A Christmas Story

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and I was spreading the holiday spirit on the evening elevator shift at the Space Needle. Guests were in their sparkliest holiday finery and brimming with cheer. The holiday sound track played “…’cause Santa Claus comes tonight” and for once it was true. Two of my friends came by for a Christmas Eve date night. A little girl on the Observation deck gifted me a bag of chocolates, giggled, then ran away.

I have a lot of fun entertaining and chatting with guests in the elevator. I have so much Seattle-joy and silliness to share that sometimes it overflows even my normal enthusiasm. On one ride down that night, I gave my standard “if anyone has any questions…” prompt, but when no one spoke up I shared my guilty pleasure: singing in the elevator when no one else is there (great acoustics and way cooler than singing in the shower!) and threatened to break into Christmas carols. People called me on it then listened as I sang a solo verse:

There’s no place like home for the holidays
No matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways
For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home!

“Seattle is my home, I’m so happy to be here and I hope you are too! Thank you all for coming to the Space Needle tonight and Merry Christmas!!” I’ll be here all week. I was tickled and flushed and oh so happy. My final ride of the night I made the same threat, then a woman said “why don’t we all sing?” and led us in a glorious chorus of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, ending just as we touched down. Best shift ever.

All decked out for Seattle Santarchy 2013. Photo by IRDeep, http://facebook.com/irdeep

I celebrated Christmas day at my mother’s house with family. My sister’s boyfriend Dave joined us for his very first ever Christmas; we tried to ease him into it but instead accidentally threw him in the deep end, discussing religion and making him pass out all the presents. 😛 I am usually a rather prolific and joyful gift giver, but it was nice to tone down gifts financially a bit this year and just enjoy the holiday and each other’s company. We ate beautifully the whole day, beginning with a champagne brunch, nibbly cheese/crackers/veggie/salmon lunch, and a steak dinner at my mother’s lovely table. We were visited by my stepsister and her husband at lunch and then my grandma for dinner, after which we played trivia games and listened to folk music (anyone with a Boston connection needs to memorize “Charlie on the MTA” immediately, btw). A chill and happy Christmas indeed.

Me and my sister Laura taking in a midday Christmas hot tub. Photo credit: my mom! 😛

“The Space Needle is 605 feet tall
and was built back in 1962…”
Photo courtesy of JD Andersen.

Boxing Day. A day of detox, filled to the brim with awesomeness. It started with a morning at the Museum of Flight with my “travel buddy” JD. It was a super cool museum! We saw planes of all types, astronaut admin and gear, moon rovers (that must make it to the burn!), Space Needle memorabilia, Blue Origin’s Charon, so much more, and walked through the fake Space Shuttle used for training and the Air Force One that took Nixon to China. Extra baller to experience it all with someone who has the perspective of being in the space industry.

Keeping the fun going, we continued to the old Rainier Brewery for a surprise spa day. As I lay there being massaged and feeling crazy spoiled, I struggled to bring my mind to peace. My thoughts kept wandering, even as I wrangled them back to the present. Partway through, I realized that there was direction to many of my thoughts: I kept being led back by multiple threads to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. I released my mind and let myself go back there, that place where I met so many, felt so relaxed and free, at such a critical junction in my growth last year. After a bit of extra basking in post-massage glow (I love how aware you feel of your body after; it always makes me want to move with intention and creativity), we capped it all off with happy hour sushi. Thank you JD for a lovely day!

After dinner, I headed to a viewing of “The Room” at Central Cinema (loved!) down in my old hood. Known as the Citizen Cain of bad movies and a cult favorite, it was all new to me but sure to be a blast. Beforehand, I almost died laughing en route to the theater as my friend Shaun made it rain Jeffersons all over the street. (That’s 10% of a high school cuddle right there! And I don’t even care because I’m an ADULT!) The movie did not disappoint and was insane with audience chanting, a crazy nonsensical “plot”, curry popcorn, throwing plastic spoons at the screen, and the most stilted dialog every uttered by human beings. The scene below was replayed for us five times in the theater so we could absorb all the nuances. Shaun, you only take me the classiest places.

After the faerie dust of Christmas settled, I couldn’t help but remember how difficult my life was one year ago at this time. The morning of the 27th, I snuggled into my bed, feeling reflective, surrounded myself with pillows, and dug out my journal from November 2012 to February 2013. My writings from that time are a swirl of anguish. Ben and I were in an on-going spiral of agony where I was filled with pain and confusion and fear, I had just left a job I loved, it was the one-year anniversary of my Grandmother’s death, the future was uncertain (I didn’t even know what continent I was going to travel to); tension was everywhere.

