintroduction to the characters and broke new ground, rather than repeating and retreading so much of what has come before.
=== Man of Steel SPOILERS follow, along with lots of rampant speculation! ===
The really big news came after the film’s release, with the announcement that Ben Affleck would be starring as The Dark Knight in the Man of Steel follow-up (tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman, although Warner Bros. has registered some other Internet domain names that lack the luster of the proposed title). The casting news was met with a lot of controversy and unnecessary vitriol. At first, I was taken aback by this choice, but have since warmed to the casting, and even more so after finally getting to watch Man of Steel. Affleck has done some great work in The Town and Argo, and I am really looking forward to his helming the adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s Live By Night. I can see him fitting into this new phase of the DC Cinematic Universe rather well. His Batman will be older, weary, and more experienced. He’s definitely got the jaw to fill out the bat cowl. I can’t imagine he’ll have many problems bringing either Batman or the Bruce Wayne alter-ego to life in a sensible fashion.
I think Synder, Goyer, and Affleck will adopt an interesting and fresh approach to the Caped Crusader, and their collaboration should produce a very different take on the character than what we saw in Nolan’s films. As much as I love what Nolan and Christian Bale brought to the screen, I do hope for a more comic-book-centric approach to Gotham’s best moving forward, and a richer establishment of Batman’s allies and villains. It should open up the world of the DCU more, return Batman to his comic book roots, and play around with his keen detective insights (something not heavily emphasized, if not outright ignored, in past bat-films) and fun gadgetry. Now that Man of Steel has brought in the sci-fi element, it’s a bit of cross-genre mish-mash that could play well in Gotham and allow some of Batman’s rogue gallery to be introduced, like Clayface, or reintroduced and done right, as Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy so desperately need. But all of that will likely have to wait for solo-Batfleck films. For now, it’s a Man of Steel sequel, and it should be conducted as such.
At its heart, Man of Steel was about parentage and the lessons of a father, and how that input shapes one’s sense of self as the boy develops into the man. This would be a good theme to explore in the sequel, and perhaps the more seasoned crime-fighter can take the young Superman under his wing and train him properly. Although I hope we don’t get another lengthy crash-course into the origins of the Batman (really, hasn’t his mythos seeped into the pop culture enough that we can get a Bat-flick without all the expository background on his parents death, especially so soon after Batman Begins?), it’s interesting that both characters have lost family, and, in their formative moments, relied on somewhat-pseudo-father figures (Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Alfred, and Clark’s with Jor El) for support. These elements can help them foster a common ground and develop a friendship despite their odd-couple nature. Of course, one would imagine there will be plenty of conflict in brokering that alliance.
In a sense, Man of Steel is also about Superman losing. He had to kill Zod in order to end the Kryptonian threat on Earth. It’s an emotionally resonant climax and an action that Superman regrets taking. He violated the one rule that we, as an audience, know he would never do. Superman would never kill. But in the film, he wasn’t left with many other options and he did the necessary evil and was immediately anguishing over that action. I think the consequences of this will be where Batman enters the picture, perhaps initially believing Superman to be a dangerous threat and taking steps to oppose him. With large sections of Metropolis destroyed, it’ll likely take the combined philanthropy of Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne to rebuild, and Batman and Superman will oppose one another until they realize they share a common foe with Luthor.
First and foremost, the sequel needs to be a Man of Steel film. While it’ll be cool to have Batman back in action, his inclusion shouldn’t overshadow the production. It would be neat to see him in a smaller, more adversarial role prior to becoming a mentor of sorts to the blue boy scout. Secondly, it needs to avoid the typical superhero trope of the entire planet in danger. We got that in the first movie, along with the alien menace. The second pic needs to focus on the human threat, which is where I imagine Batman (and probably Lex Luthor) would come into play. Let it be about Superman embracing the Clark Kent persona and reveling in his adopted world, and embracing his fundamental humanity and striving to make-up for the wrongs committed in dealing so absolutely with Zod. Let him learn from Batman why, even with all of your strength and power, you cannot just kill somebody without repercussion. It should be a film about humanity and trust, with a strong focus on Metropolis and its reconstruction. The rebirth of Metropolis should be symbolic of the rebirth of Superman as he puts his guilt aside and strives to become the idyllic hero that speaks to the best of humanity.
