Monday, September 29, 2014

Four Muses

On a sunny fall Sunday in my front yard, these cheerful flowers beckoned me to come closer and take their picture.


I gladly obliged.


Next, my eye strayed to the yellow bench nearby. I couldn't help but notice the contrast of the fresh paint against the gently weathered blossoms. Another photo was definitely needed.


At that moment, my friendly black and white cat stepped out from the shadows. Purring and rubbing himself against the bench, he wordlessly worked for the camera. My trigger finger found the shutter and snapped instinctively.

Saucy little Sirius strutted across the lawn in front of me, and I couldn't resist the urge to snap again
 

In an instant, my kitty had slipped off into the shrubs.

But as I turned around on the spot, there he was. My handsome Ranger, resting comfortably in the heather after our daily walk and perfectly posed for a portrait.


And so it was that I spent my afternoon with these four charming muses: the flowers, the bench, the cat and the dog.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sex In The Garden

The best ideas are when you take two older ideas that have nothing to do with each other, make them have sex with each other, and then build a business around the bastard, ugly child that results.



Once there was a gap in my garden.

A patch of empty soil, between the lavender and the thyme, where weeds grew aplenty and I got plenty sick and tired of pulling them out.

What I really needed was a few yards of bark mulch to suffocate their efforts and give my grubby fingers a break.

But alas. I didn't want to interrupt my day in the garden with a trip to the store.

* * * * *

Once there was a heap of moldering firewood in my garden.

A stack left over from the days when we actually burned wood in our fireplace, leaning against the fence and abandoned to the elements for many seasons on end.

What I really wanted was to get rid of this spider-infested eyesore.

But alas, I couldn't bring myself to just throw this once-beautiful wood away.

* * * * *

Crash! Bang! BOOM.

That was the sound of those two problems colliding in my brain. And this is what came of the impact.


I must say, I'm as pleased as I am surprised about how that all turned out.

* * * * *

More stories about the random ideas that fuse themselves together in my head:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sunset Chasers: Virtual Surprise


I flipped open my camera roll last night to discover this pretty little picture at the top of the heap. Instantly, I recognized the view from my backyard of a late summer sunset, complete with the familiar tree line and even the triangular corner of my second story roof.

Normally, finding a photo like this wouldn't be much of a surprise. I take a lot of pictures of sunsets.

But this time, I was shocked. Because I am 100% certain that I never took this photo.

Trust me, I would remember those puffy dollops of white, the strong silhouette of black, the subtle orange glow at the horizon. My eyes had never beheld this glory in real life,

Best I can figure is that while I was busy in the kitchen that evening, my sunset-chasing second-born noticed this beautiful scene and, without a word to me, grabbed my camera and captured it just for me.

And that is both a thoughtful gesture and a lovely surprise indeed.

* * * * *

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:

New Blue


In my ongoing pursuit of peace and tranquility, I've been creating a tiny pool of blue in a corner of my bedroom. My first effort was simple and small but powerful enough to calm me, and encourage me to try more.

Enter this simple watercolor painting. Not only is it done in shades of blue but the wavy white lines evoke waves. The undulating curves and ocean-inspired color variations soothe me like a day at the beach. And the joy that comes from making my own art bubbles up each time I look at the finished piece in its sweet vintage frame.

All in all, I'm quite happy with my new blue.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I {Heart} My Secret Place

When I was a little girl, I loved to find secret places in the woods.

I spent most of my days among the trees surrounding my country home in Michigan, and I knew every nook and cranny by heart. Though I had plenty of playmates, I often wandered around by myself, caught up in the lovely mystery that comes from knowing the secret places of the forest.

There was one tree in particular, an ancient spreading maple, that was just off the tiny lane I walked on my way to and from the school bus. The trunk divided into three main branches at a place that was unusually close to the ground, and even as a tiny little thing, I was able to easily boost myself up to sit in that space. 

Best of all, the tree was oriented in such a way that, when comfortably settled in place, I was completely hidden from passersby. Not that there was much traffic, but a car could drive right past me - almost at arm's length - but no one would see me in my secret place.

* * * * *

Quite a few years have come and gone since I sat in that old maple, but I have not lost my fascination with trees that keep secrets. Here is my current favorite:



^ This is the view that made me fall in love with my secret place. I am wowed by the delicate shapes of the scarlet red leaves, and organic curves of the graceful branches against the strong, simple geometry and understated grey of the building.



^ The sweet splash of green near the ground adds another layer of pow to the color story, and feeds my imagination with these shadowy hiding places.



^ The branches and leaves are detailed in their full glory against the sky.



^ Sandwiched between building and tree, this view feels like a secret that is meant just for me. 



^ I'm fascinated by that window, and like to imagine that a mysterious room lies within.


Tucked away among the trees of Mukilteo, just a few hundred feet from our neighborhood high school's sprawling campus, sits a cozy little cabin in the woods.

Well, no. That's not true at all.

It's an administrative building of some sort, modern in architecture and a bit over-designed. But the setting is perfect for a red dog who likes to run his nose along the edge of a forest, and so, several years ago, Ranger and I quickly fell into the habit of walking around the wild perimeter of the secluded property. And for the first few months, that was that.

It was when fall set the glorious red maple ablaze that I finally discovered this nested alcove on the back side of the building. Just like that sprawling old maple tree by the side of the road, this spot is within arm's reach of a small paved lane, but just out of sight. And while it's definitely more urban than the secret places of my childhood, this tiny niche sends the same jolts of mystery and intrigue shooting through me when I step inside. 

I may be nothing more than an overgrown tomboy, but I love my secret place.


And Ranger does, too.

* * * * *

Here are a few other stories about my adventures in the woods

Solutions


What do you do on a gloomy Monday morning when you have to get up and get going, even thought you'd rather be back in bed?

You whip yourself up a pretty little frittata like this one, and eat every delicious bite. 

onion
chopped spinach
cherry tomatoes
cheddar cheese
egg
salt and pepper

Sunset Chasers: Astro's Edition

The view from Astro's house.

The other evening, on our way home for dinner, my second-born and I took a little detour. As we often do, we had spied a great sunset along the way and couldn't resist the urge to scout out a lovely vantage point for some photos. 

When we walked in the door a bit later than expected, my husband inquired about the delay.

"Oh, we were sunset chasing," I replied  

He knew exactly what I meant.

"Where did you take the pictures?" he wondered. 

"At Astro's house," I replied. 

Once again, he knew exactly what I meant  

* * * * *

A long time ago, when my eldest two were tiny tots, we used to go for family walks down the hill that winds through our little neighborhood. Now today, that's a simple three-minute stroll but back then, with those toddler-sized legs and myriad distractions along the way, this was a journey of epic proportion. There were rocks to admire, flowers to smell, streets to carefully cross, all holding hands and looking both ways, and a huge American flag on a very tall flagpole to watch as it snapped in the ever-present uphill breeze  

The major highlight of our quest, however, awaited at our destination. At the bottom of our big hill sat a house with a wide, gravel-covered parking area. My daughters loved to march back and forth on those rocks, admiring the crunchy power of their bitty feet. 

Against the gravel strip ran a chain link fence and just beyond, a tall hedge. Much to our delight, a clever little dog lived there, and he would squirm his way through that dense shrubbery to welcome us. As he poked his black beagle nose through the openings in the fence, my daughters would squeal with pleasure. They offered tiny fingers to lick and we all did our best to pet this friendly fellow. 

Once the greetings had been completed, this noble beast would remember his responsibility to guard his family from invaders, even the ones with blonde pigtails. He would set up a horrible racket, howling and barking with abandon, until one of his humans would come to the door and say, "Astro, come inside."

That's how we learned his name. Astro.

Funny enough, Astro's family never caught sight of us. Screened from view by the hedges, we watched in silent delight as Astro contemplated his conundrum. Stay and bark at the kind strangers or obey the command to go into the house? Often he would resist the orders, standing guard at the fence for a few more pats and friendly words. Inevitably, though, his barking would kick back in and his people would return to the door, all "this time, I really mean it" and command Astro to COME. 

Good dog that he was, he would eventually obey.

Years passed. Two little girls became four, our walking routes evolved and changed. Still, every now and then, we would head down the hill to crunch in the gravel and say hi to Astro. That good ol'boy greeted us at the chain link fence for many, many years, always with a waggling tail and a happy pink tongue.

I don't remember exactly when we noticed his absence, but Astro is not there anymore. Certainly, he has gone to heaven, where all good dogs go, and he is running free now, with neither fences nor bossy humans to curb his enthusiasm.

But no one is every truly gone if they live on in the hearts of others. Though we shared only a tiny fraction of his life, through the holes in a chain link fence, Astro is a part of my family's life and we will remember and love him forever. 

* * * * *

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:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sneak Attack


Yesterday, I made a hearty meatloaf for dinner. Along with family-favorite side dishes of roasted carrots and red potatoes, I decided to serve up this cute little squash.

While my meal was merrily cooking away, I snapped on a few lamps around the house and lit a candle to fill the rooms with a cozy glow.

And that's when I knew for sure that fall is most definitely in the air.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Biology 101


Look at this plant in my front porch. 

Check out those crazy long tentacles, twisting and turning in pursuit of sunshine. 


At the ends of the waving arms are gorgeous pink blossoms, bursting forth in their fiery beauty. If they were to touch down and make contact with the soil, they would most certainly produce roots and become self-sufficient plants, soon making babies of their own. 


The parent plant astonishes me as well, in all its silvery grey, geometric glory. How anything so pristine and precise can hold its form after months of real-life wear-and-tear on my busy front step is beyond me. As individual petals are knocked askance here or broken off there, the plant somehow corrects the problem and quickly sends forth a replacement member to smooth over the trouble spot and restore the flawless perfection.

Honestly, this sweet little succulent is just a scientific miracle to me, and I marvel at its majesty every day.  

* * * * *

This evening, I helped one of my algebra students with his science homework. For two and a half hours, we slogged through his biology textbook, searching for the answers to the dreaded Chapter Review questions. He had fallen a bit behind in his assignments, so we faced around 30 formidable questions. Digging up the proper responses was a frustrating and painstaking exercise, and more than once, my student moaned in anguish, "I hate science sooooo much!"

And I thought to myself how utterly tragic it is that the breathtaking, mysterious forces of nature can be reduced to a tiresome, even hateful chore. 

This, my friend, is not how learning should be. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Roma In My Linen Closet

So lately, I've been daydreaming about my linen closet.

I know. That's a little over the top. But the cozy cupboard at the top of my stairs has been over-stuffed and under-serviced, full of mish-mashed odds and ends, for quite a long time, and I am quite sure I can do better.

Mmm, imagine the possibilities.

Crisply ironed sheets, color-coordinated to each bedroom.
Soft, fluffy towels, neatly stacked by size, and all in white, of course.
A few extra blankets, for cold nights and sick beds.
Colorful beach towels, rolled and artfully arranged in an oversize basket.
Two down pillows, because it just seems so luxurious to have extra pillows. 

And of course, my OCD fantasies wouldn't be complete without a decorative theme. 

I know. That also seems a little over the top. But every nook and cranny of a home can tell a story, and I love to peek into a little space and find a surprise inside. Why not hang some framed photograph inside the linen closet door?

I considered several possibilities.

Fields of lavender.
Baskets of fresh fruit.
Hand-pieced quilts.

But none of those subjects quite captured the sense of windblown freshness and sunshine-y clean that I had in mind.

And then it hit me. 

Roma.


When she was in college, my second-born spent three months studying in Rome, Italy and took several billion photos during her stay. After a quick scan through her files, I found exactly the kind of shots I had in mind.

Blue skies.
Puffy white clouds.
Brilliant Mediterranean light.
And gorgeous sunlit architecture..

These photos capture precisely the mood that I want to evoke in my new-and-improved linen closet. Even the colors - blues and whites, ivory, gold and grey - satisfyingly coordinate with the neat stacks of sheets and towels that I fantasize will soon be filling the shelves.

And just in case these beautiful street scenes weren't enough, I also found this dreamy photo.


Just imagine folding those sun-warmed shirts, fresh and sweet-smelling, deliciously crisp from drying in the Roman breeze. They are the perfect inspiration for my linen closet update and now I can't wait to get started on the job.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Living In The Moment


My mind was a million miles away as I started to work on dinner tonight. My thoughts raced around in my head as I pondered gold spray paint, Ranger's walk, and the current state of my linen closet. I was most definitely inattentive to the tasks before me.

Suddenly, my rambling reflections disappeared and I snapped into reality. I had just laid these six hard-boiled eggs on a dish cloth and the afternoon sun simply set them aglow. Each shade of brown was subtly different; each oval shape was uniquely shadowed and highlighted in the brilliant light. 

As I contemplated this remarkable masterpiece, I remembered once again how lovely life can be when I slow down, every now and then, in order to live in the moment. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Power Of Blue

Once again, the forces of whimsy and making-do are on the march in my home. This time, the locus of change is my bedroom. Without any real intention or forethought on my part, I notice that the kaleidoscope has shifted and a new color scheme has drifted into place. 

My bedroom, as it looks in real life. 

Grass green and orange.

Okay, I'm good with that. The yin and yang of those colors - one to sweetly nurture me and the other to blast me out of bed - work really well to balance my moods and set an invigorating tone for my mornings

But in the past week or two, I've been craving something more.

Specifically, I need some blue.

I'm not talking a bout a LOT of blue. Just a few drops. See them?

Here's the thing. Normally, blue is not my jam. It is my husband's favorite color, so I make a point to splash it around the house here and there, but this deep-seated soul need for a tiny pool of blue to call my own is something quite new. 

At first, Iwas a bit confused by this thirst, but now I understand. 

In this season of my life, colored blazing red by my mother's Alzheimers, I am craving a well-spring of peace and calm. In the mornings, when I open my eyes and the reality of life comes rushing back to me, my heart aches for a simple place of renewal and refreshment.

Somehow, a little bit of blue gives me just the Zen power-boost that I need.

Yes, I do buy used books based on the color of their spines. But only if I actually want to read them too. These are some of my favorite authors and I plan to turn the pages soon.

Interestingly, last night, I stumbled upon an article that puts a finger on my feelings.
Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, believes that we all have a "blue mind" -- as he puts it, "a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment" -- that's triggered when we're in or near water. 
"We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what's broken,"
Yes. That describes me to a tee. I'm passionate about water in all its forms, and in lieu of moving to the coast or digging a pool in my backyard, I'm feeding my "blue mind" with a stack of books and a wooden dog.

I've been obsessed with the idea of planting Irish moss in this bitty brass treasure box. While it may not feed my "blue mind," the springy color and delicate white flowers definitely make me smile. 


 Strangely enough, that strategy seems to be working.

The basket goes back to my freshman year of college; the big dog on a stick was a splurge from a pricey Manhattan boutique. The two smaller dogs and candle holders I've had forever; the silver tray, treasure box and stack of books were recently thrifted. 

So if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the thrift store to search out a few more blue treasures to add to my tiny yet powerful collection of blue

And in the meantime, I leave my room to sleepy Cedric, who seems to enjoy the power of blue just as much as I do.

Zzzzzzzzz.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

#neverforget


I'll never forget September 11, 2001.

I'll never forget opening my eyes to a perfect blue sky and dazzling sunshine as my husband's phone call woke me from my sleep.

I'll never forget knowing, deep in my bones, that as I told my daughters the news, I was shattering the illusions of safety and innocence that had guarded their childhood up till then.

I'll never forget going about our daily routine of Spanish class, math homework and dinner chores, trying to feel normal in a day that had turned the world upside down.

I'll never forget leading the children's message at my church that night, listening as the kids shared honest and heartfelt prayers for themselves, their families, their country, and the "bad guys."

I'll never forget how all four of my daughters were scared to go to sleep that night. They huddled together with me on a single twin bed and let me try to soothe their fears..

I'll never forget, after they had drifted off to sleep, hearing the sound of a military aircraft, piercing the silence of the traffic-free night skies as it patrolled the Pacific coast. I couldn't decide if that plane was a comfort or yet another element of terror.

Though I didn't know them in this life, I'll never forget the men, women and children who died because of September 11:

The victims of the original terrorist events.
The rescuers and heroes of the aftermath.
The soldiers caught up in the conflicts and wars to follow.

And ultimately, thankfully, trustingly, I'll never forget that God promises to make all things good.

* * * * *

Other thoughts on the anniversary of September 11:

My Deep Gladness

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” - Frederick BuechnerWishful Thinking: A Theological ABC


Mmm, today was a delicious day of freshly sharpened pencils, crisp pages at the front of new notebooks, and a full supply of Post-It flags. 

Yay for the first day of school!


Happily, in my line of work, I enjoy more than one first day. I meet with my high school algebra students in small groups or even individual sessions, one or two days a week, so over the course of the next few days, I'll be kicking off the new year over and over again.


Never in my life did I intend to become a free-lance math teacher. But this vocation surprisingly revealed itself as a place where my passions and experience benefit my mostly homeschooled students and their brave parents. Each year, new families make their way to me and ask for help; I am blessed to have them in my life.

I am one of those lucky people who wake up in the morning and can't wait to get to work. Plus I get to buy cute school supplies. And that is a very deep gladness indeed.

* * * * *

Other stories about my work:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Looking Up: Garden Edition


Weeds are a major headache in the life of any gardener.

Defined as any plants that are growing where they are not wanted, these little green buggers are a persistent and pervasive nuisance.


In my own gardens, it seems like the faster I pull them, the more rapidly they spring back. 

And every time I turn around, there's a fresh crop of ugly shoots, mocking my efforts and taunting me to try again.


This past weekend, I was struggling with a particularly frustrating weed-pulling session. 

In a fit of hopelessness, I took a break from my back-breaking work to throw myself on the hammock and contemplate my resentments.


From this new perspective, everything changed. Rather than focusing down on the ground, where the tiny sprouting source of my irritation takes root, I was gazing up. Freed from the earthy distraction of those darn weeds, my eyes were able to take in the glorious heights of my garden's beauty.

Sunlight filtering through the delicate leaves of the Japanese maple.
Pink roses climbing up to the second story windows.
Trellises and arbors tucked here and there among the greenery.
Spiky tree tops of the neighboring Douglas firs.
And the azure blue sky soaring over all.

Yes, I do need to stay on top of those wicked weeds. But they do not tell the whole story about my garden. There is much to enjoy and celebrate, even as the green demons make their mischief at my feet.


And as I lay quietly in my shady corner, thinking these thoughts, I was reminded all over again that this is how life works. 

Irritations come into my life; annoying events that do not fit into my idea of How Things Ought To Be. Try as I might to root out and remove them, these situations often persist. And if I'm not careful, I can really wear myself out in this never-ending quest for order and control.

My mom's Alzheimer's is a perfect example. 

This summer, the daily challenges and difficult details of her illness have been springing up with alarming speed and tenacity. I pour myself into their resolution, which I surely must do. But at the same time, I feel the exhaustion setting in, and I know that in order for me to stay helpful to her in the long run, I need to be much more careful.


So from time to time, I will remember to wander back to this corner of my garden, plop myself down into the hammock and take a few moments for looking up.

* * * * *

Read more stories about looking up, down. and all around: