Rapid Fire Update

I’ve been feeling in a bloggy mood lately, which inspired me to peek back at this sorely neglected outlet for my ramblings.  Boy, has it been a while!  Since I last wrote in this forum, I have turned 32, gotten another Stitch Fix, cooked many meals, switched up my work schedule, started to actually enjoy running (gasp), ran my first 5k, gotten pregnant, and popped out what is arguably the cutest child in the universe.  You guys, it’s been busy.  It has also been awesome!

I think it’s time to dust off this blog, and do some more writing.  *cracks knuckles* Let’s do this!

 

Musings with a headache

Today was my day off.  Yes, it is a Wednesday.  But today is my Saturday because I am working on the real Saturday this week.  Some Wednesdays I have grand plans of getting things done and give into laziness instead.  Some Wednesdays I actually accomplish things that make me feel like a real live grown up instead of a kid trapped in a 30 year old’s life.  Then there was today: the day of the headache. 

Now, in spite of the fact that I am clearly complaining about headaches, I do not mean to belittle the pain of any unlucky souls who get migraines.  I don’t get those.  What I do get are sinus headaches.  Which can bring their own fun to the game because typically you can’t bend over without having to brace yourself against a wall and wait for the pounding to pass.  No flashing lights, no nausea, no light or sound sensitivity, just a difficulty with gravity and a desire to be non-functional till it passes.  Today’s headache was probably not helped by the fact that I am trying to wean myself off a wicked Starbucks habit and have gone caffeine free for two full days.  Or the fact that I’m also trying to like red wine to fool people into thinking I’m sophisticated so I had a big ol’ glass of some 14 Hands Red Blend last night with dinner.

So instead of going to CrossFit and running errands today, I drained the battery on my phone by laying on the couch with a cat on my chest and watching YouTube videos.  Eventually I was able to sit up without wanting to cry or having to hold my hands around my head to keep my brains from springing forth from my forehead like Athena from Zeus.  The headache receded into the background of dull throbbing and, thanks to the combination of Sudafed and Excedrin, my arms didn’t feel quite connected to my body anymore.  I was ready to tackle the day….at 2pm.  I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and had a small heart attack before realizing that the scary looking hobo that had wandered into my house was, in fact, me.

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Talen is pleased by my lack of mobility. He doesn't care that I look like an angry hobo as long as I hold still.

So what did I accomplish today?  Let’s make a list:

* Made the laziest dinner ever.  I threw a can of beans, a can of corns, a can of tomatoes, some chicken boobs, some seasoning (including a ranch packet), and a jar of homemade salsa into the crockpot and stuck a brick of cream cheese on top.  Classy.

* Took the Swiffer sweeper to the living room because I was worried the dust bunnies would rise up and eat one of the dogs.  So I guess you could say I saved a life.

* Swapped the dishwasher because our kitchen was starting to look as scary as I looked in the mirror.

* Did a load of laundry so that I could have pants for work the rest of the week.  Today, pants are overrated, but tomorrow I think they will be required.

* Took a shower and shaved my legs primarily as an excuse to stay in the shower longer.

* Edited some of my NaNo book and entirely cut out a huge plot point after deciding that it was crap and did exactly nothing to advance my story.  This was simultaneously liberating and frightening.  But probably necessary.

I guess I wasn’t an entire waste of space after all.  Nearly, but not quite.  Win!

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Talen keeps it classy.

Paella is Spanish for “Really really delicious”

I almost put an expletive in my post title.  But I restrained myself.  For the children.

This is just a quickie post.  More of a recipe review than a true cooking post because this dish came to me from the pages of the latest Rachael Ray magazine.

Shiny children, may I present to you: Crock Pot Paella

Paella is one of those many dishes that pop up in every country of ever that trace their origins to hard working peasants who want something warm, satisfying, and easy to throw together at the end of the day (or mid-day.  Mid-day meals are big with peasants, right?).  Something that feeds a crowd.  If you think of it, I bet you can come up with a couple of these dishes from all corners of the globe.  Globe-corners.

Paella is from Spain.  It is full of spice and delight.  It took minimal work on my part and came out looking extremely fancy and tasted like spicy little angels were singing on my shoulder.  I am including the recipe below with my own annotations.  No offense to Rachael Ray.

Ingredients:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I refuse to call it EVOO.  Typing it just now doesn’t count)
  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized chunks
  • 3 tsp smoked paprika (divided)
  • 2 cups short-or medium-grain rice, such as Arborio
  • One 14.5 ounce can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a chardonnay that I had on hand.  Lush.)
  • One 8 ounce package cured chorizo, thinly sliced (I had a 6 oz package, and used Spanish chorizo.  People who are in the know about such things tell me that Spanish chorizo and Mexican chorizo are entirely different beasts, so make an effort to find some legitimate Spanish chorizo in honor of those hard working Spanish peasants who started this whole thing).
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (I probably used 5 cloves.  Because: garlic)
  • A pinch saffron (The original recipe claims this is optional.  It is not.  Saffron is more expensive than gold but it is worth buying a tiny envelope of this stuff.  You basically use it a pinch at a time and it adds complex flavor and amazing color to whatever you use it in)
  • 1 tablespoon salt (seems like a lot.  It works though)
  • 2 cups thawed frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges (I am not a “squeeze lemons onto my food” person, but believe me when I tell you that you should probably go ahead and buy that lemon to squeeze over your Paella.  Plus to looks extra fancy to have a little bowl of lemon wedges at the table with your giant vat of Paella)

Instructions:

  • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and add in the chicken chunks in a single layer.  Sprinkle them with a bit of salt and pepper, then 1.5 tsp of the smokey paprika.  Your kitchen already smells like heaven.  Turn those puppies periodically until they get a bit browned (~5 minutes).  Side note here: thanks to the paprika it is nearly impossible to tell “golden brown chicken” color, so I settled for “Somewhat cooked on the outside” and used the 5 minutes as my guide.
  • Transfer the chicken to the crock pot with a slotted spoon (leaving the juices in the pan) then add in the uncooked rice, onion and garlic.  The original recipe called for just tossing the onion and garlic into the crock pot, but I don’t truck with non-sauteed onion.  Especially when I already have a pan going.  When I do this recipe again (and I will) I will probably also sautee the chroizo slices to give them a bit more crispiness.  Back to the rice.  Stir the rice over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes.  The original recipe says “until golden” but again, the paprika makes that determination nigh impossible.  Just go for about 3 minutes.
  • Dump the rice/onion/garlic into the crock pot with the chicken and add the rest of the paprika, the saffron, the salt, the chicken broth, the wine, and the tomatoes.  Stir well.  Cook on high for 2 hours or until the rice is tender.  My rice still had a bit of al dente bite to it by the end, but maybe that’s because the shortest setting on my crock pot is 4 hours?  Hard to say.  But the traditional dish is actually supposed to form a crust of rice at the bottom of the bowl during cooking, so we deemed the al dente-ness acceptable.
  • Stir in the peas, cover, and let sit for another 10 minutes to let the peas heat through (and, in my case, finish thawing).
  • Serve family style to many hungry people with fresh chopped flat-leafed parsley and those lemon wedges.  We also had crusty bread on hand and an Italian rosé because we are pretending to be fancy wine people.

This serves a lot of people.  We fed 6 in total, 5 of whom took seconds, and I still had enough in the pot for two lunches.  It is just as good heated up for lunch the next day, especially if you tuck a couple lemon wedges in your lunch box…

Post Nano Update

Last time I made an entry on this blog, I was embarking into the world of frantic novel writing known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  Over the course of November, I and more than 300,000 others, embarked on a grand writing adventure.  Our goal was to write 50,000 words over the 30 days of November.  For anyone counting, that’s 1,667 words per day to make the deadline and count yourself a “winner.”

It was a rough road.  I had days where I wrote nothing, and more days where I would get home late from work, make and eat dinner, and somehow pound out a few hundred words.  But never enough.  Never really keeping up with that target of 1,667 words.  Even so, my husband was starting to show the signs of becoming a NaNo widow.  I’ve already put him through the hell of being a vet school widow, and here I was putting him through a month of intense writing sessions where I paid little attention to anyone around me.  Very similar to vet school, really.  Lots of tea.  Lots of teeth gnashing.  Lots of procrastinating.  Lots of swearing.  Less tears, though.

Over the course of the month my story evolved from the D&D Noir mystery I had started with and became much more fantasy driven.  Demons are involved.  Personal and otherwise.  My characters surprised me with their words and actions.  Many times during November I would send a text to my mom that said something along the lines of “Apparently my character can do such and such!” or “I just had a dwarf wander into my story.  Who knew?”  I dragged my mom with me on this journey, by the way.  I messaged her right before starting to tell her what I would be up to this month and she let it slip that she had tried doing NaNo many years ago and never finished.  So I bullied her into starting with me because I’m a good daughter.  Plus my mom is pretty creative and I would love to read her books someday.  It only became weird when we discovered we were both thinking about cozy mysteries set in our town with the same site for the murder to take place.  I don’t know what that says about the way our minds work, but we both decided to take a different direction.  Perhaps that lonely spot above the ferry will be left unbloodstained.  For now.

It came to pass that on the very last day of NaNo, a Saturday, I found myself teetering on the precipice of failure.  I had 8,136 words left to write in order to win.  More than I had managed to write in a single weekend, let alone a single day leading up to this.  But it was not such an insurmountable amount that I could tell myself it was okay to give myself a pass and be proud of the 42,000-odd words I had already done.  In short, it was doable if I put my nose to the grindstone and just powered through it.  So that’s what I did.  I took a small break in the middle of the day so we could get a Christmas tree and eat lunch and the rest of the time I was writing.  Even when the dull ache of an oncoming cold started nagging at me, and when it became more than a dull ache as drainage made my throat feel like I was swallowing barbed wire…I wrote.  And at around 8:30 at night I wearily copied my text into the validator (I was doing this every few minutes at the point because the program I was using doesn’t do work counting on tablets and I wanted to see those words tick away) I was stunned to see a large banner declaring “WINNER” sprawl across the page.  I stared at it for a minute, looked up to see my word count sitting at an official 50,013 words, and started half laughing half crying.  Andrew may have feared briefly for my sanity as I sat there, hands covering my mouth, staring and laughing in disbelief.

I had done it!  Against all odds of my own laziness, I had finished more than 50k words in 30 days!  So I did what any rational person would do: I went to the bathroom and then we went out for an exhausted sore throat late night dinner to celebrate.

Am I done?  Oh no.  My story has been sitting neglected in the aftermath of November, but it isn’t finished.  I need to pick up my characters and finish their story.  I owe it to them and to me.  And then I will start editing.  Go back and find those sections where I was slogging rather than flying and make them better.  Probably take out the random kitten that showed up in chapter four.  And MAYBE…maybe.  Someday.  I will get my story published.  It seems impossible, but then again, so did 50,000 words in 30 days.

NaNoWriMo 2013: Let’s Get This Thing Started!

It came to my attention lately that I just turned 30.  Some people who are more organized than I am may have done a pre-30 bucket list.  But I am not that person!  Oh no. I am starting on my “woah, I just turned 30 maybe I should step out of my comfort zone and do some stuff” list.

One of my secret ambitions (less secret now, I guess) was to someday write a book.  Not necessarily the next great American novel; I’m aiming more towards the crappy murder mystery that you read in less than 48 hours on a cozy, rainy weekend level of literature.  Sidenote: I am learning more about subgenres and apparently that type of mystery is referred to as a “cozy mystery.”  Which is nicer than my version.

Well I have here my new keyboard so I can blog more and potentially write that cozy American novel.  All I need is the gumption to get started!  And it turns out there is a whole month dedicated to people like me who want to write and aren’t sure how to get started.  This event is called “NaNoWriMo,” or National Novel Writing Month.  For the whole month of November, introverts and closet creatives challenge themselves to cram as much writing into a month as possible with the ultimate goal of completing 50,000 words.  These don’t have to be amazing and edited, they don’t have to be a completed novel…they just have to be there as a start.  And once you “win,” you can do with those words what you will.  Edit them into a piece of amazingness, reject them utterly, resolve to start again next year.

So that’s what I’m doing.  30 days, 50k words, wild abandon.  It’s on.

I was tossing around a novel set in my hometown in Poulsbo, though it rather creepily turns out that my mom and I were thinking about the exactly the same murder site.  So I’m abandoning that for now, with the option of doing a PJ Tracy-style collaboration with mom down the road.  Instead, I’m doing D&D Noir: where the demons haunting you from your past may be actual demons.

Wish me luck!

Stitch Fix October 2013

Warning: Girly post ahead.

Have you heard of Stitch Fix?  Because seriously it is amazing.  Stitch Fix is a personal styling company that every month (or as infrequently as you like- this is my second Fix in a year) sends you five clothing items based on your size and style preferences.  They also try to send you things that will push you a bit outside of your declared style boundaries.  You can try on all the items in the privacy of your own home, with good lighting, and with access to your own wardrobe to see how various pieces mix and match.  And you decide what to keep and what to send back!  They provide you with a prepaid package to return items in and you review all the items in your fix to tell them what you liked and didn’t like so they can take that into consideration for your next fix.  Each time they send you a Fix you are charged a $20 “styling fee” that acts as credit towards your purchase if you decide to keep any of the items, and if you decide to keep them all you get 25% off the whole kit and caboodle!  The items tend to be a bit pricey overall, so I keep this as an occasional treat to myself.

I ordered my most recent Fix just before my birthday and it came yesterday.  So exciting!!  Andrew declared himself to be “not a portrait photographer” so all I have are crappy cell phone photos to show off my goodies.  But just try to imagine everything all artfully posed under the amazing yellow tree in our yard.  Can you see it?  Good.

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Opening the box is very exciting because it is still a mystery what will be found inside.

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I would like to clarify that that is not my hairy arm opening the box. Andrew decided he needed to open it for me.

Once you pull everything out you find a personalized note from your stylist telling you why they sent you what they sent you.  Each piece also comes with a little card with styling suggestions.

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This month I got: A huge wrap/scarf that is supremely cozy and warm; an asymmetrical zip jacket that I love love love; slim bootcut jeans (in my style profile I requested that they never ever ever send me skinny jeans); a simple 3/4 sleeve cardigan in a lovely deep wine color; and a super cute fall colored dress with a flaring, burnt umber skirt, cream and brown stripes on top, and a button detail on the shoulder.

The jeans are tighter than I normally select for myself, and very comfortable.  They have a lot of stretch so I don’t moon anyone when I sit down.  I also like that while they aren’t what you normally think of as “colored denim,” they are also not the traditional blue jean color.  Alas, they are several inches too long for my short self.

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I rolled up the legs to show off my sweet new boots so you can't tell how long these are. But trust me: too long.

The jacket is so cozy and warm and I think I have pinned several similar jackets on Pinterest.  Side note: when you fill out your fashion profile you can tell them your username on Pinterest so they can look at your fashion board to help decide what to send you.  I hope they also enjoy infinity Doctor Who posts, because that may happen on my Pinterest…I think the jacket would have been even better in a nice jewel tone like red or teal, but I’m not going to reject this awesome jacket just because it is a comfortable gray.

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I promise that I'm having fun; I'm just concentrating really hard on not getting a blurry picture so my smile muscles are on hold.

The scarf is ginormous.  It is more like a half wrap/half scarf.  But it feels so soft and can be wrapped several different ways so I believe it has found a home in my scarf collection.  My name is Andrea, and I have a ton of scarves.  The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?  I am finding more and more that I am a sucker for deep jewel tones, and I think the stylists at Stitch Fix have my number on that one.

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Can't...smile...while...trying to...get picture...

The cardigan is nothing glamorous or what one may consider super fashionista item, but I love it.  I layer all the time and love how cardigans look. The material is soft and the color is gorgeous. This piece was a no-brainer keeper even before Talen jumped on me for a split second and covered it in white fur.  Thanks Talen.  There is a really good chance I will be wearing that cardigan almost constantly for a while.

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I love cardigans!

