Category Archives: Pacific Northwest

Betty MacDonald Had a Farm, E-I-E-I-O

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Mom is visiting us for three weeks, and to celebrate her birthday, Z and I decided to treat her to an overnight on the farm of one of her favorite authors. Betty MacDonald wrote The Egg & I, her memoir of time spent on the Olympic Peninsula raising chickens, in 1945. A movie was made from the book and starred Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert and was followed by a string of “Ma and Pa Kettle” movies that were based on back woods characters Betty described in her book. (She was later sued by people who believed she had based the unflattering but beloved Ma and Pa on them). Though I’ve never actually read this particular book, I grew up feeling like I knew the author. Mom was often reading passages from one of the books and telling me anecdotes from Betty’s life as if they were old friends. (The author died in 1958.) I did, however, read her series of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, which I was convinced were the American answer to Mary Poppins, so I had my own “Betty love” going on.

 

When Z and I stay somewhere, we study the descriptions and photos on VRBO and airbnb as if we are buying the property instead of just staying there for a night or two. I’m pickier than he is and because I’m what they call a “Highly Sensitive Person” I’m affected negatively by ugly things or dirty things or even spaces that seem too much to belong to someone else. My ideal spot to stay is one that looks like one of those little IKEA display rooms, where you can imagine living your life without having to think about how anyone else has maybe trimmed his toenails on the sofa.

 

So when we’re looking for a weekend getaway, Z will often find a spot he thinks looks perfect, but I’ll see a throw pillow with a color scheme that makes my skin crawl or a poster of an eagle on a back wall, and I’ll insist we keep looking. I can’t express this enough: I am not a princess. Really, I’m not. But I have a lot of feelings and other people’s things affect how I feel and when I’m on a little vacation, I don’t want to have to deal with turmoil inside of me just because a chair is scratchy or there is bad lighting. I had to quit going into antique stores a few years ago when I realized I always left depressed and a little obsessed about how wasteful and tacky we are as a people. So online photos of potential digs have to give me a good vibe before I’ll send the payment information.

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The Betty MacDonald Farm Bed and Breakfast website has a few beautiful photos, but it’s a little short on specifics. So when Mom and I arrived after a twenty-minute ferry ride from West Seattle, we didn’t know what to expect. Finding it felt like an adventure in itself because we weren’t exactly sure where we were going and other than a very generic “LODGING” sign on the main road with an arrow, Vashon is not a neon-light or billboard sort of place that will direct you anywhere. You “discover” things on the island, which is part of its charm. Other things you will discover: quiet and an easy slowness that would be honked out of existence in Seattle.

 

We were greeted by the owner, Judith, who gave us brief directions up to the third story of the barn and a warning to shut all the doors to keep the animals out, particularly a mother raccoon and her babies who had been trying to find some indoor accommodations. Mom and I hauled our bags up the multiple stairs, and as I was dragging my stuff up, I was thinking, “Oh, geeze. We’re staying in a barn.” Now, it was clear from the website that we’d be staying in a barn, I had specifically made a reservation and paid to stay in a barn, but somehow in Seattle I was imagining something less barn-y. No spiders, no feeling of the hundreds of chickens that used to live there, something in the shape of a barn but with dry-wall and track lighting to illuminate my way. (Before you judge me, please re-familiarize yourself with my camping adventures through the ages here and here.)

 

And then we popped up into the loft and we instantly moved from “barn” to “antique store.” The loft was vast as it was literally the barn loft that went from one end of the three-story barn to the other in a big open space. It held a full kitchen, an antique bed, various gorgeous bits of tables and chests and bookcases, this giant dual-couch construction made out of wood and covered with woolen carpets that looked like it belonged in a bunk house on the range, a wood stove, and a table laid out with Spode for our meals. There was not a horizontal surface that wasn’t covered with books, and the bookcases were all full as well. Good books. Books you wanted to lose yourself in, or at the very least flip through and then order a copy for yourself. The couches faced the wall of windows, which overlooked the six-acre farm, Puget Sound, and the idea of Mt. Rainier that was out there under the cloud cover.

 

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Initially, I sat on the sofa staring at the view with my lips pursed, uncertain if I should be pleased or disappointed. The bunk house couch was surprisingly comfortable. The view couldn’t have been better and I loved being in this “writerly” space, but there was absolutely no way for my highly sensitive brain to pretend that this place was the blank canvas of a slicker vacation rental cottage. There was absolutely no way to imagine that it was my personal living space because it was so filled with the owner’s belongings. So I kept sitting there, thinking.

 

Mom was excited, soaking up the view from the balcony, as well as a good bit of weather since it was misting a little bit. When she finally had to come in because it got too wet and cold to reasonably sit outside, she started foraging for books, creating a huge stack in front of herself, and then curled up on her section of the bunkhouse sofa and started reading.

 

Imagine Mt. Rainier in the distance. We did.

Imagine Mt. Rainier in the distance. We did.

The books were too hard to resist. My lips un-pursed a little. I got my own stack, and we spent the night reading and talking, and never did get around to watching The Egg & I video that the owner had at the ready should we want to steep ourselves in Betty MacDonald’s life a little more.

 

I’m not sure when exactly the scales in my brain tipped towards “pleased.” The quiet and view certainly worked some magic on me. And the sheets in the little bedroom helped because I’ve never felt anything so soft and crisp (except for the impossibly fluffy towels that were waiting for us in the bathroom, along with robes and African baskets filled with everything we could need to pamper ourselves). Possibly the fact that Mom, who was on the other side of the door sleeping in the main loft got momentarily freaked out because something was on the roof, and then we fell into hysterics like we were at a slumber party when we realized the sound she heard was not the mother raccoon trying to break in but was really just me turning the pages of a Country Living article about Corbin Bernsen’s house.

 

No, I think it happened well before that, when I was looking at all the stacks of books, and all the little nooks and crannies where you could cozy up with a book or a writing pad. It is hard not to hanker for a good reading and writing space, and this one was the best. The place is too unique to turn your nose up at it. Plus, it was clean and our every need was anticipated. By the time I fell asleep I felt like I was spending the night at my grandmother’s house, cozy and well-cared for. And when I woke up the next morning after a perfect night’s sleep on a very comfortable bed, I felt sad that we’d only booked the single night.

 

Mom and I sat on the porch the next morning so entranced with the view and the books we wanted to skim before leaving that we failed to shower and make ourselves breakfast. Showering and eating could happen after check-out time when we’d made our way back to the grit of the city. (Z would be none the wiser about our slovenly choices because he’d still be at work.) We begrudgingly packed up our things, tidied up after ourselves, and trudged down the stairs to the car.

 

The Betty MacDonald Farm B & B

The Betty MacDonald Farm B & B

I made my way over to say hello to the adorable Irish terrier who lives on the property and ran into Judith. I asked her a few questions about the farm and the island, and she started what turned into a fascinating history and horticulture lesson. Mom joined us, and an hour later we knew how to get a start of hydrangea, more about Betty MacDonald’s life, more about the history of the island, the personality of Irish terriers, and the property itself. We even got a peek of the cottage on the ground floor so we could see if we’d like to stay there in the future. (It was cozy too and called to us, including a beautiful old claw-foot tub, perfect for reading that was situated in the bathroom surrounded by windows so you could read, sip some wine, and stare at the Sound and Mt. Rainier. If we ever tried to book a weekend there and couldn’t get the loft, we’d be perfectly happy in the house.) It was the perfect ending to a delightful 24 hours.

 

By the time we climbed into the car and made our way back to the ferry, I was solidly in love with the place and wondering when we could come back. I’ve no doubt that there are people who arrive on the farm and don’t adjust to its quirky self and wish they’d stayed in one of those IKEA-furnished cottages where everything is new and personality-neutral. But for me, I was glad I was able to hit the pause button on my own peculiarities and enjoy the gorgeous peculiarities of the Betty MacDonald Farm B & B. I sincerely doubt that I’ll ever find another place like it, and isn’t that what we should be out here doing? Acquiring unique experiences instead of the cookie-cutter ones?

Betty MacDonald's Underwood

Betty MacDonald’s Underwood

Flashback Friday: Secret World

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

[FYI, this entry covers my inaugural trip to Seattle to help my friend Z celebrate his birthday. Keep in mind, at this point, I’d resigned myself to the notion that he wasn’t interested in me as anything other than “good buddy.” I’d been in love with him for four years and the boy just would not budge.]

There’s a reason why Meredith Grey’s hair is so flat and lifeless on Grey’s Anatomy. It turns out, everyone’s hair, especially mine, is flat and lifeless here. I assume it is the weather (rainy with a chance of rain), yet it seems like that would lend itself more to frizz.

I’m here visiting my Zimbabwean. I like saying that. It makes me feel like Meryl Streep in Out of Africa when she refers to the people she makes work on her farm as my Kikuyu. He’s teaching here, and I am in his bed. Before you get notions of me, spent from a night of international passion, you should know that while I was in his bed, he was on the an egg-crate mattress on the floor of his living room.

I ruin all the best romantic scenarios I create for you by telling the truth.

My college friend Jane emailed that her eleven-year-old son came home from school yesterday and said, “I’m just starting to realize that girls have their own secret world, and it’s FREAKY!” The Zimbabwean and I laughed and laughed over that last night when I read it aloud, but I could tell he has no idea. No idea despite advanced academic degrees that we women have secret communication-interpretation skills no Navajo code-breaker could ever crack. So when you open his refrigerator and see he has two Cokes and a package of Dubliner cheese, just for you, you swoon a little even though you’ve sworn off swooning over this particular man. When you lament how awful and Meredith Grey-y your hair looks and he says, “I don’t think so” it is, after several mental contortions, the equivalent of his saying, “Your hair is as the sun shining on the Zambezi, and I wish to spend my days basking in both the glow and beauty of it.” When he refers to his apartment as “our apartment” it is as if he has said, “I want to share my living space for the rest of my days with no one but you.” When he says, “I took off the roll of scratchy toilet paper and bought you the kind that those bears use” it’s as if he said, “I love you so profoundly that I want only the very best—softness, absorbency, and four-ply bathroom experiences—for you.” In this sick, sad world, even his choosing to sleep on egg crates instead of in his own bed with you seems like a declaration of love.

Poor eleven-year-old boy. How can he ever learn to cope in a world where half the population is this indirect, this given to fancy. . . this freaky?

So, Seattle. We walked over half the city last night and so I’m reserving judgment until we rent a car tomorrow and investigate it when my feet don’t hurt. It’s nice. Lots of coffee. The people are friendly. Somehow I had in my head that it would look and feel like Vancouver, but it turns out it’s a whole different place. Yesterday, my Zimbabwean took me to Pike Place Market. While I don’t like fish and do not like to smell them, eat them, watch them, or see them manhandled by the stall vendors, it was a unique experience. Also, there is a lot there that is not fish. Like huge bundles of fresh flowers for $4, and hippies selling art, and little dogs in plaid raincoats, and jam sampling, and fudge sampling, and street musicians singing protest songs (just protesting in general, with an undertone of “This war is unconscionable” and “George Bush sucks” thrown in for good measure), and all sorts of useless crap you don’t need like Oscar Wilde action figures, “Aunt Flo’s Tampon Case,” and cardboard cutouts of William Shatner. From there, we went to Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, where you can buy other useless things and see oddities like mummified human remains and a stuffed two-headed calf. We took a bus to the Space Needle but opted not to go up because it cost $14 and was cloudy. My cousin G suggested I go up not because the views are spectacular or because it is a piece of post-Populuxe history, but because she didn’t go up when she visited in the spring and apparently the only thing people ask youwhen they hear you visited Seattle is, Did you go up in the Space Needle? I will wait for a sunny day. Or at least a day when there is a chance of sun.

Last night we walked up a San Francisco style hill to see his university. He wanted decorating suggestions for his office as some big wigs are coming to campus today, but it is a hopeless cause. I suggested he buy a plant and an Edgar Allen Poe action figure from Pike Market, but other than adding some doo-dads like that, it is a hopeless sea of glass and giant industrial office furniture in the space of a broom closet. While there, I met the man who hired Z, and he tried to entice me to their wine and cheese reception this afternoon. I will, instead, be buying a birthday card and maybe a cake or some gift-ish thing for Z’s birthday. Extroverts never seem to get that the invitation to spend three hours with total strangers whom you will never see again is like a prison sentence.

After that, we walked up Broadway in search of food and so I could see, as Z put it, “the freak show.” It’s a street that apparently delights in the counter-culture, so in the space of a single block you can see goths, hipsters, drag queens, the heavily made-up, heavily tattooed, significantly pierced and spiked, as well as people randomly dressed like super heroes.

Sadly, the freaks were not out, either because it was too early in the evening or two middle-of-the-week. I will have to save those human oddities for another day, though clearly I’ve got my own little freakshow happening right inside my head and don’t have to walk up any hills to get a front row seat.

 

Travel Styles

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My modus operandi when traveling for all of my adult life has been to pack as much as possible into a day. I study guidebooks and websites and make lists of the “must sees” and map out a course of action. I’m not rigid, or anything, but I’m always imagining what is just around the bend that I can observe. The most famous of these pack-as-much-as-you-can-into-a-single-day excursions was on the occasion of my mother’s 60th birthday when we went to New York City a few years ago, and we wanted to get as much of the city explored during our few days there.

On our last afternoon in New York, it was pouring with rain but we had just enough time to go into the MoMA before it closed. We both desperately needed to go back to the hotel and put our feet up because we’d started early and covered a lot of ground. But the MoMA? How could we not go? So we did, and we saw a lot of gorgeous and thought-provoking art, and I remember being there probably better than I remember any other art museum I’ve ever been in because I was in agony. If I’d been allowed, I would have curled up in a fetal position in the room with all the Joseph Cornell boxes and stared at them until closing time. By the time we left the city, Mom’s feet were bruised and raw and she hobbled through the airport like she was 90. She had to call in sick for two days because she couldn’t move. She was happy and had 8 million photos to document everything we saw and did, but I felt like a very bad daughter for putting my greedy need to see sites ahead of Mom’s well-being (and my own body’s protestations).

While Z and I were in Vancouver last Saturday, a large family was behind us, kind of pushing us along the sidewalk as we walked from our Sky Train station down to the spot where we could pick up the ferry for Granville Island. A couple of the people in the group broke free and moved quickly ahead of us, darting in and out of pedestrians, and one of the younger members of the family behind us said, “Why does Mom have us on a forced march?” A sibling, perhaps, said, “We’re running out of time in the city and she has things to do.”

It struck me how in just a few short years—and whether it is being married to Z or the icy hands of middle age, I cannot say—my traveling style has altered. Before, if there were 14 sites to see, I would, by golly, see them all in a single day even if I were miserable by the end of it. Z is not that kind of traveller. If I had to choose a single word to describe him, in this regard, I would say Z is content. He doesn’t want to get up early, he has no delusions about how his life will be better if he gets to see x, y, and z, and mostly he just wants to have fun. When the sight-seeing ceases to be fun, he’s ready to head back to the hotel, and he never has regrets about what he might have missed.

Oh, to be Z.

My body may be begging me for a rest and I may be snappish because of excessive tourism, but mentally, it goes against my grain not to do as much of everything as I possibly can. When I was younger and read “I Shall Not Pass This Way Again” by Stephen Grellet, I failed to pick up on how the poem was about being kind and helpful to those whose path crosses yours and instead I thought it was some sort of travel manifesto. I may never be here again, so I better do it all. But Z is laid back. He’s not ticking anything off a list. He’s having a good time, hoping for a nice snack, and just generally more content.  He has the Zen quality of Pooh Bear traveling, while I, instead, have a combined personality of Rabbit, Owl, and Eeyore. When I start making a huge “to see” list, he reels me in and reminds me that he likes to do one or two things only. So I push him to do more and he pushes me to do less, and we end up somewhere in the middle. I don’t put up much of an argument when he declares he’s ready to head back to the hotel anymore because I’m beginning to understand the merits of leisurely.

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So our two nights in British Columbia were not jam-packed. We stayed in New Westminter at Inn at the Quay, and had a room overlooking the Fraser. It’s a working river, so it wasn’t idyllic, but it was peaceful and we enjoyed the view until later in the evenings when the fog swallowed it whole.

Other things the fog swallowed: the mountains. What I remember from my only other trip to Vancouver several years ago was the shock of such beautiful mountains being so close to a city. The views were gorgeous. On this visit, we could have been in Kansas City if there was a lot of waterfront there. Still, lovely though.

In some ways, I’d remembered B.C. and Canada in general as more perfect than it actually is. For instance, I’d told Z how amazed he would be by how much cleaner it was than Seattle, which ended up being completely untrue. I’ve never nearly stepped in so much dog crap in my life. (The upside: loads of dogs for me to oogle, one of my favorite past times.) There was litter. Some areas were sketchier than I remembered. None of it was bad, certainly none of it was worse than what we see every day in Seattle, but it wasn’t the utopia I’d remembered, which was a good realization for someone like me to have; I always think somewhere else is better than wherever I am.

In New Westminster, we explored their revitalized waterfront, sampled some of the wares at the Rivermarket, which was right next to our hotel. At the market, on the first or “hungry” floor, you could devour a variety of local foods, and on the second or “curious” floor you could take classes, including learning a few tricks at the drop-in circus school. (We ate food but did not learn the trapeze, fyi).

We were right across the street from the Sky Train—fully automated and mostly elevated—into Vancouver. It reminded me more of the Chicago El and less of Seattle’s light rail. It was clean and quick and I enjoyed peering into the apartments and condos of people as we whizzed by to see how they decorated.

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On my last trip, I’d never made it to Granville Island, though several people had suggested it, so we decided this should be our destination.  I’d read about it, so knew what to expect, but poor Z was picturing a leisurely ferry ride to a wooded island like Bainbridge, instead of the half a minute Aquabus ride to what felt like the other side of False Creek. He was happy when we disembarked, however, and made our way to the public market. It was reminiscent of Pike Market (particularly in the way I got crabby after about ten minutes because there were entirely too many people there), but had more food stalls. Z was particularly pleased with the Cornish Pasty he had, and I, because I eat like a picky four year old, had spaghetti and meatballs. Delicious, but not very adventurous. (This will never turn into a Foodie blog—sorry to disappoint you.) We walked around the island for a while, investigating the artisans’ wares in Railspur Alley, and tried to investigate the little bookstore and stationery store, both of which looked delightful but were way too crowded for it to be enjoyable. Then we hopped on the Aquabus and made our way back downtown.  On the walk, we visited the museum store (and loo) at the art museum, where it was nearly closing time. The building looks lovely, even if we didn’t make it in to see the collection. We continued our walk, peering into the Fairmount Hotel, where I hoped to see the resident yellow Lab, whom I met last time I was in town, and then on to the waterfront to try to find a view through the fog.

Eventually we arrived in Gastown. It was a particular favorite of mine, before I moved to Seattle and was introduced to Pioneer Square. The two places remind me a lot of each other: both have roots to the oldest part of the towns’ histories, both fell on hard times and became “skid row”, both were on the verge of being demolished when some forward thinking person realized the value, both for history’s and tourism’s sake, and the areas were saved and revitalized. Our biggest Gastown disappointment is that we’d stuffed ourselves so full on Granville Island we weren’t ready to eat dinner yet. It niggled at me a little that we were headed back to the hotel when everyone else was just headed out for the evening, but if I’m completely honest, I was looking forward to the quiet, un-crowded hotel and foggy view.

On Sunday, before heading home, we had lunch at the Dubliner Pub, which is housed in what used to be part of the penitentiary. It was cozier than you might imagine and the brunch there was delicious. We may have stopped at the Hard Rock casino for a flutter before directing the car towards the border, and we may have cleared $33 of the bizarrely plastic-y and see-through-y Canadian dollars, which we have tucked away for our next trip north.

Are there other things on our list to see in Vancouver like the observatory or Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden (or the neighboring free park) or the scenery  we’ve been promised on the drive to Whistler? Um, yeah. But for our inaugural trip, we were content. And it didn’t hurt that we made it home just in time to see the Seahawks make it into the Super Bowl.

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Borderline

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Peace Arch

Peace Arch

This weekend, Z and I went to British Columbia to celebrate, belatedly, our 4th anniversary, which we had to spend apart last month.

Z has a freshly minted Canadian visa burning a hole in his pocket, and he’s never been north of the 49th parallel in North America, so it seemed like the best place to celebrate. (Also, I like to think we were celebrating the occasion of my 50th blog  post with a little international travel.) It wasn’t my first trip there; a conference in Vancouver almost a decade ago was my first introduction to this part of the world, even before I met Seattle, so I was anxious to see it again now that we’re neighbors.

 

Because I grew up smack in the middle of the country in a town situated on the National Road and I-70, it often felt as if there was nothing but wide-open space and an open road that led to other more exciting kinds of lives. Since moving to Seattle, I’ve sometimes felt the pinch of this geography. It’s not exactly that I want to run anywhere, but the close(ish) proximity of the Pacific to the west and the Canadian border to the north, has, at times, made me feel hemmed in. I have elaborate apocalyptic fantasies that I blame on being raised during the End Times crazed 1970s, so while we were sitting in line at the Peace Arch waiting to cross into Canada, my brain got a little overactive, thinking about how our twenty minute wait would be hours and hours if we ever had to run away from home because of some sort of Red Dawn style invasion or Zombie attack or what have you. And that “Brethren Dwelling Together in Unity” etched across the top didn’t soothe me so much as make me imagine ways in which this would become a mockery in some dark future, not unlike that scene of the decimated and mostly submerged Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes.

 

Is there a word for being simultaneously creeped out and fascinated by something? Someone should invent one if there isn’t. (And if there is one, someone should tell me. I can’t figure out how to google such a query.) Aside from end-of-the-world concerns, I’m also weirdly drawn to and repulsed by those places in our lives that are neither here nor there: airplanes in mid flight, waiting rooms when someone is in surgery, the place where the sea and land meet, the gloaming. It’s magical and kind of terrifying. What is that no man’s land, that is neither one thing nor another?

 

While we sat in line waiting to cross into Canada, where were we exactly? We were, I think, still technically on US soil, yet the houses we were looking at beyond an inconsequential fence seemed to be in Canada. The yards looked Canadian, if that’s possible. And if we got out of our car and walked in the roadside park, where exactly were we? Would anyone want to tackle us to the ground for stepping over some line we shouldn’t?

 

Also, I felt really geeky that at this friendliest of borders, the adrenaline rush I was feeling was tantamount to moving between East and West Berlin before the wall came down. When we finally made it to the border patrol agent and he asked us a few questions about how we knew each other and what our plans were, in my mind the whole trip had grown into some caper we were trying to get away with. All we really wanted to do was get to our hotel in New Westminster, eat some food, see some sights in Vancouver, relax, and after two days, return to Seattle in time to see the Seahawks playoff game from the comfort of our own sofa. Yet as the questions got fired at me, I felt more and more like we were smuggling  someone across the border in our trunk. Also, because Z doesn’t yet have a green card, I often worry that someone with a badge will decide we aren’t legitimately married and make us live apart. (Why I thought a Canadian border agent was the person to do this, I don’t know.)

 

The guy looked at Z’s documents and asked a few more questions about why he’s here and not in Zimbabwe, and Z, being Z, answered with authority and reminded me of Obi Wan Kenobi when he does that Jedi mind trick on the storm troopers and says, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” and the storm troopers sort of shrug their shoulders and give up the hunt for R2-D2 and C-3PO. Z is amazing. Meanwhile, even if I seemed calm, inside I felt as if I had baggies of heroin stashed in unmentionable places, and I hoped he wouldn’t notice the sweat on my brow.

 

Something snapped inside me though when the agent asked why we had a rental car instead of our own. I can’t say why it annoyed me so much except our lack of car here sometimes gets under my skin. I miss Hilda, my beloved CR-V that is parked in my parents’ drive-way currently covered in snow, waiting for my return, and I love the ease with which you can drive places back in Indiana. So it was kind of a sore spot, frankly. I was pleasant, as is my Midwestern training, but for some reason, I wanted to say, “Screw you. We’re going back to Bellingham where we’re wanted and no one questions our life choices.”

 

In retrospect, I wish I’d acted morally superior about carbon emissions and how we don’t own a car because we love the planet more than most people.  (Though just between us, the reason we don’t own a car is because parking in our neighborhood is $4 an hour, traffic is tedious, and Z walks to work.) Anyhow, he seemed to believe me and waved us on.  Never mind my body cavities filled with imaginary drugs or the imaginary Peruvian in our trunk, trying to get into the country illegally.

Last of the Summer Whine

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As Z headed off to his meeting this morning, we were both grumbly about it. We are, perhaps, an abnormal couple in that we like to be together a lot. This time of year when we’ve spent the summer not teaching and therefore in each other’s space, instead of being relieved that it’s time for him to head back to the classroom for the Fall quarter, I’m a little forlorn at the thought that the relaxi days of summer are over. (And because he’s on a quarter system, summer lasts longer for us than it does for other people.) Today, in the little Poulsbo cottage, is the first that I’ve been alone for an extended period of time. It feels a little weird to wave goodbye as he backs out of our rainy borrowed drive-way in our giant rented car and heads toward what will likely be a tedious meeting. Were we back in Seattle maybe I’d fall into familiar patterns of distraction and busyness and not notice his absence so much, but here I am in this cottage that isn’t mine, looking at a view that isn’t mine, trying to get comfortable on uncomfortable furniture that isn’t mine, and it just feels odd to be without him.

For a while, I write and try not to scratch mosquito bites.  Then I answer a few personal emails. Read a book. Stare out the window and watch the boats in the harbor, most of them still moored because of the wind and rain. I write some more.  The clock ticks towards lunchtime, and I realize I can either eat the rest of a bag of really bad kettle chips and call that a meal, or I can face the confines of the coffin shower, make myself presentable, and take myself out to lunch. I opt for the latter, less for lunch and more because I know I can spend the afternoon doing what I never do anymore: shop like a girl.

Z would laugh at this and point out that we do plenty of shopping for things he has no interest in and much of our early non-courtship revolved around shopping expeditions. But it’s a different kind of shopping. The pace and the feel is different when you add a straight man to your shopping mix. Since I’ve gotten married, I have rarely spent more than 90 seconds picking out nail polish, whereas before, I’d do some serious comparison shopping for a half an hour. Nor have I satisfactorily searched for perfect new underpants or costume jewelry at Target. We’re more mission oriented now that we’re a couple: we’ve got a list and goals. And coupons. He thinks because I walk through the square of carpet that contains purses and sunglasses that I’m “shopping” but in my former, single life, that first pass-through would be more akin to what a bird of prey does on a first, cursory swoop before deciding which woodland creatures are on the menu, before circling again and again, closer and closer until a selection is scooped up in its talons.

As I walk down the hill, I plan my afternoon. I’ll have lunch, stop by the bookstore, go to the comfortable-but-expensive shoe shop, and then explore all the shops I typically turn away from when Z is with me: the kitchen shop, the two art galleries, the jewelry store, the multiple gift shops that seem to specialize in small metal birds and serving platters with French words scrawled across the surfaces. These are the shops that Z is least interested in, in part because they are heavily perfumed and make him wheeze and also because he knows we’re out of surfaces in our little apartment on which to set small metal birds and French platters. I’ll start to go in one, he’ll say, “I’m going to stay out here. Shop as long as you like,” but then because he isn’t going in with me, it no longer seems like fun.

For lunch, I choose an Italian place, and I feel overly pleased when I tell the host  with no sheepishness or apology that I need a table for myself and my book. He let’s me pick my own spot, so I head for a back corner from which I can either read in peace or watch other people. There isn’t a lot going on here in terms of people watching, so I crack my book and start reading. The waiter comes over and says, “Iced tea, right?” I have no idea if he’s feeling (wrongly) psychic or if I have a Poulsbo doppelgänger. I hate tea, but instead of correcting his assumption that he knows me or has intuited my drink choice, I say instead that I’ll just stick with water for today, as if he’d normally be right but I’m trying something new.

The food comes. I eat and read and feel weirdly content to be in a restaurant on my own. I use my best table manners and even order a salad, so no one can fault me should they look my way. Not that I’m expecting them to, but I find that when I eat alone I’m inclined to be better behaved than I normally am so no one can say, “It’s easy to see why that one over there is by herself.” I blame this quirk of mine on public school cafeterias and for having been single until I was past my prime.

Before I leave the restaurant, the rain stops at the exact moment my cousin calls. We average about one call per every twenty attempts, so I don’t mind derailing my shopping plans in lieu of sitting on a bench by the harbor and talking to her. The sun has come, and people are walking their babies and their dogs as I catch up on family matters. When I hang up almost an hour later, I walk to the bookstore, stroll around, and every book I pick up reminds me I have shelves of unread books back at home. I don’t really need a new book. I walk across the street to the shoe shop, fondle a few pairs, look at the price tags, and leave. I’ve got enough shoes. I stand outside and look up and down the street to figure out where I want to go next. I put my hand on the door of a gift shop and then think, What could this store possibly have that I need? I turn on my heel and head to Sluy’s bakery, where I buy treats for later and a Krispie just for me and some sparrows.

We eat it, the ten of us, and I feel wildly content with my day. I head back to the cottage, write some more and wait for Z.

Maybe it’s okay that summer is over. Maybe when I get back to Seattle, I’ll be ready for solitary days at my desk, stopping periodically to watch the birds perched on the tree outside my window.