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Karen, me, Will, Ian, standing atop the Graduate Seattle Hotel, at The Mountaineering Club.

In the weeks before his visit from Rhode Island, I told Will what weather to expect over here in March: rain every day, temps in the 40s and 50s. This is what happened instead: the first three days it was in the 20s and snowed, and from then on skies were sunny as it slowly warmed up day after day till it was in the 70s under blue skies the day he left. Will still has no experience of a typical Pacific Northwest day.

But all the sun made for some spectacular touristing! Will and I went to Seattle for a weekend, to visit my brother, Ian, and his girlfriend, Karen.

Space Needle rises above the tracks of the monorail.

Kitties agree that they do not want to visit the Space Needle.

The first thing we had to do was visit the Space Needle. Last spring the whole top was encased in plywood, making it bulky and ugly. Ian told me that they were planning upgrades to include a glass floor. I had to see that, and Will was game. It took 45 minutes from the moment we first got in line to purchase a ticket, till the moment we entered an elevator – and this is in March!! Just imagine how crazy this place must be in the summertime. The good news is: On your ticket there is a time for when you must return to get into the elevator line. Just go do more touristing if the wait is going to be long.

More important than the glass floor are the new glass walls. Compare the photo of my friend Mads from our trip up the Needle in 2015, to the one of Will and me this month:

Mads in Seattle, March 2015

Will and me in Seattle, March 2019. Glass walls and glass benches!

So yes, those of you with the jitters just looking at the photos…those are valid feelings. Wow! It’s woozy-making to look out through the glass at a 520-foot drop to concrete below. But get a load of the width of the glass (which I’m sure is not merely glass, but a reinforced material of some kind). You can see the edges to the left of Will in the photo above. Up close it looked a couple inches thick and could hold us up easily. It was designed to withstand storms as much as people.

We looped the upper observation deck and got photos in every direction, even scrutinizing the nearby neighborhoods till we picked out Ian and Karen’s house! We went downstairs to the rotating restaurant, and there we found the glass floors. That is when my stomach really began doing flip flops.

Me on the new glass floors in the Space Needle.

Eeeeeyikes!! Will’s feet and my feet as we look directly below at the base of the tower holding us up.

Someone has a sense of humour: this daddy long legs mural is painted on the roof.

Termination point of the monorail is just outside, after passing through the Museum of Pop Culture.

We rode the monorail to the Pike Place Market and then returned early to meet Ian and Karen and go have dinner and drinks at a bar atop the Graduate Hotel, called The Mountaineering Club. A friend of theirs is the kitchen manager and gave them the heads up that it’s now open. On such a spectacular day, it was a perfect place for even more amazing views without buying a ticket or waiting 45 minutes. We chose the outdoor seating at first, and were provided with blankets to stay warm out there while we watched the sunset. Then we moved inside to eat our meal at themed tables holding old mountaineering equipment. I had the most delicious drink of my life called “We Put Nettles In This,” with Bolivian Brandy, Aloe Vera, Grapefruit Cordial, Suze, Lime, Celery Bitters, and Nettle Fizz.

After returning home, we met an old school friend of mine from Brandeis who recently moved to Seattle. We walked up to Kerry Park to gaze at the spectacular city lights, then we walked back down the hill to share coffee and a pastry and catch up on each other’s lives. It has been 12 years since I saw her last. Wow!

Looking toward the Space Needle from The Mountaineering Club.

The view from the 16th floor of the Graduate Hotel, at the Mountaineering Club.

Waiting for my friend at Caffe Vita, my fave Seattle coffee shop.

Brandeis Anthropology kids

Lamps decorate a restaurant front in Seattle.

The next day Ian took us to the Ballard Locks, which dates from 1917. While we waited for the boats to fill the lock between Puget Sound and Lake Union (and Lake Washington, on the other side of Lake Union), we spotted wildlife. We saw Seattle’s official city bird, the Great Blue Heron. Their most serious predator in the area is Bald Eagles, and the eagles do not like all the noise of the locks, the train, and the people, so they stay away and allow the herons to raise their young.

Kingfisher inside the empty lock.

We got tired of waiting and walked over to the fish ladders. This is an important route for salmon migrations, so the locks are designed to make it easy for fish to climb or descend the 26 feet between the fresh water lakes and salt water sound. There is a educational center that has been closed for a long time and not yet made ready for the public, so we were able to get up close to the glass viewing windows, but as you can see from the photo, we did not see any migrating salmon.

Great Blue Herons in a tree near Ballard Locks.

Seagulls at the locks, making their own racket.

Educational facility at the salmon ladder is not quite ready for the public until the glass is cleaned. The window on the right is opaque with green slime.

While we were viewing the fish ladder, the lock sent a load of boats out and we missed it! This time we stayed put until a group of small boats collected inside the lock and then we watched the water fill it up. When the gate opened and the boats were free to go, we left too.

Standing at the fish ladder site, looking back toward the main building of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, better known as the Ballard Locks.

Looking toward the train bridge.

We stood with 100 other people, watching the locks operate.

Next Ian took us to Gas Works Park. It is the site of a coal gasification plant that operated in the first half of the 20th century. Contaminated soil and groundwater were cleaned up when the former Seattle Gas Light Company site was made into a park. I absolutely love the look of the abandoned natural gas generator towers, and the other structures remaining. Much of the pump house and boiler house still contain original pumps, compressors, and piping and are open to children or adults who want to climb around or picnic, but the highest structures are fenced off.

Remnants of natural gas generator towers at Gas Works Park.

Will and Ian walk beside the generator towers.

Looking down onto the towers from the kite flying hill.

The view from Gas Works Park is outstanding.

To wrap up our wonderful weekend, Ian took us into the Queen Anne neighborhood to look at expensive houses and see the fabulous views their owners purchased. Lucky for us, the common people can come up and look any time we want, for free.

A gorgeous March day in Seattle.

Birthday berry tart with ice cream and a candle!

I celebrated for five days in a row this year. I think I deserve it. ūüėČ

My birthday was Tuesday, but I took a few days off work and began the reveling on the Saturday before.

First up was an overdue visit to my friend Vladimir in St. Johns, a neighborhood of Portland. We went out walking and he steered me directly into the path of some scrumptious samosas at The Sudra. St. Johns is most famous for its green gothic suspension bridge, of which I did not take a decent photo here, but you get the idea. It is stunning, and after Vlad and I ate lunch, we continued our walk then crossed the bridge over and back in the sun.

I bid my friend adieu, then hopped into the Jeep and sped off northward to Seattle, to visit my brother Ian and his girlfriend Karen, for the weekend. Ian had smoked some pork and Karen prepared an array of sides like multi-coloured carrots with a glaze. When I arrived, dinner was just about ready and we chatted and drank wine for hours.

The St. Johns Bridge from near Vlad’s place.

Looking toward Portland from the St. Johns Bridge.

Looking toward the community of St. Johns from the bridge west of Portland.

A treehouse we passed on our way toward the bridge.

Sunlight on the bridge.

They put me up for the night, as always, in their guest bedroom that looks out toward the Space Needle, Seattle’s most famous landmark. I thought that something looked dreadfully wrong with the Needle. When typically it’s elegant legs arc into the sky supporting a perfect spaceship-shaped disc, it seemed decidedly chunky and awkward. I fretted about some ghastly renovation that left it possibly safer, but no longer artistic perfection. In the morning I looked out and saw with relief that the entire top of the Needle is enveloped in plywood scaffolding. Renovations, yes, but they have only just begun. The improved and (I assume) lovely Space Needle will be open in time for summertime tourists.

Sunday they took me to the Ballard Market, a place we hit every Sunday when I’m there, so I imagine they hit it every week they can. It’s a grocery store for my super-health-conscious relatives, who purchase meat directly from the ranchers, and vegetables directly from gardeners. Afterward, Karen introduced us to one of her favourite eateries, Eve Fremont, where we all decided on bison burgers!

Bison burgers all around.

Mushrooms at the Ballard Market.

Get a load of these boots!!

Karen studied for school while Ian and I talked, then she and I went shopping. I’ve been wanting black boots for over a year. I have beautiful brown boots that have lasted for years because I spent the money to get high quality. It was time to do the same for black boots. Because when you need black boots, brown boots just won’t do! Can I get an Amen! Anyhoo, while the super helpful assistant was in the back, searching for what was available in my size, Karen and I browsed a little too far into the section for boots-you-would-buy-if-it-was-your-birthday-and-you-felt-like-splurging. Oops. When the assistant showed up with an armload of boots suitable for the office, I had to send her away for one more box. I left with two pairs of boots, one of them was thigh-high, velvet, high-heeled, and sexy as hell. Take THAT 48 years old!

Oh, did I tell you I turned 48? Can I just say that 48 is a liiiitttle too close to 50, and I am nowhere near 50 years old. Just… saying.

For my second night, I wanted to turn it up a notch, so I had reserved a room in Seattle landmark, the Olympic Hotel, built in 1924. It’s now a Fairmont hotel. I began to get a sense that this place was all about service like no place I’ve ever stayed. About 10am, I got a personal text that said, “Crystal, your room is ready. You can check in any time you like. Your keys are ready and you can pick them up at either entrance.” It was signed Natalie. I smirked and ignored it. All except for thinking 10 am? Since when is your hotel room ready at 10am? Later in the day, during a down moment, I decided to text “Natalie,” just for giggles. “Hey thanks, Natalie. I’m in Seattle already, visiting my brother for my birthday. I’m not ready to check in yet but I will when we’re done running around. Looking forward to oysters at Shuckers later tonight.”

I was startled to get an immediate response. Natalie was apparently not a robot. She wished me a happy birthday, then asked if she could reserve a table for me at Shuckers, the oyster bar at the hotel.

Happy Birthday from the Olympic Hotel

Something sort of special about a personal welcome.

I was again struck with the service of the place when I arrived and was handed a welcome packet with keys that had my name printed on it. Natalie was the only person I had mentioned my birthday to, and when I arrived in my room, there was a tiny cast-iron pan filled with macaroons and chocolate chips, and a hand-addressed birthday card. Seriously?

That night we ate heaps of oysters and Jim, the fabulous and friendly waiter, chatted with us every time he passed by. I gleefully told him I was celebrating my birthday with my brother, and of course, when we ordered dessert split three ways (we were stuffed to the gills), it came with a birthday candle and garnish. “On the house,” Jim insisted. We goofed around and took photos in the gorgeous empty spaces in the hotel after dinner.

Lovely Fairmont Olympic Hotel

My handsome brother

Ian wanders off

Karen and me waiting for fresh oysters!

Monday, back at the house, I kissed and hugged them goodbye and headed back home to Rainier, only 2 1/2 hours south.

Tuesday, my actual birthday, I had nothing scheduled, but managed to get a half-dozen errands done that had been sitting and waiting for me for weeks. Yes! I LOVE getting things done. Happy birthday gift indeed.

Wednesday I went south to Oregon City for another overdue visit to my dear friend Marlene at insearchofitall. It has been months and months since we’ve seen each other, and have only communicated through our blogs or infrequent emails or cards. I adore Marlene, and though we meant to go to lunch together, we had jabbered non-stop for an hour before we remembered our plans. We jabbered all through a long lunch. I realized on my drive to see her that it was my birthday and I had not had any cake! Marlene kept me company while I went and found a store with just the slice of cake that I needed. Finally I gave hugs and kisses goodbye and headed back in time for my final celebration.

