photo of the solar eclipse
The maximum solar eclipse as we saw it in Moses Lake, Washington, April 8, 2024. Photo courtesy of Kevin Roylance Photography, Moses Lake, WA.

Well, I’ve got timing, you’ve got to give me that! I live in Texas for 44 years, and the minute I leave, the universe decides to have a total solar eclipse in my old stomping grounds. I guess I could have spent $1,000 on a plane ticket and fought the crowds at the airport, and rented a car (if there were any left), for 4 minutes of awesomeness in the Texas Hill Country. But instead I put on my trusty eclipse glasses delivered from Amazon the day before, ran outside to my parking lot at 11:30 am (not another soul out there but me), looked up at the sky and there was that lovely 25% crescent across the sun. While I didn’t feel the earth move and the temps didn’t change and animals didn’t start bedding down for the night, I knew the rest of the world (well, North America) was watching with me, and that’s always a cool thing. For a few minutes, we were united and happy.

Nine months ago I moved from Texas to Washington state, triggering a time of significant adjustment and a huge learning curve. Did I move to a different country? It has felt like that some days. Some changes have been welcome; others have been just…so different, catching me off-guard and often making me feel incredibly stupid. Within the first week, I arrived at Walmart to pick up my online grocery order, and I watched annoyed and open-mouthed as the guy just dumped everything loose into the back of my SUV. I asked him, “Why are you doing that? Where are the bags?!” He answered, “You don’t get bags. If you want bags, you’ve got to go in and buy them. They’re 75 cents apiece. Next time bring your own.” Seventy-five cents apiece for a Walmart bag!

One thing you don’t see around here is trash along the highways or plastic bags stuck in trees. It’s a bad joke when I was living in the Rockport/Corpus Christi area of Texas, that the state bird was the plastic bag, as in the ones stuck in the trees. If that’s what it took to accomplish that up here—making people pay a hefty price for those bags—I guess it worked. This place is clean as a whistle.

Higher taxes, higher overall wages, unions, and the cost of raw materials all feed into a higher cost of living that wants to take a bigger chunk of my paycheck every time I turn around. It’s been a shock to my system to pay close to double for gas, groceries, and restaurant meals—even the drive-through. And now that I’ve entered the market to buy a home again, finding out what I can qualify for in this market, with interest rates at 7%, has been a bit sobering. This isn’t California or New York yet, but we’re not that far behind.

Photo of bottles of homemade vanilla.
Two of the most expensive bottles of vanilla I’ve ever made.

This was fun: I went to buy some vodka a few months ago, not to drink it, but to make homemade vanilla (vodka is the main ingredient, if you’ve never made your own—you steep vanilla beans in it). So I brought the $21.99 bottle up to the cashier, who rang it up. I was stunned to see the final price at $32.99. I asked, “What on earth…? What are all these extra charges?” She showed me the receipt and said: “You’re not from around here, are you?” She gave me a quick lesson in Washington spirit sales tax and spirit liter tax, most of which went in one ear and out the other.

However, when I got home, I couldn’t let that one go, so I had to look it up. According to The Center Square, Washingtonians pay a whopping $36.55 in excise taxes for every gallon of distilled spirits they buy, the highest in the nation! For comparison, the same tax in Texas is $2.40 per gallon. And, the best part: the citizens voted in this tax rate structure in 2011 when they chose to privatize spirit sales, taking it out of the hands of the State Liquor Control Board.

So, the moral of this story is, to get your cheapest buzz possible, travel to where the spirit taxes are lowest: Wyoming, New Hampshire, Texas, Colorado, Missouri, or Kansas. Stay away from Washington and Oregon.

The town I’m currently in, Moses Lake, is situated in the Columbia River Basin/Columbia Plateau in eastern Washington. High desert country, with tons of sunshine and super-low humidity that is wreaking havoc on my skin. What, it wants to know, has happened to all that luscious humidity that kept our cells all plumped and hydrated?! Now I leave a snowy trail of flakes wherever I go. On the upside, for the first time in decades, I’m having good hair days almost every single day. The humidity in south Texas was no friend to hairdos.

All joking aside, yes, the cost of living is higher up here, but the higher quality of life has balanced things out, at least for me. Living near family for the first time in my adult life has been an unexpected pleasure. Being able to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even the Super Bowl with my family without having to jump on a plane to do so was a novelty and something I didn’t take for granted.

But the family crisis I moved up here for is quickly resolving itself, and by this summer I’ll likely find myself on my own again. Luckily, Moses Lake is situated between two of the loveliest cities in eastern Washington to choose from: Wenatchee and Spokane. Wenatchee, which calls itself the “Apple Capital of the World,” is northwest of me about 70 miles, nestled in the foothills of the Cascades, and built along the banks of the Columbia River. I’ve made many, many excursions there to take advantage of their farmer’s markets, local shops and restaurants, and walking trails along the river. I took a wrong turn one day while there, looking for a place on the outskirts of town, and found myself in the middle of an apple orchard. Seeing how they grow those famous apples was fascinating the first time I laid eyes on it: not like acres and acres of normal-looking trees as I’d imagined, but like grapevines, grafted to short supports angled to the sun, fields and fields of them. And sometimes, in between the apple fields (as I found my way out of the mess I’d made of my directions), I’d come across a brilliant field of yellow sunflowers. It was so beautiful you just wanted to cry.

Wenatchee’s already become a favorite city of mine; I make up excuses to go there. But unfortunately, the cost of housing is beyond my reach. So I’ve determined that my permanent home will be in Spokane, a bigger city about 2 hours in the opposite direction and right near the Idaho border. I’m actively house hunting there as we speak. Spokane has much to offer in the way of theater, the arts, entertainment, shopping—all the things I’ve grown to love and depend on from a big city. There is also the Spokane River, a tributary of the Columbia River, with its own Centennial Trail system for hiking and exercise, and plenty of state parks in the area to explore.

The biggest bonus of all is that Spokane is just 30 minutes away from the splendor of Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, where 25-mile-long Lake Coeur D’Alene is surrounded by mountains, evergreens, hiking trails, campgrounds, and spectacular wildlife. I’ve already made this drive twice to take advantage of lake cruises: once in December to see a bald eagle migration in the northern part of the lake that had me gobsmacked. We saw more than 200 eagles at the peak of their migration from Canada on the lake and in the surrounding hillsides—they go there to feed on a certain species of salmon. I can’t wait to do it again next year with better camera equipment. I went back on Easter to partake of their Easter Sunday brunch on the lake, also just lovely. I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot of my recreational dollars in that town.

Wildlife update: several have asked me how the kitties have adjusted to the move. I was concerned about this myself, as I’m in an apartment now and they are not allowed to go outside, or at least not beyond my third-floor balcony, and my cats are used to roaming. My male cat, Fred, was the worst: in Houston, he would start up his howling at about 4 am, asking to be let back outside. I envisioned one of us would end up dead within 3 months of this move. But by some small miracle, at 10 years old mind you, he has undergone a personality transplant—he accepts that he cannot go outside, no howling, it has just stopped. I am grateful for small mercies.

I’ve only had one brush with disaster. Wilma, Fred’s little sister, decided to sneak out between my legs one time, darting out the front door while my arms were full. Alarmed, I ran out after her: “No, no honey! We can’t go outside. Come back here now!” She looked around and the concrete hallway and stairs looked so unfamiliar to her that she only got halfway down the hall before getting frightened and racing back into our apartment. Wow, that so could have gone the other way.

Finally, a memoir update: I’ve mentioned before that I finished the first draft of my memoir in December of 2022. All of 2023 was spent waiting for feedback from various “beta” readers—people who were willing to read that rough first draft and give first impressions on what should stay and what should go. Four people I sent the manuscript to, I never heard from again. So that was a big waste of time (note to all: please don’t agree to do this for someone unless you truly have the time to do it). But three others actually did read it, gave valuable feedback, and one in particular (you know who you are), gave me the slash-and-burn, come-to-Jesus talk I needed. “Gail, you have two books here. Cut this baby in half.” I cut everything he told me to and then some, and now the book is in the hands of a professional editor who I hope will put the final polish on it before we talk about next steps.

That’s my life so far in Washington! I’m excited for this new phase and look forward to getting to know this part of the world even better. Wish me luck on my house hunting. As always, comments are welcome; leave them in the space below.

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6 Responses

  1. And you didn’t send a copy for me to read? I am insulted.

    This August, it will be 10 years since we moved to California. Lack of humidity and higher taxes are true here also.

    1. It never occurred to me that you would be interested in the sordid details of my third marriage; besides, I didn’t know you read memoirs. But! I’ll keep you in mind for the sequel (that second half I cut, which I still intend to do something with)! Be careful what you ask for…

      Gail

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