Artichoke, Swiss Chard, and Sundried Tomato Stuffed Chicken

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I find that more often than I would like to admit, dinner at home is a random concoction of whatever I have around. My weekday routine involves me taking out a package of frozen meat to thaw in the morning for that evenings meal, and most of the time I just thaw whatever freezer bag my hands reach for first. Therefore, by the time I get home after work, I don’t always have a set meal in mind. I do however, always want to cook something healthy, using whole foods whenever possible. To make the stuffing for this chicken, I used a few different ingredients I had in my refrigerator, and you can really use any combination of vegetables you may have in yours. This recipe is low carb, and really simple to make, especially after a long work day.

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Ingredients:

2 Chicken breasts (slightly pounded)

1 Cup sliced mushrooms

1/4 Cup sundried tomatoes

1/2 Cup artichoke hearts (quartered)

2 Cups Swiss chard (roughly chopped)

1 Garlic clove (minced)

1/2 Cup red table wine

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

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Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 350F. Add mushrooms to a food processor and roughly grind. In a skillet, heat up the olive oil and add minced garlic. Saute garlic until lightly browned, and add Swiss chard. Let the chard cook for about a minute, then add artichokes and tomatoes. Add mushrooms, and salt and pepper to taste.

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Let the vegetables cook for about 5 minutes, then add wine. Simmer vegetables for a few more minutes, until all vegetables are soft and the wine has been absorbed.

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Add a couple of big dollops of the vegetable mix to the center of each chicken breast. Roll the chicken breasts, and secure with toothpicks. Bake chicken in oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, and remove toothpicks before serving. Top chicken breasts with leftover vegetables.

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Road-trip to Texas

About two years ago we took our first long distance road trip together, with James’ brother and his now fiancée. The four of us headed towards Austin, Texas to watch James and his brother Robert’s short film, ‘Machines of the Working Class,’ play at the SXSW Film Festival.

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It was a relatively short trip, but we embraced the opportunity to do some sightseeing around the state capitol.

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It poured pretty much the entire time we were in Austin, nevertheless we made the trek to the Capitol building and were also able to visit the University of Texas campus.

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Luckily, the capitol building was open that day, despite it being a weekend. The inside of the building was stunning, and it was a pleasant get away from the hustle and bustle of the film festival.

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We were completely drenched, but I remember us laughing a lot the entire time. Sadly, that yellow umbrella in the photo above broke shortly after this was taken.

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After the festival in Austin, James proposed we take a detour and visit San Antonio, and I am so glad he thought of it! Thankfully, the weather was much more forgiving in San Antonio, and we absolutely loved walking around this pleasant city. Here we are in front of the Tower of the Americas at HemisFair Park.

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We strolled along the lovely River Walk, had a nice lunch, and even saw a couple get engaged.

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Here James is standing in front of the Bexar County Courthouse.

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My personal favorite part of the trip was going to The Alamo! We were able to go inside and take in the history, but unfortunately were unable to take any photos inside.

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Had it not been for the film festival, and James’ wonderful sense of adventure and curiosity, we would not have had this great opportunity. There were many hours of driving through the desert, but having good company along the way, and the memories of the places we got to visit made it all worth it.

 


Escape from Sabre Island – A Lego Brickfilm

As all our friends know, James and I love legos. We have a few sets, and thoroughly enjoy spending our free time playing with legos. A couple of months ago, James started thinking of making our own stop-motion lego brickfilm, and decided that it would be based off the classic Lego Pirates theme from 1989-1993. Luckily, we already had a lot of the pieces we needed and found the other pieces on ebay to bring the project to fruition.

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The entire ‘set’ was created on our coffee table, and we shot the whole project right in our living room. The base of the island was created using an array of random pieces we already had, and covered with gray and tan pieces we purchased on the lego website. Working primarily weeknights, after work, and weekends when time allowed, we were able to complete the shooting process over the course of three weeks.

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We used most of the official ‘Sabre Island’ set for the soldier’s watch tower, and created another structure that was based on sets that James and his brother used to own when they were children.

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This second structure was a prison that also provided lodging for the Governor.

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Once we had our base for the entire set, we had fun covering it with rocky terrain for the one main angle it was to be seen from.

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Here you can see the completed model, including the pieces we used to create the effect of distant land masses, and moving water. The digital cloning and morphing of this one water piece would prove to be the most difficult part of the entire process.

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The actual shooting was much more tedious than the construction. In most cases, the different moving elements were shot separately. Those passes were then composited, and in some cases frames were re-ordered to alter the animation.

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We used tweezers to place several pieces. Here, the tweezers would be digitally painted out to make the sword spin in mid-air.

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Sheets of blue and green poster-board served as our green/blue screens and sky backdrops.

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For some elements, we shot realtime video and then adjusted the speed, or chose certain frames to use.

The construction and shooting only comprised a small percentage of the production. Most of the time was spent with James using every trick in the book to digitally stabilize the footage during the compositing process. Nudging the pieces so much as one millimeter led to many hours of tracking and rotoscoping, not to mention painting out the occasional kitty cat hair.

Even after dealing with difficult pieces and pained fingers, the results made it all well worth it. Watch our short film ‘Escape from Sabre Island,’ below:


Middle Earth Madness VII

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A couple of our close friends started a fun tradition six years ago called ‘Middle Earth Madness.’ Every year they invite friends over to their home and watch the extended versions of all three Lord of the Rings films. It’s not just a sit and watch movies type of event, the whole day also is sprinkled with themed food and treats such as Second Breakfast, Baked Bree, and You Shall Not Pizza, to name just a few. This year was the seventh time they have hosted this event, but only my fourth time attending as I met them in 2011. Shortly after James introduced me to his college friends this fun duo invited me to their then fourth annual ‘Middle Earth Madness,’ and I haven’t missed one since.  To add to the fun of the day a few guests bring their own themed treats, so of course James and I have eagerly taken up that opportunity to have fun creating our contributions. Unfortunately, in 2012 I had oral surgery the day before the event so we were unable to bring a treat (but I still went, puffy faced and all). Here are the three treats we have created in the past. We’re already brewing up new ideas for the upcoming years.

2014

Shelob’s Web Cake

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2013

Bilbo’s Hobbit Hole Cake

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2011

Map of Middle Earth Cookie

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IMG_0710(This was actually at my old apartment – oh nostalgia)

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As a fan of the LotR trilogy, and all things ‘nerd,’ I quickly embraced the tradition and look forward to it each year. Can’t wait to see what we come up with each year.


Three Years of Disneyland

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Disneyland, and all things Disney related, play a big part in our lives. On our third date, which was a lovely picnic in Barnsdall Park, I asked James if he liked theme parks. His response was, ‘I consider theme parks to be a serious art-form.’ I don’t know what our lives would be like if it were any other way. As annual pass-holders we get to enjoy unlimited trips to the parks, enabling us to cultivate endless memories. Motivated by our upcoming trip to Walt Disney World to visit James’ parents, we decided to create a collection of photos representing the past three years of our adventures at Disneyland Resort here in California.

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This photo is one of James’ favorites. He notes that he loves the juxtaposition of all the rides you can see in the background (Matterhorn, Monorail, Mad Tea Party) complimented by a happy me having a great day at Disneyland Park.

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We decided to take this photo somewhat recently, as rumors have circulated that the Tomorrowland entrance will look vastly different in the near future.

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This is James’ favorite model (in the whole world). Here I am pointing at Peter Pan’s Flight which is my favorite ride in the park.

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This photo was taken on the one occasion so far that we have ridden in the nose cone of the Monorail. The view going into Disneyland was spectacular.

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We don’t often take pictures of our food when visiting the theme parks, but we couldn’t resist when it came to this Mickey Mouse waffle served at Carnation Cafe.

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Even though it only opened a couple of years ago, Jolly Holiday Bakery has quickly become one of my favorite eateries at Disneyland Resort. The penguin stained glass always makes me happy.

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At some point we hope to have photos with all of the major characters in the parks, our biggest deterrent are the long lines of parents with their impatient little ones. On  this occasion however, we were sitting by a bench when we saw Woody walking by and were able to quickly sneak a photo before all of his admirers showed up.

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This photo was taken by James the very first time that I went on Dumbo the Flying Elephant, as you can see I was beyond thrilled. I love that only the ride is in focus in this picture and that we were able to catch a shot of the Matterhorn from our high flying view.

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We do not have very many photos of both us together from our adventures in the parks, so sometimes we must take them ourselves. Here we are wearing our 3D glasses as we wait for It’s Tough to be a Bug.

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The Fantasyland Skyway Station has been an abandoned building hidden in the outskirts of Fantasyland for many years. On occasion James and I will go admire it and try to get as close as possible. Sadly, this structure will soon be no more according to some recent news.

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We place a great deal of importance on all of the small details throughout the park. After all, the entire thing is a serious art form. Here you can see a small Red Car Trolley emblem found on the streets of Disney California Adventure.

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Here we were riding Casey Jr. Circus Train overlooking the Storybook Land Canal Boats.

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This photo was taken purely by chance, as I am sure that if we ever tried to re-create this moment we would not succeed. One evening we decided to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad when the fireworks on Main Street started going off just as we were getting on the ride. It felt very magical indeed.

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Over the holidays Jungle Cruise was re-dubbed Jingle Cruise, which meant that the lines were even longer than expected. The queue looped around through so much of the building that for the first time ever we had the opportunity to go on this little terrace at the top level and admire Adventureland from above.

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I admit, I get popcorn almost every time we go to Disneyland (it is hands down my favorite snack of all time). All of the carts feature a character spinning the glass tube, this little yeti found in Fantasyland is both fun and adorable.

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We don’t fancy fried chicken very much, but we do love the interiors of Plaza Inn. I quickly took this picture outside of the building while James was walking through admiring the architecture and artwork of the restaurant.

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It always surprises me that King Arthur’s Carousel never has a long line. Although it may not be the most thrilling ride, it is in my opinion the ride with the most significance. As many may not know, Walt Disney came up with the idea of Disneyland while taking his daughters to the carousel at Griffith Park.

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Shortly after James proposed in June 2013 we celebrated our engagement at Disneyland. We took that as an opportunity to have fun photographing my ring in the park.

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As you can see, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck were both VERY impressed.

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This is not the greatest picture, but has an exciting story behind it. We were riding Space Mountain and coming to the end of the ride when suddenly the vehicle came to a stop and the lights came on! We have heard of others having this experience, but were still surprised and excited. After sitting there with the lights on for a few minutes I can say that riding with the lights off is definitely preferred.

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Here we were able to take a photo while on one ride and capture two other rides in the background. Casey Jr. Circus Train was passing through just in time.

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Us being us, we always make it a point to fully appreciate the exhibits happening inside The Disney Gallery. Last summer, the gallery had a few items commemorating The Tiki Room’s 50th anniversary. This was a menu that was used on United Airline flights for children to promote the attraction in its opening days.

Of course there are so many more places in the parks that we love and will continue to take photographs of. We are glad to live so close to the Disneyland Resort and plan to continue making many more years of happy memories.


Healthier Meatloaf

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If someone asked me the question ‘do you like meatloaf?’ I truly would not be able to respond yes or no, it’s much more complicated than that. Generally I do not like meatloaf, and by that I mean as it is traditionally prepared. A giant chunk of mushy beef with ketchup only belongs in a burger with bacon and onions in my opinion. James, however, loves meatloaf (coincidentally his first concert ever was musician Meatloaf when he was a pre-teen, but that’s another story).  Oftentimes at restaurants he will order meatloaf if it’s on the menu, but I will only have a taste at most. The reason for my disdain towards traditional meatloaf is simple, I have been spoiled (and accustomed) by my mothers meatloaf, filled with vegetables and flavor. Like most American dishes, my mother took the basic structure and idea of the meal, and made-up what she believed was in it (or what she thought would make it taste good). Having grown up in Guatemala, my parents did not experience American cuisine until they moved to this country when they were in their mid-twenties. Therefore, my own initial exposure to American food came in whatever form my mother adapted it. As a result, I now find myself opting for my mothers version and dismissing most other forms. Luckily, James happily accepted my slightly varied meatloaf and thoroughly enjoys it each time I make it. This version is very low in fat, sodium, and you can add any variety of additional vegetables. I like to pair it with even more vegetables on the side (here I roasted squash), but you can make mashed potatoes or rice if you’re looking for something different.

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INGREDIENTS:

1 lb lean ground beef

3 cups collard greens (that is what I happened to have this time, I also like to use spinach, kale, and chard)

1/2 cup diced white onion

2 garlic cloves, diced

1 large bell pepper, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 egg

1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 tablespoon pepper

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INSTRUCTIONS:

Heat oven to 350F. In a saucepan, saute onions and garlic with heated olive oil until onions are translucent. In a bowl mix salt, pepper, egg, and ground beef. Chop greens into small pieces and add to ground beef along with onions, garlic, bell pepper, and bread crumbs. Mix thoroughly.

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Place mixture into a glass bread pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake until meat is cooked through but still moist and juicy.

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Let cool for a few minutes before slicing and serving. Serve with your favorite meatloaf side dish and enjoy.

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Southern California Weekends

Like many couples, I’m sure, James and I love taking weekend getaway trips. Living in Southern California means that most of the time these trips are to local areas that we can drive to in a matter of a few hours.  There are so many places in the area we have yet to visit (Hearst Castle, San Luis Obispo, Pebble Beach – here’s looking at you), but we have made it to at least a few. Here are some photos from a couple of our adventures in Southern California thus far.

SAN DIEGO:

We have been to San Diego twice now, which I suppose is relatively a very small number considering Los Angeles is so nearby. We most certainly intend to go many more times (we’ve heard the Zoo is a must), as we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. Not surprisingly for us we enjoyed the scenic parts of the city much more than the trending metropolitan areas.  These photos are specifically from our first trip to the city in 2012.

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One of our first stops as soon as we arrived in San Diego was Balboa Park, which was by far our favorite part of the weekend. We spent several hours in the park roaming through the structures and gardens, taking in sunlight, and admiring everything it had to offer.

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As expected the park was filled with families enjoying their weekends and playing by the koi ponds.

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The detailing on all of the buildings was something to marvel at.

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Every single building, big or small, had an incredible amount of detail to contribute to the beauty of the park.

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After Balboa Park we walked back to our hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter. We stayed in a lovely hotel where we had rooftop access to admire the downtown area from above.

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We spent the rest of that evening exploring the area.

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James had visited the convention center once before this trip and was very glad to have this opportunity to see it without the comic-con crowds and decor.
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The next morning we headed to Petco Park before heading back to Los Angeles. It has become a tradition to visit the sports complexes of every city we visit, we hope to see many more across the country on our travels.

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO:

On a different trip south of Los Angeles we decided to stop by San Juan Capistrano. We did not stay for very long but were very glad to have the opportunity to visit the mission. If you ever find yourself in the area we strongly encourage a stop. We decided to pay for the audio guide tour as we walked through the entire mission.

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We are not particularly religious people by any means, but happily admired and reflected upon the hauntingly beautiful history of the mission.

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This year with wedding planning it’s likely that we won’t be taking as many weekend getaways but we hope to find time at some point to explore at least a couple of new places in the upcoming months.


