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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Holidays

  • It's Chanukah
  • It's the Solstice
  • My mother's birthday would have been on the 22nd of December
  • Christmas is nearly here. 

So many special days all bunched up together.  It can be overwhelming, or giddily exciting depending on your point of view.  Whatever you celebrate, may you find joy and peace. Remember those who are no longer with us, and cherish the ones who are.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Is this table supposed to be in two parts?

"Is this table supposed to be in two parts?" is on my list of phrases I never want to hear again.  A week ago we took delivery of the items that were in storage in Connecticut, some of which had a rather complicated and circuitous route to our door.  It all started back in 1997 when we moved to London. We were packed up by one of those high class professional international moving companies.  The type who insist on custom built wooden  crates for valuable, easily damaged items, plus reams of industrial strength wrapping material and special bumpers on the corners of the furniture. Our small electrical appliances, lights, power tools, D.'s ham radio gear and stereo equipment was to go into storage because it wouldn't work in the UK. That was the theory at any rate. A few boxes wound up on the wrong side of the pond and we dutifully dragged them around with us each time we moved. When it looked as if we were going to be in the UK for more than a couple years, we had the items in storage shipped up to Vermont, where D.'s parents had space in their barn.  Sadly, over the years, both his parents died, and we subsequently inherited family heirlooms, antique clocks, pictures and childhood mementos. These were packed up and shipped down to Connecticut along with the electrical items that had never been unpacked, to be stored for another six years.  No wonder we weren't quite sure what to expect when it arived. 

Luckily we had the foresight to hire the man who had maintained the family's clock collection to prepare them for shipping.  Everything else looks as if it was just hurled onto the truck.  A large photograph of D.'s mother was shoved unprotected in a box with a heavy lamp base (resulting in the inevitable broken glass), a pewter tea set (badly dented) was underneath the crock pot, the list of absurdities goes on. One particularly large piece of furniture has a broken leg, and yes, a butcher block table was delivered in halves. D. said I was very brave when faced with the destruction. But I think I was just in shock. 

There were unexpected surprises like seven mismatched chairs, and a hand-quilted wreath made by an aunt (just in time for the holiday season). We are missing one lampshade (the other was damaged beyond repair), several crucial power supplies, and possibly a toaster oven. Yet, through some sleight of hand with the various packing lists they claim to have delivered everything (something very fishy was going on with box numbers, and some things had been unpacked before they got here). 

What did we do after the delivery?  Went shopping for furniture.  Sounds ridiculous with a spare room piled waist deep in damaged furniture, but we still don't have a dresser. There was much excitement when we saw 'dresser' on the inventory, but it turned out to be a blanket chest.  With a big chunk knocked out of one corner.   Now we're waiting for various insurance companies to respond to our claims, before about half the furniture goes back out the door for repairs. At least we still have the view!


Monday, December 5, 2011


Warming up for our first performance

 I don't know why it is, but every year, I am surprised when December arrives. It's especially hard to understand how it sneaks up on me, considering Thanksgiving is followed by 'black Friday, when the rest of the country has a massive holiday shopping attack. Furthermore, I have been practicing with a carol singing group since early November. You'd think all this carrying on about virgins, blessed infants, and angels shouting 'hark!' would remind me of the impending season. So why did panic strike when I arrived for a rehearsal to be greeted with the spectacle of a Christmas tree occupying the corner were the alto section had once stood?

Make believe snow family in Florida
Christmas is the time of year when children are nearly exploding with anticipation. Adults too, look forward to the festive decorations, parties, gifts, special foods, music, and religious celebrations. I enjoy Christmas once it's here, but when the first of December rolls around I find myself groaning and wishing for another month to get everything done. Things are a little harder in a new town, when you don't know where things are.  Not having a car or even useful shops within easy walking distance means we have to be very selective about what we buy, when and where. We've already carried a few odd things home by bike (a printer, a long piece of weather stripping, a bag of potting soil). Not sure how we're going to obtain and transport a tree, or even wrapping paper. Or when for that matter.  I try not to think about the fact that there's less than three weeks to go!

Chief among the things we've been anticipating is a phone call from the driver of the van containing the various useful things like lamps, power supplies, etc. that were stored in Connecticut.  All they can tell us is that he will call about 24 hours before delivery.  We had a much more exact arrival date for the shipping container that had to cross an ocean and circumnavigate a continent. We're also anticipating the day when the furniture repair company will come to haul our damaged items off to their workshop. They say it will take three weeks to do the work,  so we're also anticipating Christmas without a sofa.

