Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines

Tomorrow may just be the day when I finally get the plumber into the house to install the heat exchanger and pressure gauge for our defective heating system. We got our settlement in October and have been talking with this plumber for weeks trying to schedule him to come in. I can't imagine how frustrated I'd be if we'd actually had to go with the full-on "rip out all the walls and pipes" plan at this point, with the cold weather upon us and scheduling conflicts abounding. Fingers crossed for good news and an effective solution this week!

Kate celebrated her 14th birthday this weekend, with a girly sleepover on Friday that dragged well into Saturday afternoon. Red velvet cake was made. I used Pinch My Salt's recipe and dirtied about every bowl in the house in the process but managed not to ruin anything in the kitchen with red food coloring. The girls were gleefully using the Domino's online pizza creation tool to create concoctions but Chris talked them into getting their actual pizzas from Stellar Pizza so they'd be, you know, edible. One Beanie and one Fidalgo Four Cheese later and the girls settled down to watch Star Trek together. One of the girls couldn't stay the night so I drove her home a little after midnight and, aside from having to put a stop to some rough-housing at 1am, the whole thing went off well and Kate was happy.

It was poignant for me because I'm all too aware of the changes looming in the future for these girls. Not bad changes at all, just that they're on the road to becoming lovely young adults. The girl who left early had to do so because she needed to spend the weekend working on her high school applications! Some of these girls have known each other since kindergarten but with Seattle's new school boundaries they're all most likely going to different schools by next year. Some are applying to private schools or magnet schools or out-of-district schools because the choices we're presented are difficult or dubious.

Kate's got three options under the new school plan. One is a small alternative school that had historically been good but last year was merged into a building with another orphaned program and an existing middle school. Parents complained that the new building didn't have proper science labs for high school science requirements, the building has several million in needed building upgrades that haven't been addressed because of the Seattle budget crisis, etc. There's not even a Nova school webpage anymore, so I don't know what to expect from that program, though it is a natural transition for kids from a school like Orca (250 or so kids, alternative education curriculum).

The second option is a new math and science magnet school. This is currently a regular high school in a recently upgraded building. It's the closest HS to our house and currently one of the worst programs in the city (lowest WASL scores... frex, less than 7% of students passing
the state's science requirement, highest dropout rate, highest suspension rate, lowest SATs). The new superintendent has decided to remake this school into a School of Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM). The school will have accelerated math and science "academies" and an extra-long school day to add an additional full period. High focus on math and science with few to no options for electives and extra-curriculars and a school population of 1600 students. Kate is good at math and science and is currently on track to be able to enter HS having completed freshman math but that's all a huge switch from her educational experience up to this point. No idea if it would be a welcome change or a complete disaster for her.

The last option is the default high school: a failing high school with about 1500 students where 1/4 of freshman fail to earn the 5 credits necessary to advance, where only 28% meet standard in math and 18% meet standard in science. And, of course, there's also the issue of gang problems in the big Seattle high schools. Not exactly high on my list of places to send my child.

Of course all of this is what I see through my mom glasses. The kids are only vaguely aware of what lies ahead for them, nervous but excited about high school's opportunities. Four years of high school seems like a long way off and long time to get through when you're 14. When you're 40 and looking back at how fast those 14 years have flown by, being one high school career away from adulthood is more akin to a race car hurtling into the final lap, checkered flag in sight.

Speaking of mothers, my mom called Kate for her birthday and then talked to me for a while. She shared the results of some of her recent medical tests and will be needing more surgery in 2010, this time it'll be removing a section of her colon and will be a much bigger deal than the relatively minor sinus surgery. She hasn't talked to the surgeon yet so I don't know what the timeline is. She seems to think that she can put it off until the summer but I told her to let me know what the surgeon actually says. I suppose there's a chance that this will spoil the cruise we're supposed to take with Kate's class in May and, of course, if our experience with her sinus surgery is any indication she's going to need a lot of outside help with her recovery whenever this surgery takes place. I'm steeling myself, as I will inevitably be called up for duty.

Nothing to be done about it now, so I'm setting my sights on Christmas and chugging ahead towards the new year. Must decide on a holiday menu since it will be just the three of us for the first time in years.

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Brunch at Verve

Pork Belly and Egg Close-up
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Verve is a spacious wine bar in Columbia City, tucked around the corner from more visible eateries like Jones Barbecue and Geraldine's Counter. I'd been there once or twice before shortly after they'd opened but for one reason and another hadn't been back. Until this week I didn't know they do a weekend brunch. Since this happens to be my first Kate-free weekend since before Christmas, it occurred to me that it would be a swell time to try out the brunch.

We were not disappointed. In fact, we were quite thrilled with the results of our excursion. For about $5 more than we would have spent on a satisfactory breakfast at Geraldine's Counter we had a spectacular breakfast at Verve. I'll take that for a fiver!

It was also the first time I got some decent shots in with the camera we got as a Christmas gift, so I hope this will mean a return to my food blogging in 2009. I do so enjoy the food blogging.

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Blue Scholars, My Neighbors, and Snowpocalypse

Thanks to the excellent Rainier Valley Post, I discovered that neighborhood hiphopsters The Blue Scholars had put up a video they shot during Snowpocalypse 08.

Longtime readers might remember that I posted another Blue Scholars video (Joe Metro) that showed some of the depth of Seattle and some scenes I know too well. I even commented that I'd probably ridden the 48 bus with those guys at some point.

Well, the new Snowpocalypse video is even closer to home! Want to see New Holly? This video is full of scenes of the streets near my house, the townhouses of Phase 3, the fences and porches of my neighbors. You can see the intersections we drive through, catch a glimpse of the scary sub-par Safeway we try to avoid, the view of the power lines that arch over the Chief Sealth walking trail that winds through New Holly uniting the Phases. Holy cow, Geo and Sabzi aren't just my neighbors, they're my neighbors!

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Launch Party

Mixin' it up
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I roused myself from my malaise long enough to join Pramas at Seattle's Experience Music Project for the Flying Lab launch party for Pirates of the Burning Sea. PotBS is in "pre-boarding" right now, where people who bought advanced access boxes have been able to start playing and earning some special early-adopter goodies. It launches for the rest of us on Monday.

I was very responsible, drank lots of water, ate heavily from the salads and modestly from the prime rib, didn't go back for seconds and had just a small ice cream dessert. I sat a lot and talked to several Flying Labbers who I've been increasingly getting to know the last few months but didn't wear myself out and left the party at a respectable time (not too early but we didn't close the place out, either). Even took time to go through both the Sci-Fi Museum (which has changed and expanded since my one previous visit) and the majority of the EMP exhibits while we were there. Played the drums for a bit.

Realized about halfway through the party that we forgot to pay for parking after pulling into the lot we chose. Oops! Got a $25 ticket. Damn. Even so, including dinner, drinks, and access to the facility I think we still came out ahead for the evening.

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Response from the SHA

Forgot to mention that the Seattle Housing Authority is all over the issue of possible lead in the water at New Holly (which I guess is officially spelled NewHolly). January 4th they had people all over the neighborhood sticking letters on doors. I transcribed it here for future reference.

January 4, 2008

Dear NewHolly residents:

There has been news coverage over the past day or two indicating that there may be a problem a NewHolly with high levels of lead in the drinking water. I want to personally assure you that NewHolly's water has been tested, does not contain high levels of lead, and is well within acceptable standards.

When homes and rental properties in Phase I of NewHolly were constructed, a heating system that used new technology was used. This hydronic system combined hot water for heating with water used for washing, showers, etc. Beginning around 2004, problems with the heading system began to appear. One problem was that the tubing was corroded and leaked, making the system ineffective. This problematic system was used in Phase I only.

In 2006 SHA hired Pressler Forensics, Inc. to investigate why these systems were failing, so that SHA could take appropriate corrective action. During their investigation, Pressler staff tested the water in 19 rental units. Samples from one of these units showed elevated levels of lead in the water. Within one month, SHA had all of these 19 rental units re-tested by a different company, and the results showed no elevated lead levels.

We have been discussing the heating system issue with the NewHolly Homeowners Association since last spring. The Association asked for a copy of the Pressler report and we agreed to share it. Unfortunately, the Association did not receive the report until recently. I want to assure you that we did not intentionally withhold it. We did not anticipate that the issue of lead in NewHolly drinking water would rise to the current level of concern because we believed the re-testing that took place immediately established the water is safe.

Still, I understand your concerns—everyone wants to be certain that the water we are drinking is safe. In order to put this to rest, we will immediately contract with an independent testing lab to sample the water in the homes of NewHolly Phase I residents. We will ask the lab to test a statistically valid sample of homeowner units to measure lead levels in the water. As soon as these results are available, I will communicate them to you.

If you have further questions, please call General Counsel James Fearn (206-615-3570) or Communications Director Virginia Felton (206-615-3506). I am sorry that lack of complete information has caused concern for you. Thank you for your patience.

Tom Tierney
Executive Director

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Seattle Housing Authority

The Seattle Housing Authority is "a public corporation that provides affordable housing to more than 25,500 people who earn less than 80 percent of Seattle's median income." At their website they are eager to tell you that their mission "is to enhance the Seattle community by creating and sustaining decent, safe and affordable living environments that foster stability and self-sufficiency for people with low incomes."

The Seattle Housing Authority acted as the "master builder" in the construction of the neighborhood now known as New Holly. New Holly used to be known as Holly Park, as crime-ridden and run-down a section of public housing as e'er was known in Seattle. New Holly, they're proud to trumpet to the world, is an "award winning" redevelopment project, a federally funded Hope VI project. The community is "unique" and "model for the rest of the nation to follow".

Pramas and I were among the first lucky families to buy into Phase One. When we bought in, our Home Owner's Association was controlled by members of the SHA. That continued until sometime this year. The SHA owns the housing that is side-by-side with individual homeowners and rented out to Section 8 tenants. Before we ever bought our house, the builders had in place covenants for a mandatory Home Owner's Association (the management of which I have railed on about in this blog at length in the past). The items of "concern" to the "homeowners" were laid out by the SHA (such as what colors we're allowed to paint our porch steps or how our bushes need to be maintained or the ban on clotheslines, garden sheds and dog houses). Whether those things are actually "of concern" the the majority of homeowners in this community is something I would question, especially when we have issues with graffiti, reckless youths, and brazen drug and alcohol use in the parks we've set aside and pay to maintain (in theory for the community's children). It was the SHA-controlled board that knowingly enticed people into the community by setting initial HOA dues unsustainably low and led our community into a several-year "budget shortfall" that had to be made up with a special assessment, among other things.

Of course, the number of homeowners needed to pass *any* resolution (or, indeed, to even legally vote in our homeowner-controlled board of directors) is so outrageously high that it's virtually impossible to get the community to make any changes. For the better part of this year we were ham-strung by poor homeowner voter turnout and couldn't even get the SHA's minions OFF the board! It seems that we've FINALLY gotten actual homeowners in control of the board. I was already irritated about their treatment of the neighbor who wanted to open the wine bar in the commercial building the SHA owns, which I blogged about around Christmas, and I can't say I'm unhappy to see the SHA's employees OFF the board at this stage.

One might wonder why I'm going into the entire preamble for the SHA's involvement in our community at this point. New Holly was on the news today. Thanks to a neighborhood mailing list, I was alerted to the fact (though I happened to see the mobile news van parked in the New Holly Community Center parking lot this afternoon and might have clued in that something was up anyway) and was able to tune in. What did the news have to say? Well, for starters it seems that New Holly residents are about to learn their heating systems are malfunctioning and their drinking water may be exposed to lead. Oh yeah! Woo! LEAD. Awesome! Not like we have families with small children living in these houses or anything! The new report goes on to say A June 2006 report conducted for the Seattle Housing Authority found serious problems with the heating systems of 120 units of the NewHolly Development. JUNE 2006. NINETEEN MONTHS AGO. What the news fails to draw out is that the SHA built ALL the houses in this development and sold people like me some of the houses at market price to help subsidize the rest of the development... but I'll lay money that those 120 units that were tested were all units owned by the SHA. Individual homeowners were not informed of what the SHA learned and though word is trickling out many of them still do not know!

Adding insult to injury there was a woman from the SHA who spoke to the media. Her comment? "I think they should be cautious about the systems in their homes and we will work with them through that caution." We should be cautious and they will work with us through that caution? What the fuck does that even mean?! It has no meaning whatsoever. The news mentions that the SHA is facing having to replace 120 waters systems at $20K a pop... but doesn't mention that's only the units the SHA itself owns. Each of the individual homeowners are going to be on the hook for those costs if our homes are affected by this issue. In any other circumstance, the builder who used the defective materials to build our homes would be held accountable but the SHA seems to believe that they're off the hook because, despite being the "master builder" for the project, they're a public agency and are thus somehow above responsibility. Frankly, I think they're unused to having to deal with people of means who have the contacts, money, and general wherewithal to fight back! Poverty-stricken tenants are entirely at their mercy, have to abide by "tenant obligations and responsibilities" or be thrown out. HomeOWNERS, professionals who can afford houses that cost up to $450K or more, are on much more level ground; lawyers and the media are involved now and the SHA had better get their act together soon.

I wonder what the SHA commissioners will have to say.

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A Good Party

Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
The cocktail party went well. The Laphroaig is long gone, as is the Bombay Sapphire. Somehow managed to end the night with surplus Tomolives.

I was modest in my spread (didn't even get around to making the tiropitas, as I was waiting to have them fresh and hot once people were here). Several kinds of cheese, some smoked salmon, salmon mousse, Stan!'s salmon deviled eggs, plain deviled eggs, Swedish meatballs, baked brie (brie with apricot jam and almonds spread over the top then wrapped in puff pastry), cheese straws (homemade from leftover puff pastry), cranberry salsa over cream cheese (Wolf and Shelly remembered this from my 2005 pre-Thanksgiving party), pheasant pate (store bought), numerous cookies, crackers and other snacks. Booze aplenty was available as well as Dry Soda (in lavender and lemon grass), O Organics pomegranate soda (wicked good, I'm currently hooked) and the usual assortment of beers, wine, and soda pops. Oh, and calcium water, which we didn't even crack.

Kate was allowed to stay up until after 1:am playing drums for Rock Band with the crew.

Smashing success!

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Snow? On Christmas day? IN SEATTLE?!

Yes!! Woo, could this holiday get any better?

We're heading over to Ray and Christine's for dinner in a short while (and packing our overnight bags, just in case) but so far this Christmas break has been flat out awesome.

SNOW! Wheeeee!

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The Snowy Day

This was one of my favorite books when I was very little and just learning to read. I remember reading it with my grandmother and, being far north in Minnesota (and very little) snowbanks seemed ten-feet tall, snowy fields were vast expanses too bit for me to make my way across. I still feel a combination of excitement and regret when I make the first footsteps across a blank and snowy slate.

I had my own little Snowy Day today and put up some photos of my travels.


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Blade Runner

I fell for Harrison Ford as Han Solo when I was seven and never looked back. I had the Star Wars trilogy, the Indiana Jones films, and just when I was barely emotionally mature enough for it, Blade Runner to cement that. I love Blade Runner and I love Harrison Ford in it.

When I heard that the Seattle Cinerama was showing Blade Runner the Final Cut on its glorious screen, I wasted no time in suggesting to Pramas that we spend our free evening at the movies. I'm SO glad we did! Unlike the original Star Wars movies that were so visually stunning in their day but aged so poorly and look so cheap and shoddy today, Blade Runner cleans up beautifully and is absolutely gorgeous. It's still believable. The additional scenes and cityscapes in The Final Cut are fantastic. It was great to see it on the big screen and if you like the movie at all, I highly recommend seeing this cut this way if you have the chance.

We arrived downtown a little closer to start time than I'd originally intended and we needed to find something to eat. All the name restaurants in the general Cinerama vicinity were either packed to the gills or had no possible chance of feeding us in half an hour. We walked a few blocks looking for anything promising and stumbled upon Wann, a Japanese Izakaya place, kind of like a Japanese tapas place. They have sushi and sashimi but no "sushi bar" per se. They offer several smallish plates, meant to be shared, as well as beer, sake, and shochu. We had a some "kurobuta sausage" (which, I kid you not, tasted exactly like hot dogs), some crunchy garlic rock shrimp, soft tofu, the double tempura roll, and the absolute HIT of the evening, the Mecha Godzilla roll (Seared kobe beef tataki covered asparagus, cream cheese, cilantro with habanero teriyaki sauce, spicy aioli, wasabi mayo, marked "extremely spicy"). Wow, I could eat another Mecha Godzilla roll right now. Shared a bottle of sake to wash it down and were in and out in half an hour. Unfortunately, by the time we walked back to the theater, picked up the tickets, and found seats the movie had already started but we didn't miss too much and we definitely plan to go investigate Wann some more when we have more time!

