Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Homemade Cold Tuna Noodle


When my kids were little, they loved to eat my tuna noodle casserole. It was a typical American mish-mash of, umm, tuna and noodles, held together with a can of cream of mushroom soup. If I was feeling daring and bold, I might toss in some frozen peas.

This was not gourmet cooking. But it was the best stuff on earth to a table full of toddlers, and warmed their tummies during the cool, grey months of the year.They would have gladly eaten it daily, and I didn't mind baking it in bathtub-size batches.

But during the brief, golden days of Seattle summer, when all our regular routines were shattered in order to celebrate the glory of warmth and sunshine, I found myself craving a change. Something had to give in the tuna-noodley order of my universe, and thus in this cradle of necessity was a new culinary babe borne unto me.

Cold tuna noodle.

Oh, I know. The name makes it sound like I just whipped up yet another round of the usual hot dish, and left it in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

Not true. This cold pasta salad is a whole 'nother thing, and at my house, it's become synonymous with warm summer days, camping trips, and garden parties. Like most of my invented recipes, all measurements are approximate. Tender loving care counts for much more than exact proportions.

Ingredients:

1 box pasta, cooked, drained and cooled
2 small cans or 1 large can tuna
1/2 to 1 C frozen peas, thawed
1 to 2 C grated cheddar cheese

1/2 to 1 C mayo or Miracle Whip
1/2 to 1 C milk

Directions:

1. In a large bowl with a lid, mix together the first four ingredients, adjusting quantities to taste.
2. Whisk the dressing and the milk; stir into the pasta mixture.
3. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
4. Before serving, add more dressing and milk, if necessary.

Pretty basic, yeah? Sure, there's lots of room for experimenting with fresh herbs, secret spices, or extra garnishes. But as every mother knows, that nonsense doesn't fly with toddlers, so I've always approached this dish from a purist mentality.

Maybe someday my cold tuna noodle will grow up to become an adult dish. But for now, my daughters prefer that I keep this dish true to its toddler roots, and we all enjoy the tasty summer memories.

* * * * *

For more stories about delicious homemade favorites, read:

Polka Dot Dreams


A few months ago, I decided that I wanted a headboard.

Didn't need to be fancy or plush or extravagant. Heaven knows it couldn't be expensive.

But I wanted something big and bold, to brighten up the place where I lie my head each night and begin each new day. Something to inspire my dreams and make me smile.

So you know what that means - I was off to DIY Land in a thrice. After a quick tour of Pinterest, I narrowed my options to a simple plywood frame wrapped in foam and batting, with a fresh canvas drop cloth stapled over the top to hold it all together. Tutorials for this sort of project abound, so I sat my reluctant handyman down in front of my favorite links to sort through the alternatives and come up with a workable plan.

Washing my hands of the messy construction details, I moved on to choosing a finishing fabric. Eighteen gazillion brainstorms later, I fell madly in love with these big white-on-tomato-soup-orangey-red polka dots from IKEA. I adore their organic shapes and wobbly lines.

They are so me.


The only tricky part of the whole project was perfecting the corners. I used my best origami skills to get the fabric to create a crisp, sharp edge, but the finished effect is a bit more squishy than I'd hoped. 

Oh well. Those charming polka dots more than make up for slightly floppy corners. I'm head over heels with the finished effect.


Alas, I've had no opportunity to buy new bedding to set off this new creation; I'm just working with what I have on hand. I'm crazy about the jolt of my tried-and-true bright green pillow shams against the reddish-orange headboard. The lone checkered throw pillow ties together the color scheme and mixes up the geometry with lots of itty bitty squares.

The brown comforter? Blah. It's rather uninspiring. But I'll give you one big, furry, four-legged hint as to why I use it.


Yes. My faithful dog sleeps at my feet every night, so it's a prudent gesture to cover my bed in a color that matches his fur. Not to mention the fact the way this comforter camouflages the rich earthy tones of the footprints that may result from his quick, early-morning trips outside. 

All in all, a practical comforter is a small price to pay for Ranger's loyalty and devotion. He keeps my feet warm and safe under a plain brown cover, while my head is full of polka dot dreams. 


Monday, July 29, 2013

Lessons From Xeera


Here's an important lesson I learned from my friend, Xeera.

When an interesting wall presents itself, take a selfie. Even you're in the ladies' room at IKEA. 
Doesn't matter. Just lean in and toss off a crooked grin. You'll always be glad you did.

Thank you, Xeera. You taught me very well.

* * * * *

Lessons can be learned in the most unlikely places; here are a few that have caught my eye:

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Importance Of Ugly Places

When Ranger and I go on our daily walk, we follow a certain route that leads us into the woods behind the local high school. For part of our journey, we hike along a service road that loops around the back side of the school building. It's not the most scenic part of the property; in fact, there is an ugly area that houses oversize exhaust vents and noisy fans, fenced off with nasty mesh fencing and locked with rusty chains. 


Ew. Not my idea of attractive or interesting architecture. In all honesty, I find this area to be not only grungy but downright depressing and I usually avert my eyes as we hurry past. 

Incidentally, I think Ranger shares my sentiments because he doesn't even bother to lift his leg here. For him, that's the ultimate insult. 

Yesterday, as we navigated around this eyesore, I had a new thought. Is it possible, I wondered, that there could be something inside that fencing that is actually interesting? So today, I paused at the locked gates and looked in.


Now, I'm not trying to say these are the most beautiful sights ever to fall upon my eyes. 

But you know, I find them interesting, in a quirky, geometric, industrial chic-kind of way.

And to me, these images are a poignant and timely reminder that even in the dark, depressing places of our world and of our lives, there can be flashes of light, of hope, of happiness, that often go unnoticed. We simply need to take the time to look at what is inside.

Thank you, ugly fenced area, for reminding me of what is good and true. I kinda like you now.

Ranger Wins Again


Oh, hey, Mom. Look at me, sitting in your garden. Don't I add a stylishly decorative touch?


Wait. What's that you say? I'm crushing your tender little plants? Okay fine, let me try my "gazing off into the distance" pose. My handsome profile will win your heart.


Still not convinced that I'm cute enough to get away with this?? 

Alright, fine. Prepare to adore me.

Because I'm going to chew on a stick. Yep. That's right. I haven't chewed a stick since I was a teeny tiny pup, just a few days after you adopted me. You thought I was so cute that you took a picture of me and have cherished it ever since. 


So, have you forgiven me for stomping into your garden and lying on top of your plants? 

Mmhmm, that's what I thought. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Visiting Kelantan: A Wild Night in Kota Bharu

My first evening in Kelantan, Malaysia, was starting slow.

After a quiet dinner with Abe, I went back to my hotel to wait for my friend, Juwe, to come pick me up. 

Nine thirty p.m. found me still lying on my bed. I'll admit it. I was a little disappointed.

Soon after, I got a message. The boys were downstairs waiting for me.

I jumped up and ran off to meet them.

Ten minutes later, I was riding around town in the back seat of Juwe's friend's car, listening to some blaring metal, while the guys talked mostly to each other in the front.

Well. This was a little weird.

The guys then decided that we should go to a particular street in Kota Bharu where there may be some people gathering to celebrate the upcoming elections, which were going to be held the next day.

* * * * *

A short footnote on Malaysian politics: 

Elections are held only once every five years. Therefore, they are a cause of great excitement. 

The 2013 elections were particularly thrilling because there seemed to be a strong possibility that the opposition party, PAS, might finally break the stranglehold that the legendarily corrupt BN has held over the country since its independence, fifty-some-odd years ago.

And to put the icing on the cake, Kelantan has been the stronghold of the PAS for decades. So the people of Kota Bharu were particularly hopeful that the political tides were finally about to turn, and their beloved PAS leaders might gain majority status in the Malaysian government.

* * * * *

So. When we arrived on the scene, this is what we found.

A wide street - three or four lanes in each direction - was jammed up with an endless parade of cars, trucks, buses, and motorbikes.

Crowds of people on foot lined both sides of the streets.

Everyone was hooting, hollering, cheering, honking, jumping up and down, and waving the iconic green and white PAS flags.

It was complete, joyful bedlam.

As I stood on the curb, struggling to make sense of this happy chaos, a man approached me, shoved a PAS flag into my hands, and asked in perfect English, "May I please take a picture with you?"


This became the first of at least 300 photos that were taken of me that night.

