Sleepwalking to the Gym

The gym I go to is only four blocks away from my home.


Those four blocks can be an obstacle to overcome on some mornings, on others, like today, they help me wake up.

It is dark at 6:00 a.m. The robins are singing, the crescent moon glows through wisps of clouds, the sweet smell of blooming plum trees in the air. The darkness plays tricks on my mind, is this a dream? I’m I really still asleep in my bed at home?

Every step I take, down stairs, around corners, across streets, my caffeine-free state slowly comes to terms that we are getting closer to the gym. The glow of the fluorescent sign is coming clearer. Closer yet, the gym is the only storefront glowing on the entire block, in the entire neighborhood, a beckon for those of us who need a bit of exercise to start the day.

I decide it is a treadmill morning and not an elliptical morning. My workout decisions are usually made on the fly. Supposedly, I’m listening to my body, but sometimes my mind tells me I’m weaker than I really am. Will I do weights or just some stretches? I’m too late for the morning circuit training class. The one I wish I could wake up for, but it is just early enough…

Today, my mind tells me to do a run, walk, hill climb for 15 minutes. I’m coming off a week long cold, so I don’t want to “over do it.” Sometimes short workouts feel as good as a long workout. Lately, I have been lovely a 30-45 minute workout – or shall I say visit to the gym. Sometimes the time goes by quickly and others go by slowly.

Walking back home, I see the crows flying in from their overnight stay at their rookery, for another day of searching for food. The rising sun reflects a pinkish-orange glow on low lying clouds. Joining the robins are chickadees, gold finch, juncos and pine siskens. As I near my house I can here the sweet jingling of my cat’s bell, welcoming me back home and asking for breakfast.

I am finally awake, as I sit on my porch, cooling off from my workout and taking the first sip of coffee.

Nothing like walking through the stacks…

There is nothing like walking through the stacks of books in a library.

It doesn’t matter if the library is a neighborhood library or the Library of Congress there is something magical about them. I have known this for most of my life. In elementary school, I volunteered in my school library. I learned how to reshelve books via the Dewey Decimal System, and how to look up books using a card catalog. Best of all I got to hear all of the school’s gossip from Mrs. Eldridge, the librarian.  I learned that the library was the center of information about everything!

The card catalog in the nave of Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University. Picture by Henry Trotter, 2005.

At the time, I didn’t know how beneficial this little volunteer job was to my future education. I was a kid who loved to read. A kid who used those colorful stories as an escape from the doldrums of childhood. Through college and graduate school I would walk the stacks of my school’s libraries looking for help with my coursework, not trusting the new computerized search systems. Inevitably, I would find a book related to what I was looking for that I didn’t see come up in one of my searches.

Now in the digital age, search engines are better. They house the entire inventory of a library. Some search engines, for a fee, will even let you search for a scientific article about an obscure topic in an obscure scientific journal with extreme precision. My days of walking the stacks to “find” a surprise book on a topic I was interested in was all but over.

In my little neighborhood of Seattle there is a small lovely library, an original Carnegie library. Usually, I only go there to pick up a book I had put on hold on the Seattle Public Library website. Seldom do I spontaneously visit to walk down its short stacks of books hoping for a “good read” to pop out and grab me.

Today was different. I hurriedly went to get a book I had put on hold. The library closed in a few hours and it is not open tomorrow (budget cuts). And I really wanted that one book. You see I am planning a trip to France. And last night, as I went onto the SPL website looking for guidebooks, I deduced  from the number of holds for each of the books I wanted, many other Seattleites are planning trips to France too. I clicked multiple titles to put them on hold and hoped for the best. My trip is in a week! When I got the email saying one of my books on hold was waiting for me at my library, I felt like I had won the lottery!!!

The winning book!
The winning book!

Happy with my one book, I still felt unfulfilled. I walked to the check out line but something was drawing me towards the stacks of nonfiction books. I thought, no way could there be any guidebooks for France, or Paris even, they are all in the hands of some other Seattleite who is probably going to France this summer! The feeling persisted, I released my place in line and walked towards the row of books. To my disbelief there were five guidebooks to France that had not come up in the online search results.

"Discovered" books from the library stacks.
“Discovered” books from the library stacks.

There is nothing like walking through the stacks of a library.

Preflight Entertainment

It’s 7am and I’m at SeaTac airport awaiting a flight to Maui. A much needed vacation, I am already in vacation mode, regardless of the crowds at the airport stinging my mellow mood. I stood at the gate for awhile, watching the newbie travelers walking around in a daze, the sunburned people arriving off the red-eye from Honolulu and wild children running around like dogs in an off-leash park. I was bored, I was starting to feel the anxiety of all these other folks and my vacation mode mellow was fraying at the seams.

I decided to go for a walk around the terminal. I didn’t want any food, or any charbucks coffee, but I spied a new store at the end of the C terminal that looked like fun. Stuff oozed out of the store. On a rack just outside of the store there were purses and wallets made of recycled materials – I was really considering buying a coin purse with cat butts on it. With my self control in check, I entered this temptation filled store. Why is it that when you are in vacation mode you want to just buy, buy, buy?

instant vacation
hmmm… What about laughing on the beach in Maui?

I strolled through the crowded store, trying not to knock something off the shelf. I questioned who the audience was for this store. I had the luxury of 15 minutes before boarding and I found myself so overwhelmed by all the stuff that even if I wanted to buy something I wouldn’t have the time to make a decision. The bacon tie did tempt me, for that bacon lover in my life, but I passed. Then I saw a book that made me question why I was at the airport waiting for a 5.5 hour flight.

