Friday, July 30, 2010

A peek into Hindu culture

This afternoon Misty and I visited the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Lilburn, Georgia. We'd come across it by accident one day driving along Highway 29, where it sticks out like a sore thumb. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to see in an exotic foreign country, but not in the middle of the commercial zoning of metro Atlanta.

The Mandir is a Hindu temple of sorts. It's surrounded and filled with statues of various gods. From what I understand, the whole place was shipped in piece by piece from India and assempled without using any screws or nails. It's like a gigantic Lego project. And it's exquisite.

Being inside made me nervous because there are a lot of rules, and I didn't want to offend someone in their place of worship. Cameras aren't permitted beyond a certain point, you have to remove your shoes, and you're asked not to speak above a whisper. There's even a guard at the front gate making sure incoming cars aren't bringing any unauthorized materials inside.

It's unbelievable how intricate the designs are inside the Mandir. It's not just the detail, but the scope -- it's huge, and nearly everything is hand-carved. We were in awe of it all.

Here are some more of our pictures (from the outside).

Conquering a mountain

For years I've been trying to get Misty to agree to hike up Stone Mountain together on one of our trips to Atlanta. Now that she's gotten herself on an exercise kick -- getting up almost every day to run or work out at the gym -- she finally relented (actually, we'd tried once before, a couple years ago, but it started to rain, and we had to turn back).

Today while visiting my parents, we made an early-morning drive to Stone Mountain. There were a ton of other people there doing the same thing. We hiked to the top just in time to see the sunrise.

It's an empowering feeling to make it to the top. Even though it isn't a particularly difficult thing to do, the panoramic scene from the summit makes you proud of the accomplishment.

Misty, however, wasn't satisfied. When we got to the bottom, she asked me if I wanted to walk back up again. I chose to veto that idea.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Art , culture, and history in Huntsville

Interacting with art, originally uploaded by MCuthbert.

Yesterday was a day filled with fun in Huntsville.

We started by driving up to Ditto Landing for an Indian powow. There was traditional dancing, music, and costumes, but the event was much smaller than we'd expected. The girls ate sno-cones while we watched a few of the dances, and we checked out the inside of a teepee. Soon though, we headed on our way for lunch.

We ate a Rosie's Mexican Cantina, a place Misty had been itching to try, but I'd never been overly impressed with when I lived in Huntsville. My memory was clearly distorted, as this time I enjoyed some of the best fish tacos I've ever had. Apparently the hype is justified, after all.

Following lunch, we went to check out Lowe Mill, an artists' collective inside an old building. This place blew me away. I'd been there before, but only briefly, and hadn't taken a good look around. On the weekends Lowe Mill houses an art market with tons of people selling everything from paintings, to knitted caps, to blown glass, to fresh baked bread. However, the art isn't just a weekend event -- the artists' studios are housed in the building as well, so you can stop by and watch them work at their offices. In one room, Emily and Kendall were encouraged to add their own contribution by coloring on the wall. The place was super-cool.

Next we went for a walk at Big Spring Park. We dodged duck poop and crossed the red bridge, then made our way to the actual spring where Misty and I had our first date years ago. Alas, it was really hot, so we didn't feel like staying long. We retreated to Sam & Greg's for some gellato to cool off.

Huntsville continues to grow into a fabulous city -- one that I remember how much I miss with each visit.

Here are several more pictures from our trip.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Droid X scavenger hunt

Just in case you ever get the urge to run from the Birmingham Museum of Art to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame on a July afternoon... Don't.

Verizon reps were in Birmingham today to give away a new Droid X phone. Clues have been trickling out though Twitter over the past few days as to where the Droid X would be hidden. This morning they confirmed what we'd already expected -- that it would indeed be in Birmingham. Then around 1:00 this afternoon, they dropped the final clue before giving out exact GPS coordinates: "Droid X designate #8 has hit south of Interstate 20. GPS coordinates transmitting in 30 minutes. Are you prepared?"

I guessed that this meant either the Birmingham Museum of Art of Linn Park, both of which are immediately south of I-20. I drove over there and sat at the edge of the park, directly across from the museum, figuring that if I was correct, I'd be right there.

The GPS coordinates came in, I plugged them into Google Maps, and saw that the destination was only a block south of the park. I was close, so I took off running.

As I reached 6th Ave., I glanced at the map again to try to figure out exactly where the phone was hidden. It was then that I realized my error. The destination was a block south of Kelly Ingram Park, not Linn Park. I still had another 2 blocks down and 3 blocks over to go, but by now I was too far from my car to double back and get it. I figured if I did, I'd lose any chance of getting to the phone in time. I kept running.

When I was about a block away from the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame (which, by now, I'd realized was the destination), I saw two other guys dash inside. At least I knew I could quit running. As it turned out, they weren't the first ones there, either. There were a bunch of people in the lobby, some out of breath and sweaty, like me.

