duncandahusky: (Alton)
When last we left our intrepid crew, they had just crossed the border back into the United States on Friday, July 31.

Dinner to die for )

Our new (temporary) home! )

Wow, two entries and we're still in the first few days? I suspect the next few days will be summed up much more quickly, though they were still very enjoyable!

Coming Up: Rafting! Rafting! Rafting! Beer! Kayaking! Grilled Meat!
duncandahusky: (Default)

Originally published at Tom Brady's Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Wow, it’s been a crazy week since we got back, but I wanted to get a writeup of our Pacific Northwest Trip started in hopes that I’ll actually get the whole thing posted. For those coming in late, this trip was to celebrate linnaeus‘ 40th birthday, similar to the trip we made last year to Napa Valley to celebrate my 40th birthday. The trip was a lot of fun to plan, and I was very happy to see that it fit Linnaeus’ tastes well :-) As with my trip, although he knew the general area where we were going, the details of where we were staying and what we’d be doing were a secret.

On Thursday, July 30, I wrapped up work at lunchtime after a particularly hectic week. takaza knocked off work early as well, and we carpooled with roho and genet down to O’Hare Airport. There we met up with mirkowuff and Linnaeus. We got checked in easily (yay for Roho’s United Premiere status which saved us all from paying baggage fees!) and our flight was only an hour late taking off. Takaza and I were able to move up to exit row seats so the four-hour flight was actually quite comfortable.

We landed at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) at around 8 PM local time. Passport control was a breeze – the Canadian immigrations agent went so far as to start help Linnaeus get through more easily since he didn’t know where we were going or what we were doing. Customs was literally nonexistent – we walked right through unimpeded. Strange, but welcome. We caught the airport shuttle to the Four Points By Sheraton Vancouver Airport in Richmond.

It was amusing to realize that my pre-trip research didn’t mention that the Four Points was in the heart of Golden Village, the home to the second-largest Asian-American community in North America. The net effect was as if we had stepped off the plane into the middle of Hong Kong – a little disorienting, to say the least! We decided to take advantage of the pan-Asian food opportunities in the area, with me, Roho, Linnaeus, and Mirko opting for sushi while Genet and Takaza chose McDonalds.

Friday morning I was awake entirely too early (though others in our group were awake before me). Eventually we assembled in the lobby and walked down to the nearest Tim Horton’s for a quick breakfast. I was surprised to find that Tim Horton’s coffee really is pretty good, considering what it is. When we got back to the hotel, everyone got packed up and we piled into two cabs to take us to downtown Vancouver.

(From here on out I’ll be peppering the story with some of the pictures that we took)

We got downtown to Canada Place, departure point for many Alaskan cruises, shortly before noon. We picked up our rental cars from National Rental Cars (we saved a bundle by picking them up downtown and dropping them off at YVR), then Takaza and Genet took their leave in one of the cars. The remaining four of us met up with frysco, who works only a block or two from Canada Place.

We took the Seabus across Burrell Inlet, the sound that separates Vancouver and North Vancouver. I’d hoped for a brisk, wind-in-your-hair fun ferry experience, but since it’s all enclosed, it was rather more like…a bus. That bobs up and down a bit. Ah well, at least we got some unique views.

Once we arrived in North Vancouver, it was off to our target for lunch: Sailor Hagar’s Brew Pub. Frysco put up with our phone geekery while we enjoyed some truly excellent beer. I enjoyed some very tasty steak bites wrapped in bacon, while Mirko had a curry bowl and Linnaeus and Roho each ordered poutine, which was horrifying yet delicious. Our waitress was very friendly and helpful and knew some easy marks beer geeks when she saw them, plying us with samples of their beer selection and various brew pub brochures. It was a very enjoyable lunch!

Walking back to the Seabus after lunch we were greeted by one of the local denizens, who was very cute (and pretty much ignored us. It goes with the breed…). Once back in Vancouver, Frysco took his leave to run by his house, and we promptly got…well, not lost, just slightly turned around :-) Once we got on Route 1 we found that traffic was frightfully backed up so we tried to take a few detours, leading us to explore areas of Langley we might otherwise not have seen (see? doesn’t that sound better than “lost”?).

Finally, we reached the Aldergrove border crossing into the US, and with the exception of an incredulous border guard (“How do you all know each other again?”) we passed through without incident.

Coming up next: Dinner in Bellingham! Liquid Hate! Rafting! Rafting! Rafting!

duncandahusky: (Husky Sign)
Wow, it's been a crazy week since we got back, but I wanted to get a writeup of our Pacific Northwest Trip started in hopes that I'll actually get the whole thing posted. For those coming in late, this trip was to celebrate [livejournal.com profile] linnaeus' 40th birthday, similar to the trip we made last year to Napa Valley to celebrate my 40th birthday. The trip was a lot of fun to plan, and I was very happy to see that it fit Linnaeus' tastes well :-) As with my trip, although he knew the general area where we were going, the details of where we were staying and what we'd be doing were a secret.

Leaving Chicago )

Welcome to...Hong Kong? )

Good company, good beer, and good food! )

Coming up next: Dinner in Bellingham! Liquid Hate! Rafting! Rafting! Rafting!
duncandahusky: (Tom and Dan)

The cast of characters!

The best pictures from the California Trip )
duncandahusky: (huskypuppy)
The last day's pictures are here.

Monday was The Big Day, my birthday. Honestly, I couldn't think of anything we could do to top the two days prior, but I was looking forward to seeing what was in store. The day's plans were a mystery to me, (except for dinner), so I had no idea what to expect.

The first stop of the day had us up and out of the house by 9 AM. Following a 45-minute drive to Santa Rosa (and a little bit of confusion in directions), we arrived at our next stop, one that was a genuine surprise to me: The national headquarters of Canine Companions for Independence. [livejournal.com profile] linnaeus' mother has raised several puppies for CCI, so when he found out we would be nearby, he suggested a tour there. Really, this was a most amazing and humbling experience, and I am so glad that we went there.

CCI trains and provides assistance dogs to disabled children and adults, all at no charge. They use black labs and golden retrievers exclusively, and the level of care and training that goes into each dog is simply astonishing. We got to take a tour of their grounds and offices, and see how they train the dogs after the puppy raisers initial training, lasting
6-8 months. This is followed by 6-9 months of training at the CCI facility before the dogs are paired with a client, either as a service or companion team (opening doors, picking up dropped items, etc.), a hearing team (alerting the client of a ringing telephone, etc.), or a facility team (therapy dogs). I was extremely impressed with the facility and with the friendly people who worked and volunteered there.
After the tour it was back to Napa. We grabbed a tasty lunch at a local burger joint then it was on to the next surprise: a day spa! It was quite delightful: I got a 75-minute massage followed by a pedicure; [livejournal.com profile] takaza got a facial, [livejournal.com profile] roho and [livejournal.com profile] genet each got pedicures and Lydia also got a manicure. Even Paul, who got pulled away by work for a few hours, was able to get a nice paraffin hand treatment. My massage was divine, and when Paul rejoined us he brought a bottle of wine for everyone to enjoy as well. Our manicurist, Babs, was delightful and we had a lot of fun bantering and hanging out.

After everyone was properly relaxed and such, we stopped by Oxbow Market to search for some good local olive oil. We found a couple bottles that were quite delicious. We also stopped by a very nice wine and cheese bar and had a couple pints of beer, which were quite tasty. We were quite amused to chat with the bartender there and find that she was from the south side of Chicago.

We ended the day with dinner at Bouchon Bistro. My food was quite outstanding: I started with an appetizer of cassoulet with duck confit and garlic sausage, followed by the Gigot d'Agneau (roasted leg of lamb served with flageolet beans and a thyme jus) and for dessert a delicious creme caramel. Brendan's boudin blanc was excellent, and the desserts, especially Dan's dark chocolate mousse and Lydia's blood orange pot de creme, were outstanding. Unfortunately, the service was only mediocre (long waits, confused orders), and Dan and Lydia's steak frites were quite lacking for the cost. Still, it was a great experience and I am glad we went. It was a wonderful way to finish off my birthday.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Yesterday (Tuesday) we packed everything up early, leaving the house at 7 AM, and drove down to San Francisco International (by way of the San Mateo Bridge, on Babs' advice, which I'm sure saved us some headaches). We made it there in plenty of time, though our flight turned out to be two hours late departing (one hour of that spent sitting on the tarmac). We got into O'Hare at about 7 PM, and picked up our luggage just in time to miss the Metra train home. Rather than waiting the 90 minutes until the next train, we opted to catch a cab, and I'm glad we did. We saw Brendan and Lydia off at about 9:30 PM, and got to bed at 11 PM.

So here I am, back at work, and quite exhausted. I'm told we have one more experience this evening, courtesy of a certain panda. That should be quite fun as well!
duncandahusky: (Me- Jacket)
Home safe. Exhausted. Airlines suck.


Best. Birthday. Ever.

[livejournal.com profile] takaza, I love you!
duncandahusky: (Oh really?)
Yesterday's pictures can be found here, starting just after the silly picture of our In-n-Out receipt.

We were a bit slow to get started on Sunday morning, more due to the general lack of morning people (besides myself :-) We piled everyone (me, [livejournal.com profile] takaza, [livejournal.com profile] linnaeus, [livejournal.com profile] roho, and [livejournal.com profile] genet) into our Saturn Outlook and drove off southward, to explore San Francisco. The drive through Napa and Sonoma Counties there was spectacular, and we saw lots of things that would have been fun if money and time were no object (i.e. open-air biplane tours!).

After a short one-hour drive, we arrived at the Marin Headlands, just on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge and a place for amazing views of the bridge, the bay, and the city. We wandered around there for a bit, enjoying the refreshing breeze coming off the ocean and the great weather, then it was back to the car to venture into the city. Unfortunately, the GPS's directions were rather...confused. We wound up taking a couple of wrong turns that led us to some astonishingly steep streets that taxed our SUV a bit. It made for entertaining driving, and a steady string of expletives from me. We combined the GPS directions with a handy map we had picked up and eventually found our destination: Magnolia Pub and Brewery at Haight and Masonic.

The beers were fantastic, and the food no less so. They had some nice sampler glasses, and we took advantage of the fact that February is Strong Beer Month; I started out with a trippel, a doppleweizen, and an imperial stout. Did I mention we hadn't had any food yet that day? Man, I'm a cheap date. Dan loved the house-brewed grape and orange cream sodas, and Lydia found their root beer delicious. Then came the food! My Dungeoness crab crepes were pretty good, but Dan's buttermilk biscuits with ginger sausage gravy, Lydia's cheeseburger, and Paul's salmon boxty were even better. The real winner was Brendan's pizza with the incongruous combination of coconut-braised pork, tikka masala sauce, and mushrooms, was just divine. Another round of beers followed and by the end we were full and happy.

After lunch we wandered around the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for a few hours, enjoying the street musicians and the little shops. Brendan almost picked up an expensive synthesizer widget, but the price wasn't quite right. Afterwards we adjourned to an amusingly socialist coffee house, then it was back to the car. The original plan had been to stop by Joseph Schmidt Confections, but we had to drop that plan in favor of a quick tour of Fisherman's Wharf (which we didn't actually explore because 1.) no parking to be found, and 2.) wall-to-wall tourists). Somewhere in there we also got horribly lost and heading south on US 101 unwillingly, but we got turned back around and back on course.

On the drive home, we managed a brief stop in Novato where we met up with [livejournal.com profile] partran. We had a fun but all-too-brief visit as we did some shopping in the local Safeway and picked up stuff for dinner. He gave me a lovely birthday present, a couple of cheeses from Fair Oaks Farms. We had a chance to catch up a bit and chat, and it was great to see him.

After rushing around all day, the evening was blessedly low-key. Dan cooked up some tasty garlic and mushrooms in butter as an appetizer. Brendan braved the darkness and an unfamiliar grill to cook up some yummy steaks. We polished off another couple of bottles of wine along the way, and finished the evening with apple pie and ice cream. It was a great ending to a great day.

And now we have today - yep, it's my birthday! Thank you so much to everyone for their kind birthday wishes :-) What's planned for the day? Beats me! We have the "morning event" and the "afternoon event" and somewhere in there we hope to have the opportunity to taste and pick up some of the local olive oils. I do know that dinner tonight is going to be amazing though, as we have reservations for Bouchon, Thomas Keller's bistro not far from here.

Time to shower and start the day!
duncandahusky: (Mmmm...beer)
So we started out the day somewhat slowly. As everyone worked on waking up and showering, I drove over to Napa Valley Coffee Roastery and picked up caffeine for all of us addicts. We were joined shortly afterwards by [livejournal.com profile] rasslor, [livejournal.com profile] brophey, and [livejournal.com profile] shadowolf. Lunch was the first item on the day's agenda, so being that this was many of our group's first time in California, we had to stop by a restaurant that had the seal of approval of both Alton Brown and Anthony Bourdain: In-n-Out Burger, conveniently located just a few miles away from our rental house.

It was...well, it was a fast food restaurant. I'm thinking that my order would need a little tweaking to find what on their menu really appealed to me; the burger with everything included a monstrously huge slab of onion that unfortunately made it seem like an onion sandwich with a side of burger. The fries were quite tasty, though, even if I didn't order them "Animal style".

After lunch we drove up California Route 29 to St. Helena to the Culinary Institute of America - Greystone. The huge, imposing building was beautiful! I was also amused at the trees that were heavy with lemons just outside the entrance. Inside, we browsed through their gift shop and I got a latte as we killed time before the cooking demonstration. We spent an hour watching the chef make a Valentine chocolate torte with a raspberry coulis. I'll admit I didn't learn much new, but it was fun to see some of the techniques I'm familiar with and hear the chef touch on some of my favorite authors (like Harold McGee!). After the demonstration everyone got to try the torte, and it was rather tasty.

After the demonstration there was more browsing through the gift shop (and, I admit, making notes for later Amazon purchases) and admiring the herb gardens. Then it was time to hit a few wineries. Since it was right across the street, we decided to make Charles Krug Winery. After tasting several wines, we picked up a Sauvignon Blanc, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Zinfandel. On the recommendation of the Krug staff, our next stop was Peju Winery. This was a fantastic experience - we had a good group of people doing the tasting with us, and the guy pouring the wines not only knew his stuff, he knew how to keep things entertaining. Paul, Brendan, Bob and I tasted six different wines, and he even did a small vertical tasting to allow us to compare some of the wines. We picked up a bottle of Provence (a nice red/white blend), two vintages of Syrah (including a 2003 that Brendan thinks may have been their last bottle) and a Cabernet Sauvignon. (During the tasting, Lydia relaxed in the car and Dan, Mike, and Ray hung out and enjoyed the lovely weather.

After the tasting, we were all pretty tired (and some of us a wee bit tipsy), so we returned to the rental house. We dispatched Paul, Mike, and Ray to pick up munchies while Bob and I walked the two blocks to the Foothill Grille to get a copy of their menu to see what we could order for carryout. Once we got everyone back, we called in a rather complex eight-entree order that they nailed precisely, and we had a great evening of chatting, noshing, and killing two bottles of wine :-) It was a fantastic evening and I had a blast.

More to come tomorrow!
duncandahusky: (happygolucky)
So as I said, I had some strong suspicions. And I was right :-)

I left work at 2 PM and got home to find that [livejournal.com profile] takaza had packed everything up and was ready to go. [livejournal.com profile] genet and [livejournal.com profile] roho showed up shortly after, ostensibly to ride to the airport with us since Roho had to work in California. We took Metra in to O'Hare and picked up our boarding passes at American Airlines. I figured we were headed to the West Coast, which meant that our options were most likely either San Francisco or Seattle. I checked the flights and saw that the next flight to Seattle was leaving in an hour; given that Dan wasn't hyperventilating, I knew that wasn't our destination. Lo and behold, our boarding passes said San Francisco. Ta daa!

After passing through Security, we met up with Roho and genet again who, what a surprise, were on the same flight as us! I voiced my skepticism, and they admitted that yes, they would be joining us! As we browsed around through the airport bookstore who should we run into but [livejournal.com profile] linnaeus. He would be joining us as well. We happened to be joined for a while by [livejournal.com profile] calapurr, who was in transit through O'Hare and waiting to meet up with [livejournal.com profile] justincheetah, but he was just by to chat. Our flight was only a half-hour late (which is saying something for O'Hare these days) and the three and a half hour flight was uneventful. We had a bit of difficulty getting the rental car (we wouldn't all fit in the Explorer they first offered us, but we were able to swap over to a Saturn Outlook). After that was a rather harrowing drive for Dan through San Francisco and over the Bay Bridge (traffic was light since it was 11 PM, but it was a bit twisty and narrow through some of the construction on US 101). After about an hour's drive, we arrived at our destination, a lovely rental house in the town of Napa. We went to bed shortly after, and now we have company and I need to wrap this up :-)

More to come (with pictures!) later...
duncandahusky: (Inquisitive)
None of this makes a coherent single entry, so you get a bunch of random stuff:

I just finished a quick meeting with my boss. Granted, he technically only had two months of me being an employee of $employer (in addition to the nine moths prior working the exact same job as a contractor), but he gave me an excellent annual review and is very happy with my work. This makes me positively giddy :-) Speaking of work-related things, I had lunch earlier today with [livejournal.com profile] tozier_wah, which was very cool since he just works across the campus from me. We need to make that a weekly thing or something. We had a great discussion about Midwest FurFest and I think I might have something to keep him busy during the con this year :-)

Yesterday I was all virtuous and stuff and went ahead and got my voting for next week's primary out of the way. It was very cool that the Lake County website had a sample of the exact ballot that I would be presented with so I was able to do a little research on the local candidates and make some informed decisions. Plus I had a nice chat with the poll workers, who were very nice folks.

We're having [livejournal.com profile] takaza's family over on Saturday evening, along with some friends, for a night of gaming. I'm working up a nice menu too - maybe French Onion Soup, and roasted chicken. I think we need some more wine - perhaps a trip to Wine Knows is in order. We also need to do some thorough cleaning of the place, which is pretty standard before company. It's one of the reasons I like to have company over with some regularity: left to our own devices, we keep the clutter to a minimum, but I need a reason to get really motivated to deep clean and take a toothbrush to the baseboards :-)

Apparently, I'm going on a trip in a week and a half. I say "apparently" because, well, I don't know where I'm going. You see, Dan has put together some kind of trip for us to celebrate my fortieth birthday, and all I know is that we're flying off...somewhere (he won't say where)...for a four-day vacation. About all I know is that it's domestic, since neither of us have valid passports, but other than that I have no clue. I also know that no amount of begging for clues from Dan will yield any further information, so I probably appear annoyingly incurious, but I'm very content in the knowledge that Dan knows me well, and whatever he has put together will be truly amazing. And whether it's amazing or not, I'll have my love there with me, so that makes it amazing in itself. (I'm sure he's made all kinds of posts in his journal about this that I can't see, and all of you who have read and heard about this from him are dying of laughter. Hey, I'm OK with that. I'll just sit here in quiet anticipation :-)

Oh, and one last note: I would note that one of my favorite coffees, Dark Roast Sumatran, from one of my favorite coffee providers, Alterra Coffee, is on sale at 10% off. With shipping by Priority Mail only $4.60, if you order a couple of pounds (like I usually do) it's comparable to buying coffee off the shelf from some of the higher-end providers. (I also recently discovered the Brazil Traditional Dry, which is simply outstanding as well).

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