If this first film is any indication, along with Goyer’s skill and familiarity with the Bat-mythos, the Superman sequel should be a worthy, enjoyable follow-up. Hopefully it will be a more personal, introspective film with a tighter focus on characters. The filmmakers would be smart to pull a move or two from The Wolverine and scale things down, rather than trying to go bigger and bolder. We’ve already seen Metropolis get decimated. Now is the time for these creators to focus on building a better and stronger world Superman to inhabit and protect.
Now that Sasha has been with us for a full two weeks, it seems safe to say that she is now part of our family. My wife and I have checked the Michigan Humane Society website for lost cat postings, along with several other websites and Facebook groups dealing locally with lost pets, local veterinarians and PetSmart stores, and have made posts of our own trying to track down the cat’s owners. We haven’t received any replies or feedback that could reunite Sasha with her previous family, nor have we seen any postings anywhere, either online or around the neighborhood where she was found, that would indicate anybody was even looking for her.
Abandoning pets is a particularly harsh brand of cruelty I will never understand. I do understand that they are expensive and time-consuming, and some people discover they lack the resources to care for an animal accordingly. It happens. But there are other options besides abandonment. Give them to a shelter, take them to the humane society. Give them a fucking chance at surviving and being happy. Pets are not disposable items. They’re not garbage that you can just throw out the window of your car and be done with. Taking a domesticated animal and forcing them into the wilderness to fight for survival, especially after they’ve been declawed, is a disgusting, unmerciful act of ignorance and cruelty. It speaks of an utter lack of respect for life.
If our elder cat, Callie, ever ran away from home, it would an awful ordeal and we would do everything we could to recover her, plastering her pictures and our contact information all over our neighborhood, e-mailing our subdivision, putting flyers in the pet stores and local vet offices, and spreading the word around social media and relying on our friends to help spread the word. We’ve done a lot of work to try to reunite Sasha with her family, and it seems we’ve put far more effort into this task than whoever she belonged to, only to meet dead ends in this pursuit.
After bringing Sasha into our home on Monday, Nov. 11, we spent the rest of that week slowly introducing her to Callie and the rest of the house. Callie has been doing OK, but hasn’t been pleased with the situation, or with us for allowing this interloper into her territory. There’s been a low of growling and hissing, but no overt physical attacks, and Sasha has been quick to back down to Callie’s alpha behaviors. The main issue now is food – Sasha is a big eater! Over the last two weeks, she’s put on a few pounds and filled out nicely. She’s no longer skin and bones, and is eager to eat every few minutes. It’s been a challenge to keep her out of Callie’s dishes, but I think we devised a good plan to keep them separated only during meal-times now.
Still, Callie hasn’t been eating as well as she should be. The addition of a new cat has been stressful on her, and it seems to have curbed her appetite significantly. Over the last few years, she’s been losing weight pretty steadily. The vet hasn’t been terribly concerned about this in the past, but Maureen after having both cats into the vet on Friday for check-ups, she realizes it’s now a more serious issue. If Callie keeps losing weight, it’ll wreak havoc with her health and cause organ damage. We definitely want to prevent those kind of problems and see what we can do about getting her to eat more, and if we have to keep her and Sasha separated so that Callie can eat, it’s a small sacrifice. We’re experimenting with grinding her kibble into a powder and mixing it with the wet food, but the results have been iffy. She’s a very picky eater and doesn’t seem to want to eat much in the morning. She devoured the food we gave her last night, though, so maybe we can get her to eat more in the evenings.
For Sasha, the real big event over the last week and a half was to finally be allowed out of the master bedroom we’d been keeping her in. She was really excited to explore the house and has adapted to her surroundings rather nicely. She’s found a favorite cushion on the couch, directly in front of the fireplace, naturally, and it’s been her big go-to spot in the evening. She is also fond of our bed, which is where Callie normally sleeps with us, but has been smartly deferential to the older cat. Sasha does like to stretch out beneath the covers though!
Last Monday, Nov. 18, we had some severe weather and high winds, which we think stressed Sasha out quite a bit. It was the last night we kept her confined (although during this period of confinement, one of us was always in the room with her when we were home and slept there throughout the nights), but she peed a little bit on the carpet, despite knowing where her litter box is. It’s the second time overall that she’s made a mess of the carpet, but I think the first instance was just a matter of not recognizing the covered litter box as the place to evacuate. Once we took off the cover, there weren’t any issues until that last incident. We had bought a calming diffuser that plugs into the outlet, and installed it in that room. However, we lost power, so it was unable to generate the calming mist… Since she hasn’t had any problems using the litter box since, we think the problem is solved, but will need to monitor it.
We’re now testing the waters with letting Sasha roam free while we’re at work and away from the house, with only Callie to supervise her. It’s hard to say how much they’ll bond, if at all, but I’ve been impressed with our older cat’s behavior. Callie hasn’t lashed out or been overly aggressive, and even her hissing and growling seems to be tapering off slowly. After a few minutes in the same room, she’ll calm down and both cats can enjoy our company quietly and without any hysterics. It could still take quite a bit of time, but her defensiveness seems to be weakening bit by bit as she realizes that Sasha is not a threat to her.
My wife and I have the room and means to support the extra cat, so we’re happy to work with them and get both cats habituated. Sasha has been adapting to the house well, is beginning to respond to her new name (when found, there were no tags to ID her, and she hadn’t been chipped), and is typically very calm and very laid back. We would much rather keep her and get back to being a two-cat household (we lost our previous cat, Godiva, over the summer), then put her up for adoption or give her to a shelter. She won us over very quickly. She’s cute and playful, and it’s hard for us not to love her. If her previous owners were not able, or were simply unwilling, to give her a suitable home environment, Maureen and I are more than happy to take over and give her a new forever-home. She’s a darling little animal, and I would hate to see anything bad happen to her. She’s seen enough suffering, and I know we can give her a lot of love and affection to keep her one happy, cool little cat.
“It’s like we’re adopting a kid,” my wife, Maureen, said to me Sunday night. In some ways, she wasn’t too far off from the truth.
Over the weekend, a stay cat wandered onto her friend’s property in Livonia, MI. Winter has been showing its face recently, with the overnight lows dropping into the 30s and frost covering the yards. Worried for its safety, Carolyn was able to coax the cat inside with some water and food, and it quickly became clear that the animal was starved and, judging by its thinness, had been on its own for some time. She had already been declawed and spayed, which indicated she was somebody’s pet at some point, but not chipped, and she didn’t have a collar or tags. Carolyn has posted flyers around her neighborhood and messages online about the lost cat, but no owner has claimed her. My wife and I have also made postings on social media sites alerting the Michigan Human Society and ASPCA, so we’ll see what happens. The cat has also been to the vets for a check-up, blood-work, and a flea bath. Carolyn already has a dog and a few other cats, not to mention a toddler, so she and her husband have their hands pretty full already. Although she’s said she would keep the cat if she could, it’s not really the best option for her.
So, after spending some time with the cat over the weekend, we decided to take her in. Although reuniting her with her family is a priority, if she goes unclaimed we are definitely ready to provide her with a home.
Until this past summer, we’d been a two-cat household for a good number of years. Before we began dating, Maureen had adopted Callie and Godiva, and gave them a very good home. Towards the end of May, Godiva started getting very sick and lethargic. She refused to eat or drink, and there was a considerable change in her personality. After multiple visits to the veterinarian and little in the way of humane treatment options, we struggled with the decision but knew it was really the only correct thing to do for our suffering kitty. On June 2, we had Godiva put to sleep. It was a very difficult choice, and lots of tears were shed, but unfortunately we had to do it in order to ease her suffering and help her leave peacefully. The house has been a hell of a lot emptier without her…
Adjusting to a single-cat household hasn’t been easy. Maureen misses Godiva a great deal, and for a long time I kept expecting our little black cat to jump up on the bed, or to come greet us at the door as was her habit when we got home from work. Callie has been forced into spending a lot of time alone in the house while Maureen and I are at work, and she hasn’t been getting the amount of attention or activity she was used to. She lost her play pal, and chasing a feather on a stick (although she enjoys it pretty often!) hasn’t been the same for her.
As fall began to settle in, we got some fish, mostly hoping that it would give Callie something to watch and keep her entertained while we were away. Naturally, she could care less about them. She’ll sometimes watch them, but it seems like, so far, the fish have been more amusing for us than for her. Fish, we’ve learned, are also a lot more work than we expected! We’ve been grappling with getting a stable ecology to develop in the fish tank and balancing ammonia and nitrite levels to keep them healthy and safe. I do think we’ve got that figured out; the water has been keeping clear, and the fish are pretty active.
