Saturday, April 30, 2011

Coffee break

Down at the Boiler Room this fine Saturday morning drinking a latte and showing my youngest how to create her own blog. Hers is at:

Monday, February 9, 2009

Event – Great Music & Food, First Friday at Montana Coffee Traders

Since it was the first Friday of the month, my youngest daughter and I decided to enjoy the music at Coffee Traders to wrap up last week. They were also serving a burrito dinner, but we were late arriving due to her indoor soccer game, so I didn’t get a chance to try one. They looked great. After a brutal soccer loss, she and I needed a pick-me-up, so I got a large latte and she grabbed a Mighty Mango juice (maybe you’re seeing a theme here about me and coffee if you’ve been following my other posts?).

We arrived just in time for the group, Shoreline, to finish up a quick break and start playing again. I’d listened to two of the members (fiddle player and guitarist) in another group last year or the year before, so I knew we were in for a treat. Sarah Etzler plays a mean fiddle and Todd Stokes never misses a beat on the guitar. They performed a couple instrumental only pieces.
Audio Clip of Instrumental
Audio Clip of Another Instrumental

The silky voiced, passionate female vocalist, Ashley Crevier joined them for a few popular numbers like “I hope you dance” by LeeAnn Womack and “Bubbly” by Colbie Calliat. Every song was terrific, even though they’ve only been playing together since the end of September. I did chat with them briefly and apparently Ashley writes some of her own music and plays the keyboard as well, though she didn’t have one along this particular night and I didn’t arrive early enough to hear any of her pieces.

The environment at First Fridays at Coffee Traders is comfortable, with people who attend chatting as they sup and listen to the music, which you may hear in some of the sound clips I uploaded, though things quieted down when Ashley’s family requested “Bubbly”.
Audio Clip of Ashley singing Bubbly

My daughter and I had a great time! I’ve mentioned this previously, but if you get a chance, this is a good way to wrap up a week. Just remember that it’s the first Friday of the month as they’re not standardly open for dinner.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Food - Perfect Breakfast and Lunch – Montana Coffee Traders, Columbia Falls, MT

The first thing you notice when you wander in to Montana Coffee Traders is the people. The staff is warm, friendly, and conversational. The managers focus on customer service skills when they hire. But that’s not all this place has to offer. The food is exquisite, both at breakfast and lunch. The menu is unique, reminiscent of the upscale bistros I remember from my time in Portland, OR or Washington, DC. The price and quantity, however, are significantly better; more like a good old-fashioned home cooked meal café.

The Columbia Falls store (map) also holds regular special events in the evening. Talented local area musicians, usually with a bluegrass/country feel, perform at dinner meals the first Friday of every month. Columbia Falls also holds dinners for a few of the major holidays, like Valentine’s Day.

To give that “place I’d like to hang out” feel, they provide free wireless internet and even a desktop hooked up to the internet for those that didn’t bring their own computer. The Columbia Falls store, which used to be the “Pines Café” before it was Coffee Traders, even has the original pine tree as a center post, adding to that Montana look and feel. They have an entire wall devoted to displaying the work of local area artists with a new artist featured every month.

The coffee is the best in the valley as the company roasts several varieties of their own beans daily at a facility here in Whitefish, MT. They brew the Guatemalan for their core drinks, which is a nice medium bean that provides a rich taste that suits most palettes. They also take training their baristas seriously, ensuring you get a consistently good drink.

Interestingly enough, the company is global, with stores in Moscow, Russia, Monteverde, Costa Rica, a sister store in Austin Texas, and the three main branches here in the Flathead Valley: Columbia Falls, Kalispell, and Whitefish. The Costa Rica location is not only a part of the bean supply, but a way to support the local economy there as Coffee Traders is a leader in the Fair Trade organization and participates in programs to help locals purchase their own land for coffee production. They are also very green in their bean purchases, supporting shade grown coffee, rather than the “clearcut to produce quantity” approach.

I highly recommend stopping in for at least a coffee, breakfast or lunch if time permits, and maybe some dinner and music if you’re around the first Friday of the month.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Destination - Powder & Sun, Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, Montana

Bright and early this morning, both my daughters and I hefted our snowboards into the back of the minivan and headed out in search of the perfect day.

(Yes, I wear a yeti hat over my helmet. My girls picked it up for me at the Expedition Everest ride when we were at Disney World during the trip I documented in an earlier post.)

We picked up my youngest daughter's friend and some of her family on our way south towards Blacktail Mountain Ski Area. Today's destination then, took us back around the west side of Flathead Lake to the hills high above the town of Lakeside, MT. I would argue that I've been to some of the best ski locations in the Northwestern US: Mt Bachelor Ski Resort, OR, Breckenridge and Keystone, CO, Park City Mountain Resort and Snowbird, UT, Big Mountain, MT (renamed to Whitefish Mountain Resort, but I grew up with it as Big Mtn, so it shall always be Big Mtn to me), but I love the feel of Blacktail.

So what is it about Blacktail that I like so well? I mentioned before that I "love the feel" of the place. That's probably the best way to describe it. The staff, the snow, the lack of wait times, the views; it all sums up to one incredible experience.

Let's start with the staff. I truly get the feeling that they are happy to be working there. Not the "I'm getting paid to have this plastic smile for the tourists" vibe, but more of the "I can't believe they pay me to do this, shall we have some fun" type of attitude. My daughters and I have taken lessons here and at some of the other places I listed above, and I have to tell you that I wouldn't recommend anywhere but Blacktail to someone needing a lesson. Their program is top notch, well run (wish I knew the gal's name to give her credit), and the instructors are all certified and really know their stuff.

The top of the mountain is at almost 7000 feet, so the snow is great too. The lodge and parking area are actually at the top of the hill and you ski down to the lifts. All of the beginner areas are well groomed, but they leave some powdery stuff for the more advanced folks to enjoy. They do have snow makers to help out when Mother Nature isn't fully cooperating, but I've rarely seen them need to use them. For the more adventurous snowboarders, they have a full terrain park. Overall, I would say there is enough variety on the mountain to keep most families satisfied. But here's a link to their trail map so you can judge for yourself.

The lines are never more than a few people long at the bottom of the lifts, so you spend more time skiing/boarding instead of standing around getting cold wondering whether you paid to wait for the lift as I have sometimes wondered at other facilities. (Note the lack of line behind my one daughter, while my other daughter was lounging a bit beside the lift line)

One of the things I love is the view down into Flathead Valley. I took several shots today to share with everyone.

All-in-all a great day in the sun, enjoying the snow with my girls!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Destination - Beautiful View, West Shore State Park, Flathead Lake, MT

Since it was a nice sunny afternoon, my oldest daughter and I grabbed the video and still cameras and headed out around the west shore of Flathead Lake to do some photography.

Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, so it offers a variety of activities, even in winter.

Last weekend, we tried to shoot some video footage in Sommers (town at the north end of Flathead Lake). The sun wasn't bright enough and that was part of our reason for heading back out today. The bay near Sommers is still covered in ice. Last weekend, there was a group out playing hockey. This weekend, we saw a couple guys out on the ice in the bay with land boards. They are basically wheeled windsurf boards. I wish I'd gotten a shot or two of them, but I wanted to get to somewhere on the west shore of the lake before losing the light. It was nice and sunny, but there were a couple large white fluffy clouds. The wind was very brisk and pushed my little car around quite a bit, so the clouds were really cruising.

We were trying to find the State Park that we turned around in 2 summers ago as we thought we'd get the best light there with sun starting to crest over to the western skyline. The thought was to get some shots out over the lake with the sun at our backs. Of course, we had no luck finding the elusive park and drove almost all the way to Polson. We hadn't seen the sign we were expecting. Somewhere we missed it, even on the way back, so we stopped at the West Shore State Park instead.

It might have been a better spot to stop and we had a great time. Looking at the map, we may have been looking for Big Arm State Park, so maybe we didn't go quite far enough towards Polson. ;-)

Here's a couple shots in and around the park. Notice the ice on the shore in the pictures. We're still cold here, though it was up near 38 degrees F today.

Even with the cold and wind, there were actually a few brave souls out fishing by the island in these photos.

