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Archive for April, 2008

Introducing a new page (seen on the menu above, next to “Home” and “About”), wherein our beleaguered hero, abashed at his dearth of success in publishing fiction, valiantly posts his stories on the Internet for free…

Story the First: a semi-autobiographical bit of catharsis…

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As is so fashionable these days, a British article I came across this morning breezily dismissed religion as, shall we say, “the effect of a frenzied mind” and “silly traditions” (Alma 30:16, 31).  Here’s a quote:

People say they believe in life after death but still grieve when people die. Christians try to get rich and Muslims gamble. The state of mind here is unaccountable in the same way as that of the child who pretends that the tree stump is a bear and then becomes genuinely frightened of it, while knowing all the time that it is a tree stump. Like the child’s game, the grown-up one deserves no special respect, but provided it keeps away from the serious side of life it can remain harmless enough.

My response is posted (by “Huston”) in the comments section near the bottom of the page: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=401547&c=1

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As the year winds down, I like to have my classes review the things we’ve read–and the elements of style employed by great authors–by having them write parodies of things as if they were done by literary giants.  We start by reading these examples, done up by yours truly.  Enjoy!

 

The Empire Strikes Back, as written by William Shakespeare

VADER: Fair young apprentice, it is I who am the father of thy fleshly tabernacle!

LUKE: Oh, forswear it, vile wretch!

      Never shall the days come when I shall agree

      To partake of the black compact thou hast proposed.

      The very seraphs of heav’n shall blow their mighty trumps

      Ere I rule the galaxy with thee!

 

Napoleon Dynamite, as written by Emily Dickinson

Alas and woe is me,

For bereft of the sweet tots am I.

My lily-white palm reaches–

Out–to cast away the button of

The flippin idiot who–

Votes for Summer in place of Pedro–

My heart drops and yearns for…

Ninja skills!

 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, as written by Ernest Hemingway

      Harry chased the snitch. It flew away. He didn’t give up. Draco came up from behind and bashed him. Hard. Harry was used to sabotage. 

      Harry lurched forward and grabbed the snitch with his hands. Darkness settled and Harry awoke to victory. Draco stood still, and alone.

 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as written by Ray Bradbury

      The old hag cackled a high screeching blare of ugly maniac laughter. 

      Snow White bit into the rosy orb apple, expecting the sweet juices of intoxicating simple life. Her brain screamed foul as she recognized the betrayal of memory and couldn’t stop the coming end, like an alien doomsday weapon had fired upon all her youth.

      Dwarves, seven, flew through the wood, hoping but late. 

 

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This one could also go under “serendipity.”  A couple of weeks ago I was perusing the website of English Journal, an official magazine of the National Council of Teachers of English.  I was surprised to find this abstract: http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/ej/articles/129317.htm.

Sadly, the whole article isn’t available online.  Luckily, yours truly works at UNLV on Saturday afternoons this semester, and the awesome Lied Library subscribes to everything.  I made a copy and read it.

Eikmeier has some good ideas, all geared toward correlating The Simpsons with the literature they’ve parodied.  That’s all fine and good–and I use it for that prupose, too–but I was disappointed that she didn’t take it deeper.

She noted that The Simpsons is an ideal tool for teaching literary techniques such as irony and satire.  She didn’t give examples on that front, but that’s how I’ve predominantly used it over the years. 

The Simpsons is a great example of satire, and has a few core issues that show up episode after episode, season after season:

  • The vapidity of popular culture (“Homerpalooza,” “Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie”)
  • The danger of our increasing acceptance of lower standards of personal responsibility (“Bart’s Inner Child,” “Homer’s Enemy,” “Trash of the Titans”)
  • The power and importance of the nuclear family (“Secrets of a Successful Marriage,” “A Milhouse Divided”)
  • The destructive nature of television (“Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming”–and, obviously, a decent illustration of irony!)

The list and these examples could be greatly extended.  I only hope that I can actually communicate these deeper levels of this iconic media masterpiece to my students, and that they don’t just sit there and think, a la Beavis and Butthead, “Uh-huh-huh-huh, we’re watching The Simpsons.”

