Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Annual Indulgence


One of my most favorite things about Halloween is carving jack-o'-lanterns.

One of my most favorite things about carving jack-o'-lanterns is gathering up all the squishy pumpkin seeds and roasting them in the oven.

And without a doubt, my very most favorite thing about roasting pumpkin seeds in the oven is eating them as soon as they are ready.
{Or even before they are ready. I mean, I need to check to see if they are done yet...it's not my fault if I end up eating half the batch before I even take them out of the oven.}
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Here's my sure-fire method for making the tastiest treat that Halloween has to offer:

1. Sort through the pumpkin innards and pluck out all the seeds. Place them in a colander under running water; rinse and pluck out the last bits of pulp.

2. Pour the seeds onto a baking sheet; toss with a bit of olive oil, if you're so inclined, then salt to taste with kosher or sea salt.

3.. Bake at 300 degrees F for about an hour, until golden brown. Occasionally, stir them up...and don't forget to sample a few.

Now eat them as quickly as possible, while they are all warm and toasty and tasting of delicious. Yum!

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Here are four stories from my 2012 Halloween festivities...
and yes, I roasted pumpkin seeds last year, too. 


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Let's be honest. Holidays are all about the food. Read here for more stories about what I serve on special days.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Golden Afternoon

Finally - finally! - the low-lying clouds have burned away and the sun is back in the Pacific Northwest. 

Now, I'm not complaining about the fog. Actually, I'm a huge fan of that mysterious, murky mist that makes every day feel like an episode of Twin Peaks. And while we were living in that ghostly white atmosphere, I was perfectly happy to take a break from the sun.

But now that the sunny golden days have returned, I must admit that the sunshine is glorious. My daily walks with Ranger have been a dazzling delight, and I have the pics to prove it.


^ Waiting just outside the front door was Luna, who sat up to say hello and see us off. Even my even-tempered cats have been much more active and playful during the daytime, now that the sun is shining.


^ In the front yard, my next-door neighbors' golden maple was positively glowing. When the sun hits those brilliant yellow leaves, it's like King Midas laid down his hand. Complemented by the electrifying color of a typical Seattle blue sky, the tree is a glory to behold.



^ But let's be honest. On a day like this, even my overgrown garden full of spent leaves looks beautiful. No wonder that little metal rabbit is bounding to his heart's content.



^ Ranger, too, happily bounded out the door, tail wagging briskly, full of excitement for his sunny adventure.

But wait. He always starts our walk with that level of enthusiasm. Whether it's 90 degrees, pouring rain, frigid temperatures, or a foot of snow, my frisky Irish gentleman is always psyched to be heading off on an adventure.

Just one of the many reasons I love him.



^ I love to watch Ranger wander along the paths and trails through the forest. Even though we are smack dab in the middle of suburbia, I can just imagine him as brave explorer, hunting elusive field birds as he makes his way through untamed countryside.

Well This untamed countryside has a curving paved path. But if I squint really hard, it almost looks like a wild stream, so let's go with that.



^ No matter where we are, autumn looks good on Ranger. His sleek mahogany coat plays well against the scarlet and golden tones of the fall leaves.

But look what happens when the low autumn afternoon sun hits his fur. He literally glows. 

Handsome devil.



^ And while Ranger's shaggy red fur looks good with all the colors of autumn, these fallen maple leaves  that stream across the sidewalk almost swallow him up, so well do they camouflage him.

Best of all, these leaves are dry and crunchy. Now in many parts of the world, it's a given that autumn leaves on the ground will crackle and snap. But here in the soggy PNW, you're much more likely to straggle through damp heaps of sodden mush, strewn with slugs and well on its way to becoming mulch.

So when Ranger and I pass this way, I really live it up. By walking just so, my feet scoop up the leaves, toss them into the air, and exaggerate their crunchiness for maximum audio effect. And if I'm not mistaken, Ranger puts an extra prance in his step as well.

He's frolicsome. No doubt about it.



^ Here we are, home again after our splendid journey, enjoying one last look at the kaleidoscope of autumn beauty strewn across my front lawn. I admire the way that gravity and the wind create an infinite variety of these artful little displays, each one deserving of its own photograph.

That's why I love to take photos on a sunny fall day. Soon enough, the clouds will roll back in, the days, weeks and months will be mostly grey and wet. And it will do my heart good to look back on these photographs and remember when the world is transformed with sunshine on this golden afternoon.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sunset Chaser, Seattle Edition



Last night, I went to the final Seattle Sounders game of the 2013 Major League Soccer regular season. There were somewhere upwards of 66,000 folks on hand to watch our hometown team take on the Los Angeles Galaxy, and the atmosphere was giddy. Big game, beautiful night, huge crowd - my two elder daughters and I were excited to be there, among the good-natured and faithful fans. 

As we made our way into the stadium and up toward our upper deck seats, we wandered here and there, snapping photos, enjoying the revelry, and getting pumped for the big game.

Caught up in the excitement, I spontaneously splurged on a team scarf. Normally, sports apparel is not my thing, so you know if I'm supporting a team to that degree, I must be all in.

While we were waiting in line at the scarf stand, my second-born took a phone call from work and leaned against this fabulously grey wall with the red alarm box overhead. You know I'm a sucker for a portrait in front of a good wall,


So, with our adrenalin pumping and about ten minutes left till kick-off, we jumped in an elevator to ride up to the third tier. The doors opened, we stepped out onto an open-air landing, and immediately froze in our tracks.

The sun was setting over Puget Sound and the effect was indescribably beautiful.

Now, it's fair to point out that up here in the Pacific Northwest, we haven't seen much of the sun in the past few weeks. It's been fog, fog, and more fog for days on end. So to suddenly gaze upon that fiery orb in a clear blue sky was a bit like seeing a long-lost loved one, and we responded by rushing to the railing of the balcony and taking a billion pictures each.

We didn't even have to talk about it. Our sunset-starved instincts led us to the edge of the cliff, just like crazed lemmings. Only taller. And less furry.
 

Despite my feverish excitement, I remembered to take my Sunday selfie.


After we drank our fill of the evening beauty, we turned and walking into the cavernous stadium, where the shadows already darkened the corners and upper rows of seats, and enjoyed a rowdy, fun-filled match. We had a blast.

But if you ask me my favorite part of the whole evening, I might have to say the sunset.

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Sunset chaser: A traveler who spies a gorgeous display on the evening horizon, and, throwing all other thoughts aside, pursues a prime viewing location from which to photograph the sky. 

I am a sunset chaser and here are just a few of the stories of my adventures:


Sunday, October 27, 2013

#WHPemptyspaces

A few months ago, on one of my well-worm routes around town, I discovered a new and nifty shortcut that saves me from several traffic lights and congested intersections.

Oh, isn't that just about as good as Christmas morning?! I love surprises like that.

This cutoff is a pleasure to drive. With relatively light loads of traffic, the two-lane road winds its way through a mile or two of open country - woods, wetlands and a few scattered old houses.

And then there's this.


Yeah. My cute little back road takes a sharp corner, and suddenly dips underneath a major six-lane expressway. The scale of this concrete behemoth is massive, and its appearance is made even more shocking by the fact that you literally do not see it coming. 

It sticks out like a sore and gigantically large urban thumb in the lovely wooded landscape. 

But there is something fascinatingly ugly about this underpass, and from the moment I first saw it, I knew someday I would stop and photograph it with abandon.

And this Friday past, when Instagram revealed that the weekend hashtag project was entitled Empty Spaces, I knew my time had finally come. This afternoon's rare burst of sunshine was the perfect touch for creating an interesting array of light and shadows in this man-made cavern, and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of capturing this strange monument.

All the while I was shooting, my mind was wandering to another massive under-the-bridge chamber I know - this one, down in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. 

However, that space is not empty. Therein lives a big and horrible troll


A couple years ago, my students and I paid an interesting visit to that great stone beast. But since today's tale is about empty spaces, I shall save the story of the Fremont Troll for another day.

The Story Of The Stair Steps


Here's a cute little slice of my childhood. I daresay I'm three years old, sitting out on the steep steps of my front yard with my big brother. From the looks of the fresh iris leaves sprouting up around us, and the cozy outfits we're wearing, I figure this to be a sunny day in April.

But as I look upon this scene, I am transported to a snowy winter's morning - probably the following January - when a rather different and highly memorable event unfolded in this very same place.

* * * * *

We woke up that morning to a major Michigan snowfall. The effect, as always, was dazzling and brilliant; like small children everywhere, my brother and I were breathless with excitement and wanted nothing more than to go out and explore this strange new world.

I recall that we had an appointment somewhere - maybe a doctor's visit for my third-born baby brother. But in any case, my mother did what she usually did when attempting to get three small children ready at the same time. She helped the older children first, then sent us out to play while she turned her attentions to the youngest. 

So much to our delight, my big brother and I soon found ourselves out in the bitterly cold winter wonderland, and I recall that we climbed down these steps and explored on the quiet lane that lay below.
{Now, it must be noted that on this winter's day, there was a simple steel pipe hand railing that ran alongside these steps. I don't see it in this photograph, though I suspect that my grandfather built it shortly after snapping this pose. In fact, it's likely that he was out working on it during the spring day in question, whereupon we wandered out to watch his progress, and he photographed his audience during a rest break.} 
I recall so clearly that morning in the snow. The brilliant sparkles cast by the sun across the frigid snow, the hushed quiet of the snowed-in neighborhood, and the crisp snap in the deep cold air.

I also remember examining the thick layer of frost that covered the pipe hand railing. The crystals were uncommonly thick and particular; fanciful and delicate beyond words, they looked too beautiful to be ice. They looked, to me, like something luxurious and elegant. And delicious.

Yes. Delicious enough to eat.

So I innocently and unknowingly did the unthinkable. I opened my mouth, put out my tongue and licked that frozen steel banister.

And my tongue froze fast to it in an instant. I was stuck.

Maybe I had been cautioned about this folly. I can't be sure. But I do know that I immediately understood my predicament, and began to think how to set myself free.

Right at this moment, my mom called to us, beckoning us to join her in the car.

My older brother rushed past me, up the steps, and noticing my delay, hollered for me to come along.

And I replied, "Ah han't hum. Ay hung ih uck."

I clearly recall the sight of him whipping around, gasping in horror at my predicament, and then wailing, "Moooooooommmmmm!" and rushing off to get help.

Within moments, my mother appeared at the top of the steps and gazed down on my misfortune. Clucking in exasperation, she told me to wait right there (!!!) and then she disappeared as well. Two minutes later, she reappeared with a pan of warm water, intending to pour it over the pipe in order to unfreeze my poor tongue.

But during this time, my little four-year-old brain was fast at work. Somehow, I figured out a way to gently close my mouth around the pipe without touching it, and breathe my warm little four-year-old breath over the frozen metal. Ever so careful not to let any more of my skin come into contact with the evil railing, I huffed as efficiently as I could, and before my mom could hustle down the steps, I managed to set myself free.

Gosh, I was pleased with myself. As we rode along to wherever we were going that morning, I kept rubbing my sore tongue against the roof of my mouth and pondering my strange and exhilirating adventure. I had absolutely no regrets.

* * * * *

A few years later, as part of a major home remodel, a new set of stairs was built at the other end of the bank, and these stair steps - as well as the trouble-making hand rail - were removed. They exist now only in this surviving photograph, and in my memory of that eventful winter's day.

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


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More stories about my mom:


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More stories of my magical childhood adventures:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Importance Of Being Orange

Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.



I came across this lovely sentiment in my Facebook feed this morning, and while I immediately understood how I might apply these encouragements to my own life, the second thought that just as quickly flashed into my mind was this:

Pumpkins.

Here's where I'm coming from. For the past few weeks, Pinterest has been loaded down with a dizzying array of decorated pumpkins. We are talking about:


Trust me, that's just the tip of the DIY iceberg. The crafty blogosphere is all but collapsing from the weight of all these fanciful interpretations of fall's favorite gourd, and you know, to a certain extent, I celebrate that innovation and boundless creativity. 

But at the same time, I find myself wondering, over and over again, what's so wrong with a plain ol' pumpkin? 


As you can see, at my house, I prefer for my pumpkins to be naked and unadorned, just as Mother Nature intended. I don't think they need to be festooned or fussed over in any way.

Maybe that's because I'm a snobby purist. That's entirely possible.

But maybe it's because when I see a authentically natural, boldly orange pumpkin on display, I can't help but believe that the genuine and daring fellow is:

living his truth,
expressing his love,
sharing his enthusiasm,
walking his talk,
dancing and singing to his music,
embracing his blessings,

and most definitely, making my day worth remembering.

And for that lesson in being yourself, I am grateful.

Friday, October 25, 2013

No Turning Back


Well, you can't say I didn't warn you.


In an unusual show of restraint, I completed only one corner of the room, as a test section. Just to see how I liked it.


Now that I've lived with them for a few days, I have to say, I'm insanely happy with how the spunky little circles are turning out.

For starters, they were extremely easy to install. One medium-sized hole punch and a few sheets of white card stock created plenty of dots. A tiny dab of that reusable tack for hanging posters and such on the back of each dot is all it took to dotify my space. 


After mulling many options about how to position the dots on the wall, I decided to put most my eggs in the 'random placement' basket. Starting a few inches up from the chair rail,  I visualized an orderly grid of dots, about twelve inches apart, and staggered from row to row. 

But then as I actually placed the dots on the wall, I purposely introduced chaos into my imaginary perfection. I can see a hint of the original rows in my design, but plenty of wonky off-kilter dots too. That is exactly how I like my life - and my dotted walls - to be.


And best of all, the dots are utterly and completely easy to move. At the snap of a finger, I can re-position them any way I like, or take them down altogether. This is no-commitment, experimental decorating at its finest, and I am a fan of that too.

Interestingly, this whole dotty business seems to have left my family speechless. Although I'm notoriously headstrong about doing projects to my own satisfaction, I've asked several members of the clan for feedback on this look. They tend to wriggle and squirm a little uncomfortably, and quietly mutter non-committal phrases like, "Maybe you could try them on the lower half of the wall...?"

I am cheerfully undeterred. I love my polka dot walls and as far as I'm concerned, there's no turning back!

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Catching up on the stories behind this office remodel? Read:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Seven Days

Up here in my neck of the woods, the past week has been foggy.

Now let me be clear. I'm not talking about a few whispy clouds that hover close to the ground at night.

And I don't mean a morning mist that burns off by noon.

I'm talking about fog as thick as pea soup. The kind that fills the atmosphere, darkens the sky, and makes driving through familiar streets a mysterious struggle. And persists around the clock, just as dense and inscrutable in daylight as it is after dark, day after day after day.


 ^  Coming home from an early morning errand: 8:45 a.m.


^ Mid-afternoon grocery run. 4:30 p.m.


^ Late night at the mall. 12:20 a.m.

Today, I ventured into Seattle and found that the downtown skies, while not quite as foggy as those over my home, were also beautifully broody and mist-filled.


^ The darling Calder shined out against the grey landscape. 


^ Seen between the apartments of Belltown, the Space Needle winked at me through the clouds.


^ And driving up University, the upper floors of the office towers disappeared into the mists.

Beautiful sights, in a gloomy Pacific Northwest kind of way. 

But I must say that this week of melancholy weather has put me in mind of the classic millennial thriller, The Ring, which was filmed in the Seattle area. The plot is a bit far-fetched and full of teen angst, revolving around  a certain cursed video that causes its viewers to die within seven days.  But the movie's stark visual images - which play an important role in resolving the mystery of the curse - perfectly capture the dark, dismal skies and somber settings of our foggy fall clime.


Isn't that a cheerful little film for a glum day? Yes, I thought so too. You're welcome.