Thursday, April 30, 2009

Softshell Crabs at Sandbar Restaurant

After lunch I headed back to the motel in Bradenton and took a nap. A few hours into my nap, my phone rang. It was Kevin! They had finished with the tux fitting and all the wedding work for the day and wanted me to come to their hotel so we could all go out for drinks.

We went to a sports bar so that we could watch the Rays game. After being there for an hour or so, Kevin told me that Kristin's family had invited me to get dinner with them on Anna Maria Island.

The dinner was great and it was good to meet Kristin's family. I already knew her sister because she lives in Chicago but I had never met her friend Liz, who is absolutely adorable! I ordered the soft shelled crab with shrimp, red skinned potatoes, and asparagus. It was fantastic! Kevin said he wished he had ordered what I ordered.

After dinner, Kevin and I drove back to Sarasota to meet up with the groomsmen. After a few more hours of hanging around at a bar, we went back to the groom party hotel room. I was exhausted by that point, so I went back to my motel room and crashed for the night.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Thanks to my mom for sending me this video. These things always make me think, so of course I need to comment... or at least record my thoughts.

The video is pretty good! I believe that being more efficient is always a good idea. However, the pessimism makes me want to seek solutions. While they point out how much water is wasted in the US - because we take its availability for granted - we have a lot of room for conservation without great expense.

If conservation fails or comes too late, several technologies are waiting in the wings. These technologies are currently cost prohibitive because water is still highly available. Once fresh water becomes too expensive or impossible to extract from the traditional sources, desalinization becomes one attractive option. Here is another clever, simple, and cheap technology for collecting freshwater:


I think that many continental water issues can be solved through more efficient means of distribution. While the Los Angeles basin can only support 1 million people, it supports far more with help from the Colorado River. Perth receives much of its water from reservoirs, but has also begun to desalinate seawater.

Being right next to the Great Lakes spoils us in the midwest. Water is rarely a concern in Chicago, but without a way to share our water with Los Angeles (or Perth) there is little incentive to conserve.

It's a good thing people are thinking about this stuff!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Crab & Fin Restaurant

Crab & Fin Restaurant, originally uploaded by zuctronic.

I'm going to go ahead and throw my gourmand image out the window and let you know that I had McDonald's for breakfast. I was in a hurry to get my day started and I get cravings for their breakfast burritos and hashbrowns.

To correct this culinary faux pas, I decided to have a nice seafood lunch on St. Armands Key. This lunch would have to involve oysters, so I used the rental car GPS to find a restaurant nearby featuring them. What it came up with was the Crab and Fin Restaurant, right on St. Armands Circle.

The menu featured six different types of oysters. For my appetizer, I ordered the oyster tasting which included one of each type. I chose the linguini with clams for my main.

I understand oysters aren't for everyone... I picked up this delicious... almost sinful craving a couple years ago. Now I cannot travel without sampling oysters. These are not local oysters, I'll get to those later... but they are excellent oysters.

Here we go:

1. Alaskan Canoe Lagoon - from an extremely remote pristine area, medium to large meaty oyster with distinct fruity aroma and a watermelon finish
2. Washington State Hama Hama - a medium thick shelled, beach grown oyster with creamy yet mild tasting firm meat
3. New York Montauk - ice harvested in only the winter months from Mecox Bay, a full sized meaty oyster with a big brine finish
4. Rhode Island Umami - small to medium choice, delicate meats that start off briny & slightly acidic, finishes mild and smooth
5. Connecticut Blue Point - cultivated in the wild in natural oyster beds, chock full of mildly salty, mouthwatering meats, one of their largest oysters
6. Virginia James River - medium sized, plump firm meat, perfect blend of brine and richness, with an earthy finish

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?"
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

The main course was small but tasty. All together it was the perfect amount of food for me. I also had the wine recommendation, it was a Riesling, if my memory serves correctly. After the meal, they served a complimentary pineapple slice dipped in chocolate.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Gulf of Mexico from Longboat Key

All the walking around I did at the park got me hungry so I started to head back toward St. Armands Key to get something to eat. On the way back I saw this beach. I wanted to get a good look at the Gulf of Mexico. The only time I've really seen the Gulf was from Louisiana's shore at Grand Isle. The water there is brown an smelly and there are oil platforms within view from shore. The Florida Gulf coast is not like that at all! The water is blue, the sand is white, and the wind keeps the air smelling fresh. I walked out to the water and it was pretty warm, about 70 degrees.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lake Michigan Sunrise, April 7 2009

Breaking away from our Sarasota stories for a moment... In the early spring in Chicago, the lake and air temperatures are constantly out of sync. In the early morning on a clear day, a layer of clouds or fog can form over the lake. When the sun rises through these clouds, it creates one of the most fantastic sunrise effects I've ever seen.

After taking Isabelle to work one Saturday morning I drove over the the lakefront to wait for the sunrise. This shot was among the many I took, but I think it's the most spectacular.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Joan M. Durante Community Park

Joan M. Durante Community Park, originally uploaded by zuctronic.

After driving north from St. Armands Key, there is a bridge to Longboat Key. Longboat Key also hosts a town by the same name, which is mostly exclusive gated communities. On the Sarasota Bay side of the key is a park called Joan M. Durante Community Park. I stopped in for a walk around and wasn't disappointed!

The views of Sarasota Bay were really nice. There is also a boardwalk that takes visitors through a mangrove forest. I saw lots of horseshoe crab shells and there were hermit crabs scurrying into holes everywhere I looked.

I kept seeing a very interesting looking spider so I took a few pictures of it. When I posted them on Flickr, another member commented and told me that it is a type of crab spider.

There were a lot of people walking their dogs. The park also offered pick-up bags at the start of the trails to help dog owners clean up after their four-legged friends. The drinking fountain even featured a little doggie-sidecar!

After leaving the park, I went off searching for a beach. I wanted to see the Gulf of Mexico up close!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Harding Circle

Discolobus, originally uploaded by zuctronic.

On my first full day in Bradenton / Sarasota, Florida, I decided to just go poke around the beaches a little to see what interesting things I might find. I didn't really do too much reading about the area before I arrived and just wanted to do some exploration on my own.

After driving around Bradenton a little bit and making the determination that it was similar to any far-out Chicago suburb, I made my way south to Sarasota. The downtown area is quite built up with larger office buildings and hotels. I took the bridge out to St. Armand's Key and found a shopping district called Harding Circle.

"In 1923 circus magnate John N. Ringling (1866-1936) purchased St. Armands Key, an uninhabited, 150-acre, oval-shaped island. He planned a community of fine residences wit a central circle park surrounded by shops. The park was named in memory of his friend, President Warren Harding (1865-1923). The landscape plan for the island consisting of the central park, boulevards and medians, was designed by a prominent landscape architect, John J. Watson (1876-1950). The development work was done by Ringling's partner, Owen Burns (1869-1937). The grand opening of St. Armands occurred in 1928 when the bridge to the mainland was completed. Lots were sold and subsequently a few homes of Mediterranean and Spanish architecture were built. Although the Depression (1929-1941) halted the progress of his plan, John Ringling's vision was realized with the development of the residential area, beaches and shopping district since 1945. On January 16, 2001, Harding Circle with its associated medians and boulevards, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its unique early community planning and development."

Toward the east side of the circle is a small sculpture garden collectively called Allegory of Sarasota, Its Seven Virtues. I took pictures of the statues and the sign, which says:

John Ringling foresaw Sarasota as a "metropolitan city" distinguished by its cultural facilities. Having built Ca d'Zan on his 66-acre estate on Sarasota Bay, events were set in motion that would fulfill Ringling's vision. This complex, now affiliated with the Florida State University, also boasts theaters, a circus museum, and research facilities. Over time, the Sarasota Concert Band (successor to the Czecho-Slovakian National Band brought to Sarasota by Ringling in 1925), Ringling College of Art and Design (co-founded by Ringling in 1931), Florida West Coast Symphony (1949), Mote Marine Laboratory (1955), New College (1960), Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall (1968), Selby Gardens (1975), and others too numerous to mention were added, fulfilling Ringling's observation: "Though Life is Short, Art is Long".

Allegory of Sarasota, Its Seven Virtues, copyright 2007, conceived and designed by Edward Pinto, was dedicated on February 2, 2008, to John Ringling and countless others who created the cultural jewel of Florida.

MUSIC - representing the performing arts;
FLORA* - representing our natural beauty;
ARISTOTLE - representing our educational and research facilities;
SCULPTURE* - representing our painting and sculpture;
ASCLEPIUS, god of medicine - representing medicine's gifts;
BOUNTY - representing the bounty of land and sea; and
AMPHRITRITE, wife of Neptune, - representing our gulf and bays.
* denotes replica of statue in the Ringling Museum collection

I walked around and snapped some pictures of the statues and green spaces and then got back in the car to look for some views of the mainland and the gulf.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Preparing for Takeoff Again

Preparing for takeoff, originally uploaded by zuctronic

Another trip away from the hustle and bustle of the Windy City! On April 7th, I flew out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to Tampa International Airport. The flight was about 2 hours and 15 minutes and after landing I made my way to the Budget Rental car desk to pick up my reservation. It was a red Toyota Yaris with a GPS unit to help me get around the unfamiliar territory. The drive from Tampa to Bradenton was about an hour.

On the way to Bradenton I stopped at a convenience store for some beer, chips, and salsa. I asked if I could buy beer there, thinking maybe they stopped selling after 9pm (it was midnight) and the clerk said, "you can if you've got ID and money!"

I woke up early the next morning with a pounding headache that I sometimes get after flying. I ran to CVS and picked up some advil and was feeling alright by 9am. I had all day Wednesday free, so I decided to venture out and see what the Sarasota area had to offer.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Kevin and Kristin Grace

Last week, one of my best friends got married. I should probably have said what was on my mind at the wedding, but I didn't because I chickened out. I'll say it here.

I've known Kevin since he moved to Chicago and have watched him go through some tough times and some good times. Broken bones, lost jobs, barbecues, and road trips... Kristin has been devoted to him through it and I've become more enlightened through witnessing their connection.

Many question the value of marriage. When a couple lives together in a relationship for some time, the notion of declaring their everlasting love can seem like an afterthought. But on April 9th, my friend Kevin and his fairer half Kristin stood up in front of their friends, their family, and anyone wanting to see and said they do. They do love each other, they are committed to each other, and they will be forever. For a few moments, the universe paused for these two great people in my life. For a few minutes...

Kevin and Kristin
*the universe stood still and everything was perfect*

(Click the photo above to see all the wedding pictures that I took)

Congratulations Kevin and Kristin, I'm more happy for you than I can show!

- Andy

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Day at the Adler Planetarium

On Saturday afternoon I went to Chicago's Adler Planetarium. It has the world's oldest operating planetarium, the western hemisphere's first planetarium, and is the world's only museum with two operating planetariums. I got a ticket to the museum and one show, "Nightsky Live" which would basically just show off the planetarium with a view of the night sky over Chicago.


The outside of the old building is adorned with brass plates representing the 12 astrological zodiac symbols. The back of the museum has had a very tasteful addition which hosts a larger museum and solarium.

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The Atwood Sphere is actually Chicago's oldest planetarium. It was sold to the Navy and then bought back by the Adler planetarium in the 90s. The phere is a 15ft (5 m) diameter sheet metal sphere with 692 holes in the surface, allowing light to enter to show positions of the brightest stars relative to an Earth viewing point. The sphere slowly rotates around the viewer putting the stars in motion.

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In the basement of the planetarium is more exhibit space where many ancient astonomy tools are on display. There were far more than I could photograph, but here are some of the more interesting ones.

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I took this picture of the projector inside the planetarium even though I technically wasn't supposed to take photos in there, I think they mean just while the show was going.


Behind the planetarium is a small observatory with a telescope to enable Chicagoans to see the night sky at over 5000x. The observatory is only open to the public on Fridays and during special events like eclipses, but they use it for research regularly.


There are some pictures taken from the observatory at this page: