12.28.2008

Colossally bad idea

When Kurt and I got cold walking downtown, we tucked into Borders to browse a bit and warm up. While he was checking out the business mags, a book called All About Us caught my eye. It's a book of questions meant to be filled out as a couple. It sounded like a great way to get to know each other and document your good times together. I got quite a surprise when I opened it. Not only does it ask about things you don't like about your partner, it also asks you go to into great detail about past relationships. Bad bad bad idea. It reminded me of that honesty game we played at slumber parties in junior high. It starts off in good fun, but by the end everyone has hurt feelings and isn't speaking to one another. Kurt and I had a good laugh looking through it and agreed that it was a disaster waiting to happen. Honesty is good, of course, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

(Yes, I know it has 4 stars at amazon.com. Mind-boggling!)

12.27.2008

50 favorite words

One of the exercises at a writer's group I attended was to create a list of your 100 favorite words. They can be chosen for their sound, their meaning, or even be taken from poetry or prose. You can learn a lot about someone from how they go about choosing their words as well as from the actual words they choose. It's also a good jumping off point for creative endeavors and wordplay.

I made my list this morning and learned fairly quickly that 100 is a darn lot of words. I think 50 is a more manageable number, so I stopped there. My favorite words are ones that make me smile, due to meaning or just being fun to say. Here goes:

shrubbery * whimsy * mothership * fluffy * cosmic * hollyberry * twinkle * donut * exuberant * delightful * adventure * astronomy * cupcake * moose * moonbeam * conquistador * explore * curious * snuggle * wander * silly * snacks * popcorn * bliss * woolly * poppy * hopscotch * puppy * goldfish * sparkly * meander * muffin * willow * lilypad * dapper * dandy * cad * teacup * bamboo * snout * lollipop * thunder * love * goofy * scandalous * ancient * snort * daydream * sprinkle * flurry

If you make a list of your own, please considering sharing in the comments section!

Puppies are good people, part 2

Unbelievable video of a dog rescuing another dog that had been hit by a car. I love my boy Nelson, but you won't see a cat doing that ...

Thanks to Kat for sharing the link on Facebook.

12.25.2008

1979 was a good year

John Denver + Muppets = Happiness.

I remember watching this Christmas special when it first aired in 1979. I even had a copy of the album that I would play every year. I especially love the midpoint of the video where they show my fellow Gen-X'ers. Many memories, not to mention some fine '70s fashion.

Merry Christmas!

12.24.2008

Indy dining: Maxine's Chicken and Waffles

After the Colts-Lions game (or should I say, the Colts' victory over the Lions), Kurt and I headed to Maxine's Chicken and Waffles on North East Street. Pulling up, we noticed that the restaurant was attached to a Citgo station. I'll admit, in spite of the glowing reviews, I was ready to go somewhere else at this point. Upon entering, I was glad that we didn't. The dining area is spacious and decorated in a warm, contemporary style, not at all what you'd expect from the external appearance. A counter covered with huge slices of three layer cake separates the dining room from the open kitchen. The vibe was warm and friendly from the get go. I knew good things were in store.

Ordering was a no brainer. Both Kurt and I wanted to try the chicken and waffles, and fried green tomatoes had long been on my list of foods to sample. Our waitress, Maxine's granddaughter, asked how we'd like the tomatoes fried. The choices apparently are soggy and crispy. Figuring you can hardly go wrong with anything fried and crispy, we chose the latter. They arrived quickly with a bowl of homemade dipping sauce. The oniony flavor of the sauce complemented the tomatoes well. Not being a fan of tomatoes (or anything green for that matter), Kurt was initially skeptical. They were fried in a cornmeal batter reminiscent of catfish batter and were remarkably light and not in the least greasy. Kurt loved them and proclaimed them the best dish of the evening.

Our chicken and waffles arrived along with a plate of fried cornbread and peach butter. The large waffle was topped with three sizable chicken wings and accompanied by more peach butter. The waffle was light and sweet and would have been wonderful on its own, but topped with a bite of crispy fried chicken and a dab of peach butter, it created a salt-sweet-crunchy-pillowy combo that was unbelievably good. Anyone who likes the sweet-savory flavor of sausage and maple syrup will appreciate this as well.