My neighbor, Dick, loves to gamble for fun. There is a brand new casino here – not even a year old – that he keeps saying he’s going to take me to see. It was finally the day. He swung by to pick me up and off we went. The ilani casino in La Center, Washington is definitely the sparkliest thing around. From their website: “The design of the 368,000 square-foot casino resort will project the culture of the Northwest and pay tribute to the heritage of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.” I used to live in Nevada, and I was just recently in the fabulous Cherokee Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa. So this casino is pretty mild in comparison to the big ones. But for the only thing of its kind around, it’s big enough and glitzy enough. And it sucks up your money really well, just like all the other casinos.

Brand new gorgeous ilani casino in LaCenter, WA

Shrimp and scallops with pasta

After a couple hours of gambling, Dick and I went over to try their seafood restaurant. I know, you probably think after all the eating I’ve done in this post that I couldn’t possibly handle more eating. But I suffered through the agony of one more celebratory birthday meal, just so I could take this photo and delight you all. No, I’m kidding of course. One lovely thing about birthdays, everyone wants to feed you! BONUS!! I should have more birthdays. As long as I can stay in my forties, I’ll keep having birthdays year after year, after year, after…

My apologies. The writerly in me has gone to sleep. The engine sputtered and coughed and sighed then went quiet in the middle of July and I was only halfway done with telling you all about my Oklahoma trip!! I don’t know what’s going on. I’ll just wait it out because there is no doubt the engine will chug back to life. In the meantime: How lucky are we?! I wrote a post in the Spring that I never published. You can have it now.

On a May visit to Seattle, my brother and his girlfriend took me to see the Ballard Locks for the first time. The official name is the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, but so far I have not heard anyone call it that. Rather, the locals have named the locks for the Seattle neighborhood where they are found, and it’s the title of my post.

Completed in 1917, the locks link the Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington. Parking is a bear, but we finally found a spot, and made our way to the locks. Unexpectedly, visitors pass through the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden. I would have been happy to spend more time exploring, but that particular day was too cold and rainy to encourage garden exploration.

Gardens tend to be lovely in the rain as well as in the sunshine.

Past the gardens, and an information center that includes a souvenir shop, we reached the water. There are two parallel channels for boats to travel through. The first one we came to was rather large, capable of containing a large ship, or many small boats. It was not in use, so we crossed the catwalk to the second and much narrower channel. I was distracted on the way by the lovely old concrete architecture.

An office building for staff, I assume. I instantly had visions of Monty Python. Sorry. Can’t help myself.

It was a delight to discover that watching boats go through locks is interesting to a bunch of other people. Many tourists and locals stood out there in the rain, watching the process. There were also cyclists waiting for the gates to open up, since apparently it’s part of a bicycle route to cross the locks.

Looking West toward the Sound, a small boat moves ahead into the lock. You can see several others waiting their turn.

People watch with surprising enthusiasm as the boat enters the lock. A second boat is allowed to join the first.

The first boat heads all the way in, and ties off. Note how deeply they sit.

The gates close.

Two boats in together, as the water level rises.

…and before you can say Bob’s your uncle, the boats are eye level and ready to move into the lake.

We watched the process of moving boats through twice. The locks can elevate a vessel 26¬†feet from the level of Puget Sound at a very low tide to the level of freshwater Salmon Bay, in 10‚Äď15 minutes. It’s fast enough to be entertaining, and crowds grew more dense the longer we stood there. Finally we had seen enough and we walked across the spillway dam to the other side of the water. There is a fish ladder there I would have like to see, but it was temporarily closed. The trip was not in vain, though, because I was captivated by some artwork on the other side.

These spirals, clearly reminiscent of waves, were lit with tiny blue lights. I’ll bet it’s wonderful at night.

On the way back to the locks, we saw a train crossing the bridge. From the look of the cars, this one could be carrying oil.

When we reached the locks again, so many boats had stacked up, waiting to go through, that the large lock had been opened, and they brought in everyone who was waiting. That time, there were about 8 boats in the lock. It took longer to fill, and we tired of waiting and left.

US Army Corps of Engineers manages the locks.

In Ballard we also spent time at the Farmer’s Market and visited an apothecary. I recommend the Ballard neighborhood to any Seattle visitors. And do walk out to see the locks. It’s free, and surprisingly interesting.

Evening view out the guest bedroom window

Evening view of the Space Needle out the guest bedroom window

Back to Seattle, can you believe it?

I don’t visit my brother for a whole year, and now it’s been two weekends in a row! It’s a good thing he is an awesome brother and I love spending time with him and his girlfriend.

Our plan was originally to check out the University of Washington campus, so Tara and I had made plans with my brother long ago to make this trip. Then two weeks ago we received a letter from UW that Tara was not accepted. I still thought it could be useful information to tour the campus. Tara grudgingly agreed to go, but our schedule changed and we never did make it to the campus.

Instead, Tara went to Sakuracon!

You may not be familiar with animecons (unless you’ve been reading my blog for awhile), so here’s an example of how popular they are: my views on my Flickr account grew from around 100-300 a day, to over 3000 each day since I posted my photos. And who wouldn’t want to look? Aren’t they great costumes!

Perfect pose

Perfect pose

Animation come to life

Animation come to life

DSC_0051

I caught them while they were posing for another photographer.

I caught them while they were posing for another photographer.

People attending will choose their favourite Japanese anime character, and come dressed as that character. Typically, in a three-day con, a person will have three cosplays (costume + play), and if there is an evening ball, an additional cosplay. If the costume is amazing and took months to put together, then the person will often wear the same one all three days.

Though most characters are from anime, creative people dress as anything else. I saw Alice In Wonderland, the Easter Bunny, and Elsa (from Frozen). Since these are hip young people, they will dress as anything trending on YouTube (Charlie the Unicorn or Nyan Cat), Tumblr or Vine, or non-anime web comics, a TV show (Adventure Time¬†or¬†Steven Universe), or even a radio podcast called Welcome to Night Vale.¬†(Imagine how creative and attentive these kids are to listen to a radio program, then dress as they imagine the characters, and do it so well that other fans recognize the character. I think it’s wonderful.) One fun thing is to come up with an obscure cosplay – the author of Homestuck, Andrew Hussie, let’s say – and then get a total charge out of it when people actually recognize who the character is. This year Tara cosplayed a male character from Homestuck (Sollux) and made it a female character.

For a few days during a con, I actually recognize a few things (a group from Hetalia, who could miss that?), and can call out character’s names, and get a couple of appreciative – though surprised – looks from con kids. For a few days, I’m a sort of almost hip parent…and that is fun. A couple years ago I would have read these paragraphs and been mystified. As soon as Tara leaves home I’ll be right back there. I’m soaking up the cool while it lasts…

Trail to Poo Poo Point

Trail to Poo Poo Point

While Tara was occupied, I spent time with my hosts. They invited me on a hike to Poo Poo Point, and of course I had to go: for the name if nothing else. The trailhead was pretty close to downtown, and the drive to the trailhead never left the city congestion, so my expectations were not for a forested wildland, but that’s exactly what we got.

The trail was in great shape and not very busy, and it was the perfect amount of climbing (i.e. workout) for a Saturday on vacation. 7.2 miles round trip with an 1800 foot elevation gain. And when we came out at the top- what a view! All three of us were impressed, seeing the valley below, stretching to Lake Sammamish and the city of Bellevue in the distance. And, since I know you are wondering:

Loggers used whistles to communicate from the logging tower operator to the workers down the hill, signalling that two logs were tied to a cable, ready to be towed. The whistle made a sound like poo poo, hence the name Poo Poo Point.

The trail crossed a creek.

The trail crossed a creek.

Trillium - one of my favourite wild flowers.

Trillium – one of my favourite wild flowers.

Paragliding launch spot at the top.

Paragliding launch spot at the top.

Behind me you can see Lake Sammamish and Bellevue.

Behind me you can see Lake Sammamish and Bellevue.

We had a picnic at the top. Can you believe the trailhead to this incredible overlook is 30 minutes from the Space Needle?

We had a picnic at the top. Can you believe the trailhead to this incredible overlook is 30 minutes from the Space Needle?

That afternoon I walked to meet Tara and friend at the con, and bought smoothies all around. Tara couldn’t eat regular food because part of the cosplay was fangs – ha ha! Then I headed down the hill toward Pike Place Market and noticed an unusual amount of people in bunny ears and/or dressed as the Easter Bunny. At first it was easy to explain to myself: the next day was Easter, and Seattle people were probably just getting into the spirit or something.

Easter rabbits appeared from every direction, all walking briskly down the hill with me. I took a couple of photos, but remained puzzled. I walked into the fabulous outdoor market when I arrived, browsed the huge displays of tulips and daffodil bouquets because I had decided to pick one up for my hosts as a thank you. I glanced out onto the street when a cheer went up, and to my astonishment saw *hundreds* of Easter Rabbits all gathered in the street directly in front of the fishmongers’ stall. There was a huge furry rabbit in the center with a microphone and a drum, and they cheered and celebrated something – I have no idea what. I couldn’t find a place to get above them and get a photo, so I held my camera one-handed up into the air above us and took a couple photos. It’s the best I could do.

Suddenly, the group began to disperse, and within minutes there were cars passing on the street again. The whole thing had taken about 10 minutes. Don’t you just LOVE being the right place at the right time?

Convention Center

Convention Center

Tara as a female Sollux

Tara as a female Sollux

Weapons are often built to scale.

Weapons are often built to scale.

Cosplay team

Cosplay team

Great hair!

Great hair!

Battle-ready

Battle-ready

Um, you've got something stuck in...

Um, something’s stuck in…

back

back

front

front

I didn’t see Tara that night, and I’m assuming¬†they found fang-friendly food. I walked to a great local place with I and K and we continued the conversation. Such a treat for me to spend so much time catching up on everything in their lives. K is getting ready to leave the Coast Guard, and my brother is contemplating changes to his business. They had given me a tour of the house the previous weekend and I saw that my brother has done huge amounts of work on the house. Re-finished wood floors, laid laminate, painted, repaired, built a custom spice rack, etc. It’s just exactly the tour I got at our brother E’s house in Boise: all the serious handiwork done by my brother. We are all three alike in our approach to home improvement, apparently. I’m glad they have done projects I haven’t, so I can use them as a resource.

Sunday morning while Tara rested up and prepared the cosplay for another day, the rest of us went for coffee at another great coffee shop recommended by K. No joke – Seattle is the place to find the best in coffee. Then we went to a farmer’s market and the mood was relaxing compared to the frenzy of shoppers I joined the day before. They explained that this was where the locals went. We browsed the stalls for farm-raised meats, spring veggies, and ate “salmon sliders” which were unbelievably delicious grilled salmon patties.

Finally I collected my kid and we said our goodbyes and headed back onto the Interstate for Portland. This time, we timed our departure better, and traffic was a piece of cake. In a little over 3 hours we were home.

a gathering of rabbits

a gathering of rabbits

Hey, nice ears!

Hey, nice ears!

Easter Bunny party in the street

Easter Bunny party in the street

Vegetables for sale at the Pike Place Market

Vegetables for sale at the Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market. A must-see if you visit Seattle.

Pike Place Market. A must-see if you visit Seattle.

{I called it right when I realized I needed to blog on the road or I’d never be able to post my whole week of road trip once I got back home. As you have noticed, being home is like entering the caucus race* from Alice in Wonderland, and time for blogging is hard to come by. But in any case, I’m here with bells on. Nice to see you again!}

One wall in Caffe Vita. This is a great coffee shop.

One wall in Caffe Vita. This is a great coffee shop.

Waking up walking distance from the Space Needle was perfect for me and my friend M on Friday morning. My brother recommended a coffee shop, and we hit that first. Caffe Vita is strongly encouraged, should you find yourself in Seattle!

EMP Museum and the Space Needle. The monorail track runs right through the building.

EMP Museum and the Space Needle. The monorail track runs right through the building.

I had it in my mind that I would lead M directly to the Pike Place Market, since he likes markets so much, but we chose a route that went past the Space Needle,¬†because, duh, Seattle. Well, that’s all it took. Only ten minutes into our day, and we were in line to ride the elevator to the top!

My disappointment was palpable, and even M asked what happened. It was a particularly hazy day. Really bad. I pointed out Mt. Rainier to him, but a person sort of had to know it was there to find it through the airborne particles. M was unimpressed with looking in the direction of the mountain, and more excited about the view of the city. And he should be! It’s spectacular! Only, in my mind I was comparing it to all my other visits, and this was truly the worst one. I wanted to show off Seattle to a Sri Lankan/ Bostonian.

M with the hazy Seattle skies behind him, from the top of the Space Needle.

M with the hazy Seattle skies behind him, from the top of the Space Needle.

By the time we reached the bottom, we had to hustle to meet my brother and his girlfriend for lunch. We zoomed through the market, not there to shop, but only to jog through on our way to the federal building. M was in awe, as I knew he would be. I am SO glad we stopped in Seattle instead of pushing on home the day before.

We met up at the federal building, and K led us up to the 34th floor to her office and a one-of-a-kind view of the city. Everyone who has visited knows the views from the Space Needle, but we got to view the needle itself! What a treat! My spirits lifted.

The view from K's office. Outstanding! Even on this hazy morning.

The view from K’s office. Outstanding! Even on this hazy morning.

K, my brother I, and me. Look at the clothes and guess which one of us is on vacation? ha ha!

K, my brother I, and me. Look at the clothes and guess which one of us is on vacation? ha ha!

K bubbled about the “secret waterfall” on our way to lunch, so we went to visit the Waterfall Garden Park, built in honor of the United Parcel Service (UPS). It is enclosed by walls and completely invisible from the outside, but an oasis inside. Please see Lucy Wang’s photos and description of this place!

Across the street from the waterfall, we ate at another place I’m going to have to recommend: The London Plane. It’s a restaurant/flower shop/specialty goods store in a reclaimed industrial building. The light inside and the sky-high ceilings are transportive.

The counter at The London Plane.

The counter at The London Plane.

Looking down at a man making bread in the London Plane.

Looking down at a man making bread in the London Plane.

Spying on I, K, and M as they wait for lunch to arrive. They are at the table by the window, farthest from me.

Spying on I, K, and M as they wait for lunch to arrive. They are at the table by the window, directly across from me.

M was really excited about this monument to Chief Seattle, since he had been taught about the man in school as a kid in Sri Lanka. Wowzers. I never would have imagined.

M was really excited about this monument to Chief Seattle, since as a schoolboy in Sri Lanka he had been taught about the man. Wowzers. I never would have imagined.

Satiated, we said our goodbyes and walked back to the market. It was a delicious madhouse that never fails to delight me. We even caught a glimpse of the famous fish mongers tossing a codfish. Here’s an old video about the fishmongers that I had to watch years ago when I was a forecaster with the National Weather Service:

Flowers at the market.

Flowers at the market.

Springtime colours at Pike Place Market.

Springtime colours at Pike Place Market.

M with Smokey

M with Smokey

It was time to hurry home. We hugged goodbye to my brother I, and to the cat, Smokey, and in seconds we were heading south on I-5, and racing toward Portland at about 4.6 miles per hour, bumper to bumper in 5 lanes of rush hour traffic.

Somehow we made it on time to catch a show in Portland. We swung by the Blue House to pick up Tara, and went downtown to the Keller Auditorium to catch Shen Yun. I had purchased the tickets back in December, and we had been waiting to see it all this time! The show was made up mostly of dancers performing traditional Chinese dances and dances that told stories. There were two professional singers and one musician who played an erhu, a two-stringed instrument that M particularly liked. The orchestra was entirely Shen Yun musicians, who performed all the music for the dancers. There was a political message that was only possible because it’s a New York-based Chinese group and not a China-based group.

Saturday morning we took Tara to the Convention Center to get into line for Abby’s Closet, an organization that provides free prom dresses to people interested in a free, used, prom dress. We had barely begun our day when Tara texted us to come back. Turns out it was a six-hour wait and Tara had other plans to meet friends that day. So the three of us explored Washington Park, the International Rose Test Garden (sans roses this time of year), and Pioneer Courthouse Square. Tara went off and M and I rode the Tram up to Pill Hill (so-called because there are multiple hospitals at the top of the hill).

M at Pill Hill, at the top of the tram route.

M at Pill Hill, at the top of the tram route.

Sign in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Sign in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Portlandia!

Portlandia!

Our long, fabulous journey was finally at an end, and I took M to the airport for his flight home to Boston.

At home I began the daunting tasks of home upkeep that had piled up in my absence, beginning with laundry and mowing the lawn. I had just finished mowing the lawn, all green-smeared and in my cowboy work boots, when Tara came home and begged me to go back to Abby’s Closet to see if we could squeeze in before closing, in 30 minutes. I washed my hands and off we went, cowboy boots and all!

It was evening, and they got us through in two hours rather than six. The staff made an exceptional effort to keep us all happy and entertained and moving through. {Imagine: hundreds of teenagers and thousands of dresses. Instructions: Pick one!} I am glad I experienced that with Tara, who leans alternately from tomboy, to stereotypical masculine characteristics, to stereotypical feminine characteristics. It was a really girly experience, and neither of us is particularly girly, so it was good that we could lean on each other in that overwhelming cavern of pink and lace and sparkles.

What a long and action-packed week it was. I hope you enjoyed the journey with us. ūüôā

Post Script: M texted me from the airport. “You would not believe what happened in security! The TSA guy going through my bags said, ‘Let me guess: Tillamook! But why do you have so much cheese?!’ I started laughing, and had to tell him what happened at the border. He laughed too.”

*After swimming around in Alice’s pool of tears, the animals need to dry off, and the Dodo recommends a caucus race. There are no rules; all of the participants run haphazardly around in no particular direction, and everyone wins.

Girl In a Wetsuit, by Elek Imredy, in Stanley Park

Girl In a Wetsuit, by Elek Imredy, in Stanley Park

Thursday we were able to spend the whole day in Vancouver, and that was a boon, because this huge fabulous city deserves as much time as you can give her.

One of the first things that struck me was the number of apartment high-rises sprouting like shiny stalks from a garden. On both sides of the highway bridge, grey and glossy in the daylight, home to how many tens of thousands of apartment-dwellers, I don’t know. Right away M and I could see that people want to live in Vancouver.

Apartment high-rise buildings in Vancouver.

Apartment high-rise buildings in Vancouver.

We agreed that it would be a good idea to take a Hop On Hop Off bus tour, to get a sense of the place. I think those tours are a great idea for your first time in a big city: get off and look around at the interesting places, and then get on the next bus when you’re satiated. We took the trolley tour so we could push back the windows and take lots of photos.

I was struck by the creative architecture in Vancouver. I’m not used to so many modern skyscrapers in a single city reflecting so many elegant, sweeping curves. No fish-eye lenses used in the photos below: those are curved buildings. Seems like I’ll spot one stunning example in any given city, but here, there were many. Too many to catch them all from the window of the trolley.

One nice stop was the lookout over Lion’s Gate Bridge in Stanley Park. This is a 1000 acre forested city park on a high hill overlooking First Narrows, separating North Vancouver from Vancouver. The huge park holds gardens, biking and running along the seawall, memorials, wildlife, and some really old Western Red cedar trees.

We were hungry by the time we arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf on Granville Island, and it was the perfect place to be hungry. M was fascinated by the large open-air market, and commented how it was similar to the one he had seen in Arcata, California. I am used to these markets, so it was fun to be amazed again, through his eyes. We stopped at the butcher to ask for a recommendation on where to get a good steak. M owed me a steak from a little mishap on day one (someone forgot their camera battery charger and we had to turn around and go back). This resulted in our finest meal of the trip: steak and lobster perfection. The flavour was not better, but equal to the oysters earlier, but the presentation was fine dining this time.

We took the last trolley out of there, and the driver was hilarious and gregarious. Since it was the last trip, he delivered each person on board exactly to their final destination, even if it wasn’t part of the tour route. Score!

By then it was evening and we had to blast on out of town. Before we knew it, we were going through the border crossing. The man at the gate headed directly for the back of the Jeep, pulled out the luggage, and lifted the storage lid in the back, like he knew exactly what he was doing. The only thing we had hidden back there were nearly six pounds of Tillamook cheese! It had been my idea to keep it in the back, likely the coolest place in the car. For 10 minutes we had been grilled with pretty official questions, and then we were asked, “Why do you have so much cheese?!” M and I burst out laughing. “It’s Tillamook!” I answered. “Have you tasted it?”

As we made our way south in m.p.h. rather than kilometers, we debated whether to bang out the last few hundred miles and go all the way to Portland that night. M asked if he would miss anything by skipping Seattle. I said, “Well, it’s a city on the water. It’s beautiful, eclectic, West-coast laid back, diverse, and energized. The architecture is awesome. The food is outstanding. And since you like outdoor markets so much, Seattle has one of the best.”

I texted my brother about recommendations for places to stay, and – as I suspected would happen – got an invitation to stay at their place! Woo hoo! Their place is a¬†treasure. They rent a three-bedroom home (we won’t disclose the amount, but the owner has neglected to increase the price for years) with a full yard and fruit trees and a garden only blocks from the Space Needle. It is surrounded on all side by apartment buildings, and the entrance to the house drops down a hill, so you can’t even see it from the street. As we were chatting before bed, we found out we were walking distance to Kerry Park – a famous overlook spot for the city – so M and I¬†went for some spectacular nighttime views.

One Wall Centre

One Wall Centre

Carina

Carina

Waterfront in Stanley Park

Waterfront in Stanley Park

Gardens in Stanley Park.

Gardens in Stanley Park.

Marine Building with the MNP Tower behind it.

Marine Building with the MNP Tower behind it.

Couldn't find the name of this one - love the bronze colour.

Couldn’t find the name of this one – love the bronze colour.

When the Crazy Squirrel Lady travels, she notices the foreign squirrels. This handsome black critter caught my eye.

When the Crazy Squirrel Lady travels, she notices the foreign squirrels. This handsome black critter caught my eye.

I casually mentioned that the lock was more valuable than the bike. "Not to the kid who owns it," quipped M. And he's right.

I casually mentioned that the lock was more valuable than the bike. “Not to the kid who owns it,” quipped M. And he’s right.

Super funny art. Each figure is an image of the artist himself.

Super funny art. Each figure is an image of the artist himself.

Downtown, with the Harbour Centre Tower

Downtown, with the Harbour Centre Tower

The Lion's Gate Bridge in Stanley Park

The Lion’s Gate Bridge in Stanley Park

Steam-powered clock

Steam-powered clock

Vancouver's Chinatown

Vancouver’s Chinatown

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park

My brother and his girlfriend's oasis in Seattle.

My brother’s and his girlfriend’s oasis in Seattle.

Riza Hawkeye in my combat boots

Miss T has been a fan of cosplay and animecons for several years now. Nearly all her friends are caught up in the same obsession. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think people dressed as Spock and Klingons among swarms of other Trekkies inside a hotel convention space. Only this is for Japanese anime and manga (cartoons and comic books). Cosplay is to dress up as one’s favourite character. The cons are conventions, of course.

She’s still young enough that I won’t let her attend a con in Seattle without me. I decided to go ahead and book a room at the con, let her go do her thing, and hang out with my brother Ian while she’s busy.

On the three-hour drive up, T shared some of her thoughts and anxiety. Months ago, all her teen friends were talking about going to Sakuracon. That’s when she begged me for permission to go, so that she could join them. One by one, her friends found that they would not be able to join Sakuracon after all. In the end, T is the only person of her group to make the trip.

Then they started trash-talking Seattle cons.

A group of cosplayers at Sakuracon

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

“They said the people at Seattle cons are all stuck up, and that they don’t accept people from other places,” Tara mentioned, not a little concern in her voice. “They said Seattle cons are nowhere near as fun as the Portland/Vancouver cons, because people are so¬†competitive¬†and mean. I’m a little worried. I mean, I just want to have fun, not to try to prove I’m better than anyone.”

I tried to shape my voice into as casual and offhand-sounding as I could before I asked my question. “Have any of the Portland anime fans had a chance to get to a Seattle con before?” My deception worked, and she answered the question instead of responding to my accusation. She thought about it a minute and answered, “Um, I’m pretty sure none of them have.” “That’s too bad,” I said, again, as casually as possible. I dropped the topic, hoping the message would seep through and catch her later.

Ian met us at the hotel while Tara was dressing as Riza Haweye from Fullmetal Alchemist. We walked with her to an entrance to the convention, and watched her for a little while to see how it would go for her. There was a large gathering of people. Many with orange, yellow, and red curvy horns – from an anime I am not familiar with. Tara walked to the outer edge to watch what was happening. There were the usual shockingly short miniskirts, the always-present black capes with red clouds from Naruto. In about three minutes, she was approached by a tall, thin boy dressed as Colonel Roy Mustang. In the story, Riza is the Colonel’s bodyguard.

Too far away to hear, I saw Riza telling something to Colonel Mustang, and gesturing with her hands. He motioned to her to follow and they wound through the crowd and up the steps around a corner out of sight. She didn’t even look back. *Sigh!* My little girl, so grown up she doesn’t even need Mom when she’s in a swarm of people in an unfamiliar city. I looked at Ian and he made some comment regarding that too. We both agreed that at age 14, neither one of us would have had even a fraction of the emotional constitution required to just do what she had done: dump us in 5 minutes in the heart of a major city.

By 9pm that night, she had joined a whole troupe of cosplayers there with parents, spilling into all available corners and horizontal spaces of two adjoined hotel rooms. T begged to stay the night with them but I said “no.” Introductions were made all around and I apologized to the parents, “Please don’t take it the wrong way, but I wanted to spend this time with my kid.” They assured me that the group of teens was large enough already and they weren’t TOO upset about not having one more. Instead, facebook friendships were firmly established.

Seattle Central Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus

That evening I explored the city with Ian, who has lived there for several years now and was a good person to show me the place. I always love to see what architecture is on display in a place, and since his studies at the University of Idaho were in the field, I knew he would point me in the right direction. We beelined first of all for the library, but it had just closed. Ian said the inside of the building is remarkable, but I was impressed with the outside too.

Reflection of the Space Needle on the side of the music, sci-fi, and pop culture EMP Museum

We passed some other interesting buildings, then took the monorail to the EMP Museum. Ian says he rides the monorail every day in his commute to work. How fun! The EMP Museum is a work of art in itself. Frank O. Geary designed the building to evoke the spirit of Rock n’ Roll. Well, I didn’t read it as rock music per se, but I did get a distinct sense of colour, movement, and fun. It actually evoked more Disney than Hendrix, but don’t tell Geary I said that. Far from insubstantial, I found the building design truly eye-popping. Astonishing curves rose to unlikely heights and imbalances. I can’t believe I’ve never seen this place before. The monorail went right through a gap in the museum!

We didn’t go up into the Space Needle, since I had just done thatlast summer with my friend Vladimir. We did walk to his house, since he lives practically at the base of the needle. We hopped into his sunflower-yellow pickup truck and went on up the hill.

Freezing my tush at Kerry Park

“Have you been to Kerry Park at Queen Anne?” he asked. Since I didn’t know what he was talking about, my answer was a pretty solid “no.” Queen Anne is his neighborhood. Well, nearly. Ian is not a millionaire, but he lives nearby. He told me the viewpoint is the location for all the amazing Seattle shots that feature the Space Needle and Mt.¬†Rainier. Postcard scenes. The clear sunny skies were growing darker, and without the sun to keep me warm, I was getting downright cold. But it couldn’t keep me in the truck. The view was spectacular!

Seattle, Space Needle, Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier

We got out and stood at the railing with the other folks, and gazed out across blossoming cherry trees and syringa, across the city lit up in the setting sun, and all the way to the snow-capped and majestic Mt. Rainier on the horizon. The bay waters wrapped around the west side of the city and glanced reflections back to us.

People gazing out at the view of the city at dusk.

Then he took me to dinner at a really awesome restaurant. The atmosphere, the good food, and the beer warmed me back up.

As is typical in any kid-on-her-own scenario…T’s phone battery died. I had been attempting to text her for an hour, and finally got a text message from an unknown phone number. “Hi I’m borrowing Stacey’s phone. My phone died. I’m ok. Can I stay the night with Stacey?” I realized it was time to go back and find my kid.

From our hotel room, we could spot clouds and moon good enough for any Halloween scene.

Ian came back in the morning to share breakfast with us. For convenience sake, we ate in the Hilton restaurant. It was way too expensive, but it did have an astonishing view, so that partially made up for the expense. We said our goodbyes and went back to Portland.

The verdict in the end? “The Seattle cons are just as much fun as in Portland,” Tara assured me on the way home. “No one was stuck up and I had a great time.”

“I wonder what all those Portland people were talking about,” I said.

“Well, it was really only Sam and Alex,” she admitted. “Maybe they were exaggerating. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure they’ve never been to a Seattle con before.”

“Maybe,” I agreed. And I knew my girlie had just learned a life lesson.

Looking down the famous slope into Pike Place Market of Seattle

I took a day from work and drove to Seattle to meet a dear, dear friend of mine. How beautiful is it when we can claim a friend from decades ago? V spent all weekend meeting his gamer friends in RL (how awesome are my friends?!) and then extended his return trip to Honolulu by an additional day in order to give me time to see him.

Ceramic machine gun in a shop window. There is also a ceramic grenade on the chest in the back. And... a ceramic cow.

peace is fragile

The drive from Portland to Seattle went particularly smoothly, and in mere hours I was smack in the middle of the city, cautiously moving the dragon wagon over the steep slopes down to the water’s edge. V came out to the streetside, jumped in, pointed me to a parking garage, and in minutes we were afoot!

animated hammer

Seattle is a great city and I have not been there for so many years. I was certainly due. When I was young, and a teen, and even when I was in my twenties, it seems like I was here all the time. We explored on our way through to the tiny logging town of Forks, or combined with our camping trip to Whidbey Island, or to visit my Aunt and Uncle in Tacoma. Then the reasons to go apparently stopped coming up. Till now. 

V’s availability was precisely one day, which is a great motivator. That’s why I got up off my butt and drove to the city. Aside from V, my brother Ian lives in Seattle. He moved here after school in Moscow (the one in Idaho, not the one in Russia), and has been there about a year now. That would be reason Number 1 to visit the city, but I haven’t (I’m a bad sister, bad!). I was holding off on visiting Ian this summer, because I was told I would probably get sent to Seattle for my month-long training session. I thought I might likely have an entire month of weekends to hang with my brother. No such luck. Just found out it will be Phoenix, not Seattle. (And, with five future weeks in Phoenix, I’m sure you’ll get more than one post about it…)

Inside the Pike Place Market

The famous fish market. No fish were being thrown at the time...

We had a short day only, since the 3 ¬Ĺ hour drive north puts me in the city at late morning, and the 3 ¬Ĺ hour drive south forces me to leave early. We walked Pike Place Market, of course. We breezed through because neither of us needed to shop, and we were trying to take in as much as possible. We wandered up and down ramps and stairs. The place is a honeycomb of shops all stacked on top of each other through successively lower levels.

With this photo, I am trying to capture all the different, crazy levels of the underground section of Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Magic Shop

I thought it might be fun to get on a ferry, remembering my childhood when we so often drove our vehicles onto the public ferries traversing Puget Sound. We walked up to a window to ask questions, and in less than 5 minutes had purchased tickets for a tour about to board. We were off in no time. Rather than a regular ferry trip to somewhere with the commuters, which is arguably more authentic and for that reason arguably more desirable, I felt that my very first narrated journey would be worth the time and money. V was letting me have my way with nearly everything (hee), and this was no exception. In a very short time we were off, and in the excellent weather and company, we enjoyed a narrated tour of a bit of the sound.

Seattle from the Sound

What a spectacular day it was! A perfect mix of clouds and breezes and sunshine. We were warm and cool and then perfectly temperate. All kids of delicious views from the water. I’ll just let the photos talk…

Sea Lions kicking it on a buoy.

sea-based radar in port for repairs

HUGE container ship

On shore, it was time to eat, so we stepped into a Mexican-American place to fill the tummies. The place was emptied just for us, due to the immediately post-lunch crowd dispersal when we arrived.

returning to the pier

love the green glass

well-known landmark

I suggested the touristiest thing of all: the Space Needle. Come on! You gotta go! V had been there all weekend and had not rode the elevator up. It was a non-holiday Monday and though the lines were long, I assumed they must be much longer on other days. So with a little encouragement, my friend agreed, and off we went to stand in line. We were nearly out of time at that point, so once we got to the top, we had to scoot around rather quickly. The views were amazing, as promised.

We took a shortcut through an alley and found this astonishing sight: chewing gum stuck onto the walls, covering every square inch of a huge section of this building

V and me from the top of the Space Needle

We scampered back to the parking garage, and his hotel downtown. It had been a quick albeit excellent catching-up on each other’s lives in a spectacular city.

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