Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in Seattle

I had so many plans to do fun and amazing things here locally this holiday season.

Leavenworth was at the top of my list (not the's a small town in the mountains made to look like a Bavarian village and they do up a German-style Christmas celebration every year). The Zoo Lights at Point Defiance Zoo. Any of the three different local productions of The Nutcracker. I had looked forward to doing at least one or two posts about local holiday activities.

Alas, it was not meant to be.

Mother Nature has prevented anyone from traveling into, out of, or within the local area. We've had water in various frozen forms dumped all over us for the past week now. Sea-Tac is a disaster and the vast majority of travelers there are stranded. Locals can't get around very well without snow chains (and do I have any? Of course not.). In fact, I am posting this from my house at the moment, where I am snowed in, without any reasonable hope of getting out in the near future, at least in my own car. Needless to say, I am off work. Tomorrow, I may have to have my husband take me to work in his considerably larger but much more unsafe vehicle.

So...this concludes my posts for 2008. I hope 2009 is full of many more adventures and a lot more fun than I had this year. I was spoiled in Europe, so this year has been a total disappointment, even though I loved almost every place I got to visit.

And to those who have yet to visit Seattle, may I make one suggestion? Come out here in the summer. Yes, snow like this is rare (normally, it would be rain.) And at first I found it charming. But it's now 3 days before Christmas, I can't get anything done because I can't go anywhere, and I'm getting increasingly frustrated. This is not the place to be when it snows. Unless you're in the mountains and like to ski. Trust me on this.

Anyway, until next year, I bid you adieu. Thanks for those of you who are loyal readers, and those of you who stumbled upon this blog randomly and felt compelled to comment. I hope to see this grow even more in 2009.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two of my Favorite Things - Candles and Wine

I've posted about Waxen Art before - it's the local studio where you can make your own candles. I've been there a number of times. I love making candles as gifts. And I took my friend Kathy there three weeks ago and now she's hooked on it too.

So when I found out that Waxen Art was doing an event in conjunction with Castle Bridge Winery...well, how could I resist? I've been wanting to check out Castle Bridge Winery for some time. And for a very reasonable price, I could go there, sample 6 wines while noshing on some cheeses and crackers, make a candle, and get my own custom bottle of wine to take home. Sounded like a great time to me.

Kathy was game.

So we headed over there this evening and we had the most amazing time. It was so much fun.

Castle Bridge Winery is a bit different from other wineries. While you can certainly buy the wines that they have in stock (and they have a nice selection of gifts as well), you can also make your own bottle of wine. They take you through every stage of the process. Well, we didn't do that tonight...we got to pick from two of their wines. But we got to pick out our own labels and give it our own names. We got to bottle it ourselves and cork it and foil wrap the top of it too. It was so interesting to see and experience this process of bottling wines.

I'm getting ahead of myself...

We got 6 tickets for wine tastings. We settled down at a table with some cheese and crackers and our small tastings and just chatted and nibbled for a bit. The candle-making area was a bit busy for awhile. But when we saw an opening, we squeezed in. I wanted a "Fire" (cinnamon) scented candle for the holidays, so I decided to do my candle in reddish-brown and a dark pink. Kathy went for rainbow sherbet colors but scented her candle with a special cabernet scent that is not normally available at Waxen Art.

The difference this time was that we got to add our scent and pour our own candles. I've never had the chance to do that before and it was really cool. It felt to me like my candle was completely handmade by me from start to finish.

While we waited for our candles to harden, we sampled more wines and chatted some more. I love the names of the wines at Castle Bridge - they are Medieval/Renaissance themed. The first wine I tried was "Captive Maiden," which was actually the white wine selection that we could bottle (similar to a Gewurztraminer, one of my favorite wines). The other selection - a red wine - was called "Red Rooster." I sampled 3 whites, a rose, and 2 reds, one of which had the surprising scent and taste of dark chocolate. It was rich and sweet and delicious.

We spent a bit of time deciding on the labels and names for our custom wine bottles. Kathy decided to name hers after her dog, Wedge Antilles. So I followed suit and named mine after Reece.

The result: Kathy had a red wine called "Wedge Antilles 'Red Two'" (this is a Star Wars reference, for those who don't know). I named mine "Reece's Mischief." We were totally beside ourselves once the bottles were finished. We both thought it was the coolest thing ever to name our own wines.

We bought a couple things at the gift shop. The Captive Maiden was on sale, and even though my custom bottle was filled with Captive Maiden, I bought an extra bottle. Kathy bought some adorable mini wine cork earrings. And we're both keeping our custom wine bottles, even after the wine is gone.

We enjoyed every minute of our time time there tonight. I want to thank the people behind this event...they were awesome and so much fun to talk to. Please do it again!

Now, click here for some silly pictures.

For further information:

Waxen Art - (seriously...if you live in the Seattle/Tacoma area, it is absolutely worth it to come here at least once)

Castle Bridge Winery -

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Clark Lake Park - Kent

I've been wanting to visit this park for awhile. I've heard really good things about it - that it's normally uncrowded, quiet, and tranquil. You get to see a lot of wildlife (well...sometimes. I didn't see much today, but I certainly heard the frogs).

I tried to find this park once without success. The parking lot is tiny and it's on a busy road, so it's easy to miss. Today though, coming down the road from a different direction, it was much easier to spot.