One thing we're both really looking forward to is that feeling of finally settling in.  That wonderful moment when all the pictures are up, the shelves arranged, the furniture in place, and we can finally invite people over for a housewarming party. I optimistically thought this would happen in November, but now if we're lucky, it might be closer to Chinese New Year. The tandem, however, is right at home in its cubbyhole under the stairs. Harry Potter never had it so good.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


We are out of practice in celebrating this holiday after so long abroad, in fact the end of November snuck up on us when we weren't looking.  Some Seattle cyclists participate in an annual Thanksgiving day ride to raise money for Northwest Harvest. With fond memories of the London Christmas Day rides, we put it on our calendar.  While discussing when we should reassemble the tandem and take it on a shakedown cruise before the big day, it occurred to us that it was a little over a week away.  Yikes! 
The Saturday before Thanksgiving we put the bike together and after making sure the brakes worked, went flying down the hill. It was a bright, sunny, and cold as we headed for the farmer's market with only a vague idea of what we wanted. It's amazing what will fit in a large backpack and two saddlebags - potatoes, apples, beets, quince, several types of green food, smoked salmon, and a ten pound bag of organic potting soil, (for an oregano plant that was on its way from Cape Cod) with room to spare.  All systems were functioning perfectly and by gum, those eight extra gears sure make a difference on the hills.
We were pleasantly surprised that it (just) fit in the elevator. We used to have to keep it in its collapsed state for storage under the bed, and to get up and down in the tiny elevator at our previous residence.  Fine Sunday mornings often found us reassembling the bike in the lobby of the building, much to the amusement of our neighbours.  Now we can roll it out in a matter of minutes.

The forecast was rather grim: wind, rain, more rain and not very warm.  Flooding and mudslides were in the local news.  It should be just like Christmas in London we said as we dug out the waterproof booties in anticipation. We were up before the sun, breakfasted, swaddled in man made fabrics and out the door around 8 am. We pedalled off to parts of Seattle we'd never seen before.  Leschi was the starting point, and as we swooped down the long hill and pulled up next to the crowd of cyclists, I had the feeling of being distinctly underdressed.  No, we weren't cold, and no they weren't wearing formal wear, but I had an uneasy feeling as I eyeballed the expensive matching cycle clothes.  They went with the expensive ultra light bikes with skinny tires, unburdened by so much as a handlebar bag. Uh Oh.  The information on the ride said, 'Pace: Social'  and that the ride would keep together (instead of everyone going at their own speed). It was not an organised ride per se. There was no route sheet, and we only had a rough idea of where we were headed - a 25 mile loop around the bottom of Lake Washington and back via Mercer Island. 

So far, much like the London Christmas ride.  Except  in London, ostentatious cycles and athletic wear are generally absent. For example, a woman rode through the pouring rain one Christmas on a rented bike in a wool coat. At least we had our booties on, but the rest of our outfit was more sensible commuter than Lance Armstrong. We started out near the head of the pack of about 100,  only to be passed by every last one of them.  There are fast tandems out there, but ours is built for long leisurely rides, carrying a reasonable amount of luggage; not for speed.  We still have the bomb proof tires on it (for riding over London's shrapnel strewn roads) that have a fairly high degree of rolling resistance.  Their idea of a 'social pace' was about five miles an hour above our top cruising speed.  It wasn't long before they were out of sight. We compounded the problem at Seward Park when we zigged and the route zagged.  Deciding there wasn't much point to a 'social' ride when we'd been left behind without so much as a backward glance, we turned around and went the other way around Lake Washington until we were back in familiar territory. At that point the drizzle started and the wind picked up and we gladly pointed ourselves in the direction of home. Not long after we dried off the bike, tucked it into the cupboard under the stairs, and hung up the wet gear it started to rain heavily.  It was not our happiest cycling experience, but we saw some pretty back roads near the lake, contributed to a worthy cause, got some exercise and were in home with plenty of time to cook dinner.  
Blackened Tarte Tatin

We suffered from indecision about the menu. No turkey, no sweet potatoes,  and no pumpkin pie, but I absolutely had to have cranberry sauce (cranberries being extremely expensive and exotic in London, I really missed them).  Ours was a rather unorthodox meal:
Mackerel (from a Japanese supermarket)
Mashed potatoes with fresh horseradish
Cranberry sauce with orange and ginger
Creamed pearl onions and peas (pearl onions were also very rare in London)
Tarte Tatin (despite consulting several conflicting recipes it still turned out rather tasty, if a little blacker in places than is traditional).
When all else fails, consult the GPS

There are so many things to be thankful for:
After all the stress and upheaval of moving we're still glad we did it (and still speaking to each other).  I am also thankful for my family. I am lucky  to be related to such a kind, loving, and talented bunch of people. And then there are my friends, without whom life itself would be impossible. Chief among them is my beloved, the captain of a slow, but comfortable tandem.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stocking Up

Clotilde Dusoulier, author of the delightful blog Chocolate & Zucchini wrote in her book of the same title: " As a little exercise to flex your creative muscles, try this: open the fridge, look through your pantry and improvise a dish."  
She makes this sound as if unplanned meals were a novel experience, but it's how I cook all the time. Hopeless at creating menus and coordinated shopping lists, I'm often faced with an odd assortment of food items and no specific dishes in mind.  I'm pretty good at whipping up meals out of whatever is on hand. Of course, this works better when you actually have something in your pantry besides a few empty containers and paper goods. 

International moves wreak havoc on the contents of a pantry.  Most of the time, due to cost, or import and export regulations, you have to get rid of all the food. Tea is exempt (maybe the Boston Tea Party had something to do with this?), and depending on the shipper, or your destination, you might get away with  dried spices (but not this time). I couldn't face cleaning out the spice cupboards, carefully accumulated from years of exploring the ethnic shops in London, the markets and shops of Europe, and frequent gifts from a Japanese friend. Turkish red pepper flakes, mushroom and truffle paste, furikake, saffron, Indian spices, honey from a friend's beehive. . . it was too painful for me to throw it out.  Some we gave away, and while I was out at the British Library, D. discretely eliminated the rest, saving the glass jars.
Our kitchen in London

During a previous move, I sought expert advice on how to stock a pantry. You often find this in cook books of a certain type. In my case it was Delia Smith's How to Cook II.   I methodically went through her list, and ordered it all to be delivered from one of the supermarkets.  A couple years later when we moved again I still had unopened containers of things like  redcurrant jelly,  cornichons, golden syrup and half a bottle of cheap, formerly fizzy, cider.  Obviously, I'm not your typical British cook. 

For the past three months we've been managing with very basic kitchen equipment, so there wasn't much need for elaborate ingredients. Our first shopping trip included dijon mustard, olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, butter, Old Bay, sugar, peanut butter, and Tabasco. It's amazing how much you can do with that. Gradually, we've been adding items, not always in a logical fashion, but generally not buying anything until we need it.  I get a notion to make something and then spend the rest of the week accumulating ingredients and bringing them home in my bike bag. Hence the cupboard is still mostly full of empty containers.

After living in different countries, you end up with non-local tastes. We found ourselves importing Triscuits, Nestle's chocolate chips, vanilla, anise, and Old Bay (Tabasco seems to be an international condiment these days) in our luggage every time one of us made a trip back to the US.  We couldn't bring ourselves to spend the extortionate prices the import shops charged for such exotic 'delicacies'.
Now that we're in the US, it's nice not to horde every last cracker till they go stale.  We were surprised to find several familiar UK food items on the supermarket shelves here, such as PG Tips tea.  I brought a small, precious canister of Marigold Vegetable Bouillon in my suitcase, which is nearly gone now.  It was already on my mental shopping list for the next trip back to the UK, but luckily it is available online for a reasonable price. I was also thrilled to find a very well stocked Asian supermarket in the International district. 
Seattle is an interesting mix of cultures, and we are looking forward to learning about the influence this has had on the local food.  Meanwhile, I'm learning how to make my own muesli, because this European breakfast staple is nearly as expensive as gold dust around here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The invasion of the evil movers

At long last, the day had arrived; our household goods and furniture were to be delivered. D. spent hours with an ancient piece of CAD software building up a floor plan and populating it with replicas of our furniture.  It's much easier to move pixels than sofas. We had a plan of where all the furniture would go, and were looking forward to a smooth transition from indoor camping to living.

Ours was a 'princess move' - where the packing and unpacking is done for you.  Usually I pack  and unpack the CDs and some of the books to maintain control over things, but due to customs regulations, they preferred to pack it all themselves. 
Thursday dawned bright and sunny with no sign of a moving van . . . When they arrived mid-morning, there were only two of them, neither of them particularly strong. The third person didn't show up until late the next day when the heavy work was done.  They struggled with the boxes and big lumps of furniture, leaving nearly all of it on the lower level to the extent that we could hardly move. 
The corridor to the bathroom
They left and said they'd be back the next day to unwrap and set up the furniture and unpack.  Thank goodness for the Murphy bed, or we would have had to sleep on the balcony. I started in on the kitchen boxes, a process made tedious by the reams and reams of paper to unwrap.  Six sheets of paper to wrap one plastic chopstick seems a bit excessive. Some of D's colleagues were building a maze for Hallowe'en so he wanted to collect as many boxes as we could empty that afternoon and take them down to work. But it was slow going.

D. was eager to start assembling the furniture, especially our computer desk units and bookshelves before the unpacking began in earnest. Thanks to a couple of borrowed screwdrivers he started to make some progress, but was stymied by the critical parts missing from the 'parts' box.  Inaccurate box labels did not help.  A kitchenware box held a scanner and other electronic gizmos.  A box marked tools contained shoes (ok, a spirit level was in there). The screws and a screwdriver turned up eventually in another box marked kitchenware.  We still couldn't find the rest of D.'s tools. Then he realized he no longer owns a drill (different voltage, we gave it away).  He went out to buy one in order to anchor the shelving units to the walls. After he returned we unwrapped the sofa, ordered a pizza and collapsed in front of the TV for the exciting 6th game of the World Series (I must confess I slept through part of it).  We had to dig out the Murphy bed so we could crawl into it.
Kitchenware boxes more than half full of paper

Friday we were up early, I finished unpacking the kitchen before the mover (yes, one!) arrived to help unpack and move furniture.   She didn't have any tools; the others were bringing them.  We have lots and lots of flat pack shelving, and a four-poster bed that completely disassembles. This was not good.  We also don't have any dressers (the last place had lots of built in furniture). So I said, "hold off on the books till the shelves are up, and don't unpack the clothes because we don't have anywhere to put them". I was busy unpacking glassware and cutlery in the main room, D. was valiantly trying to put up shelving by himself and the mover was off somewhere in the front room . . . Like a toddler when things get very quiet, you know trouble is afoot. She was unpacking everything and piling it on the floor, because their remit is to unpack and put it on surfaces (floors, tables, etc., but not shelves). When it's stacked up knee deep in a confined space, you can't even get to the shelves.  Late in the afternoon the other two arrive, and like a demented tornado, start moving furniture around and emptying the rest of the boxes.  I became extremely stressed out at the increasingly terrifying, chaotic mountains of stuff everywhere I looked. 
A librarian's worst nightmare

D wisely took over the CD unpacking and sent me out for some fresh air before I could commit murder (only averted because I couldn't find any of the knives).  When I returned they were gone, having run out of floor space on which to dump the contents of the remaining boxes. Exhausted, wet (it was raining) bruised, scratched and filthy from the day's work, I decided a nice hot bath would be the ticket.  Except the bathtub needed cleaning and I was too tired.  Ok, a shower then.  But I couldn't even find my underwear. Gentle readers, this was the last straw.  D. found me, reduced to a sobbing sniveling heap on the closet floor surrounded by jumbled mounds of clothing.  He carefully shifted the teetering stacks of books so I could find the clothes I'd brought with me in August. Miraculously, we located linens and bedding and managed to sleep in our own bed for the first time in three months.

Mostly off the floor
After a weekend of picking things up off the floors, I am able to get dressed in the morning, prepare food, and sit at my desk and type this.  I dare not look closely at the shelves, cupboards and closets, as their randomized contents only make me depressed. I cringe each time I see the damaged furniture and smashed picture glass, and I have yet to muster the courage to inspect the musical instruments.  I'm not sure I could face a shattered fiddle right now. This has been one of the most difficult moves we've had. But with patience and a lot of hard work we'll get our place set up properly. . . Until the shipment arrives from storage in Connecticut. I just have to remind myself of our friends who lost all their possessions when the ship with their container on it sank. Though lately, I catch myself envying them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Moving on. . . Moving in!

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies . . . Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die . . . It doesn't matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away.” 

Painting by the pond, photo by Michael Bradtke
Everyone who was touched by my mother carries something of her with them - that is her legacy. I began this blog for her, and I’ll continue to write in her memory. In addition to the gift of life itself, she taught me to read, and shared her love of the arts, languages, and nature. As a strong, creative, intelligent, and resourceful person, she provided a great role model.  She showed us all how to adapt to new surroundings and to make a home wherever it may be.
            Reminiscing with my father in the days after the memorial, the subject often returned to my mother's willingness to face the challenges and upheaval of moving to a new place. For a good twenty years of their married life my father was in the United StatesCoast Guard, and every few years the family was uprooted.  New Jersey, Florida, New York, Guam, Alaska; each new transfer was another adventure for her, a new place to see, new people to meet. So you see, I come by this peripatetic existence honestly.

