Thursday, April 17, 2014

Inking thinking

Without much fanfare the other day, I officially turned Another Year Older. The day was lovely enough - sunshine, a latte handed to me before I was even out of bed, a home-cooked breakfast, and recipient of a generous gift card to fancy day spa. I had to work in the evening, but hey, that's part of being a grown up, right? At any rate, the day was about a thousand times better than last year's birthday.

Maybe it's an early mid-life crisis, who knows? But the strangest thing happened. I woke up on my birthday, and decided I want a tattoo. Not just that I want one, but where I want it on my body, what I want the subject to be, and the style. Incredibly specific ideas. These desires came from nowhere, and nobody was more surprised than myself.

It's not that I'm against tattoos at all, but I spent much of my twenties telling myself I'd probably get one one day, when the right design or image jumped out at me. I didn't want to just pick one from a book in a tattoo parlour, or go for anything common or clich├ęd. I liked the idea of frangipanis because they're my favourite scent, but then began noticing women with frangipanis tattooed on their feet, ankles or wrists... so I quietly went off that idea.

By my early thirties, I'd accepted the fact that I hadn't found the 'right one', and gave up. After the Faery and Miss Pie came into my life, I thought that maybe it'd be nice to get a tattoo of a lily and jasmine (their middle names). Still, I could never imagine how to incorporate the two flowers into a design I liked, nor could I make up my mind which body part to have tattooed, so I gave up that idea too. Many of my friends have tattoos - one is actually a fantastic tattoo artist - so I shrugged it off and decided it wasn't meant to be - that to not have a tattoo these days was probably more unique anyway.

After finally getting to be in a field of tulips last weekend, and this being my umpteenth spring filling vases at home with tulips, I guess tulips are on the brain right now... enough that I want them under my skin too. The realisation was a bit of a lightbulb moment - I've always loved tulips, and it seems so obvious now. They may not have the heady scents of frangipanis, lilies or jasmine, but they're elegant, standing tall and strong. That resonates with me as I'm a bit of a no-frills person myself.

I also realised that if I'm going to go to the trouble and pain of a tattoo, then I want to be able to see it - easily, without a mirror or having to contort my body. This rules out my back, shoulders or neck. Also, I'm at an age where I'm not concerned about covering a tattoo up. I tend to work in fields where the odd tattoo on display isn't going to raise eyebrows anyway. Getting ink on my feet doesn't appeal for some reason, and anywhere that's going to sag in due time is not on my list. I don't know why I'd never thought of it before, but my inner wrist or (if a wider design) inner forearm, near the crook of my elbow, is ideal - with the design's top in the direction of my hand so that I don't have to admire it upside down or sideways. This is for me, after all, and no one else.

As far as designs go, I want something stylised and not hyper-realistic, but not abstract either. After searching google images for tulip tattoos yesterday, I don't want it to be some ambiguous flower bud. It was good to see what designs are out there, to help me know what I don't want it to be. I also did a general image search of tulips for ideas, and what I saw reminded me of how much I love art deco, art nouveau, and stained glass images so I think that's the direction this will go in. If I find a font I love, I may still incorporate the girls' names into the design (I'm thinking two tulips total for the design - one to represent each girl), but only if it won't look fussy.

The only person I'll consider for the tattoo gig is my friend. He's been solidly building his reputation in recent years. Before his musician days, his background was in graphic design so he is mighty handy with creating new tattoos. He and his family are great fun to hang out with, and our eldest girls are good little buddies (they went to school together). I like the idea of someone I know personally doing the tattoo. The only catch is they live in Los Angeles. That's okay, though. It means I can take my time in getting the design perfect, rather than impatiently rushing to get it done here in Seattle. It's also further incentive to plan an eventual trip back to L.A.

Some of the inspiration I've found so far:

(Click here for photo source)

(Click here for photo source)

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(Click here for photo source)

I love the idea of having two tulips, in an oval shape with a border, with pops of colour like the stained glass.

Mid-life crisis or not, I'm genuinely excited at the thought of having a lovely, permanent piece of art on my skin. Happy birthday to me!

Monday, April 14, 2014

What cherry blossoms?

Cherry blossoms are so yesterday.

Over the weekend, I fulfilled one of my other bucket list items - to be surrounded by fields of tulips.

Along with who knows how many other thousands, we drove an hour north of Seattle to the Skagit Vally Tulip Festival. Thankfully, we arrived early enough to beat the nightmarish traffic, and any time we did spend sitting in the car en route was totally worth it. It was the warmest, most cloudless day yet this year, and by the end of our visit I had several hundred photos under my belt, one bunch of  the lovely-sounding chameur tulips, and a catalogue for tulip-bulb ordering. I may have a black thumb, dammit, but seeing how effortlessly tulips seem to flourish here in Seattle, I am determined to grow some of my own for next spring.

Funnily enough - given the T-shirt and flip-flops weather - we capped the day by stopping off at a popular outlet mall on the way home, and successfully found North Face and Columbia waterproof snow gear for both the girls at almost half their normal retail price. They won't be needing them for some time, but come next winter there'll be no more need for raincoats layered over puffy jackets - they'll finally have the proper attire for some serious snow adventures. Now just to get myself kitted out...

Disclaimer: If tulips bore you, look away now.
















Monday, March 24, 2014

Hanami

There are a couple of flower-related activities on my bucket list. One is to do with tulips - more specifically, to stand in a field of tulips, and be surrounded by them as far as the eye can see. I've managed to visit the Netherlands three times, and yet none of those trips were the right time of year. Not to despair though, because I've heard a rumour that there is a region in northern Washington, famous for its tulip festival every April. You can be sure where we'll be headed one weekend soon.

The other fantasy of mine is connected to my love of all things Japanese, and that is to partake in hanami - the viewing of cherry blossoms. All the images I've seen over the years of spring in Japan have me wishing I could jump on the next plane there, and follow the sakura (cherry blossom) trail from south to north as they bloom.

Van Gogh's Almond Blossoms (source: Wikipedia)

In a strange little hybrid twist, I even bought myself a print of Van Gogh's Almond Blossoms, after being captivated by it in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, way back in 1999. Wanting to save it until I had the spare cash to splash on getting it framed properly, I carried that damn print (along with another Van Gogh print) - rolled up in its special box for travellers - from home to home. London to Brighton, to Melbourne, then to Sydney, when I was finally feeling both settled and flush enough to give those prints the frames and wall space they deserved... only five years later. I'm not kidding when I say I procrastinate. This print followed us to the US, and has a special place on our bedroom wall.

I don't know when I'll get to Japan, so yesterday we did the next best thing and visited the University of Washington campus to see the cherry blossoms in their Quad. Of course, we didn't realise at the time, but arborists had declared that weekend to be the best time to see the cherry blossoms, in bloom at 100%. I think every second person in Seattle had the same idea as us - it was insanely busy.

It was also insanely beautiful.










Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sprung

It appears that the last batch of photos I shared here were completely snow-related. I love the snow - it'll take a lot for that novelty to wear off - but I'm also happy to see some more sunshine light at the end of this wintery tunnel I've been existing in.

I know, I know... winter is much harsher elsewhere and I just need to get over myself. I was talking the other day to someone from Colorado, and had moved to Seattle six years ago. She sang praises of the much milder winters here, and I realised I needed some perspective. Still, after a few winters in Southern California, a bit of adjustment to Pacific Northwestern winters is required. Not going to beat myself up over that.

Anyhow, I've been meaning to come and update on life here. I've conquered tackled a couple of major fears of mine (I intend to write about), I've officially changed jobs, the girls have had long-overdue haircuts, a black eye and suspected broken nose (thankfully not), and we've been flat out selling Girl Scout cookies. Have I mentioned I co-lead the Faery's Brownies troop? Yeah, enough with the laughing. I'll get around to writing about how that eventuated, some day.

In the mean time, let's play photo catch-ups.

The chop for the Faery was fairly drastic, but one I'd been pushing for some time (daily tangle dramas and all that). She'd resisted in the past, and I didn't want to force it... thankfully she agreed to try it, and loves it. Mornings are so much easier now.

A week later, Miss Pie also wanted a chop, and she wanted drastic too. Sadly for her, I wasn't ready, so we compromised. I'm not prepared yet to say goodbye to the lighter curls on the end, as I have a feeling it won't grow back that way. Given that her hair doesn't have the tangle-issues of her sister's, I kind of want to cling to that baby hair a little longer.

 New boots, as the ones I'd bought her in October already had holes. Here's hoping these last longer.

The black eye and suspected broken nose I mentioned? She had managed to fall up our stair case one evening. The huge swelling the next day was enough to warrant a visit to the doctor's for a check over, but nothing serious - apart from resembling a bout in a boxing ring.

A glimpse of spring weather, at one of the beaches in our neck of the woods. Winter? Go away.

We have a case of backyard envy (at a lovely friend's house). Mind you, there is a bear known to amble through their next door neighbour's yard, and I think I can live without that.

Bruiser, yo.

Flowers, cookies, and gap-teethed little girls selling the cookies. What's not to love?

Sunday morning coffee in the sun. I'll have more of that, please.

