Survived the one-year threshold and still lovin' Seattle

Yes, I know, it’s been an eternity since I’ve tapped on the keyboard – at least for RCG. I’ve now muscled past the one-year hump of living in Seattle, and honestly can’t say I adore it any less than I did when I first moved here in June 2007 from Naperville, IL. If anything, I have become too immersed in work – between full-time and freelance – and have not savored as much of the Pacific Northwest as I should have this past year, but plan to change that. Sometimes I ruminate on how I could have taken such a mammoth risk – moving from my cushy life in the Midwest to Seattle where I knew not a soul and had no employment.

It was a jump akin to something a person stricken by a mid-life crisis might embrace, but I didn’t have a carefully constructed rational for driving across the country and moving in with what wound up being an ideal roommate I had barely spoken to a handful of times, and never met. But not without diligent work and worry did things come together here. And so far, I have no regrets.

There’s something about the allure and challenge of finding another way in life that I could not resist. And sometimes when things are in disarray or not working out, that’s all you can do; grasp for that light in the dark, however dim it might be.

And if you peruse other comments on RCG, most notably in Dustin’s 10 things you should know before moving to Seattle post, you will find a plethora of people are yearning for a fresh change and new horizons to explore.

And I found that in Seattle, but now that I’m completely adjusted I would like to get myself involved in more volunteer activities and good causes. One of those I have already been involved with is Q Cafe, a nonprofit coffee shop which also hosts live music on Friday nights. So, bring on the suggestions, if you would be so kind.

My advice to anyone pondering a risky move is to trust your gut, even if you cannot completely justify your intentions. But also be realistic and ensure you have good chunk of savings to bide your time while you tread your way through what could be cumbersome times of transition. If I had put my move to Seattle off but a year, it would have been inconceivable. With the sinking economy, exorbitant gas prices and the floods ravaging the Midwest, it would have been near impossible for me to execute such a free-spirited move in June 2008, considering my situation prior to jetsetting.

As I enjoy Seattle’s picture-perfect summer, the following list is a small treat for all of you (some of whom have contacted me directly) considering moving to Seattle based on my experiences this past year, which I hope will give you a more clear-cut idea of what Pacific Northwest living is like.

A Snippet of Things I’ve Learned Since Living in Seattle

  • Yes, it rains, but not as much as people will make you believe. Chicagoland got 50 inches of snow this past winter, which would have been rain if it wasn’t so cold there.
  • The traffic won’t faze you (er… if you’re from the Chicagoland area).
  • Many mornings are cloudy in the winter, but the sun has a tendency to pop out in the afternoons. The color of the sky varies throughout a single day during the aforementioned season, so I can see how it is difficult to gauge the exact number of cloudy days Seattle experiences. It can often be cloudy and rainy in the morning, but rain often makes way for afternoon sunshine.
  • Snow is practically nonexistent.
  • The bus system is extremely efficient, you won’t need a car if you live within the city limits especially. I still have mine, but primarily use it to make grocery runs or trips to the bank.
  • Yes, it was still a bit chilly in May and June. Needless to say it is temperate here, but there were more than moments in May when I was envious of the humidity aplenty throughout the Midwest.

  • Don’t believe every word of the Seattle Freeze speculation – sure it can be difficult to meet friends, but that’s not any different than how it is in most bigger cities. And it varies by age group. People stay to themselves, but once you get to know people they are as friendly as ever – and will want to hang out with you.
  • If you live here, you play for Seattle’s team now, not L.A.’s or Chicago’s – so don’t whine or banter about how things were when you lived in another city. No one wants to hear it.

  • People are more laid back here. Don’t confuse laid back with lazy though. People know had to get their work done and enjoy life without stressing the small stuff. My roommate often comments to me now how much more laid back I am than when I first moved here – a bundle of nerves and too susceptible to stress.
  • The number of panhandlers? Let’s just say I’ve seen much worse.
  • Take advantage of the summer farmers markets in Fremont and Ballard. Amazing.
  • The wine and seafood throughout Washington State is amazing and you will never taste finer.
  • Coffeehouses and espresso stands are ubiquitous, but choose wisely. The coffee roasts here are top notch. Well, it is Seattle.
  • The time zone difference between the West Coast and the Midwest and East Coast bites if you have relatives or friends there that you chat with quite a bit.
  • Yes, most people here are transplants, but your accent will get noticed. Take it from me, Chicago.

Heartbreaking atrocities leave us barren

Shock and disbelief overwhelm me and likely you too – and at this point I’m extremely glad I’m not going to work tomorrow. While I plan to finally secure my state residency and volunteer a bit, I almost want to take the day just to recover from all the emotional pangs that paralyze me when I think of the the shootings that occurred today at NIU. The past few weeks, with abundant murders crippling Illinois, have especially gnawed at me, and presumptuously plenty more. Illinois, already reeling from the recent Tinley Park Lane Bryant slayings, and being dealt one of the worst winters in close to a decade, now finds itself as the setting of a beyond tragic massacre. Six dead, and a campus shattered by fear and disillusionment.

While I’m glad to be in Seattle, especially with my home state bereft and broken by such heartless acts, on the same token I wish I was there to absorb some of the endless pain that the area and its residents are sinking in and can’t stymie, not that the tragedy is not being mourned across the country. In fact, the campus photographs after the UW shooting and last year’s VT massacre still haunt me to this day and likely will continue to do so. Seeing them splashed continuously across the media didn’t help either, and I vividly recall feeling terribly distraught and sick to my stomach after viewing them.

In light of these sorts of utterly mortifying, abasing situations, sometimes I wonder if or how anyone present peels their pierced souls off the proverbially ground. Do the survivors who witness or are in the vicinity of these monstrosities ever emotionally recover? I wouldn’t. I mean, do we ever really know the depth of emotional repercussions this type of atrocity produces? Not unless we are in their skin. How will they ever push the pain of this fateful day out of their heads? It is just so pertrifying to me how prevalent these mass murders are becoming; I’m so disturbed by all of this that I’m almost starting to convince myself that 50 percent of this world is mentally ill.

dreamstime 4012960 1 2 3Although I am a part-time graduate student in Seattle at SU, I worry more about my younger brother, who attends college at an NIU rival school in a more rural part of the state. As a former Illinoisian, I also did my undergrad work at a state school, Eastern Illinois University (was a classmate of Tony Romo’s), and as a member of the student newspaper there, was quite friendly with several Northern Star (NIU’s student newspaper) students, whom I would frequently see at newspaper conferences.

This whole melancholy day, along with the recent killings at Lane Bryant, just break my heart. Quite the irony considering the holiday. I just hope somehow there are golden blue skies ahead – for NIU, Illinois and the U.S.

I empathize with ya, Chicago

Part of me wants to stray away from writing this post, but I don’t want to withhold my nagging questions just because I’m a former Chicagoan. So many Seattleites have me snickering when I hear them lament about how frigid it is here. Makes me want to mutter back, “You have no idea!” Oh no, it’s in the upper 30’s or 40’s in Seattle – that’s nearly summer compared with what I’m typically accustomed to this time of the winter.

  • Are any of you former Chicagoans or Midwesterners who simply revel in the warmth in Seattle?
  • What are your thoughts on Seattle winters vs. Chicago winters? I love Chicago in so many respects, but the weather is extreme – times 10 in the winter.

My parents’ poor puppy back home can barely place her paws outside it’s so brutally cold, and so I’m trying to convince them they need to to fly somewhere tropical to thaw out since they are no spring chickens and I shudder the thought of them shoveling snow in such wicked conditions. 

Not sure how I survived so many winters there.  Take care, Chicago!