The dress was troublesome at first.  I pulled it out and immediately fell in love.  The fabric is heavy and the skirt flares out beautifully.  The colors are not what I would have chosen, but so autumnal and I think they look fairly good on my ghostly-white complexion.  I tried it on and it fit very nicely.  The only problem was me: I am short, with big boobs and hips.  And the shape of this dress combined with the shape of me made me feel like a squat hourglass.  But the more I paraded around the house trying it with different jackets and cardigans, the more I was assured by people I trust that it did not make me look like a busty oompa loompa.

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Not convinced

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ZOMG HOW CUTE IS IT WITH THIS JACKET?!

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Do burnt umber and teal work together? I think so.

This puts me in a quandary though: I was originally thinking I would send back the too-long-but-comfy jeans and the super-adorable-but-maybe-I-need-to-work-on-my-body-issues dress, and that would have been fine.  But thanks to that 25% off the whole order if you keep all 5 pieces bit, it now becomes more cost effective to keep the jeans and get the discount.  Maybe I can find someone to hem the jeans for my poor short self…

This also reminds me that maybe I need to do this more than twice a year (practically once a year actually.  I think my first fix was almost exactly a year ago).  Perhaps not monthly since my orders have been averaging around $200, but I think this particular expense counts as both entertainment AND clothing on the budget since I have so much fun covering my kitchen table with clothing and running through the house to try different combinations of clothing.  It is also nice to have grown up clothing since I primarily fill my wardrobe with stuff from Old Navy and novelty t-shirts.

My totally selfish conclusion is that if you want to try out Stitch Fix, you can say that I referred you and it gives me a credit on my account.  Think of the cardigans! Follow this Link to sign up for your own fix and help support my rare, girly activity.

Saying farewell to my 20s

My darling husband got me a sweet blue tooth keyboard for my tablet, which means I can actually write blog posts without getting carpal tunnel from trying to swype everything.  Lucky you?

They say that 30 is the new 20.  While I’m not 100% convinced of that, I’m certainly not having a 30-induced crisis.  Though I will admit that the approach of such a biiiiig rouuuund new decade of life has been giving me a small amount of heartburn since the start of September.

Fortunately, I was able to ease my transition to this brave new world of age and maturity by spending a lovely weekend in Leavenworth with friends and family.  I love Leavenworth.  Yes, it is a kitschy tourist town, but I enjoy the liederhosen, the beer steins, the oompa music, the wine tasting, the flavored mustards, the t-shirt shops, and the store that is all Christmas, all the time.  It is a town surrounded by Alpine-looking mountains, where even the McDonalds and Starbucks are cloyingly Bavarian.

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Starbucks image credit

We were joined in our Bavarian delight by Andrew’s brother Justin, his wife (and one of my best friends) Jen, and their imp of a daughter, Bekah.  Two of our favorite people from vet school, Steph and Dave, drove up all the way from Astoria OR with their 9 month old, Oliver, to experience the touristy splendor.  And a contingent of peeps from Yakima (Matt, Willie, and Emily) who took a day trip on Saturday to help guide my increasingly alcohol-soaked self from wine tasting to wine tasting.

I got off work right at 6 Friday night and dashed home like a mad person so we could drive right up to Leavenworth.  Andrew surprised me by booking us at our favorite hotel, right at the end of the main drag, near Icicle Creek Brewery, in an honest to God suite!  I tried to take pictures, but they didn’t do it justice.  Suffice it to say, I’m pretty sure that this is what being royalty feels like. We were in the “Grand Suite.”  And grand it was.  I did a little happy dance when we walked in.  We convened at Gustav’s for dinner and then turned in for the evening.

Saturday saw us beginning with a traditional breakfast and mimosas at Tumwater Inn which has not been redecorated in over 20 years.  But it is an Oktoberfest tradition in the Brauer family to start getting our drunk on amongst the fake pumpkins and lace-covered light fixtures.

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Then we took a tour through the hat shop.  I must say I was sorely disappointed by their lack of princess crowns.  I had grand plans of spending most of the weekend with an awesome birthday princess crown on my head, but ’twas not to be.

