2019 Best and Worst Purchases of the Year, Favorite Restaurants, Favorite Activities

Top Purchases for the year:

 

Ever since learning to make macarons, I have wanted a macaron template silicone baking mat. I use these mats for more than just macarons. They are great to use in place of tinfoil and to protect the cooking sheet. They are easier to wash when food gets caked to them than the pan. I just flip them over to the blank side when I’m not using the circular macaron templates for macarons.

I had heard about people making their own laundry soap, or using castille soap, but then I heard about soap nuts and was intrigued. They are compostable and last for quite some time. They are unscented and natural. I think they work great and will definitely buy them again in 5 years or so when I need more… You only need to use 4-6 of the nuts in each load and I replace them every month (after 3-5 uses). I have lost the little baggie amidst the wet clothes and accidentally let it go through the dryer once or twice and am not sure how that affects the soap nuts…

Upon a recommendation, I bought a high end shower filter, but the filter was supposed to be replaced every 6-12 months and I couldn’t replace just the filter I had to replace the entire unit and it was costly. This filter is much smaller and more cost effective to replace.

My sister gave me two pairs of Thinx last year for my birthday and I love them quite a lot, however; you’re not supposed to put them in the laundry. It’s tedious to wash so much fabric every day, so I invested in a set of reusable pads. Now I use a combination of my Thinx, these reusable pads, and my dwindling supply of panty liners when traveling or for convenience.

When I take my purse, this product is always inside. After chipping my tooth from accidentally biting down hard on a metal fork, this softer bamboo set made me feel better about my silverware choices. Many Zero Wasters say to just toss the silverware you already have into your to-go kit, but I really like having this softer non-metal set and I only own a small set of silverware anyways (we use our housemate’s set in the kitchen). The kid’s bamboo set is much more travel friendly and the utensils themselves are soft and blunt and work perfectly.

After getting the high end Berkey filter for my home (thanks Can!) I really didn’t want to go back to unfiltered water. I saw this product at the local Recology store and loved the concept! I tossed it into my 32oz water bottle and was able to fill up at the airport and while traveling with more peace of mind.

I upped my mouth health game this year and purchased a tongue scraper. Though mine I bought from the local Recology store, this version is very similar to what I have. The first thing I do when I wake up is use it.

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Worst Purchases for the year:

I really wanted to be able to put lids on all the glass jars I’ve been collecting but alas this purchase didn’t fit most of my jars. The only size that works is the smallest, which I’ve used now and then this year, but most of them are really large and don’t stretch that well. I should have bought the beeswax wrap instead but am loathe to throw out this product as waste. It also came with a set in white and a set in blue so I have many more than I need.

I read that sunscreen expires after 6 months so I figured I would need to buy new sunscreen every summer and decided to invest in a reef safe version. Alas, this sunscreen is so thick that it doesn’t rub into the skin and sits on top of it. I’m very texture/touch sensitive and very much dislike anything oily sitting on top of my skin. My partner agrees that this is no fun to use and gross all around for humans, even if it is safer for the environment. I will never again buy sunscreen that I’m not familiar with.

Katchka Restaurant in Portland. 

I love trying new foods and new experiences. When traveling to Portland, I looked up recommended destinations. Katchka was at the top of the list for unique dining experiences. I was intrigued. Authentic Russian foods. With 4.5/5 stars and 800+ reviews on Yelp, how could it not be a hit? We checked out the menu and being unfamiliar with Russian food the three of us were intrigued by the “Ruskie Zakuski Experience’ advertised on the menu. We arrived without a reservation and were told that it would be a couple of hours before a table opened up. Disappointed, we prepared to Uber away when the host was able to squeeze us somehow onto half of a tall and narrow table within 10 minutes. We were very grateful and sat down with excitement, ready for the experience.

“Sit back and let us fill your table with an array of cold zakuski to start your meal off right! $30 per person. Full table participation is required. Don’t forget to order the vodka!
How to eat like a Russian
step 1: cover every square inch of your table with zakuski
step 2: fill everyone’s glasses with their beverage of choice (like vodka, or maybe vodka)
step 3: search your soviet soul for a spirited toast. When in doubt, a toast to friends, life, or simply “boo-dyim”!
step 4: clink. drink. eat. repeat.”

Sounds amazing, right? We ordered a flight of vodka and waited expectantly for our table to be covered with these mysterious zakuski. The table was a bit narrow, so it wouldn’t have been that difficult to cover its entirety for the three of us. The server took our order of the Russian Zakuski Experience with a nod and not much more. The experience that follows was very surprising to me. I can only describe each small dish as cold and odd appetizers dim sum style that were brought one by one with enough food on each plate for each of us to take one bite. None of us much liked any of the 10 or so cold dishes that were brought and by the end we were confused, hungry, and $90+ poorer, wondering where we had gone wrong. Had the food actually tasted amazing, the $30/person for 10 small bites would have maybe been worth it. We paid our bill and left, not wanting to try anything else on the menu and a bit shocked that our server had not warned us what kind of experience we were in for and that it wasn’t going to be enough food for a meal or that we wouldn’t get any more than those 10 plates between us.

Hot Revolution Doughnuts at the Seattle Street Fair

Never have I ever been so mad at donuts. What a waste of good money. I took two bites and threw all of the donuts straight into the trash. My partner agrees that these donuts were not fresh and very stale. I can’t believe they would have the gall to serve old donuts. I paid a lot of money (around $20 for the variety) for these disappointments. Normally I would demand a refund if I were served sub-par food, but we weren’t in the mood and I was so shocked that they would serve old donuts in the first place. I will NEVER eat their donuts again and I will ALWAYS tell people in the area to steer clear. Shame. Wish I hadn’t bothered breaking my diet for them.

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Favorite Restaurants:

Din Tai Fung – My favorite restaurant. I never knew dumplings could taste so delicious!

Stone Lounge – Don’t go for the karaoke. Don’t go for the service. Go for the happy hour Wagyu burger and get it with sweet potato fries. My favorite burger of the year. I also quite enjoyed the Aloha burger.

Marysville Jeff’s Texas BBQ – Arguably one of the best BBQ places in the state. Make sure to try their brisket! Their sides are just okay, but their meat is sublime.

Palace Korean – One of my favorite buffet places!

Smoke and Shine – Never have I ever wanted to eat just the side dishes, but the Jalapeno Cheddar Hush Puppies served with a side of bourbon honey butter are that good! We liked everything that we tried there so far.

Sirena Gelato – I love ice cream and this gelato place has the creamiest gelato I’ve ever tasted. This place is better than Molly Moon’s for a local frozen dessert.

Gyu Kaku – Such a fun dining experience and the food was delicious!

Route 22 Taproom – We only tried two of their dishes, but I was blown away by their nachos. Best bar nachos ever!

Blue Bayou (Disneyland) – Worth every penny for our entrees. This restaurant is unique and the ambiance is fantastic. Forget proposing at the Wishing Well, I think the Blue Bayou is more romantic.

Oga’s Cantina (Disneyland) – Drinks may cost you an arm and a leg but they are definitely worth the price for the atmosphere you get to drink them in. I have never spent so much money at a bar before and I have never had as much fun. I would go back to Disneyland just to go to Oga’s Cantina.

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Favorite Activities:

BodySpec testing – It was very fascinating to get a full body scan and the breakdowns of body fat and muscle mass in each limb of the body.

Zero Waste Workshop at the library – I started getting into the zero-waste movement at the beginning of the year and by the time I went to this workshop, I knew most of what the workshop was about but it was still fascinating regardless. The presenter also brought her entire family’s zero-waste personal care products for everyone to see.

Ludovico Einaudi – It has been years since I saw a musician perform and I loved seeing the pianist’s performance at McCaw Hall.

Star Wars at Benaroya Hall – Everyone should see a movie with a live orchestra at least once in their life.

Seattle Food Festival – I was introduced to the form of corn that is both delicious and amazing. I call it Crack Corn. It is like elote off the cob. It was a bag of fritos with corn kernels, special cheese, hot sauce, and lime juice. We now make this recipe at home all the time.

Beginner’s Massage Workshop – A 7-hour class for just $50! What a bargain. I got a crash course in beginner’s massage and I loved it! We practiced on each other. Half the class were going to enroll at the school for the full course and the other half were just there for fun.

Divine Holiday Party – The yearly holiday party at one of my pole studios is so much fun. I love hanging out with my pole community and watching the demos.

Thrill the World – I’ve participated in the yearly Thrill the World event for years as both a dancer and a volunteer and I love how well-organized this local event is and how many participants they get every year.

Norwescon – Every year that I go to Norwescon I have fun. It’s like our own local Comic Con. I just wish that parking were free/easier and it was closer to me. I have always day tripped down to the event and haven’t stayed in the hotel like others, though. Maybe someday I will shell out for the full experience. This year my writer’s group had a booth and we sold our books.

Maple Valley Days volunteering – I’ve volunteered at this local event for 7 years now and it’s fascinating how much effort and organization goes into this multi-day community event. I learn so much about conflict, resolution, organization, etc. as I volunteer.

PSO volunteering – I love this yearly event and I volunteered as announcer, ticketing booth, and as a pole cleaner this year. I’ve never been an announcer before and it was fun but difficult.

Savi’s Workshop and Oga’s Cantina Disneyland – When my partner and I were planning our Disneyland trip this year, we had debated whether $200 was too expensive to build a lightsaber. The reviews said that it was worth the money, more so than building a droid and we made our reservation. Though we had just come from Oga’s Cantina after our two drinks, we had a blast at this ceremony.

Star Wars Marathon – Stay awake all night watching Star Wars? Free blanket and popcorn all night long? I was excited and trepidatious at the same time. I get cranky when I’m tired and I don’t do ‘all nighters.’ We drank coffee like fiends in the evening and settled into our large airplane-sized chairs with our beautiful blankets on our laps and settled in for the marathon. The lady next to me had brought more stuff than could fit in her space and spilled both her popcorn and her drinks throughout the night. The man next to Can only came for Force Awakens. We ate two large tubs of popcorn, two large sprites, and two large waters. I made it a habit of going to the bathroom and putting eye drops in before every movie. I only missed five minutes of the beginning of one movie while waiting in line for my free drink refill. It was neat seeing all the movies continuously and making new connections between them. I really enjoyed the last movie as well.

