The Nelson girls go to Washington.

Last September, my sister and her boyfriend packed up her Honda Civic with most of their worldly possessions- including their lone piece of furniture, a coffee table- and spent three days driving cross-country to settle in Olympia, Washington. They rented an apartment sight-unseen. They didn’t know anyone in Washington, let alone Olympia. They didn’t have jobs. It was a brave move, the kind of risk you should take in your 20s.

In early January, my sister Alisa and I went to visit Becca and Andrew in their new digs. Neither Alisa nor I had been to Washington before, so it was one of those great trips during which everything is new.

Where We Stayed 

After poring over online maps and the city of Olympia’s website, I booked a room at this little hippie haven, Fertile Ground Guesthouse. I knew I was going to love it when I read the following excerpts on their website:

On how to pay:

“As of Jan. 1, 2012 we are no longer be accepting credit cards. We are tired of paying high fees to big banks that don’t invest in our communities.”

About the bathroom:

“These wood floors have recently been released from years of sticky linoleum. We’re happy to welcome them back into action.”

On green lodging:

“If you’re already familiar with common environmental practices like recycling, composting and eating organic food, you’ll feel right at home here. If not, we’d be happy to explain their importance, as well as our use of organic bedding, biodegradable detergents and energy saving appliances.”

Just read the section about laundry. I love it!

Love it we did. We felt well cared for by Gail and Karen and, because we were patronizing a local business run by local people, immersed in Olympia’s culture. Gail made us delicious, healthy, generously-portioned breakfasts every morning: polenta and huevos rancheros and waffles made with wheat that she ground. She greeted us each morning with smiles, conversation, and coffee.

The house itself is really a home. It is clean, bright, and cozy. No detail has been overlooked, but it’s not bursting with stuffed animals and tchotchkes (as Portlandia would suggest). There’s a comfortable library and sitting room; there is fragrance-free shampoo and conditioner in the warm and tranquil bathroom. Everything about our stay at Fertile Ground suggested forethought and consideration. What more could you ask for?

Lady of Leisure Alisa, reading her book and enjoying the morning sun.

What We Did

Walked around, mostly, and ate really good food. More specifically:

Becca recently took a job with Olympia’s super cool Hands On Children’s Museum, so she had to work on most of the days of our trip, but we were able to spend each evening (and two mornings) with her and Andrew, and we were also able to spend Becca’s breaks with her.

Hands On Children’s Museum
Super cool playable sculpture- created by a local artist- at Hands On. It reminded us of the film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.
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Becca took us, on one clear, chilly morning, to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. I kept thinking about how beautiful Washington is and then reminding myself that it’s only January, which was all the impetus I needed to start mentally planning future trips for the summer and fall.

Can you find the Great Blue Heron?


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We also visited the State Capitol Building. I think I must love capital cities, because I went to college in one, I live in one, and I chose to visit one during my break this winter.

    The Capitol wasn’t very far from Fertile Ground- under a mile. We walked the grounds, toured the building, and I ran around the small lake just down the hill from the campus.
    The view from my morning run.

    WWII Memorial.
    Vietnam War Memorial.
    The view of the lake from the Capitol Grounds.
    Inside the building: my presidential doppelganger.
    Building awareness of plastic use and plastic waste. On a related note, I saw several “If you litter, it will hurt” signs in WA, which is an awesome anti-littering campaign.

    Capitol at dusk.
    My favorite picture, from the fountain.
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    Olympia is on the very southern tip of Puget Sound, so we also spent a lot of time walking along the boardwalk at Percival Landing. Many dormant boats and ships, beautiful sunsets, and marine life abound here. (I saw a seal!)
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    Because Alisa and I had most daylight hours to ourselves, we did lots of wandering. Some snapshots from our wanderings:

      My most popular Facebook post of 2014.
      From the second coffee shop we visited, Olympia Coffee Roasting Company.
      See that little red vehicle motoring through the crosswalk? A hybrid Rascal and Smart Car, built for sidewalks.
      I love all things Carrie Brownstein: Portlandia, Wild Flag, and of course, Sleater-Kinney. I was so surprised to see this sign!
      A stately statue of a pregnant woman. I thought rubbing her belly might bring me good luck, but alas, I wasn’t tall enough!
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      We spent our last day in Seattle, and we got to spend it with Becca and Andrew. It was just a little taste, but as I’ve said, I’m already scheming about my return trips.

      Hipster sister.
      South Lake Union.
      Float plane landing.
      Museum of History and Industry.
      The Space Needle, from far away. We were all sort of “meh” about it.

      When it was time to head to Sea-Tac, we caught one last view of Mount Rainier.

      Oh yes. We will be back.

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