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Next we went to the above-pictured Starbucks to satisfy the caffiene needs of half the party and I got to hold Oliver long enough to get head-butted in the throat (he’s in the bob-and-lunge stage).  Then we went straight for the booze!  First wine tasting of the weekend was at the always-delicious Kestrel Winery.  This was our first wine tasting ever last year on our anniversary and it has served as the yard stick by which we judge all other wine tastings.  Last year we were introduced to the magic that is good port.  We were eager for whatever they might show us this time.  Things got off to a bit of a weird start when the lady who greeted us seemed to be quite taken aback by my joke that the two kids wanted wine slushees in a sippy cup.  I thought it was funny…  She quickly ushered our large and uncouth party to a back room where we were seated around a large and serious looking table to start our tasting.  Once the wine started coming, we were not disappointed.  Many tasty whites and reds, some reds that even those immature souls who don’t like red wine (me) liked.  Even though our wine tasting price covered 5 tastes per person, we ended up getting over 10 tastes each, in large part because we all started buying bottles of wine to take home so the nice man just kept filling our glasses with sangiovese while he rang us up.  We brought home the sangiovese and a nice pinot gris.

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The Yakima contingent arrived in time for lunch.  Jen and Steph took the kiddos for mid-day naps while Andrew, Dave, Justin, Emily, Willie, Matt, and myself wandered semi-drunkenly through the kitchen store to make fun of all the truly bizarre items therein (an egg-cuber?  That’s a thing?  Dave pointed out that he is just so tired of dealing with egg-shaped eggs).  Then Justin bought hoarhound candy (hint: it tastes like old people) and candy cigarettes (hint: it tastes like paper pretending to be bubble gum) and everyone decided they needed more beer at the Munchausen Beer Garden.  We made a second brief stop in the hat shop for the benefit of Matt, who had never been there before.

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This lead us to three more wineries for a whirlwind tasting tour.  In spite of the recommendations for wineries given to us by the Kestrel guy, I stubbornly insisted on trying Matterhorn winery because the sign looked cool.  I apologize to everyone for that suggestion, because although the labels were appealingly and the decor was sex-dungeon with bean bags, the wine was sadly just not good.  Like at all.  Sorry guys.  Needless to say, we didn’t buy any wine there.  Then we did what we should have done in the first place, and go to the wineries the Kestrel guy pointed out to us: Bergdorf and Baroness cellars.  These tasting rooms are on two different floors of the same store, which was handy for those of us who were getting steadily unsteadier.  Bergdorf was happily another win!  I honestly enjoyed one of their reds (a double cab) and I was honestly having a really hard time deciding if I wanted to buy their Reisling or their Purple Paw Huckleberry when they brought out the Gluhwein: so called Christmas in a bottle, it is a heavily spiced wine served warm that made my eyes burn with the spicy vapors rising from the glass.  It should come as no surprise that a bottle of this delight came back to Yakima with us.  Then we ventured (stumbled) upstairs to try out Baroness.  I don’t know if their wine just wasn’t as good or if I was too far gone to properly enjoy it.  Though their dessert wine was like drinking syrup (aka amazing.  I love sweet dessert wines) and the guy serving us was a microbiology student who was a dead ringer for Lenny Kravitz.  Maybe I should try them again when I am sober-er.  Fewer fruit flies in the air would also help; sadly, flies were the story of the weekend as they appeared to be taking over Leavenworth no matter where we were.

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Our Yakima friends left us after this and the rest of us reeled off to dinner at a little burger joint with fantastic sweet potato fries.  Then there was nothing left to do but lay around on the floor of our suite and chat.  Sunday was fairly abbreviated because the Kingston contingent needed to get back home in time to watch the Seahawks game and Steph and Dave had a 6 hour drive ahead of them to get back to Astoria. But we managed to squeeze in an excellent breakfast at Pavs, the crepe place, where I was desperately jealous of all the egg dishes (stupid egg intolerance) in spite of how tasty my pear crepe was. I also got in some last minute baby fix with sweet little Oliver.  And we bought some aged gouda, mango-ginger stilton, and coconut gouda at the Cheesemonger shop to help break in the world’s happiest cheese knives at my actual birthday dinner tomorrow!

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