Take Me Home, Country Loaf

I’m in my favourite place for a casual coffee and snack in my local area. I live in a pretty commercial corner of the town, which boasts about 5 Starbucks and one cosy café, one old-school diner, a food hall, and several other franchised café/eateries such as ‘Chipotle’, ‘Panda Express’, ‘Red Robin’ and ‘Subway’ just to name a few. When I can, I love an excuse to take me out of this highly commercial area so I can enjoy a good coffee, and a good vibe in an independent business. My local café is often too dark, the food is pretty ordinary, and the noise unworkable. There is no nice vibe, in fact it feels hostile at times.

Here, where I am this morning, up the road a bit, away from the shopping district, there is the smell of coffee and good, smoky bacon. There are always a lot of relaxed people around, many in my own demographic, as well as younger and older. Lots of dog owners (though they keep dogs outside). People play with their kids (or ignore them) on a big rug at the back. Many people have become familiar faces to me. There is light. The coffee is excellent. The food is usually delicious. They make a maple and bacon muffin which is awesome. I meet here to ‘write’ every Friday morning, though sometimes it’s purely a social gathering. Oh, and they know my name now, when I order stuff!

This place sits up on Roosevelt Rd, along with a few pubs and another couple of restaurants, amongst other small businesses in Mapleleaf. I love this part of town. It is a very steep 15 minute walk up through the suburb from my place, or it’s a short bus ride.

I can get a really good fresh croissant here, or a breakfast sandwich on an English muffin or a Bagel. There are lots of cakes and quiches to choose from. There is a range of great looking sandwiches that they will make fresh, including the BBQ pork, the Cuban, Turkey, cream cheese and cranberry, Tuna salad, Mediterranean roasted veges, (though I’ve yet to try one).  I often get a croissant with ham and cheddar, which is chockers with good ham, unlike in Australia, where the meat portion on a sandwich is distinctly light-on. (I really think there is no excuse for skimping on the meat in a sandwich, because they are incredibly expensive, for that tiny sliver of turkey or beef or pork they give you at home.) Let the Americans take credit for knowing how to put together a good sandwich.

Although don’t get me started on the bread. AS we speak, I am stocking up on par-baked and bakery breads in my freezer, because there is no such thing as a corner bakery for miles or a milk bar where we can grab a loaf on my way home from places, and I live a good walk from the supermarket. I have tried several of the packaged brands of bread, the white, the whole-wheat, the grainy, and they all stick to the roof of our mouths. They have so much sugar in them. They feel wrong, they taste wrong. Only the Italian style or Sour dough breads are less sugary. The good bakery breads are excellent, but as I said, I have to get to a supermarket that is out of my way when I’m in transit, so I make special ‘bread shopping’ trips to stock up. If I had a bigger kitchen, I would make my own.

I love to buy a sandwich at QFC, an upmarket grocery where I can also get a hot sandwich from the deli counter on my way out, and savour it’s deliciousness on the way home as a reward for walking up to the supermarket along the noisy, smelly road. They give them names like ‘The Rainier’ or ‘The Snohomish’, and pack them full of really nice cheese, pestos, relishes, mustards and Boars Head Cured meats. I always feel like a bit of criminal for ordering one, but it is so worth it to get one. I always get it cut in half so it can be stretched to 2 meals, or shared.  One day Johnny and I greedily thought we could eat more than a ½ roll each, and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich as well to share on our way home. We were really hungry and it was a very cold and grey day. We walked past the old homeless guy on his wheelie-walker on our way in, and the minute we saw him again on our way out we knew we had to give the grilled cheese to him.  I will one day be greedy enough to order one for myself.

These are but a few memorable foody experiences I have had here in Seattle, in USA generally. I wish I could say I’ve had many more, but I really did know what I was in for, moving here. I knew it could be a challenge, to be able to eat what I was used to here. I knew the food would, at the very least, look different, and possibly taste differently. I have been really fortunate to fall in with foody types, who have travelled, and have shaken loose their need to have every little thing BBQed, covered in buffalo sauce and bleu cheese and other indiscriminate flavourings, or in a burger… people who ‘get’ food, and care where it comes from, and that it is different the world over.  We’ve been taken to a place that does oysters and raw food, which is possibly the best place in town, we’ve had amazingly cooked Central American food at a gaudy old garage painted up to be a festive cantina- served Mojitos with plantain chips and moles to die for. We’ve had beautifully cooked Bistec et frites in a French restaurant, crab dips, lobster rolls, Aussie style pies, authentic Mexican food, Indian food, Korean banquet, Yum Cha and Southern style food truck delights. We had Caribbean style jerk cooked food in beautiful sandwiches, in another converted garage. (This up-cycling of mechanic workshops into restaurants is to be commended).  We were fed a delicious crab and lobster filled ravioli- lasagne at Christmas. We have had fresh filled dumplings cooked for us, pork ribs and roasted chickens and lamb chops cooked for us by our friends in their homes. Beautiful, fresh and nutritious food.

We’ve have tried Southern fried chicken in a few places, and I can’t fault it anywhere. It is always delicious. All I know is, I should never really have it.

All the same, as much as Seattle is fast becoming a foody destination, (according to word on the ‘street’), the idea where a café is a more casual place where there is restaurant style great food available has not quite caught on. Not in the suburbs, at least. People still expect and receive the over-sized sandwiches, huge plates of diced potato and bacon with everything, hot or BBQ sauce with everything, and there seems to be an expectation for people’s plates to be loaded up with no space left. Loaded up to the roof in some cases. Lunch is often a 3 courses on an order affair, with soup, salad, chips to go with your sandwich, panini, burger or bagel. You feel weird just ordering a sandwich. But I quite like the ½ sandwich +soup options in some places. (You don’t have to be a pig). You are often expected to order at the counter and bus your own dishes. As nice as the staff are at the counter, they don’t often clean up after you. Everyone knows where to put their dirty dishes. Salads are often very much a chopped up bowl of everything in a bowl. I have seen maybe two carefully arranged salads on a plate in 20 months.

Breakfast, on the other hand, is a FULL plate of stuff, and often a pancake to go with it. The American breakfast is seemingly a tradition that will never budge, especially since people in the west will now eat biscuits and gravy, fried chicken and waffles, and even pulled meat on their eggs Bene, (which often is smothered in béchamel and not hollandaise). The Avocado Smash phenomenon and the Shakshuka are happening, but only in those very trendy cafes where people line up out the door, such as you see on Portlandia. The best option if you don’t want to walk out feeling like you’ve done something really dirty and need to go and take a long shower and hit the gym all afternoon, is to have a breakfast bagel or croissant. Which is what I do here quite often. They don’t actually do big plates of food here, just sandwiches, quiches and cakes. Beautiful cakes, wholesome and generously full of fruit or nuts. Their coconut bread is to die for.

Today I am going to do something different for me, and order pie (fruit, probably berry), only I didn’t see any pies in the display case at the counter. But I do know that, unlike at home where you feel very strange and humiliated to ask for things you cannot see, I know I can ask here and they will probably want to give me along and well explained story about the display case being broken or the pie oven being broken or the berry supplier being on strike. And then we’ll probably get talking about my accent and about someone’s sister who went to Adelaide or somewhere. It will be pleasant and not humiliating. And then I’ll order something else.

When I leave here I will probably hit QFC and grab some good bread and maybe even a sandwich for Johnny and I to share for lunch. If we go to the pub later it will mean a fairly naughty food option. Happy Hour Food is often quite calorie heavy. Cheese balls, Fried curds with a delicious raspberry sauce, Fries, pulled pork potato skins, pizettes, nachos, burgers, sliders, buffalo wings are some of the things you might find on the menu. One of our 2 locals has much more fresh fare, (woodfired pizzas and salads for example) and the other has much more traditionally prepared, aka fried food. Unfortunately the one with the cheap Mug Club beer is the one with all the greasy options. My favourite item on their menu is a raw tuna Poke ‘nachos’ on fried wonton skins, with mashed avocado, jalapeno slices, spring onion and a teriyaki dressing. It is really delicious, but doesn’t seem to line my stomach for the ensuing pints of beer well enough, unfortunately. It has taken months of experimentation to figure out the best ‘drink friendly’ foods to begin a night on, and to work out that a starter snack of something small but stodgy then another later on after a couple of drinks, then maybe a THIRD night cap (small) supper is possibly the best way for me to cope with 3-4 (or more) pints. It can get pretty washing machine-like in my tum at times.

(I’d better poke in a disclaimer here: while I am not on a strict calorie controlled diet, I am actively trying to NOT put on MORE weight before I return home to the land of salad days). A heavy meal when drinking is just stupid. Dessert is ridiculous. No-one needs that much food! Well I don’t. I don’t move enough.  And then, if brunch is on for the next day, well that is just really asking for more lard to deposit itself on my rear…

I’ve actually decided against the pie. The shared monster sandwich Johnny and I will have will be quite enough food for the rest of the day.

Until ‘happy hour’.

The Haunting Sound of Buses

briarpatricia

14876228315451977476500

Sitting in bed this Sunday morning without a social agenda, I was reminded of how I felt a year ago, sitting in bed alone, when Johnny had to work and I had nothing planned for myself. How miserable I was! Now I can hear those buses coming and going without feeling I should be on one. I was overwhelmed by the knowledge that it would be very dank and grey outside. And cold. And lonely. And yet I knew I should probably force myself up and out. Now it’s like, ‘Well what fun could I be doing if I could be bothered doing it?’

I could go to SAM, and Pike Place Market. I could come home with very good bread. I could also go to the Ballard Market, and again, come home with very good bread. I could go to the WOW festival over at North Seattle College (But…

View original post 723 more words

The Haunting Sound of Buses

14876228315451977476500

Sitting in bed this Sunday morning without a social agenda, I was reminded of how I felt a year ago, sitting in bed alone, when Johnny had to work and I had nothing planned for myself. How miserable I was! Now I can hear those buses coming and going without feeling I should be on one. I was overwhelmed by the knowledge that it would be very dank and grey outside. And cold. And lonely. And yet I knew I should probably force myself up and out. Now it’s like, ‘Well what fun could I be doing if I could be bothered doing it?’

I could go to SAM, and Pike Place Market. I could come home with very good bread. I could also go to the Ballard Market, and again, come home with very good bread. I could go to the WOW festival over at North Seattle College (But I will go tomorrow instead). I could also go to Third Place Books and write this afternoon, and also get some good bread. And cake. Mmm cake. I could go to a movie. I might have to travel to get to an independent theatre but that could be good too. I could hit up a couple of people and say ‘what are you doing today?’ But I think that is not likely. I am too lazy. And too unconfident/shy. I need to feel like my interest is at least going to be reciprocated. I need a plan, and to be very proactive if I’m planning anything. I need to at least give people notice. A few of our people are away this weekend, Johnny is working, and we went to a play on Friday night, so our ‘activity’ situation is very quiet. I COULD go to Green Lake and just walk the lake. A beautiful 3 miles. And then come home via PCC and GOOD BREAD. Yes, it’s a win-win situation.