For the next three hours, I stood on the side of that street, waving my PAS flag, yelling and cheering at the never-ending stream of cars and trucks and motorbikes that were slowly creeping by.

Endlessly delighted, I watched those travelers' faces as they came toward me on the street. At first, they would be generally interested in the scene, looking here and there at the untamed celebration. Then their eyes would land upon me, the pale American celebrating in a sea of coffee-colored Kelantanese. 

Every single person who saw me broke into a wide smile of amazement and joy, and they called to me, cheered for me, told me they loved me. Literally hundreds of people jumped out of their vehicles and ran over for a photo with me. They brought me snacks and drinks; they gave me political buttons, more flags, and a PAS scarf; they added me on Facebook, right there on the side of the street. They absolutely went nuts over me.

And while I normally hate being the center of attention, this night was different. This was me showing the people of Kelantan that I care about them; this was me joining into their political struggles and encouraging them to hope for justice. This was the opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of Kelantan, and I never dreamed that such a perfect set of circumstances would come to me.

I loved every single moment of my wild evening in Kota Bharu, and I can honestly say that it was probably the most thrilling night of my life. 

video

And the evening still wasn't over yet.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Perpetual Sunset


On my flight back home from Chicago to Seattle, I saw some interesting things.

Somewhere over Minnesota, I looked down upon a thunderstorm. The lightning flashes continually illuminated the lavender clouds and every so often, a clearly defined bolt of electricity would snap down towards the earth. It was fascinating and terrible, and the ten-ish year old boy wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers cap, sitting a row behind me, shared my can't-look-away mood.

Seated next to me was a twenty-something guitarist who was on his way to Seattle to start the West Coast leg of his band's tour. His band mates were also on the flight, seated elsewhere, but they were all clearly distinguishable by their all-black outfits, heavy piercings, and tatttoo-covered bodies. Despite the severe exteriors, I had a feeling that he was a softie on the inside. This theory was definitely concerned when I noticed him carefully arranging his snacks on his tray table, Oreos here and goldfish crackers there, and pacing his small bites in order to make the treats last. Made me want to hug him.

But most captivating of all was the sky. When we flew away from Chicago at about 7:40 p.m., the first colors of the sunset - pale golds and rosy pinks - were beginning to creep into the sky. As we climbed into the sky and turned left toward Seattle, we headed into the western horizon and began to travel along with the setting sun. This created the effect of a four hour-long sunset. Every moment of the trip, I enjoyed the deepening evening sky, and by the time we arrived in Seattle at just after 10 p.m., the deep blue heavens and vivid orange stripe across the dark Pacific was breathtaking.

It was a very special thing to experience a perpetual sunset, and I won't soon forget it.

* * * * *

Ready for more sunset-chasing adventures? Read these:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

My Nephew Griffin



I am very impressed with my nephew, Griffin. He is not the biggest person on his high school cross country team. Nor is he the fastest, strongest or most buff. 

But Griffin may be the most determined. He expects a lot of himself, he perseveres tirelessly, he aspires to be the best. In a team full of champions, he puts his head down, keeps his ego in check, and does work. 

And that is why my nephew Griffin makes me a very proud aunt. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Masterpiece Memories










To the ordinary observer, this is a moderately interesting series of photos. Wetlands, a lake, a few pontoon boats. Various scenes along the shore, and a rundown little cabin. Nothing particularly captivating going on in these shots. 

Unless you are me. And then each image hits you like a bolt of lightning, zapping you back through the years to a treasure trove of beautiful choldhood memories from my life at Ore Lake. 

Shady Ore Creek is a place where I wandered and explored with my friends. We would catch bull frogs, crayfish, and turtles among the lily pads, and once I cut my toe so badly that it took months to properly heal. When other kids would see the nasty wound and ask me what had jhappened, I simplified the story by saying, "I skagged my toe."  The explanation made no sense, but my invented word seemed to satisfy the local curiosity. 

The views of the docks and boats were taken from the far side of the lake, which was as exciting and strange to me as a foreign country when I was little. As a teenager, I got to know some city boys who stayed in summer cottages back here, and I felt quite exotic when I hung out with them. We rode around in speedboats and pulled each other on water skis for endless hours, and it was an idyllic place to be a teenager. 

