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OK, that image is a little too optimistic.
OK, that image is a little too optimistic.

New Year brings thoughts about optimism

Recently, I’ve had a couple of discussions about optimism, probably because this word is floating around so much these days that it’s randomly infiltrating my bar talk. For the record, I consider myself to be an optimist, however, I know there is such a thing as too much "bright side" banter.

For example, I remember a high school guidance counselor having sickeningly optimistic posters in her office. You know, the one with cat hanging from a ball of yarn that reads, "Hang in there!" or another that reads, "If you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on."

Seriously, hog-tie me if I ever start saying stuff like this.

Timing is important with optimism. Naturally, when a friend tells you she has cancer, you wouldn’t pat her on the shoulder and say, "Don’t worry, be happy!" However, a reasonable amount of optimism is refreshing, especially considering the older I get, the harder it is to find.

People -- including myself -- sometimes become jaded after, oh, 30 or 35 when we realize life is, for most of us, a little less grandiose than we thought it might be.

I try to teach optimism to my kids, but like most things, it has to be modeled. Words alone are not enough, even though saying positive things is ideal if they are said with sincerity.

It’s annoying, for example, when Facebook "friends" continuously post negative status updates, yet nobody wants to read, "Molly is smelling the roses, making lemonade from lemons, practicing positive internal dialogue and sipping from a half-full glass."

I suggest more optimism in '09, but indeed, there’s a point when it becomes flat-out annoying. Optimists beware.

More delicious 'za in '09, I say!
More delicious 'za in '09, I say!

10 bars / restaurants I want to frequent in 2009

I just made a list of places I want to check out -- or spend more time in -- during the New Year. Here are my ’09 destinations, and feel free to add your own using the Talkback feature.

1.    BD’s Mongolian Grill, 598 W. Northshore Dr. or Genghis Kahn Mongolian Barbeque Restaurant, 725 N. Mayfair Rd. My kids love feeling in control of their diet and picking out what they eat, so it occurred to me that restaurants such as these -- where diners select raw meats and vegetables and then watch the chefs cook the food -- would be fun for them on a few levels.

2.    Blackbird, 3007 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Every time I go out in Bay View, I end up at Burnhearts or Sugar Maple. I really love both of these places, but I’m itching to visit Blackbird, a new, non-smoking bar that opened a few months ago. I’ve heard rumors of a Guns ‘N' Roses pinball machine that’s calling my name.

3.    Botanas, 816 S. 5th St. This is one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Milwaukee and yet I only ate there once in 2008. I hope to triple my attendance rate in ’09.

4.    Bryant’s, 1579 S. 9th St. I stopped in the new Bryant’s shortly after it reopened this fall, but I’m already craving another Brainbuster. I’ll be there before the first thaw.

5.    Hector’s on Delaware, 3040 S. Delaware Ave. I’ve been to the Hector’s in Wauwatosa, but never the Bay View location. The Magic 8-Ball says it’s time to journey there, en pronto.

6.    Juniper 61, 6030 W. North Ave. I love Lulu Café & Cocktails, so I have no doubt this new restaurant that’s operated by the same ladies is worth visiting.

7.    La Merenda, 125 E. National Ave. I have never dined here, but my friend and coworker Julie Lawrence assures me I won’t be disappointed.

8.    Transfer Pizzeria, 101 W. Mitchell St. I walked into Transfer one time, just to eye it up, and it looked and smelled very appealing. I have a sitter line up for later this m…

Taco dip is top dog in the world of appetizers.
Taco dip is top dog in the world of appetizers.

Popular appetizers: 1960-present

This month has been a blur of holiday parties and gatherings, and during this festive timeframe, I make more appetizers in a few weeks than I usually do the rest of the year.

Because I’m in snack-making mode, I thought a lot about hors d'oeuvres lately, and for an unknown reason, challenged myself to find the top appetizer for each of the last four decades. How did I do?

1960s -- Cocktail franks floating in a sweet / spicy sauce and served in a chafing dish.
'70s -- Ham roll-ups made with ham, cream cheese and pickles.
'80s -- A bread bowl filled with spinach dip.
'90s -- Hummus with pita triangles or chips and salsa.
2000+ -- Sushi or in-season fruits /veggies.

Top timeless appetizer: Taco dip, sometimes referred to as "trailer trash taco dip," is loved by even the foodiest of foodies.

Other popular apps: Bacon-wrapped water chesnuts (aka rumaki), "pigs in a blanket" (mini hot dogs wrapped in a biscuit / crescent roll), fondue and  hot wings with blue cheese dressing.

There are lots of great movies showing right now. Just be prepared for a garden variety of movie watchers.
There are lots of great movies showing right now. Just be prepared for a garden variety of movie watchers.

The attack of annoying movie watchers

‘Tis the season of great movie releases, and despite hectic holiday schedules with family, extended family and chosen family (by that I mean good friends), we squeezed in a movie on Christmas Day. I wanted to see "Milk," however, we were in Green Bay and, sadly, it was not showing. So we settled on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which was good, in a mainstream, epic "Forrest Gump" sort of way.

However, I was more affected by the audience than the almost three-hour film. Within the confines of one packed theater, just about every movie-watching stereotype was in attendance.

Behind us sat the person who states the obvious. "She’s gone!" she hissed loudly when the main character walks into an empty foyer. Later, in a war scene, she says, "He’s dying!" I fantasized about turning around and asking, "Was it the large gunshot wound, the blood erupting from the hole in his chest or the glazed-over look in his eyes that gave it away, lady?"

Next to us, we had the "sneezer and cougher." This is the stranger you curse later when you realize her germs were quietly sprinkling your popcorn and simultaneously poisoning your healthy immune system.

In front of us sat the "question-asker." You know, the guy who keeps asking his wife questions about the film that weren’t answered yet. "Are they going to get married?" Well, joker, I left my Oujia board in the car, so unless you're married to Miss Cleo, let's just watch the film and find out, shall we?

Plus, we sat on the aisle which means we stood up three or four times to let out someone in need of Raisinettes or restroom relief. We also had a "loud laugher" in the back of the theater, but his cackle was so borderline maniacal it was funny.

On the way home from the film, I thought about Netflix and cable television and all the ways I can enjoy films from the controlled environment of my home. The truth is, witnessing the flick with a bunch of strangers is part of the movie-going advent…