Archive for December, 2009

Merry Christmas, in Florida fashion

December 25, 2009

Good tidings  to you, wherever you are. Good tidings for Christmas, and a Happy New Year! We’re in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla. Here are a few holiday scenes:

Manaclaus (Manatee Santa) delivers presents for the marine dwellers

Flamingo fills in for Santa while Mr. Claus rests up at the beach

Natural tinsel (Spanish moss) covers the trees in Florida

Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! (Thanks to Christine for the holiday props from her fabulous and festive tiki bar)


My new favorite wine is wienerful!

December 19, 2009

I have a new favorite wine — the most wienerful wine in the world! Alas, from what I can tell, it’s not available in making its way throughout the Northeast and, soonish (2011/12) across the United States. I’m counting on my readers to investigate and report back.

I spotted the French wine Longue-Dog Grenache Syrah while checking out wines in the Netherlands, at the Super de Boer, a basic Dutch supermarket chain (just bought by Jumbo, FYI). I screamed, in that way that I do when I see something so wienerfully wonderful.

Here are the things I love about Longue-Dog. First, the dachshund, duh. Its image is not only stretched across the front of the label but continues around the back. Snazzy. There’s also a cute little wiener head on the neck label.

Longue-Dog Grenache Syrah, the most wienerful wine in the world

The name, too, is fun. It’s a play on words — for the Languedoc region of France. Languedoc, in the south, supplies a third of the country’s grapes and is France’s largest wine region — though its least known. I assume (but don’t know) that Longue-Dog comes from Languedoc grapes. Apparently the region is trying to become more known by consumers.

I have a brilliant idea. Start selling Longue-Dog in the United States. That would bring tail wags all around!

The bottle label has a tail-wagging part two

According to the small print on the back of the label, Longue-Dog is made by Boutinot, a wine producer and distributor based in the UK and started by Frenchman Paul Boutinot. I emailed Boutinot’s customer service address, but didn’t hear a bark back. (UPDATE Jan 22, 2010: Heard from Boutinot today. They’re “nearing” a launch in US. Yee-haw! )

Can anyone help, s’il vous plait?

Partaking in a Polynesian party

December 17, 2009

“Where they Went,” published in the Boston Globe on Aug. 9, 2009

Girls on a parade float during the annual Tapati Rapa Nui festival on Easter Island

WHO: Vicki Maxant, 67, and her husband, Stanley Murphy 62, of Harvard, Mass., with Elenita Brodie, 66, of Casselberry, Fla., and Paula Laholt, 66, of Schwenksville, Pa.

WHERE: Easter Island and Santiago, Chile.

WHEN: Two weeks in February.

WHY: “Elenita has traveled with Buz a number of times and she told me we had to do Easter Island,” Maxant said, referring to Buz Donahoo, owner of Condor Adventures, the tour operator.

While Vicki Maxant and her husband, Stanley Murphy, had their faces painted, they chose not to don the local dress

PERFECT TIMING: The foursome went on city and vineyard tours in and around Santiago before and after Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui. But the trip to the island, five hours by plane, was the highlight. The 14-member Condor tour coincided with the annual Tapati Rapa Nui festival, a two-week celebration of Rapa Nuian culture and history. About 4,000 people live on the Polynesian island.

REAL DEAL: “What impressed us most was the festival’s totally native character,” Maxant said. “The people there were perfectly happy to share it with tourists, but it is their festival. It could easily become commercialized, but it’s not. I’m sure there were other tourists there, but it didn’t feel that way.” The group stayed at Hotel Manavai in the island’s one village, Hanga Roa.

Paula Laholt (left), Elenita Brodie, and Vicki display their Easter Island colors

TURNING RED: Every day they watched a different festival activity, which the entire community usually participated in. One day locals “bathed” in vats of a red clay-like substance that covered their bodies. The men wore slight coverings over their painted bodies, and the women donned skirts of flowers. “Some people in our group did the bath,” Maxant said. “I only got my face painted.” Later, islanders gathered for a parade. “We went to the hotel and drank pisco sours and watched the floats go by.”

FISH FOR ALL: “There was music and dancing every night, with an outdoor stage by the water,” Maxant said. “One night all the men in the village went out fishing and had a huge fish fry. Anyone who showed up with a plate or a banana leaf could have a piece.”

Moai, the island's famed statues

MAGICAL MOAI: Guided tours took them around the island, including the quarry where the famed moai, monolithic human figures, were carved from rock. “Standing in front of the moai was just awesome,” Maxant said. They picnicked on various beaches, and boated to uninhabited islands. “The water was the bluest I’ve seen, like melted sapphires.”

LASTING IMPRESSION: Maxant passed on the group’s top choice of a souvenir – tattoos. “Buz had told us, by the time the week ends, you’ll want to get a tattoo. Many of us did, including Stan and Elenita. He got a very stylized turtle on his shoulder and she got a seahorse on her ankle. They’re very, very artistic.”

Lugging, Hugging, and mugging on the plane

December 14, 2009

This Snuz fleece blanket is perfect for snuggling and snoozing

Covered in fuzzy orange with a pink flashlight thingie wrapped around my neck, I was quite the sight on our 10-hour flight to the Netherlands a few weeks ago. It was all in the name of work. I do very little product testing, although I get invites to do so frequently. I just don’t need more stuff lying around the house. But occasionally things appeal to me enough to check them out. That was the case with the Snuz Sac by Lug and the HUG Light from ShowerTek, both sent to me free by the manufacturers. (Color choices were mine. Can’t you tell?) 

LL Bean's LED baseball cap is a great grilling accessory

If I hated them both, I could say “Lug. Hug. Ugh.” But, OK, that wasn’t the case, so that was a missed opportunity. 

First, the light. As a camper, I’ve long been obsessed with hands-free lighting, and got a headlamp as soon as stores carried them. Later I fell in love with LL Bean’s LED baseball cap. Then along came the HUGlight  ($19). It’s a one-piece, hands-free, flexible LED light, 13 inches long when stretched out. I love them all. 

Diane appreciates the versatile HUGlight

The beauty is in its flexibility and versatility. When you wear an LED headlamp, you can’t look someone in the eye or you’ll blind them. With the lightweight HUG, you can direct the light more appropriately. Lights are at both ends and have three settings. You can also prop it up in a coil or cobra for a little mini table lamp, or hook it over something. On the plane I used it for reading at night, because I hate the too-high airplane lights, and for help in locating the numerous items I dropped under my seat. Glasses, pens, etc. 

Diane inflates her Snuz Sac neck pillow

Now, the Snuz Sac ($30).  Love the Snuz! Hate the Sac! Which means I should have chosen the Nap Sac ($28), which was an option. Here’s what they have in common — the softest fleece blanket ever! (It’s 35 x 46 inches)  Just looking at mine makes me drowsy. Touching it makes me cuddly. 

The Nap Sac has a little pouch with blow-up pillow and blankie. Pouch becomes pillowcase, about the size of an airplane pillow. Ta-da. Simple. 

The Snuz is a different story. The pouch is in the shape of a neck pillow, the inflatable type that every long-distance flyer must own. You take the blanket out of the pouch. Inside is a little blowup pillow in the shape of said neck pillow. You must cram that inside the sac. I didn’t like the feel of it, so reverted to my old, much-uglier neck pillow. The most annoying part is when you’re packing up. You take out plastic pillow, deflate it, then roll up and try to cram the blanket into a sac that is the shape of a neck pillow. Too many steps and too annoying, and who wants to carry around something in the shape of a neck pillow? 

Diane loves the blanket, but is totally faking it with that uncomfy pillow

But I loved that dang blanket and it is partly the reason that I slept a few hours on the way to Amsterdam (though it didn’t work a minute of its magic on the way home). 

I’ve never thought to bring my own blanket on a plane, but from now on, if I can afford the space, I will. I’ll put my Snuz blankie in a compression bag or Ziploc and carry my own ugly inflatable pillow, thereby making my own Nap Sac, which I should have gotten in the first place.

White stuff blankets parts of North Carolina

December 10, 2009

White wonderland near Warrenton, NC

While I realize the snowstorms this week in the Midwest and the Northeast can be dangerous and are not necessarily desired by most people, Wessel and I have snow envy! We love watching it fall and playing in it. (We’ll ignore the driving and shoveling for now.)

So when we came upon this awesome white wonderland outside of Warrenton, North Carolina, a couple days ago, we took a cotton to it. OK, it’s not snow, and it’s grown with chemicals, but ain’t it purdy? North Carolina is fifth in cotton production in the country, and we’re proud of it. (Except for those pesky chemicals.)

This is how your T-shirt starts

If you’ve never seen a cotton field just before fall harvest (most are harvested by now; not sure why this one isn’t), put it on your list. I’ll tell you where to go. It’s quite a sight.

Have cotton envy yet?

Happy Sinterklaas, wherever you are

December 5, 2009

Sinterklaas visits a store during his busy three-week stay in the Netherlands

Wessel and I spent Thanksgiving week in the Netherlands, but of course there was no celebration of the Pilgrims in America (though they did depart from Leiden, in Holland). Instead, we were bombarded with images of Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten.

Many say that Sinterklaas is the inspiration for our Santa Claus. Sint looks a bit like Santa, though his belly is smaller. He comes by boat from Spain (I still don’t get that part) mid-November, and his arrival is televised throughout the country. For a few weeks, he visits towns throughout the country. Like Santa, Sint has the uncanny ability to be omnipresent.

Images of Zwarte Piet are everywhere

Instead of elves, Sint has the assistance of a bevy of black men and women. It’s true. They’re the Zwarte Pieten, or Black Petes (though many are women). These are white people with their faces painted black. Yep, it sounds scarily like our minstrel shows of yore. At one point they were said to be Sint’s slaves then a few decades ago they suddenly became “friends.” Regardless, as an American, I was pretty chagrined to see Piet images everywhere, including toy Pieten, banners, and window decorations. I tried to engage a few Dutch relatives in talks about Piet, but that didn’t go over well.

Zwarte Pieten in a TV show that runs daily while Sinterklaas is in the country

The best overview of the Piet issue I found is here  in the German magazine Spiegel. The funniest take on Zwarte Pieten was written by my former classmate David Sedaris in his essay “Six to Eight Black Men.” (It’s in his 2004 book “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.”)

Zwarte Pieten play music in one of the shopping streets of Alphen aan den Rijn

Finally, Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten get down to business on the night of Dec. 5 (Sinterklaasavond), when they leave gifts for the children outside to be opened on Pakjesavond — the evening of the packages. The Dutch also celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, with a tree and a big meal, but no gifts.

Diane meets the real Sinterklaas!

A week ago, on the day we flew back home, we made a stop in Alphen aan den Rijn to visit a friend’s shop. In the distance, Wessel heard the sounds of a marching band and tore off, shouting for me to follow. We turned a corner and there they were! Sinterklaas with his Zwarte Pieten, playing horns and marching through town! Though I’d rather the Petes were elves, I did enjoy the spectacle. And I got a hug from Sinterklaas!

As if there aren’t enough cultural problems with Sinterklaas, now another issue is brewing. Because of the country’s growing Muslim population, some folks object to the cross on Sint’s headdress, and many Sints now wear a solid red hat. I apparently met a “real” Sinterklaas, bearing a cross and leading his six to eight black men.

Cold feet? The answer is in the bag

December 1, 2009

The `voetenwarmzak` is the perfect antidote for cold feet

Wessel’s parents have the most amazing solution for cold feet of the literal kind — an electric “voetenwarmzak” — a “warm sack” for your feet. I borrowed it when we visited the Familie Kok in the Netherlands last week and was in heaven. And now I’m trying to find a similar product in the US, which uses 110 voltage instead of the 220 the Dutch version come in. Can anyone help me?

Here’s a new Dutch model online, for $47. When I Googled all sorts of word combinations of English words, I found nothing close to the “sack.” I could, of course, buy the Dutch version and use an electrical converter, but that’s not the safest option.

Moon boots and a space heater are the currently used protective methods

Moon boots and a space heater are the currently used protective methods

In case you’re wondering, my feet are generally fine except when I’m sitting at my desk not getting any circulation, which is a lot of the time. I wear Sierra Designs puffy boots, which we call  my moon boots, but even they don’t do the job. I also use a space heater and sometimes rest my feet on a heating pad, but nothing has kept them truly warm — until the voetenwarmzak! I must find one!