Friday, October 30, 2009

Chicago’s Local Color

The trees in Chicago still had a lot of fall color even though our visit was a little late in the season for the peak color. I told Scoob I thought another nickname for the city could be the Golden City because so many of the trees had a golden color. Though we did find a handful of red maples in Millennium Park.

The leaves on these trees in Grant Park look much more green-yellow
than they were in person, but I still like the perspective of this shot.

A tunnel of gold in Grant Park.

Looking down E. 9th Street from the Logan Monument.
I like the contrasts in this shot with the corridor between the buildings in shade and the bright gold leaves of the trees catching the sunshine.

Sunlight, shade, and fall color.

Next to the Chicago River. It was still drizzling and I like how the moisture makes the tree trunks and branches even darker against the golden leaves.

The repetitive dark, heavy lines of the stacked chairs punctuated by bright splashes of gold where the leaves had settled caught my eye. There's just something about it that signals that limbo time between the change of seasons—There's still hope for warm weather patio days because the furniture hasn't been put away for winter storage yet.

Fall berries.

Red maple trees in Millennium Park.

Sunlight through the branches in Dearborn Park.

Colorful ground cover catching the afternoon sunlight in Dearborn Park.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Chicago Pictures

I think I mentioned it was raining the first couple days we were in Chicago and the cloud cover made for some pretty and dramatic pictures.

The Chicago Tribune Tower on a cloudy evening

The Chicago Tribune Tower.

Willis Tower (Sears Tower) lost in the clouds

Willis Tower (Sears Tower) lost in the clouds.

Tower on the Wrigley Building on a cloudy evening

Tower on the Wrigley Building.

The Chicago Riverfront at night

The Chicago Riverfront at night.
Totally bummed that this shot ended up being blurry,
but it's the best one of the 8 I took.

Chicago’s Columbus Avenue in the clouds

Looking down Chicago’s Columbus Avenue in the clouds.

Millennium Park Amphitheater on a cloudy day

Millennium Park Amphitheater on a cloudy day.

Golden tree in Chicago's Grant Park on a cloudy day

And one of my favorite shots from the trip—This golden tree in Grant Park.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Home from the Windy City

Even though we had a great time in Chicago, and aside from the pile of laundry staring at me from the suitcase, it feels good to be home. Chicago has had almost double it's annual average October rainfall this year (Sog-tober as the news casters were calling it), and we got to experience some of that first-hand. But the weather cleared up on Saturday, and Sunday was simply gorgeous.

Here are a few shots of the city skyline from the Museum Campus taken within a couple hours of each other on Saturday. I was amazed at how quickly the weather changed.

Chicago skyline from the Field Museum around 11:30 am.
The top of the Willis Tower (Sears Tower) is lost in the clouds.

Chicago skyline from the steps of the Shedd Aquarium around 2:00 pm.
The clouds are beginning to lift.

Chicago Skyline from Shedd Aquarium around 3:30 pm.
Seriously, 90 minutes later the same day!

I took a ton of pictures in Chicago, and a few of them are actually good, so I'll be sharing those over the next few days. Oh, and speaking of pictures, I had an email waiting when we got home that my photos were chosen for that online travel guide. But for now, laundry is demanding my attention and me, my unibrow, and I seriously need some quality time with a mirror, a stiff drink (for anesthesia), and the tweezers.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Trip Planning

The last few days have just seemed crazy. The muscles in my upper back (and now my right shoulder, too) seem to waffle between the extremes of being in full spasm or feeling better. There are days that are nearly pain-free; then there are days that I can hardly move without tears springing to my eyes—this past Wednesday was one of the latter. Friday was my last physical therapy appointment from the month of prescribed sessions and we've scheduled out another 3 weeks of appointments.

So I've been having PT days twice a week, which means I'm going in late to work twice a week, so I've been falling behind on my schedule there, but there are other contributing factors to that, too. Our website developers think they have identified what is causing our database to lose the connection to the server several times a day and have set up a dedicated server just for our work in the database—things are still slow, but at least we're not crashing every hour. I've been working on Brazil content for the past week or so and even though Portuguese sounds similar to Spanish, the spelling is not even close and Portuguese uses a whole different set of diacritical marks. So that's been something of a challenge.

