Sunday, January 29, 2012

The one thing I love about travel is that I find I plow through tons of books without TV to distract me in the evenings.  This month, I finally clicked on two books that have been sitting in my iPad library for months.  It just so happened that they were both narratives set during WWII

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

To say I was captivated by this book is an understatement.  Hillenbrand's extensive research and interviews allowed her to bring the young Louie Zamperini to life.  From his days as a childhood miscreant, to his focus and determination towards becoming an Olympic track star and breaking the 4-minute mile. Then to his fierce resolve to live, surviving a record number of days adrift when his B-24 crashes 2000 miles from land in the Pacific Ocean, only to be tortured and degraded by horrific, targeted acts performed by Japanese military guards at several POW camps.  And, of course, Zamperini's ultimate, and admirable, ability to forgive his captors, years after the war ended, for all he was forced to endure and to regain his zeal for life he had before the war.

Read this book!

Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen

First, this is a novel, not a non-fictional portrayal of events.  In fact, when I was finished, I was confused because I thought the authors had made a huge error in their depiction of the actual events that happened on December 7, 1941 because not only was Admiral Yamamoto leading the attack, and not Nagumo, but they included a third-wave of Japanese airplanes - targeting the main dry dock and oil storage tanks - and a follow-on attack by Japanese battleships the next day, which historically was not the case.  All reliable sources say that a third bombing was dismissed by the attack's commanding officer due to having accomplished the goal of the mission and the risks presented by the unknown whereabouts of the three missing USN aircraft carriers that were supposed to be in port that day.  After reading more about the book, this alteration of facts was intentional to present a "what if" scenario that is played out through the three book series.  Oh, and the reference to December 8th in the title is "Japan-time."

Regardless of these liberties taken by the authors, the book focuses on several main characters, including an American and a British officer who were WWI codebreakers, and two notable Japanese officers instrumental in devising and carrying out the attack on Pearl Harbor - Fuchida and Genda.  The book takes the reader on a journey through events happening in China and Southeast Asia in the 1930s and early 40s and motivations of the Japanese leading up to the attack on the U.S. -  using a lot of fictional dialog based on facts to tell the story.  I found some points of interest throughout the narrative, such as the comparisons of European colonialism practices and American "manifest destiny" actions to the Japanese expansionism leading up to WWII, but ultimately was bored by the dialog itself -- skipping some of the text in parts, especially the repetition of facts told from other viewpoints.  To be completely honest, I found the quality of writing to be sub-par compared to other bestselling fictional authors, and through reading reviews on Amazon, apparently the facts were not all checked either, both of which likely contributed to my lackluster opinion of this book. 

That being said, overall, this book provided an approachable way to expose myself to the complexity of that day in history, and it served as a starting point to expanding my knowledge of the subject, rather than as a primary source of information and fact.

Posted on Sunday, January 29, 2012 by Julie

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For two weeks in January, Park City, Utah becomes the destination for Hollywood actors, actresses, directors, etc. looking to screen their recent independent films, as well as see and be seen.  Planning to go to the event as a non-celeb is not difficult, but start early (as much as a year in advance) in order to get lodging reserved and be prepared to shell out a lot of money for the room.

While in Park City, there are basically only a few things to do during the festival.  In the day, you can either ski or see films.  At night, there are more films to see, food to eat, and drinks to order (albeit a little weaker than normal due to liquor laws in Utah).  If it's your intention to get some good celebrity watching in, it's best to go during the first weekend when the films are being premiered and the parties are, primarily, being held.  A good portion of my celeb sightings were actually at the airport.  Look for the paparazzi, and you'll be fine.

For skiing, there are three fantastic resorts around town within a 10 minute driving radius:
  • Park City Mountain Resort: Accessible to all levels of skiers, and due to its proximity to downtown PC, also probably your best bet to bump into a celeb or two.  For extreme skiers and snowboarders, it has an Olympic half pipe, freestyle jumps, and a challenging giant slalom course.  Costco sometimes has lift ticket packages, so be on the lookout.
  • The Canyons: For more experienced skiers who like less crowded run options and more chance for great powder, make the short drive over to this resort.  Costco sometimes has lift ticket packages for The Canyons too.
  • Deer Valley: No snowboarders allowed!
  • Alta and Snowbird are also great Utah skiing options while in PC, but you'll need at least 1 hour to drive there. 

To see some films, understand the Sundance Institute holds an annual lottery to manage the distribution of tickets.  Typically, you will need to register by early Fall (Sept/Oct) in order to be considered for a purchase timeslot.  At that time, you can choose to register for (in order of priority - click the links for more details):
  • Festival Passes ($500-3000) - all access and tickets to Day One or Awards Party
  • Ticket Packages ($300-1000) - first access to select tickets before they are released to the individual ticket pool
  • Individual Tickets ($15 each) - either register to get a chance to purchase in advance or log on the week before the festival during the open sales period
Utah locals receive the benefits of special pricing and priority access to tickets.

After the lottery is held, if you've been awarded permission to purchase tickets, you will receive an email notice of your timeslot.   Once at the theater, note that people start to line up early and ticketholders may not be admitted until 15 minutes before the movies start time.  Sometimes, this waiting area is outside, so dress appropriately.  There are also waitlist opportunities if you are unable to get any of your preferred movies or times.  Check out the festival's website for more details. 

As for the dining and nightlife, parking is a challenge for Main Street, in fact Main Street itself is for loading/unloading only.  Take advantage of the free festival shuttles, that are running to transport moviegoers to the different theater venues, and the town trolley, or be prepared to spend upward of $20 (worst price: $16 for three hours at one lot) to park.  Taxis are another option, but they are not cheap, nor are there enough to satisfy the demand during the festival. 

Several popular bars are located in the middle of Main Street near one of the festival sponsored party spots - Sidecar, Spur, Flanagan's, O'Shucks, and No Name Saloon.  The festival is not limited to just movies and movie stars, musicians also come to town and often you will find live music at bars, at the Sundance Music Cafe, or at specific venues or exclusive parties.  Be surprised if a bar DOESN'T have a cover charge of $10-20.  Also dress warmly because you will very likely be waiting outside to get in.  For women, be thoughtful about your shoe selection because the sidewalks can be slippery with the snow, slush, and ice.  Most importantly, make sure to mingle - you never know with whom you'll end up talking!

For restaurants, make reservations in advance for the popular restaurants.  Try Talisker on Main or Riverhorse on Main for upscale eating, Wasatch Brew Pub for local brews and food, or The Eating Establishment for all day dining (and long breakfast hours!).  501 on Main is another restaurant to consider.  There's also Robert Redford's own restaurant, Zoom!

See you at the festival next year!

Posted on Sunday, January 29, 2012 by Julie

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

As part of my new years resolutions, I am attempting to get back into a regular running routine after awhile spent being very, very lazy.  So, here's a special edition of my favorite things - with a running theme!

1. Body Glide!  If you've ever run anything over 10 miles, you KNOW why this is the first thing I thought to post.  It doesn't matter your shape or size, you can't escape the inevitability of runners chafing.  This looks like a stick of deodorant, but it's more like a solid petroleum jelly that prevents fabric from rubbing your skin raw over the duration of the run/race.

 2. Belkin iPhone Armband - This is the best armband I've found because of its dual functionality.  I enjoy using the case by itself, without the band, because the clip on the back made it easier to hold the phone and to be a superdork and wear it on my waist.  The band is comfortable during runs.

3. Nike+ App - Not only does it capture your run on a Google map, it also shows your speed trends throughout the run.  You know you already are going to want to have some tunes during your run, and Nike+ syncs with your iTunes playlists to be an all-in-one running tool.

4. During a long run or race, nothing is better than popping some Powerbar Energy Gel Blasts.  My favorite flavor is raspberry.  I don't know how people take the goo and gels.  They always remind me of the stuff orthodontists use to make impressions of your teeth.  Gag!  The Energy Gel Blasts are like candy - yummy raspberry liquid center with a marshmallow-like bottom layer.

5. I don't run races for the time or sense of achievement, I run them for the finish line BLING!  No seriously, I always look at the medal design before committing to signing up for a race.  What's funny, though, is that I end up putting the medals in a box, instead of proudly displaying them.  One late night Amazon shopping trip turned up a great solution:  a decorative race medal hanger!

A couple of extras:

  • My favorite shoes: Asics Gel Nimbus - These are the most consistent shoes year over year that are comfortable and lightweight for my feet.  If you're serious about running, it pays to go to a specialty store and get fitted.  In the Washington D.C. metro region, two of the popular running stores are Pacers and Fleet Feet.
  • For some extra support for my arches, I've got Superfeet (blue) in all my running shoes, my dog walking shoes, and my Uggs.

  • The Stick - what a nice massage on the quads, hammies, and IT bands!

  • Super soft technical t-shirts from Raw Threads with clever sayings printed on the front!

And last, but not least, my new motto:

Posted on Thursday, January 19, 2012 by Julie

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Recently, motivated by the desire to try new things in Washington D.C., I decided to go on a themed exploration of some of the city's museums - an underground/spy/evil-doer theme.
When I was a kid and I came to D.C., one of the most memorable places we visited was the F.B.I. museum tour.  Unfortunately, since 9/11, the museum has been closed and world has been robbed of that fun experience.  In its place, however, a trio of new museums has popped up.  Unlike the Smithsonians, these museums are not free except for one, but be on the lookout for coupons or special events where you can get in for less than the regular admission price.  I gained discounted admissions thanks to my favorite social couponing websites.

The International Spy Museum
(Tickets: Adults $19.95, Children $13.95 - $10 Tuesdays)

Trust No One.....Everything is not as it seems.....With all it's spy gadgets and gizmos on display, any fan of James Bond et al will love exploring all of the exhibits and memorabilia.  Just try to leave this museum and not find yourself paying more attention to people loitering around the streets of D.C.
007's Aston Martin
Learn about some of the most notorious spies, including one from the past decade - Robert Hansen.  And look around to find the most ingenious listening device ever invented, in my childish opinion:  the dog poop transmitter!

Fake Poop!

The National Crime and Punishment Museum
(Tickets: Adults $19.95, Children $14.95 - discount on website, CSI Lab $5-7)

Home to the television set for the popular "America's Most Wanted" show, the museum greets you with, not typical red velvet ropes, but stanchions connected by linked handcuffs.  Clever!  The museum is designed in two parts.  Starting on the 2nd floor, you walk through history of criminal activity and punishment methods, beginning with the middle ages, through the wild west and the mobsters of the 1920s and 30s, to present day.  It's a lot of information to take in and read, so make sure you allot yourself at least 2 hours because you still need to head to the second part of the museum - crime investigation.

But before you go there, there is a fun exhibit that lets you take the wheel of a police car simulator where you drive to get to the scene of a crime only 6 blocks away.  I'm a good driver (I swear!) and I crashed four different times and never made it to the scene -- people you need to stop when you hear the sirens!!  Next to the simulator is a weapon simulator where you hold an accurately weighted Glock pistol and attempt to shoot the bad guys in several different scenario videos.  Make sure not to shoot unarmed people and innocent bystanders!

After that fun break, the next part of the museum explores crime scene investigation by introducing you to a crime scene and allowing you to work through the evidence in different, subject-based rooms and displays, leading you to the final conclusion - the who done it!

As part of your visit, you can opt to purchase an additional interactive experience: the CSI Forensic Lab.  Here, you are given information on the crime that has been committed, the victim, and the three suspects.  Assigned to one of five groups, you travel to each station gathering evidence.  The Alibis and Lies station has you examine the suspects statements against interviews conducted, to validate the alibis, as well as against phone records to find any suspicious activity.  At the forensics fiber lab, you examine a clothing fiber taken from the victim's body under a microscope and compare it to fibers taken from suspects' clothes.  Next, you gather information from a witness testimony, DNA analysis, handwriting analysis, and other evidence to come to conclusions about the suspects and their activities.  The final two stations show you how to recreate blood splatter patterns to match with what was documented at the scene and how to lift a fingerprint.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Museum
(Admission is Free.  Located in Arlington in Pentagon City)

Just a few metro stops from D.C. and across from the Pentagon City mall is a free museum that may often get overlooked.  I feel like this museum expands upon the collection that was once displayed in the F.B.I museum.  The DEA Museum chronicles the history of drugs in America, rooted in the opium wars of the mid-1800s between Britain and China which led to its introduction to America by the Chinese tradesmen immigrants working in the West.  It also dispels a common perception that the rise in popularity and frequency of use of marijuana and heroin was in the 1960s and 1970s - they were actually a drugs used by the jazz community, marijuana in the 1920s and the introduction of heroin in the 1930s. The museum timeline ends with a display about the current meth drug abuse in the U.S.

Posted on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 by Julie

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Friday, January 13, 2012

My mom read my first post showcasing her cookie designs and said that I should have used these cookies instead.  Still ridiculously cute!

Pancake Breakfast

Made for my long airplane ride to Australia

Ice Cream Cones


Easter Bunnies

Santa's Helpers

Melted Snowmen

Star Wars

Angry Birds


Flip Flops


My Dog!

Posted on Friday, January 13, 2012 by Julie

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While I feel like I'm not too shabby at crafting, it's nothing compared to my mom.  She has to be one of the most talented people I know, creating very classy items that are appealing to everyone - tacky free!  Over the years, she has pursued many media for her skills, including colored pencil drawing, digital photography, ink drawings, etched drawings, home decor, and handmade greeting cards. In the past five or so years she's been most passionate about designing extremely fancy and fun cookies.  Since she is the last person to accept a compliment and recognize her talents, I thought I'd showcase some of her designs on my blog.  By the way, there's a cookie store in NYC, Eleni's, that sells cookies exactly like what my mom bakes that sell for upwards of $6 for ONE cookie!  Here's one box of four cookies I found for $28.50! Ridiculous!

Some of my mom's favorite cookie collections:

Pirates for my nephew's birthday party
Dog Park
American Girl Doll
Peanut Butter & Jelly - Love this!
Thanksgiving Pies - Love this too!
These came to me sliced and in mini pizza boxes
Fruit salad
Tennis racquets and balls for me
Pink cheeked Santas
Winter Wonderland

 Amazing, right?

Posted on Friday, January 13, 2012 by Julie


Batik is a traditional Javanese fabric dying technique that uses wax to create intricate, multi-color designs.  The origin of batik in Indonesia can be traced back to the 6th and 7th century.  Jogjakarta is renowned for its production of batik in traditional colors of brown, white, and indigo. So, of course being the crafty person I am, I wanted to visit a batik shop and learn the art while in Jogja.

Using wax to repel the dye from the fabric, the patterns must first be conceptualized on the white silk or silk blend fabric using pencil.  At the batik shop, they provide you with three options:  stencils, metal stamps, or create your own design.  I opted to combine a stencil and the convenience of the metal stamp.  That decision also allowed me to interact with two different production areas in the shop.

The pattern I chose for my design included native flowers (stencils) and stamps of male and female wayang kulit (shadow puppet) characters with a traditional border pattern.  After tracing my patterns for the flowers, I gave my best attempt at applying the wax to the design, dipping the wax applicator tool in the liquid wax, then carefully tracing the pencil lines with the tip.

Well, after my best attempt resulted in three huge drips of wax, I made a plea to the experts to help me.  While we could have erased my drips later before dyeing, applying hot water to remove the wax, the artist decided to make them a part of the pattern - my drips will forever be "dotted insects."

Tracing the wax on the penciled pattern
After the flowers were completed, we moved on to the stamping area where I enlisted the assistance of the expert, again, to help me - the design of the wayang stamps was so detailed, I didn't want to mess up.  The stamping process involves an initial pressing of the wax, followed by a second layer of wax applied directly on top of the first layer (steady hands required!).  This process is achieved in the hand application by tracing a layer of wax on the front of the fabric, then tracing that application on the back side of the fabric.

Wayang stamps completed
Pressing the wax border
Next, the fabric is moved to the dyeing section of the shop.  First, the fabric is rinsed in water to pre-condition the material.  Then, the first round of dyeing is performed, what ended up looking like a primer layer.

Washing the fabric
First dyeing process
Examining the results of the first dye
The material is put back into the dye for a second time, where it seems to absorb a much more significant amount of the dye.  When the fabric had achieved the desired color, it was then put into a boiling pot of water, effectively removing the wax and revealing the pattern.  The wax can be skimmed off the top of the pot and reused in later applications.  At this point, the fabric can be dried and the process can be repeated to add more colors.  Of course, since this was just an introductory demonstration of the batik process, my design went straight to finishing.

Final dye
Boiling off the wax


To create the finished product, the fabric is simply air dried then ironed.  And here is the end result of my Indonesian batiking efforts in Jogja!

Pressing the dry fabric
My first attempt at traditional Indonesian batik

Posted on Friday, January 13, 2012 by Julie

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