Listening to the buses outside I remember last year, how that would create a ‘feeling’ in me, one of emptiness and hopelessness when I couldn’t find a friend to play with or confide in. Johnny would be working his shifts and I would be left to figure out my own destiny. I did try to be interested in things and do things on my own, but I was wasn’t so good at going out to things alone. It was enough that I was taking the bus to Fremont to the Literacy school in the rainy commuter hours, twice a week, an anxious soul, noticing absolutely everything, trembling inside. I was also immensely proud of myself for getting out there and just doing it, pretending at least to blend in, be a part of the stream, and having some sort of purpose for myself in this big town. But I was so conscious of being an alien, an observer, and I never felt completely at ease.

I cannot believe how much has changed in a year, and how we’ve grown. Without the input of others though, I could not have done it. The patience and generosity of our American friends here have made all things possible. We don’t realise sometimes how important it is to step outside the comfort zone to just do a little special something for someone, and how this can have lasting and meaningful impact for time to come.

For instance, if our neighbours hadn’t been late to the Star Wars party late in October 2015, and not bothered to talk to us, well, we would not even know them, their extended family and awesome friends. We would not now be beer swilling Karaoke artists, nor willing taggers-on at all things sporty and musical. We’d have been alone at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and had no-one to commiserate with over the 2016 election. We wouldn’t have seen hummingbirds feed on a balcony, nor Shakespeare in a park. We’d still be Darby and Joan, sitting at home on a weekend. If they hadn’t insisted that we come and ‘Happy Hour’ with them at the local watering hole, well we wouldn’t have met the other lovely people we know now through them.

If those Aussie-phile Kansas-city newcomers hadn’t decided they simply had to meet the ‘Aussies’ at another Apartment function, and I had managed to avoid them (I wasn’t feeling so social that evening, I just wanted my free dinner), well I wouldn’t know this particular wonderful couple and their delightful family. But thankfully they cornered me, and it turns out we have a heap in common, and we are quite mad about each other.

If those thoughtful, lovely people hadn’t stepped outside their own comfort zones to reach out to us, I am not sure I could have stayed here another year beyond that first, lonely winter. But they did, and we’re still here, and still enjoying ourselves.

I don’t sit here listening to the haunting sounds of the buses, and wonder if I will ever make friends again any more. I hear sparrows chirping, and yes, there is a bit of sunlight.  It is probably going to be a great day to walk around that lake. Even alone. The good bread I get to bring home later will be totally worth it.

20161127_103002

You were a long time coming, 2017

 

12/30/2016

Today is like Spring. It is almost warm. I had that feeling in my bones before I even looked outside.

I am ready to embrace some New Year’s Resolutions for myself. I didn’t do so well on some of them last year. I set writing goals I didn’t stick with. I am getting better at NOT beating myself up about everything, and this might make me slack but, I believe the self-acceptance thing is even more important to me.

I had far more adventures than I could find time to write about this year. That doesn’t mean I didn’t think and reflect about them. I still am writing, but I am still adventuring too. I am happy and proud of myself for doing different things. For saying ‘yes’ to Chile and walking up so many hills there. For seeking out Neruda’s Valparaiso house. For flying back at a moment’s notice to help bury my Stepmother June, an awesome and very much missed pillar in my Dad’s family. For having the wisdom and strength to not go back to Australia, just because I was ‘in the neighbourhood’. For going to Belgium at short notice too, and for being brave enough to use my 3 French words. (Wish I’d used more.) I said ‘yes, we’ll be there’ to an invitation to share Thanksgiving at a beautiful holiday house on a Puget Sound Island, meaning constant social interaction and chilling back with new friends. Some of my adventuring was actually quite difficult, not all of it comfortable, and certainly ALL of it was very expensive. I wish I had done even more though.

I gained in confidence and flow in my teaching reading skills in the adult literacy school. I made beautiful new friendships there, solidified others, was challenged and uplifted by my students’ lives and achievements. My paltry 4 hours teaching a week has added up to over 162 hours of face to face teaching and preparation, and I know I am a valued part of the school. This means the world to me. I have been told I ‘add value’ to the whole process of teaching these very special individuals, who are on all points of a journey to bettering their own lives. I cannot think of a more rewarding thing to be doing. I will probably add another teaching session to my week in 2017.

The work I do at the store, (if you can call it ‘work’) is social, and fun and I am still finding the stock has a certain allure- I want to buy a new scarf nearly every week. (I try not to). I get to hang out with really lovely people of all ages, from different walks of life, and find out about them.We all have slightly different reasons for being there, but are united by our concern for the artisans we support.

For both Johnny and I our cohort of friends grew considerably in a short space of time, but remains stable, and we hang out with a group of fun, mature and slightly younger, beer appreciating teachers and ex-teachers. We really love to be able to kick back and relax with these people, who have accommodated us willingly, and drag us along to concerts and baseball games, brewery openings and parties. They give us rides, and ask us to their ‘things’, keep us entertained and stop us from taking ourselves too seriously. We sing karaoke with them, see bands, look at art, eat amazing food, and generally educate each other about our respective cultural quirks. Introducing words like ‘dink’, ‘arvo’ and ‘wobbly’ and such is a bit of a hobby for us, and collecting these Aussie-isms is a hobby of theirs. ‘Humour’ is common language we all seem to share, so laughing is what we do most of the time.

Happy Hours at the Ram have become a weekly ritual, and now that we are bona fide members of the famous ‘Mug Club’ we are enjoying the novelty of drinking cut price beers out of massive pint glasses and trying to pair this beer with sustaining and not hugely fattening food. I’m not sure we can win this struggle, so we try to eat as many vegetables and healthy homemade stuff as we can through the week. We are not always successful. I am finding the traditionally (bad) revered ways of eating here much much more attractive to me as time goes by. We have an exercise bike and try to move about as much as we can, but I have to say, my gold fish bowl existence, and looking out at the wintry streets from my very cosy couch is far more preferable at the moment.

I have begun to enjoy binge-watching on the Netflix again, this year a change from dramas and crime; I am finally embracing the meta-narrative that is Gilmore Girls, and I am really loving it. I think it is a very sweet piece of writing, both in its script and in its character development. I am only half-way through the 8 series and I am unsure how I will go on with my life after it finishes.

I am able to divorce the reality of Gilmore Girls from my own reality, don’t worry, not too much anyway.

… 1/5/2017 …Today I am trying to end this pathetic couch-ridden existence I have taken up- nursing a horrible hacking cough (apparently an actual ‘flu’). I have been annoyingly unwell this last month, with a few days respite for the Christmas long weekend, but perhaps I shouldn’t have enjoyed it so much. My immune system is taking a battering.

I’m trying to make marmalade out of a glut of lemons I sliced and froze months ago. It looks awful and isn’t setting, so I am cooking it to death- and then will bottle and leave up in the cupboard, just like I used to at home when my preserves didn’t quite work out. (Which is fairly often.) I did use a recipe though. Sort of. It smells great. I will be sad if I have to turf it.

I have spoken about our fun lifestyle, and I guess it makes sense that my immune system is down, but then I do wear sensible, warm clothing, and I buy good food to eat at home. I take a good multi- B vitamin, I don’t eat much meat. I make soup, full of vegetable, legumes, and lots of goodness. I still struggle to sleep well, but I have gotten myself into good habits with my bedtime routine and am looking after my own needs; it’s not like I am not good at self-care. I am the Queen of self-care. I just have a lousy immune system. I also neglected to get a flu shot this autumn. And I catch public transport.

Anyway, while I have no voice to have actual conversations I am getting in some very nice quiet spells, just watching Netflix and amazon movies. And playing Words with Friends. I am neglecting my creative side yes; I seemed to bottle-neck for a while there, with too many writing projects on the go- so am reverting to this journalling /blog thing to alleviate some of the pressure, while I try to get things get back into some sort of order and focus.

I am now dreaming about the return to the Motherland Australia as I have only a few more months to go before I have to come home for a while. When I get home, I have a huge list of things I need to concern myself with, in order to make sure our life back here in the US can continue and run smoothly. We very definitely like living here, for so many reasons, and will continue for as long as we can.

Don’t get me wrong, I do miss Australia, the continent, the beauty of the beaches and the bush. I can’t wait to get some wet sand between my toes again. I miss a lot of what makes the communal aspects of living in Aus so special- the relaxed lifestyle, the flexibility of routine, the refusal of Australians to become regimented by the establishment. Americans seem to either not notice that they are, or actually like to be organised and told what to do and feel and when to do it, a lot more than Aussies do- and that is fine, there are so many of them, after all. So it’s kind of weird about the whole election thing- when no one was obligated to enroll or vote. Still scratching our heads over that one.

People are just as busy as we are at home, with work and extracurricular activities, but there is a degree of spontaneity I am really relishing here with my American friends that I couldn’t quite attain at home. It may also be a bit of a cop-out but because we aren’t American, we can be a bit more detached about the traditions and cultural aspects that our friends are a part of- we can’t be instantly acculturated with a fervor for pumpkin pie, or Superbowl, for instance. But we’ll turn up and see what it’s all about, sure (with the option of not liking or wanting to participate.)

Our free and easy way of doing our social life is also possibly a lot to do with the fact that we have jumped into a great void of untried experiences with strangers, and were so out of our ‘comfort zones’ it’s shocked us into being a lot more adaptable. I like this new life and the jolts of reality that force us to respond in fresh ways. There wasn’t a good deal of that potential for reinvention back home, and now there is. You can’t even pay for this wonderful way to grow in your personal life. (Although, we actually did pay.)

So my marmalade hasn’t been a total success, and there goes the 6 good jars I’ve been saving for this. My kitchen is even tinier than the one I had at home, and there isn’t a pantry either. However this hasn’t stopped me from trying to cook a lot of food in it, and I guess I am still addicted to saving and preserving. I think may I have a problem. I have a fresh batch of gravlax in my fridge. Too much for us of course, but there was no way I was going to waste that salmon we didn’t use because I felt too ill to cook it.

I think I’m going to need to get some pectin and redo this marmalade and re-sterilise my jars.

Maybe I could make a New Year’s resolution to not undertake preserving and cooking en masse without adhering to a recipe explicitly.

What Have We learned So Far?

 

It is nearly 11 months since we made our move to Seattle Washington USA, and it is a really pleasant experience, thankfully, to look back from this vantage point and reflect on what we’ve done, and what we’ve learned since coming here.

A lot of it has been pure drudgery; we knew we were in for that, and it had to happen at the beginning while we established our routines, our sense of place, our contacts and our comfort levels here. The drive to explore and discover and just enrapture ourselves in the immersive experience was constant but elusive. When I was low and tired and aching from a persistent hip injury I was also beating myself up about not climbing a mountain or being out in the city action. I would have to negotiate groceries, correspondence and appointments and casual encounters with people on a daily basis, and a lot of the time feeling like an alien, or just isolated in my Australian-ness. This was NOT such a fun adventure then.

Some of it was of course; the quirky people, the American idioms and uniquely Seattle qualities. The ‘Yaah’, ‘the Pardon Me’ the adoration of rain and loathing of snow, over-politeness on the roads, the refusal to conform to any standards of dress or fashion rules what-so-ever- were SO Seattle. Oh- And I cannot forget the MUSIC; Seattle culture is all about the Arts and Music. It is entirely satisfying to know I am living in the town that gave rise to Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and many more. There is a reverence here for music of every genre, and I love that. I expected and was not surprised by the trend for healthy life-style restaurants, fitness apparel and sporting promotion here. It is (in my mind), a very middle-class commodity, this fitness and natural food movement at the moment. (I cannot quite ignore it, because I need to get fit, ASAP). Seattle has, at its core, a middle-class populace with aspirational values. I did research on this though, before I moved here, and was pleasantly surprised to find my findings matched my reading: Seattleites are not, for the most part, ‘conservative’ politically, although they might be, in a societal sense. I can live with that.

Seattle has for me become ‘MY town’ in a way that brings me a sense of joy and ownership. I have spoken to people who hate the place; the traffic, the high rents, the weather are not at all easy to negotiate for some. For Johnny and me though, having been aware of those issues back home in Melbourne and Sydney, well we get that this is city life pretty much all over the world now. The adjustment to living in a large city has possibly been for us, coming from a small city, a more difficult one than getting used to being in a different country. I still feel very overwhelmed at times, by the thought of ALL those nameless faces, their stories, their struggles. It is as if I am a sponge, soaking up stuff, and much of it I would rather not, but I can’t turn off my curious mind, my need to understand people, their respective cultures, and their views on life. And so I don’t. I do indulge my love of people watching when I go out and about. I love architecture and seeing  how and where people live too, and wonder how they came to be living here in the way that they do, the abodes they find themselves in, their histories. What do they do in their back yards? Did they always live in an apartment? How is life here in Seattle different from life in the country they emigrated from?  I can imagine my own self into all sorts of scenarios in this town, though I eschew the idea of high-rise apartment living. It is not me at all.

Some of what we observe is simply the pure American-ness of things; the orange cheese, the over sweet bread, the love of coffee, of MEAT, the proliferation of fast-food chains, the TV news broadcasts delivered by a range of Ken and Barbie Dolls in the same outfits, the cheesy advertising, the multi-cultural mix… the list could go on but you watch TV right? People actually DO speak and act like they do in those movies, cop-shows, those reality TV shows, on the Ellen show. These are depictions of real Americans, or if not entirely authentic representations, how many possibly imagine themselves to be. There were so many things here that we already expected, having visited the States a couple of times before, but there have been daily surprises too. We are watching the race to the White House with a mixture of detached amusement and fear for our American friends. Who knows at this point what the outcome will be?

What I have found to be the absolute highlights of my week are the connections I am making around my creative pursuits.

Even though I wasn’t necessarily ‘busy’ at first, I was thinking about how to fill in empty hours and pushing myself out into the traffic so to speak, becoming familiar with my surroundings as fast as I could manage so that I could at least feel a bit like I was living a ‘normal’ life; justifying the move overseas by somehow integrating into society here. Funny how I really put that pressure on myself, when I should have known that meaningful relationships have to happen organically. Until that could happen though, I knew I wanted to find that meaningful niche for myself outside the home, and I have managed to find myself involved in two great schemes, Literacy Source and Ten Thousand Villages, (or TTV). Apart from one or two people I have met in these settings, my social life hasn’t bloomed out of these as much as I had thought they might- but the contacts I have made in those organisations are proving to be very stimulating and enjoyable. I’m not even sure I could have found such wonderful and inspiring people to work with in a paid job.

10 ½ months in, I have now got my feet more firmly planted. I have a batch of lovely new friendships and I am having loads more FUN. Some hard lessons have been learned, but I am healing myself every day with a determination to be more open but also wiser. I have loosened some things up, and have tightened others. I buy 2nd hand things for the house, and for myself, I order vegetables and staples to be delivered as I used to at home, I have a shopping buggy and I hunt for bargains. I have to have an exercise routine to keep my joints moving. I am answerable to my friends to write, and to be well read. I prepare activities for my Literacy Class. I am slowly getting on top of my sleep disorders. (This, more than anything has been my biggest challenge). The thing is though, life is fun for me in a way that I haven’t known for so many years. I love these new people, their hospitality, and this season of lightness and laughter. I am so thankful for it all. I am looking forward to what the next 12 months has in store. It has taken nearly all of a year to settle, and that is what we gave ourselves.

DSC_0358

Today I cannot write any more of the great stuff happening in my own sphere, as the world is recovering from the shock and horror that happened on Saturday night, at the hand of one sick, twisted and evil man, only 3 nights ago, in Florida. I can only respond with pure sorrow for those people left behind, who have the unfathomable anguish of knowing how their loved ones died and suffered so horribly. While America’s media and politicians continue to argue about individual’s rights to bear arms, the rest of us just have to sit with the pain of knowing this type of atrocity could be made nigh impossible if people could see the folly of such legislation. (American) society however, has been for centuries nurtured into believing the ‘right’ of individuals also respects their ‘ability to have common sense’ around deadly weapons. I can’t think about this anymore without my heart wanting to descend into my boots. I am choosing to go about my life and not allow my own soul sink into the depression that used to claw at me when events such as this take place. I know I may be a minority, and I feel pretty powerless, (especially being a visiting foreigner), but I will always speak my beliefs and offer support to those who suffer. My heart especially hurts for a community of people who have been targeted in the worst way imaginable, after eons of repression and denial: those identifying LGBTQI and their loved ones. Let this end here. Please.DSC_0266

May and into June already…

This morning I ate my first peach of the season. (We know they’re not quite in season, but there are always early varieties). It was a tad disappointing; there was a brown spot, which is why I had to eat it, and it had barely any flavour. But my expectations weren’t too high. I knew it would not necessarily be that good. But the next one will be delicious, I am betting. I am learning to defer my hopes and dreams, and wait for the better things to come.

I realise I’ve dropped the ball with my blog entries when I started to socialise a lot more. I felt that I was caught up in a moment, a very busy, fast moving series of gatherings, meetings, Happy Hours and in between Happy Hours- and I still do to be honest. It is hard for me to document as I go. Instagram in particular seems to supply the instant documentation of an event visually and concisely in a way that other mediums don’t so much. If I Facebook events I need to think about how I caption, contextualise and tag photos. It takes time. I’m not much for sharing written information in that medium either. I can’t fairly give time to converse about pictures with people, and prefer to leave the pictures standing without too much conversation around them.

Facebook wall is way too open and vulnerable a place for me- I don’t often enjoy being bombarded with conversations – and yet I get this is kind of what FB is for. (I do understand that this format works for many people). If I post photos there and conversations start to happen, I feel trapped; I shouldn’t feel so resentful that people like to talk about stuff they see, but it does make me feel obliged to respond. This distracts me and eats up my time: I am making small talk but not really communicating in a meaningful way. I prefer not to do ‘small talk’ to be honest. I am sorry if that makes me a bad communicator and seem like a nasty person- I love that my pictures are noticed and ‘liked’ though.

I like to have brief or long chats ‘behind the wall’, in groups or individually, and relish those times when I’ve had a chat with a buddy (or buddies) who I love, and we’ve said heaps and exchanged news and virtual hugs and encouragement. I can groove on these catch-ups for days- it means a lot to me to have them, to keep the friendships alive. I don’t look for these so much as just take them when I can, or reach out when the timing looks good. It’s all a bit logistically tricky with the time differences, but it can be done. It is usually a spontaneous thing, although I do make ‘appointments’ with some, and this works well too.

I do love to write this blog though, and hope it will be a source of entertainment, if not inspiration for its readers! It has been hard to find space to do it in my hectic schedule, so today I’m using my Writing Group time, at one of my favourite cafes. It’s a beautiful sunny day, the bacon and coffee smell awesome, and this is one of my most enjoyable parts of the week.

It has been 310 days and 17 hrs since Johnny and I left Australia for our new life in Seattle. I just knew this 2nd half of our first year would go quickly- perhaps not as quickly as this though.

School and store work for me has fallen into a nice rhythm of ebb and flow, with decent chunks of time between days of work for me. I am really enjoying the school more and more. I am given freedom to create activities and lead them in our class group, and it is always fun and always a learning experience. I am growing in my teaching skills, and recognising the things I am doing well. It energises me to be around these motivated people, often with poor English, or low literacy skills, (or both), who soak up knowledge and want to get meaning and relevance out of every minute at school.

The store work never stays the same. Our new Exec Director is an extremely well-travelled, experienced business woman and community developer. We are constantly revising and replenishing stock, and I have seen a gradual increase in sales over the last few weeks which has been encouraging. I enjoy the banter with people I meet there, and get the opportunity to talk to people from all over America. We talk about places and people all over the world. This is what the Fair Trade movement is all about- raising awareness of the people who make beautiful things by hand to sell on the world market with few resources, no overheads and no wholesalers under-cutting their profits. I get to do other outside sales events on occasion, and this is a really interesting exercise. I love meeting my other store colleagues, who are often students or residents who’ve come from elsewhere too, though no other Aussies are about yet! It’s nice that my ED, Goldie, has lived in Sydney for a few years in the 90’s, and we have that and her knowledge of Carlton Football club to share.

Johnny and I have met some awesome people in the last 6 months, beginning with a couple, BJ and LL who live (d) here at the apartments who we met briefly before Christmas at an organised social event. When we finally got to socialise with them in April they were only a few weeks off moving back to Montana. However, BK and LL are doing a bit of a ‘gypsy’ thing, and are living part-time with their daughter, TT, son-in-law RR and their perfect grand- daughter Study-Girl just up the road from here as well as in Montana. BK and LL’s daughter’s family (I will also refer to these guys as the BKs) has now turned out to be the geographical heart of the social group we’ve found ourselves in the midst of and they are such cool people to hang with. We’ve been included in Happy Hour Fridays, forays into beer breweries, restaurants and have found a whole world of fun with these guys. We have a fair bit in common with all of them, and their other friends, who are mostly teachers or retired teachers or professionals. We all love to travel, the arts, the outdoors, love live music, good food, BEER and laughing, a lot. We fit right into the middle of the group, age-wise, and THAT is all I will say about age.

One of the woman friends from the family group, Red, has a little sketch group that I joined, and the husband of the original couple (BJ) is in this group too. Red lives locally, and is now a part of our writing group. We have been up to house she shares with her teacher husband BFG, on top of our Mapleleaf ridge, in a gorgeous little house, where the views are to the mountains through the Douglas firs and humming birds come to feed from little feeders. It is blissful to sit on their deck sipping wine and eating good things and laughing about life. The hospitality is flowing at BFG’s and Red’s and someone is always cooking up new plans for a get together. We love spending time just unpacking our various lives, and laughing a lot. We can never get enough of that.We have done Karaoke with the BKs, which was a hoot- I really hope there’ll be more of that. We are discussing possible trips with them in the future. I am hoping Johnny and I can keep up the energy and partying spirit. It has been a welcome challenge for us.  We have to squeeze in the mundane things now, where mundane existence had been our ‘normal’. What is even nicer is the way Johnny and I can enjoy mutual friendships and activities with other couples as well as our single friends, unlike our life at home, where we had very little going on socially, and it was often separately. I love hanging out with Johnny- he’s so fun when he gets going. I’m so unused to being constantly social, and it is not hard work, but making sure I get sleep and hydration is an effort!

On the domestic front, we’ve found our rhythm too, or at least are not as concerned about the constraints of the constant need to get supplies in and things done without a car. Of course there are exceptions, but I’ve learned to chill out about a lot of things. Probably my anti-anxiety meds are helping me a lot now, and we’ve discovered many things can be delivered, including fresh food, (a lot like we had delivered at home), and bus rides to local supermarkets and errands seem less onerous. I use Uber if I’m running late or need to go somewhere special. Sometimes I call on or accept the generous help of a friend, though I try to minimise this need. My beautiful friend Pitter-pat has been my latest extreme shopping partner, accompanying me to the ‘Disneyland of Consumerism’, Costco, (originating in the outlying Seattle suburb of Kirkland, BTW). I hope I didn’t stretch the friendship too far. She helped me lug many things over obstacles to get them into my apartment. I will not need to go grocery shopping for many months. It was an experience. The Polish hotdog and soda for $1.50 was definitely worth it, and the one good bargain of the day.  I might take another partner next time though. I value Pitter-pat’s friendship too much to ruin a good thing. Being dependent on others is a situation that is fraught with pitfalls, as I have learned.

We have started some traditions, or joined in with them, including Happy Hour Fridays of course, and watching (basketball) games at the pub. Now there is Saturday Sushi with someone we haven’t necessarily drunk with on Friday night, and it looks like Sunday /BBQs pot-lucks might be a thing too (with whoever isn’t otherwise occupied). We’ve been to our first live base-ball game, and I sense our friends the BKs will be inveigling us on other sporty type things to watch too. Which I am very OK about- as is Johnny. This is definitely a case of ‘when in America’ I am happy to partake in. Whatever the case, we know this wonderful state of affairs can’t go on- people will be dispersing over the summer to go on long-awaited vacations overseas and interstate. It will be quiet around here then.  SuperS (writing group buddy) will be in Italy, the BKs and BJ and LL will be in Spain, as will BFG and Red (though not all together).  Pitter-Pat and I will have to hang out and go to some Reggae concerts. And write.

Hopefully though we will have our girl back in our space again for a little while though, and I will continue to teach for a short summer quarter. Johnny and I will hopefully get some time in late August to play, and maybe even do a road trip. It’s been so wonderful to have a couple of short bursts of time with Sylv, and she and I will get some travelling in, as we’ve planned a trip to Chile next month, which we are really excited about. Meanwhile, she’s headed off across the country again, having some more musical adventures. It feels so right to have her in the country.

Again I question the future of our dogs- it is very hard to think objectively about them, but if I am honest and reasonable, I just know I have to be able to offer them a yard, and have a car to take them to off-lead parks here, or at least live very close to one. It is somewhat of a pipe-dream. We are only half-way into our 2 year visa and we are not sure what the future holds beyond that. I know I am falling in love with Seattle and I am happier here than I have been in years, but we are not certain what opportunities might present themselves, or alternatives to living in Seattle will land on us. We are remaining open, while cautiously nestling ourselves into what seems quite a natural way of life for us now.

I will say that this environment; the climate, the trees, the people, the views, the cafes, the atmosphere, and pretty much everything about this neighbourhood seem to be our fit. I still believe that Daisy and Roo would love it here. I can just imagine their surprise when they see squirrels for the first time. I still have moments, when I am alone in the quiet of the night, or early morning, when I think of them and get a little teary. I will have to resolve this somehow. Or just live with the pain of separation.

Meanwhile, there’s a beautiful sunny day out there to play in, and a Happy Hour this evening to enjoy.

Ciao for now.

March/April in Retrospect…

If you had told me a year ago …

So whatever happened to the March Blog, you may ask? Well, it was a bit like this:

An action packed last couple of weeks of Literacy Source, a trip to Vancouver Island for a few days, a few extra shifts at the shop while the school was in recess, a birthday, a few fun outings and a softball game (for my birthday, thanks to mate Pitter-pat who I met at the store back in November last year. It was a chilly night, and a lot of fun). Some bad news about a colleague, an impending daughter’s visit, some appointments, some SLEEP, some new friends and some goodbyes. A bit of heartache and a lot of joyous laughing too. Lots of hugs. Sunshine, views. Stunning views. Music, fabulous, wonderful music. And BEER.

We’ve seen our daughter pass through our town once more, and it was such a lovely thing to see her briefly, and make some plans for catching up again after her music tour.  It was hard to let her go again, but it feels so nice to know she’s on the same continent, just a phone text away.

We’ve made some nice new friends here at the apartments who’ve included us in their Happy Hour and beer tasting exploits, and I’m now joining a couple of them for sketching afternoons as well. One of my colleagues who used to work at the Fair Trade store has become a fun pal to do shopping and lunching and mooching around beautiful places with. Pitter-pat, as a retired History teacher is a walking History Book of the WORLD, which is fun for me, and for her I would think. Her Brooklyn/California idiosyncrasies just flow out like water- boy that woman has had some adventures. What Pitter-pat doesn’t know about teaching History to teenagers in the toughest area of LA wouldn’t be worth knowing.  ‘Oye gevault!’ as she would say.

Our social scene as a couple has been gradually expanding, which has been so fun for Johnny and I, since at home I hung around with my friends, and he with his, but we didn’t know so many couples who we felt we could easily hang out with. It is hilarious to be out with 2 other couples where the other men are 6’6 and 6’8 when you’re married to a man who is a very tidy 5’8. He he.

I am feeling as though I could barely stand to be doing more with my time now, which is really tremendous. I love my little retreat here at the apartment, when I can come and be nestled, relaxed, nurtured and comfortable. I feel so lucky. I wonder now if I could even stand to live in a big home ever again. I really, really like living in a smaller space.

If you’d told me a year ago I would hate living in a small apartment, I might have said, ‘heck NO, but I am not sure I’ll last very long.’ But that I don’t even miss having my own back door, my back yard, my own entryway into my place, and I enjoy common areas filled with other people, has been a revelation. Ok, I do miss my car, I’ll admit that. And I miss my garden too, but I have so many other things here to look at, and that are never allowed to get shoddy and broken. It’s a great change from the burden of looking after a house. I love the airy, light feel in our living area, and the ease of cleaning and tidying up. I love that we have comfy furniture to flop on, a simplicity about being at home, away from the hustle and bustle, but somehow connected to it all, in our ‘fishbowl’. We are looked after here, light globes are changed, windows are cleaned, gardens weeded, garbage is compacted, free movie tickets are available every month; it’s all very easy. We pay, but we love it.

If you’d told me though, that I would be miserable without my dogs, you’d be exactly right. That it would sometimes hurt me almost physically to think of how I missed them, was a torture I couldn’t have anticipated. As much as those two beautiful critters kept immobility and depression at bay for me at home, I was not the happiest of people while I was going through a few years of transition there for a while. The daily committment to keep my dogs happy and stimulated was sometimes a burden, which I am now so grateful that I had.  To be going through the immense changes in everything here, without them to keep me on an even keel, well I think we all know, their absence has not helped things at all. Now that I am doing better emotionally, physically, and have some stimulating and challenging things happening that I can immerse myself in, I can see how well those little buggers looked after me at home.

Some might have said they were a ‘crutch’ or a ‘weakness’ and that fur babies can’t replace real relationships or make life better, but I disagree, pets are a wonderful, enriching part of being human. I see people around me, and talk to people who live alone, or who just have very difficult lives for one reason or another, and I see how pets are there for their comfort, their enjoyment, and their sanity. Besides, we’re giving them the opportunity to have a happy, meaningful life, and don’t they deserve it as well? Those two dogs gave me the opportunity to regain some confidence, when I was able to focus my energies and train them to be the sort of animals I can take almost anywhere, who know where they belong in the family, and in the home. The discipline required to train an intelligent dog is pretty full on, and I did take it seriously, and still do. It’s been really good for me, and I’ve learned a lot about animals, and myself in the process.

So yeah, I have missed this part of my life so much, and it’s pretty obvious. I have been known to hang out in cafes and common areas to just ‘bump into’ certain animals I see regularly. If you have a dog and want to pass by me, and your dog wants to say ‘hello’, don’t expect me to just let you through. I try to be sensitive to people who are not into sharing their pet’s love. I always ask if I can say hello to their dog, and then make myself keep going. Oh, but it’s hard sometimes!

We may try to get Daisy and Roo over here, a situation that is always under review, as we don’t want to upset their lives and their bosses too. It is a very selfish idea. Seattle though, is without a doubt, THE most dog/cat/pet loving place I have ever been in. There are restaurants and pubs FOR your pets. Doggy day-care, offsite doggy fun parks you can send your dog to, and lots of dog reserves. As many dog grooming salons are there are nail-bars. I kid you not. Dogs ride on buses on planes, and can go into many shops and public spaces we would not let them in at home in Australia or NZ. I LOVE it. I see them well behaved, clean, unobtrusively tucked under feet, sometimes in the way, but usually just a part of the furniture here. And why on earth not?  You can see why I want my babies here. They will be SO happy.