Seattle, Here I Come (and other random stuff)

Guess what? I am going to the Emerald City, which is what some call Seattle because it’s so darn lush and green, thanks to all the rain they get. I’m practically apoplectic with delight, because I’m going to see my friends, and you know that when I was last there, last spring, we had buckets of fun.

The view from the plane as it approaches Seattle.

I’ll be staying with Pam, who I’ve known for decades. Hundreds and hundreds of years, if you ask me. Pam has a big heart and a biting wit that is way sharper than mine, and makes me laugh like crazy.

I’ll also be seeing our pal, Pat, who is very sweet and kind, and somehow tolerates our off-kilter humor, which is just one of the many reasons why we adore her. Oh, and because, when someone makes her mad by doing something really annoying (present company excluded, of course), the best she can say, in her most polite voice, is, “I’m finding it hard to remain civil.”

With any luck, I’ll also see Clare, my amazing author friend who has written and published a plethora of books for children. Not to mention, Tom, aka Dernab Swarren. That’s what I call him, and he calls me Della. That’s Della Wolf, to you. Long story.

Pike Place Market is must-visit for anyone traveling to Seattle.

I am also going to get to spend time with Pam’s twin daughters, who are the same age as my daughter, and so much fun to be with, too.  And, last but not least, those canine cuties, Digby and Maisie. No doubt, they’ll be underfoot, looking for a cuddle and a lap to rest on.

Well, there’s at least one person I’m not going to be able to meet up with while in Seattle.  I was hoping to at last meet my young blogger pal, Cappy, whose got lots of moxie and joie de vivre. But turns out, she lives nowhere near Seattle. What was I thinking??

So, here’s my dream list of stuff I want to do during my visit, in no specific order:

  • Spend time with my friends
  • Pick up chocolates at the Dilettante
  • Peruse the stalls at Pike Place Market
  • Go antiquing
  • Catch up with my friends
  • Go out drinking and listen to music
  • Nosh like crazy!   Which includes breakfast at Julia’s Restaurant where they serve French toast with orange butter, lunch at Kidd Valley for awesome char-grilled burgers and pineapple shakes, and, what else? Dinner at Ivar’s Salmon House, for some mouth-watering, alder-wood smoked salmon.
  • Take walks with my favorite little Yorkies, Digby and Maisie
  • See a new movie

Ivar’s Salmon House restaurant serves up delicious alder-wood cooked salmon.

OMG, I can’t wait! I’m packing my bags and filling them with warm clothes, because if I know anything about the Northwest, it’s going to be cold, cold, COLD!



Hey Neighbor! I have a new blog, folks! This one’s for my work and it’s called, Hey Neighbor! It’s all about the ordinary people that make San Diego such an extraordinary place to live. If you have a chance, I hope you’ll check it out.


This photo, and all the others here, were taken during my last trip to Seattle.

Sick of the election coverage? Me, too. Well, it’s almost over, but not soon enough for this four year old who gave into her tears after her mom was listening to yet another election report on NPR. Check out this story, in which NPR apologizes, Dear Little Girl: Sorry We Made You Cry About ‘Bronco Bamma’ and Mitt Romney. If you ask me, I think she’s channeling what many of us are feeling.


Fifty/Fifty Challenge:  Full confession. I didn’t finish reading anything in October. And, I didn’t even see one flick! Sigh. Oh, well, I am working on Winter of the World: Book Two of the Century Trilogy, a book that is 960 pages long, though I’m listening to the audio version, because I’m no fool.  All I can tell you is that Ken Follett is a brilliant writer and John Lee is the perfect audio reader, capturing every accent, and every dialect in this saga of five families across continents, on the eve of World War II. I am absolutely riveted!


Take the hint and vote! I already did. And, be sure to check out the latest posts from our Race 2012 bloggers.

Ta-tah for now! I’m going, but I’ll be back soon!

The Road Taken: Running

When I think of Rick, we’re holding hands. Holding hands and running. And smiling, too.

