Monday, November 28, 2016

Coming: Week 1

Festive lights peek through the trees and remind me what's coming. 

What a wild Thanksgiving weekend.

I cooked and served a full turkey dinner twice: once for the family and again for friends.
Drove more than 150 miles for teriyaki and sushi.
Ferried my daughters back and forth to the mall all times of day and night for their Black Friday shifts.
Walked my shivering dog through windstorms and cold rain.
Watched the new Gilmore Girls. Twice.
Bit my nails through several football games and suffered as my teams lost more than they won.
Washed more dishes than you could shake a stick at.

Come Sunday night, I was thankful...but worn out.

It wasn't until everyone else went to bed and I had a few moments to rest and reflect that I remembered that this day - this night - is the first Sunday of Advent.

Christmas is coming.

Not the shopping-for-gifts, pictures-with-Santa, deck-the-halls kind of Christmas. Though that season is racing toward us at breakneck speed as well.

What I remembered is that God's gift of peace, power and majesty to all the world is coming, once again, Baby Jesus in the manger is whispering to me, "I'm coming," and my heart leaps with joy.

All the busy-ness of my Thanksgiving weekend disappears in a snap, and I am

refreshed
rejuvenated
resplendently excited

for the coming of Christmas.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Timeless Thanksgiving

Clockwise from the top: green bean casserole, acorn squash, dressing, turkey, cranberry sauce. I didn't grow the vegetables in my own garden, but otherwise, this is pretty much the same meal that Clara used to serve me. 

As usual, during my Thanksgiving dinner today, I thought of my grandmother. She and my grandpa hosted most of our holiday meals as I was growing up, so her table set the benchmark in my brain for how Thanksgiving is supposed to look, taste, sound, smell, and feel.

Good food prepared in simple style.
A table set with pretty pieces. 
Generous helpings and lots of plate passing.
Comfortable conversation.
And a hostess who puts everyone at ease.

I never realized before how much I try to walk in my grandmother's ways, but one look at my holiday table proves the depth of her impression on me. And I think that if, just once, my grandmother could join us, our Thanksgiving feast would make her feel right at home. 

There's only one detail she would probably struggle to understand. 


Let's call it...the Instagram effect.

Guess Who


Once again, the Streicher women are reunited. My third-born flew in from Asia for the holidays and here we are, my four daughters and me, in all our leg and footwear glory.

What can you tell about us from our fashion choices? Let me spell out the specifics of each outfit and let's see if you can figure out who's who.

Clockwise from the top:

1. White high-top Chuck Taylor's with a pair of Abercrombie & Fitch boyfriend jeans 
2. Black high-top Vans with Abercrombie & Fitch light wash jeans
3. White Birkenstocks with Gap jeans
4. Suede ankle boots from Target with a pair of Gap black leggings. 
5. Heather grey sweatpants with navy canvas H&M high tops.

Take your best guess and then check your answers below!

* * * * * 
Answers:
1. Emma
2. Tessa
3. Molly
4. Diane
5. Jane

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My LUSH-ious New Shower

Long story short, I remodeled my shower to show off my soap.




But as my down-to-earth contractor pointed out, it's easy to over-design a space with extravagant and expensive details.  Better to keep the overall look simple and clean, he advised, and let just a few personal touches shine through.


Immediately, I appreciated his wisdom and knew exactly how to proceed. 

My focal point would be... soap. 

Now it may seem counter-intuitive to plan a bathroom around something so temporary and insignificant as a bar of soap, but that is exactly what I did.


However, this isn't your ordinary bar of Irish Spring. 

I'm obsessed with snooty, upscale, artisinal, hipster soap.



And now my simple, white, pure and clean  shower stall - as well as the still-to-be-remodeled-rest of the bathroom - sets off my earth-toned bath bombs and golden body butters. 


And it all looks pretty LUSH-ious to me. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Lighting Candles

"It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness." - Eleanor Roosevelt

Last weekend, I drew up plans for a simple sconce made from pallet wood and set my husband to work. I'm happy with the finished effect.

Walking through this world has been wearing me down lately. 

There is darkness.
There is hate.
There is a never-ending sense that we are all swimming upstream against a torrent of negativity and evil and no matter how hard we try 

to smile
to bring a kind word and a positive thought
to love one another

our efforts come to precious little.

I feel tired. Maybe you do too.

Let's give ourselves permission 

to slow down
to enjoy quiet comforts
to feel a little bit afraid.

But we must never stop.

Because we are making a difference. 
That's why we are tired. 
Changing the world is hard work.

Our task is not to give up. Nor are we asked to burn down the wicked world overnight.

What we can do - what we must do - is light a candle every day and let our tiny flames chase away the darkness. 

Let's be honest. I'm obsessed with candles and you'll find them burning all around my house. But I love most to keep one or two lit in the hallway, just inside the front door. And I imagine that every time I open my door, a tiny bit of light slips out into the night. 

* * * * *

My project was inspired by this tutorial. Thanks for the great idea!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

This Powerful Gift

This is the tree where he sat and watched us walk by. 
Ranger had posed at the same place earlier this fall. 


Just as before, what I noticed first was a silent movement in the darkness.

A flurry of black shapes flitted across deep shadows.
I thought I was seeing a cluster of autumn leaves blown across the grass.

But wait. There was no wind.

In the split second that my mind pondered the contradiction, the fluttering darkness rose up from the ground and lit on a low branch of the nearby tree.

Soundlessly, Without so much as a hint of a whisper.
My skin burst out in a thousand tiny prickles.

And that is when I knew.
My owl was back.

Or more correctly, I was back to walking in the cover of darkness. Through the long days of summer and early fall, Ranger and I enjoyed our walks during the extended hours of daylight. Since we turned our clocks back last weekend, and the days grow shorter as the solstice draws near, our afternoon adventures veer closer to twilight. On this particular day, we'd left home later than usual and darkness had fallen completely.

My owl was just where I had seen him three times last winter, apparently still thriving on this schoolyard hunting ground.

He - or she - perched silent and still on the branch as we quietly walked past, oblivious Ranger with his nose in the bushes on the other side of the drive, me tingling from head to toe and trying to still the pounding of my heart.

My owl never moved.

As I walked on, still in a state of mystic shock, I pondered the fact that although I have had my fair share of wildlife encounters, I've never experienced anything so exhilarating, so mystifying, so profoundly spiritual as the sightings of my owl.

And I thank God for this powerful gift.

* * * * *

For more stories about my owl, read these:

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Walking Toward Heaven

It was one month ago today that my mom died.

But the truth is that I've been walking toward her death for the past thirteen years and six months.

* * * * *

It was Monday, September 1, 2003, when the six of us showed up unexpectedly on my mom's doorstep, that I first understood her destiny.

Baby Ranger. 

Well. Technically, there were seven of us. My husband, four daughters and I had just driven across most the United States, from Seattle to Mancelona, Michigan, to fetch our new pup. And with a wriggly and wonderful Baby Ranger in our arms, we decided to treat my mom to a surprise visit with her new grandson as well as her human family.

Whispering excitedly, we assembled on her front porch, rang the bell, and held our breath as her footsteps sounded down the hall.

Surprise!
Hi, Grandma!
Look, we got a puppy!

Pandemonium broke out as Mom opened the door, smiling from ear to ear, to let us explode into her house. I watched her face carefully, enjoying the look of genuine surprise and delight that told me she was truly thrilled by our unannounced arrival.

Then I noticed something else.

It was a flicker that crossed behind her eyes.
A slight hint of something more than just a good surprise.
An expression of genuine confusion.
A momentary lost of control.

In that exact moment, as I stood frozen in place on the doorstep with my daughters and tiny puppy streaming past me, talking and laughing with Grandma in a flurry of wild energy, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mom had dementia.

And I knew that dementia always ends in death. There is no cure.

* * * * *

In the thirteen years and six weeks since we stood on that porch, many things have happened. 

My mom's illness healed our complicated relationship and brought us to a place of great peace.
My mom's illness also put her - and me - through hell.  

For thirteen years and six weeks,

I've talked endless hours on the phone to her, even from Malaysia, India, and Vietnam. 
I've worried about her through the dark hours of the night.
I've listened to her describe her hallucinations and acknowledged them as real.
I've gently advised her as she made decisions for herself.
I've baked her cookies.
I've helped her change her clothes and use the toilet.
I've reminded her over and over of the people who love her.
I've cried with her.
I've cried for her.
And I've prayed for her.

Sometimes wordlessly. 
Because sometimes my heart was beyond words.
And sometimes I found the words to ask for exactly what I wanted - for God to surround her with his blazing light and purifying love, so that my mother would see only his majesty and none of this world's ugly hold on her.

On October 15, 2016, I rejoiced as he finally took her from her broken body to her great reward.

* * * * *

At the end of that week back in 2003, as we all piled back into the are and careened up the street, honking the horn and hollering our last goodbyes, I knew that my mother had dementia.

And in that moment, I began to walk with her toward heaven.

Monday, November 14, 2016

We Stand Together

Dumbfounded
Distraught
Depressed

And a little bit pissed off.

Since the election, I've definitely been reeling with emotion and trying to make sense of our national nightmare.

I've read countless articles that rehash the outcome and attempt to determine what this result means:


Any or all of those explanations may be true and while the introspection is interesting, these facts don't really concern me.

And when I'm not wrapped up in U.S. elections, I've tried my hand at Malaysian politics. Here I am at an Election Day rally in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Probably the wildest night of my life


Because I know that many Americans are as shocked and sickened as I am, and together, we are taking a stand.

We stand for hope.

We stand for decency, and we will show kindness to everyone we meet.
We stand for the vulnerable, and we will protect people at risk.
We stand for the hurting, and we will reach out to their broken hearts with compassion.
We stand for diversity, and we will embrace people who are different from us.

Some of us stand for Jesus, and we strive to live as he did, with mercy and compassion, honesty and grace. 

The election did not turn out as the Kelantanese hoped, but they too stand together. 

We stand for American ideals, and we will always believe in our nation's capacity for greatness. 
We stand for truth and justice. 

And most of all, we stand together for love. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Wise Words

I am also sending him this. I hope he likes it.

I have a friend who is in a dark place.

A profoundly and desperately dark place.

The results of this week's election mean precious little to him. His burdens are unaffected by presidential politics.

When I write to him, I try to offer him hope in my own words but I also like to enclose a meaningful quote. Here is what I sent to him today.
"Darkness comes. In the middle of it, the future looks blank. The temptation to quit is huge. Don't. You are in good company... You will argue that there is no way forward. But with God, nothing is impossible. He has more ropes and ladders and tunnels out of pits than you can conceive. Wait. Pray without ceasing. Hope." 
- John Piper
No matter what your darkness may be, I pray that these wise words will resonate with beauty and clarity in your aching heart.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

My Thoughts On Election Day

Whenever I think about our American presidents, as I do on this Election Day,  I think of Thomas Jefferson.

I am obsessed with Thomas Jefferson.

Third president of the United States
Author of the Declaration of Independence

Surveyor
Architect
Mathematician
Horticulturalist
Mechanic
Philosopher

Founder of the University of Virginia and sender of Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition.

A devoted Christian though he avoided organized religion
And a prolific letter writer.

I can find endless reasons to be fascinated with Mr. Jefferson and admire him greatly.

When my fourth-born was in high school, she gave me this handmade blank book for Christmas. In an effort to make me happy, she decorated the front cover with a photo of Thomas Jefferson's face at Mount Rushmore, and Ranger's furry legs hanging off the couch. Smart girl.


But  this incredible list of accomplishments must be balanced against one somber truth:

Jefferson owned more than one hundred slaves.

In this regard, he was a man of his times. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, slaves worked the fields of most Virginia plantations, and Jefferson's land was no different. Historians have yet to lock down Jefferson's deepest values on the subject - some say he was opposed to slavery all his life; others say he gradually came to that position. But undeniably, Thomas Jeffersn owned many slaves.

And what of his late-in-life relationship with Sally Heming? It's widely debated that after his dear wife died, Jefferson loved and lived with one of his slaves, fathering her children and enjoying her company until his passing. Does that fondness for a multiracial woman make his reputation better or worse?


I filled the empty pages of the book with my favorite bits about each of our nation's presidents. 
And now it is a treasure. 


As my mind runs in circles on these issues, one ideal rings clear and true:

Presidents should be held to the highest standards.

We must insist upon ideals and behaviors worthy of the office.
We must demand their honor and integrity.

But at the same time, we must never lose sight of the fact that our presidents are human beings.

And in that spirit of expectation and grace, I eagerly await the results of our vote.

* * * * *

As I prepare to vote in the hotly contested 2016 presidential election, I find myself reflecting on the moments and milestones of my life that have shaped me as an American citizen and contributed to my worldview today. 

For more stories on this topic, read:

My Political Posse

"Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future." 
-John F. Kennedy

Never in my life have I been so outspoken about politics.

But this election cycle has really set me off.

If you are friends with me on Facebook, this comes as no surprise. Ever since Mr. Trump started talking about building his wall against Mexico, I have been equal parts fascinated, horrified and determined to make a difference in this election. Every day, I post a slew of articles that reflect what I consider to be thoughtful points of view, and I speak my mind as directly and respectfully as I can.

Many of my friends have done the same.

Smart
Insightful
Caring
Wise

Their words have carried me deeper into the issues and awakened me to other points of view. And while there are many, many people who have influenced me these past few months, three special friends stand out in my mind.

* * * * *

Check out Travis' youtube channel here. You won't be disappointed. 

Travis went to high school with my long-time friend, Chris, and was busy playing Simon to Chris's Garfunkel in a band called New Heights when we first crossed paths. In the last five years, Travis moved to LA, finessed his music production skills, developed a solo presence, and fell in love with an actress. Our acquaintanceship has lingered but never evolved until this election.

What Travis brings to the political conversation is not just an interest in facts or political opinions - though he has plenty of both at his fingertips. What impresses me is his emotion and sensitivity to the heart issues of politics. Travis cares about people and how politics affect their real lives, and when I get caught up in over-intellectualizing and hanging on to my precious principles, he reminds me of what matters most: people.

* * * * * 

Cheryl is with Hillary, and I'm with both of them.

My husband's cousin grew up on an Ohio dairy farm, devoted a lifetime to teaching home economics, and is now happily quilting away her retirement years in the countryside outside Columbus. Before this election cycle, I'm sorry to say I would have pegged Cheryl as a unquestioning conservative, as red as the cherry pies she judges each summer at the county fair.

Over the past few months, I'm been happy to learn that I was outrageously wrong. Cheryl is as open-minded and free-thinking as they come, and while liberals on both coasts sniffily assume that the entire Midwest is a political wasteland devoid of informed opinion, my intellectual cousin-in-law is busy proving them all wrong. She inspires me to keep an open mind.

* * * * *

Paul's the kind of guy who uses a satellite photo of his home state as a profile pic. 
But I prefer this shot with his daughter. 

As fellow Mob Wars enthusiasts, accountants, and Michiganders, Paul and I also share a long history of playing Words With Friends and chit-chatting about snowstorms. Once I sent him marshmallow treats for his birthday, and he sent me a handwritten thank-you card. Though we've never met in person, we have an enduring online friendship, and I have always respected his direct and simple manner.

What Paul has brought to the election season table is a sense of humor. Oh, no doubt, he takes the issues seriously. But with a regular dose of SNL skits and Seth Myers bits, he reminds me that it's okay to laugh. As my anxieties have grown, I find myself searching my news feed for a post from Paul, knowing that more often than not, the comedic relief he provides will help me keep the world's troubles in perspective and save what's left of my sanity.

* * * * * 

So cheers to you, Travis, Cheryl and Paul, for walking with me through this insane election season. I'm grateful to know that whatever challenges our country will face in the future, you will be there to share it with me.

* * * * *

As I prepare to vote in the hotly contested 2016 presidential election, I find myself reflecting on the moments and milestones of my life that have shaped me as an American citizen and contributed to my worldview today. 

For more stories on this topic, read:

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Cubs Cups


I'm ridiculously excited.

Today is the day. 

I've been dreaming of using these Chicago Cubs cups for exactly thirty-two years.
And today is the day I will finally drink from them.

This story begins in the fall of 1984, when my then-hometown Cubs had earned themselves a spot in the playoffs for the first time in decades. On a run through the grocery store, a package of Cubs-logo drink cups caught my eye, and I snatched them up, thinking they would be perfect for celebrating this milestone playoff run.

Once I got them home, I had second thoughts. 

These cups were special. 
More than playoff special.
These gems were World Series special. 

And I made a promise to myself that I would use the cups when - and only when - the Chicago Cubs made it to the World Series. 

Alas, the Cubs did not make it to the Series in 1984.
I pushed the cups to the back of the cupboard and told myself, "Just wait till next year." 

The team didn't even make the playoffs in 1985 and my cups gathered dust.

In 1986, I moved across the country to Seattle, where my Cubs cups have been living in the bottom of my pantry for the past thirty years.