Kurt ordered Maxine's special drink, the D&K tea. It's a mix of half lemonade and half sweet tea. I expected it to taste like sweet tea with lemon, but the result was a bizarre one-two punch of lemonade with a sweet tea chaser. Strange, yet I kept going back for more sips until Kurt told me to just finish it off. A good boyfriend! Both the lemonade and tea are quite sweet on their own, possibly too sweet for many people. I found it inexplicably addictive.

After we gorged on all things fried and buttery, we decided we couldn't pass up the chance to try a piece of the homemade cake. Kurt opted for caramel at the recommendation of the cook behind the counter. The other options were strawberry and lemon. The cake was moist and the icing had a sweet caramel flavor. A little icing went a long way, and we managed to finish off the cake while leaving some of the icing behind. We were stuffed by this point, but happily so.

On the way out, I told Kurt that it was a good thing I don't live closer to Maxine's because I'd probably go there far too often. I have a weak spot for homemade, (unhealthy!) Southern cooking, and my sense is that everything at Maxine's is delicious. The service was friendly and fast, and it was great to see a family working together. I wish much success to Maxine's, and I'm already itching to go back. I have my eye on the catfish and that gloriously pink strawberry cake.
D&K tea

Fried green tomatoes

Fried cornbread and peach butter

Chicken and waffles

Homemade caramel cake

The cutest thing you will see this Christmas

Two words: Baby aardvark.

12.23.2008

Free jazz album

Tonight's happy discovery is the Amazon Jazz Sampler - a 12 song album to download at no cost.

If jazz isn't your speed, there are over 500 other free mp3 downloads available, including 25 holiday songs. Enjoy!

12.21.2008

One way to go from here ...

Happy Solstice!!!

With sunrise at 8:02am and sunset at 5:23pm, this is the shortest day of the year. Since I love my sunshine, I'm always happy to know that things will get better (and brighter!) from here on out. Now if only it could get warmer as well ....

12.19.2008

Chris Isaak Christmas

I'm ambivalent about Christmas albums. I enjoy my Boston Pops album immensely, but pop star versions of the classics leave me cold (of course, they play incessantly in stores - as if Christmas shopping weren't stressful enough). The one exception is the Chris Isaak Christmas album. Yes, I am biased to love all things CI, but his retro, beachy, rockabilly vibe is a wonderful change of pace every December. While his original songs ("Brightest Star", "Last Month of the Year, "Gotta Be Good") are my favorites, he also puts a fun new spin on the classics. The only weak spot is his duet with Stevie Nicks. I like him. I like her. Together? Not so much.

Here's a sample from YouTube. Enjoy!

12.12.2008

Don't miss the moon tonight!

Be on the lookout for the full moon tonight. The closest it's been to Earth since 1993, the moon will appear 14% brighter and 30% bigger than other full moons this year. I'm hoping for clear skies!

12.11.2008

Free movie Thursday

Hulu recently added North Shore to its list of free movies. In 8th grade, I thought this was the best movie ever made. I've not seen it for years, so I'm not sure how watchable it is for anyone out of junior high. It's the story of an Arizona boy who travels to Hawaii to surf the big waves - a classic coming of age/fish out of water/sports tale. Something for everyone, really. Plus, it's got Gregory Harrison from Trapper John, M.D. (Ok, I dated myself with that. Still ... Gonzo!)

Also worth checking out is The Professional with Natalie Portman and Jean Reno. Directed by Luc Besson, it tells the story of a hitman who takes a young girl under his wing. I admit that I am biased by the presence of Jean Reno whom I adore, but the movie is solidly engaging and the relationship touching and well-portrayed. A must see.

12.10.2008

Tokyo day trip: Nikko

My guidebooks were very clear: if you only take one day trip from Tokyo, make it to the town of Nikko. Let me state for the record that I heartily disagree. The highlight of my day was the ride via shinkansen (bullet train) to Utsunomiya. The train was amazingly smooth, and it felt like we were floating. Only when we passed another bullet train going in the opposite direction did I really sense how fast we were moving. Very cool! If you're in Japan, my vote is to find any excuse to ride one of these. It's reasonable, too - only $35 more than a regular ticket. (Ok, that's over 100% more, but it's still well worth it!)

I arrived in Nikko early in the morning, having been assured by the guidebooks that I would want an entire day to explore the area. Once again, the guidebooks were wrong. It was supposedly a short walk from the train station to the World Heritage site, so I set off on foot. The directions were simple enough: head straight down the town's main thoroughfare, and you'll bump right into the National Park. At least the guidebooks got that much right. Unfortunately, the walk wasn't what I'd call short, and it was uphill the entire way. Given the amount of walking at the World Heritage site, the smart option is to save your energy and take the bus.

The town itself has seen better days. Many of the buildings were run down and there was no shopping to speak of. Although there were a few restaurants, none looked promising. I recommend packing a lunch or picking something up at the train station before you head off. In contrast to the lackluster town, the mountains in the distance were beautiful, so I had high hopes that things would improve once I reached my destination.

My first disappointment came at the Shinkyo (Sacred Bridge). It's rumored to be one of the most beautiful bridges in Japan, but its charm was lost on me. The river and gorge are lovely, but the bridge itself has seen better days. For a small fee, you can cross the bridge, but everyone seemed to bypass that option and photograph it from a distance. In spite of being a bit blah in person, it photographed beautifully. You'll have to trust me that the camera somehow worked wonders.

The World Heritage site just past the Shinkyo was teeming with tourists. Everyone from schoolchildren in bright yellow helmets to businessmen in navy suits was dutifully following flag-waving tour guides and snapping pictures. It was the most crowded tourist area that I visited during the entire trip. I will admit that I might have enjoyed the experience more if the site had been less crowded, but I'm not sure the style of the buildings (red lacquer with gold and black trim) would ever resonate with me.

In a nutshell, there are a series of temples, shrines, and masoleums and one surprisingly cool pagoda all done in the same style. Some might find it exuberant, but I found it gaudy. There were cool statues here and there, but the combination of carving, gilding, and lacquer caused so much sensory overload that it was hard for anything to stand out.

One of the more famous sights is the carving of the three monkeys who "see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil". They're one of a series of monkey carvings, and it's anyone's guess why this one caught the public's imagination.

The lovely forest around the site was one of the highlights of my visit. The leaves were beginning to turn, and the tall, peaceful cedars were a needed contrast to the bustling tourist sites. I had too many blisters (and too little patience) to venture very far into the park. In retrospect, I think my time would have been better spent there than at the World Heritage site. Live and learn.

Should you decide to visit Nikko in spite of this not-so-glowing review, some tips to remember are:
1) Take the bus. Seriously. Take the bus. Your feet will thank you.
2) Pack a lunch.
3) Wear comfortable shoes.
4) Buy the 1000 yen combination pass when you first enter the site. This is such a great deal that I can't imagine anyone wouldn't take advantage of it. It grants you access to all of the major buildings and costs the same or less than a ticket to one of the temples alone. Inexplicable, but a great deal nonetheless.
5) Consider bringing a tripod. The forest is thick, and the light is perpetually bad.
6) Get there early in the day to beat the crowds. I arrived mid-morning along with many tourist buses. If I had it to do over, I'd have made a push to get there when they opened at 8am.
7) If you only have time for one day trip from Tokyo, consider Kamakura over Nikko. Details forthcoming!

Shinkansen = awesome!

Shinkyo - Trust me, it doesn't look this good in person ...

Monks!! I have a soft spot for monks of any faith. Good people.

Typical building in the Toshugu complex

Toshugu complex - note the schoolchildren in the bright yellow hats.

Beautiful fall color! The reds were especially vibrant.

The pagoda was my favorite building.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Mausoleum

12.09.2008

Cool Gadget of the Day: Pet's Eye View Camera

I am so tempted to get one of these! I've always wanted to know what the world looked like from Ernie and Nelson's perspective. The big question is if they'd accept the camera or if I'd have 35 photos of them obsessively trying to scratch it off.

12.08.2008

Puppies are good people

Love this story! A Christmas miracle.

12.05.2008

'90s night

It's '90s night for me on iTunes. I downloaded Fiona Apple's Criminal, Tasmin Archer's Sleeping Satellite, and Sophie B. Hawkins's Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover for a whole 99 cents each. Single song downloads are a beautiful thing. I used to own a boatload of cds with one or two good songs apiece. Such a waste. My music purist friends give me grief for jumping to the "good songs" on a cd. Something about art and the album being a whole and that sort of stuff. Bah. I'm a simple girl. If I can't sing it, hum it, or shake my booty to it, I'm skipping it. Next on my list is to dig out my college cds and import the choice songs to my computer. Four Non Blondes and Blind Melon on the scene!

If you'd like to enjoy a flashback of your own, check out One Hit Wonder Central. Good stuff.

(In the name of full disclosure, I also got Kanye West's Gold Digger and Christina Aguilera's Keeps Gettin' Better, but that ruins the whole '90s, retro, college vibe, huh? Shh!)

12.03.2008

Elf yourself!

This amuses me far more than it should ...

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

My favorite Christmas card this year

For the bloggers out there, check out this card from Wondermark.

Click on the picture to enlarge. It's not funny if you can't read it ...

Ernie's song

Love TED. Love Nellie McKay. Love The Dog Song. Ernie and I (ok, mostly me) sing this one on our walks.

12.02.2008

Happiness in a bowl

Mama Kurt turned me on to Irish oatmeal while I was visiting the family in Michigan. I was skeptical because the standard Quaker Oats had never been a favorite of mine (understatement!). Irish oats look similar, maybe a bit more lumpy, but have a wonderful nutty taste and an interesting, chewy texture. I eat them with a little butter. Best of all, they're easy to prepare and good for you. Definitely happiness in a bowl!

Cosmic blonde

Love this! I tend toward blonde (cosmically speaking, of course).

The inescapable fact is that the universe is divided between Blondes and Brunettes. This is not a matter of the color of one's hair. This is a cosmic trait. The Cosmic Blonde floats through life on a beam of sunshine, from success to success. The Cosmic Brunette obsesses and reflects, frets and fumes, turns inward, and clings to the view that the examined life is the only life worth living, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The Cosmic Brunette writes and reads books, worries, condemns and evaluates, judges, discerns and doubts. The Cosmic Blonde water-skis.


-- David Brooks, "On Paradise Drive"

12.01.2008

Shameless plug: Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku

I lucked into the most awesome hotel in Tokyo. The price was reasonable, the building was lovely, and the room was modest but well-appointed. When faced with the challenge of navigating a foreign, sprawling, crowded (but always polite!) city, every small convenience is a blessing. The Sunroute offered free computers with internet access and hot cocoa (and coffee and tea) in the guest lounge, a currency exchange machine in the lobby that matched the bank's rate and allowed you to change as little as $1 with no transaction fee, helpful English-speaking staff at the front desk, and to-your-door service from the airport limousine.

The location was ideal. The area is dominated by office buildings, hotels, and the nearby Shinjuku station. It's the busiest train station in the world with over 3 million people passing through per day and 65 (!!!) exits. Thankfully, everything is well-marked, and having so many train and metro lines within a 5 minute walk of the hotel is invaluable. Several department stores are attached to the station, and there are shops and restaurants to satisfy any need. The post office across the street from the hotel is one of the few places in town with an ATM that accepts foreign cards. Handy!

Shibuya has excitement, Asakusa the feel of 'old Japan', but for sheer convenience and ease as a tourist, I don't know that you could do better than the Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku.

Hotel lobby

Exterior view

View from my room

Guest lounge

Free internet access

Tiny hotel room


For the Mac lovers

I love this list of the top 10 things you forgot your Mac can do! I knew some of the tips, but many were new to me. Also worth checking out are the 20 useful Leopard downloads.

Once you go Mac, you never go back.

(Yes, I am one of those Mac fans. I'll own it.)