Here's the guy who won. He said he'd gotten lucky and parked about a block and a half away. There was no way I'd have arrived before him.

Local man wins Motorola Droid X phone during nationwide scavenger hunt.

Luckily, I didn't care if I won the phone. I'm still quite happy with the one I have. I just figured this scavenger hunt of sorts would be a fun way to spend my lunch break. And it was -- except for the running in the heat.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guys' night out with Mates of State

My friend Jeven and I have been trying to get together for months to see a concert. But, like me, he's married with two little girls and a full-time job, so it's been difficult to get our schedules to mesh on the same night when there's a particular show that we'd both want to see.

On Saturday, we finally pulled it off and caught a performance by Mates of State at WorkPlay. It was a show that also included a (seemingly) drunk magician and a stand-up comic (Mates of State's bus driver) as opening acts. We had a good time and enjoyed the music.

Here's my review of the Mates of State show.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Giving a couple Canadians a brief tour of Birmingham

This afternoon, I met a pair of travelers from Canada who were traveling through Alabama on a social media experiement. Alex and Luke are two friends who have set out to visit every state and every Canadian province. The really interesting part though, is that their journey is being entirely guided by crowdsourcing. Through their blog and Twitter, they let other people vote on where they'll go next, what attractions to see while there, where to eat, and even what hotel to stay in.

I interviewed them for an article and video on, and I'm quite proud of how it turned out.

Alex and Luke are really cool people, and I wish them the best on their continuing journey. You can find lots more about them at their web site: If their experiment ever gets turned into a show on the Travel Channel, I'd definitely watch.

Update (7/12): I showed up in Alex and Luke's latest YouTube video.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Bringing our tater tots to McWane

Ever since the Adventures of Mr. Potato Head opened at McWane Science Center, Emily and Kendall have been bugging us to go. After seeing Mr. Potato Head's heroism in the new Toy Story movie, their pleas ramped up a notch. Their wish was granted today, and as you can see in the picture, they were overjoyed.

The Mr. Potato Head exhibit was better than I expected. The girls spent quite a bit of time playing in there, as well as in the "Just Mice Size" area. They're at the age where they're far more interested in touching and playing with the exhibits than learning about them, but hopefully some of the science stuff rubs off.

We ran into two families from our church while there, and another afterward when we stopped for lunch at Chick-fil-A. Apparently, everyone was out enjoying the extended holiday.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Baking blueberry pies

The proud cooker bakers
Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
Since we picked a huge amount of blueberries yesterday, we needed to find something to do with them other than sprinkling them on our breakfast cereal. Misty and the girls whipped up a couple of blueberry pies this afternoon -- one for us, and another that we brought to tonight's 4th of July picnic-themed potluck dinner at the church core group.

Kendall and Emily really did help with the baking, and they are of course proud of their accomplishment. However, I did hear a few exclamations coming from the kitchen along the lines of: "Kendall, stop! No, that's enough!"

We haven't tried our pie yet, but some folks at church declared it to be the best blueberry pie they'd ever eaten.

There are still plenty of blueberries left, though.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Super-fun-filled day

Juicy nectarines, originally uploaded by MCuthbert.

Today was a super-fun-filled day.

We started off by heading down to Clanton, Alabama, home of the giant peach water tower (or the "butt peach," as Misty calls it) to pick blueberries at Petals from the past. The girls loved picking berries, and we filled up two baskets full (which I guessed was about 6 pints). We were also permitted to eat as many berries as we wanted while we were in the garden, so plenty more went into our mouths.

Next we headed to a farm that offered peach and strawberry picking. After getting turned around a couple times, we finally found the farm's office and learned from the owner that they no longer offer pick-your-own fruits. However, she directed us to another farm a few miles away that had what we were looking for.

We wound up at McCraw's U-Pick, a farm that had peaches and nectarines. We walked through the field filling up our basket, again enjoying eating fresh samples right off the trees as we picked. At one point, Kendall had a nectarine in each hand, juice dripping on her cheeks as munched on both of them in turn.

On the way home, we stopped for a picnic lunch at a rest area. Nothing fancy, but a picnic is always fun.

In the evening, we headed out to Helena for the city's fireworks show -- which they were hosting a day early either to avoid competing with Birmingham's fireworks or to avoid being on a Sunday; I don't know which. Before the show, went to Carmella's Italian Ice Company and got cups of red, white, and blue colored shaved ice. Then we walked down by the waterfall, laid out on a blanket, and waited for the fireworks. It was crowded, but we had a great spot. A boy walked up to us and thrust forth a crawdad that he'd plucked out of the creek, proud of his discovery.

The fireworks were great. The presentation in Helena makes us want to never fight the traffic for Birmingham's fireworks show again. This time even Kendall enjoyed them (she's been scared of the noise in the past).

On our way home, Misty ran into Publix to pick up a couple of pie crusts to make blueberry pie. By the time she returned to the car, the girls were already asleep. Our super-fun-filled day had worn them out.