Sunday, 27 March 2011

My Seattle:: Local's Guide to Seattle

This week we have some dear friends from England visiting us! I think they're our first English visitors, but I have an increasingly bad memory and am trying to correct myself if that is untrue. Has anyone else visited us from England? Anyone?

With who I presume to be our first English visitors, I plan to put Seattle's best face forward, to make them leave with the impression that our drizzly city is actually a gem, an emerald even. Plus it's a great excuse to brunch daily and play visitor myself. 

Another reason I'm so happy to have them here, in addition to the fellowship of course, is that it's fun to have reminders of a life in England that seems distant sometimes. Aside from the fact that I'm writing a book about it and thinking about England daily, of course. But actually living somewhere is much different than writing about it.

One of the downsides of moving to a new city at least every two years since college (Santa Monica, Tokyo, Osaka, Seattle, Bath, Birmingham, London, Auckland and back to Seattle), is that while I've become pro at packing, it can feel like my community is scattered to the far corners of the earth. I invest in people, and vice versa, and then leave. It's a bit schizophrenic, all these lives I've created for myself. Having friends in town reminds me, Alisha, you actually lived in central England for two years, isn't that just nuts? 

Finally, entertaining visitors is all the excuse I need to compile a Local's Guide to Seattle. You won't find any Space Needle action on it, just a few of my favorite places to eat, drink and explore. 

Here goes, by neighbo(u)rhood...

Capitol Hill -
International District - 
Ballard -
Magnolia -
  • Pastries at Upper Crust then Discovery Park
  • Bay Cafe at Fisherman's Terminal for a nice diner experience (in my experience Englishmen like a good diner, or maybe it's just my husband)
Phinney/ Green Lake - 
Wallinfordia -
  • Tilth (for a local, organic brunch, heard great things and can't wait to try)
Queen Anne - 
West Seattle -

So my guide is heavy on the pastries, brunches and parks, but that's the kind of guide I write because that's the kind of girl I am.

Seattleites, anything else it would be rude to leave out? Where do you take your visiting friends and family?

Monday, 21 March 2011

What's it like to live in England?

Often it happens, as it did at the church women's afternoon tea I attended the other week, that in the process of meeting someone for the first time, it comes up that I lived in England. And the natural question is always, So what was it like?

Since it's hard to boil down four years into thirty seconds, I usually say something flippant like, "The pubs were nice," or "I learned a lot."

That I learned a lot is an understatement. In truth, living in England was a complete re-education. I'd go as for as to say that England was the unlearning of almost 80% of what America had spent 22 years working so hard to teach me, and America had laid it on thick.

The thing with England is that the differences between her and America are not just ornamental, like a preference for tea versus coffee. Although yes, we're all humans with the same basic needs and wants, and yes, we have the same shared heritage, the stories we are told about the world, about how to interact and about what to expect from life at times felt like polar opposites. It was the tension of living in this opposition that made daily life so stimulating, uncomfortable, eye-opening and precious.

And before I may go any further, I have to preface this by saying that what I'm describing is my America and my England, which could very well be different to other people's experiences in both places. But then again, this is my blog. :)

In the 1980s and 90s, America took the raw material of a naturally shy girl and told her, hey, you've got to get out of your shell if you're going to get anywhere in life. If you want to make friends, be friendly! Act excited! Use exclamation points liberally! Smile! It took awhile for me to get this, with much trial and error through high school and college, but by the time I left, I pretty much had it down. And armed with these helpful social tools, I bound off for England. Hey guys! What's going on?

But instead of greeting me with a big hug, smile or, heaven forbid, a high five, England looked at me, eyebrows raised, like I had mental problems. "Why do Americans always say have a nice day?" people would ask, honestly curious, as though this nice parting phrase needed rationalization. Or, "Why are Americans so fake and happy all the time?" I quickly learned that the very traits that Americans considered advantageous had the opposite effect on Britons. "Do you mind turning that enthusiasm down a notch? You're scaring the women and children."

At the turn of the millennium, through subtle comments and looks, England took a bold and idealistic woman and filed her down and chilled her out. It showed her that patience, contentment and holding her tongue were good complements to her natural activism, ambition and proclivity to speaking her mind.

America had told me to fake it till I make it, to act like I know what I'm doing at all times. England countered, You're confidence is making us slightly anxious.

America had said, I don't want to hear you complain until you've done something to change the situation. England looked at my proactivity and sighed.

America said, be direct, bold, forward. Say what you mean, don't beat around the bush. England insinuated, We prefer subtlety here.

America said, go big or go home. England said, I just might head home and put the kettle on then.

America said, how can I make your experience as comfortable as possible? England said, If you're cold put a jumper on.

America said, be inclusive. Talk to strangers. Try to make new people comfortable. Make small talk, make connections. England pleaded, Please just leave me alone. 

America said, put all your cards on the table as soon as possible. England said, Lay each down, one by one. Make them work for it. 

America said, cheer up, don't be so cynical. England said, Why are you in such a good mood?

America said, be perfect. Start your own business. Start a nonprofit. Be remarkable. Do it by the time you're thirty. England said, stop expecting so much out of yourself. Ambition isn't necessarily a great word.

America said, express your feelings, don't keep things bottled up. England said, Only if you absolutely must, and then only after a few drinks.

America said, less taxes and smaller government. England said, More taxes and bigger government.

America said socialism is evil. England said, capitalism is immoral.

It was all very confusing as you can imagine, like your dad telling you to do one thing and then your mum telling you to do the opposite. So many mixed messages, and on so many levels! But that is what living in England was like for me, aged 25-29, trying to figure life out in a completely different context to the one I'd been raised in. 

England was expecting one thing, getting another and then making constant adjustments and finding balance, and home, somewhere in the middle. It was learning to be content with less, to hang dry my clothes and handwash my dishes, without rinsing the suds. It was riding the bus instead of driving a car, learning that working out five times a week isn't normal and that trying to be perfect isn't worth it. England was feeling cold all winter, only going out to eat on special occasions, learning how to cook and bake, feeling like chocolate chip cookies were exotic, paying more than I'd ever paid on a lifestyle that was the simplest I've ever lived, constant awareness that I think differently, having so much annual vacation I had to think strategically to use it all, not worrying about health insurance, drinking a boatload of tea, drinking a boatload of coffee. England was starting a marriage. It was learning to be comfortable well and truly outside of my comfort zone.

England was an exercise in learning how not to be defensive all the time, as accidental ambassador for a country that is a catalyst for countless opinions.

So, that's what living in England was like, in a nutshell.

Whenever someone asks me, in addition to saying that I learned a lot, I also add that I wouldn't trade my experience there for anything. That I feel so blessed to have so many true friends across the pond, who helped me navigate my foreignness and loved me regardless, two of whom will be visiting us in just a few days!

And of course I say that, after four years, it's good to be home.

{Photo via etsy}

Monday, 14 March 2011

Japan, my heart

Yes, spring has come

This morning a nameless hill

Is shrouded in mist.

- Basho

I'm not normally a poetry type of girl, but sometimes less is more. My heart is with Japan right now, a country that, for some strange reason, nestled into the soul of a little girl in Seattle over twenty years ago.

In third grade I begged my parents to let me take Japanese. And violin, though I feared at age seven I would be starting too late. I was the Asian mother's dream.

At sixteen, while most girls dreamed of Paris, I dreamed of Kyoto. I spent the summer before senior year in the mountains of Gunma, cycling around the rice paddies, practicing calligraphy with my host sisters and generally being in my element. 

Even in Albania when I was 19, so far from that island nation, an old Kosovar refugee woman gave me a ring inscribed with the Chinese characters the Japanese language adopted. I later translated it:  Don't forget me.

I met my husband in a forest in Kobe. While teaching young Japanese how to say such useful words as apple, cat and sleep, I let Japan in even more. This place taught me form, tradition and grace, which I never quite mastered, despite my efforts.

I walked down the aisle to taiko drums. Every time I try to write about England, I write about Japan.

This is cheesy, but Japan is my heart. It runs deep.

The people I am still in touch with are safe, but shocked. I received an email yesterday from a friend who is now teaching English in the north. She shared this verse from the Psalms.

''Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
   for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
   until the disaster has passed.''

- Psalm 57:1

I have not forgotten Japan, and I know that God has not either. Right now, as cherry blossoms bloom in Seattle, I pray for this country I love, across the Pacific.

{Photo via flicrk by joel abroad}

Monday, 7 March 2011

Full English breakfast and help me decide on a book title

This weekend we introduced my parents to the joys of a Full English breakfast at the Market Arms in Ballard. I hadn't had a "proper fry-up" for over a year and so was feeling a bit nostalgic. Many Americans may be taken aback by the idea of eating baked beans for breakfast, by choice, but I can assure you they actually complement the rest of the meal quite well.

I got the veggie version, subbing mushrooms for sausage and bacon. Here's the play by play:

(Baked beans, fried eggs, sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes and two cheeky slices of toast hiding under the 'shrooms.)

I'm still eating the British way, which I learned was the correct way: fork in left hand and knife in right throughout. Only children and Americans switch mid-eating maneuver to shovel the food into the mouth I was told.

Knife and fork on right signals a a completed breakie. What you're failing to see is the bottomless coffee I had instead of tea -- English Breakfast, Seattle-style. Yum yum.

I'm actually also doing a bit of a poll, and I invite you to cast your vote. The book I'm writing, a memoir of four years in England, is still a work-in-progress, but needs a name.

There are three ideas I have so far. What do you think? 
  1. Tea + Toast: A story steeped in England
  2. Swimming in Treacle
  3. Full English
Do you know what treacle is? I'd call it the British equivalent to molasses or honey, a sticky sweetener that gets a lot of attention in the pastry case over there, even if just subtly as a minor ingredient. It can also be the main attraction though -- apparently, treacle tart is Harry Potter's favorite dessert. I would consider it an acquired taste if you were not raised on the stuff, to be perfectly honest.

Sometimes living in England felt like swimming in treacle to me -- an exercise in resistance punctuated by sweetness.

I think the other two are self-explanatory.

Anyway, thanks for letting me know in the comments if you like any of my potential names.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

My Seattle:: Honore Artisan Bakery

Whenever I go jogging I need a target to motivate me. And I'm not talking about an, "I'm going to run five miles today!" target -- that doesn't do it for me. One of my best running goals is Honore Artisan Bakery

It's the perfect distance from my house and I honestly need it to get me going. I don't even stop for a coffee and one of their glorious macarons -- I just run to it, live vicariously through the patrons and then turn around and head home. Being easily pleased is a good trait.

Of course, even better than running by is actually going in. Dan and I will pop in every once in a while to cap off an ideal lazy Saturday afternoon. The space is small but usually we're able to crow-bar ourselves into the counter bar seating area, spread out our baked wares and put the world to right one pastry at a time.

I'd even consider moving to this neighborhood just to be within easy walking distance, but then where would I run to?
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