Now that we’ve had a bit more time to mourn Godiva, I think we’re ready to bring a new cat into our lives. The decision is made a bit easier by recognizing that it will do a heck of a lot more good for this new kitty, too. She’s definitely a people cat, and if she has been abandoned, she’s making every effort to get caught up on some much-deserved attention. We’ve decided to name her Sasha, since we have no idea what her previous name was, and when we brought her home Monday evening, Old Man Winter was knocking on our doors and windows, delivering an unpleasant wintry mix of ice-cold rain and snow. Definitely inhospitable weather for this poor, too-thin cat to try and brave.
For the next few days, we’re keeping her and Callie separated, in case she has any infectious parasites or fleas or diseases from her time in the wild. Sasha is having quite the run of her bedroom, though. There is nothing quite like the exuberance and curiosity of a young cat finding a new home, and she’s certainly eager to explore the rest of the house. She’s been giving Maureen and I a lot of affection and dogging our every step, refusing to let us out of her sight. It didn’t take her very long to find the bed and curl up, or to pick out some of her favorite spots. We have an empty cardboard box that had held Callie’s toys, and Sasha has been rubbing her jowls on the corners of the box, making a handy face scratcher of it. She’s also been rubbing up against us and getting a lot of petting and scratches, as well as plenty of food!
After a visit to the vet on Monday, we’ve estimated her age to be about one year, based on how little plaque has built up on her teeth. She’s up-to-date on her shots, but needs to go in for a second booster in three weeks. Thankfully, she’s in very good health.
I have to admit, I became attached to her pretty quickly. She’s got a lot of charisma and energy! She’s a very spirited cat and really enjoys being around us. I feel bad that we had to leave her alone while we went to work today, and have been itching to get back home and spend some time with her. I worry that she’ll think she’s on her own again. She also had a bit of an accident Tuesday morning. We bought her a covered litter box, and I think she may have thought it was an animal carrier, like what was used to take her to the veterinarian’s. It had a door flap on it, and I tried showing it to her a few times. She unloaded on the carpet instead of in the box, so I took the cover off and that seems to have solved the problem.
Sasha appears happy to have a new home, and Maureen and I are happy to have her in our lives for as long as possible. We don’t know if our house will be her new forever home, but we’ve made every effort we can to reunite her with her family. It’s a matter of wait-and-see now, and in the meantime we’re intent on enjoying our time with her. We have room in our house and our hearts for this new cat, and the cat needs a nice, warm, and stable environment (especially with what looks to be a cruel winter coming upon us). I think we’ll both be quite happy to share the comforts. The big hope is that her and Callie can get along. I not sure that Callie is too pleased with all of this, but they seem to be talking between the bedroom door. It’ll be a few days before we properly introduce them to one another and get them acquainted. Both cats are pretty docile and laid back, so we’ll see how this goes!
In the last week or two, there’s been some exciting TV development deals announced. Amazon Studios is developing an original series for their Instant Video service based on author Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosh novels. The pilot episode is currently shooting in Los Angeles, with Titus Welliver set to star as the iconic Homicide detective. Lance Reddick, who played Broyles in Fringe and starred in The Wire, will also be playing an integral role in Bosch, along with a few other solid actors. You can read more about Connelly’s new series at his daily ‘from the set’ blog.
AMC’s The Walking Dead was renewed for a fifth season. Not the least bit surprising, given its continued status as a ratings juggernaut. The network is expected to debut a spin-off series in 2015, but details are sparse. It should feature a new cast and a new locale, and if it’s parent show is any indication, lots of surprises and suspense for the fans.
The biggest news, and for me, the most exciting, was the announcement of a distribution deal between Netflix and Marvel Studios. The video streaming service, which has rapidly become known for producing original content on par with HBO in its heyday, is set to broadcast four original series culminating in a mini-series, The Defenders. After many well-deserved theatrical wins (its most recent, Thor: The Dark World, opened Friday and claimed the number one spot at the box office), the Marvel Universe is further expanding its domain into episodic content. In September, the studio launched Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. Now partnered with Netflix, Marvel will be debuting fresh live-action adaptations of Daredevil, and introducing the characters of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and The Immortal Iron Fist to larger, more mainstream audiences.
Each series has a 13-episode commitment, with the four shows converging in a miniseries event, The Defenders. With this plan, Marvel is bringing to Netflix the same mentality that made its shared universe of films a success, in which multiple stand-alone films converged in last summer’s blockbuster, The Avengers.
While I wouldn’t expect any of these news series to break an R-rating threshold, I do expect them to be a bit more adult and have less of an all-audiences approach as their current SHIELD series. Hell’s Kitchen, where each show is expected to take place, is a rough neighborhood and a darker corner of the Marvel Universe than we’ve seen thus far. Jessica Jones, who took the lead as a hard-edged private eye in Brian Michael Bendis’ spectacular comic Alias, was decidedly an adult take on the superhero genre and one of the Marvel’s first adult-focused series under the Marvel MAX banner (a few years before The Punisher became a mainstay there). Luke Cage had a MAX title, too, for what its worth. Each character has a lot of shared history in the comics, so using television as a platform to adapt each, and to tie in to one another, is a logical progression for Marvel’s filmic and television endeavors. Several of these characters are, or were, members of The Avengers in various iterations, so one has to wonder if these series could also be a platform to introduce future variations of Avengers line-ups for films to come. If Robert Downey, Jr. decides to take leave of the Iron Man and Avengers franchises, he will leave a considerable gap to fill. Perhaps by getting a segment of their audience used to more heroes, Marvel can fill the void left by Downey with some of these new characters.
The Netflix partnership also opens a greater degree of freedom for Marvel to introduce, or reintroduce, their stable of characters. Having recently regained film rights to The Punisher, which despite three attempts, has yet to find any degree of success (particularly creative success) on cinema, the studio finally has a chance to exert a high degree of control over producing an adaptation that stays true to the source material and can satisfy fans. The character also has a rich history with Daredevil, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marvel using DD’s series as a launch pad for the skull-wearing vigilante. There’s a deep well of comic book history to draw inspiration from, particularly within the last decade or two. While Chuck Dixon provided some memorable stories for Frank Castle (including a rather unconventional team-up with Luke Cage), Greg Rucka’s work, or even Garth Ennis’ to a certain degree, are ripe for adaptation. I’m sure that the comic’s forthcoming relaunch, helmed by Nathan Edmonson and Mitch Gerads, will provide plenty of cinematic sequences to draw from, as well.
Each of these new internet series offer the studio a great deal of creative freedom without any network restrictions, and each character will have a moment to shine with their display of power without breaking the budget or requiring heavy FX. Four street level heroes, who specialties mostly lie with strength and fighting skill, will make for much cheaper action sequences than the Iron Man films. This should let Marvel make some seriously cinematic television and invest in quality film stock and well-dressed sets.
The Marvel U is set to expand in 2015 on Netflix, probably after the second Avengers film, Age of Ultron, debuts that May. Phase 3 of Marvel’s film plan promises to be an exciting platform-crossing adventure, and I’ll be sure to be watching!
As an American atheist, I’ve witnessed the nonsense of religion largely from a distance, but enough to make me fear for the current state of our political system. On the Internet, I frequently see ridiculous posts from relatives on Facebook about how that social media site is trying to ban images of Jesus in the manger (see this Snopes piece as an example of the post in my newsfeed this morning), or how if a photo of a child with cancer gets one million likes, God will cure her (can there be a more callous and insufferable post than this?). This morning, though, was a bit different. My co-workers, who have, on a fairly regular basis, made their religious beliefs known to all within earshot, decided to have a conversation in front of my desk that was so galling it became impossible to ignore (it also reminds me of the joke, how do you know if someone is Christian? Don’t worry, they’ll fucking tell you!).
I work at a university and one of our student workers was complaining to a co-worker about a mandatory philosophy course he is currently enrolled in. Both of my co-workers are religious, and neither of them can tolerate philosophy; to them, it’s a stupid, pointless exercise (it seems they often feel the same about science, as well; I suspect this intolerance is pointed towards anything that could possibly make them think or that would challenge or refute their religious values). Even more so since this philosophy course is taught by an atheist, according to the student. Their philosophy bashing turned into Praising Jesus in almost record time, and I was astonished, and a rather appalled, when the conversation led to:
“Atheists don’t believe in God because they don’t want to be accountable for anything they do.”
Somehow Santa Claus got dragged into this as proof that God is real, “even though Santa Claus isn’t real, as logic will tell you,” one co-worker said. It was such an impressive mental circus that it would be impossible to do justice to here. This somehow contorted itself into the creation of the universe and a refutation of the Big Bang theory, where this same individual reminded us, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed. That’s simple science. Everyone knows that.” True, but then he followed it up with this whopper, “Only God can create energy.”
As Seth Andrews might say, this was a weapons-grade face-palming moment. It’s also a traditional Christian tactic, using science to refute science in order to claim proof of a divine entity. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, so, once upon a time, snakes and donkeys were able to speak.
