Moving Up to Settle Down
10 years ago I arrived in Seattle, single and thirty-something.
I was recruited and relocated for a job that wasn’t really mine to begin with (long story) and left the people and place I loved. I drove up from Los Angeles on a 10-day trip, wildly excited and anxious, visiting friends along the way. I arrived at the boutiquey Hotel Andra in my trusted Toyota Corolla with a couple weeks to spare before my job at Cranium started. I had rented out my condo in L.A. not quite sure what was going to happen. I never thought I'd be the type to move for a job, for I genuinely loved L.A. - the beaches, the desert, the mountain biking, the tacos. It also helped to have my adorable nieces nearby. But the recruitment red carpet was plush, and after tasting cedar plank salmon at the Pink Door restaurant on one of my 13 interviews for Cranium, I was sold.
By the time I arrived on a perfect August day in 2006, I already had an apartment picked out: a gorgeous two-bedroom on the upper West Side of Queen Anne hill. (I'm certain it could now rent for twice as much as my current mortgage payment.) I spent several days at Hotel Andra waiting for my furniture to arrive by truck, wandering the streets of Belltown, feeling quite fancy that this was all sponsored by my new employer. I finally settled into my apartment and started soaking up the views of Elliott Bay in my picture windows. By day, I could see as far as West Seattle's Alki Beach, and watch the ferries glide along the water towards Bainbridge Island and back. At night I could see sparkling boat lights and hear the trains below in Interbay.
Before my first day of work, I hosted two friends from California, held a brunch at my new apartment for a dozen friends/acquaintances, attended the Bumbershoot music festival, ascended the Space Needle, and took an Argosy cruise on Lake Union. Life was grand; I relished in the light and fun of Seattle's waning summer. The first day on the job started off with Cranium's fun-filled welcoming ceremony and amazing cookies from Specialty Bakery. Their motto: "everyone shines."
I had no idea how awful things would become; I was out of work and depressed six months after I arrived.
The thing is, I'm still here. But why...and how?
I spent those first few months trying to navigate a company that was exploding with new hires. I learned acronyms like CHIFF (clever, highly innovative, friendly, and fun) and called upon my eight years of lessons working in Mattel Games. I went to every restaurant and work happy hour I got wind of. I attended a Seahawks game on a night that dipped below 30 degrees. I had parties and went to parties. I became a subscriber to the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Theatre Group. I tricked out my mountain bike with splashguards and cycled all over in my adopted city. I grabbed every map I spotted and plotted a life of exploration.
I spent the next decade making friends, getting jobs, losing jobs, and just surviving in a city that showed me exactly what Seattle N’ICE was. If you're not familiar with the “Seattle Freeze,” it's a special flavor of standoffishness reserved just for transplants to the so-called Emerald City. You get the extra cold version if you admit you’re from California. It includes friendly banter without warmth and people who start sentences with "um, yeah, no." People who don't really want to be your friend but force a smile or quietly pass judgment on you. The cliquey, passive aggressive thing I'd heard about? It was for real, and it made me miss Southern California terribly. L.A. was a place where I'd developed lifelong friendships. My friends were sporty, artsy, clever, and kind. Those "fake" stereotypes were the furthest thing from my reality. In fact, I found Seattle people much harder to gauge.
It wasn't long till Seattle's wintery weather gripped my psyche. It’s not that I dreaded the drizzle; it was the cold, the gray, and the muting of vibrant colors and vibrant personalities that I found so difficult. My first May in Seattle, the local headlines read: "Seattle Colder than Siberia." I just about packed up and headed south. I’d cry when I’d hear the song “California Dreaming'" and I played Zeppelin’s “Going to California” just to feel melancholy. I got really homesick watching the Paul Rudd movie "I Love You, Man." I so missed visiting my parents' light-filled Encino house and hanging out by the pool talking to my dad. But I didn't move back. I couldn't, because I was renting out my condo near Venice Beach and damn it, I moved here for a reason, even if the reason wasn’t the job that quit me by early 2007.
So here I am 10 years later, thinking about everything and everyone else that's happened to me. Why did I choose to stay? What has led me to embrace life in the Northwest? Here are some highlights—and lowlights—of the past decade. Look closely and you may spot yourself:
The best thing about those first few months here were the cool creative cats I met at Cranium. Many are now star performers rocking the world in so many ways. They're writing books, developing products, and connecting art with commerce. They inspire me still; I'm so glad we were once on the same team.
After the blip that was my time at Cranium, I freelanced, mainly writing games content, something I will always adore. I attended tons of Meet Ups for everything from Singles to Skiers. I found the social scene full of awkward encounters with guys who spent too much time in dark rooms with their PCs. I longed for those super fun parties I used to go to where people would drum or dance just because. But I kept at it. I went out late nights to hear bands play, even if I was tired. I went camping with people who drank tequila for breakfast, even as I was more into green tea. Every time I visited L.A., I was reminded that my tribe was there. I asked myself, why did I move again? But I tried to make inroads in Seattle. I had to.
An acquaintance invited me to be her kayaking partner on a whale-watching trip to San Juan Island. We saw the faint sight of Orca fins way out in the Sound, but when a family of whales zoomed right by us jumping above the water, my jaw dropped. This was a moment that sealed the beauty of the Northwest into my psyche.
I attended events put on by Biznik, an organization described as "networking that doesn't suck." I connected with many others, and even found someone to love. OK that relationship lasted only a few months, but boy did we have fun skiing in Whistler, British Columbia.
I also had fun skiing down Queen Anne hill during one of those magical snowy days in Seattle. For me, snow was something you drove to, not woke up to. I attended my first caucus. Thanks to a new friend, I landed a contract as a copywriter at my first Internet site, Classmates. When I was asked if I wanted to join full-time and manage the team, I said sure! What could be harder than losing a job that you relocated for after six months? I saw firsthand what it was like to be in middle management. (Even as a middle child, I found this episode very...illuminating.) I met more good people and learned a ton about being a brand and company in transition in the crowded space of social media.
I was no stranger to dating; I'd had plenty of experience my WHOLE ADULT LIFE. What I longed for was a long-lasting relationship, but when you move to a city single and pushing 40, it doesn't always happen in a flash. You gotta kiss a few frogs. This is why the friendships I was making were so meaningful. The night I went to a Teatro Zinzanni show my luck turned; I met people who would later become dear friends. (My date was merely a footnote, or as the picture shows, in the background.)
The same day I received the offer letter from Cranium, my Mammoth Mountain season pass arrived in the mail. I never returned to Mammoth, though, and I’d intended for the Cascades to be my new winter home. Well, the Cascades betrayed me; I tore my ACL to shreds on an icy run at Stevens Pass one January day. I had suffered the same injury on the other knee 17 years earlier at Whistler. It's enough to make a girl forever fear the Northwest "wet cement." I knew how debilitating knee surgery was, so I reached out to a few new friends for help. I discovered that the Seattle freeze was actually in meltdown mode for me. My “parade of pamperers” taught me what it was like to be dependent and truly patient. They accompanied me to surgery and physical therapy, put on my “Iceman Cometh” machine that was supposed to offer cool relief from hot, excruciating pain. They brought me food, did my laundry, and kept me company. To some degree, their kindness kept me in Seattle. Not only could I not move at this time, I should not move back, not when this whole relocation experiment was taking a turn.
After recovering, I traveled to a friend's villa in Spain and to London for her wedding. Solo. I felt like I was only single person there, so when I came back to Seattle, I was really ready to date again. In July 2009, I met my guy Robert. I didn’t think I believed in love at first sight but on our second date—which was 10 hours longer than our first date—I looked at him and found something very familiar and comforting in his smile. On our fourth date, I invited Robert over to my place. He never really left.
The first time I met his beautiful twin girls, they were squishy, crawling blond cuties, only 9-months-old. We took them to Ivar's Fish House in Mukilteo and fawned over them the whole time. An elderly lady sitting in an adjacent booth came over to us. She said simply, "I just want to tell you what great parents you are." Well, that stuck. Robert and I have been best friends and co-parents ever since. Now, anyone who is a stepparent knows there are occupational hazards that go with the job, but I focused on the wonderful family I entered into and gave these girls unfettered love.
When Robert and I found ourselves laid off by November of 2009, we decided to hit the road for a 31-day trip to Southern California to visit friends, family, and every kind of park, from the Redwoods to Joshua Tree. Life was uncertain and the economy was a mess, but love was happening, and that cast a whole different light on things.
The same executive who hired me at Classmates created a role for me at Allrecipes, another longtime Seattle Internet company. When I started working as the Director of a well-established team in February, the offices were in a sketchy section of SODO, complete with armed guards who walked employees to their cars. Fun fact: Reader’s Digest owned AR back then and was going through bankruptcy. The company soon moved to 4th and Pine in the heart of downtown, which made for better lunchtime options, albeit a new level of sketchiness. I learned a ton more about content development and marketing as well as the challenges of change management. I ate great food and attended the best work parties EVER. I regularly walked the few blocks to Pike Place Market where I bought fresh fish and witnessed the hordes of tourists visiting the original Starbucks. By this time, I was the local.
On the home front, a house was in the cards. I’d been looking in Ballard before Robert came along, but with our young family in mind, we headed to West Seattle on a whim to see what was out here. We called a real estate broker whose name was on a for-sale sign near the Alaska Junction; she put 10 houses on a list for us to tour the next morning.
We found a short sale in an area I didn’t know at all, Shorewood. Ask most Seattleites and they don’t know it either. It took more than a little tenacity to push things through. Robert likes to tell people that I acted as our real estate agent. Once the offer was finally accepted in May, the electrical and plumping systems showed their true colors. Work began swiftly. Lucky for me, my guy was skilled at woodwork, gardening, and landscaping. While I was diving into the depths of digital food marketing at Allrecipes, Robert was modernizing our mid-century house and transforming the yard into an edible oasis. The twins had been too much for my single lady apartment, so our new home was the perfect playground, complete with a hot tub, sandpit, and neighbors who also had little girls. My transition to suburban momma was in motion.
I worked a ton, traveled a little, but mainly settled into a routine in our little enclave south of West Seattle. We knew we liked this area, but it took time to realize that it was fantastic in so many ways. Not only was it easy enough to bus downtown, it was also super close to a Trader Joe’s, forested trails, and Seahurst Park, a gorgeous area in Burien where we once saw a beached Minke Whale. If we wanted to avoid the incessant traffic and construction in the north, we could head south to Des Moines Marina, an old school area with fish restaurants and views of airplanes landing in front of the glorious if elusive Mt. Rainier.
While tending to the garden and going to Home Depot seemed to take up most of our summer, we did manage a trip in the fall to Robert’s family farm in the Netherlands. I got to meet his many aunts, uncles, and cousins and play games for hours during a thunderstorm near the broccoli fields. We enjoyed a night in Antwerp and Bruges, which forever made the movie “In Bruges” one of our favorites. The highlight, however, was seeing Robert's grandmother, his Oma, who at 92 was feeble but clearly had love for her grandson, as he did for her. She would only live two more weeks.
Meanwhile, I was done being a long distance landlady to high maintenance tenants and thought that maybe I wasn’t going to move back to L.A. after all. I sold my condo right before the market skyrocketed and Culver City and Silicon Beach got swanky. Oh well. It was a solemn and symbolic goodbye to the home I once knew, but to quote Neil Diamond, "it ain't mine no more." I really started to enjoy the fact that we could see not just one, but two national parks from our hill; Olympic National Park defines the horizon to the West, and Mt. Rainier sings to you from its perch in the South. We kayaked on moonlit nights, walked along Alki Beach, swam in the salt-water pool facing the Puget Sound at Lincoln Park, and soaked in the hot tub watching July 4th fireworks. These became life’s simple joys.
A new ritual had also started: the Full Moonie hike. This is where a group of us pitched tents at White River Campground, hiked to a hillside to feast on a potluck, and watched the sun set over a lake and moon rise to paint Mt. Rainier in glorious pink hues. This is when the word "awesome" actually applies. Big time.
This year was about hitting our stride. We took local trips to the San Juan Islands, visited relatives back east, and made more play dates with friends with kids.
At a point pretty early in our relationship, Robert surprised me with a floatplane ride that soared high above Seattle. It was an incredibly beautiful evening in September, my birthday in fact, made even more beautiful by the gift he gave me mid-flight; he’d put an engagement ring around my favorite finger puppet, Bear-y. So here we were three years later talking about a potential wedding. Should we have it in L.A. where the majority of my friends and family were? Should we have it on the east coast where his parents were? Neither, we decided. We lived in Seattle, a place where our lives took some major hits, but one that we were redefining as our own. We picked the Hall at Fauntleroy in West Seattle, just a few miles from home.
As I took on more challenges at work, I took stock of life here. I felt more like a Seattleite than an Angelino (except at stop signs where I don't hesitate to go when it’s my turn). I knew to avoid the bridges during Seafair air shows. I watched the local news to see Monique Ming Laven. I really enjoyed hearing about local "celebrities" like sea lions and whales. I totally got why so many people crush on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. I had friends with jobs at Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks, and Microsoft.
When I went to L.A., I found myself thinking "Why is that guy driving so damn fast?" and "Must there be a line for everything?" While Seattle was developing at a record pace and cranes peppered the skyline, I started feeling dismayed at how trendy L.A. was, how fast things changed, how little reverence there was for the places where I grew up. I still adored my outgoing and opinionated friends there and I missed the incredibly diverse food and art options. But I didn't love driving all the time. And I didn't love dealing with so many humans in one place.
I took a liking to coffee. Full confession: I hadn’t really understood why people liked hot brown liquid in the morning, but after several long winters and wet springs, I started to enjoy the feeling it gave me. I regularly sipped whatever was brewing at the office. I discovered vanilla lattes with almond milk. I cultivated a taste for dirty chai. I even started using a French Press and whisked my own milk at home.
I also took to gardening and cooking more than ever, and not because my day job entailed looking at recipes and food photos. Our backyard garden had worked its magic on me. I considered it sublime to taste a freshly picked carrot. Parsley pesto was often on the menu. I went gaga over sweet tomatoes and basil. I plucked rosemary for dinners with root veggies. I ate kale chips, kale smoothies, and kale frittatas. I became pretty good at whipping up rhubarb and honey sauce.
At Allrecipes, I took on a new role that was focused on enhancing the consumer revenue stream. I was excited to learn about the production of eBooks and the e-commerce initiative. I was also pretty excited that this was the year I'd get married.
Wedding plans were afoot, but I had no interest in being one of those brides who became singularly obsessed. So I went to Iceland with a friend. It was stunning in so many ways, although I did miss Robert. When I got within WiFi range, we would text each other about our days. Mine included ice lagoons and reindeer; his was about painting the patio. I couldn’t wait to share pictures with him when I returned home.
September 1 was wedding day! Fun fact: our officiant was a fellow Craniac and one of my first friends in Seattle. It was heartwarming to see family and friends from all over the country, and gratifying that our group of Seattle friends were there, too.
My dear dad walked me down the aisle and gave a very kind toast. For the father-daughter dance, we waltzed to “The Blue Danube" and were joined by my new husband and our girls. Sadly, this was the last time I ever saw Dad happy; cancer had invaded his body and it would never relent.
As blissful as the wedding was, the feeling that persisted for the rest of this year was sorrow. Intense, raw sorrow. I witnessed my father’s quick descent into hell, perpetrated by the disease he never saw coming. He was gone just a few months after our wedding day and the home in L.A. I once knew disappeared with him, literally and symbolically.
Those cold wintery months, I was dealing with overwhelming grief. Whether I was on my morning bus commute or just lying in bed, I’d feel the wave that comes with loss. It would envelop me and my heart would ache, so I'd cry. And cry.
By spring, I was out of work again, caught up in company-wide layoffs by the latest corporation that purchased Allrecipes. Rather than immediately look for another corporate gig, I decided to look inward for healing. I made a ritual each morning of checking on our growing garden, noticing the tiny differences from one day to the next. I felt very connected to not just living a life on earth, but of the earth. When it drizzled, I thought about the green plants, not just the gray vibe.
You see, I had transitioned from an urban culture vulture to a backyard farmer, a momma, and a homebody.
I didn't wear much makeup anymore and my weekend gear often included Keens instead of strappy sandals with regularly manicured toes. Waterproof, good for hiking…what’s not to love? OK, I admit it, Keens are utilitarian but ugly. Since my life consisted of a husband and our growing girls on the weekends, I just didn't get dressed up to hit the town like I used to. Now, the drumming and dance parties included the kids swirling around with blissful innocence.
I re-launched my own business, Rebecca Kraus Creative, and decided to give it a go as a consultant. Work came quickly and I amassed some clients who needed new websites.
By this point, I’d had a miscarriage, actually several. I experienced all the devastation that went with this terrible loss, although I wasn't terribly public about it. I accepted my fate. While I didn’t give birth to my own kids, I knew I could have a major impact on the girls I was already helping raise. I did everything I could to be a loving momma to them, giving them experiences nobody else did and teaching them the values my father taught me. Robert and I were in synch; we wanted the girls to be creative and imaginative, kind and curious. Of course, this is a work in progress.
Enter our precious and perfect puppy Sedona. This Mini Australian Shepherd came into our lives at nine weeks and five pounds. Ostensibly a present for the girls' 6th birthday, Sedona became my office mate, constant companion, and work out buddy. Aussies need several miles of exercise a day, and that's OK by me. He’s provided light and fun in dark moments and as every dog lover knows, he’s just the best friend ever, always up for some playtime and affection.
For winter break this year, we took the twins and the puppy on a road trip to California, but not for the sunshine I used to worship. We went to the wet and wild northern tip of the state where the Redwoods and rugged sandy beaches set the scene.
Robert and I still hadn't gone on our honeymoon by this point as my dad's passing had just made everything so sad. We finally took the plunge in February and went to Maui when the weather was perfect and the humpback whales were breaching all day long. Our ten days there were pure, tropical bliss and the kick start we needed for things to come.
Back in Seattle, I continued to do online marketing for fabulous clients—small businesses both locally and far away. I fine-tuned my chops creating websites and helping with Social Media. I served a whole lot of industries from real estate and family therapy, to finance and pet care. I also contracted for my favorite game inventors, and did branded storytelling for the outdoor retailer, REI Co-Op.
For the summer's last hurrah—and I've learned to make the most of summers here—we decided to head to Alaska. We rented an RV for five days and saw incredibly beautiful wildlife and scenery, including glaciers melting in front of our eyes. The bike-riding, recycling, organic, low footprint values of Seattle had undoubtedly affected my world view. Plus, being Alaska Airlines mileage members meant it was easy to get a good flight to Anchorage.
While my freelance business has continued, this year's election season has fed my addiction to politics. It's prompted me to volunteer for a campaign and start blogging. A short pitch to The Huffington Post led to my first published blog (liked over 1,000 times!). I got trolled with all sorts of nasty comments, but I consider this good; it meant that my piece hit a chord.
The copywriter I once was has been able to flex other muscles in long form prose. I've been writing about topics that move me—not just politics, but parenting, travel, food, and family. It’s unleashed something that I’m excited to explore in new creative ways.
I've applied to Hedgebrook, a writers' colony for women on nearby Whidbey Island. I hope to be sponsored for a retreat there in 2017. Do I have a shot of getting in? Sure. Will I re-apply if I don’t get in at first? You bet. Do I like asking questions that I will answer? Indeed.
While I still don't look forward to long gray winters here, I'm grateful we don't live in a terrible drought. I now have strategies to escape the winter clouds. I know how to soak in the sunshine here too. I enjoy parties on friend's floating houses. We take the kids on long trail hikes, play Scrabble, and watch the movies we grew up with. We grow food, pick it, and eat it. Then, we tell ghost stories in the hot tub at sunset and if we're lucky, a barred owl, a heron, or even a bald eagle will grace the sky. We groove to Stevie Wonder and Bruno Mars sporting flashy accessories from my Burning Man days. We give Sedona a bath and take turns toweling him off. These are my favorite days, really.
So here I am, 10 years after the big gamble. I still have my old Corolla, but my drive has changed dramatically. I didn’t relocate for that job. I relocated for love. Love of self and family and a story that continues to be written....