30 August 2010

One Short Day

Well, it wasn't the Emerald City but it we were 'sharing one wonderful day.' Nic and I did stretched Saturday to the max, leaving at 7 and driving up to Minneapolis for our big day of fun. The drive up included 20 questions, purchasing some cheap sunglasses, sharing of playlists and checking out the latest InStyle. I hadn't been to Mall of America since probably the mid-90's and I was happy to find out that there were a lot of good stores there. We methodically covered the entire place and put in a serious day of shopping. I got a great deal on a pair of A&F jeans and a couple tops for work. The Nike Running store was probably the most fun place in the mall. There was so much cool swag there I could barely take it. I tried on a couple pairs of running shoes (Lunarglide and Free 7.0) and liked them both but didn't pull the trigger on it. It would be a major shift for me to buy a non-adidas shoe so I have to think a bit longer on it. And just as we were finishing up our last shopping stop, it was time to get ready for dinner and the show. Despite having to get ready in a Sears bathroom, we cleaned up nicely and made our way to Solera for a pre-show meal. I didn't do a whole lot of research on this, pretty much just glanced at the menu, the pictures and the location (one door away from the Orpheum where Wicked was playing) and made the reservations. It was a great decision. The food was fantastic. Maybe the best restaurant food I've had in a couple years. We may have over-ordered just a tad, but there were so many great looking options that it was tough to say no! I took pictures of everything to share.

Ginger-Pear Mojito & the Scorpion (mango, pepper-infused tequila, chilies)
Spiced Marcona Almonds

Nic got the mojito and it was superb. Fresh, fruit, clean without being overly sweet or too minty. I ordered the scorpion and it was a unique drink. A bit too strong, a nicer balance between the mango and the tequila would've made it much more enjoyable. The faint after heat of the peppers was nice.
The spiced almonds were sweeter than I expected and made for some nice snacking while waiting for our first dishes to arrive.

French bread with tomatoes & garlic
Octopus ceviche with citrus, pepper, cumin

The bread was complimentary and was very good. Not too crunchy (which is my complaint with some bruschetta-type things) and full of good tomato flavor.
The ceviche was made of thinly sliced octopus and it was a big hit with both of us. The citrus was so light it was just a hint but just right.

Scallops with serrano ham and carmelized onions
Fried cauliflower and olives with lemon and cilantro

The scallops for some reason didn't make much of an impact with either of us. It just looked beautiful but just seemed to be lacking something. Maybe I've just been spoiled by the Best of Show Bacon-wrapped Scallops.
The cauliflower was great. Thin breading, a drizzle of lemon to add some brightness to the flavor and a nice yogurt-based sauce to compliment it. The olive flavor was a great counter point to the mild cauliflower.

Piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese
Lamb albondigas with fava beans in sherry cream sauce
Braised rabbit with artichokes, lemon, egg [not pictured]

The peppers arrived about 45 seconds before we stood up to leave but I made sure to eat one and it was exquisite. I love that pepper flavor and the melted goat cheese inside was so rich and delightful, I wanted to stick the other one in my pocket for later. This one had my tastebuds defying gravity.
The lamb was very nice too. I thought the cream sauce was a bit heavy but that could be because of all the other food we'd eaten. Soft and flavorful, Trostel's Dish needs to take a lesson on how to cook lamb from this.
Sadly, the rabbit is not pictured because we had to leave just as it was getting finished. I was hoping we would be able to uphold our "No Tapas Left Behind" virtue but something had to be sacrificed and I didn't want it to be the play.

When I glanced at the time, just to see how we were doing and saw 7:52, we went into panic mode. We still had two more tapas to come out and eight minutes to flag our waitress, explain the situation, pay the bill, get the theater and find our seats. Amazingly, that is exactly what happened. Our waitress was fantastic the whole night and she took my card, said she'd box up anything we didn't eat and save it for us til after the show. We hustled out the door and up to the balcony where an usher with a serious expression escorted us to our seats (luckily on the end of the row) just as the orchestra was kicking off the first number. Whew! "
The play was fabulous. Despite having understudies for both Galinda and Elphaba, everything sounded and looked amazing. Galinda gets an extra shout out for embodying her role so well. Now I have some great images and experiences to connect with as I listen to the soundtrack.
We got back in the car at 11:00 to head home, a bit of a later start then I was expecting but what can you do? Our traveling circus finally pulled in to drop me off just after 3 in the morning.
What a Saturday!

"Building a Nation of Know-Nothings"

I clicked on this NY Times headline thinking it was an education article, and it sort of is, but not the type I was expecting. It's an opinion piece on the willingness of parts of our country's population to adopt as fact any half-truth put in front of them by certain media outlets that thrive on cynicism, falsehoods and fear. Check it out.

26 August 2010

What Do You Love About Music?

..."To begin with, everything."
Anyone who knows me knows that I love music. But what exactly is it that makes my ears perk up to a certain song? I've talked with caboose about wishing there was a way you could tell someone or some website all the things you really like in music and it would spit out a list of bands or songs that you should dig. I'm talking about something much more specific than pandora or Genius. So I've definitely thought about this a little; caboose actually likes to tease me when he hears one of these criteria show up prominently in a new song that I'm raving to him about. So here is my list of qualities (and some examples) that, while not a 100% guarantee, are a good bet to get me to press repeat, buy a single, add it to a playlist, put in on my blog, rave to a friend about it, etc...
  • Bells - this also includes chimes, synthy bell sounds, marimba, steel drums, xylophones, etc.
    Examples: Snape vs Snape - Ministry of Magic, Shortys Running Numbers - Noise Tank, Nothing Better - Postal Service, Go Outside - Cults
  • Strong vocals
    Examples: Kelly Clarkson, Micheal Buble, Bleeding Love - Leonna Lewis, Chasing Pavements - Adele
  • Female vocals - Although harder for me to sing along with, I just prefer listening to a woman's voice.
    Examples: Tears Dry On Their Own - Amy Winehouse, Smile - Lily Allen, Keep Holding On - Avril, Dishy - Candypants, Hello - Dirty Little Rabbits,
  • Children singing - Not necessarily the whole song, but some back up or filling in for the chorus.
    Examples: I Can - Nas, All Is Love - Karen O, Paper Planes - M.I.A.,
  • Short and sweet - If a song is longer than 5 minutes, it has to be great to stay on my iPod. No long solos, no jam-band funk sessions, no long pointless intro or outro. Get in, blow me away and move on. For catchiness, the shorter the better.
    Examples (all 4 or 5 star songs & under 2:30): Go - Blink 182, For Justin - Dashboard Confessional, Grace of God - Flogging Molly, Do We Play Favorites - Cashes Rivers, Ain't No Sunshine - Bill Withers, Girls - Beastie Boys, A-Punk - Vampire Weekend, We're Going to Be Friends - Jack Johnson, Little Ghost - White Stripes, Level - Racounters, Walking with a Ghost - Tegan & Sara, Turn Me On - Norah Jones, Buddy Holly - Weezer.
  • A song that tells a story -
    Examples: Cocaine Blues - Johnny Cash, Go - Blink 182, The Old Apartment - Bare Naked Ladies, The War was in Color - Carbon Leaf, He Went to Paris - Jimmy Buffett, Hip-Hop Saved My Life - Lupe Fiasco, Baby Girl - Sugarland,
  • A foreign language -
    Examples: Chunari Chunari - Monsoon Wedding, En Tus Pupilas - Shakira, Yelle, Celia Cruz, AKB48, De Colores - Dora the Explorer, Jai Ho - Slumdog Millionaire, Puirt a Beul - Sileas,
  • Danceablilty - does it makes you wanna stomp your feet & shake your thang?
    Examples: Bingo - M.I.A., Tricky - Run DMC, Cyclone - Baby Bash, Rock DJ - Robbie Williams, S.O.S. - Rihianna, Country Grammar - Nelly
  • Raw Emotions
    Examples: The Radiator Hums - Cursive, Sierra - Cursive, Roll On - Alabama, ? - Bright Eyes, The Best Deceptions - Dashboard Confessional, Little Miss Magic - Jimmy Buffett, Stay - Sugarland, Ain't No Sunshine - Bill Withers, Go - Blink 182, Hold On - Lovehammers
  • Sentimentality - the song is associated with something personally meaningful to me.
    Examples: He Ain't Heavy - The Hollies, Atoms - Cashes Rivers, Stay or Leave - Dave Matthews, Photobooth - Death Cab for Cutie, Danny's Song - Anne Murray, Jane Says - Jane's Addiction, any of the songs on my Biography playlist.
  • Specific, realistic references - I like hearing an actual street name, bar reference, neighborhood, name of a shoe, or even a city name.
    Examples: Back in the Day - Ahmad, Party in the U.S.A. - Miley, Air Force Ones - Nelly, My Adidas - Run DMC, Lucky Boys Confusion
  • Covers - I love hearing someone's take on a song I already now. And I like hearing that an artist enjoys someoneelse's music enough to take a shot at singing it themselves.
    Examples: Complicated - Ben Gibbard, Hey Ya - Obadiah Parker, Umbrella-Taylor Swift, I Want You Back - KT Tunstall, Pursuit of Happiness - Lissie, Sitting On the Dock of the Bay - Pearl Jam, D'yer M'ker - 311, I Told You So - Carrie Underwood, Naive - Lily Allen

24 August 2010

Literacy Rocks.

As another school year kicks off, I thought I'd share this great video done by Ococee M.S. Hats off to a great performance, great A/V production, top-notch singing by the two leaders, lots of great school spirit apparel, and a fun fresh approach to get kids thinking about books.

23 August 2010

Greek Yogurt Breakdown

I've been trying some of the different brands of Greek yogurt these last few weeks. It's a great way to start your day and very portable to grab on my way out the door and eat once I get to work. Here is what I've found:
1. Fage. The reigning & continued favorite. No surprise here. This stuff is so good it's ridic.
2. Dannon Greek. Surprisingly good. Thickness and richness that is astounding considering there is 0% fat.
3. Chobani. Pretty good, also great 0% fat yogurt. (sidenote: their website looks like a class project)
4. Greek Gods. Unique flavors.
5. Yoplait Greek. Awful. Grainy and thin. They should stick to Yoplait Light.

22 August 2010

Photo Lomography Tutorial Trials

Yay for the return of the Photoshop date! It had been months and months since Les and I had gotten together for some coffee-drinks and design talk. I love these sessions. I get to ask all my questions and soak up the boundless knowledge. And it's not just limited to Photoshop tips; we cover design ideas, DIY projects, music, websites, and pretty much just do a lot of catching up. And, since I now have Illustrator, we were able to include a whole new program! I'm looking forward to playing around with creating some fun text creations.
There was one thing I wanted to talk over with Les but hadn't done my homework so I didn't have any examples to illustrate what I wanted and couldn't even really explain it either. I had seen a camera at Urban Outfitters and liked the type of pictures it put out. So once I got home I just looked up those cameras and started looking for some tutorials on how to create those effects in Photoshop. The cameras are by a company called Lomography and there are several differenct types, one of the most popular is the Holga. This is a nice gallery that shows some of the typical photo effects these unique cameras can produce.
So I set to work trying out three of the tutorials I found.
Original photo:

Tutorial #1:

Tutorial #2:

Tutorial #3:

None of those were fantastic, but I think if I put aspects of each of the first and third tutorials together, I might have a good starting place.
I also did these two pictures with this tutorial and I think they turned out even better:

21 August 2010

Maradona: Live is Life

A little video that I found during World Cup. Even though he got let go as Argentina's coach a few weeks ago (their dismantling by Germany didn't go over too well), his skill as a player are incredible. This is video of him warming up during his hayday at Napoli. It's amazing to watch.
sidenote: the song is Live is Life by Opus and it's pretty catchy.

18 August 2010

Music Tips

I love new music and it is one of the first questions I bring up when talking with friends, family or when meeting new people. There is so much music out there and life is too short to listen to bad music or even worse, to go without music, so I love having help in finding the good stuff. Even though I read Rolling Stone and a decent amount of music blogs, I rely on some great human sources of sonic delights and I wanted to give them a public shout out -
caboose - Yes, he gets top billing. Even though the general feel of our libraries do differ a bit, we have a lot of common areas in our tastes and definitely share a passion for good music. It started with him being forced to listen to what stoppable & I were listening to growing up, and evolved to music-sharing dinners in Ames, to our very convenient (when it works) iTunes Home Sharing setup we have now, I've gotten lots of gems from this guy.
Notables: Matisyahu. Anathallo. Carbonleaf. Flobots. Noise Tank. Passion Pit. Something Corporate. Speechwriters LLC. Stuart Davis.
Les - Her artistic influence on me is not just limited to Photoshop. We've managed to get past our differences (Party in the USA & Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and I've loved her mixtapes & cover art.
Notable: "Young Folks"-PB&J. "Home is Where the Heart Is"-The Sounds. Chiddy Bang. Run This Town mix.
Nic - Although our music sharing is in its youth, after taking a Chicago road trip together I was pretty confident in our musical compatibility.
Notable: Asteroid Galaxy Tour. "Swim (music box version)"-Jack's Mannequin. Sleigh Bells. Wicked. "No One's Going to Love You Better" - Band of Horses.
stoppable & kt - I love that I get a completely different, but equally great, style of music from the Omaha gang. Music that makes me feel at ease, at home and in touch with my roots. I've been getting music from stoppable since I knew how to put a tape in the boombox, so it's tough to say where his influences began.
Notable: "Man of LaMancha"-Ronan Tynan. "Caravan of Love"-Housemartins. AC/DC. "In the Meantime"-Spacehog. "I Told You So"-Carrie Underwood & Randy Travis. "Find Out Who Your Friends Are"-Trace Adkins. Cranberries. Jimmy Buffett. Journey.
students - This used to be a much more reliable source when I was teaching seniors. Freshmen & sophomores are too into Justin Beiber, Gucci Mane or Slipknot for my tastes. But teaching in an urban districts keeps you aware of what the current hip-hop hits are which I probably wouldn't hear otherwise and I love that.
Notable: Girltalk (best tip ever). 3OH3. Yelle. "Bedrock"-Young Money. Xanadu. "Schadenfreude"-Avenue Q.
homebase - Gave me all my music direction during my formative years. And she did a great job of it.
Notable: Chieftains. Carpenters. Anne Murray. Buddy Holly. Micheal Buble. Charlotte Church. Elvis. Frank Sinatra. Paul Simon. The Sound of Music.
college friends - college is such a transformative time and I connected with a wide range of people and their musical interests.
Notables: Beastie Boys. George Strait. "Sadie"-R. Kelly. Doors. Jimi Hendrix. Cat Stevens. Jim Croce. Hair. Les Miserables.

16 August 2010

6 weeks / 10 lbs

The Omaha half-marathon is in six weeks and I am excited to have a long race to train for. After finishing Dam to Dam, I gave myself a little motivation by saying that if I ran a half, I could buy myself a new watch. My current hand-me-down Timex only has 10 lap memory, so it doesn't work well for a 13 mile race. I've been looking online a bit and have a few ideas to consider. Another fun thing as I begin getting more runs in is that, due to the flooding, my two standby runs (Grays Lake and Raccoon River) are less than in less than favorable conditions. So, Nic and I have decided to start exploring this city a bit and mapping out some new routes. Last week was a great 5 mile course starting at Roosevelt HS, weaving through some very nice real estate in the Waterbury/Grand area. A few hills for a new challenge and a nice finish over the ped bridge. Looking forward to other new routes to keep the training fresh. Lastly, I've decided to try and shed a few unnecessary pounds before the race. I figure the less I have to haul around that course, the better. To achieve a loss of 10 pounds in 6 weeks will be tough since I have a hard time moving my weight in either direction, but here are the guidelines to being successful...
  • At least 3 runs per week. Two shorter (~4 miles) and one longer (>6 miles).
  • Exercise at least 6 times a week. The runs count toward this but I am hoping to write down a schedule that will get me to the Y 3-4 times a week to do some weight training, yoga and spinning.
  • Walk more. I am on my feet a lot less at my new job than when I was teaching so this will be a nice change. Going for a walk 4-5 times a week will get me outside, give an opportunity to make my phone calls, maybe take my camera with me, and it is a good way to relax later at night and get away from the boob tube.
  • No beer, less alcohol. I would say no alcohol, but I'm sure I'll have bloody mary or something once college football starts. I love fixing one and then setting to making some soup or another dish with College GameDay on in the other room. But this rule will help cut out a lot of unneeded calories, as well as freeing up sometime for the activities listed above.
  • Portion control. Stop eating before I am full. This is tough because I am believer in cleaning your plate, but it is a good thing to work on.
  • No late night snacking. Eating after 9 is not needed.
  • Eat better. Get groceries so I can bring my lunch and cook dinners. More fruits & veggies.
Alright, there it is. I was 191 this morning so we'll see where I'm at in six weeks.

Restaurant Week

Restaurant week is here! I've never taken part in it before, but, I do like some of the establishments on the list so maybe this is the year to dive in. Lunch for 2 for $25 is a little more palatable than $50 for dinner, so I may need to schedule a long lunch sometime this week.
(Thanks to SH for the tip on this!)
follow-up: More info thanks to JH. Menus from some of the participating places showing what they are offering this week. Haven't read it yet because lunch is still a long way off and I don't want my stomach to start growling.

10 August 2010

Diversity Debate

Articles like this are one of the reason I love the NY Times. "Diversity Debate Convulses Elite High School" is a dramatic piece that could be the climactic ending to a movie script. Student has balls enough to write a graduation piece blasting his elite school, faculty graduation committe has balls enough to choose his speech from the submissions, students give mixed standing ovation when he reads it, faculty gives standing ovation, principal resigns, president sits coldly while auditorium cheers, letter of no confidence is written on classroom blackboard and delivered to president, while dean of diversity talks about "preserving the kind of specialness and uniqueness that the school has." Come on! If that doesn't get you fired up, then you better check your pulse. Read the article and his full speech is here.
Therefore, I believe the best way to assuage this guilt is to use those fortuitous tools to not only better myself, but also improve the society that surrounds us outside these oh, so narrow walls. I do not know the capacity in which I will be able to make this world a better and more just place, but I strongly believe that education is the most effective means of creating social improvement, which is precisely why this is a battle we cannot concede.
Well done, sir.

