Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dad and Lady do Seattle

As you know, I've been looking forward to an inter-holiday visit from my parents for the past several months.  Now that I live on this side of the Mississippi (and within driving distance of Reno), they wanted to come see my place, explore Seattle and spend time yours truly.

This meant getting the house into parent-ready state, of course, but it also meant putting together an appropriately fun and exciting itinerary for the three and a half days they'd be here.  After all, I have to maintain my status of Favorite Uncle even if there aren't any grandkids involved!

They arrived late Saturday afternoon.  After hugs and a quick tour of chez moi, we headed out for a low-key dinner of tacos at my favorite taqueria in Wallingford . . .

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. . . followed by an evening screening of Into the Woods.

My parents saw a local production of this musical in Oregon back in the mid-90s and haven't stopped talking about it since.  And since it's my favorite Sondheim musical, it seemed like an obvious way to kick off the weekend!
Sunday morning dawned bright and boring with three hours of church, the effects of which I quickly countered with a lunch/sightseeing/shopping trip to Pike Place Market.

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We started with lunch at Pear Delicatessen, which makes terrific sandwiches and sells a variety of other tasty goodies.

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Once our tummies were full, we wandered through the market, past the fish-throwing fishmongers and lovely florist stands.  We snagged a dozen fresh-made donuts from the Daily Dozen and ate them overlooking the Puget Sound.  Then we stopped at Frank's Quality Produce and picked up some vegetables to make a hermit's stew at home.

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And of course we couldn't leave the market without grossing out over the infamous Gum Wall.

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We spent the rest of the evening at home making dinner, talking and introducing my parents to all my favorite BBC television shows (QI was not a hit; Orphan Black, however, had it's typical addictive effect).

On Monday morning we ventured into the wilds of Seattle's Magnolia Park, a large natural area (and possibly military base) on a peninsula that juts out into the Puget Sound.  The hills were steep, the parking illegal, and the views stunning.  You'd never guess that there was a major city just around the bend.

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Once we felt we'd pushed our luck with the parking police long enough, we climbed back in the car and headed to Tilikum Place Cafe, where we warmed ourselves with a hearty brunch.

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Warm and well-fed, we headed back out into the sunny cold for our next adventure -- this time aboard a WWII amphibious vehicle driven by a crazy man with a duck-shaped kazoo.

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The duck tour was silly and fun; short on history and facts but long on lighthearted sightseeing.

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Crossing the Aurora bridge. The duck put us up high enough to see over the cement guardrail.
Great view of Lake Union and the Cascades in the distance.
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In the water!  We didn't sink!
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Some super-nice houseboats on Lake Union.
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Gasworks Park and a sailboat.  My house is only a couple of blocks behind that green knoll.

One fun thing about the duck tour is that it runs right past my house.  In the summer, when I have the windows open, I hear those things passing every twenty minutes.  It gets to where I know exactly where I am in the soundtrack, and every time, I hear the driver saying loudly, into the microphone, "Okay, now, we're going into a residential district, so I'm going to be quiet for a while."  I told my parents that I was planning to call the company and ask them to make that announcement about 30 seconds earlier, so they'd be quiet by the time they passed my house.  Our driver must have a hidden mind-reading talent, because this time, as we passed my house, he blared out, "Okay, now, we have to be quiet here because there's a person here who has hateful personality disorder and complains when I am too loud."  Ha!

The duck tour started and ended near the Seattle Center, which is where the Space Needle is, as well as a bunch of other museums, arts/sports venues and food courts.  We stopped long enough to refresh ourselves with a kebab before heading into the Chihuly Museum.


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One sign of good art is that every time you see it, you find something new.
For example, this time I discovered some tiny cherubs posing immodestly amongst the
abstract shapes of Chihuly's Persian Ceilings.
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Once we'd had our fill of art and culture, we went home for dinner and 18 episodes of Orphan Black.

Tuesday dawned brighter and even colder than the day before, so it worked out well that I'd planned a day of (mostly) indoor activities.  Seattle, as you may know, is kind of the birthplace of modern commercial aviation -- Mr. Boeing set up shop here in the early 1900s and his company continues to crank out a significant share of the world's airliners.  I got us tickets to tour the Boeing manufacturing plant in Mukilteo (a town about 40 mins north of Seattle) so we could see how the proverbial sausage is made.

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All personal items and electronics (including phones and cameras) were strictly forbidden, so no pictures, but I will say that the tour was super interesting and I'd recommend it to anyone if they've got the time.  I was particularly impressed with the scale of the operations -- the planes are built in a building that is the largest in the world by volume; each plane has millions of components, and yet the whole thing was spotlessly clean and exceedingly organized.

After seeing the manufacturing plant, we drove to the other Boeing campus (in Renton, about 20 mins south of Seattle) to see the Museum of Flight, where we saw an impressive collection of historical and current airplanes and spacecraft.  We even got to climb inside a few of them!

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Lady and me before boarding a sales model of Boeing's new Dreamliner.
(New goal: Fly on one of those planes!)
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The Concorde.  It's astonishing to think of a 3-hour transatlantic flight.
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Airforce One.  This one served Kennedy, Johnson and maybe one or two more.
It was cool to see the ancient telephones and Mid-Century design aesthetic.

By the time we'd finished with the museum, it was time to head back into town for dinner and a movie.  We had reservations at the very tasty Boat Street Cafe (where I failed to take any photos) and tickets to a late showing of final installment of The Hobbit at Cinerama, a stylistically retro but technologically cutting edge movie house downtown.


The time flew by and before we knew it, it was Wednesday and time for Lady and Dad to drive back home.  We spent our last morning making waffles and fresh orange juice before loading the car for the long drive home.  It was a fun time, and I can't wait for the next time they visit!


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas!

For the first time in, gosh, how many years? I didn't spend the month of December working around the clock to close a bunch of year-end deals. Instead, I had a great December full of sisterly visits, furniture shopping and -- to top it all off -- a white Christmas with my sibs and the grandkids in Boise.

I flew out from Seattle on the morning of Christmas Eve.  For being the day before Christmas, everything went super smoothly, and my fellow travelers were even happy and well behaved.  One guy, in particular, went out of his way to be positive, courteous and pleasant to everyone around him -- all of which had the effect of elevating the mood and standard of interaction for everyone else.  When it goes well, there's nothing quite like traveling on a holiday -- you've got the energy of the holidays, plus the excitement inherent in flying off to a new place; it's the best of both worlds!

Heather picked me up and we spent the rest of the day getting ready for Christmas dinner.  The tree stood brightly in the corner, and soon we had a lovely table laid for Christmas dinner.

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The kids were beside themselves with anticipation for Christmas morning.  They eyed the clock, lamenting how slowly time passes!  Meanwhile the adults watched the oven timer, mouths watering for a taste of Jordan's home-cured Christmas ham . . . delicious!

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Eventually Mark and Erin came over, the hame was finished, and we all gathered around for a delicious Christmas dinner.

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During dinner it started to snow (sending the kids into the next level of Christmas hysterics) and when Christmas morning finally arrived, it was a beautiful White Christmas.

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Cheese stone!  With little dishes for olives and stuff!
We spent the rest of the day playing with princesses, tablets and an epic quantity of Legos (including several incarnations of Unikitty, my favorite creature ever).

Next morning, I headed out with Jordan, Mark and Erin for the annual distribution of beds built by Sleep in Heavenly Peace (a creepy name, I know, but they didn't ask me).  The organization was founded by a friend of Jordan's, and Heather and Jordan have been closely involved in the project for several years now.  The mission is to build bunk beds and deliver them to families with children who need beds.  I was lucky enough to be able to go along this year.

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Initial organizational meeting -- all the volunteers converged on Jordan's trailer,
which was full of beds and bedding.

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Mark and Jordan carrying a bed to our first stop.

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The first attempt -- taking it through the front door in one piece.
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We quickly discovered that no way would this thing fit through the internal doorways
into the kids' bedroom.  So we brought it back out on the lawn and took it apart.
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Power tools!
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Reassembling the bed in the bedroom, where space was at a premium.
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The two little boys who were getting the bed were super cute and
so very excited.  The little one used to sleep in a broken crib
with his baby brother.  The bigger kid slept on the couch.
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So excited for the new bed -- and look at that bedding!

Our next stop was pretty similar -- a small apartment with adorable kids who were super excited to finally have a place to sleep (they'd been sleeping on a mattress they'd gotten when the 90-year-old neighbor died, and which had springs poking through).

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It was all they could do to hold still long enough for a photo.


Whenever I question whether I made the right decision to change jobs and move across the country, it's things like this -- spending holidays with family and serving others -- that make me think, yes, this is the direction I want to go.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like . . .

THE PARENTS ARE COMING!!!

My new house may be exerting a grandbaby-like pull on my parents (they're coming to visit me for the first time in six years; the second time in ten years), but there are important differences between grandbabies and houses.  For example, grandparents don't normally expect to sleep and eat and bathe and sit down on furniture inside the grandbaby in the same way they do with a house.

The challenge, of course, is that when I bought the place in September, I was in no position to be hosting the parentals.  I mean, one can't exactly hand one's mother a sleeping bag and point to the couch and still qualify as a respectable adult, now can one?  Obviously not.  So in the three months since my parents announced their holiday plans, I've been hell-bent on getting my house put together enough that not only would my parents survive their stay, but they might actually enjoy it enough to want to come back again before another six years passed.

I won't go into the gory details (mostly because my details don't really count as "gory" when compared to my sister's adventures with a new log cabin that has flooded three times in as many months), but I'm happy to report that as of this afternoon, I can finally say that the house is parent ready!  The place has been repainted top to bottom, and there's a functional guest suite on the second floor.  It's nowhere near finished in terms of the overall decoration/furnishing plan, but I've accomplished everything that I wanted to get done before they arrive on Saturday.  Whew!

Here are some photos:

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The newly painted kitchen.
Stairway to the second floor
Guest bedroom. Still waiting on the duvet cover and a second
Euro sized pillow sham (and the bedside table is a cardboard box),
 but at least it's functional.
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You know the bathroom's done to Lady's standards
when there's a pocket watch clock on the counter.


Now I'm going to try to sleep for three hours before getting up to pack my bag and get to the airport for an inappropriately early flight to Boise for Christmas Eve with the grandkids.  Fun, fun, fun!




Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ashley does Seattle

A few weeks ago Alaska Airlines announced a new flight from Kalispell, Montana, to Seattle and starts promoting it with super-cheap round-trip tickets for travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  My dear sister Ashley, adventurous bargain-hunter that she is, saw the promotion and decided it was time for a siblings weekend in Seattle.  Next thing you know, we're making plans via text:
Me:  Let's talk soon about things we might want to do while you're here.
Ashley:  Hang out and watch re-runs.  That's what a vacation is, right?! ;)
Me:  Ha!
Here's how "hanging out and watching re-runs" played out last weekend:

Ashley landed on FRIDAY at 5pm.  I picked her up and we headed out to Issaquah for dinner at a Thai restaurant called Noodle Boat.

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We started with spring rolls, which turned out to be surprisingly saucy
Followed by some spicy basil chicken over rice

Thus armed with fresh garlic breath, we walked over to the Village Theatre to see their local production of Mary Poppins (it's based on the original books and the Disney movie).  Interestingly, I liked this production better than the original Broadway production I saw a couple of years ago.  That production had struck me as a little weird -- Mary was smug and the doll execution scene super creepy.  But this production downplayed the creepy factor and made Mary much more sympathetic.  The result was a charming story with some good life lessons mixed in.

I was delighted that this little community theatre figured out how to
get Mary to fly over the audience on her way out.

On SATURDAY morning we slept in until the outrageous hour of 9am and then walked over to Revel for a Korean-inspired brunch.
Donuts with bacon, Asian pear and condensed milk glaze.
The first "wow" food I've eaten in Seattle.
BBQ pork monkey bread with pickled jalapeƱos and spiced maple syrup
Ramen with pork belly, kimchi and soft-boiled egg
Dandan noodle, smoked chili, eggplant, Thai basil, peanut
Then we strolled through the Fremont neighborhood.  It was a chilly, foggy morning, but still fun to take in the houseboats on the lake and the quirky public art.

Look, a bridge!  You know what lives under bridges?
Trolls live under bridges!
We stopped by the house for a quick post-brunch nap and a few more sweaters before heading downtown to see the Seattle public library . . .

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The chess tables as seen from the mezzanine
. . . and stop for a donut (because donuts are kind of a thing in Seattle) . . .

I got an old fashioned donut with chocolate icing
. . . before embarking on a Savor Seattle food tour of the Pike Place Market.

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The tour started at the eminently unappetizing "gum wall"
At one point they served us treats on a terrace overlooking Puget Sound.
The foggy morning weather had cleared up nicely by that point.
When we finished the food tour, it was nearly dark and we needed to kill an hour or so before dinner. So we headed over to Seattle Center to gawk at the Space Needle . . .



. . . and appreciate the loveliness that is Chihuly's blown glass.



Conveniently, I had made reservations for Tilikum Place Cafe, which is only a couple of blocks from the Chihuly museum, so we didn't have far to go for dinner.
I started with the carrot soup
Followed by pan-seared chicken with potatoes and brussels sprouts
If you thought dinner would be the last item on our agenda for the day, you thought wrong -- the night had only just begun!!  This is the holiday season, after all, and that means parties and ugly Christmas sweaters.  Fortunately Ashley is not only an evil genius for Halloween costumes, she's also got the golden touch for ugly Christmas sweaters.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, she crafted some real beauties.  We left the restaurant, donned our sweaters, and hit the party circuit.

This is what winning at Christmas looks like
I'd been invited to four parties, but we only made it to two of them.  The sweaters were a huge hit and definitely some of the best out there.  You should have heard the number of random strangers who stopped to comment on and admire our sweaters!

SUNDAY morning dawned foggy and cold and awfully early, considering how late we'd gone to bed the night before.  But we had things to do, so out into the world we went.  First stop? Breakfast at Silent-Heart-Nest!  Run by elderly white women in saris, the place may look like an odd hippie diner, but it's got the best non-Korean breakfast in my neighborhood.

I ordered the frittata with goat cheese, bell peppers and fresh dill
And we split the waffle special.  Because waffles are the best thing ever.
This one came with a creamy sauce, pecans, raisins
and a dusting of cinnamon and powdered sugar.
Having thus breakfasted, we set out for the little town of Leavenworth, Washington.  Leavenworth is a tiny town about 2.5 hours away from Seattle in the middle of the Cascade mountains.  It's claim to fame is kitsch:  In the early 1960s the town was struggling to survive, so the village elders decided to turn it into a Bavarian village.  They transformed every building in town to look like something straight out of a Grimm fairy tale and/or Disneyland.  It's ridiculous but also totally endearing in its earnestness -- and it's close enough to the real thing that it answers a little bit of that longing to go back to Germany (or at least Strasbourg) for Christmas.
 

We met up with some of my friends from work -- including Ruth and Tobias, both actual Germans -- to explore the town.

Lunch with fake German food and real German friends
(I had schnitzel with spatzle and red cabbage)
Posing with the wandering Christmas trees and toy soldier
Hot chocolate break at the Gingerbread Factory!

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Only instead of gingerbread, we went for the raspberry scone
with melted raspberry butter on top.  (Can you say sugar high?)
When night fell (at 4:30pm!) everyone gathered in the central village square in front of a gazebo where a choir of well meaning (bless their hearts!) high schoolers were singing Christmas carols.  The emcee introduced Miss Leavenworth and a handful of Santas with impressive beards.  We all sang a couple of carols together and then, after a collective countdown, the town lit up all the Christmas lights at once.

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It was fun and cold and time to go home.  And because the whole lighting ceremony was finished at 5pm, we still made it home before 8pm.  Which meant that we had all the time in the world to hang out on the couch watching reruns before bed, just as we'd planned to do all along . . .   :)

As far as I'm concerned, the best thing currently on TV