Monday, August 31, 2015

Road Trip Day 9: Elyria, OH To Howell, MI


Off we go on another all-American family road trip. 

Two parents
Two daughters
A big red dog
And a car full of suitcases, leashes, a cooler, bags of food, blankets, pillows, maps, books, extra sweatshirts, water bottles, bags, backpacks, and a whole slew of electronic devices and their chargers. 

Where are we going and what will we do when we get there? Just wait and see. 

* * * * *

Our weekend of celebration ended and my two older daughters flown back home, it's now time for our road trip to get back underway. Reversing our long eastward progression, we circled the wagons to face the west and began the long trip home. 

On our way out of town, our little party of four stopped for lunch at Elyria's premier burger joint and feasted on Oh Boycheeseburgers, visited my late father-in-law's shop, and wandered down country roads to seek out the old Streicher family farm. 

The house disappeared decades ago and the old barn is in disarray. But the fields stretch out under the golden summer sun just as they always have, and it didn't take much imagination to see George Henry and his sons out baling up the fresh crop of hay. 

The past is gone, it's true.  But if we look carefully, it is always within our reach. 

Distance covered today: 173 miles
Total trip so far: 2722 miles

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Road Trip Day 7: Elyria, OH


Off we go on another all-American family road trip. 

Two parents
Two daughters
A big red dog
And a car full of suitcases, leashes, a cooler, bags of food, blankets, pillows, maps, books, extra sweatshirts, water bottles, bags, backpacks, and a whole slew of electronic devices and their chargers. 

Where are we going and what will we do when we get there? Keep reading!

* * * * * 

Today we celebrated the life of June Elaine Squire Streicher, a styling young lady who was also a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother and my sweet mother-in-law. She is the reason we traveled all the miles on this road trip and I am thankful to be here, in the small Ohio town where she lived her long, lovely life. 

During the thirty-three years we shared, June showed nothing but respect and appreciation for the way I lived my life. She never offered advice, disapproved of me, or told me what to do. But through her wordless example, my mother-in-law reminded me over and over again about what matters in life, and her gentle, positive influence with be with me always. 

Work hard, be neat, and clean as you go. 
Don't take yourself too seriously. 
Put a home-cooked meal on the table for your family every day. 
Stand by your man. 
If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. 
Live frugally, but treat yourself to the occasional treasure. 
Manners matter. Be polite  
Never say no to an opportunity for travel 
Make the best of whatever you're given. 
Bake lots of pie. 
Worship, pray, read your bible, and thank God for all things. 

Distance covered today: 15 miles
Total trip so far: 2549 miles

Friday, August 28, 2015

Road Trip Day 6: Olmsted Falls, OH


Off we go on another all-American family road trip. 

Two parents
Two daughters
A big red dog
And a car full of suitcases, leashes, a cooler, bags of food, blankets, pillows, maps, books, extra sweatshirts, water bottles, bags, backpacks, and a whole slew of electronic devices and their chargers. 

Where are we going and what will we do when we get there? Just wait and see. 

* * * * *

The four - oops, I mean five of us, counting Ranger - have been on the road for almost a week now but we cannot truly get this vacation party started until we are once again a full family of six. I mean seven. (Sorry, Ranger.)

Last night, as I slept in my cozy, white down comforter dream of a hotel bed, my two elder daughters climbed on a plane in Seattle and flew across the country in the deep dark sky. By the time I woke up, they were fast asleep in my room, still dressed in their traveling clothes, empty Starbucks cups littering the side table. 

My husband disappeared early to run errands so it was the five of us womenfolk -- plus our handsome four-legged escort - who headed out together to face the day. An explosion of words, laughter, and inside jokes burst forth. There were intense debates about where to the nearest Starbucks, sharp words to Ranger when he took up more than his share of the back seat, and critical review of each others' outfits and accessories. 

In other words, my life is now totally back to normal and I couldn't be happier that my road-tripping family is once again complete. 

