30 January 2009

Bound for Brazil

Saludos desde Miami International Airport! I am leaving the country shortly, heading for Sao Paulo, Brazil. I've had a long layover here in Miami. Being back here reminded me why I dearly love and hate this city. Having spent two critical and incredibly formative years of my life here, I owe much to this place. But it's still homebase for a whole lot of people on the crazy train. I could never live here again. Ever.

I could eat here. A lot. There's an outpost of a decent Cuban place called La Carreta in the Miami Airport and I grabbed lunch there today. The picadillo was as greasy (and DELICIOUS) as I remembered; the black beans and rice (morros y cristianos) were awesome; and the fried plantains (platanos maduros) were incredible. I nearly cried like a little girl. Take a look:
Once again, curse the BBerry phone for a blurry photo.

But you get the jist. I love me some Cuban food. I even bought some plantain chips for the flight to Sao Paulo. Based on the line at checkin for the TAM flight, I appear to be the only Americano on the flight. Good times.

What will not be a good time is clearing TSA here at Miami. The lines are hideous. I'll have to make a break for it here shortly and go get in line. So, Brazil, where it's 82 degrees, here I come!

27 January 2009

The Megalomaniac

It didn't take me long to snap out of my state of Aloha. All it took was a look at the insane, pathetic, and what will be futile media blitz of our fine state's sociopathic governor, Rod Blagojevich. For the longest time, I was convinced that he was a full-blown sociopath. Turns out he's not your garden variety sociopath. Oh no. No, brothers and sisters, Rod is a megalomaniac, no if's, and's, or but's about it.

His stunning disregard for what the people of Illinois want (that would be his immediate departure from office) and his bizarre media blitz (so misguided that his attorneys who never met a nutty defendant they didn't like) have abandoned him. His proclamations (Oprah was on the short-list for Senate!) are further proof of his delusion. I could rant on and on but I think I'd point you to Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass and his column, "A comedy for some; for us, a horror show." It's quite brilliant. Read it.

One thing I can't let go, though. Do remember the old song from, if I remember correctly, "Sesame Street"?

"One of these things is not like the other/One of these just doesn't belong"

I may have the lyric a little off, but I know you can hum it along with me. While humming let's play the game. Look at the pictures below and then tell me which one doesn't belong:

So which one doesn't belong?

If you said the creepy looking guy with the even creepier looking hair, you have chosen wisely. You've chosen Rod Blagojevich. Unfortunately, this is a game he does not know how to play. His megalomania has him convinced that his 'ordeal' likens him to Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. How dare he! Two of those men gave their lives, THEIR LIVES, in pursuit of bettering the human condition (and that doesn't even do their sacrifice justice) and Mandela sat rotting in jail for years, all for wanting to be treated equally. And yet Blago thinks he's on par with them. Wow. There are no words.

All right. Enough. I'll stop. It's enough already. Clearly I need some more aloha. Or Brazil. I leave for Brazil Friday. It's warm there. That will soothe me.

25 January 2009

Kung Hee Fat Choy

"Kung Hee Fat Choy" - that's Happy New Year in Chinese. 2009 is the year of the Ox and it's being brought in resoundingly here in Honolulu. Sadly, I am going to miss the rest of the festivities. I'm boarding the first of two flights that will get me to Chicagoland later tonight in just a few minutes.

I'm bummed because it's going to be a plethora of Chinese and Vietnamese food on display for the tasting in the markets and various celebrations. Street market food is awesome and seems to be particularly good during a time of celebration.

Instead, I am in the Red Carpet Club at the Honolulu Airport. Note to United - tan and cream colored chairs show every speck of dirt and filth and by the looks of things here, your chairs haven't seen a cleaning in, umm...forever. I don't want to sit in most of the chairs without a HazMat suit on. Seriously.

This has been a good trip, but that being said, would have been all the better had the stunningly patient SML been able to accompany me. Maybe I need to rethink my aversion to taking vacation time at the beginning of the calendar year. I've never liked doing that, but I'm starting to think it's not such a bad idea.

24 January 2009

78 Degrees - that's good

Since arriving in Honolulu, I've rediscovered that I like it when it's 78 degrees outside. I like it. A LOT. Doesn't matter where I am - 78 degrees is good. When it's 78 degrees in Chicagoland, it's late spring or a summer morning. That's good. When it's 78 degrees in Phoenix, it means it's not so hot that you want to die like most of the year there. When it's 78 degrees in Hawaii, it's good.

I've spent most of the day today in a meeting room in a hotel. They were good meetings so that didn't make it too tough to be in the meeting room, rather than outside. I did get outside at lunch and got this picture of Diamond Head from Ala Moana Park:
Again, apologies for the blur of the BBerry cam. You get the idea - it's beautiful.

It all comes to an end in the morning. I head back to Chicagoland. It's four degrees there right now - without the windchill. Perfect. It's only 74 degrees off my ideal temperature. We'll get there.

This much I know, though, we have to do something for Spring Break. Like head south to Florida like so many other of our Chicagoland compatriots. Let the travel planning begin. I'm open to suggestions too.

23 January 2009

Night has fallen in Honolulu

It's just about 7PM in Honolulu and it's been a long day. My head thinks it's 1100PM, although I so know I'm not in Chicago. It was a good day. Here's what it looked like from the balcony of my room after the sun rose:
(Sorry for the blur - the B'berry doesn't make for the finest camera!)

My meetings started at 730AM and I had to speak, a bit off the cuff, but it panned out. It was a much more casual meeting - things roll a bit differently here. After a half day of meetings, the day was mine. Went out on a long run, well long for me but I am not sure how far I went because when I stopped at the malasada joint for a mid-run reward, I forgot to take the Nike+ off of "pause." Stupid mistake. But the malasada was totally worth it and only .60 cents! Got back to the hotel, showered, and grabbed a cab to Honolulu's Chinatown. It's Chinese New Year (it's the Year of The Ox - please make a note of it) so they were getting ready for a weekend of festivities. It was pretty crowded. The wet market was cool - lots of cow, or ox given the celebration, hooves in the meat markets. The bakeries were under seige - this one had the longest line:
I was all kinds of tempted to get in line and buy some bean cakes to join in the fun but I was on a singular mission for bahn mi. My Vietnamese cab driver told me a couple of places to try. I wound up at Ba-Le in Chinatown. The bahn mi was perfection. The French bread was warm, not piping hot, and that was good. The pork was cured just right and then the vegetables on the sandwich nearly snapped back, they were so crisp. Here it is before I obliterated it:

After that I hit a place called Hong Kong Market - an all Asian open air supermarket. It was packed to the ceiling with stuff. I could have bought out the place. I did get a couple of char siu marinades for Chinese BBQ. That will make for some amazing bao, among other things. I also picked up some really good banana cream crackers from Singapore.

After that I figured a walk was in order so rather than grabbing a cab. So I marched through downtown. Had an awesome "Hawaii 5-O" flashback passing the statue of King Kamehemeha. I wanted to be McGarrett when I was young. Seriously.

And now I'm looking out at a dark ocean and listening to the sounds of Honolulu below. I can't complain.

It's early in Honolulu

Thanks to the wonder of changing time zones, I've been awake since 4AM Honolulu time. Not that I'm complaining. I'd be a fool to complain about where my travels have taken me. I'm here for a meeting of NBTA and after the stupid, stupid cold we've had in Chicagoland, I'd be just silly to lament waking up early. I've got an oceanview room on the 30th floor of the Ala Moana Hotel and I am content. I'd be even more content had the stunningly patient SML been able to make this trip with me, but something tells me we'll be back here sooner rather than later.

Flight over was LONG. Almost as long as the non-stop to Tokyo from Chicagoland. Mother United's First Class service really has slipped. Very friendly crew but spartan service. The 777 was packed and the mob was a reflection of who travels to Hawaii in January. Elderly vacationers. I swear the average age on board that plane was 82. And feeble. By the looks of some of the living dead during boarding, I figured a medical divert was in our future. Alas, no.

I was bound and determined to get a run in, since I've been hostage to the treadmill for the last, long while, as soon as I could after landing. Within 40 minutes of stepping off the plane, mission accomplished. I was running along Waikiki Beach. It was a heaping slice of awesome. Not my performance, but being outside. Running. It was really nice. I did notice, however, that my suspicions about who vacations here this time of year were confirmed. Everyone on the beach, that wasn't Japanese, was at least 80, or maybe 800. It was a rough crowd. This elderly theme also played out at the Ala Moana Shopping Center next to my hotel. This much I'll say - I was relieved to see the Japanese tour groups. I've always used that as a global economic barometer. As long as the Japanese are touring en masse, all hope is not lost.

I hit a ramen joint that I like for dinner last night:

The wontenmen was really quite good. For some reasons, the green onions were a real standout. Seemed to just burst with flavor.

So on the food agenda after today's meetings...Chinatown. It's Chinese New Year and there are all kinds of celebrations afoot. I intend to be a part of it. And my beloved malasada. I'll be running, literally, to Champion Malasadas, later today. Check here for delicious!

20 January 2009

Change Happened Today

Today, 20 January 2009, by all accounts, no matter your persuasion, was an historic day. Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.

The crowds alone were something to behold, but then to take in the utter simplicity of the inaugural ceremony...those few lines were something else. I could not help but think as the President-elect sat on the stage just before his swearing in what must have been going through his mind. The enormity of what was about to happen must have been incomprehensible. I thought his inaugural address was really quite good. He made it a shared experience for all those listening. He made it clear, once again, what he's about. It made me think about the first time I read "The Audacity of Hope," and I said to myself, 'If he's even a third the man he's written about in these pages, then there is something here.' I felt that way again today. But I'm not so whacked to think that as of 12:05PM Eastern today that the economy was suddenly going to flip and this whole pesky recession was going away. It wasn't the Second Coming or as a buddy of mine said, "The Immaculate Inauguration." We've elected a new President and we need to let him go about the job.

Enough with the cameras and the countdown clocks on the TV, timechecking his every move. A co-worker of mine in London sent me an instant message during the ceremony, which was neverending, and said "Won't you Americans just get on with it and let him be President!" I laughed. But it wouldn't be an American event without countless hours of inane TV coverage. And speaking of inane behavior, oh Aretha, it may be time to give it a rest. She was a mess. Maybe Oprah needs to do an intervention.

All in all, quite a day. I'm grateful to live in this country, where the transition to power is bloodless (unless you're the Clintons but that's for another day) and it works, for the most part. We certainly aren't a perfect nation and we've got much to do to repair our footing in the world, but I am prepared to see where "change" takes us.

15 January 2009

-14 Degrees...Feels like -30 Degrees

It's minus 14 degrees right now with a windchill of minus 30 degrees here in our neck of Chicagoland. How is that EVEN possible? When did minus one sound like a totally tolerable temperature? It's not. School is cancelled and city officials are warning everyone to just stay inside, wherever it's warm, if they can. You know, I could go on and on about the cold. But, seriously...minus 30. There are no words.

Good quick trip to New York City. Got what I needed to done from a business perspective. Had a nice dinner at a little Italian place called Gente. Found a Thai-Vietnamese place on 46th that I will be trying the next time that I am in the city. Looking forward to trying it.

Today brings a speaking engagement at one of my supplier's worldwide sales meeting. Should be interesting. It's a different audience for me. We'll see how it goes.

12 January 2009

Blizzard Warning...seriously

Yeah, so Chicagoland is under a BLIZZARD WARNING tonight. Are you ready for that? Can I just tell you that we are not so ready? Wow. Driving home was a two-hour fiesta. A fiesta that I did not enjoy. Further, there's no point in trying to shovel. We are not going to be able to keep up. And to keep things light, I have a 705AM flight to New York City tomorrow morning. Mother United hasn't cancelled said flight yet, but I'm not confident that flight will be going. Which means if I can get to ORD, I'll be spending the day trying to get to NYC. I hope they have better snacks in the Red Carpet Club. It's going to be an ugly day tomorrow.

Diet Soda Withdrawl Update: Pounding, puke-inducing headaches - none in the last three days. That's one hurdle crossed. Moments of random rage - none more than usual and all pointed at my work voicemail or idiot drivers. Desire to grab a tall, frosty Diet Coke - not so much. But I'm no fool as I know this is but Day 12. Still a ways to go.

10 January 2009

10 Inches of Snow at O'Hare

You read that right. Since our little winter weather event commenced its assault on the Chicagoland area Friday, our kind of big airport, O'Hare has gotten 10 inches of snow! And I would like to point out that it has hardly stopped. I've shoveled our driveway and sidewalks more today than I have since we moved here. And it's been a family affair today instead of the Boy and I working the shovels.

CAL and the Boy both spent the night at friends' houses last night which gave the stunningly patient SML and I a preview, albeit a brief one, of our looming empty nest future. It was odd. She watched one of the lame "chick flicks" that she treated herself to as Christmas gifts. I, rather than watching said movie and ramming a fork through my eye, took refuge in the pages of a good book (Factory Girls by Leslie Chang - very good read so far). I then had to be up this morning early to get to the dentist by 7AM. I woke up at 515AM and started the first shovel run. It was ugly. By a little after 6AM, I still had 1/3rd of the driveway to complete. I was forced to wake the stunningly patient SML from her slumber to come help me, simply so I could get to the dentist.

First time seeing the dentist since leaving SoCal. I was afraid things were going to go horribly wrong. One never knows what to expect when seeing a new dentist. You always worry that you are getting that sadistic dentist that Steve Martin played in "Little Shop of Horrors."

Alas, the dentist was not a sadist and my lack of seeing a dentist in more than two years did not haunt me. So it was back home to shovel again and then it was off to Costco. Yep, on a Saturday. Here's the thing - one thing the stunningly patient SML does not dig (no pun intended) is driving in the snow. Turns out her minivan is AWFUL in the snow. So the Swedemobile was the chariot of choice. We got through that experience and came home to find the Boy home, shoveling the driveway and walks on his own. What a complete champ! He took off to play in the snow with friends and within a few hours, it was time to shovel again. CAL was the next one to take up a shovel with me. That exercise was finished by about 5PM and so was I.

I've thrown in the towel for the night. Done. So I made falafel pitas tonight, which were mighty fine. And now, it's time to get ready for Sunday. But first I need to figure out why I can't launch iTunes anymore...perhaps Vista is rearing its really ugly head again.

07 January 2009

More insight on living in Illinois

I think this picture says it all about living in Illinois right now:

Diet Soda Withdrawl Update: the 330AM soul-crushing headaches continue unabated. Moments of fiery rage - severely diminished. Worries that I am going to get fat again - increasing.

05 January 2009

Me duele la cabeza

When I was in Miami years ago as a missionary, you learned very quickly to NOT ask an elderly Cuban lady how she was doing. Why? Because she would tell you. It was always a litany of pains, beginning with the head, always the back, and then issues in the legs. "Ay mihjo, me duele la cabeza! Y la espalda siempre me duele. El dolor me mata!" I hear those refrains like some kind of painful lamentation in my head to this day.

Yet, here I am today, lamenting in much the same way. My head is killing me. It once again began at 330AM today and has hardly let up. Can someone please remind me why I decided to stop drinking Diet Coke/Pepsi et al?

I mean I know why. Ultimately it will be good for me. However, right now, no likey-likey what's going on. Give me strength!

03 January 2009

A little time in the city

Today was our last day with our eldest home. Our Lady of BYU returns to Provo and her friends tomorrow. She's ready to go and that's truly a good thing. It's been fun to have her home and we wanted to do something today as a family. So we decided to go into the city, regardless of the weather. The weather looked good - not a lot of clouds and temp right about 30 degrees, so we were determined to enjoy the city.

Before leaving I discovered that Bank of America has some real boss program called Museums on Us. It's cool - on the first weekend of every month at all sorts of museums across the country, simply show your BofA card (ATM, Checking, etc.) and admission is FREE! Color me happy! Here in Chicagoland, it includes the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Chicago History Museum. It's really a cool deal and we decided to take full advantage of it. With three BofA cardholders and two with student discounts, this would be a great way to see one those places today.

We opted for the Chicago History Museum in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. We were really glad that we did. It was really fascinating. We learned our fair share about our fine city. Who knew this was where Ron Popeil ("Wait! There's more!") got his start? Same for the Pill. Who knew!

It got a thumbs up from the kids - the eldest declared, "I liked it and I hate museums." Whew!

This is when the weather turned on us. While we were in the museum boning up on our Chicagoland history, it turned cloudy, windy, and cold. Undeterred though we cruised down LaSalle to get some lunch. While I was unsuccessful in getting everyone convinced that bao would make for a good lunch, we wound up at one of our favorites, the Weber Grill. Thick burgers for everyone. It was even colder when we left so we did ditch the plan to walk Michigan Avenue - no one seemed disappointed. It made for a good day.

So now we're home. Laundry is getting done. Suitcases are getting packed as the oldest gets ready to go. It looks like it'll be a quiet night.

Diet Soda Withdrawl Update: Number of wicked, near vomit inducing headches: two so far; number of incidents of getting snappy/angry too quickly: too numerous to count; desire to mow through a Golden Arches Drivethrough for salvation: diminishing daily.

01 January 2009

2009 Resolved

And so it's here, another year. It's very quiet here in the house this chilly, even freezing, first morning of 2009. I am, thus far, the only creature stirring here. I blame this propensity to getting up early, regardless of how late I might have been up the night before, on my parents. They were always up early and passed that on to me. Even now my dad gets up early but now I think it's because he's operating on "old man" time...I won't even tell you what time he wakes every morning. But you know that time I'm talking about...it's the reason for the "early bird" special at certain restaurants, so I needn't say more. I'd love to break the habit but doubt that I ever will.

One would think I would make this a resolution for the new year. I am not going to do that. I see no need to change it. Frankly, not a real big fan of the whole New Year's Resolution thing. It just seems to lead to frustration instead of tangible results. That being said, I am making one resolution for 2009 and it starts today, 1 January. Today I bid farewell to Diet Coke, Diet Coke with Lime, and my beloved Diet Pepsi Vanilla. That's right - I'm done. And this time, I mean it. I gotta give it up...for a host of reasons.

I'm not going to list all the reasons, or any of them. I just know that this is something I need to do and writing it down should help me to stick to it. And if nothing else since I've gone public with it here, hopefully the risk of shame will help me remain committed. I will admit that an article I read recently about energy drinks proved to be the proverbial tipping point.

So here's what I know...the next few days promise to be fairly, if not highly, unpleasant here. It will not be awesome, so buckle up. I also want to apologize in advance to the folks at McDonald's. I'll apologize now for that fact that I will not be giving you several dollars a day this coming summer when you bring back the "$1 Large Diet Coke" promotion, so you may want to revise those profit projections. I will likely cry like a little girl when that promotion with its siren song starts calling my name. I don't even want to think about it.

So, 2009 here we go. Let the games begin.