Monday, July 28, 2008

Amusing San Fran Photos

Here are some pictures from the trip. First, this gas station in San Francisco has solar panels on its roof.
Next, I love the text on the side of this building. Unfortunately, the attraction was closed.
Of course, I took plenty of pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the guidebook, the bridge is orange because people liked the color of the primer so much the builder decided to stick with it.

And I'll leave you with this warning sign from the Botanical Garden in the Golden Gate Park. Think they covered everything?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

San Francisco Vacation

We returned late last night from our vacation in San Francisco. I've never done so little planning for a trip before, but it worked out really well. Thanks to Travelocity's Last Minute Packages, we got a four-night stay plus airfare for two for a total of $1070. And this time I didn't need to spend a whole Saturday researching hotels and B&Bs like I have for the last few trips.

We stayed at the Executive Hotel Vintage Court. Their location is convenient to cable cars and buses, and not too far a walk from the Powell street BART station. Front desk staff were friendly (but not that fake-smile friendly) and helpful. The room was a decent size, pleasantly decorated, and well maintained. Bonus: free wine in the lobby between 5 and 6 pm, free coffee and danishes in the lobby between 7 and 9 am.

Instead of renting a car and attempting to drive in the city, we were all about the public transit. We used BART for rides to and from the airport for $10.70 round trip. Then, $24 each for a 7-day MUNI passport, which worked on all cable cars, buses, streetcars, and underground light rail. We used each of these options at least once during our trip. I thought the cable cars were fun, a cross between a tow rope and a really small roller coaster. Downsides include being slow and cold.

Ah, yes, cold. I packed wrong. It was windy and cold in the daytime, mostly cloudy, and often trying to rain. It was windier and colder at night. So, a jacket and sweatshirt was required over every outfit for the trip. The sun did come out during the day on Monday, so I have a sunburn on my face with a pale patch in the shape of my sunglasses.

Armed with a single guidebook, the Time Out San Francisco, we walked and ate our way through a good cross-section of the city. Chinatown, North Beach, the Embarcadero, Fisherman's Wharf, Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, Richmond, Castro, the Golden Gate Bridge, Ocean Beach, Union Square, and so on. In a departure from previous vacation patterns, we only went to three museums. First, there was the Musee Mechanique, with old video games, pinball machines, and other antique amusements. We dropped a few quarters there - everything was in working condition! Next to that, floating in the water, was the USS Pampanito. It was larger on the inside than I expected, but crammed just as full of equipment as the Titan missile silo that we toured in Arizona. On our last day, we went to the Cartoon Art Museum, where I read every word of every cartoon on the walls.

Other highlights include: walking along the beach beside the Pacific ocean, staying Internet-free for the whole trip, never getting lost, the best pot-stickers ever, sourdough bread, walking to the top of Buena Vista park, DS Tetris battles, great music stores and bookstores, historic bars, the view from The Bridge, and catching ourselves forgetting that we were still in the United States. San Francisco is a crazy city. It was fun to be a part of it for a few days.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Gourmet Popcorn Ideas

Start with a bowl of plain popped popcorn. Spray your popcorn with PAM to help the spices stick. Generously sprinkle with kosher salt, sparsely sprinkle with granulated sugar, sparsely sprinkle with red (cayenne) pepper, and generously sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice. Shake the bowl a little to let the spices settle and distribute more evenly.


Try these combos on plain popped popcorn:
  • PAM, salt, an even amount of Chinese five-spice powder and garlic powder.
  • PAM, salt, Italian seasoning, with extra garlic powder if you like.
  • PAM, salt, cocoa powder, chili powder, and cinnamon. (I like a bit of heat with my sweeter choices.)
Popcorn is so accepting of any other flavor, you could probably steal the seasoning mixture from any favorite recipe and come out with a good result. What is the worst that happens? You pop more popcorn and try again?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shopping: a Good Hunt

It is so nice when the exact item you are shopping for is on Clearance or Deep Discount in several stores. I got five short-sleeved polo shirts for an average of $15 each. And these are nice brands: Liz Golf, Martin & Osa, and Eddie Bauer. So, they should last a few seasons longer than shirts that are usually at this price point. It was a Good Hunt.

(I've been using that phrase for a successful shopping trip since I was much younger. Arriving at home with my Mom after an outing to the Bridgewater Commons, Dad would ask us how it went. If we found what we were looking for a good prices, the answer was, "It was a Good Hunt." If you think this implies that shopping would often be frustrating, with us unable to find anything that fit, you'd be correct.)

A piece of information that I had not realized until I read it on a blog, possibly this bra blog, is that all ready-to-wear women's clothing is sized for a B cup. It makes everything make sense now: why have I NEVER been able to find a blouse or button-down woven shirt that fits, no matter what store or what size I try? Because none of them are meant to fit! If I buy large enough for my chest, it fits the rest of me like a tent. So, I do not bother trying these styles on anymore. If I ever really need to buy another one, I'll get a larger size and have it altered. For me, knit is the way to go.

I do sew, and I have sewn my own clothes, but this is not an easy way out. They decided that if you are not a B cup, you do not deserve an easy time of anything. All easy-to-find patterns for home sewing are standardized to - you guessed it - a B cup as well. You need to do an "FBA", or Full Bust Alteration, manually to each pattern. There are a few patterns they put out occasionally that include pieces for the other cup sizes, and I buy them when I notice them. And there is software around that will take your measurements and custom-draft simple patterns. But, really, how much more effort would it be to provide cup-size grading for all patterns?

To end on a higher note, and bring the male readers back into the conversation, here is more LEGO stuff. You know those beautiful modular house kits? They are built on a standardized set of dimensions, so we can design our own houses and interchangeable floors and roofs. I do like having the guidelines to work from, sort of like a building code for the mini-fig scale world.

Friday, July 11, 2008

LEGOLAND Chicago details

Thanks to some correspondence with people involved in the new LEGOLAND, here are a bunch of details that are not yet on their website.

"Soft" opening will be on July 25th, for press only in the morning and general public in the afternoon. The Grand Opening, with ribbon cutting, will be on July 31st. They will be open at 10 am each day.

Tickets cost $15 children, $19 adults, $17 seniors.
Year Passes for weekdays are $38 children, $48 adults.
Year Passes for all days are $53 children, $67 adults.
(I am considering the weekday year pass. I do not want to think about how insane this place is going to be on weekends!)

The literature says "Children 2-12 and their families". Well, I don't meet that criteria, so I asked, "are adults without children allowed to attend and participate? I am 29 years old, with no kids, and many of my friends (also with no children) are big LEGO fans. Which of the exhibits and attractions would we be allowed to work with, and which ones are off limits?" The response is, "Our attraction is focusing to give children from age 2 to 12 a great experience, but we will not deny any person access to our center because of age or no children." So, that's good.

The list of attractions does have a few things that I wouldn't be excited about. (Despite being in love with LEGO, I am not still eight years old.) Here are the things I am excited about:

(from the press release)
# Miniland – Wander through a LEGO-style Chicago skyline, built to scale
# Hall of Fame – Get up close & personal with LEGO versions of top superheroes
# Build & Test – Have fun with mountains of LEGOs, speed ramp & earthquake table
# Model Workshop - Work with a LEGO Master to build a masterpiece

I've never been to a LEGOLAND before, and as I understand it this is going to be less like an amusement park, and more like a museum. Cameras are allowed, so I will be geeking out on many different levels when I finally get to spend some time there.

Oh, and it turns out that Nigel, our cat, will try to eat the LEGOs that I have spread out on the floor. Not the smartest of his species, is he?

Monday, July 7, 2008

LEGO Discoveries Over the Weekend

"Want to see what happens when an Architect and two Mechanical Engineers go to the LEGO store?" - me, on Sunday

I bought the first LEGO set for myself, with my own money, that I have in a very long time. (I'm not counting the boxes of simple bricks or the grab-bag of random LEGO parts that I have bought a few times.) I got the Scuderia Ferrari Truck set, number 8654, which includes a semi trailer that holds an F1 car and a whole pit crew (with tools!) for $40, marked down from $80.

Slightly more exciting, I discovered that LEGO now offers the LEGO Digital Designer software for FREE download. They were even considerate enough to let it run on my computer, which is an iBook G4 from 2004 with Mac OS 10.3.9 running on it. I feel more comfortable designing in 3D CAD systems than I do on paper, and much more comfortable than just winging it. Once you have a model designed, you can upload it to the LEGO Factory and actually buy the pieces as a set. Apparently, it arrives in a customized box, with instructions. Sweet.

Most exciting, I found out that there is a LEGOLAND Discovery Centre opening at Streets of Woodfield. Date of arrival is uncertain, the sign is up but there is not much evidence of actual construction activity inside of the mall. The guys at the Woodfield LEGO store said they had heard July 31st would be the day. This mall is only about 10 minutes from where I work, on my way home. Certainly close enough to go to for lunch (LEGOLAND cafe, anyone?) and possibly worth getting a season pass for. No pricing information online yet either. It is wait and see for now...


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