Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Seattle on a Budget

     A huge benefit of living the simple life (see my prior Simple Life essay, regarding) is my kids are easy to please. Since I lived in Seattle for four years in the eighties and “did” its main downtown attractions (Pike's Place Market, Seattle Waterfront, Seattle Center, etc.) numerous times, I wished to avoid these during our recent trip over in favor of lesser know yet equally unique attractions.
           My friend Norm refused to let us shoot his BB gun in his yard, but instead drove the kids and me forty-five minutes due east into some logging roads foothills where empty aluminum cans were already set up on sticks for target practice. Each of us were able to plunk a can or two or hit Braden's hand drawn bull's eye mounted on a bramble. For additional entertainment on our drive over, Norm had blasted degenerate music on the stereo and speeded along at up to seventy miles per hour on unpaved, potholed roads. 
     In response, I described a former old, bald, and overweight scout leader who worked at a hardware store and his reckless driving in his beater Toyota Corolla when he drove us down Mauna Kea's winding, Saddle Road after a camp. While we watched bemused he took a sharp right that fish-tailed the car's rear end one hundred-eighty degrees, corrected with a swoop into the left lane (lucky no cars were there), and jerked the car to a stop. He asked in near panic if we were alright. We said yeah and he drove from then on very cautious. 
     Braden said it must be fun to drive fast even though it's not as safe. (The kids were giggling throughout Norm's driving antics—aiming straight for puddles, dodging potholes, and gunning the throttle.)
     I said it's fun until you get in an accident, everyone goes to the hospital, and two might not make it. 
     Norm slowed after that. (FYI: I never drive reckless or to impress kids other than by driving ultra safe and alert. Norm might mock me for it; I don't care).
     Next day, we visited lesser-known (I'd never been) Kubota Gardens and Seward Park to enjoy the cool, brisk weather and walk in woodsy surroundings. Both offered free, healthy fun, the former with numerous pathways on a huge plot of land, the latter with bald eagles (we didn't see any) and banned-in-Honolulu seesaw and roundabout and a built-into-a-hill playground. Jaren went around the last saying to himself, “This is awesome!” again and again. The south Lake Washington vistas and drive along fancy then funky neighborhoods also pleased. 
     Another day, the Museum of History and Industry cost us seventeen dollars per adult; free for all our (age fourteen and under) kids. It was worth it—something new and interesting with lots of hands-on exhibits (one “hall” with boring wall drawings featured a retro Space Invaders arcade game and ping-pong table free for use that the kids and I had fun fooling with—a nice respite from the more educational exhibits). We ate our home made roast beef sandwiches outside by a large man-made pond with the Space Needle as backdrop. A dozen Canadian geese came gliding in from the lake and slid in on their bellies in long slishy slides.  The kids tried to get near them but they kept their distances.
     Next door at the Center for Wooden Boats we went on a sail boat ride (free!) around South Lake Union. The twenty-eight foot double-masted Sharpie was entirely made of wood (I asked). Penelope and Braden each got to man the rudder, and Jaren and I got to paddle when the gentle breeze abated (I'd paddled a Hawaiian canoe twice before so I knew what to do). The volunteer skipper offered interesting stories and descriptions and a jocularly that lightened the mood. The squeaky creak of boom on mast as the wind turned sail added to the seafaring air as the boat listed beneath our uneven feet (we were all standing—just more comfortable as seating was limited and the boat's gunwale came up comfortably to our waists). After we had landed and left the Center it began to hail (bread crumb size) along with rain for ten minutes—fun to watch the stones dance like fleas on the pavement and coat the ground white. (While living in Seattle, I only saw it hail so heavy twice.) 
     We then caught a bus which took us via the subway tunnel to the International District south of downtown to purchase live dungenous crab and clams, and fresh fish and kai lan from Iwajimaya's to cook up for Norm and his two kids. On the way back, we stopped to look at floating houses along Lake Union's eastern shore. I asked a resident permission for us to look around as he entered the low swinging double doors that separated the unpaved parking area from stairs that led to a long dock that had about ten small houses secured on either side (similar docks extend for hundreds of yards, houses back-to-back, along the crowded shoreline). He was friendly and said sure. The elderly owner of the house at the end of the pier was also friendly and waved after we had enjoyed the night view beside his house. All the houses, some quite cute, others quirky, were surrounded by floating walkways, many of which had a boat or two (kayak, row boat, small motor boat, etc.) hitched up. Further, all were puny, and all were probably (based on previous Internet searches) very expensive. It seems that living on water in a tight-knit urban community was what attracted the owners, not so much the views, as only the two houses at the end of each pier have much to see other than neighbors' houses on all four sides just a few feet away.
     We also played in the snow up in the mountains on a clear sunny day (about twenty degrees cold!), so clear we could see on our way back Mount Rainier to the south as if it were only twenty (not the actual seventy) miles away.  
     On our last full day, after Norm had stepped out to train we scrubbed his refrigerator, stove, floors, windows, slop compost pot, and walls, cleaned his bathroom, and dusted his furniture. I told Deanne it felt good to be doing something productive. Our cleaning after each stay with Norm has become ritual—small payback for all the hospitality and food he'd provided. (We'd shopped for most of our food, though he provided many extra niceties.  And we did eat well, mostly due to his excellent cooking).
     I twice offered to leave some left over cash with him to help cover the cost of his exorbitant heating bill but he said, “No way. And if I find any of your money,”—I alluded to hiding some for him to find—“I'll mail it back to you using a forty-nine cents postage stamp.” Knowing him, he meant it, not caring if it got lost in the mail or stolen by a dishonest postal worker.  (Decades ago, when I was still single, I once deposited thirty dollars on a table before him to help pay for our dinners that he'd paid for via credit card.  He walked away and left it for tip.  Shocked at his nonchalant generosity, I pocketed the cash.)
     Best of all, we played spoons (a speed card game) and Pirate's Dice with Norm and his kids, and shared good times eating, talking, joking, and/or horsing around—all joyful, full of love, and memorable. It'd been a worthwhile way to spend our holidays away from home, one that we'd do again someday, God willing. 

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