Sunday, August 31, 2014

Almost home

It's Labor Day weekend! The official end of summer (at least as far as the public pools and rules about wearing white are concerned), so why not celebrate with one more trip to the beach? And by "beach" I don't mean the chilly shores of the Pacific Northwest -- I want sun and sand and heat and friends and wild ponies and dinner rolls at Jimmy's Grille.  

Only one place for all of that: Assateague Island, off the coast of Virginia.

I flew to DC today, en route to the island. I'll be meeting Amy and other friends there for a long weekend of beach camping -- starting tomorrow. Instead of heading straight there, I decided to stop for a night in the place that was home for the past six years. 

Oh man, did it feel good to be back! That humid heat outside the airport, the cicadas in the flowering trees, the warm summer eveng that only gets softer, not cooler.

I soaked up the feel of the town, relishing not only the obvious markers of place (hello, monuments!), but also the little things that made it feel like home. Like how the classical radio station comes in loud and clear (unlike Seattle, where all I can find at the bottom of the dial is jazz and static). And how I could walk around town and see people wearing clothing that had been ironed and not a single neck tattoo or body piercing or white person with dreadlocks. And how the lawns are green and surrounded by lush flower gardens in all their late-summer glory, with lovely brick townhouses rising behind them.

I met with friends for dinner (Korean!) and hung out talking long after. We caught up on what we'd missed in each other's lives over the past four months. The friends, the dating, the big work projects, the juicy work gossip.

won't deny that I felt pretty homesick for that former life of mine. It was like Lizzie Bennett seeing Pemberley for the first time, only in my case, the verb was in past tense: this had been all mine, and I'd walked away. 

Then I learned that if I'd stayed, I would have been working through this weekend on a massive deal for one of my former clients. 

Right. Sigh.  

So I remind myself why I left in the first place and embrace this feeling of "almost home" as a sign of good things to come. After all, this was how I'd felt about New York when I moved to DC six years ago. In time, surely, I'll grow to feel that way about Seattle.


Friday, August 22, 2014

The Hike: Dungeness Spit

The Olympic Peninsula is this fantastical place on the other side of the Puget Sound from Seattle.  It's home to a famous rain forest (they get about 200 inches of rain there) and sparkly fictional vampires (the Twilight books are set in the town of Forks) and not enough decent hotels -- or so my friend Ruth and I discovered when we tried to make last-minute plans for a weekend hiking trip.  Turns out the peninsula is a popular weekend destination and books up fast!

So instead of a weekend trip, we shifted to day-trip mode and set our sights on the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge sits at the top of the peninsula, only about 2 hours from downtown Seattle, and is known for the Dungeness Spit -- basically a giant sand bar that juts out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  A little over 5 miles long, the spit is one of the longest spits in the world, and it's one of the more popular day-trip destinations for Seattle-based hikers.

The first leg of the trip was a ferry ride from Seattle to Bainbridge Island.  Naturally we decided to take the first ferry of the day -- at 6:10am.  The 5:00am alarm seemed mighty early, and I was tempted to text Ruth and tell her to meet me for the later ferry -- only then the fire alarm went off and forced an evacuation of the building.  I grabbed my hiking gear and climbed down the thirteen flights of stairs onto the sidewalk, where I must have looked oddly suspicious to my sleepy, pajama-clad neighbors when I climbed, fully clothed and equipped, into Ruth's brand new BMW a few moments later.

We made our way to the ferry terminal and climbed aboard.  The morning was cool and soft; the dawn-colored mist shrouding the city as we pulled away.


We pulled into the harbor at Bainbridge Island about thirty minutes later.  The mist had turned to fog, and the place felt cold and damp.  We started our engine and drove onto the island and into the grey wilderness.


The fog was thick enough that we saw very little of the countryside until we got to the little town of Poulsbo.  There the clouds parted and we discovered an adorable little Scandinavian-settled village full of flower boxes and a delicious bakery.

The baker recommended this donut -- it's both layered and raised and buttery and glazed.  I had expected something closer to a croissant than it was (it basically tasted like an ordinary donut), but it was still delicious.  Hard to go wrong when fried dough is involved.

We ate our super-healthy breakfast of donuts on a bench overlooking the harbor.  The view was pretty, but the sun was blocked by the hill behind us, and I nearly froze to death.  Even if I hadn't been rushed out of the house by a fire drill, I still wouldn't have thought to bring a coat and gloves and long pants for a mid-August hike at sea level.  Oh, the Pacific Northwest!

Leaving Poulsbo behind us, we drove back into the bank of thick morning fog, which stayed with us all the way to the coast.  We arrived at the trailhead and made our way to the beach.  The mist was only just starting to burn off under the warm rays of the sun.

This was beach hiking at its most literal:  The Dungeness Spit stretched out before us, a narrow, sandy strip of land covered in driftwood and seagrass.  By the time we'd gone a mile or so, the fog had cleared and we could take in the beautiful views of the coastline behind us.


At the end of the spit -- 5.5 miles out from shore (so far that Verizon thought I'd left the country; they sent me a text welcoming me to Canada and informing me of the roaming charges...) -- stands a picture-perfect white lighthouse.  Complete with red roofs, bright green lawn and a shining white tower, it felt like something in a novel or a movie.  


We stopped at the lighthouse for lunch -- and by "lunch" I mean "the other pastry I'd bought in Poulsbo".  This one was called the "Viking's cup" and was basically a cinnamon roll with rich cream cheese frosting.  Super delicious and not at all what you'd normally eat on a hike.

We ended up sitting at the picnic table there for a long time.  The lighthouse sheltered us from the chilly sea breeze, so we could enjoy the sound of the waves and warmth of the sun.  It was so peaceful and remote, a real world apart.  I think we both could have stayed there all day long...

  But we didn't.  After a short nap on the lawn, we walked the 5.5 miles back to the mainland.  There was no other path than the beach we'd walked along on our way to the lighthouse, but we were surprised over and over again by the things we noticed on the way back that we hadn't noticed before.   Dead seals, colored stones, the way the clouds broke over the Olympic Mountains as they marched toward the water.  It was as beautiful and refreshing on the way back as it had been on the way out.

In particular, I was struck by how beautiful the colors were -- all those blues, grays, tans, whites and greens.  So fresh and so clean!  And oddly close to what I'd been mulling over for paint colors for my new house over the past week.  I kind of wanted to come back with a fan deck and start matching colors...


The drive back home was less picturesque and a little more of an adventure than the morning's journey.  We stopped around 4:00pm at the John Wayne Marina for dinner and discovered that we'd hit the dinner rush among the local retirees.  A little while later we learned that the line for the ferry back to Seattle had a wait of more than 2 hours -- so we took a detour and drove around the bottom of the Puget Sound.  A less fuel-efficient path, for sure, but so much better than waiting for 2 hours in line for the ferry!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bee in my bonnet

I have got to stop getting stung in the face by bees.  It hurts like heck and makes me look like Quasimodo, only with the hump on my forehead instead of my back.


How did this happen, you ask?  Well, I was about 5 miles into my 70-mile bike ride on Sunday when a bee flew into my helmet, got trapped next to my skin, and started stinging.  I stopped the bike and ripped off my helmet so fast it's a miracle I didn't crash, but it was too late:  All I could do was pull the stinger from my forehead and scrape the crippled bee from the inside of my helmet. 

I continued on my way and discovered that bee stings to the forehead have a peculiar life cycle:  At first they barely hurt at all.  Then they hurt a lot (but not so much that you'd stop the bike).  Then they hurt so much they redefine what "a lot" means (seriously, when your entire head is throbbing it's tempting to turn around and go home, only what are you going to do when you get there, cry about it?).  Then they stop hurting and disappear and you forget you got stung by a bee in the first place (remember how I didn't even mention this in my write-up of the ride?). 

But then, THEN! TWO DAYS LATER, the bee sting comes back to life and goes all British in its efforts to colonize my entire head -- by now it's conquered about a third of that vast expanse.  It itches and hurts and feels weird when I make facial expressions.  And since it's not discolored, people don't realize that this is the result of a horrific, crippling, wild animal attack until I point out to them that I'm basically turning into a Klingon.  "Oh," they say, "I just thought you had a lopsided skull."  As if that were any better.

So I'm sitting in my office trying to avoid external meetings and smearing hydrocortisone cream on my nascent unicorn horn, hoping that it will all go back to normal soon (and/or that I will wake up tomorrow with superpowers and ripped muscles).


Monday, August 11, 2014

The Ride: Seattle to Redmond, plus seals!

Okay, so it's already the middle of August and I've done basically zero cycling this summer.  I'd meant to ride more, but, you know, first it was cold, then I went to Japan, then I had to get a bike  tune-up and buy a house.  But all of that is done now (or at least in process), so I finally got out today for a good, long-distance ride.

I started from my place in Belltown to Ballard, where I picked up the Burke-Gilman Trail and rode it to the end.  From there I hopped on the Samammish River Trail and rode that to the end.  By then I was in the deep dark heart of SUBURBIA and on track to hit seventy miles by the time I got back home.  So I headed back home and spent the rest of the day telling my legs to stop freaking out.  After all, if I'm going to get in shape for the 92-mile "Ride Around the Sound" in mid-September, then they're going to have to get used to this.

The weather was perfect, the scenery gorgeous, and the seals totally adorable.

Those numbered pins are five-mile markers.
Airplane bodies in the rail yard - how can you tell we're not far from Boeing?
The troll bridge.  My future house is at the base of this bridge.
Ballard locks

Big News


Just kidding.  That would be super weird and kind of biologically impossible.  But given that this news has prompted my parents (who don't travel except for grandchildren) to start planning a trip to visit me, I guess it's basically the same thing.  So here's the real news:


[Warning: I am now going to tell you the story of my life, so if that sounds boring to you, feel free to skip to the photos below. Don't worry, no judgment -- I'd do the same.]

I started looking about a month ago, right after I got back from Japan, and never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to go this smoothly.  The Seattle real estate market is notoriously tight right now, with very little inventory and hordes of Amazonians pouring in from around the country.  My realtor, my coworkers and the Internet told me to brace myself for the worst:  months of hunting, ridiculous bidding wars, out-of-staters who swoop in and buy a place with cash for more than the asking price.

Nevertheless, I jumped right in.  The first week, I told my realtor that I wanted a super chic glass box in a downtown skyscraper with views of the Puget Sound, a balcony, and walking distance to work.  Then I discovered that there are only, like, two of those in all of Seattle, and they both cost a fortune (more a function of outrageous HOA dues than actual purchase price).

So for the second week, we expanded to townhouses, which was basically an "out of the frying pan and into the fire" move.  Sure, the townhouses solved the HOA dues problem, and I loved the modern  architecture of the new construction, but they tended to have crappy views, no privacy, and weird neighbors (I"m sorry, but I don't want to live next to a boarding house for recovering alcoholics).  Dang it.

By this point I was feeling downtrodden and full of woe -- this real estate project was sucking my will to live.  Also, I was super annoyed with my realtor.  I felt like I was doing all the legwork in identifying the properties and he was my glorified chauffeur.  So we had a little come-to-Jesus, where I was like "dude, I know I told you that I wanted a glass box in the sky within walking distance to work and a bunch of other basically impossible characteristics, and I realize I might be coming across a little high maintenance right now, but I need you to step up your game and sell me a freaking awesome house, stat."  The "or else..." wasn't spoken, but I think he got the hint.

So, week three:  My realtor gets some religion and takes me out on what finally felt like a real house hunting trip.  He focused on three new neighborhoods that were just outside the walking range from work, but which otherwise seemed to match what I was looking for:  Cool, walkable neighborhoods that weren't full of druggies or moms with strollers.  He also stuck with the modern townhouse theme that had initially seemed so promising the week before.  And, lo and behold, a Christmas miracle:

The first place we went was unlike anything else we'd seen before.  One of seven townhouses in a development, the place had beautiful interiors with clean lines and a great floor plan, high quality materials and appliances, and a to-die-for rooftop deck.  When I got home, I did some digging and learned that the development was called Footprint at the Bridge and had been designed by some fancy architects, had full LEED Platinum certification, and had been written up in some architecture magazines.

Intrigued, I went back that night and again the next day (I totally stalked that place).  I prowled around the neighborhood and discovered that the house is only a couple of blocks from the Burke-Gilman Trail (Seattle's main cycling/running trail), the famous Fremont troll, a Crossfit gym, and the eclectic cluster of shops and restaurants at the heart of the Fremont neighborhood.  What's more, the central location meant it's only a short drive to work and basically every other cool neighborhood in the city.  Less than twenty-four hours later, I knew I wanted it.

And by "I wanted it", I mean "holy cow I had to have it or I might as well move to the suburbs."  I was convinced that 47 other people were going to swoop in and buy it up instantly, so I told my realtor to put together an offer that was attractive but not desperate.  We came in under the asking price but offered a decent downpayment and a quick closing schedule -- and made it a 24-hour exploding offer.  The next 24 hours were nail-biters. I basically felt like I was the protagonist in every teenage romance ever: "Do they like me? Am I cool enough? What if they hate me? Did I come in too low? Am I letting them take advantage of me? Why is my life so hard?"

The nice thing about an exploding offer it that it cuts the suspense short.  By Monday afternoon I'd heard back from the seller:  They accepted my offer in its entirety.  No negotiation.  AWESOME!!

And so, without further ado, here's what you've been waiting for all along:  Photos of the future chez moi:

There are seven townhouses in a horseshoe shape
Front door
654379_4_2 rooftop view
Living room
654379_6_2 kitchen
654379_5_2 living and kitchen
654379_19_2 back patio
Back yard
654379_9_2 landing
Second floor landing
654379_10_2 landing
Second floor landing
654379_12_2 guest bed
Guest bedroom
654379_11_2 bath
Guest bath
654379_16_2 landing 3rd floor
Third floor landing
654379_13_2 master bed
Master bedroom
654379_15_2 master bath
Master bath
Rooftop deck
654379_17_2 rooftop view
The view (aka the money shot)

I'm super excited about finally having a place of my own.  Believe me, this is just the beginning!!