RIP Plantelles: 2000 – 2018

October 24, 2018

My houseplant is dead. In truth it had been dying for some time now. And I hoped and wished that it would correct itself from its downward spiral. In the past when I thought the end was near, it would suddenly sprout a new frond and it would be reborn anew.

I bought Plantelles for $7 at the Ben Franklin’s in Cheney, WA. I was 18 years old and I was a freshman in college. My friend Sarah Graham enjoyed adding “elles” after things. Her backpack became Backpackelles. And that is how Plantelles got its name.

Plantelles sat quietly in the background of my life. First on my old Dell Tower Desktop in my dorm room. Then next to the TV in my first apartment with Justin. It moved with me to Seattle and eventually became the sole fixation of our cat Miles. During the Germany / Brazil World Cup game in 2014, Miles jumped into the plant and ate several fronds. I watched the second half of the game in the lobby of the Vet in South Lake Union.

Half my life was spent with this $7 plant that I bought on a whim, during a college dorm room supply run. I would have never imagined it would become one of my most treasured possessions. Plantelles was a time machine to my past. A souvenir from the start of adulthood. It outlasted friendships, relationships, and apartments. It is perhaps fitting that Plantelles last few months were spent on my Dell Tower Desktop at work. It finally made it back home.


What I Have Learned This Past Year

January 6, 2018

Hello Friends —

Five years ago, while exiting the turnstiles in the Contemporary Art Museum in Lyon, Fatima asked how I liked the exhibit. I asked her if she spoke English. Our walk turned into lunch and lunch turned into a tour of the city. I told Fatima about a new girl I was seeing. She told me about a man that was in love with her. She asked me before we parted how we could have such personal conversations with only knowing each other for an afternoon. I told her it was because we would never see each other again.

This past summer, Fatima and her sister picked us up in her tiny car and we drove through the streets of Lyon. Up into old town. Over to the Cathedral. We saw her apartment in the heart of the city. We visited her art studio. We wandered in and out of Lyon’s secret passages. We took trains and buses and had a great lunch listening to her stories about the year she studied in New York. And as we parted again, I told Fatima that in five years we would see each other again.

Zooming on I-90, on the Bridge, just as the water ends and the Mt. Baker Tunnel begins, traffic slows. Then stops. I look back. I brace for impact. Everyone told me that I shouldn’t have braced for the upcoming collision. But I challenge anyone who gazes back into their rear view mirror and not do the same when they see a car hurtling at top speed at them. The young man’s face held a look of shock as he was coming to the same realization about what was going to happen next. He was taken Harborview and I drove my wrecked Honda home. Five days later, on my birthday, Alex and I bought a new car.

“Catch me,” is what the teacher, from a rival conference, yelled at me from the top of the stage in the dueling piano bar in Chicago. I nodded, though, I did not have much of a choice. She leaned back and lept from the stage horizontally into my arms. The duelists belted out Hit Me Baby One More Time to a full crowd. I caught her. Spun her around. My fellow fundraising conference attendees, whom I had met only a day prior, howled with laughter.

The night ended in Jeff’s hotel room finishing a fifth of Makers and Tanqueray. I find out that Jeff’s parents died when he was a child. That Angela was adopted as a kid. And that David met his wife in the Ugandan airport during his service in Peace Corps. They would end up having one of the last Ugandan adoptions before the federal laws changed. As the night ended, I raised a toast to my new friends. Saying what I said to Fatima years ago, that we were just strangers days before and now we are connected through chance, luck, and circumstance. That we may never see each other again. But I was happy for this moment, this fleeting moment, in my life to happen.

This is my 20th New Year’s Reflection. I remember 20 years ago writing this reflection in the basement of Justin’s house during winter break. I never thought I would still be doing this all of these years later. Alex recently sent me an article from the New York Times. The author finds a note he found in his lecture notes. It said, “The goal of life, for Pascal, is not happiness, peace, or fulfillment, but aliveness.” Pascal, being the 17th-century French philosopher.

When I re-read what I wrote in these reflections over the last 20 years, the moments that stay with me most, are the moments when I feel the most alive. There was the time I almost drowned in the Ohio river. There was a girl that I went out and during our third date, she says, “Nick there is something I should tell you.” She waits a beat and says, “I have a warrant for my arrest.” It was an Irish Car Bomb on my 21st birthday. It was touching the Atlantic Ocean for this first time with Frannie, Megan, and Adam. It was a meringue in my car. Or a late night drink at Smith. It was looking back at the crowd when we got married. Sometimes it happens when you are looking back in your rearview mirror. Or seeing someone again who you never thought you would. Sometimes it is when you are catching a stranger, in a random bar, with people you have only just met.


What I Have Learned This Past Year

January 3, 2017

The gate agent in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport finally had mercy on me. I had been delayed six hours out of Toronto. And I missed every flight to Seattle that night. The delay was infuriating at the time. A dent in the plane. A missing mechanic. A tow truck stuck in the snow that was supposed to get us unstuck from the tarmac. The agent pleaded for me. He begged. He tossed out flight connections around America like baseball statistics. And I don’t know what favors he cashed in but he got me as far west as Las Vegas with a voucher for a hotel and a taxi.

Despite the fact that I had been up for 24 hours and had slept less than 3 hours the night before, I didn’t care, the Sounders had finally won the cup. This year, of all years, the Sounders did it.

I was more confused than excited when Roman stepped up to take the penalty. Why was our hulking center back taking the penalty? A man known more for keeping the ball out of the net than putting it in. I asked Kapena if this was the one to win it. He nodded. Roman takes a few steps back, kicks the ball with power, and we roar.

As we waited for the train back to the city I was more shocked than emotional. There were no more challenges to face, no more dragons to be slayed, no more pages in the book to be read. Our annual ritual of painful losses had finally ended.

We took possession of our house one day shy of our four-year anniversary of our first date. Our cat Miles, having only lived in one level apartments, quickly learned how to use stairs. Escrow and signing paperwork gave way to painting, housewarmings, BBQs, gardening, and s’mores with the neighbors. Our neighborhood listserv now provides us with new sources of entertainment. In some ways Columbia City reminds me of old Capitol Hill. A neighborhood on the precipice of change and reinvention. A neighborhood slowly marching toward the future.

As we get older, the particulars of each year blend and meld with the past. Did we go to Portland that year? Or was it the year before? When was our trip to the Hood Canal? Specific details lost to the passage of time. But I have a feeling that Alex and I will remember 2016. It still feels out of place saying, “My wife.” So much so that when I went to urgent care a few days ago the intake nurse asked me who took me there, I replied, “My friend-I-mean-uh-wife.” And if you want to see all of the wedding minuate, you can check out of wedding photos: https://tonyasgari.client-gallery.com/#/NickandAlex

Canon in D filled the Great Hall as our friends and family stood in the summer sunlight that poured through the old lead windows. When I turned around on the stage, I saw my life flash before my eyes. Friends. Family. Co-workers. Work wives. So many memories flooded back. Years and years worth memories. And after we kissed for the first time as a married couple, granted by the power of our Rent-a-Reverend, we exited the stage to Star Wars Throne Room. A nod to the playfulness we wanted on our big day.

One of the last wedding presents we received this past year came from my friend Rachel. Rachel was the cool girl. She was a rebel. She had the courage to always say yes to things. Unless it happened before noon. She would dare you to do something. And if you hesitated, she would do it before you had a chance to decide. Any awkwardness she had was overshadowed with grace. And any weakness was countered with confidence.

I remember warm summer nights with Rachel in the park. She would run through the sprinklers in her barefeet. The smell of freshly cut grass hanging in the air. I remember days on Greg’s Father’s boat. When he would throttle it up. I remember the glee she took with a perfectly timed Red Shell in Mario Kart. I remember the time in college I flipped on her hazard lights in her red Honda Prelude. They wouldn’t turn off. I thought she was going to kill me.

Rachel didn’t make it to our wedding. I was so looking forward to seeing her one last time. See Rachel was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer. One so rare that only 100 women get it each year. The night of our rehearsal dinner she was in the hospital in Seattle. The next day she was back in Richland and soon after she was in hospice. She died in late August. She had just turned 34.

I met her brother in Bellevue and he gave me her wedding gift. A red picnic cooler or as I now call it, “The Rachel Fleshman Memorial Picnic Cooler.” I think she would have appreciated the dark humor. If there is one lesson I have learned from Rachel’s friendship is that you should live life as you want to. To be present. Life is too short to question the choices you have made. Too short for regret. And we should all let the wet summer grass cover our feet as we walk forward throughout the night.

My last bet in Vegas before heading back to Seattle was at the roulette table in the Luxor. I changed a $20 for chips and put it all on black. She fired the ball into the wheel and we watched the numbers blur as they spinned. The wheel began to slow. And I stood there waiting, optimistically, about what was to come next.


What Have I Learned This Past Year

January 4, 2016

My mother called me on a lazy Saturday morning in April. I could tell by her voice that something was wrong. My father had a heart attack. He was in the hospital. He was expected to survive but he needed a triple bypass.

The drive to Spokane is a long one normally. It seemed eternal when this happened. Moments of my childhood flooded back to the present as the desert flashed by the car windows.

When you think about a year these are the moments that first come to mind. Not the countless Saturday mornings spent vacuuming or the evenings watching Netflix. It are the moments that shock, surprise, and humble you. These are moments that you remember.

It is also the moments that alter the course of your life. Like, the time I got engaged.

I proposed at Quinn’s on the day of our third anniversary of our first date. It was a moment witnessed by our closest friends. We toasted over wine I had been saving for a special occasion. I finally found that occasion. Soon after we had a caterer, a day of wedding coordinator, a DJ, a photographer, and a venue. We even have one of those silly engagement photos. We’ll get married in July. Our parents couldn’t be more excited.

We traveled from New Hampshire to Molokai. From Chicago to Salt Lake City. We ran the entire length of the Detroit airport until I realized that there was an indoor tram. We snorkeled in the vast Pacific Ocean. Rode a mule to a leper colony. Took a tour to Fenway. And we watched good friends get married in their childhood church, on a Vashon Island farm, and on top of a sun-drenched mountain ridge.

2015 was the year my car was broken into, again. It was the year we bought a portable air conditioner. It was the year that I saw one of my closest friends from high school. With his family. I hadn’t seen him in years. After my many proclamations of me visiting him, I finally flew down and we spent the morning and afternoon hiking around the Utah mountains. I had only seen Brian once or twice since his wedding in 2005. It felt like no time had passed. I felt like we were riding in his green truck again on the way to Dairy Queen.

This past year I decided to track all of the dinners I would eat in 2015. It highlights the mundane. Like, we ate 64.1% of our meals at home. And 13.2% of my meals were simply reheated leftovers. It shows that I spent 15 dinners (4.1%) out because of the Sounders. 20 dinners (5.5%) due to volunteer engagements and 7 dinners (1.9%) because of work events.

My epicurean data set also aptly highlights those outlier moments.

  • April 28: Chicken Salad. Sacred Heart Hospital, Spokane, WA.
  • June 24: Chicken Fried Steak. Paddlers Inn, Molokai, HI.
  • August 22: Cheeseburger with Pastrami. Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT.
  • August 14: Meatloaf Sandwich with French Fries. Beckler River Campground, Skykomish, WA.
  • November 12: Beef Nachos. McLadden’s, Simsbury, CT.

But two meals probably best illustrate our largest accomplishment of 2015. It made a year’s worth of wedding planning seem simple.

  • December 8: Rueben Sandwich with Tim’s Potato Chips. Columbia City Ale House, Seattle, WA – The dinner we had after we saw the house in Columbia City we would put an offer on.
  • December 12: Cheeseburger with French Fries. Quinn’s Pub, Seattle, WA – And the dinner we had to celebrate after our offer was accepted.

If everything continues down this path, we will close February 5 and take possession February 9. A day shy of the anniversary of our first date and engagement.

I think I have prematurely said this before, but I feel like this chapter in my life is closing. I will think fondly of the nine years in Capitol Hill. Late night beers and shots at Smith. All of the dates on the Hill. All of the mornings spent in Victrola and Fuel Coffee before that. The cookies at Hello Robin. The walks to Elliott Bay. The grit. The grime. The dirty streets. The weirdos.

I cannot think of a better place to live in my 20s and early 30s than Capitol Hill. I cannot think of a better place to have met Alex and live with her for the past three years. If this moment is the start of the next chapter in our lives I welcome it. To all, I hope you have a happy new year.


The Great Hall

July 16, 2015

The man also touring Fremont Abbey interrupted us for a third time. He didn’t say, “excuse me,” or give us an, “I’m sorry.” He just continued to be oblivious to normal human courtesy. When I saw him later at the coffee shop around the corner, I wanted to “accidentally” trip and spill my coffee on him. I refrained. The Fremont Abbey was nice but it looked worn and tired. The furniture was included in the price, but for the money, I would prefer that it wasn’t.

At the Melrose Market Studios in Capitol Hill, we ran into another couple looking for wedding space in 2016. Our host accidentally booked us at the same time. Two Alex’s, one time slot. She blasted Come Together when I asked about the sound system. The music reverberated off the exposed brick walls and was amplified in the empty room. If the space was a little bigger or if we were not going to have the ceremony on site, it would have been the perfect place. But sadly, it was too small.

We ultimately decided on the Great Hall at Greenlake. It had everything we wanted. 1. It is located in Seattle. 2. We can choose our own caterer. 3. We can bring our own alcohol. 4. It holds 150-175 people. 5. The weekend we wanted (July 30) is available.

So we booked it last March. So, we have a venue and a date (it has only rained 9 times in Seattle on that day). Next week, we continue the search for vendors with interviews scheduled with photographers and day of coordinators.

We have just over a year until we throw the biggest party of our life. We cannot wait.


“Nick, this is the special occasion.”

March 2, 2015

An hour before I asked Alex to marry me, she was explaining to me that she might have to go back to Group Health later that evening for additional tests. The doctors were pretty sure that she had her second ovarian cyst in six months but were waiting on some blood work to confirm their suspicion.

I told Alex that should be fine since our dinner reservations were at eight. This was of course a lie. There were no dinner reservations at eight. In fact, I was freaking out because our closest friends were gathering in 45 minutes at Quinn’s, where I had planned to surprise Alex on the night our “anniversary” and ask her to marry me in front of them. And one rogue ovarian cyst was about to ruin the best laid plans.

We met at Quinn’s in Capitol Hill three years ago. It was a Friday night. The rain pissed down from the dark February sky. From my hazy memory of that evening, I remember we sat at the table by the window. I remember the flickering candle light that was illuminating our cocktails. I ordered something with whiskey. Alex ordered something with gin. We had two drinks each. I wore jeans with the suit coat I bought with my Fantasy Football winnings a month before. At the end of happy hour, neither of us wanted the night to end. So we walked to Smith. Almost a mile uphill. The rain picked up and our umbrellas provided the only respite from the cold February rain.

I remember there was a wait. Alex ordered the fish. I ordered the pulled pork sandwich with either an Olympia or a Rainier. I thought the pulled pork presented me less as a carnivore than the Smith burger would have (Alex was a pescetarian at the time). Despite only knowing each other for a couple of hours, I knew I had stumbled upon something special. And I hoped for the best as we parted for the first time.

Within a year, we moved in together. After two years together, we spent three weeks in France. Soon after we got back from abroad, we had a joint banking account. And we knew were going to get married. We settled on a ring. All that there was left to do was simply ask her.

I asked Paul if he had any Champagne that I could buy from him. He didn’t. He asked me if I had some. I said I had a couple of bottles that I was saving for a special occasion. “Nick, this is the special occasion,” Paul quipped.

I lied to Alex and told her we had reservations at Westward. I told her that the restaurant had a random buyout on that Tuesday and the earliest reservation was at 8:00 p.m. I did this so I could suggest casually a drink at Quinn’s. Meanwhile, I had asked our closest friends to come to Quinn’s for dinner without Alex knowing. I wanted to propose in front of them. That afternoon, I had dropped off the wines for dinner. Now, I just needed to her to get to Quinn’s.

Around 5:30 the lab results came back clear. No additional tests needed. Alex was relieved for obvious reasons. I was relieved for obvious reasons. I suggested that we go to Quinn’s for a drink before Westward. She agreed. I packed two more wines into my messenger bag.

As it was a Tuesday night, Quinn’s was relatively quiet. The hostess had left her stand and I suggested to Alex that we go find a seat. We headed upstairs to the communal table and we saw everyone there. They quieted down. I said the following:

For the last year or so I knew I wanted to do this in front of our closest friends. Such a life event should not be just for the participants involved but also for the witnesses that have helped carry this journey forward. Especially, as someone who has kept their dating life as public as I have.

These past three years have been a blur. And it is hard to remember the life I had before meeting you. Often when I recall going to a particular restaurant, I always think it was you by my side. Not one of the random numbers that came before. And while we may have known that we are going to spend the rest of our lives together for some time, we both know it is time to make it official.

On this day three years ago, in this very gastropub, we met on a rainy Friday evening. We talked about the meaning of life. Death. Purpose. Existence. In these three years, I don’t think we have figured out the answers to these topics. But I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you trying. Alex, will you marry me?

She of course, said yes.


What I Have Learned This Past Year

December 31, 2014

A forgotten wallet, coupled with our cat running at top speed out of the apartment, made me miss my bus. I was pissed. I’m in the coffee shop 15 minutes later than I normally would be and I am waiting for my coffee. In walks in Garrett McKinney. A friend I went to elementary school with. I still remember his 3rd grade birthday party when we went bowling and rode in his father’s Volkswagen Beetle. I remember the cottonwood tree in front of house. I hadn’t seen Garrett in more than a decade.

It is hard to believe that this is my 17th New Year’s reflection. I remember the reason for writing the first one. I wrote it because that year in high school my life was so very amazing (to my 15-year old self at least) that I wanted to remember it for all of time. Tragically, the first one is the only one that is lost to the bits and bytes of time and (cyber) space.

This past year we went to France, Iceland, and Monaco (though, all in the same trip). We tasted Champagne in Champagne. And Châteauneuf-du-Pape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We slept in a castle. And ate terrible (available) Chinese food (I remember most the wall of six microwaves they used to reheat the food) after visiting the Eiffel Tower. We gambled in the Monte Carlo. And ran to the Mona Lisa. In our apartment in Paris, I learned that the dishwasher and oven could be the same unit.

I will always remember the owner of the Au Lapin Qui Fume (the smoking rabbit) tease me about my French Language skills. He interrupted and quieted the entire restaurant. He told them that I would be ordering in front of them. In French. And I did. And he corrected every word I pronounced wrong.

We dealt with strikes in Iceland and almost missed our train in Paris. There were lagoons, cafes, and photos of me standing on things. There was great food and a Michelin Star. There were hounds and hounds, the occasional cat, and the truly bizarre.

And then there was a tour in Tours. When we boarded our Eurovan there were two other Americans (Andrea and Marcus) with us. We asked them where they were from and they replied, “Seattle.” After the initial shock of being from the same city and discussion of the world being incredibly small, we find out that Alex and Marcus work at the same University. We have had dinner with them a few times since April. No wonder they say it is hard to meet new friends in Seattle; sometimes you have to meet them a half a world away.

With a stroke of happenstance I found myself interviewing at two different places after our trip to France. First, my former colleague at Washington Business Week (my first job out of graduate school), introduced me to her boss who was looking for a new Major Gifts Officer. Lunch turned into a tour and into a discussion of benefits, which later turned into more interviews. Meanwhile, my former colleague at Pacific Science Center introduced me to her former boss. A phone call turned into group interviews, which turned into more group interviews. At the end of interviewing, I had run out of excuses to leaving work mid-day. And in the end of July, I started as a Major Gifts Officer at the University of Washington. It has been amazing. To Megan and Jannine, thank you so much for thinking of me. You have literally changed the course of my life for the better.

One of the reasons I left was that my good friends at the Science Center had left. Kristi (KP), who I considered one of my ‘work wives’ moved back to Minnesota after having her baby. She never came back from her maternity leave. I still remember our last coffee at work together. KP, 9-months pregnant, walking across the ponds to Starbucks on a beautiful, sunny, winter day. Alex and I had one last dinner with them in May before they headed across the country. And Jannine, who I considered a mentor, also left. Our endless conversations about nonprofits and fundraising would now have to take place over the occasional lunch.

There were many memories from this year that I will cherish.   Like visiting an old friend. Or Spending a long weekend at Lake Crescent. And another on Hood Canal. And as amazing as our meal at the Michelin starred restaurant in Paris was, it was probably the meal on Lummi Island at the Willows Inn that will be the most memorable. We popped open a bottle of Champagne (one of the 9.5 bottles we schlepped back in our luggage from France) and a 2007 K Vintners Syrah-Grenache. There was a great dinner at Loulay and a hospital stay after (ask Alex about her ruptured ovarian cyst). And a random, weird looking bug bite (ask her about that too). This past year we watched as the Sounders scored goal after goal, lifted a cup and a shield, and celebrated in complete joy for 15 minutes before our hearts were broken.

Most importantly, I think Alex and I will always remember 2014 as the year we decided to get married. We have a ring. Now I just need to pop the question. And I cannot wait to see how our wedding details will unfold.

I wrote several years ago in this reflection that friendships weave in and out along a timeline and you never know when they will intersect again. Yasmeen, a girl who lived on my floor at Morrison Hall in 2000 contacted me on Facebook. Despite us being Facebook friends and living in the same city, we hadn’t spoken in almost 13 years. We talked about our relationships and she told me about her son. And she reminded me that the first time I met her she was crying in the hallway because her boyfriend broke up with her. And I offered her a cookie. Another intersection.

Working back in the U-District is strange. It is a place where I lived and went to school for 2.5 years. And I have been spending the last 5 months revisiting my favorite places. Recently, I went back to the Mandarin Chef. The place where “Chopstick for One” was born. Where the owner knew me by name. After I ordered she gave me this knowing smile. I hadn’t been back in 8 years. And the next time I came in, she said, “Thank you Nick.”

I see Garrett a lot now in the U-District since running into him. It was probably only a matter of time until our paths intersected again. But such is life. Old friends intersecting our new lives when we least expect it. And new friends being met in a Eurovan a world away. A 7 year old Syrah-Grenache consumed during an evening, at restaurant, and with a woman, that myself 7 years ago would not have been able to comprehend or imagine. Thank you to all who made 2014 another great year. Happy New Year.