Sunday, February 28, 2010

Just Give

I’m going to go slightly off track here with my charity, as this month I’m not going to highlight a charity as I am a way to donate.

As time has gone on, one thing that I’ve realized is I, and frankly most everyone I know, has really everything they might need. While receiving a present at holiday time may still be nice, in the end it doesn’t necessarily offer the recipient much beyond the feeling of receiving a gift and knowing one is loved.

One popular alternative is to donate to a charity in one’s name. A noble gesture to be sure, but depending on who the donation is being made in honor of it can be challenging to figure out what charity would best fit that person. This is where Just Give comes in.

Just Give is essentially a gift card, only for charities. Done completely online, when you purchase your gift card it sends an email to the recipient with a code to use for the donation. There are 1.5 million charities affiliated with Just Give; you’re nearly guaranteed to find one you’d like to donate to.

The site is available at

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

I’d been getting a little tired of heading off to cold, snowy destinations. Fortunately for me I was in Chicago this week. Ugh. What I did find interesting about being out here was how this city handles snow as compared to Cincinnati. The night I got to Chicago the city got about 5 inches of snow, yet nobody was more than 20 minutes late getting to class. The 5 inches of snow Cincinnati received crippled the city for at least 2 days. It’s amazing how much better you handle it when you’re used to it.[1]

This week I was teaching a class of 15 people who were new to the product (SharePoint). This meant that I essentially had no breaks during the day, as I was constantly answering questions and troubleshooting labs. However, at the end of the week one of the students came up, shook my hand and gave me a very heart-felt “thank you” for the class. That’s why I love doing what I do.

The Restaurant

Finding a restaurant this week was a struggle, not because of the weather but because of the location. Being in Schaumburg, which is a suburb, means my choices range between Applebee’s, Outback and Olive Garden. However, I did succeed in finding a local restaurant named Entourage on American Lane which, oddly enough was on American Lane.

The place itself is huge and just gorgeous. The restaurant area is two stories, and the lounge is rather large. You’ll notice I use the word “lounge” as calling it a bar just doesn’t do it justice. That being said, I settled in at the bar and ordered my typical manhattan, which was made perfectly.

One of the main reasons I sit at the bar is because I feel less lonely there than at a table for one, and because on occasion I can strike up a fun conversation. Unfortunately, you wind up running the risk of getting caught in a conversation you really don’t want to at times. My trip to Entourage featured exactly that – a good 10 minutes explaining to the gentleman next to me how to use his iPhone, followed by hearing an overly detailed story of his trip to Bangkok.

Back to the restaurant. I started with one of their highlighted items, which was a salad featuring mixed greens, pears and goat cheese fritters. Deep fried goat cheese? Yes, please. The salad (and the fritters) were just as good as I was expecting. For my entree I went with their pork chop “t-bone”, which is a double (triple?) cut chop with a twice baked potato and sautéed spinach. The spinach was good, but the baked potato and pork chop were honestly just OK – not bad, just not overwhelming and certainly not up to par with the salad. (Did I mention the salad came with deep fried goat cheese?)

All in all I was very impressed with the place, though not overwhelmed. I do intend to stop by again the next time I’m in Schaumburg.

The Travel Note

Because I travel so much I often get to cut the security line and almost always get to cut the boarding line. No, I don’t feel the least bit guilty about doing this, despite the glares I get on a very frequent basis.

The Five

I know I’ve done this particular topic before, but due to a particular incident I feel the urge to do another things I’m ashamed to admit I like/do.

  1. I’ve curled before, and I really enjoyed it. I don’t believe this is something to really be ashamed of, but I took a lot of static for it in a bar recently, so it goes on the list.
  2. I willingly watched women’s figure skating on Thursday night. Sorry, but the story of the one skater losing her mother days before the competition hooked me.
  3. OK – I admit it – I want to get a pedicure. There. I said it.
  4. I own more pairs of shoes than my wife. Although I’m not sure if that says more about me or about her.
  5. I’ve worn a red dress in public. Yes, there are pictures.

[1] I’m living proof of how one struggles with it when he’s not used to it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

Ah, Houston, how I’ve missed you so. Well, not really, but it sounds better than “*&%*&^* Houston again!!!”. There’s a lot I do enjoy about Houston, but alas this was not the week to visit anything fun. For starters, I had a chest crud/cold that would just not leave me alone. So debilitating this crud was I wasn’t able to walk up a flight of stairs or quickly down a hallway without losing my breath. As such, I wasn’t much in the mood for venturing off anywhere interesting. I really wanted to get over to either Grimaldi’s or Gringo’s this week, but driving down there just didn’t sound appealing. Couple that with the fact that I had a good amount of work quite a bit in the evening and it turned into a very, very boring week.

The Restaurant

I’m going to highlight a San Diego restaurant this week called Starlite. The place is located on India Avenue, just off the flight path for the airport. It’s situated next to one garage/salvage yard with another right across the street. Unless you knew it was there you’d drive right by it without realizing it, as Karin and I nearly did on our way over there for dinner.

The inside has a feel that I can’t quite describe. It’s sort of a futuristic 70’s hipster vibe for lack of a better way to put it. The center bar in the restaurant is the focal point of all the activity; it’s large and very well stocked with likely the best bourbon/rye selection in town (I counted no less than 20 options). They take pride in their cocktails, something I admire, and have many specialty ones served up in brass mugs. Really – who has brass mugs?

The food is mostly organic or farm-to-table. The menu is rather small, but what they do they do extremely well and it changes regularly. Karin went for a crispy chicken, which I’d had before, and was fantastic both then and this past Saturday. I had the seared ahi, which had a nice black pepper crust to it. It was a touch overdone for my liking, but still delicious nonetheless. Dessert was an ice cream sandwich (and a good glass of rye for me).

This is probably one of the more unique restaurants in San Diego, for their food, booze selection, atmosphere and selection. Parking is a pain, and finding it can be a bit tricky, but it’s worth the effort.

The Travel Note

I’ve mentioned many times before that I sit at the bar whenever I eat out alone, mostly because that seems less lonely to me than a table for one. Out of convenience sake I went to the Chili’s in the Galleria Mall that my hotel was attached to on Sunday night after landing. After I paid my bill and was about to walk away the bartender says to me, “Have a good Valentine’s Day!” Um, I’m sitting in a bar alone. I think the chances of me having a good Valentine’s Day are pretty much shot.

The Five

Btw – Any ideas are greatly appreciated. ;-)

I generally don’t have snacks, but when I do these are my 5 favorite:

  1. Doritos – I’m pretty sure they’re 100% chemicals, but they’re great chemicals.
  2. Butterfingers – Again, I don’t know that there are any ingredients that actually occur in nature, but I love them.
  3. Samoas – And it’s Girl Scout cookie season. If you’d like to surprise me with a gift...
  4. Ben & Jerry’s – The story goes that the person in the pair who tasted the ice cream didn’t have most of his taste buds working, so they had to make the ice cream more flavorful. Here’s to his failed taste buds.
  5. Ice cold Mountain Dew – In the can. I don’t do much soda, but when I do this is what I crave.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

As I travel full time for work, one question that I struggle with is what constitutes “visiting” a state. My father’s definition was that simply leaving the airport counts, so a simple drive-through of the state would count. For me that’s a bit too simple as there are a couple of states (Indiana, New Mexico) that I’ve spent just a couple of hours in as we were driving through to other destinations.

This week I was in Cincinnati[1]. Well, I was working in Cincinnati, but I was staying, and did most of my external activities, in Kentucky. So, do I get to count both Ohio and Kentucky, or just Kentucky? Either way, this was a new area of the country for me.

It was also a fantastic opportunity to see the Kentucky Harrisons. Yes, there are Harrisons in Kentucky – in particular, an aunt and uncle, a couple of cousins and a couple of other relatives by marriage or child birth[2]. I was able to see my cousin Michelle and her daughter Riley on Tuesday night, and then the entire brood on Wednesday night.

It was also a great refresher of why I don’t live somewhere that has a real winter. On Monday night into Tuesday morning we got *ahem* pounded by 5 inches of snow which caused the campus of Xavier, which I was on, to close at 10:30a on Tuesday. That night brought another 2 inches, delaying start on Wednesday morning by 2 hours. I didn’t have to deal too much with the snow, but I was glad to leave it nevertheless.

The Restaurant

On Wednesday night Uncle Kevin took us all out to Montgomery Inn, which is a Cincinnati institution. The place has been around since 1951 and is famous for their ribs. The restaurant itself still has a 50’s feel to it, and features a large bar in the center and a rather large dining area sprawled across the entire building. As for the food, well, the place is famous for their ribs and they do a very good, but not great, job on them. I prefer my ribs with a bit more kick to them, and these were on the sweet side. Again – very good, but not great.

The Travel Note

IMG_0391 I know the US Patent Office is willing to grant patents to almost anything lately, but really – a patent for a barf bag? What is there to patent? And how do you prove yours was original work?

The Five

Feeling unimaginative today, so thanks to the fine folks at I have 5 questions to answer this week:

  1. What is your favorite blanket like?
    This one is very simple – it’s the one on my bed.
  2. What was the last thing you baked?
    A couple months ago I baked up the Good Eats brownies. They took longer to set up than the 45 minutes stated in the recipe, but they came out all ooey-gooey and delicious. Paired with some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and they were a huge hit at the dinner party.
  3. What television personality gets you most hot and bothered?
    It’s a toss up between Thirteen and Cameron on House.
  4. When did you last burn yourself?
    About a month ago when I was making pork chops for Karin and I. Burned the ever loving snot out of my space bar thumb.
  5. What are your feelings about hot sauce?
    While I enjoy heat at times in certain foods (Indian, BBQ), I’m generally not a hot sauce fan. It’s not so much the heat as it is the flavor. I just haven’t tasted a hot sauce that I’ve liked the flavor of.

[1] That’s with one “T”
[2] After cousin, I’m lost. I have no idea what a second cousin, or thrice removed or any of the other qualifiers mean. I’m sure some well-meaning person will now explain what all of it means, and I’ll thank them, and then forget it all about 30 seconds later.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Five

The Excuse

I think it’s safe to claim victory here. This section is going away until further notice.

The Week

Last Saturday was the annual Ukrainian Christmas party hosted by Brent and Ron. I’ve mentioned my Prethanksgiving dinner here a couple of times, and I have to say when it comes to food and scale I don’t hold a candle to what they accomplish. It’s days worth of work, and I can’t even imagine having to clean up all of it afterwards. As always it was a fantastic time with great friends and even better food.

Because I still know the way[1], I boarded a Southwest flight to San Jose on Sunday. San Jose means all sorts of weird things for me – quick flight, same time zone, and getting a chance to hang out with friends. Monday night saw me out with a good friend and his wife at a tapas place, and them Wednesday found me out with a couple of friends at a Moroccan restaurant. The rest of the time was basically just me either working or running.

The Restaurant

In keeping with my “no chains” rule when I travel, my dinner dates took me over to a Moroccan restaurant called Menari. From the outside it looks like a single story warehouse or factory, but inside it’s decorated like what one might imagine a desert oasis tent might be. The tables are all low to the ground, surrounded with little pads to sit on or, if you must, a low level couch that runs along the wall surrounding the room.

All the food, outside of the couscous is all eaten with your hands, and there’s really no being dainty about it – you just have to dig in. And dig in we did. We did a chicken dish (which was curry-ish), honey glazed lamb chops, and a couple other odds and ends. Top the whole evening off with a belly dancer, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic dinner and night.

The Travel Note

Maybe it’s just my luck with Southwest. But my return flight featured yet another delayed flight, a guy in the middle seat who elbowed me no less than 6 times during the flight, and the kid in front of me who spilled his soda down the side of his seat and all over my bag underneath it. Have I mentioned how much I hate flying Southwest?

The Five

With all the slagging of chain restaurants that I do, it’s worth noting there are quite a few good chains out there, or at least chains that I like. If you’ve been paying attention over the last couple years I’m sure you can probably predict my list, so I don’t think there’s a lot that needs to be said after each.

  1. Famous Dave’s – I think I may have professed my love for Famous Dave’s on occasion.
  2. White Castle – Cheap little grease spots on a bun.
  3. Maggiano’s – Love this place, even if it is a chain.
  4. Outback – Not the best steaks on the planet, but for the price they sure do a mean one.
  5. Hooters – but not for the obvious reason. If I land in a city on a Sunday the Chargers are playing, there’s guaranteed to be a Hooters and they’re guaranteed to have the game on. Just makes life easier to go there.

[1] Just for you, Brenda.