Monday, August 21, 2017

Experiencing Totality

I stood up on the hilltop. 

Soft Wyoming air whispered around me, strangely still, strangely cool for an August morning. 

I glanced around at the strange shadows at my feet. The quality of the light was surreal - faded and brassy. 

Slipping my cardboard eclipse glasses back over my eyes, I looked back at the eclipsing sun. Only a tiny crescent of her light still shone out from behind the moon, and in an instant, I watched the last golden glimmer fade away until everything around me was black. 

 I felt an unexpected sense of sadness. Or fear. Of loss. 

Either my husband or a voice deep inside me said, "Take off your glasses."

So I did 

And in that instant, the world was transformed. 

Pulsing in the sky above me was nothing I've ever imagined. The deep dark circle at the center was surrounded by a circle of silver light. These dancing, glowing arms illuminated the heavens and I could not take my eyes off them. 

In a flash, I clapped my hand over my mouth - a gesture I've never made before. Tears began to roll down my face. 

"Look all around you." 

The colors of sunset softened the horizons in every direction. The mountains lay reflected in the lake, and the colors were doubled in that reflection. 

The sky was deep blue, like the regular sky just after sunset, soft and dusky.  

The pulsing silver light poured down, transforming the ordinary landscape into impossible beauty. 

I was not expecting this. 

I was not ready for this. 

And while this may sound extreme, I knew as I stood on that hilltop, turning round and round to drink in this astounding sight as the tears fell down my face, that I will never be the same again.  

For now I feel like I've seen the face of God. 

And I'm not at all afraid to die 

Because today, I do believe I got a glimpse of heaven. 

Ready For Totality

Rolled out of bed at 4:40 am. in a Wyoming hotel room. 

Hit up McDonalds and Starbucks, then rolled about 150 miles north. Skipped off the interstate and zoomed through increasingly smaller county roads and towns until we narrowed in on a single lane of asphalt leading to the middle of nowhere. Empty scrub land. No trees. No barns, no houses, no people. Cows wandered in the road.  

Eventually located the marker we were looking for, hung a quick right onto an even tinier gravel lane, and soon found ourselves exactly where we wanted to be: on the shores of Lake Cameahwait. 

And smack dab in the middle of the Path of Totality. 

Took the dog for a swim. Set up our little base camp. Wandered around and chatted with our few and far between neighbors, either families with young kids. millennial hippies, or senior folk with expensive camera gear. 

Finally, finally it was time. Broke out our eclipse glasses and began looking up. 

Slowly, mysteriously, but ever so slightly discernibly, the black, unseen moon began to creep across the face of the sun. 

In our glasses, this looked like a black disc was sliding in front of a yellow disc. The color of the sun, distorted by the glasses but consistent with our image of this big ball of fire, was deep and boldly yellow. 


Took our glasses on and off, on and off as an hour ticked slowly by. About halfway though, noticed that the sunlight was perceptibly fading. Tiny shadows appeared in unusual detail, the hot Wyoming morning took on a sudden chill. The ground looked strange and unfamiliar. Suddenly flashed back to the partial solar eclipse I saw as a four year old; I'd forgotten all about that surreal quality of light. But seeing it again brought me right back to my toddler experience. 

 I could not believe this was finally happening. 

Two minutes before the moon completely covered the sun, my fourth- born had a stroke of genius. "Let's move up to the top of the hill," she suggested, "so we can see farther in every direction."

YES. Scrambled to gather up our chairs, cameras, and one soaking wet and happily compliant dog, and rushed up the hill as the final moments before Totality ticked by. 

Made it just in time. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Approaching Totality

Day Two of our Great American Eclipse road trip involved chasing down cheeseburgers in Utah and wild mustangs in Wyoming. We found exactly what we were looking for, and I am keeping fingers and toes crossed that our pursuit of the solar eclipse will end successfully as well. 

My new dog is proving to be a worthy road tripper. She gazes out the window, cools herself in the air conditioning vents, and dozes happily as we travel along. Baby was particularly fascinated with the horses we saw, which makes a lot of sense considering that she spent a good portion of her life living on a horse farm. As she sighted each group of horses, she would freeze and stare, her eyes locked into their movements, her body focused on total concentration. After this busy and exciting day, she marched into the hotel room at 7:30 pm, threw herself into a heap on the bed pillows and hasn't budged for hours. 

Tomorrow is the big day. We still have about 150 miles to cover so the alarms are set for 4:30 am. I'm still torturing myself with visions of us all oversleeping, or a giant traffic jam or even an accident that would prevent us from actually seeing the eclipse. So I will be holding my breath until we are actually inside the Path of Totality. 

Wish me luck. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Seeking Totality

We are off in pursuit of the Great American Eclipse! 

Our sights are set on a sandy butte in central Wyoming that will hopefully be removed from the biggest solar-viewing crowds but still smack dab in the Path of Totality, where the total eclipse will be seen. 

Today I headed off on this grand adventure with my husband, my fourth-born, my trusty red dog and of course, our highly coveted eclipse glasses that we snagged from Amazon back in May. 

We crossed our home state of Washington on the diagonal, zipped across the northwest corner of our sister state, Oregon, and wound south and east through Idaho to the fair city of Twin Falls where we stopped for the night. 

As soon as we dropped our bags in the hotel, I grabbed my super long leash and headed outdoors with my enthusiastic dog     

We wandered through the open fields surrounding the hotel as the sun burned low in the sky, and while this brilliant red orb is pretty much the opposite of the shadowed solar phenomenon that we've come to see, I can't help but think we are headed in right direction. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017


In a thoughtful and chivalrous gesture, my hosts presented every woman in the audience with handmade paper roses. I plan to keep mine for a long time. 

Yesterday I went to an event celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander cultures and it was the experience of a lifetime.

My hosts were thirty-some-odd men with roots in those regions, including

South Korea
and Native Americans.

For three hours, they put on quite a show.

They sang.
They danced.
They beat drums.
They wore traditional costumes.
They presented gifts to their guests.
They served us heaping plates of delicious cultural foods.
They spoke with eloquence and passion and deep pride about their homelands.
They told us, time and again, that family is always the most important thing.

And many of the men made a point to connect with me personally. They introduced themselves, shook my hand, hugged me, thanked me for coming. They politely served me my food, cleared away my plate, and looked after my comfort.

All of this was beautiful and moving and eye-opening for me.

* * * * *

But what touched me most deeply was what I saw between the men themselves.

Together, they had planned this event for months, practicing dance moves to perfection, rehearsing songs, hanging decorations, laying out the sequence of events, arranging for photographs, and publishing a program.

And for all the tensions that normally arise in a group that plans this kind of endeavor, I saw no traces.

I saw a group of men with an easy and comfortable camaraderie.

There was much joking and banter, often with a well-informed undercurrent of politics and current events.

There were affectionate nicknames

There were endless hugs and fist bumps and hand shakes and back slaps between them.

And for all the program's formal design, there was also a sweet sense of spontaneity and improvisation and joy that showed just how much these men know and trust and respect each other.

Usos. That's what they call each other. The Samoan word for brother.

And as I watched these men clean up after the event, say their farewells to their guests, and line up to be strip searched, my heart burned with the intensity of the bond they share and I thanked God for the gift of their brotherhood.

They are truly brothers to one another and now I feel that, in some small way, they are my brothers too.

* * * * *

These men are all serving time in a high security unit at Washington State Penitentiary.

Our society calls them a lot of different names

Dangers to society

But I simply call them my brothers.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Dog's Day At The Beach

^ Today we went to a place called the beach. The first thing I can tell you is that my people all sat down and ate cheeseburgers. I got nothing. Not too impressed. 

^ Then they told me that we were going into that water. It's fun, they said. You'll like it, they said.

^ So I followed. And I watched.

I learned about waves.

They are unpredictable and surprising and quite wet. At first, I was not impressed but I got used to it after a while.

^ I also learned that beaches are busy places. People, birds, dogs, trains, and countless heaps of seaweed and logs to explore and sniff.