Reece's verdict - good spot for dogs! She met a lot of new friends today. It's interesting to me how total strangers who would not normally even speak to you suddenly stop and strike up conversations when you have a dog. I spend a lot of time when I'm taking Reece for a walk just stopping to talk to people who ask me about her...usually, they're dog owners themselves. I swear, dogs can bring about world peace. I'm not kidding.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sunny Snoqualmie Saturday

Today, Lance and I celebrate 5 years of marriage. The original plan was to go on a weekend trip to Victoria, British Columbia via one of the Victoria Clipper's packages, but having to buy new windows and a dishwasher meant that we had a bit of a cash flow crunch.

So...we decided to do a day trip close to home. And my choice of where to go was pretty easy. We haven't been to Snoqualmie Falls yet, and I heard great things about it, and the surrounding area.

Turns out, it was a perfect destination. Lance and I had an amazing time.

Our first stop was Snoqualmie Falls. It's an extremely popular tourist destination, and it was crowded today. But we found a parking space and we dealt with the crowds. From the parking lot, we took a footbridge across the street over to Salish Lodge, and then walked to the observation deck. From there, we had stunning views of the falls, but we could also walk down to a lower observation deck.

So that's what we did. The walk was a bit tough...steep and damp and a bit treacherous in places. But we went through this amazing forest that was like something primeval. It was so cool.

We spent about an hour and 15 minutes there total, and then drove into downtown Snoqualmie. We wanted to see the Northwest Railway Museum. The admission is free, and most of the museum is visible from the main drag through town. Many old, derelict, rusty train cars are sitting on the tracks, and there is a walking path going alongside them so you can get a close look. Signs are posted, telling you about the history of these trains.

The museum also offers scenic train rides on the weekends. The locomotive is cobbled together from passenger cars of several eras. Lance and I bought tickets and went all the way to the back of the train, which was a coach car circa 1940's. It was all decked out for Halloween. The train goes to the neighboring town of North Bend, back to Snoqualmie, and then to Snoqualmie Falls.

(Adult admission is $10, by the way, and they do have a Halloween train and a Santa train).

In my opinion, it was really worth it. The views from the train were really pretty. And we went past an old train workshop that had train parts and old abandoned cars scattered around. Even if you've already visited the falls, the train gives you a totally different viewpoint of it.

The train ride was a little over an hour. After we finished that, we poked around some of Snoqualmie's little shops. They have a delightful used bookstore/cafe called Isadora's. We bought homemade (absolutely delicious) fudge at the Snoqualmie Falls Candy Factory. They had a lunch counter in there, like one you'd find at drugstores in the 1950's. It was amazing. Lance and I want to go back there to eat sometime. They were making homemade caramel corn at the time, so the entire shop smelled phenomenal.

Our dinner plan was to eat at Woodman Lodge Steakhouse and Saloon, which is located in a 19th century building next to the train depot. This restaurant was once a saloon for the loggers who worked in the town in the early 20th century. The restaurant still has that sort of vibe.

But this is where things got awkward. Lance and I perused their menu online ahead of time, so we already knew that we were both ordering pasta. Their steak is very spendy. So we went in, were seated, and our waiter went through his whole lecture about their steaks and the different ways we can order them, and then I ended up ordering ravioli and Lance ordered fettuccine alfredo. I felt bad, actually.

But their pasta was really good. My ravioli was stuffed with gargonzola and walnuts, smothered in a basil cream sauce. Amazing. It came with garlic cheese toast. I ordered a house salad. Believe me, there was more than enough. Lance didn't finish his fettuccine either.

So...they do other things well besides their steaks.

After dinner, we left and came back home. Snoqualmie was about half a day or so...well worth it. But we had to pick up the poochie, and we spent some time hanging out with our friends who were dogsitting her for the day.

I have to say, Snoqualmie is the most ridiculously cute town I have ever seen. The fall colors were breathtaking. The weather was perfection. We couldn't have asked for more.

Anyway, pictures.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Weekend Visit

My parents just departed last night after a long weekend here. They're not really big on travel, so their main goal in coming was to just hang out with us and visit. But we made sure to take them to a few sights, including one they specifically requested, which was the Columbia Winery in Woodinville.

They arrived late Wednesday night, and lack of sleep and jetlag pretty much kept us at home on Thursday. Other than running out to a few stores and having lunch at Ivar's (a popular local seafood chain), we didn't do much. We grilled steaks for dinner, drank wine and just hung out.

Friday, we went to Mt. Rainier. I forgot my camera, but my Mom took pictures. If I ever get copies, I might post them, but we basically covered the same ground that Lance and I covered on our last visit out there in October. We came in through the Nisqually entrance and drove up to Paradise and then left the same way. We brought picnic stuff and had a nice picnic in the woods. After we got home that evening, Lance and I took them to dinner at El No Que No, a really excellent Mexican restaurant in downtown Kent.

Saturday, we went to Woodinville (detouring briefly to Kent Farmers' Market, where I bought 2 homemade garden stones for $10). There are a lot of wineries in Woodinville, but the main one they wanted to see was Columbia Winery. They discovered Columbia's wines, which are now a favorite. Turns out, the Columbia Winery is the very first one we stumbled upon as we drove into Woodinville. So we commenced to enjoying a wine tasting, and then shared a bottle of Gewurztraminer out on their lovely patio. My parents were only familiar with the Cellarmaster's Riesling (their best-seller) up until this point, and were thrilled with Columbia's other selections. I thought the Gewurztraminer was fantastic, and so did they, as these pictures clearly show.

Columbia Winery in Woodinville.

The gardens were absolutely gorgeous.

Yay! Gewurztraminer! Cheers!

I'm laughing because I just spilled some wine on myself. Oops.

Mom and I share a moment...and a laugh.

It wasn't yet lunchtime, so just the small amount of wine we had during the tastings and the glass and a half we had afterwards was enough to get me the drunkest I've ever been. And believe me, I have had more to drink than that before. This is just what happens when you drink on an empty stomach. But we still enjoyed ourselves immensely. The grounds at Columbia are beautiful, and it's a shame that they'll be moving to a different location early next year. I can't imagine a more wonderful setting than what they have now.

It was well past noon once we finished up there, so we popped in at the Red Hook Brewery, located just down the street. They have a very large public house there with a nice menu, so we ate lunch out on their patio. Mom and I both had their Turkey Blast sandwich, which consisted of turkey, cheese, tomato, avocado, and some other tasty stuff on a croissant. Came with chips and seedless grapes. Lance and Rob each enjoyed a burger. We contemplated staying for the brewery tour (even though Mom and I don't have the slightest interest in beer), but since we would've had to wait quite some time for the tour to start, Lance and Rob settled for buying a 6 pack of Red Hook and some souvenirs in their gift shop.

After lunch, we decided against visiting any of the other wineries. Enough was enough. So back to Kent we went. But it was a nice few hours spent in Woodinville. I would definitely go again, and I know they want to go back next time they're in town.

Yesterday was another day spent hanging around here. We went to breakfast at IHOP and then came back to the house. Lance and Rob watched football, so I took Mom to some of my favorite local shops, including Chair & Trellis and Bella Home & Garden. We stopped in Waxen Art as well, so I could show her where I make candles (she loved the candle I made her so much, she redecorated her bathroom using my candle as her inspiration). Mom helped me pick out some things for our garden: a large potted mum, bird feeders, etc. Then we came home with all the stuff I bought and put it out.

They left late last night, taking the red eye back to Ohio. They're home now. I miss them so much already. This was the most relaxed I've ever been having house guests. But of course, they are more than just house guests, they're my family. I would've had them stay forever, if I could. And I know they loved it here. And we couldn't have had more perfect weather - it was sunny and in the 70's everyday.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Lance and I went to a Mariners - Twins game at Safeco Field last night. Being a Twins fan, Lance received some good-natured ribbing from the Mariners fans. As we were parking in the garage, the woman who looked at our parking reservation said that Twins fans park on level 7. There is no level 7. So of course, we didn't see why it was funny until we realized that level 6 was the top.

Anyway, Safeco Field is a great ballpark. Behold.

And yes, I took this picture from our seats. 19 rows behind home plate.

Minnesota's starting lineup. I took this for Lance's benefit.

A bad picture of the Mariners moose.

Play Ball!

They had to close the roof due to a projected forecast of rain...good thing too, it was pouring when we left.

Anyway, the one thing I'll take with me about Safeco Field... it smells like garlic fries. And that's not a bad thing. We ate pizza though, which wasn't anything to write home about. And we got a huge bag of kettle corn.

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, indeed. Ballpark food is much more sophisticated now. And expensive...

The Twins lost. Too bad. But we had a good time, and that's all that matters.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Southern Washington and Northern Oregon

Last weekend, Lance and I accompanied my brother and his family to Portland, which included several detours. The first detour was Mount St. Helens.

Honestly, after seeing Mt. Rainier, I never thought looking at St. Helens or Mt. Hood (which we saw later that same day) would even compare. I was wrong. St. Helens, though not nearly as tall as Mt. Rainier, is still a very impressive sight, but not nearly as impressive as the eruption in 1980 that launched it into the history books, an event upon which the tourism in this area is primarily based.

It's shocking how tourism here can border on the absolutely tacky...with signs on hotels that say things like "hope you had a blast!" or completely tasteless souvenirs (you'll see Lance wearing a baseball cap in my photos that explains what I mean). Yes, people died in this eruption. But it is also from the tourism industry surrounding it that people put their lives and their communities back together.

There are beautiful souvenirs that literally rise from the ashes of St. Helens - I bought a snowman ornament molded out of ash. We watched a glass blower make beautiful creations using volcanic ash harvested from St. Helens. These are the things I want to take home with me, to remember St. Helens.

As you drive closer to the mountain, the atmosphere becomes increasingly eerie. You notice entire forests in which the trees are all exactly the same height. Many of these forests are labeled with the year they were planted. Most, as you would guess, were planted after 1980. Eventually, you see a large sign warning you that you are entering the blast zone, and then the road starts a slow ascent upwards toward the mountain. There are several lookout points along this road, and we didn't get to all of them. After all, we had to get to Portland. The crater that was blown out in the eruption, on its north face, was obscured by clouds. So unfortunately, we didn't get to see much of it.

On the way back to the freeway to continue down to Portland, we stopped at a tacky Bigfoot souvenir shop. This area is also known as being home to Sasquatch, and you can pretty much spot him in every souvenir stand in the area (and you can't really miss the giant Sasquatch statue made out of ash).

For lunch, we stopped at a restaurant called 19 Mile House. The food was average, but the view from their back porch was lovely. The restaurant is apparently known for its cobbler (although we didn't have any) and it also has a souvenir shop. In the front yard is a truck that has been sitting there since 1980...completely totaled by the eruption, it stands as a testament to the power of St. Helens.

On the road again...

It was early afternoon when we reached the Washington - Oregon border, which is divided by the Columbia River. It was a clear day, so we had a great view of Mt. Hood in the distance. Also shorter than Mt. Rainier, it has a pointy top and looks completely different, and every bit as impressive.

Sorry I didn't have pictures of it. In fact, I didn't get any pictures of Portland, except for one.

We arrived in Portland without any hotel reservations (I wouldn't recommend this) and spent a good chunk of our time there just checking to see if we could get a room somewhere. Nearly every hotel was sold out, but we finally managed to get 2 rooms at a Shilo Inn near the convention center. It's certainly not the best hotel I've ever stayed in...especially as Lance and I had to sleep in a smoking room. But at least it was one of the more affordable options for downtown Portland, and it was half a block from the tram into the main area of downtown (a Denny's is just down the street as well, which was handy for breakfast the next morning).

Once the rooms were taken care of, we explored. Marcus and Lance were particularly interested in the Oregon Brewers Fest taking place that weekend on the riverfront. So we took the tram (which is free for most of the downtown area) to the stop that was closest to the festival and followed the crowds in. It was a bust, however. So crowded that each line for each type of beer was at least a half hour wait. We gave up shortly after we got there. Besides, I didn't relish another Oktoberfest-type incident like what I had last year.

So they decided to sample the local brews at bars and restaurants instead. And thus began our tour of Portland's fine drinking establishments. I can't even remember where we ate was completely unremarkable anyway, and the beer was not well-praised. But we went to Paddy's Bar and Grill after that...a nice Irish pub that had a great looking menu (I wish we had eaten there), and absolutely ginormous selection of liquors, a good beer and wine list, and a fantastic waitress. We just chilled out there a bit and relaxed, but at 9 pm, it's only open to adults 21 and over, so we had to leave, as we had my sister-in-law's 13 year old son in tow (who was dying of boredom anyway).

So...back on the tram...back to the hotel. Didn't see much of Portland. We left shortly after breakfast the next morning.

What I did see of it, I absolutely loved. I love Seattle, but Portland is more my scene. It's got the feel of a smaller town and everyone is so outgoing and friendly. We didn't feel the least bit unsafe or uncomfortable wandering around at night. Everyone there seemed really happy. Lance and I might consider relocating down there at some point.

After breakfast at Denny's, we headed to the Columbia River Gorge area, where we visited Multnomah Falls, stopping first at Wahkeenah Falls. That was a beautiful little detour, but I didn't bring proper shoes for hiking, so it was a bit difficult making the 1 mile loop between the two falls. Note to self: proper footwear next time. Of course, I only packed for city walking. Did not expect that we would be going there, but I'm so glad we did.

We started heading back up toward Seattle before lunch, stopping at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on the way home. That was more for Marcus's benefit, as he's an avid birdwatcher, but I saw a beaver and a river otter, so I'm not complaining.

So was that enough to do in 2 days? I think so. Whew.

Pictures here

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More Seattle Sights

My older brother and his family flew up from Los Angeles on Sunday and are currently vacationing here in Washington state. On Monday, we went into downtown Seattle where we visited some places that were new to me, and others that weren't. This is going to be more of a photo post than anything else. Monday's weather was absolutely gorgeous, so my photos came out very well.

We took the commuter rail - The Sounder - from Tukwila into downtown Seattle. The train station is right by Qwest Field (home of the Seahawks), and from there, we walked between 2.5 and 3 miles to get to the area around the Space Needle, stopping at Pike Place Market, which was pretty much smack in between.

There are a lot of really cool things happening around the Space Needle - interesting sculptures, beautiful gardens, an amusement park and the Pacific Science Center.

The Pacific Science Center has A LOT to could easily spend an entire day here. We didn't have that kind of time. But there is plenty for both kids and adults to do here. The IMAX theatre is awesome. We watched a 3-D film about ocean life off the coast of South Africa, and the 3-D effects blew my mind.

In the courtyard of the Pacific Science Center - a preview of things to come.

Giant mantis WILL EAT YOUR SOUL!!!

They have a tropical butterfly exhibit. Really beautiful to go visit, although there were a few dead butterflies laying around, which the employees seemed to ignore.

After our visit to the Pacific Science Center, we went to the top of the Space Needle, where we had lunch at Sky City. The restaurant rotates to give you a 360 degree view of Seattle. The food is fabulous. And it may seem ridiculously overpriced, but think about it this way: you're getting free entrance to the observation deck with your meal (something that would cost you $16 otherwise), so you might as well pay the $25 minimum for lunch. I recommend the crab salad sandwich (warm dungeness crab on toasted sourdough topped with fresh tomato and Tillamook cheddar with a tomato and cucumber salad on the side). Yes, it's totally touristy, but worth doing at least once.

The view of the Pacific Science Center from the Space Needle.

Mount Rainier was a bit hazy, but you can see it in the distance.

(Click on any of these pictures to see them full size.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

In lieu of any exciting content here for the time being, I want to give a shout out to my friend Daniela, who just graduated from culinary school and is now pursuing every chef's dream by spending her summer working in a restaurant with 2 Michelin stars that is headed by a renowned chef.

And she is going back home to Innsbruck to do this. She's been living in Chicago for the past few years and has had a tough road. Great things are now happening for her, and they are happening at home...where her family is, where her heart still is. I can think of nobody more deserving.

