Wednesday, March 05, 2014

My visit to Seattle

We're back from a fun & busy visit to Seattle! Remind me that only having one baby is easy, but crossing 3 time zones and spending a full day traveling each way with a baby is rather tiring. Especially when your baby wants to wake up at 4 am, because it's 7 am in her head!

Eric came to attend the AWP Conference and to interview candidates for his sabbatical replacement. My mom was free that week, so I decided to come along and spend time with my youngest sister, who moved to Seattle about a year ago.

We arrived on Tuesday evening and crashed at my sister's house in Ballard. Eric didn't have any conference obligations on Wednesday except for registering, so we spent the day together with my sister and her two little children. I had breakfast at Señor Moose Café with Sharon Muza and Kim James, the founder of Doula Match. Great food, lovely women, fantastic conversation. While I was breakfasting, Eric toured downtown Ballard with my sister.

Then we met up to visit the Ballard (Chittenden) locks. I visited Seattle when I was about 10 years old, and the locks are one of the few things I can recall.

We picked up some amazing sandwiches at Paseo for lunch. On my sister's recommendation, I chose spice level #3 but I think I could easily have gone up to a 4 or 5 (out of 5). I like it hot!

After naps for my sister's toddler, we went to Golden Gardens Park, a lovely beachfront park and playground. Ivy napped while we enjoyed amazing weather: mid-50s and sunny.

Once the children were covered in sand and (hopefully) tired out, we headed home and caught the bus downtown. Because Eric was also interviewing candidates for his sabbatical replacement, we were able to stay at a very nice hotel, the Fairmont Olympic. We spent an hour in the pool and hottub before it was Ivy's bedtime.

I nursed Ivy and ran off to meet some birth people at Café Presse in Capitol Hill. Dr. Elias Kass of One Sky Family Medicine, a recent CNM graduate (and IBCLC), and a long-time blog reader met me for a wonderful evening of conversation. I was going to walk to and from the hotel, but Elias kindly gave me rides. Thanks!!

We discovered that our "suite" at the Fairmont wasn't really a suite at all, since the 4 French doors between the bedroom and living room had no glass...just large open panels covered with sheer curtains.

If there's no door, no sound control, and no light control, it's not really a suite.

Eric had to sit with the lights off and make no noise to keep Ivy from waking up. After one night of this, I decided to put Ivy to bed at my sister's house and stay until my bedtime. It's only a 12 minute drive from her house to downtown when the traffic is light.

Another gorgeous day: mid-50s and sunny. Seattle, what's up? My sister met me at the hotel for swimming, then we explored Pike Place Market and the surrounding shops, including Beecher's Handmade Cheese. Lots of delicious food samples....mmmm....oh, we saw the gum wall (eewwww) and walked past the original Starbucks.

Home for lunch and naps, then back outside to Carkeek Park. It overlooks the Puget Sound and has a little pedestrian bridge that crosses over train tracks down to the beach. Ivy took another outdoor nap--what a lovely thing--while we entertained the other little ones. I was eager to see a bit more of downtown Ballard, so we walked around and visited Classic Consignment. Several lovely shirts & sweaters later, I emerged. I also found an amazing antique chair but had to pass it up...sigh...Dinner was Thai takeout from Pestle Rock.

Yet another day of gorgeous sunny weather! We spent the morning at the City Center playing in several of the fountains, including the musical fountain with jets that spray to the music and an empty fountain that looks more like an ocean floor than a fountain.

We also toured the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor's Center. Amazing interactive displays on alleviating poverty, improving sanitation and clean water supplies, reversing malnutrition, and improving the quality of life for all people.

We took this picture...and then it showed up on the wall behind us!

A rural Nepalese midwife's birth kit...plastic sheets, soap, string, and basic instructions. Amazing that something so simple can make such a difference in birth outcomes.

Lunch was takeout pho...I could eat it every day. Yum. After naps, we headed to the Woodland Park Zoo. I was finally able to meet a longtime friend, colleague, and blog reader Jenne after 7+ years of correspondence. I love being able to make these connections!

Later that evening, my sister hosted a last-minute Feminist Mormon Housewives get-together. It was small, but the conversation was great. I love tackling big issues of faith, doubt, feminism, and activism.

My sister brought her whole family for swimming on Saturday morning. Seattle decided to show its true colors, so we had cooler temperatures and rain. My sister stayed behind to take the Seattle Underground Tour with Ivy and me and Eric. The sights were mildly interesting, but the tour itself was fascinating. I love well-done entertaining history.

I finally was able to spend some time in the afternoon with Eric at the AWP Bookfair. He'd been tied up all day and most evenings going to conference sessions, while my days were full sightseeing with my sister. We checked out of the hotel and spent our last night at my sister's house again.

Saturday ended on a fantastic note with dinner at The Whale Wins. We had to wait almost and hour and a half for a table, but it was worth it. Amazing flavors and unusual combinations of ingredients. My only complaint was that the restaurant was pretty chilly. I dressed up but had to keep my coat on the whole time, and I still wasn't quite warm enough!


Sunday was spent traveling from 7 am PST to 11 pm EST. But at least we got home in one day--another big storm system blew through and threatened to cancel flights.

Observations about Seattle
There's a definite urban-outdoorsy vibe in Seattle. I saw lots of yoga pants + running shoes, practical leather boots, down jackets, closely trimmed beards, and knitted hats & scarves. My sister says that Seattle women don't often "do" their hair, since it rains so much.

The AWP conference was full of uber-hipsters. What a collection of skinny jeans, funky glasses, asymmetrical haircuts, facial hair, and artistically draped hand-knit shawls!

Why do expensive hotels offer fewer amenities than cheap hotels? At the Fairmont, you get the privilege of paying for wifi. Breakfast is $20/person. At Motel 6/Super 8/etc, you get free wifi, free breakfast, and sometimes even free dinner. Weird. 

Of course, the best entertainment at the Fairmont was free: shredding toilet paper.

I've never lived in a big urban area, so Seattle's real estate prices were shocking. There's something fundamentally wrong with such expensive housing. I kept wondering the whole time, "How do real people with regular jobs even survive here?" In my town, some of the cheaper houses are the same price as a car. (Granted, they are not usually very nice at this price, but still...) How do those of you living in big cities make it work?


  1. How we live in an urban area: We just got really lucky with rent. Though, we are wanting to buy a house this year; I've been looking for a job.

    1. Can I be super nosy and ask what you pay? And what's typical in your neighborhood for the same size of house/apartment?

  2. Dining with Kim would be the ultimate. She is a hoot!

  3. We live in Santa Cruz, CA, which isn't a big city, but has some of the most expensive housing in the country. My husband is a professor, and his salary isn't any higher here than it would be elsewhere in the country (darn UC system). It is a huge stretch. He does some consulting, but basically, we have a smallish house, with zero yard (so hard with 4 kids!) and basically no disposable income. My husband loves to surf and mountain bike, and loves his job, so for him, it's worth it. I am really struggling. I agree that there's something that just feels "wrong" about houses costing so much. I drive around town and it just somehow feels like a hostile environment, since an average person can barely afford to live here. Nice to know I'm not the only person who feels that way :).

    1. Katie, isn't it frustrating that salaries can be the same but housing prices 4x, 5x, maybe even 10x what they might be elsewhere in the country? In our town, the vast majority of houses range from $70k-150k, with some cheaper and a few more expensive. You can buy one of the nicest houses in the historic district for around $200k. Occasionally you'll see one or two priced higher, usually newer houses out in the country on acreage. With those prices, many people can live fairly comfortably, if not even somewhat luxuriously, on one income. Starting salaries at our liberal arts college are in the mid-upper 50s; a newly tenured professor's salary is around 65-70k. I can't imagine living on a similar income if housing were double, triple, quadruple, or even more!

  4. Oh, darn! Now I am even more bummed to have missed you in Seattle! Childcare just didn't work out for me that evening. I <3 Elias- he caught my third baby and deals with my general nuttiness with good spirits:)

    I couldn't speak about salaries in academia, but in my husband's field (and my own, though I don't work), the salary difference is substantial enough to account for the jump in housing costs. We can get away with a smaller house then I think we'd need in a different climate and location. While our small yard is nice, there are plenty of other places for the kids to run and play as well. We don't drive often (pretty much to/from church), so our car and gas costs are lower then they would be in a more suburban or rural area.

    All of our extended family is in the NE and we have considered many times whether we should move back "home". My husband would take a major salary cut to work outside the PNW tech center, and while the housing would be less expensive, I don't see a major cost difference between the other major areas my growing, homeschooling family spends money. The books and curriculum we buy would still cost the same, I don't think there would be substantial savings in food costs. We'd drive more, and our vehicle purchases would be similar in cost. Our home state also has much higher property taxes, a similar sales tax, a state income tax, and utilities are much more expensive then they would be in Seattle. I don't think it would be a struggle financially per say, but it would shake out differently for us.

  5. Here in Salt Lake and surrounding suburbs you're looking at 160k and up for townhouses. 2 bdrm, 850 sq. ft. apartments go for 95k to buy or $850-950 to rent per month. If you want a decent house in an area with good schools you're looking at 215-270k or more. You can find the occasional 155-175k home in a good area, but that's rare. We currently rent a 3 bdrm, 1200 sq. ft. duplex for $850 and that is a steal around here.

  6. Here in Denver starter homes begin around $300k and rent for an older, 3-bedroom house is around $2000/month.

  7. SLC doesn't seem terrible. So in my sister's neighborhood of very small, but cute, bungalows and tiny yards and rarely garages or driveways, a house that needs to be torn down or gutted goes for $400k. Houses in good shape go for $600-800k. Or higher, of course. These are very modest-sized homes built in the 1910s and 20s. 3-4 bedrooms max, small rooms, no duplicate rooms (ie, you have one living room, rather than a formal living room + family room).

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  9. Two words: student housing. It is by far the best deal around here for space and also for some grassy areas for the kids to play in. My friends who don't live in student housing manage apartments and get discounts that way. There are things I like about the city life, lik great Thai food, but I cannot usually afford to "buy local" and support small businesses, nor do I enjoy all the traffic and narrow streets to navigate (or paying for parking). We only have one car (and no car payment), since my husband can walk to campus, and I can walk to the grocery store and the elementary school. We drive to church and the library and our monthly trip to Costco, etc. We are living on a small research stipend and a bit of savings, and I really only buy necessities (and I use craigslist for larger items). If we were to live here long-term, I would choose a suburb (some of my friends recently bought nice houses 45 minutes away and commute on the train or just work further from the city).

  10. East Bay of San Francisco area, a 3 bed house is around $3000 a month, for something tiny and not-kept-up. Seriously. Trying to find something cheeper is considered crazy talk. Even if you don't work for Google.

  11. Hah! I've been trying to convince Tom to move to the Seattle area bec it's so cheap! In the South Bay, we pay 2550 for 1021 sq ft 3 bd 1 bath, cute little yard, and feel lucky to have it. Tom commutes by bike and train 1 hour each way. I was careful to get rid of 2/3 of our stuff before we moved and besides the 1 bathroom for 6 people, I love having a small house.

    It helps that the weather is almost always gorgeous.

    But I spend way too much of my time figuring out, again, that yep, we cannot afford to buy here, so it's not sustainable long-term. Even our tiny house is about twice the mortgage we could qualify for, and that's even considering the pay differential from Utah.

  12. It is appalling how expensive it is out here! We live in Issaquah outside of Seattle (about 20 minutes). I LOVE Issaquah, but the COL is out of control. We live in a dingy 1,800 square foot house for $2,200 a month. But the cost of trash, gas, electric is outrageous. That is about an additional 400-500 per month. My husband is doing his Fellowship at UW/Harborview, so we had no choice in moving here. On a fellow salary, it would have been impossible without the stipend we are getting for choosing to work with an HCA affiliated hospital when he is done. Our yard is nice though, but the house is ugly and nasty. My gym pass is $125 per month (which included unlimited day care). The equivalent in Utah would probably be a third of that cost. EVERYTHING here is just expensive. And the weather SUCKS! We are not rain people AT ALL. But it is gorgeous, and I really love so many things about it. But we look forward to moving in July to an affordable area where it doesn't rain almost every day! Summers here are divine though!

  13. Well I think we top it all here in Perth, Western Australia. Our first home buyers price has now reached $500k. For the $400k-$500k range we are very limited for choice and usually have to compromise by choosing something that you may not feel entirely happy with. I am at a loss for how we will continue to live here.

    This is my home, where I was born, however with four children it is becoming impossible to live. For a decent house we would have to pay upward of $650k. For a nice, very comfortable house, $800k-to a million plus is required and a million is very normal to pay, even for a large block with no house. Rentals (where we are at, at the moment) are just as bad. It is a minimum of $450 per week, with the average around the $600-$800 per week. I struggle to see a way through at the moment, to buy again, to save any money, to create a solid future. Perth is an amazing, safe, comfortable place to live. We have summer all year around. I am grateful to live in such an amazing place! Just not sure how long we can keep it up! Especially when I see how much cheaper it is elsewhere in the world. Food is also a great expense, our food bill is approximately $350 per week, and we are not excessive.

    Rixa a house for $70k-150k sounds like a dream! Is it in a nice place to live? Schools, employment (husband is a Physio), ect? How do you look for houses in your area? We use: I feel like we need to think about a move!



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