December 31, 2007

2008 has been canceled

"Due to the writers' strike, 2008 has been canceled. Next year will be a rerun of last year."
- Headline on Metro a local weekly newspaper.

As far as TV goes, sadly, that might actually be close to the truth. But in terms of life, it had better not be a repeat!

My evening celebration will consist of pink sparkling wine and chocolate, so I'll be feeling just fine. I hope your ringing in of the New Year is equally festive and that 2008 is good to you all.

Happy New Year!

December 30, 2007

19 hours in LA

It was a mission of mercy. B2W3 (my brother -- I'm tired of writing out "Best Brother in the Whole Wide World") had driven to SoCal for work, days before, and was coming back Sunday. It's a long, boring drive and we'd tossed around the idea of my driving there with him then flying back, but it hadn't worked out. But the reverse would work and, really, I had nothing better to do.

Saturday I left cold, drizzly NorCal and flew to cold, sunny SoCal, landing at the Bob Hope Airport in next to no time. (I had waited in the San Jose airport for my departure time about twice as long as the duration of the flight. Of course, since I'd gotten there early, the security checkpoint was a breeze.) B2W3 picked me up and we were off to beautiful downtown Burbank, which was my only condition of going -- hey, I grew up on Laugh-In.

My evidence (click to enlarge):

We found a place to watch the big Patriots-Giants game over dinner and I got to immerse myself in LA culture. I know I was sitting next to someone in "the biz" at the bar, but I still have no idea what he did. Later, while driving around soaking up still more culture, I was astonished to see that they have CVS pharmacies down there -- I had no idea there were any on the west coast. Growing up in New York, CVS was just about my favorite place to shop (this was pre-Target, people) so I had to visit for old times' sake. We went to one later that night and luckily we didn't pick a 24-hour one, since B2W3 almost had to physically drag me out at closing as it was. Good times.

Speaking of shopping, where else can one truly observe and absorb the culture of a place more than in its malls and shopping centers? After the game ended, I had a nice time walking around the Valencia Town Center for a while, wishing more stores were open but glad that some were open that late. It definitely didn't feel like home, but I couldn't say whether it was better or worse, or exactly how it was different; it just was. The only observation I have to share is that some of the store personnel seem even more indifferent to their customers there than they do here.

The most notable thing on the mall directory was something that it hadn't occurred to me I'd be able to indulge in, though it probably should have: Pinkberry. This is yet another place I've heard a lot about but which I'd never been to since I hadn't been to LA in years. It was on my mind because I've seen the AmEx Plum Card commercial featuring them almost every day for the past two weeks or so. I have to admit, I like the phrase "swirly goodness." That shop was closed by then, but we decided we'd get there this morning. While looking up their hours, I came across a blog wherein the blogger makes it very clear how she feels about Pinkberry's product. I'm not one to just go on one person's opinion, though, so I was still determined to sample it.

I tried a smidgen of each of the two flavors to see which I preferred, and I went with the green tea. I don't agree with that blogger - it was definitely a very different, very tart, very yogurt-y taste, but it wasn't bitter. At $4.50 a pop with a topping, I probably won't be a regular customer when they finally get I'm sure they will...but it was definitely a refreshing treat.

All my goals and shopping needs being met, we headed back north in the B2W3mobile, gratefully. There's really only so much new culture a person can take, and 19 hours was just about enough.

December 28, 2007

The oxymoron drink of the gods

I enjoy trying new recipes, especially when they involve chocolate, and tonight I made something fun and different.

Perhaps you've heard of Serendipity 3, the somewhat infamous and recently troubled restaurant in NYC. It was known to me for its frozen hot chocolate (or, as they call it, Frrrozen Hot Chocolate) that I'd heard about many times over the years (even before Ms. Oprah brought it to the masses), but which I'd never had. Of course, I'd puzzled over how they could call it hot chocolate and make it frozen, but I consigned it to that part of my mind where jumbo shrimp resides and went on with my life.

Recently, my mom bought a cookbook that has a recipe for frozen hot chocolate I wanted to try. While checking the Web to see what ingredients I'd need before coming home to make it, however, I saw that Serendipity had made their recipe public amid much fanfare and it sounded better than the one we had. Apparently it's not the actual recipe the restaurant uses (which makes sense to me; these sort of things are often adapted for public consumption because much of America wouldn't know Callebaut or Valrhona if it reached up and bit them on the butt) but it's accessible and easy enough to make. It was a really delicious dessert treat, served up in a cozy-looking mug with a mound of whipped cream and a dusting of chocolate sprinkles, even with it as cold here as it was tonight.

Next time...and there will be a next time...I'll use better chocolate (I used what we had on hand and it was pretty pedestrian stuff) and make sure more people are around to share its generous portions.

So grab a blender and make someone happy with a cup of frozen chocolate goodness.

December 27, 2007

The simple things make me happy

I was out on the town kind of late last night and was too tired to post when I got home. A dear friend of mine is in town for the holiday and we indulged in some of our favorite activity -- shopping! We went out late enough for the wackiness of the day-after-Christmas bargain hunters to have died down, thankfully.

If you know me, you will not be at all surprised to hear that, while we were shopping after dinner, I needed to find a ladies' room. We ended up in Nordstrom's and, as it's someplace I don't shop often, I hadn't been in their loo recently. I'll be sure to stop back there next time I'm in the area and in need, though, because it held a delightful surprise!

Public bathrooms are always a crap shoot (pun only semi-intended), aren't they? I generally dread using them but have no choice, so it's always lovely to find a decent one, let alone one that actually brings a smile to my face. But that's what happened last night.

Before I tell you why, though, allow me to digress for a moment. All this talk of public restrooms reminds me that there's a site devoted to this very subject. According to their homepage, "MizPee finds the closest, cleanest toilets in your area," and it's accessible by your mobile phone for those desperate, "there's gotta be one around here somewhere" moments. I haven't had occasion to use it yet, but you can believe it's going to be marked as a favorite on my phone! I checked and can't find this Nordstrom's restroom (it's the Valley Fair one, if anyone local is wondering) on MizPee, but I'm going to submit it as soon as I'm more familiar with the site.

So, what was the surprising factor, already? The hand dryers have been replaced by what at first I thought were Dyson Airblade dryers (which excited me to no end, because I've seen the commercial for them and I'm already half in love with James Dyson because he's so freaking brilliant and has a great voice), but were actually Mitsubishi Jet Towel, high-speed hand dryers. Same concept, same wonderful result. These things are awesome! Exactly as Dyson says in his commercial, there's no giving up and wiping your still-wet hands on your pants; the air moves the water off your hands in a matter of seconds and takes it down into a collection area, not in a puddle on the floor underneath the dryer -- something that annoyed me about traditional, ineffectual "hot" air hand dryers almost as much as their inability to actually dry my hands -- and there wasn't a carelessly discarded paper towel in sight. It just seemed so sanitary and efficient and environmentally sound.

I left with clean, dry, un-chapped hands and I was a happy, happy girl.

December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Original title, huh?

Well, it has been a lovely holiday here in clear and sunny, but cold, Northern California. Santa visited in full effect and I have some wonderful new toys to play with while I enjoy the rest of my vacation time.

It was also a day of good food and drink, and I have a new favorite drink to make at home. Pomegranate martinis are very in vogue right now so perhaps they're almost a cliché, but they're red and Christmas-y so who cares? While I've had them while out, though, I've never made them myself. I got some nifty new martini glasses and a shaker as a gift -- I'd needed one at Thanksgiving and didn't have one, so my wish was granted by Santa Mom -- so I whipped up a few batches.

If you do a Google search for pomegranate martinis, the first result you get is courtesy of the Oprah juggernaut, with a side helping of Rachel Ray mania. But you know what? The damn recipe is so good that I don't care. I rimmed the glasses with red sugar for that extra touch (and substituted orange Curaçao for the Cointreau, as I found I didn't have the latter) and they were a big hit. I probably had a few more of them than might be deemed seemly, but hey, I wasn't going anywhere!

Now that I've got the shaker and glasses, I may be a martini-making machine. I don't like gin, so I'll only do the vodka-based kind, but if anyone has any suggestions of some to try for New Year's, perhaps, please do share.

December 23, 2007

Next time won't you sing with me?

Thought I'd go for something light, fluffy and brief tonight. Bembo's Zoo is a site I came across this year that really caught my interest (Flash required). It is an animated version of a book that creates animals out of the letters making up its name -- a lion is made up of the letters l-i-o-n -- in Bembo font.

Trust me, it will make more sense if you just check it out. Once you click on the orange "O," the gates swing open and you can visit the denizens of this fantastical zoo. I think the Best Brother in the Whole Wide World will like the "D" selection. I'm partial to the "M" one, with "Q" as a close runner-up.

If you decide to visit the zoo, please don't feed the animals and come back to share your favorites.

December 22, 2007

Are you there, Santa? It's me, Maura.

Are you feeling it yet? That Christmas feeling? It has taken me a while -- work kept me feeling a little Scrooge-like -- but I think I'm almost there. Here's my recipe:

1. Visit the Gävle Christmas Goat webcam from Sweden each night. This giant straw goat is something I stumbled on last year and I get a kick out of it. The webcam is there to protect the goat from would-be vandals -- he has been burned down 22 times over the last 41 years; check out the history for details -- so you kind of watch it to see if any pyros are lurking about, though I'm not sure exactly what one could do if someone were actually spotted. Last night I sat here and watched the sun come up over the square; really enjoyed that.

2. Keep the all-Christmas radio station here on in the car. Some songs just really take you there. As a close friend said to me today, "It's officially Christmas now. I heard Burl Ives sing 'Holly Jolly Christmas.'" The funny thing is that I hadn't heard it yet this year and not 15 minutes later, when I turned on the car, it was playing on the radio. And you know what? He was right.

3. Be done Christmas shopping and remove that stress.

4. Listen to holiday CDs while decorating the tree. Terribly original, I know, but it works.

5. Watch White Christmas every time it comes on TV. Love that movie. Much preferable to It's a Wonderful Life in my book, even with the weird, unChristmas-y production numbers.

And voilà! I'm ready for Christmas. Hey Santa, where's my gifts?

December 21, 2007

The More Things Change...

I spent a good part of this morning reacquainting myself with the blog. It was a little weird. I went through all the links to the right; I took out any that were gone or changed into something I didn't recognize, visited those that were still alive and kicking, and thought about the new ones I've found and want to add as I share them with you here. The phrase that kept coming to mind was one I find myself using often: ebb and flow. In some ways, the Internet is static -- you create something, put it out there and it will just sit there, a forgotten fragment. In some ways it's ever-changing, different from second to second. In still other ways it's a constant and something you don't see for over a year is not exactly the same but it's so familiar that you can fall right back into it. It occurred to me finally that, really, all of it is okay just like that.

At first, I was a little sad to see that some sites had gone away. Then comforted by the constancy of what some people are putting out there. Then annoyed that some people have taken over others' sites, keeping the name but having no ties to what initially attracted me to them. Then a little resigned to what I was seeing as I went from site to site, noting the ones that had transitioned to MySpace or Facebook and the like, which hold little interest for me.

As I got done going through them, though, I realized that it's all a part of the whole. Those people who abandoned or shut down their sites had moved on to something else, many of them struggling to keep it going for a while, like I did here. Until just a short while ago, I hadn't read back that far in my "recent" entries, and I didn't remember how many times I'd gone through my same cycle of ebbing and flowing interest in posting. I keep coming back to it; others don't. But each one of them had something to offer, some to a larger degree than others, and for their own reasons they left it in the past. Others stride forward with a consistency I find enviable. Between those two poles is just about everything in between and for every person who closed the door on their blog, there's at least one more who found the handle to their own door.

In the end, maybe that's exactly how it's supposed to be.

December 20, 2007

She's alive!

I've been mulling over how to jump back into posting here, having written dozens of posts in my head that never made it to the computer. But when even your mother (who was an infrequent visitor, at best) is asking if you're ever going to blog again, it's time to consider it.

To jumpstart me, I visited the page to re-read my last post and was astonished to see that people were still coming by and two people had commented in the last week! So, yes, Joe, I am alive and I'm back. Thank you for asking; it was just the impetus I needed.

Consider the ice broken. A year is a long time to be gone, and I'm going to have to re-learn the very little I knew about HTML and making things work here. Like that blog list over there, "Mo Pings." I have a feeling half of them probably don't work, and it will take me time to go through it and update it. So be patient, because I've found a bunch of new links to add that I hope will make it worth your while. And labels; I assume those are the same as "tags" and I can add them, though I have no idea what purpose it will serve here. I've popped some in there for the heck of it. I'm terribly behind on what Blogger can now do, but it will be fun to figure it out.

I don't have a really good reason for why I've been M.I.A., other than I've realized I'm a very cyclical person. (Not cynical, though I may be that too; cyclical as in I do things in cycles.) I do things a lot when I'm interested in them, then I need a break and I hibernate from the thing I really still do enjoy. Cross-stitching is a good example of this. I'll go at it like there's no tomorrow, and there's nothing else I'd rather be doing, then I don't pick up a project for months or even years at a time.

What has been occupying much of my free time lately is playing games on Pogo. I really enjoy the challenge of playing for badges (check out the site if you don't know what I mean, and if you like it and want a guest pass, let me know) and the games are generally relaxing to me, which is often exactly what I need at the end of the workday. But I suppose it's time to exercise a different part of my brain for a little while.

Things are going to be a little different, however. This post feels just like old times, me running off at the keyboard with whatever's in my head, but sometimes the pressure I put on myself to post something complete and well thought-out and meaningful sidetracks the intention. So I think that most posts are going to be shorter and more about what on the Web is interesting me right now. I don't feel very behind any "cause" right now and there's nothing I feel passionate about sharing with the world. That may change, of course, but for the time being that's where I am.

I hope a few old friends will see that this blog has been revived from the near-dead and will pop in to say hi. I will do the same as I work my way through that list of links to see who's still around. And new friends, please feel free to say hi, too, and I'll stop by for a visit when I can. In between games of Lottso, that is.