Monthly Archives: January 2012

Snow Daze

A funny thing happens when it snows in Seattle like it has in the last week:  everything stops.

Plans, commitments, meetings, driving, working (except for me).  This sounds terribly inconvenient, but in fact, it is glorious.

Nothing excites me more than normal life coming to an absolute halt.  Do I have appointments that I wish I could have kept?  Of course.  But do I love that we all have to hunker down and do nothing more than be at home?  Absolutely.

In the last five days it has snowed off and on, accumulating to about four inches in Kirkland, two in Seattle, and many more further north and south of us.  That is not a significant amount of snow.  But when you live in a city that operates approximately three snow plows and sits on more hills than I can count, there is a lockdown situation.

And I couldn’t be happier.

I have the privilege of wielding a double-edged sword called “I Get to Work from Home.”  I am grateful that I get paid to sit at home with my laptop, but I am a little bummed that a “snow day” for me doesn’t mean I can frolic outside for six hours.

And I am fully aware of how obnoxious that attitude is for those who can’t work from home and have to take a vacation day or who just won’t get paid.  Three cheers for whining about blessings!

One of the funniest parts of witnessing a Seattle snowstorm is watching the residents’ reactions.  For those of you who inhabit a colder climate than ours, you would find yourself wishing you could bottle Seattleites’ hollers of terror and drink them later for a nice buzz.

Facebook is always the first thing to explode. 

“Weatherman says 2 – 4 inches!  OMG how am I going to get to work!?!?”

“I just stocked up on enough food and water for a year!!”

“I purchased tire chains and can’t freaking figure out how to put them on!”

“I just drove home from the store and it was the CRAZIEST SCARIEST ride of my life!!!  Don’t do it!!”

And then the one jaded Northeast native always chimes in, “Seriously?  You call this snow?”

Listen, I am a Northeast native, and despite the snows of my childhood being measured in feet rather than inches, I can honestly say that my feelings for Seattle snow run deep.  I love that any amount of snow in Seattle means that my days will stretch from one relaxing evening to the next.  I love that when I go to the store, half the aisles are empty because people are planning for the apocalypse.  I love that no one so much as questions your inability to get anywhere.  I love that people take to the streets like gold is floating down from the sky instead of snowflakes.

I also love it because of what it forces us to do — slow down.  Mike’s classes were canceled for the week, I work from home every day, and every afternoon we take a walk to enjoy the winter wonderland.  We stay home at night, we eat in, we have silly meals to celebrate a special week (last night: a Parisian picnic in the living room, with cheese, a baguette, olives, salami and wine).  We both look at each other like “Why do we ever make mid-week plans?”

Snow in Seattle also easily shaves about fifteen years off your life.  Immediately you’re throwing on hats, gloves, heavy boots that are used once a year (and usually then it’s at a local ski slope), and heading out the door to smile at every person you see as you all converge to marvel at the transformed landscape. 

That and make snow angels like it’s your job. 

Mike and Phil decided that the pristine layer of snow on our building’s second story patio needed their impressions.  Shortly after that, they spotted a friend of ours on his deck in the condo building across from us, and a snowball fight ensued — from building to building.

Seattle snow days — yes, I’m all for Seattle snow days.

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Elbow Grease

Even though Mike and I have yet to experience unemployment in our marriage, I am still overly conservative and penny-pinching in our daily lives.  Call it my nature, but I wish I could sweep our funds into a nice little pile in the middle of the floor before stuffing it all in a pillowcase and hiding it where Mike can’t find it. 

I don’t do this without cause.  Mike’s spendthrift ways are thoroughly documented somewhere in a book called “There’s Always More Money Where That Came From,” a book I failed to read before signing the marriage certificate, by the way.  Similarly, my frugality is the stuff of legends, legends that felt like a myth to Michael before he married me and realized I would circle the block for days for a free parking space.

So it’s easy to picture the clash of ideals when one of us carries a homemade lunch to work every day and the other frequents the local Nordstrom for a refreshing cafe lunch and a shoe shine.

Mike has long argued that a shoe shine is a great decompressant, and he always tells me about his engaging conversations with his favorite shine artist, Kim.  To avoid any raised eyebrows, Kim is a man.

I have always lamented Mike’s shoe shines as a needless extravagance, and he has always defended them by pointing out that they cost a mere $2.50.  Well, $2.50 plus a $5 tip.  And, he points out, it’s helping out his main man Kim, and who can argue with that?

This is the point in the conversation when I roll my eyes.

Well, I used to roll my eyes.  All of that changed one Sunday when Mike invited me to get my boots shined after church.  I asked if we could really shoot the moon and get that cafe lunch, too.  Needless to say, he agreed.

After enjoying a bowl of crab bisque and too many slices of sourdough, we meandered downstairs to the shoe shine room near the entrance of Nordstrom.  I started to ask Mike just how often this little shoe shine date with Kim really takes place…is it once a month?  Every two weeks?

“Kim!” he hollers to the man furiously buffing a gentlemen’s shoes.

Kim turns around, leans in toward Mike until he’s inches from his face, and says, “My man!”

Must be every week.  At least.

“What do you want today?” he asks Mike.  He hasn’t noticed me standing with him yet, and that’s when I remember that Mike once told me that Kim is nearly blind.  All at once I’m realizing the implications of a blind man shining shoes all day, and I’m stunned silent.

“We’d both love a shine,” Mike replies, gesturing toward me.  “This is my wife, Abby.” 

We exchange hello’s and he invites us to sit while he finishes with his current customer.

“I been slammed today, man,” he says to Mike.  “It’s almost the holidays and people are coming in a mile a minute.  This one woman walked off in a huff when I said I was backed up five pairs.  People don’t get it.  I’m the only one working here today!” 

Mike sympathizes with him and assures him we’re in no hurry, so he can take his time with other things.  He asks if we’d like to change the TV station or choose from the reading materials.  A feeling begins to creep up on me, a feeling of being mortified that someone thirty years my elder is about to wait on me.  I feel a sweat-inducing class-consciousness, and I realize I’d rather run naked through the store than have him shine my shoes. 

It occurs to me that the feeling harks back longer than I can consciously recall.  My parents always raised me never to have others do for me what I could do for myself.  This includes things like housework, landscaping, washing the car, laundry, and apparently, shoeshining.  Part of it is about not spending money on those things, but the other part of it is the fact that what is my responsibility is my responsibility.  I made my shoes scuffy, therefore I should have to buff them myself.  Case closed.

“Ma’am are these boots black or brown?” he says, leaning over my feet.  It’s the worst reminder of his lack of sight.

“They’re black,” I reply, “and I’ve never had a shoe-shine in my life.  I haven’t taken good care of them,” I admit. 

“Well, you’ve got to come in here,” he says.  “You’ve got to get your shoes done, not just to make them shine but to treat the leather.  Especially in Seattle!  The water dries out the leather and you have to have them oiled.”

I feel both gently chastised and justified by what he’s said.  Yes, I need to take better care of them, and yes, it is my problem.  But it also occurs to me that he’s emphasizing that this is just part of owning shoes — you go get them shined.  It’s not about pretentiousness, it’s about caring for the things you purchased six feet away in the shoe department.  It’s the same as getting an oil change (which my dad has always done himself by the way…poor example, then).  My making this a class issue is really my issue — I’m uncomfortable; he’s not.  After all, the shoe shine costs $2.50 — it’s designed for every shoe owner to take care of their shoes.

I look over at Mike, who couldn’t be more at ease.  He’s telling Kim about church today, since he asked what we’ve been doing this morning.

Kim apparently agrees with our morning choice.

“So you’re paying attention, you’re tuned in,” he says.  “People I meet here always think that their days are not numbered, but let me tell you, they are.  You’ve got to get to know the Lord before you meet Him, am I right?!” 

Kim steps into the back room to gather different supplies, and I turn to Mike and tell him something about how utterly ungrateful I am for having an easy job sitting at a desk all day while Kim is on his feet, working his tail off for far less money.   I tell him about a teacher I had in seventh grade who used to tell us about her trip to India and ask us a haunting question:  if we were ever in India, would we pay to take a ride in a rickshaw?  Would we do what felt degrading to the driver in order to help them make money?  Or would we refuse to take a ride, on principle, but then know that we had just kept that person from making enough money for the day?  I’ve never forgotten that question, and I still don’t have an answer.

Mike looks at me and says, “Kim is working hard, yes, but there’s honor in that.  He’s here every day serving his clients, getting paid, making what we hope is a living wage.  Think about it: he’s blind — he has every excuse to be at home, and instead he’s here working his tail off.  I’m going to support him as much as I can because I admire him, and I want him to be the best paid shoeshiner in the freaking state.”

I don’t know what to say, but I suppose I agree.  I want to support Kim, and I also want to be socially responsible.  For today, that means swallowing my issues and letting him shine my shoes. 

Kim returns and finishes our shoes.  We tell him he did an incredible job, because he truly did.  I can’t believe how much better my boots look, and I tell him I’ll return.  He asks one favor of us before we go.

“Would you email the management and tell them that you liked your service today?  That woman I told you about earlier threatened to email management and complain that I couldn’t wait on her fast enough.”

We are both horrified and vow to send an email that will remove all doubt as to the nature of his service.  We pay him and begin to walk away.  Normally, I would have a hurricane of a heart attack if Mike tipped someone more than 30%, but in this case I just feel proud of him for the far higher than 30% tip he hands to Kim.

“And,” I add, “I’ll tell everyone I know with a pair of shoes to get over here.” 

Nordstrom, Bellevue Square: Open 9:30AM – 9:30PM Monday through Saturday, 11AM – 7PM Sundays.

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New York State of Mind

Sometimes in life one feels compelled to do things that are so extravagant they are absurd.

In November, with only six weeks to plan, Mike and I decided to surprise some of our best friends in New York City at Christmastime.  It was Sarah’s 29th birthday, and we thought it would be brilliant to go over-the-top on the birthday before her 30th, because she wouldn’t be expecting anything.  We wanted to surprise Amy for no reason other than to show her we love her with a Christmas surprise she would never forget.  See above: extravagant.

Obviously we couldn’t have planned this without the integral help of their significant others.  I use “significant” very purposefully here.  We literally could not have done this without Casey and Brian, nor would we have wanted to.  Their company was as crucial as their planning.

We schemed over email for weeks, finally choosing where each surprise would take place.  Due to logistics and complications, we didn’t nail down each location until the day of each surprise.

Mike and I flew into NYC on Thursday, Dec 8, checked into our hotel and walked straight to the Empire State Building.  On our way we were furiously texting instructions to Casey, who was driving Siri into the city from D.C.

We had all purchased tickets in advance, so there was no line to get to the Observation Deck on the 86th floor.  Mike and I scoped the scene, knowing we needed good lighting to catch the moment on video.  Once we found the perfect spot, we texted Casey and told him how to get there.

Mike and I hid behind a pillar until we saw them exit the correct door, and then sprinted after them.  I tapped Sarah on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, miss, you dropped something,” so that she would turn around.

Her reaction was priceless:  http://youtu.be/qE4gb-cuceY.

As was the view.


And the company.

After the great surprise, we went to dinner at an upscale Irish restaurant named Brendan’s.  Afterward, we were so overwhelmed with bar options that we naturally chose…karaoke.

Mike and Casey sang “Don’t Stop Believin'” and Sarah and I sang “Man in the Mirror.”  The former kind of made sense for our trip.  The latter made no sense at all.

Shall we discuss the Charlie Chaplin statue?  Let’s not.

A huge part of the reason for us coming to NYC in the first place was that I hadn’t been since I was 12, and Mike hadn’t been since he was 22.  We’d always wanted to visit for the magic of Christmas in New York, so it was a major bucket list item.

We were not disappointed.

From the minute we arrived, we began a long parade of “I can’t believe this” that didn’t really end until we left four days later.  Stepping out of Grand Central Terminal after taking the train from Newark through Penn Station, we both gasped at the immediacy of our awe.  I stared at the Chrysler Building like I had flown in from another planet, rather than from across the country.

To my delight, I was mistaken for a local almost immediately.  A woman walked up to me and asked where Penn Station was.  I couldn’t believe my luck that the one person who asked me for directions was looking for the one place in the city I could actually point her to.

On second thought, the luggage I was dragging down the street may have been her reason for approaching me.  But I digress.

The next day was a smorgasbord of tourist activity that fulfilled my inner need to traverse an entire city in hours.  We brunched, we went to Central Park, we went to the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, the Shake Shack, the Guggenheim, the Belvedere Castle…until we couldn’t take anymore.

Then we went to dinner at a French bistro called Rue 57, which is the kind of place that makes you glad to be alive just so you can eat there.

I mean, we’re seated in a wine cellar decorated for Christmas in New York City.  Please slap me across the face.

The rest of the evening is burned into my brain as one of the highlights of my year: we windowshopped on 5th Avenue at Christmastime.  There are no words.

I didn’t even notice when Mike took this picture, but it is exactly my expression for six blocks of eye candy.  I don’t think I held a conversation with any of my three companions.  Why would I, when my new friends Tiffany, Bergdorf, Bloomingdale and Van Cleef were waiting to greet me?

It was spectacular.

We went to The Plaza and Rockefeller to see the tree, and made a drive-by at Serendipity and Dylan’s Candy, but really, after the day we’d had, it was all beginning to feel like saying yes to your fourth dessert.

The next morning we were refreshed by the excitement of surprise number two — the Amy reveal!  We went to SoHo to shop until Brian and Amy arrived into the city from Philadelphia.  We agreed to meet at Katz’s Delicatessen, of “When Harry Met Sally” fame.  It was providential because the previous day Amy had mentioned how excited she was that Katz’s was going to start shipping their meat to Philly.  We couldn’t believe our luck.

Of course, the line outside of Katz’s was half a block, so our timing was way off on this surprise.  Brian was texting us that they were practically done eating so we needed to get inside pronto.  We rushed to order and then walked back to their table for the reveal: http://youtu.be/liZMRcRzA54.

Her reaction is classic Amy — no visible shock, just a huge smile and a question: “How did you get here?”  We filled her in on all the details and then watched her relieved face as she realized that yes, we had an agenda for the weekend.  Brian’s face was equally relieved, since he had been sweating bullets for 45 minutes.

First we walked to Greenwich via Washington Square Park.

I wasn’t at all embarrassed to insist on a “Sex and the City” walk-by.

After catching up over a couple of pints at a 150 year-old pub…

…we went to 50 Commerce for a grown-up New York drink.  It had the kindest bartender and the lighting of dreams.

We did a quick change for dinner at 10 Downing (yes, apparently all NY restaurants decline choosing a name and instead just name their address) which was perfect for a 29th birthday feast.

Amy blew our minds by having a friend in the city celebrating her birthday at a fabulous underground club, so we bypassed the velvet rope and walked right in.  I have to admit it felt impossibly cooler than entering any bar in the greater Seattle area.

We decided to check out 230 Fifth, a rooftop bar that I’d read good things about.  On our way there, we saw this fantastic sight.

It never gets old.

After a brief wait we made it to the top and took in the fabulous views and astronomical drink prices to match.

We found a seat, but it was brief because we were informed that in order to sit anywhere, we had to buy a bottle.  This does not happen in Seattle, and I was equally indignant and mortified.  Since the cheapest bottle was $225, we chose to leave.

In the words of Carrie Bradshaw: I couldn’t help but wonder…how often does one have three redheads in one’s establishment?  Why wouldn’t one welcome such a rare occurrence?

Oh well.

We finished the evening at a much lower-key bar, happy to have a place to sit and drinks that didn’t need to be mortgaged.

Our final day together was spent at the Central Park ice rink, Times Square, Magnolia Bakery, and the Village.  It was perfect.

After our friends left Sunday evening, Mike and I had a final date night at the World Trade Center Memorial.

It was a sobering end to the weekend, and it made us more emotional than we expected.  We didn’t realize that going at night would be so impactful; the glow from the fountain surrounded by the lights of the city was overwhelming.  Couple that with the roar of the water drowning out all other sound, and the effect was intense.  The memorial reminded us of the horror of that day, but also made us appreciate the freedom we enjoy to visit the stellar city in which it’s housed.

To recover, we had a quiet dinner at Mercer Kitchen in SoHo, where we talked about the weekend and relished a date night like no other.

As I flew back to Seattle, the phrase Amy and Sarah said all weekend wouldn’t leave my thoughts, “Is this really happening?”

Yes, ladies, it happened.  And I couldn’t be happier.

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