people make the place, issaquah’s gilman village

A recent visit to Issaquah‘s Gilman Village reminded me why it’s a special place to spend a few hours. It’s always great to see my hair stylist, Zorianna. She gives me a chic cut that resembles a “Brazilian Blowout.” And I don’t pay the huge bucks larger salons charge. A mom like me, we commiserate on women’s issues, parenting, the state of the economy, the dreary weather. Zorianna’s manner is easy, befitting the quiet ambiance of her surroundings. Occupying space within the Pelage Spa, the salon sits off to one side. 

I can’t say enough nice things about someone who helps me look my very best, with the added bonus that I feel like I’m sitting comfortably in my own home the entire time.

Thanks, Zorianna……………….. for being my newest BFF………………………………………………………

A newcomer to Gilman Village is a haven for writers, wannabees like yours truly and professionals like Pam Binder, President of Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association. After leaving Zorianna’s salon, I walked past PNWA’s storefront, slowing down to peer in the windows. A membership drive was underway. Joining meant “what?,” I thought to myself. Just as I’d done once before, I almost continued on my way. But the remnants of my New York “chutzpah” pushed me through the front door. As I’ve said to my daughter time and again, “All you can do is ask; all they can do is say ‘no.’ ” 

Armed with the knowledge that I could turn on my heel if I met with elitist resistance to my inquiries, I confidently greeted Pam. She rose from where she was seated behind her desk, walking forward, hand extended welcoming me, a warm smile brightening her face. I felt like Renee Zellweger‘s character in the film, “Jerry Maguire,” when she told him (Tom Cruise) “You had me at hello.”

Pam didn’t ask me to join PNWA; I told her I’d join. Probably surprised that she didn’t have to hit me with a hard sales pitch, she fumbled for a membership form. Throughout our conversation, we laughed easily, and spoke like old friends. I mentioned that she reminded me of Kristina, my exercise instructor and good friend. The likeness in general appearance and mannerisms, sold me on putting some roots down with other writers. It also helped that Pam assured me I was a writer because I wrote. She didn’t turn up her nose when I confessed that I blogged. I even went so far as to offer to volunteer for future events.

So if I do write a book, it will be owing in part to Pam Binder’s graciously making me feel that becoming an author is not so far-fetched. Her credentials only enhance my belief in the possibility. Pam is a board member for the Writer’s Program at the University of Washington, and an instructor in the university’s Popular Fiction extension program.

Thanks, Pam………………. for making me feel so welcome………………………………………………………

One of my favorite eateries in Gilman Village has always been The Boarding House Restaurant. Another cafe that served as a popular dining destination was Sweet Addition. It’s no longer in business, but was the talk of the town for a number of years. I worked there as a server when my daughter was still in middle school. That was close to 12 years ago. God, I feel old.

The Boarding House Restaurant never dwindled in its popularity, despite competition that came and went, some “stiff” like Sweet Addition. Offering a home style menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, The Boarding House Restaurant is consistent in serving up great food, warmly reminiscent of mom’s home cooking. Walking through the beautiful, stained-glass, front door is like stepping back in time. Cozily furnished with dark-wood dining tables and chairs, a couple of vintage church pews, and a large fireplace for ambiance, I feel as though I’ve been invited to share a family meal with friends. Lunching alone on the combination Boarding House salad and soup du jour, voices of others dining nearby, I settle in comfortably, enjoying my solitude, a good book my only companion.

Made-from-scratch desserts are what I’d expect at the conclusion of a home-cooked meal. The Boarding House Restaurant doesn’t disappoint. Homemade whipped cream heaped high atop a generous serving of apple crisp on a chilly, winter day, and strawberry shortcake that crumbles in my mouth as a summer breeze cools my cheek, is like heaven on earth for one who savors food as I do.

And the metaphorical icing on the cake, or the cherry on top a hot fudge sundae? Jene, the charming cashier and part-owner who takes my order, flashing a beautiful smile that warms my spirit, making me feel like I’ve come home.

Thanks, Jene……………….  for feeding my soul, as well as my tummy…………………………………

Dwellings are enhanced by those who occupy their spaces. Gilman Village is very fortunate to have some real gems among its offerings. And its patrons are indeed lucky to partake of them.

for zorianna, pam and jene…huge, heart-healthy hugs…hugmamma.

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an uplifting “destination”

I’m certain we all have somewhere that lifts our spirits, whether it’s a physical location, or one that exists within our minds, hearts, or souls. Ever since moving to the Pacific Northwest, my “destination” has always been Molbak’s. When I enter its doors into what is a wonderland of sights and smells, a smile spreads across my lips, and seemingly finds its way down to the very tips of my toes.

Molbak’s is a large nursery where plants, shrubs and trees, notable for their beautiful blooms or lovely foliage, share an equally sizeable, neighboring space with items, including gifts, for the home and garden. Nestled in a cozy corner is a cafe that serves up the most delicious sandwiches, soups, salads and cookies.  Homemade, everything is as delicious as it looks and smells, the tomato basil soup, the smoked turkey with provolone and cranberry-avocado dressing on focaccia, and the caesar with grilled salmon salad, among other yummy menu items. As I sit awaiting the delivery of my order, I always sample dessert, my scrumptious peanut butter cookie. Never as great as my mom’s, it’ll do in a pinch. I savor every morsel. Usually downing it with a glass of water, I sometimes treat myself to a latte, or an Italian raspberry soda blended with cream. Sinful, but oh, so divine.

Overhead sprawls a canopy of limbs from a huge tree growing in the center of the dining area. The branches press up against the nursery’s ceiling. Growing plants and a fountain flank the base of the tree, creating a small, lush forest with “bird of paradise,” anthuriums, and torch gingers, peeking from beneath green fronds, here and there. More plants line the periphery of the cafe, creating a comforting, environment where even a solitary diner can while away the time in peaceful serenity.

Gazing beyond the cafe environs, my senses are aesthetically heightened by the colors, textures, and juxtapositions of real plants and silk arrangements, decorative furnishings and yes, artificial trees festooned with Christmas baubles, ribbons, sprays of berries, crystal twigs, and more, so much more. Leaving behind remnants of my lunch, I wander through the gift shop, admiring everything!

 As an amateur decorator, I’m always aware of store displays, appreciative of those that wow me. Molbak’s displays are like magnets whose “pull” I’m incapable of resisting, especially during the holidays. Every Christmas tree has a theme to its decor, be its focal point a color, like copper, or holiday treats, like cupcakes and wrapped candies, Of course, the surrounding shelves are filled to overflowing with the items displayed upon the trees. Making my way from tree to tree, it’s difficult to decide which is more captivating. Luckily I’m able to refrain from purchasing most of what I see in front of me, because my garage is already overloaded with bins full of Christmas decor. I do not need more, in fact, I need to rid myself of some. The question is always “With what can I part?” Not only regarding holiday stuff, but all my stuff. I’m an antique dealer, you see, and a collector, with all manner of collections.

Of course I couldn’t resist a “small” purchase, artificial evergreen sprays sporting small, red bells scattered intermittently along its length. They’ll hang nicely on the painted, green door nailed to the wall by the front door of our house. Other than its appeal as an architectural piece, the green door is always a handy backdrop for holiday decor, or random items that catch my fancy.

Before exiting Molbak’s, I perused the small, designated area of Halloween items. I love their vintage selection, offerings reminiscent of the Victorian era. Ghoulish, without being garish. My eyes fell upon a black, artificial, 4-foot tree, lit with small, yellowish-white lights. If not for Halloween being within sight, I might have carted that tree home to make it the centerpiece of an elaborate, ghostly scene, in my dining room, or living room. Perhaps if it’s “on sale” after the holiday?

No matter the season, a visit to Molbak’s always warms my heart, and calms my spirit. It’s “comfort food” for my soul.

hoping you’ve “somewhere” that uplifts…hugmamma.

surrogate fathers

Reflecting back to my fatherless childhood, I was one when my father died, I probably pined for a male figure to parent me alongside my mom. But I don’t remember obsessing about it, although there were times when certain individuals were present in my life who I wished were my father.

My earliest recognition of just such a man was Uncle Lot. I adored him even though he was not really an uncle; “calabash” relatives were commonplace in extended Hawaiian families. Bronzed by the sun, silver white hair framing a handsome face, I imagined he loved me like a precious daughter. He and our Aunt Miriam, spinster brother and sister,  lived next door to the first home I ever knew, conveniently located across the road from the beach. When not frolicking on the sand or swimming in the warm waters, we’d be playing with Melabee, a German Shepherd belonging to auntie and uncle. We were always invited into their antique-filled home where we snacked on little sandwiches or small, scrumptious desserts. I always loved curling up in Uncle Lot’s lap, burrowing my sleepy head into his chest heavily scented with cologne. I’d rest there while he, auntie and my mom chatted amiably among themselves. I never wanted to leave when it was time to return to our house.  Their home was so much grander, filled with beautiful things, and food more delicious than was our usual fare. As a child I never understood aunty and uncle’s relationship. They were related, but they seemed so comfortable in each other’s shadow, like husband and wife. But they weren’t married, so I wanted Uncle Lot to marry my mom. Of course it was a child’s fantasy, and there it remained.

As a kindergartener I remember we were in a different home, one that I would live in until I moved away to college. Our Chinese landlord lived next door. At first it was “Popo” (grandmother) to whom we paid rent, but upon her death, her son Ah Sing assumed the responsibility. I became long-lasting, best friends with his daughter, an only child for many years. A brother was born into the family when my friend was in high school.

Ah Sing took pity upon my situation, a fatherless child with a mother struggling to support her young family. He would include me on outings with his daughter. One vivid memory is of a visit onboard a navy submarine docked  in the harbor. I still have a small, black and white photograph somewhere, of me perched on a metal seat on an outer deck, long, black hair caught up in the breeze, a furtive smile on my lips, a shy glance directed at the camera. My girlfriend’s mom was not as receptive toward me however, perhaps because I wasn’t a fit companion, being poor. No matter, I became a fixture at their home because I was like a sibling my friend wanted, and another daughter Ah Sing cherished.

The only physician I recall visiting as a child was Dr. James Fleming. His shoulders seemed broad, as though he could carry the weight of the world on them, well… at least that of the sick who visited his office. His hair was a sandy blonde, he wore spectacles and he always had a smile on his face. His bedside manner was comforting, especially to a child who rarely saw a doctor because it was an expense my mom couldn’t regularly afford. But like other generous people in our lives, Dr. Fleming discounted  our fees and never pressured my mom for payment. Receiving a lollipop or large, orange gumdrop was one reason I behaved during an appointment, but more importantly, Dr. Fleming felt like a father if only for the time I spent with him. When I was much older, my mom told me that he had offered to adopt me since he had no daughters, only 3 sons. You can imagine how elated I felt, and disappointed, that I never got to live the fairy-tale life of the Lahaina Flemings. But more than anything, I would have liked to have felt the love of a father like Dr. Fleming wash over me.

My father-in-law, now deceased some 20 years or so, treated me like a daughter. When I first spent time with my husband’s family, I thought my father-in-law didn’t like me. I always seemed the butt of his ribbing. Teasing was something I grew up with as the youngest, and I wasn’t particularly fond of it. I never had the wherewithal to fight back, and felt I must not be loved, or liked. Increasingly, as I was around him more, it became obvious that I was a favorite of my father-in-law’s. I guess I was a combination, pretty Hawaiian girl like his wife, Catholic raised and educated, attending college, with lofty ambitions that might rub off on his eldest son. But best of all I could out-talk the “Portugees,” as he would love to tell me, himself being Portuguese. We could banter back and forth endlessly. My father-in-law, looking much like and behaving very much like my husband, was the closest I ever came to having a father. So it saddened me to see his body, and spirit, deteriorate through the 8 years he survived after a massive heart attack which destroyed 50% of his heart.

And then there’s my husband. A Catholic seminarian a week prior to our first meeting, he had changed his mind about being called to the priesthood. Having left home after completion of 8th grade, he had spent the next 4 1/2 years studying theology. I’ve often joked that God was preparing him for an even greater task than leading the faithful, and that was keeping me on the “straight and narrow,” which he has successfully done for 40 years.

Because I was fatherless as a child, it was imminent that my daughter bond with her dad immediately. So I didn’t look to either my mom or mother-in-law for help when our baby was born. I wanted my husband, myself and our daughter to forge a strong and loving union which would survive the ups and downs of whatever lay ahead. And to this day, our strength as a family continues to thrive upon the foundation upon which it was built. We enable one another to follow our passions, knowing that our love and support is always available 24/7.

So while I may not have had a father of my own to nurture and guide me, there were those to whom I could look for the wonderful qualities that I would one day find in a husband. So I thank my “fathers”, of whom only Ah Sing survives, on my lovely, island, childhood home of Maui.

 very fortunate to have had surrogate fathers, love me…hugmamma.