Thursday, June 30, 2016

Out In Left Field

Here's a weird thing about my family. Whenever we take in a day at our hometown Mariners' ballpark, we invariably root for the other team.

It's not that we're anti-Mariners. We harbor no ill will to our local Seattle team. 

The truth is just that most of us have developed a love connection to another MLB franchise. My husband still wears his heart on his sleeve for his childhood hometown heroes, the Cleveland Indians. 

My first- and fourth-borns, huge baseball fans each, carry a torch for the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers, respectively. The story goes that each of them watched their future favorites in multiple World Series performances and fell in love. 

As for me, Chicago Cubs all the way. Back in my Windy City days, I spent many a pleasant afternoon in the friendly confines of Wrigley's left field bleachers and my loyalties since then are unquestioned.

So last weekend, when the aforementioned Rangers were in town for a series against the Seattle Mariners, we enjoyed a few games from my favorite section in the whole ballpark.

^ Looking up in left field.

^ A clean view of the left-field turf... and my scorecard. Love to capture the game data. plus it keeps me paying attention to the action on the field instead of wondering what to eat next. 

^ Friday night was Fireworks Night. As the players trotted off the field at the end of the game, 
we left-fielders were hurried out of our seats as well, since the pyrotechnics were about to explode right over our heads. 

* * * * *

Sure, we Streichers get a few weird looks from the hardcore hometown fans as we stroll in to the stadium with our mismatched team gear and clap for the away guys' runs. But, devoted as we are to our various teams, we don't mind being a bit different.

You might even say we're comfortable being out in left field. 

Last Day In Danang

It was our last evening in Vietnam, so my second-born and I decided to celebrate the sunset with one last motorbike adventure around Danang. 

We headed up the beach road toward Son Tra, then turned right across the tiny peninsula of land at the north end of the city.  Then it was up and over the biggest of Danang's four bridges, where we crossed the Han River. Midway, we opted to pull over for a view of Danang Bay, where the South China Sea lies strangely to the west. 

Our timing was perfect. 



^ There on the sidewalk of the busy bridge, we watched as the sun slowly dropped behind the Asian continent. Awestruck by the moment, we silently marveled over how we came to be standing in this spot, so far from home, and drinking in this glory.


^ Later that night, we wrapped up our final outing with one last trip across the illustrious Dragon Bridge, which is festive in its own right.


^ But nothing can compare to the sunset we saw on our last day in Danang.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Morning Sadnesses

Last night, life was just a bowl of cherries but this morning, I feel kinda sad

Some mornings, you are jolted abruptly from sleep. And instead of feeling fresh and excited for a new day, you already feel tired and used up. All the trials of yesterday still blaze in your brain; the frustrations and heartaches have only intensified during the night. 

That's a situation that calls for immediate action:

A bowl of leftover stir-fry, brought upstairs to be eaten in bed while it's still piping hot. 

Moments of peaceful non-thinking  while listening to the gentle deep breaths of a loyal and sleepy dog. 

Prayers for wisdom and peace. 

And a reminder that these burdens are nothing more or less than a part of life. They will lighten as the sun climbs higher in the sky; they may or may not return tomorrow. And that's okay. 

Then you shake off these morning sadnesses and begin the rest of your day. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Worth Every Penny

Last April, when Target launched a new design collaboration with Marimekko, I knew I would have to treat myself to a little something.

Designer collaborations are a thing where fancy pants big name designers dream up some special new products in their classic style that Target then produces on the super cheap and sells to the masses. 
And my obsession with Finnish designer Marimekko dates back to the early eighties and a set of pink bedsheets - one flowered and one striped - that literally made me smile every time I put them on my bed.

So after scrolling through a long list of Marimekko products on Target.com and strolling through the special brick-and-mortar displays, I settled on an iconic Marimekko graphic black and white outdoor rug.

I know. Maybe not the most practical or necessary purchase I ever made in my life. With a price tag in the range of $90, I felt a little guilty about blowing a C-note on a pure frivolity

But then this happened.


^ Ranger, it turns out, LOVES the concept of a Finnish outdoor rug.

In summers past, while his humans worked and played in the backyard, he would anxiously pace back and forth between a shady but secluded napping place under a bush and a sunnier spot with better sight lines that always left him panting and hot.

In short, my boy spent many a summer day feeling stressed, uncomfortable, and unsure of where to park himself.


^ Other sights and scenes from the back patio that Ranger cares less about.


