Monday, April 27, 2015

Seattle Anniversary (and Housewarming!)

Can you believe it has been a year since I moved to Seattle?  Exactly one year ago today, I set out from DC to drive across the country to my new home.  I had never lived in Seattle, and I knew no one.  I had accepted a job that I had hoped would give me back my evenings and weekends, and I was betting my future happiness on the hope that, with that new-found time, I'd be able to make new friends, reconnect with family, and generally build a new life that would be more balanced, rooted and rewarding than the life I had built (and, frankly, loved) during the prior 11 years on the East Coast.

Maybe I should knock on wood, but I'm delighted to say, at this one year mark, that the bet seems to be paying off:  I've got a job that is challenging and interesting and has given me back my evenings and weekends.  I own a beautiful home, belong to a terrific church community, and have gotten into great physical shape.  I'm three months into an exciting new relationship, have built a large and growing circle of friends, and am getting more involved in the community through service and volunteering.  To top it all off, winter is over and we're moving into the long days of Seattle spring and summer. 

Which is all to say that I've got an enormous amount to be grateful for at this one-year anniversary.  So why not have a giant party to celebrate?!

I picked last Saturday as the date and invited everyone I could think of who I thought of as my friend, or who I wanted to become my friend.  Turns out that was kind of a lot of people -- I had more than 70 on my invitation list, and nearly 60 said they would come!!  (Holy cow what was I thinking!!!)  Fortunately, I have a three-story townhouse with a roofdeck on top, so I went into full party-planning mode (complete with spreadsheets, traffic flows, furniture plans and contingency arrangements for inclement weather) and pulled off the biggest (and funnest) party I've ever thrown.

Aside from having a great guest list and enough room in the house, the real key to success, I think, was food and furniture.  I got my realtor and mortgage banker to help with a local caterer for food and drink (I put them in charge of the alcohol and fruit plates, and I took care of the rest).  And then I rented some key party equipment from a local party supply place. 

For example, I knew I didn't have enough closet space for 60 coats, and I didn't want to tell people to just dump them on the bed, so I rented a garment rack and hangers that I could place in the entry way.

The counter-height table that normally stands where the garment rack went was moved into the middle of the room to act as a buffet table for the fruits and veggies. 

I pushed one of my living room chairs under the stairs to create more standing room, and I clustered the rest of the furniture into a little conversation group with plenty of treats within easy reach.

The cardboard box comme end table was such a terrific
conversation-starter that I'm tempted to keep it...
For food, I had fruits and vegetables, a cold pork shoulder with mustard sauce on the high table.  And on the low table, a tray of shrimp and heavy hors-d'oeuvres of sweet and sour meatballs and pulled pork sliders with cole slaw and rolls. 

To lure people upstairs into the open area of the second-floor landing, I put up a folding table with desserts, chips and salsa and a bowlful of grapes.  A wicker hamper served as an impromptu garbage can.

As for the roof deck, we totally lucked out.  All week long the forecasters had predicted rain and used the word "soaker" way too often for my liking.  We did get a few minutes of rain in the morning, but by late afternoon the skies had cleared and it was warm and sunny and as perfect as could be. 

I set up a propane-powered patio heater and two cocktail tables with candles and little bowls of nuts and candies.  (Had I known that the weather would turn out so nicely, I would have moved more of the real food up there, but there really was no way to know.)

My realtor, Rich, tasting the candies...

Everything went just as planned:  I had finished most of my prep work on Thursday (all the food) and Friday (moving the furniture), so pretty much all that was left to do on Saturday was put out the linens, set out the food, and light the patio heater.  There was no last-minute stressing or running around (though Justin did volunteer to run to Fred Meyer to pick up some serving utensils, since the caterer didn't send any). 

Seven o-clock rolled around and the guests started to arrive.  They trickled in a few at a time and I was able to give a couple of house tours and leave them on the roof.  Then the masses arrived and I just let things run their course -- they knew where the food and drinks were, the stairs and roof told them where to go, and I just got to work my way from group to group, making introductions and chatting and thanking everyone for coming. 

The last of the guests went home a little before midnight, and Justin and I were left alone.  It dawned on me that I'd been standing for more than 5 hours straight and had eaten basically nothing the entire night.  I was exhausted and starving and totally on cloud nine.  I had had a great time; I was delighted by the number of people who came, and by the fact that they all seemed to have a good time; and I loved the reactions I'd gotten to my house (pretty much everyone invited themselves over for the 4th of July and announced their intentions to move into my guest bedroom). 

