The Familiar

We had a whirlwind few days in Seattle. Our list was long and we got it all done. Whew! And we landed during the most perfect fall week with sunny days and cold nights that ensure the fall colors will be epic.

It was great but I need to remember that soon it will rain for 6 months straight. The grey cloud deck will weigh down like an oppressive hair shirt on the population of Puget Sound. But I’ve always said that there is no where in the world that is more beautiful than a sunny fall day in Seattle. We got 4 of them.

We were all over the place this trip taking care of business. On our travels we visited old houses we lived in. Our last one in Snoqualmie is on the market less than 2 years after they bought it from us. They want $1.3 million for it but they’ve painted it, and the pool, like something outbid ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ so I didn’t take any pictures because its burned into my memory now. I did take a photo of the road before our half mile long driveway started. Mount Si was out and so were the colors.

We went down into town to see the resident elk herd and they were there too. Right where we left them.

After our document foray to Olympia, we went up to Bremerton and took the ferry to Seattle. I watched Jeff stand at the front of the boat the entire 1 hour trip.

‘This is what I miss.’he said, looking out over the water.

We took a ferry every 3 or 4 years when we lived here. But I get it. We could do it any time we wanted.

What I miss alot is the food. Thai, Mexican, Indian, Ethiopian. We ate it all. Bacon, sweet bacon. And maple sausage links.

But I think the thing we miss the most is the people. We had lunch with our accountant and his wife. We went back to their house in West Seattle and enjoyed the view. Cool people and good company.

But I know I’ll miss my family in Portland. And Jeff is already missing his Mom. It just goes to show that its the people we love that make a place. The views, food and conveniences are important but it’s the love that never changes. We may live on the other side of the world but we carry those most important to us with us no matter where we go.

Hasta Luego, Northwest. See you in 6 months.

Oh Yeah, Now I Remember

It’s not like I don’t appreciate what living in the US has to offer. I do. But there is some downside that I hadn’t seen before, but now that we have some perspective it’s abundantly clear that we need to get out of here.

I have been keeping a list since we arrived. It’s broken into two categories. Things I miss and Things I don’t like. I’ll break them out into two separate posts, but since the ‘Things I don’t like’ is top of mind right now I’ll do that first.

First on the list is being accosted by Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, soccer teams, cheer leaders, and nearly any other kids group at the door of every grocery store in the US. It’s epidemic. We went out to the town where we used to live and visited the local grocery store. It’s where we bought the food our family ate for 10 years.

I approached the door behind another gentleman, who, upon spotting the Cub Scout that was lingering beside the table displaying his wares ($20 popcorn), actually growled at the kid. And it wasn’t a quiet growl. I rushed to follow him so the boy wouldn’t hit me up too. I quietly laughed to myself and thought ‘Good for him’ I had never thought of pulling out the growl.

It sounds harsh that I would applaud growling but it’s gotten to the point of ridiculousness that you can’t go grocery shopping without running the gauntlet EVERY SINGLE TIME. And the kids and their parents look at you like ‘Come on, help the children’ except you’ve been hit up for ‘Just $20’ every day of the year. Sometimes multiple times a day on a weekend day when you’re going to multiple stores. In Valencia we never see kids and their parents soliciting money.

Speaking of food shopping, and eating out, the prices here are insane. We had no real perspective when we lived here. I worked and commuted an hour and half each way to work (don’t me started on the traffic here). So we ate out ALOT. My children knew now to behave in restaurants and they knew how to order. We didn’t think twice about spending $60 for dinner, plus a tip. And we ate breakfast out on the weekends. Another $45 for breakfast.

But in Spain, a meal that costs more than $35 is very unusual. Usually it’s less than $20 and it includes wine and beer and three courses. And coffee? I pay 1.50 euros for coffee back home. Here its $5 for burnt coffee.

Food in the grocery store in Spain is half what it is here. Jeff likes salami. We usually pay 2 euros for our favorite specialty salami in Valencia. Last night we paid $7 for something similar at Safeway. It’s not like we can’t afford it but we’ve felt ripped off since we arrived.

People complain about Spanish bureaucracy but yesterday we had to go to our State Capital and get some documents apostilled. The utter nonsense of the hoops and costs we had to jump through were mind boggling. And it was all totally unnecessary.

I had started corresponding with the person at the State Dept a month ago to ensure I was ready to go. I would mail in the document in advance and get done what we needed. But the State of WA was switching over the systems so we couldn’t do it in advance. Yesterday, they charged us $70 extra because we ‘requested expedited on the spot service’ when we didn’t request it – they couldn’t do it in advance. I had all the emails explaining the situation. The State worker wanted none of it and asked me ‘Do you want my job and I’ll go live in Spain?’. I will never complain about Spanish bureaucracy. I mean it – you can hold me to it.

Homelessness. In both Portland and Seattle the homeless population has EXPLODED! I have never seen anything like it. So many people on the streets; They pitch tents on the sidewalks and are lined up in the medians on streets and the freeways. It’s an epidemic and a crisis here. I can’t imagine what they’re going to do about it.

Homelessness is’t something we routinely see in Valencia. Sure, at times you see some people in the Turia. But it’s not a common thing because of the social safety nets in place. Universal Healthcare is a human right in Spain. And they have drug laws that are more sane than here. One man who lives on the street near our house is taken care of by the restaurants in the neighborhood. And it appears his outdoor living is more a choice than a failure of the social system.

But the thing we don’t like the most – by far – are all the INSANE political ads. First of all, elections only last a few weeks in the parliamentary systems in Europe. And you don’t see the massive amount of signs in lawns, street corners, billboards. And TV? It’s awful here. The nastiness and the mud slinging is over the top and goes on for an entire year before an election. It makes me ashamed that our country has devolved into this. The negativity seeps in everywhere.

As I said, there are positives about living in Seattle. I will post about those tomorrow – with pictures – but before we moved we didn’t see all this and now we can’t unsee it. Most American’s don’t travel to other countries, let alone live in one. They don’t understand that there are other ways of living and think that the way they live is ‘The best in the world’. But that’s not true. In so many ways, if they only knew what it was like in other places they would be shocked about being duped. They wouldn’t put up with the things they think are just how things have to be.

When we arrived several weeks ago, Jeff was so looking forward to being able to do all things he used to do. And the ability to understand the language and see and eat at the places we used to. Now we both remember why we moved to Spain. And those reasons haven’t changed.  I guess perspective is everything.


The Adult Table

There comes a point in life when the only miles stones are the birthdays that end in zero. Having past the big ones of learning to drive, turning 21 or graduating from high school, my miles stones turned to others. My children’s first words or first steps. First days of school and finally graduating from high school. Emilie is the last one to do that and it’s coming up fast.

As a child, and the youngest of 4 kids, sitting at the adult table for family holidays was a big one for me. I had to wait until one of my older sibling left the house to get that privilege, and prove I knew how to put my napkin on my lap and keep my elbows off the table. And then when my eldest brother brought his family back home, while I was still in high school, I ended up back there with my nephews. By that point I didn’t mind. I had learned that they were infinitely more interesting than the adults.

So coming to visit my childhood home held no new milestones, just old memories. A boy I grew up with, and went to kindergarten with, is living back in his Dad’s old house down the street. He’s gutting it and and it’s gorgeous. Yesterday, as I was taking a chainsaw to my Mom’s back garden, he popped down with his granddaughter and chatted for awhile.

And then it happened. My Mom and our next door neighbor, Mrs. Taylor, invited me to sit with them on the front porch in the evening and watch the neighborhood go by. I say ‘Mrs. Taylor’ because she will always be that to me. My siblings started calling her by her first name decades ago, but it seems wrong to me somehow.

My Mom made a phone call and then she came out in the living room and asked me if I would like to sit with them. She explained the rules as we went out to commence our sitting.

