3 days ’til Spring

Spring is three days away, and this is what we woke to:

In disguise

and this:

3 days 'til Spring

and this:

A dusting of confectionery sugar

It is a pretty sight, I must admit, but it is noon and 2 Celsius (36F). Brrrr. We were warned. We’d been told that February teases with bouts of warm weather, like we had last week when it hit the teens (54F), and then digresses into wintry weather once again. On days of warm, sunny weather I ran outside without gloves and a hat, and I got hot! Imagine!

Today is the digression. It is still novel enough to inspire me to take photographs, but I imagine that if I had to drive to work today – like Ben did – on slippery roads, the novelty would wear thin pretty quickly.

Oh, yes, and I am mindful that I am beginning to think of 13 Celsius as ‘warm’.


As I have discovered, the Americans do not consider the 1st of the month to mark the first day of the season.  Apparently, March 20th is the first day of Spring here.  I stand corrected.  These little differences are getting curiouser and curiouser.

He’s a doer

President Obama
President Obama

Last night President Obama addressed Congress. It was televised live, and I watched as I did last month during the Inauguration, transfixed.

Ben came home half way through, and we sat side by side, nodding, and occasionally commenting to each other. “He’s a doer,” I said at the end. “Some people are talkers, and some people are doers. He’s a doer.”

“I hope so,” was Ben’s reply.

After the speech I caught Ben up on what he had missed, and he responded with a mixture of hope and a healthy dose of pragmatism. “I know he is all about change, and that he wants to sanction the banks for everything they’ve done, but I heard almost the exact same thing out of Bush’s mouth last year. I just hope that he actually does it.”

I understand where Ben is coming from. He has lived here his whole life, and for the past 8 years has had to listen to a President who, it has now been revealed, lied – and without apology. I understand that in politics there are key phrases that come up again and again, and that when they come from the mouth of someone new, it is hard not to attach all the connotations conjured by the previous guy. I feel I experienced something similar in Australia at the end of 2007, when the election campaigns hit their stride. It is hard not to be cynical.

But there is a buzz in the air here. It is palpable. He is not the Messiah. Understood. The ‘buzz’ is about him being a man of action, as has already been demonstrated. What makes him different from others is the integrity that grounds his words, and that he speaks frankly. About those who are responsible for this economic mess he said, “I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive…”, and he knows”…how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions.” And this, “I promise you — I get it.” The more I listen to his practical and straightforward policies, the more I believe that he does get it. People here are fed up, hurting and ready to get back on track. He gets that, which is why he was elected.

He went on to talk about Health and Education reform, and the dependency we have on fossil fuels. When he addressed the upcoming budget, I was reminded of that brilliant scene in the film, Dave, where he gets his accountant friend in to look at the budget. His friend, played by Charles Grodin, is staggered at the wasteful spending. President Obama had this to say:

“In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them. We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use. We will root out the waste, fraud and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.” Hooray!

As I stridently seek work, knocked back again and again in a sick and sad economy, despite my experience and qualifications, I can have hope. I have the personal hope that comes from knowing I am in the right place for me, and that something will come along. I can also have hope that this country – my adopted homeland – will pull itself up by its bootstraps and get on with it. And that hope comes from knowing that the person at the helm is a doer.

The speech.

What’s that aboot?

We spent the weekend in Vancouver, Canada. I need to make that distinction, because there is actually a Vancouver in Washington State. We discovered this as we sat in the car at 6:40am on Saturday morning, trying to input a Vancouver address into the GPS to no avail. We were due at 10am to claim a ‘prize’ we won at a recent travel show. The prize – a trip to Las Vegas for two, including flights and accommodation – comes with the catch that we must endure a 90 minute timeshare presentation. That’s it. We were both adamant we could sit still long enough to claim our prize, and then have the rest of the weekend to get out into a favorite city.

Back to the car at 6:40am on Saturday: the address didn’t compute because we are actually expected in Vancouver, Washington, three hours to the south. Vancouver, Canada is three hours to the north. Bugger! We laughed about it. I had gotten up at 5:45 to shower. So there we sat – do we drive down to Vancouver, Washington (probably not as enticing as the one to the north) to keep our appointment? Or head north where we had a hotel room booked, and the expectation of a fun weekend.

We headed north. And called the timeshare people from the road.

A treat when we arrived in Vancouver was blue skies and a mild sunny day – the first I have ever experienced there. I suggested we drive up to Grouse Mountain, about 20 minutes out of the city. The drive there took us through Stanley Park,
passenger view
and across the Lion Gate Bridge.
Lion Gate Bridge
It was a busy day at the base of the mountain, which was understandable considering there is skiing and snowboarding up there, and the weather was beautiful.
The cable car ride takes 6 minutes.
Up the mountain
Man and Mountain
At the top, we walked into the bistro just as it opened and claimed a table by the window. I had never seen Vancouver from this height, as the last time I had been up the mountain (last year with Lara), it had been cloudy and rainy – and dark!
Lara and me

But Saturday was perfect and we could see the city laid out before us.
View from our table
View from our table too

We ate a leisurely – and early – lunch of burgers, and chased it down with a delicious BC Pinot Blanc. We have tried this varietal a few times now, and it is well worth a sip – or two.

Back on flat ground, we checked into the Hyatt, mooched about for the afternoon – including a trip to the hotel gym – and then headed out for an early dinner at Wild Rice. Early lunch = early dinner. We loved the food there, except the spring rolls which were flavorless and oily. We sent them back. BUT the Kung Po chicken was inspired, the salt and pepper squid rivaled that which you can get in Sydney, and the hot and sour soup was hot – and sour! Delicious. We also enjoyed that all food was brought to the table in serving dishes, so we could serve ourselves. Overall, well worth a visit, and is a runner-up in the ‘Best Asian Dining’ 2008 in Food and Wine Magazine. But seriously, the spring rolls need attention.

Breakfast the next day was a special treat. We headed two blocks away to Caffe Artigiano, where I have previously had the best coffee EVER.
Muffins and a bowl of smooth, hot, creamy coffee. Heaven.
“You brought reading material,” commented Ben when returned to the table with our coffees. The coffees were huge, and I knew we’d be there a while. WIRED for him. SELF for me. We sat, we supped, we read, we smiled at each other across the table in silence while we enjoyed our breakfast. “That as so good, I kinda want another one.” I knew what he meant. We could easily have killed another hour with another cup, but we needed to check out of the Hyatt.

Our last outing for the day after checking out, was to head to the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Vancouver Art Museum
I know Ben loves contemporary exhibitions, and they also had a Canadian Impressionist exhibit I wanted to see. The Impressionists didn’t disappoint, and there were some extraordinary pieces, but the collection became somewhat repetitive. more interesting were the second and third floors, filled with contemporary pieces and installations.

I was struck by this:
Skull 2008
It is “Skull 2008” by Kristi Malakoff, and is 12 feet tall. It is constructed of 12,000 paper flowers, which are photographs she took, cut out and then assembled onto this wall.
Here is a detail:
Skull Detail
Those flowers are 2-dimensional, even though they do not look it. It was my favorite piece of the How Soon Is Now collection. There were many that left me cold, however. And wanted to ask, “Really?” One installation was 6 panes of glass lying on the floor. That’s it. So, in the spirit of ‘art is subjective’, I created some of my own. Here are three pieces inspired by simplicity.

Going Down

Topsy Turvey Escalator

Okay, maybe I am being a little facetious, but 6 panes of glass? Perhaps it was left there accidentally by construction workers.  Someone puts a rope around it, and it becomes art.

Outside the gallery is this:
Olympic Clock
It is the Olympic countdown clock. It should say at the top, ‘this clock will self-destruct in…’, because BC – like many Olympic sites before them – is going into massive debt – to the tune of about 8billion dollars – to meet their Olympic obligations next year. I realize that because the U.S. government is throwing around figures like 782billion, that 8billion doesn’t sound like much, but it is. I do suppose that if we are still living in Seattle this time next year, it is very likely we will do our bit to help refill the coffers.

Our trip back to the United States took a bit longer than our journey to Canada – by 2 hours and 30 minutes, which is the amount of time we waited at the border.
Two and a half hours
People got out, played some ball sports, and the atmosphere was generally more festive than any other delayed border crossing I have experienced. The North Americans are a little blase about the whole border thing, I have to say. It will get more strict in June when you need more than a Driver’s License to cross from one country to the other, but my experience of border delays is ‘stay in the car, and do not make a peep’. Not so yesterday…
Ben stretching his legs.

When we eventually got up to the border, expecting to contribute to the delay for those behind us, we were waved through after a cheeky border guard asked if I was trying to smuggle in Vegemite. I played the role of the charming Aussie girl, Ben the chuffed boyfriend, and we were on out way.

Because of this huge delay, I had resigned myself to the fact that we were going to miss the start of the Oscars – the part with the big song and dance number. I am such a Hugh Jackman fan too. But no. As if by magic, out of the 100 channels we subscribe to, our TV was set the right one (ABC), so when we walked in and turned it on – about 20 minutes after it started – we could ‘rewind’ to the beginning and watch it delayed. SIGH. It was a brilliant end to a brilliant weekend.

Thank you, as ever, to my best friend, Ben, who makes sitting home on the couch as fun as a trip to another country.

Oh, and the title of my post? Just a little nod to our friends to the north. That’s what that is aboot.

Couple Meme

I stole this from Charlotte. Borrowed? Appropriated? Anyway…

What are your middle names?

Mine is Michelle, his is James. I have always preferred my middle name to my actual name, but because he calls me ‘Babe’ more than anything else, I don’t have to hear my actual name very often. James and Ben happen to be two of my favorite male names. His parents did good.

How long have you been together?

First date was 2 and a 1/2 years ago, but before we started living together two months ago, we had only spent about 3 months together in the whole 2 and a half years – the long distance thing. Still, it is a hell of away to forge a strong friendship – email and phone calls.

How long did you know each other before you started dating?

A week. On a boat. 24/7. So, in ‘social time’ (the hours you spend getting to know someone you meet socially, usually spread out over months), about 3 or 4 months.

Who asked who out?

We didn’t realize we were on a date until we were half way through it. It was our first outing together without the other 5 people on the boat, and we wandered through the town, up to the church, bought some Greek Delight and ended up at a bar. It then became a date. I even said, “We’re on a date,” because it wasn’t by design, and happily surprised us both.

How old are you?

I am 39 and he is 29. Both have Big-0 birthdays this year.

Which situation was hardest on you as a couple?

Being apart for the majority of the time we’ve known each other was hardest – especially the times just after parting.

Are you from the same home town?

Ben and I were raised a decade apart on opposites sides of the world. It is completely random that we met when and how we did, and that two people with such different upbringings would have a meeting of the minds.

Who is smarter?

Ben has a highly analytical mind, and watching him navigate complex computer processes blows my mind. On the flipside, I hold my own. I know some stuff about some stuff. I can form an intelligent opinion – oh, and would totally kick his butt in Trivial Pursuit if he would ever play – but that is less about intelligence and more about how my memory works.

Who is the most sensitive?

I am when it comes to letting things get me down – like my fruitless job hunt. I tend to take the knock- backs personally. He is when it comes to being right about stuff.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
I was treated to a special meal at a favorite restaurant just last week: Flying Fish, which I have blogged about I love it so much. We had the grappa brownie again.

Where is the furthest you have traveled together as a couple?

We met in Greece, which is the furthest point from our home towns of St Paul and Sydney that we have traveled (together), but have each traveled to the other’s home town in the past couple of years. Our planned trip to Italy later this year will likely be the furthest together (thus far).

Who has the craziest exes?

When we met we had both been single so long, this has never really some up or been an issue.

Who has the worst temper?

Um, him.

Who does the most cooking?

Me – happily. Living alone in Sydney I thought of dinner as a tin of tuna and some steamed vegies. Having someone to cook for – who is truly appreciative – has meant that I have enjoyed being in the kitchen of late.

Who is the most stubborn?

Him. Me. We lock horns sometimes.

Who hogs the bed most?

Me. I steal the covers. Which is weird because I never ended up with the doona on my side of the bed and on the floor when I slept alone. Hmmm.

Who does the laundry?

Me. I don’t mind. It smells a lot better than the garbage, which is Ben’s job.

Who’s better with the computer?

Um, him, I guess. Seriously, what I know about computers wouldn’t even fill his little finger. But I can cook! Did I mention that?

Who drives when you are together?

Mostly him. But I pick him up from work sometimes, so then it is me.

4 degrees of separation

Yesterday morning, Ben and I got up and went to the gym. This is not that unusual – he goes most mornings, and I often join him rather than going later in the day. Yesterday, however, it was 0 degrees Celcius when we left the house at 6:30, AND there was snow on the ground. It is a four block walk. We both kept our heads down and our shoulders hunched as the icy wind whipped around us.

“This is not the right jacket for this weather,” Ben said through chattering teeth. I was trying to ignore how the cold bit through my sweatshirt – or ‘windcheater’ as they are called in Australia. It was neither warming me enough to induce sweat OR cheating the wind.

There is a traffic light where we cross a busy intersection, and the wait can be minutes. We were lucky that it changed just as we approached, and we crossed for the final block of our journey. The beacon of the gym lights glowed ahead of us, and we quickened our pace. As we stepped through the double doors into the brightly lit entry, the heat washed over us and we both sighed, relieved.

I headed to the cardio equipment, and climbed on ready to take my body temperature from one extreme to the other. The long bay of windows overlooks Puget Sound, and interestingly, the path that runs alongside the water. I watched incredulous as runners, covered neck to ankle, made their way along the path in the 0 degree weather. “Crazy buggers,” I thought to myself smugly from the warmth of the gym.

Later in the day the sun broke through the dense cloud. I had walked up to the supermarket, as much to relieve the effects of cabin fever as to shop, and the fresh air combined with the milky sunlight seduced me into going for a run. When I got home I suited up – neck to ankle – with running pants, gloves, hat, and fleece, and headed out to the path alongside the Sound.
View of Sound

It was chilly, but it felt good to breathe the crisp air, and to watch the sun slip below the mountains in a fiery haze.
Last Glimpses
Sunset over Puget Sound

I did a 3 mile (5 km) circuit and returned home, feeling energized. After a quick restorative shower, I sat down to write some emails. I looked at my desktop, where a widget proclaims the temperature in Celcius. 4 degrees. 4! Four little degrees are what separate me from the ‘crazy buggers’ on their morning run.

I feel that I MAY just be acclimating to the cold. Just a bit.

This morning when we left the house, it was -1C and snowing. Although we dressed better for it than yesterday, and I am getting somewhat used to the cold, I still say, “Roll on summer!”