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“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
–Bill Bryson, “Neither Here Nor There”

Chatting with new Kingston friend Michael after Trivia Night last Tuesday, he mentioned that his employer, JK’s Wine and Liquor, was having a free wine tasting over the weekend. What’s that, you say? Free wine? I’m in. I told Tori about it and within five minutes, her entire family had committed to Saturday’s event.

I’m trying to find the right words to describe yesterday’s wine tasting. Delicious? Yes, that’s a good word. Fun? Yeah, we’ll go with that, too. Did I learn anything new about wine? Well, no. But I did sample a few dozen wines. My favorite wine came from Cupcake Vineyards. What’s that? Cupcake Vineyards sounds like a joke? Well, Cupcake Vineyards sounds like heaven to me. (My affinity for cupcakes aside, that is.) I immediately fell in love with the sweetness of the Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay. Couldn’t say the same for the Brut Rose Pinot Noir, but as the saying goes, ya win some and ya lose some. Well, I definitely won this one. And so did JK, because there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to purchase a bottle of the Blanc de Blanc.

The second highlight of the day came at the last table we visited, where we sampled a Merry’s white chocolate liqueur. I am a huge fan of chocolate, just not the white variety, so I kept my expectations low as I sipped. I was shocked to find that I enjoyed the white chocolate Merry’s more than the regular chocolate (which I find no trace of on the Internet. Anyone else have luck in that department?). Good old Tor had the idea to mix the liqueur with a black raspberry vodka we’d sampled earlier in the afternoon. Result: a raspberry cheesecake-flavored mixed drink. Win win win.

A quick run-in with my childhood babysitter, Aubree (“I saw you and thought, ‘No, she is not old enough to drink.’ Gosh, I’ve gotten old!”) put the icing on the cake (or, following with the theme of the day, cupcake).

I was pleasantly surprised by the selection at JK. A long-time supporter (well, I’m only 23, so I guess two years is as long as I can have possibly been a patron) of The Merchant, due mostly to its close proximity to my house and wide selection of kosher wines, I haven’t branched out to the other stores in town. JK’s wine tasting may have swayed me. From what I’ve seen online, Cupcake wines are hard to find on the East Coast, so JK might end up being my main supplier.

We capped off the afternoon in Woodstock with cigars, homemade mac and cheese and more wine. Now that is what I call a great Saturday afternoon.

Long-time readers of this blog will remember my countdowns to the end of my contract in Korea, or as Erin and I referred to them, monthiversaries. Well, today is my sixth monthiversary of NOT being in Korea (with the exception of ten hours in November, inarguably the worst layover of my life), and I’m in the mood to celebrate. It’s been a crazy six months: I’ve hit Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico; survived a frigid and fairly snow-less winter; and worked a temp job to keep myself from going broke.

Long-time readers of this blog will also remember my summer addiction: Boys Over Flowers. (My original post mistakenly called it “Boys Before Flowers.”) Well, when I left Korea, I brought back with me my biggest vice. On Amazon (and in Koreatown), you can get your hands on volumes 1 and 2 of the series for a hefty $200. In a dusty shop down an alley in Hanoi, Vietnam, the same set can be yours for the low, low price of $5, assuming you can convince the woman working at the store to put in a special overnight order for a version with English subtitles. I bought a lot during my travels, but that was my most precious purchase.

And, to celebrate my six monthiversary, I made another precious purchase. One of the most touching scenes in the series’ 25-episode run is an exchange between F4 leader Gu Jun-pyo and his girlfriend Geum Jan-di, in which he gives her a one-of-a-kind necklace:

The “one-of-a-kind” gift is actually a real necklace, designed by Stonehenge and retailing for $265. Well, I’m not coughing up that kind of cash. I found a replica on ebay and sent it on to my dear sister, who immediately ordered two. (Yes, I turned my impressionable younger sister into a “Boys Over Flowers” convert.)

To see the scene in question, check out the video on MySoju.com. Skip ahead, until there are about two and a half minutes left in the video. It’s subtitled, so you can understand what’s going on. (Sidenote: Sigh, I just watched it again. Totally swooning. I am apparently just as crazy about this show now as when I started watching it over the summer.) A full summary is also available here.

The necklaces should arrive in a few weeks. I usually suck when it comes to holding onto jewelry, but I will keep (and cherish) this necklace forever. After all, as Gu Jun-pyo says, “If you lose it, you’re really dead this time.”

At this late hour, I bring you the most inspired post I can muster. This is an important blog post, an uplifting blog post. And if it doesn’t make you the slightest bit hungry, I’m going to wonder what the hell is wrong with you. So I’m just going to go ahead and make a pretty bold statement right now: Cupcakes are next to godliness. What? You that that was cleanliness? No, my friend. You are so very wrong.

I just…I love cupcakes. Not in a gross, morbidly-obese-because-I-eat-them-for-every-meal sort of way, but in a man-I-should-probably-hit-the-gym-if-I-want-to-continue-to-eat-cupcakes-this-often way, or even in a I’ve-baked-thousands-of-cupcakes-with-small-Korean-children way. But let me tell you, SEV’s cupcakes pale in comparison to the goodness that is the American cupcake. Want proof? Tori’s birthday was earlier this month; Amy made the most amazing cupcakes:

They don't look especially large, but these cupcakes are as big as your face. Well, assuming your face is the same size as a slightly above average cupcake. They also turned my mouth bright colors. My Korean cupcakes didn't even have frosting on top. NO FROSTING!!! Travesty, I say.

This post is inspired by Maryland classmate Adam, who I met freshman year of college while we were both participants on Birthright. Our friendship first crossed the Atlantic and then crossed over to the world of social networking. We have gone from Facebook to Twitter and now across the digital stratosphere to WordPress, thanks to one of Adam’s tweets today, informing me of the single greatest event to ever occur in Washington. No, I am not talking about Obama’s inauguration or the passage of the health care bill. Friends, I am talking about the tastiest, most exciting event that could possibly happen in the nation’s capital: the Cupcake Cup.

Now, let me make one thing clear: I love a good bracket (that’s what she said?), I do. But when my team loses at the buzzer after playing one hell of a final minute, the last thing I want to see is anything related to the NCAA Tournament–especially anything that still says Duke on it. But you know what doesn’t say “Duke”? CUPCAKES. Cupcakes are delicious and full of love. Plus, “cupcake” is easy to pronounce. (Suck it, Coach Krzyzewski.)

That being said, I give you greatness, love, tastiness and happiness. But above all, I give you many dessert options:

BEST BRACKET EVER, RIGHT!?

I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of store-bought cupcakes. Despite such sexy bakery names as Cake Love and Edibles Incredible, I simply prefer cupcakes made in my kitchen, or a friend’s kitchen, or especially my grandmother’s kitchen. There is actual love baked into these tasty homemade treats, not a love for money or economic prosperity, but love for food and for the people eating the food, and that love cannot be replicated or mass-produced.

Despite my preference for homemade cupcakes, I am still interested to see who comes out on top. I dare the winner to go head to head with Grandma Jackie. You hear that, Washington Cupcake Cup champion? There’s a little lady in Poughkeepsie who is ready to school you!

Off-topic while still being on-topic: the history of cupcakes. They are called “fairy cakes” in England. I think I want to move there and eat cupcakes all day long.

A year and a half ago I was on a plane, leafing through my complimentary copy of Korean Air and vaguely aware that I was about to embark on the most extreme, ridiculous, random and exciting 14 months of my life. Among the articles and adverts, I found a poem that resonated with me. I ripped the page out of the magazine and kept it in the top drawer of my squeaky metal nightstand (thank you, Korean furniture).

A year later, as I packed up my apartment, I opened the drawer and found the crumpled sheet. I stuck the page into a packed box and mailed it back to the States without giving it a second thought. It took me until Thanksgiving to finally unpack the boxes that had been sitting in my basement all fall. I found the poem, gave it a read and smiled to myself, remembering the first time I read the page, the words resonating with my scared, unsure, excited self. I set the paper on my dresser, and haven’t looked at it since.

This afternoon, in an attempt to find an old photo to aid in answering a burning question, I read through some of my earliest blog posts. I found my first post from Korea, complete with the Korean Air magazine poem, which I will now post here and probably forget about until I stumble upon it again in a few months.

“Whoever you are, wherever you are
Don’t fear your road.
Though it may get lonely,
It’s your path to follow
And has been since you were born.
The color of the sky,
The scent of the wind,
The murmur of the water,
All are wonderful things.
Embrace them as you choose your path.
Feel and do as you will.
Whoever you are, wherever you are,
Your road will eventually find you.”

Last week’s warm temperatures got me pumped for the weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. If there’s one thing you should know about Kingston, it’s that this city knows how to party. And really, nothing beats nice weather, friends and a parade.

But then the forecast shifted. Rain was predicted from Friday through the weekend. Gray skies had not given way to sun since Thursday. Long story short, the parade was going to be a wet one.

But we brought our umbrellas and ponchos and we prevailed. Why? Because in spite of rain, in spite of the relative chill, there was a parade that needed to happen. You can’t just go canceling one of the biggest events of the year, you know? This year’s parade was dedicated to former City Clerk Kathy Janeczek, who passed away after a brief illness last year. Rain or shine, it was going to be a good day. Kathy would have wanted it that way.

Angry drinking leprechaun float! Not pictured (and easily my favorite sight of the day): the tiny Asian boy wearing a large hat and leprechaun beard.

I met up with Alex (who deserves extra credit for braving the wet weather and accompanying me on the day’s adventures) just before things got underway. After the Shamrock Run kickoff, a slew of tractors, green cars and walking politicians inched down Broadway. Candy was thrown, free beer was drunk (thank you, Keegan Ales), green bagels were eaten and a solid time was had.

This photo doesn't come close to reflecting the actual greenness of the bagel and cream cheese.

After the parade, Alex and I, along with half the town, squeezed into newly reopened Mariner’s Harbor. We were inside for no more than 10 minutes before a couple dozen musicians, clad in kilts and carrying drums and bagpipes, pushed inside. A few of them climbed on top of the bar and gave a show (especially the girl on the right…thumbs up for extra bobbing):

St. Patrick’s Day isn’t until Wednesday, so I’m planning on a couple more days of celebration. Does that mean painting shamrocks on my nails, watching Veronica Guerin and wearing green eyeliner? Yep, that’s celebration enough.

What do you do when your hours at worked get halved?
You enjoy the warm March weather and grab a late lunch with your father.

What do you do when you find out that the local ice cream stand has just reopened for the season?
You get in your car and head to Jolly Cow for a chocolate chip cookie dough cone with a peanut butter dip.

What do you do when you arrive home to find that you have no electricity and no heat?
You thank your lucky stars that it’s not the dead of winter, then you use your dying cell phone to report the outage to Central Hudson, all the while cursing yourself for not charging the phone this morning. You grab the Bill Bryson book you’re in the middle of reading, crawl into bed with the cat and read until your eyelids begin to droop.

What do you do when you discover that every academic paper you wrote in college is no longer on your computer?
You have a good cry, take a deep breath and remember that there are more important things in the world. Like cookie dough ice cream with a peanut butter dip from your favorite ice cream stand, which just reopened today.

The Beatles insist that all you need is love. Well, love is good, but in its absence, all you really need is soup, champagne, some chai and your best friend. That’s love enough for me these days.

Talk Like a Pirate Day used to be my favARRRRRite holiday, but has recently been replaced by something better–something much, much better. Grammar is my first love, the AP Stylebook my bible. In honor of National Grammar Day, I give you these gems:

You Don’t Say–I met John McIntyre when I interned at The Baltimore Sun during college. He has since left his post as AME but maintains his blog, which has been bookmarked on my computer since I discovered it a couple years ago. Highlight: an instructional video titled “How to Make a Martini.”

Grammar Girl–Mignon Fogarty is everyone’s (well, my) favorite grammarian. Her Web site is my go-to place when I have a question that the AP Stylebook cannot answer. It should be yours, too. I love the recent debate on how to pronounce 2010. (My friends and I have taken to saying “twenty dime,” but the number-coin moniker can’t be applied again for another 15 years. Twenty quarter, anyone?)

Who vs. Whom–I give you my favorite clip from The Office:

Go on, friends, do your thing! Correct your roommate’s spelling, give your sister a hard time because she refuses to get “your” and “you’re” straight (yes, Joanna, I mean you) and pencil in corrections on menus. Today is your day, fellow grammarians. Make no excuses for your superb grasp of the English language! I salute each and every one of you!