Sunday, January 29, 2017

Year of the Rooster


The words electrified me.
Fascinated me.
Boggled my mind.
And to be honest, scared me more than a little bit.

Pacific Rim.

I was in elementary school when I first heard the term. Matter-of-factly, my teacher informed my classmates and me that someday, Asia would become a major force in the world and along with the west coast of the United States, goods and people would ebb and flow across the Pacific Ocean as this new economic center gained power.

To a little girl living in Michigan, in a mid-twentieth century world centered around Europe, this was quite a bombshell.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined my life today.

  • After living here for decades, I feel at home on the west coast, within eyesight of Pacific waters.
  • My friends and neighbors are Asian Americans; their shiny black hair, soothing mother tongues and savory cooking aromas tickle my senses every day
  • I've traveled around the Pacific Rim four times, visiting true friends along the way.
  • My very own third-born daughter has lived across the waters for three years, and will soon travel back to begin a fourth.

Asia no longer feels so strange or far away to me.

Certainly I haven't learned all her secrets just yet, but we're comfortable together and I feel at home in her customs.

So when the Lunar New Year rolls around, like most Americans, I check out the new Animal of the Year and read up on the horoscopes and predictions for the the new year.

But I also celebrate the way that Asia has charmed her way into my life.

Happy Lunar New Year!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Sweet Talk

"If you're not the one cooking, stay out of the way and compliment the chef." 
-Michael Strahan


"Mommmmm, how much do you love me?" My third-born's voice positively dripped with honey.

Alright, look.

I don't want to sound completely cynical, but any mom who's been around the block a few times knows that these words are a trap about to be sprung. 

"What do you want."

It was more of a statement than a question.

"Would you pleaaaaaaaase make me an omelet?"

Arggg. That's my sweet spot.

Cooking for anyone makes my day, and on the rare occasions when my daughters - who are perfectly competent cooks themselves - ask me for a little special something... 

Well. I just can't resist.


I did myself proud with this bad boy.

Bacon
Broccoli
Shallots
Cheddar cheese

All wrapped up in four fluffy eggs cooked to golden perfection.

And splashed generously with hot sauce.

This was an omelet for the ages; big enough for not only my third-born to eat her fill, but also for my second-born and even the cook to tuck in as well. We ate every delicious morsel and groaned with satisfaction.

Which just goes to show that in my kitchen, a little bit of sweet talk goes a long, long way. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

On Grief

"Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind." 
-Marcel Proust

^ Grief usually drives me straight to my garden...but at this time of year, I'm finding that trips to the nursery are just as therapeutic. And much less muddy.

^ Right now, I'm all about the indoor plants. I do not need a single one - my windowsills and table tops are already bursting with green friends - but my hunger for new life will not be denied.

^ Succulents can be temperamental and fussy to grow, but when tiny, perfect specimens are lined up in sweet rows, I am charmed. Resistance is futile. 

^ This exploding pink flower did not make my short list of specimens to take home but I surely enjoyed his upbeat attitude. 

^ My second-born and I tiptoe around the puddles and find hope in the sweet miracle of green things. 

* * * * *

During the past few months, I've been hit by three waves of death.

In less than one hundred days - ninety-six, to be exact - I've lost my mother, my father, and my good dog, Ranger.

This has been quite a stormy season for me. 

And while I grieve each one of these tsunamis in my life, I've noticed how strikingly different the nuances and lessons of grief can be. 

* * * * *

My mother's death came as a blessing. She had been too sick for too long and her passing was both unexpected and merciful. And while I hate the disease that stole the last thirteen years of her life, I'm profoundly grateful for the way her journey through Lewy Body Dementia reconciled our relationship. After a lifetime of misunderstandings and mixed emotions, we finally made our way to a place of love, understanding, and peace. But at that point, the person who once was my mother was a faint shadow of her former self. So who exactly is the mother that I miss now?

This is a grief that confuses me.

My dad's death sealed his fate as a failed father. From his inexcusable behavior during my childhood to his unapologetic absence in my adult life - since I turned 21, I saw him a grand total of three times - I had always allowed myself to believe that he might one day reach out to me and redeem himself. Now, I didn't put a lot of stock in that premise but I did leave an emotional door open for him, in case he ever wanted to step through. But no. He never did and now he never will. He died lonely and alone and I pity him.

This is a grief that gives me clarity.

Ranger's death was pure and sweet. My dog lived a blessedly long and happy life, so in that respect, his passing was a celebration of abundance and fine living. But as caregiver to an animal who lovingly trusted me in all things, I felt the sharp edge of responsibility for his tender heart. In Ranger's final days, I was completely absorbed with the responsibility of keeping him physically comfortable and emotionally secure in a peace beyond his understanding. I wanted so much to give him a calm and soothing death, and I think - and I hope and pray - that's what he felt. 

And this is a grief that makes me cry bittersweet tears of love and sadness and blessed relief. 

* * * * *

I've learned that there are no easy answers or quick fixes for grief. 

I understand better how intensely personal grief must always be, for it springs from our individual relationships and no two relationships are ever the same.

I've hungered for contact with other people who grieve.

Even though we rarely understand each other perfectly, and the words are sometimes fumbling and awkward, I'm profoundly grateful each and every person who has reached out to me to express their compassion and care.

Love does not overcome grief, but it walks alongside it and holds its hand.

God has used my grief to draw me closer to him. If there is ever a time when we need God, it's when we are staring into the face of eternity, and he has totally come through for me. I'm thankful for that.

The waves of grief will be with me forever; periodically knocking me down, holding me under, stealing my breath, and then, always, setting me back on my feet so I can feel the sand under my toes and the warm sun up above me once again.

And when the waves of grief roll up on you, I promise to dive into the water and help you get back on your feet. I'll even hold your hand if you want.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I'll Never Walk Alone

For all the walking we did together, there are very few photos to prove it. Here is a rare example, taken at a special outing to the Mukilteo Beach.

My sweet dog, Ranger, loved nothing better than a good walk.

During his early years. my daughters were teenagers and perfectly capable of escorting him on these adventures around the fields and forests of our neighborhood. We all took turns on the other end of Ranger's leash though I often dodged out to make dinner or finish a project, and delegated walking duties to my daughters.

But as they grew up and, one after the next, moved on to college and the working world, the responsibility for the daily walk fell more and more often to me.

And so it was that five years ago, when my youngest flew off to university life, I made a firm commitment to my boy. I promised Ranger that I would walk him every day, no matter what.
  • No cancelling on account of bad weather. We walked in rain, sleet, snow and the occasional summer heat wave.
  • No calling in sick. Sniffles didn't slow me down, but if I was laid up, I arranged for a substitute.
  • No making other plans. My daily schedule was built around our 4:20 pm walk time, and I protected that hour fiercely.
After some trial and error, we settled on a route that hit all his favorite spots and took us about 45 minutes to complete. Wandering the same circuit day after day, we became a familiar sight to the locals and while I discovered celebrity as the woman with the big red dog, Ranger was always the star of our show. We made a lot of friends together.

As age crept up on Ranger, he went through a few surgeries and medical hiccups that slowed him down temporarily. We'd take time off for him to recuperate but always hit the trail again as soon he felt ready, usually several days ahead of the vet's advice.

* * * * *

Here in the Pacific Northwest, this winter has been unusually cold. Sometime around Christmas, between the freezing weather and Ranger's increasingly fragile health, we began to take shorter and then even shorter routes. On the coldest days, I carried a blanket so when Ranger needed to stop and rest, we could wrap him up and keep his old bones warm until he started moving again.

By the last week of his life, we kept close to home. Just a stroll around the perimeter of our yard, and maybe a loop up to the nearby crosswalks, was enough to satisfy Ranger's need for speed. Our outings at the end of his life may have paled in comparison to the length and intensity of his walks in the old days, but Ranger's enthusiasm for his daily outing never waned.

He went for a walk every day until his last day.

On the day after Ranger died, as twilight fell, I pulled on my standard orange fleece, slipped my hands into worn leather work gloves, and tugged my hat down tight. Stepping out the front door, I left the long yellow leash hanging on its hook and walked down the driveway empty-handed.

Countless times over the years, I'd thought about this day. Preparing my heart for unavoidable loss, I had promised Ranger over and again that when he was gone, I'd keep walking. Our daily walks brought immeasurable joy to both of us, and I reassured him - or maybe it was myself - that even when death separated us, our joy would continue on.

So as I walked along our familiar paths in the gathering dark, I fought back tears and fixed my thoughts on happy memories. Ranger may be in heaven now, but his spirit is still with me.

And I will never walk alone.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Good Dog Goes To Heaven

Handsome to the end. 

Yesterday evening, my sweet dog, Ranger, was delivered to heaven. 

It happened like this. He lay on a soft blue rug in the middle of our family room floor, with all of his family gathered around him. We gently petted him, held him, rubbed him just the way he liked, and whispered encouragements to him as his heart rate fell away and he breathed his last. 

We knew this was his day. He struggled in the early morning, and I didn't expect him to make it till noon. But he found more strength, and napped peacefully for most of the day. By evening, things took a bad turn and the end was clearly near. Hoping to track down a vet who made house calls, I called my dear friend and veterinarian, Jackie, who offered to race to her office, an hour's drive away, and bring us the medicine to help his transition along. 

But Ranger passed quickly and peacefully before she arrived. 

I could not be more proud of my boy. He was gentle and tender to the end. My heart breaks to lose him but his body was all used up and he needed to go. My tears fall freely but I smile to think of him romping through heaven, whole and healed, with every doggy playmate he ever loved. 

I smile to think of my mom, who surely welcomed him to heaven with open arms and a handful of treats. Or maybe a steak. 

Surely there are plenty of steaks for good dogs in heaven. 

I thank God for the tremendous blessing of sharing my life with Ranger. My dog and I had a special bond; Ranger adored everyone but I'm humbled to say that he loved me most of all. I will always carry his love in my heart but now I must face the task of living without him at my side. 

What gives me great peace and joy is knowing that he never had to live without me. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My Friend, Yusoff Bin Ali

Yusoff and his lovely wife, ready for hajj. 

The first time we met was over breakfast. After a tedious overnight drive through the Malaysian countryside, I'd arrived on his doorstep just in time for the morning meal. His wife hustled me in to dining room and sat me down in front of a packet of nasi lemak. That's when the man of the house came into the room to join me, no doubt curious to see how this pale American would handle her spicy breakfast. 

"Eat, eat!" He sat down on a nearby couch to watch me. "You like?"

I'd been warned he couldn't speak English. 


Between ravenous handfuls of rice and sambal, I nodded and said, "Yes. I love it." He grinned from ear to ear, and with the motion of his hands, encouraged me to keep going. 

I'd been cautioned that he would be reserved around a strange woman. 

My new friend sat and watched me wolf down that fiery feast. I ate every bite with my right hand, Malay style, and smacked my lips with pleasure. 

He beamed his approval and I knew that Yusoff and I had just become friends.

At the wedding of his eldest daughter, Yusoff holds down the back row with his two sons.

Our last encounter took place a year later, at a housewarming party. Though the event was still in full swing, I needed to leave and so my grand exit was orchestrated. 

Family members came at me fast and furious - Yusoff's wife, four daughters, two sons, and too many in-laws and grandchildren to count - to say goodbye. Sweet salams from the children, hugs and kisses from the women, and even handshakes from the young men, who only on rare occasions greet a strange woman with a physical touch. Older men never do.

Entirely overwhelmed by this rapid-fire show of emotion, I could barely keep up with all the greetings. Whirling this way and that, trying to extend each person the courtesy they deserved, I quickly found myself operating out of my American instincts.

And so it was that when Yusoff stepped out from the nearby tent to say his goodbyes, I automatically offered him my hand. 

Uh oh. 

Our eyes met over my extended hand, and I knew I'd gone too far.

Yusoff's eyes softened with a smile, and he made a playful gesture of refusal, simple enough for me to understand and subtle enough to be our own private exchange. Gently, wordlessly, Yusoff reminded me once again that, handshakes or not, we were friends. 

A family portrait from several years ago, with four of his six offspring and ten of his twelve grandchildren represented. The man has been busy. 

But my all-time favorite moment with Yusoff happened on the night before that party. A year since my nasi lemak breakfast at his home, I flew back into town during a late evening thunderstorm. Caught up in an entourage led by Yusoff's eldest daughter and her family, I stopped by his second-born daughter's home to say hello. We tiptoed in the door and found the front room dark and heaped with sleeping children.

Before I could follow my group to the back of the house, I heard an excited whisper in the darkness from another direction. "Hello, Diane! Salam."

A small light came on, and there, sitting up on an improvised floor bed, was Yusoff's wife. I was delighted to see her again; I hugged her and sat down for a quiet chat. We talked for several minutes when something most unexpected occurred.

The shadows beyond my friend began to shift, and suddenly, a big, brown, entirely bare chest rose up from the darkness. The faint light fell on this person's face, and there was Yusoff, in all his half-naked glory, with a smile the size of the Pacific Ocean and a steady stream of cheerful English greetings for me.

We laughed together and somehow this incongruous reunion felt effortlessly friendly and entirely natural.

* * * * *

I'm sorry to say that my friend, Yusoff Bin Ali, passed away this week. His wife and family - including each one of his six beloved children - gathered at his bedside and so Yusoff spent his last days surrounded by those who loved him most. I'm so thankful for that.

Still, I wish I could have been there with him to share

one more smile,
one more flash of his sparkling eyes,
one more exchange of hand gestures and simple English,
one more sweet moment of friendship.

I might have even held his hand.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Good, Good Day



As the end of his life draws near, my sweet dog, Ranger has good days and bad days. 

On this day, he enjoyed a series of long, leisurely naps, monitored the comings and goings of the family, and took two outings to ramble around the neighborhood. 


After midnight, he woke up hungry and wolfed down four beef sausages and half a package of deli sliced roast beef. Then he walked out to the backyard for a long drink of cool water, some patrolling around the bushes, and a bit of spirited barking at the full moon. 


Now he's stretched out across the couch, deep into his dreams. 


For my boy Ranger, this has been a good, good day. 


Monday, January 9, 2017

Three Tiny Flowers

"So I show appreciation for the little gifts that have been handed to me." -Terrence Howard


^ Right on schedule, my Christmas cactus has burst into bloom. See? Three pink flowers cluster together at the tips of long green tendrils. 


^ They take my breath away with their exquisite form and vibrant color. Year after year, this plant has bloomed, far beyond my ability to remember exactly how many times. But this cactus is faithful and I'm delighted whenever it treats me to a display.


^Of course, I see the irony here. Three tiny flowers barely make an impact on this oversize specimen, and this year's output falls far short of what a healthy bloom should be.

But I am content. Because if life has taught me anything, it is to give thanks for what I have, rather than wish for what I don't.

So thank you, Christmas cactus, for speaking truth to me with your three tiny flowers.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Cedric

 "I don't love my daughters equally, for that implies they are all the same. I love each one for exactly who she is, and I love each one with my whole heart." -me

Oh, a nap with Cedric is a magical thing.

As it is with daughters, so it is with my three cats.

Yes, they are all three smart, loving and adorably personable kitties, but I love each one for entirely different reasons.

Luna is bold and brash, ever the explorer, always attuned to his finely honed instincts. He's a wild man and I love him for his sense of adventure.

Sirius is tender and cautious, yet probably the most people-oriented of the three. He is sweet and communicative, and when I find him waiting for me to come back from my walk, he melts my heart.

And Cedric? Well, this guy lives for comfort and affection. He sleeps in poetic ease, heathery stripes and rusty tummy posed just so for maximum adorableness. And when a human draws near to this perfect snuggling machine, he gently stirs. Stretching luxuriously and purring irresistibly, Cedric commands affection and usually gets exactly what he wants.

The camera loves Cedric and so do I.

He is my extravagantly handsome green-eyed hedonist and I wouldn't have him any other way.

* * * * *

I love to write about my pets. Check out all my Pet Love stories here.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Feast From The Heart

"When I eat with my friends, it is a moment of real pleasure, 
when I really enjoy my life." -Monica Bellucci

Yelena's Russian blintzes in my humble American kitchen. 
Served with a Russian confection of sunflower seeds and honey, over yogurt. 

If there's anything better than being invited to a friend's house for an authentic home-cooked Russian meal, it's being sent home with even more delicious treats.

Yes, my friend Anya set her mother, Yelena, to work on a borscht-inspired dinner that transported me all the way from Mukilteo to Mother Russia. Besides the signature beet soup, sweetly flavored with cabbage and topped with a generous dollop of sour cream, we enjoyed a feast of classic Russian go-withs:

beef cabbage rolls garnished with pomegranate
salted salmon
roasted peppers and green olives
and a irresistible loaf of fresh rye bread.

Every bite soothed my soul, as I ate under Yelena's generous and gracious supervision. Anya's stories of her days in Moscow held me transfixed until dessert arrived, with Russian chocolates galore and endless pots of fresh steaming tea.

But as the evening wound down, Anya and Yelena had even more in store for me.

Here, take these blintzes home with you. They're like crepes, and filled with homemade ricotta cheese. Fry them up with a bit of butter, and serve with sour cream and maybe some jam.

I did exactly as I was told.

The blintzes were delicious. Just as I had during dinner, I felt transported to a warm kitchen in wintry Russia, windows steamed with the heat of cooking, a flowered cloth on a simple table, chairs drawn close together against the dark, and candles flickering around the room. 

This is the power of food - to take us places we can't otherwise go, and to connect us to people in ways that transcend ordinary conversation.

Thank you, Anya and Yelena, for sharing this delicious feast from your hearts with me. 

A feast for my eyes and stomach as well as my heart. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The New Pink


Oh, how I've dreaded this day.

