Sunday, January 31, 2010

This Little Piggy

Magnet # 156:  Miniature Pig

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Gina

Boy, January is almost over and I haven't even mentioned one of it's most well-known traditions - that of shedding extra pounds made greater by the holiday season.  Let's face it, most of us get a little piggy with all of the sweets and treats that bombard us from Thanksgiving through Christmas, all the way to New Year's Eve.  And how can we really be blamed - there is just so many good foods around and most of us feel like celebrating!  But, considering quite a few folks are already in need of shedding weight, this can just pack more pounds on an already bad situation.  And come January, it's time to repent (or at least tell ourselves we will).

Clearly, the weight loss industry is very invested in our renewed determination to take off the weight every New Year.  Commercials hit us at nearly every break advertising gyms, fitness DVDs, and food companies that assist in weight loss like Kashi and Special K, to name a couple.  With one trip to the grocery store or superstore this month, you can find all sorts of specials on these foods and equipment that have been reduced in price and set out where they're more visible to shoppers.  Although January isn't technically National Weight Loss Month, from the 17th to the 23rd this year, it featured a Healthy Weight Week.  As its name implies, the creators of this weeklong event are not so much interested in getting people skinny as they are in helping them reach their own healthy body size.  They advocate a lifestyle change over a diet, daily exercise, and eating a well-balanced diet.  On their website at http://www.healthyweight.net/index.htm, visitors can get help figuring out how best to go about achieving their ideal weight, find helpful organizations, and learn what are some of the worst weight loss gimmicks on the market.  And although Healthy Weight Loss Week may be over for this year, you can see what events they have coming - give their site a try if you're wanting to take off a few pounds.

I admit, I definitely let myself overindulge this holiday season.  There were Thanksgiving and Christmas parties at the office and elsewhere, and people who could cook well brought some tasty treats.  And while I didn't gain any serious weight, I think some of my clothes are a little tighter.  It would be nice to have them be a bit looser.  So I've gone back to one of my best weight loss aids, soup.  And that's funny, because it's actually National Soup Month in January.  There are some soups that are very low in fat and calories, but are also pretty healthy, like two of my favorite, Italian Wedding soup and Minestrone.  Just be careful- soup can have a good deal of sodium, but many manufactures have started using sea salt, which has less sodium.  Of course, soup can get old, so try to mix it up with other meals that are low in fat and calories.  You could try seafood or chicken - they're some of the healthier meats out there.  I've found Italian sausages made with chicken on turkey can be pretty tasty.  And this is also Oatmeal Month.  Eating oatmeal can help you cut down on fat and calories along with other healthy benefits.  It's never been a favorite food of mine, but you might want to give it a try.  Just don't cut back too much - taking away all of your favorite indulgences makes it more likely for you to fall off of the weight loss wagon, so to speak.  And exercise is pretty important, too, although I'm pretty bad about getting that in.  Sometimes just parking your vehicle further out or taking the stairs is a good start, though.

So to those of you about to loose weight (or already doing so), I salute you.  Goodness knows, losing weight can be quite difficult.  And keeping it off can be even worse.  But I wish you all the best in keeping those piggy impulses at bay, and hope you'll do the same for me.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Best In Blue

Magnet # 155: Sleeping Beauty in Blue Dress

Material: Laminated Cardboard

Purchased By: Me

Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty was first released on this day in 1959.  I know, I've mentioned on here before that this is my favorite Disney film, but I have plenty of magnets featuring Sleeping Beauty - or Princess Aurora - or Briar Rose, (that's a lot of names to choose from) so I didn't want to pass up a good opportunity to post another one.  Particularly one that features her in a blue dress.

I know it's silly, but I like it much better when Disney shows Sleeping Beauty wearing the blue dress, not the pink one.  Really, she wears the dress in pink for much less time in the film than she does in blue, and yet, it seems she's almost always merchandised dressed in pink.  And I like pink, but I think it is just too girly on a blonde princess - it's almost too much sugary sweetness to palate.  I guess it's thanks to the whole Princess line of merchandise that Sleeping Beauty is mostly in pink these days.  Cinderella always gets the blue, even if you look at stills of that original film, you realize her dress is almost silver.  So, give Cinderella a silvery blue dress, let Sleeping Beauty have a deeper shade of blue, and maybe the Little Mermaid can take pink, since she wears a pink gown in her movie.  And I like the way pink looks with her red hair.  And her dress is a nice, toned-down seashell pink (pun intended) not the ghastly Pepto Bismol bubblegum nightmare shade Sleeping Beauty gets.  Or perhaps just combine pink and blue and let Princess Aurora have my favorite, purple, as her color, because no other princess has purple as her color?  Okay, it'll never happen, but I'm glad to officially note how sick I am of almost always seeing Sleeping Beauty wearing pink.  I'll move on...

Okay, Princess Aurora might not have much personality, but neither did her predecessors, Snow White and the aforementioned Cinderella.  I guess in the forties and fifties, fairy tale heroines were supposed to be quiet and demure, not outspoken and free-spirited as they would later become. At least, unlike Snow White and Cinderella, she actually had a believable real name - and an extra alias.  And Princess Aurora wasn't really the main character in her own film - really, it was her trio of fairy godmothers who dominated the film.  And Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather had personality and then some.  It was fun to watch them bicker about so much during the film. Originally, the film was going to feature seven fairies, as the original story did, but they trimmed it down to three, which was a good move - seven would have just been too overwhelming.  Even worse, Disney wanted all three to look exactly the same - how confusing would that have been!  And her prince, Philip, had a name inspired by the husband of Queen Elizabeth II and much more personality than the Disney princes that proceeded him.  In fact, many of his scenes were ones Disney wanted to feature in Snow White, but couldn't because his studio's ability to portray animated men was limited at that time.  His dance sequence where he first meets Sleeping Beauty and his later capture at the hands of his enemy and eventual escape are examples.  And then there's the film's villain, Maleficent.  Instead of simply making her an ugly old crone, Disney's animators made her elegant and elongated, but clearly evil because of her green skin and horns.  And she even calls upon the powers of Hell to turn into a giant dragon.  How many times does the word "Hell" pop up in a Disney film!  I really think she is one of Disney's scariest animated villains ever.  Disney definitely had some great characters in this classic film.

I've mentioned before how gorgeous I find this film to be.  Really, I think it is the most beautiful animated film of all.  None of Disney's other films look anything like it, although many of them are pretty close to one another.  Sleeping Beauty has been re-released six times in theaters and when it's adjusted for inflation, comes in among the top 30 highest-grossing films of all time.  If you're as big a fan of this animated classic as I am, this is a great opportunity to bring out your DVD (or maybe even tape) and enjoy it once again.  And to the few out there who've never seen it, you might actually enjoy it - give a chance to a film you've been missing out on for 51 years!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Celebrate, Don't Be Sari

Magnet # 154: Indian Girl in Sari

Material: Clay

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Well, I goofed this week. I thought India's Republic Day was on the 28th, but in checking Michigan's day of statehood, (yep, I always try to confim my dates) I realized it was on the 26th. I guess I must have read the six as an eight. In any event, I usually prefer to note important events the day of or beforehand, but this time, I'll make an exception. So, yes, Republic Day was celebrated yesterday in India. It's considered to be the nation's most popular national holiday.  There was a huge parade in it capital, New Delhi. Thousands gathered to watch as the Prime Minister began the festivities by placing a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.  Later, the President arrived and participated in important events, such as presenting awards for bravery.  And then the parade began. Its route started near the Presidential Palace, then traveled down the Rajpath, or the ceremonial path, past the India Gate, all way to the historic Red Fort, one of the country's most famous sites.  This year's parade included modern military items such as a tank and missiles, and older trappings like a horse-mounted regiment, and even one on camels.  And, of course, military regiments from the navy, army, and air force all marched in the procession, and there was a flypast of jets in the Indian Air Force.  But the festivities were not limited to New Delhi.  In state capitals around India, the Governors raised the Indian flag.  All over the country, Indians came out and celebrated, despite terror threats and warnings of shutdowns and boycotts.  But everything went well and India was able to enjoy its 6o years as a sovereign nation.

Although India gained its freedom from British rule in August of 1947, they had a long path ahead to establishing their own form of rule.  For almost three years, a Constituent Assembly met to hammer out the nation's Constitution.  And when they finally had made it official in January of 1950 and elected their first President, the people of India were thrilled.  Finally, the dream of Mahatma Gandi and his followers had been fully realized, even though he and some of them were not around to appreciate it.  In that first year, the celebrations began even before the the Constitution had been completely signed.

The little girl that's featured on this magnet looks ready to celebrate Republic Day.  The sari, or long, unstitched strip she's wearing is perhaps the best known item of clothing to come from India.  It began to be used in ancient times, when priests in the Indus Valley Civilization draped themselves with these cloths.  For a time, both men and women wore them, and they became very detailed and highly ornamented.  Even goddesses have been depicted wearing various versions of the sari.  Eventually, however, the sari became a garment mainly for women, and they wear it to this day.  There are all sorts of different ways to drape the material across the body, and it's usually wrapped around the waist and not worn loose, as it is on my little magnet.  Indian women wear their saris on a daily basis and, in doing so, are one of the few civilizations that still regularly wear the same clothing they did in ancient times, although other parts of their outfit, like the choli, or blouse, and the petticoat, both of which the British likely introduced.  However, on a day like Republic Day, it's likely the women of India would wear special saris that are particularly expensive and intricate.

India has come a long way since its ancient times, and it's clear through symbols like the sari that it keeps these ties to its past while embracing modern technologies.  India may still have a long way to go, but it has progressed a great deal since the British ruled it.  Clearly its citizens are proud of their nation, coming out to celebrate the anniversary of its establishment, regardless of various threats, and having a wonderful time all across their vast nation.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Peninsular Concerns

Magnet # 153: Michigan Letters

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Mom & Dad

Michigan gained its statehood on this day in 1837, ending years of fighting to control the area. The French were the first Europeans to reach what would become Michigan, building settlements at areas such as Sault Saint-Marie and Marquette. They controlled the area for over 150 years, building it up and establishing a fur trade and shipping post before losing the area to the British after the French and Indian War. And after the Revolutionary War, the United States likewise gained some control over the area, but Britain was determined to keep some of its holdings there, particularly Detroit. It would take over a decade to finally clear them out of the area, and Congress eventually created the Michigan Territory in 1805, but when the War of 1812 broke out, Britain had the excuse they had been looking for to take Detroit back. They captured the settlement, joining it with their territories in Canada. However, the United States managed to take it back a year later, and never lost control of it thereafter. From there, the population of the territory grew, thanks largely to the creation of the Erie Canal, and Michigan was able to attain statehood.

As a state, Michigan truly came into its own in the early twentieth century, when Henry Ford opened his first automobile plant near Detroit. Since then, the automobile industry has grown greatly in the state, becoming a powerful force in Michigan and around the world. And though its major three automotive producers have hit hard times, it's likely that at least a couple of them will recover eventually. Michigan still is at the forefront of the global automobile industry, although a good deal of vehicles are now produced in the Southern United States and overseas. But don't count the state out yet - the automobile industry began there, and Michigan is determined to stay in the lead.

Michigan is the only state in the United States that consists of two peninsulas, and it's also the only state in the continental U.S. that has two major separated landmasses. I've been to it once, before I could drive, with my family. We didn't spend much time in the lower parts of the state, but headed straight up to Mackinac Island. I loved it there, but I do have two magnets from it, so I'll save what I have to say about it until I post them. From there, we went to the Upper Peninsula, where my parents lived years before I was born. We visited some of their old stomping grounds, but I must admit, I don't remember much about that part of the trip, so I asked my friend Jessica, who's lived there for over half of her life, for some thoughts on her home state. She's only lived in the city of Gwinn in the Upper Peninsula, and she says it is completely different from the Lower Peninsula, which to her is very fast and urban. She also told me the automobile industry really isn't present in the U.P., but they do have a lot of mining and the lumber industry does a good deal of business there. The people who live there are called Yoopers, and she likes their casual, free-spirited attitude (which she shares). One of the more entertaining stories she shared about the U.P. with me was that of the local Air Force Base, K.I. Sawyer, which has now closed. When she was growing up, she and her family used to cut through the base on their daily route. But the base stored bombs, and would move them from time to time. And when they did, everything stopped. Sirens went off and people on base would stop what they were doing, even pulling their cars over to the side of the road, until it was safe to move again. Sounds pretty unnerving to me - and perhaps a bit irritating, after awhile. Jessica says she really loves the natural landscapes of the U.P. and that she could even see Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, there. But she also said it's terribly cold this time of year, so it might not be a good idea to travel there anytime soon.

Clearly, there's plenty to be seen in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And, as I have more magnets from Michigan, I think I might do another post to focus on the Lower Peninsula. Okay, I may not have spent any time touring it, and may not really know anyone from there, but that's no excuse. I'm sure there are some really great sites in the Lower Peninsula, and will give the folks living there some attention as well. So keep an eye out for it - and, of course, the aforementioned post on idyllic Mackinac Island.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Blues of Winter

Magnet # 152: Meredith Dillman's Winter Kitsune

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Me

Well, we've reached what's considered by many to be the Most Depressing Day of the Year. That's a pretty dubious title. What exactly has January 25, 2010 done to deserve such a reputation?

First of all, it's a Monday. And as most of us working folks who have the weekend off know, Monday can be pretty depressing. But this isn't just any Monday - this one is also known as Blue Monday, another name for the Most Depressing Day. The holidays are truly over, and many have already failed in their New Years resolutions. Credit card bills from Christmas indulgences are starting to roll in, and people are starting to feel the pinch. Studies have actually shown that more workers are depressed this on day than on any other. Ever since this phenomenon was identified, it was said to occur on the Monday of the last full working week in January. Oddly enough, last year the tradition changed when it actually rolled forward a week. I guess folks were particularly depressed that year. And this year, some claim that it is actually January 18, not the 25th. I'm not sure I can agree with that. After all, January 18 was Martin Luther King, Jr Day, and I, along with many others, had a paid day of leave from work. There is nothing depressing about a day off. And some said it was on January 19, but who gets upset over a four day work week? But now, we are definitely entering a period in the year that is void of any leave from work. For most of us, there are no paid, company-scheduled days off until Memorial Day at the end of May (okay, some folks may get President's Day off). I can understand getting a little bummed over that.

People are also depressed on Blue Monday about how the long, cold winter nights stretch before them, and that must be particularly true this year. We've already seen some record lows around the country, and it's predicted that three-quarters of the United States will see temperatures well below their regular average. In places like Dallas, Texas, they've had the first snowfall in years and in nearby Waco, they've seen the temperature dip into the single digits for the first time in over twenty years.  Both Beaumont in Texas and Louisiana's Alexandria have reached new record lows this year, and they're not alone.  In Iowa and other Midwestern states, snow storms and sub-zero temperatures have also broken record lows.  Even in usually sunny Florida, the farmers are struggling to save their crops from frost they are just not accustomed to dealing with.  In fact, a friend of mine from Washington state traveled down to Florida for business this month.  An avid golfer, he was excited to participate in a local golf tournament, because he doesn't get to play this time of year.  And, of course, the temperatures were only about ten degrees less than he's used to back home.  But he still participated, and did well.  Here in Savannah, we've had about two weeks of freezing temperatures, some of the lowest we've had in decades.  We might have a day or two of these kind of temperatures most years, but not a streak that lasts that long.  And while it's eased up for a little while, it looks like the freezing temperatures may be on their way back.  I have to admit, I am not at all fond of cold weather - it's one of the reasons I like the South so much.  I guess I'm just cold natured.  If the air conditioning goes out and everyone around me is burning up, I usually don't even notice.  But if the temperature falls out of the seventies, I start to whine.  So you can imagine just how thrilled I am at the prospect of more freezing temperatures.

Now that you're aware of the nature of this day, you have two choices of how to deal with it.  You can take advantage of the fact that it's okay to be miserable today because it's pretty much a scientific fact.  Have a good cry, curl up into a ball, or what have you.  Or you can fight the depressing nature of this day.  Get together with a friend, or at least give one a call.  Look at pretty art, like that of Meredith Dillman.  Listen to some fun, upbeat music.  Fix a nice dinner, maybe one you've been wanting to have for awhile.  Bundle up with tea or hot cocoa and a good book.  Really, the possibilities of how to cheer yourself up on this day are nearly limitless.  So give one a try and combat these winter blues.  And look at the bright side - from here it's all downhill, right?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Our Final Stops

Magnet # 151:  Orlando Cockatoo

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Me

Once Lindsay and I had finished up in Florida's southwestern Hernando County, we headed east to the center of the state and one of its most famous cities, Orlando.  The drive on Florida Highway 50 was a little interesting - for the first time on our trip, we passed by some of Florida's famous orange groves, and were able to see them both on the tree and in trucks as they were being harvested.  It definitely made us feel like we were driving through the Sunshine State.

Our only stop in Orlando was at Downtown Disney, which is basically Disney World for free.  It's pretty much only shops and restaurants , though, so it's in Disney's best interest to let tourists right on in.  And they got some money out of us.  We went to the West Side of the complex, which has more of  a combination of dining, shops, and entertainment than any other part of Downtown Disney.  There's even an AMC theatre there.  Oddly enough, I noticed most of the license plates on the cars there were from Florida.  I'd been to Downtown Disney before, but I hadn't been to the West Side in awhile, and it was Lindsay's first trip there ever.  We went to a store that was right up my alley, Magnetron Magnetz.  Yep, it's a store that is covered with thousands of magnets.  As you can imagine, I was right at home.  They even had my favorites, Clay Critters, and I bought this pretty bird because it reminds me of the exotic nature of the city.  They also had remote control flying fairies, and Lindsay picked up one of those.  I think I got about four magnets, which is pretty good for me.  I try not to go overboard getting too many magnets from one city or state.  We would have stopped by the Marketplace on the opposite end of Downtown Disney, which is a pretty cool collection of shops like my favorite, 365 Days of Christmas, which is filled with Disney holiday-themed items, but its parking lots were completely full.  I guess a three-day weekend isn't the best time to go to Disney World, because it can get pretty crowded.  Even the Magnetron was packed.

Our next stop was at the Jacksonville Landing, a shopping complex on the north bank of St. Johns River in Jacksonville that's been open over twenty years.  Lindsay got another flying fairy from their Toy Factory.  Unfortunately, their souvenir shop had already closed for the day, so I couldn't get a magnet.  We had a really good dinner at a restaurant there that overlooked the river and downtown Jacksonville, and then headed back to Savannah, and directly to sleep.  The next day, we slept in, went out for breakfast, and did a little shopping.  Lindsay left for her home at around noon.  

All in all, we had a pretty great trip.  Sure, it started off a little lousy, but we still managed to have fun.  It was nice just hanging out together.  I think we're both looking forward to having another adventure in the future.  And who knows where we'll end up then - guess we'll have to wait and see.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where the Mermaids Swim

Magnet # 150:  Weeki Wachee Logo

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

Over sixty years ago, a former Navy frogman, or scuba diver, named Newton Perry had an idea -  to use an air compressor to feed air through a hose, supplying it to underwater swimmers in a completely new way.  Once he had developed his "hose breathing" system, Perry created an underwater theatre that looked out into Weeki Wachee Springs, a natural Florida spring that was so deep no one was sure where it ended.  And then he added real girls in mermaid costumes performing underwater dances and audiences have been enchanted ever since.  I think I'd heard of this roadside attraction before, but watching it pop up repeatedly on the Travel Channel really brought it to my attention.  I definitely wanted to see this amazing place, and I knew who the perfect travel companion would be for the trip - my friend and talented fantasy artist Lindsay Archer.  She's produced some gorgeous mermaids of her own over the years, and I figured seeing the ones at Weeki Wachee would be a big inspiration for her - any maybe me, too.

The only problem we had with Weeki Wachee was a lack of communication on their part about their hours, etc. Usually, the hours of touristy locales are published in the travel guides I get from AAA, but not in this case - I only knew it opened at ten. And when you call their phone number, an employee doesn't always pick up (of course, I'm not sure if I was calling during their open hours). Also, part of their complex is Buccaneer Bay, a waterpark that is shut down for part of the year. It was a little confusing, and we thought that Weeki Wachee was actually closed for a little while. And when we were on our way down there, I called to try to figure out when it closed only to have an employee pick up the line and tell me that the last show of the day had already been sold. Apparently, they're open from 10-3. It would have been nice to find that out before hand, but at least we finally knew - and before we got off of the Interstate. So we headed back up to Spring Hill the next morning.

Once we got to the Weeki Wachee, we were really impressed. There are mermaid statues all along the front, and one very tall statue of two swimmers. I realize this compound is somewhat old, but they have done a nice job keeping it up - it's a very pretty place. I bought this magnet at the gift shop, while Lindsay showed off some of her amazing mermaid art to the manager, who seems open to selling it in the future. Apparently, they are going to renovate the store soon, so I guess we got there at just the right time. I really hope that works out for Lindsay. And then, we saw the mermaids. Really, it was just fantastic - it was kind of like an aquarium, complete with fishes and turtles, but it's the only one that also features mermaids. Sure, they're girls with fabric fins, but you forget about that watching them. You also don't really notice their breathing tubes.  The show we caught was a performance of "The Little Mermaid" and it was nicely done.  The mermaids danced in songs and portrayed all of the parts of the play, even coming inside with the audience for a little bit.  It even had a happy ending, unlike the original version.  Those mermaids did a fantastic job - we were both blown away and Lindsay took around 400 photos with her professional camera.  I definitely recommend seeing this incredible place if you get the chance.

Weeki Wachee also has exotic bird shows and a riverboat cruise, but we didn't get a chance to see them.  However, if you do travel all the way out to Spring Hill to see the mermaids, you might want to stop by its neighbor, Brooksville, and see its own pretty cool attraction, Rogers' Christmas House.  It was opened in 1969 by Margaret Rogers, who began selling Christmas gifts from her Victorian home.  Thanks to her success, she was able to later purchase more homes, turning her Christmas store into a five building village.   Although Rogers has passed away, her attraction lives on.  Lindsay and I were impressed by the great deal of work that clearly went into this village.  Each house has a theme, like the Storybook house, and the Little House Under the Oak.  Detailed murals have been painted on the walls, items move thanks to electricity, and even some ceilings are covered in decorations.  Every Christmas item you could ever need is here, from ornaments to Nativities to trees to strings of lights.  While we were there, I got an ornament of Florida.  It seemed appropriate to me.  All in all, we had a really good time seeing two of the best tourist locales in Florida's Hernando County, where Roadside America is alive and well, no matter what season is underway. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Back to Better Times

Magnet # 149:  Ybor City Shells

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Lindsay

On the first night of our trip, we asked the friendly clerk at our hotel for a recommendation on tourist sites in the Tampa area, and he was quick to tell us of nearby Ybor City.  He told us about the Flamenco dancers at the Columbia restaurant there, and said we'd have a great time, and I should be able to find magnets.  He also mentioned a gigantic mall close to us that I was a little curious about, but Lindsay convinced me that we should go to Ybor City, and I'm glad she did.

Ybor City was founded in 1886 by Don Vicente Martinez Ybor, who moved his cigar manufacturing factory there, inland from Key West, farther away from the political unrest that was going on in Cuba at that time and spreading to parts of Florida.  Soon, Ybor's actions had turned the city into the Cigar Capitol of the World, and factories there were turning out millions of cigars every year.  The thriving industry brought in Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants, which gave the city a unique, multi-ethnic feel.  In 1929, 500 million cigars were produced in Ybor City, a record high - and then the Great Depression hit.  It wiped out demand for high-quality cigars, shutting down factories and after World War II, returning vets eager to take advantage of the US Veterans home loan program steered clear of Ybor City, as it had few new homes that were required by the program.  The Urban Renewal program of the 1950s and 60s also hit the city hard, as it tore down old buildings, but never got around to building new ones for lack of funds.  The final blow came in the 1960s, when Interstate 4 was built, and a significant amount of buildings were destroyed and roads were altered.  The once proud city was nearly in ruins, but in the late 1980s, artists began to rediscover the area, both for its charm and inexpensive lodgings.  Soon, restaurants, night clubs, and bars were bringing so many crowds into the area that it was struggling to keep up with all of the traffic.  The city of Tampa helped with renovating the area, and it's now a charming, popular tourist destination, and many more Floridians have moved back to the area.

We definitely had a fun time checking out Ybor City's 7th Avenue, where quite a few shops and restaurants are located.  There were strings of lights stretched across the street, and plenty of tourists and locals having fun.  We stopped by the Columbia Restaurant, a local eatery that has been open over 100 years.  It was amazing - it was covered with Spanish-styled columns and arches and plenty of colorful tiles.  The entry room was particularly striking - there seemed to be tiles everywhere.  Even though it sits about 1,7000 customers, the wait was about 45 minutes, so we didn't eat there, but we did stop by their gift shop, where I bought a couple of really great magnets.  We walked for blocks, just glad to be out of the car for awhile and enjoying much warmer weather than we'd come from.  Yep, the trip to Ybor City definitely helped improve our moods.

Someday, we'd like to get back to the Tampa area and make reservations to eat at the Columbia Restaurant.  Ybor City even has a free museum centered around cigars that I might want to stop by, just for fun.  But this delightful little community helped make Lindsay and I feel much better on a crummy day, and we'll always be grateful for that.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Speed Trap Alley Blues

Magnet #148: Downtown Tampa Photo

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Me

As I mentioned in a previous post, I got out of Savannah this past weekend to take advantage of the holiday on Monday. My friend Lindsay and I were pretty excited as we headed down to Florida in search of warmer weather and new experiences. We grabbed up all sorts of brochures at the Welcome Center, both for our current trip and future ones. And then, a pretty crummy experience derailed our good spirits for a bit.

I'm still kicking myself for not making use of my AAA membership and getting them to make a Trip Tik mapping out the route for us. If I'd done so, I would have likely gotten their warning to avoid U.S. Route 301, which cuts across the state, in effect joining Jacksonville and Interstate 75 on the western side of the state. This notorious track of land is nicknamed Speed Trap Alley, and two of its towns are the only in America that AAA has officially named a speed trap. The speed at these towns will plummet as much as twenty-five mph in a few hundred feet while police officers lie in wait with radar guns for out-of-state motorists. One of them, Lawtey, had this exact trap, and Lindsay was stopped and issued a ticket for $266. I've since learned their police chief has been in office since 1962, which is a world record. Shame on the Florida legislature and its attorney general, whose coffers are dependent on tourism revenue, for allowing uninformed tourists to be basically robbed by these latter-day, legalized highwaymen. They need to step up the same way Oklahoma did when its attorney general and Department of Public Safety declared its town of Moffett to be an illegal speed trap and stripped it of all ability to issue tickets. It has since filed for bankruptcy. If Lawtey and its neighbors like Starke and Waldo are incapable of making a more honest income, they should go the way of Moffett. If you are traveling through Florida, avoid Lawtey and U.S. Route 301 at all costs.

Regardless, we decided to continue on, making the best of what we had left in the day. We found out we were too late to catch a show at Weekee Wachee, where mermaids perform, so we continued south onto Tampa. On the outskirts, Lindsay had a bit of retail therapy buying birthday presents for her daughter. By late afternoon, we had reached Tampa and checked into a hotel. The receptionist was very friendly and suggested we try visiting a nearby historic location location that night. We took his recommendation and had a pretty nice time. Later, we ended up doing takeout and having dinner in the hotel room. I had a salad from a nearby restaurant that was quite good. Unfortunately, we had some noisy neighbors, and even though I was able to get some decent sleep thanks to earplugs, poor Lindsay wasn't quite so lucky. It wasn't the best beginning of a trip, but at least it got better from there.

Well, I have been reading up on Lawtey and its neighbors, and it's been interesting to hear what's out there. Apparently, these towns make about a third of their income by writing tickets. Some motorists on message boards have claimed that they were ticketed going at or under the speed limit in these towns, and I'm inclined to believe them. Stark, Lawtey, and Waldo don't exactly strike me as honorable locales. A few state leaders in the Florida legislature have tried to take action against the towns, but so far have had no success.  And I wish I had a more appropriate magnet to post, because we had a pretty nice time in Tampa, but I'm glad I didn't spend any money on U.S. Route 301 and I don't really want a magnet from any of those locations.  Apparently, I'm not alone in feeling this way, as businesses have really suffered along this road since AAA started warning motorists about it.  Trust me, there's not much to be found along there, anyway.  Sorry, I know this post has been a bit of a downer, but the trip's recaps will be much more pleasant after this one, and if this rant has convinced anyone traveling in Florida to avoid U.S. Route 301 like the plague it is, it's done it's job.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cheese, Glorious Cheese

Magnet # 147: Milwaukee Cheese and Mouse

Material: Clay

Purchased By: Jessica

Now this is a celebration I can get into! Today is Cheese Day, a delightful time to remember one of the yummiest ways possible to get more dairy in your diet, eating cheese. And how perfect is this adorable magnet by Clay Critters to post on this day. It's definitely a favorite of mine, even if it might be a little unsettling. Let's put it this way - I'd much rather see this on my fridge than in it.

Yes, I love cheese. I might be able to give up some foods, like perhaps meat, but never cheese. I think I eat cheese almost every day. And I nearly always have a bag of shredded sharp cheddar and one of Parmesan in my fridge. They really come in handy when I decide to have spaghetti or a salad on the spur of the moment. I admit, as much as I love cheese, there are a few kinds I stay away from. I'm just not a fan of the taste of blue cheese, or that of Swiss. And American isn't nearly as tasty as cheddar and isn't that far off from eating plastic. But there are plenty more I love. In addition to cheddar and Parmesan, I enjoy Mozzarella, ricotta, Monterrey Jack, provolone, Bree, feta, Gouda - the list goes on and on. Even if cheese can be fattening, it does have nutritional benefits, like plenty of calcium that's good for growing strong bones and teeth. Cheese also may have an antibacterial effect on the mouth and it produces saliva, which can flush away harmful acids and sugars. Vitamin B12, which is critical for the brain and nervous system and aids in the formation of blood, can likewise be found in cheese. And, although there is a misconception that cheese can cause nightmares, one study suggested it actually has a positive effect on dreams. It even has tryptophan, an amino acid that can reduce stress and induce sleep. Of course, it also has lactose, so those of you who are lactose intolerant had better take an appropriate pill before indulging.

So celebrate this day the way it's intended - by eating lots of yummy, delicious cheese! If I haven't given you enough options to choose from already, here's another one. A lesser-known favorite of mine that's imported from Spain is Manchego. It's made from the whole milk of Manchego sheep in the La Mancha region of the country. It's aged in natural caves from three to six months and has a light yellow or white color and a kind of salty taste. It's produced in barrels, so you can usually find it in those little triangular wedges at the grocery store. Because it's imported, Manchego can be a little expensive, but it really is delicious. I'd recommend it with some crackers and maybe cured meats on a special occasion, which today technically is. Regardless of your choice of cheese, if you are a cheese lover, this is a day to celebrate. So hats off to those who produce these delicious cheeses all around the world - and to the rest of you, bon appetite!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Master of the Macabre

Magnet #146: Edgar Allan Poe Caricature

Material: Mylar, Paper, Metal Shell

Purchased By: Me

It was on this day in 1809 that one of the world's greatest writers of mystery and the macabre was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Edgar Allan Poe would go onto live a life filled with drama and even a little scandal and leave behind a riveting body of work that strikes terror in the hearts of its readers to this day.

From the beginning, poor, young Edgar didn't have it easy. His father abandoned him, his two siblings, and his mother about a year after he was born. And his mother, who was an actress, a somewhat notorious profession in that time, died a year later in Richmond, Virginia. A wealthy family in the area, the Allans, took in Edgar alone. Although he became very close to Mrs. Allan, he never bonded with her husband, by many accounts a very cold, severe man. Under their care, Edgar received a well-rounded education, but the pair never legally adopted him. When he was grown, Poe attended the University of Virginia, but claimed Allan didn't provide him with a sufficient income and he soon quit, as he had begun drinking heavily and had fallen into debt. He ended up enlisting in the Army, as he had no other means of supporting himself. It was then that Poe really began began writing seriously, releasing his first book, a collection of poems. But Poe soon became tired of his career, and tried to leave the Army. His commanding officer required that Poe be reconciled with Allan for a discharge, but until his wife died, Allan refused to help him. Finally, however, Poe left the Army and was enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point. And still, he wasn't happy. He was finally disowned by Allan, who had remarried, and Poe later ended up purposely getting himself court-martialed to leave West Point. He traveled to New York and then returned to Baltimore, where he had previously stayed with his father's sister, Mrs. Maria Clemm, a widow, before leaving for West Point. Although he had published three volumes of poetry, Poe decided to shift to prose. He had determined to make a living by writing alone, and was the first American to do so, and he realized prose would be more profitable. He wrote and worked as an editor, traveling between Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia, sometimes having to ask others for money. He also began publishing some of his short stories, most notably "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the first detective story ever. One of the most interesting developments in this stage of his like was when Poe secretly wed his 13 year old cousin, Virginia Clemm, when he was 27. They moved back to Richmond with her mother, his aunt, where they were married there a second time in public and Poe was able to become more respectful. He was rehired as the assistant editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, a job he was previously fired from for drunken behavior. Although Poe shifted jobs and locales during his marriage to Virginia, she seemed to keep him anchored in many ways. Friends of the couple commented on how truly in love they seemed to be, but some also thought they behaved more like brother and sister than husband and wife. So when his wife became an invalid from a burst blood vessel, dying five years later, Poe turned to alcohol in order to cope. Nonetheless, he produced some great works that are believed to have brought about by Virginia's illness, including "The Raven," an instant success that made him famous, but brought him almost no money. After her death, Poe wrote "Ulalume" and "Annabell Lee," which many hold his wife likewise inspired. Although he continued writing, Poe would only outlast his wife by about two years.