Here's to a shimmering '08

For some sad reason, right as a year is close to screeching to a halt, I can’t help but utter the phrase “good riddens.” It rolls off my tongue almost perfunctorily. Each year has its highs and lows, and this year was no exception. 2007 kicked off in morbid fashion when my mother was almost killed in a head-on collision (thanks to an ignorant driver) in the leafy Chicago suburbs. Luckily, she survived relatively unscathed, at least physically. On the plus side, I moved to Seattle and made headway on some new goals, established new routines and dived into graduate school and volunteer projects. But besides mourning our own unpleasant experiences, it’s easy to be sullen over the year our own nation has endured: We continue to heartbreakingly lose too many American soldiers as tension swells in the Middle East; the housing market continues to look grim; scandal riddled the sports worlds; and the most recent blows – floods battered Seattle and the senseless slayings in Carnation. At times, it’s difficult to not want to disencumber yourself from the fetters of all that plagues our world, and just pretend it’s not happening.

However, there’s a sort of dis-ease that comes with a new year as well and as I’ve grown older have tried to ask myself, how am I going to make this year a step up from the previous? Even slight tweaks in one facet of one’s life can undoubtly make the new year more resplendent. But that’s always easier said than done. If your 2008 starts murky, here’s a web site that might quell your moroseness and prompt you to unleash chuckle or two.

Let’s hope 2008 is great! Cheers!


Sweet Home Chicago!

Going home to Chicago for the holidays was more than enjoyable. It had been a year since I had seen one of my brothers and sister-in-law and months since I had seen my parents and other siblings. Presents, food, laughter and fun brimmed my empty-nester parents’ home. What was most surprising was how maneuvering the airports during the holidays was quite a cakewalk. Though my redeye flight leaving Seattle was delayed two hours (mechanical aircraft problems really ease my mind, j/k), which meant we took off from the Emerald City at the ungodly time of 2 a.m., leaving me zombie-like for the first few days of my trip while my friends and I braved the malls for holiday gifts and indulged in a Chinese massage.

One thing that was apparent was that returning to the Midwest had me reverting to the fast-paced way of talking, going-about-things that I have somewhat left behind since I’ve lived in Seattle. It’s interesting to hear if others observe differences in a person that hasn’t been back in months. My mom (jokingly, I hope) repeatedly called me detached, which made me ornery and react with a slight cringe. Though I attributed any disconnectedness to the redder than red redeye flight and time change. Five days in Chicagoland was plenty, especially with the bitter cold that is inevitable there, but I treasured mingling and going to church with my numerous friends and family there. One of my hobbies is writing novellas, so I was also tempted to start a yearly book club with the family since books became a hot topic at the dinner table at certain points, or whip out the Scrabble board, but my geeky self resisted!

As a sort of news junkie, I couldn’t help but inquire into how the Chicago burbs have handled the intense media scrutiny that has swirled around Bolingbrook, IL (neighboring town of my hometown) and embattled ex-cop Drew Peterson, who is under the glare in regards to his missing wife. Some of my friends mentioned the onslaught of Fox News trucks around and others just cited an eeriness to the areas amid the hubbub.

And go figure, we didn’t have a white Christmas in Chicago, but I heard Seattle sure did. And how about the last two gorgeous sunny days we’ve had here in Seattle – just an anomaly? Perhaps yes.

Happy New Year to you all!

… And down comes the rain

After being pummeled by relentless raindrops a couple weeks ago, and as the rain becomes more intermittent, I’ve grown to focus more on embracing Seattle’s warmer temperatures. Luckily, our home was impervious to the floods that left much of Seattle and Southwestern Washington residents feeling like drowned rats. Much of our office, like many, was forced to remain home to cope with the raging floods by siphoning sewage and filthy waters from their soaked basements. And although our townhome (with no basement) escaped the treacherous floods unscathed, the excess water and the damage it wreaked left me feeling rueful for others in our neighborhood who weren’t so fortunate. But in spite of the crippling floods, I must say Seattle’s weather (replete with ample sun breaks) overall is a cakewalk compared with the winter storms that wallop the Midwest.

As I experience my first holiday season in Seattle and with Thanksgiving behind us, I can finally empathize with others who do not have their families nearby during the most cherished of seasons. My Thanksgiving holiday was stung by vapidity, though I cannot say it never has been before, since I have predominantly worked several past turkey days. Though I did take comfort that with my family sprinkled throughout the United States, it was not as if they were hovered around lush, porous cranberries flanked by dark meat poking fun at my absence. However, I am heading back to Chicago (a.k.a. the frozen tundra) for the holidays on Thursday, so although it will be cumbersome dealing with the bitter cold, I am extremely excited to see friends and family that I haven’t seen in some time. Much of the past month my focus has been confined to work and wrapping projects for my class at Seattle University, so it will be invigorating to enjoy a respite from the daily grind, to spend time in the Midwest again, and see so many people I care about again.

Despite the distance from so many loved ones, I am enjoying Seattle and the eye-opening culture that comes with it. Interestingly enough, my roommate said how markedly different I am than I first arrived. My foot-on-the-pedal, fast paced tendencies that I toted with me seem to have abated and it seems my former scales of distress and anxiety have been shed, likely because I have somewhat adapted to the more laid back environment on the West Coast and I’m not tangled in a daily routine I’ve known for too long. Even I have noticed the changes within myself, and I’m not sure if it is just the change of scenery or Seattle, but I am much less prone to panic attacks and much of my stiffness and anxiety has melted when dealing with rough patches lately.

But although I am enjoying my new home, nothing will ever beat going home to Chicago for the holidays!

Rantings on volunteering, wigs parties, de-icing

Although I’ve just recently become accustomed to Seattle and its nuances, and my schedule has fallen into a rhythm of some sort, I’m looking to somewhat overhaul my routine. I enjoy being busy to a large degree and too much free time definitely breeds indolence. Therefore, outside of work, one class and freelancing I’m beginning to familiarize myself with some of the local food banks by performing service work for a few through Seattle University and my church.

There was a time when, after volunteering during several college spring breaks at a Franciscan soup kitchen in the heart of Philadelphia’s most destitute neighborhood, that I was going to be a live-in volunteer there for one or two years after college before starting my career. But as perhaps anyone would, I had grave concerns regarding how I would jump into my career after a two-year hiatus and little professional experience under my belt. Luckily, the bevy of opportunities to help the less fortunate in Seattle have stymied any regrets I may have had in not welcoming the amazing opportunity that the friars in Philadelphia offered me. Within a year, I do hope to voyage back to my volunteer roots for several days and assist the needy there once again. 

Wigs n’ Wine 

On a lighter note, last weekend my roommate along with friends and myself donned wigs and slurped libations for a Wigs n’ Wine Party commemorating my upcoming birthday. We kicked off the notable occasion with dinner at Peso’s Kitchen & Lounge in Queen Anne. Having resided in Seattle now nearly five months, it was neat to get out and poke around the nuts and bolts of Queen Anne a bit. It’s probably by far the Seattle neighborhood I have frequented the least. Our evening out was a far cry from my birthday outing last year, which took place at a sleepy pizza parlor nestled in a leafy Illinois suburb. Despite the mundanity of last year’s evening, it was a pleaseant time nonetheless; this year was just understandably extremely new and different.

Am I back in Chicago?

Sure, it rains here plenty, and, of course, no shock there, but I am a bit perplexed at how much the sun has poked it’s head out from the clouds the past couple weeks. On the other hand, must say I was surprised at how much the temperatures have fluctuated lately; the thin coat of frost that blanketed my car windows the other day reminded me of my numerous years in Chicagoland and the frequency in which I had to de-ice my windshield. Oh well, I’m not complaining, guess it’s just an unseasonable cold October for Seattle standards. 

Autumn season always one to savor

As we stride into October, I’ve found myself wondering where the year has gone (like we all do). It was a year ago this weekend that I journeyed to Seattle from Chicago and was spontaneously whisking my way through Seattle with a friend and touring the gargantuan Mt. Rainier. And though the temperatures are quite brisker this year than when I visited last year, longtime residents have insisted this year’s September weather is an anomaly. But there’s nothing like watching the lush greenery morph into bright reds and oranges and leaves dance from trees. Autumn has always been my favorite season, so, in spite of my sometimes overwelming schedule, I’ve been taking advantage of some of the local events. With Fremont just a stone’s throw away from my home, enjoying Oktoberfest was a given, though it seemed slightly overhyped.

Both the Fremont and Ballard farmers markets have become mainstays when it comes to my Sunday routine. When I first dropped by Ballard’s market, I could not believe the breadth of the vibrant vendors and just the vast amount of fresh fruit, fish, dairy etc. all centered in one dwelling. The Pacific Northwest and the Midwest versions of farmers markets, not surprisingly, are just not comparable.
Recently, I managed to take a jaunt via the Victoria Clipper to Victoria, B.C., with my Mother while she was visiting from Chicago. Our weather could have been a smidge better during the morning portion of our trip, but the afternoon sun that poked its head through the ominous clouds more than made up for the initial gloom. The absolute pure beauty of Victoria is just breathtaking; it melds modernity with antiquity in a dynamic that gives it a cozy and classy, yet hip feel. If you have never been there, you must try High Tea at the picturesque Empress Hotel (pictured), which is nestled amid much grand beauty. Replete with tea sandwiches, petit fours and other delicacies, the overall afternoon tea experience is something analogous to what you would enjoy in London, and you should not skip it if you plan to spend time there.

Now that fall is upon us and the full-fledged rainy season is soon to set in, I am quickly warming up to Rihanna’s hot last-summer song, “Umbrella.” It seems it will be a good IPod song now that I am riding the bus to work and grad school – yes, I barely drive my car anymore and I can’t stress enough how much it thrills me. Banished from my mind are the days of braving brutal Naperville, IL traffic. It always seemed no matter how prematurely I left for work there was always a snag (usually random, unannounced lane closures, courtesy of seemingly construction) that would prevent me from being punctual.

Although I have some trepidation about Seattle’s impending winter, when I think about trudging through Chicagoland’s cumbersome snow and the street salt and muck that constantly encapsulated my car, and often my clothes, I’m hardly fazed. The tepid temperatures here have been a welcome change and as long as we don’t have to cope with negative figures, frequent clouds and snow, it will be a breeze to endure.

The newbie's assessment: SEA v. CHI summers!

It’s amazing how when you move thousands of miles away from your comfort zone your life inevitably takes a 360 degree spin. This summer has been breezier and more brisk than I’ve ever experienced, primarily because it was my first Seattle summer and first (of many) away from Chicagoland.

My top 10 list of why Seattle summers significantly trump the Windy City summers (augment the list if you wish!!!):

1. That’s easy – no humidity, stickiness or blazing heat that makes you feel like your feet will sink right through the molten-like ground.

2. No need to wear tank tops or shorts everyday, if at all.

3. If you live in Seattle you’ll barely, if ever, clamor for an air conditioner (every Chicago-area resident knows that the air conditioner is a summer mainstay if you are to survive).

4. You can haphazardly cross the summer streets without worrying about getting plowed over by erratic cabbies. Shortly after my arrival here, I could not help but be shocked when I realized the immense respect Seattleites have for crosswalks.

5. The constant picturesque views that the amalgamation of the sun, Space Needle, Puget Sound and surrounding lakes provide.

6. No bugs – or barely any. Ever live in Chicago? Pesky mosquitoes are summer bullies that relentless chew you up with no respite. Bugs love the muggy Chicago summers, and they are a constant companion to the blistering heat.

7. Wearing outerwear at night; you definitely won’t require a jacket on a summer evening in Chicago.

8. Coffee chillers are not necessary. Not a big fan of coffee chillers, always like mine piping hot and during summers in Seattle it doesn’t get fiery enough to yearn for a chiller instead of a cappuccino or drip.

9. The seafood is wondrous, though this is not exactly summer specific since this is the Pacific Northwest.

10. The Cabernet Sauvignon tastes so much sweeter when you are not dripping sweat.