The creepy little cabin is exactly the same as when we rode our little-kid bikes past it and told each other it was haunted. Turns out it was haunted, in a way,by a big, barrel-chested city man who occasionally came out to this summer cottage to stroll around in his swim trunks, and blow on a conch shell straight out of Lord of the Flies. He brought with him his slightly maladjusted son who, as a youngster, blew up frogs with firecrackers, and as a teenager, took us girls sailing on his catamaran with plenty of bad intentions. 

The orange lilies are planted exactly where we used to have big bonfires in the park, on the evenings of our annual neighborhood corn roast. When I was six or seven, I remember gazing in awe at the teenagers who gathered around the fire to sing folk songs   When I became a teenager, the grown-ups commandeered the bonfire and we contented ourselves with a rope swing that dropped us out into the dark waters of the lake. 

And the last few shots capture other views at this place known as the Far Park. I swam there as a little girl, my friends and I played in the water for many a long, hot summer afternoon, and my own daughters learned to swim over their heads there too.  In the winters, we shoveled off a rink here, and played hockey in the brutal cold. Once, my good dog, Kelly, ran too far out and fell through a patch of thin ice. I was wild with despair, but luckily, one of my friends' dads saw the accident from his window. He came flying out of his house, grabbed a nearby aluminum row boat, and shoved it across the ice toward my poor pup, who was flailing in the frigid water. By the time the dad and boat reached him, Kelly had managed to save himself. But to this day, that man is my hero. 

So please forgive me my ordinary photos. It's the stories behind the images that make them look like masterpieces to me. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Down In DEE-Troit


When I go back to my hometown in the mitten-shaped state of Michigan, I'm a mere half-hour's drive from the waterfront in downtown Detroit. 

But I never take the time to go see the sights there. In fact, I've been down to DEE-troit maybe five times in my entire life. 

{It's pronounced De-TROIT. If you wanna use the original French pronunciation, try Day-TWAH. But let's be honest; DEE-Troit is just plain wrong.}

There are some good reasons to steer clear of this city. In my lifetime, Detroit has always struggled with a reputation as an urban jungle, hardly a family-friendly playground. And in recent years, with the auto industry in shambles, the city has earned a reputation as either a war zone or a ghost town. 

Today, for reasons I can't explain, I decided it was time to explore the heart of the city. Maybe I wanted to revisit my misty childhood memories, definitely I was looking for an adventure, but also, I wanted to see just how bad things have become at Detroit: Ground Zero. 

Honestly, I was happily surprised at what I found. Majestic ore boats still slide along the Detroit River, carrying their mysterious loads from the upper Great Lakes to the rest of the world. The walkway beckons me to stroll upstream and downstream, enjoying views of the river and our international neighbor, Windsor, Ontario, across the way. There's a grassy bit of park, and looming overhead, the hopeful glass and steel gaze of the Renaissance Center. 

All in all, I had a good visit. And while I'm not exactly ready to book a week's vacation in the Motor City, I would definitely venture down into Detroit again. 

* * * * *

Ready for more stories about Michigan, my mitten-shaped home land? 


* * * * *

Other stories of hope, offered from me to you:

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Especially In Michigan



Here's how to while away a lovely summer afternoon in the Mitten:

1. Plan dinner around a batch of fresh sweet corn. 

2, Spend some time on a shady bench. Napping is recommended 

3. Appreciate the blue sky full of fluffy white clouds. But the summer sun is surprisingly hot so do not linger in its presence. 

4. Play a billion rounds of Harry Potter Uno with your awesome and amazing nephews. 

And all the while, let this song play on repeat in your head, just as it did in mine all day. 


Friday, July 12, 2013

My Kind Of Town


There's something very special about the season of life when we first see ourselves as adults. Sure, there are often some turbulent years of slowly gaining independence and beginning to envision ourselves as grown-ups. But sooner or later, we have to take a leap of faith, and begin living as completely self-sufficient individuals, and that is significant.

For me, there is a specific place where that transformation took place: Chicago, Illinois. Upon graduating from college, I accepted an offer for the job of my dreams in the heart of that city, and moved there all by myself. I bought life insurance, found a dentist, and invested in 401K accounts. I made friends, learned to ride public transportation, and bought myself my first car.

After a few years, I met and married my husband, thus ending my time of single adulthood. Shortly after, we moved to faraway Seattle, started a family, and began a new chapter in my life.

So that is why it's nostalgic and emotionally gratifying for me to return to Chicago, as I did this week. I was only passing through - I flew into O'Hare Field, rented a car, then drove past downtown and out the south side of the city toward my home state of Michigan. Just a few hours, but I saw enough sights to stir up memories of my solo trips to the airport, my daily commute via train and subway to the Loop, and the road trips I would take out of the city back to my hometown for special weekends and holidays. I felt again the heady rush of accomplishment that I often experienced, back in the day, when I realized that I had conquered this city and proved that I could make it, after all. 

And I also felt, as I often did back then, the mad desire to spin around in a circle and toss my beret up into the air. If you've ever seen the opening sequence of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, then you know exactly what I mean.



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

As American As Apple Pie

Well, the Red Sox are in town this week, so you know what that means. I'm off to Safeco Field for some baseball. 

Now I'm not a hardcore baseball fan, by any stretch of the imagination. During the regular season, I rarely watch a game on TV. I don't keep up with the standings. Heck, I don't even have a favorite team. 

But still, I love to go to the ballpark - any ballpark - because I love the way Americans love baseball. Watching what goes on around me at the ballpark reflects quite a bit about life in America, and I find that very interesting.


For example, baseball fans are prompt. Americans value precise scheduling and prompt time management, and those traits are perfectly clear at the ball park. Even a full hour before game time, fans can be seen streaming into the park. 


Tickets to a major league game aren't cheap. The best seats in the house are well over $100 each; even the outfield bleachers will run you $17, which is still several dollars more than a movie. It's a testament to our love of the game that even in lean economic times, Americans are willing to shell out good money to go to the park. 


Oh, the food! I could go on forever about the dizzying array of tasty treats available for sale at the stadium. Of course, one can always find hot dogs and beer, and the proverbial peanuts and Cracker Jack. But there is more, so much more, to eat at the ballpark. Garlic fries and cheeseburgers are two of my favorites, and I'm not alone. Americans love to eat anywhere and everywhere, and the ballpark is no exception.


When it comes to kids, American culture can be full of contradictions On the one hand, we love them, sacrifice for them, turn ourselves inside out for them. But at the same time, we often segregate them and put our lives on different tracks. Day cares, schools, churches, shopping malls, even vacation resorts all offer special programs for kids that take them away from the adults in their lives, and splinter their families. 

Not so at the ballpark. It's one place in America where grandparents and grandchildren, parents and kids, aunts and uncles and big packs of cousins can all be found sitting together in a cozy row of seats, laughing and enjoying each others' company. I think that's great.


A major league ballpark in America has a variety of seating options. Grandstands, upper decks, box seats, or right behind the dugout, each seating style has its aficionados. But for me, the bleachers are the only way to go. On most evenings. there's plenty of elbow and leg room to stretch out and relax. And best of all is a sunny summer's evening where we can bask in the warm golden light of the setting sun. The bleachers are kind of like the beach of the ballpark, and my fellow Americans share the love.


Americans have an affinity for grass. We lavishly plant it on our lawns, our city parks, and along the edges of our streets. We fertilize it, water it , and mow it just so. The ballpark may be the high holy place of grass, where groundskeepers practice the fine art of grass design that fills us all with wonder.


How about some dessert? Americans love sweets, and there are plenty to be found at the ball park. Cotton candy, ice creams, soda pop and long red licorice whips. Eat up, y'all.


Baseball, more than most other sports, is a game of numbers. RBIs, ERAs, home runs, and win/loss records are all part of the language of baseball, and any decent fan can spout a litany of statistics. This numerical passion is such an American sort of obsession - we love our facts and figures, and we love to measure, compare, and compete in all walks of life. 


And while I still love the old school vibe of a quaint, low-tech field, there's no denying that major league baseball has become considerably more glitzy and glamorous in the past few decades. Big screen amusements between innings, fireworks for home runs, and pop music blasted from the loudspeakers - all of these add-ons reflect the American mainstream quite accurately. We Americans like to be entertained, and we definitely get plenty of show business at the ballpark.

So here's to baseball, the all-American pastime that shows us our true American selves

* * * * *

For more stories about stadium sports, check out: