Sunday, November 25, 2007

Here I am Lounging About the House

Hey, I'm getting better at this photoshop thing already!

Cold-Blooded Humor

Veni, Vidi, Grande Visa

We came, we saw, we shopped at a really big mall.

As aforementioned, Al and I took a trip to Minnesota to check out a museum exhibit on Pompeii and the Underwater Adventures Aquarium which just happens to be conveniently located in the basement of the Mall of America. I find the six-hour drive up there to be very scenic and relaxing – or, perhaps it’s just knowing the destination. One of those. No, really, it’s a nice drive. Too bad we didn’t get our acts together earlier in the season when we could have taken the Vette, as parking was pretty safe around there.

The first day we set off around 4 a.m. and arrived at our hotel around 10 a.m. Right as we crossed the border into Minnesota there was a short burst of snow flurries! Nice place, Minnesota. If only it were warmer! I couldn’t even hear the desk clerk as they were doing a huge renovation on the hotel and I canceled my reservation right then and there! I saw an Embassy Suites across the way and headed there instead. I’ve heard rave reviews about their chain, and was willing to pay extra for a romantic weekend getaway. Mistake!

Oh, I paid extra all right. However, two elevators were not working. Since the hotel was at near-capacity, things became a horrible mess. Seems the State Girls Volleyball tournament players were all staying at that hotel, making the complementary breakfast bar a total madhouse in the mornings. The food offerings were fantastic, but the lines, crowds, and lack of seating were very off-putting. The pool and fitness rooms were great, but crowded.

They had this ‘free drinks’ from 5-7 p.m. offer. Now usually I’m not a drinker, but when suddenly faced with ‘free’ and trying to get my over-priced rate’s worth, I suddenly become Lindsay Lohan’s BFF. The hotel room itself was a suite, but the bathroom was way too small. I’ll try a Hilton next time! This would have been a nice place to stay during a quiet weekday, but I was not happy with our visit, and I didn’t even see one of those little comment cards where I could express my dissatisfaction. I’ll have to find something online…

Anyhoo… we made it to the museum and saw the ruins of Pompeii. I overheard a curator telling some visitors about how a child ran into one of the glass cases and bumped a ring loose, causing it to fall to the bottom of the display. They had to shut the exhibit down and call Italy. They then sent photos of the damage, and their plan of action for repair. Once they obtained their permission, the exhibit was restored and reopened to the public.

The day we were there a group of little cub scouts was wreaking havoc on the exhibit. Once again I would like to call for “Adult Thursdays” at museums and zoos. I’ll gladly pay extra!!!

I didn’t get to see any mosaics, but they did have some genuine frescos on display that were very impressive. (No photography allowed, so sorry-no pictures) I didn’t expect to be moved by the exhibit, but the final room was very emotional – the plaster casts made from impressions left behind after victim’s bodies had decomposed in the lava and ash. These white casts were placed on little lava stone beds for display, like a big barbecue grill. There were various poses of “trying to cover up” as the smoke and ash suffocated them. Every person was very small – not even as large as me. There was also a pig and a dog. Poor doggie! I can recall seeing pictures of the dog cast in a history book as a child, and that’s what prompted me to seek out the exhibit. The dog still had his collar on, but there’s no telling if he was tied up at the time of death. He obviously died in great pain.
Awww... according to this source, he was chained up

Another sad case was the guy crawling face down – still tethered by the manacles on his feet! I can just see his rich slave-owning masters taking the last chariot out of town the day before, telling him to stay behind and make sure no lava comes in the living room.

Of course, the feeling of “This is So Hurricane Katrina” permeated the whole experience for me. Anyone with any sense or resources had already left town with whatever valuables they could carry. I can just imagine some slave agitator telling everyone how the god Vulcan hates indentured servants…

We then toured the dinosaur floor where I saw my first Triceratops! Fafner is the largest and most complete Triceratops skeleton ever found. The fossil was dedicated in 1966 during the intermission of an opera program where Friedelind Wagner, granddaughter of Richard Wagner, sang at the St. Paul Arts and Science Center. I was surprised to see how close those two huge spear-like horns jutting from his skull were to each other. I guess I expected a broad forehead between them, like a longhorn cow. The hips were amazing, this high pelvic girdle supported by massive femurs.

They had this tiny little picture depicting how small this massive animal’s brain was, and I couldn’t help but think this must be some dig about how stupid dinosaurs must have been. I love how human-centric our race is, how vain. First off, how do we know they didn’t have higher-order thought processes or skills that were somehow not related to brain case size? Secondly, even if they were just lumbering eating machines, who are we to say they did not lead happy productive lives? They ran the planet for millions of years, and the smart money says Homo Sapiens isn’t going to make it to their 100,000th birthday. So there. Big brain = big destruction.

They also had a juvenile Allosaurs and a huge Diplodocus. There was a cast of a Stegasaurus, but that didn’t impress me in the least. I want to see real fossils!!! I also took the opportunity to play ‘stump the staff” when I saw an old guy over by the Ask a Palentologist booth. I asked why they didn’t have the Allosaur dated with the new technology to see how old it was. He didn’t really know, said it was a new thing. Guess it’s costly or something.

We Exited Through the Gift Shop of course, and I could have spent the whole trip’s budget right there. In retrospect, I should have. They had way better stuff than the Mall. I got an Egyptian candle holder with 3 cobras and some Pompeii magnets. Lots of other cool stuff I left behind, unfortunately. Oh, well.

The next day we got to the Mall right when it opened so we could stand in line with thousands of screaming kids awaiting entry to the Aquarium.

When we finally approached the ticket booth, I was informed that the ‘feed the sea turtle’ tickets were all sold out. Devastated, I booked a Behind the Scenes Tour as consolation. The first part of the Aquarium was really cheesey, very mall-like experience where you walked past some turtles and alligators in display tanks amid phony foliage. Very tacky. The true aquarium part started when entering a tunnel that had tanks to left and right, with an arched ceiling of glass that allowed the fish to swim above spectators.

There weren’t any spectacular sharks, but they did have three sea turtles, two loggerhead and a Ridley’s. One had deformed flippers, and obviously could not survive in the wild, whereas the others didn’t have obvious health problems that I could detect. Any sea turtle in an aquarium is one that cannot be released, so I am sure there were reasons for their residency.

The behind the scenes tour was conducted by a college intern who was getting her degree in marine biology and she did a great job of showing us the lab and kitchen areas. The sea turtles are fed squid stuffed with broccoli, which didn’t sound bad. Everything is restaurant quality food, so I can only imagine the cost. (Lord knows my $24.95 admission certainly helped out…)

Viewed from above, the aquarium was almost a circle, with pie-slice dividers separating each of the categories of fish: Freshwater, Amazon Basin, Saltwater, etc. There were also quarantine tanks for any sick fish. One sea turtle was recovering from a shell injury (there was putty in the cracks on her back) and two stingrays were expecting. They give birth to live pups, and were in a small round holding tub. Fish were fed by offering food on long poles on certain days. Fish rising on the wrong feeding schedule were denied food. This was unlike the set up at the Shedd where I understand each fish is cued by a symbol on a card for feeding. There may have been fewer varieties here, thus the need for complex turn-taking unnecessary.

After playing Stump the Staff for a bit, we Exited Through Gift Shop where I promptly bought a bunch of cool stuffed sea life toys: Morray Eel, Sea Horse and an octopus. It was supposed to be 20% off one toy, but I got 20% off each! Also scored a sea turtle candle holder.

Entered the Mall and started methodically walking each level. Most stores were chains you could shop anywhere in America, and that was very disappointing. Last visit, there were more independent locals. One neat place was Lake Woebegone, after the whole Garrison Kellior creation. They had all his stuff on tape and CD, plus books and other radio plays, Minnesota souvenirs, etc. I bought some audio tapes of his stories and had a nice time browsing. There was also a shoe store that I can’t recall the name of, so I can’t say if it was a chain or not. I’m guessing it was. They had the most magnificent shoes on earth, and the only thing between me and the boots of my dreams was about $450. A woman who looked like Jennifer Anniston was actually buying items, and her friend had on a gorgeous coat that must have cost several hundred dollars as well. I slunk out before anyone could smell “Macys” on me.

Al dutifully walked after me carrying bags, despite my offer to drop him off at Lego Land or the Mini-Putt. There was an amusement park at the center of the Mall, but the water rides were closed. Another cool gimmick was a NASCAR simulator where you paid to sit in a car to play a driving video game. Al didn’t try it to my surprise. Guess he didn’t want to humiliate all those other losers. Auto racing lost a huge star since Al was never exposed to auto racing as a kid. He’s really good at it, and with the right opportunity could have made a career out of his behavior that is so rude on public roadways.

Found a J. Crew store and scored a grey wool skirt for $40. Yay! Also bought a grey sweater vest, a black turtleneck, a white turtleneck, a blue sweater and a $15 summer dress. Not much else, the one jacket I wanted at Nordstrom’s Rack wasn’t my size and I was heartbroken the whole day.

Ended up closing the Mall and ate dinner at the Rainforest CafĂ© as that was the only thing left open near our parking spot. Would have preferred to try Bubba Gump, but that was not to be. Maybe next time. I really don’t have any reason to go back to this mall. My next shopping pilgrimage will be to the outlet stores of Aurora, but I want to wait for spring.

Pot, Meet Kettle

American newspaper headline:
“Mexico officials did little to prepare for known flood threat”.
“Really?,” replied the citizens of New Orleans.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Foil Metal Jacket

Not only do I fear family gatherings and most other social obligations, I also hate the obligatory ‘dish to pass’. I dread any type of cooking or preparing. Couple that with the chance to showcase my total lack of culinary skills to the public, and voila! A recipe for disaster.

So when I was asked to bring potatoes to a Thanksmas gathering this weekend, I opted for “Baked”. I wasn’t going to disgrace myself with lumpy mashed or mushy au gratin. I figured, how bad could I mess up poking a few holes in a spud and wrapping it in shiny paper? Then I read the box of aluminum foil … Made in China.

Guess I should have stuck with the “instant” kind after all…

Send Food!

Just got PhotoShop installed!!

Then spent four hours playing with it, trying to create my annual Christmas card opus. I see myself becoming a Dorian Grey-type figure, holing up in my office with a photograph of myself I try to photoshop into perfection…

I’ll do a tutorial next, honest.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's ME!!

All I Really Want for Christmas is...

Some new presidential candidates, please!

Front Page of Chicago Tribune

Can you say ironic kiddies? I knew you could...

Yellow paint on a Godzilla toy at a shop in Hyde Park showed a high lead content in a readout from a hand-held scanner operated by a Tribune reporter. The owner immediately pulled the toy. (Tribune photo by Terrence Antonio James / November 17, 2007)

Am I the only one who thinks Godzilla is SUPPOSED to be toxic? Wasn't that the whole moral lesson here?

Old Halloween Photo

But so cute, I can't resist!!

Veni, Vidi, V8

We came, We saw, We arrived in world-class automobiles.

Sorry to be reporting on such old news, but the lack of a computer has really taken its toll. I’m going to try and catch up, so things may not be chronological, to say the least.

DustFest 07 (see other bloggers

We decided to descend on Effingham, Illinois, for the Corvette Funfest weekend at the end of September. About 45 thousand other enthusiasts decided to do the same, making it the second largest Corvette gathering in the country. There were about fifteen thousand Corvettes. Did we have hotel reservations? Of course not! Where’s the adventure in that?

The weather was a record-breaking high in the 90s that suited me just fine – and didn’t upset the Road Warrior any, either.

Didn’t see too many Vettes until the very end of the trip there, which was a bit unusual. As we approached the end of the six-hour drive, late models appeared on the road – many with their tops up ! What’s with that? Why buy a convertible if you just want to drive around blasting the air conditioning? Must have been the passenger’s desire to not get their hair mussed. It seemed men over 50 are issued a slightly younger blonde with any purchase of a C6.

As we pulled into town, the Hotel Hunt was on!

Al had his Crackberry out, locating and calling hotels. We found the only one with two rooms still available and pulled into their parking lot. Ewww!!! I think this place is rejected by most truckers. Things were not looking good. The only positive was, all the other guests had Corvettes too, so at least we could all be appalled together.

I was shown a first floor room that was most recently rented out for the four-day RJ Reynolds Tobacco Lover’s Convention (this year’s theme: Smoke em’ before they’re Illegal!!). Suddenly the Hilton Garden Inn called back and said they just had a cancellation! Take it, I demanded! I don’t care how marked-up that clean, shiny, non-smoking room is, just get it!!!!!!

Al obliges, but of course complains about the cost. Considering the Bates Motel wanted almost as much, I thought it was going to prove a great bargain; it was brand-new and extremely upscale. We pulled into the parking lot and Paris Hilton herself was getting out of a Vette. No lie, this young woman looked like a Paris doppelganger, complete with designer handbag. She smiled at my car like it’s the cutest little thing she’s ever seen and Daddy just has to buy it for her key chain.
I began feeling a lot more positive about the weekend.
We checked in and found a gorgeous room – complete with little used hotel towels that are ours to keep for use in washing our cars! Plus a little toy car. There was even a hose out side for washing your baby.

This place will have my business forever- unlike places that don’t provide towels and then try to charge you extra for messing up their bath towels. provoking a fight between your credit card and their management, resulting in you winning, ha-ha, not like I’d know anything about that, now would I, Nowhere, Nebraska Super 8, now would I???


We went to the MidAmerica grounds where literally thousands of Corvettes are parked in a big empty field. It had not rained in months, hence my designation of Dust Fest. This is one of those events that was really cute and quaint when no one knew about it. Now it’s the Disneyland of all things Corvette. Oh, well. We put the top up to minimize the dirt, and began to walk the grounds.

Overheard at the review stand…

Woman (picking up her trophy): Of course we trailered the car here! It’s almost a seven-hour drive!

(I wanted to point out I just drove six and would be scraping bugs off the mirrors well into January but at least I DROVE MINE!!!! But why bother? Her hair and bumpers were spotless so she got a trophy. Big whoop. )

After wandering the grounds for a few hours we headed back to the hotel. It was one big tailgate party in the parking lot – all Corvette owners on little folding chairs behind their cars. We walked to a really cool restaurant and had a great dinner out on the back deck over a little pond. I had not expected to be staying at such a nice hotel or eating at a ‘fine dining’ establishment, so I felt a little silly in my Speed Racer T-Shirt, but everyone else was pretty casual too. (Next year, I’ll bring something a little nicer…)

I think this one event pretty much fuels the entire economy of this town. MidAmerica also does a PorscheFest, and I’d love to see that sometime. I’m guessing it’s much smaller and more intimate. Except… I’d buy one at the event. I just know it.

We stopped at a liquor store and joined the tailgaters for some fun conversations about our cars. The next day we attended some seminars and I did some shopping. Scored a cool Corvette camera bag, some Corvette sunglasses and a Corvette throw.

There were all these lifts going where you could get new wheels or exhaust put right on your car at the event. Kind of a car day-spa. They had an actual day-spa type thingy going for the ladies in another area – there were booths to make beaded bracelets (total mark-up, and they had run out of the I(heart)My Corvette charm, so I didn’t bother), manicures with the Corvette logo, etc.

At night there was free entertainment – Three Dog Night played! I love them.

First, we went to the local TGI Friday’s for dinner. Turned out, the local high-school was having Homecoming the same night. Couldn’t they have planned this a little better? Apparently TGI’s was quite the place to take your evening-gowned date. I enjoyed seeing the fashion show and people watching.

Now imagine some five thousand plus Corvettes parked in a field at night for a concert. I mean, the average age of attendee is about 50, so a pretty mellow crowd. Like any show, some people are getting up before it is over to ‘beat the rush’ out the exit. And I do mean singular.

Al suggested we leave. I refused.

“I’m not getting off this lawn chair until I hear “Joy to the World”.

“Wouldn’t you like to hear it sitting the car?”


They did exactly one song as an encore. Yep. Joy to the World.

We then left with the throng heading back to the cars that were now little lumps of dust dotting the landscape. Like any big gathering of a sporting event or concert, all access roads except one were blocked, and the rent-a-cops were on hand to hinder traffic and not allow turns in any useful direction.

One would think that this mellow, older crowd would leave the grounds in a polite and orderly fashion. Guess again. Suddenly everyone seemed to possess a $50K fiberglass bumper car….

Me: They’re not letting you in!! Slow down! Watch out!
Al (driving): That’s ok. Our car is worth less.
Me: Not funny. I don’t care if we do have metal bumpers, don’t hit anything. Look at that idiot! Where’s he going?

Took forever to go the three miles back to the hotel – could have walked quicker, and next time I think we will. Afterwards, we walked to a neighboring hotel that was having better tailgate parties and met some more nice people to talk cars with far into the night.

The hotel had a great breakfast buffet and we were on the road home nice and early. Even though the event has gotten huge, I think I might go again next year because we had such a nice time. We’ve been to the vast majority of Funfests, starting with the second year.

One thing I would change is the Celebrity Judging. It’s a ‘fun show’, so no real car show judging is done. Dignitaries are allowed to pick their favorite car out of the field and tie a balloon to the antenna, signifying their choice. Those cars are brought forward to get a little trophy. This is fine, but many people come for both days, and I noticed some cars won on both days, and really they should just be eligible once. Even these informal picks turn up the same cars over and over, year after year. I’d just like to see some variety.

The ones that made the biggest impression on me were the husband and wife who each arrived in an incredibly restored 68 coupe, one yellow, one green. Al spoke to the husband who said BOTH cars were owned by the wife. My kind of woman! Although I think the Road Warrior needs a little sister. A nice, new, bouncing 6 Speed convertible.

Hey, Al, I think it’s time to try again!!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I Am (Connected) Therefore I Blog

Am I back?


Sorta. Maybe.

It's like this - we had to buy a whole new computer!!! But something still isn't right, and the connection is slower than ever. But I do plan on getting some posts up soon. I have plenty of book reviews to share, and a few trips. And photos! Yes, photos too. This may not happen for over a week; we're going on a trip this weekend, so I won't be around. (SOMEBODY owed me a Pompeii exhibit)

Since we're going all the way to Minnesota to see a museum, it would be a downright sin to drive past the MALL of AMERICA with out stopping... so I got a hotel room right across the street from it just to be sure. Why tempt the gods of retail?

Much like Mecca, the MOA is a required pilgrimage for professional shoppers like myself. Sure, there are bigger malls (Woodfield has more retail square footage) or older supermalls (Edmonton) but MOA has its charms.

...Like dropping Mr. Right off in Lego Land and telling him to build himself a motorcycle while I do some serious shopping.