Sunday, January 6, 2008

Winter in the Northwest

I will continue Kristin's discussion about the differences between Washington and Missouri, focusing on winter. Winter here is not like a Midwest winter. First off, our professional football team is still playing in January!

A while back, I actually researched the lowest temperature ever recorded in Seattle’s history. It is….zero degrees. Everyone reading this in the northwest is saying, “Holy cow, that is COLD!” while all the Midwesterners will note that zero degrees won’t even cancel school in the Heartland. It’s all relative to what you grew up with.

For instance, I grew up in Seattle, so rain is just a fact of life. Just like I always wondered why you would pay extra for air conditioning in your car, I thought that all winters were cloudy and rainy (or snowy). When I lived in the Midwest, I understand why you would want A.C., and I saw that Midwest winters are not nearly as stormy. Sure, there was snow then, but it seemed relatively calm to me. What did bother me is when it was 15 degrees with no snow on the ground. That’s just cold for the sake of cold.

While Midwest winters are cold with a handful of snow or ice storms, Seattle experiences a constant barrage of Pacific storms from November to March. Each storm will blow moisture into the region, bringing snow to the mountains and rain to the lowlands. Since these storms are out of the southwest, it is rarely cold enough to snow in the lowlands. We get snow maybe three or four times a year, but it doesn’t last long. If you want snow, you’ll get plenty in the Cascades. Paradise at Mount Rainier and the Mount Baker Ski area go back and forth for "most snowfall in a single season" in the entire world!

But please don’t think that it rains all the time. For instance, right now, at 12:27 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2008, it is not raining…very hard. Granted, earlier it did rain, but then it turned to showers. The showers later turned to rain and the wind picked up. Then the rain stopped and the sun broke out. For those outside the Midwest, we actually have a name for this. A “sun break” is characterized by a break in the clouds that exposes the sun for a brief moment (see photo). Common reactions by locals include shielding one’s eyes, calling relatives to tell them to get outside quick, and searching for sun glasses that were lost or sat upon months ago. Sun breaks are typically followed by rain or showers. Right now, it is sprinkling.

But I digress. My point is that winter is different here. For me, winter is all about the light. In the summer, the sun doesn’t set until almost 10 p.m. The hills are green, the water blue. During winter, the leaves are gone, and the sun is low. The sun sets at 4:30 p.m. and rarely pokes through the clouds. Low clouds give a surreal appearance to the region. Lakes are grey slates, and the hills are nearly black in the shadows. This neutral background allows for subtle colors to take on new life. The rain and low light accentuates the texture of rocks on the beach. The green moss seems to jump out from the black bark of a fir tree. The rhythm of the rain and the rush of a stream are the soundtrack of winter. This experience is incredible to me and is something that only happens in winter.

I encourage you all to come visit us here during any season. Don’t be afraid of winter; we’ll loan you a rain jacket, because umbrellas are for tourists!

Go Seahawks!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

And the Winner is...

Lady of Luck. Princess of Prizes. Goddess of Giveaways. Dame of Drawings. Mistress of... ...the Mini-Fridge.
It all began a couple of years ago. I was minding my own business one afternoon, running errands or doing some other mundane task, when my phone rang. I believe I fumbled around in my bag for a moment or two, managing to answer it right before my voice mail picked up. "Kristin?" the unfamiliar voice on the other end asked. "Yes..." I trailed off suspiciously. "Congratulations! This is (insert random grocery store employee). Do you remember the drawing you entered at our store? Well, your name has been selected as the winner of the Bud Light Mini-Fridge!" I hadn't entered any drawings. But I'm no fool, so I feigned excitement as I racked my brain, trying to figure out how I'd won a contest I didn't even sign up for. The mystery was solved shortly after I returned to the house. No sooner had the words, "I got this strange phone call about winning a mini-fridge..." left my mouth than my brother leapt off the couch and did an impromptu jig...or something resembling a dance. "I won a fridge, I won a fridge!" Apparently my brother had entered the names of everyone in our family, therefore increasing his chances of winning. "Now, wait a second," I said, stopping his dancing. "Since technically my name was the one drawn, doesn't that mean that I'm the rightful owner of the fridge?" We went back and forth for awhile, although I knew that the mini-fridge was his all along. Besides, I didn't think a stainless steel refrigerator emblazoned with the Bud Light logo would be appropriate in my classroom. Nice little story, huh? It would be pretty inconsequential...except for the fact that I received a near-identical phone call from the other major grocery store in town about a year later. "Congratulations, Kristin! Your name has been drawn as the winner of the mini-fridge!" Another fridge, another contest I hadn't entered. This time I was a bit more prepared and knew--from experience--just how to manuever the unwieldly appliance into my car. Not surprisingly, my brother tried to stake his claim on this mini-fridge as well. After all, he had been the one to fill out the entry form. However, no one needs two mini-fridges. While I maybe could have gotten away with sneaking this fridge into school, as the Chiefs logo usurped the beer one, I had no intentions of keeping it. (For the record, I gave it to my other brother as an "engagement present.") The end of the story? Afraid not. Just this past summer, my brother actually had his own name drawn for a change. He is now the proud owner of an over-sized patio umbrella (also from a beer company).
And that's not all. Less than three weeks ago, my mom got in on the action and won a sizable gift card from the same grocery store. What are the odds? Pretty good, apparently.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Missouri vs. Washington

Or, Why I Will Always Be a Midwestern Girl

I am fiercely loyal. If I believe in or support something or someone, I will fight for it tooth and nail. Case in point: I am still a Royals fan, despite the fact that none of the students I've taught over the past 3 years were even alive when they won the World Series in 1985.

This--and the fact that I am incredibly biased toward the place that I was born and grew up in--is why I continue to favor Missouri and the Midwest in general. Okay, so I've officially lived in Washington for less than two months, and therefore really can't make such a rash judgment, but here it is anyway.

I'm just coming off a wonderful week and a half trip home, which, of course, colors my opinion slightly. How could I not love the place where the majority of my family and friends are? The place that is home to the best BBQ in the world, the Plaza Lights, and Harry S. Truman? Need I even mention the Nebraska Cornhuskers?!?

Believe it or not, I really do like it here, even if I am little passionate about home. So what if I don't have any friends--yet--and it rains all the time? (It really doesn't rain all the time--I just like to tease Jon because he's a little sensitive about it.) In fact, the whole purpose of writing this is to point out just how beautiful the Northwest is. Yet, again, I'm incredibly loyal, so I have to make sure that I mention the Midwest and how much I love it.

But back to Washington. "Christmas in the Northwest is a gift God wrapped in green." Even though this ridiculously cheesy line from an honest-to-goodness song makes me snicker every time I hear it, I have to admit that it's true. And not just at Christmas. I've managed to take in some amazing views...on the few days it's not raining, of course. I think, though, rather than talk about it, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

On my flight to Kansas City, I was fortunate enough to look out the window at exactly the right time to catch Mount Rainier billowing above the clouds at sunrise.

This trail is only about 200 feet from our condo. Sort of Robert Frost-esque, eh?

This glimpse of Puget Sound can also be found in DuPont, approximately 2 miles away.

As it sometimes happens (and what I try to tell my students even though they don't believe me), I hadn't realized my purpose in writing until now. Even better, it's twofold. First of all, I more fully understand why teachers often ask students to write about place--most people have very strong ties to a certain location, which evokes a lot of feeling and personal expression. This post is case in point. And secondly, hopefully these words--but more likely the pictures--encourage you all to come and visit. Just bring your umbrella...