            Here I sit, my laptop perched on a folding table set up in the kitchen, a little oasis of calm. Meanwhile two industrious carpet layers are busy unrolling and hammering all around me.  The wool felt padding is surprisingly beautiful, in some ways more interesting than the oatmeal hued carpet that will cover it.
Laying down the padding

We are nearly at the three-month mark from our departure from London and still not moved in. But the indoor camping phase will be over in a few days when our stuff is finally delivered. That is, except for what we have in storage on the other side of the country.  Aside from a couple of antiques we inherited from D.'s parents, we can't remember what's there, a fine proof of the saying 'out of sight, out of mind'.
One thing about an international move is you learn what you can live without.  I joked that I had my laptop, my violin, and my bicycle (and of course, my beloved) with me, and the rest was incidental. You also begin to appreciate certain possessions after not having access to them for a while. I’m not sure if I miss the tandem, my books, or our cooking utensils most, but it will be great to have them back. When everything is unpacked, no matter how ruthlessly we weeded out the dross beforehand, there  always seems to be something that provokes the question “why did we keep this?”  I wonder what it will be this time. Throughout all the chaos I am constantly reminded of my mother, and of all the things I learned from her that I use every day, but especially on days like today. When your world is turned upside down, take advantage of the chance to enjoy the view from a different perspective.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Requiescat in pace

Louise Bradtke, photo by Michael F. Bradtke
Bradtke, Louise M., 86, of DeLand, Florida, died Thursday, October 7th, 2011. Born in Newton, Massachusetts, she graduated from Emerson College in Boston. She married Donald F. Bradtke in 1948, with whom she had four children. She received a Master’s degree in Special Education from the University of Miami, and devoted her working life to the care and training of developmentally disabled and emotionally disturbed people. She contributed her expertise to books, articles, and training sessions for institutional and community workers. The Bradtkes moved from Miami to DeLand in 1978, and in 1979 they established an educational business, Bradtke Educational Systems Inc, to help children with special needs. Louise was well noted for her infant stimulation program and her work with the local Associations for Retarded Citizens. She continued consulting well into her eighties.

She enjoyed gardening, reading, and taking walks in nearby nature centers and on the beach. She is survived by her husband, their four children and three grandchildren, and her younger brother. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to The ARC of Volusia, P.O. Box 9658 Daytona Beach, FL 32120,  (386) 274-4736; The West Volusia Humane Society, 800 Humane Society Road, DeLand, FL 32720-2400, tel. (386) 734-2450; or the Halifax Health Hospice of Volusia/Flagler, 1625 Veterans Memorial Parkway, Orange City, FL 32673.  Arrangements are under the direction of Allen Summerhill Funeral Homes. A memorial service will be held at 1:00 pm on Thursday October 13th at Allen Summerhill Funeral Home 126 East New York Ave, DeLand Florida 32724

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Indoor camping

In a fit of euphoria over the view (or maybe the carpet fumes were making us giddy) we decided to abandon the temporary apartment and make camp in the new place, before our shipment arrives.  I didn't mind, since I had to be here anyways to supervise some work being done.  So we begged and borrowed various household items, bought a pair of camping chairs and folding tray/tables and moved in, more or less.  First, D. got the Internet fired up, and then we went out and bought a kettle (I know my British friends will be shocked by this sequence of events).
Office with a view

 The kitchen equipment is still very basic. Even after a surgical strikes at Ikea and the local supermarket-sized charity shop we're still lacking such vital tools as pot holders.  Until last night we didn't have a microwave, and until this afternoon we didn't have anything more than two mugs that were safe to use in the microwave. But we're gradually getting there.
Second-hand Corningware never seems to have lids
I do love old kitchen utensils.  I used to have quite a collection of antique implements,  including my infamous manual toaster (you opened the sides, flipped the bread over and closed it up, no pop up and the potential for seriously burnt toast if you forgot). They were disposed of at a garage sale when I moved to NY.  Aesthetics aside, the recent purchases will come in handy, as it may be a while before the shipment is delivered.

It turns out the acres of white carpet are outgassing formaldehyde.  The place had a kind of plastic smell to it when we saw it, but after the first few nights and days spent in residence, it became unbearable.  It has to go. I can just about cope with working at home with the doors and windows wide open. A solution that will not be viable for much longer as we have just passed the Autumnal equinox. I am gradually becoming an expert on the soundproofing qualities of cork flooring and various types of acoustical underlays (because it's a condo, it must be quiet). Not what I planned to do with my spare (?!) time in a new city.  The scary thing is, I'm getting used to the big empty spaces, and wonder if we're going to feel hemmed in when all our stuff finally makes its appearance!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eastern Washington (no, not DC)

