Friday, December 31, 2010

One Year of Blogging: Resolved.

A year ago today, I was pondering News Years resolutions.  All the typical ones ran through my head, but it occurred to me that I've never actually fulfilled a resolution - and carried it throughout the entire year.

This year was going to be different, I claimed!  No promising to go to the gym.  No promising to save more money.  This year, I was going to publish a post to my personal blog EVERY DAY ALL YEAR LONG.  Yes.  By some measures, I aimed somewhat low.  To some, a post-a-day doesn't seem like a very high bar to get over, but it was an important personal goal and allowed me to get re-acquainted with something I was missing.

Blogging is how I fell in love with the web and found a profession.  To those who know me, they know that the funny thing about my career is:  before blogging, I was a driver.  Yes...I drove someone around for a living. I LOVED it, but still....I was a driver.  Then came along blogging.  2004 was the first time I dug into it - a few years behind the pioneers - but blogging gave me a platform to have a (small voice) and connect with people.  Some of those folks have been my biggest backers professionally.   They know who they are - and I can't thank them (him!) enough.  Without blogging, I wouldn't have those relationships.

I had been writing on various platforms for the past six years and mostly abandoned my blog in 2009.  In fact, I didn't write a single post.  With a 2 week old baby at home, our 2009 NYE was pretty quiet and that gave me an opportunity to dig into blogger, port things over from Wordpress and begin anew.  Everything was coming together.

From January one to today I've written ONE post every day this year.  Sure, some of them are stinkers.  Actually...A LOT of them are stinkers, but I still published something everyday.  Over on the right rail, you can see the yearly tallies - note it says 365 today!  I had writers block quite a bit throughout the year, but I still posted *something*.

Oh...you want to know if it was "worth it"?  As for numbers/stats,  lots of people started to read the posts.  The audience started small (like 2 people), but has grown and is (surprisingly!) more than my family.   However, if I was doing this for the audience, I'd probably NOT write about Christmas Villages, garage construction, and vegetable gardens.

So...will I keep going in 2011?  Not sure, but I'm thinking I will - but maybe not everyday. Seems like this is an easy habit to fall out of (see 2009!), so I'll probably stay on it for a while to keep the momentum going.   With a lot of fun things going on in our world, I might as well document them somewhere and have something to look back on.  But will I freak if I don't post something?  Probably not.

Thanks for reading one or two or all of the posts this past year.  Hope there was a little something to enjoy!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gingerbread Combination KFC/Taco Bell

My brother-in-laws are a pretty creative bunch.  For the past few years, they've been building gingerbread houses over their Christmas breaks.  Last year it was a pretty intricate log cabin house with a front porch.   This year, all three of them (Bill, Charlie, and Peter) had time together and spent quite a bit of time making a different kind of "house".  I use "house" in quotes because for some reason  they actually made a combination KFC/Taco Bell with a drive-thru lane.   Yes.  A restaurant.  I watched (I had NOTHING to do with this aside from watching and cheering them on!) as they baked the walls/structure and poured the sugar "glass" windows.  I came back a few days later and this beauty was built.  On the right, you can see the drive-thru's menu board and also note the wire(s) going to the bottom of the structure.  They even wired this restaurant up with interior lights.  And...to be even more crazy:  There's even an air conditioning unit on the roof!  Pretty unreal.
Pretty incredible, right?  They even tried to get KFC or Taco Bell's attention - but to no avail.  They tweeted it to both the Colonel and to Taco Bell.  You'd think that their social folks would be ALL over this, no?  The funny part to me is that they're NOT fanboys of the restaurants/food.  They're just funny dudes.  Check out the tweet they sent to the Colonel.  How does he not respond to that?!?!?


@kfc_colonel Psssttt.... The 11th spice in @PeterGMoran and my combination KFC/Taco Bell is gingerbread http://yfrog.com/h764cbj

I have no idea what the three of them will do for a Gingerbread house next year, but, I'm certain it'll be pretty great.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sourdough Starter: Day One

For Christmas, my mother-in-law bought me a sourdough starter from Sourdo.com.   Yes.  Finally.  Some of you might remember that I was asking for one back in June for Father's Day.  This particular culture is of the Italian variety and comes from Ischia - right in the northern end of the Gulf of Naples.

The starter takes a few days of work to get started and requires some specific steps.    The first of which includes getting the starter in a jar and bringing the temperature up while it proofs.  This is my kitchen hack of a proofing box - a plastic tub with an Illini nightlight rigged inside.  So far, so good.   It is like a thick pancake batter.
24 hours from now, I get to move on to step two - if this goes as predicted.  We *should* have bubbles and a bit of fermentation action.  My fingers are crossed.  I hope yours are, too!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Marketing to Men: Shower Tool

Santa brought me this "Shower Tool" from Dove.  Funny how marketers try to market different to men, isn't it?  Are men not interested in loofas?  Do they need "tools"?  I've been using a loofa for 10+ years (since I went to college) and I didn't feel very feminine using one, but apparently *some* men do?  Is that why Dove had to create a men's only shower tool?  Seems like most of the time, this type of thing is being bought by women anyway, right?  I don't buy my own shower soap.  Doesn't matter all that much to me what it is called, but maybe there's some sort of marketing jujitsu being done on women - as they make purchases for men?  Don't know!

Similarities can be seen with Coke Zero.  Don't get me wrong.  I like the stuff a lot.  But the Zero part?  That's clearly aimed at men who are *afraid* or *embarrassed* to be ordering "Diet" beverages, isn't it?  Just make Diet Coke taste like that, please.

Oh...and for the usefulness of the tool?  Meh.  Don't love it as a stand-alone scrubber.  Not to get too terribly personal here, but this doesn't do everything I need it to do in the shower!

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Christmas Haul, Part 1

In the spirit of haul videos, I figure I'd share a few of my spoils from the holiday festivities.  I thought for about a minute or two about doing a spoof haul video, but then figured I have better other things to do with my time.

First up is a gift from my dad.  Growing up I always LOVED the holiday time because that meant that my dad was going to be setting up his Lionel train.  The set was his since he was a child and he somehow hung onto it and the set - for the most part - survived various moves and time.  This was a shared tradition throughout my childhood as we even went to various train shows each December adding a piece to the collection - sometimes a car, sometimes some track.  And....boy the smell of that transformer!  Those of you with older train sets know what I'm talking about, but it just smells like Christmas to me!

The hobby resurfaced again a few years back when - for some reason - my interest in Lionel and trains rose.  We even went back to a show and bought a few new cars.

However, one thing was always missing:  my own train set.  My dad - now a grandpa - has given train sets to each of his grandsons the past few years as they get old enough to enjoy them.  But, this year, it was my turn!  Quite a surprise to find my own Lionel set under the tree at my folks house.  My dad said, "You never had your own set.  Now you do!"
I haven't set it up yet and I'm thinking that I'll just wait for next year when the Babe is a bit older and can have fun with me.  This is sure to become a family Christmas tradition in the Parrillo house!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Noel Angel Candleholders

With Christmas already in our rearview mirror (sad, isn't it?), I needed to document the latest addition to our decor before it gets packed away.  In early December, we went to a vintage Christmas fair on Randolph Street in the city.  We've gone the past two years and have come home with a handful of treasures each year.

These guys were my favorite buy this year and they've been sitting near our front door in the entry - so we get to see them a lot.
They're stamped "Japan" - so I'm guessing that dates them to before WWII, right?  As with most people's Christmas and their Christmas decor, things just keep expanding.  Or...as my brother-in-law once put it:  "Christmas is like the universe.  It keeps growing each year."

I'll have to remember to put these guys back up by the front door.  That is, if I can get my attention away from building the baddest Christmas Village ever!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Penny Hockey (Topper Hockey) - Stamping on the Undercarriage and Rules of the Game

Christmas is here and the Penny Hockey boards (Topper Hockey!) were a hit!  Nat and I gave our gifts to my family last night on Christmas Eve.

The boys get A LOT of gifts from Santa and others at my folks, so it takes a lot to grab their attention.  I'm hopeful that they'll pick up their boards in the coming days and fall in love with the game like I did.

On the 3 boards I made, I stamped each one with the name of the game (Topper Hockey), their name and also left room for a second owner.  Getting them to think of the game as something that they can enjoy and share with others is important and this way, they understand that this isn't a disposable gift.

Also...if you look closely, you'll see that Topper Hockey hasn't left 'beta' quite yet!
I stamped my initials and the year in the bottom corner - so they remember when the game showed up.  I also included a "History of Topper Hockey" (written tongue-in-cheek) and the official rules of the game (embedded below!)



Friday, December 24, 2010

Elmhurst Front Yard Christmas Tree Tradition: 2010 Edition

Just like in years past, we not only have a tree in our living room, we also have a smaller one out in the middle of our front yard.  Our front yard, you ask?  Yup.

It is a fundraiser for the school district and they drop the trees off for our block on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Not everybody puts one up - there might be a person or two who are Grinches, but for the most part, the entire block participates.

This year, I arrived early at the tree pickup and grabbed a tall one.  Everyone puts the old-fashioned C9 lights on them - we use the big ones, but in LED bulbs.
There is a lot to like about Elmhurst, but this small tradition is one more reason to like living here - the sense of community around the holidays is nice and makes the season a bit more merry and bright.

For reference sake, here's our other yard trees:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Track Santa on Your Mobile Phone - NORAD Santa

For the past few years, Google has teamed up with NORAD to allow parents and kids to track Santa across the globe in Google Earth.  I'm posting this on the 23rd (Happy Festivus, Everyone!) because some of you read these posts via email a day after they're posted.  Here's a video from last year.  If you look closely around 23 seconds, you can see Santa flying right down the Chicago River!  And...I have it on good authority that there will be even more Chicago footage this year!

This year, Google has made it even easier to track the Big Guy wherever you might be on Christmas Eve. Pay attention, parents!  This year, no more need to be chained to your laptop or desktop.  Now...you can track Santa on your phone.   That's pretty easy, isn't it?

How to Track Santa on Your Mobile Device:
1. Get Google Maps on your mobile device.  If you don't have it loaded, you can use this QR Code to get it now:
2.  On Christmas Eve, open the application.
3.  Search for "Santa".
4.  Watch him as he flies around the globe!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Seasonal Treat: 2010 Anchor Steam Christmas Ale

Each year, Anchor Brewing puts out a Christmas Ale.  This is the 36th version and each year the recipe changes a bit (although they keep it a secret!).  Thanks to the refined palate of my brother-in-law Charlie, this has become a mainstay at the Moran household during Christmas.  I don't drink all that much these days, but I always make room for a few of these - as a treat.  I *think* I've had the '07, '08, '09, and now the '10.  (ah....the aughts were fine years, weren't they?!?)
Can't tell you much about the flavors and/or taste, but it certainly was effervescent.   The bottle, on the other hand, is quite handsome.  In fact, they change the tree on the label each year, but this year's tree has meaning for me!  It has a Ginko on it - and those of you who are loyal readers know that we planted a Ginko tree earlier this summer!

Turns out, if you keep them over the years, the flavors age and the ales taste differently the longer you keep them.  Or. as they put it:  "Properly refrigerated, the beer remains intriguing and drinkable for years, with different nuances slowly emerging as the flavor mellows slightly."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My New Hobby: Our Christmas Village

Let me preface all of this by stating clearly:  Yes...I feel a bit of shame for this new guilty pleasure.  

I have to admit something:  I've *somehow* fallen in love with our Christmas Village.  Yes...those little porcelein buildings/scenes that people put up at the holidays.  You know the type.  You probably overlook them.  I know I used to.   But, for some reason, my brain keeps telling me that I NEED to collect these little buildings. 

It all started a few years ago - back in 2007 we received 2 Department 56 buildings for a wedding present from Nat's Aunt and Uncle.  Last year, I put both of them up on our temporary mantle.  This year, however, is a different story.  With the mantel finished, I figured it was time to think about what could go up there decoration-wise.  And...those two little buildings sparked something!  

One night, my mom was over and we started talking about the village buildings - and it turns out, she had a few Department 56 buildings that she received as gifts.  She hasn't put them out in years, so she offered them to me.  Now, my little community was 4 buildings strong!  

Then...I went to Menards. 

And...guess what?  They sell Christmas Village buildings!  But...they're NOT Department 56 (which...from what I can tell, is the gold standard of these thigns).   Rather, they carry something called Lemax.  In the store, they looked about the same, but each building was $20-$40.  Although the Department 56 ones are retailing for more than that online (like $50ish), the Lemax buildings still were too much for me.

But...then!  This week, Menards started their HUGE Christmas sale.  Everything is half off!  Guess what is included?  That's right!  Christmas Village buildings!

So...I sprung for a few.  Make that 3.  They were $10 each and to my eye...you can't really tell the difference between these new ones and the expensive ones.  Oh...and I bought a bunch of figures and such to make the scene a bit more lively.   Yes....that photo above is how it looks now.

Nat, when she reads this, is going to storm over to the mantel and give me a disapproving look - I can guarantee it!   She's not as excited about having a HUGE village as I am (she likes having a small, quaint one with just a few buildings!), but I think she'll come around.  Just wait until next year when I really get into it!  Can't wait!

Monday, December 20, 2010

4th OGB Post: Celebrating 10 Years in Chicago

Last week, a post went live on the Official Google Blog entitled:  Celebrating 10 Years in Chicago.  This was the fourth post that I've written for the company that has appeared on the OGB.  Although I've enjoyed writing all of them, this latest post about the Chicago office was the most fun to draft.  Although they're officially "signed" by someone else (3 of 4 of them), they're most definitely my writing and ideas - so, I guess that's part of being in Communications in a large company.

The occassion (our 10th year in Chicago) is a big deal to all of us here in town, but also the company.  We even had our design team come up with Chicago-specific logo (which we've put on shirts and hats.  Perhaps, I'll figure out a way to give a few shirts away via the blog at some point!)   Too often, Google is viewed as this west coast, Silicon Valley company when, in fact, we're over 400 employees in Chicago making a contribution to the company.  If you take in some of the other Great Lakes Cities that have Google offices, we're probably at about 700-800 employees.  Pretty impressive in my opinion - and definitely runs counter to the west-coast ONLY notion.
With Google being such a big, global company, it was nice to be able to highlight our presence in the middle part of the country and all that we've accomplished.  The post also gave me an opportunity to brag a bit on our great city - and where you can find things on the web.  I even got two food mentions in the post - and BOTH have caused much discussion with some Chicagoans coming down on the opposite side of the opinions.  Frankly...I'm not that strong on the pizza claim, but it would have been pretty stinkin' boring to write that we have *some* decent pizza, right?  Or...I suppose I could have linked up Great Lakes and their GQ story about having the best pizza in America.

However...there is ONE thing that I won't budge on:  ketchup on hotdogs.  Unless you are 8 years old, that just simply doesn't work.

Even with those caveats, I'm still proud to have the pieces posted on the Official Google Blog.  The audience there is MASSIVE (not to mention the reach the story receives after they "tweet" it from the official Google handle - which makes it fun to write the posts conjure up other ideas.

For those of you keeping track of my posts on the OGB (Hi, Mom!) , here they are:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How to Roast Chestnuts

How to Roast Chestnuts
1.  Score each chestnut's outer shell with an "X".
2.  Place on a baking sheet in a single layer.
3.  Roast at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
4.  Place in a towel and rub together.  Then, when cooled, peel off outer shell.
5.  Enjoy!


Seems that chestnuts have fallen out of favor as a Christmas delicacy.  We hear plenty about them in songs and books, but in my 32 years, I don't think I've ever seen one served - let alone eaten one - during the holidays.  Trader Joe's is trying to make it easy to bring the chestnut back.  They were selling packages of the nuts and also posted easy to follow instructions adjacent to the nuts (that's where the 5 steps above are from).  Sounds pretty simple.  But...what to do they taste like?


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Guess Who Is One Today?

What a party Nat threw today!  Wow - she did a great job with all the details.  Thanks to everyone for coming!

And...special thanks to Uncle Bill for his chalk rendering.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Family Photobooth Photo 2010

At the Renegade Craft Fair last year (2009), we sat for a photobooth session and came up with this image.  The 2009 post is here - but included below for comparisons sake. 
 This year, the Babe played a starring role.  They're certainly not as formal as some family portraits.
But, for us, they're much cuter!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Second Time With Santa

Nat had some shopping to do in Bolingbrook and I wasn't interested in trouncing around Macy's and Janie and Jack, so I decided to take the Babe over to Bass Pro Shop to see Santa.  This time, it didn't go as well as the first time she met the Big Guy.

She freaked.  Poor girl.  When I went to pick her up, she was shaking and tears were streaming down here face.    Kind of felt nice to be needed so much by her. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Our Christmas Tree - 2010

We went on our annual pilgrimage to the Tammen Tree Farm down I-57 the weekend after Thanksgiving and came back with a tree.  Like in years past, we chose a Fraser Fir - and it looks great.   The tree drank and drank and drank (like 3-4 quarts a day) and then pretty much stopped drinking.  We're down to drinking about a quart of water a day - which I'm thinking is enough.  So far, so good - no needle drop, so I'm thinking it isn't parched. 

We've lost a tree before - back in 2006 when we went on a trip and the tree dried out.   Sure, it stayed green until Christmas Day, but if you got anywhere near it, let alone breath on it, needles went everywhere.  With the Babe's First Birthday Party this weekend, I'm certain we've made it through.

We have 9 foot ceilings, so I'm thinking this tree is just about 8 foot tall.  We picked a different location in the living room this year - and I think it is working out better.  Just 10 days until the Big Guy comes!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pollo Vagabundo - Northlake

Last night, on a tip from my friend Eric, we went out to Pollo Vagabundo - which according to Google Translate means "Bum Chicken".  
The reviews on Yelp and elsewhere are extraordinarily strong, but I'm withholding judgement.  While the staff were VERY helpful and nice (they gave me samples of EVERY kind of meat they have), they were sold out of Carne Asada by the time we arrived.  This place seems to be a lunch joint - based on both the fact that they were sold out of the top-billed item and when we arrived at 6 pm, the place wass dead.

Nat had chicken tacos and said that they were some of the best tacos she's ever had.  We also shared 4-5 salsas from their bar (they have probably a dozen to choose from), and they were all tasty.  Spicy, but tasty.  (thinking now....if they named the place after the chicken, perhaps I should have gone with chicken, too!)

The only hangup was the carne asada shortage.  You see, about 10 years ago, I was introduced to La Pasadita on Ashland.  ("no...not that one.  The other one.  The other one?  Yeah....the one next door.  Not across the street - Next door.")  Once I had one of those beautiful carne asada burritos, there was no other wrapped treat that could compare.

Pollo Vagabundo was billed as having a burrito to-die-for, but because I had my mind set on carne asada and had to settle for shredded beef, I can't confirm that status.  They also were said to be making their own tortillas on site, but alas, they weren't doing that either when we arrived. 

Will we be back?  You betcha.  But...this time for lunch.

Monday, December 13, 2010

2011 Detroit Auto Show Pass

Look what showed up in the mail over the weekend!   My press pass for the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.  I'm lucky enough to be able to staff our execs during the press days in early January.  (and...if you look closely...you'll see the dreaded 1 R!)
This *has* to be one of my favorite things I get to do -  this "early" peek at the show during the press days - ahead of the general public. While it isn't as cool as CES, the Detroit auto show is plenty geeky for me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Penny Hockey Board - Dimensions and Progress

Having been through the prototyping process on Penny Hockey Boards, I made a few modifications.  First, they shrunk in size considerably.  From 12" wide and 16" long down to 12" long and 8.5" wide.  After the side rails are attached, the playing surface will be 12" long, 8" wide.    The name of the game is also being changed from Penny Hockey to Topper Hockey (more on that later....).
Also, because the board shrunk, the space behind the goal also was squeezed.  It started at 2.5" from backline to center of the goal and now with the production units, I've cut that distance in half.
The final change comes in regards to the pegs - I've changed the configuration a bit and removed some.  The "guard" pegs - which are located just outside the goal mouth were widened, and one of them were removed.   The peg modifications were made to simplify and enhance gameplay.  My intended audience is my nephews who are all under the age of 10.  Scoring should be "easy" and the game should be fun.   The dimensions were also a consideration.  Nat thought it would be best if these boards could fit into a backpack, so that made the large board that I first built a non-starter.  The size of the playing surface also is a consideration in regards to fun.  Big board = not as many goals. 

I still have to make scoreboards, attach the boards, sand and finish all of them, but I made a lot of progress on them yesterday.  A full post with actionable blueprints/dimensions (as well as a post on the full rulebook) is forthcoming, but for now, I'd just like to wrap the project up this week - ahead of the big unveil on Christmas Eve!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Final 2010 Heisman Prediction: Google Insights for Search


With the Heisman Trophy being awarded tonight, the race doesn't even look close at this point - both in listening to the experts on ESPN and looking at the Google Insights for Search Chart. 

Google has Andrew Luck edging both Kellen Moore and LaMichael James for second place.  Will these results hold up?  Stiffarm.com ranks them (from first to last) Newton, Luck, James, Moore.   We have the last two flip-flopped - but it seems that Google Insights for Search and the "experts" agree on the top two.  Computational prowess, FTW!

Friday, December 10, 2010

WGN Radio- Showcase Studio

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to take a colleague to the WGN Studio right on Michigan Avenue to appear on the John Williams Show to discuss the Google Zeitgeist - our annual Top 10 "Most Google'd" terms.   I love being in the studio and John does such a great job.  You can listen to the entire segment here
Most importantly, we reach a HUGE swath of the population who don't read tech blogs or Walt Mossberg columns.  Thanks to John, and his producer Beth, for the visit!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Beatles - Los Paranoias

Over on Facebook, my buddy Neil reminded me that we used to listen to the Beatles Anthology records a lot during our undergraduate days.  One of my favorites has always been "Los Paranoias".  Guess I'm a day late with my Beatles reminiscing, but this one still is worth the listen.  What fun they were having during this session!  I'm going to have to go have a listen to the second and third Anthology records in the next few days. 


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Handmade Christmas - Vanilla Extract Going Legit This Year

Last year, I brewed a small batch of vanilla extract and gave it away at Christmas to friends and family.  It was a hit!  This year, I planned ahead and worked with my nieces and nephews and made a HUGE batch of the stuff.  By HUGE, I mean 5 gallons.  Seriously.  Now....don't be alarmed.  Each of my 3 sets of nieces/nephews are taking one gallon each.  They're giving them away as gifts to their teachers and their moms are giving some away, too.  But the other two gallons?  That'll be easy to give away as gifts.  There's 128 ounces in a gallon and I bought 8 ounce bottles.  The bottles!  The best part!  Last year, we went to container store and bought 8 ounce swivel-top bottles that were super expensive - like $6 a piece.  This year, I shopped ahead and bought them from Specialty Bottles and went with the 8 oz Clear Boston Round.  Because of the volume I bought, the cost per bottle came in under $1.00 a piece.  And that included caps and....the neat part:  shrink bands.  

Talk about making things look legitimate, eh?  These aren't really necessary, but I guess will give the recipients a little piece of mind that the extract hasn't been tampered with.
More on the extract after we finish bottling it.  I still have to schedule a party with my little "helpers" so we can get it all out the door in time for school gifts. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Festivus House in Elmhurst - 2010

I was tipped off by my brother-in-law Equation Boy/Man about a house near ours that had put up a curious set of holiday decorations.  He told me, "I thought you'd get a kick out of seeing this."  Equation Boy/Man gave the coordinates - it is on Willow Street, just north of First Street.  For those of you unfamiliar with the street names in Elmhurst, but know a few landmarks, this house is just North of the tracks and 4-5 blocks east of York Street.

Nat and I were out last night and we decided to drive by.  Sure enough, they're cast aside the traditional holiday decor and lights and instead have just a sign and a simple aluminum pole in their front yard.  Although my photo isn't great, the sign reads:  "A Festivus for the Rest of Us!" and you can see the pole to the left of the photo standing up and proud in the middle of the yard.  Looks great all lit up at night. 
Clearly, this is a single dude living here, right?  There's no way anyone's wife would go along with this -albeit very funny gag - right?  Anyone know who lives in the Festivus House?  Are they having a big get together on the 23rd?  Feats of Strength?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Letters to Santa: 2010

With a little prodding from Nat, I've participated (along with  her, her sister, and her mom) in the Chicago Sun-Times Letters to Santa/Season of Sharing program.  Each holiday season, we get letter(s) from Chicago Public School kids - addressed to Santa - asking for gifts each year.

More often than not, these kids would - under normal circumstances - not get the very presents they are asking for.  Either because of economics or family setting reasons, Santa isn't able to deliver on their requests.  And...that's where the Sun-Times steps in.  They mail you a letter and you do the shopping.  This year, my letter was addressed to "Sunta", but I'm guessing he really meant Santa.
Makes my heart melt a little bit - every time I look at that photo and read that letter.    Cedrick wanted a R/C car and wrestlers?  I couldn't be more delighted to (hopefully) brighten in Christmas morning.  He'll have a couple of WWF wrestlers and a small R/C car - all at just about the $25 budget set by the program!
I know there are PLENTY of ways to get involved and to share at this time of year, but I think this program works for me - and that's why I keep participating in it year after year.  It allows me to do something that these kids can't do themselves - and be active in the process. 

Sunday, December 05, 2010

7 Down, 18 to Go: Art of Pizza

I dropped Nat off at an appointment in the city yesterday and had an hour or so before we were going to head to the Renegade Craft Fair to fill.  What better way to fill said hour than knocking one of the 25 Top Pizza places in Chicago off the list.  Fortunately for me, Art of Pizza on Ashland was only a few blocks away.

It was a snowy day, so pulling into the parking lot at lunchtime was a quiet appealing.  I didn't have to fit for a parking spot with some bozo who had dibs nor did I have to circle the block searching for a spot.  The Art of Pizza is a counter-joint, where you order at the counter and you get a slice to walk away with.  I'm guessing you can order pies, too,  but it seems like the bulk of their business is in slices.

All of their slices are $3.19 - thick or thin.  Not bad.

The dining room is big, but pretty plain.  There was a LOUD group of boys that showed up.  They couldn't help themselves from yelling about some video game.  They got me out of there fast.

I went with the thin crust, mostly because it was lunchtime.  But...also because the guy said that they had sausage/pepperoni combo in thin.  That was a mistake.  I'll get deep-dish if I go back.  Not because I didn't like the combo.  But...because it just wasn't a stand-out pizza slice.
18 places to go in 6+ months.  That's a lot of pizza to be eaten!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Renegade Holiday Craft Fair - Chicago 2010

We trudged through the snow today to go into the city to the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse for the annual Holiday Renegade Craft Fair.  Nat's mom and sister came along and we made a day of it.

I have to be a bit honest about it:  I really, really want to love Renegade.  In fact, last year, we had a great time, bought LOTS of gifts, and swore that we'd never miss it.

But this year?  Meh.  At least parking (for us) wasn't terrible.  We didn't have to circle for 30 minutes - just took us about 5 minutes to find a spot.   From there, the fair - while having some great vendors/products - was just simply too crowded to be fun.  Perhaps it was the time went (2ish in the afternoon), but we really couldn't get too close to any of the tables.  In the end, we only bought one thing (gift tags), and that really is  a shame.  Maybe the vendors like a full house?  But...I'm guessing they don't.  There has to be some operational study done to figure out what the maximization of sales would be.  I would think that today's crowd was not optimal.
Are we going back next year?  We sure are.  I just hope the Renegade folks either move to a larger venue or figure out a way to thin the crowds a bit.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Those Skate Shoes Are A Menace, I Tell You....

Apparently they've reached epidemic proportions at the Hobby Lobby.  Enough so that they had to create window stickers explicitly banning them.
Wonder if it is the scuffing of the floors or if kids get out of control and knock stuff off the shelves?  Hobby Lobby is run by deeply religious folks, so maybe this is like the "new" rock-n-roll?  "Those kids and their skate shoes.  They'll get into trouble!"

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Glengarry Glen Christmas

I was just turned on to this SNL skit by a co-worker where super-host Alec Baldwin reprises his role in a parody of one of my favorite movies GlenGarry Glen Ross.  It is a pretty funny skit, but based on the laughter, it seems that quite a bit of the live audience isn't aware of the parody - as hard as seems.  (BTW...this is one of two movies that Nat ABSOLUTELY hates.  The other is The Last Waltz.  She thinks they're both beyond boring!  I've tried to convince her to give them a second chance...but no luck!)

Back to the sketch.....Sure the audience members laugh at the "Always Be Closing" line - but I think that's because the players like Seth Meyers can't help but giggle.  Maybe I'm wrong?  And...the live audience is smarter/more savvy than I think?  They seem to be laughing at how harsh Baldwin is to the elves and not at the parody?  Overthinking it?  Maybe.

Elf you! Go home and play with your kids!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Trend: Shopping Online While in Store

This week, the Chicago Tribune Business Section featured a consumer using his smartphone and Google's "Goggles" application to comparison shop on Black Friday.  I know that apps like Goggles or Google Shopper have changed the way both Nat and I shop.   We're not alone in doing this, but we without question "shop" while we're waiting to check out.  Or...sometimes even earlier when we're in the aisle looking at the product.  More often than not we're doing this with toys for the Babe as we don't really know the market price for such things and we don't do A LOT of research for them ahead of time. I think that's probably the future of buying things like this:  wander the store, find something interesting and use your phone to see if you can find it cheaper.  For major purchases, you'll probably do your research ahead of time and go to the story ONLY if you know it is the best deal.

Google published some research recently (which...of course...I can not find) that speaks to this trend by saying that a significant percentage of shoppers are doing the exact same thing:  price comparisons via smartphone while they're in store.

In places like Costco however, their aren't comps to shop against.  I'm sure a "per unit" comparison isn't too far behind, but for now I'm just going to have to hope that when I buy 5,000 napkins in a pack, I'm getting a sweet deal.
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