Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sugar, Sugar


 I'm happy to say that I grew up in the golden age of sugar.

Oh now, despite all those rumors you've heard about the sixties, we weren't allowed to run totally hog wild. My mom supervised our sweet treats with an eagle eye, and eventually a lock and key. There were plenty of admonishments about ruining our supper or destroying our teeth.

But like most American kids of the day, I grew up on Kool-aid, cookies, and best of all, sweetened breakfast cereal.


Without question, our morning meals centered on sugar. These were the glory days for Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, and my favorite, the unapologetically-named Super Sugar Crisp. My brothers and I raced through boxes of these coveted treats in record time, which is why they were only an occasional splurge. Most of the time, our family budget forced us to made do with more sensible unsugared selections: Wheat Chex, Cheerios, Grape Nuts and Rice Krispies.

But still, we were allowed - even invited - to heap on teaspoon after glorious teaspoon of white sugar.

My brothers and I would bring all the cereal boxes to the table and use them to build walls around our bowls. Huddled down inside our little alcoves (we were non-morning people even then), we poured out our favorite grains and then silently passed the milk and sugar around for each to use.


Sometime during my middle school years, my mom bought a proper 1970s sugar bowl - white ceramic with a cork lid and woven rattan handle. I loved it and admired the way it elevated my morning breakfast routine.

Years went by.

High school.
College.
My professional phase.

And then I was bringing my own little girls around to the same breakfast table, and they were dumping teaspoons of the sparkling white stuff onto their own bowls of cereal.

I bit back my post-millennial hang-ups about sugar and let them indulge.


The sugar bowl began to show signs of life.
The rattan handle frayed, then split, then broke altogether.
We trimmed off the broken remnants and pronounced the dish still useful, but it was never the same.

My mom bought a new sugar bowl with a matching milk pitcher, and life moved on.
The old sugar bowl was sent away to live a quiet life in the back of a kitchen cabinet.

Which is exactly where I found it last month.


I brought it home.
I fashioned a new handle.
I filled it up with sugar.

And now, my mother's sugar bowl and I have entered a new golden age together.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Bread And Butter


There are few things in this life that cheer me up as much as a bite of fresh-baked bread and butter.

My fourth-born has been on a bit of a baking spree lately, and has produced some of the most beautiful loaves of bread imaginable.

Sweet yeasty fragrance.
Thick chunks sliced from a still-steaming loaf.
Warm butter dripping into every nook and cranny.

These sensations take me back to the bread my grandmother baked during my childhood; memories which only add to the simple joys of every bite.

And while the rest of the people up here in our dark, soggy Pacific Northwest celebrated this first day of spring by exploding outside and breathing deep of the suddenly sunlit air, I sat inside with a bad case of the sniffles and ate my bread and butter.

Which was totally fine with me.

* * * * *

This is the recipe my daughter's been using for these mind-blowing batches of bread. Try it. 
And definitely opt for the coconut oil - I promise you the loaf of a lifetime. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

We Still Have Daffodils


I am writing tonight to tell you that we still have daffodils.

Oh, I know. Some days, it doesn't feel like it.

Lately, I've been finding it difficult to believe that daffodils still have the courage to push out of their dry bulbs resting deep in the dark winter earth, to grow upwards toward the sun, to unfold their yellow blossoms, cheerful and strong, in the spring winds.

We have death in this world. And grief. And a culture that has forgotten how to mourn.

We have broken relationships and betrayals and lies. People fall into darkness and do unspeakable things to the people they love. There is so much pain.

We have stress and anxiety and world full of people who resort to anger without stopping to think what's making them feel so bad, or figuring out how to fix it.

We have hungry children and financially strapped elders and a world full of refugees that need and deserve a fresh start. Veterans and mentally ill and people who have been phased out of work struggle to find their place in a changing world that they don't fully understand.

We have millions of human beings shut away in prisons on the theory that we are safer without them. Or that somehow this will solve the problems that led to their crimes. Or that this is justice. But we do not talk to them, or listen to them. From them, we learn nothing.

We have prideful hypocrites who hijack Christianity and turn it into something selfish, judgmental and mean. People who walk in the light and love of God are swept aside in this ugly torrent of false religion, and struggle to show the world the true face of Jesus Christ.

We have a president who has turned our country upside down and insulted every principle for which America stands. Every day, he injures the people he has sworn to protect, degrades our way of life, and casts doubt upon our collective future.

We have a world where sweet red dogs get sick and die, and their lives slip away right through the very fingers of the people who love them best. And there are a thousand different ways every day to miss them.

All these things are true. I won't deny them.

But I won't give up or give in.
Against all logic, I will push on.

I will do what I can to make a difference in my little corner of the world.
I will love the people that God puts in my path.
I will let the darkness and the indifference and the outright hate flow right past me.
I will hope.

And I will write to you, now and again, to remind you that we still have daffodils.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Superlatives

Superlative: (adjective)
of the highest kind, quality, or order; surpassing all else or others; supreme, extreme.

I love geography.
I am fascinated with landmarks.
I am always down for a good day trip.

And among the many extraordinary features of my little corner of the planet is that I live just a few hours drive from the Northwestern-most point of the continental United States. 

These four facts came together in a perfect storm of superlatives last weekend when my fourth-born and I set off on a mission to revisit Cape Flattery, the upper left corner of this land.


^ Greyest Start to the Day: 

Our eight a.m. ferry crossing was a monochromatic masterpiece in tones of grey on grey on grey. We snapped a few photos from our parking spot on the boat and otherwise snoozed through the crossing. 

^ Springiest Seasonal Sighting: 

These sweet harbingers of spring showed their pretty faces to us in Neah Bay, the small town near the Cape. Warm marine air from the Pacific washes over the land and teases out the first blooms of the season.

^ Friendliest Fish

Surprisingly, but also satisfyingly, the land on which the Northwestern-most Point stands is owned by Native Americans. The Makah Tribe - whose name means "people generous with food" - have lived in this area for as long as anyone has ever known. The town of Neah Bay, Cape Flattery, the trails and viewing areas are all maintained by these friendly, hard-working people. And they also love a good whale hunt. 

^ Lushest Pathway and Loveliest Boardwalk: 

Mmm, Few feats satisfy the nature lover in me as trudging through an Ewok Forest on a series of delightfully primitive planks. 

^ Soggiest Trail: 

Thank goodness for those boardwalks.The forest floor was fully flooded but my day-glo Nikes stayed almost perfectly dry. 


^ Gorgiest Sea Stacks: 

Just the south of the Northwestern-most Point, darling heaps of stone sport trees up top, and emerald waters swirl about their feet. Bald eagles perch here and there as they contemplate the hunt for dinner. And we took a whole lot of pictures. 

^ Windiest Lookout: 

Here we are on the absolute corner of the continent. On the raw edge of this rocky cliff, or more safely settled on the sturdy viewing platform, we hold our breath as the rugged beauty of this corner of the country unfolds in every direction.

^ Rockiest Technicality 

Named for an old Makah chief, Tatoosh Island stands straight off Cape Flattery and serves most specifically though less accessibly as the Northwestern-most Point. The tallest bit on the island is an inactive lighthouse, Cape Flattery Light, which used to guard the nearby entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, 

^  Most Perfect Playground:

Just to the north of the Northwestern-most Point, a series of inlets and caves undulate along the coastline. Waves crash against the rocks willy-nilly, creating a cacophony of sound and spray. This is where the Makah Tribe watched for whales, first sighted European intruders, and no doubt explored every inch of this wonderland.

And just when I thought our lovely day trip to the extreme corner of the country could not be topped, we stopped to stretch our legs on the way home, and encountered yet one more superlative sight.

^ Cutest Ducks Ever.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sisters


One day when I was maybe twelve, I tearfully told my mother, "I wish I had a sister."

"No, you don't," she replied, the younger of two sisters herself. "All you would do is fight."

And I knew that to a certain extent she was right. But what I was really trying to say is that I wanted someone to know me, inside and out, and to walk out into the world with me and have my back. 

I never did get my own sister but now I'm a mother of four sisters, so I've become  a bit of an expert in the subject. 

And my mom was right. Sisters do fight a lot. But they also know each other, inside and out, and I  know for a fact that they watch out for each other in the great big world. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Women

On this International Women's Day and every day, I hope to bring some light to my sisters.

I'm a lousy feminist.

Because here's the thing. Gender equality makes no sense to me.

Well, in terms of constitutional rights and insurance plans and equal pay for equal work, yes. Finances and economics between the sexes should definitely be a level playing field.

But we women should never dream of being equal to men.

To be sure, men have plenty of good qualities all their own. But we women are so much more than just their wannabes.

We are social creatures who thrive in circles of support with our sisters, mothers and daughters.
We are nurturers; we not only give life but protect and support the weak and vulnerable among us.
We are creative, imaginative problem solvers, and we work together for the common good.
We understand the limitations of money and power, and we don't easily fall into those traps.
We feel emotions with great intensity.
We talk. We are quite gifted at verbal interaction.
We see connections and correlations in the world and in our relationships.
We celebrate out strengths but acknowledge our vulnerabilities too, which brings us power even in our weakness.
We are devoted and trusting and loyal.
We are beautiful and passionate, funny and lively.
We are smart and objective and wise, open-minded and insightful.
We get the concept of balance, and while we can spin a lot of plates, we also know when to let go.

We are women, and we don't want to be anything else.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Walla Walla Weekend

"'Tis the most tender part of love, each other to forgive." -John Sheffield

This photo is a pathetic imitation of the real thing. But at least you get the idea. 

Here is what I learned this weekend on my first visit to the state penitentiary at Walla Walla:

As I anticipated, there is much ugliness at a prison.

Barbed wire and fences and gunned watch towers.
Pat searches and strip searches and endless preoccupation over what one might be attempting to smuggle in.
Corrections officers with grim faces and handcuffs dangling from their belts.
Countless rules and regulations about dress code, bathroom visits, and how one may and may not touch the person you love. 
Heavy metal doors that clank open and shut, as you walk down the corridor, trapping you over and over again. 

But at the same time, I was caught off-guard by endless beauty.

Surprising numbers of peaceful, patient, devoted visitors.
Incarcerated men who came in profound humility and unmistakable thankfulness for their guests. 
Children squealing with delight as their dads came into the room.
Loved ones patrolling vending machines full of cheap, unappetizing food, trying to pull together a special meal to feed their hungry men. 
Reunited families sitting together around tables, laughing and smiling in the simple delight of being together. 

The overall experience was profoundly moving and unexpectedly touching. 

* * * * *

Late in the afternoon, as I finished my visit and stepped outside, the setting sun stopped me in my tracks. Spread out along the long, low horizon of  rolling hills, dark billowing storm clouds growled above a golden sliver of sunset. But sadly, no matter where I stood to soak up this spectacular scene, my vantage point was marred by the mash-up of lamp posts, security fences, and staff members' cars cluttering up the foreground. At first, I felt like the whole experience was ruined. 

But as I watched and waited, something else happened. The dreary features of the foreground seemed to fade away as the majesty of the sunset overcame their ugliness. 

And I knew without a doubt that I was watching God's grace, mercy, and protection over this place shine down from the skies. And I was overwhelmed by His indescribable tenderness. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Making Do

"Use plants to bring life." -Douglas Wilson


It's not just that I miss my good dog, Ranger.

Of course, I miss him.

But the larger problem is that, now that I don't have to spend hours every day looking after him and nursing him as I did during the last weeks and months of his life, I've got a lot of free time on my hands. 

All that untapped nurturing and care-giving energy bumps around inside of me and causes considerable heartache. At least, it did until I found a suitable outlet.

Houseplants. 

I'm telling you, in the past six weeks, my green friends have been treated to five-star luxury living. They've had nothing but the best in:

hydration treatments
species-specific fertilization
upgrades to living quarters
and endless appreciation and love.

And while I will be the first one to tell you that a plant - even a small army of plants, as I currently own - does not begin to compare to the affectionate companionship of my sweet Irish Setter, for now, my green, leafy friends and I are happily making do.