As interesting as his life was, it was Poe's mysterious death at the age of 40 that has fascinated his admirers for many years. It seemed like his life was getting on the right track - he was gathering money for a new publication he was planning, making progress to end his alcoholism, and had renewed his relationship with his childhood sweetheart. The two intended to marry, and Poe left Richmond, set upon the task of moving Mrs. Clemm and his belongings back from New York for their impending life together. He seems to have reached Philadelphia, staying with a friend there, but never made it to New York. Instead, he was found days later, delirious on the streets of Baltimore, and wearing clothes that were not his own. It's believed that he was carrying a great deal of money when he left Richmond, but none was found on him, suggesting he may have been robbed. But Poe was never able to give a coherent explanation of what had befallen him. He was taken to a hospital where he lingered, crying out and muttering nonsense, lapsing in and out of consciousness, before dying four days later. No cause has ever been given for his death. Widespread speculation exists, however, with causes ranging from syphilis, cholera, and epilepsy all the way to suicide, alcoholism, and rabies. There is also a theory that he was dragged into the notoriously corrupt Baltimore elections that were going on near where he was found. In those days, political gangs might kidnap people off the street and force them to vote endlessly for their candidate, plying them with alcohol, beating them, and sometimes even changing their clothes. It's unlikely the weak Poe could have endured such treatment, but his celebrity might have caused him to be recognized and made him less appealing to the gangs. Regardless, no death certificate for Poe has ever been found, and it seems the mystery of his death will persist as long as his incredible writings. In a life filled with loss and poverty, Poe produced some of the most imaginative writings audiences had ever encountered. He invented the detective story genre and made considerable contributions to the science fiction genre. His poetry and short stories were riveting and uniquely his own, and time has not faded their impact. Edgar Allan Poe was one of the first great writers from the United States to capture the attention of the world, and he set the bar very high for those who would follow him.

Monday, January 18, 2010

One Vision

Magnet # 145: MLK National Holiday

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Me

Ever since 1986, the third Monday of January has been set aside to honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. toward achieving racial equality. Today, across the United States, parades, sermons, lectures, and other special events are being given to remember this great man. There's even a parade here in Savannah that wraps around nearly the entire downtown area, including, of course, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

He was actually born Michael King, Jr., a name he had for over a decade until the King family traveled to Germany. When his father, a Baptist minister, became more familiar with the work of Martin Luther, initiator of the Protestant Revolution, he changed both of their names to honor Luther. King received a great deal of lessons from his father and followed him into the ministry. After he studied extensively, earning his doctorate from Boston University, he received his first job as a pastor working at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where he was also active in the local NAACP chapter. When Rosa Parks was arrested and the Montgomery Bus Boycott began, King found himself becoming the leader of this organized protest. He led from his pulpit and by his actions, never backing down, but refusing to resort to violence, even if his enemies did. King was arrested, and his home was bombed one January night, but he and his allies finally prevailed and bus segregation came to an end, and he became a nationally recognizable leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Around this time, King traveled to India. Although Mahatma Gandi was dead by then, he was able to talk to his surviving family members and gain a greater understanding of his tactics. The trip had a tremendous effect on King, and reaffirmed his commitment to bring about change with non-violent means. When he returned to the United States, he traveled extensively, giving speeches and organizing protests and sit-ins, and publishing his own accounts of them. King felt he could capture the attention of the media by these actions, and gain sympathy from many Americans once they were more familiar with the difficulties African Americans were facing. In Albany, Georgia, he was arrested for his participation in peaceful protests refused to be bailed until the city changed some of their segregation laws. When they went back on their word, King returned. He also spent nine days in jail in Birmingham, where he and other citizens tried to fill those cells to overflowing to bring attention to unjust laws, and finally brought about greater equality in retail stores there. He led a march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Finally, in 1963, King had become so well-known that he led the largest group of protesters ever to gather in Washington D.C., where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was perhaps King's finest moment, and it would give him a lasting place in the history of our country.

Over the course of his life, King had been arrested more than twenty times, received numerous death threats, and had even been assaulted four times. Soon after the Montgomery bus Boycott came to an end, an insane black woman stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener as he was at a book signing and he nearly died. It was incredible that he never backed down regardless of these events, but it almost seemed inevitable that his life was going to end in violence. And, as we all know, it did. When King was standing on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee, he was gunned down by James Earl Ray. Just six years after King's assassination, his mother Alberta was murdered in at her church by an insane man who claimed to hate all Christians. And King may have died, but his legacy lives on. Segregation is an ugly sin of the past in America. Each day, racial equality becomes stronger in the United States and around the world. Perhaps another individual could have accomplished what King did, but with his intelligence, education, eloquence, appeal, courage, and refusal to give up - no matter what, he became the force behind the Civil Rights Movement, and it might have never been as successful without his leadership. And every year on this day, we remember and celebrate all he did for our country.

And, yes, I took full advantage of the holiday King provided so many of us with by getting out of town to have some adventures with a friend. But I'll have lots more to say about that later this week when I post a proper magnet from that trip - of course, I bought plenty...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dolly's Debut, Times Two

Magnet # 144:  Pigeon Forge, Tennessee Images

Material:  Resin 

Purchased By:  Me

The original production of the musical Hello, Dolly! debuted on Broadway on this day in 1964.  And a mere three days later, arguably the most famous Dolly ever was born in Tennessee to Robert Lee Parton, Sr.  Both would go on to make their marks in pop culture history.

When the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a scheming, lively, matchmaking widow and her quest to marry the rich, but curmudgeonly, Horace Vandergelder was first introduced to audiences, it became an instant hit.  Carol Channing played Dolly and was surrounded by a talented cast of supporting actors playing memorable characters.  Critics praised the musical for its freshness and lively appeal.  And Hello Dolly! later swept the Tony awards, claiming ten wins, a record that would stand for 37 years.  It went on to become the longest-running Broadway musical until that time.  And even when Channing left the title role, famous actresses like Ginger Rogers and Phyllis Diller took her place.  In 1969, it was adapted into a movie and that version won three Academy Awards and was one of the highest grossing films of the year.  It was even revived three times on Broadway, twice with Channing's involvement.  Clearly, folks have never gotten too much of this Dolly.

Life didn't start out so well for the other Dolly that put in her first appearance that January.  Dolly Parton was born the fourth child in a family that would eventually increase to twelve.  They lived in a one-room cabin near the Great Smoky Mountains.  Early on, Dolly began performing, singing on television and appearing at the Grand Ole Opry as a teenager.  When she was finished wit high school, she moved to Nashville, where she first became successful as a songwriter.  Eventually, she became a country singer.  Her first album was Hello, I'm Dolly.  Oddly enough, for some time she experienced the most success singing duets, but eventually broke through as a solo artist, most notably with her song "I Will Always Love You."  Dolly gained more success from branching into pop music and acting in films such as Nine to Five, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Steel Magnolias.  However, when her later pop efforts weren't successes, she went back to her country roots, producing more hits to this day.  But one aspect of Dolly's character that sets her apart from most her contemporaries is her shrewd skills as a businesswoman, which have made her much more financially successful than she might have otherwise been.  It's an ability that has earned her the nickname of "The Iron Butterfly."  Sure, other performers might have their own perfume or clothing line, but to date, Dolly is the only musician with her own amusement park, Dollywood.  She opened the park in her childhood home of Pigeon Forge in 1961, and it's done wonders for the local economy.  It employs more people than any other business in the area, and has helped to bring in other entrepreneurs.  Pigeon Forge is a resort town these days, and a good deal of the credit can be attributed to Dolly Parton and her impressive business skills. 

So there you have it, two Dollys in four days.  Both were determined to be upbeat, never give up and not be afraid to go her own way.  And it's brought them both a great deal of success and their fans a great deal of happiness.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Five Sides For Fighting

Magnet # 143: Pentagon Photo

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Dad

It was on this day in 1943 that the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia was dedicated. It was the largest office building ever created, and its five-sided design was completely unique. And the timing couldn't have been better - with the country at war with the Axis forces, the Department of War needed every advantage it could get.

A great deal of debate went into the creation of this building that would no doubt see an even greater deal of debate within its walls. In the late 1930s and early 40s, the War Department was spread all over the Washington D.C. area with over a dozen buildings - some were as far as Maryland and Virginia. The Secretary of War at that time, Henry Stimson, was fed up with the situation and wanted one to consolidate all of the divisions in one building. He and his construction chief, General Brehon Somervell, agreed that it should hold around 40,000 people and have parking space for about 10,000 cars. However, they did not want to build a skyscraper that would obstruct views in the nation's capitol and needed to use as little steel as possible, so they set a four-story limit for the building.  This meant it would have to be a massive structure.  Clearly, Washington D.C. was not large enough to accommodate such a space, so their attentions soon turned to Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River.  The recently closed Washington Hoover Airport seemed like a good choice for the site, but some were concerned about flooding in the low-lying land.  Soon, Arlington Farm was settled upon.  It had an unusual shape to the land, so the architects involved in the project developed plans for a five sided building to make the best use of the pentagon shaped tract.  But when others in Washington D.C. learned of these plans, they were horrified.  Arlington Farm was adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, and it offered some of the most picturesque views of the capitol.  Besieged by protests, President Franklin Roosevelt intervened and moved the site south, closer to the former Washington Hoover Airport.  But the arguing wasn't over yet.  The building itself remained a hot topic.  Those behind the project intended to keep the pentagon shape, although it would now be symmetrical, as the tract of land had changed.  And they had designed a five-story structure with two below-ground levels.  They held that the shape would make it easier for workers to walk from one end to the other if they could simply cut through the central plaza.  And, as military men, they liked that it resembled old forts like Fort Sumter, where the Civil War broke out.  But some thought it was too large, and for a time the President did, too.  He preferred the idea of a solid, square building.  But when the time came for Roosevelt to make the final decision, he went with the pentagon design, explaining that it was the first of its kind, and he liked that.  It's hard to know if this building of this scale would have ever been approved in another time.  With Nazi Germany laying siege to Europe and Asia, leaders in the United States were in a state of uneasy trepidation over their future.  And when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, completion of the building became even more critical.  Fortunately, the Department of War was able to utilize the Pentagon before World War II came to an end.

Nowadays, the Pentagon houses the Department of Defense, not the Department of War. It's still the largest office building in the world, and around 26,000 people work there. Luckily, there have been changes made so that they can dine-in. There is now a food court and workers can choose from fast food eateries as diverse as Dunkin' Donuts, Subway, Taco Bell, Sbarro, and Panda Express. And the Pentagon also has a fitness center if they overindulge in the fast food. Of course, there's also an indoor memorial and chapel that were constructed where American Airlines Flight 77 hit the building on September 11, 2001. Oddly enough, in 1941, September 11 was also the day that contracts were finalized with the builders and ground was broken to begin the Pentagon.  If you're curious to see that site, as well as other parts of this famous structure, you're in luck.  Tours of the Pentagon began in 1976 to celebrate the nation's Bicentennial, and although security has tightened since the attack, the public can still visit it - just be sure to call ahead if you'd like to see this one-of-a-kind structure for yourself.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On the Other Side

Magnet # 142: Cherokee Indian on Horseback

Material: Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By: Me

When I went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year with my family, I finally ended up seeing what is to me "the other side of the Smokies" - Cherokee, North Carolina. Whenever I've gone there in the past, I've pretty much just stayed in the Tennessee part of the park, never making it all the way through to the North Carolina side. But we wanted to go to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville this time, and we would have taken a faster route on Interstate 40, but a rockslide had it totally blocked about halfway there (and I think it still hasn't been removed), so we took Highway 441 through the park instead, and came out at the park's other gateway at Cherokee. We took Highway 19 through the town and I was able to have a look at all of the touristy shops that line it. It was like a slightly smaller Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, only with a Native American twist. Unfortunately, we were short on time and couldn't stop even for a minute so I could grab some souvenirs. I managed to find this magnet in Gatlinburg. We passed by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, who have a nice selection of their magnets up on their website, and, no, I didn't get to run in there, either. Yep, the drive through Cherokee was kind of tough on me - I knew there were all sorts of magnets around me, and yet I couldn't buy any! At least I did get some later on that day at the Biltmore.

Cherokee is home to the largest concentration of those particular Native Americans in the Eastern United States. They have a reservation there, and it was founded by the Cherokee who hid in the Smoky Mountains to escape leaving on the Trail of Tears. Nowadays, the Cherokee language is spoken by some of the residents there, and the area's main economy is tourism. In addition to their shops and aforementioned museum, they have a Oconaulftee Indian Village where visitors can see demonstrations and get a feel for what life was like for the Cherokee hundreds of years ago. There's also a Qualla Arts and Crafts Center, and a few roadside attractions with zoos. And, like many Native American tribes, they have their own casino - Harrah's - the tribe and its members split the profits. Visitors to Cherokee can also take in a viewing of Unto These Hills, an outdoor performance which debuted in 1950. It tells of how the Cherokee lived before they were rounded up for the Trail of Tears. But it isn't performed all the time, so if you're interested in seeing it, you might want to check before your trip. And, of course, there are all sorts of beautiful natural sites and trails to be seen in Cherokee, which is not only right next the the Great Smoky Mountains but also near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

So if you're planning on taking a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains sometime, you might want to stop by Cherokee. It's a nice way to remember the Native Americans that are so prevalent in the area's history. And, clearly they have plenty of activities to offer visitors to the area. And, perhaps on my next visit to the Smokies, I'll be able to have a shot at checking out their tourist shops and find out just what magnets they have.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Life With Big Willie

Magnet # 141:  Sears Tower

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Danny

Well, I guess this whole magnet blog concept is working. Even though I'd never met Danny before, my friend Lindsay got him reading my posts and, what do you know, he bought me this magnet when he was in Chicago - and we hadn't even met yet - how cool is that! Plus, I think it may have helped me score extra magnets from folks I do know, as it keeps my hobby fresh in their mind. Looks like all of the hard work is paying off.

As most of you probably know by now, there is no longer a Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois. Yep, it's still standing, but it's been given a new, and downright mundane, moniker - Willis Tower. The name changed last year, on July 16, outraging many Chicagoans and people all across America. It didn't help that Willis Group Holdings, LTD, which brought about the change, is from London, and is only leasing 3 floors of this 108-story giant. Sure, Sears no longer owns it, but Willis doesn't either. And it used taxpayer dollars in its takeover - the City of Chicago subsidized them 3.8 million to fund the deal. I find it pretty offensive that such a business arrangement has been made. Sure, the Sears Tower is a place of business and is owned by individuals, but it is also an important landmark in our relatively young country. It's the tallest building in America and, for over two decades, it was the tallest in the world and we rightfully take a good deal of pride in it. I have to wonder how the callous Brits who made this change would feel if we came over to their country and switched the Tower of London to the Tower of Liberty, Stonehenge to Americahenge, Windsor Palace to Washington Palace and so on. Maybe they're so corrupted by money that they wouldn't care, but if they feel any national pride, they ought to. I know I'm not alone in this thought, as many have expressed their anger and even outrage at websites like http://www.searstower.org/, which began all the way back in 1998, and the more recent http://www.itsthesearstower.com/.  Check them out and voice your opinion if you're so inclined.

Another friend of mine traveled to Chicago after the name change. He said he wasn't even aware it had been made, so he couldn't figure out why he couldn't find a sign for the Sears Tower anywhere downtown. He said that, as of yet, he didn't see any magnets for Willis Tower, and it felt to him as though retailers wanted to get rid of all of the old ones before they bought any more. He also noticed how the locals are irritated with the change and some were now referring to the tower as "Big Willie" to mock the new leasers. I know others have vowed never to stop calling it the Sears Tower, and I doubt I'll ever call it by another name. Some particularly angry Chicagoans have been tearing off parts of letters that form the new sign for the tower, so much so that they've had to put up another sign. Okay, that might be going a little far. And a few may argue that this name change is the right of the owners, but I think it's pretty hypocritical of them to not only profit from the million or so tourists who visit the Skydeck at the tower each year because it is a nationally recognized landmark but also cash in the name of this beloved structure for extra funds. Emotions run deep with many in regards to this name, and I don't think we've seen the end of this drama yet. In any event, the naming rights are only good for 15 years, so we may have a change in 2024. Perhaps then, the tower will have a new name entirely (but I hope not).

Regardless of the name issues, this is a great magnet. I really like the sense of perspective it gives - it's as though you're standing at the foot of the tower, staring up at its highest floors.  Yep, I'm pretty happy that Danny sent it my way.  It reminds me that, yes, there are a few folks tuning into my ramblings on this blog.  Thanks again, Danny!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bourdain Is Back

Magnet # 140: Lebanese Map

Material: Rubber

Purchased By: Ian

A new season of one of the Travel Channel's most popular shows, No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain begins tonight. It's hard to believe that at this point, there's anywhere that Bourdain hasn't been on this program, but apparently Panama is one. He'll visit that tonight, and help authorities set fire to cocaine.

Anthony Bourdain is one of the more unusual hosts on television. He was born in New York City, raised in New Jersey, and now lives in Manhattan - and it shows. He has a dirty mouth, a pretty bad drinking habit, and is very opinionated and direct about his views. And yet, he's surprisingly likeable. I have to admire his nearly three decades worth of experience in professional kitchens and the fact that he's openly put his drug use behind him. He even quit smoking after his daughter was born. It's pretty amusing how he makes fun of other television hosts like Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee. But he also gives credit where it's due, praising celebrity chefs like Mario Batali and even Julia Child. One thing's for certain - Bourdain calls it like he sees it. You're never left wondering just how he feels about any of his experiences. And when it's time for him to be respectful, he really manages to come through. I'm amazed by his ability to occasionally suffer through some of the worst meals imaginable and remain upbeat, not offending his hosts. But there are moments when he is truly snarky in his travels and it's pretty entertaining.

Bourdain's 2006 trip to Lebanon might be called his finest moment. Little did he and his crew realize that, early on in the shoot, the Israel-Lebanon conflict would break out. The Israeli army took out the airport as he watched from his hotel room, and he and his four-person crew were stranded in Beirut. But they went on filming nonetheless, capturing some pretty compelling moments. It was interesting to see more of the people behind the cameras, as they hunkered down at their hotel, talked to fellow guests, and tried to stay optimistic in the middle of so much chaos. Finally, after a week of waiting, a cleaner Bourdain referred to as Mr. Wolf managed to get them safely onboard a United States Marines landing craft, and then USS Nashville took them back home safely. Bourdain had nothing but the best to say in regards to the Marines who helped them, and was even grateful for the tuna noodle casserole and macaroni and cheese they were served in the dining hall. He and his crew were lucky - over a thousand people died during the conflict, many of them Lebanese civilians. The home of one of Bourdain's guides was destroyed. He said that both he and his crew were very shaken by their trip to the country. If you've never seen this episode before, it's really interesting, even if it is a little unsettling.

I did want to thank Ian for buying this magnet on my behalf. He's the son of a friend of mine who is Lebanese and was going to visit his extended family there last year. I begged him to get me a magnet, and he happily obliged. And, yes, he had a safe trip - clearly, life has gotten much better over there. So, tune in for Bourdain's all new antics tonight, if you're interested. Yes, he may be a bit of a food snob, but he is always interesting to watch in action. And don't ask me to pick my favorite between Bourdain and his fellow Travel Channel host, Andrew Zimmerman. Zimmern is just so upbeat and likeable that he is nearly Bourdain's opposite, but I like them both equally. What can I say - the Travel Channel just has some of the most interesting shows around, and if you haven't checked out No Reservations, you're missing out.