My children grew up with the story of the cups. Every now and then, the girls and I would dig the cups out of their hiding place, smooth down the aged plastic bag, admire the cute little bear cubs, and dream of the day - surely the day was coming, right? - when we would drink from them and celebrate our Cubs in the World Series.

Two decades slid by. 

Now older and wiser, my teenage daughters devised a specific plan for using them. If - no, when! - the Cubs made it to the Series, we would wait till the conclusion of the seven-game match and then use our cups to toast their result: champagne for winning and beer even if they lose. 

My ever-practical youngest daughter asked to inherit the cups, if they were still unused at the time of my death. I gave her my blessing.

Another decade passed.

But this year - I still can barely believe it's real - this year, the Chicago Cubs are playing in the World Series.

And tonight is the seventh and final game of that contest.

Tonight, we will drink from the cups.

Ample supplies of both champagne and good cheap bleacher-caliber beer are cooling in my fridge, 
The cups are out of the pantry, and stand ready and waiting.

All that's left to do is play ball.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Watergate Years

The measure of a man is what he does with power. - Plato

Me during the Watergate years, wearing a fashionable green body suit from The Gap. 


My first takeaway from the Watergate scandal was irritation.

How dare the TV networks pre-empt the Flintstones and Gilligan's Island to show - all day, every day - the endlessly boring Watergate hearings??

Yeah, I needed a few more years of growing up to get a little more perspective on things.

Slowly, my adolescent brain untangled the basic threads of the national nightmare:

Burglars broke into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Office Building.
President Nixon was behind the break-in.
He and his people tried to cover up their involvement.
When Congress began to investigate, Nixon's people did not cooperate.
The media played a pivotal role in finding facts.
The deeper the investigation went, the more illegal acts were uncovered.
Audio tapes proved that Nixon was definitely involved in the whole mess.
Facing impeachment, Nixon resigned as president.
The new president, Gerald Ford, chose to pardon him and lay the scandal to rest.

Though it took me years to realize, the Watergate scandal shaped my political thinking in two fundamental and rock-solid ways:

* * * * *

Presidential Personality > Policies

Richard Nixon achieved some pretty impressive things during his presidency.

He wound down the war in Vietnam and brought the POWs home
He stood firm on desegregating schools in the South
He visited China - which was unthinkably wild at the time - and opened conversations with the Soviet Union.

Before Watergate - and even after the scandal broke - I was proud of what Nixon had achieved.

But when the Watergate investigations laid bare the true facts about Richard Nixon, I was appalled.

His language was foul.
He lied fluently.
He was a person who definitely could not be trusted.

By contrast, Gerald Ford was a simple man whose presidency didn't leave many milestones save one.

He pardoned Nixon.

And although most of the nation was infuriated at that decision, I saw that Ford was right to do so. His choice allowed the nation to close the door on an ugly chapter and move toward a brighter future.
And it was Ford's character as a man and as an insightful human being that was his greatest legacy to our country,

A man's character matters more than his political convictions. And a good man can always be trusted to do the right thing.

* * * * *

A Free Press Keeps The President In Check

In a story sadly lacking in heroes, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stood out like two cowboys on white steeds, galloping into town and pointing their pistols at the bad guys until they had no choice but to raise their hands in defeat.

The two reporters' names won admiration far and wide.
Their informant, Deep Throat, became a national legend.
They wrote a book about their journalistic coup which was eventually made into a move starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

Doesn't get much better than that.

But over time, I came to see this dynamic duo as more than just major league media stars.

Woodward and Bernstein represented the free press, independent from the government and in fact, quite ready to pounce on presidential misdoings and report them to the American public.

Our two Watergate heroes have inspired every generation of journalists who followed to dig deep, to sniff out inconsistencies, to doubt and mistrust and investigate any potential misconduct of our nation's top officials.

And while there have certainly been times when the media may have taken this challenge too far, violating the privacy of first families and reporting trivia as news, I am mostly grateful for the aggressive tone.

Because every elected American, especially the president, knows that their actions are constantly analyzed under the microscope of the free press, and reported far and wide.

And this check on our president's considerable power is a very good thing.

* * * * * 

As I prepare to vote in the hotly contested 2016 presidential election, I find myself reflecting on the moments and milestones of my life that have shaped me as an American citizen and contributed to my worldview today. 

For more stories on this topic, read: