Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sounds of the Season

OK, so I still haven't been blogging. Bad me. The fact is, things have been pleasantly busy lately. I haven't been overwhelmed with goins-on, but there's been just enough happening, or just enough that I want to do, that getting online at home for any reason other than a quick email check just hasn't been a priority. Usually, I have plenty of time where I sit and think, "Hmm, what should I do with myself?" But lately, I find myself with a mental list of activities that seem to occupy all my time.

Some of those activities are as simple as making the time to watch the movie that Michael and I rented earlier in the week, or choosing to do spontaneous post-church brunches on the Ave rather than head home early. But those are the little things that make life enjoyable, as well as providing much needed social and mental breaks.

Of course, there have been many holiday activities. Recently, in the span of eight days, I went to five concert events, all of them holiday themed, yet each one unique. Beginning with the Round at the Triple Door (something I actually did get to blog about), I enjoyed Black Nativity at the Intiman with Michael, the Swedish Julfest service at Seattle First Covenant with my friend Kristina and her parents, the PLU Christmas concert at Benaroya hall with family and friends, and the Brass Band Northwest concert in which our friend Doug takes part, again with my family.

I mention them all primarily because I don't want to forget the wonderful music that has been filling this season. Experiencing live music is a great privilege, and it has made this December one to remember. As Christmas draws ever closer, the music, the time with family and friends, and all the little things that fill my days are a great blessing. Take time to really listen to the music of the season, and I'm sure you won't regret it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Steps It Up

Let it be noted that on November 30th I told Christmas to "bring it". And Christmas, well... Christmas done brought it! This, a Tuesday night, is the first I have sat at my home computer since my last posting on December 2nd. Last weekend I did not even do so much as check my email once, and you know that means I'm pretty well occupied.

So... deep breath. A lot has happened. And I don't have time to write about it now. But maybe tomorrow (or maybe not), we'll get to the holiday lowdown. It's all been fun, but my bed is calling. And right now, there's no place I'd rather be.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Round It Goes

The Round is a music/art/spoken word event that began in Seattle's Fremont Abbey four or five years ago. The idea is a simple one: local musicians, who may normally never appear on stage together, sit together in a row facing their audience, taking turns playing songs they wouldn't normally play. The audience all faces forward and listens; this is no barroom show, where people yell into their companion's ear just to be heard over the din. Most of the musicians choose to go acoustic, while in the background three different artists paint on canvases, and spoken word poets come forward to give impassioned recitations during breaks in the music.

It's a once a month event, and I manage to get to it, oh, about once a year. Fortunately I made it to last night's holiday show at the Triple Door with a couple of friends. What a way to kick off December. The Round can be a little irreverent, and the performers' backgrounds are varied, but it always comes together in an amazing way, and there is always a spiritual element underneath it all. We listened to musicians ranging from Mark Pickerel to Star Anna to Jesse Sykes to Damien Jurado, and many more, singing songs of bleak midwinter and songs praising the baby Jesus. In the end, everyone came back on stage for an obviously unrehearsed rendition of John Lennon's Happy Christmas (War is Over).

It's the unrehearsed part that makes The Round special. The backup band provides improvised harmony and rhythm throughout the night, musicians try out songs they never thought they'd perform in public, and the painters attempt to bring their visions to light before the night ends. Taken as a whole, it's a beautiful thing.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's the Busiest Time of the Year

Ah, yes... the "holidays". That mythical time when life becomes a whirlwind of parties, concerts, family gatherings, shopping, caroling, cooking, and sipping giant mugs of hot chocolate. In real life, it's perhaps not quite so idyllic, but the air around us does start to whirl a little.

Tonight I came home and immediately went to work in the kitchen. On top of this evening's dinner, I made sauteed a couple pounds of ground turkey and also made a fresh batch of tomato sauce, all because I know that it may be the last time I have to properly cook anything resembling a meal this week. And to me, meals are important. Eating homemade food is important. Just because the holidays are coming, that's no excuse to let the vital things in life slip.

Starting with tomorrow, there will be concerts and organized cooking baking and decorating, visits from family and work parties, putting up decorations and maybe even sending out Christmas cards, not to mention cooking up a new batch of chili for our friends' annual cook-off and watching It's A Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time at the Grand Illusion's Christmas party. And, not forgetting the spiritual side of the season (Jesus is the reason, after all), church services and hopefully some volunteering, too.

I'm looking forward to it all. Bring it, Christmas. I'm ready.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Christmas is Coming

"It is no longer Thanksgiving, it's now Christmas!" my friend's mom announced tonight as some visiting cousins draped the final strands of tinsel over their Christmas tree. She was speaking to the fact that since her daughter and son-in-law would not be around on the actual Christmas day, Christmas day would come early, and it was time to open presents.

As unexpected as it was to find myself in the midst of a mini-Christmas celebration with a family not my own, I did start to get into the spirit of things earlier this afternoon, when a few friends cam over to cut out paper snowflakes and Swedish paper heart baskets. We sipped mulled cider and snacked on shortbread, but I kept the music selection to strictly non-Christmas albums. I may be shifting towards Christmas, but I'm still just dangling my toes in the water, not quite ready to take the full plunge. Snowflakes taped to the window pane are a sign that more is coming, and when I bring home the advent wreath tomorrow, I may just break down and pop on a Christmas CD.

Compared with last year, I feel more mellow about the whole holiday season. This is probably due to the fact that I have not yet visited a single mall for any Christmas shopping. Perhaps I should try to keep it this way.

For now, I'm enjoying the sight of snowflakes on the window and none on the roads. That, and another piece of shortbread before bed, are enough to make my season bright.

Closet Thanks

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and now we are already looking towards Christmas. But go back a few days to the Thanksgiving holiday itself, and you will find Michael and I surrounded by Rubbermaid tubs, stacks of paper, and an assortment of odds and ends in the living room. For us, Thanksgiving turned into a day to organize. More specifically, we were organizing a lifetime of Michael's memorabilia.

The project began last weekend when, upon realizing I had an entire Saturday free up until 6pm or so, I decided to ignore my first instinct ("I should make plans with friends!") and follow my second ("I should use this windfall of time to get things done around the house!"). I pulled out drawers and bins, compiling socks without mates (there were more of those than the ones with mates, I fear), thinning out the rag collection, which was growing to Blob-like proportions, and filling the recycling bin with the empty cardboard boxes I have inexplicably held on to for more than nine years ("But they were nice boxes!"). A large portion of what remained to be sorted were bin after bin of Michael's stuff - the stuff that parents like to hoard and then pass on to you when they see that you finally have a house of your own. Then, instead of taking up precious space in their home, it can eat up room in yours.

I had this same experience with my childhood remnants, and last year managed to pare them down to one small filing box of mementos to save, one smaller box of items to pass on if I ever have a daughter, and one not-so-small dollhouse that my father made me for Christmas as a child. It's not easy, but I can honestly say that I do not miss a single thing I threw out. In fact, I can't remember what it was that I threw out. Well, with the exception of the German beer coasters from college. And I have to admit a small part of me does kind of miss those.

But with this experienceunder my belt, I girded myself to help Michael through this arduous process on Thanksgiving day. And in the end, Michael had to admit it felt pretty good. He, too, has pared down to a small filing box, along with one smallish Rubbermaid tub for items that won't fit in a file box. Our living room is back to normal, and not only that, but several of our closets are noticeably neater and emptier. Our bedroom is the cleanest it has been in years.

And for that, I give thanks.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Falafel-ly Good

I once read a restaurant review of my favorite little Greek fast food joint in Tacoma, It's Greek to Me. The reviewer raved about pretty much every item he tried there, with one notable exception. The falafel, he noted, was "fal-awful". It's Greek to Me has the distinction of being the first place I ever tried falafel, back when I was staying with my aunt and uncle in Puyallup while attending piano camp the summer I turned sixteen, and, as such, it holds a dear, dear place in my heart. Clearly, this reviewer had a palate ill-equiped to appreciate the nuances of such a complex dish.

Fortunately, I was not the only one who took umbrage with the review; the next time I visited the restaurant in question, I saw that they had taped a copy of the offending article to their door, along with a lengthy response from one of their falafel fans, praising their falafel as one of the best he'd ever eaten, even taking into account the ones he'd had in Israel.

It had been a very long time, however, since Michael and I ate our last falafel. I do occasionally make them from scratch, and after a lengthy hiatus I decided tonight was the night to bring falafel back. Armed with a new recipe from the November issue of Saveur, I set about chopping garlic and Persian cucumbers for tzatziki, mixing yeast, warm water, flour, and olive oil for fresh pita bread, roasting red peppers in the toaster oven, and making the blender earn its prime spot on the counter top, grinding away at a mixture of raw soaked chick peas, onions, garlic, cilantro, and spices.

For dinner, we were rewarded with the best falafel I have ever made. What's the secret? You know, I'm not entirely sure, but I will say that having a deep fryer is a real boon. If you would like to try it yourself, you can find the recipe at www.saveur.com. I did deviate from the recipe slightly, using cilantro rather than parsley, since that was what I already had on hand. Also, I do not own a food processor, hence the iron man workout I put my blender through tonight (be cautious if you try this at home - some blenders may not survive).

Falafel is best served on freshly made pita bread (those cardboard frisbees from the store do not compare), and we like it with topped, rather untraditionally, with tzatziki, preferably made with a good Greek or Middle Eastern yogurt, as well as some Bulgarian feta. It's a real Mediterranean fusion food this way - fal-awfully delicious.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hope for All

Last night I made another trip to the Grand Illusion (yeah, big surprise, I know), this time to see a couple of documentaries, one about the history of Faubourg Treme, a mostly black neighborhood in New Orleans, the other about a small group of American surfers who travel to post-war Liberia. Both films had me mesmerized. It's an amazing experience to watch a film and actually feel like you have been changed by it, to learn of horrors committed by man and nature, and yet to feel hopeful at the end of it all that things can change for the better, that people can build bridges to gap the hate, the pain, and the misery. Recent reading and slide shows about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, both past and present, have also highlighted the powerful need for forgiveness and love in a world that sometimes feels ruled by revenge and fear.

Lately I feel hyper-aware of the fact that I live in a position of extreme privilege. Not only do I have more than adequate shelter, more than enough to eat, more than enough to wear, and have all my basic needs more than met, but my life is also free from hate, fear, and any truly difficult situations. My husband and family are alive and well, and my relationships with friends and family are a blessing, not a curse. It feels, at times, as though I live in a tight cocoon, wrapped in love, safe from the outside world. Of course, I know this could change in a heartbeat. None of us know what the future may hold. But for now, I'm in awe of this life.

Yet while I'm thankful for all of this, I hesitate to say I've been blessed by God. Perhaps, but what does that imply towards those who are lacking in material and familial comforts? I certainly believe God loves them just as much as me, or any other human, and I have done nothing to earn any special blessings. One thing that stood out while watching the film Sliding Liberia was how many of the Liberians, after having lived through an atrocious civil war, still gave thanks to God for their place on this earth, still looked to God for their hope. It is the only way, perhaps, that one can survive such terror intact. We must look to something beyond ourselves, and give thanks for even the smallest piece of happiness to enter our lives.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, perhaps it's natural to be thinking of our blessings. But I pray that not a single day will go by that I forget to be thankful, or that I forget those in need of love, forgiveness, healing, hope, and a life or their own, free from want and fear. As a world, we still have a long way to go before we get there.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chiang's

When pondering what to do for dinner on Sunday night, Michael decided that nothing sounded good but Chinese food. And for us, Chinese food means pretty much one thing only: Chiang's.

We couldn't remember the last time we'd been to Chiang's, which is a sure sign that it had been too long. Chiang's is something of an institution in north Seattle, the funny place with the red vinyl banquettes stuffed inside a former A&W Root Beer joint, the sign proudly proclaiming "Chiang's Gourmet", even though it looks more like something you'd find adjacent to a truck stop than a dining destination. But for Chinese food in north Seattle there's no place finer, and everyone knows it.

We decided to branch out a bit and try some new dishes, the problem being that we tend to get the same items each time we go. But I knew that we hadn't really mined the depths of what Chiang's has to offer, and we were more than pleased with what we found: leek dumplings, bursting with an herby, woodsy mixture of... what? leeks? leeks and...? Michael declared he didn't want to know; he knew they were darn tasty, and that was all he needed. We also went for the spicy Szechuan pan-fried homemade noodles, the hotness of the red peppers melding with the numbing quality of Szechuan peppercorns. Wanting to be sure we ate our greens, we also ordered an old favorite, the sauteed pea vines, which come in a brilliant green puddle, wilted in a mound of garlicky goodness.

Of course, these dishes are all pretty pedestrian compared to many of Chiang's other offerings; their Chinese menu (they have two dinner menus: Chinese and American) also includes such delicacies as the tofu of strong odor, jellyfish, and pig intestines. We have not tried any of these items as of yet, and I have to admit we probably won't any time soon, but it's somehow reassuring just to know they're there.

But I still have a few spicy Szechuan noodles leftover for my lunch today, and that is definitely something to look forward to.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Play it, Sam

The 2009 annual casino night fundraiser for Elizabeth Gregory Home has been a rousing success! Thanks in part, no doubt, to my homemade Moroccan chicken rolls. Kidding! But the Moroccan influence seemed appropriate considering that the theme for tonight's event was Casablanca. Michael looked sporty in my great grandfather Allarick Hagglund's vintage hat, and I did my best effort at 1940s glam make-up and kept my stylish, full-skirted blank trench firmly cinched at the waist for the evening.

The blackjack tables were the place to be tonight, and Michael managed to more than double his money, while another guy at our table did far better than double. The fact that he has experience playing blackjack at an actual casino no doubt helped. And we also benefuited from his tips and pointers, something I'm sure no legitimate casino would tolerate at the table.

But that, of course, is what makes it fun. It's about getting to play with no pressure, no money lost, and knowing that every penny you spent on tickets for the event goes to a good cause. Getting into the spirit of things, Michael and I even won all three items we bid on for the silent auction - including a jazz CD (from Leah Natale, the singer who performed for us tonight), a $40 smoothie gift certificate for a local shop, and a day of kayaking for two (we'll wait until the weather improves to take advantage of that one).

But it was our friend Michelle who received the most sought after prize of the night - a pale purple satin clutch covered in tulle rosettes. Despite the desirability of this bag "covered in bling," as Michelle's boyfriend put it, she was actually more than willing to part with it, after we told her we could put it to good use by gifting it to our seven year old niece. I sure hope Katelynn appreciates it!

Most importantly, I hope the money raised to night will continue to keep Elizabeth Gregory Home ative, providing a place for women who have been homeless or suffering in abusive relationships a chance to build their lives again in a safe environment. Fifty women have graduated from the live-in program EGH offers to permanent housing and jobs, a number that will soon be fifty-one. Now that is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Reel Deal

I've stated before that film screenings at the Grand Illusion Cinema can be small affairs. And last night, it finally happened: Michael and I were the only people at the show.

"You get a private screening!" the volunteer projectionist laughed nervously while introducing the film, which happened to be the 1947 film Odd Man Out (excellent movie, by the way; I highly recommend it).

We munched on popcorn doused with "nutritional yeast", which is much tastier than it sounds, and is quite possibly the most addictive popcorn topping ever. The film rolled and we were transported to a chilly night in the Northern Ireland of the 1940s, following an IRA fugitive attempt to escape his dire fate.

Finally, the words "The End" appeared on the screen, and we wandered back out into the cold Seattle night. Popcorn and a movie: $13. Getting our own special show for the price of a typical movie ticket these days: priceless.

Making a Birdhouse in my Soul

Allow me a trip down memory lane. As someone who grew up on classical music (more or less), one of the first rock bands I was introduced to in high school was They Might Be Giants. The quirky, sometimes nonsensical lyrics and unexpected instrumentation captured my imagination, and TMBG, along with the Beatles and R.E.M., opened me up to new genres of music.

So, when I found out TMBG were playing a special show featuring the album Flood on Tuesday night, I convinced Michael to come along and relive the experience live. Probably their most popular album (the Johns joked on stage that it recently went platinum... making it the slowest album to ever achieve platinum status), it's hard to believe that it was released in 1990. Twenty years ago! Man, that makes me feel old - although I can at least say I wasn't yet in high school at the time. After opening with a few of their newer "science" songs, John and John kicked into Flood: "It's a brand new record for nineteen-ninety..." followed closely by the entire audience singing along to "Birdhouse in Your Soul".

I remember the first TMBG concert I went to. It was back in college, and Amy G (Amy S at the time) and I took the bus up from PLU to the Moore Theater in Seattle, fully aware that by the time the concert ended there would be no more buses running to get us back to Tacoma. We toyed with the idea of staying at the airport, but luck was with us , and I spotted someone I knew, a fellow PLU student, in the audience. Would she be able to give us a ride? No, but she knew someone else who could. After the show, we piled into our benefactor's car, and everything went smoothly until we got to the edge of campus and the little car sputtered and died. Talk about timing!

As TMBG worked their way through their songs on Tuesday, I smiled, thinking back on those times. Not about to let them go, the audience called the band back onstage for an encore after the last strains of "Road Movie to Berlin" died away. And then a second encore after that. For their final song, TMBG pulled out another oldie, the infamous "Fingertips".

Ah, "Fingertips". This brings me back to high school again, when spending spring break of my sophomore year on the ferry heading up to Alaska. Three of the girls in our group became obsessed with the schizophrenic song, which is nothing more than a p[atchwork of unrelated song bits and pieces strung together in a way that is oddly effective. On the ferry, they would play "Fingertips" over and over, rewinding the tape (yes, we still had tapes back then) after each rendition to hear it again, never listing to any of the other songs on Apollo 18. The rest of us were mighty sick of that song by the time the trip was through.

But now, I can love it again. And sing along with every single word. Heading back out into the rainy night, I still felt the warmth of the atmosphere from the show. They Might Be Giants hasn't lost their touch.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Lucy Come Home

On Thursday night we drove through pouring rain and wind to my parents' place in Oregon. We had one big reason to brave the awful weather and traffic (it took two hours to get from Seattle to Olympia, almost twice the time it took us to go that distance on the way back home): Lucy.

Lucy had been living the farm life since our Oregon trip back in September. As much as she loves running around through the woods and barking at unseen things in the night with my parents' dog, Pepper, she's not exactly cut out for the farm life. She managed to set the cows off and running when she squeezed through a gate and startled them. Even more startled herself, Lucy ran back to the house and didn't dare go near the cows again. We also discovered that my brother RAN OVER OUR DOG when backing up the pickup one night. Yes, although he thought both dogs were still in the back of the truck, he felt the tire drive over a bump, and got out to find that he had run Lucy over. Thankfully, no bones were broken, but she did have some terrible abrasions on her back left leg which have fortunately healed well. But still.

So now Lucy is curled up on the sofa, in a tight, safe little ball. We worry she may miss her country freedom, but hope that the warmth and coziness of the indoor life with us will make up for it. We missed you Lucy; I hope it's good to be back home.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dance Like You Mean It

There's this thing called the Seattle Head Nod. Or so I've heard it called. Go to a live rock show, and people don't dance. They nod. Heads bobbing in time to the music. Heck, that means you're into it. Everyone else is standing stock still, beer in hand, or hanging out in the back, catching up with friends.

Because, you know, you don't want to get too carried away. Except That Guy in front, dancing like a maniac, a lone hip shaker in a crowd that barely sways to the beat. But who wants to be That Guy?

Secretly: everyone wants to be That Guy. Well, maybe not everyone, but come on, he's having fun. And last night, at the Sunset Tavern, there were a lot of folks who decided to let their hair down and just have fun.

It was the album release party for the Tripwires, and no doubt the fact that these guys have been around for, oh, a couple decades, playing in bands ranging from the Screaming Trees to the Model Rockets, played a part in the festive atmosphere. The small crowd seemed filled with many who knew the band, and connections were tight between the Tripwires and their opening acts, Small Change and Llama. During the first two sets, Liz and I were happily head bobbing to the music, but when the Tripwires came on stage, everyone let loose.

People shimmied and swayed, twisted and turned. Up on stage, the band members sweated it out in sports coats, jumping and grinning and playing to the crowd. As people squeezed by to get to the restroom, I more than once felt someone's hands lightly at my waist - not in an obtrusive way, mind you. These were just people passing through, and rather than elbow their way by or try to skirt around us with as little contact as possible, they weren't afraid of a little touching out of consideration. It was, well, friendly. And like little kids dancing out of sheer youthful joy, we just felt happy to be there.

After all, there's no shame in being that lone dancer when you have a whole crowd backing you up. And dancing to the Tripwires beats doing the Seattle Head Nod any day of the week.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bring It On Home

Late last Monday afternoon, following a harrowing night trying to sleep in the Athens airport, a total of thirteen hours in flight, one layover, U.S. customs, and our first ever ride on Seattle's new light rail, Michael and I arrived back home.

Determined to stay awake until a decent bedtime, we headed out for groceries at Costco. The car radio was tuned to KEXP, and within ten seconds the opening strains of the Zombies' "Time of the Season" came over the airwaves.

Which just so happens to be the song that was running through my head as our last flight made its way to Seattle.

Which proves that the DJs at KEXP are not only capable of spinning a great mix, but are also psychic.

Hey, Seattle, it's great to be home.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Last Days

If anyone has actually been reading this blog, you may have noticed a lack of posts for several days, largely owing to a lack of cheap, easy internet access (I really need to get a Netbook!). But since I have fifteen more minutes of internet time at the moment, here's a quick rundown of what was missed:
  • Enjoying a taste of Italy in lovely Nafplio, with real gelato and a Venetian style old town
  • Hiking to the far reaches of the Palamidi fortress in Nafplio
  • Enjoying a group meal at a real, non-touristy local taverna in Nafplio, complete with live music and folk dancing - all in some very close quarters (this was about the most fun I had while on this trip)
  • Being amazed by the great ruins of the Myceneans, getting up close with architecture that is more than 3000 years old
  • Listening to groups singing and reciting from ancient Greek plays in the theatre at Epidavros
  • Our group dog, Winnie, who met us when we arrived on Hydra, and was never far away - she even came out to the ferry with us the day we left, and stayed until we boarded the hydrofoil. Michael wanted to adopt her and bring her home to live with us and Lucy (seriously, he was actually considering this)

Greece has been fantastic, and I am convinced that trip to northern Greece is in order for the future - there's so much that we didn't have time to see in three weeks! But for now I'm happy to be heading home, because the cement hard beds of this country can't compare to my own sweet bed at home. And while we'll all miss Winnie, I can't wait to see my own dear dog, Lucy.

Sick and Tired

Waking up at 3am feeling naseous is never a pleasant feeling. After a free day spent hiking and and swimming on the island of Hydra, followed by a group dinner featuring rabbit and goat (and rather a lot of wine), I went to bed feeling pretty wonderful, then awoke four hours later feeling pretty terrible. Was it the tap water I'd consumed in an effort to rid myself of the hiccups prior to bed? The tap water on Hydra is slightly saline and not recommended for drinking, although it shouldn't make you sick. I hadn't had that much to drink, had I? Unfortunately, it appeared that I had been hit by the same bug that hit Michael the night we were in Dimitsana last week, when he, too, had spent the wee hours primarily in the bathroom.

The night was an uncomfortable one, my body racked by chills and intense stomach pain. By around 7am the chills had subsided and, in sheer exhaustion, I was able to fall back asleep. The exhaustion coninued the entire day, where I managed to sleep sitting on a bench in the rain while we waited for the ferry, on the extremely bumpy hydrofoil ride to Athens, all afternoon at the Athens hotel, and all night after skipping out on the last night's dinner due to excruciating pain.

Thankfully, this morning I awoke feeling... hungry. I hadn't felt hungry for more that 24 hours - even the thought of food made me naseous - so this was progress. I am still not back to 100%, but am truly grateful to be through the worst of it. It may not have been the most glamorous end to our trip, but I'm looking on the bright side: our flight doesn't leave Athens until tomorrow morning, a day after the tour officailly ends, which gave us the opportunity to sleep in and take our time packing this morning. Tonight, we'll be heading to the airport for the night, since I don't see the point in paying for a hotel when we have a 6:30am flight. I love travel, but there's nothing like getting sick on the road to make you appreciate your health and home.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monemvasia

While the beach is rocky, the crystal clear waters of Monemvasia's beaches is still enticing, especially on a warm day like today. Michael and I, anticipatingly the warm water we'd sampled (hands only) in much colder Kardimyli, waded in eagerly.

"Oy! Cold!" I cried.

The water was not so warm after all.

But while each step exposed new skin to a shock of cold, the reality was that it only took a few seconds to adjust, and soon we were swimming in the soothing salt water. Joined by two others in our group, we found ourselves drifting further and further from shore with very little effort. Before long we realized we were more than half way to the rock island that put Monemvasia on the map. The challenge was on! We swam all the way to the island's pier, then managed to make it back through now choppy waters.

We'd visited the island earlier in the day, learning about squirting cucumbers and all other manner of plant life from our guide, David. We hiked to the ruins of the citadel, winding up the steep sides of the natural rock fortification, marveling at the sweeping views of the village below and the deep blue Mediterranean. Michael, attracted by the idea of making as many cucumbers squirt as possible, found a long, thorny stick with which to poke them. The small, prickly wild cucmbers really do squirt - somettimes spraying people as far as five feet from the offending cuke. It's a strangely addicting habit, walking along poking at little green globes in hopes you'll get it to explode.

We decided to commemorate our time in Monemvasia with a poster print of the town created by a local artist. Stylistically rendered, the poster shows the town nestled against the rocky bluff, ruins and the church of Agia Sofia dotting the hilltop. The artist himself showed me the work he was currently finishing - he painstakingly inked each dot and line to sreate a web of miniscule geometric designs framing boxes of color.

"I've worked on this for one month, every day," he told me.

I was impressed with his dedication, and asked if I might take a photograph with him, showing the man behind the art.

"No, take a picture of the posters," he said. "I am nothing."

Nothing, that is, if not modest.

But Monemvasia has been a highlight of the trip for me so far, and thanks to him, I will have always have a way to remember it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Greek Odessey Continues

Lest you think that Greece is nothing more than a paradise where the sun shines 365 days a year - it is not. A couple of days ago, upon leaving Delphi and heading into the mountains of the Peloponnese Peninsula, we were caught in heavy fog and even heavier rain on our free day in the coastal town onf Kardamyli. Thankfully, the clouds broke today, leaving us with blue skies to explore the Mani Peninsula and our arrival tonight in Monemvasia.

Leaving Kardamyli this morning, we headed deeper into the Mani, first stopping at the tiny (population 40) hill town of Kastania. After a tour of the orthodox chapel-studded village, we sat under the trees for Greek coffee and locally made cheese.

Our lunch stop in the (almost) equally tiny town of Gerolimenas fulfilled everyone's vision of the sunny Greek coastal village that we had missed out on during our rainy stay in Kardamyli. Pale aquamarine water lapped over blindingly white, smoothly polished rocks. The restaurant terrace put us directly above the bay, where we could enjoy views of the water with our lunch of Greek salad, tzatziki, calimari, crispy Mediterranean anchovies (nothing like the kind that, as our guide David put it, "live on pizza in the U.S.A."), artichokes, and green beans in tomato sauce.

But the real entertainment came after lunch, when some decided to roll up their pants and test the water temperature. Lovely - yet treacherous. Those polished white stones proved to be quite slippery when wet, and one woman ended up thoroughly soaked after taking an unexpected tumble. Myself, I was safely on shore with my camera, documenting it all, of course.

But the excitement didn't end there. A Greek fisherman, enjoying lunch with his family, spotted dinner from their waterfront table and promptly went down to get it. The unsuspecting octopus he grabbed was soon the center of attention, trying vainly to wriggly out of the man's grasp. He ended up in a small blue plastic bag, and although he made a valient attempt at a daring escape, he was not fast enough to escape the fisherman, who prompty tightened the knot in the bay (and, we suspect, put the octopus swiftly out of his misery once our group had left).

The forecast for tomorrow is for clouds, but I still feel optimistic. And if it's sunny after all, you may just find me in the water as well - intentionally, of course. I have no plans to fall in clothes and all - I packed too light for that!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Wisdom of Delphi

A great guide brings a sight to life. Instead of seeing a pile of rubble on a hillside, the caved-in faces of unknown people from more than two millenia ago on crumbling marble remains, the guide gives you the chance to see the temple in its former glory, to understand the story behind the statues and the all-too-human triumphs and tragedies that they represent.

In Athens, our tour group had the pleasure of a guided tour through the Acropolis and Ancient Agora, followed by a trip to the Archeological Museum this morning. We learned to tell archaic statues from severe, the severe from the classical, and the classical from the hellenistic. We imagined the processions that would wind their way up the Acropolis Hill every four years in honor of Athena's birthday, making their way through the massive gates and ending in front of the Parthenon, the grand temple to the virgin.

But my favorite experience so far has been this afternoon's trip through the museum and archeological site at Delphi. Leaving metropolitan Athens behind, we find ourselves surrounded by rocky, pine forested mountains, with towns clinging precariously to cliffsides. Our guide, Penny, was bursting with enthusiasm to show us the amazing artifacts in the Delphi Museum, and to remind us of those ancient stories - from the the Trojan War to Oedipus Rex - that, with the right perspective still have so much to teach us today. The famous Oracle at Delphi was, after all, a place where people went in search of answers, and when all was said and done, it seems the most important answers were the ones insribed above the temple: "Know thyself", and "Everything in Moderation".

"The answers were not vague," Penny told us. "They were open to interpretation."

One story, an unfamiliar one to me previously, sticks with me in particular. In the museum, archaic statues of two larger-than-life twins stood. "They are the happiest men," Penny told us. "Why do you think that would be? I'll tell you later!"

At the end of the tour, however, Michael and I realized we still had not heard the full story, so we questioned Penny on her own.

"As a parent, what do you most wish for your children?" she asked. Not being parents ourselves, we weren't sure what to answer. Penny told us the story of a rich king who came to the oracle, wondering whether he should engage in war with the Persians or not. The oracles response was, typically, up to interpretation. Unfortunately, the king made the wrong choice, started a war in which he lost all his riches and his kingdom - the things he had mistakenly believed brought him happiness - and found himself about to be burned to death by the Persian king.

Before this tragedy befell him, however, a very different event had taken place back home. In honor of their mother, the queen, a celebration was being held at the temple. Two oxen were supposed to draw the chariot seven miles to the temple, but the oxen were nowhere to be found. Wanting nothing more than to bring honor to their mother, the two twins of the famed statues took the place of the oxen and they themselves pulled the chariot to the festival. Upon their arrival they collapsed, exhausted but happy.

Their mother, pleased with her heroic sons, asked the gods to favor them for their deed. In the morning, the two young men were found dead, having peacefully passed on in their sleep.

"This," Penny continued. "Is as much as you can hope for: to die in peace, with no suffering, having done a great thing."

Finally, on the pyre about to be torched to death, the former king remembered his sons and the words of the oracle, and realized how mistaken he had been in his choices. On voicing his newfound realization to the Persian king, the Persian ruler ruler realized that here was a wise man indeed, and rather than killing him, offered him a position as his very own counselor.

So, in the end, he learned from his mistakes, and took responsibility for his errors. This, our guide told us, is what we can still learn from today. No matter what anyone may say, we are all responsible for our own actions, and within each of us is the ability to find our own happiness in the things that truly matter, and to make a wrong situation right.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Athens Aglow

The Greeks love the nightlife. Any day of the week, they can be seen strolling the streets, stopping in clubs, sipping drinks at sidewalk cafes, and heading out for dinner as late as midnight, with the entire family in tow. And Athens, at least in October, is the center of it all. In the islands I felt languid in the evenings, happy to dawdle over a slow-paced meal at a local taverna. In Athens, I felt energized, surrounded by hundreds out for a Sunday night on the town.

Michael and I wound our way through the ancient streets of the Plaka as dusk settled over the city. Without even trying, we found ourselves on top of Mars Hill, a glorious view of the Acropolis and the incredible urban sprawl of Athens at our feet. It was almost enough to take one's breath away.

After drinking in the view, we set off for a three course dinner on the move. First stop: gyros on the go. On traditional and one pork, along with a Coke 0 for Michael, for less than five euros. If only cheap, fast food in the U.S. could be so delicious!

Next up: gelato in the Psyrri district. Disappointingly, the gelato was not up to Italian standards. Plus, it cost more than our gyros! But we strolled the streets nearby as we ate every last lick, peering into clubs blasting house music from what looked like an English pub on the outside, to restaurant floors carpeted in carnation petals while the staff tidied up for the night, to ultra mod night spots where it was evidently still far to early, even on a Sunday, for a crowd to have gathered.

Wandering the back streets, I let Michael take charge, but not without first speculating, "Where are we going?" Instead of streets lined with stings of twinkling lights and crowded cafe tables, we were surrounded by dilapidated buildings dark alleyways.

But then, rounding a corner, we saw the perfect little bar for our final course - ouzo for Michael, campari for me. With orange walls and crazy lamps strung together out of bits of glass, old silverware, and curling scrap metal, we took our seats on tall stools at the open window. In the corner, a jazz band set up to play, and Athenians in their thirties gradually packed in the tiny spot while the DJ spun a variety of songs. We were, in fact, the only non-Greeks there. As the band played, we nodded in time with the music, drinking in the scene. You never know what you might find around a dark street corner.

We got back to our hotel around 10:45 - very early for an Athenian, but just about right for us. Monday would be a long day, full of more discoveries in the incomparable Athens.

Athens Ahoy!

After a relaxing ferry ride (note of advice: when riding Greek ferries, bring card games, books, and bakery treats from town to make the time pass quickly) on Sunday, we left the laid back islands behind for Athens. From the moment we stepped off the boat, it was clear we were is a different world. Far from shutting down for the season, the port of Piraeus was hopping with black market vendors, cab drivers soliciting the new arrivals, and swarms of dazed-looking tourists. We headed straight for the metro station. Hotel Tempi, where we would be staying for one night only before joining the Rick Steves' tour, was an easy, direct metro ride away on line one, and we were eager to get settled in.

But, as with many of our transportation experiences in Greece, it wasn't quite so simple. Point in case: for two days only, most of metro line one was closed. We arrived on one of those two days.

After checking the advice of a ticket counter clerk and a random man-on-the-street, we decided to hop the metro and take it three stops - the end of the line for the day. According to man-on-the-street, from there we could catch a bus to Monastiraki Square, a short walk from our hotel.

Things started off well. We managed to fit (but only just) on the bus heading into the center of town from the last metro stop. When I literally fell into the back door as the bus rounded a corner, I was kindly offered a chance to squeeze in to the one remaining seat in the back. Now all I had to do was keep an eye out for Monstiraki; how hard could that be?

Dang near impossible, it turns out. It finally dawned on me we must have overshot our mark, so I asked the woman sitting across from me on the now half-empty bus, "Pou ine Monastiraki?"

My Greek was apparently good enough to encourage the woman to discuss with me, and then another woman one seat up, in great detail about the location of this place in relation to the bus. Throughout the conversation, I could occasionally make out the word, "Monastiraki," but not another syllable. Fortunately, I did correctly deduce that we should get off at the next stop, which turned out to be about a mile down the road from where I'd first asked the fateful question. No doubt about it, we were far, far away.

But the fates were on our side! The next stop was conveniently located at an entrance for metro line two, and before long we were on a speeding underground train, emerging at Omonia Square, and walking down the pedestrian street to our hotel. Athens, here we come!

The Long and Winding Road

On Saturday, our last full day in the islands, we found ourselves with a full free day. Having spent the last couple of days on the very quiet island of Antiparos, we decided to explore a little further afield. After an early afternoon visit to Antiparos's famous cave (previously visited by Lord Byron, whose etched his name in the limestone, along with thousands of others, for posterity), we hopped on the ferry to Paros, only a quick ten minute jaunt across the water. From there you can catch the bus to the port town of Parikia.

Usually, the buses are scheduled to line up with the ferries, but at this point no bus was in sight. I checked out the schedule posted, and saw two distinct schedules listed side by side. Handily, the titles of these two schedules were written only in Greek, despite the fact that there was an English translation of everything else. To further confuse matters, the only difference between the two schedules was that one listed a bus departin at 13:25 - coincidentally the time of our arrival - and one did not. Hmm...

After waiting around for fifteen minutes, I grew impatient. No one else loitering around the stop was Greek, and they seemed to have complete faith that a bus would come. But me, I don't always like waiting. As usual, I decided I'd rather walk, and convinced Michael we should make a go for it.

"How far away is Parikia?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't know. But it can't be that far. It was what, maybe a fifteen minute bus ride?"

Thus we found ourselves walking along a road with no shoulder, clearly not meant for pedestrian traffic. But we had scarcely gone two minutes when a van pulled to a stop alongside us.

"Where are you going?" asked the driver. "Parikia? I can get you half way there."

We clambered aboard, joining the two other passengers, who, it turns out, were on their way to the Paros tennis club.

"It's the finals today. Romania against Croatia. Who are you for?"

When I paused to think, the driver encouraged, "Go for Romania!"

"He likes the Romanian best," the man sitting next me informed us.

"And you?" I asked. But it turned out our fellow riders were the referees for the match - no favorites allowed.

Before long we had reached the club, and waved good-bye to our Good Samaritan driver. Ahead of streched the long, winding, shoulder-free road. Thankful for the ride, we realized we would have had wuite a long walk had they not come along.

Almost an hour later, after much grumbling about dodging the traffic, not knowing where we were, tired feet, and hunger, we made it to the old town of Parikia around 3:00. Famished, we sat down at a waterfront bar for fantastic dolmades and souvlaki pitas. It's amazing what a good meal can do for one's mood.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Going Greek

Traveling off season in Greece can be a delight. For around 20 euros per night we ended up with a deluxe room in Antiparos complete with a large terrace overlooking the harbor. Not bad!

Of course, this is Greece, and luxury can have a different meaning here when away from the four star hotels and glitz of the high end resorts. In our bathroom, a sign kidly posts in Greek and English, "Do not put paper in the toilet". Instead, one should toss it in the garbage, so as to avoid clogging the plumbing. Our hotel proprietor, Vassilas, also made sure to let us know that we should not drink the tap water. And our shower is little more than a showerhead that hangs waist high on the wall next to the toilet. There is no curtain, only a small raised tile border to let you know where the theoretical shower walls would go. Of course, the spray covers almost the entire bathroom floor when showering, nevermind the tile border. But since the entire room is encased in tile, it doesn't seem to much matter.

