Thursday, March 31, 2011

Favorite iPhone Apps: Diptic

Just wanted to share another one of my new favorite iPhone apps: Diptic.

I love it for its easy way to make quick collages from my iPhone pictures, right on my iPhone.  It's a great way to capture a theme or event:

And it's great when one picture isn't enough to capture all the dimensions of cuteness, like this little guy:

And then it's really easy to save back to Photos, e-mail the pic or upload to the blog.  There are lots of layout choices and it's ridiculously simple to use.  Worth the $1.99 to me!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March Madness

I have to confess that when it comes to watching sports I was raised with the same approach as some have with religious services. I'm there for the Christmases, Hanukkahs, and Kwanzaas of major sports: Super Bowl, World Series, US Open, the World's Strongest Man competition (Fingal's Fingers, anyone?), etc. To my credit, though, I have personally grown to watch and cheer on teams via family (Michigan State), marriage (I can't believe how much Nebraska Husker and Tom Osbourne knowledge I have absorbed these past years), and proximity (how can we not root for the Gamecocks, when we can see the stadium from our house?). And of course, ever since getting involved with MMA, I love watching the bouts on UFC or Strikeforce. Finally, (and some may consider this not a great reason to watch sports) I'm glued to games when I've got money involved, whether it's a bet, football pool, or...March Madness.

I blew my brackets early this year on St. Patrick's Day, i.e., the first round, argh. But we're still sucked into the tourney, however, especially with some stunning upsets. And as usual, I'm rooting for the underdogs. At this point, there's a possibility there will be a 11 seed team in the final game and if not, an 8 seed. Is this a Cinderella story yet?

Also, much respect has to be given to the Women's tourney. Unfortunately, there is hardly ever any madness in the Women's tourney. This year, though, major credit to Gonzaga, the first 11 seed to reach the Elite 8. Sadly, their journey ended with a huge loss to Stanford. And the other surprise was seeing Tennessee get crushed by Notre Dame, especially after seeing the clip of Pat Summitt in the halftime locker room before Tennessee rallied back from losing to beat Ohio State: "It makes me sick to my stomach!" I vote for Jane Lynch if a movie is ever made about Pat Summitt. Looking at the Final Four (all 1 and 2 seeds, as usual) it looks like there may be a rematch of the fateful game where Stanford broke UConn's win streak, which should make it really good.

Looking forward to the Final Four games in both the Men's and Women's tourney this weekend. What can I say, sometimes it's nice to watch a game without fretting about losing money.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Favorite iPhone apps: Labelbox

One of my new favorite iPhone photo apps is Steply's free Labelbox:

Really easy to use--just pull up a pic and select a labeling tape.  I was hooked as soon as I saw the Dymo-styled label (there are more "tapes" available for, I believe, 99 cents):

The only thing is that it's a bit of trial and error figuring out how much tape to lay but it's really easy to do over so it's not that big a deal.  The slight pet peeve is it has a habit of changing orientation for the edit (though it will save in the original orientation).

But really, the pros definitely outweigh the cons (especially for a free app), ta-da!

Plus this comes in pretty handy when you need to "black bar" some identities in what may be incriminating photos:

But it adds an arty look to it, right? It's free, handy, and fun--I recommend it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sweet and Sour

My SoCal friend told me she had a Christmas gift that she hadn't gotten around to mailing to me. Needless to say, it was worth the wait:

Inside those five Jelly Belly ziplocs: Sunkist Fruit Gems!

These were on my Amazon wish list for the longest time. One of my favorite sweets--combining high gummy volume to a light granular sugar dusting. Not to be confused with Chuckles. I ate a whole bag on my flights back to SoCar. Thanks Lady.

Sigh. Something sweet to remember my trip from.  Especially when I came back to a messy house of Sonic wrappers, pizza boxes, and stuff just everywhere--though Paul swear he did a lot of picking up as he side-eyed the girl.  I went into a minor rant of my God what would you guys do if I died suddenly?!  Paul nodded solemnly, yeah, we'd be like two would get really messy here

AND, I continued, you'd probably donate all my craft stuff! 