‘Regina gets the good chair. I always make sure.’ Letting me know that while I’m an invited special guest to this party of two, I’m not quite a member of this club yet.

Mrs. Taylor came over and we hugged. It was so good to see her and sitting there the years peeled away. I heard about grandchildren and great grandchildren. And then my Mom started telling stories about relatives I never heard of who were hobbyist wooden castanet makers in the 1950’s. Such random stuff she had us laughing until my belly hurt.

Sitting here at the Portland airport waiting to join Jeff in Seattle for our final week in the US this Fall, I’m smiling. I’ve always been a person who embraced change, even sought it out. There’s a never-ending list of new things to see, do and learn in the world. Always new mountains to climb. But these past couple of weeks has been nice. Heading out into the unknown is exciting, but sometimes, just sometimes, taking a moment to touch where you come from is important too. And I think I’m happy I’m still not quite a permanent member at the adult table.


How Far I’ve Fallen

I have been visiting at my Parent’s house in Portland for a week now. I’ve eaten more in the last week than I usually do in a month. My Mom’s favorite phrase ‘Are you hungry? Wound you like xyz?’ rolls off her tongue like the those mythical Greek Sirens who tempted ancient sailors to wreck their boats on the rocks in the Cyclades. Except it’s my thighs that are being wrecked and, like Agamemnon, I can’t seem to resist.

I am very sure I’ll be unrecognizable to Jeff when we meet up at SeaTac airport late Friday night. It won’t be my body he won’t recognize. Even my Mother can’t fatten me up that quickly – no matter how hard she tries. No – it will be my brain that has dropped several IQ points in such a short span and it’s not hard to see how that happened.

Game Shows. I have been sitting in their living room watching their TV schedule. And it is THEIR schedule. ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ is on at 9. It’s ‘Redemption Week’ on ‘Deal’ – as insiders call it – so they’ve invited all the ex-Zonkers (what are those again?) back to redeem themselves and try to win the cash and prizes that alluded them the last time they were on.

‘The Price is Right’ comes on at 10 with the never ending ‘Come on Down!’. Afterwards we get showered and dressed so we can eat some more and go to the grocery store for more food. We come home and eat lunch. Then I take a nap from my carbohydrate induced food coma. When I wake up, I have a ‘snack’ before dinner.

Dinner will be served before ‘Jeopardy’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune’ come on. They’re ‘Wheel Watchers’ so there will be codes to input and secret puzzles that allow us at home to feel like we’re in the game filmed in Studio City, California.

Every day, before you know it, you’ve spent the entire day eating and watching people select one of three doors or various sized boxes. Or guessing the price of Tylenol or a car, and incessantly jumping up and down. Then we eat some more and watch more guessing and jumping. Then it’s time to go to bed.

My Mother ran her own successful business for nearly 4 decades. So she’s no dummy. But that doesn’t make her immune from shenanigans. Wheel of Fortune is on a half hour earlier where my uncle (her brother) lives in another state. Every night he writes down the answers and calls my Mom and gives them to her before Wheel comes on here. I just found this out after several days of her shouting them out after only one letter has been revealed. I think my Dad believes menopause and osteoporosis makes you smarter – and louder. I think it just make you more wily. If they call me in Spain and tell me my Mom is running a gang of bank robbers, or a Speakeasy, I would believe it now.

‘Let’s Make a Deal’ is my least favorite game show. It requires no skill at all. There is nothing to figure out. No rules. Just smiling people taking more time to pick the envelope or curtain #2 than they took to choose their spouse, who is in the audience dressed as a Super Hero in adult Underoos. After a few days I asked my Mom how they can watch such a ridiculous show with people dressing up and making fools of themselves for nothing – usually.

‘I love it!’ Her eyes twinkling. ‘Until they decide to get really silly. Then it’s just stupid’ she says with a serious tone only a true game show aficionado could pull off.

Really? UNTIL they get ‘really silly’? I just watched a grown man dressed as a lumberjack, with a toy ax, battle a woman dressed as an angel for a free trip to Las Vegas! The show shoots in Los Angeles. They could just drive to Vegas by lunchtime if they left now.

But I have the lingo down. ‘Showcase Showdown’ and ‘Daily Double’ are part of my lexicon now. But there’s only so much room in my brain. I can’t seem to remember my Spanish mobile number by heart anymore and had to look it up. So I’ll have to leave here before my brain turns completely to mush. I think it will be just in time too. Cause I’m starting to schedule my feedings and remaining errands around The Big Deal of the Day. Ugh. I gotta get this monkey off my back.

You know I’m 52

I am 52 years old. After several days at my parent’s house I feel the need to state it out loud. In fact, I’ve already told other people this since I’ve been here. I know it sounds strange but it’s necessary.

In Valencia, or when I’ve lived in any other city, I never felt the need to announce my age to virtual strangers. It’s not because I look older or younger than I am. It’s because other people just assumed I was an adult that could chew gum and tie my own shoes. Or find my own way home. But when I come back to Portland, to the city and the house where I grew up, it’s essential. As a reminder, even to me.

We were checking out at the bike shop the other day and my phone rang. It was my Mother wondering where I was – we had been gone from the house for 2 hours. We spoke and I hung up and turned back to the person who was helping us. She had heard my end of the conversation.

‘I’m 52.’ I told her with a smile.

She laughed. ‘Yeah, I’m 54. My Mom still calls me and wonders where I am. She lives in San Francisco.’

We finished our business and went back to pick up my parents for lunch. They were graciously taking us out for good barbecue – something we can’t get in Spain. I drove because my Mom has cataracts. She drives when I’m not here but that seems to be irrelevant, because from the back seat she told me what to do the entire time.

Now, I’m not talking directions here. It was as if I was 15, just learning to drive and she was ensuring I didn’t hit anything and actually stopped at red lights.

‘Now, you’ll want to slow down here and look to your left because traffic can come from there. Then you’ll want to look over your right shoulder because they’ll be merging traffic. Make sure you’re getting over but not too far over and increase your speed.’

Jeff was sitting next to her in the back. I could see his face in the rear view mirror and he was laughing so hard, knowing what I was thinking, he couldn’t look at me in mirror as his face turned bright red. My jaw was hanging open. Incredulous.

‘I’ve been driving for awhile now – you know. I got this.’ I told her.

‘Oh I know, but this area can be tricky.’ she told me seriously.

We got the restaurant and sat down. I tried not to say anything and Jeff kept his eyes glued to the menu. I looked over and my Mom was reading her menu when I noticed that her glasses were missing one of the lenses. I pointed it out to her.

‘Well, no wonder. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t see.’ she told me.

I sighed. Now I couldn’t be upset. Now I was more worried than frustrated. How she’s driving with her vision the way it is baffles me. It’s so bad she didn’t know she was missing a lens. I think she was telling me what to do and how to get there from memory.

But being here and being babied (cause I am the youngest in my family) has it’s upside. Before I arrived she had called me for special requests and stocked all my favorite comfort foods from childhood. Green jello and pears – always the go to when I was sick as a kid. She made spare ribs and her famous coleslaw. I say famous because it’s in the Nordstrom Family Cookbook sold in their cafe’s around the country under ‘Field Family Coleslaw.’ When I presented her with a copy of it for Christmas one year she was pretty happy. I made sure she got the attribution. This morning I snuck down and ate it at 4am. It’s just that good.

And she’s cooking up bacon and maple sausage every morning and I’m eating like a gluttonous king. An extra 5lbs will be heading back to Valencia with me I am very sure. So perhaps being 52 this week isn’t so important. Maybe it’s more about taking all the concern and care on board and cherishing it. Because I know it won’t be here forever. Someday I’ll wish my Mom was there to tell me how to drive her car and worry that I’m not home. And when that day comes I’ll whip up a batch of her coleslaw and say a little prayer. Grateful that even at my age, she still worried about me.