Archive for August, 2011

When Shane told me that his job was sending him to Las Vegas for a few days for a conference and asked me if I’d like to tag along, I thought…Vegas?  I had a fabulous time when I got to tag along during the same conference in San Francisco two years ago, but…Vegas?  I was there ten years ago and if memory served me correctly, I really wouldn’t fit in there – I don’t know the first thing about gambling, I don’t own a miniskirt or 6-inch heels, and I don’t think I have the stomach for a prime rib buffet.  But far be it from me to turn down the promise of sunshine and poolside cocktails, so I grabbed my highest-SPF sunscreen, unearthed every swimsuit I own from the depths of my dresser, and I was officially on board.

From the moment our taxi dropped us off at the Palazzo, we were both a bit overwhelmed.  The scale of everything was so much grander than what we’re used to seeing – hotel lobbies with 50-foot ceilings, huge casino floors packed with slot machines and black jack tables and ladies in tight dresses walking by with trays of cocktails, and hotel corridors that felt like they stretched on forever.  Add to that a confusing mix of sensory deprivation and sensory overload – while indoors, you typically don’t have access to daylight or fresh air, but at the same time, your senses are flooded with a myriad of sounds, with flashing lights, conditioned air, and the presence of so many people.   It was a lot to take in.  But we were bound to make the most of our Nevadan adventure, and so while Shane checked into our room, I ran across the street to the same-day discount ticket booth to see if I could score us seats for a show that evening.  I came back with tickets to Le Reve and Shane and I made our way to our beautiful hotel suite – looked like Vegas was going to be A-OK.

We spent the rest of the afternoon taking refuge from the heat inside the gigantic hotel/shopping/restaurant complex that is the Palazzo/Venetian, and then swimming at the luxurious hotel pool.

We grabbed a quick bite before the show and then made our way over to the Wynn for the show.  From the moment we walked into the theater, with its brightly patterned tented ceiling and circular rows of seats that surrounded a blue, misty pool, we knew we were in for something special.  And Le Reve certainly did not disappoint – stunning costumes, gasp-inducing acrobatics, and surprises around every corner, as people in sea-monster costumes crawled out from the aisles and ladies in sequined costumes were dropped from one hundred feet in the air into the pool below.  It was exactly what you would expect from Vegas – flashy, bold, and over-the-top.

We turned in early that night, as I was feeling a little under the weather and wanted to rest up for a day full of sight-seeing and sun-soaking.  Unfortunately, I woke up Monday morning feeling achy and feverish, with some kind of flu.  I ventured out in the morning in search of a healthy breakfast (which was nowhere to be found) and snapped a few pictures while on the Strip.  Somewhere between the canals of the Venetian and the Venus de Milo at Caesars Palace, I really started to wonder at the alternate universe that is Vegas.  There’s just so much…faux.  Everything is a replica of something else, from the miniature Eiffel Tower to the funky Corinthian columns.

My sore throat and achy bones, along with the rapidly rising temperatures (which topped out at 109 degrees that day – yikes!), soon drove me back to our room, where I contentedly spent most of the afternoon watching TV in our plush and comfy bed, deciding I had just enough energy to head down the pool and stake my claim on one of the lounge chairs in pool for a couple of hours (yes – they put lounge chairs in the really shallow portion of the pool, so you can enjoy the sun while being half-submerged in the water…brilliant!).

We had a nice dinner at Le Cave that night, and once again, I turned in early…In a city known for its nightlife.  Did I mention I wasn’t Vegas material?

By Tuesday, I was feeling much better and figured all I needed to get me back to 100% was a fruit smoothie and a couple hours of retail therapy.  I spent the morning cruising around Fashion Show Mall with my Jamba Juice in hand, scoring a couple of good deals before heading back to the hotel for an afternoon of poolside lounging.  Shane got away from the conference a little early and was able to join me for a swim.  I camped out there all afternoon with my book, working on my tan and finally feeling like I was getting on board with the whole Vegas vacation thing.  It was a great day – completely relaxing, worry-free, and self-indulgent.  Tuesday night was our last night to really live it up, since I had a Wednesday morning flight back to Seattle, and so we headed out in search of lights, luck, and liquor.  The Strip is insane at night time – people crowd the sidewalks, spilling out of the casinos and bars, lights and music seem to radiate from every surface.

Determined to take it all in, we walked as far as the Bellagio and caught the famed fountain show.  It was indeed impressive – and as a bonus, the spray from the fountains provided some momentary relief from the heat!

From there, we meandered back toward the Palazzo, stopping in a couple of casinos to test our luck.  Turns out I am decidedly unlucky.  Shane cut me off after a pretty sad streak at the slots, and then I watched him walk away from video blackjack with his shoulders slumped.  To his credit, he did make the three dollars I had in my pocket last for nearly half an hour, and he had tripled his money at one point, but apparently he has yet to learn when to quit, and so we both walked away without any of our meager gambling allowance.  We found solace at the bar of Table 10, in my glass of wine and Shane’s shot of quality bourbon.  And so all was not lost – we’d still enjoyed a fun night out on the town, and I had managed, on my last night in Vegas, to stay up past 10 pm.

The verdict:  as much I loved my afternoons by the pool, and as grateful as I am for the chance we had to experience something new, I doubt we’ll head back to Sin City anytime soon.  It’s just not our scene.  At least, not until I find the courage to replace my Gap sundress with something more like this…

Today I’m battling the missing-my-family blues, as I returned yesterday from a quick-but-so-good trip to Portland. My grandma and my mom’s cousin were visiting from Florida, and I was able to slip away from work on Thursday afternoon so that I could spend the evening with them before their Friday flight home. As we ate dinner together that night, with four generations of family members present at the table, I was indescribably thankful for the stories that were told, the laughs that were shared, and the love that filled that cozy kitchen.

Saturday was spent dawdling around Portland with the kids. We enjoyed a stroll down Alberta street and then popped into Helser’s for lunch. We waited longer than we expected for our food, but both girls were pleasantly patient – Elise was happy to color, and Morgan was happy to chew on Mitch’s keys (hey, whatever works…). And I embraced the opportunity to be in a restaurant and photograph something other than food (although my fluffy peach-laden German pancake was awfully pretty…).

After lunch and nap time and a number of persistent requests from Elise, my mom and I walked her over to the neighborhood park late in the afternoon. Temperatures were pushing 85 degrees, which is a bit of a heatwave for us Northwesterners, and so conditions were ideal for splashing around in the little water park. Mom and I sat on a bench and watched as Elise frolicked through the fountains, filling up her little plastic cups with water and then dumping them on the ground over and over and over (kids have the oddest forms of self-entertainment). Then we pushed her on the swings, teeter-tottered for awhile, and eventually let that little bundle of 3 year-old energy wear us out, before heading back to the house for dinner.

Friday evening and Saturday morning were full of mellow family-time at home. There’s so much joy to be found just in sitting on the couch and reading a book to Elise, or laying on the floor with Morgan while she giggles and chews on whatever toy she has at hand. She is quite possibly the sweetest baby in the entire history of babies. She smiles and cuddles without limit – one look from her and you will feel like the sun has changed its course to shine directly on you. I find myself surprised by how much I have come to adore these girls; I knew that being an auntie is a special thing, but I don’t think I realized my heart’s capacity for loving these little people that I only see every couple of months and that are just coming to know me.

And with one last round of hugs, it was time for me to hit the long, dusty trail back to Seattle. These dang good-byes just keep getting harder and harder…

It was a weekend full of so much goodness, from the overladen table of Indian food we plowed through with Jason and Nancy on Friday night, to the salmon we pulled off the grill for dinner just a couple of hours ago.  And all kinds of summertime perfection in between…

I told Shane on Saturday morning that I was in the mood for an adventure – the sun was shining, our day was wide open, and I was itching to do something out of the ordinary.  However, inspiration wasn’t striking me, and so I figured I’d settle for a stroll down to our favorite ice cream shop for a scoop of salted caramel ice cream (life on the edge!) and a glass of wine on the back patio.  There are worse ways to spend a summer afternoon…  But Shane had bigger, better plans brewing, and as soon as I made it back from my morning run, I was given direct orders to take a quick shower, grab a blanket and a book, and hop in the car.  We were heading east, bound for Rattlesnake Lake for an afternoon picnic by the water.  Not too shabby, for a last-minute mini-getaway!