Paul paused stiffly, and then answered in an obvious tone similar as if I asked if folks should wash their hands after using public restrooms, Oh my God yes! I would TOTALLY donate all that craft stuff.  He sighed thoughtfully.  Well, maybe Velina would want some...

Man, I gotta remember not to die anytime soon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SoCal to SoCar: the little things

As sad as leaving my friends and family in SoCar was, I was blessed with the little things to ease the pain. Like free wifi at the Denver airport:

Discovering this awesome Cinnamon Spice tea by Harney & Sons at the airport:

And discovering a passenger who had taken this same flight earlier in the day had left his drink coupon behind in the inflight magazine. A Barcardi & diet coke totally hit the spot:

Thank Heaven for the little things.

Monday, March 21, 2011

SoCal: last day

Sigh. The last day in SoCal is always the hardest.

I was able to squeeze in some PinkBerry froyo with Linda:

And one last Happy Hour with a few friends, including this awesome guy:

Smart, funny, and can sing! He has been a huge support of my decluttering efforts and is super sweet with dogs. And he is thisclose to being as good a sports gambler as me.  And taking a page from Linda's blog: PS - he's single. Can I do a #humblebrag for him and mention that he has done a production of West Side Story, including the full choreography? And he loves Glee. No wonder we get along.

Anyhoo, I know there's going to be a melancholy after I leave here and it's not going to be about the weather and food. I'll be missing all the good people. Sigh.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

SoCal Checklist: Vy Da, Indie Movie, Photo Shoot

Such a productive, satisfying day!

Got to enjoy these hard-to-find rice cakes at Vy Da (and they are PERFECT here) with my super trooper friend:

Got to check out an indie film (which are really hard to come by in Columbia, SoCar) with my indie-movie pal:

And I was able to squeeze in another photo shoot thanks to a very patient, game (and wonderfully photogenic) friend:

What a blessing she is to a growing photographer like me.  She totally came through for me.  I had a certain theme planned but I had to come up with a different shoot due to a rainstorm.  And frankly, I liked my new gameplan/shoot.  It kind of has a story and I would love to share it once I get my subjects' approval.  Because thankfully, she was able to dig up another subject for me who was ridiculously patient for my shoot.  Did I mention it was raining?  He turned out pretty darn photogenic too:

Unfortunately, one of the things that wasn't helping me was the rain that got on my lens (ugh-more than I realized!) and that the rapidly changing light proved challenging in terms of getting decent exposure.  It was very rare to get one that was the composition I wanted, with satisfactory exposure, and FOCUS (which proved the toughest in the rain).  But I did get a few, like this one:

Afterwards, we took our soaked bodies and got some hot soup and noodles at Ajisen Ramen:

Thank L and W for such a great shoot!

Great way to end a great day.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

SoCal Checklist: Hang with Nana (Bonus: UFC!)

I got to spend some time with Nana getting facials and catching up over some Korean food:

It was her first time trying kimchi! Hooray--she can cross that off her checklist!

I will confess I was thrown by this sign in the restroom stall:

I get they don't want paper towels or garbage flushed down, but uh, toilet paper? What do they want us to do with that? I confess I broke the rules and flushed it--fortunately, it went down without a problem and I didn't "inconvenience" another user.  Whew!

In the evening my friends hosted a delicious party of carne asada and candy (okay the candy was actually my contribution). They ordered the UFC fight where we were FLOORED by Jon Jones definitive victory over Shogun Rua. Great Saturday night in SoCal where the fights start at 7--instead of 10PM on the East Coast!

Friday, March 18, 2011

SoCal Checklist: Photo Shoot

Cute Kid Alert! Was able to snag a few snaps of this cutie after his parents and big sister went to work and school:

That look in the hoodie slays me!

Bonus! Got to hit Native Foods again. Man I LOVE their Reuben sandwich:

And color me satisfied when I can sit and free-refill-drink to my heart's content of their watermelon fresca:

(if anyone has a recipe for watermelon fresca-PLEASE let me know-I am ADDICTED)

Another thing on my checklist was to talk shop with a fellow photography friend, CJ, and get schooled a bit in photography outside my comfort zone: nature.  CJ has a natural eye and call to shooting in nature.  I'm not drawn to landscape and nature photography in general but sometimes I'm impressed by some of the epic pictures (Ansel Adams is a no-brainer) and what gets captured in some of these photos.  I asked CJ what makes him want to take a picture and he said it could be the way the light hits a flower or the shadows created.

I tried to see more through his eyes.

But it didn't come so easy for me.  Looking at the pictures I took, I was disappointed that I didn't catch the tree tops that I cut off until now:

I was attracted to this scene because it kind of had this post-apocalyptic feel, but again my eyes go to the tree tops I cut off abruptly.

Well, still learning! I totally appreciated branching out, learning, and trying new subjects.  Thanks, CJ.

Afterwards, a friend was having a St. Patrick's Day party, which I thought was really clever to have the day after St. Pat's--think of all the sales on St. Pat's merchandise the day after!  Of course what I really loved was hanging with friends, like the host and my super trooper friend (who put up with me so much on this trip!):

And these guys without their cutie-patootie:

And yes, what is a St. Pat's party without green jello shots?

Tasty way to end the St. Pat's celebrations!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

SoCal Checklist: Native Foods (Bonus: St. Pat's)

I LOVE Native Foods and would pretty much kill for a local one in South Carolina. But in the meantime, you can bet anytime I make out to SoCal, I'm going to Native Foods. I lucked out in that not only did I have some willing non-vegetarian friends come along, but Native Foods had St. Pat's special: "corned beef" sandwiches. Color me thrilled to pieces!

When I came back, a good-natured friend left a surprise dessert for me on my desk in honor of my St. Pat's Day adventure last year:

And in the evening, I celebrated St. Pat's at the Auld Dubliner with some lovely friends, like this lovely couple, who let me crash with them and their family:

And this good buddy (who I discovered was the one who surprised me with the Shamrock Shake):

Another awesome guy--great at the office AND the dance floor.  Plus he's a total sweetheart to boot.  Great sense of humor and game for a fun time, whether it's face painting or pranking.  And again, taking a page from Linda's blog: PS, he's single.  We all had a great discussion on "dealbreakers", though my friend here, would often counter with "game savers".  Sigh.  What can I say?  I have to respect that he finds a bright side.  No wonder we get along so well.

Unfortunately, St. Pat's came to a close for me soon after a round of Jameson was presented.  Oh my funking goodness.  Downing a shot of Jameson is the closest I will come to knowing what it must feel like to turn into a werewolf.  When my eyes opened, I fully expected a hairy paw to be clutching my empty crushed cup.

Though what really ended St. Pat's for me was watching the MSU Spartans getting kicked out in the FIRST ROUND of the NCAA tourney through a Jameson/werewolf haze.  Who bets against Izzo in the first round?  Nobody, especially this werewolf.  Only I expected them to go to the Sweet Sixteen and as one of a dozen people with the Ohio State as the final champion, this totally busted my brackets.  Serious Spartan heartbreak on so many levels.

Still I cannot complain too much--another awesome day spent with good people.

SoCal Checklist: Get Banksy-ish

As I've expressed before, I'm a huge fan of Banksy and have attempted projects with his clever twist (plus an added dose of sweetness). This time around, I thought I'd try something along the lines of this piece that Banksy did on the Palestine segregation wall:

I just had to find an office with a dry-erase wall where the occupant had the day off:

Unfortunately, since I lack realistic artist skills, I had to improvise with my lame drawing skills:

Errrggg. Unfortunately, the bricks didn't translate, and well, anthropomorphic cupcakes and toast didn't convey that sense of paradise "through the wall" as I hoped. And since I spent a lot of time scrubbing the wall (man, dried dry-erase markers is really, really hard to remove), this was as good as it got.

Well, not all attempts can be successes. Sometimes trying and failing is an important part of the journey, don't you think?

BTW, P, you'll want to wipe this down soon. I mean it, those dry-erase markers really set in hard.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

SoCal Checklist: Which Wich

Another stop on the food checklist with Linda was Which Wich, where you get to specify how you want your sandwich on these cute paper bags (which took me a while-LOTS of choices):

The sandwich was tasty and their house chips were delicious as well:

Definitely fun and tasty - I definitely recommend trying this place if you're near one, you lucky duck. 

Cute Kid Alert!  Got to hang with Oli, who's birthday party is this week:  the Big 2!

Love that he shows off the "meow-meow" that his mom draws on his cute tummy:

For dinner, had a delicious homemade Vietnamese summer roll feast (argh, no pictures!) and then met up with friends for an evening drink. I limited myself to one cocktail and I even shared it:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SoCal Checklist: Tampopo, Shin Se Gumi

On this trip out, I allotted myself more day time to spend with my friend Linda, and we had a mini-checklist of our own. One, which I wasn't that hardcore about, was the oatmeal at McDonald's, which she swears is better (and cheaper) than Starbucks:

I was really skeptical but it's not bad at all. It's on the sweeter side and kind of has this brown sugar flavor infused throughout that gets you hooked. Though I missed the nuts that Starbucks has, I really liked the fresh apples. The only trick is, if I'm going to McDonald's, I would lean towards the hash browns at breakfast as evidenced by the way I kept telling Oli "you want to give Auntie Frances a bite of your hash brown, don't you?". At Starbucks, their other hot food options blow, so their oatmeal seems fantastic in comparison there. Bottom line, though the cheap bastard in me balks at the price I'm paying for instant oatmeal at both places, both oatmeals are pretty darn good.

The place that Linda really raved about was Shin Sen Gumi's ramen. She had been raving about the place and said we HAD to go there. Of course, I love fresh ramen and I told her we should watch one of my favorite movies of all time, Tampopo, before we go. The movie has a main story line of a widow struggling with her ramen shop, so there are all these scenes about the best noodles, stock, etc. And by the end of the movie, you are dying to eat ramen. The movie is also interweaved with other vignettes about food relationships with other aspects of Japanese life, which I love. Because it's not on NetFlix and as a foreign film from over 20 years ago, Tampopo is really hard to get your hands on--fortunately, I was gifted (THANK YOU T!) with a DVD last year and was able to bring it so we could watch it.

We watched it and though Linda wasn't enamored by the non-ramen scenes, we both acknowledged it made you want to respect ramen a bit more. We headed out to Shin Sen Gumi and in some ways it was like in the movie--they only made one type of soup--but here they allowed some slight variations, like extra toppings, firmness of noodles, amount of oil, soup base strength, or if you found onions or ginger "Un desire able":

Aaahhh. Just like the movie:

Unfortunately, they offered only a pork-based soup (though I gave the actual meat to Linda) so I spent a lot of time distracted at how porky the soup was, but overall, delicious. I recommend it, especially after watching Tampopo.

Though it wasn't on the checklist, a number of us went out for karaoke in the evening:

This is my fellow East Coast remote co-worker--we've come to appreciate SoCal now that both of us have moved away from it, so every time we're out here, we fill our calendar with as much SoCal as we can. He's accomplished (played Lacrosse for Syracuse AND got a masters there as well) with a sense of adventure and wanderlust. We were the only remote employees that got dressed for Halloween--and he went all out as Tim the Enchanter. Plus he appreciates the ladies that are smart with a fierce sense of self. Is it any wonder we get along? And, taking a page from Linda's blog:  PS, he's single. 

Did I mention he's not afraid to get on the mike?  Uh, no, he's not a singer:

On a different note: CUTE KID ALERT! Did I mention I'm crashing with this adorable one? Well him, and his beautiful parents:

A great start to the week here in SoCal.