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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).