A Year of Dates #3: Playing Tourist in Our Own Town

I realize I’ve been rather remiss in updating the blog posts about the Best Gift Ever (from the Best Mom Ever – that’d be mine): a Year of Dates for my husband and me to enjoy, once a month for twelve (really fantastic) months. With my wedding anniversary coming up, I thought I’d spend a few writing sessions re-living some of the fun Bill and I have had so far…

January was a late (and surprisingly delicious) breakfast, followed by some serious bowling action (as fun as this was, I’m not sure I want to go back to the scene of MY victory, as Bill is still grumbling about a rematch, and I’m pretty sure I’d never win again!).

February was a return to one of favorite dates when we had way more time on our hands (pre-children, obviously): lunch (a date isn’t a date without food…) and a visit to a bookstore for some serious browsing. (Can you hear my sigh of contentment? I can seriously spend hours looking at books…)

March was… oh yeah, March was a date at the HOSPITAL with the toddler to learn that he had Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. Hot date, right?! Actually, the third of our year of dates was supposed to be the day after Broder’s diagnosis, but since my mom would be babysitting (this is a major part of her gift to us, which is really a double gift: no babysitting expenses AND my kids get to spend quality-time with one of their favorite people on the planet, their grandma; have I mentioned that this is the Best Gift EVER??), and since Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is highly contagious, and since Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease can still afflict adults (though it usually hits kids under the age of five), and since Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease can be quite painful… the gift-giver was more than happy to give us a rain check  on date number three.

Which brings us to our April date… playing tourist in our home town.

Driving Home from our Date

A major advantage when playing tourist in your own town? No need for a car rental! Wahoo! (And don’t worry; we were stopped at a light!! I’m all about safety, remember??)

I’m always surprised how little I know the town, state, and even the country in which I live…

For example, when my best friend from high school and I moved to England for four months during our junior year of college (we were supposed to be there for the year, but the University I attended, turns out, decided to up and DROP the program I crossed a continent and ocean to study at, and turns out, didn’t bother telling me until I showed up on the first day of school… Nice, eh? At least I managed to cobble together a semester’s worth of courses so I could justify my stay…), we took the train and/or bus to a different city EVERY WEEKEND. By the end of our 16-week stay, I knew England better than I knew my home state of MONTANA, let alone the good ol’ U. S. of A.

So, Bill and I have been back in Seattle now for 11 YEARS… plenty of time to get to know our “home” city, right?! Yeah… No.

In all fairness, I’m quite familiar with our little neighborhood of Ballard (for those who don’t know Seattle, our city is a bit like New York City – though on a MUCH smaller scale – in that it’s comprised of multiple burrough-like nieghborhoods that were once their own municipalities (with their own mayors and everything!) before being annexed into the city; this means that each neighborhood has a very distinct history and sense of identity that makes visiting each neighborhood a bit like visiting a different town altogether: Ballard was originally settled by Scandinavian immigrants, and is still an active fishing port; Fremont, down the way from us, is the eclectic, artistic neighborhood, and the self-billed “Center of the Universe”; Capitol Hill still embraces the edgy vibe that gave birth to grunge music; Downtown is home to Nordstrom (yes, fine, it’s also home to the iconic Pike Place Market… but, really, it’s all about Nordstrom’s shoe department); the University District is, well, duh, where the college kids hang out; and so on and so forth…). But, though I’ve necessarily visited and driven through various neighborhoods, and can find stores (read: Nordstrom) and street fairs (yep, I’ve seen the naked bike riders at Fremont’s Solstice Parade) and coffee shops (one requires much caffeine to survive the drizzly and dreary Seattle weather) just a bit further out than the 10 mile radius I tend to limit myself to, there are pockets of Seattle that I just haven’t explored and would love to know better.

