Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: The Death Cure

I just recently finished The Death Cure by James Dashner, which is the third and final book in The Maze Runner Trilogy. The books are young-adult dystopian science fiction and I think Amazon originally recommended them to me because I absolutely loved The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. This is a super fun adventure book and although it's written for young adults I really enjoyed it.

Throughout the series Thomas, the main character, has been battling WICKED (World In Catastrophe, Killzone Experiment Department). He knows that Wicked can't be trusted, but in this book they say that the time for lies is over and that they've collected all they can from the Trials and now they must rely on the children who have been a part of the experiment to help them with their ultimate mission. The kids will have their memories restored and complete a final voluntary test to help complete a blueprint that will cure a pandemic that is destroying the world.

However, Thomas remembers more than Wicked would like, and he knows he can't believe a word of what they say. The truth is actually very dangerous, and the book is filled with Thomas and his friends' adventures trying to escape and defeat Wicked for (hopefully) the final time.

Total guilty pleasure, and I think I finished the book in only a day or two. I'd highly recommend this series and I also just found out that Dashner is currently working on a prequel called The Kill Order that is scheduled to publish in August 2012.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Giving Thanks

We hope that everyone had an absolutely fantastic Thanksgiving with all of their friends and loved ones. Stewart and I went down to his dad's house in Vancouver this year. Sometimes I dread Thanksgiving because I know that no matter where we are invited, we'll need to bring something to share. And being the terrible cook that I am, this concept of etiquette always manages to provoke intense feelings of anxiety for me. Other people always bring such amazing and delicious recipes, and it makes me feel like anything I could bring would just look and taste sad by comparison.

However, last summer at work Stew discovered this amazing recipe called Cowboy Caviar, and it became one of our absolute favorite foods. We made it once at the lake and Stew's dad and his wife became huge fans, so this year they asked us to bring it to Thanksgiving as an appetizer. Yay! Finally, something yummy that I could actually make myself! I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Cowboy Caviar is really only good when it's extra fresh, so we stopped and grabbed all the ingredients once we got to Vancouver, and on Thanksgiving morning (a few hours before the guests started to arrive) I began chopping everything up. This salsa-like dish has tomatoes, avocado, black-eyed peas, corn, green onion, garlic, a ton of cilantro and a delicious dressing to mix it all together.

It was kind of a Mexican style dish for Thanksgiving, but once people tried it they absolutely could not stop eating, so I was very proud of myself for delivering a successful appetizer. I know chopping doesn't necessarily constitute cooking, but hey it was a big step up for me! We normally just show up with Martinelli's apple cider and a store bought pie or something.

We are very thankful for everyone in our lives, and we wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Review: Unbroken

What a pleasant surprise! I would never typically pick up a World War II survival story, and frankly I was kind of dreading reading this book for my office book club. Oh, how wrong I was. Fantastic, Fascinating. Gripping. It sucked me in from the very fist page!

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, is the true story of a boy who starts out as a delinquent, becomes an Olympic runner, goes to war, and puts his life back together after the war ends. The tale takes you through his life from child to old man and especially focuses on his remarkable stamina and courage as a Japanese POW. You meet his family, friends, enemies, and fellow soldiers throughout who are affected by his life.

The Pacific side of World War II was not previously something I really knew anything about, and the way that the author, Laura Hillenbrand, brings Louis Zamperini's experiences to life is absolutely amazing. I found myself again and again thinking, "Could ANYTHING else happen to this man?!"

Please do not miss out on this unforgettable tale! It really is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Movember Birthday Party

Movember is an annual, month-long event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November (to raise awareness and funds for men's health issues), and Stew and his friends are taking it very seriously this year. On Saturday they all took their moustaches out on the town to celebrate the birthday of one of our best friends, Carissa. We always have a blast with this group, and of course the night was no exception...

Happy Birthday, Carissa!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wedding Update

We're making lots and lots of progress toward our wedding! Here's a brief update:
  • I've been seeing a personal trainer for about a month now, and I'm feeling fantastic and starting to see results! Four more months in the gym and I should have my bikini bod ready for the Bahamas.
  • We booked our honeymoon to Atlantis and we leave the Monday after the wedding! We are SO excited (and extremely overdue) for this tropical vacation! Nine days of relaxation and recovery...
  • We met with and hired an officiant to perform our wedding ceremony.
  • After quite a bit of research and brainstorming about what I want for flowers, we met with a florist to hash out the details. I LOVED what she came up with so we booked her! I am going to have a hand-tied bouquet of green hydrangea, green tea roses, white lisianthus, dark purple/blue anemone, blue delphinium and green ranunculus accented with peacock feathers and finished with a white satin ribbon. Stew's boutonniere will have three green dendrobium orchids, blue delphinium and a peacock feather, (stems wrapped in white ribbon). The bridesmaid and groomsmen flowers will be variations of those and the centerpieces will be natural Manzanita branches in black boxes with river rocks covering top and green dendrobium orchids affixed to branches. I really think it's going to be just lovely!
  • My sister and I spent some more time at the hotel and we booked an absolutely amazing suite on the top floor of the hotel (with wraparound city views!) for various activities throughout the weekend: Friday night bridesmaid hangout, Saturday wedding night suite, and Sunday morning brunch location. 
  •  We finally registered! Our honeymoon registry is complete and we also spent many, many hours at Macy's this weekend shopping for our dream items. I brought my mom along for advice... since I still don't know how to cook I felt like I had no idea what I might need later in life (should I ever learn...!)
  • I picked up some fantastic items (on a mega sale!) that will be part of our gift to the bridesmaids, and now I'm really excited to shop for the rest!
  • My wedding shoes are here! I was really struggling to find the perfect kelly green shoes for the wedding, so I ended up saying a prayer and custom ordering some from Etsy. I was really scared because I had no idea if they would fit right or be comfortable, but they arrived last week and are absolutely perfect, I couldn't be more happy... Here they are shown in blue, but of course mine are green.
So lots of stuff is happening, and we're really excited (as evidenced by all those exclamation points in that last part! We still have lots of things to cross off the list but I think we're right on track and with less than four months left to go everything is starting to feel very real.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: A Prayer for Owen Meany

I spend a lot of time waiting around while I was serving jury duty, so it's not surprising that I was able to finish a book during all those long hours of "hurry up and wait."

Over the past couple years I've read a couple different novels by John Irving. The first was The World According to Garp, which is hands down one of my favorite books of all time. Then this past summer I read another one of his novels, A Widow for One Year, which was also very, very good. I just love Irving's random crazy plots and his well-written, lovable characters. And I don't know a better way to explain it except that his writing is very... SMART. At one point in the middle of Garp I realized I was reading a story within a story within a story... and still following along just fine! Considering how much I loved the first two novels, I was very excited to read A Prayer for Owen Meany.

It tells the story of John Wheelwright and his best friend Owen Meany growing up together in a small New England town during the 1950-60s. Owen is a remarkable boy in many ways; he believes himself to be God's instrument and journeys on a truly extraordinary path. Once again the settings, characters and plot was extremely interesting and well-written, but for some reason I had a much harder time getting into this book. It took me almost a month to get through, and I just never looked forward to picking it up... it seemed like more of a chore to get over with. If it hadn't been for jury duty it probably would have taken me another month to finish it. I was so disappointed!

Perhaps The World According to Garp just set such high standards for me that no other novels can ever live up to it. However, considering that I DID really like A Widow for One Year, I think I'll probably give John Irving a second chance... I hear that The Cider House Rules is really good, and I did like the movie!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veteran's Day, Uncle Dean

Today is 11/11/11, Veteran's Day, and I'm thinking a lot about my Uncle Dean, whose funeral I attended yesterday. Dean served in the Vietnam War and returned to the states to marry my Aunt Colleen and live a quiet life in Lacey, WA with his family. I never knew my uncle very well... he was very quiet, always in the background of family events, never saying much but quick to smile or laugh at the conversations of others.  

My Uncle Dean was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and the past year was very rough on the family, especially for his wife and their daughter, Bianca, who is only in high school. When Dean passed away this month my heart ached for my aunt and cousin. But it wasn't until the funeral that I was truly touched by this man I had never really gotten to know. Handsome and rugged, he was a "quiet cowboy" who carried himself with strength and dignity. He was fiercely loyal to his wife and daughter and their family photos are filled with love and laughter. I think I was simply too self involved as a child to notice these things, which now seem so admirable and precious.

I feel sad that I didn't know my uncle better, but I am so thankful that my aunt and my cousin knew and loved this man so dearly. I feel so deeply for their loss, and my thoughts and love are with them every day during this difficult time.

What I have learned from this experience is not to take the people in your life for granted. Today, take just a moment to get to know someone in your life better. Or thank a veteran for their service to our country. You never know when you might not get a second chance.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jury Duty... Again?!

Some people go their entire lives without being called, but I somehow managed to once again spend the past week of my life serving jury duty. This time I was summoned to the King County Superior Court, and unlike my last round, things started happening almost immediately.

After watching a short video and filling out some forms, I was called with 60 other people into a courtroom for jury selection. The trial would be a criminal case of child molestation and child rape... by the victims' father. Wow. I was horrified by the accusations, and fascinated wondering how the trial would play out in this type of a case. I've always been fascinated by our legal system, even more so since I finished the Paralegal Certification Program at UW about a year and a half ago.

We sat through a couple hours of questioning and then returned after lunch for jury selection. Both attorneys started dismissing people for cause right and left. Every time someone in the main box of jurors was dismissed, someone from the gallery seats was brought up to take their place. Suddenly it was my turn, and as I took my new seat the judge announced that selections were complete. I was officially juror #2.

For the next two days I arrived at the courtroom by 8:45am and joined the other jurors in a tiny room behind the courtroom. Around 9am we were led out to sit through about an hour or two of witness testimony (court inevitably started late each day), followed by a 15 minute (often much longer) morning break, then a lunch break (between 1.5 to 2 hours), then another hour or two of witness testimony followed by an afternoon break (at least 15 minutes, if not more) and finally trial would conclude for the day somewhere between 3pm and 4pm. Are you getting the idea that we took a lot of breaks? I would love to have this schedule at my real job! Instead, I happened to be assigned to jury duty right when my office was super slammed, so every day at lunch and when we were done with court for the day I raced up to my office four blocks away to sneak in an hour or two of work. It was all pretty exhausting.

Even though the trial seemed to be taking an extra long time because half of the witnesses did not speak English and required translators, we actually concluded ahead of schedule and soon it was time to deliberate. After listening to the entire case and testimonies of all the witnesses, I had a good idea of which way my vote would go, but I was really looking forward to experiencing the deliberation process. However, it was at this point that I was selected as an alternate juror, and excused from the courtroom! Apparently the courts always have 14 jurors sit through cases and then randomly select two alternates who are not required to deliberate. I felt as though I had read almost an entire book only to find that the pages of the last chapter were ripped out!

Back to work I went.

Later the next day the court called to inform me that the defendant had been found guilty on all counts (raping and molesting two of his four daughters). I felt relieved because that's the verdict I would have chosen, but I still wonder how things unfolded in the jury room... I guess I'll never know.

So at this point I have been selected as a juror twice in the past three years, and I must say that I feel I've served my civic duty for a while... it's someone else's turn!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Buckley's Brunch

There are few things I enjoy as much as weekend brunch with friends. Even though breakfast food isn't my favorite I just love lounging out of bed, into comfy clothes, and across town to the latest and/or greatest brunch place. I can literally spend hours just hanging out drinking mimosas and Bloody Marys while eating delicious greasy food and reminiscing about the night before or just gossiping and catching up. It's the perfect way to start a lazy Sunday.

Buckley's on Queen Anne has long been one of my favorite go-to brunch places, ever since Stew used to live almost directly across the street. And I've often said that they have the best Bloody Marys in the city. They are HUGE and come with tons of shrimp and vegetables, as well as a beer back on the side. Plus they have an ever changing delicious menu that never fails to satisfy even the worst of hangovers.

I recently suggested meeting up for brunch with my friends Tara and Andrew, and we realized it had been far too long since the last time we'd experienced Buckley's, so we set a date. It was everything I dreamed it would be...

Tara and I ALWAYS start off brunch with delicious Bloody Marys.

This time I went with Black Bean Chilaquiles, a
a black bean & pepper jack scramble between crispy tortillas,
topped with tomatillo sauce.

Tara decided on an absolutely HUGE breakfast burrito with
fried potatoes on the side.

But Andrew really took the cake when he braved ordering the
Deep-Fried PB&J... he let me try a bite and it was exactly
as dreamy as you would imagine...
Seriously, brunch really is one of my all-time favorite things, so if you ever wake up some lazy weekend morning and you're looking for a buddy, think of me (and Stew)!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Goodbye Husky Stadium

The company I work for is the developer for the Husky Stadium renovation, which begins this fall. To celebrate the project moving forward, we planned a tailgating event for our team at the last football game before the stadium is torn down. Stew and I met up with everyone for the tailgate at Husky Soccer Stadium, north of the football stadium, and ate lots of yummy tailgate themed food while we drank delicious keg beer and played bean bag toss... all staples of the true tailgating experience!

Since Stew and I went to Western, we aren't rabid Husky fans, but we do like football and hanging out with friends, so we ended up having a super good night even though the evening game served up FREEZING temperatures... but nothing that a little whiskey couldn't take care of!

One last look at Husky Stadium...
Now that we're about to begin "rebuilding the tradition" things are going to get very busy for me at work, but that's okay because this should be a really fun project to work on. Go Dawgs!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Restaurant Review: RN74

I had been meaning to catch up with a couple of my girlfriends for ages, but because we're all so busy we decided to do a power lunch a while back. Sheena suggested trying a newer Seattle restaurant, RN74. According to the web site the restaurant serves regional French cuisine punctuated with seasonal, fresh ingredients and bold flavors, all executed with a signature original twist. I always love trying out a new place, and catching up with old friends is an added bonus, so I was really looking forward to lunch.

We were seated in a private booth and I immediately loved the atmosphere and although the service was sort of slow, but decent, and we loved our food...

I thought the menus and the table settings were really cute.

I couldn't resist ordering the Roasted Mad Hatcher Chicken
because it came with truffled mac 'n' cheese - my favorite!

Sheena decided on the Painted Hills Beef Burger with
emmentaler cheese, roasted mushrooms, and rosemary fries.
Even though the prices were somewhat high for lunch and the service wasn't super amazing, the atmosphere and the food were awesome, so I would go back. And I would definitely recommend RN74 as a great place to take guests or clients.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Taco Truck!

For years I have seen taco trucks popping up all over Seattle, but for some reason I seem to be the only person in the city who hasn't experienced this strange mobile dining phenomenon. Until now...

Stew and I finally decided to try out El CamiĆ³n in Ballard. The truck is located just past the Ballard Bridge, kind of tucked back behind Safeway. Oh man... I had no idea what I was missing!

Stewart deciding which delicious dishes to order...

The Truck.

I love a good salsa bar...
(made daily w/ fresh ingredients and authentic chilies)

Plato Mexicano w/ carne asada, corn tortillas,
rice & beans and pico de gallo - $8.00

(huge!) Burrito - $6.85 and Fish Tacos - $4.00
Everything was amazingly fresh and delicious... I can't believe it took me so long to discover taco trucks!! Taco del Mar totally just lost a customer...