'round and 'round the National Christmas tree

This past weekend we took a little trip downtown to see the renovated atrium of the American History Museum and the National Christmas tree on the White House grounds. It was a fun trip which included an episode of getting very hungry, leaving all of the food I had brought in the car (which was several blocks away), and then insisting I had to eat 2 street vendor hot dogs to hold me over (while Jess only consumed one). I'll tell you, those dogs are twice as delicious when it's really cold outside and you're mildly famished. Anyhow, the tree was a sight to see. And as we came upon the sight, it began to snow (something that hasn't happened much in the area this year). We couldn't have asked for a better holiday night.


Makin' it big, like Jodie Foster

This past week a new employee at work told me I sounded like Jodie Foster. I must use my low, take-me-seriously-even-though-I-look-young voice at work.


Did someone say Christmas Time?

I hope all had a grand Thanksgiving. We sure did - full of family conversation, turkey & pie, and smooth airline travel. We missed the Chicago airport fiasco by a hair (thank goodness!). This time of year is always superb.

Now on to having a Holly Jolly Christmas. What makes this "the best time of the year" for you? For me it's gathering with family and friends for conversation and traditions, lighting a fire in the fireplace, listening to Christmas tunes from my childhood, singing and kisses underneath the mistletoe, feeling the spirit of Christmas, enjoying hot chocolate, looking at Christmas lights (it's neat to see them from an airplane), and riding in the car with the heat on full blast.


This week I got a flu shot

From what I hear, it's flu season. This year I got a flu shot and getting the shot wasn't all that bad. That's a big statement coming from a girl who, on many occassions, has been told by nurses, "you need to relax."

In 7th grade, a new requirement was passed by the state health department: all kids entering middle school had to have their MMR shots renewed and for convenience, a health clinic would come to the school and provide the shots. I remember bringing the note home to mom, while she read it I asked, "Does this mean I have to get a shot?" "Looks like it, she replied." I hadn't set foot in a doctors' office since kindergarten and my memories about that visit weren't so good.

I went with my older brother to our pediatrician's office. He had to get shots to play high school football, I had to get them to enter kindergarten. "Don't worry," he assured me, "it doesn't even hurt. I'll get my shots first and you can watch me, it will be painless." I believed him and eagerly watched as the nurse rubbed his arm with alcohol and placed the needle in his deltoid. He calmly said, "Gee, that doesn't even hurt. In fact, that feels good." But his face did not match his words and he winced as the nurse pushed in the shot stopper. If my tough older brother winced, how could I handle such a thing? I was terrified and at that moment I began to cry. Through many tears, the nurse managed to get the shot done. I left the office with a puffy, sad, face, but luckily, I thought, I'll never had to do that horrifying thing again.

But now I was in 7th grade, and I did have to do it again. I walked up to the nurses station, hands trembling, heart thumping. The stress was really killing me. I pulled up my sleeve and winced prematurely. The nurse grabbed my wrist, "We can't give you a shot if you don't relax." My friends were in line behind me, everyone was watching, they all knew my fear. So I suck it up and got the shot. It wasn't all that bad.

So when I got the flu shot for this season, I told myself it wouldn't be all that bad. I told myself it wouldn't even hurt. Heck, it might even feel good to know I was lessening the risks of getting the flu this season. I pulled up my sleeve and winced as the nurse pushed in the shot stopper. The nurse didn't even have to tell me to relax.


Signage II

About a year ago, I posted a witty statement that was published on a church marquee near my house. Now it's that time again. Time to share another one of this marquee's statements. I must admit, I look forward to driving past the place, just to catch a glimpse of the message. Here's this week's:

What's missing?

You've got to be quick to be on this marquee committee.


Man's Search for Meaning: A Review

What's this book about anyway? Right? If we haven't read the book, we've certainly heard about it. Is it religious? Is is like a Doctor Phil book written in the 1940s? Can I get through the 150+ pages without falling asleep?

Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. Before he entered the camp, his work on logotherapy had already begun. While in the camp, his research for logotherapy continued. And when he was freed, he shared his theory of logotherapy with the psychologic community. In short, logotherapy is man's search for meaning. Frankl argues that when individuals find meaning in their lives their tendency toward certain negative behaviors can be alleviated if not cured. He gives several examples of how, within and without concentration camps, this finding of a purpose serves as the means to survival. While he concedes that a finding of a meaning is not a "cure all", he has found that it is a "cure many" and that finding a meaning makes life for an individual better.

One of my favorite paragraphs speaks of love. He explains that while in the camp, he would often have conversations with his wife in his head. What would she say? How would her face appear in reaction to an answer? What kind of questions would she have? During the course of this imaginary conversation, he'd finish a hard day of work with cold, swelling feet, hardly noticing the horrible situation he was really in. He states:
"...my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminious than the sun which was beginning to rise...A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth - that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire...The salvation of man is through love and in love."

Is love like that for you? I hope.


The Joy Luck Club Book Review

I've heard that this book was "really good" for several years, but only just got around to reading it. While I found it to be good, I wouldn't say really good. Yes, the story telling was superb as the cultural divide between mothers (who had lived in China and immigrated to the United States) and their daughters (who had grown up Chinese-American) was explicated. However, I couldn't help but be disappointed in the lives of the daughters in the stories. While the mothers battled through massive trials and great humility, the daughters tended to be a little mean-spirited and their adult lives were filled with empty accomplishments and incomplete goals. This book certainly does provide intriguing stories, interesting cultural observations, and a poignant ending. I guess I just wish there was more of a hope or happiness mixed among it all.


I tried to read Pride & Prejudice

But when I tried, I found that it was so similar to the movies I've seen, I couldn't go on. I'm one of those people who, if I already know the story, I can't read the book. I also can't read books more than once, even if I forget them, because as soon as I get into the book, my memory tends to work again and I remember everything. I'll give P&P another try, maybe I just need a bit more time between seeing the movie and trying to read the book. Is there a Jane Austen movie that hasn't been made into a movie? If so, this would be the book for me!


So why "boiled pizza"?

In celebration of my 100th post, here's a good story.

Many of you may have looked at this blog wondering why it goes by the name of "boiled pizza." This wonderment would make a lot of sense, seeing as when I happened upon the actual dish of boiled pizza, I was in awe myself.

Now when I created this blog, I was trying to think of all kinds of clever and unique names. I thought of a few, one of which was 7 of 9. This, of course, because I'm the 7th of 9 children and I thought the name unique. However, when I googled "7 of 9," I found that a character on the Star Trek Voyager went by such a name, and, well I got rid of the name idea very quickly.

As a senior in high school, there were three kids left in my parents' home. Me, the oldest of the three, and my younger sister and brother. Because my mom and dad were used to cooking and buying for a large family, we always seemed to have leftovers in the fridge. However, since we all grew-up in a big family, we weren't used to eating the leftovers. This put us in the predicament of lots of food going bad.

Now my father is a great cook. He can make the juiciest London broil steak, the most satisfying salad, the creamiest clam chowder, and the most delectable eclairs with professional, chef-like ease. He's extremely creative and talented. He started cooking at a young age for his family and he's gotten better and better over the years. Usually on Sunday he would prepare dinner and typically the meal was a real treat.

This Sunday wasn't any different than another. "Don't fill up too much on breakfast," dad warned us, "I'm working on making an excellent lunch." As lunchtime approached, we could smell a splendid Italian aroma filling the air as we heard dad cutting food, stirring mixtures, and taste-testing his creation. By the time he called us to the kitchen, we were very hungry and had high expectations.

"What did you make?" we asked.

"Just try it," he answered. And we weren't a bit apprehensive, that is, until we saw the dish. My sister was served first, then me.

"What is this?" I inquired as I looked into the pot. It looked like nothing dad had created before. "Is this the pizza from a week or so ago?"


"That pizza was kind of old."

"Don't worry. I boiled it within an inch of its life," dad explained, hoping to assure us that he had taken all precaution to rid the food of any possible bacteria or mold.

"What?" we all responded, "You cut up and boiled the leftover pizza!?!" Looking closer, I noticed the other ingredients, "And that's the leftover chicken from yesterday and the pasta dinner from a while back."

This was when mom came into the kitchen and voiced her surprise, "You boiled the old pizza? And now we're eating it?" My sister looked up from her plate and stopped eating. "We can't actually consume this," mom continued, "We've got to throw it away. In fact, we've got to throw the pot that it was cooked in away." Dad was shocked that none of us, not even mom would support him with his creative, mix-all-the-leftovers dish. He had made things from leftovers before, but he had never gone as far as boiling baked food. He must have seen the humor in the situation because he began to laugh. We all did. If you could have been there in the kitchen that day, you would have laughed too. My sister sitting in unbelief that she had actually swallowed some of the stuff. My brother eating the only prepared lunch item dad hadn't pulled from the fridge, frozen spinach. Mom looking at dad, still, in unbelief. And I, staring at the mixture in the pot.
We ended up having toast for lunch that day and threw away the deceivingly aromatic dish.

So that's why this blog is named "boiled pizza," because I'm positive this story and the name is unique, plus, just thinking about it makes me smile. Thanks Dad for sanitizing the dish through boiling, but thanks mom for insisting we throw it away.



...I just want to buy a Ford Crown Victoria so I'd never have to worry about getting pulled over by any law enforcement crew. At least, that's what I tell myself would happen if I got a Crown Vic.


Sweater Weather

My grandma was a superb knitter. She knit this sweater for my mom when she was younger. She also knit a matching one for my dad. They were a set of ski sweaters, I recall my mom explaining. One of my sisters has my dad's version.
Today, I wore the sweater to work. It's made of wool so it's nice and toasty, perfect for a fall walk outside. Much of the charm of the sweater is in the details. My grandma had her own tag (Hand Knit and Fashioned by) and just look at those buttons.


It's Carvin' Time

Here's my sister and her husband's pumpkin battling my husband and my pumpkin (can you tell what they are?). These pumpkins were carved last year using steak knives. A trying task indeed. This year, I went to look for proper pumpkin carving tools but no grocery store here seems to carry them. Despite my disappointment, I did have fun sticking my hand into a motion sensitive candy-cauldron, where a skeleton hand closes down on your own with the accompaniment of an evil laugh. Yeah, I put my hand in a couple of times and got scared a couple of times.

As my Halloween luck would have it, my sister sent me some pumpkin carving tools in the mail the other day so we are set to carve for real this year. Thanks! And I just might make some Halloween cake donuts or some pumpkin donuts to spice up this time of year. What are your traditions for Halloween?


So about produce

A couple of posts ago, I asked for good ways to enjoy fresh produce. Your comments helped, and your suggestions are being put to good use, really. I've also been able to enjoy great veggie recipes. Here's one way I've been preparing fresh green beans, it's a recipe from my sister.
And here's another way to enjoy corn with a kick, a recipe from a friend at work.

Other delicious foods that aren't about produce but I feel like mentioning:
Peanut Butter and honey on toasted wheat bread,
Cottage cheese mixed with salsa (with tortilla chips, if desired).