Like, the International District… We’ve taken the kids to the (have-to-go-at-least-once-but-should-be-more-like-annually) Lunar New Year parade, and I, of course, have been told a thousand times that I HAVE to go to Uwajimaya, the huge Asian specialty supermarket (and someday I’ll get there, but honestly, just going 15 minutes to the local Fred Meyer seems a colossal effort most weeks; I just can’t summon the energy to battle the traffic and drive 30-45 minutes each way, no matter how awesome the selection of bok choy or hoisin sauce), but for the most part, Bill and I haven’t spent much time in this part of Seattle – located just a touch south of Downtown and a bit east of Pioneer Square (where you’ll find a lovely selection of art galleries, and the comical-but-historic Underground Tour – I’ve been to that neighborhood, yay!).

So on a sunny (who knew?!) day in April (which is usually one of the rainiest months in Seattle, and this last spring was particularly and brutally rainy, so the sun was SO appreciated), we headed off to play tourist. Bill had suggested two vegetarian-friendly restaurants (I’m the vegetarian, which sometimes makes finding places to eat just a wee bit challenging – I know, I’m such a pain!), a Thai place and a Vietnamese place. Both sounded great, but as we neared our destination, I just couldn’t bear the thought of going indoors when the sun was shining so brightly! We needed a patio… So, I pulled up the Yelp app on the iPhone (how did we survive before smartphones and apps??) and searched for outdoor dining in the International District, and surprise surprise!, the Vietnamese restaurant Bill had found – the Tamarind Tree – had a patio! In the sun! I could pig out on yummy, Jill-friendly food AND soak up some much-needed Vitamin D. Seattle was turning out to be such an awesome town to visit!

Outdoor Patio Dining in Seattle!

Enjoying lunch on that patio… Proof that there IS sun in Seattle! (If you look closely, you can even see me!! Wearing sunglasses!! Because it’s sunny!!)

After we could no longer justify taking up space on the toasty warm deck (there were other sun-deprived individuals waiting patiently and not-so-patiently in the shadows), Bill and I slowly strolled down the hill a few blocks to visit what would be the highlight of our day’s tourist agenda: the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (tourist tip: general admission is free on the first Thursday and third Saturday of every month; how awesome is that?!). Though a bit hesitant to go indoors (it was sunny!!), the museum is light-filled and, really, a very beautiful and inviting space. The museum is dedicated to telling the (important and emotionally-touching) stories and sharing the cultural artifacts of the Asian/Pacific immigrants and citizens who have, since the very beginning, helped build Seattle into the vibrant community it is today. The museum is a wonderful resource and community center; after the couple of hours we spent wandering through the different exhibits (and I must confess, my favorite part was the pop-culture exhibit with the vintage Pac-Man arcade game visitors could play for free (!!); I just kept circling around the exhibit waiting for “the other tourists” to get out of my way – um, I mean, move on – so I could play another round!), Bill and I agreed we couldn’t wait to bring the kids for a visit.

Playing Pac-Man

My dear hubby, kicking my dot-and-ghost-eating butt while playing doubles on the vintage Pac-Man arcade game. I’m just a bit out of practice, that’s all!

With the kids on our mind, we took a quick tour of the gift shop, but (rather quickly, too) decided that this was one “vacation” (or “staycation” if you’d rather) that didn’t require us to bring home souvenirs for the children.

After all, we’d definitely be back. Maybe even on another date… Though perhaps after touring some other parts of our “home town” that we don’t know as well as our own backyard… Like the Museum of History and Industry at Lake Union Park (haven’t been there), or the Experience Music Project at Seattle Center (haven’t been there, either, other than for a cocktail about a decade ago), or catching an outdoor summer concert at Marymoor Park (haven’t done that – crazy, right?!), or taking a ride on the SLUT (again, haven’t done that; and for you dirty-minded readers, get your head out of the gutter – I’m referring to the very tastefully named South Lake Union Trolley, a fairly new streetcar connecting various neighborhoods of Seattle!), or even… well, you get the point. There is so much to see and do… just in our own town!

And the best part (well, other than not having to buy a plane ticket or hassle with TSA)? After playing tourist all day, it’s really nice to go home… and be home…


A Year of Dates #2: Lunch & Literature

Bill and His New Book

I think Bill was still a little sore about the beat down I delivered at the bowling alley during a Year of Dates #1...

Perhaps one of the best parts about my mom’s BEST GIFT EVER to me and my fantastic and devilishly handsome husband (for our Christmas present, she’s giving us a Year of Dates – one a month for twelve months – isn’t that absolutely the best gift ever??) is that it forces us to do something together, just the two of us, no kids. Just the two of us.

No. Kids.

The thing is, we really like doing things as a family. It turns out (I know it’s crazy, but), we actually like being with our kids. Even when they’re doing something that drives me totally nutso crazy – like kicking each other over and over and over again at the park while I yell at them to stop from the other side of the playground (totally impressing all the other parents at the park – we are such a model family),* or looking at me with total innocence (a look that I know means they’re as guilty as sin) while I say “No, you can’t do that” and then doing *that* (whatever *that* may be, usually something I consider dangerous or rude or both) anyway – even then, I still want to be with my kids; I just want them to use better manners (and really, am I asking too much with the whole good manners thing??).

So, given that we like taking our kids with us on our adventures, it’s been a bit challenging to decide on what to do on any one of our twelve dates. For instance: Me (all excited because I think I’ve finally come up with a good idea): Hey, want to go to a Rat City Rollergirls bout?! Him: Well, yeah, but don’t you think that’s something we should do with the kids, or at least with Paisley, since she’s in roller derby now?** Me (after a loud sigh): Well, what the heck (I used a different word, but I’m trying hard to keep this blog family-friendly) did we do before we had kids??

Which brings us to February’s Date #2: Lunch and Literature.

Way back when we first started dating (you’d think I was referring to the dinosaur age with the way I talk, but it does feel like a long time ago), and even after we were married but before we had children, Bill and I used to while away whole afternoons or evenings just browsing through bookstores (rarely buying, because for most of that time we were broke college students or broke bottom-of-the-ladder employees – browsing bookstores was such a cheap date… and, uh, I mean that in the best way possible!). New bookstores, used bookstores, small bookstores, big chain bookstores, specialty bookstores, it didn’t matter… we were (and still are) equal opportunity bookstore junkies.

But browsing bookstores requires time to browse; and with three kids who come with their own busy schedules of feedings and naps and play dates and numerous extracurricular activities and more feedings, there’s not a lot of time to browse in our lives anymore. Also, I have found that the few times I’ve taken my kids to the bookstore (usually under extreme duress, to find a last-minute gift or a book that I needed to read for book club by the next day), they don’t really have the patience for browsing, at least not for more than one minute and forty-two and a half seconds (and I can tell you, it feels like the longest 102 ½ seconds ever). Nor, it seems, do they care for any section of the bookstore other than the comic book section, of which they inevitably gravitate toward the definitely-not-G-rated-if-they-rated-these-things comics/graphic novels (it’s truly uncanny how they find the most inappropriate item in any store we ever enter). So, yeah, I’ve learned that the online bookstore is now my bookstore of choice. And online browsing just isn’t the same…

So, decision made, off we happily went to feed our souls (thanks, Mom!): lunch at our favorite little neighborhood Indian restaurant (delicious!), then off to the bookstore to browse (to browse!) through an abundance of literary marvels and even spend the gift cards we’d accumulated from various birthdays and holidays, but had yet to find the time to use. It was so fun to just stand next to each other, while leafing through books in the humor section, trying to be quiet (see, kids: good manners – they’re important!) while we laughed out loud at this humorist’s essays (Samantha Bee kills me) or at that comic book’s pages (Calvin & Hobbes – the best). We meandered (meandered!) through the aisles, each heading off to our own favorite sections (me to gardening and home design and cooking, him to sports and non-fiction and travel), to meet up again a short time later to show each other what we’d found. For instance: Me (drooling at the pretty picture): Look, I mean look, at this landscape. Do you think we could do this with our backyard? Him (probably hoping I’d snap out of it and remember we live in rainy Seattle and not on the sunny shores of Lake Como in Italy): Sure, babe. Sure. (He’s so good to me.)

Yes, we really did have a wonderful time together. Just the two of us. No kids.

No. Kids.

Books for the Kids

Broder (22mo) adores reading The Napping House by two of my all-time favorite children's book authors/illustrators, Audrey & Don Wood; Liam (5yo) is, naturally, loving the Magic Tree House books (these two are about dragons and ninjas - very popular these days with the 5yo crowd); and I stole Neil Gaiman's book, The Graveyard Book, from Paisley (9yo) so I could read it. Is that wrong? I didn't lose her place...

We even managed to spend our gift cards! I bought four books. Of course… they’re all kids books. For the kids…

Okay okay okay, so it’s taking me a while to get used to this whole dating thing again! But, seriously, the books are really good…




* Of course it happened: Daylight Savings Time to the Rescue??

** Yes, roller derby has completely taken over our family: My Roller Derby Queen: Seeing Life Through Orange-Colored Glasses.

A Year of Dates #1: Breakfast & Bowling

For Christmas, my beautiful, wonderful, generous, most-awesomest mother gave me and my hubby the very best gift ever: AN ENTIRE YEAR OF DATES. Twelve dates, one a month, for the next twelve months. Twelve blissful moments to sneak away from the everyday mayhem, twelve fun excursions for us to plan together, twelve times to celebrate being best friends. Twelve DATES.

The word DATE is almost a foreign concept for us anymore. We did the math and realized that last year, we’d gone on a whopping TWO dates. To be fair, there are several factors why we rarely go out. For one, have you noticed that even the most basic “dinner and a movie” date is anything but basic when it comes to the checkbook? Well, we have. Add in babysitting expenses for three kids, and you’re starting to compare a date night with the cost of replacing another pair of soccer shoes for the kids (I mean really, how many pairs of soccer shoes can one family have??). For another, last year we added crazy onto crazy and brought home two sweet and adorable, but very energetic, puppies who needed (still need) constant, vigilant attention as they clearly preferred (still prefer) the children’s socks, shoes, and stuffed animals over their own plastic, squeaky toys and chews. With a baby still nursing and just learning to crawl, and two older kids with intricately choreographed bedtime rituals, this equation usually scared off even the most intrepid babysitters, including Grandma! And finally, but not least, Bill and I just really like spending time with our family; we will usually choose a family movie night with the kids over going to dinner at the newest, swankest restaurant on any given weekend night.

But there’s something to be said for carving out time for the two of us.

And some healthy competition between an old married couple!

Bill, About to Pick Up a Spare

Bill, About to Pick Up a Spare

Which brings us to January, and Date #1: Breakfast and Bowling.

It turns out that West Seattle Bowl has this amazing Saturday morning special where, if you buy any breakfast entrée, you get two free games of bowling. I confess that my expectations were very low for breakfast at a bowling alley, but I was pleasantly surprised. Breakfast was tasty, the coffee was hot, the waitress was friendly, and the clean dining room had no resemblance to the dim, smoke-filled, sticky-beer-floor establishment that I’d envisioned. After some serious carbo-loading, we were ready for the games to begin.

Bill started out strong, rolling a strike right away. I was worried, and went in search of a new bowling ball, after putting two in a row in the gutter; if the pink one wasn’t working for me, maybe the green one would. Bill rolled two spares after the strike, started the trash talk (and backed it up with some more impressive scores), and in desperation, I returned to the pink ball. After several more gutter balls for me, Round 1 went to Bill, with a sizeable lead and an inflated ego.

Bill Makes Bowling Look Good!

My Hubby Makes Bowling Look Good!

Round 2-5, however – and I don’t mean to gloat, but I’m going to – were all mine, baby!! Oh yeah. I’m not saying I’m ready for the professional league, but by Round 5, after bowling several strikes, and some more trash talk, it was Bill who went in search of a new bowling ball. Alright, I confess that all that pride-cometh-before-a-fall stuff caught up to me in Round 6, and my lovely pink ball ended up in the gutter as often as in Round 1, but I’m good at blocking out bad memories, and I shall concentrate on the end results: Final score: 503-379. (Gloat gloat gloat!)

And this is why my husband is so wonderful: as disgruntled as he was that he never managed to recapture the glory of that first round, he still took a picture of the scoreboard to show the 5yo who had requested, when we left for our date, to know who won when we got home.

It turns out, it’s nice to have a date every once in a while, if only to be reminded that my husband will always be my biggest fan. And I will always be his.