Where ya been?!

Woah, it has been a while since I blogged!! I guess that is what starting a new job will do to you. Here is a quick rundown of what I've been up to and enjoying since I last wrote...
  • cold pancakes in the frig - caboose made a stack of pancakes for me last week, but I'd already eaten when I came home so I stuck them in the frig and I loved being able to grab one and take it with me in the morning. Not heated up, no syrup, still yummy.
  • smoothies - haven't made them in a while but I've got a lot of fruit & yogurt right now. Delic.
  • greek yogurt - SO good. Faye is #1, no contest. Tried out Dannon and it is good. Yoplait's is awful.
  • having a job...and completing the first week of it - Getting through those first days of logistics and introductions, etc. Ready to start getting out and meeting some people. And I am thankful to have a paycheck in this tough economy.
  • green beans - such a great veggie! I made the Balsamic green beans recipe from Rick & Lanie's book and it was tasty. And I've been bringing them to munch cold as a snack at work. Fab.
  • George Lucas - Pledged to give most of his fortune to the improvement of education.
  • restaurants - there are so many average eating establishments out there, it is wonderful to find a new great one. Before I started back to work, I met Nic for a lunch at Proof. What a great meal. Quality, fresh ingredients, interesting spices & flavors, appropriate portions. Loved it. Also made it back to Rolling Wok for some delicious curry.
  • races - Signed up for the Omaha 1/2 marathon, so now I have something to train for. Looking forward to it! May have to treat myself to some new shoes for it. Also looking forward to some fall runs (Beaverdash, DSM half, Corporate Cup)
  • possibility of a new phone - finally gave in and took phone back to US Cellular. The rep (the same one that sold it to me) was fantastic, again, and is going to call around a find me a better phone to trade for. Loved her, love US Cellular, can't wait to get rid of this piece of junk phone.
  • haircut - I busted out the clippers and gave myself a 1/8" all over trim. I forgot how nice it is to spend zero time & zero product on hair in the morning.
  • HMN '10 - another great success for this annual summer fiesta. I got in town early and had stoppable help me construct my own set of baggo boards. Can't wait to use them when college football starts! My two submission to the meat menu were -bacon-wrapped scallops (five years running) and lamb kefta ('06, '08, '10). The scallops are always a crowd favorite and this year they really got a lot of positive buzz, but I was definitely surprised when they were voted Best Of Show at the end of the night. I think there may have been some "lifetime achievement" sentiment in the voting but I'll take it! I've gotta give some credit to Whole Foods; their jumbo scallops are a thing of beauty. caboose also made some noise with his new creation, the bacon-wrapped sausage fatty. It was fantastic. I wish I had a smoker so he could make it again on a fall weekend. Overall, the meat consumption was not up to past levels of gluttony so people may need to do some pre-fasting next summer to get back on track. Tim did great work on the tshirts as always and I was lucky enough to get a green one (Founder!).
  • Goodwill steals - caboose and I hit the Goodwill and I scored some Burton snowboarding pants for $3. Bring on the snow!
  • Ranier cherries - got a big bag of these on Sunday and they are almost gone. caboose and I have been enjoying them immensely.
  • Jack Johnson (and camping/tubing) - as SH pointed out in the comments, this is a massive omission from my post. man, it HAS been a long time since I blogged something. This trip was fantastic. Transportation - best time I've had in a minivan...ever. Tubing- great fun to be on the water and in the (mostly) sunny day. Camping -JH did a killer job of cooking over a campfire. I was much impressed. Ladder golf was a great afternoon activity. Snacks and drinks were abundant and varied. Our neighbors were certifiably insane. I am not a fan of tent sleeping. Jack J. - He was just as cool and great as I built him up to be in my head. Loved the show. The weather was dreamy, the music was chill, the company was perfect.
  • Black Keys - My first time, amazingly, checking out the Val-Air ballroom - what a cool space. I love the old, vintage feel of it. I did not love the broken A/C and triple digit temps. It was hot. As hot as Lolla was last summer, this may have been hotter. No sun, but also no air movement whatsoever. As a frame of reference, I was called "pee pants" after the show because half of my shorts were visibly soaked. Putting that behind us, the show was FANTASTIC. Man, those guys are good. What a fun time. And my friends were so good, no one got grumpy or complainy, everyone just kept laughing, joking, dancing and having fun. And we finished it off with some good aftershow bday celebrations for Nic.