Free Time

Nephew, Niece, Brother
June 30, 2008

Each time I've visited Seattle in recent years it's been for a winter trip lasting about a month. Over those visits I had to book time with everybody well in advance. Every day on my calendar was full, often triple-booked. Trying to see so many people, there were inevitably a few who I managed to see only once--and only briefly--over coffee or lunch.

It's different this time. My past few weeks in town have been leisurely spent. Most of my time has been catching up with family: parents, siblings, nephews, nieces. It's relieving to not have that same time constraint I had all of my previous visits.

There are three things I've found myself often doing while here. They are:

In the month I've been back in town, I've eaten at some Ethiopian restaurant or other no fewer than six times. The real number is probably more like seven or eight.

I do love Ethiopian food, though--despite the frequent visits--it's not actually my favorite cuisine. I've been eating it so frequently because it's the cuisine I most craved while living in Asia. Everything else I could fake on my own in Urumqi. I could improvise all the other foods I loved which weren't available--foods such as cheesecakes and hummus. However, there would be no way to replicate Ethiopian food there. So many of the raw ingredients--the spices, the grains--weren't available.

Ben Takes a Laptop Apart
To be honest, I didn't try to cook Ethiopian food even once in Urumqi. I knew it couldn't be done. Several years ago I received a cookbook of Ethiopian recipes as a Christmas gift. I actually went out to try to find the ingredients around Seattle. I gave the idea up immediately. None of the spices were familiar. I could find most of them, but only in certain shops. The basic bread, injera was made from a grain I had never heard of: teff.

It seemed too complicated. I quickly decided that it just wasn't worth the hassle. Seattle houses a large community of immigrants from east Africa. The restaurants here are plentiful and cheap. I know that the low price is another reason why I've been eating Ethiopian food frequently since coming back. I picked up dinner for three the other night. The bill and tip totaled $25 USD.

The data back ups have been an item on my to-do list for years. The project is more than just archiving a few old files. My biggest task yet far has been sorting through digital photos and labeling them. I've been adding dates for images that had none, separating out images taken by my camera from those taken by others, adding information about where the photo was shot. I have about 10,000 digital photos now.

If I had the skills to separate, label, and archive on my own, I probably would have done this years ago--but I don't. I've enlisted brother Ben to help me. I've never met anybody better with computers than Ben. He's been methodically and comprehensively digging through my data, writing Unix shell scripts to get everything organized in an intelligent way.

The process has taken longer than I'd hoped. We've met up over several days. The drawn-out effort should be worth it, though. The way he's helping me get my data in order it shouldn't ever have to be organized again.

Nephew Nicholas (as Tin
Woodsman) in School Play
I've also been getting out and attending the odd sports game or concert. I didn't often go to such events while I was living here. However, on this visit I have both a fair amount of free time as well as a source for free tickets. In the time since I was last in Seattle, another brother, Greg, finished law school and began work at a firm downtown. It's the type of place where the partners all have season tickets but nobody has time to get out of the office. Every day some e-mail goes around, asking if somebody wants a couple free tickets to some event happening that evening.

Yesterday, I got box seats to a performance of the Seattle Symphony: Wagner and Mahler. A couple weeks ago it was the Seattle Mariners versus the Washington Nationals.

Leisure time is fun, but I may work while here. Time spent in this country sure is a lot more expensive than time spent in Urumqi. Before coming back to Seattle I hoped to get temporary work for the odd week or month while in town. I have signed on at a couple agencies, but nothing has come in yet. I should be fine eking through this summer in the U.S. without work--but will feel less guilty about spending so long here if I at least earn enough to cover expenses.