But with our new Marimekko rug, my boy now snoozes in style and comfort, right in the middle of the action. 

And while I realize that a hundred dollars is a bit much to spend on what has essentially become a designer dog bed, seeing my good boy Ranger resting easy in these golden days of his life is well worth every penny.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sweetness

Ranger's new post-walk trick: he stretches on these stones up by the front door to cool off and positions himself so he can drink out of the birdbath at the same time. 

"Your dog is so sweet! I mean it. He's such a sweetheart." 

I was barely within earshot when the woman approaching me on the sidewalk began her stream of compliments. And looking down at the friendly red fellow wagging along next to me, I couldn't help but agree. Little did this woman know, however, just how right she was. 

The day before, Ranger and I had been tailing another pair of walkers, a woman and a small brown and white dog. As we slowly caught up with them, the fluffy pup kept us on his radar: glancing back over his shoulder, slowing his pace to gawk at us, and barking on and off. There was a sharpness to his tone, but given that his head was about ten inches off the sidewalk, neither Ranger or I viewed him as much of a threat. 

As the gap between us closed and we came up on the heels of this pair, the woman finally turned around and spoke. "My dog would really like to say hello to your dog. Is that okay?" 

Well. Since Ranger was attacked and gravely injured by another dog a few months back, I've been outrageously protective of him and careful about his interactions with unfamiliar dogs. But this little dog hardly seemed dangerous so I said, "Sure." I paused and Ranger stopped beside me. The little dog approached and my gentle giant slowly lowered his head until the two dogs carefully touched noses.  

Snap. Snap, SNAP. 

Without warning or provocation, the little dog bit Ranger right in the face. Three times. Fast. 

Poor startled Ranger swiftly pulled his head out of danger and took three quick steps back, all in one fluid motion. He didn't bark or snarl or snap. He didn't make any forward movement. He remained perfectly silent. 

The little dog's owner shrieked in surprise, scooped up her dog as if he were in peril, and assured me, "He's never done anything like that before." Quickly, she walked off, her dog in her arms. 

I held Ranger's head in my hands as I gave his face a good looking over for wounds. It wasn't until I got home and found the blood smeared on my wrist that I realized he had a gash on the tip of his ear. Blood crusted in his fur and dripped down onto the grass as I ran to get a cloth to clean him up. 

Looking back, the whole incident was just further proof  of Ranger's gentle disposition and peaceful soul. I couldn't be more proud of how my dog has responded to his attackers. I couldn't be more grateful to have such a fine animal as my pet. 

And so, when the woman on the sidewalk told me one more time, "I've seen him out walking so many times and he is always so sweet," I smiled at her and nodded. But in my head, I was rhinking, "You just have no idea how truly right you are."

Monday, June 20, 2016

New Kid On The Block

On my last day in Danang, I decided to go out for a walk.

Ordinary as this may sound, it was quite the novel event. In Vietnam, one does not walk much of anywhere. 

One rides. Motorbikes are the preferred mode of getting around.

But just this once, I left my rented Nouvo parked in the shady garage, and headed out to take a walk around the block.


^ This year, my daughter has moved out from the older neighborhoods of Danang City and taken an apartment across the river on the new side of town. New hotels, resorts and spas springs up right and left, as the tourist industry capitalizes on the beautiful sweeping South China Sea beach, and my daughter's high rise joins a bustling new area of residential homes and flats. 

A tall stand of palms guards the entrance to my daughter's building. 


^ Purple flowers against the white walls of this villa are punctuated by red letters from a nearby hotel  floating against the blue sky. 


^ The first few homes are chic and deliciously designed. Geometric gates on stone pillars fringed with blooming vines offer a glimpse into this darling courtyard. 


^ Pink and white bougainvillea - seemingly the official flower of Southeast Asia - flow toward a tiny alley, one of the few visual reminders that this is not an elegant American neighborhood. 


^ Orange flowers against a blue wall with a pair of floating French doors. Though still charming, this residence on the other side of the block is older and less well kept than the others.  


^ Back to the ritzy side of the street. This grand home stands tall and proud, with the Vietnamese flag flying at the third floor balcony.


^ Another gorgeous modern courtyard draws me in. As much as I love the greenery and wooden vertical fencing, I really want to hop inside and see where that staircase leads. 


^ One of the few other high rises on the block, this steep, stark apartment canyon filled with steel windows and air conditioning units sets a somber tone. but the peekaboo window out front with some greenery poking through adds a touch of much needed playfulness. 


^ Now we're back where we began, at the foot of my daughter's building.

* * * * *

And if you enjoyed stepping around that block with me, here's another little treat I offer to you. 


You're welcome.

Spinning Gold Out Of Straw

A perfect portrait of my first family.


Another Fathers' Day rolls up on the calendar and I receive it with my usual ambivalence.

Social network feeds are bursting with adorable photos and amazing accolades for all the great daddies of the world. And mine, I impassionately note, was a total dud.

Well. Maybe that's not fair, my superego reminds me for the umpteeth time. He wasn't a drunk or a thief or a murder. He could have been worse.

So in the interest of forgiveness and compassion and recognizing that no one in this world is perfect, I once again challenge myself to offer the Top Ten Good Things About My Dad:


10. I could always tell he was smart. And based on simple genetics, I always figured that I must be smart too.

9. Not sure who convinced whom to make it happen, but together, my parents bought an old one-room fishing cottage and fixed it up to be my childhood home. I can't imagine growing up anywhere else.

8. He had a highly refined sense of order and always kept his socket wrenches, drill bits and screwdrivers in precise, immaculate, pristine order - lined up perfectly in drawers that were forbidden to me, but I peeked in just the same. Thus, my appetite for delicious OCD perfection was whetted.

7. Bridges, ore boats, Saturn rockets, Indy 500, flying saucers and slot car racing - he was interested in some things that interested me too and grew me in new directions.

6. We took exactly two vacations in my entire childhood - twice we visited Rocky Mountain National Park with side trips to the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, the United States Air Force Academy and a giant meteor crater in Arizona. But in those two trips, my love of travel was born.

5. He worked at University of Michigan and helped to develop the computer systems needed for the space race. I thought that was cool.

4. The story goes that during my first few months of life, I was quite the colicky little miss, and he rubbed my back in such a way to bring me peace.

3. As a toddler, I was fascinated with buttoning the tiny little buttons on the back pockets of his dress pants. It was my job to check them every morning and I took great pride in that responsibility.

2. For the most part, he was endlessly cheerful. I remember much good-natured banter and joking, telling us, "Hold onto your hats," as he drove round countless curves on our winding country roads and reminding us, "Write if you get work," when we headed outdoors to play. I definitely inherited that knack for running commentary and goofy gift of gab.

And the Number One Good Thing About My Dad:

1. After nearly a decade of shamelessly cheating on his marriage, instigating horrible fights at all times of day and night, and neglecting his duties as not only a husband but also as a father, he moved out when I was eleven years old and, barring a few awkward Christmas visits, did not ever come back.

* * * * *

And for all these things, I am grateful.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Reflections At Three AM

I also savor bouquets of pink peonies, but that's a different matter. 

Tonight - or should I say this morning - as I go to bed, I take great peace and security from knowing that:

Everyone else in the house is long since sound asleep. 
Rain patters gently down in the darkness outside. 
The house is clean, from top to bottom, and ready for the new day ahead. 
My plans for tomorrow are sorted.
Ranger snores gently at my feet. 

These are the joys of being a night owl, the sweet moments of contentment and pause that no early-to-bedders can ever savor, or even understand. 

And though, as usual, I will miss tomorrow's sunrise and golden moments of early morning stillness, I wouldn't trade my hours of late-night solitude for anything. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sweet Danang

People ask me all the time, "What's so special about Vietnam?"

I suppose it's natural to wonder why a backwards little country on the far side of the Pacific has swallowed up my third-born daughter for the past three years. 

I'll admit that at first, I didn't get it either.

But once I flew across the ocean, wiped the transcontinental sleep from my eyes, and took in the sweet city of Danang, I totally understood. 

These scenes from this year's trip - my third - to my daughter's adopted hometown might help you understand too.


^ Coffee shops everywhere. A western phenomenon filtered through Asian sensibilities, these places never fail to delight me with their chic aesthetic and knack for interesting details. I downed a glass of an icy cold blended winter melon here and, between that amazing drink and these concrete and geometric tile floors, felt utterly refreshed inside and out.


^ Obviously, Vietnam does Vietnamese food well. But Danang restauranteurs have a keen sense for preparing Western food with a twist. Example: at Burger Bros, this conventionally delicious cheeseburger came with a side of eye-poppingly tangy slaw, and the combination was pure delight.


^ Is it the terra cotta tiles around the archway, the blooming vine, the ubiquitous cluster of motor bikes or even the standard blue address tile that charms the socks right off my feet? I don't know but every darling detail of this street scene is classic Danang.
 

^ Blended drinks are quite the rage here, and as a non-coffee drinker, I take advantage of the full range of options. Also, as a sun-starved Seattlite, I can't get over the fact that in Danang, you need your sunglasses every single day.


^ Sudden rainstorms blow in, just as they do in many tropical cities. But only in Danang have I tucked my rain-drenched poncho into the seat of my motor bike and taken refuge in a cozy coffee house to watch the rain pound down on the Han River while I wait out the storm.


^ It's my good fortune to visit Danang not as a tourist but as a guest of the Vietnamese people. Through my daughter, I've met many of her high-school and college-age students. They adore her and they readily embrace me too. Neither jaded against the west or overly timid around foreigners, the good people of Danang just want to be friends.


^ And that is the sweetest thing about Danang of all.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Stand United

When crazy people do crazy things, like shoot up a club full of weekend revelers, the world shudders in collective agony and then quickly attempts to find meaning in the madness. 
But sometimes, I wonder about the conclusions we so hastily draw. 

* * * * *

Here in the U.S. we have suffered dozens of mass shootings at schools full of children. My mind reels at the pure evil of anyone who would point a gun at a child and I think most of the world feels just as sickened as I do. Still, I've never heard these incidents specifically characterized as crimes against children
And I've never listened to anyone position the tragedy as just another example of society's ugly biases against youngsters.
In this age of worldwide terror attacks, we've solemnly come to understand that shootings at schools are not necessarily conducted by people who hate children. Bombs on subways are not crimes against commuters. Assault rifles at the theater are not attacks against movie enthusiasts. Suicide bombers at restaurants are not strikes against hungry people.

Mass shootings and other terrorist acts are designed to plant fear in the hearts of all people, to remind us that every day - no matter who we are or where we go - we take a chance with our lives. The goal of terror is to make us feel naked and vulnerable and alone as we step out into a world full of hidden foes. Those who create terror desire to fill our minds with the crushing realization that none of us are every truly safe and to poison our souls with paranoia and suspicion toward our fellow man. 
We have every right to be afraid.
But we cannot let our fear divide us. 

As much compassion as I have for the innocent human beings slain in the Orlando shooting, I cringe when I hear this tragedy positioned as a crime against the LGBT community.
No matter what the demographics of the victims, terrorist attacks are crimes against all of humanity. And in their nefarious wake, we must always stand united.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Lunch At Thuy's

One of the really lovely aspects of my trips to Vietnam is that I'm not a typical tourist. 

Quite the opposite. 

My third-born's friends and colleagues in Danang welcome me with open arms. Invited into normal Vietnamese homes, we share everyday meals and experience culture in ways that Yelp and TripAdvisor could never help me do. And I come to know and care for these people who so generously draw me into their lives.  


Case in point: my daughter teaches English a couple evenings a week at a school run by a woman named Thuy. With the help of several high school girls from my daughter's class, Thuy whipped up this beautiful feast in our honor, complete with icy Cokes, and we spent a lovely afternoon in her home eating every delicious bite. 

It's worth noting that the table was too small to hold this groaning spread and we quickly decided to move the party to the floor. Asia, you are my kind of place.  

Thuy and her family live in a modern and spacious landed house with an inviting courtyard  filled with plants. After lunch, I wandered among them, enjoying every dollop of healthy green foliage soaking up the tropical sun. 


 And I found a pretty pastel building across the street. What an adorable neighborhood.


But of course, my favorite part about this lovely afternoon was not the neighborhood or the garden or even the spring rolls and my quang. 

In the front row, Susie, Monica, Sasha and Thuy.
Behind them: the Streichers

The best part about eating lunch at Thuy's house was spending time with these lovely women and making them my friends. 

Bouncing Back

Here's the thing. If you spend the morning in Angkor Wat, Cambodia doing a whole lot of this:


Then by mid-afternoon, I guarantee that you are going to be feeling a lot like this:


And trust me, you are going to want some refreshment and relaxation, stat. 

Luckily, Cambodia has figured out how to cater to weary Westerners:

^ We did not stop here but I gazed longingly down the cool walkway and felt refreshed just by looking

^ We ate a late lunch here at Blue Pumpkin, in a luxuriously air-conditioned upstairs room where we lounged across crisp white linens and pondered the state of our heat-wracked souls. 

 ^ My small but mighty vegetable quiche restored me to life, with a sassy little salad on the side. Ice cream for dessert and I felt myself beginning to bounce back.

^ We wandered back out into the midday sun, immediately realized more water was in order, and ducked into this coffeeshop for two extra large bottles. 

* * * * *

And after an hour or two spent in the comforting embrace of Siem Reap, I predict you will be feeling rested, recharged, and quite possibly ready to rock.


More temples, anyone?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Ranger Resists

On the eleventy-seventh day of sunshine in a row, I decided it was time for a break.

Well. We've actually had more like eight days of uninterrupted summer-y glory. But here in the Pacific Northwest, that feels like f o r e v e r.

So, my overheated brain deduced, let's save ourselves from the hot streets of Muktown. Instead of the usual daily march around the neighborhood, I'll treat Ranger to a walk in a shady place where we can stretch our legs in comfort.

With my fourth-born joining in, we ventured off in the late afternoon to the cool shadows of the local Boeing factory.

Just kidding.

But really, our destination lay just a few hundred feet beyond the Boeing parking lots, though a universe away in spirit.

Leafy and green.
Wetland, swamp, marsh and bog.
Crunchy gravel paths.
Silent save the singing birds and croaking frogs.

The Narbeck Wildlife Sanctuary was, in my mind, a perfect paradise for our afternoon walk.

Ranger, however, formed a different opinion.

Oh, at first, he thought it was all fun and games. Leaping from the car, his nose investigated every square inch of the parking area before we even hit the trail. He busily sashayed along, red fringe-y tail wagging nonstop as his head stayed low to the ground, plowing through grasses and brush in his never-ending pursuit of scents. Ranger was entirely happy.

Until we came to the first boardwalk.

As with many trails around wetlands, this one is interspersed with wooden bridges that carry the hiker just a few inches up and away from the soggy ground. Some are mere walkways; others have wooden railings that protect the passersby from tumbling over a slightly higher rise, though none of the boardwalks are more than a foot off the ground.

My first hint of the impending drama came when, at a fork in the trail, Ranger spied the first boardwalk looming up ahead. Cleverly, he weighed his options and then decisively led off toward the one without the woodwork. But I had other plans, so I stepped down the trail leading to the boardwalk, and encouraged my dog to follow along.

Screeeeeeeech. 

Ranger slammed on his brakes. All four feet dug into the gravel and my dog resisted me with every force in his body.

I smiled.
I laughed at him just a little bit.
Then I pleaded and cajoled, as I often do, to gain his cooperation.

Psh. Ranger can't resist me. He always gives in to my requests.

But my headstrong dog had other ideas. I was forced to haul his furry little body with all my strength, sliding him across the loose gravel for several yards until he finally gave in and resumed walking.

Good. Glad we got that behind us. Boardwalks are my favorite and I happily strode along, feeling quite pleased with myself and my brilliant ideas.

This happy glow lasted for, oh maybe another ninety seconds.

Because that's how long it took for us to pass through the section of boardwalk with the waist-high railings and reach a stretch of the flat walkway.

And at that point, Ranger promptly bailed overboard.


Alright fine. If the crazy beast prefers to four-wheel through the muddy underbrush while we walk in peace, so be it. But when we approached another section of the boardwalk with high railings, it was time to convince him to change his mind and climb back up.

Ranger was not having it.

This time, it took both my daughter and me to physically haul that feisty dog up over the edge of that walkway and then convince him to actually stand up and walk. And let me just say, it was a process.


This face may look innocent to the uninitiated, but I see flames of determination shooting out of those soft brown eyes.

My dog was straight mad.

Luckily, prayer works and after a Mexican standoff that lasted for a solid five minutes, he caved in and reluctantly agreed to get moving again. And thereafter, the trail smoothed out, the evil boardwalks disappeared, and we could all walk in peace.


Our adventure lasted close to an hour, which these days is more than enough excitement to wear Ranger out. Surely, I figured, he will not miss his usual walk around the neighborhood.

But when we piled out of the car at home, one end of the leash clipped to his collar and the other draped around my wrist, Ranger gave me a look. And I knew exactly what he meant.


"Adventures are all well and good," said my boy as we set off on our usual route.  "But when it comes to our walks, there's no place like home."