^ I posed for some photos too. My people are always with the cameras. 

^ I found a huge blue heron sitting on a tall post in the water. Stalking him slowly, I drew close to his perch when suddenly he let out a mighty squawk and sailed off across the water.

^ Disappointed, I stood very still and watched him go.I was very impressed with that bird. 

^ We walked on. I wagged at kids carrying water with plastic pails, said hello to two women who were painting and eating Cheetos (none for me), and stared in fascination at a dog who was playing in the water. 

I'm still not too sure what I think about those waves. 

^ And when we were done with our beach adventure, we went back to our spot, where I sat and wished I could do it all over again. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Adventure Dog

Here's the thing. I expect my dogs to be adventure dogs. 

Granted, I'm not exactly a card-carrying member of the Mountaineers, but I do enjoy my fair share of stomping around the vast and beautiful Pacific Northwest wilderness, and I need my dogs to be okay with that. 

Now my past dogs were hunting dogs. I intentionally sought out Irish Setters bred for the field, who loved nothing more than bounding along a trail with nose to the ground, wading shoulder deep into the brush, and filling their noses with delicious scents and their feathery fur with burrs and pickers. 

But this baby came into my life with two years of previous experience, and while she certainly lived a rollicking outdoor life on her horse farm, and has marched around suburbia with me for the past month, I've had no idea how much wilderness adventuring she has done.

So yesterday, we set out on our first hike together and here's what happened. 

^ After strolling down neighborhood streets for a mile, we took a quick left and suddenly found ourselves on a gravel trail, heading into a second-growth forest full of unfamiliar sights, smells, and sounds.. Baby did not miss a beat.


^ The first quarter mile of this trail sports a series of boardwalks and bridges, many of which are reinforced with wire grating. And while my dog was not impressed with these features, she didn't let them slow her down. Like any sensible dog would do, she simply avoided them. 

^As I've done with my other dogs, as we are walking in the wild, I do my best to approximate a setter's natural hunting environment. As any good gunman would, I let my dogs out on a long leash so they can work the brush ahead of me, and walk quietly behind them as they search for worthy prey.

This little missy quickly found her enthusiasm for taking the lead, but often checked back just to make sure I was following along. Yep, I'm still coming, kid.

^ Nothing warms my heart like the sight of a setter working a scent. So proud of my girl for getting the hang of this hunting business. 

^ She also has a natural enthusiasm for rest breaks.

 ^ We hiked for about five miles in the golden sunshine


^ And when we turned around to begin the uphill journey home, Baby needed another serious rest break. The temperatures had climbed up to almost ninety degrees, and my girl is still carrying some extra weight. Huffing and puffing, she dropped down next to a log and cooled off in the dirt and pine needles like a country girl. 

^ Thanks to the cool breezes gently wafting through the gulch and some irresistible scents among the ferns, my girl was soon up and moving and ready to carry on.

^ And finally, after the long trek home and quick rinse with the hose, my girl settled in for a well-deserved nap.

Sweet dreams, Adventure Dog!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Yelena's Salad

This is my version of Yelena's salad. 
And this is a serving bowl, though I may or may not have eaten most of it by myself. 

Recently, I ate lunch with my friend Yelena, and she treated me to a delicious bowl of salad.

Was it a vegetable salad?
Potato salad?
Chicken salad?
Or some magic elixir of all three?

I didn't know and I didn't care. I ate three helpings and felt no shame.

* * * * *

All afternoon, the memory of each bite haunted me.

And by evening, I decided to make some of this delicious nectar for myself.

Now, I could have called Yelena and asked her to send me the recipe. But that would have been a fairly complicated maneuver.

Yelena's mother tongue is Russian, and her English works best when we are face to face.

And my friend has mastered many tricks of the digital age, but texting me a link to a recipe on Pinterest may be beyond her pay grade.

* * * * *

So rather than cause Yelena any frustration or embarrassment, I decided to conjure up my own version of this recipe:

I sliced up a bunch of radishes and a large cucumber

I cubed and boiled five red potatoes and when they were almost done cooking, tossed in a half a cup of fresh green peas

I boiled two chicken breasts, and shredded them. I should have waited till they were cool.

I whipped together about a cup of mayo and two or three tablespoons of fresh chopped dill, and added a smidge of milk, just enough to make the dressing easier to mix in.

Then I stirred it all together.

And it was good.

* * * * *

To tell you the truth, I'm still not sure if this is a veggie dish or a potato salad or a cold chicken combo but I promise you that paired with some fruit, it makes a fast, easy, and cool summer dinner.

But be forewarned; Yelena's salad is so yummy that you may want to eat three helpings.

Hydrangea Reminders

"The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. 

I love summer. 

Well, I love all the seasons, each for their own special moods and emotions.

But ever since I was a little girl, I have loved summer best. 

Playing barefoot in the woods, 
splashing in the lake, 
baking mud pies, and 
picking wild strawberries.

I haven't really changed much since those days.

"The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot." 

Inevitably, I feel a certain sadness as summer reaches the height of her power, and slowly, as the sun drops lower in the sky and dry leaves fall to the ground, she begins her quiet descent into fall. 

I feel this loss sharply in my garden. The spring tulips and daffodils are long gone, the lush rose blooms and delphinium spires of June have faded, and even the mid-summer day lilies bare their spent stalks. 

"It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone." 

But summer is not over. No, in some ways, the best is yet to come. 

Because the hydrangea are ready. 
Their flat flower heads explode into fluffy bursts of color, pink and blue and purple

And even though I know, as I have since I was a little girl, that bittersweet fall will be upon us soon enough, at the first week of August, the hydrangea remind me that there is still plenty of summer to come. 

* * * * *

Quotes from my favorite midsummer book, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit

Monday, August 7, 2017

Lunch With Yelena

Round red pitcher. Footed crystal. Petal-shaped bowl.

Basil on the cheese and fruit plate. Cherry tomatoes adorning the omelet. Fancy folded napkin. 

Bread in a basket and three kinds of spread in a special three-part dish.

Every now and then, I go to my friend Yelena's house for lunch. 

And every time, she makes me feel like a queen.

The food itself is always delicious. 

Cold veggie salad with chicken and dill.
An omelet stuffed with a medley of meats and vegetables.
Soft cheese and finely sliced apples.
Crunchy crackers and artichoke spread.
Iced tea.
Fresh raspberries.

A far cry from my usual lunchtime tomato sandwich scarfed down as I stand over the sink

While I enjoy every scrumptious bite, it's Yelena's beautiful table settings that make her meals so special to me. 

As I take in every beautiful detail, I imagine her preparing this feast for me, laying out her pretty dishes and arranging everything just so. 

At this week's lunch, Yelena went with a minimalistic presentation and I loved it every bit as much.

And as we sit and talk, I find myself thinking again and again what a lovely thing it is to have lunch with Yelena.


"Whoever blushes is already guilty; true innocence is ashamed of nothing."
- Jean-Jaques  Rousseau

Look at that dreamy little angel, stretched out across my bed, the morning sunshine creating a perfect halo of light around her precious being.

You would never guess that just a few hours earlier, while I was out of the house and her babysitter napped, my sweet dog had brazenly stolen and snarfed down an entire loaf of freshly baked banana bread.

Her innocence knows no bounds.

Butterfly Effect

"In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a system can result in large differences in a later state.

The name, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a tornado being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier."

- edited from Wikipedia

Smoky sunsets are gorgeous and terrible. 

Here in the American West, wildfires are a summer fact of life.

For the past week, our neighbors to the north in Canada's British Columbia have been under siege. More than a hundred wildfires are burning; as of today, twenty-three are considered to be significant in size.

Check out these photos. The devastation is horrible and beautiful.

Smoke from these fires has been drifting down here to Seattle all week long. Our normally perfect blue summer skies have been hazy, our air quality compromised, our sunshine brassy and unfamiliar.

And while our discomfort is a small price to pay for Mother Nature's destruction, I find this a stunning reminder that when a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, an tornado truly is born in Texas.