Wine and Cheese Night

Ok – a lot of people have wine and cheese night, or at least have an opinion on whether or not they would ever want to have a wine and cheese night. We have several friends who don’t care much for wine and would call a wine and cheese evening pretentious/snobby. I however, love wine, love cheese, and think indulging in these delicious combinations is more than acceptable and in fact strongly encourage it. Now, wine and cheese can each get pretty expensive if you happen to be very particular about it. We, however, like to keep it simple, relatively inexpensive, and experimental.

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We invited a couple of friends over a few weeks ago and instead of going out for the evening we decided to stay in with some treats. It’s turned into a fun evening of chatting away and trying new delectable combinations, and oh what a feast we had.

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For the most part we took a ‘poor-mans’ approach to our selections. We wanted to have food that tasted good, even if the true connoisseurs would not agree. For the wines we choose a few different ones from Trader Joes that ranged from $2.00 to $20.00 – I am a true believer that wine does not have to be expensive to taste good. Personally, I am a red wine drinker, but we decided to stick to lighter wines this time around to experiment with flavors while keeping it cohesive.

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We wanted an array of textures when it came to the cheeses – we decided on: gouda, sharp cheddar, brie, goat cheese, and burrata, which are all easily found at any super market.

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We put a lot of emphasis on the sides to accompany our wine and cheese. These were the real secret ingredients that made the night a success. We had a lot of variety from pates, grilled vegetables, pickles, savory jams, and a selection of sliced deli meats. These are all especially important if any participants are lactose intolerable or sensitive so they may still thoroughly enjoy the food. We used baguette slices and peppered crackers as the bases for all the fun combinations.

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The best part for us as hosts was being able to fill up and relax at home knowing that we wouldn’t have to drive home at the end of the night. We will definitely have many more ‘wine and cheese’ nights.

 

 

 


Seattle

Last night it rained for the first time in months in Los Angeles. While most of the country suffers with cold and snow we have been lucky to enjoy a relatively sunny winter. I was personally very happy with the rain, even though it only lasted a couple of hours it was a pleasant reminder of what other weather feels like. It also reminded me of the last time I felt truly cold to the bone, which happened to be just about a year ago on our trip to Seattle. I go back to New England every winter and it has been cold, but Seattle last year felt icier than New England had the previous month. Nevertheless, we bundled up and had a lovely weekend there.

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We went with my soon to be brother in law and his now fiance as we were in town for the Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival where our short ‘Cats in Space,’ was screening.  As expected for Seattle in January it was cold and foggy the entire weekend which meant that we were only able to see the top of the space needle for  brief time periods.

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We walked around a lot both days we were there when ever we did not have film festival obligations.

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Of course – us being us – meant that after the Space Needle we were most excited about Seattle’s monorail. We were able to take the Monorail near our hotel room making the lack of vehicle that much easier during our stay. Sigh, if only Los Angeles had a monorail for public transportation…if only indeed.

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Our second morning there we headed toward Pike Place (home of the first Starbucks location) to fuel up for our day of tourist sight seeing.

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We found much more at Pike Place than we would have initially expected. The Public Market had a wonderful variety of produce/fish stands and novelty stores – one at which we found a great print of the Seattle Worlds Fair poster that has been waiting for it’s perfect frame before going up in our apartment.

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After Pike Place we went exploring around the city, as is our custom whenever visiting a new place.

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I could not have been more impressed by their public library. A tall intricate building featuring interesting architecture while providing a pleasant atmosphere for its users.

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We ended our last night in Seattle by going back to the Space Needle and celebrating the end of the trip and the positive reaction to our short film at the festival. We had a lovely dinner at the Space Needle that night, but unfortunately it was far too foggy to have any view whatsoever. Which brings us back to Los Angeles, and some of the reasons I’m glad to make my home in a sunny city. Seattle, you were wonderful – but I think we can just be friends.


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