It was a no-brainer to sit next to him in class. Whichever of us arrived first made a beeline for the other, who happily obliged by saving a seat. Sitting together, our heads as one, reading over each other’s stories, lingering over the words, the nuances, and discussing the symbolism. And, all the while, taking in his scent—the vibrancy of wildflowers on cold, clear Mt. Rainier mornings.

And beaming.

Oh, how we smiled! Grinned, actually. From, ear to ear. This is how it begins. This is what it feels like to fall head over heels.  Like tumbling haphazardly, without a care in the world. Down a hillside, into meadows filled with lavender, violets and jasmine. Arms full of sweet peas bursting with color! This was our time, so innocent, and yet, and yet…

We couldn’t get enough.  The class only lasted so long, after all, and though we stretched it out by spending every moment together, every break, delaying our departures, more and more, it wasn’t enough. Never enough. We were eager. Eager for more.

We skipped the fifth class. Rick caught me, just as I was walking up the steps. He didn’t even have to ask. He didn’t need to say a word. His eyes so intent, burning bright, like a fire that was unstoppable. A tug of my sleeve, a conspiratorial whisper. Like a breeze against my cheek on a moonlit night. His hair slightly tousled, in the dreamiest of ways. Grabbing my hand—which was a most willing captive—we took off, heading for parts unknown.  Running, always running. Bounding through the campus, across the street, then down University Avenue. The Ave, as the locals called it. I didn’t know where he was taking me, but it didn’t matter, did it?

Together, our energy was thrilling.

We stopped in front of a small jazz club. Perfect, I thought. I love jazz. Rick nodded, as if I’d spoken aloud, and held the door open. Warm inside, felt good. A trio was in the middle of a set. Saxophone, bass and piano.  The trifecta of all jazz music. We were led to a tiny, round table by the window, just a few feet away from the musicians.

Rick looked at me and asked, “Is this okay?”

Is what okay? The fact that we ditched class? That I’m here with you? That I’m complete smitten and that I’ve never felt quite this way before? Or, the fact that my husband is at home studying for an exam he has tomorrow? I didn’t want to think about that last one. No regrets, none whatsoever. Just a nagging feeling that I couldn’t quite place. Something niggling at me. That’s all. Ignore it and I was sure it would go away.

I smiled and nodded exuberantly, pushing all thoughts except one, out of my head. I was in the here and now.

“Yes! This is fabulous!”

We ordered a half carafe of chardonnay, bottled by a Northwest vineyard. Suddenly, I loved the Great Northwest. Gateway to the Pacific Rim—and now, to my soul. Yes, the Emerald City had finally stolen my heart, and it was bliss. How happy I was in that moment, in that hour, to be with this boy, who I’d discovered hailed from North Carolina. Holding hands and enjoying the music. Happy together!

As I rubbed his hand, I could feel a thin, snake-like scar that mischievously zigzagged across his right palm, ending near the bottom of his thumb. A childhood injury, he had said, as a result of a fall along the Appalachian Trail. Must have been some gash, that one, but now it was just an imperfection. A flaw on a man that had few.

The jazz trio went on break. The bartender signaled to Rick, holding up his outstretched hand and mouthing the word, “Five.”

Rick got up and walked over to the Steinway baby grand. Sitting down he began to improvise, running his fingers sharply along the keys for an impromptu riff. Five minutes, that’s all he had, and from the looks of it, this wasn’t his first time. His face turned serious, concentrating on the music, the chords. I used to play, but was never this good. Nope. The best I could ever master was playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in high school, and there was a time I could play it by rote. But it had been a long time since those days.

We stayed an hour, maybe more, listening and chatting. Drinking, too. It was getting late, class would be ending soon and it was hard to justify hanging around too much longer than that. I felt like Cinderella, out with my prince, and in danger of turning into a pumpkin if I returned home too late. Rick paid the tab, and we headed back to campus. When we reached the Drumheller Fountain, he abruptly stopped, and pointed to the sky.

“Look at the stars! It’s so clear tonight!”  His eyes, wide with enchantment.

I looked up and, sure enough, above us was an explosion of stars. Rick lay down on the grass and beckoned me beside him. Too nervous to oblige, I kept a short distance between us, forming an upside down “V” with our bodies. He took my hand in his and gazing at the sea of stars, shining above us, we found an intimacy in our silence.

Rick’s voice interrupted the quiet. “If you could travel to any of those stars, which one would you choose?” He pointed at a pinpoint of light to the right. “How about that one?”

I shook my head. “Are you kidding me? That’s too far. I’ll take the Little Dipper any day.”

He laughed. “Why the Little Dipper?”

“Because, I like the name and it’s dipper will keep me from falling off.” The wine had definitely gone to my head.

“You’re crazy, you know. You can’t fall. You’ll just float around forever.”

“Forever?” I asked, wondering if this could last forever. Wondering if he would ever kiss me. Wanting him to, yet afraid he would.

He pushed himself up on one elbow and looked down at me, lying on the grass, shivering. No one ever accused me of having nerves of steel.  He scooted closer.

“You cold?”

I nodded, hesitantly. He was getting too close, and I wasn’t ready to admit the truth. The fear that I had reached the point of no return. Wanting to push forward through this new door that was open to me, yet worried about what would happen if I did.

As he bent down ever so gradually, tortuously slowly, his face hovering slightly above mine, I could hear in the distance classes letting out. Adult education students walking out of the buildings, heading to their vehicles. The engines starting, and cars pulling away. Away from this campus. Away from us. Soon we’d be alone, but in the dark no one could see us, anyway. No one would have thought to look in this secluded spot, by the fountain, under the stars, at two people entwined like lovers. Kissing. Oh yes, there was kissing. Kissing joyfully. This was bliss.

Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

The Road Taken: Road to Paradise

The road to Paradise, on Mt. Rainier, is paved with bumps, narrow inclines, sharp turns, and some potholes. But if you look closely, you’ll also see, strewn across the road, my frazzled nerves and spit.

View of Mt. Rainier, circa 1979.

I started the camping trip with the good intentions, determined to put on my best, happiest face, engaging in an activity I would have given anything to avoid.  I was trying to psych myself into believing that we were on our way to a luxurious resort, somewhere along the ocean, where every need would be taken care of by somebody else and there would be no need to assemble a tent.  Just me and G.  Oh, and Joanie, too.

Joanie, who sat in the front seat to avoid nausea. Who got lightheaded if G drove too fast, or switched lanes too quickly. Who refused to read the map in the car and help us get back on track, when G missed the exit, as reading in the car made her queasy.  I sat in the back seat, fuming in silence, and unable to hear most of the conversation in the front, on account that G had brought a tape mix of songs by the Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull and The Who, and the bass was resonating in my ears.

Every once in a while, I could hear Joanie coquettishly say things like, “You’re so funny!” and “I never knew that!”  As the mindless chatter wore on, I calculated how many hours left to the end of the weekend.

Can we stop?” I asked, piercing their conversation dead in its tracks.

“We should be there in about an hour,” G replied, as he glanced my way.

“Yeah, but I need to stop now.”  The air in the car was feeling closed in. I needed to step out and breathe. I wanted to feel the cold morning air burst into my lungs. I wanted to feel alive, and not the way I was feeling now, as if I choking on the fumes of my last breath.

G pulled into a gas station, just past Puyallup. I jumped out of the car and walked a short distance. The air felt good inside me. Right about now, I would have given anything to be anywhere else but here. How did I let it reach this point?

Another view from 1979.

Joanie, pre-RV, was fun Joanie. Good Joanie. Kick in the pants Joanie. I loved hanging out with pre-RV Joanie. Why did the RV now feel like a cinderblock on my chest? I hated what this was doing to our friendship and wanted to make it stop. But first I wanted to slap her. Just once. Instead, I spit on the ground, disgusted with the acidic  taste in my mouth.

“You’re mad, aren’t you?”

I jumped. I hadn’t heard Joanie approach and wasn’t sure whether I should deny how I was feeling or tell her the truth. My mother had instilled in me the Latina woman’s honor code: Don’t say anything that will hurt anyone’s feelings. Be nice, Mónica.

“Joanie, why did you come? Spock wasn’t feeling well, so why didn’t you just stay home with him?”

She turned away from me, staring at a bicyclist who appeared to be having some trouble with his brakes across the street.  “I thought this would be exciting. All of us together.”

“I thought so, too! But we’re not all here, are we?”

I glanced back at our car and saw G leaning against it, reading the map. He must have felt my eyes on him for he looked up and winked at me.  I cherished his winks that made me feel so special.  Just a simple wink that conveyed his love and an assurance that he’d always look out for me. “You and me against the world, Moon Pie,” he’d often say.

“You used to be fun,” Joanie remarked dryly.

I felt a burst of rage come over me. ‘Cálmate, hija,’ I could hear my mother telling me. So I retreated to my corner. Besides, in that moment, Joanie looked so sad and pathetic, reminding me of a rag doll I’d once loved. I’d carry that doll wherever I went, up and down the stairs of our brownstone home in Queens. One day, I was playing with her in our backyard, while my mother planted daffodils. It started to pour and we darted inside.  It rained all night and it wasn’t until morning that I remembered I’d left the doll outside.  The rain had pummeled her, leaving her beaten and defeated. Her face was streaked with mud and she smelled like earth worms and wet grass.  I sobbed for my lost doll.

“Listen, Joanie. I don’t care anymore about the cross country trip. It’s ok. You don’t even have to finish paying me back. Let’s just go camping. There’s no reason why we can’t have fun on this trip.”

As we walked back to the car, I stopped, and looked at her squarely in the eye. “But from here on, you’re getting in the back. If you start feeling sick, just let us know. I’ll make sure we pull over.”

The next 24 hours were uneventful. I tried not to wonder why Joanie kept flirting with G, and why he didn’t seem to mind when she did. I tried not to feel the discomfort of sleeping on the hard surface of the ground. Instead, I concentrated on the light at the end of the tunnel.  ‘This too shall pass,’ my mother’s voice whispered to me.

Some time later, G prepared a romantic dinner for two.  We dined on scallops wrapped in bacon, angel hair pasta and asparagus. We talked about plans for the future. G had been accepted into grad school for the fall and was beaming. I was happy for him and enjoyed our celebratory meal. He even made dessert, chocolate mousse, creamy and rich.  Then, just as I was about to clear the dishes, he dropped on one knee and, with tears in his eyes, he proposed. Right there in the living room of our tree house. I nearly fell over in shock.

I couldn’t wait to tell Joanie and Spock so, the next day, I invited them over, assuming Joanie would be happy for me and give me some guidance on planning a wedding. I expected felicitations and well wishes from them both. Spock grinned and slapped G on the back. Joanie was another story. She became aloof and withdrawn, which left me baffled. That night, I asked G if he knew of any reason why Joanie acted that way, but G just shrugged. He couldn’t figure it out, either and, of course, I had no reason to question it further.

That was the last time Joanie ever spoke to me.  Years later, in the fallout of our divorce, I would remember the camping trip and wonder, what exactly did happen on that trip that I didn’t know about? Maybe nothing. Maybe.

Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

The Road Taken: Harry Truman and The Real World

Chapter 3: Here’s what the Northwest was famous for around the time I moved there: Mount St. Helens, the Green River Killer and coffee. The Green River Killer came on the scene in 1982 and, for the next two decades, he murdered at least 48 women. Ted Bundy, whose own killing spree had ended, on account that he’d been caught, helped paved the way for interest in any news about the Green River Killer. As for coffee, early on I came to realize just what a Mecca, Seattle was for coffee aficionados, of which, I was not one. Starbucks was readily available in the city, and coffee carts were popping up, even in outdoor gear stores, like REI. God forbid, Seattleites should have to walk more than half a block for a cup of joe.

But, just months after arriving, all the news focused on Mount St. Helens, and some small earthquake activity there. For weeks, the authorities debated whether to enforce evacuations, and when the order was finally executed, most in the area departed. Among those that stayed put, an old man named Harry Randall Truman who, for years, had lived near the mountain with his 16 cats. He gave lots of interviews to the local media, in which he balked at leaving. Not for a moment, did he believe he was in imminent danger. “If the mountain goes, I’m going with it,” he claimed.

Then, on Sunday, May 18, 1980, while G and I joined thousands of others, at the University District Street Fair, the mountain exploded. We’d been perusing the craft booths that morning, nibbling on Rainier cherries and morsels of rhubarb pie. G had just purchased a bunch of brightly colored sweet peas for me, which had become my favorite flower. It was a pristine, languid Sunday—one of those rare, sunny days when you can clearly see Mount Rainier in the distance. When suddenly, we noticed someone pointing to the south, with a look of fright on his face. We turned around in time to see massive clouds on the horizon, spewing ash into the atmosphere, and growing larger with every second. Keep in mind, Mt. St. Helens was too far to see from where we were, much further south than Mt. Rainier. Yet, we knew that if we could see the plumes from our vantage point on the north side of Seattle, that the devastation on the mountain must have been staggering. But this was well before cell phones, text messaging and tweeting. It wasn’t until later that we learned of the severity. How there were casualties, including old man Truman, who went down with the mountain, and presumably his 16 cats, too.

There’s something to be said for a man’s blind determination to stay in his home. Unlike Truman, I had no such loyalty to the house I now called home. From the get go, meeting the roommates was like meeting parents who didn’t approve of your relationship and who wasted no time in letting you know. I met Marigold first, and instantly sensed that she was holding a grudge. The way her smile turned into a flash of a grimace as soon as G introduced us, and the way she flicked her eyes as she glanced at me. Oh yes, she made it clear where I stood in her estimation.

Marigold was tall, lithe and, in summary, everything I wasn’t. Pretty young thing, was the expression that came to mind, with her short corduroy skirt, Frye boots and long, dangling earrings that jingled every time she tossed her thick, brown hair. G admitted they had dated, but added that he soon realized she wasn’t for him. Too high maintenance, he said with a wry grin, as if that would make me feel better about the situation, and how the girl with a grudge would be sleeping across the hall from us. Knowing I wasn’t pleased, he took my hand in his. I was the one, he reassured me. I believed him and figured I’d just have to do my best to avoid Marigold.

This Nazi villain (Ronald Lacey) in the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was the spitting image of Stan.

Stan, a slightly balding man with Aryan features and wire-rimmed glasses, owned the house and he never let you forget that. He and his girlfriend, Jeannette, along with their two cats, had the second floor to themselves. Stan, unilaterally made the decisions on everything relating to our living arrangements, and kept a cleaning schedule chart posted in the kitchen. It was as if we were the Von Trapp children and he was the captain, running our lives like a tight ship, and letting us know what was allowed in the house and what wasn’t. At least, he didn’t use a whistle to call us to dinner.

Meanwhile, Jeannette, was sweet and serene. A bit soft spoken, and ordinary looking, with not a stitch of makeup. She definitely embraced an earthy lifestyle. The only likeable one in the bunch, I never could figure out what she saw in Stan, who had a knack for making me feel small and unimportant, treating me with his mock disdain. Several years later, long after moving out, when the original Raiders of the Lost Ark film was released, I took one look at the Nazi pursuing Indiana Jones and was instantly reminded of Stan. It was all I could do not to break into a cold sweat.

So this was my new reality. My very own Real World. No welcome wagon here, just a bunch of mismatched roommates, which got me thinking: Maybe I should have taken a tip from old man Truman, and lived with 16 cats instead.

Oh, well. This was the choice I’d made, to follow G. This would have to be my home until we could afford to move out. Which meant I needed to find a job. Stat.

The Road Taken: The Bluest Sky

Many of you who last week read my freshly-pressed post, Broken Hearts & The Road Not Taken, wondered what happened next, after leaving my life in Maryland behind. Here begins my story of the road taken.

CHAPTER 2:  When I arrived in Seattle, I had two suitcases, $100 in cash and little else.  Just five hours earlier, I had been standing in the JFK terminal, where my parents, older brothers and younger sister had all gathered to see me off. Of course, my parents didn’t want me to go, and I could see it in my mother’s forlorn face. But in the end, they supported my decision, though my papá did buy me a round-trip ticket. “Just in case you want to come home, hija,” adding, “It’s never too late to change your mind, tú sabes.”

We took snapshots by the terminal gate. There was my mother, whose eyes glistened with tears, and my father, whose anguish for me simmered just beneath his strained smile, while my siblings joked, teasing me one more time. César, my oldest brother, laughingly warned, “Timber–watch out for the lumberjacks!” Which is how we Medina’s imagined Seattle to be—filled with lumberjack men in plaid flannel shirts, amidst a forest of enormous, felled pine trees.

It was as if I was heading west in a stagecoach and would never see my family again.

As I prepared to board, I turned around one more time to look at them, trying to memorize their faces in that single moment. It was as though I was heading west in a stagecoach—and not in a jet—and would never see my family again. I was Laura Ingalls embarking on a new life. A regular pioneer gal. Only instead of Pa and Ma at my side, it would be G, the man who had once left me for another woman.  We were starting over, the second time around. Westward, ho!

I didn’t know anyone in Seattle but G. I had no friends, no relations, no job, and no bearings. I would be living in his home and dependent on his income while I looked for a job. His car had a manual shift, which I did not know how to use, but what difference did it make?  I had no place to go. Seattle was a long way from my east coast-centric life. I was almost 24 years old and all that was familiar wasn’t here. Westward, ho, indeed.

In fact, my only knowledge of Seattle was that the sky was supposed to be the bluest of all skies. This from an old TV series, Here Come the Brides about three lumberjack brothers, and their lumberjack pals, who were lonely because there were few women in town. So they had them brought in, a bevy of mail-order brides via Pony Express or something like that, and I couldn’t help wonder if history was repeating itself. Anyway, the lyrics of the show’s theme song went like this:

“The bluest sky you’ve ever seen, in Seattle.

And the hills the greenest green, in Seattle.”

And though the sky didn’t look any bluer than the skies back home, the annoying ditty kept going through my head during my first few weeks there.  G met me at the airport and was all smiles, excited to show me what was to be my new home. As we drove to the house he lived in, he pointed out landmarks: Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound and the Space Needle.  No matter where I looked I saw greenery–certainly the “greenest green” as the song indicated–that I felt at once how prominent a role nature must play here in people’s lives, something I’d never given a thought to before. Here, it was impossible to take the abundance of nature for granted, and soon I was mesmerized by the mountains, the dense and unusual foliage—such as the monkey tail trees and foxglove—the deep colors of the bougainvillea, sweet peas and bleeding heart flowers, the steep hills, and the countless bodies of water, visible wherever you turned.

We’d be living in the University District, by the University of Washington, where G was working in a lab, within walking distance of the campus. G was renting a room in a house among a row of similar homes with ample porches and roomy kitchens, though this particular house was located just under a freeway off-ramp. G told me how several months earlier, a bus took the ramp too fast, hurled off and slammed into a neighbor’s backyard. Everyone on the block was shaken by the late night crash and stumbled out of bed to watch the removal of the totaled bus. Luckily, there was no one on board except the driver, and he survived with barely a scrape and a broken rib.

As we approached the street which I would now be calling home, I felt a pang of dread.  As happy as I was to see G, I wasn’t looking forward to meeting my new housemates, Stan and his girlfriend, Jeannette, and, most of all, Marigold, who may or may not have dated G prior to my arrival. I had suspicions but G assured me that he and Marigold were just good friends.  And just like that, brushing aside my unspoken questions, he grabbed my bags from the backseat of the car and led me inside.