Distance covered today: 0 miles
Total trip so far: 2534

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Road Trip Day 5: Olmsted Falls, OH


Off we go on another all-American family road trip. 

Two parents
Two daughters
A big red dog
And a car full of suitcases, leashes, a cooler, bags of food, blankets, pillows, maps, books, extra sweatshirts, water bottles, bags, backpacks, and a whole slew of electronic devices and their chargers. 

Where are we going and what will we do when we get there? Just wait and see. 

* * * * *

Northern Ohio. The heartland of America, where simple people live solid lives, my husband's home. Nestled at the southern shores of Lake Erie, the small towns and farmlands outside Cleveland are filled with family and the warm memories of those who have gone before us. This is a good place to have roots. 

Ahhhh. That's the sound of us spreading out and settling in to this familiar and comfortable place. For glory be, this is our primary destination and we plan to stay here for a few days. Though all of us are all happy to stretch out and relax, no one could possibly be more content than my hotel-bed-loving dog, Ranger. 

Distance covered today: 0 miles
Total trip so far: 2534

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Road Trip Day 4: Peru, IL To Olmsted Falls, OH



Off we go on another all-American family road trip. 

Two parents
Two daughters
A big red dog
And a car full of suitcases, leashes, a cooler, bags of food, blankets, pillows, maps, books, extra sweatshirts, water bottles, bags, backpacks, and a whole slew of electronic devices and their chargers. 

Where are we going and what will we do when we get there? Just wait and see. 

* * * * *

Chicago was my home for the first years of my adult life and it's always emotional when I get back to visit. The city with big shoulders stops short at Michigan Avenue, and I always thrill to see that front line of skyscrapers waiting for me as I cruise up Lake Shore Drive. Memories wash over me as I join the hustling, bustling crowds on the sidewalks, munch a sandwich in the fresh air of the park, and hear the L trains rattling along the elevated tracks of the Loop. 

Today we explored a part of the city new to us. Cloud Gate has captured my imagination since it was installed in the new Millenium Park over ten years ago, and meeting that gigantic mirrored bean today in person did not disappoint. Lunch at the Shake Shack across the street was also a new treat, and when we drove away from this short visit to my second-favorite city in the world, I was completely and utterly content. 

Distance covered today: 402 miles
Total trip so far: 2534 miles

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Road Trip Day 3: Seward, NE To Peru, IL


Off we go on another all-American family road trip. 

Two parents
Two daughters
A big red dog
And a car full of suitcases, leashes, a cooler, bags of food, blankets, pillows, maps, books, extra sweatshirts, water bottles, bags, backpacks, and a whole slew of electronic devices and their chargers. 

Where are we going and what will we do when we get there? Just wait and see. 

* * * * *

Iowa is a poem of a place. Like a handmade quilt on a rumpled bed, her softly undulating hills and valleys invite me to cozy up and stay awhile. Trim houses sit watch over luxuriant corn and soybean fields in the peak of their summer glory, deer and rabbits roam freely. Anyone who tries to tell you that Iowa is a bore has clearly not taken the time to get to know her. 

After two days of hardcore cross-country driving, we found ourselves way ahead on miles and treated ourselves to several hours off the interstate grid. Exploring small towns on gravel roads, we rode with the windows down and our cameras at the ready. Madison County's famed covered bridges captured our imaginations; we toured four of the six old relics and learned that Ranger will NOT set foot inside of one, though he will happily swim in the waters below. 

Distance covered today: 458 miles
Total trip so far: 2132 miles

Monday, August 24, 2015

Road Trip Day 2: Ogden, UT to Seward, NE


Off we go on another all-American family road trip. 

Two parents
Two daughters
A big red dog
And a car full of suitcases, leashes, a cooler, bags of food, blankets, pillows, maps, books, extra sweatshirts, water bottles, bags, backpacks, and a whole slew of electronic devices and their chargers. 

Where are we going and what will we do when we get there? Just wait and see. 

* * * * *

This is the pivotal day where the wild American west fades into the settled east; we crossed the Continental Divide, where the waters that meets the Pacific Ocean give way to those that flow east to the Atlantic. We hauled ourselves up multiple mountain ranges - the Uintas, the Rockies - and sailed down to the wide-open prairies and bountiful cornfields of Nebraska. 

We picnicked at our favorite Wyoming rest stop on the Lincoln Memorial highway where we were graced with a bracing breeze but no bees. Ranger has totally fallen into the road trip rhythm, finding the perfect balance of napping in the car and leaping out at each stop with boundless excitement. And we are entertaining ourselves with group geography games, interesting conversations and short bursts of staring into our own phones like zombies. So far, I have not had to break up a single fight. 

Distance covered today: 858 miles
Total trip so far: 1674 miles

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Road Trip Day 1: Seattle, WA To Ogden, UT



Off we go on another all-American family road trip. 

Two parents
Two daughters
A big red dog
And a car full of suitcases, leashes, a cooler, bags of food, blankets, pillows, maps, books, extra sweatshirts, water bottles, bags, backpacks, and a whole slew of electronic devices and their chargers. 

Where are we going and what will we do when we get there? Just wait and see. 

* * * * *

Today we plowed through endless miles of smoky scenery, thanks to the massive wildfires burning in northern Washington. We stopped for a picnic lunch at this Oregon Trail site in the Blue Mountains but got chased off by a horde of bees. Lucky to get away with just one sting. 

Everyone took a turn at driving, Ranger flopped around the backseat in a variety of outlandish sleeping poses, and we got a handful of kitty pics from the daughters still at home. In a crazy random turn of events, I turned a quick stop for band aids at a Target store into a golden opportunity to buy a houseplant container I've been dreaming about. We stopped at a truck stop full of cattle carriers and the cows mooed at Ranger and me as we stretched our legs. 

Other than the part where Ranger pranced through a mud puddle, today was a good day. 

Distance covered today: 816 miles 
Total trip so far: 816 miles

Reading Afternoons


The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Capuscinski

Across four decades, this Polish journalist traveled here, there and everywhere around the continent of Africa, rubbing shoulders with the common man and getting himself into more than a few scrapes. While he reveals much about the history, economy and politics of the land, his accounts read not as news articles but as personal and heartfelt stories about individual lives. 

East of the Mountains by David Guterson

A retired heart surgeon with terminal cancer works out a plan to end his life. But don't let the grim plot line put you off; this novel is actually a poetic homage to the open skies, windswept foothills and fragrant orchards of eastern Washington. Also, there are dogs.

A Rat's Tale by Tor Seidler

A meet-cute love story about a young lady of privilege and the working man who adores her. Of course, they are rats. Also revealed is a complex rodent society that prowls across the gutters, sewers and wharves of New York City. Not surprisingly, they manage to outsmart the humans who want them dead. 

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit

What would you say if you were given the chance to live forever? Meet Winnie Foster who is granted a rare opportunity to drink from a hidden fountain of youth, and prepare to be surprised at her choices. This stylistic dream of a book reads like a fairy tale and delivers a meaningful, poignant message to readers of all ages.


* * * * *

Here's a brutally honest breakdown of how I've spent my summer:

57% running around with a paintbrush or electric sander in my hand.
29% watching Netflix with my two youngest.
12% walking my good dog, Ranger.

And with the remaining 2% of my time, I have been reading books.

Actual books. With covers and spines and pages for turning. I'm even using homemade bookmarks from my daughters' vast and highly artistic childhood collections.

At different phases in my life, I'm embraced recreational reading with varying degrees of passion, and the past two or three years have been a bit of a dry spell.

However, I've continued to buy books at my usual enthusiastic pace, and while recently sorting through the bookcases around here, I realized that my collection has gotten a bit ahead of me. As I dusted off one curious title after the next, I decided it was high time to turn over a new leaf. Or page, as the case may be.

In order to be sure I would actually sit down to read for maybe a half-hour each day, experience reminded me that I needed more than wishful thinking. I decided to shoehorn a designated reading time slot into my daily agenda, and chose the quiet time right after Ranger and I return from our daily walk.

Especially during this summer's sizzling heat, my hot dog loves to drop down in the shady grass as soon as he hits the front yard, and lounge - tongue lolling out and panting heavily - until he regains his cool. And of course, the little dumpling wants me to stay close by while he relaxes. Gladly, I've been dropping myself down in a nearby chair and picking up my book; we are both quite happy with our reading afternoons..

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sleeping Beauty

Once upon a time there was a dog who loved to sleep on rugs.


Now this furry beast had full bed-sleeping privileges too. And indeed, many a snoozy hour did he pass sprawled across the comfortable mattress or curled tight in a ball against his his humans' legs. 

But the simple fact of the matter is that he had a soft spot for floor naps, and made an hourly habit of climbing down from his lofty perch to cuddle up on a nearby rug. 


Now, as the decor gods would have it, his mistress lately taken up the trend for scattering several small rugs across the bedroom floor. This practice opened up a whole new realm of options for our hero. 


No longer limited to one meager green and white striped throw, this little hedonist can now choose the rug that best suits his comfort needs. 

On the warmest nights, the stripes are the way to go. Cool cotton lays the flattest against the floor, and allows just enough cush with plenty of room for the breezes to tickle both sides of his tummy. 

Alternatively, the brown-toned number is made of fuzzy fibers, like the down of a cozy nest. On the coolest nights, a fellow can find true comfort while curled here. 


And on all the days and nights in between the extremes, the orange triangles provide maximum of soft support for our hero's sweet dreams. If favorites were to be chosen, this one might just win the crown. 


But thankfully, there's no need for this lad to give up any of his luxurious landing pads. Like every true prince, my Ranger holds high standards for comfort and I'm only too happy to gain his contented approval. 

So we are both living happily ever after. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

At Home

You know the feeling.

You're absent-mindedly scrolling through your feed, glancing at this and that, when suddenly a blast of familiarity hits you like the proverbial ton of bricks.

You've stumbled upon an image that resonates within you - a loved one's face, a beloved place - that instantly makes you feel at home, at ease, at peace.

Here's a photo that popped up in my feed yesterday, giving me that same powerful rush.


Here we have my friend, Aleesya, a young woman of many, many moods. I haven't seen her in over a year, but that sideways glance and determined posture takes me right back to the roller coaster ride of living within her emotional universe. I smile just to see her sweet and temporarily stormy face.

The pointing finger belongs to Aleesya's grandmother, who is just as determined and feisty as her granddaughter, and only marginally more reserved in her expression. Mak does not mess around and even though her face is far off-camera, I can easily imagine the angle of her eyebrows and the purse of her lips.

(Little Auni was just a baby when we last met, so this leggy toddler is a new person to my eyes.)

I know those pink walls. This is the family home, beautifully set in the countryside where the wild boar pass by each dawn and dusk. I've stood on this porch during a wild tropical thunderstorm and felt the hair on my arms stand up in the charged atmosphere, and smelled the sharp scent of ozone stirred up by the storm.

I've wandered in circles around the house, taking in the shapes and colors of the garden: mango and coconut trees, bougainvillea in pink and purple, lush green leaves in all variety and texture. I've felt the sun beat down on my back as I pinned clothes to the line in the side yard, and come back to find them dry in an hour's time.

I have lounged in the shade of the back porch, watching motorcycles be tuned and coconuts chopped open with machetes. I've helped the grannies clean tiny dried anchovies for the day's meals, and despite the language gap, worked and laughed together with them in great companionship.

To my delight, I've helped out in the kitchen too, stirring pots of mysterious sauces and tossing thinly sliced potatoes in great woks, always following the orders of Mak, our commander-in-chief. And once. I was given the honor of head chef when we prepared, under my direction, a double batch of lasagna, just the way I make it at home. 

And I have eaten many meals at the big table in the dining room. Curries and fish dishes, spicy breakfast feasts, endless bowls of nasi (rice) washed down with ice cold fresh coconut juice. I've met new friends around this table, and gotten to know my older friends on a whole new level. I've laughed there, feeling comfortable and safe; I've cried, feeling utterly alone. I have been completely and totally myself. 

* * * * *

If you haven't already guessed, this is a scene from the other side of the planet. Melaka, Malaysia, lies some 8055 miles away from my house, but the instant this photo meets my eyes, those miles disappear in a snap and I feel at home once again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I Like To Keep Busy



Here's my award-winning OCD Over-Cleaning Move of the Day:

Intending to simply dust a bookcase. I somehow ended up dumping the contents all over the family room and hauling the wooden shelves out to the garage to be sanded down and refinished. 

Cheers to me. I'm officially out of control. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Rosa "Mutabilis"

Once upon a time, on a Mother's Day long, long ago, my daughters gave me a rose bush.


Well. Let's be honest.

The truth is that I was wandering around the garden story with my then-three little ducklings in tow, and I wanted more rose bushes than my budget could handle.

So I picked out my most favorite, Rosa 'Mutabilis', put it in my husband's hands, and said, "Let's call this my Mother's Day gift. Buy it for me please."

We took it home, planted it in the front yard, right down near the sidewalk, where it is thrived and bloomed from that day to this.


What makes this rose special - besides its celebratory origins - is that the blossoms change color. 

The buds are deep red.

The blossoms open as pale peachy yellow.

But they don't stay that way for long. Over the next few days, their hue intensifies into a medium pink and then blush to a brilliant crimson.

At any given time, scattered around the bush are flowers in all stages of this transformation. The petals, sweet and soft, are in a constant state of change, each color truly as precious and pretty as the last.


And whenever I take a few minutes to drink in this beauty, stopping for a moment during my gardening routines or passing by the bush on my daily walks with Ranger, I often think what a perfect Mother's Day gift this rose bush was.


Motherhood, too, is ever-changing. The colors shift and vary as the years go by, and we mothers of multiple children often find ourselves in different phases of parenting all at the same time, just as the flowers scattered across the bush vary in their shades.

But every single variation is special, and meant to be cherished in its own way.

And though we must do our best to enjoy every fleeting moment, we can also relax and trust that whatever comes next will be just as beautiful as all that has come before. 


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sweet Peace

There's no finer place for burning off a foul mood than a garden.My front yard provided quite the therapy session today, and I've got the bleeding rose bush wounds to prove it.

Sawing off tree limbs.
Yanking out weeds,
Pruning back unwelcome growth.
Digging out dandelions.
Hacking back spent flowers.

Seemed that everywhere I looked, I saw a tangled mess, and work to be done. Needless to say, I attacked with a vengeance, And when the sun finally slanted low on the great heaping mounds of green debris scattered willy-nilly across my yard and sidewalk, my mood was transformed.

With my newfound serenity, my eyes could now see the good in my garden, the sweet spots that were there all along, but I wasn't ready to see.

August means black-eyed Susans and I am always happy to welcome both.

Heart-shaped hosta leaves freshly splashed from my hose.

I'm a huge fan of bold color in the garden, but I've learned to appreciate the gentle nuances of texture and the many shades of green.

Pink and yellow flowers growing in a tangle will always make me smile.

As evening fell, I swept the sidewalks clean, coiled up my hose and put away the tools. 

Surely, there will be more days when I will be in a mood to thrash about in my garden.

But for today, I've once again found sweet peace.

I picked a quick bouquet of sweet peas on my way inside for dinner. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

This Is War

To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.
- George Washington


I normally consider myself to be a peaceful person.

But when aphids attacked my cherished ten-year-old jade tree and favorite houseplant of all time, I declared war.


At first sight of the clumps of greyish-white bumps smothering each and every baby leaf on this precious plant, I was consumed with rage.

I might have screamed.

I surely cursed them.

Then I whisked my plant out to the patio for a direct assault with the garden hose.


Despite the prolonged scrub-down and careful spray session, I knew that this was merely the opening battle against the sap-sucking pests. 

A quick Google session confirmed my hunch that this tender succulent is too fragile for any kind of sprays or pesticides.

So my next offensive maneuver was to attack with the most merciless weapons left to me in the anti-aphid aresenal: Q-tips and a pair of scissors.


Night after night, for the next week, my fourth-born and I pored over the poor infected plant.

Working as a tag team, my daughter brought her fiercely meticulous inspection skills to bear on the crisis. Slowly and methodically, she scrutinized each and every leaf for the enemy.

I stood by, Q-tip in hand, and coldly rubbed out each evil aphid that she sighted. We found the little warriors hiding under the leaves, crammed into tiny spaces between the stems and leaves, even scrambling around in the potted soil.

In some parts of the plant, our adversaries had clearly gained superior numbers, and we had no option but to cut away the infected stems and leaves. One snip led to the next, and soon we had cut away a good quarter of the foliage. 

But as the week wore on, we never gave up.  

With each search-and-destroy mission, we found fewer combatants. I dared to hope that my plant might live. New buds appeared as my feisty succulent fought for survival. The tide was surely turning.

And just as our perseverance seemed likely to pay off, I made a major tactical discovery.


There is such a thing as an aphid trap. 

Essentially, this weapon of mass destruction consists of a simple yellow card coated with sticky stuff and a scent that is irresistible to aphids. When the card is innocently placed near an aphid-ridden battlefield, the little monsters will march over to the card and become hopelessly trapped in the goo.

I bought a package of four. I have no mercy.

So far, the combined efforts of my one-two punch seem to be successful. But I refuse to be lulled into complacency. My foes could rise up again at any moment and sweep havoc and destruction back into my life. 


But now I am prepared.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Walk Two Moons

“Don't judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” 


Hiking ten miles up a steep mountain trail with two extreme anemics doesn't really sound like a good idea, does it. 



Two of my daughters were just diagnosed with severe iron deficiencies. Hmm. That explains why they have been so exhausted lately, sleeping endless hours and lacking energy to do much more than the bare-bone necessities of life. I won't lie; it's been a little frustrating for a whirlwind like me to accept their slow and measured pace.


Yet despite their fatigue, the girls were game for this hike to Spray Park, heralded for its sweet wildflower meadows and in-your-face views of Mount Rainier. 


Now I am no extreme hiker. More tortoise than hare, I'm a firm believer in taking lots of breaks and enjoying the journey, rather than bolting to my destination. 


But as I tromped along with my oxygen-starved companions, I realized that even my slow pace was too much for them. We stopped a lot. We ate extra snacks. We drank lots of water.


And when we got to the top, majestic views of the reach-out-and-touch-it mountain all around, one of my daughters laid her flannel shirt down on the closest rock, closed her eyes, and promptly fell fast asleep.


Spurred on by her love of capturing a moment, the other daughter forsook this resting opportunity to scurry around our vantage point, snapping pics right and left.


But during our two-hour descent, she gave us a running status update about just how tired she felt - aching legs, sore feet, emerging blisters. 


As we drove back home, me at the wheel with my two exhausted daughters fast asleep beside me, I realized what the hike had taught me. 

I may not have literally trekked that trail in the moccasins of my anemic daughters, but by hiking next to them, I had gained a valuable appreciation for how it feels to walk in their shoes.