And I've been pulled off my web work to do blueline proofs on several books waiting at the printer. We're partner publishers on this particular set of books, meaning we do not contract the authors or do the developmental editing, or even the copyediting or regular proofing. Once the book files are sent to the printer, the printer creates the printing templates and sends those (bluelines) back to us for one last check and approval.

That's where our editorial department comes in. It rather expensive to make corrections at this stage in the printing process, so we always try to keep changes to a minimum, focusing only on factual inaccuracies and egregious errors (like misspelling the name of an author or public figure). Unfortunately, this set of books have had numerous errors, particularly with the maps. We've had 12 sets of bluelines arrive in the past week, so everyone has had to pitch in. It's has been nice to switch up my work a bit, but it has also put me behind schedule.

So anyhow, I'm supposed to finish Brazil before we leave on a mini-vacation later this week and I haven't even finished the first chapter. What? Oh, I didn't tell you we're going on vacation? Well, yeah. We are. We've decided to go to Chicago for a long weekend and see what there is to see. We'll probably just still to the main attractions, Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, and the like, but we're hoping for some good weather—chilly and windy is fine, we're just hoping to miss the rain. But after looking at the extended forecast last night, that's seeming less and less likely.

So yesterday we were out and about. We grabbed lunch, went to Best Buy, and as we were finishing up the grocery shopping, Scoob reminded me that we were leaving later this week and I thought he was crazy. I was positive we were leaving next week, not this week. Turns out I was totally wrong and I've been a bit stressed since then trying to put together an itinerary for the trip.

This is the part of trip planning I do not like. Even though it's not, I always feel like it is left up to me to research flights and hotels and do the booking; read the guidebooks, do the research, figure out what attractions are open when, where they're located, and which ones are grouped together; and then to also figure out where we're eating each meal each day. Scoob's contribution to trip planning has been to look up every Chicago restaurant he's seen on the Travel Channel at the Travel Channel website and list the restaurant name, with the Travel Channel description, and a link to the restaurant website (if they have one) in a Word document.

So yeah, I was already stressed (not to mention it was Day 2) and we fought last night. I hate fighting with him. It just makes me feel like I want to puke then curl up in a corner and never speak to anyone again until I die. It is so hard for me to find the energy to do anything after we fight. Every time we go on a trip I just pray we will finally have a good time and not fight. After last night I'm not very hopeful that this trip will be any different from others—but I will try to remain positive.

In the almost 7 years that we've been together, it has become abundantly obvious that we have very different ways of approaching things and very different ideas of what is logical, not just with travel. Which isn't to say that being different is a bad thing, it just seems like we haven't been able to find the balance that makes our differences work together to strengthen the relationship instead of fighting.

In more upbeat news, the trees in our neighborhood are beginning to change color (I'm hoping we'll be able to catch some fall color in Chicago too, our hotel is near Millennium and Grant Parks). I tried to get pictures of a couple of the more brilliant trees, but the sky was pretty overcast and it was difficult to really get the colors.

And in video game news, Scoob knew I was excited about the new Uncharted 2: Among Thieves games and bought it for me. The first Uncharted game, Drake's Fortune, was one of the few Playstation games that I really, really liked (heck, I played it through at least twice). I liked the graphics, plot, dialogue, and seemless cinematic integration, and the animation of the cinematic cut outs was amazing. Uncharted 2 has been been even better than the original in those respects and the plot is a rollercoaster from the beginning. I'm only a few chapter into the play, but I'm loving it.

So I had better sign off and get going on the rest of my day if I plan to get any game time squeezed in. Scoob's off at Best Buy (again) to get a carrying case for something to take on the trip (because the Best Buy we went to yesterday didn't have it) and we need to find him a jacket for Chicago, especially since it is looking like we'll have rain. He has a heavy ski jacket, but it's too bulky and he doesn't want to take that. I also want to grab some granola bars or something to keep in my purse while we're out and about so that in-between-meals hunger doesn't make either of us have cranky pants while we're supposed to be having fun in Chicago.

Originally I had planned to do some clothes shopping for lightweight layering sweaters before the trip, but that was back when I thought I had another week. Though I did find this Universal Packing List Generator a week or so ago. You punch in the destination, dates, and anticipated temperatures of where you're heading, along with any special equipment or activites you plan to do, and the Generator kicks out a handy checklist for you. The list seemed too detailed when I tested it last week, but honestly, isn't it better to have something to remind you to pack your cell phone, charger, and blue tooth than to just remind you to take your cell phone and any accessories you think you may need?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Most of the time I don't even give earthquakes a second thought, but I don't think I'll ever get used to them. We just had a 3.8, respectable, but not a big one. But our house is built on filled land, which shakes like Jell-O in a quake, and it was close enough to the house that we really felt it.

Tofu with Peanut Ginger Sauce

We've been trying to work more meatless meals into rotation at the Wayward house and we've had this a few times now. I keep tweaking the recipe, but I think this is pretty close to our final keeper version.

Tofu with Peanut Ginger Sauce

Cooking time: 20 minutes
Prep time: 15 minutes

    5 Tbsps. water
    4 Tbsps. smooth, natural peanut butter
    1½ Tbsps. rice vinegar
    2 tsps. reduced-sodium soy sauce
    2 tsps. honey
    2 tsps. minced ginger
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    14 ounces extra-firm tofu
    2 tsps extra-virgin olive oil
    14-oz can baby corn, drained
    4 cups baby spinach
    1½ cups sliced mushrooms
    4 scallions, sliced

  1. Prepare the sauce by whisking together the water, peanut butter, rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey, ginger, and garlic in a bowl the set aside.
  2. Drain and rinse the tofu then pat dry. Slice the block. Slice the tofu into half-inch cubes.
  3. Heat he oil in a large skillet over high heat and add the tofu in a single layer. Cook for about 5–7 minutes without stirring or until the bottom of the tofu pieces are golden brown. Turn the pieces and repeat.
  4. Reduce heat to medium and add the baby corn, spinach, mushrooms, scallions, and the peanut sauce and cook while stirring until the spinach wilts.

The original recipe didn't have the baby corn, which I think adds a nice textural variation, color, and some additional fiber, and the original called for the tofu to be crumbled, which I didn't much care for; the end result didn't look at all palatable.

I also upped the rice vinegar quantity a bit to balance the sweetness of the honey and help the sauce from becoming too thick and dropped the stove temperature when adding the sauce; my first attempt scorched (and set off the smoke detector) because the pan was too hot at this step.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rockin' the Tunes

So, while I thought I had my new computer fully set up, it turns out I had neglected one small, yet very important (at least to me) part—I never fully integrated my iTunes from the laptop to this computer. So I did that today and, really, it only took about 10 minutes to download iTunes and sync it to my iPod thereby transferring my entire library. Done! Now I wonder why in the heck I'd been putting it off. I thought it was going to be a major headache.

So now, with iTunes loaded, and a working disc drive, I'm loading more of my ancient CD collection into iTunes. I had started doing this on the laptop several years ago and my disc drive conked out way back then. It also seems I packed away my CDs at that point, so we'll need to dig around in the garage for that box. In the meantime I've been downloading new songs and redeeming Pick of the Week cards from Starbucks, so I've got a fresh batch of music to add to rotation. Yea!

Interestingly enough, I've discovered that I'm something of a metal head when it comes to music, or at least I was in high school and my early 20s. Scoob was playing around with the television remote some time last week and accidentally did something to the tuner and we now get a ton of channels that we didn't used to. Probably should have done that when the stations began switching over to HD broadcasts, but we didn't and some of our favorite channels had been disappearing. But they're all back now and then some.

For example, we now get VH1 and we watched the 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs, well we watched the last 15 of the top 100 anyhow, and nearly all of the songs were favorites of mine. With the exception of Black Sabbath, Metallica, Dio, and Iron Maiden, I had considered all those songs as just rock, not hard rock or metal. Poison, Guns n' Roses, Van Halen, Motley Crue, AC/DC, Aerosmith—those bands are all rock in my book.

The show was a little painful to watch, really. Mostly because it was hosted by Brett Michaels, and the guy has had some serious plastic surgery done. I know he had a serious car wreck and I'm sure some of the surgery was reconstructive. But. My. God. Those lips. Step away from the silicone. Please. The hair and tight, tight spandex pants in the music videos were also painful. Oh my, what were they (we) thinking?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hanging Out in the Rows

Today we went to a farm out in Livermore with our neighbors to check out their corn maze and pumpkin patch. I didn't realize it. but the farm next to our house also has a corn maze. If I'd known that we wouldn't have trekked out to Livermore. But it still made for good low-key fun.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and quite warm out in Livermore and I was wishing we'd brought a bottle of water into the corn maze with us. The maze itself was fun. Just a nice way to get outside and enjoy the day. We really didn't get lost, but then again we were using a map. I'm pretty sure the guys were looking for more of a challenge. A few of their suggestions were to have monsters chasing people in the maze, or a mountain lion. And each person would be allowed a steak knife as a defensive weapon—a plastic steak knife. Men. But they were laughing and having fun with it.

Corn field

Corn field

Sunlight in the corn

Sunlight in the corn

Ladybug in the corn

Ladybug in the corn—I never knew corn silk has those little hairs! Click on the image to open a high resolution version and you'll see what I mean.

After the maze, we headed over to the pumpkin patch to take pictures. We didn't buy any pumpkins, partly because it's still a bit early to buy jack-o'-lantern pumpkins, and partly because we'd like to support our local farm by purchasing pumpkins there.

pumpkins at the base of a tree

Pumpkins at the base of a tree

Pumpkins in dappled sunlight

Pumpkins in dappled sunlight

Kid in a wagon

Kid in a wagon

Girl carrying a pumpkin

Girl carrying a pumpkin—I plan to crop this one a bit and try to photoshop out that orange fence

Boy in the pumpkin patch

Boy in the pumpkin patch

Wagon loaded with multi-colored pumpkins

Wagon loaded with multi-colored pumpkins

It's unfortunate that the farm had to corral their pumpkin patch with that neon orange construction fence, but I understand why they have to do it. I was going to try to photoshop that out, but it appears I didn't install my Adobe programs correctly when setting up this computer. Will have to deal with that later.

Another reason we didn't buy any pumpkins was that, quite frankly, they were charging way too much for their pumpkins—$7.00 for a pumpkin from the patch, more for other choice pumpkins at the produce stand. Though the produce stand area did provide more fodder for photo fun.

Pumpkin and gourds

Pumpkin and gourds

Multi-colored gourds

Multi-colored gourds

milkcan and wagonwheel

Milkcan and wagonwheel

Indian corn

Indian corn

Friday, October 9, 2009

Missing Persons

Last night I learned that the daughter of one of my high school classmates has been missing since Wednesday (10/7). I'm still in shock at the news and can only begin to imagine what my friend and her family must be going through.

Rachel was last seen in the Lake Oswego, OR area. If you happen to be in the Portland area, please keep your eyes open and help find Rachel.

***UPDATE: Rachel has called home and she is safe. I don't know the details, but she's safe and that's all that matters right now.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Dudes, I got an unexpected email about 10 minutes ago that two of my photos on flickr were shortlisted for inclusion in an online travel guide (and not the online travel guide I work for) to San Jose and the Silicon Valley. It's completely random news because I know I didn't submit any photos for anything, and yet I'm oddly jazzed by the whole thing.

Duck at the Mexican Heritage Plaza Fountain

San Jose Museum of Art

I'm sure they're trolling for royalty-free images everyday and my photo would be one of thousands if chosen. But still, it's an awfully high note to hit the hay with in my book.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Catching Up

I finished reading Water for Elephants a while back and keep meaning to write about it. I loved this book. In a nutshell, it's about life as part of a circus troupe during the Great Depression. The story is thoroughly engaging and the characters are colorful and over-the-top. At first I was a bit disbelieving of the characters, but then I thought about how flamboyant a circus is and reasoned that circus people may very well be that over-the-top when they're not performing as well, kind of like how today's celebrities are still celebrities when they're not performing. They're just always "on."

The circus life is anything but glamourous, and there's a clear caste division between performers and roustabouts. And the main character, Jacob Jankowski, encounters numerous problems as the Cornell-educated circus vet because he's neither a performer nor a roustabout but a little bit of both and somewhere in between—the permormers depend on him to keep the animals healthy enough for their acts, but he works more closely with the roustabouts who actually tend the animals. Jacob is constantly regarded with suspicion by both groups and when he falls for a married performer, well the story gets even more complicated.

As I was reading, I seriously kept seeing the story as a screenplay. One of those Tim Burton—Johnny Depp-esque collaborations, maybe with John Malkovich, Ed Norton, or Gary Sinise and maybe doe-y Anne Hathaway or Zooey Deschanel as the female lead.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


So, we had a company meeting at work yesterday morning, and it was actually good news. Our division, and the entire company, made their numbers for the first quarter and returns from vendors (Barnes and Noble, and Borders are the big accounts) have returned to pre-economic downturn levels. Now we're hoping we can carry the momentum through the holiday season.

That's great and all, so what do we, the lowly key punchers get out of it? Well, to start, no more mandatory unpaid time off—furlough is over (for now). The company will also resume performance reviews and raises beginning calendar year 2010, though we were warned not to expect any huge raises, probably along the lines of 1–2%. We also are not seeing an increase in our health care premiums for nest year (we're re-enrolling now).

And the company is revamping our vacation plans. The company is made up of several divisions acquired through acquisitions mergers, and each division has maintained their pre-existing vacation package. There are something like 9 divisions—what a nightmare for HR and accounting. And they're lifting the hiring freeze. Partially. Sort of. Well, they're making exceptions to the hiring freeze.

So, generally, it was good news and I could definitely feel a change in attitude in the office. It's nice to feel like we can come up for air now.

Oooo, I went to the grocery store last night and bought 2 more butternut squash. I wonder if your skin will turn orange if you eat a lot of squash like it will with carrots?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Baked Butternut Squash

Okay, so I made the butternut squash for dinner last night, and it was amazingly good and super easy. I liked that it wasn't a soup or puree—that's pretty much the only way I've eaten butternut squash up to now. And it was sweet, even though I didn't add any kind of sweetener. Even though most people would probably consider this a side, this was our main last night along with a salad.

Scoob's only complaint was that we didn't have a sourdough bread to go with it. My only complaint is that I only had one squash to cook. No leftovers for lunch tomorrow. I'll definitely be getting more squash.

Baked Butternut Squash

Cooking time: 50 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes

    1 Tbsp. dried parsley (or 2 Tbsps. fresh, chopped)
    2 Tbsp. olive oil
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    1 tsp. salt
    ½ tsp. pepper
    ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
    1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
    ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 400° and combine first six ingredients in a bowl and let sit while prepping the squash.
  2. Add the squash and cheese, and toss to coat.
  3. Transfer to an ungreased, shallow 2-quart baking dish and bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes, or until squash is tender.

I've got a head of cauliflower in the fridge waiting to be roasted, but I seriously need to make this again. Soon.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Oh, someone, please save me from myself. Last night we went to Teske's Germania restaurant in San Jose with friends.We had a lot of laughs swapping stories and the food was good too. Scoob had a venison ragout, one of our friends had the pork shank, while our other friend and I both had the Oktoberfest platter—five types of sausage with potato salad and sauerkraut. I remember that there was a polish sausage, a classic frankfurter, another seasoned with tarragon, but I don't remember what the other two were, though one of those was my favorite. It was pretty close to a pepperoni. Oh, yeah. And beer.

I like German food once in a blue moon, but I really can't eat much of it. It's just so heavy and rich. Even with Scoob eating from my plate, I still think I only finished half of it, though I'm paying for that half today. By hook or crook I am getting on the elliptical machine today. Twice. Hell, maybe even 3 times. And now I'm going to try to come up with something light for tonight's dinner. I have a butternut squash in the fridge, so maybe I'll do something with that.

After dinner last night we wound up at Paddy's Coffee, which was nice. Apparently they have live jazz a couple times a month at the coffeehouse, so we may need to go back to check that out. But they also had a local photographer's framed works displayed and for sale on the wall. The husband of the couple we were with calls himself an amateur photographer, but his photos are really amazing. I'd call him a professional-quality photographer who just happens to do something else from 9-to-5.

Anyhow, we were talking about how his photos were way better than what we were looking at on the wall and thinking of ways to get his stuff out there for more people to see. Heck, I only consider myself a casual hobbyist, and even I think some of my stuff was better than what was on the wall, which also got me thinking.

This past week has just been..., well, I feel like I've been chasing my tail most of the week. Remember a couple weeks ago when I said I was twitchy? Well, the design on the work website broke on Thursday this week (the developers said it was a caching issue, we've been having a lot of those lately), and on Friday the entire site crashed. It's really hard for me to make heads or tails of it since I'm not a hardcore techie.

Hell, the developers could tell me the crash happened because there was a full moon and lemmings were charging into the sea at exactly the same time a heffalump sneezed in the 100-acre Wood and I'd believe them. Well, okay, no I wouldn't, but you get the idea. Anyhow, they said the crash was triggered by our server host running an upgrade, which had and error, which in turn caused several unrelated tables in our site database to become corrupted. Yeah, I know. Gibberish.

My big question was, "What the hell were they doing running system upgrades in the middle of the day?" No systems techie I know would do that. They typically do that kind of stuff either in the evening well after 5 o'clock, or on the weekend when, if there is an error, the entire company and clients are less likely to be impacted.

So anyhow, I was spinning my wheels for a couple days either waiting for the developers to figure out what was happening, or redoing the work I'd done the day before. Good times. So by the time last night rolled around, I was soooo ready for that beer.

What else happened this past week, let's see... Oh, yeah. A colleague told me she liked how I'd been wearing my hair and had inspired her for her next haircut, while another was asking me where I'd bought an outfit. Totally blew my mind, I'm not particularly fashion-conscious, all I really care about is camouflaging the bulge around my midsection, and as far as the hair goes, my biggest goal is to keep it out of my face, not to actually style it in a particular way. So I got a taste of what it might be like to be Wayward the Fashionista this past week. Let's just say I'm much more comfortable with being Wayward the Excel Whiz and Keeper of the Company Legacy.

I wrote a blog post for the work site a couple weeks ago about Oktoberfest celebrations across the U.S. (so it seemed only fitting that we go out for our own Oktoberfest dinner last night), and that article got picked up by another travel website. So far we've seen that page get 400+ hits, which is pretty good. Most of my posts for work only see around 50–70 hits, and this blog sees about 10 on a good day. So that made me feel good; like maybe I'm onto something with my writing style and tone at work.

Oh, and I played Ms. Fix-It this week with our cooktop. One of the front burners hasn't been working for several months and I was reading my magazine (Real Simple) and came across an article about saving appliances and what types of problems you can tackle yourself, require a professional to repair, or require replacing the appliance. And lo, there was the exact problem we'd been having—the gas burner sparks, but there is no flame.

Turns out this is a simple problem to fix, requiring only a long needle to clear the clogged gas output point. Luckily, I had a nice, long hatpin in the sewing basket mom put together for me that did just the trick. This burner has been frustrating Scoob for months, and it was sweet to be able to tell him that I, the Amazing Wayward, had fixed it in a matter of seconds.

Scoob wanted to know what I'd done, but I donned my black cape with red satin lining and pulled a rabbit, or a reasonable facsimile thereof (Dozer), from my top hat and said, "A magician never reveals her secrets." It was pretty cool. Fixing it myself instead of calling a professional essentially paid for the magazine subscription and then some.