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.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

July (Part 2)

After raving to my parents about how perfect July was last year, my parents timed their visit here for mid July. They were escaping a cold winter on NSW's south coast, and it was to be their first time in Seattle. It was my mum's second only trip ever to the US (she visited us once in L.A.), and my dad's first time ever overseas. Exciting stuff, right?

It took a lot to get them here. In the almost-five years that J and I lived in England, my parents never visited - but to be fair, I had much younger siblings then and it would have been far more expensive. I'm not completely delusional though. Having their two eldest grandchildren now living the US is a huge drawcard... but whatever the reason, I'm glad they came.

After me talking up Seattle at this time of year, the city decided to make a liar out of me. For a good chunk of my parents' first week with us, it was grey and mostly rained. Temperatures were not that much warmer than the part of Australia they'd just come from. They'd also had a two-day stopover in Hawaii, which didn't help matters, so I don't think their first impressions of Seattle were particularly favourable.

A couple of days after their jet lag hd worn off, we had a sunny afternoon so I took them to a nearby state park for a walk. They've both seen little but eucalyptus trees over the last fifty-odd years, so it was great for them to experience some classic Pacific Northwestern forest. This park is full of cedars and firs - incredibly majestic, and I still remember how those tall trees took my breath away the first time I encountered them in Vancouver more than fourteen years ago.

Later that week, after giving up on the wait for blue skies, we drove out to Snoqualmie. It's a town that J and I have taken the girls to several times, and we love it there. It's only a forty-five minute drive so it's an easy, short road trip to do but gives a sense of being well away from the city. It's also where much of Twin Peaks was filmed, so - geeks that J and I are - we always get a little kick out of seeing Snoqualmie Falls. In Snoqualmie, there's also a historical old railway museum, which the girls love, so we thought my dad might also enjoy seeing some of those old rattling trains because, let's face it, there's far less of that sort of thing in Australia.

Thankfully, the weather gods decided to smile upon us and make that the last grey, drizzly day for the remainder of my parents' visit. The next day we went on a lake cruise, where the sun gently eased out from behind the clouds, then gradually turned up the dial for heat and brightness over the next eight days. We spent much of it sightseeing: the city skyline and Lake Union from Gas Works Park, had dinner at the same seafood restaurant where J and I had celebrated our anniversary in May, checked out a classic car show that happened to be in our neighbourhood (because what fifty-something-Australians who love older American cars but have seen very few in real life wouldn't pass up the chance?), visited a fabulous hipster coffee joint downtown, took in Pike Place Market, and enjoyed sunsets at our local beach at Lake Washington.

A couple of days before my parents were due to leave, we celebrated the Faery's eighth birthday. EIGHT! Having two doting grandparents in town to help with the spoiling, she was in her element. We let her pick somewhere fun to go and - because we hadn't been on it yet - she chose the Seattle Great Wheel, down by Seattle's waterfront. The weather was amazing, the views were amazing, and I'd recommend it to anyone who might be considering it. The pier also had an arcade with old games, so a birthday carousel ride, along with air hockey, was a must. The day was topped off with dinner of her choice (pizza within walking distance of home) and chocolate cake. I felt bad because this was her first birthday that I hadn't baked her a special cake myself, but the days leading up had been a busy blur. Hopefully next year I can make it up to her... but I think she had a lovely day regardless. She is a darling, and I love the age she is. I have clear memories of my own eighth birthday, so it feels easy to get into her headspace and remember what it was like to be an eight-year-old girl. We promised her a low-key bowling party too, but that had to wait until August, when her best friend from L.A. was due to visit. Stay tuned...