A few favorites: Seattle markets

December 2014…Phillip and I pack up our Wallingford apartment and bid Washington goodbye, heading south to the San Francisco Bay Area. A homecoming six years in the making, I now find myself a born-again Californian, re-learning my way around town and pining for the Pacific Northwest (pun intended). But before the ravages of time lead me to completely forsake the Evergreen state for the Golden one, I want to make a record of some of my favorite places in the Puget Sound as they were when I knew them best.

Seattle Markets

When I travel, the first place I want to visit is a market – a grocery store, a street vendor, a farm stand, it doesn’t matter. I love markets, so when a visitor asks for a good introduction to the city, I suggest a market and luckily Seattle has options far beyond big box stores like Fred Meyer (though, according to my mom, it’s the place to be – her undying/unyielding/unexplainable love of “Freddy’s” is as odd as it is sweet). There are over a dozen farmers’ markets, serving every neighborhood, and some grocery stores who really make fresh, local ingredients a priority. Washington is best known as the apple state, but let’s not forget that it produces 92% of the nation’s raspberries! 50% of the country’s cherries! And nearly as many pears! The largest food co-op in the United States is headquartered in Seattle! The food culture here is strong and I enjoyed getting to taste a part of it.

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Wallingford Farmers’ Market // Wallingford // 4800 Meridian Avenue N

Where the children of yuppies run barefoot on the grass, and the kombucha runs six dollars a glass – that’s the Wallingford Farmers’ Market! From late May through the end of September, the Meridian Playground behind the Good Shepherd Center is an idyllic place to spend a Wednesday afternoon. It is one of Seattle’s smaller farmers’ markets, but you won’t find it lacking – on the contrary! It has fresh, PNW produce as you’d expect, as well as live music, hot food, meat and cheese, pastries, and what’s more, it all takes place on a lawn so lush, you’ll want to kick your shoes off and wander the stalls barefoot (and in a hippie love-child daze, you’ll “feel more connected with mother earth” and probably buy that expensive granola). Phillip and I would often bring a picnic dinner, blanket, and books, and do a lap around the market, stocking up on ingredients for the rest of the week. Be sure to take a peek at the flower stall, as we would often find huge bouquets of basil leaves selling for a dollar or two!

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Ballard Farmers’ Market // Ballard Avenue NW, between Vernon Place NW and 22nd Avenue NW

Beyond its tasty little donuts, the Ballard Farmers’ Market serves up a feast for the senses every Sunday. For the fingers: there’s a fair bit of fruit and veg to poke and prod; for the nose: freshly baked bread and herbs ripe for the picking; for the tastebuds: goat cheese, pickles, raspberries (try ‘em all!). Stare mouth agape at pay-what-you-can typewriter poets; overhear the oddest of discussions*. Find a seat along Ballard Avenue at one of many cafés or restaurants for some fine people watching (Phillip and I always try for a spot at one of Anchored Ship’s tiny outdoor tables). It’s a lovely way to spend a weekend morning in one of Seattle’s most charming neighborhoods.

*A man approaches a butcher cart with his Great Dane and says, “So I was thinking that it would be good to start feeding my dog organ meat. Do you guys have any, like, cow hearts that you were gonna throw away that I could have? Or like, would I need to order a dozen?” The butcher declines with a shake of his head, giving a look that says, “You know, each cow only has one of those, right?”

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Pike Place Market // Downtown // 85 Pike Street

The most famous food market in all of Seattle (and in all of the US?) is Pike Place, perched above the Puget Sound in the heart of downtown. It is perhaps most well-known for flying fish, but there is really so much more to see. Too much, in fact, as Pike Place hasn’t managed to escape the ravages of tourism (souvenir t-shirts, gemstones, and model airplanes made of soda cans) – and that says nothing of the hoards who line the other side of First Avenue. That being said, I love visiting the market for a chance to browse the stalls, sample what’s in season, and grab a bouquet for the kitchen table. I’d recommend that you wake up early to avoid the bulk of the crowds, and take some time to explore the market’s multiple floors – there’s always something new to see! My favorite spots are Lion Heart Book Store, First & Pike News, and Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt.

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Uwajimaya // International District // 600 5th Avenue South

The Disneyland of Asian grocery stores, Uwajimaya’s brightly-colored aisles of common and uncommon sauces, snacks, and ingredients may take you a few hours to digest. I have certainly spent a weekend afternoon loading fruits and vegetables into my basket, tempted by bittermelon and dragonfruit though thoroughly unsure how to consume them. Uwajimaya has an impressive seafood department too, featuring live geoduck, sashimi-grade fish, and PNW salmon. There is also a great selection of prepared foods as well as an extensive food court whose offerings cover the entire Asian continent. Come hungry. Or come with a mind open to the idea of getting very hungry, very quickly. With so much to try, there is always a reason to return. I’m even planning my next trip as one thing I never did when I lived in Seattle was to make sushi with friends, with fish from Uwajimaya. It’s on my list and should be on yours, too!

The trouble with moving away is that when you return, it’s never quite as you left it. Has a new farmers’ market popped up in the neighborhood? Did kombucha girl finally cut her blonde dreads? Are gluten-free bakeries a thing of the past? If you know the answers to any of the aforementioned questions, you are someone with whom I need to talk!

 

A few favorites: Seattle cheap lunches

December 2014…Phillip and I pack up our Wallingford apartment and bid Washington goodbye, heading south to the San Francisco Bay Area. A homecoming six years in the making, I now find myself a born-again Californian, re-learning my way around town and pining for the Pacific Northwest (pun intended). But before the ravages of time lead me to completely forsake the Evergreen state for the Golden one, I want to make a record of some of my favorite places in the Puget Sound as they were when I knew them best.

Seattle Cheap Lunches

One of the few perks of Phillip and I having opposing work schedules for the better part of a year and a half, was that he was often free to meet me for lunch, a ten minute bike ride from our house. And while we had a near infinite number of lunch options to try in the University District, we soon found ourselves returning to a couple of places time and time again – for convenience, for quality, and for value. Scouring the streets of Seattle for inexpensive places to eat, both as a hungry student and slightly less hungry workingperson, has been a habit that continues to this day. I am happy now to share some of the results of my search!

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Saigon Deli // University District // 4142 Brooklyn Avenue NE

There was a time in my life that I had never eaten a banh mi. That time was two years ago and I had no idea where to start my search for a good Vietnamese sandwich. As it turned out, the first one is my top pick – a quick search sent me up a couple of blocks north to Saigon Deli. At $3.25 a pop, a chicken, barbecue pork, or tofu banh mi is one of the best deals in town – for seventy-five cents, you can top it with a fried egg and feel full until dinnertime. The staff is friendly and heavy-handed on the jalepeños – a perfect combination for a casual lunch.

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Korean Tofu House // University District // 4142 Brooklyn Avenue NE

Located in the same building as Saigon Deli, round the corner onto NE 42nd Street and take the stairs down to the basement. Phillip, who lived in South Korea for a year and was starting to miss its most renowned dishes, suggested Korean Tofu House on a whim – it’s been one of our favorite spots ever since! I was a total novice when we first started coming here, but now I often find myself thinking about Korean Tofu House’s dolsot bibimbap, tteokbokki, and especially sundubu jjigae. You cannot go wrong with a hot stone bowl of tofu soup.

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La Conasupo // Phinney Ridge // 8532 Greenwood Ave N

I was lucky enough to be introduced to one of Seattle’s secret spots by a housemate. A Mexican grocery in the front, through the aisles of candied fruits, ceramic cookware, calling cards, and duros is the main attraction: La Conasupo’s incredible tacos. Though four to six dollars may seem a bit pricey, order one “taco” and you’ll get a basket full of tortillas and a plate piled high with meat. Schedule your visit for a Saturday or Sunday and you’ll be treated to their barbacoa, slow-cooked lamb whose bones are then used to make consomé – a rich, flavorful broth with chickpeas. Fresh green salsa is always on the table, but you’d be wise to ask for pápalo, an herb similar to cilantro, for something extra special. Be ready to bump elbows at this popular comedor.

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Musashi // Wallingford // 1400 N 45th Street

Another crowded spot, I have braved the line at Musashi many a time and would gladly do it many more times. The queue isn’t for anything on the paper menu, the people (nearly all of them) are there for Chirashi, a beautiful bowl of salmon, tuna, unagi (freshwater eel), scallops, hamachi (yellowtail – both raw and seared), and shrimp over rice. The nigiri and rolled sushi are also very good – simple, unencumbered by giant pieces of tempura or slippery with sauce. Hidden behind a tree on a quiet part of 45th, you may miss it passing by but it would be a mistake to not stop in and try it yourself.

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Dick’s Drive-In // Wallingford // 111 NE 45th Street

Dick’s is iconic. Since 1954 it has been a Seattle landmark that merits a visit, even if you just pass by and make silly puns. However, if you are in the area, hungry, and broke, you should definitely join the throngs for a humble hamburger or a Dick’s Deluxe, with all the accoutrements (no special orders are allowed). Grab a milkshake and fries, hand over a ten-spot, and you’ll get change back. It isn’t fancy, it isn’t gourmet, but it’s tradition, goshdarnit!

The trouble with moving away is that when you return, it’s never quite as you left it. But the problem with my stomach is that as soon as I fill it, soon enough it needs to be filled again! Which is to say, your cheap Seattle lunch recommendations are of the utmost importance to me – share for the sake of bellies everywhere!

 

A few favorites: Seattle parks

December 2014…Phillip and I pack up our Wallingford apartment and bid Washington goodbye, heading south to the San Francisco Bay Area. A homecoming six years in the making, I now find myself a born-again Californian, re-learning my way around town and pining for the Pacific Northwest (pun intended). But before the ravages of time lead me to completely forsake the Evergreen state for the Golden one, I want to make a record of some of my favorite places in the Puget Sound as they were when I knew them best.

Seattle Parks

Many are quick to call Seattle rainy, though I’d argue that it really needs to be thought of as green. Evergreen, in fact (progressive state drug laws notwithstanding)! Summer, winter, autumn, spring, Seattle is a lush, coniferous wonderland, and you needn’t look far for an escape from the city. Dozens of parks dot the landscape and line the coast; a fine network of trails winds its way from Lake Washington out to the Sound. There’s a hike, a walk, or a ride for every kind of nature enthusiast, though I do wish there were more Tuileries-style park cafés. Arm yourself with a sturdy pair of rubber boots and a good coat, and you can enjoy the parks all year round!

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Green Lake Park // Green Lake // between Highways 99 and 5 in north-central Seattle

Although my first move to Seattle was a rushed affair, I had the good luck to find an apartment just blocks from Green Lake, though I didn’t realize at the time just what a gem was right around the corner. It is one of Seattle’s best resources and it certainly is not underutilized. On any given day, you’re more than likely to find youth soccer, pick-up basketball, rowing, strolling, or a boozy singles’ kickball league , among many other things. At just about three miles around the lake, it’s a perfect, peaceful spot to unwind and stretch your limbs after a noisy day.

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Golden Gardens Park // Ballard // 8498 Seaview Place NW

If you take the Burke-Gilman trail west as far as it goes, you’ll end up in Golden Gardens, part wetlands, part sandy beach. Most days you can even see the Olympic Mountain range across the Puget Sound. It’s a popular place for bonfires, volleyball, and watching sea lions lounge. But this place is special to me as it was the destination of the first bike ride that Phillip and I went on now over three years ago. I was out of cycling shape and worried that I would barely make the five and a half mile journey, much less the round trip. But Phillip, ever the forward-thinker, scheduled several breaks into the afternoon – a chocolate tasting, hot tomato soup…and even though I huffed and puffed, I arrived at Golden Gardens feeling happy as a clam. What crashing waves; what rugged shore! A visit to Golden Gardens is a perfect introduction to Washington’s wilderness.

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Seward Park // Seward Park // 5900 Lake Washington Boulevard S

Seward is one of my favorites, and most of it has to do with the leisurely, scenic bike ride that you can take to get there. The savvy visitor knows that the best views are from Lake Washington Boulevard as it curves along its banks, all the way to the park’s entrance. On certain summer Sundays, a 3-mile section of the route is closed off to motorized traffic, making the trip all the more pleasant for walkers, joggers, and cyclists. Jutting out into Lake Washington, Seward Park boasts an old growth forest, historic cabins, a 2.4 mile long walking path, and one of our most cherished swimming spots. With an Audubon Center at the park’s gates, it’s a great spot for birders, beginners and life-listers alike, to learn about the local winged population and to perhaps catch a glimpse of America’s most revered bird.

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Gas Works Park // Wallingford // 2143 N Northlake Way

The crown jewel of Seattle picnicking spots, Gas Works Park is the best place to be on a warm day. Formerly the site of the “sole remaining coal gasification plant in the United States,” it was decommissioned in 1956 and reopened as a park ten years later. Much of the original equipment remains, though its primary use today seems to be for hopping around and yelling “Parkour!” when the mood strikes. As Phillip and I lived just five blocks away, we made a habit of cruising down on our bikes to people watch, nap, read, or sneak a glass of wine at sunset. We’ve been witness to kite flying, blackberry picking, skinny dipping, and fire dancing from our perch atop its famed hill. Each year on July 4, you can join the masses to celebrate the holiday with fireworks, John Philip Sousa marches, and a spectacular view of downtown. A visit to Gas Works is a must for any Seattle itinerary – in fact, every guest I’ve ever had has visited the park at some point!

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Volunteer Park // Capitol Hill // 1400 East Prospect Street

You are unlikely to struggle for things to do on a visit to Volunteer Park. Over the course of many visits, Phillip and I have toured the Asian Art Museum, strolled through the Conservatory of exotic plants, climbed to the top of the Water Town for a 360-degree view, and attended a free performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Not to mention, only a block away there is the charming Volunteer Park Café, a good place to stop for a snack or a coffee. Volunteer Park has it all! If there were to be a downside, it would be the climb to the park (the “hill” in “Capitol Hill”), steep for the bicycle-dependent living in north Seattle, as we were. And still, we found ourselves coming back to Volunteer Park again and again for a bit of solitude and relaxation.

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Discovery Park // Magnolia //3801 Discovery Park Boulevard

Seattle’s largest park is also one of the best, though not purely for that reason. From its dramatic location on Magnolia Bluff, it is not unusual to get views of both the Olympic and Cascade Mountain Ranges; to hike through dense forest and on a sandy beach; to wander through wide, grassy prairie and along the edge of steep, rocky cliffs. Following the 2.8-mile long Discovery Park Loop Trail, you can experience a little bit of everything, though I’d recommend veering slightly off path for a chance to visit the West Point Lighthouse, aptly located at the westernmost corner of the park, and the westernmost point in Seattle. Suitable for all levels of activity, you can keep to flat, paved trails, or descend down to the beach (I recall a memorable half hour that Phillip, a friend, and I bushwhacked our way back up a loose, forested cliff – two steps up, three steps down…). To travel far from the city without actually traveling far from the city, add Discovery Park to your list.

The trouble with moving away is that when you return, it’s never quite as you left it. Have any perfectly picturesque park cafés popped up? Have I missed any must-do hikes? What are your favorite parks in Seattle?

A few favorites: Seattle bakeries

December 2014…Phillip and I pack up our Wallingford apartment and bid Washington goodbye, heading south to the San Francisco Bay Area. A homecoming six years in the making, I now find myself a born-again Californian, re-learning my way around town and pining for the Pacific Northwest (pun intended). But before the ravages of time lead me to completely forsake the Evergreen state for the Golden one, I want to make a record of some of my favorite places in the Puget Sound as they were when I knew them best.

Seattle Bakeries

There’s no more logical place to start this series than with the thing that I think about immediately upon waking up each morning. For the gallons of coffee Seattleites are reputed to chug morning, noon, and night, it is no surprise that there is a lively tradition of baked goods to accompany it. In fact, this culture has bred a number of rivalries, some of which are pretty fierce (in a PNW passive-aggressive sort of way) – just ask a local if they prefer Trophy Cupcakes or Cupcake Royale, Top Pot or Mighty-O Donuts. Pride aside, I think everyone can agree that there’s no finer accompaniment to a shot of dark, strong espresso than a flaky, powdery sweet treat. And since I’ve repeatedly tried my hand at baking to varying degrees of success, I must give respect where respect is due – these are some great bakeries and you’d do right by your stomach to give them a try.

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Honoré Artisan Bakery // Ballard // 1413 NW 70th Street

It took me ages to make my first visit to Honoré, as getting there demanded a two-transfer bus pilgrimage from my old apartment in the Ravenna neighborhood. Even in Wallingford, where I lived most recently, Phillip and I would routinely pedal four miles uphill, usually in a nice Seattle drizzle for a snack – some places are just worth the extra effort. But on a sunny day, the trip is especially rewarding as there’s a lovely patio in the back, though the stuff of note is sitting behind the glass up front, and proofing on racks in the kitchen. Pastries, French ones, united in butter, and spanning the whole of the Héxagone. You’ll find canelés from Bordeaux, kouign-amann from Brittany, quiche lorraine from, well, Lorraine, and danishes, from the…Danish part of France. They’re all delightful, but I tend to stick with a croissant and a coffee (beans from Lighthouse!) and slip my way into a seat at the window.

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Essential Baking Company // Wallingford // 1604 N 34th Street

There are several Essential Baking locations in Seattle, but the Wallingford café is a gradual roll down the street from our old house, perfect for a weekend morning roll out of bed. They’re got hearty breakfasts and giant kale salads, but Phil and I always come for the toast, and not the six-dollar artisanal slice that’s served in San Francisco. For just under three bucks, which sounds so cheap in comparison, you can get three thick slices of any of Essential’s breads (we’d both recommend the mille gran) and an unlimited amount of raspberry freezer jam*. Grab a bottomless cup of Victrola coffee and an issue of the Stranger, too! We don’t make much a fuss over their pastries, but their bread – always and forever!

*How did I go twenty years not knowing about freezer jam? Is it just a Washington thing?

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Morsel // University District // 4754 University Way NE

Biscuits seem to be few and far between in Seattle, so it was good luck that Morsel was a jog up the Ave, not far from where I worked. They can do up your biscuit any way you’d like, and while Phil and I keep our selection pretty simple, judging by everyone else’s plate, the sky’s the limit! Order one of their towering biscuit sandwiches and you’ll find it near impossible to pick up with your hands. If you’re fortunate enough to grab one of the few spots to sit, take your time slathering your biscuit with any one of their sweet or savory jams. Few things on this earth feel as rich. It’s the butter.

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Café Besalu // Ballard // 5909 24th Avenue NW

Honoré’s closest competition, Café Besalu is a worthy opponent and just a mile away, which means that in theory, you could hit two of the city’s best pâtisseries in a morning – a noble goal if you are the kind of person who jumps out of bed at seven a.m. Otherwise, wake up as early as you can muster, and prepare to stand on line. You may not beat the crowds, but you will walk away very, very satisfied. My advice is to go with a group (even though the line looks imposing, I’ve had great chance finding a table at just the right moment), and buy as many pastries as you can hold. This way, you’ll get to try everything that you wanted to order, and you won’t be forty dollars poorer for it! For those with the restraint to only order one or two, I’d suggest Besalu’s classic croissant and almond schnecken.

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Mini Donuts at Ballard Farmers’ Market // Ballard Avenue NW

For a serious Sunday morning stroll, do check out the Ballard Avenue Farmers’ Market between Vernon Place NW and 22nd Avenue NW. Tucked between stands overflowing with local fruits and veggies is the real sustenance that your body needs: mini donuts! Located conveniently at the entrance of the market on 22nd, these little beauties barely have time to skip through piping hot oil, into a paper bag, coated with cinnamon and sugar, before being shoved into your grasping hands for immediate consumption. I would hardly call myself a donut fan, but these may be the ones to convert me; incredibly soft, chewy and warm, between Phillip and I, a dozen doesn’t last more than a couple of minutes.

The trouble with moving away is that when you return, it’s never quite as you left it. Perhaps there’s a new bakery that’s just popped up, or a tried-and-true classic that I never stumbled upon? Now is the time to share that information (in the comments), and quick!

One year (later), a video flipbook

Scroll to the bottom for the video, because why wait a moment longer?

Most of my creative pursuits seem to end up in a state of perpetual incompleteness, which is why it is such a pleasant surprise to me that, just this once, I completed something – and only fourteen months later than anticipated. From the time that I started this project on May 2, 2013, days before I closed the book on my TAPIF year, to the same day in 2014, I recorded a one second video clip each day.

A lot happened: I destroyed my computer, crossing my fingers as I salvaged months of shoulda-woulda-coulda been lost footage; I struggled with the limitations of iMovie, screamed at every spontaneous shutdown, made myself a snack each time it froze, and powered through clunky workarounds (365 times, no less). And that’s just the technical side of things! It says nothing of all the moments that actually made the days worth recording in the first place, from the exceptional (touring the falls at Plitvice) to the ordinary (time spent with friends).

A one-second clip on its own isn’t particularly interesting it turns out and it wasn’t until I strung together about sixty of them that I started to see anything at all. Half a dozen times I have tried to take a photo a day and I’ve never made it more than a week; to think I’d have a different experience with moving pictures (a medium with which I had much less practice) seemed like I was setting myself up for disappointment.

But I did it. Every day. Sometimes not until moments before the clock struck midnight, but I did it all the same. Not every day was photogenic, and there are way too many clips highlighting what I had to eat for dinner that night (like a horrible, foodie instagram come to life!), but it certainly paints an accurate portrait of the year. Even the bad stuff, like an angsty evening scribbling in a journal, and the aftermath of a bicycle accident, my worst injury to date.

If there is anything that I would want to change, though, it’s not any of the moments themselves, but rather how I captured them. In still photography, I am hopelessly shy about working with human subjects – friends or strangers, and while I was more confident when my images were moving, I could have pushed myself to invite more animate subjects into the frame.

But in the end, I really enjoyed the process of making my little film, and am so happy with the final result. I’m a better videographer for it! Most importantly, a big thank you to all who got in front of the camera; I always tried my best to make you look good (it was easy). Glad you’re in my life.

Let’s end the text before I get too nostalgic…I thought the point of a video was that I could avoid having to write! Oh well…I’m done! Action!

A bike ride in the county

Follow along for a moment: If everything that Phillip said about bicycles was simultaneously transcribed and published, he would have tomes so numerous that even Marcel Proust would think it excessive. His love of bicycles overflows and he wistfully tells tales of favorite rides – along the banks of rice paddy fields in Korea on a rusty, old cruiser; up endlessly steep Austrian mountains on a trusty steel Peugeot; down the Pacific coast and into Mexico on a beloved blue Raleigh Grand Prix. But he is perhaps the most nostalgic for rides in Whatcom County where he grew up. So when the opportunity finally, finally came up for me to join him on his infamous “Pie Ride,” just days before we moved out of Washington state (forever?!), I threw my hands to the heavens, tears streaming down my face, and after the sobbing had subsided, I whispered “yes, I am ready.”

Okay, so we are both fairly dramatic about bicycles.

A country ride, how novel, I remember thinking. If the scars on my face and the missing part of my tooth are any indication that city riding isn’t ideal, I didn’t realize this until we packed up and pedaled out of Bellingham into “the county.” Phillip’s sister being in town and joining us was an added bonus!

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So off we rode into the early morning fog, past the dreamiest of barns, the lushest of fields, the noisiest of cows. Farm dogs snapped at our heels, puddles were narrowly avoided, and wardrobes were swapped as storm clouds rolled in and heart rates rose – I think every single configuration of neon yellow reflective jacket and Paddington Bear-blue rain slicker was tested (Phil in yellow, his sister in blue; Sarah in blue, Phil in shirt sleeves; etc. in perpetuity).

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But Phil called this a “Pie Ride” so where was the pie? In Lynden, of course, twenty miles north of B’ham. Once in town, we coasted down Front Street to the famous Dutch Bakery, hitched our bikes outside, and scurried in for warmth and treats. Lining the walls of the shop, boxes of pies towered a dozen high for the Christmastime rush, and we queued up for slices of our own. Bumbleberry, a mixture of berries for which the region is renowned, was generously dished up and we stuffed ourselves silly. Our blood sufficiently sugared, we saddled up again for the ride back home.

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We had grown cold from sitting at the bakery for so long, and we tried to pick up our speed for the return, but by that time the light had changed, and we were seeing everything from a different angle and it was so beautiful that we had to stop for photos of highland cows basking in the golden hour, even as we cursed ourselves for not wearing thermal pants.

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We lingered at this wooden tower for a spell; Phillip’s seen it countless times and is no less impressed by its construction and intrigued by its history – it looks like it is from another time and frankly, from another continent. We searched for clues, but with the wind picking up, we started on the final stretch to Bellingham. A truly spectacular ride, one that I would be happy to repeat!

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The next morning we were treated again to pie, a lovely rum raisin and apple crafted by Phil’s sister, but this time we only needed to go as far as the kitchen, so it all averages out, I guess. Forty miles or a couple of steps, if it’s pie, I’ll take it!

Riding the Amtrak Cascades

As I mentioned, back in April, Phillip and I hopped on the Amtrak Cascades, a train route that spans the entire Pacific Northwest coast, all the way into the lower mainland of Canada. We boarded in Seattle and detrained in Bellingham just in time for Easter breakfast, a two-hour journey.  Though, if you’ve got a bit more time and a passport handy, you could ride the train in its entirety from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia. I can assure you it is a beautiful way to travel.

That being said, if time is of the essence, I have heard that the most scenic passage is between Seattle and Bellingham, as it offers the most extensive view of the Puget Sound. At times, the tracks run right along the shore for unobstructed visibility that is second to none. The morning of our trip started out a bit gray and overcast – as typical as any day in April in the North West, but that only served to authenticate the experience for me. I had been raring to ride the rails for months! Not to mention, a dreary early-morning often means a sunny late-morning in the PNW. Good news for us!

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In a blink of an eye, we’d pulled out of Seattle’s King Street Station in the International District and found ourselves chugging past the sprawling and industrial city of Everett, before cruising further north into lush, verdant Skagit County, already a favorite Washington locale of mine. The Cascades’ path parallels Interstate 5, a road we know all too well after countless jaunts up to Bellingham, so we were pleased with our new westwardly vantage point, as well as the comfort of traveling by train (coffee in the bistro car, oh but of course).

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But the real draw is its Puget Sound views, and there is no shortage of crashing waves, ragged coves, rocky shores, and piney, wooded islands. It is a spectacular tour of what makes this part of the country so special and I would recommend it to visitors to the area and locals alike – after all, I lived in Seattle for four years prior to booking my ticket!

Here are a couple of tips for making the most of your ride on the Amtrak Cascades:

1. Run straight to the bistro car to be first in line for coffee and to grab a seat at one of its booths or its counter of outward-facing stools. If everyone gets a window seat, then everyone wins!

2. Buy your ticket in advance. This is particularly important in the summer, when tourists opt to spend the day on the train as an attraction in and of itself. Additionally, Amtrak rewards the forward-thinking by frequently offering discounts on trips booked two or more weeks out.

3. Finally, though it goes without saying, if you’re traveling on Easter, do be sure to stuff your bag full of jelly bean-filled plastic eggs in a variety of pastel colors. Obviously.

All aboard!

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Pottery class: weeks 3 & 4

In our third week of pottery class we started showing up at the studio more and more frequently.  A big benefit of taking classes at the Ballard Community Center is that enrollment in a course entitles you to free studio time whenever the center is open to the public.  Due to city funding cuts, this unfortunately means we can’t throw on the weekends, but on a chilly Tuesday or Wednesday night, why not?

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What a surprise, more short round things.  I must say, even I was a bit unimpressed with my lack of imagination.  Or rather, I think it’s more a matter of execution.  If memory serves me right, both times I think I was attempting to make a pitcher – HA!

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But then a stroke of rare genius hit, my hands slid together and when I pulled my hands away (slowly, slowly) I had a vase standing about 3 inches high.  And boy, is this thing sturdy.

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We also learned another important step in pottery-making: trimming.  This is the time for the novice potter to erase all of the mistake he or she has made up to this point.  Sure there are ample opportunities following this step and definitely during this stage to mess everything up, but once your clay is ¡leather-hard! the task of trimming down the base and smoothing out the rough patches is relaxing and a bit hypnotic.  And when that’s done and your name is carved into the underside, you’ve got a piece ready for its first firing!

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Pottery class: weeks 1 & 2

Four weeks ago, Phillip and I started pottery class at the local community center.  When I was a child, I took ceramics camps for several summers and for quite some time I had played with the idea of looking for classes in Seattle – when I mentioned it to Phillip, he seemed keen to join on, too!  We were particularly interested in learning how to throw clay, that is, to sculpt on a potter’s wheel (more on lovely pottery jargon later).

As an eight and nine year-old, my interest lay exclusively in creating an arsenal of very small pinch pots and unintentionally grotesque animal sculptures, so branching out to wheel work was a really exciting alternative.  We showed up to our first class poised and ready to be pottery prodigies, masters of the wheel – and anyway, by our instructor’s standards we were.  He was very complementary of our first bowls; mine the taller and lumpier of the two pictured below.  But despite the learning curve, I find sitting behind the wheel to be a very enjoyable, relaxing, mentally stimulating activity.  And messy!  Now like my more seasoned classmates, I’ve got a pair of dedicated pottery pants (not the pants you’re thinking of, Rosie…coquine madame!).  I’ve truly arrived!

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As challenging as turning a blob of clay into a non-blob of clay is the vocabulary – some are completely new words and some are old words with completely new meanings.  Pulling, greenware, leather-hard, ribs, and wedging are all terms that I’m finding myself using more and more, while I have yet to find the word to describe the feat of clay flying clean off one’s wheel and onto the floor, or the act of overwatering one’s clay, or the phenomenon of sitting back to look at one’s work and happily proclaiming it done, only to accidentally tear through it with your thumb as you touch up a smudge.  But then again, I am still learning.

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Over-confident from the first class, during week two I sat down at the wheel with a tall, curvy idea in my head, and ended up with a cylinder.  Twice.  Too short to hold anything upright and too fat to be a delicate drinking vessel.  Oh well.  Phillip left a nice bowl and beer stein drying, though!

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In week three, we started turning up at the studio more often, so we can only hope that more practice time will lead to something a bit more interesting and a bit less cylindrical.

Tulpenmanie!

My fourth springtime in Washington state, and this year I finally saw the tulips.  I anticipated a day trip to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival as anxiously I would a vacation – a much-needed vacation.  Happy as my disposition tends to be, I’ve found that working-life post-TAPIF leaves something to be desired.  I need to be outside!  Out of town!  Out of body (ooh, groovy…) – as much as I look forward to the warming weather, the sunnier the days become, the more my limbs twitch, my mind wanders, my eyes go in and out of focus (mouth agape, I’m sure).  And it is only going to get more difficult as summer approaches, unless

This jaunt north to the Skagit Valley couldn’t have come at a better time – the second Sunday of the month was sunny, bright, and dry; the bloom map I had been checking for weeks indicated signs of life.  And what life!  Long I have been enamored of the greens that are so characteristic of the Pacific Northwest, but to see the valley alive with color was a spectacular sight, proving that all this rain is good for something!

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And here I thought I would take a little pause for all to recognize and appreciate my self-restraint in the number of photos I decided to post…only forty or so!

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After a stroll around Roozengaarde’s largest field, we stopped across the road at the show garden, which put on display its rarest tulips.  Most surprising I found to be the names given to many of the tulips, which ranged from the fancy (“plaisir” or “baronesse”), to the suggestive (“sensual touch,” “blushing bride,” or “secret love”), to the not-really-so-vaguely-politically-incorrect (“white triumphator,” “white king,” or “white ideal” – any of the white ones, really).  Some, like the “Fabio” pictured below, must have been named purely for comedic value; case in point: the “Fokker Fan-Fan” tulip.

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What goes best with tulips?  Why, more tulips!  We tiptoed through another field, ablaze in reds and pinks and purples.  I slipped further into Tulipomania, remembering an interesting story that my father shared with me from Charles Mackay’s “Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” – it’s definitely worth a read, as it explains the life and times (and mania!) of the tulip in the Netherlands.  “Quis furor ô cives” it begins – “What madness, citizens!”  To spend one’s fortune on a tulip bulb seems extreme, pretty as they are, but to spend one’s afternoon surrounded by blooms makes for an entirely lovely Sunday.

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Embrace the madness!  Come see the tulips before they are all gone for the season!