12:50 a.m., the day after Christmas. The weekend visiting friends and my parents and friends has been unusually stressful, even by the standards set on previous holiday trips. Because this site stands open and unprotected, for the most part, I'll only be focusing on the socially-acceptable positive elements of the weekend.
Lisa's highlight for the holiday probably came this afternoon with her first attendance of a Packer game. She seemed to enjoy it a lot, even though the game was pretty boring except for the last eight minutes of the fourth quarter, and then ultimately not interesting in the Packer's favor. We went there with Brian, an old friend from college who I hadn't seen in years, and his wife, Kara. It was good to see them, and was a reminder that I should stay a little more proactive keeping in touch with people (something I'd hear about more than once as the weekend progressed).
After the game, Lisa and I were able to catch up with Ben, Beth and Melanie for a few hours, something schedules with my family had prevented us from doing the day before. We swapped family holiday horror stories, learned Mel has gotten involved with roller derby in Milwaukee (!), and talked about all the challenges Ben and Beth's kids has been having since become socialized at daycare. Ben floated the suggestion that we start meeting halfway across the state from time to time--places within three hours of both Minneapolis and Two Rivers, for example--instead of seeing each other just a few times a year, and that's definitely something we'll have to give a try.
Besides, Lisa needs more camping experiences.
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Saturday was mostly a family day. The opening of presents took over three hours. It was quite a haul for all involved. My favorite gift I got came from Lisa in the form of the Complete Calvin & Hobbes. I know Christmas isn't about one-upping everyone else, but the sweater, books and gift cards I gave her seemed kind of underwhelming by comparison.
Granted, there's one gift I wasn't able to give her due to delivery problems, but that should be resolved in the coming week.
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Due to some fairly dire weather predictions for Saturday, Lisa and I made the decision, heavily lobbied by me, to drive across the state Friday night. We avoided the rain and snow, but the heavy fog and occasional deer made it one of the most stressful drives I've had in recent memory. On the bright side, we got to stop at Lisa's grandma's in Wausau to visit, have dinner and drop off gifts, but other than that the trip sucked.
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And that's it for the weekend. We hope to get back on our way to Minneapolis relatively early so we have a few hours to decompress tomorrow. The past months have been unbelievably hectic, and we're both looking forward to our four-day New Year's weekend, where we have zero planned, and intend to keep it that way.
Well, I'm more than a little overdue for an update here, but the past week and half has been a bit of a mess. (From a technical standpoint, I came home with over 3GB of video and other files from the trip to the Northwest, but only 1.5GB worth of space on the computer. Ack.) Entries from December 13th, 12th and 9th are now up.
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Very good news on the cat situation today. More on that in a day or so when I have more details.
7:50 p.m. Were somewhere over Montana, but I'm still running on Pacific time. This ride is turbulent as any I've been on, and it's kind of difficult to type, but here goes.
Neither Lisa or I had been particularly impressed by Seattle on past visits, but both of us kind of took to it on this one. Maybe it was the arrival by train. Maybe it was the good location downtown. Or maybe it was that we were discovering the city on our own. Having contacts in a city when visiting can definitely have its benefits, with Tony and Katie in Portland being a fine example, but at the same time discovering a city on one's own can make it more personal in a way. In retrospect, our previous Seattle visits were somewhat overwhelmed by those we were visiting, and our view of the city may have been compromised as a result.
So, anyway, Seattle was good. The ride on the Cascades was fun—the business class and bistro cars were downright swanky—and bad food aside it was a pretty good experience. Heck, we even arrived on time.
As newcomers, Seattle's bus system proved very difficult to parse, but after a lot of reading, frustration, and questions to bystanders, we were able to bus it to the University District Monday night and to Capitol Hill today. University Way was pretty cool—kind of like Madison's State Street, but with traffic—and despite a bungled order we had a very good dinner at Thai Tom. (Side note: While the Twin Cities have been making progress in the spicy food category, they still have a way to go: The 3 I had in Seattle would likely be a 5 in Minneapolis.) Capitol Hill wasn't quite as funky as the University District, but it cool anyway, and provided a good starting point for walking to the downtown.
We eventually ended up at the Pike Place Market, as I suppose all tourists do, where we smelled the fish and where Lisa resisted the urge to by honey-based soap products. We wandered over to some of the docks for the Washington State Ferries and watched the Bainbridge Ferry load, and then walked back up the hill to gawk at Seattle's curiously-shaped library.
And, regrettably, that was pretty much it. Running short on time, we returned to our hotel, chatted with a goth concierge named Silver about the blood-red walls in the library, and grabbed a cab to Seattle's surprisingly small airport.
We should've scheduled another day. Not that we had the vacation time available to us.
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10:18 p.m. I'm back on Central Time now. It's difficult to come home when the trip hasn't even started to wear us out.
1:55 p.m., Pacific Time. The Cascades is behind schedule, although that wasn't unexpected.
We had a good time visiting Portland. Tony and Katie were very gracious hosts, and showed us a lot of the area we wouldn't see otherwise.
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There were a lot of good things about Portland, but probably the thing we'll most remember was the Saturday afternoon visit to Vista House on the Columbia River. We went for the view, but almost got blown off the cliff by the wind. Okay, that may be a mild exaggeration, but MC Hammer-style pants on that overlook would likely have been deadly. I almost got thrown into an Oregon parks truck, and Lisa actually hit the ground at one point. Another visitor, apparently attempting to be photographed by one of her friends, got blown into one of the brick walls surrounding the parking lot. Tony had parked up wind, and the struggle to get back to the car involved grabbing onto whatever railing or step was available and running as close to the ground as possible.
In other words, it was kind of windy.
After returning to the car, Tony admitted that while they'd played up the wind in the gorge, neither of them had seen the wind like that. Had they not told us, Lisa and I probably would've left thinking that kind of wind was commonplace for this time of year. Watching weather reports later in the evening, we found that we were dealing with steadly 60+ m.p.h. winds, with gusts going even higher.
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Other things we did in Portland: Lisa got to see Multnomah Falls and other falls along that stretch, and on Sunday Tony gave us a general tour of Portland including downtown and the International Rose Test Garden. We arrived too late to see the Japanese Garden, but our stop there allowed us to run into a slightly psychotic Japanese woman who was in need of a ride to the Max. Tony offered her an indirect ride, as long as she didn't mind us stopping at Pittock Mansion along the way. Not only was she okay with that, she ended up having Lisa take a bunch of photos of her there. After that Tony drove us along some of the homes up in the hills, including a stop at a very odd house that required over a 100 steps to get in the front door (or any door for that matter). The woman got out at that point, too, and ended up talking to a resident about the house for two or three minutes.
Tony made a point of dropping her off before we got downtown, mostly for the fear that she would follow us around.
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On Saturday evening, we met one of Lisa's friends, Mo, for dinner at the Thai Peacock. The food was good, and Lisa and Mo had plenty of time to catch up and gossip about their friends. We also made the required trip to Powells, and wandered around the apparently up-and-coming trendy district surrounding it.
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We had some good food over the past few days. In addition to the Thai Peacock, on Sunday night we headed with Tony and Katie to Montage, a funky cool restaurant that basically sits under the east approach of the Morrison Bridge. The restaurant seats people at long, group tables regardless of whether one is in a large group or not, which turned out to be good for striking up conversations with neighbors and skimming pieces of unwanted alligator meat.
As far as food here on the Cascades, well, it was kind of grim. They were out of the mac and cheese, and, well, I really shouldn't have gotten the pizza. Ick.
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Assuming the train catches up on its schedule, we should be in Seattle within an hour and a half. More later.
3:43 p.m., Mountain Time. The Empire Builder is behind schedule, although that wasn't unexpected.
It's been a good trip so far. Lisa really seems to be enjoying her first U.S. cross-country rail ride, and has already started talking about when we'll do this again. I've casually mentioned taking the train to NYC, but I'm not sure how that's going over. And, hey, we could always head south.
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The differences between this trip and the last time I took the Empire Builder are substantial. (Warning: Substantial rail geek crap ahead. If not interested, it's probably best to skip to the next section.) Amtrak has made an effort to upgrade the cars on this route, especially the sleeping cars, and in general the cabins seem more comfortable and tastefully appointed than those available five years ago. (That said, you can tell you're riding a rebuilt car that wasn't completely rebuilt—both Lisa and I have been annoyed by reading lights that don't necessarily turn off when you ask them to.)
The shower facility has seen a massive upgrade. Unlike the old shower, which was dark and had a high-school gym bathroom quality to it, the new shower rooms are bright and relatively comfortable. As an added bonus, unlike the old showers that required you to hold down a button when you wanted water, the new showers are more like those you'd find in your home—turn the handle and the water runs until you turn it off.
The services have been upgraded as well, at least for those who purchased a cabin. (Cabin riders are now "first class.") There's a wine tasting available to those interested as the train crosses Montana, and there's a rumor of hot cookies provided just before bedtime. Lisa and I took part in the wine tasting this afternoon, and while it sounded cool in concept, in retrospect it may have been ill-advised just an hour after lunch.
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Both of us brought plenty in the way of books and reading material, but as I kind of suspected, neither of us have done much with it. The scenery is too nice to ignore, and there are plenty of friendly passengers sitting around willing to talk about their dairy farms or legal practices.
Tomorrow should bring more of the same, with what I remember being a spectacular ride up the Columbia River Valley.
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Well, the sun is starting to set, and I suppose the best place to be is probably the observation car. More later.
In what is basically an unintentional mirror of a trip Biker Ben and I took in late 2000, this evening Lisa and I are off to Portland via Amtrak. We'll be visiting Tony and Katie, just like Ben and I did five years ago (only without the chaotic alcohol-fueled drama, I assume), and then will be off to Seattle, this by train rather than rental car. After some time in Seattle, we'll be back to Minneapolis via Sun Country, the same airline Ben and I took the last time around.
Funny how that stuff works out sometime.
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The next update will be on Tuesday or some later day next week.
Lisa paused as she often does when she's about to get thoughtful. "Money and things are really nice—I like food the most—but you're the most important thing to me." I pressed for clarification. "I was trying to tell you you're more important than money and things, but I really like to go grocery shopping."
Items Noted Elsewhere, Speaking of Food Edition
Despite moving into a condo that was seemingly ready for day-to-day living, we've already spent close to $1700 on just making the place livable. (Today I plunked down $350 on custom wood blinds for the living room.) We're both tired of the mess, but for the time being there's not much we can do about it. The books demand a bookshelf we don't yet have, and my clothes won't have a home until we get our new bed frame (and its associated beneath-frame storage space). The guinea pig is still in a temporary cage, and the plants are still living on the radiator by the front window. Even the basics seem to elude us: We still haven't found a doormat that's thin enough not to catch on our front door.
We're both convinced our new home will be wonderful once we have everything in place and everything put away, but in the meantime it's... Frustrating.
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The plan was for us to get a Christmas tree Monday evening, but from looking at the living room, I honestly don't know where we'd put it.
Who knows what Winter will bring, but at least December is getting off to an appropriate start. Konfabulator gives the good news:
After all the warm and/or generally wacked Winters we've had over the past few years, it's nice to be experiencing a normal season for once. Multi-week forecasts are always questionable, but it looks like we'll have only one or two days above freezing before Christmas, with plenty of snow surrounding those days. Whoo, I may actually have to get the skis out.
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You know, I never finished off writing about Thanksgiving, or, specifically, the Sunday following it. Other than the crappy weather accompanying the drive home, it was a fairly nice day, with a last visit with Lisa's folks in the morning and then a pleasant hour or so visiting Robin and Andy at their new home. Their new place is quite nice, and other than encounters with occasional mailbox vandals, they seem very happy with it.
It's worth noting that their new place is huge: While there, I commented that Lisa and my place would likely fit on the first floor of their new home, with room to spare. I'm obviously rather predictable with such comments, as Robin turned to Andy and said "See, I told you he'd say that."