I'm so happy for her (and not the slightest bit jealous...oh no). If you're interested in food and travel, you might want to follow her over at her blog:

Reaching for Michelin Stars.

No updates from Austria yet, but she texted me right before she left, and I know she is now there. I suppose she'll start posting once she gets over her jetlag and gets to work.

I hope Dani makes it out to Seattle for a visit once she comes back with all the knowledge she got in Innsbruck. She has already promised to cook me an absolutely amazing meal!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Vanishing Piece of Americana

As Lance and I explore our local area, I discovered an oldie but goodie that is quite literally around the corner from our house - a drive-in movie theater - The Valley Drive-In in Auburn. I wasn't sure until recently if it was even still open. But I was assured that it was, and that this is possibly its last summer before it closes down for good.

Since Lance's birthday is tomorrow (well, today now, technically) and he always talked so fondly of going to the drive-in as a kid, I decided to treat him to a night at the movies. And hey, we could even bring our puppy, which was much better than keeping her crated for 5 hours. So we hopped in the car and drove the two miles or so around the corner to the drive-in.

I was very excited. Drive-ins were basically extinct in my local area as I grew up, so this was my first time going. The gates opened at 8, and when we arrived there around 8:30, there was already a pretty long line of cars waiting to go in. We paid our $15 ($7.50 per person for a double feature) and just hung out for the next hour or so until the movie started. It's a great place to people watch. Lots of little kids in their pajamas. Other people with their dogs. They had one central building to buy snacks and play video games, but I noticed plenty of people bringing in snacks from home. We'll probably do that next time (actually, I would just like to bring in pizza or KFC or something).

First up: The Love Guru. I thought the movie was completely idiotic, but it had some laugh out loud moments. It took some getting used to, hearing the sound coming out of my car stereo, but watching the movie up on the screen.

There was about a half hour between films, so I got up and stretched both my legs and the dog's before the new Indiana Jones flick started.

We didn't stay for the whole thing. For one thing, Lance has already seen it. For another, he couldn't stay awake. And I was getting tired. So we left about an hour or so into the movie. What I did see however was much better than the first movie we saw. I'm just not into the whole Indiana Jones series.

Anyway, we had a great time and it was the perfect way to end what was a very very hot summer day. The weather was had cooled off considerably and there was a gentle breeze and it was great to sit in my car with the windows rolled down and the moon roof open, looking up at the stars.

Definitely want to go again before summer is over, especially if this is our last chance to go. I hope it doesn't close down. It seems like a very popular place for people to get together.

Drive-ins are pretty rare these days, and Lance was lamenting about how they are slowly vanishing. I think it's pretty sad too. It sure beats sitting in a crowded movie theater, listening to people's cellphones and people who talk over the movie.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Niagara Falls, Canada/Rochester, NY

I can't believe that I let a month go by without posting, especially since I meant to post about Niagara Falls. But I was sidetracked. Lance and I acquired a puppy and she has been keeping us pretty busy. I'm behind on pretty much everything.

But I have time now.

So...May 3, I went to Niagara Falls, Canada with two classmates from my training course in Rochester.

It didn't take very long to get there. And we took a detour via the outlet mall in Niagara Falls, NY. Not many bargains to be had there, at least for me, but I did pick up some very reasonably priced tops at the Gap Outlet and some cheap flip-flops from the Eddie Bauer outlet (which is good, because one pair has already been mutilated by puppy, so I'm only out $5).

Anyway, around mid-day that day, we arrived at the Canadian border. We found a place to park near the Niagara Parks Greenhouse, which, in all honesty, I found more to fascinate me than I did at the falls.

And it wasn't that the falls were uninteresting. I'm sure they're breathtaking. It's just that we couldn't really see them from our vantage point. It was raining pretty hard, which only made the mist at the falls that much thicker, obscuring our view of everything.

Sadly, I don't have much to report. We weren't there even 2 hours before we said so long to Canada and headed back to New York. It was fun, but also disappointing. I would like to go again someday when the weather is actually better.

Niagara pics here (mostly greenhouse photos)


Here's a rundown of stuff in Rochester, NY:

Comix Cafe: The suck. The comedy pretty much sucked. The food sucked. Not impressed in the slightest.

Mex: went here for Cinqo De Mayo. Insanely crowded. In a really hip, artsy neighborhood. I liked the atmosphere here: Mexican religious art mixed with paintings of skeletons and stuff. Very eclectic. But the margaritas were really strong (either good or bad, depending on how much you actually like your margaritas to taste like tequila), the food was eh. The big problem was the wait. It took us 90 minutes to get seated, which I can't really complain about, because we were a party of 9 who did not call ahead for a table. But once we were seated...another 90 minutes for the food. To summarize: come here any other day but May 5th. However, the staff at Mex was good to us and gave us a huge discount on our bill and free drinks because of our wait. Brownie points for that.

Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse: like any other steakhouse I guess, except for the talking animal heads on the walls. (If you sit below the buffalo head, watch out. You will have a coronary when it suddenly starts talking out of nowhere.)

Tully's: This place became a favorite for our group, partly because it was right down the street from the hotel, and also because they had pool tables. Food is pretty good, but nothing particularly special.

My overall impression of Rochester isn't great. I actually loved the smaller towns surrounding Rochester (charming Pittsford, especially...wish I had spent more time exploring there). But then again, this was a business trip, not a pleasure trip, so I tried to make the best of it.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Greetings from Upstate New York

I am in Rochester, NY right now - my first ever business trip, training for my new position as a Payroll Specialist at Paychex, which is headquartered here.

I've only been here for 3 days now. I haven't done much in the way of sightseeing, but we drive through a really pretty town everyday on the way to work - Pittsford, NY. I want to stop and take pictures of this's just so quaint and cute.

Anyway, several of us from this Payroll Specialist class are going to Niagara Falls this weekend. So I'll have a report and photos from there at some point.

I also hope to have some restaurant reviews. We are going to Comix Cafe tonight, which is a comedy club/restaurant. I'm skeptical about the quality of the food, but we shall see. I've been told to try Dinosaur Barbecue while I'm here, which is pretty well-renowned nationally, but a group from my class went there a couple nights ago and walked away disappointed. And I generally don't crave barbecue.

Not much else to say now, other than we are staying at Residence Inn, and I like it a lot. I have a room all to myself, and it's very spacious and clean, with a fireplace (and it's cold enough here to use it, but I'm not), a king size bed, a full kitchen...I'm very cozy here. Still, there's no place like home.

More to come...

Friday, March 28, 2008

How to Spend a Snowy Seattle Spring Day

Apparently, Mother Nature did not get the memo that spring has sprung, and so this morning we had pretty heavy snowfall. Fortunately, it wasn't cold enough to make the roads anything but wet, so I could still venture out without much worry. And I had a lot of plans today, so that was a good thing.

Around 2:00 or so, my friend Ruby and I went to Waxen Art, because we thought it would be interesting to make our own candles.

It was a lot of fun. First you pick out a candle shape and size that you like (they range in price from $12-$52). I chose a small oval - one of the cheapest options. Then you choose a scent. They have everything from Peony (my pick) to Washington Apple (Ruby's choice) to Monkey Farts (which smells like bananas).

Then they prepare your mold and give you a sharp implement (looks like a scraper) that you use to cut the wax into chunks. You pick out the colors of wax that you want. I decided to go for earthy, neutral colors, so I picked a tan, which I wanted to accent with some green.

Then you start putting your candle together, putting the various wax pieces in whatever arrangement you like at the top, bottom and sides of the candle.

Once you have filled the mold, they pour in more wax, scented as you request. It holds together all the wax bits that you put in the mold, and you end up with a customized candle that is almost too pretty to light.


This is my Grandma's birthday present. Nobody tell her!

Anyway, on a busy day, it takes about 3 hours for your candle to be ready. Since we were the only ones insane enough to be out in the crappy weather, we were the only ones there making candles at the time, and we were told we could pick them up in an hour.

(By the way, on weekdays they have make one candle, make the second at half price, so we paid for ours together and got a good deal!) kill time while awaiting our candles, we went to happy hour at Duke's Chowder House (it had stopped snowing by this time, but turned to pouring rain while we were inside), where Ruby and her husband are frequent customers. We ordered cucumber mojitos, named "most refreshing cocktail in Seattle"...and while I can't verify that, I suppose there is some truth to it. It was very refreshing, although more of a hot weather drink. And I didn't take a picture of it. It was a pretty cocktail. We shared an appetizer - dungeness crab dip with crackers. It was a wonderful afternoon pick-me-up.

So that killed an hour...and then some. Our candles were ready and we picked those up and walked around Kent Station and the surrounding area, going to Bella and Chair & Trellis, two stores that sell very lovely things.

Around 5-ish, we headed to Pizzeria Fondi, which I have mentioned previously. It's definitely my favorite pizza place here. We ordered the vegetarian pizza, which is a work of art. Behold...

Fantastic. I have never eaten anything there that wasn't absolutely delicious.

Anyway, we had around 2 hours to kill after dinner, as we had tickets to see Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago at 7:30. We went to Target and then I had to stop by my house for a few minutes and Ruby went back to her house to let her dogs out. We met up again at the Auburn Performing Arts Center.

The performance was wonderful. Our seats were very good, considering I just got the tickets yesterday. I wasn't as fond of the first act. The first act was basically a lecture on the history and influences of jazz, using dance to illustrate how jazz has evolved over the decades. It was entertaining, but I would prefer just to see dance and hear the music without any commentary. But still, it was nice to see all the various styles of dance and how they are incorporated into jazz. And they did a very nice improvisational dance to Chicago blues music, probably my favorite part of that act.

After intermission, they did 3 numbers: Entropy, The Man That Got Away (performed to a song sung by Judy Garland, and very comic!), and Pyrokinesis, which I think was my favorite. That was done to piano music, which I recognized as George Winston, who is one of my favorite artists.

Since Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago travels around, try and catch them if they come near you. It really is worth it. They were given a standing ovation at the end.

Anyway, that concluded our evening. It's been a great day and a wonderful way to chase away the post-winter blahs.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Another Local Restaurant Recommendation

Last Friday, I attended a dinner to welcome the wing commander of my husband's unit, who isn't stationed here.

We had this dinner at a beautiful restaurant on the Des Moines marina. Huge picture windows gave us a wonderful view of Puget Sound. I only wish the sunset had been more spectacular.

Anyway, this building actually houses two restaurants. The upper floor is Anthony's Home Port, which is a bit more upscale with the menu to match. The more casual eatery - where we were - was on the lower floor, called The Oyster Bar & Grill. Same ownership, same chef. It's just a different atmosphere depending on which floor you prefer.

As you may have guessed, these restaurants (as with so many in the area) specialize mostly in seafood, but there are chicken and burgers for those who aren't into fish.

I shared a bottle of Washington State (Columbia Valley) Riesling with two of my dinner companions. Very very nice. And for dinner, I had Mahi Mahi tacos with tortilla chips and fresh salsa. Very mild and delicious. I thought the prices were pretty reasonable too. My entree, which was one of the cheaper ones, was about $10 or so. The bottle of wine that I shared was around $25, which doesn't seem so bad when split 3 ways (hey, I got very cheap wine in Europe...I guess I'm spoiled, so I had to balk just slightly at the price).

Most entrees on the menu were between $10-$20 range. So if you're more of an Applebees/TGI Friday's type when it comes to restaurant prices, this may be a place you only want to visit occasionally. But trust me, it's worth it. The service was impeccable as well.

For large groups however, the seating can be tricky. We were separated over 2 tables and it didn't make it easy for us to all talk together. You could really only talk to the people sitting around you.

Oyster Bar & Grill/Anthony's Home Port is part of a larger chain of restaurants scattered around the Pacific Northwest.

You can click here for their website.


In other news, I have started my memoirs of my four years living in Germany. I brought the prologue and part of the first chapter to my writers' group today, and I got very positive feedback on it (and a few laughs, which is precisely what I was going for).

There is a writers' conference here in July where some nonfiction editors will be present, so that would be a good opportunity for me to hawk my manuscript and see if I can get any takers.

I'm very excited! My writers' group seems eager for me to bring in other parts of it while I'm writing it, so I would only be too happy to oblige.


Upcoming posts: Friday night, I have plans to attend a performance of Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago in Auburn. So I will write a review of that, since they travel around and there's a chance they could come somewhere near you.

Also, in May, I will be going to Rochester, NY for 2 weeks for training for my new job. I don't know how much sightseeing time I'll get, since I'll be kept pretty busy, but I'll try to get out and see some of the local attractions. I'll have one weekend while I'm there, and I had thought about driving to Niagara Falls, but something has come up in my family where they will be in New York City around that time, so I may end up going to NYC that weekend instead. It won't be a sightseeing trip though, which is unfortunate, because I have never been to NYC except to pass through JFK Airport. But I'll try to have some content to put up here regardless.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Getting Your Irish On in Tacoma

I was invited out by some friends this evening to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. I wasn't sure what exactly was in store, but I knew it involved a pub somewhere.

So we ended up at Doyle's Public House, near the waterfront, which looked like a perfectly delightful pub, when not completely stuffed full of people. Apparently, they sponsor Tacoma's largest St. Patrick's Day party. They were expecting so many people that they had to set up a beer tent. Everyone looked to be having a great time, but it was really too crowded for us. We all had one drink and then decided to go elsewhere, especially since we were in need of sustenance. We also wanted live entertainment, but they weren't planning to have any until 9 pm, and we were there sometime between 6-7 pm.

Doyle's seems to have a pretty decent menu, but I don't think the focus was on food this evening. Still, I would like to go back on a night that's nowhere near an Irish holiday. It looked like a cozy little place to kick back and have a pint or two, with some yummy pub food like bangers and mash.

So search of dinner...

We made a dash for Katie Downs, an Irish-themed tavern and eatery that's right on the water. I've been past the restaurant before and it's in a beautiful area, with walking trails that give you a nice view of the sound and both of the nearby mountain ranges (including a stunning view of Rainier on clear days).

Surprisingly, Katie Downs still had tables available, and they had some Irish specials this evening: corned beef and cabbage, lamb stew, and reuben sandwiches. By the time we got there, they were out of everything but the reuben sandwiches, and they still had their regular menu.

Supposedly, they have the best pizza in Washington state, but I didn't test this claim. Instead, I ordered fish and chips, and ate them the British way, with copious amounts of malt vinegar. Very good, but huge portions. We also split appetizers: onion rings, calamari, and spicy shrimp diavolo. All very good (and I'm not a huge fan of calamari, so I don't say this lightly).

The atmosphere was fun. The best part - NOBODY UNDER 21 ALLOWED! So if you want a laidback, adults-only evening, this is the place to go.

Just for this evening, they had a couple of musicians playing drums and bagpipes, and they gave free raffle tickets to everyone because they were giving away all kinds of prizes. But they were just t-shirts and ball caps and stuff like that with beer logos on them.

Anyway, I really liked this place and I would love to come back again with Lance, especially on a warm day when we can sit out on the deck over the water.

Overall, I had a really enjoyable evening. It was much better than sitting at home. And the more I get to know of Tacoma, the more I like it. I feel it's highly underrated and often overlooked in favor of Seattle, when Tacoma has so much going for it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I know some GK-area folks still read this. And this is why I am passing this information along. If you've always been interested in breaking into travel writing, this could be your chance! Proximity to Aachen and Maastrict probably count, I think.

Feel free to pass this along to anyone you think might be interested. (Tiffany, if you see this, you might want to post this on your blog.)

Do you know people in Europe who would like to write about their city?
We are a new city-blog network ( For expansion in Europe we're looking for a lot of locals that like to write about their city!

Who are we looking for?
As a Spotter you do not have to be a professional journalist. English will probably not be your mother tongue. That’s OK! Most important of all is that you:
> Live in a large city in Europe;
> Consider yourself a local (you don’t have to be a native);
> Love your city, and you would like to share your enthusiasm by writing about it;
> Have a bit of spare time (a couple of hours per month).

What’s in it for you?
An opportunity to promote yourself online. Also, we will compensate you financially by a share of advertising income.

Are you interested? Do you know anybody that may be interested? Please let me know!

(I got this notice through LinkedIn -

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Some Advice I'm Passing Along

I'm sure most people are not avid readers of travel blogs and websites like I am, but I came across this post on Notes From a Cafe, and it's certainly worth sharing. For those of you who have trouble planning itineraries, or for those of you (and I've dealt with this enough myself) who get guests coming to visit who have no idea what they want to do and expect you to do the travel planning for them, here is some great advice.

Making A List, Checking It Twice

I've done this before when planning trips, although I always keep the list filed away in my brain instead of on paper. Or I get a guidebook and either highlight what I especially want to see (I advise against doing this if the book doesn't actually belong to you) or getting those little Post-It flags to mark the pages.

I will add to this that if you have one of those situations where people are coming to visit you and expect you to plan what they are going to do, at least try and get some sense of what they might enjoy (if you don't know that already). If they're not into art, it won't be fun for them (or you) if you drag them to art museum after art museum. If they're not outdoorsy types, a hike through a national forest is going to be more torture than vacation.

But the link above at least tells you of a good way to start your planning.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Salmon, Starbucks and the Sights of Seattle

Yes, I have been living in suburban Seattle now for over a month. But we've been so busy getting settled in that I haven't had any chance at all to actually go to Seattle and explore.

Until today.

Ruth is here visiting from Germany. She is from here. Her sister, Marianne, lives here. So they invited me to join them for a fun excursion to Olympic Sculpture Park, Pike Place Market, and whatever else captured our fancy.

So I drove to Marianne's house this morning. She lives in a very attractive neighborhood by Lake Washington, and it was a pleasant drive to her house - around 20 miles from Kent and about 40 minutes to get there.

I stayed there for a short while and enjoyed a cup of tea while Ruth and I caught up. Then we hopped in Ruth's rental car and headed downtown. Nice scenery on the way, but you can't really go anywhere in Seattle that doesn't have a view of the mountains or the water (or both).

Our first stop - Olympic Sculpture Park (in the Belltown District), which is free to the public. We spent over an hour here. The park offers fantastic views of the Seattle skyline as well as the Sound. Hopefully, my pictures will reflect that.

As we ended our tour around the park, we stopped in a place called the Vivarium, which was basically a green house displaying a huge Hemlock tree (I think it was Hemlock...I can't remember what she said). The tree was uprooted, but there was a lot of new growth on it. It was a bit of Washington wilderness in the middle of an urban landscape.

After that, we got back in the car the headed up toward Pike Place Market, which is probably the most famous attraction in Seattle next to the Space Needle. We were going to stop at Typhoon Restaurant (Thai food), but it was closed for renovation. So we decided to choose a restaurant at the market.

We found a place to park and first walked up the Harbor Steps and up to the Seattle Art Museum before going around to Pike Place Market. We didn't stop in the art museum, but the sight of the giant, hammer-wielding silhouette in front of the museum is rather arresting.

Anyway, after stopping for that photo op, we walked into Pike Place Market, where Ruth told me that I had to pose for a photo with Rachel the Pig. This pig sculpture, which was wearing a feather boa, sits in front of the seafood stand where they throw the fish. So I tried to hoist myself up there and found that she was pretty tall. Marianne helped me, and the guys at the fish place where hootin' and hollerin' at me...apparently thrilled at the sight of me sitting on the pig. It was funny.

Once that photo was taken, I tried to get one of them throwing the fish around, but they were too fast for my camera. They threw a stuffed fish at us, and I got a photo of Ruth with that.

We were right by Place Pigalle, a seafood/french restaurant, so we decided to eat there. We were seated at a table by the window, which had a gorgeous view of Puget Sound and the mountains beyond. We had a lovely lunch, talking and watching the ferries go back and forth. I had a warm beet salad with goat cheese and mustard vinaigrette and a cup of french onion soup. So simple and amazing. Ruth ordered the salmon special, and shared some with me, and it was so melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Marianne had mussels with chorizo and pasta, which also looked completely yummy. After our very satisfying lunch, we moved on.

We meandered around the market, poking in shops here and there. I picked up a couple pieces of homemade Turkish Delight at a restaurant called Turkish Delight, which also serves doner kebap (must go back there when I need a doner fix). We stopped at Three Girls Bakery, where I picked up a couple of fudge brownies for Lance and I to have for dessert tonight (we haven't torn into them yet, but judging by the popularity of this bakery, I'm guessing the brownies will be fantastic)...(Edited to add - Oh. My. God. Yum yum yum!). We stopped at Seattle's Best Coffee for macchiatos, and Ruth had to tell the barista how to make the Latte Macchiatos that we were accustomed to drinking in Europe. But the barista got it, spot on.

After a few hours of wandering around, sampling the various delights of the market, it was time to head back to the car. We took a detour through the lobby of the art museum, which had a very unusual display of Ford Tauruses (you will see them in my photo album), and then we left.

Anyway, my impression of Seattle: love, love, LOVE it. Crazy in love. I understand now why everyone said that I would love it and feel at home here. It's artsy. It's hip. It's laidback. It's fun. It's colorful. It's vibrant. And it's just so very very cool. I am so happy that we live here.