Why I love Seattle

Back in the 206, what what! Seattle. My beautiful, funky city. I adore you! Yes, I admit up front I am biased. I am a native fourth-generation Seattleite, born and raised here, but have been essentially absent for the past twelve years. Since moving back six weeks ago I have been getting reacquainted with the city, seeing the changes and what has stayed the same, loving her ever more for both. I am head over heels and here are a few reasons why:

1) Funky grown-up Seattle. I left Seattle when I was 18 so never experienced any city nightlife. But on this trip that has changed dramatically. One of my top priorities is to get to know this side of the city, and it is fantastic. I flit around the city every day/night discovering something new and fun. There’s the weird, the curious, the fun, the delicious. It is alternative, enough to fascinate but not so much to alienate. Bars have heaps of personality. Clown pinball, mythical creatures, chill loveliness, barrels of fun. Speakeasies are apparently a thing, and I love buzzing in to a virtually unmarked door into a warm room with a vintage vibe and great booze. Knee High Stocking Company and Bathtub Gin & Co (ask for a dealer’s choice with a flip!) are two favorites. There’s music of all types either in concert form (Seattle Rock Orchestra!) or in bars on theme nights that race the gamut. So many different sounds and weird art, I want to bar hop every day just to hear/see them all. Art and performance is fabulously funky. I love the crazy themed video mash-up Collide-O-Scope at Re-Bar and can’t wait to check out Dina Martina‘s holiday drag show there too. Cherry on top is the burlesque scene. I went to a two-night only burlesque show called The Naked Show (From the Stranger: “Are you irked by the few clothes that remain on the bodies of burlesque performers throughout the show?…”) and it blew. my. mind. Ask me in person for stories. 😉 Need to get my butt over to the Pink Door after dark…

Knee High Stocking Company on Capitol Hill, which serves the aptly named “Cup of Awesome”.
Photo from seattletimes.com.

Celebrating the repeal of prohibition at Zig Zag Cafe.

2) Logistical ease. Compared to living in San Francisco, Seattle logistics are a DREAM. Nowhere is too far away (max 30 minutes), there’s plentiful parking (often free), and drinks/tickets/going out is comparatively cheap. Seattle’s fanciest cocktail will run you $10; I’d call $14 normal for SF. Throw in a happy hour (which many bars do on weekends too), and I feel like going out in Seattle is a steal. Other people laugh at me when I say this, but for what Seattle offers it really is quite a reasonable city.

3) Seattle fashion. It’s so grungy, colorless, alternative, dear to my eyes. It general we’re casual: I admit, here I wear pajama bottoms and leggings out in public far more than I really should. Now I understand where my historical fear of color came from; the grey-black-khaki color scheme is alive and well in Seattle. Two years ago I made a personal resolution to embrace brightness and haven’t looked back. Here in Seattle, I’m now on a crusade for COLOR, bright from the toenails on up. It may be ultimately futile, but wearing a hot purple dress with neon tights does make me stand out in a bar amid all the grey hoodies. And the outerwear… I remember arriving in Boston for my freshman year in college and being surprised that mountaineering outerwear isn’t actually the norm in other parts of the country. But here in Seattle, I get tons of compliments on my magenta North Face micropuff jacket, it’s ridiculous!

Breaking out the caboodles to create some stylishly colorful accessories. Cousins may recognize these from my grandma’s Kennewick bead shop back in the 1990s.

4) Natural beauty. The Pacific Northwest is a gorgeous setting. The mountains, lakes, sky, evergreens, Puget Sound… they surround Seattle in a picturesque embrace. Everywhere you look–when the sky is clear–there is beauty. And it’s all shockingly close by. Day trips from the city to the peninsula or mountains are easy. Under an hour to Snoqualamie Falls, 90 minutes to Mt. Rainier or the Cascades.

View from the top of Crystal Mountain.

Snoqualmie Falls. Photo courtesy of JD Andersen.

View of Lake Washington and the Cascades from my mom’s hot tub. Something I take advantage of often.
Tea over Lake Cle Elum at my family’s cabin in Ronald, WA. Less than 90 minutes from Seattle, it’s incredibly easy to escape to the mountains. (Notice the stylin’ jacket?)

5) General happiness. If you believe depression rules Seattle, I think you’re wrong. Yes, light boxes are a thing, but people here wouldn’t put up with the grey if they didn’t adore the Pacific Northwest. Natives stick around and Microsoft transplants soon fall in love with this place and stay even after they escape Redmond. People appreciate the city’s beauty, culture, and quality of life; residents are genuinely happy to be here.

6) Nostalgia. The Seattle of my childhood bubbles up as part of the landscape, a familiar brand, a landmark, a comment. I love driving past downtown and seeing the Edgar Martinez Drive exit leading to Safeco Field. Yeah, I still have a childhood t-shirt of his jersey in my dresser. Not to mention Dave Niehaus Way! I picked up a job as an elevator operator at the Space Needle, where my family used to always go at the end of the summer to celebrate going back to school. The Stranger’s dating personals (no, I’m not on them so don’t go looking) ask for your route of choice: are you I-5 or Aurora? At the Seattle Rock Orchestra Pink Floyd show, a singer reminisced about going to the Pacific Science Center for the Floyd laser shows as a teenager. I cheered to share that memory. Moments like that happen to me every day. No place else can the natural history of my early life come back to visit me and give me such joy. For me, there’s only Seattle.

EDDDDDD-Grrrrrrrrrrrr!

7) Casual quality. The Seattle food/drink scene is good. And you can enjoy it in your grungiest grey hoodie! Beyond just edibles, I feel so much of Seattle follows this mantra as well. Quality can come without pretension.

Freemont Food Truck Rodeo!

8) Neighborhoods. Seattle is divided into neighborhoods with their own centers, and each have a distinct flavor. One of the first things I asked when I arrived was where are the cool places? I was shocked to hear of the ride of two neighborhoods during my absence–Ballard and Georgetown. What? How is Ballard a thing now? And Georgetown I hadn’t even heard of before, but is apparently the land of warehouses filled with beer! Since then I’ve hung out significantly in both, plus Rainier Beach, West Seattle, Capital Hill, Freemont, Belltown, U District and of course my home base: the ghetto LC! Ah Lake City, home sweet home, land of the far north (yet still in Seattle proper) gloriously filled with strip joints and used car dealerships. Still lacking in sidewalks, but I’m just going to say, we do have a Dick’s. Take that West Seattle. 😛

9) The people. I love that for the first time in twelve years my whole immediate family lives less than two minutes away from each other. Laura and I have impromptu beers and hot tub dates often and it is awesome. Every week there’s a Seahawks viewing party at my dad’s with a growler of Lucile IPA from the Georgetown Brewery. I live with my mom and stepdad so enjoy their company often. I love Seattle burners and that a solid chunk of my camp is based here; it’s a community I am delighted to explore more. I love old friends and new, who I have been lucky to get to know better as they introduce me to their favorite hip Seattle haunts. And perhaps share Trekkie or Lord of the Rings or zombie geekery with me. 😉 Adore.

Mermaids in the menagerie catastrophe at SeaCompression 2013.

Impromptu home hair cut adjustment (with beer!) from Laura. 

Halloween with my beloved Seattle Sacred Cows at Casa Marsh-Posh.

Cheers! Beer with my awesome dad and sister at the Brick–the longest continuously running saloon in the state, complete with a running-water brass spittoon trough along the bar–in Roslyn, WA.

And I’ve just scratched the surface. The dangerous secret about my Seattle experience is that I might want to stay here…

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Central America trip CliffsNotes

As I meet people now who are curious about my adventures in Central America, I want to share this blog with them but my prolific 100+ entries from the trip are a daunting pile to sift through. So to help I have put together a collection of entries that to me represent the essential narrative, the most important/meaningful/highlight moments of my trip. It’s not the whole story, but they are my favorites. It’s still a good chunk of reading (it was a crazy six months ok? There are a lot of stories!), but hopefully it is more a digestible guided tour. Enjoy!

Let’s get this fun in the sun started!

Origins story
Safety concerns for a solo woman traveler
What’s in my backpack
Mexico: Day 1, arrival in Merida
Mexico: My first cenote, the beginning of a water love story
Mexico: Tulum ruins
Mexico: Tulum cenotes
Mexico: San Crisobal de las Casas
Guatemala: Border crossing and arrival
Guatemala: Hiking Santa Maria volcano
Guatemala: Colored chicks, the first sign of Semana Santa
Guatemala: Lake Atitlan
Guatemala: Bugs
Guatemala: Chichi market
Guatemala: On traveling solo
Guatemala: Semana Santa in Antigua
Guatemala: Alfombras
Guatemala: Semuc Champey
Belize: I decide to get SCUBA certified
Belize: Open Water course, day 1
Belize: Open Water course, days 2 and 3
Belize: Caye Caulker, sunset at the split
Belize: Cat calls and drug dealers
Belize: Erin’s Caye Caulker food manifesto
Belize: Just say yes
Belize: Crystal Cave
Belize: Iguana photo shoot
Belize: I heart stew chicken
Honduras: Epic transit to the Bay Islands
Honduras: Roatan
Honduras: Deciding to extend the trip
Honduras: Settling in to Utila
Honduras: Advanced Open Water
Honduras: Le sigh roommates
Honduras: Makeshift rum cake
Honduras: Rescue Diver
Honduras: Falling in love with Utila
Honduras: Perpetual illness
Honduras: Snorkel vanity shots
Honduras: Stability in Utila
Honduras: Thunderstorms
Honduras: A birthday party
Honduras: Photo dive
Honduras: Nico’s 100th dive day
Honduras: Last Utila dive
Honduras: Leaving Utila
Nicaragua: Erin gets a travel buddy
Nicaragua: Lady at a cock fight
Nicaragua: The Fourth of July
Nicaragua: Granada
Belize: Epic three-day transit to Long Caye
Belize: The Blue Hole
Mexico: Diving cenotes
Mexico: Swimming with whale sharks
Mexico: Isla Mujeres
Utila throwback
Erin’s top 5 Central American hostels
Gratitude

