Thursday, October 30, 2014

Autumn and changes

Here we are, halfway through autumn, and I haven't even finished catching up in here about summer. I have drafts sitting, waiting, but for today I'm going to fast forward to the present.

I've never been a fan of autumn. In Australia, my birthday always fell in autumn and I was envious of friends who got to celebrate theirs in the more cheerful summer and spring (which I now get to experience). For the most part, though, I've always viewed autumn as the death of summer. Dramatic and pessimistic, I know. It's just how I'm hardwired though - warmer weather and climates will always be my preferred state of being.

That being said, autumn in Seattle is the prettiest autumn I've experienced anywhere so far in my life. Alright, so I haven't been to New England but the way these trees here change colour is hitting the spot. The multicoloured trees are so spectacular that quite a few people I've met here say that this is their favourite time of year. I'm not quite there yet, but I've changed my tune a little - autumn doesn't quite suck so hard.

Things are pretty good in general now. After struggling with working evening and part of the weekends for close to a year now, I've made some necessary changes. The whole reason I began working those hours was I thought it would be my brilliant solution to child-care - at least until Miss P was in school full-time. No stress of rushing between school drop-offs and work. However, instead of that stress, I had the stress of trying to squeeze in helping with homework, school projects, and cooking/organising dinner for everyone in that window of time between school finishing and me starting work. Together, J and I had the stress of coordinating use of our one car, and getting the girls to their kung fu lessons, soccer training, weekend matches. J was having to leave earlier in the mornings to be back in time for me to get to work. When I'd get home, he'd head to bed while I still needed an hour or so to wind down and have some quiet time to myself. We weren't really spending much time together. As for the weekends, I was missing out on a lot of family time and we haven't been able to plan (or take spontaneous) mini road trips to see more of the Northwest. I was feeling like I could barely catch my breath, and during the summer - without school even being a factor - I even had a nasty anxiety attack.

Things came to a head with J taking on a new role at his work, which will see him needing to travel a few times a month, on weekdays. This will make it difficult to schedule my evening shifts, or change them at a moment's notice, so we thought about it and decided it's just not worth the stress any more. With Miss P now in Pre-K an extra day a week, and the option of booking her in for the lunch programme there, I told my manager that I would only be available during preschool hours, that I'd be happy to come in and work mornings and the lunch rush on those days, and that if they didn't have a place for me during those hours and they needed to replace me, then no hard feelings. Thankfully, they seem to really like me and have been super helpful and accommodating. I'm not sure how long this arrangement will work for (school holidays are going to be tricky or impossible, but I'll cross that bridge later), but for now our little family unit is a much happier one. J and I get to spend more time together again, weekend date nights are doable, we all get to eat dinner together most nights now, and the girls seem to love having me around at bedtimes again.

So for now, I'm breathing better and able to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. Some days are still a bit of a scramble, but nothing like the concentrated way that the afternoons had been. I feel like I've gained back a bit of my life, just from freeing up my evenings and Saturdays.

The way the same types of trees change to different hues, the way the leaves seem to dance and twirl as they fall, the way they lay curled on the ground, the way the sunlight makes the raindrops sparkle on them, and the fact that as I'm walking, it's fun to identify the many leaves: maples, alders, oaks, sycamores and ones I've yet to learn the name for... I'm actually enjoying autumn.

Maybe a leopard can change its spots.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

August (Part 1)

I'm not sure if I'll ever get around to properly writing about everything we got up to in August, because - like July - it was busy, busy, busy. We had close friends from L.A. stay with us, a bowling birthday party for a newly-minted eight-year-old, a girls' night out (me) to see Chvrches live, multiple beach and splash park play dates, and local neighbourhood festivals. August was wonderful to us, and hopefully my catch-up post for the second half of August will do it more justice than this post. Ahem.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chinatown in Seattle

Three years ago, I wrote about Chinatown in Los Angeles, comparing it to the many other Chinatowns I've been to (hint: L.A.'s Chinatown fails miserably).

Lately, I've been spending time in Seattle's Chinatown. The Faery and Miss Pie have been doing weekly Kung Fu classes there, and - happily - it's a part of town that's enjoyable to hang out in. I've had a few people say to me that it's sketchy and unsafe, but nope. I've never felt a dodgy element there. I think there's a preconceived idea that because it's so close to downtown and a couple of major bus/train stations and stadiums, with a large presence of homeless souls, that it's perhaps not safe. I would say that's rubbish. Unlike so many inner-city neighbourhoods, it simply hasn't been gentrified... yet.

It's not a large Chinatown, but definitely bigger than Melbourne's and London's. It's not cramped together, nor is it sprawled and difficult to navigate. It's less colourful and vibrant than San Francisco's, but the colours and patterns are around. There are the requisite restaurant windows with barbecued ducks strung up, signs advertising Chinese herbs, and curb-side trees that have a more Oriental feel to them.

We've settled into a bit of a groove during the girls' Kung Fu lessons, where I go for a wander to take in the streets. I obsessively take snaps of buildings, windows, and fire escapes (that remind me a little of San Francisco in general). At some point, I usually head to Uwajimaya, which is one of my Happy Places. It's a massive Japanese-owned supermarket where I can find various Asian (and other imported) goods that I have trouble finding elsewhere - including real passionfruit for my beloved pavlovas. Uwajimaya also happens to be right next to a Kinokuniya bookstore, which was my Happy Place in Sydney. The last thing I do is grab some bubble tea as a treat for the girls, as they've become quite obsessed with it. I have a feeling that as winter closes in on us, we'll start having dumplings and other staple Chinese food afterwards, to warm our bellies before heading home. I'm not looking forward to winter, but I'm looking forward to a good excuse to eat some hearty Chinese food.

I've yet to bring the proper camera with me, so it's just iPhone shots for now.
(Also, yes. It's no secret that I have a thing for dragons...)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Big Four Ice Caves

In August, we went on a day trip northeast to the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which covers part of the Cascade Ranges. We drove ninety minutes from Seattle for an easy hike with the kids, and to see the Big Four Ice Caves.

The hike itself is a super-kids friendly one. It's only a mile each way (from the car park to the ice caves), and not much in the way of incline. There is a path - and at one point, a boardwalk - to follow the entire way, with the only obstructions being tree roots here and there to step over. In fact, the hike is listed as wheelchair/stroller accessible, but I think that's slightly optimistic. I saw enough families lifting their strollers up and over the tree roots to think that it looked like a pain. In terms of ease for young kids though, they can walk it. Miss Pie managed fine on the way to the ice caves, only wanting to be picked up for part of the hike back to the car park - and that was mostly due to the fact that she'd run around like a lunatic at the base of the ice caves, and worn herself out.

The scenery was incredible and varied along such a brief trail. At the start, we could see patches of snow still at the top of Big Four Mountain. From my understanding, it's that snow which melts and trickles down a nearby glacier and creates hollowed out channels underneath, resulting in the ice caves at the base of the mountain. The trail continues across a marshy wetland area, over a river, through cedar-filled woods, gradually replaced by wildflowers, then out to an open gravel area in front of the ice caves.

Despite the number of people walking in and out of the ice caves, and letting their kids climb on the ice, there were numerous signs which pointed out the possible danger of falling boulders and chunks of ice (a young girl was killed by a falling boulder only a few years ago). I'll be honest though: my curiosity was pretty strong, and if we didn't have the girls with us, I probably would have gone inside for a wander. I blame Instagram.

Walking around the entrances was surreal, even from a few hundred metres away. You know when you're in the ocean, and you hit pockets of warm water, compared with the rest? The air around the ice caves was like that - for the most part chilly and refreshing on a warm day, with unexpected patches of warmer air.

It's a given that I took far too many photos. I brought the DSLR along, as well as my phone, and the images below are a mix from the two. With the exception of the first photo (Instagrammed), none of these have been edited or filtered. The clouds passed over and changed the light a fair bit, which accounts for the difference in brightness.

Beautiful, n'est-ce pas? Something about this landscape gave me flashbacks to being in the Swiss Alps - as in, so beautiful it brought a lump to my throat.