As you can see from the pictures, the clouds were fairly kind to us, leaving us enough sun to work with. It's hard to beat the views near Flathead Lake!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Washington, DC - My daughter's leadership conference

When my daughter was nominated for a leadership conference in Washington, DC, my father and I decided to tag along and make certain she made it to and from the conference ok as well as spending some great one-on-one time together wandering around the Smithsonian.

I posted these photos of our trip to my parents website, though I admit, I have not updated the rest of their site in quite awhile.

We were there Mar 24th -29th, 2008 with about one day with my daughter on either end of the trip. Since we left DC when she was just 2, she really wanted to go back to the Smithsonian Zoo downtown(<-map link) as that was one of her favorite spots as a child. We went there first (after getting a Starbucks across the street of course). We pretty much wandered through the whole zoo that first day. Then we took about half a day the next morning at the Museum of Natural History. After that, it was time to drop my daughter off for her conference at the National 4H center.

Dad and I spent the next couple days wandering around the Smithsonian, including looking at more of the things in the Museum of Natural History, checking out the Museum of the American Indian, and spending a great deal of time in the Air and Space Museum. Dad and I wrapped things up by visiting Congress with a private tour from one of Denny Rehberg's aides.

I also caught up with some friends, both from when I worked for National Energy Group (main Info Tech offices were in Bethesda/Rockville even though I was in Portland, OR) as well as when I was living in DC working for the Air Staff. Dad and I had great company for a couple of our meals. Due to the meds he was taking, Dad was watching his diet while he was there, so I was "forced" to accompany him to the Cheesecake Factory several times so he could get their spinach. You'd be amazed how few places actually serve the stuff these days and to find one that also served monster slices of cheesecake was a huge plus in my book. If you ever need a laugh, ask my parents about my phase of only wanting to eat lobster and cheesecake every meal (hmmm, should have mentioned that I used two of the dinner meals in my previous Disney World post to eat a twin lobster tail dinner on two differnt nights. Maybe I'm still not out of that phase?). But I digress...

With tired feet and full bellies (and another Starbucks coffee), dad and I went back to pick up my daughter. She was elected to give the speech for her group at the end of the conference, though we didn't get to see it. The conference is about the young adults and developing their leadership abilities, not humoring the bursting with pride parents. ;-) My daughter, of course, really wanted to see the Air and Space Museum and dad and I gladly went back with her as you could probably spend a whole week in each museum if you really looked at everything.

All-in-all it was an incredible trip! You can't replace such quality time with your father and daughter. I highly recommend finding time to let the storms of your life swirl around you. Pay attention to the fact that you're really in the eye of the storm and can choose to pause and enjoy the time with your family. That's my new year's wish for any of you who read this.

I would have to say most of it wouldn't have been possible without my mother chasing down hotel reservations and coordinating with Rehberg's office for us. We often lamented that she should have been participating in the trip with all the work she put in to make it happen for us. We love you mom!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Disney World, Dec 2007

We visited Disney World with the kids in December 2007. We took 5 full days in the park and stayed at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort at the park itself. I would highly recommend the "at the park" approach to anyone headed that way. We have always stayed outside the park because we felt like it was the cheaper approach. However, being able to ride the park bus everywhere for free, and sign up for the dining plans, offset the cost savings some and certainly upped the convenience factor significantly. I ate way too well because all our meals were prepaid and the dinners came with an appetizer, main course, drink, and desert, so with all 4 of us getting an appetizer big enough that one would have done, I needed to be rolled back to the bus most nights. Unless you can find a supermarket close to your hotel, you'll pay as much or more for food anyway as the costs in and around the park when you don't have the passes are frighteningly high. One thing though, there are some of the park restaurants that book well in advance (the Steak House in the Canadian section of Epcot for example), so make certain you make reservations early, maybe even calling ahead of your trip for the popular spots. There are also special events that a travel agent, though another adder in terms of cost, is more likely to be able to point you to. We would have completely missed the Candlelight Processional dining and music special without the travel agent's assistance.

One of the special things about our trip was that we met some friends from Portland, OR at the park. After we'd been there half a week, my parents and aunt also joined us. One of my favorite photos is this one of 2 sisters and then 2 more sisters 2 generations down my family tree sitting together in front of the "The Seas with Nemo and Friends" area in Future World at Epcot. I also really liked this photo of me and my ladies in front of the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom.