Saturday, January 31, 2009

Recession-Proof Seattle...No More

So I've been meaning to discuss the economy for awhile. My Dad mentioned to me today that he recently heard a news story about Seattle. The city always considered itself recession-proof. But it no longer can withstand this recession. Seattle has been hit hard. It took a little longer to get here, but once the recession arrived, it came in full force. First, Washington Mutual went belly-up. Not only did that affect the thousands of people working here in WaMu's headquarters, but it also affected downtown Seattle. WaMu has left empty skyscrapers and the city is struggling to find renters. Additionally, if thousands of people suddenly leave downtown Seattle, what happens to those restaurants and businesses who count on those WaMu employees to frequent them during lunch? Since WaMu collapsed, we've seen huge lay-offs in other companies headquartered here including: Boeing, Starbucks, and the giant Microsoft. Microsoft has never had to lay-off people before, so this was huge.

And when you've got thousands upon thousands of people in the area without work, that trickles down to every other company. For example, Robb works at the high-end grocery store Metropolitan Market. It tends to be a bit pricier than your Wal-Mart Supercenter. So as people lose their jobs, they also adjust their spending habits. Met Market is seeing fewer customers, which means that instead of 5 employees serving customers, you only need 2 at a time. This means hours are being cut, so that most employees that were full-time before now only get part-time hours. As a manager, Robb still gets full-time hours; he occasionally cuts one or two hours out a week. But now the job is more stressful because there are less employees to work with and no wiggle room for emergencies.

The other interesting thing is, as people are unemployed and scared to spend money, our state government goes into a tailspin. Here in Washington there is no income tax. Besides a car tax and property tax, the only tax we have is sales tax. At 8.9%, it's pretty steep. But when people curtail their spending, the government loses out on expected revenue. Our deficit is several billion dollars right now. As a state employee, my job has changed significantly in the past few months. I used to travel every couple of months around the state. Now there are strict travel rules and most meetings are held electronically. There are job freezes and employment caps in place. And, quietly, there are some lay-offs happening. I feel fairly secure in my job. There's a significant interest in my unit existing by the federal Department of Justice. Additionally, I've taken on several more quality assurance functions as someone in our office is facing a family emergency. I think I'm considered valuable right now, so I'm not too concerned about losing my job.

With all this being said, I am still grateful to be here and grateful we moved here when we did. We got here in August 2007. We were not employed full time until December 2007. It took a lot longer then we expected and we were extremely stressed. I cannot imagine what would have happened if we waited a year to move here. We never would have found jobs. I doubt we even would have risked moving across the country. So Washington is struggling. And just like everyone else, we're worried about the future. But we're in a beautiful state and gainfully employed for the moment. We feel very lucky.

Monday, January 26, 2009

My First Meme...

I was hesitant about posting a meme, because even though I sometimes deviate from my blog's purpose of showcasing my explorations of the Pacific Northwest, I try not to do that too much unless absolutely necessary. But I realized that a lot of my answers still have quite a bit to do with my love of Seattle. So my first meme is below!

What is a meme you ask? Well, for my blog-challenged readers, a meme is a survey that is passed around on blogs. I’ve just been tagged by Lisa at http://happilyeverafterinseattle.blogspot.com/. So let's try this...

Make a list of things you can see without getting up:
some Family Guy DVDs, Seattle Metropolitan magazine, the book "The First Immortal", candles, empty dinner bowl, Malibu (one of my cats).

What were you like when you were five? As a kid I was always trying to be more grown-up than I was. So I was probably trying to pass as an 8 year old.

What are you wearing now? Black yoga pants and a long-sleeve t-shirt for the radio station 107.1 in Austin.

What story/book/novel have you read over and over again in your life? I love re-reading books. I have a terrible memory, so most of the time there’s always a surprise that I didn’t remember: Summer Sisters (Judy Blume), The Giver (Lois Lowry), Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maude Montgomery)

What’s the last thing you read/are currently reading? I’m reading “Eat This, Not That” right now and am learning a lot. Don’t EVER eat Marie Calendar’s frozen pot pies.

Do you nap a lot? Occasionally, not as much as I’d like to

Who was the last person you hugged? The husband

What’s your current fandom/obsession/addiction? Hitchcock movies

What was the last thing you ate today? Brown rice with pesto sauce

What was the last thing you said aloud? I yelled at my other cat so he would stop bawling, "Jack!”

What websites do you always visit when you go online? Yahoo Mail, Craigslist, CNN, MSN, Slate, Matt Logelin, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Facebook

What was the last thing you bought? Cat food

What are you listening to right now? "The Pretenders,” Jackson Brown

What movie are (or were!) you most excited to show your kids? National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation.” That movie has a long tradition of being a Christmas Eve classic in my family.

What’s one skill that you wish you could have but can’t imagine ever getting around to learning? I’d love to make home-made greeting cards. I even have a book about it. But I’m not artsy enough, patient enough, or willing to spend the money on supplies.

What is your favorite weather, and why? I like it all. I love the snow and rain because it feels comforting to bundle up. I love clear and sunny days so I can get outside and see Mt. Rainier from my town.

What time do you usually get up? I have to get up at 5:25. I hate my long commute.

What is your most challenging goal right now? Save money for vacations and weekends away. Somehow an emergency or more important purchase always seems to arise. I want to explore the region more!

Say something to the person who tagged you: Lisa, I’m glad I stumbled across your blog and now feel that I “know” you. We should get together soon!

If you could have a house–totally paid for, fully furnished–anywhere in the world, where would you want it to be? I would love to actually live in the city of Seattle. Right now I’m thinking Fremont, Ballard, or Queen Anne.

Favorite vacation spot? I don’t have just one. I like trying different places. I love Austin, Amsterdam, Austrian Alps, London, Washington DC, and anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.

What is your favorite children’s book? The Little Engine that Could and Where the Wild Things Are

Name one thing you just can’t resist no matter how bad it is for you: Mission-style burritos

If you could meet anyone famous - dead or alive - who would it be? Is it clich├ęd to say Barack Obama?

What movie have you seen recently that you really enjoyed? I really liked Gran Torino. I wasn’t expecting to at all, but it really surprised me.

TAGGED: I don’t know who regularly reads my blog or who likes to fill these things out. If you’re a reader and have a blog, let me know. In the future I can tag you! I know that Robb reads and Gregg P. reads. So if you guys are interested…feel free.

THE RULES:
Step 1: respond and rework—answer the questions on your own blog, replace one question that you dislike with a question of your own invention, add one more question of your own.
Step 2: tag—eight other un-tagged people will be tagged.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Moving to Seattle = Learning to Like Coffee

I used to hate all things coffee. I didn't like coffee-flavored ice cream. Tiramisu was not yummy to me because of the layers dipped in espresso. Considering that those items semi-grossed me out, you can imagine my aversion to the actual beverages made of coffee. I do admit that I felt a little uncomfortable moving to the Seattle area, inventor of Starbucks and Seattle's Best Coffee, without liking coffee. I felt like an impostor and outsider. Oh, I would fake it. In Starbucks I ordered chai, hot chocolate, and hot apple cider. Luckily they put these drinks in the same cups as the coffee drinks. So I could pull off the look of being a coffee-drinker. But inside I felt like a fraud. I was ashamed of my immature taste buds.

I held out hope that one day though I'd be able to ease into liking coffee. (Much like wine. I started out in college with Arbor Mist (yuck!), moved to sweet white then dry white wines, and in the past two years I've really come to prefer reds. It's a gradual growing up and getting used to the taste process.) So I would sometimes try a sip of Robb's coffee drinks or try a free sample that Starbucks baristas would pass around. And then this winter it happened. Last Christmas I would drink Starbucks' peppermint hot chocolate. This Christmas I became obsessed with Starbucks' peppermint mocha. I perfected my drink: a tall, non-fat peppermint mocha, with regular whip cream - not the peppermint flavored whip cream. (Some people say why have non-fat if you're just going to add the whip cream? I say, every little bit of non-fat helps. I like the whip cream to cool the drink down and add a little extra sweetness to the coffee.) Not only did I enjoy the coffee flavor, but I also liked the extra boost of caffeine I got. I think there's more caffeine in these drinks that my once-a-day Diet Mt. Dew.

So now that Christmas is over, I have to move beyond the peppermint mochas. I've tried a white chocolate mocha (not a fan of white chocolate), a pumpkin spice latte (pretty good, but also seasonal), a caramel macchiato (not bad), and have discovered my non-seasonal favorite: a tall, non-fat cinnamon dolce latte, with whip cream.

So a year and a half after moving to Washington, I can now drink and enjoy fairly sweet coffee drinks. Now, just like the locals, I have to figure out how to limit my Starbucks habit so I don't spend all my money on overpriced coffee. If my evolutionary wine habits are any indication, I'll be drinking black coffee in no time which means I'll be able to drink coffee at home. But, in the meantime, I support Starbucks the way you are meant to support Starbucks -- through coffee. My next task is to start trying some local coffee places and see if I can handle something outside of the Starbucks realm.

Since I didn't grow up here, I know I'll never be a native. But I love to celebrate those moments when you get one step closer to faking native status.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Our Weekend in Bellingham

Instead of giving each other Christmas presents this year we decided to save the money for a weekend away. We also wanted a way to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary, which officially was on December 30th. So the first weekend in 2009 we headed north to Bellingham, WA. We both had heard good things about Bellingham. This city is very near the Canadian border and home to Western Washington University. It had a classic, old downtown feel with a definite college presence. While we wanted to make sure to hit a couple of areas in Bellingham, we didn't have a huge agenda. It was supposed to be a weekend of relaxation and go-with-the-flow fun.

On Friday I worked all day and after my hour commute home, we drove another two hours north. We checked into our hotel (the Best Western Heritage Inn -- amazing hotel and good price) and went straight to dinner. Then we headed straight to Rudy's for dinner. I would say the deciding factor in visiting Bellingham, for our first weekend away since our mini-honeymoon, was to go to Rudy's. Robb's favorite pizza restaurant when he lived in Kansas was Rudy's. He even used to have a pet bird named Rudy. He hadn't eaten Rudy's pizza in over 6 years and still missed it and talked about it often. A friend from Kansas told him that Bellingham had a Rudy's. Apparently Kansas natives moved to Bellingham and missed Rudy's so much that they contacted the owners and opened a restaurant in Bellingham. So two places in the world have Rudy's: Lawrence, KS and Bellingham, WA. So that's the first place we had to find in Bellingham. And we were not disappointed. Robb was very pleased to find it tasted almost the exact same. And I was impressed with the pizza as well. I'm sure we'll go back to Bellingham again when Robb needs another Rudy's fix. On Saturday we started the day in downtown Bellingham. We first needed to find breakfast. We walked by a couple of places and were drawn into Little Cheerful. This tiny restaurant was packed and had a definite college, independent vibe. Breakfast was phenomenal. I had a hashbrown combo that included "browns," mushrooms, onions, spinach, tomatos, avocado, sour cream, and a fried egg on top. It was one of the best breakfasts I've ever had. Robb had the special of the day: eggs benedict with huge hunks of wild salmon, artichokes, asparagus, onions, and mushrooms. We left breakfast stuffed and very happy. We then walked around downtown Bellingham to check out the turn-of-the century architecture and independent shops.
Our next stop was the Radio and Electricity Museum. This museum chronicled the beginning of electricity, telegraphs, and radios. It had one of the first lightbulbs created by Edison. There were also some electricity demonstrations. The volunteer presenting these demonstrations said that I had the best hair he'd seen all week! I definitely learned a few things and enjoyed myself, but Robb is a lot more interested in those types of things and probably would have bought a year's membership if we lived in Bellingham. Late in the afternoon we headed to Fairhaven, a miniature district of Bellingham that everyone said we had to go to. We got there and are sad to say that we weren't incredibly impressed. The neighborhood seemed very upscale and sterile, rather than the Bohemian feel we expected to see. Most of the stores were closed, even though it was only late afternoon/early evening on a Saturday. And none of the restaurants really interested us. We stopped in the bookstore for awhile and then went back to downtown Bellingham for the rest of the evening. (We were really disappointed in Fairhaven after all the hype, so we decided to give it another try Sunday mid-morning. Again, weren't really impressed. We got a good view of the water and found a statue of "Dirty Dan," one of the founders of Fairhaven. But other than that, didn't find much different than the afternoon before.) Saturday evening we went to a gastropub for dinner called the Copper Hog. A gastropub is essentially a bar with more upscale food. So instead of regular hamburger sliders, I got bison sliders. It was a nice pub with good food and we enjoyed ourselves.
On Sunday, after our failed second trip to Fairhaven, we went to downtown Bellingham for lunch at Bandito's Burritos. As a burrito connoisseur, I rate the burritos as a little boring. However, the salsa bar was amazing and that really saved the burrito. Then we visited Whatcom Falls. Bellingham is known as "Hiking Town, USA." The city is known for the extensive hiking trails within city limits. So we stayed in town to experience one of these trails. Whatcom Falls was stunning and in the middle of the city. An old stone bridge overlooks the falls and had brilliant green moss covering it. We walked around the trails for awhile taking pictures of all the different water views. It was a beautiful area. Before heading out of town we stopped at Mallard's. This ice cream spot is famous for their homemade flavors. Robb was especially impressed with the chai flavored ice cream. The woman who scooped the ice cream told us that the store mixes their own spices to create the chai. No mixes for them. Instead of driving on the interstate all the way back to Federal Way, we took the scenic route out of town. Chuckanut Drive (or Rt. 11) had been closed for about a month in November/December. There had been landslides and boulders the size of cars were in the roads. We were told not to really go on the road if the weather was bad or at night. It could be somewhat dangerous. But we left Bellingham early enough in the afternoon so that we wouldn't be on the road when it got dark. The road drives along cliffs overlooking Puget Sound. The day we went, the weather was still mostly clear, but starting to turn (by the time we drove past Seattle, on the interstate, snow was coming down hard and we got about 3 inches of snow before rain melted it away the next morning). So while we were on Chuckanut Drive, the roads weren't yet wet, but it was incredibly windy and snow was spitting out of the sky every once in awhile. This led to some amazing views. We would stop at viewpoints and get out of the car to look into the Sound. Waves were crashing, trees were whipping in the wind, and the sky was very gray. The day was just this incredible feeling of raw, wild, unforgiving nature. People have told me that it's best to see Chuckanut Drive in the summer. But I am so grateful that we saw it on a blustery, winter day. The pictures truly do not do it justice. I wish I could convey the power I felt that day. We were incredibly impressed with that drive and most of our trip. I'm sure we'll go to Bellingham again one day, because Lord knows, if nothing else, we need to have Rudy's and Little Cheerful food again!