Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Casper’s A Taste of the South

We had decided on one restaurant, an Italian restaurant we both like, and were on our way, when Mom thought of another restaurant we might like to try, but it was on the way, so we could look at it and decide whether we wanted to eat there or go on to the Italian one.

This is very normal for our family. Our son used to call it “bait and switch” because we would say “Hey! Do you want to go to Tortilla Gonzales?” and he would say “Yeah!” and we would all jump in the car and then on the causeway, AdventureMan would say “You know I really have a taste for Chinese . . . would anyone prefer Chinese?” and I would jump in and say “We’re really close to that sushi place we all love!” and then our son would have to rein us in “NO! You said we were going to Tortilla Gonzales!”

Once he went away to college, we switched all the time. Later, we learned that now he and his wife do the old switch-a-roo, too – family culture is a hard thing to shake.

So we are en route and Mom suddenly shouts “RIBS!” and I say “What??” and she said “We just passed a rib place!” We were at a stop light. “Mom,” I asked, “Do you want to go to that rib place?”



I pull into the U-turn lane and complain “You’ve got to start dealing with me directly; if you want to go to the rib place, you have to say so!” The complete irony being that I was already making the U-turn, which is what she wanted me to do. . . . Family culture being a hard thing to shake . . .

But as we pulled into the already crowded parking lot, the smell was absolutely divine. There was already a line. Good thing, too, it gave us time to read the menu and decide what we wanted.


We both ordered ribs. We are both forbidden to eat ribs. I eat ribs maybe one time each year, like once, at a buffet, I ate one small rib. It is so rare that I allow myself to eat a rib that I can remember even that one tiny rib. But this time, I ordered ribs, because my Mom did. She ordered Sweet Potato Fries and Cole Slaw and I ordered Hush Puppies and Cole Slaw.


You are going to be so so proud of me. I took pictures before we ate the food this time, well, except for one tiny bite I took out of the hushpuppies, but that was to show you what they look like on the inside. (My Mom has NEVER had a hushpuppy in her life before having one of mine.)

We sat down in the large outside sitting place – I can’t help but wonder what they do in the winter time, because it can get really really cold and damp in Seattle, but I am guessing that they do a huge take-out business.


They have a map that they want people to put push-pins in to say where they are from:


I made a little addition:

And, as I promised, here is the food. Actually, they gave Mom this HUGE portion, about double my portion, but since I got four ribs and only ate two, Mom took home a huge box of leftover ribs to package up and freeze and have a little at a time.


Did you know sweet potatoes are really really healthy for you?

(I think sweet potatoes are healthier for you when they have a lower surface/interior ratio and have absorbed less fat, but these are totally, incredibly delicious. That’s sugar on the sweet potato fries, not salt.) Mom took leftover sweet potato fries home, too.


I can’t even pretend that there is anything healthy about deep fried cornbread. I ate them all, except the one Mom ate. They . . . they were really really good. Yes, I am so ashamed, but I would do it again.

And no, I didn’t take a photo of the sweet potato pie, generously seasoned with fresh nutmeg, it was divine, or the key lime pie we couldn’t eat and Mom took that home, too.

Oh, this food was good. As we left, the line stretched way out to door and into the parking lot.

Casper’s Taste of the South
15030 Bothell Way
Lake Forest Park, WA

Casper’s A Taste of the South

Their slogan is:

Put a Little South in Your Mouth. LLLOOOLLLL!

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Cooking, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, Diet / Weight Loss, Doha, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Humor, Living Conditions, Relationships, Seattle, Women's Issues | 9 Comments

British Soldier Kidnapped, Escaped in Kuwait

Holy Smokes! Have you seen this?

Kidnapped British soldier leaps off balcony to freedom
A British soldier who was kidnapped by Muslim fanatics in Kuwait leapt from a balcony to escape his captors.

By Ben Leach
Published: 9:26AM BST 27 Aug 2009
Private Peter Walker was ambushed by five men wielding knives in Kuwait City before being beaten up and bundled into a building.

Pte Walker, in his mid-20s, was then left alone while his captors talked into mobile phones. The soldier, who had gone for a pizza in civilian clothes, struggled free and scrambled up a flight of steps – to find he was trapped on the first floor.

He then jumped off the balcony as the gang chased after him and managed to land safely before running to safety through the streets below.

Pte Walker, who was serving with 59 Movement Control Squadron, 29 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, in Iraq before the pull-out of British troops in May, is back in Britain after the ordeal last Sunday.

It is believed the gang pounced after they heard him speak English. A source told The Sun: “Pte Walker had gone out to the local pizza shop but found it closed.

“He was ambushed by five men. He feared they were going to sell him on to terrorists. They were all talking on mobiles. Pte Walker tried to speak to them in English but they blanked him.

“He ran up the stairs and had no option but to jump off the balcony. If he hadn’t escaped he could have been held to ransom or beheaded by terrorists.”

The Ministry of Defence said that Kuwaiti police and the Royal Military Police are investigating.

This is what really happened:

The soldier was part of the UK’s team at KIA looking after RAF aircraft going in and out of Kuwait. The detachment is due to withdraw in September and they had a “farewell” party last Saturday (the first full day of Ramadan). There was alcohol at the party!

The soldier was at the party and in the early hours (0530 hrs) of the following morning decided he wanted pizza. He took a vehicle from the detachments villa in Mesilla and went to Dominos Pizza (off the 207/30). He found the shop closed (hardly surprising as it was after dawn during Ramadan). He looked around the shop, was banging on the door and then tried to force the door open. He was seen by some locals who intervened. Things became heated and the locals tried to detain the soldier and called the police. The soldier put up a fight and was put into the harris’ room in the adjoining flats.

Whilst in “custody” the soldier picked up a bottle of water and drank it!

The soldier got out of the room (he certainly didn’t jump from a balcony), got to his car and drove back to the villa. On the way back he hit several other cars.

On returning to the villa his CO was informed what happened and the police arrived at about the same time.

The MP’s and police did not believe that this was a kidnapping and no charges will be bought against the locals. The soldier was repatriated to the UK last Monday and will face charges.

There is no way that this soldier is a hero. He is young and immature and should never have been allowed to serve in such an environment.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Adventure, Crime, Cultural, Kuwait, News | 5 Comments

Commercial Real Estate Next Implosion

10 Cities Facing The Next Real Estate Bust
Rick Newman, U.S. News & World Report
From AOL News: Real Estate

The worst of the housing bust might finally be over, but another real estate tsunami is about to swamp many American cities. This time, it will be office buildings and retail space going vacant and facing foreclosure.

Like housing, commercial real estate goes through booms and busts, and the coming wipeout is likely to be a doozy. Commercial developers went on their own spending spree earlier this decade, racing to cash in on the hot economy with new office towers, hotel complexes, and retail projects. Banks supplied hundreds of billions of dollars in loans, often assuming that rents paid by tenants would keep going up. “The assumption was that the good times would go on forever,” says Victor Calanog, director of research for REIS, a real-estate-research firm.

If that mistaken assumption sounds familiar, so will the ramifications. Instead of going up, commercial rents have begun to plunge as companies downsize, warehouses empty, merchants go out of business, and huge retailers like Starbucks and Macy’s close underperforming stores and demand rent reductions. Office and retail vacancy rates are near record levels and going higher, and developers are about to face crunch time as billions in loans come due for repayment or refinancing over the next three years. Like homeowners who are “under water” on their mortgages, many of those developers owe more than their buildings are now worth.

The commercial crunch won’t hit consumers as directly as the housing bust, but they’ll still feel it. A resurgence in construction spending is often the springboard out of a recession, but in dozens of overbuilt areas, it won’t be. Many shopping centers could close completely. Urban development projects have been put on hold or canceled, giving blight a reprieve instead of chasing it out of town. As many as 3,000 banks may face significant losses on commercial real estate loans, according to economist Gary Shilling, which could crimp other lending and even threaten the banks’ solvency as losses start to pile up.

To determine which cities are most vulnerable, U.S. News analyzed data from REIS covering retail and office vacancy rates in the 79 biggest metro areas. At our request, REIS combined its retail and office data into a single commercial vacancy rate for each city, for several time periods. The research firm also provided its 2010 projections for each city.

To gauge the impact on each city over the coming year, we measured the difference between the commercial vacancy rate in 2008 and the projected rate in 2010. So the cities that landed on our list won’t necessarily have the highest vacancy rates next year, but they’ll experience the biggest increase over a two-year period. In most of these cities, commercial real estate woes are likely to hamper a recovery. In a few, they’ll compound a set of problems that’s already profound. Here’s where the next real estate bust is likely to hit hardest:

In Las Vegas (above), the real estate market could go from bad to worse, while Charleston (below) has been relatively stable until recently.

Las Vegas (projected commercial vacancy rate, 2010: 18.1 percent, up 6.8 percentage points from 2008). What happens in Vegas depends on the rest of the American economy, and until Americans start to feel wealthy again, travel (and gambling) budgets will remain crimped. Southern Nevada already suffers from one of the worst housing busts in the nation and a 12.3 percent unemployment rate. Vegas had a hot hand earlier this decade, which led to lots of commercial construction. But nearly one fifth of Sin City’s commercial space will stay vacant until tourists, conventioneers, and their cash start to return.

Baltimore (15.8 percent, up 6.5 points). Several large universities and proximity to recession-resistant Washington, D.C., have propped up Baltimore’s economy, but the city is still exposed to many economic strains. With the nation’s retail sector in a tailspin, shipments in and out of the Port of Baltimore have tanked, leaving acres of vacant warehouses. Other development programs have stalled as businesses have cut back on spending. Mayor Sheila Dixon has also been indicted for suspicious dealings with area developers, casting a pall over Baltimore’s business climate.

Detroit (24.8 percent, up 6.3 points). What else could go wrong in Motor City? Two of the area’s biggest employers, General Motors and Chrysler, declared bankruptcy this year, and the whole auto industry is undergoing severe cutbacks amid the biggest sales plunge in decades. So many companies have left Detroit that there’s barely a rush hour in this once bustling metropolis. If there’s any good news, it’s that prime office space is cheap: Rents have fallen eight years in a row and are likely to drop an additional 13 percent through 2010, according to REIS.

San Bernardino/Riverside, Calif. (15.9 percent, up 6.3 points). The availability of land once made Southern California’s “inland empire” a housing hotbed, with hundreds of mortgage brokers and a booming retail sector. No more. A vicious housing bust could ultimately drive home prices down 65 percent from peak values, and the unemployment rate could hit 16 percent next year. That’s knocked many of the mortgage brokers out of business and devastated the area’s ubiquitous strip malls. Even government jobs have been disappearing, thanks to California’s budget crisis.

Hartford, Conn. (20.2 percent, up 6 points). A recent survey identified Hartford as one of the first cities to bounce back from the recession, but local economists are doubtful. Many of the city’s insurance firms have slashed jobs in response to the financial meltdown. Aircraft-engine maker Pratt & Whitney may close two local plants, and the Obama administration’s push to end production of the F-22 fighter jet would hurt defense contractors in the area. With little new construction over the past year, most of the increase in vacancies is coming from businesses scaling back or shuttering their operations completely.

Dayton, Ohio (22.8 percent, up 5.9 points). After 125 years in Dayton, NCR is closing up its headquarters and moving to Georgia, taking 1,300 jobs with it and leaving more than a million square feet of office space behind. The collapse of the auto industry has also hurt the area, with several local parts suppliers dependent upon the Detroit automakers. In a survey of the 100 biggest cities, the Brookings Institution ranks Dayton near the bottom in terms of lost jobs and economic output.

New York (12 percent, up 5.9 points). Those lavish Wall Street bonuses you’ve been hearing about are going to a lot fewer bankers. The financial industry, Manhattan’s mainstay, has contracted by about 7 percent over the past year. Other industries have lost even more jobs, causing a sharp reversal in what used to be one of the world’s hottest real estate markets. Office rents skyrocketed in 2006 and 2007, when Wall Street was at its peak, but REIS expects them to fall 28 percent between 2008 and 2010. REIS’s vacancy data for New York include only office space, so the combined vacancy rate including retail space is probably higher than 12 percent.

Charleston, S.C. (16.6 percent, up 5.8 points). The antebellum charm has worn thin as this low-country mecca hopes for tourists to return and trade at its port to pick up. Several ambitious downtown hotel and redevelopment projects have stalled while developers wait for the economy to revive. Elsewhere in the state, manufacturing, retail, and construction companies have shed thousands of jobs, many of them gone for good. When not addressing his extramarital affair, Gov. Mark Sanford attempts to woo new businesses to the state.

Tacoma, Wash. (13.6 percent, up 5.8 points). Shipments are down at the city’s port, one of the nation’s biggest, which has left warehouses vacant and hammered the many area businesses that depend on trade. And many of the region’s most prominent companies, including Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, and Washington Mutual — taken over last year by JPMorgan Chase — have been laying off workers, helping push Tacoma’s unemployment rate higher than the state average.

New Haven, Conn. (17.2 percent, up 5.8 points). Education and healthcare have helped stabilize New Haven’s economy, but even Yale University has scaled back development plans and laid off workers, after its famed endowment dropped by $6 billion because of market losses. And a long-term shift away from manufacturing toward financial services and other white-collar industries has left the city exposed to the financial meltdown. That means New Haven’s recovery will probably lag the nation’s.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Financial Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Marketing, Technical Issue, Work Related Issues | 7 Comments

Guerilla Art at the Gas Works

Yesterday Mom pulled out a clipping from the Seattle Times about an unknown sculptor who had left a collection of fascinating sculptures – papier mache’ with golden highlights – of people emerging from their shells. They were delivered by stealth to the park by by the artist and friends, and left displayed to the wonderment of runners, joggers, walkers and picnicking families who discovered them at the Gasworks Park.

“Guerrilla-art in Seattle
In what was advertised as a gift to the citizens of Seattle, a gold-colored sculpture by an unknown artist turned up in Gas Works Park on Tuesday, August 25, 2009. “Anew is gifted to the citizens of Seattle in the spirit of awakening,” the artist wrote in a plaque attached to the sculpture.”


(This is not my photo; this photo is from the Seattle Times Photo Gallery and you can purchase a copy of it from them)

How cool is that? The park officials were all set to pick the art works up and dispose of them, but people started calling in, by the hundreds, “no! leave it there! It is wonderful!” And, amazement of amazements, the city listened, and left the sculptures there.

In today’s Seattle Times is a follow up:

Guerrilla artist goes public; golden man already taken

By Susan Gilmore
Seattle Times staff reporter (you can read the entire article by clicking on the blue type)

The artist who left a sculpture in Seattle’s Gas Works Park earlier this week says she was “amazed and overwhelmed” by the response to the art.

“I spent some time both in the afternoon and evening standing with the crowd, watching their reactions, and I am overflowing with joy,” said Cyra Hobson, 31, in an e-mail sent Wednesday night.

The Seattle Parks Department said Wednesday it will leave the multipiece sculpture in place until Labor Day rather than removing it today, as had been planned.

So Mom and I decided we wanted to take a look, which is a lot braver than you can imagine. Mom has always been active, but she is no longer able to walk as long as she wants to walk – at 86, she hates to accept any limitations, so off we go.

We get to the Gas Works Park and it is another gorgeous day, warm, without being hot, and we walk. And we walk. And we don’t see one single piece of sculpture. People have taken her at her word – they are all gone!

Oh well. We missed an ephemeral moment in time, a great happening, but we still had a great adventure. The view from the Gas Works park (which is – no kidding – on the site of a defunct Gas Works factory, so they turned it into a park for families, joggers, dog walkers, etc.) is phenomenal – at one time, there was a jet, a helicopter and a pontoon plane in the air, a car/boat, several kayaks and a fishing boat in the water, and dogs and children everywhere.

Of course I took some photos to share with you:


This is a “Duck.” Right now it is a boat, but it can also put down wheels and function as an open tour bus on land:


August 29, 2009 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Community, Events, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Seattle, Travel | Leave a comment