The town of Antiparos itself is in process of shutting down for the winter. While the weather is still lovely, tourists are few at this point, and a walk through town finds entire streets devoid of any life other than the occasional cat. A select number of tavernas open in the evening for business. Last night we did dinner the Greek way, and headed to a place far off the waterfront that Gary had recommended. As we enjoyed our mezes of Greek salad, tsatziki, and saganaki, Vassilis and his wife came and took a table across the patio, and not too much later Gary and his Bulgarian girlfriend also stopped by for a leisurely meal. On the way back, we spotted Andy and Leonie, our diving buddies, at another bar. Here, in the course of one night out, we managed to run across every person we know on Antiparos without even trying.

It is nice when most of the people out and about are locals rather than tourists, though. Late this afternoon, we watched as the old men of the village made their way to the tables outside the cafe of the town square. Talking loudly and playing backgammon, this appeared to be the Friday night ritual. Or - who knows? - perhaps it's every night's ritual. The pace of life is slower here, and I could easily see the Greeks taking the time for a regular chat in the evenings.

In the mid-afternoon, all but a couple of small markets and waterfront restaurants are closed tight. It's siesta time (the Greek equivalent, at least). In the heat of summer, of which I've been fortunate enough not to experience personally, I'm sure this is a welcome respite from the overbearing sun. Everyone age two to ninety-two can be seen out after the sun goes down, as late as midnight and beyond.

We've adapted pretty well to the laid-back lifestyle, I'd say. After today's dives, we took in a slow lunch, showered, and ambled down the road for a walk around the northern tip of the island. Other than reading on our terrace and heading out for another two hour dinner, not much else is on the day's schedule. We are temporary Greeks; all we need is to learn how to play backgammon, and I think we're set.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Depths

"Can you make out that thin white line there on the shore?" our dive instructor asked.

We squinted across the waves while our boat rocked in the breeze. "Yeah, I think so."

"That's Tom Hanks' house," he told us.

"Really?" I was a little incredulous. But apparently Mr. Hanks had the house built last year, and the family spent seven weeks there this summer, including some time spent diving with his sons and your truly, our dive instructor, Gary, from Blue Island Divers, the only dive school on Antiparos. And it seemed that we were about to dive in one of the same spots the famous actor had tried.

It was our second stop of the day, between two tiny, rocky island between Antiparos and Paros, both uninhabited, but one with a tiny white chapel perched on the shore. Weddings have been held there, no doubt due to its impossibly scenic location, with the wedding party being transported by boat for the ceremony. While windy on the surface (typical for the Cycladic Islands), once submerged the water is calm and clear. How clear? I'd guess at least fifty feet, probably more. Even without the help of contact lenses or glasses, I was awed by the world of craggy orange rocks carpeted in delicate white and green seaweed, dotted with plush purple sponges, sea cucumbers, and the occasional urchin or seastar. We found a shy octopus at home in his tiny rock cave, doing his best to blend in with the scenery, and a moray eel peeked its small head out from its hole hesitantly as we swam our way around the island with the chapel. Small fish, including wrasse and pork fish, swam to and fro in the aquamarine sea.

It was Michael's and my first time diving together. The previous time we'd tried, about four years ago in Kauai, a cold had prevented him from doing anything more than snorkeling. This time, we both made it below, although I had a momentary panic attack when I first entered the water. I couldn't seem to get a good grip on the regulator with my mouth, I lost a fin, and my mask was taking in water. Back when I first learned to dive I found myself facing unexpected fears when it came to breathing underwater, and in a split second I felt those old fears come flooding back. But with a different pair of fins, kindly lent me by Leonie, our boat mate who was spending today's trip at the surface due to an especially sore back, and the realization that I simply needed to tighten my mask, my fears evaporated and I was floating down into the magical blue world below.

"Oh, yeah," I thought to myself. "This is why I like diving!"

"Maybe we should have done six dives," Michael told me when we were back at our apartment, washing up. I could tell he was enamoured, having had his first chance to dive in warm water.

I smiled. Six dives? Maybe. But right now I still have two more to look forward to tomorrow, and I can hardly wait.

Rebuilding the Ruins

After our eventful day arriving in Athens, we were extremely thankful to be "home" on Santorini and have a full say to explore. Taking the bus, we traveled from our hotel in the beach town of Perissa to Fira, perched on the cliffs high above the caldera. The present day island of Santorini is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, so violent that much of the former mountain collapsed into the sea, leaving behind the stunning crescent that is Santorini along with a few smaller islands, including the volcano itself in the center.

Fira is well known as tourist trap central, but the nice thing about being there in October is that the crowds have shrunk to a manageable level. Even as first-time visitors, we could tell that we had missed the usual crowds; while there were certainly many others out walking the winding streets and snapping photos of the fabulous view, street upon street of nearly deserted bars, restaurants, and hotels attested to the fact that this was a place geared for serious tourist traffic. We walked long and hard through the entire town, stopping for lunch at a place far from the town center for a sit down meal of delicious chicken souvlaki for only two euros apiece.

Our favorite town, however, was definitely the lovely Oia. While it, too, is a magnet for travelers, especially for the famous sunset view, Oia managed a charm that escaped the more commercialized Fira. Out on the ruins of a castle overlooking the tip of Santorini, we took in breathtaking views of Oia in the golden glow of the evening sun while the wind whipped around our heads.

By the time sunset was nearing, the entire western edge of town was lined with people hoping to catch a view of the famous sunset. Never have I seen so many professional-looking cameras in my life; many made my dear little Nikon D5000 SLR look like child's play. Tripods were set up upon the rocks, their owners desperately clinging to them to keep them from toppling in the violent gusts of wind. The people watching was just as entertaining as the sunset, if not more so.

Michael and I had other plans however, so we slipped out from the masses early, before the sun had finally sunk below the horizon. We headed straight for the restaurant 1800, a slow food place recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebook that sounded like just place for a romantic splurge out to celebrate our first "real" night in Greece.

The meal did not disappoint. Our beautiful servers and hostess graciously showed us to a table on the terrace, where we were soon greeted with an amuse bouche from the chef - a shot of Greek salad in a minuscule cup - pureed, creamy tomato topped with a dollop of smooth feta and olive oil. It was our first taste of the evening, and it boded well for the meal to come. An elegant take on the traditional Greek salad came next, with thin ribbons of cucumber mixed with sliced fennel, capers, cherry tomatoes, mild goat cheese, and a crisp pita for embellishment. Michael enjoyed tender pork with fig sauce, sweet pepper relish, and herbed canellini beans, while ordered the sea bass. It came with perfectly crispy skin topped with lemon "caviar": beads of light lemon aspic piled like caviar atop the fish, alongside tender cooked fennel and a puree of fava beans. Our wine, far from the Greek stereotype of sweet retsina, was an excellent accompaniment.

Tired and happy, we took the bus back to Perissa. The trip may have gotten off to a rough start, but things were definitely looking up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Our Trip in Ruins

Saturday night found me in bed, tossing and turning, convinced that I had forgotten something important regarding our impending trip. I had, in fact, recently discovered that the flight I had booked from Athens to Santorini was mistakenly for a morning, rather than an evening flight. The result? Nonrefundable tickets that could not be used. We decided rather than pay the exorbitant prices for a later ticket we would take the ferry. Everything seemed now to be under control, but I couldn't shake my paranoia.

Sunday, everything seemed to be going smoothly. We relaxed on the long flight to Amsterdam, and made an easy connection to Athens. From there, we caught the hour long bus that heads to the port of Piraeus. Tired and hungry, we disembarked at the port and headed to the closest travel agency to buy our tickets.

"There is no ferry to Santorini today," the agent informed me.

"What? But - but, I saw it online, there must be!"

"No, only at seven in the morning, and one now, at four. But it is too late."

Don't panic, I told myself. It wasn't quite four. Michael and I decided to make a run for it. We had only to cross the street to the dock, but there was no ferry to be seen. I stopped by the Blue Star Ferry office, hoping they had information the travel agent didn't.

"There is no ferry to Santorini today," the desk clerk at Blue Star said.

At this point, I began to cry. As I turned my face away, big tears rolled down my cheeks, and my countenance crumpled. Here we were in Piraeus, with a reservation that very night for a hotel on Santorini, and no way of getting there. And I had checked, double-checked, triple-checked the schedule online. How had I gone wrong?

"Hey, don't cry," Michael told me. "I could have done the same thing."

"But you didn't," I sobbed. "I don't see how I could make two such huge mistakes! First booking the wrong flight, now this!"

We took a moment to regroup. And before long we were back on the bus, heading back to airport, another hour spent in transit on top what was already a very long day. Despite the considerable expense, we booked a flight for 7:20 that very evening, and made it to Santorini without another hitch. In the end, we decided that it was better to get to our destination where we could relax and enjoy a full day to ourselves today, rather than spend the evening seeking out reasonable lodging in Piraeus or Athens, and spending nine hours on a ferry the following day.

When you travel, expect the unexpected. Ultimately, I am happy to be safe, healthy, and enjoying a beautiful warm day in Greece. Was I happy to pay almost $500 to get here? No, but that's way I plan a large emergency buffer into our travel budget. Up until now, I haven't really had to use it.

So, hello Greece! Our three weeks with you have only just begun, and we hope the best is yet to come. Stick around, I'm sure the adventure is just beginning.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monday Night Done Right

Michael took a bite and closed his eyes. "Mmmm," he groaned.

"You like it?"

"This is possibly the best burger ever," he enthused. Weighing in at half a pound of ground sirloin topped with bacon and English cheddar, this was, apparently, no ordinary burger. Michael does enjoy the occasional ground beef patty, but I'd never seen him react to a burger like this.

Not that I didn't appreciate the "wicked linguine" I'd ordered. Spicy and sassy, with just the right touch of creaminess without being over the top, I was more than pleased with my selection. Across from me, Lewissa reveled in a dish of penne n' cheese. Creamy and sharp with more of that English cheddar, it couldn't be beat - except, perhaps, by the mac n' cheese at the Frontier Room, which Lewissa assured me was even better.

We were enjoying a luxurious night out, complete with cocktails and chocolate ganache for dessert, but what made it even better was the price. Sunday and Monday evenings, the Seattle steakhouse El Gaucho, well known as restaurant where one can easily drop some serious cash, offers happy hour all night in the bar. With bar food that is definitely priced above the average joint, yet still a good deal more economical than the dinner menu, happy hour give you the opportunity to try it out for half price, along with $6 cocktails, $5 glasses of wine, or $3 beers.

And despite the fact that we were fine dining on the cheap, our waitress still treated us with a smile, always there when we needed her. What more could you ask of a Monday night? I can't think of a better way to start the week.

When Reality Sets In

Fall has come, and I find myself ill prepared. Yesterday evening found me shivering on the sidewalk in a skirt with bare legs and sandals, desperately waiting for the light to turn so I could cross to Target and the warmth of the indoors. But how was I to know? When I left to catch my morning bus, the skies had been reassuringly sunny. Heading to work with only a cardigan over my little black top seemed only natural.

Today I fear I'm out of excuses, although I could claim that the discovery, a mere fifteen minutes prior to departure, that my wallet was nowhere to be found threw me off my game. Just in time to catch the 41, I ran down the road with a pocket full of pennies for bus fare and still only a cardigan on my back. Thus it was that I spent this evening's commute running through the rain bareheaded from one bus route to the next, all of which were late; I guess we really don't know how to drive in the rain in Seattle. At least this time I was wearing pants.

By the time I arrived home tonight, the reality of the season had sunk in, and I could see endless dark, damp nights stretching ahead of me. The three bus commute can be a joy in summer, but the winter waiting is merciless.

But who am I to complain? Next week at this time I'll be in the Greek islands, where the weather report promises sun and temperatures in the mid-seventies, enabling me to blissfully ignore reality for one more month. I can hardly wait.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

Never have I made my own beer. Much as I like the stuff, I generally rely on the expertise of those Belgian and German brewers for my personal pints. After all, they've been brewing it for hundreds of years, so should know a thing or two by now, right?

For those who'd like to try U-Brew, there is, however, a simpler option than turning you're basement into a chemist's lab of questionable results. Gallagher's in Edmonds offers the ingredients, the equipment, and the expertise to guide you in making your own beer. While I haven't yet tried my own hand at this, Michael and some other guys made their own brew at Gallagher's for our friend Ian's bachelor party, and last night it was finally time to bottle. And, since the official "bachelor party" was over, my status as a woman was no longer a reason to keep my distance.

Ian had chosen a stout for his personal brew. The barkeep (for lack of a better term; what do you call the staff at a U-Brew shop?) poured us each a sample, and everyone's first comment was unanimous.

"It tastes like coffee!"

Yes, it tasted like coffee. Beer... it's what's for breakfast.

"My wife said if the beer tasted like coffee she'd drink it," Ian said. "I thought there wasn't much chance of that, but..."

Well, we'll see if this coffee-beer meets Karin's requirements. In the meantime, the six of us at the brewery had a lot of bottles to fill. After having run them through the sanitizer, having already discarded the bottles with "fuzz" growing inside (coffee flavored beer: good; mold flavored beer: bad), we took turns with one person filling bottles directly from the tap while another capped the filled bottles. In the end, we had more than 100 bottles, including several 22 ouncers and a growler full.

The beer made us hungry for pizza, so we headed to Romio's for dinner once our project was over. But no more beer. We'd had our fill for the moment. Of course, Michael and I now have 22 bottles of home-brewed stout in a box in our kitchen. Anyone up for a cold one?

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Dog Days of Summer Come to an End

As a native Oregonian, I was shocked to realize recently that it had been more than nine entire months since I had set foot in my home state. Nine months! I could have gone through an entire pregnancy from conception to childbirth in that amount of time (please note I said could have; this in no way a reflection on what actually happened during the previous nine months)!

Fortunately, last weekend remedied this situation, as Michael, Lucy, and I drove to my parents' home late Friday night. Saturday was spent with my parents, dining (I use the word here with just a touch of the facetious) at Sheridan's lone Chinese restaurant - home of Michael's favorite General Tso's chicken, hiking out to the point of Cape Lookout on the coast for some fabulous views and woodland scenery, and letting the dogs loose on the beach, where a piece of kelp stood in quite nicely for a stick for Lucy to chase.

We had picked this last weekend of the summer for our trip as a wedding reception was held on Sunday for my cousin, Noah. The wedding had been in Mississippi, and the reception was a casual one, although the setting, in a beautifully landscaped home garden outside of Newberg, and the weather were gorgeous. The casual atmosphere was apparantly a good match for Noah - well, actually, even this setting was more formal than Noah's wedding attire, which he dutifully wore to the reception. While Rosalie, his bride, wore a lovely, simple white wedding gown, Noah had on a pair of dungarees, a striped Hickory shirt, and red lumberjack suspenders. I'm not sure how he convinced Roaslie that dressing like a logger was the way to go for the ceremony; perhaps the folks in Mississippi figured that this must just be how us Oregonians get gussied up. But hey, at least the clothes were clean.

We were on our way to Seattle following the reception, sadly with one of our family left behind. Lucy will spend the next month and a half as a farm dog with my parents, who have offered to dogsit while Michael and I vacation in Greece. But now that we're back home and still have almost two weeks until our trip, the house feels strangely lonely without our beloved pup. Nuisance though she may be at times, it is comforting to come home to someone who's always excited to see you, always eager to snuggle up next to you on the sofa, and who sleeps only an arm's distance away next to my bed each night.

But I have the feeling the next two weeks will be busy enough that we won't have too much of a chance to miss her. And when we get back, Lucy will be an bonafide Oregonian herself, fully integrated into her country dog ways. But don't worry, I'm sure she'll miss her Seattle sofa, at least a little bit.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dog Trick

When a picture is worth a thousand words:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Falling for You

Yesterday, I was down. Work, the weather, a dull dinner of tuna melts on the menu (not to dis tuna melts - after all, it's cheese that puts the "melt" in them); I felt a vague dissatisfaction, not to mention a little restless. The fact is, this is the fourth night in a row I have spent at home doing nothing in particular, and it wears on me.

But! (Yes, there is a but!) This evening left me feeling right as rain, which is an admittedly odd turn of phrase considering the fact that the sun has reappeared has not a little to do with my change of heart. After work, the Lake City farmer's market was abuzz with people out enjoying the golden glow of an Indian summer. Unexpectedly, I happened upon Dimitris, our former Fred Meyer fishmonger. Years ago I told him of my dream to some day go to Greece (his home country), and now that I'm heading there in less than three weeks, I lamented the fact that I wouldn't be able to tell him. And there he was at the market! Coincidence?

The "seconds" at my favorite tomato stand had the perfect heirloom specimens for tonight's pizza, and after getting such a good deal, I was inspired to pick up a hunk of Mount Townsend cheese and a loaf of rustic Italian bread to take to my parents this weekend. Heading to the car, I ran across another friend, out enjoying the park with her kids. The Lake City Market, being adjacent to a small park and offering homemade ice cream, crepes, and Czech pastries, is a popular spot for families.

Arriving home, I found Michael parked on a blanket in the front lawn, taking a break from studying in a valient attempt to keep Lucy from lunging straight for me. In the mind of our dog, seeing someone in an surprising situation is cause to bring out the crazy. This was no exception.

With Lucy safely back inside the house, I joined Michael on the lawn to see what the mail had brought. Michael's passport! A belated birthday card! A Pottery Barn catalog! OK, so that last one just went in the recycling, but still. I then dumped out the "goodies" I'd brought for Michael from work - new moneybelts, Greece guidebooks, and other trip related swag.

Heck, even hanging out the laundry felt good. I pulled down a load of freshly dry whites, so different from the still-damp jeans I'd come home to last night, and reloaded the lines with the next batch. Mmm, clean laundry!

And here I am, still home, and not going to the John Vanderslice concert tonight after all. But I'm OK with it. Maybe all I needed was a little bit more summer to help ease me into fall.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Sunday Scramble

In this modern life, it is inevitable that schedules must sometimes collide. Michael and I had grown spoiled and accustomed to his having weekends off over that past several months, so much so that I took it for granted that our weekend plans were set - until last Tuesday night, when it suddenly dawned on us that he was scheduled to work twelve hour shifts on both the following Saturday and Sunday.

"You can't!" I cried. "The Pink Martini concert is Saturday, and we've had those tickets for months!"

A last minute decision to work a twelve, rather than eight, hour shift on Wednesday gave Michael the freedom to leave work in time for Saturday's concert (although this turned out to be unnecessary since he stayed home sick on Saturday - yes, sick again - still sick, in fact, although he made it to the concert and to work for the past couple of days). Sunday was another story. Just because Michael was at the VA for the day didn't mean my plans were in any way altered. Well, except for the fact that I needed the car. For the first time, I rose at 6:30 on a Sunday morning so I could drive Michael in to work and keep the car to myself for the day. For a Sunday, that's early. Very early.

Somehow Sunday had morphed into a day crowded with church-related events. I'd planned a hike for the "young adults" in the afternoon, it was the first day of Sunday School for the year, someone else had planned a walk at Volunteer Park, there was a meeting for Elizabeth Gregory home, a fundraising dinner for Elizabeth Gregory home, and I was counting the offering money with Erv. Not that all of these events affected me, mind you, but it seemed everyone in the congregation was busy in some way or another. Hey, at least the church felt alive, right?

Well, I'd planned the hike, so I was going hiking, no matter what. Four others crowded into my Pontiac Vibe, with Lucy huddled in the very back, and we headed out of town for Little Si. Not nearly as famous (or infamous) as Mount Si itself, Little Si offers a more gentle hiking option within 45 minutes of the city. Sure, there are some switchbacks and rugged, rocky steps and serpentine roots to navigate, but there is also a long, lovely level stretch through the woods, surrounded by alders and firs, ferns and snowberry bushes. After a final climb, we were rewarded with views across the valley, including a less-than-awe-inspiring peek at Issaquah's suburban sprawl, and a shady place on the rocks to relax over lunch. Out of all of us, Lucy seemed the least relaxed, having wedged herself into a fissure in the rock that was perhaps a little too tight for comfort.

Back at the trailhead we were happy and a little weary, and more than a little dirty. Two of us were attending the Elizabeth Gregory benefit dinner that evening at Portage Bay Cafe in South Lake Union, and time was running short. I pulled into the ULC parking lot around ten after five, sped home, fed the dog, took a shower, got dressed, and made it to the cafe promptly at six. Truly, that was miraculous timing. I also discovered the benefits of rolling down the windows to dry one's hair while cruising down Lake City Way. God bless multi-tasking!

Dinner seating was family style, with a wonderful buffet of salad, roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, and stuffed chicken breasts. My friend Stephanie joined me as my guest to take Michael's place, although I'm afraid I lost her for a while when another friend, David, and I started up a conversation about rowing, inspired by the racing shell hanging from the Cafe's ceiling.

The best thing about the dinner, however, aside from great food and company, was the fact that every single cent from the very reasonable ticket price of $30 per person is going to Elizabeth Gregory Home. This is the women's transitional housing shelter instigated and brought to fruition through our church, a shelter that has now been helping women in need for three years. The fact that the owners of Portage Bay Cafe were willing to donate this entire meal to the cause, and provide us with a wonderful community night out while doing it was inspiring.

After dinner, I headed back to the VA to pick up Michael after his shift. Tired and coughing, he was eager to be home, sipping a tall mug of tea before bed. I felt a twinge of guilt at having been the one to get the long end of the stick, so to speak. Even if I had to rise at 6:30, going hiking on a sunny day and feasting with friends can hardly be considered hardships, while working at the VA... well, that's another story entirely. The man deserved a back scratch, and after he'd had his tea, I was happy to oblige.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the Pink

On Labor Day weekend it appeared that fall had arrived with a vengeance. No sooner had we noticed that the leaves were beginning to turn a suspicious shade of yellow than we were suddenly whipped by angry winds and accosted by weather that went from party sunny to completely rainy in 60 seconds. Thankfully, this weekend summer came back for a final showing, which worked perfectly for us, as last night was the long-awaited Pink Martini show at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.

The Chateau does a concert series every summer, although I'd never been before. After encountering the stop and go single lane traffic jam to get to the event and carrying our cooler from where we parked half a mile down the road (at least we managed to avoid the $10 parking lots), I began to see the wisdom in avoiding the scene. After spending fifteen minutes roaming among the picnickers spread out across the grass, searching for our friends Heather and Satoshi, I questioned further the fact that I had left our cell phone in the car... now half a mile away.

But finally Heather spotted me and flagged me down, and the four of us, including Michael, set up our picnic far from the stage, but with plenty of room to take off our shoes and wiggle our toes. Out came antipasto pasta salad, pesto foccacia, deviled eggs, and Jones soda, with almond cookies and Lu biscuits for dessert. This being a winery, I was happy to take advantage of a bottle of red for $13, an unheard of price at any other local events or restaurants, which I found went especially well with Lu biscuits. Who knew?

As for the music, when China Forbes' voice rang out across the amphitheater clear and pure, Michael simply turned to me and said, "They're good!"

Well, yeah. That's why we came, after all. This being Michael's first live Pink Martini show, I guess he didn't realize the caliber of musicianship he was in for. The band played through old songs and new, and by the final song, Brazil, many in the audience were up and dancing. I was, too. And the fact that we were able to drive home from our parking spot and avoid all the bad traffic? That was just icing on the cake.