Seattle, a preemptive love note

Rainier Brewery “R” back in action!!
Image credit seattletimes.com

Seattle Seattle Seattle… my home town. I moved back 24 hours ago and I already know these next few months are going to be a love story between you and me. I rolled into town last night and screamed aloud all by myself in the car when I saw the old Rainier Brewery “R” back up over the Seattle skyline. I’ve resisted spending extended periods of time in Seattle for years because I’m afraid I’ll adore it too much and not want to leave, and there are still so many other places for me to experience. Already I love being here. Think I might stay for a while. 😉 I’m am thrilled to be spending this time connecting with my parents, sisters, old friends, and new ones. I haven’t lived here since I was in high school so have no knowledge of current Seattle or how to hang/live here as a grown up. (Apparently Ballard is the up and coming happening place to be; when the hell did that happen?!?) Cannot wait to explore. Emerald City, show me what you got!

Leaving no trace? Yeah, about that…

I’ve become more absentminded. Or at least I have more opportunities for things slipping my mind. Namely forgetting *things* behind at various friends’ houses where I’m staying. Leave no trace? 
When traveling in hostels I had a packing system followed more strictly and there was also a defined space I could call my own. Picking everything up isn’t too difficult; it’s easy to identify what is yours. Staying in other people’s homes though I find certain items of mine blending into the normalcy of their things: face wash left in the shower, an umbrella hung next to the front door, a computer charged plug into a power strip. My Aunt Peg used to say when I’d leave things behind at her house in Rhode Island that it just meant that I was coming back. I always liked that thought, but wish my stupid slip-ups weren’t happening!

I’m starting to look forward to Seattle and being in one place–one bed–for longer than just a few nights. It will be nice to settle into my own room and unpack.

Memories of falling for New York food

Food is a critical part of travel for me. When I go someplace, I want to know, what is the canonical flavor I should be trying? I have visited New York City over a dozen times over the past twenty years and each trip has had a food element that stuck in my memory.

The first time it was 1995 and I was twelve, traveling with my father and sisters. I was overwhelmed. The city felt big, dirty, loud, scary, and unfamiliar. Our hosts Mario and Judy fed us girls New York bagels for the first time and whipped cream cheese, which rocked my world. A planetarium show at the Museum of Natural History narrated by Tom Hanks simulated the explosion of the sun and destruction of all earth life, scaring me so much I walked out and huddled in the gift shop reading comic books until it was over. We saw Cats on Broadway, also a little terrifying. We went to church on Sunday at a Baptist church in Harlem. The gospel music so different from my familiar Episcopal hymn repertoire. My little sister Jill lost a tooth in the middle of the service and was fussed over by a cluster of very maternal big black women. I felt so very out of place the entire morning. Afterward we brunched on soul food at Sylvia’s, an experience I’m sure I would insanely dig now, but back then I didn’t know how to deal with such new flavors and atmosphere.

Our hostess Judy was emphatic that we must try *the best* butter cookies in New York; I think they were flakey little mini palmiers. She drove us into the city (we were staying across the river in Summit, NJ) to pick them up from the one particular bakery she loved. I remember my wave of terror as she plowed through New York City traffic and did a u-turn in the middle of a busy intersection, all of us crammed in the back seat, to pull up outside the bakery and dash inside to pick up our special order. She returned triumphant with a big white cardboard cake box filled with delicate butter cookies, more than we could ever dream to eat.

Subsequent trips have had their moments as well. On my second trip, a spring break retreat in 2002 during my first year at Wellesley to my roommate Wendy’s home on Long Island, she and I day tripped into the city for a visit to the Museum of Natural History. For dinner, we were surrounded by bad options and I acquiesced to her hunger so ate at her choice: Uno’s. I went along with the whims of my hostess peaceably but (sorry, Wendy, throwing you under the bus here!) thought “I did not come to New York to eat at Uno’s!! I can eat Uno’s back in Boston, and even then don’t really want to…”. I’m pretty sure we had mediocre Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I vowed never again.

See on of these? Order a cappuccino.
Image via http://www.afranko.net/

I fell in love with New York on my third trip in the summer of 2002. It helped that I was already feeling blissful, traveling with a hunky boy I was head over heels for. We stayed in midtown near Times Square, arriving to our hotel after a mad dash through the rain from Penn Station, laughing and splashing wildly through puddles as we ran down the street on a warm summer night. We had a basic uninspired Italian pasta dinner that first night but finished with the best cappuccino ever per his advice. To this day, whenever I see a Brevetti Gaggia cappuccino machine–burnished bronze crowned by a golden eagle–I cannot resist.

The New York visits kept coming throughout my remaining college years and thereafter. Kati rolls at 4am guarded by a bouncer. Sim teaching me her back-in-the-day drink progression from cosmos to a Bailey’s nightcap. 😉 Instructions from a Jersey Shore boy on how to properly fold pizza (which I still never do) and keys to ordering a good sub sandwich (changed my life and I still follow; among other points, as sandwiches are serious business no joke, never forget to ask for salt pepper oil and vinegar). Chocolate truffles in Brooklyn. Hangover dim sum brunch in Chinatown after the funnest wedding ever. Fried pickles in Long Island City. Bagels with scallion cream cheese everywhere. The buttery smell of caramelized onions and sickly-sweet honey roasted nuts that permeate the streets. On one of these trips I made the fatefully brilliant decision to try a bialy, my now breakfast/snack bread of choice. Mmm…

This New York trip shall be no different. In fact, it shall be more epic of a food adventure than before! Stay tuned.

Clearing out of SF

The last two weeks in San Francisco have had truly brilliant elements of fun. Between Nick’s visit, staying with super generous and welcoming friends (Sim, GT, Hil, Austin, Maggie, Aaron, Ben–love and gratitude to you all!), Wellesley min-reunions, birthday parties, and other socializing it’s been wonderful to reconnect with the people here that I love. xoxo ❤

But the biggest reason for me being in San Francisco right now is to move out. I’ve spent days sorting and purging the contents of my storage locker. It contains nearly everything I own and I need to edit it down at least 70% so I can drive the stuff that really matters up to Seattle to store there. I’ve squeezed some money out of selling books/household items (hit my sales target!) and made disappointingly very little money via used clothing (such a waste of time to even try). Each time I make a sale, I think “this will buy me x beers in Australia!”. It’s exhausting, but I try to stay optimistic because I have so few other ways to make money. The other day, after a few hours of storage work, I plunked myself down and thought “whew, what is this horrific feeling? Oh my god, I’m fatigued because I’ve working! This sucks…”

San Francisco has been my home, but it’s time to get the hell out.

My work cut out for me.

More homeless every day

When traveling you are constantly asked “where are you from?”. It’s practically the second half of saying hello. While in Central America, I gave two answers to this question. One: simply San Francisco. This was what I said when I didn’t want to go into detail. Everyone then automatically gushes about how they LOVE San Francisco, either having visited or sooo wanting to. Easy conversation. Two: I’m from Seattle, previously out of San Francisco, with unknown home when I return. This answer usually got a little more into the story of my life, but I feel is ultimately more true. 
At the beginning of August, I spent two weeks in SF upon my Glorious Return to America bopping around between Music@Menlo and friends, all people who know me. No one was asking where I was from, just where I was going. 
My second stop on the GRtA was Seattle where I met up with my Burning Man campmates before road tripping with them down to Nevada in our beloved art bus, the Hajj, for the burn. I didn’t know everyone in our group, so found myself being asked the usual get-to-know-you question: “where are you from?”. Suddenly surrounded by current Seattleites, I was struck that I didn’t feel I could say Seattle to them. They lived there, I didn’t. And San Francisco felt wrong too, as I had more than one foot out the door there and doubt I will return permanently. I realized that I’m technically homeless, with nothing but my car to really call my own space anymore. It’s both liberating and slightly embarrassing.
I stayed in Seattle just long enough to officially change my address to Washington State (thanks Mom!), so I do have a home at least according to the USPS. 

Yesterday I left Seattle bound for southern California. My plan was to do the drive solo in three days, stopping for to sleep at Crater Lake for night one. But the turn off from I-5 wasn’t marked–or I missed it–so I just kept driving south. Unsure about where I would sleep, I pulled off at a rest stop for a nap at 11pm, which then turned into sleeping in my car the whole night technically on the side of the highway in the driver’s seat wrapped in a fleece blanket. I think I forgot to brush my teeth. Is this freedom, or am I turning more and more into the bum that I joke about being? One thing is for sure–it’s definitely trampy.