This year, instead I feel so happy to be here and now, connected to so many incredible people, having so much fun, reaching out to friends and loved ones who touch my life in wonderful ways. Thank you to everyone who made this Christmas and past year so special.

All my love and wishes for a wonderful 2014 to you all,
Erin

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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…

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!

Walking the High Line

If you’re in search of a good New York City walk, check out the High Line! It runs along the west side of Manhattan from about 13th to 30th on an old railway platform now converted into a rambling park. I started at the southern tip at 13th and walked north to 23rd. Even on an overcast October day it was a delightful walk amidst the city buildings.
Enter the park up through old train station entrance points.

Elements of the old rails are woven into the paths, benches, guardrails, and landscaping. The old raised train track weaves through buildings, offering peek-a-boo views of the river and the NYC skyline. At 3pm on a Wednesday, it was busy… I can only imagine how crowded it might be on the weekends! Wild flowers bloom, trees surround, different spaces are available for resting. It’s a remarkably varied narrow park.

The are vendors of (what I consider) expensive food, drinks, and souvenirs periodically along the walk. Just as I was lamenting the lack of free public water, I found a single drinking fountain. Come on park designers, you can do better than that! After a bit, I found myself a nice spot to sit and catch up on some blogging. 
A travel blogger in her simultaneously always-and-never natural habitat.

I’ll have what’s she’s having… that’d be a Katz’s pastrami sandwich

I don’t remember how it happened, but somehow Katz’s Delicatessen popped up on my foodie radar early as a reputed ‘best pastrami’ in New York City. They are listed on just about every applicable best of NYC list, in business since 1888 it is an institution. It’s also the site of Meg Ryan’s orgasmic meal in “When Harry Met Sally”. The inside is a bustling self-serve cafe filled to the brim with gorgeous sandwiches, pickles, and other NYC deli favorites.
A slow late lunch hour at Katz’s.
When you enter the restaurant, they give you a little ticket that becomes your bill, then you proceed to one of the sandwich men (or other stations if you want soup, breakfast, etc) to order. Sandwiches are pricey, but in actuality are big enough to easily split between two people, which takes the sting out of the $18.20 price tag (including tax) for the basic pastrami.
Youch! This better be worth it…
When my turn came up, I asked to taste test the pastrami vs the corned beef, as I was tempted by the Reuben. There was no contest–pastrami! Served hot on rye bread and slathered with spicy deli mustard is the house standard. (I would add a second layer of mustard to the bottom piece of bread later; a necessity in my book.) The pastrami was served warm, broke apart easy when bitten in to, and absolutely melted in my mouth. Moist, flaky, savory, tender, mmm… ok, I’m starting to see where Meg Ryan’s outburst came from! I’ve eaten a bunch of pastrami sandwiches here in New York, but I have to say, this one is indeed my favorite.
What a beaut…
I required documentation of this event but the sandwich is a two-hand project; selfies were a total no-go. I asked my table mate, a gentleman delivering a bone marrow donation from Minneapolis, to take my picture. He told me I had a million dollar smile, which I then promptly obscured with a big bite of pastrami. 😛
NOM!

After he left, I was joined at my table by an older couple who had lived in Brooklyn for 77 years. They come “all the way over the bridge” for Katz’s regularly and raved that it was indeed the best in the city. They shared their french fries with me and gave me their strong opinions on their other New York best-eats, including pizza (15th and J in Brooklyn) and knish (three blocks down on Houston, order the cherry cheese). After chatting for a while, we said goodbye and they asked where I was headed next. I said to their amusement, “well, I guess going to get myself a knish…” Midnight snack secured!

Subway snafus

Why is the New York City subway causing me such trouble this trip? Some day are just so damn arduous! I’m traveling all over the city so am using many different lines at all times of day. Before this trip, I mostly just used the 4/5/6. Very straightforward. Now I’m moving between Brooklyn, the Lower East Side, and the Upper East Side for my home, and finding myself often up in midtown west or down in SOHO or Greenwich Village for fun. And it always takes me longer than I plan to get there. Why? Being distracted and getting on the wrong train, nearly missing the right train because it’s down a level on a practically secret platform, getting on the right train but unknowingly the express that zips 40 blocks past my desired stop… shit, we’re crossing a bridge. Argh!!!

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.