Not Quite a Finale

On Wednesday, August 16th, 2006, I turned 29 years old. That day marked the beginning of my 30th year of life.

Inspired by my friend Matt and his "Life To-Do" list, I decided to take a photograph every day for a year, starting on my 29th birthday. When I finished, I would have 365 photographs--and I would be 30 years old.

My year-long photo project is now complete. Some days turned out better than others, as was to be expected. And although the 30th year of my life is finished, the rest of my journey is not. I've decided not to abandon this journal, but instead maintain it for different purposes.

If you would like to view my pictures starting from the beginning, they start here (at the bottom of the page).

iPod People, Day 2: Shuffle Up And Deal

Things I learned about my iPod today: it likes Mariah Carey a lot more than I do; it also likes John Williams and U2, but that is in no way surprising or unwelcome. :)

48. "Betterman," Pearl Jam

49. "Drop In The Ocean," Michelle Branch

50. "Angels," Robbie Williams

51. "Walk On The Ocean," Toad The Wet Sprocket

52. "Ticket To Ride," The Beatles

53. "Fired," Ben Folds

54. "Fifteen Years," Levellers

55. "The Riverside," Jessica Andrews

56. "Ben's Song," Sarah McLachlan

57. "Better Days," Goo Goo Dolls

58. "Listen With Your Heart," Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz

59. "Peppermint Patty," Vince Guaraldi

60. "Paris 1919," John Cale (One of my favorite songs ever, despite the fact that I'm not entirely sure what it's about.)

61. "The March Of The Kings/Hark The Herald Angels Sing," Trans-Siberian Orchestra (Again resisted the urge to skip a Christmas song, due to the awesomeness that is TSO.)

62. "Vision Of Love," Mariah Carey

63. "Karma Police," Radiohead (Skipped this one, because even though Radiohead is supposed to be awesome or something, I can't stand this song. Blech.)

64. "Lemon (Momo Beats)," U2

65. "Since U Been Gone," Kelly Clarkson

66. "Before You," Chantal Kreviazuk

67. "Dreaming," Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

68. "Sweetest Thing (Single Mix)," U2

69. "Red Rubble Ball," The Cyrkle

70. "The Crook of My Good Arm," Pale Young Gentleman

71. "Some Like It Hot," The Power Station

72. "Speeder Bike Chase/Land Of The Ewoks," London Symphony Orchestra

73. "City Of Blinding Lights (Live From Chicago, May 2005)," U2

74. "Jar Jar's Introduction; The Swim To Otoh Gunga," John Williams

75. "Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience (From The Joshua Tree Sessions)," U2

76. "One Night Stand," Enrique Iglesias

77. "Qui-Gon's Noble End," John Williams

78. "Don't Let's Talk About Lisa," Lonestar (Wow, that title just screams country, doesn't it?)

79. "Freeway Of Love," Aretha Franklin

80. "Raining On Sunday," Keith Urban

81. "Snow Fell On Walter," Michael Convertino

82. "Miss Halfway," Anya Marina

83. "If You Were Here," Cary Brothers (This guy--and yes, it's a guy, not brothers with the last name Cary--is fantastic live, and I particularly enjoy this cover of a Thompson Twins song.)

84. "Vanishing," Mariah Carey

85. "This Is Ponderous," 2nu (I will forever and always associate this song with sophomore year at Carmel.)

86. "Mrs. Robinson (live)," R.E.M. and Robyn Hitchcock

87. "Your Life Is Now," John Mellencamp

88. "If You Could See What I See," Geoff Moore

89. "Just To Hold You Once Again," Mariah Carey

90. "Harden My Heart," Quarterflash

iPod People, Day 1: Do the Shuffle

Because I still have not learned moderation when it comes to tackling certain projects, last night I decided to start stenciling a border around the Disney room. Simple enough...until I decided that I needed to use five different colors. On every iteration of the stencil. Using paint.

Needless to say, this is going to take a while.

So what does a project like that need most? Another project tacked on top of it!

No, wait...what it needs most is music. Music you can work to. And possibly a chiropractor. But once you have the music, then you can tack on another project.

So welcome to the Shuffle Project, Day 1. Because I clearly have too much time on my hands (oh, no, that's paint, not time...), I decided that it would be fun to keep track of the songs playing on my iPod when in 'shuffle' mode. Currently, my iPod has 5,372 songs on it, and my goal is to keep playing it on shuffle all the way through until the end. I am quite certain that I will somehow screw that up, but in the meantime I'm going to have a little fun with it. (And by fun, I mean 'make lists'.)

What I really want to know is...does my iPod have moods? Do certain types of songs tend to congregate despite a purportedly random algorithm? And is it weird to have the Muppets and...well, anyone else, really...on the same electronic device?

So without further ado (but not without commentary! and parentheses!), I present List the First.

Day One

1. "Avalanche," Heather Nova

2. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Live from Milan, July 2005)," U2

3. "Bread and Butter," The Newbeats

4. "New York City," They Might Be Giants

5. "Brandy Alexander," Feist

6. "A Thousand Miles," Vanessa Carlton

7. "Angry," Matchbox Twenty

8. "Landslide," Dixie Chicks

9. "This Corrosion," The Sisters of Mercy

10. "Gaston," Richard White & Jesse Corti (How many songs do *you* own that feature the word 'expectorating'?)

11. "Where Does the Good Go," Tegan & Sara

12. "Moonlit Prayer," Michael McDermott

13. "Treachery," Kirsty MacColl (R.I.P., Kirsty. You were awesome.)

14. "Shining Road," Cranes (The only song I skipped all evening. Still can't stand the Cranes. Sorry, Mick.)

15. "Love Takes Time," Mariah Carey

16. "Pinball Wizard," The Who

17. "Mean," Pink

18. "Be," Neil Diamond

19. "Let's Hear That String Part Again, Because I Don't Think They Heard All the Way Out in Bushnell," Sufjan Stevens

20. "Don't Stop Believin'," Journey (It was actually a little odd to hear the non-Glee version.)

21. "Mr. Blue," Garth Brooks

22. "Cecilia," Simon & Garfunkel

23. "Take Me Away," Lifehouse

24. "Can't Let Go," Mariah Carey

25. "Why Can't I Be You?," The Cure

26. "The Unfeeling Kiss," Gabriel Yared

27. "He's A Pirate (DJ Tiësto Remix)," DJ Tiësto

28. "Same Old Story," Garth Brooks

29. "Brim Full Of Asha (Norman Cook Remix)," Corner Shop

30. "A Sort of Homecoming," U2

31. "Just Around the Riverbend," Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz

32. "Sagaba," Blue Scholars

33. "Miss Amanda Jones," March Violets

34. "Happy Now?," No Doubt

35. "Track 79," Cracker

36. "Doctor Worm," They Might Be Giants

37. "My Little Drum," Vince Guaraldi (Almost skipped this, because it's a Christmas song, but the Peanuts factor won out.)

38. "Kathy's Song," Simon & Garfunkel

39. "Rinse," Vanessa Carlton

40. "Heartless," Kris Allen

41. "Baby Grand," Billy Joel & Ray Charles

42. "Down By The River," Indigo Girls

43. "Bye Bye Baby," ok go

44. "Footloose," Kenny Loggins (When I was little I totally thought Kevin Bacon sang this song.)

45. "Drift On," Butterfly Boucher

46. "Anakin Defeats Sebulba," John Williams (Yes, the Prequel Trilogy was lame, but the music was still good.)

47. "Ordinary Men," Millions

Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Travelers

I don't travel a lot. More than many, I suppose, but nowhere near the quantity of a business traveler who finds him/herself going somewhere practically every week. I flew six round-trips in 2008 (one for work), and have flown five so far in 2009 (again, one for work) with at least one more on the horizon. I fly enough so that I feel like I know the drill, despite having to deal with what has to be one of the least consumer-friendly airports in the country, O'Hare International. And every time I fly, I am constantly amazed by how consistently people make things harder for themselves--not to mention everyone around them. A few things I noticed (er, griped about) while traveling this past weekend:

1. Yes, those big signs posted all over the airport have some great information on them. It's wonderful that you're apparently one of the 3% of the people actually bothering to read them! However, coming to a sudden, complete stop in the middle of the busy flow of pedestrian traffic in the terminal is NOT THE WAY TO DO IT.

2. Clearly the world would be a happier place filled with butterflies and rainbows if all the necessary instructions were simply beamed right into your brain. Being asked to pay attention is obviously cruel and unusual punishment. But is it really so hard to hang up your cell phone or stop turning around to talk to your traveling companion when you're the next person in line? When the ticket agent has to say 'next passenger please' three or four times, you're just asking to get trampled.

3. No, there is not a special line for you. Yes, you ARE a special snowflake, and there SHOULD be a separate line for you, but standing there lost and forlorn, blocking traffic, in hopes that the 150 people in the security line will magically disappear, is just going to make the next 150 people behind you mad. And while you're at it, get out your boarding pass and i.d. No, I mean before you get to the TSA agent's desk. Yes, that one. Oh, and take off your shoes while you're at it.

4. Naturally, your children are ALSO special snowflakes--small, unique individuals who should never, ever be repressed by today's cruel society. Far be it for me to decree that Johnny and Susie (or, you know, Aiden and Madison) probably shouldn't be using the line dividers as hammocks, or that they should ever be denied as much personal space as they need, even if it means running into other people. They ARE special. So who am I to think that, no, the window shades and the seat belts aren't toys, to be slammed and clicked over and over and OVER for the duration of a four-hour flight? That might impede their EXPRESSION. And of course, you shouldn't forget to reinforce their personality and social behaviors by neglecting to tell them how GOOD they've been at the end of the flight. Oh, and when they drop their sticky sucker behind the seat onto the foot of the passenger behind them? TOTALLY not necessary to apologize.

5. The plane will not leave the airport any faster if you are the first one on it. And standing in line on the jetway is not actually better than sitting at the gate. But please, by all means, cluster around the check-in desk before your group number is called. Sure, you're in group 4, and they're only loading group 1, but why should it matter to you if the group 1 people can't get through the throng? It's not like the plane is going to leave without them, right?

6. Flying coach (I mean 'economy') is not comfortable. This is simply a fact. And I get it, no one wants to pay to check their bags, but they don't want to sit with their feet on them the entire flight, either. That would just be awkward. Besides, all those announcements about only putting wheeled bags in the overhead bins are just GUIDELINES. If YOU put your purse and your coat and your shopping bag up there, no one will mind. Until, that is, someone is forced to gate-check his rollerboard, at which point he may decide to beat you with it. Oh, and once you're settled in your seat, go ahead and recline it all the way back. And press your feet against the seat in front of you so you can push the seat back even MORE. We want you to be COMFORTABLE.

7. Your body odor is not pleasant. No, really. Yes, you.

Adventures in Deutschland

Hmm. Well. It's been more than six months since I last posted here, and not surprisingly, a lot has happened in that time. Since last August, I went to Las Vegas, Walt Disney World, and (back) to Denver in the span of a month, hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner, celebrated the Christmas holiday, and kicked off a new year.

And after 31 years, 5 months, and 16 days, I finally got a stamp in my passport. (Okay, so I had only had the passport since last July. Not the point.) The main reason I had gotten the passport was because my boss told me to do so. Our parent company is located in Germany, and he kept threatening promising to send me there. Last December, he made good on his word, and told another engineer and I that would we be heading over there for a few weeks for some training. And so, on January 31st, I was off to Chicago-O'Hare International, where I boarded my very first 777 and flew to Frankfurt.

I must admit, I was a little 'star struck' by the plane. That sucker was big. Still, I wasn't entirely certain how much fun it would be to be on it for 8 1/2 hours. We had 'upgraded' to Economy Plus, and airplane travel is one of the few times I'm happy to be 5'2", but the quarters were still...less than luxurious. Nevertheless, I settled in with my books/crossword/Sudoku/iPod, and soon enough we were airborne.

The flight itself was actually quite uneventful. I amused myself for the first few hours, ate dinner (which was edible, if mediocre), and promptly took a sleeping pill (thanks, Dr. Savin). I managed to sleep for the middle four hours of the flight, which was a minor miracle, and woke in time for the 'light breakfast' a couple hours before landing in Germany. Oddly enough, we were not parked at a gate upon our arrival in Frankfurt. Instead, we were herded across the tarmac to several buses, which then transported us to the terminal. Perhaps we landed in France by mistake...

Customs was a breeze (although, weirdly, the customs agent asked me where I was going, and then whether I was in the military, which...HAHAHAHAHAHA), none of our luggage was lost, and we were met by a driver from the company. It was about another hour from Frankfurt to Hardheim, the picturesque but not especially large town where we were staying. We were taken to our hotel, the Gasthaus zum Ochsen, which you can see below.

We had a few hours to get settled after arriving, and I resisted the urge to simply crawl into bed and sleep for a week. The room itself was quite large, albeit rather different than a typical American hotel room. For instance, there was no telephone...and my laptop was larger than the TV. Only half of the bed was made up, I guess since only one person was staying there. And there was a coffee table and an elliptical machine in the room. Didn't understand that at all.

Mid-afternoon, we were picked up from the hotel by the head of the mechanical engineering department, who took us over to the plant and gave us a brief tour. As it was a Sunday, there was hardly anyone there, but we were able to get the lay of the land a bit. The main machine fabrication shop was about a five-minute walk from our hotel, and we actually walked to work all but one of the days we were there. Here is the path along the river that we took each day.

After the tour, he took us to the nearby city of Buchen, which is where a two-week odyssey of food began for me. :) I have to confess, I was a bit nervous about whether I would like the food over there. I've never been the most adventurous eater (although I've gotten markedly better in the last half-dozen years or so), and my main impression of German food in America consisted of bratwurst (yum) and sauerkraut (ew). Much to my delight, I found German food (at least in that particular region) very much to my liking. I'm not sure I've ever eaten quite so much protein, as nearly every meal seemed to consist of some kind of meat in some kind of sauce with some kind of potatoes. Fortunately, despite the hearty fare, I actually lost a couple pounds thanks to the fact that we walked everywhere!

Quite honestly, the bulk of my time in Germany was spent working and eating, which really isn't a bad way to spend two weeks! All but two of the nights we were there, we were taken out by various employees of the company, and it seemed like we visited nearly every town in the area. I can't imagine that anyone wants a complete blow-by-blow of every meal, so I'll just try to hit the highlights of my daily activities.

For the first week of the trip, we spent all of our work time in the machine assembly area. Although we also build the machines here in the States, we don't generally have the luxury of sitting in the shop and simply observing the assembly process. It was incredibly beneficial, after more than four years, to really get a chance to see how the pieces fit together. We were even able to get our hands dirty, assisting with some of the simpler tasks. Hopefully the machine will still run properly. :) Regardless, I learned a lot, and I'm confident that it will enable me to better do my job here.

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Prior to the trip, there had been quite a bit of discussion about doing some sightseeing during our free weekend there. We talked about possibly going to Paris, or down to Neuschwanstein Castle. Neither of us had ever been to Europe before, however, and while we were eager to see the sights, we were also a bit nervous about simply wandering about the countryside on our own. Much to our relief, members of the engineering department volunteered to accompany us on both Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday was probably my favorite day of the entire trip. It was our first chance to really do anything other than work or eat, and we decided to go to Stuttgart. Specifically, we visited the Porsche Museum and the Mercedes-Benz Museum. Now, having been raised right and proper by my father, I've pretty much always loved cars, particularly ones that are sleek, shiny, and possessing an overabundance of horsepower. Needless to say, spending the day in two car museums was right up my alley. I took a ton of pictures, which can be seen here and here. I preferred the Porsche Museum, and these two were my favorite cars:

We also had a very nice 'tour guide' that day (an American one, at that), who I'm fairly certain only thought I was marginally crazy. :)

Sunday was also a lot of fun, as we went for a more traditional German route, and visited Heidelberg. Our 'guide' that day was a native of Portugal, and we were once again joined by our Indian colleague. My only regret is that we didn't have more time to spend there. It's a beautiful old city, and I'm sure it would be even more so in warmer weather. We had an absolutely delicious lunch...somewhere, where I ate 'schnitzel with noodles' (how very The Sound of Music...only not in Austria...with less singing...and no Nazis). After lunch, we wandered around for a while, and I, shockingly, took pictures. Being Sunday, most of the shops were closed, but there were still lots of people strolling around. I was particularly enthralled by the bridge:

And someday I will have to go back to visit the castle, as we didn't have time on this trip:

Monday, of course, it was back to work, and we spent our week in the engineering offices, learning more about their procedures. There were also some meetings going on that week (which we were not a part of), so a second colleague from India and two from China joined our 'visitors' group. We had a whole posse for dinners that week. :)

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Flew home on Friday the 13th, and let me just say that a) it takes longer to fly west than east, and b) staying awake for the whole flight made it seem that much longer. Plus I really didn't want to come home yet.


When can I go back?

Denver Days

The long-awaited (or not) Colorado trip post! Suffice it to say, it was a busy, wonderful week. It would have been perfect had I actually been healthy for the entirety of it, but seriously, when have I been healthy for the entirety of anything?

This post will be quite image-heavy, so I'll be lj-cutting for the flists of all three people who might actually be reading this. :)

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Didn't we just leave this party?

I swear, I just got back from Seattle, and it's almost time to start packing for Colorado. I'm just a traveling fool this summer. :)

Many of my favorite childhood memories are centered around the O'Brien Family Reunions, which were most famously held at Clear Lake in Buchanan, MI. Times change, though, and this will be our first reunion in the Rockies. Since my only other (very brief) trip to CO involved a wedding and a ridiculous amount of rain, I'm hoping to see more of the sights this time around.

Along with the sights, there will be so many people! Tienne, Dan, Kaden, and Geneva; Laura, Matt, Russell, and Ingrid; Jon and Angie...and that's before the reunion even starts.

And with a little luck, there will be afternoon tea. Mmmm.

Northwest Passage

I will make every attempt to be entertaining in this post, but in all honestly I'm completely exhausted, and I'm really only writing this because I want to share these pictures as soon as possible. :)

I spent the weekend in Seattle, witnessing my cousin Michelle's PhD graduation. She received her doctorate in Women Studies, after writing a thesis on Very Complicated Things Which I Do Not Even Pretend to Understand.

Anyway, I flew out late on Friday night--later than scheduled, naturally, because heaven forbid anything at O'Hare ever be on time--and caught only a wee amount of sleep before the festivities were underway. Here we all are (L to R: me, Erin, Aunt Nancy, Michelle, Grandma Strom, Linnea, and Uncle Bob) prior to university commencement on Saturday:

As Michelle was one of the banner-carriers, the rest of us got to hang out in the stadium club, which featured two separate buffets, padded seats outside, and a place to retreat when we got chilly and/or bored, which was inevitable given the four-hour ceremony. For the record, Quincy Jones rambles, and Bill Gates didn't do anything but sit on the stage.

Following the graduation ceremony, we had a delightful seafood dinner at a restaurant right on Puget Sound. It would have been perfect had I not been staring directly into the setting sun.

Saturday night also featured a disturbing lack of sleep, and Sunday we were off and running yet again. First stop was Seattle Center, specifically the Space Needle, which Aunt Nancy and I went up. (The others had either done it before or simply weren't interested.) The view was great, and I took a bunch of photos at the top that I will not be posting, for space conservation.

Sunday afternoon was the graduation ceremony for the Department of Women Studies, which was shorter, smaller, and quite a bit more emotional. When that was over, it was off to Pike Place Market, where we had a lovely view of Mt. Ranier.

The actual market was very busy and very interesting, with lots of fresh flowers, amazing produce, craft items, and seafood. The colors were so striking, particularly these hanging bunches, chiles? Peppers? This isn't my area of expertise...

Dinner Sunday night was even better than Saturday night. Can't beat seafood when you're in Seattle.

Sunday night I actually slept. Yay! We all needed to be at the airport at different times, so while Michelle and Erin took their parents and Grandma to SeaTac, Linnea and I headed for the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Music & Hall of Fame. Naturally, I was particularly enamored of anything Star Wars-related. About the only thing missing was any mention of Firefly. We also had time to walk around the Seattle Center a bit, including through a small garden. It was hard to resist taking photos of the flowers, so I didn't try very hard. :) I think this is my favorite.

And now, to bed...

Sweet Memories

A taste, a scent, can instantly bring back a memory. Whether it's the flavor of homemade, cinnamon infused applesauce (made from apples we picked ourselves), or the fake fir smell that was featured in a favorite Christmas scratch-and-sniff book, certain things send me sailing back to childhood.

Perhaps nothing achieves it as effectively as the sweet, tart, icy flavor of a Bomb Pop. The red, white, and blue popsicle was an emblem of summer, of hot days spent at the Bowen Pool in Waukegan. I'm not even entirely sure what the flavors were--cherry red, blue raspberry, and...lemon in the middle? Who knows, but it sure was delicious.

I haven't had one in a while, but I bought some Cherry Limeade at the grocery store this afternoon, and one sip sent me hurtling back 25 years. Mmm. And it must be healthier than an actual Bomb Pop, right? (And seriously, would such an un-PC name ever make it to market these days? A red, white, and blue rocket of frozen patriotism? Actually, maybe it would...)