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Friday, April 6, 2012

Car Less in Seattle

Antique car in the DeLand Mardi Gras parade
We're still getting used to the fact that people are surprised we don't have a car. Our neighbors keep asking us about our two empty parking spots. After talking, they start to envy us the fact that we don't spend lots of time stuck in traffic, or hunting for parking spaces or shelling out lots of money for gas and insurance. Such is the car oriented mindset that one woman admitted she has a membership at a gym because it means she can use their lot instead of paying for (and trying to find) on street parking. Personally, I always hated driving, and love cycling and walking. I don't mind taking the bus, except when it fails to show up.  I've learned not to try to get anywhere when it snows, but that was true for nearly every other city I've lived in. 

A friend who lives out of town was appalled.  "How would we get to Costco to buy industrial sized containers of snacks and paper products?" he asked.  Easy, we don't need huge quantities of anything - there are only two of us. It can lead to a slightly ascetic  existence. Every purchase is considered carefully. Can it be bought locally? Can we carry this home? Is it worth the bother?  Sometimes you have to be creative. I have cycled with small kitchen appliances and a laser printer strapped onto my little bike (not at the same time!).   I also took a Christmas tree home on a bus once, and pushed around all sorts of odd things in a wheeled shopping basket, or strapped to a rolling luggage rack. 

It's not as if we never use cars.  D. has occasional access to a fleet car, a zippy little hybrid, which is handy for a quick run somewhere that's either difficult to get to, or involves moving something too large or heavy to use our usual modes of transport. Sometimes we take a taxi, sometimes a kind friend will give us a ride. We also rent a car now and then to go out of town. The last trip we took was by small plane to Orcas Island. We were so pleased that we could get there and back without driving.  But because it was the off season, and our accommodation somewhat remote, we ended up renting a car.
Seattle from the inside of a float plane.

I was told: 'You need a driver's license for identification'.   Identification should not be synonymous with proof of one's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Besides, I already have a UK license (good til age 70) and a valid US passport, and just to have something with my local address, a Washington State ID card.  Our New Jersey licenses expired while we were abroad, so we have to take both the written and practical tests.  D. felt compelled to do this, and in the process he proved how difficult it is if you don't have a car.  The written test and the driving test are given at two different locations, neither particularly close to home.  He wasted an entire morning getting there, taking the half hour written exam and getting back. For the driving test, you have to have a car and proof of insurance for that car.  Rental cars and fleet cars have fleet insurance - the individual cars themselves are not specified in the document, and therefore can't be used fot the test.  Luckily, he has a very generous colleague who loaned him a car for a few practice runs and the exam itself.  D. now proudly possesses a brand new State of Washington driver's license*, but no car.
Meanwhile. . . I'm lusting after a bike with more than six gears and better luggage carrying capacity.

*I lied about that, they don't issue licenses where you take the driving exam.  So he had to go to yet a third office to have his picture taken, whereupon they issued him a temporary license and will mail him the real one. . . Possibly the most inefficient system (from an end user's point of view) I've ever seen!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been? I've been to London to visit the Queen

The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library

I have been back to London, but I had more interesting places to visit than the palace. It was strange, being back in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library where I've spent a good part of the last decade.  I miss the place and my colleagues and friends now that I'm on the far side of the world. While I was there  The Carolina Chocolate Drops came in for a quick look around before the evening's concert. They were so fascinated, their manager had to drag them out again. We laughed about the irony that I came all the way to London to see them, and they promised they would appear in Seattle soon. Go see them if you get the chance or you can hear them on NPR.
A regatta in the snow
We've been learning about winter weather in Seattle.  Or the distinct lack of it.  My sister in the frozen north e-mails about  temperatures in the double digits below zero F.  Here, we rarely seem to get below freezing.  I was in the UK during Seattle's one significant snow and ice storm, though I got a brief taste of it the Sunday before, when a few flurries resulted in public transportation chaos. Admittedly, the hills around here are murderous when icy and the busses for the most part aren't equipped for those conditions. However, the  sailors were completely undaunted, and as the flurries cleared, they appeared as if by magic, on the dark surface of the lake. 
The rocket that didn't launch
For a change of pace we went to Florida to visit my family, something we always try to do in the winter months when the mosquitoes are dormant.  We timed it to coincide with a rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Center.  I grew up wanting to be an astronaut, watching night launches from the roof of our house, and witnessing the first five space shuttle launches while I lived in central Florida. Sadly, the launch was posponed due to wind.  But we toured the space center for nearly two days and still didn't see it all. Happily, amidst the glitzy exhibits, they still display an actual Gemini capsule with the scars and scorch marks from re-entering the atmosphere. 
One of the main attractions on the bus tour of the Space Center was the abundant wildlife.  The taped commentary droned on about an historic building to the left while the whole bus was looking to the right at an alligator in the drainage ditch, or an eagle's nest in the trees. Later in the week we took a long walk through the Lake Woodruff Wildlife Center. D. asked me if there were any alligators there, and I pointed out a mound of feathers - the remains of a bird after an alligator had digested it. Sure enough it wasn't long before we saw some basking in the sun, and turtles, and of course lots of birds.
Resident gator at Lake Woodruff
As we neared the exit, we met a man with a couple of poles and stout boots asking if we'd seen any rattle snakes.  I was happy to say we hadn't, since I was wearing sandals, but he seemed intent on finding some, and was well equipped for the job.  Generally though, if I see poisonous snakes, I head the other way.
After a couple busy months of traveling hither and yon, I am looking forward to staying put in the Pacific Northwest for a while.  We have started to hang pictures, make a few improvements, and clear up the last of the boxes, so it's beginning to feel like home at last. Soon we'll need to think about planting the balcony garden.  But that is another tale.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Now Christmas is over
The New Year begins
Please open your door
And let us come in
With our wassail. . .

Reindeer enduring the invasion of the carolers
Don't let the silence fool you.  It isn't that things have been quiet, more like I've been too busy to sit down and write about it all.  Here it is, Plough Monday, and I'm only just looking over the photographs from Christmas Eve.

D. is at the airport waiting to board the red-eye to New York and I find myself without pressing engagements, rehearsals, performances, last minute cooking or sewing projects, packages to wrap or or send, or even laundry to do.  Phew!

View from the top of Queen Anne hill
Christmas itself was very quiet, featuring a climb to the top of Queen Anne hill and gathering free-range rosemary for our supper. But the rest of  the last few weeks have been a blur of singing, dancing and making merry culminating in the ninth annual Seattle Wassail.

Wassailing is an old winter time tradition from the apple growing regions of southern England. It involved traveling around the local orchards singing and toasting the apple trees to encourage them to bear a good crop.  Oddly enough, the first wassail we ever participated in was in Brooklyn. As far as I know not a single apple tree was serenaded at that event,  but it was a great excuse for a progressive party.
In Washington, apple growing is very important to the economy, and even in the city apple trees are everywhere. The Seattle Wassail took the form of a schoolbus load of singers, morris dancers, musicians, and friends progressing around Greenlake and Wallingford.  Following a schedule of pre-arranged stops, we sang to the trees, danced in driveways (or the street) and enjoyed the hospitality of our hosts. In a special event at the Meridian playing field, members of the public joined in the celebrations. Cider and apple cake were shared, songs sung and a huge ring of dancers of all ages circled gingerly in the mud around the apple trees.  Sadly your intrepid reporter was having so much fun that the camera phone lay utterly forgotten in the bottom of the bag. Suffice it to say, a good time was had by all, and given the energy and enthusiasm of the participants, we're expecting a fine apple crop next year.

Now we enter the deep dark days of winter, when the holiday decorations are packed away, the parties and performances are over, and the glittery, spangly, gaudiness is stowed away for another year. Time to focus on work and grimly hang on til February is over and we can start looking forward to spring. When we lived in England I used to think there was a good reason the second month was the shortest.   It can be seriously bleak and dismal. However, my sister in North Pole Alaska assures me that the days are growing noticeably longer, so summer is on its way.