In regards to my co-workers latter comment, this is what’s known as the God of the Gaps argument. It goes “I can’t explain it, therefore God.” It runs parallel to, “I can’t be bothered to do any actual research and educate myself about scientific fact, because I know God did it.”
What really bothered me, though, was the claim, the misconception, that atheists refuse to be accountable. I see this claim frequently, and it’s staggering. Utterly mind-boggling. Particularly coming from people whose religious faiths emphasize unaccountability as their primary virtue, where any heinous action you can commit is done away with by some Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s and telling your imaginary friend (rather than the victims of your transgressions) that you’re sorry. It’s spiritual Drain-O. (Perhaps this is one reason why atheists account for .07% of the federal prison population in America, while Catholics and Protestants make up more than half of the prison population.)
Cheated on your wife? Just ask God for forgiveness, here’s your ticket to Heaven. No accountability needed. Killed somebody while you were driving drunk? Just as God for forgiveness, and you’ve got it. No accountability needed. Your slate is wiped clean. Mass murderer on death row? Here’s a priest to hear your final confession and grant you forgiveness so you can still get into Heaven. No accountability needed. You’re a priest who raped a bunch of children? Here’s a Get Out of Jail Free Card, we’ll excommunicate your victims, and give you a more target-rich area to preach in. All Hitler would need to do is ask forgiveness from God and he’s in Heaven, while, according to religious tenants, all the Jews and various minorities he exterminated would be burning in hell for being of the wrong religious persuasion. Everything’s golden in the afterlife if you’ve had the foresight to ask for your free pass from the man upstairs. The religious are at the forefront of dispossessing accountability and shrugging off responsibility.
But atheists. Atheists are different. We have to be by virtue of moral necessity. We don’t believe in an afterlife. We don’t believe in god, and thus, we free ourselves from being accountable to that trifling figment. (And no, we don’t hate God. We cannot hate imaginary things.) But that does not mean we are not accountable or responsible. Atheists have to hold themselves accountable. We’re accountable to our friends, our family, our neighbors, our society, our country. We need to be responsible because that’s the responsible thing to do.
Last year, a religious friend posted on my Facebook page after taking umbrage with a photo I put up on Sept. 11, 2012. It was a picture of the Twin Towers with the caption “Imagine No Religion.” She’s Muslim and was rather cross that I would associate her religion with terrorism or violence. She wrote, of her religion, “It has taught me right from wrong and it has kept me in check, because at the end of the day, I don’t answer to people – I answer to GOD [emphasis hers]!”
That’s frightening. The notion that she doesn’t believe she answers to people–that she’s not accountable to her husband, or her children, or her friends–is horrifying. It’s also the same mentality that has allowed religious fanatics to carry out acts of violence in the name of their god. It’s the mentality that tells some Christians to shoot abortion doctors or blow up federal buildings with fertilizer bombs, or decide that they need to take away or deny people basic human rights. It’s the mentality that inspires individuals to hijack airliners and fly them into buildings, or suicide bomb markets and military bases. That’s the type of mentality that, as an atheist, I simply cannot identify with. And I certainly have no respect for it. If we do not hold ourselves accountable to others, then what good is god?
She claims her holy book, not society or her family, but rather the Koran, has taught her right from wrong. The same holy book that has more than 100 verses calling for the brutalizing and murder of nonbelievers or those who believe in a different god than her, or the forced submission of others to her religion. A holy book that calls for beheading and dismemberment. A holy book that calls for violence far more often than tolerance.
Meanwhile, my Christian co-worker, alleges that we atheists refuse to be accountable to God. It’s an odd argument, this antiquated notion that you have to be religious to be good. Morals do not come from religion, and religions have absolutely zero claim on morality. You do not need a God to be good; you simply just need to be good. Why style your morality after scripture? Why turn towards a god who, in his holy book, endorses the murder of children, the enslavement of people, the rape and murder of women, incest, bigamy, bigotry, murder of nonbelievers, the murder of people who don’t listen to priests, and the eternal torment of Hell for people with tattoos or body piercings? One must wonder what the average man or woman could possibly do worse than this petty tyrant that we should have to be accountable to him for.
So, no, my Christian co-workers, I am not accountable to your god. I have no need for imaginary friends. I am accountable, instead, to myself, and to my wife, to my family, to the child (or children) that I hope we one day have. I am accountable to reality, rather than the rambling, shallow imaginations of the primitives who invented god to ease their bruised consciousness.