Thursday, July 23, 2015

"That's My Spot."


I’m still trying to find my “ spot.” I am revisiting a Starbucks I disliked the first time I was here. It has an odd set up, the tables are squeezed together, and there are very few plugs, but I’m hungry and I have a free reward on my card. Also, it’s freezing in here, but the Starbucks in Zanesville is always cold, so maybe this is my new spot.

Starbucks has been a chief source of my meals on this journey. Several people gave me Starbucks cards as going away gifts, and out here I can buy Protein Bistro boxes, which comprise of a hard-boiled egg, grapes, apple slices, a multigrain roll, a couple wedges of cheese, and a packet of natural peanut butter. There are other types of boxes, and they cost five bucks, but each is a healthy choice. Today I am using my reward for a free one.

I need to learn about twenty new languages so I can eavesdrop on conversations here. Right now I’m in a middle seat surrounded by people chattering in various tongues. But since I can’t follow their dialogues, I can’t use that as a distraction from writing.

This location is only twenty blocks from my condo, which I will be moving into Saturday morning. Technically I can walk here, but most likely I won't since I will also be hauling a backpack containing my laptop.

My table faces the parking lot, and I’m getting glare from windshields. I could move to the facing chair, but it’s bad feng shui to sit with one’s back to the door if you are alone.  

The other day I met my fiend Cat at Third Place Books. I arrived early in case I got lost, which I didn't. Since I was inside a bookstore I knew I may as well peruse the volumes before Cat and I sat in the cafe area to write. Writers work alone, yet sometimes sitting with another writer optimizes productivity, as if we emit some shared creative energy.

At one point I got up to use the bathroom, and left my belongings with Cat. As I was walking back through the store, a woman stopped me and asked where she could find the James Lee Burke novels. I said, "I don't work here, but I'd be happy to show you."
She eyed me, and said, "You look like you should work here."

I've toyed with the idea of working in a bookstore part time, but two things come to mind: One, I might just have to sign my check over to the store from all the books I buy. At least that was the case when I was younger and allegedly supplemented my income with a second job in a bookshop. The other caveat is I like hanging around bookstores. If I work in one, will that omit a potential hangout spot?

Eventually I will find that elusive spot, or since I’m in a large city, many spots where I feel comfortable and welcomed. This Starbucks might make the list. The baristas are friendly and seem to enjoy their work.  (I’ve been to a couple where some or all of the employees are rude or indifferent.)


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Taking Circuitous Routes



My friends in Zanesville, noted as the being the fifth worst city in Ohio, often complain about the traffic on Maple Avenue. For about two miles from I-70 and Colony Square Mall, cars clutter both north and south bound lanes. Throughout the rest of the city one can drive with relative ease.

Traffic in Seattle is like that strip of Maple Ave. magnified 200 times. A five mile trip can take an hour depending on the time of day and road construction. Freeways are best traveled between 10 and 2 pm. Traffic is heavy, but it moves, sometimes even at the posted speed limit.

Traffic is going to get worse. High rise apartments and condos are springing up quickly and being squeezed onto lots that once held single family homes. The bus system in Seattle city is fairly efficient, but the light rail is limited, and if one lives in a suburb, he or she needs a car. My cousin Jena says traffic tends to keep people in their neighborhoods.

You’re wondering why I moved here.

I tend to use maps or landmarks to find my way. My GPS using friends and family think I’m nuts, but I think it’s good for my brain to discover my route on my own. If we become too reliant on technology to steer us in the right direction we don't truly learn the path, or its alternatives. I found this when students did internet “research.” Most used Google to find a site or two, and stopped there. They skated the surface of wisdom, avoiding the narrow back roads that may lead to a treasure.

I’ve grown comfortable knowing where to drive in Zanesville and Columbus without a map. Now I have to pay attention to detail to keep from getting lost. Sometimes I think those details change. I have yet to find this Barnes & Noble without getting turned around. Until I find a permanent place to land, the bookstore cafe has become “my spot.” I swear the landmarks change just to screw me up each time I drive here.

I use my GPS app only when I am deeply lost. The other day I tried to drive to Lake Forest Park. I followed the freeway sign for the Lake Forest exit, and thought I was headed in the right direction. After a half hour of driving and a couple of turns, I ended up right back at my hotel. I burst out laughing. I pulled into the parking lot, got directions from the app, and tried the trip again. I saw what my error was; I turned left in a spot where I should have gone straight. It looked vaguely familiar. (Of course it was familiar, it was near my hotel.)

My target on this venture was Third Place Books. I had come here several times when I house sat for Jena and Scott last year, and knew the route by heart from their house. One of the reasons I moved here is the city still supports independent bookstores. Zanesville is an hour’s drive from the nearest bookstore.


Every day I am here I get less lost. Today I am meeting my friend Cat at Third Place Books, and I’m pretty sure I can find it again. I’ll leave early just in case they move the landmarks.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Soup's On



My hands stink of onion and garlic and this makes me happy. I cooked yesterday. It's been three weeks or longer since I’ve sliced, sautéed and stirred anything. The week prior to my leaving Ohio I ate most of my meals out with friends, and these past two weeks I’ve either eaten on the road, or in the hotel, with the exception of my three days on the farm where cousin Cheryl cooked for me. A couple of days ago I texted my cousin Jena and said, “I have a hankering for some MOEnastrone. I want to come to your house and cook dinner for you.” She loved this idea.

She was having concrete laid in her back yard, and we worked out Wednesday was a good day for me to keep her dog Luna company while the men worked in the yard. I left the hotel late in the morning and shopped for my ingredients at the Fred Meyer near Jena’s house.

Jena had left out a big pot for me and labeled cabinets so I could find spices, olive oil and utensils. I turned on the burner and drizzled olive oil inside the bottom of the pot. I diced an onion and tossed it in the warm oil. Next was garlic. The knife I used on the onions wasn’t cutting the garlic. I pulled a different knife out of the knife block and fell in love. This very expensive looking knife sliced the garlic like it was butter. Note to self; steal this knife.

As the garlic and onions softened, I added broth and chopped and diced zucchini, carrots, celery,  and tomatoes. I’m often asked for my soup recipe, but I don’t have one. Each time I make it, the soup tastes slightly different from the previous batch. It depends on the season and which ingredients I choose. This time I used chicken broth Jena had prepared. I often use vegetable broth if I’m cooking for a group to appease vegetarians. Sometimes in winter I use beef broth as it has a heftier flavor. The two ingredients I always use are kidney beans and tomatoes.

In summer I aim to use almost entirely fresh vegetables. This time I also added frozen baby lima and green beans. Because I was cooking in Jena’s kitchen, I used the seasonings she had on hand at home I use an Italian seasoning mix, but the closest Jena had was an Italian sausage seasoning mix, which added a slight kick to the soup. 

As the soup cooked, I looked up recipes for making chicken parmesan. I used the Food Network recipe as my guide, and adapted it slightly. (I never follow a recipe to the letter. I like to leave my own signature on a dish.)

After the chicken went into the oven, I took Luna for a short walk, and by the time we walked in the door Jena was home from work and the chicken was ready for me to add marinara and cheese. Jena opened a bottle of red wine, and we chatted as she prepared salad. We ate outdoors since the night was clear and crisp.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Let's Not Shake it Up

I never should have read the New Yorker article about Seattle’s odds of being devastated by the Big One. Disaster images run through my overactive imagination as I walk along the beach at low tide, half expecting a giant surge of the predicted tsunami.

I sit outside a cafe in Edmonds, a beach town north of Seattle, and observe the calm as I eat my carrot ginger soup and caprese sandwich from the pretentious cafe. (The soup has a grassy, vegan flavor, and they’ve put something like grape jelly on the tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwich.) It’s sunny, and 80 degrees, and it seems impossible the earth might suddenly collapse beneath me, obliterating everything in its path.

Californians expect the Big One at any moment. They live with frequent trembling earth and know the risk of living on a fault line. But the earth doesn't shimmy here.  The eventual disaster will take us all by surprise.

Earth never promised to be a safe place. It’s been trying to shake us humans off for millions of years via earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, fires, ice storms, blizzards, high winds, pollen, insect invasions, high heat, sub freezing temperatures, volcanoes, floods and droughts. Pick a place on the map and one or more of the above is indigenous to the area.  Kansas is urging its citizens to pack a kit for the zombie apocalypse.

This is a good idea anyway. After having lived through numerous storms and power outages in recent years in Ohio, I keep a couple extra gallons of bottled water, bandages, and snack bars handy.

The end of the world has been predicted for centuries, though, by scientists, soothsayers and religious zealots alike. A recent spate of disaster moves, books and TV shows depicting the earth in ruins denotes our fascination with cataclysm. We frequently hear of groups waiting for the mother ship to take its disciples home.  

Yet aren’t there enough real disasters to worry about without pondering the potential for calamity? The lesson here is to finish my weird lunch, enjoy an afternoon walk and window shop in this cute little town of Edmonds as if it’s 1999.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

El Gato Blanco vs. Los Humanos



Okay, so this morning I’m minding my own business, taking a nap on the giant hotel room bed, and the Crazy Cat lady sits down and strokes my fur. So far so good. Then she says, “I’m sorry.” It’s never good news when she starts a conversation with an apology.

She lifts me up and stashes me inside that blasted crate again. That means either we’re moving again, or the vacuum cleaning lady is coming back. She scoots Henry inside his crate, too, and says, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Be good.”

She leaves. Henry doesn’t even bother to complain anymore. Hw sighs and just stares out the wires of his cage. My crate, though, is soft sided. I got out of here once; I’m sure I can find a way to escape again. When I got loose in the car all I had to do was bag my head against the zipper. CCL got wise and faced the zipper side of my crate against the wall. But this thing also has three mesh windows. Unlike the back seat of the car, where I was surrounded by stuff, there is nothing blocking me between the mesh and the outside world.

I bang my big white head against the mesh. There’s no zipper. But wait. I have built in scissors. I claw at one of the windows until I can fit my head through the hole, and voila! Just as the vacuum lady walks in, screams, and slams the door, I’m free!

I stalk the room. Because Henry is locked up, it’s mine, all mine! I’m just about to dance for joy when the CCL comes in and grabs me. “Bad kitty. You escaped,” she says. She jams me back in the carte, but turns it so the hole is now underneath me, and the zipper side is against the wall. But this time she sets the whole contraption inside the closet, loads a pair of shoes on top, and ties the door shut.

I hear her laughing with the maid when she leaves, and the vacuum lady makes all her cleaning noise.  I create a new hole in the mesh and wriggle my way free, but I can’t get out of the closet. It’s not so bad in here, though, so I lie on the top and take a nap until the Crazy Cat Lady comes back.


She’s not mad, though. She sets me in the window and gives Henry and me some treats. After a bit I curl up on the hoodie she had planned to wear today. Cat 1, Human 0.

Henry’s Turn

.

Pablo escaped last night! Not that I blame him. I’ve tried it a few times myself. But the big white oaf actually made it out the door. It was funny watching our human mom try to snag him, and he wriggled out of her hands and waddled his fact cat butt down the hall. He stopped, looked around the unfamiliar surroundings, but Mom chased him down, so he dashed toward the stairs and slipped through her fingers again. It was so exciting! Mom finally nabbed him on the third step and he sort of became rigor mortis cat until she dumped him on the floor back inside the room.

I’m not a big fan of the white cat, and the feeling is mutual. I was here first, but he comes along and acts like HE’s the alpha, so every once in awhile I have to remind him who’s boss. He’s bigger, but I’m meaner, and quicker. A quick left hook on the chin or the nose and he leaves me alone.

Ever since we started this trip, though, we’ve reached an impasse. We’re both prisoners in our crates and inside these strange rooms. I’m just glad we’re not riding in the cramped car every day. Mom still puts us in the crates every once in awhile when the Spanish ladies come to clean. It's annoying. These strangers come in and sing, and sweep and run the vacuum cleaner.

The white guy just sleeps all day now. Not that he didn’t sleep a lot before. He’s the king of laziness. But he used to interact more. Maybe he’s bored. Or he misses being able to lie on top of the car in the garage. I miss the sunbeams that came through the storm door in summer. But in this room Mom opens the drapes and puddles of light sometimes flood the floor.

I don’t know why we’re here. The birds and noises and smells are all different. Every night I smell animals outside our room. And they even let dogs in here! Last night there was one lurking outside our door. White cat and I stood at the ready just in case it broke in.

Right now I’m resting on my blue blanket, but I’ll start bugging Mom for our midnight snack soon.  She knows she won’t get a full night’s sleep unless she bribes us with treats.
MEOWWWWW.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Clouds overhead




It's finally raining in parts of Washington, and it may be my fault because I washed my car today. Someone had poured pop on my car in the hotel parking lot (another car got egged.) My poor auto needed to be washed anyway. The front end was covered with dead bugs that accumulated all the way from Peoria after it stopped raining there.

It was a productive day. After washing the car I went to Pet Smart to buy cat nail clippers since I left mine in Ohio. I traded in one of my Books on CD at Half price Books, and met my realtor at a property without getting lost. She had lined up four places or me to see. The first one emanated such a stench when she unlocked the door, she said, “We’re not going in there. It’s really hard to get rid of odors like that.”

The next two are larger, 2BR, but dingy and have old kitchen appliances. Since they’re at the top of my limit, I know I won't have enough cash reserves left to update them for a long time. The fourth condo is small, but completely renovated with good storage space. The biggest drawback is it’ on the second floor, so I don't relish carting twenty-five pounds of cat litter up those steps. It has tons of natural light and the kitchen is gorgeous.

The kitties are much happier not traveling even though they get annoyed when I crate them so the maid can clean the room. I don’t take full service every day, and today, since I was gone most of the day, I placed the Do Not Disturb sign on the knob. I try to get a window of time when the maid comes, but there’s a language barrier. The first day the Ethiopian maid spoke very little English, so I had to pantomime all I wanted was for her to vacuum, and give me new towels.

Yesterday, the Spanish speaking maid spoke slightly more English, but I had difficulty explaining why I needed a specific time. Elena, the desk clerk, gave me some words to say Tengo dos gatos y no quiero de solo pora mucho tiempo en joula, essentially saying I have two cats and I don't want to leave them in their crates too long. She seemed to understand the gist of what I said.

Tomorrow I get a relief from the hotel breakfast as I am joining Scott and Jena for breakfast..

You Can't Get There From Here



I need to remember this is an adventure while I keep getting lost. Last year when I house sat for three weeks in Seattle, I only got lost once, but here in the suburbs, I can barely find my way down the street. This evening I drove to the nearby Barnes & Noble, a place I had been to just yesterday, and somehow found myself first in Bothell, then in Mill Creek, both suburbs way southeast of Lynnwood, where I'm staying.

Using places like Taco Time, Walgreens and Jack in the Box as landmarks is useless in big cities. There are millions of them, and every strip center in the tri-county area has a Starbucks. My usual good sense of direction failed me, so I finally pulled off the road and resorted to my Google app to steer me back to Lynwood before I ended up back in Idaho.

What should have taken me five minutes took me nearly an hour. Partly because I was so far off course, but largely because it was afternoon rush hour. Cars everywhere. Yet drivers didn’t seem angry or stressed. Perhaps the nice sunny weather had something to do with that. Let’s see how they react in the rain.

Maybe I’m distracted. I think I’m still in shock by uprooting myself from Ohio. I keep expecting to randomly run into someone I know. It may be wishful thinking, but it’s not impossible. A few years ago my father and I were in the art museum in Chicago and I literally bumped into a woman I know in Zanesville.

I do know people here, though. I have met twice with Elizabeth’s and my mutual friend Cat, and Saturday I am meeting cousins for breakfast. And I’m not alone; my two boys are with me.

Tomorrow I begin looking at condos.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Off the Road

 After several Days of speeding my way across he country (with cats!) I took a three day respite at my cousin Bob’s farm near Yakima, Washington. Bob and his wife Cheryl are chill people, so the only “planned” activities were dinner out on my first night at a brewery in Sunnyside, Sunday breakfast in Yakima (more on that later,) and Bob giving me a tour of his acreage and the dairy for whom he supplies hay.

Bob, Cheryl and I spent most of our time catching up since we last visited and having great conversations. They have a guest house on their property, so my spoiled cats did not mix with heir three kitties. Henry and Pablo were confused Saturday morning and I didn’t pack them up for another road trip. They gradually relaxed and took advantage of he large windowsills and sunny windows in the guest quarters.

On Saturday Bob took me on a tour in the afternoon while Cheryl prepared a ham dinner. While driving we spotted one of many osprey nests with two osprey inside.  The dairy farm itself was rife with a variety of odors. The air around the farm as hot and dry with a tinge of smoke, partly from area fires, and party because Bob almost accidently burned down his barn a couple of weeks ago.

On July 4th the three of us sat in Bob and Cheryl’s front yard and watched an array of fireworks heir neighbors set off. Cheryl remarked that fewer than half than usual in the area had fireworks because of the fire risk.

On Sunday, Bob, Cheryl and I headed to Yakima for breakfast at a combination auction house/restaurant. Several area restaurants had closed, so the already successful auction site devotes part its space to a full service restaurant. Cheryl said after they done they usually browse the furniture, but Bob needed to get back to the farm and swathe the alfalfa for hay. He let me ride with him inside the swathe machine for a few runs.



Later I cleaned out Henry’s crate since he had peed in it. After a scrubbing and drying in the sun, it was road ready. I packed some of my stuff and the kitties grew suspicious.

This three day visit was the perfect respite from the days of pounding the freeways, fighting rain, intense heat, mountainous terrain, hot sun, hazy conditions from fires across the west, and my own fatigue.  I knew if I put off leaving by a day I’d never leave.

Pablo tried to hide this morning. He knew by seeing me spray Feliway inside the crates (a substance to help calm cats) that we would be on the road again. Initially Henry didn't seem to mind traveling again, but he meowed non-stop for about an hour. When I stopped at a rest area Cheryl recommended near Ellensburg I saw why; Henry had pooped, but missed the box. He was a stinky mess, so I wiped him down with wet wipes. Once he was clean, I tried holding him with one hand while wiping out the crate, but he scratched the hell out of me. Maybe it was the freeway noise, or the breeze, so I pulled his blue blanket out of the car and rolled him inside it like a burrito so I could finish cleaning the carrier.

This is the first time Henry seemed annoyed by the trip. Otherwise he’s been a trouper. Poor kitty.

I had left the farm around 11, and hoped to be in Seattle by 3, but twenty miles outside the city traffic on I-90 stopped. We crawled for several miles before traffic unsnarled. It was 4:30 by the time I checked in. After hauling two loads of cats and crap to the room, I asked the front desk for restaurants within walking distance so I didn't have to drive any more. In fact I may never drive again. (At least not with cats.

The hotel is directly across from a Buca di Beppo where I enjoyed tomato basil soup, half of a margarita pizza (the other half will be a nice lunch tomorrow), and a glass of red wine. Now I am going to take a shower, unpack, and chillax. 


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pablo's Tale: Day Five of On the The Road

"Not this again," I think, as the crazy woman gripped me tightly and stuffs me into the zippered box like thing. Yeah, yeah, it has windows, but since I made the mistake of demonstrating how easily I can bang my head against the zippered side and escape, she faces that side toward the door, so if I bang against it, I'm only going to give myself a headache instead of freedom.

My traveling companion, an old coot the crazy lady calls Henry, starts vocally protests. "May as well save your breath, old man," I say. “We're not getting our freedom anytime soon. "

For the last several days, this is our routine: lady shunts us inside crates as she hauls our litter box, food, and her computer and clothes and stuffs this all in an already overstuffed car. She finally loads us in between precariously stacked bags and drives for what seems like days to us cats, but apparently is July around seven hours in people time. We spend our days lingering in the backseat while English accented people narrate books. We stop, occasionally and she checks our water dishes. I refuse to acknowledge her and turn my head when she asks how I’m doing, especially when she uses her mock English accent. Henry, though, vociferously offers his opinions on everything from the hot weather, the changing altitudes, and his views on gay marriage and universal health care.

When we are finally freed to walk around, voila! We're in a whole different room in a whole different city.  The crazy cat lady feeds us right away and disappears for awhile, apparently to let the mangy old striped cat and me to sniff our way into finding a spot. So far each placed we've stayed hasn't been bad. Until today.

It's the fifth day, and she has installed us into a very stinky pet designated room outside of Boise, Idaho. She sprayed some lavender, and sprinkled baby powder on the skanky carpet, but it doesn't mask that 1)someone may have been murdered here, 2) stored soiled clothes in here for six months, or 3)had some bowel infestation and didn't quite make it to the toilet . "Sorry, guys," she says, the place is booked solid ."

Other than the smell, the place itself is nice. The desk clerk was friendly, and secured the crazy cat lady some help shuttling us into the room. CCC assures us we will be able to park ourselves for a few days with some of her crazy relatives tomorrow. Meanwhile, she cracks the window and runs the fan full blast. Too bad she didn't book at the Motel 6 up the road. I hope we survive.