Justin and I took five minutes to rest on the couch, and then we launched into clean-up mode, knowing that it would only be worse if left until morning.  We collected the trash, put the food in containers, and wiped down the tables.  Everything else we left for later.

It was a lot of work to put together but also a ton of fun and super rewarding -- and it makes me want to throw more parties!  I'm already looking for excuses to host other gatherings, and I can't wait for the 4th of July!


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Springtime in Seattle

What a great weekend in Seattle!  Clear, sunny skies and warm temperatures -- perfect weather for lunch after church on the roof.  I can hardly wait for summertime!

Fresh bagels and cream cheese with smoked salmon, tomatoes, red onions, and capers
and a bowl of watermelon and cateloupe from Pike Place Market.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Boise weekend!

This time last week, I was on my way to the airport to catch a flight to Boise.  I'd found a good promotion on Alaska Air a few months ago and decided to seize the opportunity to shore up my position as the Favorite Uncle and catch up with my awesome twin sister.

How did I do that?  

Well, to start with, I showed up on Heather's doorstep first thing on Saturday morning bearing donuts, Easter candy, and enough Nerf guns (and extra ammo!) for everyone.  There were hugs, then cheers, then all-out warfare . . .

Tiny and deadly!
Cease-fire long enough for a photo!
The fog of Nerf war!
It was all fun and games until someone lost an eye -- at which point we paused long enough to remind everyone that eyeballs really aren't all THAT important and that winning is really what really counts, whereupon fun and games resumed full force.

Once all the ammo was lost behind couch cushions and/or squirreled away into various stockpiles, we decided it was time to move on to a super nutritious breakfast of donuts and maple bars.  Yum!

Then the agenda shifted to what Heather had planned:  an excursion to Table Rock.  She'd hoped we could all hike up there, but the weather was cold and rainy so we just drove up the back of the mountain instead.  Visibility wasn't great, but we got a sense that on a clear day the view would be spectacular.

And of course we couldn't leave without exploring the caves!  (And deciding how we would decorate them and who would sleep where and where the books would go and what we thought of the graffiti.)

From mountain back to civilization for lunch.  We stopped at Smashburger, where I got a weirdly flattened chicken sandwich.

Is it a schnitzel or a chicken? Unclear.
By that time it was time for Adri to take a nap.  We dropped her off at home with Jordan (who wasn't feeling well) and Jaron (who wasn't up for watching a "girl" movie) and drove off with the girls to see Cinderella.  

Girls' night out!
(of course, in this case "girls" includes "uncle"
and "night" means "mid-afternoon")
It was an earnest, faithful retelling of the familiar story, without much additional insight or different perspectives to add interest.  But there was Cate Blanchett, who I'd definitely want for an evil stepmother if ever I had to have one, and all the gorgeous costumes, AND a few clever little nods to art.  For example, when the prince takes Cinderella out into the garden during the ball, they come upon a rose bush and a swing, and once Cinderella sat down it was basically impossible not to see a reference to Fragonard's famous painting:

How Cinderellian of her to so flirtatiously "lose" her shoe like that!
After we'd wished fond farewell to Cinderella and her Happily Ever After, Heather and I went back home long enough to drop off the kids before heading back out for dinner, just the two of us.  This is one of my favorite parts of any visit for us -- just having time for the two of us to talk without interruption for as long as we want (which usually means at least 4-5 hours in any given stretch).  Naturally we cover everything under the sun, and it's always fun and meaningful and reaffirms my gratitude for the blessing of being a twin and having her in my life.  I really can't say enough how much I love her.

Like Cinderella at her ball, my stay in Boise was short and sweet.  Next morning I came over long enough for breakfast, and then it was back on the plane to Seattle for normal life.  What a great weekend, and I can't wait to see them all again soon!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Weekend: Tulips and concerts and General Conference and baskets of goodies

Did you know that the world's largest producer of tulips, daffodils and irises is right here in the Pacific Northwest?  Well, it's true.  Back in the mid-Twentieth Century, some tulip farmers from the Netherlands immigrated to Skagit Valley (just north of Seattle) and started growing their bulbs in the rich, wet earth.  Now, sixty years later, thousands of acres of Skagit Valley are covered each spring with vast swathes of gorgeous color, like a giant patchwork quilt.  Naturally, the farmers and neighboring villages have capitalized on the tourist draw and created an annual Tulip Festival for the peak bloom period.

When I first met Justin, he told me about the Tulip Festival and showed me some of the pictures he'd taken in previous years.  This weekend he made good on his promise to take me out there to see it for myself.  We left mid-morning on Saturday and met up with Anya, a friend of Justin's, and made our way north toward the tulip fields.  Not surprisingly, given that this was peak tulip season, a holiday weekend, and gorgeous weather to boot, the entire population of the western United States (and southern Canada, probably) had decided to visit as well -- which meant traffic, traffic, traffic. 

After we'd inched our way far enough into the village of Mount Vernon to be within walking range of Calico Cupboard Cafe and Bakery, we parked our car and walked.  As per usual, we were on the verge of starvation and found it necessary to devour a giant cinnamon roll instantly upon arriving. 


The cinnamon roll was delicious and gooey and wonderful in all ways, and it whetted the appetite nicely for the tasty, savory hash that followed.

Linda's Brother-in-Law Hash: eggs, smokey ham, mushrooms, spinach,
tomatoes, feta cheese, garlic, and country style potatoes.

With a hearty lunch like that, we needed to get out and see some tulip fields!  Hoping to avoid the worst of the crowds, we skipped the biggest tulip farm and found one a little further out called Tulip Town.  We paid our entry fee and were ushered into a hall-o'-kitsch . . .
. . . and out to the back fields, where a cheerful little windmill awaited. 
Interestingly, next to the windmill was also a little enclosure with a plaque in honor of the "Hispanic Crew" that helps maintain the fields.
We'll take the plaque in the spirit it was offered and not focus
on whether "Mexican" and "Hispanic" are really synonymous...
Spread out in all directions behind the windmill were the fields of blooming tulips.  The effect was glorious.
The crowds weren't as bad as we had expected based on the amount of traffic, and for the most part they followed the rules of no picking the flowers or wandering out into the rows.  We pulled out our cameras and snapped the obligatory selfie . . .
Anya wandered off on her own pretty quickly, so we missed out on a full group photo.
  . . . and then got down to work with our "serious" photography.
I started out trying to capture the feeling of walking through a terrestrial rainbow.  I really loved the giant blocks of color and seeing how they narrowed into stripes as they spread into the distance.
Then I focused more on the textures and patterns -- and anomalies -- of so many repeated blooms in one place. 

One of these things is not like the other . . . .
I also tried to focus on the individual qualities of certain types of tulips, and even individual blossoms.
Believe it or not, these are tulips -- not peonies!
These lovelies made me think of irises.


Tractors with covered seating pulled the more delicate and/or mud-averse visitors on
driving tours around the fields.
By the time we had made it all the way around the field, we were getting chilly in the cool spring wind and our photos started to all look the same.  So we found Anya again, bought several bunches of cut tulips, and headed out.

This is Justin pretending to look at the camera while actually
being a responsible driver and watching the road.
We thought about visiting some of the other farms, but lunch had worn off and we felt unmotivated to keep fighting with traffic and parking.  So like the good little Mormons we are, we set our sights on CafĂ© Rio for an early dinner.

Why haven't they opened a location in Seattle?
We separated after dinner.  Anya stayed up north to visit her family; Justin and I headed back down to Seattle.  We stopped by my place long enough to change our clothes and throw the flowers into water before driving downtown to Benaroya Hall.  The last installment of my season's subscription to the Seattle Symphony was a really delightful performance of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Prokofiev's 5th Symphony.  I hadn't heard the Chopin before, but the pianist was fantastic and really captured the brilliance and lyricism that Chopin is known for.  The Prokofiev is an old favorite of mine from back in college, when I first performed it with the University of Utah's orchestra.


Almost as exciting as what was going on on-stage:  Justin put on a jacket!
Next morning was Easter, and the weather was gorgeous.  Justin and I watched the morning session of General Conference and enjoyed the sun and tulips from the day before. 


Unfortunately, we weren't able to listen to the afternoon session of Conference.  Justin's parents had invited us to Easter dinner at their house on Bainbridge Island, so we were in transit on the ferry instead.  But Easter dinner was great, and it was fun to spend some time getting to know Justin's family better -- and I was surprised to find an Easter basket waiting at my place on the table.  I haven't had an Easter basket since I was a kid!

Dark Swiss chocolate with coconut? Fresh mangos?
I like the way this Easter Bunny thinks.
By the time I got back to my house that night, I was tired and hadn't finished most of the chores that I "needed" to get done over the weekend.  But I felt happy and blessed to have been able to enjoy the beauty of God's creations, the messages of great church leaders, and company of good people.