Just in case, I’ll make some more copies of that article for furture parent conferences… :)

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In a world awash with shallow rhetoric and irrational vitriol, I invite you to stand with me and reintroduce these great lost words into our daily lexicon.  Use them freely, friends, for a society in peril needs to hear them, and hear them often!

  1. Balderdash!
  2. Poppycock!
  3. Nonsense!
  4. Rot!
  5. Rubbish!
  6. Bunk!
  7. Hogwash!

These words are both holy and powerful.  Wield them well and watch the garbage that fills the spaces between our public discourses be neatly rent asunder.  Now go!

 

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I find that life is sweeter when we actively court simple joys by looking out for them and then appreciating them with the honor of being recorded.  Two recent instances of sublime, blissful, fortuitous coincidences:

1.  A woman in Las Vegas moves temporarily to Australia.  She has her mail forwarded to a friend here.  One item is a magazine for mothers called Cookie.  The woman apparently doesn’t need her magazines kept, and the friend has no use for it.  The friend happens to work at my school, and figured my wife might like it.  She gives me the current issue for her. 

I flip through it a bit before putting it in my bag, and randomly open to a page with a few book reviews in the margins.  One review is a little blurb about a new book sequel called The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey.  It sounds interesting. 

I check the website for my favorite library, and find that they have the original on the shelf.  The Mysterious Benedict Society is about a gifted child who passes a weird test and goes undercover to spy on a bizarre, elite school.  I put it on hold and pick it up soon.  I start the first few pages, but then my daughter picks it up and starts to devour it. 

I pick it up on April 23, 2008, and notice that the stamp inside the cover shows that the library recieved it on April 24, 2007–exactly one year before my daughter started reading it.

She finished it in three days and I hope to continue it soon.  She loved it and wants to read the new sequel.  I’m anxious to read it also. 

And all because a woman moved to Australia.  :)

http://www.amazon.com/Mysterious-Benedict-Society-Trenton-Stewart/dp/0316003956/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1209441918&sr=8-1

2.  Every Spring and Summer the Rainbow library in Las Vegas sponsors a series of jazz concerts.  For the last few years, I’ve offered extra credit to students in my classes if they come out to one of these great shows.  (I figure one of the best things I do as a teacher is to get a dozen or two teenagers to go to a library on a Saturday night and listen to jazz!)

This last Saturday was a fantastic show by students and faculty from CSN.  I was out there with my two youngest kids.  Several students came by to say “Howdy.”  Others walked by and didn’t seem to recognize me. 

One student came out with his dad and as they were looking for me, the dad noticed a guy on stage playing a horn solo.  It was his godfather, whom he hadn’t seen in ten years.  They stuck around and after the show went over to have a reunion. 

Families are brought back together because an English teacher has a habit of going to jazz concerts.

http://www.lvccld.org/events/search_result.cfm?nForm=1&nEvnttp=11&nLbr=5&sKwrd=Moonlight%2C+Movies+and+Music

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Think of music from the 50’s.  Now think of music from the 60’s.  Now the 70’s.  Now the 80’s. 

Chances are you had a pretty solid idea of a distinct sound for each decade.  After all, what could be more different than Chuck Berry to the Beatles to Kiss to the Cure?

OK, now think of 90’s music.  Now think of 21st century music. 

Can you do it? 

Here’s my point: there’s no difference.  Music has grown more stagnant than a fetid swamp.  Any time I’ve flipped down the radio dial in the last few years, or heard the music my high school students play, I can’t shake the deja vu.  It’s not that current music is bad, it’s that it’s bland–been there, done that.  Everything out there, in every style, sounds exactly the same as the songs that were popular in those styles in the early 90’s.

Let me put it this way: there has not been a single significant evolution in any popular music genre for at least fifteen years.  Could you imagine kids in 1975 still listening to music that sounds like The Platters or The Drifters?  How can today’s kids stand it, knowing that “their” sound is just a warmed-over rehash of Nirvana, Public Enemy, or Madonna?

Is this why classic rock seems to be so popular again recently?  Is it a rejection of the whole contemporary industry that “samples” so often that, at this rate, their ravenous self-cannibalization will soon leave little left but a loud mouth and a head with nothing in it? 

Or maybe that’s why the Internet’s various subversive distractions are eroding the base out from under the music industry.  After all, there are just so many boy bands, pop tarts, angry thugs, and depressing hair bands you can listen to before you realize what a crock the whole thing is.

Well, I say classic rock isn’t far enough back for a decent rebellion against a whole generation of “artists” in total stasis.  Out with the Top 40, in with Mozart!

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On the opinion page of today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal, a reader named “Joe” posted a comment very critical of my church.  I responded by correcting some factual errors in his piece, which sparked a bit of a warm debate.  Follow this link and scroll to the bottom, then read the posts by “Joe” and “Huston” (me). 

http://www.lvrj.com/opinion/18168569.html?numComments=41

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Lost Thought

Lost is undeniably one of the most literate shows on television, but I’m always impressed by just how sadistically they seem to enjoy teasing their own fans, dragging out the resolution of any minor plot line until the last minute, when the climax only sets up more torture.

Poor Lost fans are like people who see the old t-shirt that says, “How do you keep an idiot busy? (see other side)”–and the back says the same thing–and end up running circles around the shirt saying, “Wow, this just keeps getting deeper!”

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Today, a disruptive young man who has chosen to miss school more often than not this year came to class, saying that “the court” was forcing him to come back.  Many kids now want out of school, but find themselves trapped there; many others come and go as they please, knowing that it makes very little difference whatever they do.  As things are, students who misbehave and don’t want to do school work know that they will get away with it and always have a guaranteed place in their social spot of choice.  Teachers and administrators can only threaten and punish so far before truculent kids realize that the system is a toothless farce; these days, “permanent expulsion” is a fantasy.

 

For many local teens, “violently apathetic” isn’t an oxymoron; if you question their self-asserted right to a school day of hedonistic ease, they’ll become antagonistic and fight back.  And many, many parents will either take the kid’s side, or throw up their hands and quit.  Parents also know that the school is legally obligated to accept and care for teens far beyond any reasonable limit of anti-social disruption.

 

And, of course, the mature kids suffer as we devote time and resources to babysitting these voluntary losers.  A surprisingly large chunk of school populations are composed of kids who ditch school at least once a week or two, anyway; these are also the worst troublemakers, who not only distract students with more potential, but also tempt them away from achievement.  How many of our C and D students would be A and B students if the straight-F set weren’t around?

 

The single best thing we could do to reform education and improve overall student performance would be to remove that safety net and repeal NRS 392.040, the law that requires mandatory school attendance: http://www.leg.state.nv.us/NRS/NRS-392.html.  The best kids would finally flourish, the middle-of-the-road kids would learn to develop self-discipline and the value of having a stake in their own lives, and the future clients of the penal system would assume their chosen position in the lower class just that much earlier.  Everybody wins.  

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As the school district curriculum requires English classes to review prefixes, roots, and suffixes during first quarter each year, I do the following each September: I give students a list of common word stems, and have them combine a bunch in new ways; then, based on the meanings of those parts, they must come up with a reasonable definition. 

I made a list of some of my favorites from last year’s class.  Here are the creative, thought-provoking, hilarious results:

  • Nonchromastrette—a female star with no color.
  • Micropedtrician—doctor for small feet
  • Intercryptesses—women who share secrets among themselves
  • Ultramicrocapitology—the study of people with very small heads
  • Monomorphhood—only able to change into one other shape
  • Semiantihyperphile—a person partly opposed to excessive love
  • Circumcyclanthroportogist—one who travels in circles carrying men
  • Biocosmcryptism—the theory that the Earth is a sentient being and is hiding this fact from us
  • Philocryptard—one who loves secrets
  • Semicapithood—condition of having half a head
  • Sophpatercide—the killing of a wise father
  • Periasterist—person who’s always around stars
  • Zotractcyclology—study of animals that pull things with wheels
  • Postdemology—the study of the world after all the people are gone
  • Astrozoology—the study of animals from space
  • Retrogencapitition—to be born with your head on backwards
  • Microautochromcyclen—to be made of small, self-colored wheels
  • Bibliochromard—one who colors in books
  • Nonbibliocredance—not trusting anything in books
  • Hypermorhood—excessively dead
  • Misbibliofinate—a book with a bad ending
  • Bisophozoogeographphonolgy—the study of two wise animals who wrote about the earth
  • Octanthropezocryptecidism—the act of eight men killing hidden animals
  • Geophileless—without love for the earth
  • Postneobilbioist—someone who has finished reading a new book
  • Subcentesque—to be less than 100 years old
  • Contraquahood—the state of being against water
  • Bisubaquagrammers—two people who write underwater
  • Contrademhyperspreers—people who fight other people who breathe too much
  • Acapitlessposthypergrammer—someone who had their head cut off because they wrote too much
  • Octmicropedettephobia—the fear of women with eight small feet
  • Semineomisphonish—when something new sounds kind of bad
  • Preaquacryptsciness—before knowledge of water was a secret
  • Necropedapyrosubhydraphiliaphobia—the fear of loving children who died underwater while on fire
  • Astrosophneolism—new wisdom found in the stars
  • Procisbicapitdemist—one who believes in cutting off the heads of people with two heads
  • Antianthropediology—the study of not liking men’s feet
  • Autoanthropolyphonologist—a man who makes many noises while studying himself
  • Tricentpateretteism—belief in having 300 effeminate fathers
  • Philomonoic—to love being single

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For hundreds of years, Western Civilization produced literate societies by immersing their young in its intellectual heritage. Students practiced rigorous routines of reading, writing, and arithmetic. They memorized classic poetry and important dates in history. They solved math problem without calculators. They understood the Constitution.

In the 20th century, we changed that. As we’ve experimented with styles of teaching, we’ve moved further and further away from the effective methods that built this great nation. To see how ridiculous this is, imagine these ideas being transplanted to a gym…

Presenting: Guidelines For Coaches In The Modern Gym!

 

 

 

 

 

Multiple Intelligences

 

The old-fashioned idea that strength training is best accomplished by weight lifting is narrow minded. Today we know that people have various natural gifts for building strength, and they need to be free to develop them in their own way. New activities might include:

  • Getting in a group and discussing what we like and don’t like about weight lifting
  • Listening to a guest speaker try to get them excited about weight lifting products
  • Performing an interpretive dance to express how weight lifting makes them feel

Experiment with incorporating all these different ways of exercising into your own gym and just watch everybody’s biceps get ripped!

Multiculturalism

 

The world’s many diverse cultures have their own ways of developing strength, and they are all exactly as good as each other…and they’re all better than our own. To get students to respect these other cultures (which is the real purpose of gym, after all), try the following exercises:

  • Like the indigenous tribes of South America, curl your pinky fingers and big toes at the same time. Hold. Repeat.
  • Like the noble people of the Arabian deserts, sit on a rock and bounce on your bottom until you feel dizzy.
  • Like the proud peoples of modern America, shout at people in a traditional gym that they’re making you feel bad.
Mainstreaming Special Ed

 

Every 98 pound weakling has a right to be in your Advanced Powerlifting class. We can’t technically guarantee every student success, but plenty of parents are willing to sue if that’s not what you deliver. If this means you have to neglect your talented, enthusiastic students in order to subtly lower the bar so another student can technically finish a work out, don’t complain. You’ll be sued for that, too.

Excused Absences and Make Up Work

 

 

The laws demand that students may be excused from work outs for any reason, any time, for any number of days, without penalty. Well, everybody treats it that way. So when a kid comes back to your gym from a week of officially-sanctioned truancy and then lamely demands all their make up work right away, be ready to give it to them.

If, after a year of missing frequent sessions with you, they aren’t in good shape, prepare to shrug your shoulders and pretend you don’t know why they didn’t make more progress. Suggest that they need more special accommodations during work outs.

Bilingual needs

 

A lot of students these days will come into your gym without any background in exercising. The best way to catch them up is to offer modified work outs where they can thrive in an anti-social subculture that mimics the fitness routines in the society they insist on thinking of as home. So, instead of demanding that they start lifting weights with everybody else, allow them to comfortably ease into their new environment by curling their pinky fingers and bouncing on rocks for a few years.

But be sure to check off on your paper work that they worked out like everybody else, though. It’s the law!

Career Planning

 

Thanks to our wonderfully materialistic society, every kid who comes into your gym will know that the best reason to get in shape is…to get a fancy job and make lots of money. So when they ask, “When will I ever need to do a push up in real life?” you can try to explain the intrinsic benefits of good health, or just tell them to be quiet and get back to work.

Block Scheduling

 

Regular, frequent periods of intense practice are overrated. Today’s fitness experts all know that the best way to improve health and build strength is to have extra long workouts just two or three times a week. In fact, with weekends, holidays, and assemblies, a serious student could go four or even five days between workouts! But don’t worry; on the days that they are in your gym, they can really focus on burning the same few muscles for an hour and a half. That’s the best way to go.

However, since students can no longer focus like they used to, be sure to interrupt their workout every few minutes so they can walk around and talk to each other. Research shows that this makes aerobic conditioning more intense!

Making the Curriculum Relevant

 

 

If today’s youth are going to be healthy and strong, they need to know how the exercises connect with their manufactured media youth culture. The best coaches explain workouts using current slang, and adapt their workouts to be more exciting. Instead of doing those boring, old fashioned curls or bench presses, let them skateboard their way to improved muscle tone! Pressing buttons on video games is a far more fun (and effective) method of burning calories than dumb old cross-training, anyway!

Technology

 

Computers are the future! Every good work out should include making a five minute PowerPoint presentation. Give extra credit on their upper body conditioning if their clip art is animated.

Self Esteem

 

If a student is performing poorly, be sure to correct them in such a manner that they’ll have no idea that they were performing poorly. Kids today interpret all advice as a personal attack, and if you make them feel bad about themselves, whether you mean to or not, you can get in trouble.

If a student chooses to sit around and do nothing in your gym, you may not say that he is “acting lazy.” Such verbal abuse will get you fired!

Behavior Problems

 

If students become disruptive in your gym to the point that it infringes on the workouts of others, you may begin a long series of paperwork that will eventually get the student removed from the gym for a week or two, max. You’re the coach–you solve their problems and get them in line while you train forty other students how to exercise. Just don’t make them feel bad while you do it (see previous section).

*************

Answers to Your Concerns

 

1. “How is it fair to judge my coaching if my students go home and spend ten hours staring at a computer screen and stuffing themselves with junk food?”

Answer: Shut up.

2. “How can I be a role model when the culture on which they pattern everything from their clothes to their speech indoctrinates them to hate me and everything I stand for?”

Answer: Shut up.

3. “If students are getting weaker, with shorter attention spans and less support from their communities, aren’t these flashy reforms just an appeasing kind of pandering? Why don’t we vigorously oppose these problems head on, especially by returning to the atmosphere and methods that worked so well for so many other generations?”

Answer: Shut up!

*******************

Yes, with these enlightened methods in place, we’re sure to produce a nation of fit, healthy athletes! Look out, Japan and Europe! Now, we’re finally ready to lead the way again!

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Today, the Las Vegas Review-Journal bemoaned the abject lack of math achievement in our middle schools: http://www.lvrj.com/opinion/17998509.html

In that editorial, they noted that one middle school–Sig Rogich–performed very well.  They suggested that we find out what they do different from everybody else and copy it.  I posted the following comment on that page; so far it seems to be well received!

 

Huston wrote on April 22, 2008 10:35 AM:

“Here’s an easy recommendation for Mr. Rulffes’ committee: Learn exactly what Rogich Middle School is doing and copy it — everywhere.”

Agreed. Here’s what they do:

* Every math teacher got together in the past to make sure that they’d have a school in a strong socio-economic area that became a good neighborhood because all the parents worked hard, thus creating an environment that encourages education

* The principal ran a staff development day that resulted in having a student population that, due to its location in said strong area, is likely to have more intact two-parent homes where students are actually raised, not just sheltered

* All teachers and administrators performed those few simple, obvious procedures that instantly created a student population that, because of their positive HOME environment, are less likely to ditch school, do drugs, or get wrapped up in negative cultural trappings, thereby helping them to actually do some of their homework

Now, why doesn’t every school just go out and do all these things today? It’s easy!

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I sent the following this afternoon:

 

Dear ___________:

After several years of enjoying your column in _______, I’m sorry that my first email to you is to quibble. In your current piece, about the Texas child-seizure debacle, you begin by dismissing The Book of Mormon as “the literary and religious equivalent of L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth.”

The vague commingling of The Book of Mormon with Scientology aside, your judgment smacks of something that I’ve never seen in your work before: lack of sufficient information. No doubt you’re familiar with The Book of Mormon; you may have even read it (or parts of it); I’m sure you’ve read more than the average person has on the subject.

But do you really know enough about it to warrant a final verdict? Are you adequately well-versed in the burgeoning field of Book of Mormon research, both secular and spiritual, to have an educated opinion?

For example, regarding the large body of research that rationally places the Book of Mormon text in an authentically ancient locale, consider the survey given here: www.MormonEvidence.com. Such an overview of the facts may not convince someone, even a logical type with an open mind, that the text truly is authentic, but it shows that it may very well be, that the evidence tends to suggest the plausibility of that theory, and that it is not to be dismissed.

Or perhaps you’re given to denigrate The Book of Mormon because you feel it doesn’t measure up as literature or as a Christian document. The tip of the iceberg in correcting those erroneous assumptions would include these two essays by University of North Carolina English professor Richard Rust: http://farms.byu.edu/publications/bookschapter.php?bookid=62&chapid=710 and http://farms.byu.edu/publications/bookschapter.php?bookid=62&chapid=712 , as introductions to its under appreciated literary value; and this essay, by a man I know to have been a prophet of God, is deeply rooted in the Christ-centric nature of The Book of Mormon: http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=024644f8f206c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=2a9682178cb9b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1.

Also, I must point out the technical inaccuracy of referring to members of the FLDS church as “Mormons.” That word has always been understood to refer to members of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and not to any splinter group that may have broken off from it. The FLDS themselves would also agree with this. Calling them Mormons would be like labeling people in Brazil as Portuguese, because they may have common ancestors many generations ago and because Brazilians speak a version of the Portuguese language. Can you see the problem with this identification?

I hope this note is taken in a gracious spirit of respect for you and your work, and I do hope your references to The Book of Mormon in the future are grounded in a better understanding of it. Thank you for your time and your continued writing, which I find irascible yet erudite; in short, blissful!

God bless you!

Sincerely,

Jamie Huston

American Literature Honors, Centennial High School

Composition and World Literature, University of Nevada Las Vegas

 

 

gentlyhewstone.wordpress.com

 

Jamie Huston

“may the tussocks grow quickly under your trampthickets and the daisies trip lightly over your battercops.” — James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, 428:26-27.
 

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Yassou Greek Grill 7871 W. Charleston (at Buffalo next to McDonalds) • 702-798-8989

My wife and I have eaten here twice now, and liked it even more the second time.  The depth of choices on the menu is complemented by reasonable prices, and the atmosphere is a sweet icing on this Mediterranean cake.  (Last time we were there, we sat outside, where soft regional music was piped in and an artist was displaying her paintings of Aegean landscapes, and I remarked how well they recreated a relaxed Greek ambiance on the side of a busy six-lane street!)

You know you’re eating authentic European food because you can fill up and still feel light–there’s none of the bloated, heavy dullness that follows an American meal.  The interior is well arranged with interesting items around the perimeter of a small yet open, airy space (Hemingway would have loved it!).

Here’s a picture of a typically mouth-watering plate:

Click here for a menu and more pictures of this pleasant little slice of Greece: http://www.usmenuguide.com/yassougreekgrill.htm

Recommended dining for:

  • date night
  • feeling like you’re not in Las Vegas
  • charming a companion with how sophisticated you are
  • enjoying the perfect marriage of taste and atmosphere
  • lower blood pressure
  • eating delicious Greek food…duh!

 

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