The year is almost to an end. 2009 was my first full year as an American resident, after moving here from the Netherlands in September 2008. Here is a list of my personal favorites of the year 2009:
We drove to Florida twice this year to try and see a Shuttle launch. We first tried in June for the STS-127 launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour. We spent a week in a hotel on the Space Coast but bad weather and a leaking fuel tank made NASA scrub the launch. We got tickets for the causeway again for STS-127 and finally saw the lift-off of Space Shuttle Atlantis on 16 November. It was spectacular.
I haven’t seen Avatar yet, so my opinion on this can still change before the end of this year, but for now J.J. Abrams’ new incarnation of Star Trek was my favorite film of the year. The actors were great, the story was awesome, the special effects were amazing! I am looking forward to seeing more of these. Runner-up: Up!
When driving back from Florida in November we stopped at a small nature reserve in North Carolina called Great Swamp Sanctuary. We saw lots of Pileated Woodpeckers, heard our lifer Carolina Chickadee and the best bird of the day (or year!) was a Barred Owl that flew across the path right in front of us and landed in a nearby tree.
In April, when my parents came to America to visit us, we took a roadtrip to the Niagara Falls for a few days. We drove from our home in Illinois through Indiana, Michigan and Ontario and spent the night on the Canadian side of the falls. The next morning we all got soaking wet on the Maid of the Mist boat tour. We had a wonderful time and were very impressed with the magnificent falls.
I’m not a big fan of the thick American-style pizza that is served in 99% of pizza places here. The best pizza I ever had was the pizza napoletana in Naples. These thin pizzas made in brick ovens are simply delicious. The closest to the style and taste of this pizza that we have found in this country so far is at Flippers Pizzeria in the Orlando area.
We own a few webshops where we sell our designs on print-on-demand t-shirts and gifts. At the beginning of this year we were mostly using CafePress and business was going well. In April, CafePress suddenly announced some major changes that hurt thousands of shopkeepers, including us. We lost a lot of money from this awful announcement, but it was a great kick-in-the-pants to start moving our designs to other (better) PODs, like Zazzle.
On July 22nd we went to An Evening with Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell organized by the Adler Planetarium and afterward Buzz signed my copy of his book Magnificent Desolation. Runner-up: At the the Midwest Birding Sympsium in Ohio we had The Sibley Guide to Trees signed by David Sibley, author of North America’s best bird guide.
There are a few new TV shows this fall that we are watching, including FlashForward and V, but every week I look most forward to ABC’s Comedy Wednesday with two of my favorite new shows: The Middle and Modern Family. Though not as good as, say, Seinfeld or Arrested Development, these are two excellent sitcoms.
In April we drove to Milwaukee to visit the Harley Davidson Museum. The purpose of our visit was mainly to see the Indiana Jones exhibit, but we were surprised at how much we enjoyed the museum, considering we are not motorcycle enthusiasts. The museum has a huge collection of motorcycles and other Harley-Davidson memorabilia, and the history of the company is extremely well laid out in beautiful displays.
Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray is one of my favorite movies, and we now live just 30 minutes away from the town where the movie was filmed: Woodstock, Illinois. Every year around February 2nd this cute town organizes Groundhog Days, with special events. We had a tour of the filming locations led by the movie’s location manager and on the actual day we got up early to see Woodstock Willie predict six more weeks of winter.
Driving back from Florida in November we had to make a detour through Smokey Mountains National Parks because of a rock-slide on the interstate. To our surprise we saw two American Black Bears close to the road. It was the first time we had seen bears in the wild.
When visiting a 50s Diner somewhere this year, I ordered their “Hunka Hunka Love” sandwich. It was the first time I had a grilled sandwich with peanut butter and banana, and I was sold! I have since made many of these at home and I love them. Peanut Butter, Banana and Bacon was apparently Elvis’ favorite sandwich, but I find it fine without the bacon.
On March 14th we went to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Chicago and had a great time. The parade took about 3 hours and we burnt our faces in the bright sun as we stood there catching candy and free gifts thrown from the floats. About 400,000 people watched the parade, and I guess at least twice as many were in the parade. Seeing them greenify the Chicago River was very neat to see too.
When we moved to the US I was afraid that we’d have to mostly have burgers and fries when on the road, but we’ve found a few really nice restaurant chains with some nice vegetarian options. Two of my favorite ones ares: Noodles & Company (love the Indonesian Peanut Sauté) and Sweet Tomatoes (delicious soups, salads and the corn bread is so yummy).
Most of the soft drinks made in this country use high-fructose corn syrup as the sweetener. I don’t like the syrupy taste of these American sodas and it makes me feel bad too. There are just a handful of alternative brands that use natural sugar, but they are hard to find around here. Pepsi has limited runs of Pepsi Throwback made with real sugar and I like this a lot. They just started another limited run this week and I stocked up for the next months.
The original Secret of Monkey Island (1990) is my favorite computer game of all time. I was really excited to learn earlier this year that a new adventure with Guybrush Threepwood was in the making: Tales of Monkey Island. I’ve been playing this game lately and I love it. It’s a great new Monkey Island adventure.