Traveler items?
Items for traveling?

Unfettered, I continued to explore this store. I found something that was a bit more appropriate for traveling. An inflight comfort kit with ear plugs and eye mask. But how can I believe that this product was a serious accessory for my travels when next to it is a cookbook about donuts?

fireworks bouquet
Bouquet of lights.

Just as I was leaving the store, I had an epiphany as I stood in front of a bouquet of fake flowers with lights strung through them… The store was an example of what would happen if fireworks hit a pinata and all the toys, candy and other crap flew onto the store shelves.

Just trippin’

Descending into Yakima Valley, Mt. Adam to the left and Mt. Rainier to the right.
Descending into Yakima Valley, Mt. Adam to the left and Mt. Rainier to the right.

When you live in Seattle WA, you have to be creative. A week ago my partner and I did just that when figuring out how to find summer. While the rest of you were sweltering in 100+ degree weather, the Pacific NW was cool and rainy. Sure that sounds good if you are sweating buckets and going for that 10th glass of lemonade, but when you live in it, it can get old.  Thanks to the Cascade range of mountains, the coolness from the Pacific, that carries the water rich air tends to stay on the West side giving Seattle its year round temperate climate. Ok, you get the picture…  Early Saturday morning we packed the car, destination Yakima WA. A quick 2.5 hour drive and we were in summer. Road Trip!

I wanted to call this blog post “Yakitty Yak” as in that old song where it then says “don’t come back.” For some people that is how they view Yakima, but not me. I say go back as often as possible and I’ll share with you why. For one, they really get a summer out there, their geology and climate is “one eighty” that of Seattle. The high desert with sage brush hills formed when a large ice age lake’s ice dam broke and sent billions of gallons of water to scour the lava rock, to create rolling hills and amazing gorges cut into the earth. Without the Ocean tempering the weather, they get harsh winters and hot summers, so any creative Seattlite will head to the “east side of the mountains” to find weather opposite of Seattle.

Rainier cherries
Rainier cherries

My first trip to Yakima was about 15 years ago, when I first moved to WA state. I heard that it was the “wine country” of WA, I was thrilled since one of my favorite places in the world is Napa valley in CA. But that first trip found amazing wines, but no lush bed and breakfasts, yummy cafes or gourmet markets to buy things for a picnic. Nope this was ag land – a place where it was all work and not so much play. On this trip, our first stop was to pick cherries. The Yakima valley is one of the most fertile valleys in the U.S., as is most of Eastern WA. It is the top producer of cherries, apples and hops in the U.S. So if you are eating cherry pie or drinking a beer, you are probably consuming a bit of Yakima.

Did I mention wine? During that first visit to Yakima, I wasn’t impressed by the scenery, but I was impressed by the wines. Back then there were a fraction of the number of wineries there are today, some were bad but some were really  good. I remembered a winery where I fell in love with their Merlot, and that was before I knew that same Merlot was being served as the house wine at the restaurant Merlot in NYC. I had thought this winery was gone because it wasn’t on any of the wine country maps I had picked up in the past, but this year, we stumbled across it, thanks to those road signs that tell you when a winery is coming up.

Yakima River Winery
Yakima River Winery in Prosser, WA.

Since I last tasted their wines, Yakima River Winery, with their award winning wines went through some tough times. Their east coast distributor died during the 9/11/01 attacks, then the movie Sideways came out with it’s anti-Merlot message (it is still a good movie) and then July of 2012 WA liquor was privatized. From this, they don’t sell their wines on the East coast anymore, the demand for Merlot dropped and now you can’t find their wines in Western WA Safeway, QFC or Fred Meyer stores because those stores dumped a lot of their wine selection to make room for cheap booze. Yikes! What stories we heard as we tasted their out of this world wines. I walked out of their with 2 cases of wine, a $100 case of their 2008 Merlot (thanks to the overstock) and several bottles of their Malbec (watch out Argentina, Yakima valley Malbec is out of this world!) and a couple of bottles of their Cab Sauv. I love this place, it is not pretentious, there is no view, the tasting room looks more like a nice garage, and there is a moose head trophy on the wall, plus a few other taxidermied animals. This is a place that is focused on making great complex wines, not kowtow to the simple palates of the common winery tourist.

Mount Rainier at Chinook Pass
Mt. Rainier at Chinook Pass – July 7, 2012.

Alas, we had to do more than drink wine. We went to the Sunday Farmer’s market, to oogle and purchase produce at prices much lower than the farmer’s markets in Seattle. We had the best tacos adobados I have ever eaten, for breakfast, washed down with a glass of strawberry horchata (rice milk). We had found heaven in Yakima!

It was time to head West and we decided to go through Mt. Rainier National Park. This state is full of wonder and it is so excruciatingly beautiful when the sun shines! It was a quick road trip but it was a great escape from the daily grind in Seattle. Did I mention that there is finally good coffee in Yakima? Go to Northtown Coffeehouse, they brew stumptown coffee and it is good!

I’ll leave you with a few images from our drive through Mt. Rainier. It was a lovely day and the beauty breathtaking!

Narada Falls
Lots of ice cold water falling at Narada Falls.
Author in front of a 1000 year old cedar.
Author in front of a 1000 year old cedar.
Knotty, knarly wood
Knotty, knarly wood.