Who Let The Dogs Out?

27 Aug

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A few weekends back, Sean and I participate in the Lost Dog 5K Race Series. Basically we ran a 5K with Quinn and all the other participating dogs by our side as they played the song “Who Let The Dogs Out.”

You can imagine there were lots of doggies that got scared, tangled leashes, and people who got tripped up, but it was so much fun… and afterwards you could cuddle with puppies that were up for adoption.

I fell in love with Cheddar, the brown puppy pictured above.

Seeing that I was falling for this one hard, Sean sternly directed me, “Mary, put the puppy down now!”

It’s been a few weeks and I’m still thinking about Cheddar. Isn’t he the most adorable puppy that ever was?

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Friday Flashback: China

15 Aug

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A few years ago, we did an 8 day trip to China.

This tour was intense- three major cities and lots of sightseeing in sub-freezing temps!

The advantage of visiting China this time of year, though, was avoiding the throngs of tourists that are there during other seasons.

Our first day started in Shanghai, where we had a few hour layover before we headed on to Beijing.

During this time, we went to the top of the Oriental Pearl Tower for 360 degree views of the city. Yes, that’s smog!

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This is a view of the famous Bund, which is one of the most well-known streets in Asia. It’s home to many foreign colonial buildings, banks, and swanky hotels.

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While we didn’t go up inside the Jin Mao tower (pictured above), we could admire it from the Oriental Pearl Tower. This building is one of the tallest in the world, and a Mission Impossible movie was filmed here.

There’s a skybridge observation deck on 88th floor. Umm… I wouldn’t get on that deck for anything! (I think Tom Cruise did a fight scene there!)

Another fun experience was riding the Maglev train which reaches a speech of 430 km per hour. This is faster than the famous bullet trains of Japan.

Other trains pass at the blink of an eye. It’s really quite amazing.

Here’s another  funny thing we observed in Shanghai- live hairy crabs for sale at the airport.

Forget about Pizza Hut Express!

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Next week’s Flashback Friday will be all about Beijing, our next stop on our tour. Stay tuned!

 

DC Local: Willow Restaurant

12 Aug

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Dining al fresco at Willow

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Lobster Pot Pie and Ravioli appetizer

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Seared tuna with garlic chard

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Here is a close-up of the Saint Andre cheese and wild mushroom tart that came with the tuna

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Pork Chop wrapped in pork belly

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The freshest German dark chocolate cake …

This past weekend, we finally visited the restaurant Willow in Arlington, VA.

I had been wanting to try this place out ever since it came on our radar at the DC Burger Bash, which I wrote about here.

Willow won the best burger award overall, and I also voted for it as my favorite that day.

Anyway, we were excited to eat at the restaurant, but many of the online reviews were slightly negative.

In the end, though, were not disappointed at all.

This was a really satisfying meal on every level and I’m kind of obsessed with this place now.

How do you feel about reading online restaurant reviews? Do you put much stock in what you read or prefer to take a chance on your own?

DC Burger Bash

22 Jul

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How do you feel about burgers? 

How do you feel about sampling 10 burgers within a few hours of a single afternoon? Would you be up for it?

Sean and I are burgers fans, so we were excited to attend the DC Burger Bash last weekend.

This event was a competition (a la Top Chef style) in which burger-lovers (like us) mill around and taste 10 mini creations from participating restaurants. At the end, we each voted for our favorite, and a winner was chosen.

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So, here’s how the afternoon went down… Walking up to the venue about a block away, we could smell what awaited us. The scent of sizzling charred meat wafted out onto the streets. This was pretty exciting because it was mixture of all different kinds of burgers cooked in different ways.

Once inside, we saw 10 tents with white smoke hovering above them, and it was overwhelming to know where to start. Some burgers were pure beef, others a mixture of lamb, pork, and beef, and even one was just goat meat. Some were cooked over charcoal, others over gas flames.

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At the beginning of the afternoon, Sean proudly announced, “I’m eating them all!”

But we soon realized that pacing ourselves would be important to keep going.

We came up with a plan: we’d share 3 burgers and a beer, then take a break. After a while, we’d get another 3 and another beer, and so on. Honestly guys, I started feeling full after the first 3.

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In hindsight, we should’ve been more strategic about our burger eating. We could’ve taken off the top bun and saved room in our stomach that way, or just eaten the meat with a fork as we saw many people doing. (A little recommendation if you find yourself at a burger bash in the near future)

Here we are 6 down and 4 more to go. There was no seating, so we resorted to the concrete. Our stomachs thanked us.

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Here’s Sean after 8 burgers. By this point, I had pretty much stopped eating. Maybe a tiny nibble of each, then no more.

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Not being one to give up, Sean made a valiant effort to complete the burger tasting in full, but after a bite of the last two, Sean gravely announced, “Can’t eat that!”

He was done.

In the end, my favorite burger was beef, havarti, and pickled onions from  Willow.  This was also the overall winner of the event. Sean’s favorite was the burger with the andouille sausage on top.

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So, what did we learn about ourselves at this burger bash?

While many of the burgers were tasty and creative and original, I learned that I am a burger traditionalist.

I like them simple, like something you’d have in your own backyard.

What about you? Do you like traditional or innovative burgers? Share in the comments!

Thai Night

10 Jul

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I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but one of the things that I love about living in DC is attending various events at foreign embassies.

A few weeks back, Sean and I went to the Thai Cultural Night at the Thai Embassy in Georgetown, hosted by the International Club of DC.

We both loved Thailand when we travelled there (separately years ago before we were married) and especially love Thai food.

This event featured appetizers, open bar with Thai beer and wine, a cultural dance performance (hello, butterfly men), and a scrumptious buffet dinner with duck curry, beef salad, vegetables, fried noodles, and coconut milk custard.

We actually ran into one of Sean’s old work friends from about 10 years ago at this event, so it turned out to be a very fun night!

Red White and Blue

8 Jul

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Happy 4th of July from Washington DC!

This year, we took a boat cruise down the Potomac to see the monuments and watch the fireworks overhead.

Getting on this boat turned out to be a little bit of a fiasco (there was a fire on the dock, the boat loaded from a different port, no stairs for people to board …)

But in the end, we made it and it was a beautiful night!

Friday Flashback: Cuddling a Sled Dog Puppy in Alaska

4 Jul

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Happy 4th of July! It’s super hot here in DC, so I chose this photo to help me imagine cooler days…

This picture was taken way back in 2006, when Sean and I took our very first trip together to Fairbanks, Alaska.

You can’t see my face because it’s negative 10 degrees, ya’ll!

We splurged one day on a sled dog ride through some back country trails and there happened to be a litter of puppies at the site.

I fell in love with this one and wanted to bring him home!

These Alaskan huskies are the most amazing dogs!

June Look Back

2 Jul

Can you believe another month has come and gone?

How was YOUR June? Mine was a mixed bag.

There were lots of highs and a few lows, but let’s only focus on the highs, shall we?

The month started off well with lots of early morning walks with Quinn. We usually got out of the house by 7:00 am when the air was still fresh and smelled like honeysuckle!

By the end of the month, even the mornings were stifling hot and humid.

The second week of June, Sean’s twin brother Michael and family came for a visit for a few days. We played games, took the dog for a walk, ate lots of food, and even spent one day at the Barrel Oak winery with them.

Which one is Sean and which one is Michael? Can you guess?

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After the family left, we headed to Dallas for Mark’s wedding and as I already described here, we ate a ton of food and gained about 10 pounds.

Here’s Sean with his college buddies at the wedding.

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The next weekend, we drove to Shenandoah, where we spent a heavenly relaxing time at a cabin in Shenandoah. Here’s Quinn enjoying the drive!

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The last weekend in June was packed with fun stuff planned and it flew by.

We went to a cultural performance and show at the Thai embassy (more to come on this!), where Sean ran into one of his friends from about 10 years ago.

That’s so common for him in this area. We can go to any random gas station in the 100 mile vicinity and meet someone he knows (or someone who thinks he’s his twin brother, Michael)

Here I am below with the butterfly dancer men…

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Another highlight was seeing the Lion King at the Kennedy Center. In all these years, I’ve never seen it except for the movie version.

Let me tell you, the musical is really something special, and Sean splurged for orchestra seats!

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We did another picnic with a friend from my work at our favorite winery, and this time got the sangria. So refreshing in the summer time!

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Near the end of the month, Quinn was a bad boy on one of his walks and got so dirty. The punishment? The dreaded bath ofcourse.

Look at his face… he thinks he’s being tortured.

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Goodbye June, and hello July!

We’re taking a little breather in July and sticking around home more.

I’m expecting to do lots of grilling on the green egg and soak up the summer before it disappears again!

 

Weekend in Shenandoah National Park

1 Jul

looking up Last weekend, Sean and I escaped the heat and hustle bustle of DC for the cool mountains of Shenandoah. We left Friday afternoon in the middle of rush hour, which definitely did NOT help reduce our workweek stress. But as soon as we pulled up to our cozy dog friendly Lewis Cabin and I breathed the fresh mountain air, I felt the stress just melt away. IMG_1847 sean flower maryquin boot The temperature was in the 60s, the scenery was so calm, and we got almost NO phone reception. It was heavenly to be so disconnected. And after an entire weekend of that kind of simplicity and quiet, we resolved to consciously unplug from our tvs, phones, and computers at home more often. The first night, we got there rather late, so we cooked dinner and took Quinn for a walk around the site. It was so nice to wander and chat with other campers, smell the fires burning, and observe big families eating dinner and enjoying the outdoors. As soon as we got back to the cabin, though it started to sprinkle. Then it started to downpour. So much that our clothes got soaked trying to get in our cabin. And so hard that it drowned out the screaming baby in the cabin next to us (a wonderful benefit) rain We weren’t disappointed by the rain, though. I love the rain and it was the perfect excuse to have an early night. The next morning, everything was hazy and dreamy. we made bacon, eggs,and flatbread, and then headed out for a morning walk. eggs breakfast seanquin IMG_1862 dinner path IMG_1869 Everything was so lush and green. There wasn’t much visibility at times, but the atmosphere was so gentle. Later that evening, we made dinner again. This time, it was chicken fajitas on the grill! That night, we were able to toast a few marshmallows on the fire until it started to rain again! Another perfect excuse to hit the hay early. Driving home, I felt so calm and peaceful that I have tried to bring that feeling back into my workweek. How do you bring the peace into your workweek when you start feeling stressed? 

Friday Flashback: Geisha Adventure

27 Jun

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Okay, it was one of those cheesy experiences.

It was also very touristic and contrived. But it was also one of my favorite memories now of Japan.

I’m talking about dressing like a geisha and strolling through historic streets of Kyoto.

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So what exactly are geisha?

They are entertainers who practice traditional dancing and singing, play instruments, and engage in witty conversation. Are they really prostitutes underneath it all? It’s hard to say. We couldn’t find anyone who would describe them that way. Instead think “Courtesan.”

While there used to be as many 80,000 geisha slinking around the backstreets and pouring sake for businessmen in Japan, today it is believed there are only about 1000. Moreover, they don’t come cheaply. Clients often pay thousands of dollars for a geisha’s exclusive entertainment. But more on that later.

So my friend Diana and I decided to enter the mysterious geisha world and find out what it’s all about.

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Turns out there’s a lot of prep work and a certain degree of discomfort. It took almost 45 minutes to get the makeup on and about 15 minutes to put on all the undergarments. I can’t even tell you how many pieces and parts are strapped this way and that underneath the kimono. In Diana’s case, she was uncomfortable with the heavy wig; As for me, I had a temporary moment of claustrophobia with all the articles on clothing on me.

But we got over that quickly as soon as we hobbled around the streets in our wooden sandals and got a celebrity welcome…

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It might have been the novelty of a huge lumbering foreigner dressed up as a geisha, but we were like Moses parting the Red Sea. Crowds split and formed around us. I think about 100 people took our picture. This is what it must feel like to be Angelina Jolie.

And even though now I’m freaked out by the pasty white makeup and pink eyeliner and wonder how I didn’t wipe out in those shoes– at the time, I felt so elegant.

Later that night, as Diana and I were strolling through Gion, we noticed a frenzy of activity outside an expensive club. Right before us, posed two actual real geisha with their group of wealthy businessmen. I mean, look at that one guy on the right. He’s wearing an ascot!

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Kyoto Travel Tip #2

Overall, dressing like a geisha was so fun. I highly recommend this experience. There are dozens of photography studios in Kyoto offering this service, but we used Maiko Studio Shiki and chose the Maiko Stroll Plan, which included a book of 10 portraits inside the studio and a hour walking around outside. Young girls can also participate and men can dress as samurai. I don’t know if this studio closed down. The website link I had for it doesn’t seem to work anymore. But I think most of these studios are about the same.

More geisha stories to come, including what my husband said upon viewing the studio portraits. Men just have a different way with words, I guess…

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