We spent hours laying on our blanket in the shade, feeling little spots of sunlight make their way through the canopy of leaves overhead.  Shane dodged each ray like it was a laser-beam (he overheats easily), but I was in sunshiny heaven.

We made a couple of pit-stops on the way back to Seattle (one for a mini-spree at the Banana Republic outlet in North Bend, then another for self-serve fro-yo at Yogurtland), and arrived home with just enough time to squeeze in a solid nap before dinner.  It’s surprising how sleepy an afternoon of lounging/eating/shopping can make you (or maybe I’m just lazy?).

We spent last night with our friends Jordan and Belinda – they are moving out of the country in a few weeks and needed some help emptying their liquor cabinet before they skip town.  Shane, being the selfless and giving friend that he is, was quick to offer his cocktail-consuming services.  We kicked off the night with Cadillac margaritas, and I wish I’d snapped a photo before we sipped (er…slurped) them all down.  They really were a thing of beauty – if summer could be captured in a single drink, I think it would be in that fresh, citrusy glass of Tequila-laced goodness.  We sat around the table for hours, chatting and drinking and snacking on the lemon tart I picked up from Whole Foods.  Shane has a new appreciation for Tequila.  And for friends like Jack that let him off the hook when he’s not quite feeling up for a previously-scheduled Sunday morning training run.

I spent much of today in the office (a total travesty), but whipped through my deadline to-do’s quickly enough to still enjoy a couple of sunny hours sitting on the back patio and working in the yard (I suppose the one unfortunate by-product of all this sun is the couple of neglected, dried-out plants that needed replacing in our back planter).  An evening jog down to the lake, dinner on the grill, and it was time to say so long to another lovely summer weekend.  Cheers!  And, sigh…

We spent this weekend keeping tradition alive, taking part in our fourth annual c-group camping trip.  We all piled into our cars on Friday afternoon, and by sundown we had set up our own little tent city in Larrabee State Park as sixteen of us gathered around the campfire to kick off a weekend of eating, lounging, laughing, and outdoors-ing.  Shane threw a whole slew of bratwursts on the grill for dinner, and thus, the feeding frenzy began (good thing I’d spent the previous three days eating light…).

The rest of the night was full of s’mores, beer, and campfire chat.  Is there any better way to spend a summer evening in the Pacific Northwest?

The fire did double duty all weekend, as both heat source and food cooker.  We roasted, toasted, grilled, and flame-broiled, at morning and at night.  Flame-toasted bagels for breakfast?  Mmmm-hmmm…

After breakfast, we headed over to the little stretch of beach near the campground for playtime.  The agenda:  frisbee-tossing, wiffle ball, rock-skipping, lounging.

Shane was thrilled to discover that his best little buddy, the G-man, is a fellow rock-skipper.

We headed back to the campsite for lunch, and then staked out a spot in a nearby field where the boys (and the athletically-inclined women) could play a game of football, while the less-inclined women could stretch out on the sidelines in the sun.  I’ll give you one guess as to which group I was in…

All that playing put us in the mood for Happy Hour and so we headed down the road for a round of super-fresh oysters at Taylor Shellfish. Sprinkled with lemon juice and paired with a glass (er…red plastic cup) of white wine, these were perfect.  One slurp and I was rethinking my long-held oyster-aversion.  Maybe it was the scenery, maybe it was the smell of salt-water wafting through the air, or maybe it was the company of such good friends, but wowsers, those were some tasty little suckers.

The rest of the evening was passed back at the campsite.  Shane spent some quality time with his other little buddy, Zebo, Jack grilled a chicken and veggie-kebob dinner that rivaled the meals we’re able to prepare at home in our fully-equipped kitchen, and we toasted marshmallows and told stories until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer (all of that chillin’ had me tuckered out).

It seemed we were all a little reluctant to leave this morning – it was hard to coax Brian, Shane, and Nicole (that’s her feet) out of their tree-anchored cocoons (I’m adding a hammock to the REI wishlist).

We sat around the campfire talking until check-out rules required us to begrudgingly break down camp and let the fire die (but not until we’d ended  s’mores smack-down: round 3, in which Jack completely changed the game with a bacon-chocolate-marshmallow creation).

I’m washing the smoke smell out of my clothes with a sigh tonight, knowing it will be a year before we’re able to embark on another weekend like this one.  There’s some solace in knowing that I’ll shortly be drifting off to sleep in our soft, cozy bed, but there’s also quite a bit of sadness in knowing that toasted marshmallows aren’t on the menu for breakfast tomorrow…

Clearly, I love summer. I love basking in the sun, wearing tank tops and flip-flops, watching our garden grow. I really love ice cream, bratwursts hot of the grill,  and generous pours of white wine…  Fresh berries, crisp salads, and tall glasses of ice water are on the list, too, but my ice cream to lettuce ratio has been on the high side lately, leaving me feeling slow, tired, and a little…soft.  Most days, I tend to eat whatever I want, figuring that any not-so-healthy cravings are generally balanced by my healthy cravings and my regimen of regular exercise.  But somewhere along the way (probably right around my second ice cream bar and third glass of wine as I sat on the patio last weekend), I got off-balance, and have been feeling the need for a healthy reset.  I’m not one to diet, since self-denial is not one of my strong suits, but I am on board with new ways to increase my vita-intake, so I decided on Monday night to bust out the juicer I borrowed from La Verne last week and give it a whirl.  I got home from my run and tossed a few stalks of kale, a lemon, an apple, and a handful of grapes into the juicer, and wow!  Holy Green Juice, Batman!

I’m sure the boost I felt was psycholgical as much as it was biological, but I felt great.  So great, in fact, that I decided to embark on a little produce-intensive ‘detox’ for the rest of the week.  I’ve been replacing my morning breakfast (usually an Americano and a granola bar or muffin) with a tall glass of fresh-made green juice, and have replaced my lunch (usually a sandwich and chips from home, or calorie-rich Thai or Mexican take-out) with a heaping plate of fresh fruits and veggies.  I thought about trying a raw dinner as well, but I’ve really wanted a hearty, hot meal at the end of the past couple of days, so I’ve been making veggie stir-frys with brown rice after work, followed by a handful of berries for something sweet.  This is only a three-day trial, as a life without coffee or dessert sounds incredibly tragic, but I’ll carry a few of this week’s habits with me as I move forward.  I’ve got my eye on a juicer of our very own, and hope to make use of it at least four or five times a week.  I’ll (try) to limit my evening rummagings in our well-stocked chocolate bowl.  And I might let my friend Donna convince me to embark on a hard-core juice fast someday.  But I’ll also eat ice cream on hot days, order a latte when I want an afternoon boost, and visit our favorite pizza place when the mood strikes me, ’cause giving up that stuff?  That’s just crazy talk.

Our love affair with summer in Seattle continues…  Shane and I started our Saturday with morning runs (mine being a leisurely 3-mile jog around Jefferson Park, his being a 10-mile trek to Mercer Island and back), and then spread out a blanket at the park around the corner from us to catch the Blue Angels air show that happens as part of SeaFair every year.  I love this event – it’s loud, and it causes traffic, and it blocks our access to the lake for a couple of days, but the feeling of ‘wow!’ you get when you see those four planes fly right over your head in perfect formation is pretty spectacular.  As you get older, it seems that there are fewer things that really make you ‘ooh and ahh’ anymore, but these pilots never fail induce that childlike wonder in me.  And…that was really the extent of the day’s excitement – I passed the rest of the afternoon reading/dozing on the back patio.  And catching up on a few Grey’s Anatomy re-runs (seriously, how crazy was the end of season 6!?).  Good stuff.

After spending much of today indoors at a volunteer event, I was itching to get out and sun-soak this evening.  Shane suggested Lincoln Park in West Seattle – since we live so close to Lake Washington, I often forget about all the great places to walk along the shores of the Puget Sound, and look what I’ve been missing out on!

It was a perfect evening for a sunset stroll.  We walked, we chatted, we sat on a log and watched the fishermen throw their final casts of the day, and we wondered, is there anywhere more ideal than Seattle in the summer?