Flavors of Love

It’s February, which means everyone is being inundated with heart-shaped ganache, glossy-eyed teddy bears, and the pressure to be perfectly and blissfully in love. And we’re not immune to those things, but during this season, we wanted to bring you a collection of love stories you aren’t expecting — like a woman who finds her tribe in a group of romance writers and a young boy who finds empathy in a chicken. Yes, there is one romantic couple in this grouping, but even they’ll take you by surprise.
By Zoe Branch, Joanna Kresge, and Shelby Rowe Moyer

 

A Single Rose

Duvall resident and artist Carrie Schmitt decided two years ago, around Valentine’s Day, that she didn’t need anyone else to save her from the heartache she was experiencing. She decided that for a full year, she would give a rose to a stranger on the street, and it became a spiritual pilgrimage that changed her life.
By Shelby Rowe Moyer

Carrie Schmitt

Photo by Michael Sladek

The rose: Its petals of velvet have long been a symbol of love and passion, and its tender presence has been part of Carrie Schmitt’s family folklore for generations.

Her grandfather, Woodrow, would bring a rose home every month for his beloved wife, Margaret, so she could have her favorite flower year-round. Schmitt remembers their home being almost a shrine for the flower, with pinkish hues throughout the space. Most of all, she remembers a red rose preserved inside a glass vase, which she would stare into, hoping for a little intuition.

“I thought, ‘If I looked really hard, I’ll be able to see my future,’” she said, as she sat crisscross on a greyish couch in her home one recent morning.

Schmitt belonged to a family of adoring romantics, from her grandfather to her father, but she was having little luck in her love life. In February of 2017, she could feel her heart hardening and herself sinking deeper and deeper into hopelessness after dealing with a series of unhealthy relationships.

“I was becoming cynical about love in my own life, but also in a broader cultural context,” she said. “It was a nasty time politically, you know, so I was becoming really cynical, and I wasn’t believing in love.”

Carrie Schmitt

Photos by Michael Sladek

Schmitt started meditating about this, and a familiar voice in her head told her, “Follow the roses, and everything will be OK.” Two of Schmitt’s greatest passions — painting and yoga — were born from this intuitive voice urging her forward when she felt defeated. Schmitt started painting in 2009, after she’d been diagnosed with a life-threatening heat allergy that left her bedridden. Her body reacted to any internal or external heat, so even walking up the stairs or holding her baby would cause her to swell and break out into hives. During that year, she heard this internal voice for the first time, and it told her to start painting. So she did, and now Schmitt is a full-time yoga teacher and artist.

Not long after Valentine’s Day in 2017, Schmitt was having a particularly bad morning when she decided: She didn’t need a man. She didn’t need a man to be happy or to buy her flowers. She could buy them for herself, and it wouldn’t be any less meaningful. So, she went to the nearby QFC and bought a single red rose. It was an unusually warm day, and people were milling about and clustered around tables at the Starbucks. She was half skipping out of the store with a smile on her face when she noticed the people around her, smiling at the rose she clutched.

“When I saw everyone smiling at the rose, that’s when it hit me: They all need roses, too,” she said. “I’m supposed to give the roses. All my life I’d been waiting to receive them, but I’m supposed to be my grandfather.”

That’s what this voice was trying to tell her, she said, and it was then that she decided to give a single red rose to a stranger every day for a year. She gave her first rose away to a woman at QFC, and from then on, she worked this new ritual into her daily routine, carrying a rose with her until she felt compelled to hand it off.

“It was awkward every time,” she said, laughing. Many shied away from her or assumed she wanted money. Some flatly turned her down. “But it got a little easier. … I had some good experiences. I kind of had faith that if someone said no, then they weren’t meant to have it. It was meant for someone else.”

Carrie Schmitt

Photos by Michael Sladek

During this project, Schmitt started to notice some things, and she took notes about her encounters. People would sit up a little straighter; their chests would open up; they seemed lighter and happier after she handed them a rose. If they were comfortable, Schmitt liked hearing a story from their life experience, and many felt the flower came to them as a sign. One woman told Schmitt that her husband had just passed, and she felt like this rose was sent to her from him. Another woman recently learned she was pregnant, and this rose felt like a good omen — that everything was going to be OK. Those little connections, those little stories, popped up again and again.

“I realized that everyone has a story,” Schmitt said. “Everyone is going through their own thing. Everyone deserves tenderness, and every single person I passed probably could have used a rose. … I think symbols are really important. I think it gives people a touchpoint to process something they’re going through. We want to have meaning in our lives. We want to find connection.”

Some travel the world to find themselves again, but for Schmitt this project became an accidental spiritual pilgrimage, and the people she encountered were like her countries. Each person she met healed her a little, and bit by bit, Schmitt could feel her heart becoming whole again.

On the last day of her Single Rose Project, March 21, 2018, Schmitt went to Hope Place Shelter in Seattle, which caters to women experiencing addiction and abuse. Inspired by the women’s suffrage adage give us “bread and roses,” Schmitt picked up a few cakes topped with sugary rose formations and served slices and roses to the 50 or so women at the shelter. It was such a powerful moment for Schmitt.

“These women are sacred; they are divine,” she said. “They’re imperfect; they’re messy; they’ve made mistakes; some had ankle monitors on; but this is where divinity lives, and our humanness. I’ve done some stupid stuff. I have a lot of shame in choices I’ve made in my past, but here we are. These women are still getting up in the morning. They’re still working at their jobs. It was really empowering.”

Carrie Schmitt

Photos by Michael Sladek

Around the same time, Schmitt found an old, beat-up Bluebird Handibus on Craigslist and bought it for $4,500. She tore out the old seats, painted it a blushing pink, and named it Rosie. The interior is now a whimsical studio workspace that doubles as a traveling storefront where she sells her art. It’s the ultimate symbol of freedom, Schmitt said, and it was the perfect ending for the memoir she’s writing about this experience, which she aims to publish this year.

Every once in a while, Schmitt will pick up a rose to give away. She said the project changed her and taught her that she can create her own magic in life. Anything can become a sacred ritual that teaches a lesson.

“My dad said to me once when I was going through a hard time, ‘I wish you could see what I see when I look at you,’” she said. “Sometimes I would feel that way when I interacted with people. You are amazing. You are strong. Love reflects back on you when you share it with others. I started to look at myself differently, but the main part of it was connection, and sharing stories. That’s what it offered me. I feel more whole because of it. It really did save me from despair.”

 

A Coffee Shop Coincidence

Don’t we all love the story of how our parents or grandparents met? Nowadays, lovers who meet by chance on the street are fairly rare. When people mingle through an online dating site, they sometimes lose the adorable origin story of their acquaintance, but not this Eastside couple.
By Zoe Branch

Clara and Ryan

Photo By Tori Dickson

Clara Leet is the ying to her husband, Ryan Clough’s, yang. Both are self-described nerds. They like video games and coffee; she loves to cook, and he likes to eat.

“She’s more outgoing and eager to try to new things than I am,” said Clough. “I sometimes ground her when she needs to be grounded, and she pulls me outside my comfort zone when I need to be pulled outside my comfort zone. That give and take is nice.”

At the end of the day, the couple approaches their love with levelheadedness — realistic about their own needs and the needs of the other person. They’re a team.

“We’re faithful; we like each other, put up with each other, understand one another, forgive each other, and support and build one another,” said Leet.

Openness, honesty, and communication are the keys to their happiness, they said one rainy afternoon, nestled into the back corner of a Bellevue Starbucks.

For the past roughly eight years, Leet and Clough have built a lovely life together, complete with a cross-country move (always keeps things interesting) and two pets: a tabby and a corgi. The pair currently live in Kenmore; Clough works for Amazon, and Leet is a graphic designer at Imprev, Inc.

In most regards, they’re a pretty typical couple — except for how they met, which includes one little head-turning twist. Clough and Leet met online through OK Cupid in 2010, when they were both college students in Wichita, Kansas.

Both had recently signed up for the service, and while Leet had dabbled in online dating before, Clough was new to it. It was August, and Leet was scrolling through profiles when she saw a photo of a guy in a shirt she recognized. She remembered seeing him months before at an open mic night, wearing the same shirt, which was from her favorite web comic series, xkcd. When she had seen him that first time, she complimented him on his shirt in passing.

So, she went for the same approach when she recognized his profile online.

“I sent him a private message that said, ‘Nice shirt,’” she laughed. “He did not put two and two together.”

He responded in a friendly way, though, and Leet found him more engaging and interesting than other guys she had chatted with through dating websites. He didn’t just go for a stupid pick-up line, she said. He seemed genuinely interested in getting to know her.

“We were chatting online and talking about things we liked,” said Leet. She was sitting alone at the bar of one of her favorite coffee shops, Poetic Justice Café. She switched screens from their conversation on OK Cupid to a game she was playing and, between the two tasks, was completely engrossed in her computer.

As they kept chatting, they covered more and more common get-to-know-you ground: interests, hobbies, and favorite places around town. They both agreed that they loved coffee — among other things — and she mentioned a handful of her favorite cafés, a list that included Poetic Justice, where she currently sat.

Clara and Ryan

Photo By Tori Dickson

“I said, ‘Funny you should mention Poetic Justice, because I’m actually there right now,’” said Clough. “I asked her if she would ever want to (meet) up for a coffee date.”

Clough had no idea that the coffee date he had asked her on was only about 10 minutes away. When Leet realized they were in the same place, she looked up from her computer and around the café, scanning the room to find him (he was not wearing the famed T-shirt, so it took her a moment).

Her eyes finally landed right next to her: He was sitting on the seat beside her at the coffee bar. Just as glued to his screen as she had been moments before, he didn’t see her eyeing him.

“I waited for about 10 minutes to see if he would notice I was there, and he didn’t,” said Leet. Finally, I responded to his message: ‘I know you’re at Poetic Justice, because I’m sitting right next to you.’”

And, coincidence or fate, the two turned to each other and were suddenly, and unexpectedly, launched out of their online conversation and into the real world, already in the middle of their first date.

“We basically hit it off from there,” said Clough, laughing.

They got engaged a year and a half into the relationship, and their proposal story is as cute and unexpected as the story of the way they met.

“It was Feb. 29, which is Sadie Hawkins Day, so I decided to take him out to our favorite bar,” said Leet. “Our food came out, and I said: ‘Before we start eating, there’s something I want to say.’ He saw what I was doing and told me to stop, then pulled out a ring.”

A second coincidence: They proposed to each other at the same time.

“I wanted to propose because it’s different, and he and I have never been terribly conventional,” said Leet.

Just over a year later, the two were married on March 14 — Pi Day. Their wedding didn’t have pie — but it also didn’t have cake. They went simple: cupcakes at their reception, which was at a local Italian restaurant.

“Our wedding was on a Thursday, which is completely unconventional, but we wanted to be married on Pi Day,” said Leet. “We wanted a simple and secular wedding, and the most secular judge we could find to officiate our wedding happened to be the same judge to sentence the BTK killer to life in prison. We thought that was kind of cool.”

There’s no way to know whether the happy couple would have fallen in love without first connecting online. For Leet, Clough might have just been some guy she saw at an open mic night in her early 20s who had on a T-shirt she appreciated. She also could have sat next to him for hours that August day in Poetic Justice, both on their computers and in their own separate worlds. She may have gotten up to leave without seeing him, and the rest would have been history — but a very different one.

Needless to say, next time you’re at a coffee bar sitting next to a stranger, maybe look over and say hello. You never know when you’re sitting next to your soulmate.

 

Writing Romance

Since 1992, aspiring romance writers on the Eastside have sought out the Eastside Romance Writers group for feedback, information, and support as they navigate their way through their manuscripts.
By Zoe Branch

Romance Writer

Photo by Tori Dickson

You don’t necessarily have to be in love with someone to reap the benefits of a romantic relationship. Some people experience romantic love vicariously through characters they read about in novels; others, like the members of the Eastside Romance Writers, write the romances that so often serve as an escape from the real world.

Dana Delamar, the president of the Bellevue-based writing group, has dedicated the last 10 years of her life to writing romance — a profession that she finds fulfilling and rich with opportunities to grow. A member of the group since 2008, Delamar decided to pursue her dream of being a novelist after working at Microsoft for almost 19 years.

“I (majored in) creative writing in college, but I didn’t ever feel like I had the chops to write serious fiction,” said Delamar. An editing internship with Microsoft during her junior year launched her into a long career with the company. During her time with Microsoft, she wore many hats, from technical editor and writer to documentation and program manager.

Though she loved the company and the many roles she got to play, she started to feel restless after a while.

“Something was missing,” she said. “And that was a dream I’d had since (I was) a teenager — being a novelist. I started several novels during my years at Microsoft but didn’t actually finish one until my final year there. It felt like I was finally doing what I was born to do.”

By then, Delamar was in her 40s and decided that if she was going to try to make it as a writer, she needed to dive in head-first.

In 2007, Delamar left Microsoft and started getting serious about her writing career. She had always enjoyed writing romances: She wrote them for friends when she was a teenager, responding to requests to write stories that involved crushes and rock stars. That was her first experience having a readership, she said, and it felt good.

She wandered away from the genre in her 20s, tired of what seemed like an overabundance of historical romances. By the time she returned to writing years later, the genre had evolved and expanded into many subgenres: paranormal romance, romantic suspense, LGBTQ romance, and more.

“I was hooked,” she said. “There’s nothing better than making people happy, and romance is the best kind of entertainment and escape — no matter how challenging things seem, love always wins in the end. I believe strongly in spreading kindness and love throughout the world, and the romance genre seriously does that. It’s also a genre that reinforces that women deserve love, happiness, and fulfillment on their own terms.”

Fueled to start writing romance seriously, Delamar realized that there was a lot she didn’t know, despite having studied creative writing.

“I knew a lot about writing and craft, but I didn’t learn about craft specifics for writing commercial fiction,” said Delamar. “And I also didn’t know that conventions of romance all that well. I had read a lot of it, but I didn’t know it from a craft standpoint.”

Writing a romance novel is tricky, Delamar said: Not only does the writer have to craft a compelling story in her chosen subgenre; she also has to craft an absorbing romantic plot that is inextricably intertwined with the rest of the story — and ends on a happy note.

For an amateur novelist, the logistics of accomplishing these necessities can seem daunting. To learn the ropes, Delamar joined the Eastside Romance Writers, a local chapter of the Romance Writers of America that has been helping writers hone their skills since 1992. Through the group, she gained important knowledge, had a support network of other writers pursuing similar goals, and was able to connect with publishers. All of these components helped her to publish her first book, Revenge, in 2012, which was followed by many more.

The writers meet once a month at Angelo’s Restaurant in Bellevue; the first hour and a half, writers share a meal together and socialize. At times, the members are working through ideas they’re struggling with in their manuscripts; other times, they’re just getting comfortable with one another and building relationships. Once dinner has wrapped up, they go over chapter business before hearing from a speaker, who guides them through a subject matter that will help them in any variety of ways. Successfully published writers come to talk about tips for making writing livelier, improving setting, or crafting the pacing of a novel. A ghost hunter has come in, as has a speaker from the FBI and someone who runs a private security firm.

“We do a mix of subject-matter experts and craft,” said Delamar. “Sometimes we’ll have someone in to talk to us about advertising stuff — how to work with Goodreads, for example, or how to do Facebook ads.”

Occasionally, writers will swap work during a meeting and give one another feedback. Usually, however, critiquing partners — which are self-selected — meet up with one another during the month to go over elements of their writing together.

The information on craft and logistics that writers glean in this process is only a small part of the group. Delamar said that the growth and satisfaction she has found in her writing career have been in large part derived from the connections she has made with like-minded people.

“I met my business partner, critique partner, and co-writing partner through the chapter, and she’s just become my absolute best friend,” said Delamar. “She lives in Quebec now, but we still write together and give each other feedback constantly. We’ve known each other about a decade, and that has been such an amazing relationship for me.”

Other women in the group agreed that the support they found, often through their critique partner, inspired them to continue writing and submitting work to publishers.

Jodi Ashland, vice president of the group, said she got the writing bug in 2011. She spent her career working in IT, then got hooked on writing and went to the Emerald City Writers conference to learn more about what to do with her novel draft. There, she met and roomed with Sally Brandle, who became her critique partner.

“When we started out, we critiqued each other on things like grammar, because we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Ashland. “As we grew and learned, we realized we had to be hard on each other and give each other true critique. Now we don’t beat around the bush; we say what we like, what we don’t, and we’re very honest with each other. And we tell each other that we’re doing it because we love each other, and we want to make each other better.”

Both Ashland and Brandle published their first book last year and have either published or are now in the process of publishing their third.

“We were definitely instrumental to each other’s success in doing that,” said Ashland. “There have been a few times when both of us wanted to give up on writing, and we’ve kept each other going.”

Delamar agreed that the group serves as her monthly inspiration and that being a part of the community is incredibly valuable for the writers. She also turned to the connection that writers and readers alike feel to the genre and to the characters they encounter in romance novels.

“Every single one of us in real life is carrying around some sort of emotional baggage that drives us in various ways, both positive and negative, and the same is true of the characters that grab hold of us in stories,” she said. “Romance is all about emotion, about walking around in the shoes of the characters, living their lives, and falling in love.”

 

A Boy and His Chicken

The story of one Eastside boy with autism and the tiny, baby chick who changed his life.
By Joanna Kresge

Andrew

Photo courtesy Kristin Jarvis Adams

Love can be a very subjective concept. After all, Merriam-Webster defines love as a “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.” A case can be made for love between partners, a mother and child, the love of one’s favorite sports team, and especially the love between a child and his first pet.

In many ways, the love Andrew — a then-8-year-old boy with autism — felt for Frightful — a tiny brown and black chick plucked from a sea of yellow ones — upon their first meeting was not unlike the richly nostalgic affection many of us feel for our first cat, dog, hamster, or goldfish, but according to his mother, Kristin Jarvis Adams, this particular relationship changed Andrew’s life.

One Sunday morning in 2004, Andrew’s parents ushered him into the family car for a leisurely drive around the Eastside. The outing was a respite for the young boy, who had been bedridden for weeks due to a rare genetic fever disorder, and his family.

“Around first grade, in addition to the autism, Andrew kept getting sick a lot,” Adams explained while recalling the early days of her son’s illness. “By third grade, it was apparent that it was cyclical. Every 28 days without exception — I would mark it on the calendar — I would send him to school and he’d be perfectly healthy, and within two to three hours the school nurse would call, and (tell me to) come pick him up.”

By the time Adams would arrive at her son’s Lake Washington elementary school, his fever would have spiked to 105 degrees. By the time the two arrived back home, Andrew would have blisters breaking out on his lips and inside his mouth. And by that evening, he would have bone and muscle aches, unable to speak or move. “He was completely bedridden. It was very scary,” Adams said.

Additionally, during that uncertain time in 2004, Adams said, her once-verbal son was beginning to regress into a nonverbal state.

“(At first) he would speak in riddles,” she said. “Like if you would ask him if he went to Grandma’s house, he would say, ‘I like Jif peanut butter.’ And what he meant — because I was the Momma — was, ‘Every day when I go to Grandma’s house, she makes me a sandwich with my favorite peanut butter.’ But then … (as he grew) we would (only) get grunts and frustrated screams.”