It was such a lovely night (not as cold as it's been and no rain at all) it was a shame to come home... so we didn't! After the movie it was still relatively early so we stopped at Stellar Pizza to have a pint or two, a nibble and a relaxing remainder of the evening. Headed home once Stellar closed up for the night and that was just right.

All in all, a good way to spend a free Saturday!

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RTID Proposition One

I've been trying to keep my head down and out of politics lately, just too much on my plate. However, with the elections coming up (and having received my voter's pamphlet) I decided to try to make sense of the Big Issue of this election in Seattle: Sound Transit/RTID Proposition One. It's contentious.

Basically, it's a package deal. Funding for road expansion tied to funding for expanded transit, including extending light rail and adding express buses. Everyone hates it! The people who commute by car hate it because they see light rail as a rip-off that should be "stopped in its gold-plated tracks." Environmentalists hate it because it expands roads, which makes it "bad for the environment." Many people want to vote it down to "force" the legislature to present something else (and we've all seen how well that tactic has worked in relation to the Alaska Way Viaduct... damaged close to seven years ago and still it's all bickering and no plan).

Michael O'Neill at Carless in Seattle has been doing a great job of covering the RTID issue. He's also got some very interesting things to say on population density in relation to light rail (something I've been just becoming interested in because of the continuing development in and around the New Holly/Othello Station area). Seattle Transit Blog has been following the issue with passion and calling bullshit on some of the worst of the misleading numbers being thrown around by RTID opponents from both sides.

Geov Parrish over at Eat the State calls RTID Prop One The shotgun wedding of two different agencies' propositions in one ballot measure but also reminds us that perfect is the enemy of good. In that vein, I've decided to vote in favor of RTID Proposition One. Sorry Sierra Club, but imperfect commitment to transit now is better than additional years of wrangling in the hopes that we get more perfect commitment to transit later.

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Japanese Garden

Speckled koi
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
In honor of my in-laws being in town, we headed over to the Japanese Garden (part of the Washington Park Arboretum) this afternoon. Early morning fog burned off and the sun came out, making it a stunning autumn afternoon that was perfect for strolling around the garden. I took a lot of great photos of koi, stone lanterns, bridges, ponds, leaves, and a Great Blue heron. If you click on our friend the speckled koi you can view the whole set.

We also stopped by the U District Farmer's market for a little while and ate so much at The Continental for breakfast hat I'm still full. my mother-in-law was making noises about seeing the symphony but I don't know if that will come about. There may or may not be grilling in their honor tomorrow, plans are still fluid.

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Bird of Prey

Hawk 1
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I wasted a good half an hour this afternoon watching this beautiful bird of prey when I should have been preparing for my GenCon flight tonight.

Not sure what kind of bird of prey this is (Cooper's hawk maybe?) but he made a kill right outside my kitchen window and spent a long time toying with his prey on my fence before finally settling down to eat every last bit of the poor, unfortunate sparrow. The little bird wasn't dead at first and struggled for a while, ever more feebly.

When he was done eating, he hopped down into the brush, shielded by fences and trees, spreading his wings and fanning his tail, hunkered flat against the ground in a patch of sun. I couldn't get a good photo angle on that from the window but it was pretty spectacular.

Now to finish my last minute packing and arrange for my taxi. 12:55am flight with a connection in Minneapolis. Yuck.

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Weirdness magnet

Woke up very early this morning to find a young man parked in front of the house. On the hood of his car, he has a large stack of USA Today newspapers and he is methodically going through the stack and tearing off top right corner from all the front pages. He works his way through the stack, puts the torn corners on the driver seat, walks the stack of cornerless papers to his trunk. He walks around to the passenger side, grabs another stack and starts the whole process again.

No idea what that was about.

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Back from camping

Roasted corn
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
We had a good time. I've posted many photos. We

stopped at Carek's Meat Market to buy beef jerky
fell in the creek
set up the tents
played horseshoes
made quesadillas on a hot rock
fire roasted corn
listened to the Mariner's game
roasted marshmallows
threw around a football
explored the woods
found a ruined log cabin
couldn't see any stars, let alone shooting stars
learned our air mattress leaked
got rained on
packed up
stopped at The Old No 3 for chicken fried steak

All in all a pretty successful camping trip even if it did end with us getting rained on and having to leave early. We're damp, dirty, full of scratches and scrapes, smell like a campfire, and personally I'm glad to be back in my warm, dry house. We've vowed to try one more trip if we have good weather in September.

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Busy Day on the Narc Squad

Man, these area kids are pissing me off. Apparently, I'm pissing them off, too, since the last carload of dumbshits I scared off yelled "asshole" and "bitch" out the window at me on their way out.

Earlier today, two cars full of idiot kids decided that merely hanging out in front of my house, smoking their blunts and booming the bass wasn't enough. These two groups of geniuses were squealing their tires and peeling out up and down the street, screeching at high speed around the corners in front of the little kiddie park. There are a lot of young children around here who would have been run the hell over had they been innocently crossing the street or coming around the corner at the wrong time. That one got reported and license plate numbers have been taken down.

When I was outside with the Flexcar bringing some packages to UPS, I noticed TWO used condoms had been discarded into the gutter at some point, probably last night. Fucking disgusting.

So, tonight, when I woke up at 1:00am to the dulcet tones of yet another carload of kids and their telltale coughing, I lurked in the darkness at my open window pondering what to do. They were being noisy enough that they'd woken me from a sound sleep but not "noise complaint" noisy. They were sitting in their car on the street, not trespassing in the park after hours or something actionable. I couldn't see how many kids there were in the SUV but there were at least three and possibly more which put direct confrontation off the table. As I sat there, listening to the female vegetarian driver loudly talking about eating a piece of steak in some vegetable soup by accident (fascinating as it sounds) her cell phone rang and through coughs she started giving directions ("No, it's a little kiddie park, on a corner. Where did you just turn?") I yelled out from my dark house that they'd better move their party off somewhere else and oh no she was NOT going to bring more people out here. That gave them pause. I heard her say "Did someone say something? I thought I heard a white lady yelling at me," to which I yelled that indeed I WAS yelling at her... and she'd better take the party elsewhere. I was not Miss Popularity but they wasted no time getting the hell out of dodge, cursing me over their shoulders.

All this is on the heels of me going out and shooing four fucked up young men out of here on Monday. A couple of them were quite drunk or stoned or both. Another was very loud. There were Doritos bags and Pepsi bottles littered around their car, which was parked right in front of my house. I couldn't help myself. I came down off the porch with my most polite yet stern Mom voice and said, "Young man, is there any one of you who is not fucked up right now? Maybe you would like to take care of your friend here, he seems like he probably shouldn't be driving around in a car. And could you please pick up your trash. Don't forget that Pepsi bottle..." Unlike this most recent group, I got a round of "Sorry ma'ams" from the ones who are decent kids who still respect their mothers while the kid who was the most messed up started fighting with his friend to put the trash back on the ground. The two sane and rational kids told him to stop being stupid and bundled him into the vehicle, saying "I told you we were being too loud!"

I've been threatening to get some floodlights that I can mount on the house and point in the direction of the street. If I turned a spotlight on those cars, you can bet they'd scatter like roaches.

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Perception vs. Reality

Scanning the headlines, I noticed this article about the Rainier Beach Safeway (which is, apparently, "plagued by thugs"). This is the Safeway I often choose to shop at, bypassing the Safeway on Martin Luther King which is older, smaller, more poorly stocked, more dilapidated, and occasionally has the scary drug-addled panhandler guy roaming aggressively between parked cars and wildly extorting people. If this newly renovated, brightly-lit, spacious, clean, well-stocked Safeway is the "scary" Safeway, I'd really love to know what these people would think of the one that's closer to my house.

Obviously people have been attacked or there wouldn't be a story. There are police reports and victims of crimes that can be listed. Even so, it was a total surprise to me to hear it. I've never seen anything approaching a gang of thugs haunting that Safeway, have never been approached by a single scary drug-addled panhandler, have never witnessed any crime of any sort. I've never felt anything but perfectly safe in my trips there.

JVA over at the Mid Beacon Hill blog has more. JVA and I agree, Beacon Hill is seriously underserved for amenities; apparently, though, JVA is so freaked out by reading the Beacon Hill News Police Log that driving to Buriento shop seems like a reasonable alternative! Wow. I have to say, I'm not to that point. In fact, the violence reported in our area overwhelmingly involves people fighting with people they know, or gang rivalries. When the story starts, "41-year-old man and woman were camping in a vacant lot..." or "A woman complained that her estranged husband (high on PCP) had threatened to kill her..." it doesn't make the violence any less awful but it does put it in a different category for me. Camping out in a vacant lot carries a different risk than going to your local Safeway, even if they're in the same zip code.

I'm definitely not going to start driving to Burien for my groceries is what I'm saying. I do think I may have to adjust my perception of the area.

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So I got proofs for a book that we want to have at GenCon today. The proofs arrived at 2:00pm and needed to be returned the same day to keep to the schedule. Yikes! So I dropped everything and made proofing pass. I actually turned up two minor typos (OR for OF, that kind of thing) and decided that, in the interest of keeping the product on schedule, I wouldn't even request those changes be made. I reserved the Flexcar, ran the proofs off to the UPS depot at the last minute, and counted myself lucky.

Then, because I had the car for a little while, I decided to drive up to Queen Anne (a 10 minute drive from where I was) to surprise Pramas and bring him home in air-conditioned comfort instead of having to face his usual hour-plus commute by bus. Why not? I did a little grocery shopping (as his office is conveniently across the street from a lovely market) and waited. We drove home, three birds (proofs, groceries, Pramas) killed with one stone.

When I got home, I saw the news that there had been a shooting in downtown Seattle. The victim was shot four times, right in front of the Macy's. Right where Pramas transfers on his commute every damn day.

This is not the first shooting downtown in Seattle in recent months. Gun violence has been cropping up far too often, in fact. We're almost exactly one year out from the shooting at the Jewish Federation. The Capitol Hill post-rave shooting is still all too vivid. Seattle is proposing cracking down on night clubs because of increasing violence (although, to be honest, it's the brazen drug dealing going on in the Pike/Pine Second/Third Avenue area that worries me the most and which seems like it may have been responsible for today's violence... Macy's and the bus stop are not nightclubs).

All I know is I felt like today was a particularly fortuitous day for me to decide to pick Pramas up and drive him home instead of letting him take his normal bus commute. Chris is my husband now, but he started as my friend, growing into my best friend and finally into someone I could not imagine living without. We've known each other longer than I've been a mother (which in itself seems like it must have been most of my life) and we've been committed partners for a decade. I freely admit that I fear losing him like I fear little else; I don't want him to succomb to the Pramas curse (and bad genes) that take Pramas men through heart attacks by their 50s. I certainly don't want to lose him in some random outbreak of violence at his fucking bus stop as he's on his daily commute. Just the thought of it freaks me out and brings me to stupid, girly tears.

I'm not the sort of person who hears about random violence and changes my life willy nilly. I understand there are always things in our lives that we can't control. I learned this lesson early when my friend, one of the most careful, diligent, wonderful mothers you could ever know, lost her baby to complications from chicken pox. Wendy was so much more vigilent than I ever would have been... she noticed right away at the first sign that something was off and took her baby to the doctor. She acted far, far earlier than I ever would have and even so had her precious baby go limp in her arms in the doctor's office! If there was ever an experience that taught me you can't control the world, it was that. Even so...

I've asked Pramas to please find somewhere else to make his bus transfers for a while.

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Lovely Day

I spent the day with Kate. She's been with her dad since July 3rd (granted, it was after a three month disruption in visitations) and while it's been nice to be footloose and relatively free in July it was also wonderful to have her back home for the weekend. Tomorrow will be a short day because her dad needs to exchange her early because he has something to do in the evening. Meanwhile, today was lovely.

While Chris went down to Renton to finish up a hanging story arc in his SotC game before convention travel hell makes all of August disappear in a haze, Kate and I went to see the Harry Potter movie at the Columbia City Cinema. I'd seen it already but her dad hadn't taken her to see it yet and I knew she wanted to go. (She was very sweet and happily agreed to see The Simpsons Movie last night instead of pressing for HP.) Gorgeous day, we caught the buses without problems, enjoyed the movie (and supported the local indy theater while doing so). We lunched on Subway sandwiches out in the sunny park before again catching all of our buses and making perfectly timed connections. I even had half an hour to read the newspaper at the library while she read her latest obsession, Chibi Vampire. She finished all of book 4 today (yay reading!).

At approximately the time when gaming should have concluded, we joined everyone at Tim's for some of his homemade ice cream and brownies, plus a little Xbox 360 fun. He showed off the Xbox Live version of Carcassonne, which does indeed look swell (and which Kate enthusiastically encouraged us to buy). Upon returning home, Kate helped me make dinner. Not only did she willingly help clean and prepare the fava beans (both shucking them out of their fluff-lined pods and skinning the blanched beans) but she mashed them and prepared a vinaigrette of her own concoction, which was lovely. I marinated and George Foreman grilled some zucchini and some chicken breasts and to my utter shock Kate ate all of her (admittedly small) portion, exclaiming multiple times about how good it was, but she also asked me if I was going to finish my portion and helped finish off what I had left. Amazing! Suddenly all grown up.

I can barely keep my eyes open to write this report of the day but I wanted to get down the gist of it while it was fresh in my mind. Just a thoroughly enjoyable day all around. Tomorrow if the weather holds we're going to take a bike ride together and play with the bunnies in the yard before she has to go back to her dad's.

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Sunny Saturday

Pramas had agreed earlier in the spring to help me put in a paving stone patio in the back yard. Since we finally seem to be having actual summer weather and have had several days without rain, the time to get to work seems to be upon us. We trotted off to price out materials and found, to my dismay, that we're probably going to have to spend twice what I'd originally thought to get what I want. My plans for the back weren't extravagant (less than 100 square feet of patio) but the materials were way more expensive than I thought. I correctly estimated the paving stones themselves but the underlying paver base and sand are outrageously expensive! Will have to rethink.

Finding ourselves halfway to downtown and hungry on a beautiful sunny day, we decided to be spontaneous and hopped the bus down to the International District for "lunch" (at 3:00pm!) at the Vindigo-approved Shanghai Garden. Kitty corner from Uwajimaya, Shanghai Garden seemed like a standard Chinese restaurant. Polite but disinterested waitresses attended sparse tables, all seated with white tourists. My preference with Chinese restaurants is to keep away from the touristy areas or anywhere that seems like my step-mom ("I want your Sesame Chicken, super super mild, as mild as you can make it.") would frequent. When choosing an ethnic restaurant, I'm greatly comforted to see people of that ethnicity actually eating in the place, which was not true of Shanghai Garden. We soldiered on and the menu was an exciting revelation, full of dishes I'd never seen or tried before. We ordered some excellent green barley dumplings which were freshly made for us (and took over 15 minutes to prepare, we were warned), some sublime pea vines with black mushrooms (raising my hopes estimation of the place quite high) and some utterly bland and horribly disappointing "hand shaved noodles" which were supposedly the specialty. Perhaps because we ordered the house special, the first item at the top of the long list of shaved noodle options, we fell into the "tourist option" trap and they purposely made the dish bland and tasteless... I don't know. The noodles were nothing special (Judy Fu's handmade noodles are indescribably better) and the complete lack of any taste whatsoever was truly amazing in its blandness. The single shrimp I enjoyed was perfectly cooked and tender but there was only one. I'd go back to Shanghai Garden because the other two dishes were really good and the menu is full of interesting options unlike anything I've ever seen before (crispy shrimp in mango sauce? ok!) but I will stay far, far away from the hand shaved house special noodles in the future.

After lunch, stuffed to the gills with dumplings and pea vines, we decided to walk it off and strolled in the sunshine toward Pioneer Square. Completely by accident we stumbled into a festival, the The Pioneer Square Fire Festival" to be precise. Antique restored fire trucks were on display. Firemen in full gear were competing in The Firefighter Challenge" where they sprinted around carrying hoses, ran up five flights of stairs, hoisted things, chopped things, dragged things, and eventually "saved" a 175-pound dummy. There was a mini course set up with inflatable challenges and smaller dummies for children in miniature gear to compete in a similar course. Live bands were playing at a nearby stage and we saw the Seattle Firefighters Pipes and Drums playing to gather people in front of an area where a "jaws of life" demonstration then took place and a dummy "victim" was cut out of a car while an announcer tried to explain all the different things the team was doing over the drone and crash of massive power tools and screeching metal. For some undetermined reason, a couple of teams of sled dogs were on hand and we missed some events (saw the remnants of a hot dog eating contest). It's not the sort of thing I'd make a special trip down town to see unless I was a huge fan of firefighters and their gear but it was fairly cool to stumble upon. I wish I'd had my camera!