From the ridge above Ft. Spokane
I went east into the wheat fields of Lincoln County, Washington for a few days to visit my sister. The flight across from Seattle to Spokane is fascinating; a rolling tapestry of mountain ranges, scablands, wheat fields, rivers, and lakes. The smaller planes fly low enough to see it all. 
The trip had two purposes :
  1. To spend some time with my sister, and perhaps help her prepare for her own impending move (to Alaska).  It was great to see her again and we didn't waste too much time commiserating about the expense and sheer hard work of relocating.
  2. To practice driving a car on American roads somewhere that doesn't have very steep hills and lots of traffic.  Before this trip I had not driven anywhere for eleven years, and had been cycling on the other side of the road for at least five.
I am a little rusty, and the cars have changed somewhat. You'll be pleased to hear I caused no injury or damage and I mainly stayed on my side of the road, though the roads were so empty it hardly mattered.  My sister deserves a sainthood. She calmly said things like "you might want to slow down on this bend a little" whereas other friends or relations might be stamping their foot in the carpet (in lieu of a brake) and gnashing their teeth.

Lake Roosevelt
I drove out to Lake Roosevelt and Fort Spokane, a beautiful peaceful spot by the water where the Spokane and Columbia rivers meet. On the long, winding downhill into the river valley, my sister said "We often see deer here, so watch out".  Not two minutes later  she called out "deer!" as a young buck came bounding down the hillside, leapt over the fence, galloped across the road right in front of us and continued on his merry way down the far side. Close enough to be thrilling, but thanks to my sister's eagle eyes we avoided impact.  Later we spotted a flock of wild turkeys who evaded my attempts to photograph them by keeping just out of range. Camera phones aren't meant for wildlife photography. 
Stables at Ft Spokane
It was a very hot and sunny afternoon with hardly any breeze. We took the tree-lined trail up the ridge starting from just behind an old stable, one of the buildings still standing from the original fort. Along the way she pointed out edible plants and identified owl, turkey and eagle feathers littering the ground, and the paw prints and droppings of various mammals. At the top we paused to watch some birds of prey soaring over the river.

Harrington Public Library
Harrington is a small farming community with surprisingly wide roads (my brother in law says the main street could be used as a runway). The large trucks driving to and from the grain silos certainly have no problems negotiating the broad turns. The town is bisected by a busy rail line. Long trains of flatbeds carrying double stacked containers come barreling through, blasting their air horns at all hours of the day and night.  Residents near the tracks have learned to pause their conversation until the juggernaut has passed. So much for the myth of a quiet country life.  

Speaking of quiet, my favourite place in town is the public library.  A big game hunter donated part of his collection of trophy heads to decorate the interior.  I can just imagine the librarian directing a reader: "the history section is right under the Cape buffalo". Not that I'm a fan of taxidermy myself, but it is certainly unique among the libraries I've visited.

My sister is due to depart the lower 48 on the first of October, we're supposed to officially move into our new place about then. I think the rest of the family is tired of changing our entries in their address books!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Vive la Différence

Before we relocated, we often joked that Seattle would be a lot like London, but with better scenery. But that's not been our experience thus far. They are very different places. In three hours from London, you can be sitting in a Parisian café, watching the world go by. Three hours from Seattle you can be looking at something like this:
Picture lake
The glorious landscape certainly has an effect on the mindset of the people who seem to live outdoors in good weather. Kayaking, sailing, hiking, skiing, rock climbing, snowboarding, camping, cycling (even tai chi and yoga); if you can do it outdoors, they do it here, with gusto.

There are of course other, more subtle differences.  For instance, the tiny roadside stands selling coffee, what I call coffee shacks. Whimsical, brightly painted constructions plopped down in a corner of a parking lot.  They're usually about the size of a garden shed with one person inside dispensing a variety of coffee based drinks and they are each as individual as their owners. Unlike the coffee shop drive through,  you actually have to get out of your car to place an order. There are no amenities such as chairs or tables, or toilets. It's a case of drink and drive. In Britain, the thirsty driver  might stop at a little tea van parked in a lay-by.  These often have a few plastic chairs and rickety folding tables nearby, inviting the customer to at least linger for as long as their mug of tea lasts.
Coffee shack near Fremont bridge

Another difference is the weather. At least since we've been here.  Over a month now and we've had about ten minutes of rain.  Total.  The grass is brown and crunchy, there are fire warnings and burn bans, some of the trees are dropping their leaves, and we're experiencing the local equivalent of a heat wave.  Not like one I've ever felt before, but a high of 84 F in early September is record breaking in these parts.  The unrelenting, bright sunshine has been something of a surprise.  Sunglasses (and sunblock), don't leave home without them. But cloudless skies have meant more than one evening spent watching the sunset over the Olympic peninsula, a great way to end the day.
A September sunset in Seattle
(the long smudge above the mountains is smoke from a wild fire). 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Architectural Musings I

Last week was exciting for my friends back east who experienced both an earthquake and a hurricane, with subsequent flooding and power outages. I'm reliably informed they had the plague of locusts last year. Let's hope September will be less exciting.

Before we moved here, I had trouble imagining the built environment. I knew it would be different from London, certainly.  It's a young city, a mere babe by European standards (no Roman ruins), yet older than Miami where I grew up.  Following the terrible fire of 1889,  when the entire business district burned down, the city was rebuilt in brick.  But that's not what you see when you look at Seattle from the water today.  The skyline bristles with shiny glass and steel sky scrapers.  

There was a housing boom in the early part of the twentieth century and the neighbourhoods around the edges of the city are full of bungalows and similar small homes built in the 1910s and 1920s, often placed high atop hills with views that are breathtaking, sometimes literally.

Typical Seattle Bungalow atop Queen Anne
Some have been lovingly restored, with gleaming wooden floors and glowing stained glass accents.  Others have been gutted and unsympathetically expanded and updated to suit modern living styles, utterly ruining the character of the original design.  We saw examples of both types while house hunting.  The restored houses were lovely, but just wouldn't suit us. The modernised ones were just plain awful, awkward, impractical, ugly.  There must be some good renovation / extension jobs out there, but we didn't see any of them. So we ended up with a condo with a logical layout and a great view, even if it is a little bland.

Folly or lighthouse?

Along the way, we've spotted a few quirky buildings.  Like this one in Ballard, reminiscent of a lighthouse. It faces Ray's and the water.  There must be an interesting story there.

Or this adorable confection, squeezed between two condos near the beach in Alki (West Seattle) that looks a like something from the Garden Gnome Reserve only more so.
Beach house for garden gnomes

Once in a while we spot a little bit of 'Old Blighty'.  In this case, a red phone box outside a fish and chips establishment.  However, the observant among you will have noticed from the photos, Seattle enjoys a wee bit more sunshine here in August than London. But don't tell anyone or we'll be overrun with British tourists.
Red phone box and chippy

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Something's Fishy

Did I mention Seattle was a fishy place?

They are mighty fond of their fish here, especially the salmon. The locals eat salmon burgers, salmon sausages, smoked, grilled, and poached salmon, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I haven't looked for salmon ice cream, but it wouldn't surprise me to find it here.

On one of our periodic explorations we visited the fish ladder. A very forward thinking member of the Army Corps of Engineers, Hiram Chittenden devised a watery staircase to help salmon return to their spawning grounds despite the locks in the Ship Canal. It's built into the side of the locks, with a viewing area so popular that tour busses stop here.  While we were down below watching the fish through the glass, a few locals were salivating at the thought of one of these big silvery beauties on their plates. One, a former fisherman said "I used to catch these, but now when I go to the supermarket, I can't bring myself to buy it except as an rare treat".  From the point of view of someone who spent a lot of time in the opposite corner of the country, salmon prices in the Pacific Northwest seem quite reasonable. But there are different types of salmon, and what we were watching was a  Chinook, one of the tastiest.

Above ground, the locks are especially entertaining on a sunny Sunday morning when it is full of pleasure boats wedging themselves in tightly for the ride down to Puget Sound. 

On the opposite bank from the fish ladder is a visitor's center and botanical garden, and some of the original poured-concrete architecture with fishy details (there are small bronze fish around the base of the globe). 

From there we continued along the Burke Gillman trail (it vanishes in Ballard and begins again closer to Puget Sound) to Golden Gardens park.  A beach within easy cycling distance from home, will wonders never cease? It's noting like the salty bathwater of Biscayne Bay from my childhood, but it's still a beach.

Along the way we spotted Ray's, a restaurant that features seafood (of course) and the diners have breathtaking views of the water and the Olympic mountain range in the background.

Out front is a colourful fish-shaped bike rack.  Some sculptural bike racks are next to useless, especially for odd sized bikes, but this one works pretty well. Our little Bromptons nestled in the slots perfectly.

It's time to sign off for now, I need to go fix dinner. . .  fish, of course!
Salmon Waves by Paul Sorey

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


They say the basics for survival include food, shelter and water.  We've been making some headway in those departments.

For various reasons, we don't eat a lot of processed foods, and that generally means a lot of hands on cooking, which we both enjoy.  Procuring edibles is half the fun.  I don't mean shuffling through the local supermarket trying not to run over any toes with an over-laden trolly full of packaged industrial food-like substances.  Farmers markets, small producers, that's where the real food is. During the summer there are several farmer's markets in the Seattle area. The biggest we've found is the wonderful, year round, Ballard Farmers' Market.

Heirloom tomatoes, homemade pies, handmade cheeses, berries, peaches, greens and root vegetables, flowers, fish just off the boat (or out of the smoker, sold by the skipper himself), Walla Walla onions, fresh bread, the list is endless, seasonal and mouthwatering. There's a constant supply of street musicians, including a one man band (accordion, cornet, and percussion), a jazz band and some student violinists raising money for their school orchestra. It's easy cycling distance for us, so I expect we'll be regulars.

After several days of house hunting with the ever-resourceful Suzy, we have found a place that meets our requirements.  Cycling distance to D.'s office, not up a lung-busting hill, reasonable size, but not too big, a place to store a tandem (besides under the bed)
A tandem that fits under the bed, or in the two suitcases it's towing.

a functional kitchen, on a quiet road, with a nice view, and bedroom ceiling high enough to accommodate our four poster bed.  The only place it fails is the bedroom.  We will have to do without the canopy in order to squeeze the bed in up under the eaves. On the other hand it has a Murphy bed, something I've always wanted since seeing one on a rerun of  I Love Lucy (can't find that online, but this is pretty silly). It also comes with two car parking spaces, not that we have a car.

We should be closing on 16 September, it could have been earlier, but the owner requested the later date and our shipment won't arrive for a further week. To contrast with the home buying process in the UK, we accepted an offer on our place in London in late June.  Both buyer and seller want to expedite the process, cash buyer, no chain.  Closing date?  Only the solicitors have any idea, and they're not saying.  The general consensus from friends who have bought recently in the UK is that it usually takes several months, and that's without any complications.

No shortage of that around here:
Lake Union
This is the view from the balcony of our prospective new home.  The mountains in the far distance are the Cascades, the strange protuberances in the nearer distance on the left is a former gasworks, now Gasworks Park. In amongst the houseboats on the lower left is the one made famous in Sleepless in Seattle.  True, the view doesn't have to be this nice, but it will be such a pleasure to look at something other than the building site that's been below our balcony for the past nine years.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Snapshots of (mostly) sunny Seattle

The great thing about cameras in cell phones is they tend to be right there when you see something you want to photograph.  
"OW!" - he must have hiked up the hill too

The not so great thing is the picture quality.  Especially on a sunny day when you're wearing polarized sunglasses and can't see what you're aiming at! 
There be dragons!
The International District is infested with them!

So bear with me, eventually we'll haul out the big Nikon out and take some better shots.  But for now. . .

Seattle is a hilly place, hillier even than Rome or Sheffield.  Or at least the hills seem steeper. They loom up out of the landscape in a threatening manner when you're on a heavily laden, folding bike, or carrying groceries home.  I am reminded of my brief foray to San Francisco, though it's not quite that hilly!

Just walking about the neighborhood (Queen Anne) I am constantly reminded of the undulating landscape.   The advantage of hills of course, is the view once you've made it up.  
Looking down towards the Ship Canal

Seattle is also a very watery place.  Boats and ships of all shapes and sizes from kayaks and even tiny paddleboards to ocean going vessels ply the local waters.  We spent a sunny evening watching the water traffic on the Ship Canal, while the Fremont Bridge was going up and down, and enjoying the variety of watercraft that passed by. 

D. is lucky, his office has an excellent view of the Ship Canal, and the Burke-Gilman trail that runs beside it.  
The Burke Gilman trail from D.'s desk

Just east of the Fremont Bridge along the canal is the soaring Aurora Bridge (also known as the George Washington Memorial Bridge).  It's probably nicer to look at than drive on, as it's prone to traffic jams.  
Aurora Bridge, from the Fremont side

Heading west from Fremont is the Ballard Bridge, not the nicest bridge to cycle over, as the pedestrian/cycle area is small and sprinkled with shards of broken glass, but you get a good view of the shipyards and fishing boats in Salmon Bay.
The Ballard Bridge, from Queen Anne
Seattle is also musical place, right now, I can hear the plink-plunk of a banjo down the street, and I hear tell of all sorts of sessions, open bands, dances and other entertainments. . . except in August.  We had been forewarned, but it seems strange that everyone ups sticks in August and goes elsewhere (especially when the weather is so nice here at the moment).  Never mind, it will give us a little time to adapt and get oriented before they all come back.  Maybe by then we won't look so obviously dazed and confused (I've lost count of the number of nice people who have asked if I was lost or needed help finding something!).
Still a little out of synch with the local time, but getting up at dawn has its advantages.  The disadvantage is the undeniable urge to fall asleep right after supper.