Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holy Spirit Retreat Center - Janesville, Minnesota

This is a little different from the posts I usually write, since it has to do with a spiritual retreat, which isn't quite the same as pleasure travel. But I feel this is worth mentioning and might be of interest to some people.

My husband and I were visiting his relatives in Minnesota over Christmas. His aunt Marita is a nun who lives at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Janesville, Minnesota. We drove out there on December 23rd to visit her.

She lives in the main house with 2 other nuns: Sister Joanne and Sister Monique. After coffee, cookies and chat, Sister Marita gave us a tour of the grounds. We started with the main house, which has rooms available for people who come for individual retreats. The rooms are, as you can imagine, sparsely furnished. But that's for a good reason. You cannot, after all, focus on your spirituality if you're distracted. However, all the rooms overlook a beautiful lake. I was thinking the entire time that it would be a wonderful place to go for a writing retreat.

Our next stop was the group retreat facility, which can accommodate 35 people for overnight stays and 50 for meals. This facility has a library, common room, conference room, small nondenominational chapel, and a huge kitchen and dining space. There is also a big screen TV for presentations and films (and Super Bowl parties, as the nuns apparently are contemplating having one). Again, all the rooms (2 twins or double beds) are sparsely furnished.

There are also three hermitages with wonderful lake views. One is already occupied by a nun. The others are available for individuals who want to take a spiritual retreat. One is handicapped accessible and has a screened-in porch. They're both small, but they have twin beds, small desks, bookshelves, bathrooms with showers, kitchenettes, and boomboxes. There will be another hermitage built soon.

I didn't take pictures because it was blustery and cold and snowy at the time, and I was just focused on getting indoors where it was toasty warm. However, the sisters have a website for the retreat center, if it is of interest to anyone who is looking for a quiet place for spiritual contemplation and reflection. The nuns are available for spiritual counseling and discussion, and you can be of any faith. I was fascinated by this tour and wouldn't mind a getaway there myself, although I would, as I said, probably spend it more for a quiet writing retreat than anything else. The grounds are simply gorgeous.


Sisters of St. Francis - Holy Spirit Retreat Center (This has information about the retreat center, but is more focused on the Franciscans of Rochester, Minnesota. There are photos, and it's been recently updated.)

Holy Spirit Retreat Center official website (a bit outdated)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tourism Matters Symposium

I was invited by the Tacoma Regional Convention + Visitor Bureau to attend the Tourism Matters Symposium today at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Tacoma. The symposium included breakfast and lunch catered by the wonderful Pacific Grill. I had no idea what to expect, but it ended up being very fun and informative. This is going to be a fairly link-heavy post, but that's only because I met so many great folks there who deserve your patronage. I'll put all the links at the bottom.

For starters, I met a fellow attendee in the parking lot. We just started randomly talking, and she asked me if I was going to the symposium. So we walked there together. She told me she worked for the Hampton Inn & Suites Tacoma. Once we got inside and checked in (my name tag even said "Itinerant Writer" on it), she got together with the other Hampton Inn folks to set up their vendor booth. They were giving away a Nintendo Wii, so I was invited to play a few rounds of Super Mario Kart with them. It was fun, but I was soundly defeated. Turns out, I'm a reckless driver when it comes to the Wii. Who knew?

While we waited for the ballroom to open up, we stood around and mingled a bit. I looked over the Tacoma & Pierce County tourism booklets. Spoke with the representative from Fife Flowers, who did the lovely centerpieces for the tables. Drank some coffee. Took a look at other vendor booths, including Stina's Cellars.

The ballroom finally opened, and there was open seating for breakfast. I found myself sitting next to two nice women from Seattle Southside Visitor Services. To be honest, I had no idea such an organization existed. They cover tourism in Tukwila, Sea Tac, Kent, and Des Moines. I also sat with a couple of women who worked for the Pierce County government. The breakfast (which was great: croissant, fruit and mini broccoli and egg casseroles) took place during the annual meeting and business plan.

I want to make a few important points that I took away from this meeting.

Why does tourism matter?
- Pierce County gets 4.735 million visitors.
- These visitors have generated 11,360 jobs.
- These visitors spend $968 million, which generates $71.6 million in tax receipts.

After the breakfast meeting, we had a 20 minute break before the expert panels. There were three: Tour + Travel, Meetings + Events, and Marketing + Public Relations. I attended the Tour + Travel panel. The two experts on that panel were Jake Haupert from EverGreen Escapes and Michael Rogers from Beeline Tours and Seattle Food Tours.

It was an insightful panel. They talked a lot about how they got started in the industry, how they started their businesses, how they run their businesses, do their marketing, etc. It was very inspiring to hear the passion in their voices that they have for their work. These are guys who clearly love what they do and bend over backwards to accommodate their clients.

The panel lasted about an hour and then it was almost time for the awards luncheon. We had assigned tables for that, so I ended up sitting with 2 folks from Hampton Inn & Suites, 2 guys from Hotel Murano, C.R. Roberts from The News Tribune, and 2 people from the Tacoma Regional Convention + Visitor Bureau (including Zak, who invited me). Lunch was salmon with pesto, grilled chicken with beurre blanc, mashed potatoes, asparagus and individual apple tarts. Delicious.

On to the awards!
If you're interested, a quick summary by C.R. Roberts here.

After the presentation of the awards, that was pretty much it! It seems some people stayed and mingled, but I actually had to head home. I had quite a few projects I needed to get done.

Thanks to Zak from the Tacoma Regional Convention + Visitor Bureau for the invitation. It was interesting and really motivated me to get out there and explore more of Tacoma and Pierce County! It was also really nice to meet people in the industry.

- Tacoma Regional Convention + Visitor Bureau
- Pacific Grill
- Fife Flowers
- Stina's Cellars
- Seattle Southside Office of Tourism
- EverGreen Escapes
- Seattle Food Tours
- Beeline Tours
- Hotel Murano (named one of the top 100 hotels in the U.S. in Conde Nast Traveler's Reader's Choice Awards.
- Hampton Inn & Suites Tacoma
- Marriott Courtyard Downtown Tacoma

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Today, as you know, is Veterans' Day, and with my husband being in the military, we can sometimes get some nice perks.

One of those perks today was free admission to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. We have never been there, and I've been wanting to go. Luckily for us, the weather is also fantastic today. Beautiful blue skies, lots of sun, and a chill in the air which was not at all uncomfortable.

I'm not going to say much about the zoo. It's not the best zoo I've ever been to. It's actually pretty small. But it's in a gorgeous setting. I've never seen a zoo in a prettier area, actually. And it has a couple of fantastic things going for it: the polar bear exhibit and the walruses.

The polar bear exhibit BLEW MY MIND. We got there when the feeding was taking place. You can see the bears both above and below water. One of the bears came up to the glass right next to us, and stuck its paw on the glass. Only a couple panes of thick glass separated us. It was amazing.

The walruses were like that too. We didn't really see them well from above the water, so we went to where we could watch them underwater. And they kept swimming up to the glass on their backs, and then flipping over against the glass and swimming up to the top of the water. It was really cool.

I also liked the aquarium quite a bit - particularly the seahorse exhibit.

Lance and I both enjoyed our trip to the zoo today. It only took a couple hours to get through everything, so we were done by noon. We stopped at a few other places in the vicinity: Owen Beach and Fort Nisqually (which is a museum, so we didn't go in, but you can see parts of the fort from outside). And then we headed back toward home, stopping at Applebee's (free entrees for active duty and veterans!) for lunch on the way.

Without further ado...
Click here for pictures!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Well, traveling may feed the soul, but buying a new furnace saved our lives.

We had to cancel our planned trip to the Olympic Peninsula this weekend because of an unforeseen circumstance. We had someone out yesterday to service our 20-year-old furnace, and he found that it's been leaking carbon monoxide into our house. We found our own carbon monoxide detector, which confirmed this.

So we have a new furnace. And no weekend trip. As much as I enjoy not breathing poisonous gasses, I'm a bit sad we're not going. I needed a change of scenery.

For now, the blog will have to be put on hold...until we're on the road again. The next planned trip is Minnesota for Christmas, but I certainly hope we'll at least take a day trip somewhere before then. We're talking about the German Christmas Market at Leavenworth.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Traveling Feeds the Soul

I'm so thrilled that we'll be on the road again in 2 weeks. Our 6th wedding anniversary is October 18th, and we're leaving very early on the 17th to drop the dog off at boarding and head up to the Olympic Peninsula for the weekend. Unfortunately, we made the plans too late to get a room at my ideal kind of place. I like quirky, charming hotels run by a friendly staff. Rooms at these types of places were either booked up or out of our price range, so we're staying at a Quality Inn in Port Angeles. It's just for one night, and we'll be out exploring all day anyway, so we'll only need our hotel room for sleep. But let this be a lesson to you - book early! Quality Inn is fine, but lacks the ambience that one requires for a romantic anniversary weekend. Am I right?

And I have free lunch vouchers at the Oak Table Cafe in Sequim, thanks to the wonderful owners (who are former clients of mine from when I worked at Paychex). I can't wait!

It's going to be a fun weekend.

Anyway, that's not the point of this post. I'm just excited.

Yesterday, I tried out a new (to me) place - Bittersweet Restaurant in Kent. They're open for breakfast and lunch. I was there for lunch, and on a chilly day such as yesterday, their chicken enchilada casserole hit the spot. Exactly the right sized portion. It came with a side salad.

Service is super friendly. The ambience is nice. Bittersweet likes to display the works of local artists. And TRY THEIR PIE!! I got to swipe a bite of my friend's chocolate pie (she got the last piece) and it was very mousse-like. Super delicious. I ordered the coconut cream pie, which was also very good. Pie slices are extremely generous.

Lunches at Bittersweet are nicely priced - under $10 for sandwich platters (which come with chips) and entrees (which come with salads). They also have daily specials, 2 soups of the day, and meal-sized salads. I will be back.


ETA: Bittersweet Restaurant has since closed. Its last day of business was May 15th, 2010.

Tonight, I'm going back to The Red House to enjoy tapas and drinks with my friend Lisa. I love that place. I already posted about it here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Free Museum Day

If you have Saturday free, you might want to consider visiting a museum. There's a good chance you can get in free.

Click here for more information.

Locals may want to check out this site instead. Lots of good museums to see at no charge!


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Evening Magazine Video On Demand | Seattle News, Local News, Breaking News, Weather | KING5.com

If you come to Seattle, I suggest not asking any of the following questions:

Evening Magazine Video On Demand | Seattle News, Local News, Breaking News, Weather | KING5.com

Posted using ShareThis

What's a Girl Like Me Doing in a Place Like This?

Some context to this piece: I think I wrote this about 4 years ago or so. We had been living in Germany for a couple of years by this point. It was just something I started writing. I didn't know exactly where I was going with it at the time.

Anyway, I was just going through some old floppy disks this morning and I came across this. I had completely forgotten about it, but I realize now that this is more or less a brainstorming session for the memoir I started writing early last year about our life in Germany. Many of the same thoughts made their way into the prologue.


It’s kind of interesting, living overseas. You get to see what it’s like being “the other” for a change, having people look at you because of your American mannerisms and your inability to speak their language. For once, you are the strange foreigner, working hard to try to fit into their mold. It’s a very eye-opening experience, let me tell you. There are times when I find myself feeling awkward and embarrassed while trying to complete the most mundane of tasks, such as buying produce at the grocery store. Things are similar, but different. And if, God forbid, the cashier at the grocery store tries to speak to me, that deer in headlights look I give her always forces her to switch to English without me even having to ask. Fortunately for me, I live in a community with a lot of foreigners from many different countries. English is the lingua franca here. Most people in the area speak it well, even if it’s not their native language.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dreamed of living abroad for a long time. I took French in high school and fantasized about studying at the Sorbonne, reading fine works of literature and having deep discussions in French over a croissant and a café au lait. Except I hate coffee. But that’s only a minor detail. In reality, I barely learned enough French to order a café au lait. And besides that, my aunt had many French friends about my age that came and stayed with her during the summer. Trying to converse with them shattered any illusions I had about an academic life in Paris. I felt like an awkward, bumbling idiot, not a breezy Francophile college student who sits in cafes and reads Le Monde. Yet even fifteen years later, there is a romance about that image that appeals to me.

French lost its allure after high school. I moved on to college and majored in English Literature, fantasizing about living in London and discussing Shakespeare over some fish and chips and a beer at the pub. Except that I hate beer. But cider with black currant makes a fine substitute. My dream to live in England partially came true. For one brief and brilliant summer during college, I was privileged to participate in a study abroad program in Bath. No, it wasn’t London, but Bath was exciting and beautiful and has a great literary history as well. And we took some trips to London anyway. And yes, I did get to discuss Shakespeare over fish and chips. I’ve had a love affair with England ever since, and I would jump at the chance to live there if the opportunity presented itself. That is one fantasy that I think will never fade, especially since I speak the language.

Ultimately, I ended up living in Europe, but not where I thought I would. Oddly enough, I am living in Germany. I’m not a student (at least not in the academic sense; I am a student of life), and I don’t spend my time in cafes or pubs. I didn’t fall head over heels in love with a European and follow him here on a whim (yet another old fantasy of mine). I fell in love with a perfectly wonderful American who happened to be in the military. He can’t discuss Shakespeare over fish and chips at a pub, but he will drink beer. He can’t speak French over a café au lait, but he will eat croissants. When we started dating, the possibility of living in Europe never really entered our minds. But as he started thinking about a possible assignment in Germany, I vowed to learn how to polka and cook a mean bratwurst, neither of which I do now.

We live in a small village in a rural area near the Dutch border. It’s not nearly as exciting as a big city like Paris or London, but it has its own charm. I’ve grown quite fond of sheep and goats. Seeing them everyday, you learn to love them. I have even gotten used to the smell of fertilizer. This truly is a world apart from my American hometown, which, as a capital city, offered much more in the way of entertainment than watching a cow munch on grass. But there is a certain something about this place, I don’t know what exactly, that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Despite living in the middle of what seems to be nowhere, we are ideally situated on the continent, so that most major cities are within a few hours’ drive. Paris is roughly five hours away, Brussels two, Amsterdam, almost three. Not every place is easily within our grasp. Spain would require a flight, as does Italy. England too, but at least the airfares within Europe are cheap. I may not be living anyone’s fantasy life in a world-class European city, but I have it pretty damn good.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What are you doing September 26th?

Don't have plans, you say? Well, now you do! Get thee to your nearest national park. ADMISSION TO ALL NATIONAL PARKS...I repeat, ALL NATIONAL PARKS is FREE on Saturday, September 26th.

More details here:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Day in Thorn, the Netherlands
To many, the appeal of this tiny Limburg town is its well-known pancake (Dutch: pannekoeken) restaurant: De Pannekoekenbakker. But the town itself - a medieval convent - is full of wonder and beauty.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mukilteo and Everett

Early last week, my sister-in-law called from Guam, wanting to know what I knew about Everett. Nothing, as it happens. She was asking because it could be a possibility for their next assignment. So I figured it was a good idea for a day trip.

I tried to look it up in my DK travel guide, but there is nothing about Everett in it. Then I looked in The Dog Lover's Companion to the Pacific Northwest. Bingo! There was a lot about Everett, in addition to Mukilteo, which is right next door. So we brought Reece along, since it is so dog friendly.

It took slightly under an hour to get to Mukilteo from Kent. We had a small cooler in the back of the car, so we stopped at a Subway once we got there and grabbed some sandwiches. Then we headed to our first stop.

1> Mukilteo Lighthouse Park: The area around the lighthouse is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, but it's open to the public from 12-5pm on weekends and holidays from April - September. We were there too early, but dogs aren't allowed at the lighthouse anyway. Even when it's closed to the public, you still have great vantage points for photos. The lighthouse, by the way, was built in 1905. The beach is really unique. Overlooking Port Gardner Bay (with views of Whidbey and Camano Islands), the rocky beach is completely covered by driftwood logs. There are also fire pits. This is a popular boating and fishing spot, and there is a boat launch. The park also offers a playground and plenty of picnic tables. If you didn't bring a picnic, I would recommend the Ivar's restaurant right next to the park.

We walked along the beach for a bit. It was foggy (although we could still see the islands) and a bit chilly, but we enjoyed the beauty of the area for a bit and then headed toward Everett, via Mukilteo Boulevard.

2> Harborview Park: This park was right along Mukilteo Blvd. and we nearly drove past it without stopping. But Lance pulled in and it was relatively empty. It has stunning views - still foggy when we got there, but clear by the time we left (they had a few picnic tables, so we stopped here for lunch). We could see several islands and Naval Station Everett from there. There isn't much to this park except for the view, so it's definitely worth stopping, especially if you have a picnic.

3> Forest Park: This was also along our route, but didn't merit a stop for us. It is, however, a great family park. Huge playground, public pool and animal farm. There is also a meeting hall, a couple of walking trails, a horseshoe field and tennis courts. We just drove up into the park, took a look, and drove out.

4> Grand Avenue Park: Perhaps the most scenic park in Everett. This park is on a street lined with gorgeous, stately homes. It's on a hill overlooking Everett Marina and Naval Station Everett. It's a small park - a narrow strip of land that spans 3 blocks, but it has a couple of picnic tables and benches so you can sit and enjoy the amazing view. The marina was busy today and I was tempted to go down and check it out - there was a Sunday Farmers Market. It didn't look like there was any pedestrian access down to the marina. Grand Avenue Park is beautifully landscaped.

5> Loganberry Park: We stopped here because it's an off-leash dog park, but we disliked it almost immediately. It was nothing but trails, trees, and brush. No wide-open spaces for Reece to run. We never once let her off-leash because it would be too easy for her to get separated from us. But she got to meet a few other dogs.

Overall, my assessment of Everett is that it seems like a great place. I would live there in a heartbeat (preferably in one of those gorgeous old homes). The naval base is really nice too.

Click here to view the slideshow.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fee Free Weekends

Sadly, I was just at Mt. Rainier two weeks ago, so this is a bit too late for me.

This weekend is the last weekend of the summer that you can get into 100 different national parks for free.

Here's the info:


And a couple of pictures of summer at Mt. Rainier National Park.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Perfect Lunch

How do I love thee, Duke's Chowder House? Let me count the ways...

1> Your lobster chowder is perfection. PERFECTION. Creamy and sweet and insanely delicious.

2> Your wild mixed greens salad with bleu cheese, candied pecans, orange and grapefruit wedges and tarragon vinaigrette...Heaven on a plate. Seriously.

3> The bread. I just love bread. Warm from the oven with soft butter. Mmmmm.

4> FREE APPETIZERS! Coconut prawns with honey chili sauce and steamers (fresh local clams steamed with garlic butter, roasted garlic, fresh herbs and Mac & Jack's). The shrimp was especially tasty. I could've easily polished off the whole plate myself, but I shared it with friends.

(Multiple Seattle/Tacoma locations)

And if that wasn't enough, we went to Cold Stone Creamery for dessert, where I had their limited time only Jello butterscotch pudding creation: butterscotch ice cream mixed with Reese's peanut butter cup and Butterfinger and swirled with caramel.

My tastebuds have exploded. (And so has my waistline...but I am a happy, happy woman today.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

2 Local Restaurants

We just had a houseguest - my sister-in-law - who left yesterday, and since we revisited places that I've posted about previously (Snoqualmie, downtown Seattle, Mt. Rainier National Park), I'm just posting a couple restaurant recommendations this time.

Naan -N- Curry
709 S. 3rd St.
Renton, WA 98057

This is a discovery of my husband's, who is an extremely picky eater. So when he suggested this place, I think I nearly fainted from surprise. I'm not super familiar with Indian food, although I have had a few very good Indian meals, so I was game to try it. This restaurant, by the way, specializes in both Indian and Pakistani cuisine.

Our greeter charmed me immediately. He told us there was nothing good on the menu at all, which made us laugh and feel immediately comfortable. This is obviously a place that doesn't take itself too seriously (except for the food), and this was also evident by the television above the entrance, which looked to be playing Indian soap operas and possibly scenes from Bollywood films.

Lance ordered chicken tikka masala. I ordered chicken korma (as did my sister-in-law). We got a platter of rice to share and a side of garlic naan. You can order any level of spice you desire. I can't stomach spicy hot food, so I ordered it with 0 spice. It was still spicy, but not hot.

All in all, a fantastic and very filling meal. I thought the portions were just right. Not too much food. And a great meal for a good price.

Highly recommended. I definitely want to come back and try some of the Pakistani dishes.


Ivar's Acres of Clams
Pier 54 - Seattle Waterfront

Ivar's has been a Seattle institution since 1938, and consistently voted as the city's best seafood.

They have several seafood bars around the Seattle area, which specialize mainly in fish and chips, although they have a few other dishes. Acres of Clams is a wee bit fancier - a nice sit-down restaurant with a good beer and wine list. And the view obviously can't be beat. This restaurant provides stunning views of Elliott Bay.

But aside from the ambience, Ivar's has bar none THE BEST CLAM CHOWDER IN THE UNIVERSE. My sister-in-law agrees. We ordered the soup and salad combo, which included a cup of chowder and a 3 oz. blackened salmon fillet served over caesar salad. Fantastic. As were the sourdough rolls.

Lance, not being a big fan of seafood, ordered a cheeseburger and was pleased.

If you just want chowder, you can pick that up at any Ivar's. If you want atmosphere...get thee to Acres of Clams.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Inniswood Metro Gardens - Blendon Woods

Monday was one of those days where we changed plans about 398099087283 times. I originally suggested going up to Lake Erie. Then the plan got changed to Mohican State Park. Then it was changed to Hocking Hills State Park, specifically, Old Man's Cave. Then we just decided to do a local park instead.

So we went to Inniswood Metro Gardens in the Columbus suburb of Westerville. I have never been there before, and that makes me sad, because it's really gorgeous. We had a picnic lunch first in the small picnic area (there are only about 5 tables or so) and then we walked through all the gardens, except for the rock garden (which is the one I primarily wanted to see), because it was closed for maintenance. Must be sure to go back.

I would love to see how these gardens change with the seasons.

We followed this with a short trip to Blendon Woods Metro Park, since it was close by. I hadn't been to that park in years. We didn't see much there. We went to the observation shelters by the wetlands, but there was nothing to see. I remember it being a much nicer park than it was this time around.

Inniswood was definitely the highlight of the day.

Click here for photos.

For more information:

Inniswood website
Blendon Woods

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Franklin Park Conservatory - Chihuly Reimagined

I've been in Ohio since last week, visiting family. This past Thursday, we decided to go to Franklin Park Conservatory. My mom always wanted to see their Blooms & Butterflies exhibit, and I knew that they had some of Dale Chihuly's glass art on display there as well. I've become quite a Chihuly fan, especially since he's from Tacoma and I was exposed to his work at the Museum of Glass.

Their new exhibition - Chihuly Reimagined - debuted on July 4th, but even though we were there 2 days earlier, we still got to see everything up close. It's truly an amazing exhibition. The glass pieces fit in wonderfully with all the plants.

This is definitely worth a visit.

Again, I feel that this is a place more worthy of pictures than words, so I'll let the pictures do the talking now.

Click here for the Franklin Park Conservatory website

Click here for pictures.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wine-Making at Castle Bridge Winery in Kent, Washington
Castle Bridge Winery is unique from other Washington wineries because they will help you make your own wine using a 3-step process. The result is 30 bottles of wine that has been made, bottled and custom labeled by you.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Travel Guides for Dog Lovers

If you're a dog lover in Washington and you need some resources to help you figure out how and where to travel with your dog in our lovely state, I have a couple of book recommendations for you:

The Dog Lover's Companion to the Pacific Northwest
Val Mallinson
Published by Avalon Travel

This book might be slightly outdated by now (I have the first edition; the second edition was just released last month), but it's still an excellent resource on traveling with your dog(s) in the Pacific Northwest. It covers Washington, Oregon and British Columbia (only the western half of the region - the book's major drawback), taking a look at pooch-friendly accommodations, restaurants and shops. It covers many parks, beaches and recreation areas and both urban and rural locations. Mallinson's dogs - Dachsunds Isis and Cooper - served as the panel of canine judges for this book, rating locations on a scale of one to four paw prints. Keep in mind, however, that these are small dogs, and may be accepted more readily (especially at hotels) than larger dogs.

Mallinson's writing is witty, and the illustrations are charming, making this a fun resource for your vacation planning. We've already dog-eared several pages, looking at potential day/weekend trips where we can include Reece. Sometimes, however - as in the case of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival - we think she is better off in doggie daycamp, which is probably more fun for her.

Best Hikes with Dogs - Western Washington
Dan A. Nelson
Published by The Mountaineers Books

My husband felt it was important to get this book, although I'm not entirely sure why. Neither of us are avid hikers, and we generally only do trails of 5 miles or less when we do hike. But Reece, being a Lab mix, is rather outdoorsy, so this is a good resource to plan hikes with her. Fortunately, it covers both short and long hikes.

There are lists of essentials for humans as well as dogs when preparing for a hike, tips on canine first aid (and I want to add, be especially aware of foxtails! We had this problem with Reece recently and it was costly to have it removed), and information about encountering bears and cougars. Essentially, this looks like a book that caters mainly to hardcore hikers, not necessarily the person who wants to take their dog for a short jaunt through the park, although there is information for novice hikers too.

There are plenty of maps, photographs, and details given about the trails and the suggested hikes cover a wide range of skill sets. All in all, a good hiking resource, even if you don't have a dog.


As for supplies, you generally can't find good hiking/doggie travel gear at Petsmart, although it's good for lots of other things (I can't recommend their doggie daycamp enough!). I've found these types of items at places like
Mud Bay (various locations around the Puget Sound area) and Reber Ranch (located in Kent). Reece is a big fan of both stores, especially since they always dote on her and give her lots of treats!

And now she is dropping a squeak toy on my keyboard, so I suppose I better end this post.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

7 Ways to Annoy a Flight Attendant

...and, I might add, your fellow passengers.

Some simple airline etiquette that is definitely worth reading

Lance was just complaining about #2 because it happened to him on his flight from OKC to Denver yesterday morning. A woman threw her bag into the overhead bin right above Lance's seat, to where he had no room for his own carry-on, and then she found her seat in the back of the plane and had the gall to ask him to take down her bag for her when they were debarking the plane.

Manners, people...manners. The world would be a better place if more people used them.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On a professional note

I now have a website up and running for my freelance biz.


I've been looking at getting one put up for the past month or so since I've made the commitment to starting my freelance career again, but even though I've had offers by various website designers and such, I would rather do these things myself.

The thing is, I don't know that much HTML coding. I've had websites in the past and taught myself HTML, but it's been awhile. Webs.com has free websites, but they're pretty basic, and you have to go with their templates. That's ok. It works for now. You get links to some of my online stuff, my rates, my writing resume...all the important things are there. I still need to put up a photo gallery to showcase some of my best photographs. Otherwise, it's done.

Since I plan to (hopefully sooner rather than later) take a certification program for writing/editing to enhance my skills, I will also take an elective web design course. Then I can have the kind of site that I am envisioning for my freelancing business and I can finally migrate everything - blogs, photo albums and all - into one place.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

New Look

I decided it's time to change the look of the blog. Blogger doesn't really have that many templates, and most of them are pretty boring, but I found one that seems to capture the spirit of the Pacific Northwest a little bit.

I'm looking at making some other changes here too. I am planning to set up a website to promote my writing, so this blog will migrate over to that website at some point. I'll probably use Wordpress.

But all this stuff takes time and careful planning, so it may be awhile yet. I'm now self-employed (left my office job last week - it was choking the life out of me, metaphorically speaking), but currently without projects, and I'm working diligently to change that situation. So that comes first. I'm giving a lot of attention to Twitter right now, because I'm building up followers there pretty quickly, and some of them might prove to be very useful. I have a fair number of travel writers/travel companies following my tweets, so you never know what will happen.

So anyway, to make this topical (since it is supposed to be about travel, after all), here are some upcoming posts:

- another downtown Seattle visit, this time with Lance. He hasn't been to downtown Seattle yet, can you believe it? We'll visit Pike Place Market (lunch at a crepe place this time) and the Space Needle (annual pass, so our admission is free!). The reason why I continue writing about Pike Place is because it's different each time. Every time you visit there, you notice something new. It's amazing.

- a trip home to Ohio next month for a week. A visit to Franklin Park Conservatory (botanical photos! Flowers are one of my favorite targets for my camera), and who knows what else? That's still in the planning stages.

My big fantasy right now is to send out a query for an article about the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Nye Beach, Oregon. It is my kind of place. It's a hotel for book lovers. Each room is named after a different writer and attempts to capture the spirit of that writer. And they have a restaurant called Tables of Content. Brilliant! I'm dying to go there! I already know which magazine I want to query...it's just a matter of preparing it and sending it out.

Oh, I have the itch to wander again, folks. Very excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I have finally succumbed. If you're interested, you can follow me.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wild Wheat and Windmill Gardens

Back in January, Lance and I went to the Tacoma Home & Garden Show. Because we were within the first 100 people in the door, we each got a $20 gift card to Windmill Gardens in Sumner. The gift card expires on May 31st, and since it's very nearly time, I thought today would be a good day for the excursion to Sumner. Because I don't think Lance is exactly interested in this type of adventure, I asked my friend Kathy and her son Beckett to join me.

We decided to make a day of it and had lunch at Wild Wheat Bakery and Cafe here in historic downtown Kent. They were still serving breakfast, so we ordered from the breakfast menu. The food was AMAZING. Absolute food porn at its finest. Kathy and I both ordered the Dungeness crab and asparagus omelet, which was covered with hollandaise sauce. It came with two thick slices of their sourdough bread, toasted, which I slathered generously with butter and their fresh strawberry jam. There was also a side of home fries. And I washed it down with a delicious iced chai.

We will DEFINITELY be back. I don't think I could recommend this place highly enough.

Wild Wheat on citysearch.com.

After lunch, we journeyed the 17+ miles to Sumner, a trip which took between 20-30 minutes. We found Windmill Gardens easily with the help of my GPS. They had a fantastic and gorgeous selection of flowers and garden supplies - a bit spendy, though, I thought. But we enjoyed looking at their amazing arrangements. For my $40 in gift cards, I picked up a nice potted arrangement for outside. I also got a couple of other things.

But Windmill Gardens isn't just a nursery. They have a restaurant, a tea/chocolate shop, a spa, and a pond store. Surrounding all these shops is a stunning garden. There is a gazebo in the center of the garden, and it's a popular site for weddings.

But enough with the words. Here are the photos.

On the way out of Sumner, we stopped at the Main Street Dairy Freeze for ice cream. It's good to see a nice Mom & Pop ice cream stand again...we don't have any in Kent and I think that's very sad. Sumner is also a cute town with a stunning view of Mt. Rainier. Worth a detour, I think, if you're in the area. They have an antiques mall and a large furniture warehouse called The Old Cannery, so it's a nice shopping destination.

Windmill Gardens website.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tacoma Museum of Glass/ Martin Blank's "Fluent Steps"

This evening, my friend Lisa and I had the privilege of attending a cocktail reception at the Tacoma Museum of Glass to celebrate the unveiling of Martin Blank's "Fluent Steps," a permanent exhibition in the main reflecting pool. I received the invitation because I do payroll for Martin Blank's employees.

There was a nice turnout for the event, and we got to peek at some of the exhibitions and browse the gift shop. Drinks were flowing (they had a martini bar where they poured the drinks through an ice sculpture, as well as a regular bar), hors d'oeurves were being passed around. There wasn't much going on the first hour except for mixing and mingling. Lisa and I didn't really mix and mingle with anyone (other than saying hello to Debra, Martin Blank's office manager, who invited me to the event), but we looked around and did some people watching.

Around 6:15 or so, everyone was ushered into the theater, where Martin Blank gave a presentation on the conception and implementation of "Fluent Steps." It was fascinating and hilarious. He's not just an artist, but a really funny guy. And he got very emotional at the end of his speech. This exhibition is a huge, HUGE deal for him. As he told us, today was one of the most important days in his life. He got a standing ovation at the end of his speech.

Afterwards was the ribbon cutting ceremony and a champagne toast. It was dusk at the time, but the display was supposed to be very pretty at night. So we headed to a restaurant right next to the museum - Woody's on the Water. We didn't have much in the way of appetizers at the reception, so I ordered an appetizer at the bar and we just enjoyed some conversation until it got dark. We could see "Fluent Steps" from the restaurant and when it was lit up, I paid the bill and we left so I could get pictures.

Just a note on the restaurant: I liked it very much. It's in an excellent location. The food is priced right. And they had live music this evening, supposedly jazz, although it was just some guy playing a keyboard. Not very interesting, but overall, I really liked the restaurant.

It was a very nice evening. Probably the first and only time I'll ever get invited to an event like this, but I really enjoyed it, and so did Lisa.


Museum of Glass website
Woody's On The Water
Martin Blank Studios

Pictures here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Lance and I both took a vacation day today (a much needed mental health break for both of us), dropped the dog off at Petsmart, and headed up north to Skagit County for the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which runs through the entire month of April. We're halfway through April, of course, but the tulips are being somewhat elusive. We lucked out today though and saw some of them in bloom.

We started out with a visit to La Conner, an absolutely enchanting town...I am ridiculously besotted with it. I kept going on and on about how wonderful it would be to own a bed and breakfast there. Everything about it was picture postcard quaint. We stopped into Nasty Jack's Antiques, which was a really awesome shop full of kitschy, quirky, and really unique and beautiful items. We stopped in other charming shops: Next Chapter bookstore, The Ginger Grater/The Olive Shoppe, Cascade Candy Company, etc. You can easily spend a day shopping and eating your way through La Conner, and there are some museums as well.

But we were there to see tulips too, so we left La Conner and drove toward nearby Mt. Vernon, stopping at Tulip Town, which is one of the two major tulip farms in the area (the other is Roozengaarde). You have to pay admission to both of these places, and it didn't seem to me that they were different enough from each other to be worth going to both.

I was told that the tulips would not be blooming, since I had a friend who was just there a few days ago and only found daffodils. So it was with great delight that we discovered the some of the tulips were blooming today. So pretty! I imagine that it will be so lovely in a week or so...everything should be blooming by then.

Anyway, we walked around Tulip Town for an hour or so. And since we were basically just flying by the seat of our pants anyway, we thought we might as well visit Mount Vernon.

The drive to Mount Vernon was pretty. Lots of beautiful old homes, the Cascade Mountains, farm fields as far as the eye can see. We got to Mount Vernon, and...well, a bit of a let-down. I didn't see anything worth stopping for, but I did see something on the map that caught my eye - Little Mountain Park. So we plugged it into the GPS and we were off. It was just outside Mount Vernon and definitely worth a stop, as it offered spectacular views from on high of the Skagit Valley, Mount Baker, the Olympic mountains, and the San Juan Islands.

After that brief detour, we headed back to the Seattle area.

All in all, a wonderful day. A lot of fun. I definitely would like to go back next year, but I'll wait until all the tulips are blooming first.

Click here for pictures. (Taken with my new camera!)

Oh, and there's a picture of "Dirty Biter" in my album...if you want to know the story behind him, you can go to this website:


Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Glorious Day at Alki Beach

Today is a sunny, fantastic spring day, so I took Reece up to west Seattle, to the very popular Alki Beach area. My friend Lisa met us there.

Once we got to the Alki Beach trail, and Reece saw all the people and dogs out and about, she got ridiculously excited and started crying and jumping up and down in the back seat. But I had to look for parking, and most importantly, I had to find Alki Bakery, which was our designated meeting place. I found a primo parking spot (someone was backing out just as I was approaching the spot). Reece and I got out and started walking. As we approached the bakery, I saw a mini Statue of Liberty across the street.

Anyway, Alki Beach offers some of the best views of the Seattle skyline...

...as well as gorgeous views of the Olympic Mountains. And if you walk to the end of the beach where the lighthouse is (which is off limits to the public and there were no good vantage points to photograph it), you can even see Mount Rainier.

(I am so insanely jealous of the lucky people who get to live here, except they get to put up with the crowds and the lack of parking.)

Also, we stopped at Spud Fish & Chips, which is an Alki landmark (been around for over 70 years). Mmmmmmm...grease. It's very popular, and was crowded today. But while I was inside getting my fries and Diet Coke, Lisa was outside with Reece, and she found us a table. Then she went in to get her food and the people just kept coming.

Today made me ridiculously happy. A stellar afternoon. And now Reece is exhausted. She met a lot of people (and their dogs)...got a lot of attention. Sniffed a lot of butts. But she was so good today. I got compliments on how well behaved she was.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Soggy Sunday at Pike Place Market

Today was my 3rd trip to Pike Place Market and each time I go there is completely different from the time before it. There is always a colorful mix of people, different street performers, and different smells to entice you on any given day. Today, it was the smell of Piroshki Piroshki that was practically irresistible. I've always salivated at the sight of all the delicious looking Russian pastries, and the smell of apple cinnamon was overwhelming today. There was a huge line of people waiting to sample their offerings, but I made a mental note to go back later.

Because today, I wanted Turkish Delight. This little hole in the wall place has doner kebap - the most popular fast food in Germany. My craving had to be satisfied, and fortunately, my friend Lisa was anxious to try it too, having lived in Germany herself. It's a bit on the pricey side, and not exactly like the doner kebap I knew and loved in Germany, but it was enough to make me happy. The lady running it was super nice. She mentioned that she was from Istanbul and when I told her I had been there before, she got very excited and wanted to hear about my experience there. After we finished our massive chicken doners, I bought a couple of pieces of homemade Turkish delight (orange and raspberry flavored) to take away.

We decided to do a wine tasting at The Tasting Room. It was deserted when we came in, but a great place to kick back with a glass of wine and have a conversation. The woman working behind the counter, Sarah, was super cool and she had her sweet little dog with her.

Which reminds me, Pike Place Market is an awesome place to take your dog. I'll remember that for next time.

Anyway, this wine shop is next to Kell's Irish Pub, which is a popular place and also rumored to be haunted. Apparently, the wine shop is possibly haunted as well. They have great events there too - Tuesday nights are movie nights. If I lived anywhere near downtown, I would do that.

We continued to wander around after our wine tasting. We came back around Piroshki Piroshki again, but by that time, I had run out of cash. We ended up stopping at this French cafe for coffee...and it was like walking into one of the small cafes that I've been to in Belgium. Very nice. And they had raclette on the menu, so we want to go back there and try that next. Also, great live music on Sundays.

Places we visited in/around the market:

- Chukar Cherries: got free samples of their dark and milk chocolate covered dried cherries. Delicious! Keeping this in mind for gifts in the future.

- The Crumpet Shop: when you need crumpets and tea. I want to try this place too...so very cute!

- Bavarian Meats: German meats, cheeses and other goods.

- Beecher's Handmade Cheese: apparently has the best (and possibly most expensive) macaroni and cheese on the planet. Have not tasted it yet. But enough word of mouth for me to believe it. Also, my husband is anxious to try it, so I'll be saving this experience for when he's tagging along.

- DeLaurenti: Specialty food and wine. Lots of imported European stuff here, although I'll be honest with you - you can get a lot of the same stuff for probably cheaper at the nearby Cost Plus World Market. Still, a nice place to browse.

Just for the heck of it, we stopped at a nearby LUSH at Westlake Center, and went into a Made In Washington store, where Chukar Cherries products are less expensive than they are at the market (just sayin').

It was raining pretty heavily by the time we were wrapping things up, but since I left my poor pooch back at home, I had to stop into Three Dog Bakery to get her a special treat: a peanut butter bone with carob coating. What a spoiled dog I have.

I love the atmosphere at Pike Place Market. I always notice something new every time I go, and it really gives off this European vibe that is very comforting to me.

On another note - since my traveling has been significantly curtailed since I left Europe, I sometimes wonder what direction I should take this blog. Obviously, I'm interested in exploring more of the local area and the entire Pacific Northwest, and I will blog about other places further afield as I travel. But I think I also want to focus on places that are dog-friendly too, since my travel priorities have changed a bit. I'll be interested in seeing how this blog grows and evolves over time.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Taste of Nostalgia

Lance and I got the perfect Valentine's gift today.

A taste of nostalgia.

One of our favorite restaurants when we lived in Germany was Il Genio's. There were 3 locations close to home, each one with a different ambiance. The food was reliably good and inexpensive. While it wasn't the absolute best Italian food I ever had, it was certainly very good and a lot more authentic than most of the so-called Italian restaurants in the States.

Tonight, we found a place that brought Il Genio's back to us. Sort of. The atmosphere is quite a bit different, and the menus weren't in badly translated English, but the food...the food...


An Italian place opened in Kent recently, part of a chain of restaurants located around the Seattle area (with a location in Phoenix, Arizona and one, oddly, in Maryland). On a busy road, it would normally be easy to miss, but the orange neon and a large, flashing sign out front made it pretty noticeable. Nope, this isn't some charming, romantic ristorante or anything.

But looks can be deceiving. Considering that there are few Italian restaurants in Kent, we were game to try it. Tonight seemed to be the night. And it seemed like a rather low-key, family place, so I didn't expect that it would be busy with Valentine's diners looking for a romantic night out.

It wasn't busy when we got there. We could seat ourselves. There were booths and tables for large groups. The kitchen was open, so you could see everyone working in it. The only thing that seemed rather out of place was the music, more suitable for a sports bar than an Italian restaurant. In fact, I had to comment to Lance how weird it was to hear "Sweet Home Alabama" when I normally would expect the type of background music that would be played at, well, Olive Garden.

We got our menus. They had a good selection of pizzas, pasta, calzones and grinders (or hoagies or subs, depending on what region you're from). But we were primarily interested in the pasta dishes. As I scanned the choices, I commented to Lance how much the menu reminded me of Il Genio's. He immediately agreed, and had been thinking the exact same thing.

I ordered the Tortellini Special, which was spinach tortellini in alfredo sauce, mixed with bacon, peas and sprinkled with shredded parmesan. Lance ordered fettuccine with alfredo sauce and gorgonzola, baked with mozzarella cheese, and topped with meatballs. Both came with salad or soup and garlic bread (prices similar to Olive Garden, I think both our entrees were $12.95 each).

My salad was wonderful. Mixed greens, sliced black olives, shredded parmesan, and their house dressing, which was a balsamic vinaigrette. Then came the meal.

Oh my God. It looked IDENTICAL to a dish I had at Il Genio's before. And tasted almost exactly like it. Very rich and decadent alfredo sauce. The same kind of bacon (not American-style bacon). It almost transported me back to Il Genio's again. Lance thought the same thing about his dish. It was amazing. Suddenly, we were reminiscing about our life in Germany.

We both could only eat half of our entrees. We ordered a slice of cheesecake to share. When the waitress asked how everything was, I had to tell her that it was so much like our favorite Italian restaurant in Germany. She was so excited to hear it. We wanted to know if the restaurant was run by Italians, but she told us her boss was Bulgarian. Well done. She asked us if it was better than Olive Garden. I nodded enthusiastically.

When she dropped off the bill, she left two little chocolate hearts on the table, and thanked us for being her Valentines. She was really sweet.

Now...whenever we get a little homesick for Germany, we know where to go. Weird, right?

We'll be trying their pizza next. I think we're both so excited that we found this place, and we walked away two very happy (and very stuffed) customers.

I know I have yet to name this magical place, so here goes, with a link:

Amante Pizza and Pasta

Eat there, you won't regret it. And if you've never been to Europe and experienced authentic Italian food, you can now discover what you've been missing. I don't want to knock Olive Garden or anything, because it fulfills a need when you're hungry and the food is good (I have enjoyed many a meal there, too), but the kind of food combinations that you find on the menu there are not what you would find on Italian restaurant menus in Europe. Amante? Well, it is exactly what you'd find.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Red House

I've been itching to post here, and now I have a reason to.

I've discovered a gem of a restaurant in downtown Renton, very close to where I work. I was meeting a new friend there, another writerly type who lived in Germany for several years before settling down in Seattle. She recommended the place, and after doing a bit of research on it, I was very much looking forward to the experience.

The Red House Beer & Wine Shoppe and Tapas Bar is a very low-key, cozy place to meet friends or family. Also a nice date spot. It's a Craftsman-style house that has been converted into a bar, restaurant and retail wine/beer shop. There is a wonderful patio for outdoor dining in the warmer months (I think that's a smashing idea for my June birthday).

You walk in the front door and enter a room that contains a few tables, the bar, and some shelves full of wine. That leads to another room, which is filled with European beers and a couple more tables, which leads to another room filled with wine and a few more tables, etc. etc. There is also an upstairs area, which can be rented out for private parties. This is where The Red House hosts its wine tastings.

But let me get to the point. This is about the food, after all. They have full entrees, sandwich platters, and a pretty extensive tapas menu. Lisa and I went for the tapas. We ordered an antipasto platter, which came with a heaping pile of warm, delicious rustic bread, serrano ham, manchego cheese, olives and goat cheese. We also ordered the roasted beets with gorgonzola cheese. Both were delicious and made a substantial enough meal for both of us.

And then there was the wine. I had a yummy Riesling from Germany (Jakob Demmer, I believe). I think Lisa had an Argentine Malbec, which she liked really well. Since there was a shelf full of British and German beers behind me, Lisa was checking all of that out, and she spotted a bottle of cherry beer, UK made. There was only one bottle, so when she asked about it, the waiter asked if we wanted to share it. And so we did. And it was good. (I'm not a beer drinker, but I do enjoy the Belgian Lambics, so this was very similar).

We checked out some of the ciders too, and they had large bottles of British pear cider for $5, so we each bought one.

Anyway, the atmosphere was great. It's not a quiet and intimate spot. But it's cozy, friendly and fun. There was a nice variety of menu items to suit every taste. And the food was top-notch. Certainly worth a visit to Renton, if you don't have a reason to be there already.

The Red House website