Any fall foods you particularly like? I'm always looking to expand my horizons.


tag -errific III

I've been tagged to describe 6 quirky things about myself, so here I go:
  1. Sometimes when I am explaining things in primary or at work, I end my sentences in a sing-songy way. I didn't realize I did this until my friend at work said, "You must like to sing." "How'd you guess?" amazed and surprised she knew that little tidbit about me. "You end your sentences by singing sometimes." "Oh..." I responded, saddened that it wasn't because of my amazing posture or music-exuding countenance.
  2. The only person who is able to cut my hair the way I want it is my sister.
  3. I have such a hard time ending phone conversations that it sometimes makes my phone conversations awkward.
  4. I've always been interested in having good stylized handwriting. I remember being in 2nd grade and practicing my "Ns" and "Hs". In 7th grade I got chided and lost points on assignments for using all capitals and was pained when I had to change it.
  5. I prefer a chalkboard to a dry erase board and was bummed when school and church classrooms started replacing all of their chalk boards.
  6. I like to shorten words, but I think I used to do it more often. One time, while in the thick of my shortening phase, I believe I was talking to my sister and shortened the word "observation" to "ob." That's when she said I had taken the shortening word thing a little too far.
Join in the tag fun if you like.


Oh Mensch!

The other day, while among children, I exclaimed, "Oh man!" to which one of the children replied, "You just said a bad word." I thought I had heard incorrectly and kept going on my merry way when, for some reason I said, "Oh man!" once more. And once again, the child told me that I had committed an offense. "'Man' is a bad word?" I asked. "Yep," my question was answered.

I guess this means I'll have to change my "Oh man!" to "Yip skip!" or something.



Did you know about this Jane Austen tale? I didn't, until a friend recently let me borrow her dvd of the BBC version (thanks!). I was taken up with the movie just as I have been with all other Jane Austen films (excepting an awful 80s version of Northanger Abbey - picture late 18th century costume and storyline mixed with 80s hair influence and full-on 80s music). All films are wonderful and all have happy endings. Nothing like Tess of the D'Urbervilles or Wuthering Heights, thank goodness. What's strange is, and here's a confession of sorts, while I've read both of these sad stories, I have never read a Jane Austen novel. It may just be time to begin.


Elevator Usage

The elevator is a great invention. It facilitates people movement in very tall buildings; helps us move heavy/large/fragile items easily; and assists those of us who are in wheelchairs, using crutches, or suffering from arthritis or other joint malady. However, if you aren't taking part in any of the aforementioned activities or previously discussed situations, I think you should be taking the stairs.

At work, I find myself passing individuals waiting for the elevator on the 1st floor only to beat them to the 3rd floor by taking the stairs. Some persons I give the benefit of the doubt to, remembering certain activities or situations, but others I'm pretty sure could use those quadriceps and carry themselves up a few flights. The worst is when I spot a young 20-something waiting for the elevator with a tray full of food from the 1st floor cafeteria. I take a gander at his/her lunch choices: french fries, a diet soda, frozen yogurt. That meal practically mandates stair usage!

On the other hand, I see several regulars taking advantage of the stairs at work (There's even one woman who does her exercises every afternoon by walking up and down them for about 30 minutes). If they're carrying food, I've got to satisfy my curiosity, and I look at what they've chosen from the cafeteria menu: minestrone soup, breadsticks, and a fruit cup.

It's alarming how often lousy vs. healthy meal choices accompany elevator vs. stair usage. Do you think if I went to the cafeteria and watched what people bought I could tell whether or not they were going to take the elevator? Quite possibly.


Fresh Produce Gone Bad

My husband and I just can't seem to eat our fresh veggie produce fast enough (eating fruits, on the other hand, is quite easy)! It's not that I'm buying a ton of vegetables, it's just that we forget to eat them and I haven't got good ideas for making veggies a part of a meal. We like to pull out a carrot and enjoy it raw, but what should I do if the carrots are bitter? My first inclination is to boil the orange roots, but then they'll lose all of their vitamin A. And spinach, I buy it fresh and we eat some salads, but then the leftovers go bad (aka slimy).

Don't get me wrong, we actually enjoy eating vegetables (or at least I thought we did), but even our frozen broccoli is getting freezer burnt and that isn't a good sign. Does anyone have any good ideas of good, quick, veggie presentations? Or is this a case of, "Hey, it's really not that difficult. Just make sure you eat them"? I hope it's not the latter, but the longer this post gets, the more I think it may be that way.


The Kite Runner: A Review

Definitely don't judge this book by it's cover or by it's name. Maybe I'm one of only a few people who mistakenly thought The Kite Runner was a sweet story about boyhood friends; but come on, a small boy on the front, the thought of flying kites, what are these book cover designers trying to pull on me?

While this book is a story about boyhood friends, it certainly isn't sweet. In fact, this book is far from sweet. It is very intense. That's the best word I can use to describe it. I read it in three days partly because I wanted to stop thinking about it, put some closure to it. The other reason I read it so quickly was because this book is high throttle; new events were being thrown at me before I could really digest them (maybe that's for the best) , and I wanted to find out what happened in the end. The intensity never stops. You can never rest and possibly, that may be the point.

This story centers around two boys growing up in Afghanistan and follows them as they grow to adulthood. While they are best friends, they are complete opposites. In religion, in social class, in physical look, in faith and beliefs, and in what is emphasized most, character. What results is a narrative that's bound to be emotional, even for the stiffest of individuals. I'd suggest only reading it if you're up for a severe story.


Style - Layering

It started in high school and I've liked doing it ever since. That is, layering. One morning I went to school with a navy blue t-shirt, a fresh plaid button up, and a red sweater. A friend said to me, as if pointing out an obvious blunder, "You've got three shirts on!" That was the point. In college I didn't like wearing a coat, even on the chilliest of days, because I'd rather layer. Thin t-shirt, long sleeve tee, corduroy button up, sweater, and then a zip up sweatshirt. I was never cold walking to campus. And when I did get hot in class, I'd shed a layer and place it in my backpack, no huge parka to lug around for a day or stuff under my seat.

After college I've continued to layer, but I haven't been coming up with as many new combinations, seeing as I don't purchase clothes that often (insert sentence about cheapness and laziness to look through all of the sales racks here), and layering just isn't as fun as it used to be (although I still do it, sometimes looking just like I did in high school!).

This is where The Sartorialist comes in. Have you heard of it? Probably, I hear it's pretty big. However, I just came upon it while perusing through this blogosphere. I won't describe it because you can take a look for yourself, but let's just say it's put the joy back into layering for me (just in time for fall). The sartorial blog serves me much like my sister's old J. Crew catalogs did back in high school. Lots of photos of neat style ideas and cues, all of which are brought to you by everyday people (well, mostly everyday people, but some are bigwigs and smallwigs in the fashion world). Plus, the blogger can talk about a pocket square and what a south paw is all in one post. A catalog never does that.

photo from j.crew.com


Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

We've all heard that it's the rough times in life that make us strongest. It's unfortunate that it's true. Punch-in-the-gut life experiences enable us to learn a lot about ourselves, build our character, have epiphanies about the world. True, we can do this by not getting the wind knocked out of us throughout life, but the learning seems to be at a slower pace.

Anne Frank was put into a real awful situation at an extremely horrible time in history, making her learning curve very steep. Sure, her diary is filled with the normal fare of a 14 year old (e.g., disliking peeling peas or thinking about boys), but very often she fills the pages with neat insights, thoughts on the workings of the world, and constructive criticism of her character. One of my favorite passages:

How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time. Anyone can do this, it costs nothing and is certainly very helpful. Whoever doesn't know it must learn and find by experience that: "A quiet conscience makes one strong!"

This book is good because it was the real life of a young girl who was dealing with a rough situation the best way she could, and all the while trying to become better. How would each of us deal with such a situation? How do each of us deal with what we've got? This book makes you think about it.


Beach baby, beach baby

Whoa! Look at all of those people on the beach. That's what I like to see on a family trip.


The Midas touch

In a relatively quick amount of time, I've become quite familiar with the workings of the car I drive. I know the meanings of and have looked closely at worn out car parts including the sway-bar; brake knuckle (aka hub), pin, and seat; ball and socket joints; and shocks. I'd like to blame all of this mechanical education I've been getting to the patchwork quality of the city/neighborhood streets I drive, but that's another matter.

What's amazing is that I've learned all about this stuff in the past three weeks at the local Midas mechanic shop. They've surely got the Midas touch and it's in their favor not mine, because I keep having to go back one week after another. I always hope it's because of something they've made a mistake with so I can get the repair for free, but the three separate times I've visited in the past three weeks have all legitimately been for different problems. Before all these repairs began, I think my car had found homeostasis, but after one thing was fixed, another got upset. During my second visit, I'm sure the mechanics thought I a car-hypochondriac, but I am far from it. I'll have to admit, I'm one of those people who ignores the maintenance light, but I could not ignore the series of techno beats coming from my front axle.

At the end of three weeks, I'm on a first name basis with the mechanics. They're nice guys who'll answer any or all questions I have (even if it is because my business makes up 1/5 of their revenue stream for the month of August). They've even got to making me estimates in ranges before they have to "look at the parts inventory and talk with the manager," which I consider a great hurdle cleared. And the last time I went, one of them told a mechanic joke and I got it.


What happened?

How in the world did it get to be August 8th already? This whole week I kept thinking we were barely moving out of July and into August. And the other day, someone told me that summer is over. What? Not yet, I reply. I've still got a lot of summer left in me.


Golden Anniversary

Golden Anniversaries call for golden blogging measures,
yep, a wedding photo:

Celebrating 4 years of excellent times on the 4th.


The Sound and the Fury

If you are familiar with William Faulkner, you know that he sometimes wrote using the "stream of consciousness" technique. While this sort of writing makes for a very effective way of letting the reader know the characters, it is not as reader friendly as other techniques. It doesn't allow for a quick read, but instead, the reader must work to gather the story and it's details to create the aggregate. This is surely the case with The Sound and the Fury. After I read the first 20 pages or so, I felt completely overwhelmed with several characters and details I couldn't bring together as a whole. "I should take notes," I thought to myself. I ended up using Cliffs'. This is the 1st time I've actually used the aid of Cliffs Notes and amazingly, I used it to supplement my reading of the novel rather than the more oft, last minute use of having the novel supplement it. (As a side note, while making a trip to the car mechanic, I took the book and Notes with me to help pass time if needed. One of the mechanics remarked, "Cliffs Notes, eh?" to which I answered, "Have you ever read The Sound and the Fury? You've got to have the Notes to read it!" The mechanic followed up with "Never read it, never will.") This book takes work and, if you're willing, you get to experience literature probably like you never have before. Faulkner tells the story of the Compson family. A family living in Mississippi during the turn of the 20 century. Throughout the book, the reader learns through various events how selfishness, insecurity, and cowardice materializes in everyday life activities. Part of the reading experience is trying to sift through it all and figure it out. This book is one that you need to read more than once to catch Faulkner's vision. And if you're like me, you may need some supplementary material.


Tuna and a Movie

Last weekend, we went to see Dark Knight, the latest Batman film. Since it was opening night, a lengthy line had formed to get into the theater; still, we arrived early enough to guarantee us a seat at least 10 rows from the front. Good planning, we thought to ourselves. But the guy in front of us was one step ahead. Sure, he was one position in front of us to get into the theater, but he had also brought his movie treat from home, wrapped in tinfoil, hidden from theater staff in hopes of successfully getting it into the theater. Forget big coats, carrying a light jacket, or limiting yourself to using just pants pockets, this guy had his food stored under his high-riding baseball cap. See below:

Midway through Dark Knight, I began to smell tuna. That's what must have been in the tinfoil.

Haven't we all tried to sneak some food into a theater before? I mean, movie treats sold at the theater (and even movie rental places) aren't all that great and they certainly aren't worth the increased prices. My brother used to say that robbing a movie candy delivery truck would be smarter than robbing a armored bank vehicle because the goods inside were worth more. I remember once, my friends and I had the great idea of bringing a whole meal to a movie. We planned to bring everything in, from party potatoes to punch, and then some. When it came time to execute our plan, we ended up ordering a pizza and putting the hot slices into plastic zip-loc bags and then into our coat pockets. Yep, we were successful in getting them into the theater, but once we pulled our slices out, they were soggy and cold. I wonder what the pizza would have tasted like had we used tinfoil.



Before the wild weight loss protein craze, before the Atkins diet, before the bunless Burger King burger; my mom emphasized the importance of protein. Not as a weight loss mechanism, but as a healthy part of the human diet, required by everyone because muscles need to be fed. Throughout my growing up years, my mom always made sure my siblings and I were getting enough protein in our diets. Protein was best for sustaining the full feeling and it kept our energy high.

One protein-filled item I remember is the egg & cheese toasted sandwich. Not only is this item high it protein, it isn't low in triglycerides either. My mom made me this breakfast every morning I had a big event at school, namely AP tests. I attribute my passing all AP tests to this very sandwich (whether I received a 3, 4, or 5 on said tests is another matter). The sandwich consists of scrabbled eggs made with milk and cheese plus a little season-salt, placed between two pieces of generously buttered wheat toast. Ahhh, it is (and was) delicious. Best when my mom made it. It is a sandwich you can sink your teeth into. And the butter squishes out of the toast and mixes with the cheesy eggs to create an excellent meal that lasts until 1pm in the afternoon. A full 2 hours after when I usually start to feel hungry.


New Shoes

Well, I finally did it. I bought a new pair of running shoes. My old pair has been with me longer than 4 years. Yes, I know 4 years is a bit over the recommended running shoe lifetime (sources say you should get new running shoes every 300-500 miles, which, for a runner running 3 miles about 5 days a week, is in about 6 months), but boy, did I love these shoes. I've been through lots of different things these past 4+ years, all while owning and running in these shoes, and to tell you the truth, I'm having a hard time thinking of getting rid of them. I took these shoes with me during one of the craziest/most memorable/bitter sweet cruises I've ever been on. I've hiked in these shoes amidst the greatest landscapes around, from Southern Utah to Oahu, Hawaii. I've run the streets of my college campus, the roads through my neighborhood, the park trails where I made my first big move, and the sandy paths of Europe. In these shoes, I enjoyed time with family, digesting conversation, racing go-karts, taking afternoon walks, chasing nieces and nephews, finishing a 5k. Yep, I'm having a hard time switching. It's great for the knees but hard to separate myself from the shoes (they're shoes for pete's sake!). Still, I'm taking a liking to my new pair and I have high hopes for what they'll join me in.


The Bourne Identity - the book

I saw the movie and liked it a lot, so when I found the book on our shelves as one of the only books I had not read (excepting textbooks), I decided to give it a try. At first, it wasn't much of a page turner, interesting, but nothing more. To stay entertained, I'd think back to movie scenes (one of which is when Jason Bourne is explaining to Marie that he's memorized the license plates of the cars parked along the street but he doesn't know why). However, once I got going with the story, the book alone kept me involved. I wanted to know what was going to happen next: if Jason was going to get caught, if Carlos the assassin would be identified, and if Marie was ever going to be bothered that her latest boyfriend was a renegade (By the way, she never did. What can I say? She was in love.). Usually, I don't enjoy books where silencers are mentioned often and a character's wife is actually a spy, but because I walked down the streets of France that the author describes when I read the book and the memory of the movie assisted my read, I liked it. Indeed, the movie is similar to the book but not fully true to it, which didn't hurt either one. It actually made it fun to notice the differences and imagine up some movie scenes that could have been.


My old office at work

A while back, a very friendly coworker, who works on a different project than I but has an office down by the first office I occupied, saw me in the hall. "I haven't seen you in a while," she said to me surprised, "I started to wonder where you went when our group started using your office as a closet." Yep, my old office is now a closet. Hmm, at least it was my old office.


How do I make a picture collage?

A while back, I posted a collage of photos and was asked how I did it, so here it goes.

Now, there are obviously many ways to do it, especially if you have a photo software package (e.g. Photoshop), but if you don't, there's still a way. If you are a blogger, then you are probably already familiar with Picasa, Google's photo organization software. It doesn't have tons of options, but it provides the basics, one of which is making a collage.
  1. To make a collage, first you have to have Picasa downloaded on your computer (which is free from Google).
  2. Then download your photos into Picasa.
  3. Choose the photos you want to use in the collage by pressing "Ctrl" and selecting the desired photos with your mouse.
  4. Click the "Collage" icon on the bottom of the Picasa screen. There are a couple of types of collages you can make. The square collage with lots of pictures does require a squared number (yes, this is painfully obvious, but worth making note of), although, if you only choose 12 photos (instead of 16 for instance), it will still make the collage but there will be 4 repeated pics.
  5. There you have it, you've got a collage.
And now it's time to collage-ify.


What's gone is back again

Living in Belgium for 6 weeks was a definite good time (see the 19 post previous). Now we're back in the U.S. and getting into the swing of things. Our apartment experienced a bit of flooding and we had some dead species in our kitchen, but after spraying everything down with bleach and treating our carpets with baking soda, things are back to normal.

Just yesterday, I went to the store to stock up our cupboards with the basics. Upon leaving the store, I ran to the car. It was raining. Between leaving the store and getting to my car, I lost my phone. You see, I had put it in my front pocket which was already taken by my wallet (my other pocket contained my car keys), and I don't think the pocket was made for items larger a stick of chapstick. As soon as I discovered my loss, I went back into the store and asked the employees, "Has anyone seen or turned in a phone?" Nothing. I walked the path from the grocery store counter to my car several times. Nothing.

As soon as my husband got home, we used his phone and started calling mine, again and again to annoy whoever had my phone or to get someone to pick it up, but we got nothing but voice mail. Finally, after about 20 calls in quick succession a man answered. My husband responded, "This is my wife's phone," he explained in a surprised voice, amazed someone actually answered, "and we'd like to get it back." He then proceeded to try to get an address from the man, who, for some reason, could clearly state the numbers to his home, but not tell us his street. We then explained to him that we were at the grocery store and, if he could give us directions to his house, we were more than happy to pick it up from him. "I'll bring it to you," he said, "I'm in a green van." What a nice guy, I thought to myself. Two minutes later a tan van showed up. The man handed over the phone and then made a request, "Give me ten dollars for gas." What happened to the nice people out there, who you could offer $5 to without expectation? And last time I checked, gas was $4.06 a gallon. Nice guy. But still, I'm glad I got my phone back.


Arena Polo

Last night, Jess and I, along with some coworkers went to a Arena Polo match. Arena polo is like unto polo, but played on a smaller field of dirt with less players. We were quite excited to see a polo match, plus a champagne company was sponsoring the event, so we thought this was going to be quite the experience. When we drove up to the venue, we couldn't believe the collection of cars parked in the area: Jaguars, Maseratis, Aston Martins, and Bentleys. Our Belgian friends even spotted the most famous model of Belgium at the event. This was some high class living!

Or so we thought. As soon as we arrived at the welcoming gates, our names were not on the VIP list, like initially believed. We had to buy tickets. Glasses of champagne were not handed out freely as supposed, but were limited to one glass per person and if you wanted an extra it was €10 (here's a cheers to not drinking - soft drinks were only €3). We thought there was going to be a delicious dinner served. But, come to find out, that was reserved only for the VIPs (or all of the people driving the Jaguars, Maseratis, Aston Martins, and Bentleys). So we ended up buying and eating the only food they had for regular stiffs like us, Argentinian epinadas, which were actually quite tasty.

Watching the arena polo match was really what we were there for and it proved to be quite a treat. It was fun to watch the horses and players on the small dirt court (normal polo matches are played on a area as large as 6 soccer fields!). The horses were switched out every quarter (which are 7 minutes long) to rest. And the ball flew into the audience quite a number of times. This takes some skills. It's awesome, fast, furious, amazing. See the action below.


Late Dinner

At home growing up, dinner time was usually around 5:30pm and I haven't been able to get used to eating dinner later than that ever since. I think my stomach became used to and enjoyed it back then and has been fighting for it to stay that way ever since.

Back in the States, I get home from work around 5pm and I'm ready to eat as soon as I've made something, which is around 5:30pm. However, Jess doesn't get home from his day's activities until 6:30pm, in fact, it is closer to 7pm, so, after I eat a snack and possibly half of my serving of dinner, we sit down to dinner at 7:30pm, Jess to his full plate and me to what's left of mine.

Here in Europe, dinner's even later. Again, when 5:30 rolls around, I'm ready for my final meal of the day, while everyone here is still digesting their lunch. When we visited Paris, we met up with a Parisian friend of Jess' around 6:15pm. I was famished and suggested one of our activities during the evening should be dinner (which subtly meant, "I'm hungry right now. Let's eat!). He mentioned, "Parisians eat around 8:30pm, so around that time, we'll look for places to eat, sound good?" When in Paris, eat when Parisians do, right? My stomach wasn't satisfied with my Parisian-for-a-day attitude.

Tonight, we have the opportunity to go on a firm outing to visit a museum in Brussels and then enjoy dinner. . . around 9pm. Jess sent me this information in an email earlier today and explained, "It appears that we are eating dinner - but it will be at 9:00 so you may want to eat a snack first." Wise words.

My stomach and meal schedule aren't crazy. Case in point: if you wake up and eat breakfast at 7:30pm, 5:30pm really is the perfect time to eat dinner. With a 5 hour break between meals, here's the schedule:
7:30am: breakfast
12:30pm: lunch
5:30pm: dinner
If you're eating dinner at 9pm, according to my theory, you've woken up at 11am. Very scientific you see.


Fish n' chips

This past weekend we made our way through the Chunnel and arrived in London early Saturday morning. There were loads of things to do. One of my favorites was visiting Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. There, we watched a great rendition of King Lear, which I had never read or seen before, but found it to be quite good, although a horrible tragedy. We watched the play for 3 hours, while standing. We could go right up to the stage, rest our elbows on it, and see the spit fly when the actors shouted monologues. The price for a standing verses a sitting ticket was 5 and 27.50 pounds respectively. Wouldn't you have done the same?

Yes, you would have done the same when you think of the pain the pound causes. Today, the exchange rate for 1 pound is 1.96089 dollars. Here are some items that, when thinking of the price in pounds, don't seem too bad, until our friend, conversion Bob comes along.
Fish n' chips lunch: £7.25 = $14.21
Gap Summer Sale cotton tee: £6.99 = $13.70
Fee to enter Westminster Abbey: £10 = $19.60
One-way subway ticket: £4 = $7.84

Still, we ate our fish n' chips in a neighborhood pub off the beaten path and talked with a Scotsman who told us all about London and what it's like to live there. "Love the place," he explained, "but I'll always root for my home football team, the Glasgow Rangers." He then offered to buy us a drink to accompany his pint. This neighborhood conversation made me forget the conversion rate. And the fish n' chips were delicious.


Glass pyramid

You know the Louvre is big when you've spent 5 hours in it and seen less than 1/3 of the collection. Believe me, I tried to force myself to stay longer, but the place is quite extensive. One grand hall leads to another large hall which leads to a big room with stairs to another huge area and then you find yourself in a wing which you try to locate on the 8 page map you've been carrying with you throughout the visit. By the end of 5 hours, I was at the point where a striking or famous piece of art just wasn't all that great anymore. "Hey, look over their, it's a Vermeer!" "Oh, really..."

However, for the 4.5 of the 5 hours I was there, it was extraordinarily grand. I felt like I was walking from page to page of my college art history books, each gallery a new chapter (I wish I would have read more thoroughly). This place is filled to the brim! We saw some of the classics along with the not-so-classic. Of course, the Mona Lisa room was crowded. There were so many people taking pictures, that some people were taking pictures of the black and white photocopies of the Mona Lisa on the signs directing visitors to the real Mona Lisa. The Winged Victory of Samothrace was quite a sight. And the sarcophagus were neat. So much to see, I treated some of our photos to a collage.


It's time to rock

with none other than Jon Bon Jovi. Yes, my friends, Jess' firm sent us, along with some other employees to see the king of 80s rock. And man, was he rockin' it. And so was the audience. You should have seen these fans, complete with t-shirts from the 80s, euro-mullets, and loud voices belting, "(when the world gets in my face, I say) Have a nice day!"

Thanks to the mega-huge screens we were able to catch a glimpse of the Jovi

Rockin' it


The Annex

While wondering through the busy, Dutch- and tourist-filled Amsterdam area, we came upon the Anne Frank Huis. The house the Frank family hid in for 25 months to escape Nazi capture. They tiptoed around the back annex of Anne's father's factory (which was handed over to a non-Jewish executive friend because Jews couldn't own businesses), making sure they didn't run water, flush the toilet, or talk too loudly because the warehouse workers in the very same building had no idea there was anyone living there. They studied there, exercised there, held celebratory dinners there; with 4 of the father's employees serving as "helpers." These helpers worked in the factory as office personnel, but ran errands for the hidden individuals, buying them food, ordering their Latin lesson books, and bringing them news of the outside world in the evenings. Almost two years, and they never left the annex. Then an anonymous phone call to the police station blew their cover and the police went in and took them away. They still don't know who made that implicating call to the police.

To visit the site was shocking and difficult to fathom, a feeling that makes it uncomfortable to swallow. It was simpler, however, to see how Anne got so involved in writing as an outlet. Her father said when he read the diary, the writings were very different from the girl he knew. There was so much more to her personality that he didn't know about. What is it about the power of writing that allows us to explain ourselves best?

photo from www.holocaustresearchproject.org/


The land of bikes and boats

On a warm afternoon in Amsterdam, the canals are filled with people, young and old, riding in everything from small rusty skippers to long lavish boats. No matter what boat they're in, they're all doing the same thing: enjoying the ride and some party fixin's, usually crackers or nuts followed by an alcoholic beverage. While observing this scene, we felt we were watching the proverbial "state street" drive on a Friday night, but in this case it was the Prinsengracht canal on a Sunday afternoon.

There are also a lot of cruiser bikes in Amsterdam. Every canal bridge wall serves as something to lock your bike to, and some individuals pay for bike parking on the side of the road. Hardly any of the bikes are in pristine condition, or even close. Some have been painted yellow, red, or blue, but most are black. You have to watch for bikes like you do for oncoming automobile traffic, or else you'll step in front of a cruising biker.


How does this compare?

You've got the St. Louis Arch, the Seattle Space Needle, the Paris Eiffel Tower. Bet you didn't know about the Belgium Atomium.

But I do bet you can guess the decade this World's Fair structure was built. That's right, in the 1950s. This year the Atomium celebrates it's 50th birthday.

Escalators run inside the tubes and an elevator will take you to the top. The other 3 top spheres are not accessible to the public because they don't have any vertical supports. So how does it compare?

Images of this structure are protected. In order to post a photo of the Atomium the following must be mentioned (plus the fact that I'm in it shouldn't hurt): © Sabam 2008 - www.atomium.be.


I thought of Jo when I saw this

in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.

This green globe*,
is made up of these colorful bugs.
*Apologies for lack of artist name or title of work.

with visitors, it is better

Today begins our 4th week living in Belgium. It has been swell thus far. We have had a chance to visit lots of neat places, enjoy many new and delicious treats, try our language skills, and sit in parks just watching Belgians be Belgians.

During the third week, my sister and brother-in-law came to visit. By far, this was my favorite week in Europe. True, we visited several places - Bruges, Gent, the Atomium, the Royal Art Museum, Planete Chocolate; and tasted delicious eats - hot-off-the-grill waffles, pain d'epices (spice bread), strawberries with creme fraishe and brown sugar, dark chocolate, and homemade crepes; but some of the funnest parts were just talking, playing phase 10, and watching the French Open with my sister and her husband throughout the week.

Belgium is fun, but with visitors, it is better.


Brugge (Dutch) or Bruges (French)

My sister and her husband got off a plane, thumbed their noses at jet lag, and went with us to Bruges. Bruges is a city in Belgium that used to be the second biggest harbor in Europe with a thriving cloth industry. Lots of rich people built lavish houses and the churches were quite elaborate. Then the river filled with silt and the success of Bruges was no more. The development of the city basically came to a halt so it's like you're walking through a medieval town.
Now, I think, Bruges thrives off tourism. We enjoyed looking at buildings and walking down narrow streets with lots of other visitors, but as soon as our drinks at lunch were served to us with ice cubes, we knew the place was catering toward tourists. We took a boat ride through the canals, which I found relaxing, as did my sister and brother-in-law who had, by that time, been awake for over 24 hours and took a small nap. The tour guide gave his speech in Dutch, followed by French, and finally English. Every time he made a joke (say, for example, the canal was filled with paranas), he'd look back with a smile to see if anyone was laughing. I was sitting directly behind him and thus would proceed with a chuckle every time.
Next to the canal, our boat, and the jokester tour guide


To fortify the city

In Ghent we visited the Gravensteen castle. I felt like I was back in time or on the set of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (come on, you watched it and enjoyed it back in the day). We walked the spiral staircases to the top and looked down over the city (I got butterflies in my stomach just looking down from the towers). Inside we saw a weaponry and torture instruments display. We then stood in huge fireplaces and sauntered in the church. We looked down in the dungeons and wandered in the courtyard. We imagined battles at that location and boy, are glad we live in 2008 and not in medieval times.

The castle was specifically built to fight off intruders
Just my size, eh?



A May sunset seen from the autobahn
Upon hearing that we'd be going to Germany, Jess' Belgian office mate suggested we rent a nicer car to travel the long distance. He found us a deal and we were off in a BMW 1-series, diesel engine. Neither of us had driven a BMW and we both like cars and have been driving a truck (extended bed) for the past 4 years, so it was a real treat. The drivers on the autobahn were, like you've heard, fast. Real fast. We began at a leisurely 140 km/h (~82 mph), but after a while Jess realized he was a) in a BMW and b) on the autobahn, so he increased his speed to 160 (100 mph). Riding in the passenger seat, I could handle it. Shortly thereafter an Audi passed us. Then a VW van passed us. And then a Ford wagon passed us. Jess said something to the effect, "A Ford can't pass us in a BMW on the autobahn," and again, he increased his speed. My blood pressure increased as we neared 190 and then 200 (125). These speeds were not sustained for 10 minutes at a time, but long enough to cause me to sit straight up in my seat and Jess to get the desired joy effect. All told, Jess reached 220 (~138 mph) for a bit, at which time I reached a 138 heart rate. It's a ride I won't soon forget.
Our rental car (BMW 118d) and the speed demon


Bad Kissingen, Germany

This past weekend, we drove 530+ kilometers to Bad Kissingen, Germany, where Jess lived for a few years of his young life. It was a wunderbar trip, complete with visiting the old haus, swimming at the schwimmbad, drinking the Bad Kissingen therapeutic mineral wasser, enjoying some bratwurst, and sitting in a beautiful kurgarten. We spoke a little German (Ich spreche nur ein bissen Deustch) and acted like we understood every word of German we heard during the trip. What a place!


Parlez-vous anglais?

When I walk down the street, people speak to me in French. Why shouldn't they? I'm in Belgium where one of the national languages is French*. The other day, I was walking to the park, and a man came up to me laughing, saying something I couldn't understand, and finally trying to get a response out of me by saying "Oui?" like "Right?". A few days ago, while waiting at a cross walk, a man in a VW stopped at the light and said, "Pardon" followed by what I believe was a question about where he could find a certain street. And again, while walking home, a woman asked me where she could find a subway stop.

In all of these situations my reaction was the same: look confused, put up hands and shrug shoulders, wish like crazy I'd taken beginning French. I must look foolish.

I thought maybe I'd find respite at a quiet museum where you only have to read, so I decided to visit the Museum of Musical Instruments. However, nothing was in English, except for small notes reading "Do not touch please. Thank you." I tried to read the history of the drum (tambour), piano (klavier), and violin (violon) in French but just starring at the words didn't work. Luckily for me, the second national language of Belgium is Dutch, and since I took some German some years back, I could make out the gist of what the Dutch paragraph was saying. At least that's what I told myself.

Since I'm in Belgium, I should know some French and so I am trying to learn some French phrases, one of which is "Je ne sais pas," or "I don't know."

*I don't want to give you the wrong impression however, English is spoken here by many and everyone is quite nice about it.



I got the chance to go with Jess and his co-interns to Luxembourg. We travelled there to see a case argued at the Court of Justice. From what I hear, Luxembourg is all business and no play. If people work in Luxembourg, they usually travel someplace else for their weekends. It was neat to visit the Court and watch the lawyers answer questions of the judges. I also liked watching the translators, or, what they say over here, interpreters.

Outside, 1 of 2 Towers at the Court of Justice, Luxembourg

Inside a hearing room, Court of Justice


Grand' Place

An absolute "must," the Grand' Place draws as many tourists from other parts of the world as it does people from Belgium and Brussels, each of them strolling happily around a square that was described by Cocteau as "the most beautiful theatre in the world." The Grand' Place sparkles whatever the weather and is sure to cast its spell over you. It is without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most remarkable architectural works in Europe.
Brussels Your Guide and Map, 49th edition

360 degree view, in a set of three


The eats courtesy of Belgium

Belgian Waffles (Gaufres in French), delicious!
Pulling out a snail to eat
Seafood extravaganza, I tried my first oyster from this plate, after adding onion and vinegar, it wasn't bad
Waterzooi, a classic Belgian dish, or so I'm told

Before we left, my sister, who has lived in Belgium before, stated that there is so much good food here, we may gain weight. We've been here for 4 days, and I am finding that she is right. We have had the chance to enjoy many good meals here. I was wrong in assuming that European portions are small, they are not. One night, Jess ordered a couscous dish that could have fed three. Bon App├ętit!