Wherever you go, there you are

It is October. It is fifty degrees here in Seattle, and fall has descended. The leaves have started to change colors and drop, and there is the occasional smell of wood smoke in the air. The coffee shops everywhere are offering pumpkin spice lattes, and as some stores are merchandising for Halloween a tacky few are already on to Christmas. I am enjoying the crisp tang to the air and the rains are becoming more common again.

Fall has always been my favorite season and I really enjoy it although the seasons differ a bit depending where you live. Fall here feels different than a New York autumn like those of my childhood. Minnesota is yet another experience. I wonder if this time of the year brings many discernible differences for someone in a warmer clime like that of Texas. I may never find out as I don’t care for the heat.

I have been thinking about this lately as I try to stay mindful of my surroundings and the passing of the seasons is part of the awareness I cultivate. I’ve also been thinking about seasonal markers because of my haiku practice. I work with a haiku group that often assigns seasonal words for the haiku, but these seasonal words are collected from Japan. Some things remain the same, but many of their festivals and celebrations are different. They don’t have all the same flora and fauna that are in other places.

This year I think I’ll compile some season words that are specific to Seattle. As a transplant, I’m trying to notice what marks the season here. What makes Seattle itself and not somewhere else? I think these are valuable questions to ask, and I’ve noticed more clues since I’ve started wondering. Sometimes answers can only come once questions have been formulated. My brain is buzzing and my hand is up in the air. I’ve got lots to ask.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
264. Start asking some questions about the place where you live. What makes it unique to itself? How does your town and region mark the seasons? Is that different than somewhere else you have lived?


Love the one you’re with

Music speaks to me and I listen. You probably have songs that are deeply meaningful to you. Most of us do. This week one of the ones that has been stuck in my brain is Neil Diamond’s song I am… I said.  I grew up in New York state and I’ve been feeling terribly homesick lately. Neil says: “L.A.’s fine but it ain’t home; New York’s home but it ain’t mine no more.” I feel the same about Seattle. There are certain things I love about it, but it’s just not my native culture. I will always feel like a bit of an outsider here.

I go through this occasionally. I moved to Minnesota for graduate school and then to Seattle. I wanted to experience the country. Seattle is beautiful but it’s very different from the East Coast. Sometimes I find that incredibly frustrating, and I miss a lot of the places I grew up around. I don’t have a lot of money to travel, but I go to visit New York and Minnesota when I can.

I’ll probably never leave Seattle. Although I miss people from back home, and I don’t get to see my family as often as I would like, I have found family here. There are too many people and communities I would hate to leave. It’s a weird confusing feeling, and I’m sure many people go through similar feelings around the places they live.

I am sitting today in my living room typing this and listening to the sounds of the rain. It’s been raining all day. The leaves glisten and the air is fresh. I’m going out later to spend time with one of my best friends. As comedian Steven Wright says: “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” Seattle has its frustrations but it has its compensations, too. The weather is lovely today. The weather is lovely a lot of the time. I am reminded of the Zen phrase: “be where you are”. I am in Seattle, and it is good. Here I will turn back to the wisdom of music–if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Some days are easier than others. I am going to enjoy this rainy day and sip my coffee. Life is good.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
261. How do you feel about the place where you live? Are there compromises? Take a moment to think about your environment and how it affects you. For today, try to “be where you are” and “love the one you’re with”.

A little word snack

Here in Seattle it is easy to indulge my predilection for sitting in public and sipping coffee. Today I am having my cup of goodness in the local food co-op, Madison Market. I love this place, and it reminds me of one of the reasons I love Seattle. Food is a very personal and cultural thing, and I feel accepted in a place like the co-op. There’s something homey about being in a place where there’s other vegetarians, and people routinely eat tofu. I’ve belonged to a food co-op in every place I’ve lived, and I experience an immediate sense of belonging in each new one I join. Seattle, too, is full of vegetarians and people who think about what they eat. It makes me feel welcome.

When I miss New York, I seek out decent pizza and Italian desserts, and when I miss Minnesota I go to Ballard to get some lefse. Lefse is basically a tortilla made out of mashed potatoes. It’s a Scandinavian thing, and I got hooked on it while I was in Minnesota.

I’ve also fallen to the nostalgia of foods that Mom used to make. I’ve got recipes for some of her treats, but sometimes I take the easy way out. My mother cooked almost everything from scratch. I remember two major exceptions—Kraft macaroni and cheese, and Hamburger Helper. These days the Hamburger Helper contains vegetarian crumbles, but it still brings back the memories. Yum.

Another one of my food rituals centers around pierogis. Pierogis are Polish dumplings made from a pasta-like dough. They can contain many things, but our family makes them most often with potatoes and cheese inside. Once they’ve been boiled we fry them in a pan, and some people like onions on top. Pierogis are part of my Polish heritage, and I love them, but they are labor intensive. Each year my family gets together and spends most of a day making an enormous quantity of them. Then we eat and eat and eat. It’s a ritual I cherish, and it functions as an initiation for new members and friends of the family.

All this writing about food is making me hungry, so it must be time for lunch. See you tomorrow.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

166. Food can create strong feelings, memories and opinions. What are some of yours? Share these thoughts with someone else. Even better, share them over a meal. Remember to respect the feelings of others while you do this exercise.

And lots of songs about trucks

I had a strange moment on Friday evening, and I’d like to share it with you. I was out country dancing, and had taken a break for a moment because I’d just done two really fast line dances in a row. As I caught my breath and watched the other dancers doing the two-step, I sang along with the music. This is when the weirdness occurred. I realized I was singing about farm equipment, and that I knew all the words. I thought about it a little more that evening, and I know the words to lots of songs about farm equipment.

I grew up in the Hudson Valley region of New York. The state has plenty of rural regions, but the area I am from is not one of them. I’d never seen a combine or a grain elevator before I moved to Minnesota, and I certainly could not have told you what they were for. As I’ve learned to love country music, I’ve gotten even more familiar with these things. I think that’s great. I think that writers ought to know at least a little about a lot of things, and it’s interesting to hear the viewpoint of someone who has grown up with a different experience than your own. The song I was singing along with is called International Harvester, and it’s sung by Craig Morgan. It’s a great two-step song, and I think the lyrics are intriguing. The singer talks about how it feels to be driving down the highway at five miles per hour on his combine and have all the cars honking at him when he’s only trying to do his job.

I’d never thought about it from that perspective before. I’ve done a lot of driving on back roads, and I’ve gotten behind some of those slow-moving farm vehicles. I’ve also been stuck behind Amish buggies. I realized they couldn’t go any faster, but I never thought about how frustrating it must be to have angry drivers behind them. I love to have my world expanded like this. I can’t wait to see what next new perspective will cross my path. I’m keeping my eyes and ears open.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

146. When was the last time you were exposed to a new perspective on life? Seek one out. One idea is to page through specialty or trade magazines. You can learn a lot by seeing what others focus on.

What a glorious feeling

Everything is wet today. The sidewalks glisten, the leaves curl around mouthfuls of water. Damp pigeons fluff their feathers as I walk by. The city is renewing itself. I love the rain, and it’s a special treat to have it on the tail end of a miniature heat wave.

I woke up to a cool bedroom, the air crisp with the breeze brought by the showers. I made sure to go for a walk during lunch so that I could enjoy the nice weather. Other people stayed inside, not wishing to get wet. I’ve been told that I’m perfect for Seattle, because I love the native dampness. I moved here partly for that dampness, and I have not been disappointed.

I think it’s important to live in a place that suits you. I have a close friend who lives in Phoenix. I love to visit Arizona, but I cannot see myself battling the heat on a daily basis. I would miss the greenness of my environment, and I would never want to leave the cocoon of an air-conditioned nest. I don’t even like air-conditioning. On a similar note, I used to live in Minnesota. I loved the people there, and the culture was intriguing. It was a very friendly place by and large, and I enjoyed strolling around the many lakes. It was also cold—so cold a lot of the time that I felt like I was battling Mother Nature. Winter, which seemed to last most of the year, was an endurance test. I bonded with the natives there, because we were all survivors of an environmental endurance test. Who needs that kind of struggle?

Now that I live in Seattle I am much happier. I’ve tossed my snow shovel, and I don’t even carry an umbrella most of the time. There’s always going to be days that aren’t quite perfect, but I am happy in the knowledge that I’ll get to sit out in the rain on a regular basis. My city provides me with the puddles and downpours I crave, and I revel in them when they arrive. Mother Nature and I are friends again. She’s a pretty good ally to have.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

108. Does the place where you live suit you? Why or why not? Is there anything you can change to make your environment more accommodating?

I’ll take the express

Tonight I’m off to square dancing class. I’ll have some down time before I get there, because I’m riding the bus. I got rid of my car once I moved to Seattle because we are such a transit-friendly city, and I rarely miss it. These enforced breaks between activities allow me to read, to ponder, to work on my writing. Sometimes I just watch the pigeons and people around me. I remain productive, even when that productivity is limited to regaining my energy. It’s all good. 

I’m prepared for this time. I’ve got bubbles in my purse, and I pick the size of my bags based on whether or not they’ll fit a paperback novel. I’m currently reading a private eye mystery. I’ve also got paper and a pen. Who knows what I’ll need to write down—I might overhear an interesting conversation or get an idea for this blog. I might meet someone on the bus. It’s happened before. 

I love the bus because I get time to explore neighborhoods I don’t otherwise venture into. My square dance class is in Green Lake. It’s very pretty up there, with lots of cute little shops near the lake itself. The lake reminds me of many I met during my time in Minnesota. It’s fairly small—about three miles circumference—and often ringed with bikers, skaters and pedestrians. I get a warm feeling just looking at it. 

If I was driving I would most likely pick the shortest route and arrive just before my activity started. I’d plan to investigate the neighborhood on some other day. That day might come, and it might not. The bus forces me to slow down, to become a tourist in my own town. There are a lot of pretty churches up there, and I enjoy looking at the flowers which are just coming out into the front yards. I saw a forsythia in blossom, and I knew it was spring. 

I’m looking forward to my walk in Green Lake today. It’ll be a good warm-up for the dancing and I think I’ll go down a different street than last time. What will I find? Where it will lead me? I aim to find out. 

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

71.  Explore an unfamiliar neighborhood. Peruse its shops, look at its architecture. Did you find something intriguing?

Look! Up in the air!

I gaze out each window, and I am surrounded by snow flurries. Pellet-sized snow is thick in the atmosphere. The clouds have been dusting us with this sky sugar for at least an hour. Everyone is abuzz—some panicking, some delighted. It’s the end of March, and we live in Seattle. We haven’t seen snow all year, except for a few tablespoons up on Capitol Hill. I think that was placed there by gremlins. The current storm is nifty. 

Context is everything. In Minnesota, a similar atmospheric outburst would be greeted by jeers. By the end of March everyone has had more than enough of that sort of thing, and they are quite ready to move on to rain and heat. In Seattle, people stand in the cold winter air, complaining when the thermometer dips below fifty. They lament, they moan. They do not know how they will survive. In Minnesota, when it’s above freezing they roll the windows down, blast the car stereos, and do everything in shorts. It all depends on your perspective. 

This sudden snow shower reminds me of a meditation retreat I went to in St. Paul, Minnesota. We were in the last hours of seven days of silence, and the strict rules about not interacting with others were starting to relax. Another participant tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out the window, excited. It was starting to snow. I remember being annoyed, thinking about the mess it would make on the way home. I didn’t know what he was even pointing at. It couldn’t be the weather. Could it? I gave him a confused shrug, and he mimicked the falling flakes with his fingers, delighted. I found out afterwards that he was from California, and he’d never seen snow before. The miracle was new to him. 

I feel like that now. Snow is a rare commodity in Seattle proper, and I cherish what little I do see. I don’t want to go back to the frozen north, but I do appreciate the small glimpses I get of the white fluffy stuff. Seattle snow is snow globe snow. It blows around for a bit and looks pretty, and then settles safely out of the way until the next shake up. I’m perfectly happy to live in our pretty glass bubble. It feels like home.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

66. What’s cold to you? What’s your perspective on the weather, and where do you think you got it? Is it helpful or not?