Thursday, August 31, 2017

My New Dog's Name

As I've spent countless hours these past weeks considering a name for this new dog of mine, my mother, Grace, keeps coming to mind. 

My mom loved dogs. 

Adored them 
Doted on them
Fed them snacks
Took them for walks
And talked to them as most people only talk to their very best friends. 

But in her whole life, my mom owned just one dog. 

Granted, he was a champ. Hillpoint Shamrock Kelly, the hero of Ore Lake, was the Irish Setter of my childhood and my mother's beloved companion during a very difficult time in her life. He was, as she often said, the dog of dogs and after he died, she never wanted another. 

I understood that. Losing a dog you love is a heartbreak that only other dog lovers can understand. It's painful beyond words and we all have that moment of grief where we think, No. This is too much. I was a fool to fall in love with a creature who lives ten years if I'm lucky, And I will never put my heart in harm's way like this again. 

 But this desperation usually passes. 

And we remind ourselves that the joy of a dog's company is worth the pain, and the tears we cry are simply proof of our dog's unquestioning devotion and boundless love. 

So when the time is right, we open our hearts to a new dog and life goes happily on. 

But not for my mom. 

She loved her grand dogs, and often enthusiastically told me stories about good dogs she met here and there.  

 But she never, ever got another dog. 

And that always made me sad for her. 

* * * * *

I will be honest. When this new dog came into my life, I was not ready for her. Barely six months had passed since I lost my Ranger and my heart was still full of his memories. I figured I needed another year to made room for a new pup. 

But what could I do? Here was a dog - an Irish Setter, for crying out loud - who needed me.  I had no logical reason to turn her down. Still, a fearful voice inside me pleaded, No! This is crazy. I'm not ready for this yet. 

And that's when my mom came to my mind. What she reminded me, in a gift straight from heaven, is to not be afraid. 

She reminded me to trust. 
She reminded me that putting your heart on the line for a big red dog is always worth the risk. 
And she encouraged me to take the flying leap into this new dog's life. 

So I did. 

And now, to remind myself of my mom's gifts, I've given my new dog her name. 

Meet Gracie. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Paved Paradise

My fourth-born built me a patio.

Pretty cool, right?

To be fair, she had a solid head start. This area of our backyard was already designated as the fire pit zone and lined with a deep bed of river rock.

Which looked nice. But felt none too comfortable on our bare feet.

So when my daughter noticed a heap of flagstone leftover from several other paving projects, she said, "Hey, do you think there's enough rock to redo the fireplace patio?"

And thus an idea was born.

^ The short answer was, no. There were not quite enough stones on hand to do the job. But after an afternoon of laying out what we had, and puzzle piecing those stones into a pleasing configuration, my daughter had a good idea of what we needed.

And the next day we headed to the stone yard for six more stones.

Also loaded up 900 pounds of sand.

^ And that evening, my determined daughter built me a pation.

^Well. She got it all done except for the final top coat of sand. We hosed that into place the next day. 

^ In just 48 hours, our new patio went from plan to perfection, and our tender toes, I can promise you, are very happy with the results.

^ Baby, however, still prefers the bushes.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Pretty Postcards

Oh, what's this?

Another pretty postcard in the mail today. 

From Daughter Number Three. 

She and some of her teacher friends took advantage of a few days' break from school for a wee vacation. And knowing that I am a postcard aficionado, she thoughtfully sent several my way.

Looks like she's having a fun time. 

Visiting some historical sites
Posting generously to her Instagram stories. 

I'm glad she's having a good time. 

* * * * *

It's only at this point in my reverie that the truth reaches my brain.

My daughter is vacationing in Tawain.


A place that five years ago, I would have been hard-pressed to find on a map.
A country that is completely and utterly foreign to me.
An exotic land far away across the Pacific.
And, at least in my imagination,
A mysterious part of the deep and menacing Chinese empire.

But so accustomed have I become to my tiny daughter's globetrotting ways that her spending a week in Taiwan seems like a perfectly ordinary thing to do.

Now my pretty postcards are tiny reminders of my daughter's bold adventures and her courageous spirit.

I'm very proud of her.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Remembering Totality

Here is a story full of sweet memories and miracles. 

During the long drive to our viewing site, my mind had plenty of time to wander, and I found my thoughts turning time and again to my last eclipse experience. 

I was a very little girl, just four years old, and it was summer time. My mom told me that the sun was going to hide behind the moon, and the sky would get dark. My dad, who was still around at the time and wildly enthusiastic about astronomical events, cautioned me to not look at the sun. 

I vaguely remembered that he had built some kind of a viewer and instructed us to observe the phenomenon there instead. This was only a partial eclipse, so  when I tiptoed up to look at his device, I saw the funny little partial circle of the sun and not much else. The partial circle was indeed changing, but oh so slowly. 

What I mostly remember is that the entire afternoon made me feel inexplicably strange and uncomfortable. 

* * * * *

Those memories were still rattling around in my mind as we settled in to watch the 2017 eclipse, and as the moon slowly began to hide the sun, I understood my childish impatience. 

When the moon had covered about half of the sun, the remaining sunlight gradually took on a harsh, diminished tone. The air darkened, the shadows gained a strange quality that felt metallic and shiny to me. Suddenly, in a snap, I realized that I remembered this phenomenon from my childhood eclipse. The weird silvery light from the faded sun is what had made me feel so disoriented and uncomfortable, and my memories of that day suddenly made perfect sense. 

* * * * *

After our two-day journey home from Wyoming, we rolled into our driveway and hauled our weary selves into the house. All still in a state of shock and awe from what we had seen, my husband decided to take the practical step of sorting out the mail. "Here," he pushed a green envelope in my hand. "This has an eclipse stamp on it. Open it first."

I admired the stamp and then looked at the return address. 

No. No way. It couldn't be. 

But it was. 

This was a letter from my long-lost early-childhood friend, Marilyn. I had not heard from her since her family moved away when I was ten years old. 

In a new state of shock, I ripped open the envelope, unfolded the paper, and read  her opening sentence:

Dear Diane, 

The United States lies in the path of a total solar eclipse this year, and I remember watching the progress of one in your backyard on a white viewer your dad built. 

No. No way! I had not remembered her being there at all

And in a snap, I suddenly remembered this too. Marilyn and her family had indeed spent the afternoon at my house on that day and now another huge piece of my childhood eclipse memories fell into place. 

My reunion with Marilyn has been delightful. How can it be that so much time has passed since we were two little girls playing in the woods? And how can it be that once we catch up on the biographical details, we discover that we are simply those two little girls grown up?

But when it came to our childhood eclipse, Marilyn still held one more surprise for me. 

No. No possible way. But it was true. 

Impossibly, miraculously, Marilyn sent me a photo of my dad's eclipse-watching contraption. And in yet another snap, I feel the cool grass on my toes as I stretched up to look at the funny little partial circle on the viewing board. I smell the blossoms of the Bird of Paradise tree in our backyard, and I hear the creak of the swings on our swing set as we played and waited for something more interesting to happen. 

What had recently been nothing but a vague and hazy memory is now a day that comes alive in my mind. Thanks to my recent experience of totality, and the magic of Marilyn's memories, I can now reconnect with exactly what my four-year-old self saw and felt and understood during that partial eclipse, all those many years ago.

This photo was taken in my backyard on July 20, 1963. 
And that funny little shape you see on the white board is a partial eclipse of the sun

I cannot explain how all of these miracles have come to be. But I find myself wondering if those moments I spent gazing up at that impossibly beautiful total solar eclipse might just have filled my life with magic. 

* * * * *

Here's the full story of my odyssey to the Great American Solar Eclipse

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 ring 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. 

* * * * *

Here's the full story of my odyssey to the Great American Solar Eclipse

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 through, noticed that the sunlight was perceptibly fading. Tiny shadows appeared in unusual detail, the hot Wyoming morning took on a gradual 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."


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. 

^ "Look!" My daughter stopped as she reached the top of the hill and turned to face in the opposite direction of the sun. "Here comes the umbra."

What appeared to be a low, heavy storm cloud or the dust stirred up by a stampede of wild horses, came the dark shadow of the moon, racing across the ground at twice the speed of sound. The total eclipse closed in on us.

We had made it just in time. 

* * * * *

Here's the full story of my odyssey to the Great American Solar Eclipse

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 at the air conditioning vents, and dozes happily as we travel along. Baby was particularly fascinated with the wild 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 onto their movements, her body focused in 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. 

* * * * *

Here's the full story of my odyssey to the Great American Solar Eclipse

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. 

* * * * *

Here's the full story of my odyssey to the Great American Solar Eclipse

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!