Thursday, September 29, 2011

SoBe It: Updates from Miami & the Bahamas, PART 2

In and around Miami, Beth and I discovered lots of art, some of the most memorable being sculptures.  

There is a very nice beachside park maintained by the city of Miami that is reminiscent of Santa Monica.  Our first day in, we explored it.  Here are a few of the highlights (i.e., what we happened to take pictures of):

This looks like a tribute to the middle character of email addresses, but it is actually a slide.  You enter from the back (where I'm popping up from) then continue up the spiral staircase, then slide down.  Marble is apparently one of the slidier stone materials, because for only sliding a few feet, I actually had a lot of momentum by the end.

There goes my G-rating for the blog.

Not spectacular, but what's a park without a fountain?
OK, so I'm using "sculpture" a little loosely here, but someone had to sculpt those shoes, right?  This is outside of Bubba Gump's restaurant in a indoor/outdoor shopping area north of the park.

Day 2 we headed over to Miami Beach and did some more walking and driving around, when we stumbled upon the Holocaust Memorial.  Yes, it's in Miami Beach; we were surprised, too.  But I guess college students on spring break don't want to just get drunk and party.  They also want to be reminded of historical atrocities with graphic and breathtaking sculptures and engraved-on-stone timelines and photographs.  I guess.

In all seriousness, this really is the most effective memorial I have ever come across in my life.  It's stunning and explicit, but is not tasteless, gaudy, or inappropriate.  You can read about it here.

The 3D art didn't stop once we got on the cruise.  This is a rare towel sculpture, probably dating to the third century B.C.  Uh, I'm remembering it being a dog, but from this picture, it looks more like a frozen chicken.

All the good towel sculptors work on cruise ships.
More updates to follow.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SoBe It: Updates from Miami & the Bahamas, PART 1

We're back.  Many of you didn't know we were gone, but Beth and I vacationed this past week.  Flew down to Miami on the 21st, cruised out of Miami on the 23rd, hit a couple of islands in the Bahamas, and flew back on the 26th.

I'll put up a couple of posts about the trip--pictures and maybe some thoughts--but I'll start off with the exciting stuff.  The Wednesday night that we got there, after checking in to our hotel and kicking around the city a little bit, we went to the Marlins/Braves game.

This was actually the reason we started talking about going down to Miami in the first place; this is the last year that the Marlins are playing at their field, and we wanted to check off their stadium before they move into their new one next year.

The stadium was everything it was reputed to be, which is to say--to put it politely--that it is a nice football stadium.

Our camera isn't working well--it keeps adding chins to me

But, stadium proper aside, lots of fun stuff to report.  First, the Marlins beat the Braves, which helped the Cardinals in their playoff quest (which will be decided, one way or another, by tomorrow).

Second, Beth became famous.  Here's the proof:
Beth on the big screen.  Apparently she's prettier than me.

Third, Beth met someone famous:
That's Billy the Marlin, for my less cultured readers--we are now only 5 degrees from Kevin Bacon

I wish I could say "Fourth, I caught a foul ball," but I just missed one.  One landed in our section, and I had even calculated which row to run down, but it landed about 10 feet from the point where, to get any further, I would have had to climb over children.

A few other notes:
  • There were probably about 8,000 people in attendence, not counting the players.
  • We bought tix, field level, 3rd row, for $19 each.
  • The Marlins have already thrown in the towel on this stadium.  They have all but explicitly announed that they are through putting lipstick on this pig.  Can't blame them.  The new stadium looks pretty nice.
  • This stadium is way the heck out there.  We had to drive a long time, in traffic, from our downtown hotel to get there.  The new stadium will be about 10 minutes from downtown.
That's all for now.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Are You Ready for Some Bruschettaaaaaaaaa?"

Wednesday, instead of blogging, I spent most of the afternoon and evening prepping for and hosting the draft party for my fantasy football league.  The prepping mostly included making up some hearty appetizers for my man-party (which also included one lady--my lovely wife, filling in as a drafter for one of the managers).

Though the day was busy and more stressful than a game called "Fantasy Football" should be, both elements of the event: the food and the draft, went well, since chefs and football fans visit WPFF with equal frequency, I will endeavor to please them both.

1.  The Food.
The menu was simple:
  • meatballs in red sauce
  • 5 (or so) layer dip
  • melted cheese & meat dip
  • something with shrimp
Last year, "something with shrimp" was just shrimps covered with butter, white wine, garlic, and parm cheese, then broiled.  They were simple and good, but got gobbled up fast.  So at the last minute this year, I thought about ways to draw out the shrimp to increase the servings it would provide.

I was at Aldi, my final stop, and saw a long loaf of 7-grain bread. "I could probably cut that into small slices, come up with some cheese spread, then place a single shrimp on each slice.  I think sometimes people in-the-know do that sort of thing."

At home, I cut the bread into slices and brushed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then broiled the bread.  For the spread, I first blended:
  • one package of low fat cream cheese
  • ~1/2 bag of spinach
  • one jar of artichoke hearts
I feared that blending the artichokes may compromise their flavor, but time was an issue, and cutting them into just the right size pieces while pulling out the too-leafy parts was too much commitment for me.  So into the food processor they went, with their leafy green brethren, the spinach.

This resulted in a mixture that was easily spreadable.  The rest of the ingredients I mixed by hand so as to give some texture to the spread:
  • ~1 1/2 cup of shredded mozz cheese
  • ~2 tablespoons of minced garlic
  • generous sprinkles of basil, oregano, and parsley
  • ~1/2 jar of grated parm cheese
  • ~1/4 stick of butter
The shrimps were a little smaller than I thought they would be, so simply adding one shrimp to the middle of each slice of bread would have looked pretty skimpy.  Instead, I laid out all the shrimps and chopped, chopped, chopped.  Then I mixed them up with the spread, and scooped about 2 tablespoons' worth of the creamy goodness on each piece of toast.  Then I generously sprinkled some shredded parm cheese over the top, and broiled for a few more minutes.

I expected (and was actually hoping for) something that would function as a tolerably bland delivery mechanism for the shrimp.  Turns out, the bruschetta was quite delightful, and was a big hit among the party-goers.  Beth told me that the connoisseurs liked it so much that they repeatedly attributed it to her.

The plate that the bruschetta were on

When cooking, I usually try to follow the rule: Don't do anything stupid.  You'll notice there's not a "risky" ingredient in the recipe.  You could pretty much mix any combination of the ingredients, broil it for a few minutes, and the result will be something yummy.  Adding shrimp gives you a little more cushion for error.  Can't go wrong.

Speaking of not going wrong...

2.  The Draft.
Just kidding.  I made a couple of questionable--and maybe even "wrong"--picks.  But all-in-all I'm pretty happy with my team.

This was our second year of doing an auction draft, which I find myself enjoying more than traditional snake-drafts.

We had 11 teams drafting with a $200 budget to fill 16 roster spots: QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, TE, TE/WR flex, K, TEAM DEF, and 7 bench spots.  ("11 teams" is not a typo, by the way--long story.)

Here's my team:
QB   Tony Romo, $23
RB   Ahmad Bradshaw, $25
RB   Felix Jones, $19
WR   Hakeem Nicks, $36
WR   Calvin Johnson, $47
W/T   Lee Evans, $2
TE   Jimmy Graham, $16
K   Adam Vinateri, $1
DEF  Minnesota, $1

QB  Kevin Kolb, $4
RB  Tim Hightower, $8
RB  Ben Tate, $7
RB  James Harrison, $1
RB  Mike Tolbert, $5
RB  Delone Carter, $4
WR  Anthony Armstrong, $1

  • I like to stock up on cheap running backs with upside, and I'm pretty pleased with my haul this year
  • Felix Jones for $19.  Could be the steal of the draft, especially since we get 1/2 per reception.  I'm hoping that he turns into this year's Arian Foster (who I drafted last year for $15 or so).
  • Lee Evans for $2.  Could be that rare "veteran with upside."  Even without exploding, he's probably a good 3rd WR, especially for $2.
  • Kevin Kolb for $4.  Some projections have him in the top 12.  If I had known he'd fall, I may have gone after a pricier RB instead of bidding $23 on Romo.
  • $47 was probably too much for Calvin Johnson.  Larry Fitzgerald went for $38, and he's frequently ranked higher than Johnson, especially with PPR.  But I really wanted 2 elite WRs, and ended up mis-timing the buying window.
  • Having both Romo/Jones AND Bradshaw/Nicks may come back to bite me, both on bye weeks and because, in theory, there's only so many points to go around for each team, and my guys may end up stealing points from each other.  I'm hoping for a lot of Romo-to-Jones TD passes.  Would 3-4 trick plays with Bradshaw passing to Nicks (or vice versa) be too much to ask?
  • Graham may end up being worth $16, but it was more than I wanted to spend.  Me and my brother bid-up each other at the end.  We both seemed to be eyeing Graham as a late-round sleeper with lots of upside (maybe because our brother-in-law is a die hard Saints fan and swears that Graham is a beast ready to break out).  If not for my brother, I probably could have gotten him for $7 or $8 (of course, my brother might be saying the same thing).
  • Lack of true, stud RB.  As I implied, I go for quantity over quality at RB, and hope that someone rises to elite or near-elite status as the season progresses.  If, by week 9, I'm consistently losing to guys who get 35+ points from at least one of their RBs, then my plan is not working.  :)
And with that, my 2011 Fantasy Football draft is history.  Next year, I'm thinking of adding creme brulee to my draft day menu.  In the meantime, may all of your artichokes be blended and all of your running backs have upside.


Friday, September 2, 2011

"Huh?"--Eighties Edition

When I was kid, if we wanted to look up song lyrics on the internet, we first had to invent the internet--which we totally would have done had it not been for the 10 feet of snow we had to walk through to get to the internet supply store.

So what was a lad to do if he heard a song on the radio and couldn't quite make out the words?

As late as college, I sent a dollar and a SASE to a band asking for a lyrics sheet, as per their advice printed in the liner notes.  I still have that lyrics sheet in a file upstairs, next to the "abacuses & sundials" bin.

Most artists didn't offer the SASE option, so one could only hope that the lyrics might be printed in the liner notes of the cassette tape packaging.  Not wanting to buy a copy of, say, "Too-Rye-Ay" by Dexy's Midnight Runners in the HOPE that it MIGHT have the lyrics printed to the one song I cared about, I had a couple of options at my disposal.

One option was taking a road trip to the used record store located on the mean streets of St. Louis city.  There, I could look for used (re: non-cellophane wrapped) copies of albums with mysterious lyrics.  All I needed was the Yellow Pages and a St. Louis City street map.  Soon enough, I learned of a store called "The Record Exchange".

Would I have to drive for almost 30 minutes from my west county, suburban home to get there?  Yes.  Was I likely to be the victim of a drive-by shooting while visiting this business?  Absolutely--I mean, the address was on Hampton for goodness' sake, a street we'd pass on the way to Busch Stadium in downtown, which is where I once saw someone peeing in a park!  Was it a school night?  Yes.  But sacrifices had to be made.

I made several of these trips, and was never once shot.  I'd walk in with a list of songs the lyrics to which I hoped to discover.  I soon learned that vinyl records were often more likely to have the lyrics printed on their sleeves than cassette tapes were.  Folding was probably expensive.

Some trips were more successful than others.  One notable failure came when I spied a "Dexy's Midnight Runner's" album, excitedly pulled it open, only to discover that it was NOT the album with "Come on Eileen" on it.  "Are you freaking kidding me?  Why do they have ANOTHER album, and why did anyone in St. Louis ever buy it?"

Oh well.  In the absence of definitive, objective lyrical clarification, an awkward high schooler with few friends and no known access to drugs, booze, or sex had another option: Buy or record a copy of the song in question, and listen to the lyrics over and over and over.  Play.  Pause.  Rewind.  Play.  Pause.  Rewind.  Move the sliding volume things on the stereo to try to isolate the lyrics.  Hypothesize.  Test.  Re-hypothesize.  Discuss.

Oh, yeah: discuss.  I actually sometimes had a partner in these investigations, my friend Keith.  Keith, like me, has very little musical talent but writes lyrics and poems.  Together, we're like a couple of Bernie Taupins, perhaps shaping ourselves to be such in the hours we spent discerning and dissecting lyrics to some of our favorite 80's songs.

Below are some brief clips to some of the songs that I/we tried to figure out.  Feel free to try your hand--ur, ear--at lyrical discernment.  Below each one, I'll share what was once my best guess, followed by the actual line, so you should be able to scroll down without giving the answer away.

Enjoy, and good luck.


1.  "Down Under," Men at Work

My Best Guess: "He just smiled and gave me a bit-of-my sandwich."
The Problem with my Best Guess: Why would the the guy give the singer of bite of the singer's own sandwich?
The Actual Line: "He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich."
Looking Back:  Hard to blame a guy for having no idea what "Vegemite" was.  I didn't learn until after my sophomore year of college when a bunch of us went to Australia for a short term missions trip, which is where we all first learned about the existence of Vegemite, which was immediately followed by one of us saying, "THAT'S what he's saying in the song 'Down Under'!" and everyone else saying, "Ooooohhhhhhhh--THAT makes sense!"  What makes less sense is why anyone would ever, ever in a million, billion years choose to eat Vegemite, but that's for another post.

2.  "Pink Houses," John Mellencamp

My Best Guess: "And he looks at her and says, 'Hey, darlin', I can remember when you could starve a plow."
The Problem with My Best Guess:  In my defense, I was pretty sure "starve a plow" didn't make any sense.  I also STILL think it sounds like "starve a plow," even knowing what the actual line is.
The Actual Line: "And he looks at her and says, 'Hey, darlin', I can remember when you could stop a clock."
Looking Back:  Had I heard "stop a clock" instead of "starve a plow", I would have had the same nagging "that can't be right" feeling.  Turns out, "she has a face that could stop a clock" is an actual phrase.  Wiki Answers tell us "This means that she was so beautiful, that she even made the clock stop." Wiki continues: "It is also used by some mean so ugly, that she could stop a clock."  I would guess the speaker is going with the first definition, but methinks many ladies are a little ambivalent about being told that they "used to be pretty enough to stop a clock--you know, in the past." 

3.  "New Moon on Monday," Duran Duran

My Best Guess: "Shea, could you picture a Liz or mixture with your decks on the evening tide?"
The Problem with My Best Guess: A bit cryptic.
The Actual Line: "Shake up the picture the lizard mixture with your dance on the eventide."
Looking Back: Oh, OK.

4.  "Think I'm in Love," Eddie Money

My Best Guess: "Think I'm in love, and my life shook it off."
The Problem with My Best Guess: I actually like it.  His mind THINKS he's in love, but his day-to-day life would not allow for love, so his life "shook off" the thoughts of his mind.
The Actual Line: "Think I'm in love, and my life's lookin' up."
Looking Back: Seriously?  Your "life is looking up"?  I see how you play: Save the really vivid images for the chorus.  You sweet talker, you.  "Hey, baby, I just wanted to let you know that things are, you know, good and such.  And you're really, really neat.  I'm just sayin' what I think."

5.  "And We Danced," The Hooters

My Best Guess:  (it's a 2 parter) "As the band began to play our tune and we danced" / "The others speak, she's walkin' my way"
The Problem with My Best Guess: None, really.
The Actual Line: "As the band began to play out of tune and we danced" / "The endless beat, she's walkin' my way"
Looking Back: Keith and I debated this one a lot.  The chorus had yet another hard-to-discern line: "we were liars in love".  All in all, still love this song.

6.  "Come on Eileen," Dexy's Midnight Runners

My Best Guess: "These people 'round here blah-blah-blah blah-blah blah blah blah-blah blah-blah-blah blah-blah blah blah bla-AH / But not us (no never!) / No, not us (no never!) / We are far too young and clever."
The Problem with My Best Guess: It feels incomplete.
The Actual Line: "These people 'round here wear beaten down eyes sunk in smoke dried faces so resigned to what their fate is / But not us (no never!) / No, not us (no never!) / We are far too young and clever."
Looking Back: It's actually a great line and a great lyric all around.  As one who tries to cram a lot of syllables into a short amount of space, Dexy's Midnight Runners will always shine as a beacon of hope that such a technique CAN be effective--even if it fully comprehended without the use of sound equipment available to the intelligence agencies of only 3 or 4 countries in the world.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A New Quest...

...I don't mean a new "goal" or anything like that.  No, a new Nissan Quest, to replace the CRV, which was totaled.

After deciding on the minivan route, we narrowed our search down to the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna, and the Nissan Quest, before deciding on a new, 2011 Nissan Quest.

We ended up getting it below the invoice price, and feel pretty good about the deal we got.  Of course, EVERYONE feels good about the deal they get, but we ACTUALLY think we got a good deal.  No, really, we do!

I still think it's a little weird that we printed off an internet coupon to help bring the price down. (It sounds like I'm joking about that, but I'm actually not.)  Our sales guy first said they couldn't give us BOTH the low internet quote AND the coupon discount, but my lawyer wife was all like, "Really? 'Cause I bet you COULD, if you really wanted to." Turns out she was right. Boo-yah!

What worked LESS well as a negotiating tool was asking our dealer to compete with the quote I got from a dealer in Tampa, Florida.  Our guy acted like we were asking him to match the price of minivans on Neptune.  Had he not taken the internet coupon, we may have pushed the issue a little, pointing out that Tampa IS on the same continent--and even uses the same currency--as St. Louis.  But I'm glad we didn't have to go there (both in the conversation and literally, physically "to Tampa").

I'll post a few more pics later, but here's Beth shaking hands with our sales guy in front of our new van.

From left to right: Beth, sales guy

This is about the size of our first apartment when we lived in Pasadena
Totally where I will hang out if I become a vampire
Boasts an industry-leading 3:1 ratio of compartments to objects known to have ever been stored in a car

We're nothing but grateful for the opportunity to make use of such a lovely vehicle, and we hope that we may bless others with it as much as we ourselves anticipate being blessed by its use.