On our way to catch the bus back home we stumbled upon a garden park that I'd never noticed before! I spied a plaque on a gated area calling it "Waterfall Garden Park" and Pramas and I detoured through. What a lovely space! It's described at the Pioneer Square website thusly: Located at Main and Second, this secluded, lovely park offers an oasis for sightseers, shoppers, and Pioneer Square locals with a majestic waterfall and surrounding seating. A popular lunchtime spot, Waterfall Garden is also wired with power outlets for those wanting to plug in outside. Privately built and maintained by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Waterfall Garden marks the birthplace of the United Parcel Service. Hooray for the Annie E. Casey Foundation! It was the perfect spot to tuck away out of the sun and Fire Festival crowd on a sunny Saturday afternoon. After a few minutes there, Pramas asked, "What is it about waterfalls that's so inherently soothing?" I don't know but I love having a waterfall I can bus to any given afternoon!

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The Money shot

The Money shot
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
These young men were in the group that was here in front of my house the other day. I got the money shot this time. Called the security company but was told they're not "on site" until 3:00pm. Lovely. The cops did roll up and roust them out of the park, eventually. Though the lady cop who did all the talking wasn't exactly putting the fear into them... just sternly told them to take this shit elsewhere, not next to people's houses. She also looked right at my place while she was reading them the riot act about the neighbors complaining, so if they're at all perceptive they know exactly who complained. Not that it was hard to guess, but man, thanks for giving them a pointer.

Seriously, these guys aren't hurting anyone and I'm not a big ol' meanie who wants to ruin everyone's summer fun. In fact, in general Seattle wants pot "crime" to be a pretty low priority and in general I'm perfectly happy with that attitude. But I don't want it on my front steps and I resent that little kids can't use the park because these big kids are in there smoking and drinking and being rowdy. Oh, and the peeing in my yard/throwing the empties in my bushes thing? Yeah, I don't much like that either.

I hope they do indeed take the cop's advice and "don't come back to this park, don't come back to this street" in the future... I posted a bunch of other shots of their activities just because I had them on the camera when I was uploading the other stuff. Nothing exciting but it's a set on Flickr anyway.

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Outside my damn house

Outside my damn house
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Yesterday, three cars full of young men rolled up in front of my house for an impromptu party, alternately swigging from bottles of liquor and divvying up a stash of marijuana right out in the open. Eight or ten of these guys put together four or five blunts and spent at least an hour and a half practically sitting on my doorstep whooping it up. (A week or so ago one of them actually came up and sat on my porch and had a long, loud phone call until I poked my head out and asked if he needed something.) I was really pretty surprised at the brazenness of it.

Neither the police nor New Holly's security people came by this time. Eventually, one by one, the cars departed. The last, loud group were yelling about $1.95 Happy Hour and when they came back several hours later to pick up the last car left behind, at least one of the guys was swaying on his feet.

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Rat City Rollergirls

Kate at the bout
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
We took Kate to the Rat City Rollergirls' Big Gay Bout last night. Met up with the usual suspects, who all sprung for the VIP section whereas we wanted the child rate and so were seated up in the GA section. Towards the end of the event, Christine let us know that there were plenty of seats all around the rest of the gang in the VIP area and we joined them for the last bit.

During half-time and the course of the second half, Kate roamed around taking pictures (both with my digital camera and with a hand disposable that I just happened to have in my purse). She got some really good shots, like the one above and the one below. There are also some action shots of the Throttle Rockets vs. Denver's Mile High Club and Grave Danger vs. the Derby Liberation Front. I think DLF is hilarious and they're the undefeated champs again this year but Kate and I decided we HAD to cheer Grave Danger because we'd been so completely won over by Basket Casey when watching Blood on the Flat Track at SIFF. Grave Danger got their undead booties kicked by DLF but we had a fun time anyway.

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Goodbye Orca at Columbia

Orca Mural 26
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Today was the last day students will be at Orca at Columbia. Our award-winning student gardens will make way for portable classrooms as our students are relocated to a new school and a different school program moves into Orca's building. I tried to capture the gardens, the murals, and the students celebrating the end of their year (and all the years Orca has been here).

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My SIFF 2007 experience

We got a late start on the SIFF this year but I made an effort to get out there and catch a few movies in the last couple of weeks of the festival. Apparently, I also managed to miss all the GOOD movies. Of the award winners I only saw the Jury pick for Best Documentary (Out of Time, directed by Harald Friedl (Austria)).

My thoughts on my picks for this festival:

WHITE PALMS: Ultimately, while I was entertained by this film (and certainly didn't mind watching actual gymnasts strut their stuff for a while) it didn't have enough to stick with me for even two weeks afterward. I had to remind myself that I saw this film when I went to start this write-up. Not a good sign, really.

ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES: In retrospect, it was suitable as a g-rated film I could watch with Kate but that's about it. It wasn't quite a thrilling action-adventure, wasn't quite campy (despite some of the anachronisms and dated attitudes). I wouldn't recommend anyone go out of their way to catch it.

RETRIBUTION: Billed as "a supreme psycho-thriller" I think "thriller" is overstating by quite a lot. I found the plot muddled, the pacing terrible and the resolution worse, especially one of the final scenes that seemed to be tacked on as if they found some additional money in their effects budget. A disappointment even though it stars the excellent Kôji Yakusho.

TEKKONKINKREET: Anime. Aimed at adults this is no Miyazaki film. We took Kate with us to see this one (as we have fairly permissive standards and it was flagged as suitable for teens) and while not inappropriate it wasn't all that enjoyable for her. Like Princess Mononoke, the end gets all weird and dark and psychedelic. Enjoyable enough but I felt it was pretty inferior to the qulity of anime films offered at SIFF in years past (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle certainly).

IT DOESN'T HURT: I liked this film for the most part, even when the characters were acting in ways that the movie provided no context for. The actors were really good and engaging even when the screenplay let them down a bit. Being a Russian film it is infused with sadness and loss but it's about the most light-hearted sadness and loss infused Russian film I can recall seeing. Not exceptional but okay.

OUT OF TIME: The best of the matinees I caught this year, hands down. After last year's spate of downer (though excellent) documentaries I tried to confine myself to less dreary films. The story of four shops catering to "old school" clientèle and getting crushed. An old school butcher shop, a leather working shop, a high-end button shop, and a turn of the century drug store are all followed and eventually close (or continue to teeter on the very brink). The owner of the drug store in particular was quite engaging, roaming his empty store and exhorting non-existent customers to come buy the last of his ancient soap stock ("Can't get this anymore, this is the last bar!") in between stories of how he was a Russian prisoner of war. I was glad to see this won the Jury prize in its category.

STEALTH: Another film packed with excellent actors but a screenplay that holds them back. Written, directed by and starring Lionel Baier, this is a semi-autobiographical comedy about a young, gay Swiss man who becomes obsessed with his newly-discovered Polish ancestry. I chuckled at several points and found the main characters (the brother and sister) compelling but other times I was left wondering what kind of idiots made incomprehensible decisions and why. Close to being "pretty good" it ends up in retrospect as merely adequate.

YELLA: It turns out I would have much rather seen a story that was about Yella and Philipp roaming the countryside and working their business dealings than what the movie actually ended up being about. Interestingly, IMDB's description of the movie is "A woman's near-death experience causes her to relive another person's final moments in life," which is very different than how SIFF promoted it. Had I been thinking of the IMDB tag when I went to see it, I might have enjoyed it more. As it happened, I found the story veered to either confused or predictable with far too little time at any enjoyable in between places. Excellent cast, though.

BLOOD ON THE FLAT TRACK: THE RISE OF THE RAT CITY ROLLERGIRLS: We were on hand for the world premier of this one. Saw a few people we knew in the crowd as well (including the back of one Mr. Mona's head). This was probably my favorite film of the festival. It helped that we were there with the Rollergirls themselves in attendance (dressed to the nines, befitting their VIP status) and the theater occasionally erupted with cheers and applause from various fans and friends of the teams and factions. I laughed my ass off in several parts. Holy crap, Basket Casey stole the show! Loved it, just loved it. We were at the Bumberbout last year, which was included in the film, so that also heightened our enjoyment. Took Kate to this one (and she saw the mom of one of her school friends while we waited in line) and will be taking her to next weekend's Big Gay Bout as well. Unlike Miss Fortune and Hot Flash, Kate and I will not be the next mother-daughter derby pair as we both agree we're pussies who don't want to get hurt.