But that Sunday in the car, the family was just relieved to be out and about together, fever-free, said Adams, and they soon stopped in a farm store in Woodinville.

“I’ll be darned if Andrew did not walk right in the front door, straight to a crate of chicks, scooped up a little brown and black chick out of a bin of (what must have been) 100 yellow chicks, walked up to us and said, ‘She’s my new best friend,’” Adams recalled of her son’s first interaction with the bird he later named Frightful.

Adams and her husband were floored. Such a cogent sentence delivered with precision, clarity, and direct eye contact was not in character for their son. “We were speechless,” Adams said.

She recalled her husband asking about the tiny baby chick in his son’s palm; What was it about her that Andrew was so drawn to?

Andrew

Photo By Heidi King

“She knows me,” Andrew replied.

“What do you mean?”

“She knows my heart.”

So, of course, what was a parent to do but see to it that the tiny chick and some of her sisters went home with Andrew?

Adams said to this day, she’s not 100 percent sure why Andrew chose the name Frightful for his baby chick, but her best guess is that tiny bird bore the weight of Andrew’s fears and anxieties — that she carried it for him.

“Instantly that day the lightbulb turned on, and he started speaking to this little chick,” Adams remembered.

Hectic mornings of trying to wrestle Andrew into his school clothes were replaced with quiet mornings that found a fully clothed and unruffled Andrew calmly stroking his hen and telling her all his innermost thoughts — thoughts not even his mother was privy to.

“He would talk to her like you would hope that he would with a human,” Adams said. “He would tell her stories about school. He would talk about the school bus. He would talk about how Mom made him lunch, but the tuna was too gooey because she used too much mayo. Stuff that you would hope your kid would mention to you.”

Thanks to overheard conversations between Andrew and Frightful, Adams was finally getting to know her own 8-year-old son. Adams recalled several instances, where she would intentionally leave the front door open while folding laundry, so she might overhear the duo’s intimate one-sided conversation. The conversations even alerted Adams to bullying on Andrew’s school bus.

“You know there is this sweet little kid in there, but there is this veil of autism, or barrier, there that is heartbreaking for a parent,” Adams said. “You just can’t reach beyond that to be able to have an intimate relationship with your child.”

As Andrew and Frightful grew, their bond only intensified. Through ever-increasing medical appointments and hospital stays for Andrew — and later a bone marrow transplant that required him to stay indoors for a year — even the thought of Frightful home in her coop comforted Andrew.

“I watched him go from being a completely terrified kid where he had to have three different nurses pin him down to his bed, to a child who could take a breath and say, ‘Frightful is very scared right now. Frightful doesn’t want to be touched,’” Adams said of Andrew’s coping method during appointments and extended stays at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “It was too scary, too painful for him to say, ‘I’m scared.’”

It wasn’t until years later that Adams realized what drew her son to bond with that little chick. She was surprised to see her son give a speech at his high school graduation, which shed light on his immediate attachment to Frightful.

“He had put together a Power Point (presentation) with his teacher on reasons why he thinks chickens have autism. It absolutely blew the crowd away,” Adams said, noting those with autism can find eye contact to be too painful or difficult. “He said that chickens know not to look you in the eye; they look at you with their beaks. It was so profound to me … He had to have recognized it when he was 8 years old and he looked at those little chicks and they weren’t looking him in the eye.”

Even today, as a 25-year-old prep chef for Microsoft’s catering kitchen, Andrew often continues to personify his old friend, even though she has since moved along to that big chicken coop in the sky.

The backyard coop, which had been Frightful’s home for many years, has been filled by a new generation of friendly hens that Andrew enjoys visiting whenever he stops by his parents’ home, just down the street from the condo where he lives with a full-time caregiver.

“We have two hens right now, including Daisy Duke,” Adams said. “She is Andrew’s favorite right now, but no one has ever filled Frightful’s shoes.”

The details of Frightful’s life and loss can be read in Adams’ book, The Chicken Who Saved Us.

 

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