 

Norwescon 42 – So Long and Thanks for all the…

I met new readers and new authors at Norwescon 42! I can’t wait to read my new books – look out for those reviews in the upcoming weeks/months.

Now to get ready for Indie Bookstore Day next weekend! Hope to see you there.

Norwescon! This Thursday through Sunday in Seattle

Catch books by local authors Sheri J. Kennedy, Rachel Barnard, Victoria Bastedo, Kennedy J. Quinn, and Jeffrey Cook at Norwescon later this week.

Norwescon.org

I’ll be wandering around in my costume.. See if you can spot me…

And don’t forget your towel!

NORWESCON aftermath – pitching/panels/costumes/exhaustion

Norwescon is one of my favorite events of the year! I bought my full membership early for the early bird discount (which I highly recommend) and FreeValley Publishing had planned to have a presence like they have for the past couple of years (2015, 2014). I also sent in two of my short stories for critique from Fairwood Writers. Thursday they offered us a special “pitching” class with Jennifer Brozek, which was fun, interactive, and useful. Jennifer liked my Donuts pitch, my Donuts cover, and my Donuts title (whew).

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A young adult novel about two best friends, the local food challenge, and a mysterious bucket list. The more main character Vanessa fails the food challenge, the more she takes it out on the boy she blames for her father’s death because letting go of anger is life’s greatest challenge.

I also wrote a lovely Star Wars themed anthology pitch:

R2-D2 unit took the name Radar when he won his freedom. Successful pod race owner, he trades parts weekly at the local machine shop and falls in love with the snarky, young attendant Zendaya. But there are two problems. She’s working off a seven-year indentured apprenticeship and she doesn’t seem to like droids. The twist is that Radar owns the machine shop and she’s been selling parts under the table.

Brozek’s comment: Don’t use R2-D2

I snuck into one panel on Thursday on fat shaming and enjoyed it quite a bit. Shout out to Jami and learning about fat acceptance and the fat experience in advance of reading her upcoming novel about a fat protagonist.


I didn’t go Friday because work and I had budgeted Thursday and Saturday to go. I brought my books for the Clockwork Dragon/FreeValley Publishing table on Thursday and checked out the dealer room. I even got sized for a corset (which brought up some mild claustrophobia, even though it was beautiful).

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I was nervous about parking and didn’t get there soon enough on Thursday to park at the DoubleTree itself so went across the street to the large undercover WallyPark, which turned out to be a whopping $21 for just under 5 hours. I was not happy with that bill and resolved to find a better solution for Saturday, the busiest day of the con. I ended up going to the non-covered WallyPark on the other side of the street for valet parking, which was only $14 plus tip and the two guys there were very polite and helpful. Next year, if I don’t find an even better parking area, I’ll use them.

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I wore my ghillie suit Saturday for most of the day and switched to my leopard print dancer’s outfit after dinner to round out the evening. Everyone loves my ghillie suit. I was very busy with my Fairwood writer’s workshops Saturday and only went to one panel: the Art of Critique, but it was so stuffy and hot that I had to leave halfway through for cooler rooms. I wandered everywhere! I even got locked out of the hotel and had to go around the entire building to get back inside (note that you need a keycard, obviously). Hospitality is always super cool and handy and I even made use of the coat check for my ghillie suit! Thanks coat check people. You made my life so much easier.

The masquerade was not as exciting as I thought it would be. I couldn’t see above hats and hair and it dragged on too long for me, though I absolutely loved seeing the costumes. I went to the Fairwood writer’s social and the Cascade writer’s social and rounded out my evening checking out the Star Wars dance (the music was so low and only kids were dancing). I imagine if I stayed late into the night, the party’s would pick up, but as it was I was too tired to stay any longer and went home around 9:00PM. Until next year, Norwescon!

 

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I grabbed two print books and a slew of flyers to check out.

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Money Spent: $160

Parking: $37
Food: $23
Books/Souvenirs: $20
Membership: $50
Dealer Room Partial Table Fee: $20
Gas: 120 miles = $10

Norwescon!

Norwescon is still going on, hop on down to get your FreeValley Publishing or Sechin Tower or Jolene Loraine’s books at our booth in the Dealer’s Room.

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Previous four photos courtesy of Kennedy J. Quinn, author of SECRET ORDER OF THE OVERWORLD

 

Did you see me at con? … Probably not because this is what I looked like.

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You still can’t see me?

Author Thursdays: Norwescon!

 

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Maple Valley Writers and FreeValley Publishing authors will be hosting a booth at Norwescon in the lobby.

Rachel Barnard and her work Ataxia and the Ravine of Lost Dreams will be promoted at this event.

You can talk to her in person Saturday during the event.

What is Norwescon?

The Pacific Northwest’s premier Fantasy and Science Fiction convention.

For more information on Norwescon: norwescon.org