SCARAMOUCHE: Unlike Ali Baba, Scaramouche was unqualified awesome! Twists, turns, smartass scoundrels and sassy sirens, swashbuckling excitement and laughs, lots of laughs. Loved this archival presentation and was very happy that we got to see it. After two satisfying films in a row I was feeling a little better about the SIFF overall at this point, too.

LITTLE BOOK OF REVENGE: Our last film of SIFF 2007. With a title like this, I had to see it. A black comedy from Quebec, this one actually lived up to its press (There was actual comedy! Yay!) and we laughed a bunch. The character actors were all excellent and the pacing and screenplay seemed particularly good after slogging through some of our earlier choices. The director was on hand for a Q&A but we couldn't stay for it. A satisfying end to our festival experience, we gave this one a thumbs up.

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Herbfarm Write-Up

I'd planned to give Pramas the chance to write in more detail, but he has work to do and I'm not quite recovered from my latest bout with the plague and am still lazing about so I got to it first.

Friday I laid around in bed all day, sipping soup and tea and conserving my strength for the Herbfarm. I then dosed myself up with Dayquil and a couple of Aleve and we set out for the restaurant at about 4:45pm, anticipating traffic.

We arrived pretty promptly at just moments after 6:00pm and meandered around near the Willows Lodge for a few minutes until we were sure the wine cellar was open. When we stepped into the Herbfarm we were offered and enjoyed an iced herbal beverage made with fresh tea leaves, lemon balm and lemon verbena. We walked the grounds, got a history of the restaurant, toured the herb garden and sampled various herbs, flowers and leaves. (Daylilies and nasturtium leaves are really yummy!) We also toured their wine cellar ("most extensive collection of Oregon and Washington wines in the world") and the Chef's library.

At 7:00 everyone was seated for dinner. They gave us the best seat in the house, with a clear view into the open kitchen where we were able to watch them preparing our food all night. There was a little framed certificate on the table congratulating Chris on his 38th birthday. Diners simply show up and sit down and the Herbfarm staff serves you what's on the menu, no need to make choices about anything. I knew I'd done well by the expression on Chris's face when he took the first bite (and several other times throughout the evening). It's easily among the three best meals we've ever had together. After the first appetizer course they pulled a curtain across the kitchen and paused to introduce head chef Jerry Traunfeld (rumored to be leaving to start his own restaurant in the city sometime next year), owner Ron Zimmerman and sommelier Tysan Pierce who each spoke about the day's offerings and the Herbfarm philosophy. Then everyone on the staff was introduced and a bit of their resume or history was disclosed ("Xuan Che, who has a scholarship to go to China to study Szechuan cuisine..." or "Tysan Pierce who graduated Vassar at 19..."). Live guitar music was provided throughout the night by a man who studied at the Royal Conservatory in Madrid. That kind of thing. Quite the pedigrees on the Herbfarm staff.

The menu was called "June's Silver Spoon" and was nine courses. We sat down for dinner at 7:00pm and were the first to leave (because my drugs had worn off and I needed to get home) at 11:30pm. Here's the menu:

Appetizer ("From the Edge of the Sea"): Pacific spot prawn with remoulade (they fried the heads too, we were so happy, we love fried shrimp heads!), Puget Sound geoduck with sea bean and fennel pollen, Westcott Bay mussel with pickled lovage, paired with a 2001 Argyle Oregon Brut

Soufflé: Morel & Crab Soufflé with green garlic-lemon thyme sauce and a tempura fried morel mushroom, paired with a 2006 WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Gris

Pasta: Carrot Ravioli with English peas, King Bolete mushrooms (aka porcini) and sage blossoms paired with a 2005 Chateau St. Michelle Riesling, Indian Wells. Chris loved this Riesling and it turns out it's very affordable to boot.

Fish: Gently Roasted Copper River Sockeye Salmon with sprouts, leaves and petals paired with a 2005 Soter Vineyards North Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir

Meat: Anderson Ranch Oregon Lamb (free range, pasture-fed, prepared three ways): braised shank with emmer (aka farro) and baby turnips, herb-crusted loin with fava beans and golden beets, and olive-oil-poached tenderloin on spring onion relish (which is the tenderest, most succulent piece of lamb I've ever eaten!). Paired with a 2001 Andrew Will Sangiovese, Ciel du Cheval.

Cheese course: Quillisascut Goat Cheese cake with lavender cherries

Palate cleanser: Fragrant Rose Ice (served in a martini glass with a rose gelee on the bottom, a ball of the rose ice and a candied rose petal)

Dessert: (A Salute to Strawberries): Strawberry-Rose Geranium ice cream cone, strawberry-chamomile parfait, strawberry-anise hyssop shortcake.

Coffee and Tea course (I chose their "Herbfarm Sniffle Tea" which claimed to relieve cold symptoms, as I was starting to feel a bit sick again by this time: a combination of peppermint, sage, rosemary, chamomile, catnip, hops, comfrey, and goldenseal. Our waiter said that was his favorite of all their teas when I ordered.)

Second Dessert: (A Selection of Small Treats) This nearly did me in. I almost couldn't finish this course. They were tiny little desserts but we were just SO full. We had a lavender almond cake, raspberry gel, lemon balm caramel, angelica white chocolate truffle, and a spiced dark chocolate truffle, paired with a vintage 1912 Barbeito Bual Madeira.

We were so FULL! I wasn't even hungry when I got up in the morning and went out to meet John and Jenny and retrieve Kate. We met them for brunch at Peso but we were still in a food coma from the night before! Chris was extremely happy with his present and I'd do it again in an instant, given the chance. Chris has already warned his dad that his mom will want to go on their next visit to the region.

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Busy Sunny Saturday

The weather in Seattle today was just gorgeous. In the low 80s, sunny and breezy.

This morning was the awards ceremony for the Seattle Reading Award for Highest Improvement in Reading. Katherine was one of 234 fifth graders from 58 schools across the school district to get the award. Considering Kate's struggles with reading we're very proud that she received this distinction. She received an autographed book, a personalized certificate and a handshake from former mayor Norm Rice. It was quite interesting to see how different families approached the award. Some kids were dressed to the nines in suit coats or sparkling gowns and matching heels. Some kids came wearing track suits and t-shirts. Some families arrived in large, proud, rowdy groups, other kids came with just one parent or grandparent. Norm Rice's address to the kids had the well-worn cadence of an oft-told tale and was particularly funny as he was trying to explain to the kids about his experience as a kid being quarantined after exposure to polio and how books became so important to him because those were the days "before television, before computers, before Pac-Man..." and, as the parents in the audience began to chuckle and the kids looked confused someone helped him out and he added, "...before iPods." The days before Pac-Man! It was just so adorably quaint.

After the awards ceremony we were feeling good and the weather was so delightful, we decided to walk from the awards location up to the Beacon Hill Festival at the Jefferson Community Center. We bought some hamburgers, watched some folksy entertainment, and Kate won some cheap trinkets by playing games like bean bag toss. We exhausted our tolerance for community fairs in less than an hour but undaunted, I suggested that we continue to spend the day outdoors, doing stuff.

After a brief stop at home to pack up a picnic dinner (cold fried chicken, watermelon, assorted vegetables and dip) we made our way up to Discovery Park. On our way we were pulled over by a procession of motorcycle cops on an official escort of some sort. Finally it was revealed to be a small funeral procession of some sort. "Maybe it was Norm Maleng," I suggested. Rounding the corner, once we were allowed to go on our way, we saw a sign at a local gas station had been changed to read "In Honor of Norm Maleng".

We had a lovely picnic dinner at Discovery Park and walked the trails, looked out over the Puget Sound and generally wore ourselves out. Home now to cocoon for the rest of the evening, maybe read, maybe catch up on TiVo. I may even flirt with danger and treat myself to some coffee and a piece of the strawberry rhubarb tart I baked yesterday.

This is what summer weekends should be like!

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Home is where?

The other day someone made a comment over at Ex-Teenage Rebel that got under my skin. Considering that it's not even my blog and I don't know the commenter, I've given a little thought to why the commenter's jokey little comment bothered me.

In response to Pramas talking about our search for a decent falafel and Garlic King's failure to hold a candle to his favorite falafel joint in New York, "Scooter" busted out with a couple of stereotypical pot shots about not being native to Seattle, (where we're lectured that it's "pop" not "soda" and "I-5" not "the I-5" and how it's all the out-of-towners clogging up the roads for native Seattleites, blah blah). Just kidding, of course.

Shit like that bothers me, obviously. I react badly to that kind of native son snobbery and it only took a little thought for me to hit the deeper reason why. More than the us vs. them dynamic it sets up, which is the kind of thing that would predictably rub me the wrong way, if I buy into that logic I then become a person with NO HOME.

I was born in Minnesota, sure. I lived in tiny, remote little Ely, Minnesota until I was almost eight years old. However, I moved away as a child. I didn't put in my "time" enough to claim that I'm from Ely or that Ely is my home. It's certainly home-ish and important to me for those years and all the others when I returned for a week or two here and there for visits with friends and relatives. But those who were born and raised and continue to live in Ely, I'm an outsider. Little better than a tourist, unrecognizable to the population.

From the time I left Ely until the time I settled in Northfield mid-high school, I had no "home." I wasn't from anywhere. I lived in one place for a year, then on to another. Until junior high school I'd never gone to school in the same system with the same kids three years in a row. My mom eventually settled in Canby, Oregon and I lived there for three straight tumultuous years, but it's not my home either. No matter how many people I remember from high school or how many visits back I made to visit my mom and brother, Canby was a blip.

I recently had to put together and swear to my list of residences from the time I was born until the birth of my daughter. Because Kate was born in Canada, I'm having to jump through an impressive series of hoops to prove that she's really entitled to US citizenship. Though my citizenship is not (nor should it be) in question and I have a passport myself, getting Kate a passport has been a frustrating series of hurdles, including having to do things like prove that I actually lived in the United States before she was born. Laying out all of those different places of residence (and the implied challenge to my "legitimacy" that has underscored this whole process) has only served to inflame this sore spot that "Scooter" so unintentionally exacerbated. I lived in Minnesota for the first ten years of my life. I lived in Oregon for the next almost five years, in three different places. Back to Minnesota, where I spent seven years (with a brief sojourn to Georgia in the middle). A marriage and four years spent in Vancouver, BC. A divorce and a new life in Seattle ever since. Where is home?

I've lived in Seattle for a decade now. That's the longest I've lived in any one place, ever. Even the time spent in Minnesota was broken up by frequent moves. My dad had three different places while I was in high school and I lived in five different places once I moved out on my own in Northfield alone. By contrast, I've lived in Seattle proper for ten years and I've been in the region (if you count living in Vancouver, where I could watch the Seattle television stations and make frequent trips to the city) for even longer. I own a house in the city and have lived in it for seven years! If I don't make the cut, if I'm not a legitimate and accepted resident who can call Seattle home, then I don't have a home and never will. That's a pretty crappy prospect. Unlike my friends who chaffed and longed to get away from their families and their roots and their home towns, I've always wanted a home and a history to attach to it. I didn't start with the advantage that (as Bill Hicks might put it) my parents fucked in one spot and never left, so HOME is where I've built my own life, where I invest my energy, contribute to the community, where I've started my business, gotten married, bought my house, raise my child, create my happy memories. HOME is Seattle, no matter how many native sons want to throw down over who was here first, or longer, or more "legitimately."

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Joined John, Jenny, and Jim for dinner last night at Betty, a new Queen Anne restaurant. I left my camera at home (to my companions' amazement) so no photos of this visit. Kate and I were half an hour late because the directions we got from Metro's trip planner had us taking a bus that stopped running for the night before our bus arrived to make the connection and my phone was dead so I couldn't call Chris (or anyone) for options on alternate routes... or even find and reserve a nearby Flexcar instead. The bus schedule was very confusing and the lovely weather had turned suddenly very cold and rainy. We finally caught another bus that meandered all over creation before dropping us about six blocks from the restaurant. I arrived at dinner cold, damp, wind-blown and very hungry.

The company was great as usual. I ordered up a cocktail to take the chill off and after what seemed a particularly long time (especially considering the restaurant wasn't yet full) I did finally get it. After I joined the table it took our waitress a VERY long time to come back and take our order. This was particularly frustrating for me, starved and chilled and somewhat cranky, especially since Betty has a very limited menu. The menu takes up half a strip of paper, with three or four choices for appetizer/soup or salad/entree. It certainly should not take any human more than 5 minutes of reading the menu to pick from those choices, and definitely not the half an hour we continued to wait. It's also worth noting that there was little but bread and soup that Kate would eat (so that is exactly what she ended up having).

Now, when the food did come it was glorious. Helped, I'm sure, by my intense hunger and general chill, I sunk into a plate of artichoke pappardelle that was one of the best pasta meals I've had in recent memory. It was so good I sopped up the remaining broth with Kate's bread and could have licked the plate to boot. Perfect for me and my tastes! Kate's minestrone was suspect for her (floating bits of vegetables, eek!) but was made with a rich, rich chicken and pork broth. I'm not usually a minestrone fan as it too often has some mushy pasta and a weak tomato broth but this is one I would have eaten up. Small, firm white beans, fresh zucchini pieces, green beans, and oh, the broth! Kate, full of bread and soda begged off of eating most of it but it was not for lack of quality. Chris said his steak frites was also good, though to look at the frites I think Cremant would still get my top vote.

Chris and I were virtuous and skipped dessert, though I think Chris may have had a bite of John and Jenny's cake. I was content with coffee, though the coffee wasn't very hot (luckily I drink fast). I promised the waitress that I would mention in my review that they will not split the bill for you, though they will divide the total among several cards. Business diners will just have to knife fight for the receipt, I guess. Bottom line: high marks for food and meh service.

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New Holly in the news

The Seattle Times ran an article on my neighborhood last weekend.

My neighborhood is part of what amounts to a giant social experiment, spearheaded and overseen by the Seattle Housing Authority. On one hand we knew what we were getting into when we bought our home in New Holly. I knew a little of the reputation of the area, it was clear that we were going to lack amenities for a while while development caught up to the new population. Everyone was clear up front that this was going to be a "blended community" and that didn't scare me. There are some yuppie homeowners in our HOA who are very prissy about the state of the rental units or the attitudes of this ethnic group versus that ethnic group but I've lived in plenty of rental properties in my lifetime. My mom scraped her way up to working class and I know that economic disadvantage does not mean "bad people" even where it does signal challenges. I had high hopes for our neighborhood when I bought in and I still feel that hope, though I would really like to see someone open a frickin' coffee shop or nice restaurant. "Maybe when the Light Rail construction is finished," I keep telling myself.

I do have some issues with the SHA. SHA remains the biggest owner in the development, owning houses that are rental units to replace the public housing that was torn down to build these new homes; I assume it was the SHA that drafted the New Holly Homeowner's Association by-laws and the community rules which we live under (such as the "no window air conditioning units" clause or the "you can't paint your steps anything but grey" rule) as they were the only homeowners before the houses were sold to people like me. When I bought my house the HOA rules and codes were in place and I was forced to sign on to them as they were as a condition of getting my mortgage. I'm not a fan of the state the SHA-controlled HOA board left things, including the issue with faulty water-billing and the lack of proper reserve funds, or the overly-cozy relationship certain SHA board members exhibited toward the utterly incompetent and offensively poor management company the SHA-controlled board hired to "manage" our community. That is not to say that I don't appreciate certain individuals from the SHA who have tried to make this thing work well and who have represented community interests to the HOA board or the larger SHA; I'm just not willing to give the whole Seattle Housing Authority a pass for things I consider bad policy (like their admitted policy of knowingly setting initial HOA dues unsustainably low to bait people into buying in, knowing that substantial increases would be necessary but not disclosing that plan to home buyers).

Now that I've had that little rant, I think the article does a fair job of presenting some of the issues in the community while not overselling its successes or underselling its potential. I agree that language is the biggest barrier, as we saw when I was trying to get fair hearing for my Chinese-speaking neighbors. Without a common language it's very, very difficult to find anything else in common or have meaningful interactions beyond friendly smiles and waves, which is pretty much my entire relationship with my immediate neighbors. Even so, it wasn't until this last year that I met or interacted much with any of my neighbors, English-speaking or not. We barely squeaked into this neighborhood when we bought our house and while we're categorized among the white, English-speaking (let's be frank) yuppies who've bought homes here, we're really not part of that "class" either. We're not doctors, lawyers, or Microsofties. I'm fairly uncomfortable with the idea that I'm supposed to be a "role model" for my less fortunate neighbors or "help them out of poverty" as the article proposes.

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Joy Palace

Chris was up excruciatingly early yesterday (and I'd stayed up particularly late after game night with Ray again) so we didn't get to go out for a walk together in the morning as we have been. Instead, we walked down the hill to Joy Palace to both get in a walk and so I didn't have to think up something to cook in my worn out state. Kate's never thrilled about going there because she "doesn't like" (read "won't try") most things on the menu, even things I know she likes if they come out of a package (like pot stickers).

We don't go to Joy Palace that often but it's become our go-to place for Chinese. They also do dim sum but we've never been able to break away from Sun Ya for our dim sum needs and haven't tried their dim sum yet. Often when we go there the place is empty or nearly so. Every time we've been in we've been the only white folks in the restaurant.

Last night was not much different, though there were two women just finishing their dinners as we were looking over the menu. Their bill came and one of the women started loudly complaining that her sweet and sour chicken had cost $7.95 (rice extra), complaining about "highway robbery" and asserting that "every other restaurant" brought rice for free. I couldn't believe it. Joy Palace portions are HUGE and you're getting quite a deal for a gigantic plate of whatever you've ordered for $7.95! Anyway, the two women eventually paid up and left.

We ordered a plate of pot stickers, one order of fried rice, one order of orange beef, and I really wanted a "side" of Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce so we got some of that, too. The waitress double-checked that I meant to order the Chinese broccoli, and asked if we would like forks (a kind but unnecessary touch). We had a huge amount of food, platters mounded with food. We ate until we were stuffed and took home three large containers of leftovers, and it was a steal, an absolute steal. We were happy, we were polite, we said please and thank you. As our check was being tallied, a waiter brought out complementary bowls of warm coconut milk with diced taro and tapioca for each of us.

That's what you get when you're not a jerk: warm coconut tapioca dessert! Yum. Chris and I have decided to start going to Joy Palace a little more often. Wouldn't hurt to get to be known regulars at a place like that. Highly recommended (unless you're the sort of person who objects to paying $7.95 for a huge plate mounded with food, I guess).

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View from the Edgewater

View from the Edgewater
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Yesterday it was sunny and summery and every cloud-weary person in Seattle was desperate to get out and play hooky. Those of us who had to work still found excuses to be outside for a minute or two, running errands or grabbing lunch in the park.

I was Flexcar-enabled yesterday for just such errand running (planned and otherwise). I drove the Alaska Way viaduct on my way to Queen Anne and got a stunning view of the Puget Sound. I drove to West Seattle and had more lovely views as I crossed the West Seattle Bridge. I drove down Rainier in Columbia City and got more than one full-frame view of whitecapped Mt. Rainier looming in the distance. It wasn't exactly like being outside but it was renewing to the spirit nonetheless.

Having reached the daily limit for fees on the Flexcar, I was able to keep it for several hours last night for no extra charge so I picked Pramas up and took the family down to the waterfront. We briefly hoped we might sneak into a restaurant with some outdoor seating and enjoy the weather but we were struggling against hundreds of other reservation-wielding diners with the same idea. We briefly sat down for dinner at Flying Fish (which I'd been to with John, Jenny and Jim in the dark of winter after one of our lectures) but nothing on the limited meal appealed to us. Uncharacteristically, we decided to just leave without ordering anything and walked down the waterfront to Six Seven at the Edgewater. Similar price range but the menu was much more to our liking (and proved to Kate, though she was offended at being "stereotyped," that she can get a grilled cheese virtually anywhere). I was virtuous and skipped wine and dessert (though how good did the chocolate Pot au Creme sound!) and satisfied myself with the salumi appetizer and a slab of buttery, sweet Miso Halibut.

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Alaska Way Viaduct

I've received my ballot for a mail-in vote on the issue of Seattle's Alaska Way viaduct and I have to admit that I'm befuddled.

Here's the situation as I understand it so far: The Alaska Way viaduct is a major north-south thoroughfare for Seattle, an elevated section of Washington State Route 99 that carries over 100,000 vehicles per day. It was damaged in the 2001 earthquake, forcing the issue of its removal or replacement. The argument about how to "fix" the viaduct situation has been going on for six years and in two week voters are being asked to vote on two options, but only as "Advisory Ballot Measures" which we're reminded repeatedly are "advisory only" (bringing to mind the FOUR pro-monorail votes that never resulted in any actual transit improvements, or the vote against funding a new sports stadium that resulted in the state legislature finding a way to go ahead with the plan without voter approval). The two plans on the ballot are the "surface-tunnel hybrid alternative" and the "elevated structure alternative".

Now, under either of these plans, the current viaduct comes down and traffic goes...somewhere...while tunnels or new elevated structures are built. They're predicting three years for the construction but having seen the construction surrounding the light rail project near my house, I know better than to believe that. They always undersell these things. More like five or six years of those 100,000 cars a day moving...somewhere...during construction.

I'm not a commute driver. Chris and I already use transit and Flexcar. I don't live near the waterfront and, frankly, I don't much care about waterfront condo views or how "noisy" the highway is. Having just been to New York, and seen the gridlocked surface streets and the constant angry horn honking, anyone who thinks that removing the viaduct and pushing those vehicles onto Seattle's surface streets is going to make the "noise" go away is living in a fantasy world.

When I look at the options, I can't get behind any of them. Seattle's roads are a mess but even people like me who really want to go transit have a hell of a time doing it because the bus system is unreliable. I can't count the number of times I've waited for a bus that is only scheduled to come every 30 minutes only to have it just flat out not show up at all. Late at night the buses stop running altogether or run once an hour while you wait out in the cold, dark, and rain. No, this is no New York. To the people arguing for tunnels along the waterfront I say "Big Dig". Surely I'm not the only person out here skeptical about digging a transit tunnel for car traffic in an area where flooding and earthquakes are a concern? Hell, we can't even get these guys to build a new bridge across the lake to the east side, and they want to talk tunnels? On the other hand, the proponents for the new elevated structure would build something that they're projecting would take between 10 and 12 years to complete and would be 75% larger than the current structure. Even if their claims that such a structure could be built so we're not at risk of having a collapse ala the Cypress Street Viaduct during the Loma Prieta earthquake in California in 1989, we're talking about a decade of moving that traffic...somewhere...during construction. At that point, after the viaduct has been closed for a decade and we've (hopefully) begun to address all the environmental issues involving cars, oil dependence, and climate change that we've been strictly ignoring thus far, why bother re-issuing the invitation to increase automobile traffic? When the solution to a problem that's been dragging on for six years already is "Fifteen years from now we'll have a nice new elevated structure," it makes me want to throw my hands up.

I would like to see Seattle improve its mass transit infrastructure. I think the light rail, if it's actually completed and running in 2009 as they're saying, is a good start but it needs to be expanded greatly no matter what happens with the viaduct. I don't think making the viaduct disappear is going to magically "bring the people closer to their waterfront" or improve low-income housing opportunities (yes, I've actually heard that one!). I think "redevelopment" of the viaduct area has condo builders slavering at the chance to build more condos (with views!) that they can sell to people who don't flinch at dropping half a mil on a shoe box overlooking the sound. Removing the viaduct isn't going to help the average working citizen of Seattle in his daily life. Something has to be done but I don't have any faith in these proposals or the people pushing them.

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Sleet, slush, rain, snow, and hail

Snow on fence tips
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I think that covers the weather tonight. Weather.com officially gave up and decided to call our weather conditions "wintery mix".

Went downtown for dinner just as the snow that was threatened all day started to fall. I'd given up on it, thought that in the post-November snow storm and post-wind storm atmosphere the weather forecasters were being overly cautious, but no, sure enough when we decided it was safe to venture out down came the "wintery mix" all over everything.

Downtown things were cold and slushy but not snowy. Returning home to the hill, thick snowy puffs covered everything that could hold snow. Beyond that, though, was the brightness! The cloud cover seemed lit up with reflected light, the whiteness of the ground, the trees, the rooftops and every other remotely horizontal surface brightened the night until I felt as if I was walking home in the early evening instead of many hours after sunset.

Tonight's snow is a wonderful, magical snow. Teenagers and children of permissive parents like me were out playing in it as I made my way home. Snowballs were thrown, kids wrestled and tumbled around in it, late night snow forts and snow people are being created.

The bus that picked me up tonight had chains on its tires and warned riders repeatedly that Beacon Avenue was "blocked" so they were only going as far as Othello. Luckily, that was good enough for me. Kate is outdoors at this very moment, the only kid on the block up this late I suppose, outside claiming every inch of untrodden snow as her own.

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