I've known it was coming for a long, long time. 

It's been at least five years since the writing appeared on the home design wall. The 80s in all their pastel glory, would eventually be back, and then we would be facing the return of that nemesis of all 80s colors: 

Mauve.

Also known by its alias: dusty pink

This color committed many decor designs in its day and along with my dread, I've been curious to see how it would be reworked to look something less than dated, frumpy and awful.

Which seemed an impossible challenge. 

But miracles do happen, people.

Mauve has been reinterpreted for the post-millennial home as blush.

Blush. Like a young girl's cheek. That's so sweet.

And the color has been reformulated from its dusty greyed-out tones that look like they'd been put through the wash a few too many times to a gentle, just-this-side-of-pale-peach perfect-as-baby-skin pink.

I'm shocked with myself for saying this.

But I kinda love the new pink.

rose quartz, ohio flint | the wishing stone, edmonds, washington
ring bowl | gunn and swain
to do book | target

Monday, January 2, 2017

The (Math) Joke's On Me

The pun is a bit of a groaner, but when I ran across this little gem, I knew it was the perfect bag for me and my trusty math markers. 

Imagine me as a fairly feisty teenager. 

I know. Not that much of a stretch. 

But back in those days, as I pondered my place in the world, with specific regard to my college major, I knew two things for sure:

1. I would never be a mathematician like my father.
2. I would never be a teacher like my mom. 

So when the sirens of accounting and finance beckoned me, I followed, and felt smug satisfaction that - rather than trailing along in my parents' predictable footsteps - I had paved my own particular way in life.

Now, fast forward a few decades and the punch line gains momentum. Not only am I a teacher but I teach mathematics.

Yep. I managed to mash up both parents' professions into one, and claim it for my own. 

And even more, I love what I do. Can't imagine any work more deliciously challenging and soul-satisfying than breaking down the rules for exponents for some profoundly disinterested students and eventually coaxing them into caring about what they've learned.

So yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. Life is full of irony and when I look back on the stamping of my scrappy little teenage foot, I understand.

This math joke is definitely on me. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Empty Vessel

"The empty vessel makes the loudest sound." - William Shakespeare


^ For my Christmas gift to myself this year, I decided to whip up a freshly styled cabinet full of  drinking glasses.


^ I treated myself to these copper mugs last year, so it's only fitting that they served as my inspiration for this year's indulgence.


^ Working off the copper theme, I couldn't resist the copper-colored flutes that will rock my morning orange juice. Also, those handmade babies of recycled glass, each one slightly wonky in its own way, really make my day.


 ^ The classic French tumblers in large and small were already in my inventory; I just rounded each set out to a full six. And the white mugs are tried and true basics that match my basic white dinnerware. Needed to happen.  


^ My humble collection of six wine glasses grew to a respectable twelve. Still, I saved all my wonky leftovers from other sets so that goblet-loving guests can choose between standard or custom models.


^ My upgraded collection of empty vessels is mostly practical and pleasing, at least to my eye. Best of all, I can just imagine my mother - a longstanding lover of matching glassware sets - beaming down from heaven and saying, "It's about time."

* * * * *


My 2016 New Year's resolution rocked it out. 

Well. It wasn't so much of a typical resolution to do this or not to that. It was more of a philosophy for living and it served me well.


My goal for the year was to seize the day. I'm at a point in my life where I'm no longer willing to put any of my hopes and dreams on a back burner and patiently wait for the time to be "right," whatever that means.

As of January 1, 2016, I was all about taking life by the cojones and running with it. 

And yes, that resolution inspired me to 

make some changes, 
get a lot of projects done, and 
push myself just a little bit harder to be the person I want to be.

But here's what I noticed. The biggest and bestest parts of my year were the moments when I stepped into extravagant opportunities that were handed to me entirely unexpectedly:

Accepting an invitation to visit newfound friends in Cuba.
Reconnecting with my mom's dearest friends after her death.
Reaching out to a family in a dark place and finding that they bring me beautiful light.
Discovering that I have a new half-brother and embracing that relationship.

I realized that my 2016 mantra limited me to the ideas and possibilities that I can see for myself.

But the best stuff happens when I let God open doors for me, and I simply step through. 

I've got to hand it to God. His plans for me are far more elaborate than my own. 

So this year, I'm taking myself out of the equation. Rather than relying on my own wits and cleverness to expand my life, I'm going to, as the expression goes, let go and let God.

My 2017 mantra - Empty Vessel - reminds me to keep myself out of the way, and invites God to take me wherever he dares me to go.

I cannot wait to see what happens.