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November 6, 1999
a year ago
two years ago

Seattle - Day One

After a few mornings of getting up way, way too early, this morning wasn't quite as difficult as it could have been. It helped having John getting up as well and about to go with me. After all this traveling on my own, it was nice to know that someone else was there looking out for me as well.

The trip up was pretty uneventful, even the sunrise was pretty plain as the sky was completely clear so the sunrise was mostly a glow on the horizon that just turned into the sun, rather than all the clouds getting into the act as well. We hadn't really gotten to sleep as early as we had originally planned, but it was for very good reason. A friend of ours from South Carolina came for a visit. Carla was here for the weekend on business and the ACM's meeting; but was able to visit for dinner. Hoorah! Perfect timing. So she came over while I pieced together a decent meal from some beef ribs, a bit of leftover chicken, some macaroni and cheese, sweet corn, and John made a salad. Plenty to eat and we just caught up with each other.

It was the first time she'd seen the new house and even from the pictures she's noted just how completely different it all was from our place in Redmond. It really is. All sunshine and open plains rather than tree shadows and forest shade. Though, admittedly, I have had enough time in the plains of Indiana and on the edge of the ocean all along the Pacific coast to not be afraid of open skies.

If our home were a reflection of our personalities, it seems that our homes reflect our diversity. Perhaps.

Anyway, the visit was really, really good and she went back to Denver around 9 and that's when we threw all our things into a bag for the weekend. We had at least a formal dinner an likely an appearance at church during the weekend, so we had to bring something nice as well as wear something comfortable for the trip.

So we flew out of DIA around 8 a.m. and arrived in Seattle and got into the Rostykus car at 10 a.m. at Seatac, that hour change works to our favor when we go to the West Coast, so that's very nice. We had time, and plenty of things to get around to. Isabel and George were good enough to lend us their car for the weekend, and so as soon as we got there and said hi and caught up some, John and I went off.

I had a few things in my brain that I wanted to do. One of them was to see if J. Petermans is anything like it used to be. But I also realized that if I wanted to do that, it would be to go downtown for a few moments without really going in order to buy anything. There are relatively few moments, now, when I actually wear formal clothing anymore. So if we did go there, it wouldn't really be to get anything, and, by this time, we were both starting to get hungry. So the other thing that popped into my head was to go to the Ranch 99 market and the Great Wall Mall in Renton and get food and visit the local incarnation of the Imperial Tea Court.

It was only 11 when we got there, so it wasn't too busy for lunch, yet. We were able to find a whole area of parking spaces that weren't taken yet and from there we walked into the little mall. It's all a covered mall, unlike all the other Ranch 99 malls we'd seen in Southern California, which is to be expeted. Inside, though, it had a good half a dozen restaurants of various styles of food, and the usual bookstores, shopping mall things and on one branch was the Imperial Tea Court, looking very nice. It's a much more modern store than the on in San Francisco, and it's just gorgeous and glowing and beautifully constructed; but we couldn't go in yet, because John was really, truly hungry.

None of the restaurants really had menus I could read or really get into, so, instead of eating at one of the restaurants there, we went into the Deli area of Ranch 99 and found more authentic Chinese food than I've seen in all the months I've been here in Colorado. For $3.99 you could get any three items and either rice or noodles, and the items! There was salt prawns, belt fish!, molluscs of all shapes and forms, four different kinds of fish items, a few pork items, sweet and sour with the real sauce, eggplant with pork, dry cooked string beans with tantalizing glimpses of flavorful Chinese bacon, chicken with bones still in, and all kinds of the roasted/BBQ'ed items as well. I got salt prawns with the heads still on, the crisp fried belt fish, and a mass of the dry cooked string beans. Yum. The lunch came with soup, but we also bought some 7-Up and just sat down at one of the tables there and ate and ate and ate. My. That was so very good.

I then wandered about the store, bought a ripe mango and some good sticky Japanese rice. Yay! This should make the making of sushi easier, with the yummier rice.

We then went to the Imperial Tea Court. There was a young man with long brown hair and studious glasses, but he was also caucasian, which surprised me just a bit. The shelves and the canisters were as I expected, as was the decor of polished Chinese laquer tables and chairs, much like the ones in the Bay Area. I asked about pu-erh teas and he was delighted as there are relatively few requests for pu-erh. We sat down to have a good, long-term taste test of the stuff using the old kung-fu method of tea making with the Yixing pot, porceline pitcher and various other implements of tea making. He was assured, solid in his motions, deft and quick and capable.

The tea we tried was the aged Superior Pu-erh. I'd smelled the Preferred Pu-erh and I liked the scent of that; but the Superior had more tips, so was more expensive. The problem was that I couldn't really get into scent of the more expensive tea. The properietor said, however, that it was the better of the two teas, so I decided that I should try it kung-fu style to see all the nuances of it in all its steepings. The method is pretty simple, throw hot water over the leaves and the pot when the leaves are unfurling in the pot, drain it completely when it's steeped as long a you want, serve the steep and compare against the next steep. It's a more digital way of doing things rather than the gai-wan analog method of putting some tea leaves into the cup and then just sipping and adding more hot water as you go. This way there are distinct steps between eat taste set up of time and water and the leaves.

From the very first steep, which was only about half a minute, this tea was bitter. Usually bitterness means that the tea's been steeped too long or too hot, but with black teas, one usually wants it to be at least a boiling temperature. This was boiling water, and the steep itself was less than a minute, which really ruled out the too long explanation. After three or four steep sets, the leaves were still bitter in the under-taste.

This is actually something that sometimes happens with some Yunnan teas. Some Yunnans are just gorgeous, divine things of golden light and taste, some years the stuff is just plain bitter and it's very hard to tell from sight. But it seems scent really did lead to taste differences. So, eventhough we'd just spent about half an hour tasting it, we didn't buy the really good stuff. Instead, I bought another 10 year old cake and some of the sweeter smelling, lower quality stuff. I like my pu-erh strong but mellow. Much like good coffee, where the taste is complex and solid and might be a bit acid, but it's never, ever bitter. If it's bitter, something is wrong either with the preparation or the actual beans or leaves. More often than not it's the prep, but here, with that many trials, it just couldn't have been the preparation.

While we spent the time there, there was one thing that kept drawing my eye. It was a green jade Gaiwan, which is a cup, saucer, and lid combination, and the whole thing was carved from transluscent green jade. Really truly beautiful, especially with the light they had shining on it that really brought out its transluscent charcteristics. The darned thing is nearly $300. I didn't buy it, but I kept looking at it thoughtfully, but I don't think I'll buy it and John looked like he was happy to know that there was something I really wanted, but wasn't willing to buy just yet.

So we left, happier that we'd tried it before actually buying any.

Zooom... the pu-erh we tried was also exceptionally high in caffiene. I'm used to most teas not actually impinging on my coffee-deadened caffiene responces, but I was flying by the time we were on the road. It was really amusing that we were on our way to Victor's, our favorite coffee shop in Redmond. John was really enjoying the fact that I was so bubbly and talkative and giggly. That was pretty funny.

Victor and Jane were working, still. They usually work Saturdays, but we're never quite sure until when, and the shop was really busy when we got there. When we left, they had been planning a several month sabbatical, but it turned out that they had some lease problems and then the place next to them went on sale. While they couldn't really afford it, they also couldn't afford not to make the investment, especially after the scare of the almost terminated lease was so close to them. So they cancelled their vacation and used the money for part of the downpayment on the place next door.

They still had folks in for them, though, for the time, so they actually took some time off and had a good time in Hawaii instead of skiing across Europe. A good break, all in all, and we had fun just sitting with them and catching up on all the things that had happened to them in the time that we were away. Next time they said that they wanted to be told beforehand in enough time to schedule a dinner. That was pretty cool.

I got even higher on a grande mocha with hazelnut syrup and then we were off to Duvall and the reason we'd actually gone in the first place.

A year or two ago, at one of the dinner parties that were thrown for all the ex-employees for Synario, John talked with Carol about making mugs for Victor's because everyone liked Victor's and we knew that she could making all kinds of cool ceramic things. She'd given just about everyone ceramics as presents, everything from keen pots to cool rice bowls with notches for the chopsticks. She had a little studio and she taught classes a few nights a week and sometimes for kids during the day and one of the coolest things we'd heard from her was about the time she got the Boy Scout troop in to make stuff.

She hadn't done much of anything commercial, and this was her very first venture into all that; and it was quite... the... uhm... politely put... a learning experience to have creativity come in direct contact with commercialism. Victor's is a small coffee house that works on a fairly slim margin and how Jane saw the pricing on the mugs was very, very different than Carol's, who knew exactly how much time, energy and materials went into each of these hand-crafted mugs. Everything from the hours of handwork to the glaze painting to the multiple firings needed for that. It was a one-time deal that blew a bit out of proportion with the numbers that Carol was expected to make. Her studio of students, in some ways, seem to have come to her rescue with that, and from that incident, they figured out that selling things wasn't as easy as all that. It was possible, though.

So one of their ladies went out to the Redmond Saturday market and spent a summer at a table watching people pass up her unique items because their prices were so much higher than a mass-produced, one of a million, mugs that could be found at Target. It, too was a learning experience, as the Saturday market was anything but an art fair type of deal, where folks actually might consider this meeting of art and utility.

So, instead, they, as a group, decided to change their venue and do it all differently and set it up so that people would know what kind of things they were actually getting. So they did a beautiful job, rented out a multi-purpose room in a retail space, and then they set it up to sell things. We saw the result of all that work, disappointment, and planning when we stepped into, from all appearances, a ceramic boutique lit with candle light with soft music and more than a dozen tables all set up to display some really keen wares.

Carol was there and it was good that we'd told her we were coming. We'd actually told a good number of folks to see who might have dinner with us tonight. It's easier to get people to have dinner when they have a week's notice rather than just a single day's. Jay and their kids were there as well and it was really fun to meet and greet and catch up completely on all the things that were happening with them. John and I just hung out in the shop and just talked a lot with Carol while Jay went out to do things, we talked about all the things she'd been up to and what she'd realized after that initial venture. We also talked through all the things John and I had done in the last several months, and it was all really keen to just sit and talk and talk and talk. So from about 2 to about 5:30, we just hung around at the ceramics sale and talked, watched the customers, and eventually jumped up to snag the pieces that we wanted.

It was very nice to learn about the artists as we sat there. What they had done, what they were doing, how they had approached the learning and the clay and their lives, even. It all blended together, so that a little mug the color of Seattle rain took on the story of the woman who had waited more than fifty years to finally get into clay and who loved it the moment she set her hands into it and spun out dozens and dozens of beautiful things but still wanted to keep learning how to do more. A set of medium pie plates came with the story of a husband who was a doubting Thomas set to doubt no more on seeing his wife's sales rack up on the mat of sales. His surprise was only matched by hers. She had only brought some things to make sure that the place didn't look empty, she hadn't expected to sell any. The learning was so clear and marvelous in that place.

We bought a lot of stuff. We also were given a huge bowl by Carol, beautiful powder blue with designs all along the inside of it that she'd taken off a Patagonia fleese jacket. Very keen, bright design and we'll have to be careful carrying it home. But the best thing was realizing that the seed of the idea that John planted with Carol was just a little reason for all that had happened. She'd put all the work and effort and pain into it all to bring it up to this beauty; but it was so odd to think that a throw-out idea of John's had precipitated all this. Not influenced, certainly, we had nothing to do with it beyond the first seed. Still, it was very neat to know and even better to know that after this success they were likely to do something like this every six months, just before Mother's Day and just before Thanksgiving. Two good shopping times of the year and with the success of this sale they were planning even better things.

It was dark by the time we left. The whole day had been grey and overcast, not quite sunny, not really raining, typical Seattle weather. The first day since we last flew out to Seattle and drove off for Boulder that we've not had to wear any sunglasses. The trip back to Kirkland and to the Third Floor Fish cafe was uneventful. There haven't been that many changes in just eight months, thank goodness. We changed in the car in some dark sidestreet in Duvall, sure that nothing would go into the woods, and nothing did.

Brookstick skirts are prefect for traveling. They're completely made up of wrinkles so a few more from the bag didn't bother it a all. It was very nice indeed and flowed well under the purple sweater. Lots of bright colors, so it fit well at the restaurant, especially with my hightop sneakers. That was fun. We got to the restaurant before everyone, and the first person to arrive was Bob, the next was Jay. One of the horses was having problems from the night before, so Carol stayed home with the pony and the kids to deal with that and the teardown of the show. The Pellerans and the Kohlmeyers then came and it was a party!

It was a lot of fun to just talk and have really great food and be happy. It was really excellent seafood with lots of yummy side dishes including my getting an appetizer of foie gras after deciding that I really wanted it instead of just having all seafood just for the sake of seafood. Bob has always hated liver, but I wanted for him to try a bit, and he did and really liked it and admitted that while he'd always hated liver, this actually worked out well. Dave had that appetizer as well. It was really good with caramelized mango, a sliced granny smith underneath and some lovely sauce around the outside. The fish dishes that came next had everyone very happy. That was good.

Talk revolved around all the business things that we'd all seen since John and I had left. Dave did most of the shop talk and some of it was 'what if', but it was nice to know that all the FAE's really liked what we were doing and that Dave had seen that as well. It was kinda boring to the wives, and eventually we talked for a while about the differences in landscape, the differences in weather, the way things were working out for Fezzik. Lots of different little things. Afterwards we went to the Pellerins to see their new house in Kirkland and that was a gorgeous new house in the midst of town living. Very nice, actually and within walking distance of downtown Kirkland, which is very nice and quaint and shopable.

By the time we were done there it was 11 p.m. and we'd been up since 4 a.m. west coast time. Tired, and while we'd been invited to crash another party, both of us were very much more about to crash in a bed than another party. So we just drove back to John's parents' house and went to sleep, soundly, even in the strange beds in a strange place. Oof.

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