Lake Washington, with peekaboo snow-capped Olympic mountains in the distance.

We are more than just a little excited to have daylight savings back again.

I am also more than just a little bit in love with the way that the buildings all around Pike Place are lined above with daffodils.

These tulips took a bus ride home with me from Pike Place Markets, because who could resist?

More Lake Washington, more mountains, plus downtown Seattle peeking through.

Last of all, I have taken a gazillion photos of all the pink and white cherry blossoms around town. Between those and all the daffodils, it's feeling like spring. Finally.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

One door closes...

When I 're-entered' the workforce three months ago, I was looking forward to having some adult interaction and time out of the house that didn't revolve around preschool or elementary school routines, or plain old grocery shopping. Starting on a minimum wage of $9.42 an hour, with part-time shifts, I knew I wouldn't be bringing home riches but told myself it would be a good way of easing back into work again.

The shifts I was hired to do were from 6-10pm, three nights a week, and longer shifts on Saturdays when I was available. This was perfect because it gave J time to get home from work (still a rush for him) and be with the Faery and Miss Pie. My financial contribution to our household would be tiny, but at least my self-esteem would feel a little better about the status quo. Even better, it was within walking distance so tussles over who would get the car on Saturdays weren't an issue.

On my first day - in the deli department of a national supermarket chain - warning bells sounded when several other staff members asked which department I'd be in, and then expressed no surprise, mentioning a high staff turnover in the deli department. High staff turnovers are not usually a good sign, are they?

However, I was determined to make it work. I enjoyed chatting to the other team members as we worked, and hearing various life stories. Likewise with the customers. It was one of the things I enjoyed about my time as a pub wench in London, too. I used to mentally file away little details about characters I met, for that book I planned to write.

On my third day, I was given seven large garbage pails to hose out. Bins that each had a good week's worth of chicken juice, flaked off meat, old cheese and sandwich bar scraps stuck to the inside. I don't need to describe the smell, or vomit factor. On that shift, I realised the job was going to be a little harder to like than I'd anticipated.

Over the next couple of months, though, I gradually got used to the tasks I had to perform on those evening closing shifts. Customer service was only a small part of it, as sales tend to taper off after 8pm. Much of the job was about cleaning the deli and getting it ready for the next day. Pulling apart meat and cheese slicers to clean, washing dishes, discarding the day-old pre-made sandwiches, washing dishes, hosing down large chopping boards, washing dishes, cleaning out the hot soup counter, washing dishes, wiping the greasy fingerprints and spills from the many windows of the display cases, washing dishes, emptying the garbage, washing dishes, and cleaning the floors.

Good times. You don't want to know what the soles of my shoes looked like at the end of each shift, or how my apron smelled. My muscles ached in ways they hadn't in many years.

Do I sound like a princess? I hope not. I certainly never felt that I was too good for the job. I viewed it as honest work, humbling, and a good reminder of how lucky I am - that for many people, this was how they earned a living, and it was their only option.

The strange thing is, even though I wasn't exactly loving it, I was determined to make it work. I've never walked out of a job - I've always finished on good terms, because I was either moving to a new city, or into a new field, professionally.

The customers seemed to dig that I'm Australian (a novelty, compared to my London pub days), and overall feedback from upper management was that they were all super happy with me. "... best new hire in a long time", was one quote.

Then in January, word trickled down to me that the corporate office was changing the evening shift to 5-9pm, instead of 6-10pm. Would I be able to start at 5 instead? And the answer was no, as I'd made it very clear when I was first hired - 6pm was the absolute earliest I could start. J is often in meetings until 5pm, we have no family in town to watch the girls, and a babysitter would cost more than my wages.... so, nope. No can do.

That's when my shifts began to dry up. I was still scheduled for Saturdays, and the occasional weekday 6-10pm shift, once or twice a fortnight. They could never explain to me why those hours were still possible sometimes, but not regularly anymore. Every time I asked, the deli manager (who wrote the schedules) told me her hands were tied and she had to go by what the head office told her for shift times. I went over her, to upper management, and they all gave me the same spiel: they really wanted to keep me on and would do their best to find more hours for me.

I heard that spiel many times over the last month, but nothing changed. My pay period for last week was for a single four-hour shift. After the weekly union fees were deducted, I received fifteen dollars. FIFTEEN dollars for FOUR hours of busting my arse.

I'm not a princess... I'm also not a slave. That amount of money was just plain offensive, and I felt a strong urge to place my fist through a wall (or the deli manager's face) when I saw that pay slip.

With no guarantees of increased hours, I resigned on Saturday, and finished my final shift last night. I have better ways to spend four-hour chunks of my time, and decided that tutoring - even babysitting - would be preferable. I didn't want to have to quit... but I feel better for it. Much better.

The funny thing is that a day after I resigned, I was offered another job. Things have a way of working out okay, don't they?

Once I'd realised they were in no hurry to give me back my initial shifts, I began looking online to see what other local jobs were out there. As luck would have it, another nearby supermarket had a number of vacancies so I put in a general application, thinking anything there would be better anyway. It's a bit of a groovy store, with an emphasis on local produce and higher-end products - a little like Whole Foods. A bit on the posh side, but so much nicer.

I was called in for an interview shortly before I decided to call it quits where I'd been. They loved me, I loved them, and it looks like I'll be working... in their deli. I had to laugh when I was offered the position. The silver lining is that they pay more by the hour, and are keen to give me more hours than the last place. Also exciting - they have a cleaning crew for the deli so that I can just focus on customer service instead of breaking my back. Most importantly, everybody there seems super happy. It's right by the Faery's school, so I've often popped in to grab last minute things for dinner, or coffee and cake after school. I've always liked the atmosphere there, so I have a feeling I'll be much happier.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Blues

The winter fucking blues.

Ugh.

They seem to have crept up on me, but they're here. It's cold, it's grey, it's wet and windy - to be expected for this corner of the world, at this time of the year, yes. But it feels like it's been cold, grey, wet and windy for five months now. Oh wait, that's because it has been. With a good couple of months more to go.

Ugh.

This morning I received an email from Shutterfly, about a free offer of 101 prints. This is perfect for catching up on the backlog of photos I need printed for our photo album, and an offer that I occasionally take up, so I opened up our iPhoto library to start compiling.

The trouble was, it had been a while since I last got a big batch printed and so I needed to dig out the fat envelopes sitting next to our photo albums - still waiting to be dated and ordered, then placed in an album - to see where I was up to in the backlog.

The photos I've just sorted through were from November 2011 to August 2012. From memory, when I received them I was happy to (then) be only a year behind in printing photos... and then promptly placed them next to the albums, delaying the dating (which I like to do, in case the photos get misplaced or handed over to the Faery and Miss Pie down the track, so that they'll know how old they were).

This means I've just finished the excruciating process of putting about a hundred photos in order and writing dates on their backs - necessitating a trip down memory lane.

The majority of the photos were from the winter period of 2011-2012, and the contrast between life in Washington and life in California has never felt so stark. The photos were full of blue skies, palm trees, turquoise swimming pools, sun-kissed limbs and golden-freckled faces. T-shirts and skirts weren't just theoretical, they were actually worn on warmer days in winter.

It didn't take long today for it to start physically hurting as I picked up each printed photo. Life in L.A. wasn't perfect, but it was still pretty sweet.

I've been trying to convince myself for some time that life in Seattle is better for us. J's the happiest he's ever been with a job, our finances are slowly improving, the air is cleaner, the schools are better... and let's not forget the coffee.

However, it's harder to focus on those things lately. Perhaps I'm just being an ungrateful whiner, but all I seem to focus on right now is the cold crappy weather, that I have little in the way of friends here, and that my current job is one that I don't particularly love.

I'm not feeling happier here. I think I was happier there.

I want to be happier here.

I don't know what the solution is, but all I want to do is eat my feelings with pastries, doughnuts and chocolate. That's part of the problem, I know. I need to get into exercise again, but the weather isn't exactly inspiring me, and the yoga classes I've looked into seem to clash with school.

Meanwhile, I continue to put on the happy face I'm so good at putting on, because that's what I do.

Maybe it's time I googled Vitamin D lamps...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

February snow

Our first snow day in Seattle was a good six weeks ago, but we finally had another dumping of snow last weekend. It had the good sense to start around dinner time on Saturday evening, and continued through the night, so the girls knew before bed that they'd be waking up to a morning of sledding, snowball fights, and snowmen. Needless to say, there was a lot of excitement here. We Australians are easily impressed by snow.

Sadly, drizzles of rain kicked in on Sunday afternoon, gradually getting heavier - pretty much washing away all but the biggest piles of snow overnight. Monday morning was back to the usual status quo, but I was happy with the amount of snow play we were able to have. I did learn, though, that I should pull my finger out and get some adequate snow gear for myself. Jeans and rain boots do not cut it. Procrastination is my middle name, if you haven't figured that out yet...








At this point, my DSLR's battery died. Lucky for me I had my phone as well. I have been Instagramming for days now, but I'll spare you the monotony. The following two are my favourite iPhone pics.



I hope that from wherever you are sitting to read this, you are warmer than us!