Sunday, December 03, 2006

Snowy West Vancouver

Here's a shot of the bridge to West Vancouver as seen from Stanley Park.

Here's the same bridge as we crossed over. It was pretty cold the entire trip. Although the rain washed away most of the snow that hit Seattle last week, there was still snow lining the streets in Vancouver and making the side streets dicey. Temperatures hovered in the mid-30s all day.

Sticker shock

So the Westin was Jason's pick since I'd sorta snacked @ home before we left and wasn't super hungry. But when he indicated where we were headed, I was not jazzed. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I knew this was not going to be a meal we loved. I seemed to remember an uninspiring or not-worth-the price brunch here a couple years ago when they were in the throes of remodeling.

So I voiced my reservations, which Jason nodded at as his stomach rumbled, but then shut my pie hole as we headed to our seat: in for a dime, in for a dollar, right? My resolve to enjoy the view and sip hot water evaporated when Jason returned with the first of two stacked plates: scrambled eggs, bacon, smoked salmon and oysters, peel & eat shrimp, hash browns, and sausage. Well, one small plate couldn't hurt, could it? ;-) Oh but it could, I'd soon discover.

"Do you know how much brunch is?" I asked Jason, as I got up to hit the buffet tables. "No," he mumbled through a mouthful of sausage and seafood as he reached for his mimosa. Oh well. I snagged a plate and loaded up myself: bacon, smoked salmon & oysters, three kinds of melon, rice salad with raisins and curry flavoring of some sort, mozzarella and sliced tomatoes, and shrimp. As J. looked on derisively ("You ragged on this place all the way in!" "I changed my mind."), I grudgingly acknowledged it was pretty tasty and better than the last time. Not quite full from my serving of crow, I munched away as we lingered over our plates, reading the paper and e-mail.

Finally, the servers discretely placed our bill on the table. Okay, let's see, two brunches and a mimosa comes to... $83.37 cdn?! J. blinked and called the server over. "Uh, how much is brunch?" "$34.95?" he answered in that statement-with-question-inflection common to Canadians. Add the $8 mimosa and tax and there you have it: $83.97, plus tip to come. Aaaaargh. "Look at it this way," I said to J. after doing currency conversion on my Treo. "It's only $73.35 USD. " :-) He looked only mildly amused.

"And that's the regular price?" J. asked. "Oh sure," said the server. "They don't really jack it up until the holidays? You know: Christmas day, New Year's Day, Mother's Day? That's when it's $69 or $79 per person?" Oh. Well of course.

As we walked back to the car (quick walk with so much less money weighing us down!), J. admitted, "Well now we know why you had that weird feeling when we walked in." Yeah, and now I knew what it was: a feeling that somehow we were about to be screwed. Oh Canada. :-P

Dining room

The Westin Bayshore dining room.

Westin Bayshore Vancouver

We just came up to Vancouver, BC for the day and J decided he wants brunch. So we pulled into the Westin Bayshore Vancouver where the staff seated us @ this wonderful corner table in the dining room with a view of the pool and the snow-dusted mountains in the background. Very relaxing.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lunch then pens!

After Oblation, I headed over to Silk (formerly Pho Van) at 1012 NW Glisan St. for a light and tasty Vietnamese lunch. I learned it's still owned by the same people but the decor and layout have changed.

Rejuvenated by the mango iced tea and lotus root salad with shrimp, I hoofed it over to the Embassy Hotel for the Portland Pen Show. This was my second time at the event and organizer Carla Mortensen once again did a great job with planning, layout, and registration.

We were so busy chatting and filling out a name badge, she forgot to charge me! As I turned to walk in with my Pen World goody bag, I paused and said, "Uh, isn't there an entry fee?" "My goodness, you're right!" she said. "I'm so excited to see everyone showing up for the show I'd practically pay them!" :-) So I'm not the only one who frets about throwing a party and no one showing up. Not to worry Carla: you did a great job and made the show interesting and well worth the $5 entry. I'm sure the 260-280 people who attended over the two days would agree. :-)

Heading into the ballroom, I saw the usual layout of tables filled with exhibitors, pens and tons of pen-related products. Handwriting guides? Check. A rainbow of inks? Check. Fountain pen-friendly paper? Check. Ink remover? Absolutely! One attendee joked, "I haven't handled any ink but somehow I've managed to get some on my hands!" "It's in the air," I quipped.

Brother and sister pen super duo Sherrell Tyree and Joel Hamilton were set up just inside the door with their wares (Parkers for Joel, Sheaffers for Sherrell). I met them last year at the Portland show, then had the pleasure of attending one of their pen collecting and repair seminars (below) at the LA show in February.

Their online site offers vintage pens, as well as search, repair and sales services.

Back at the Portland show, I continued my trek around the room, taking in all the folks, pens, and product displays. While there were several vendors with new pens, including a representive from national chain Paradise Pen's Portland store, and a representative from Conway Stewart with several achingly beautiful, handcrafted pens, a lot of the exhibitors had vintage pens to buy, trade and sell.

I'm relatively new to fountain pens and find that I prefer the look and feel of a shiny new pen sliding across the page. I don't consider myself a collector, who I view as folks who acquire pens but keep them under glass for display, not for use. And really, what is that about?! It's like: "Here's my Porsche. It's not for driving. I just like to look at it and know that I could drive it if I wanted to, and it would be amazing." Uh, okay.

In contrast to that, I use my small cache of fountain pens every day at home and at work, refilling the converters about once per week. It's great for all the employers I've had: I hate using cheap office supply pens and paper so I bring my own. :-)

So as I wandered the aisles at the Portland Pen Show, wouldn't you know the pen that caught my eye was an older, refurbished model from the folks at Pendemonium? The owners Sam and Frank Fiorella made the trip out to the show from Fort Madison, Iowa where they have a full time writing equipment shop. Having seen pictures of the shop online, it's probably a good thing that it's so far away because I would spend an inordinate amount of time and money in a place like that, so filled to brim with amazing pens, paper and writing paraphernalia.

Compared to their trek, my little jaunt from Seattle seemed pretty rudimentary. They were nice as pie, answered my myriad questions, and didn't mind the 45 minutes or so it took me to decide on a Parker with a modified .9mm italic nib. They even changed the body on the spot because I chose based on the nib, which I've been looking for since the LA show, but wasn't crazy about the boring burgandy body. Frank Fiorella said, "No problem. The nice thing about Parkers is that the bodies can be swapped." So I found a blue and black swirled number that was much more aesthetically pleasing and he popped the nib out and my preferred nib in and voila! Now that's service. :-)

I'm trying to de-clutter my life so my relatively new approach to spending is that I have to love whatever I'm buying. I used to feel bad when I couldn't decide on something in a store and I'd feel like I was letting the sales person down, especially if they'd spent time assisting me. Silly, I know. But now, I just say, "I have to love it and nothing here is speaking to me." I think most folks can understand that, and I don't feel pressured to spend money just because I've spent time looking. I'd rather have something I will love every time I use it, than something I sort of like but won't truly enjoy. Life is too short to not love the things around you, right? :-)

I had to catch a ride back to Seattle, so I didn't stay at the show very long, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, seeing the various pens, and seeing familiar faces. I plan to make my trek an annual event and since Sundays usually have bigger turnouts and more exhibitors, next year I may plan an overnight stay so I can attend both days.

So here's my alliteration overload wrap up paragraph: all in all, with the 80-degree, wondrous weather (can one have a favorite temperature? If so, 80 is mine!), the pleasant perambulation of the Pearl District, the stirring sightseeing, the beckoning Bastille Day festivities, the savory sustenance, the plethora of pens, and genial gathering of pen pros, it was a perfect way to spend a Saturday. :-)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

First paper, then pens

From there I headed farther into the Pearl to hit Oblation, a great stationery store at 516 northwest 12th avenueat Glisan that also sells pens, cards, journals, letterpress invitations, and just about anything a paper and pen hound could want.

It was a nice place to start because I don't think you can ever have enough nice notecards and paper, and it was the perfect spot to whet my appetite for the coming pen buffet.

Qu'est-ce que c'est? Bastille Day!

I love all things French. So what do I happen upon in a little park in the Pearl District but a Bastille Day celebration! How cool is that?!

The only things distinctly french about it at that slightly early hour were a cheese booth, a french bakery booth, booths of artists with paintings of french things (the Eiffel Tower, sidewalk cafes, etc.), and a few people with French accents setting up a stage for a band.

Oh, and a petanque game! I always think of it as the more refined ancestor of lawn darts. It was definitely shaping up to be a fun event. Lots of people were already out enjoying the weather, which was quickly creeping up into the upper 70s.

Made it!

So the train arrived right on time in Portland at Union station, which is a very cool train station that originally opened in 1896(!) as a train depot. It's one of the classic, marble-laden, old school train stations that really give you a glimpse of what it must have been like decades ago when traveling by train was still an occasion.

Here's a shot from outside as I headed towards the Pearl District.

So much for sleeping

I spoke too soon. At the Tukwila stop, a woman and her three or four year old son boarded and sat right in front of me. Over the next three hours I learned a few things: everything about trains excited this child; he had not yet learned the concept of "inside voice", no matter how many times his mom asked him to use it (about 17 times); and it is possible for a child to maintain, for three hours, a level of excitement and wonder that would cause most people's hearts to stop. While seeing the world through a child's eyes is a wonderful thing, I would have instead preferred to see the insides of my eyelids for those three hours. Judging by the annoyed looks on the faces of several fellow passengers, I wasn't alone. Ah well, note to self: bring earplugs next time.

All aboard!

We left on time and are cruising southward. I have a full seat row to myself, so i'll be catching some zzzz as we glide through the 4-5 stops on the way to Portland. Wow: 15 minutes and we're already in Tukwila.

Portland Pen Show bound

Bright and early (by my Saturday snooze 'til 9 (okay, 11) standards), I headed to the Amtrak King Street station to board the Cascades train for Portland and the Portland Pen Show. It's one of the smaller shows across the U.S., but it it draws a nice turnout of pen enthusiasts over its three days. I am hoping to pick up some nice stationery, but no pens: I already have a hard time rotating through my favorites.

I was startled initially by all the people lined up to board the train to Portland on a weekend morning, until I saw several in Lance Armstrong-esque regalia: it's STP weekend - the big Seattle to Portland bike race. I'm not sure if they were headed down to meet other racers midway or just following a misguided belief that "riding" in the event includes trains as well as bikes. But there were quite a few of them, plus the rest us.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Back in the saddle

A view from the treadmill in downtown Seattle. I've started working out semi-consistently after years of getting by on a high metabolism and decent eating habits.

But with summer weather here, some body parts looking and feeling a bit more jiggly than I'd like, and a general feeling of being out of shape and out of breath with moderate exertion, I had to hit the gym.

I've never loved working out so it helps that I found a gym close by with decent rates and a discount for my employer. Thanks to the new regimen and some unexpected life stress, I've dropped eight pounds in the past three weeks. Now that the stress is reduced, I've leveled off at five pounds less.

I didn't NEED to lose weight, but it's a nice side effect, along with the firmer muscles and general feeling of wellness that comes from exercising more than you thought possible just a couple months ago. I hate to admit it, but I think I've actually started to enjoy working out. And I don't beat myself up if I miss a day. I just get back on the treadmill at the next opportunity. Who'd a thunk it? Only a mile and a half to go. :-)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

End of the (monorail) line

It's the official end of the dream in my world. I paid my final Monorail car tab tax and replaced my monorail tab with the plain old 2007 tab. Sigh. And so it goes.

Actually, as the agency predicted, the property bought for the line is selling for more than it cost to buy, so the tax will end for everyone after the June license tab notifications go out and all bills are paid.

Do not back up...

We saw this as we returned our rental car in Dallas. Whenever I see this sign, it cracks me up because if you have made some major error by driving into the area where it's posted, by the time you see it, you're screwed.

If we're out and about and my husband pulls into a driveway to make a 3-point turn, I always act as if I'm reading a sign like this out my window. He's really good at making the sound of two tires puncturing. Guaranteed yucks all around. :-D

Sunday, April 30, 2006

We found one of the bustling shopping areas in East Dallas that the fashionable store clerk told us about. True to her word, there were lots of shops, restaurants and folks wandering the seemingly freshly-laid sidewalks of Dallas' West Village shopping area.

It's one of those developments known as 'mixed use' in the Northwest: retail on the bottom, apartments, townhouses, condos, etc., up top, with the occasional boutique hotel and upscale supermarket thrown in for good measure.

After a couple hours of window and actual shopping, we'd worked up enough of an appetite to hit one of the many restaurants in the area. We chose Tom Tom, an asian grill and sushi bar that was pretty average.

No matter where you travel, shrimp salad rolls are pretty hard to screw up: rice noodles, lettuce, sometimes cucumbers, and shrimp all neatly wrapped up in a rice paper wrapper with peanut or some sweet dipping sauce. Pretty basic, right? Well, I had to send the shrimp rolls back twice because they'd apparently rolled them up using a paper towel, leaving quarter-sized patches of white fiber on the underside of each roll. The replacements weren't much better. This time they apparently used a lint-covered cotton towel to roll them.

Having skipped breakfast, I was willing to ignore this second gaffe and just pick the lint off (hey, cotton counts as fiber in your diet, right?). But, I discovered the small, white lint balls were actually rolled up in the rice wrappers. Apparently their kitchen staff hasn't heard about using bamboo mats to make sushi rolls. We were really hungry, so that was a big let down. But at least they took them off our bill. It was still a nice area and outing and we'd head back for dinner later that night, but the experience would turn out to be much better.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Granny and shopping frenzy

So I finally got a chance to see Granny. She gets around using a walker but still gets around, which is more than some younger folks can say. Before being forced out of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, she used to go to a senior center a couple times each week for exercises and socializing.

Now that she, my aunt and uncle are in Texas in a 2nd floor apartment out in a suburban-ish area with steep stairs, there's no senior center nearby and she'd have to be carried up and down the stairs to get out and about. But she still has a great attitude and does chair exercises each week to keep her strength up. She has her own room and bathroom and goes on errands with my aunt and uncle.

They're all still learning the area they live in after 30+ years in New Orleans. It's been a big change, but one they say they're resigned to. "There's nothing left for us to go back to," my aunt said. "They're not fixing anything and it's just a mess. We're not living like that." That's me and her in the striped shirt. She just retired after 25 or so years as a high school principal and school administrator in New Orleans. My grandmother's been living with her and my uncle for a few years and she says they all feel blessed to be able to finally spend time with each other after years of my grandmother living on her own with another daughter (who passed away a couple years ago in her 60's) in the small, Northern Louisiana town she raised her family in.

We hung out with Granny for a bit and she met my husband for the first time. She chatted with him and sized him up a bit and said, "He seems like a good man," which made me smile. At that age, they don't have to sugar coat anything if they don't want to, so I took it as the gospel. :-)

After dinner with them, we headed to the Dallas Galleria. Ice skating on the bottom, wall to wall shopping on three levels. The woman at the Celine shop just gave us the scoop on other shopping areas. We'll hit those tomorrow.

deep in the heart of TX

Actually, we're in Irving, Texas, next to Dallas. We're in town to visit with my aunt, uncle and my grandmother, who is turning 100 (!) next week. Amazing. We found a hotel deal (see basic business park view from our hotel balcony) not far from their place, and my uncle from LA arrived last night too. It's a mini-reunion! :-) I can't wait to see my grandmother. It's been a couple years.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


The weather in Seattle has decided to revert to its pre-spring incarnation with dark grey skies, winds, and major downpours. So we're feeling a little bit of cabin fever and have opted to head up to Vancouver for the day. So far, the weather is still a crap-a-thon on the way up, but at least we'll soon be rained on in another country. :-) We plan to hit Robson Street, maybe Chinatown, and wrap up with our customary dinner at Gotham Steakhouse in downtown with their awesome onion bread. We're 18 miles from the border crossing at Blaine. Oh Canada, here we come!

Update - Sunday morning

We did hit Gotham, twice. Once for beverages while we waited for alterations next door at Holt Renfrew, and later for dinner. I had the slab of salmon with a butter sauce, which actually was just so-so. I prefer a little more seasoning.

Jason, who makes awesome salmon and has basically spoiled me for any other kind but his, opted for lobster tails. We shared the sauteed button mushrooms and sauteed sugar snap peas, which were both delicious! The peas were crisp, just-sauteed, sweet, and flavorful. The service and atmosphere were great as usual. The waitstaff is nice and professional, but not stuffy. I had a great seat on the comfy couch by the front windows, with Jason across from me on their overstuffed chair. I had cheesecake with berry sauce for dessert (sorry, no picture), which basically filled me to the bursting point before we hit the road for home.

I slept (as usual) until the border, where we just missed the Nexus line closing by 7 minutes: it closes at 9pm. So we had to do something we haven't done since getting Nexus cards a couple years ago: wait in line at the border! Horrors! :-) It took about 15 minutes, which wasn't too bad, but that's an eternity compared to our usual 2-4 question session and quick wave through. For some reason, traffic on the other side heading into Canada was packed. It looked like at least an hour wait. I joked that maybe the administration had done something else idiotic while we'd been gone and we were seeing the front edge of a mass exodus from the U.S.

I took over driving duties at a gas station on the other side where we had the choice of paying $3.15, $3.08 or $2.98 per gallon for premium. What the hell?! A war, thousands dead and injured, billions spent, no foreseeable end to it all, neglected domestic issues, a prescription drug benefit program that stinks, AND $3/gallon gas?! Who okayed this moron?! But I digress.

Filling up cost $50 exactly. I almost felt bad until I looked over at the guy at the next pump gassing up his motor home to the tune of $100.01. Sheesh! I also noticed he had Veteran plates. Wonder what he thinks of Bush and all this. Wanted to ask but that's a bit personal for the pumps.

We made it home about 11:25pm. All in all, it was a great day trip.