Wednesday, August 10, 2022


  1. used to express approval when a performer or other person has done something well.
    "people kept on clapping and shouting “bravo!”"

  2. noun

  1. a code word representing the letter B, used in radio communication.
  2. "Cancel matrix twelve, and change to bravo seven."
The first two doors are designated Alpha, but today was all about Bravo, on the right. 

I got my dog settled in on her garage bed, hit play on my audio book, and opened the doors of Bravo.

 And then the fun began.

Bravo is the name of one of my garage storage cupboards. When I installed them five years ago and began the day-in and day-out task of communicating to my family where exactly they might find the recently relocated item they were looking for, it occurred to me that my cupboards were really going to need names. In a flash, I landed on the perfect ones.


and later came along little Echo. 

Now I can not only drop a pin in anyone's search request with a single word, but I also fantasize that I'm a beret-wearing member of the French Resistance during World War II, sending intercepted information by coded radio transmissions to my cohorts who are about to blow up a Nazi ammunitions depot.

Historically, my daydream is wildly inaccurate but such is the power of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet.

Bravo is the place where I keep my back stock of housewares, as well as some Christmas decor. The basic organizational structure has been in place for quite a few years now, but as we all know, our possessions have a mysterious way of shuffling themselves about in the middle of the night, and before you know it, a crisply delineated system has devolved into a squalid mess. 

Which is where I found myself today. 

So, with vinegar water and fiber cloth in hand, I tackled the lovely task of clearing off the shelves, wiping them all clean, and then, after a light edit, replacing each item onto its proper shelf. 

Here, I'll show you.
^ Bravo in all her reorganized "after" glory. Sadly, I did not get a "before." 
Just imagine this with 20% more things crammed on the shelves, many of them turned on their sides and heaped on top of the neatly organized ones. 

Top shelf: Animals

I went through a phase of collecting hand carved farm animals, and wooden Noah's Ark sets. Along with my midcentury brass quail, a few vintage Japanese Kokeshi dolls, and a Beanie Baby giraffe wearing a miniature sombrero, they all live happily together on the top shelf. 

Second shelf: Planters

If I ever had exactly the same number of plants as I do planters, the sun would implode and all life on our planet would wither and die. So I keep some extra pots, as well as a shocking number of terrariums, on hand.

Third shelf: Bowls/Trays

To be clear, these are not food-related bowls and trays - food safe items live in Delta. These bowls and trays are more likely the styling accessories you might find on a bookshelf holding - if you're in my house - a collection of rocks.
^ My vase collection used to include a huge number of empty glass spice jars, which were the perfect receptacle for little toddler bouquets.

Fourth shelf: Vases (with a few overflow Candles)

This shelf is a sanctuary for little vases of which I have plenty. Back in the day, my little daughters used to love heading out into the garden with a pair of scissors to pick me beautiful bouquets and then choosing the perfect tiny glass vases for their arrangements. And for that reason alone, I will never part with a single one.
^ Once upon a time, I bought myself one of these classic pewter candlesticks, and my mom purchased its twin. Like many of our matching housewares, they are now reunited in Bravo.

Fifth shelf: Candles

I own a ridiculous number of candle holders. But each one has a story and a history; many were gifts, and quite a few came to me from my mother and mother-in-law. I am emotionally bonded to one and all, and some day, on a dare, I may put them all on the dining table at once and light up a blaze.

^ Whenever I open Bravo's doors, I'm greeted by this cheery band of St. Nicks, and I must say they always make me smile.
^ Jingle bells that have hung for many Christmases from my pantry door knob, and a hand carved wooden ornament whittled by my nephew as a gift for my mother-in-law. 

Sixth and seventh shelves: Christmas

Of course this is not my entire Christmas decor collection. What kind of American would I be if I didn't have a handful of oversize plastic storage bins up in my attic, bursting with garlands baubles and tangled strings of lights? No, no, this is just a curated selection of my most beloved favorites featuring lots and lots of mini trees, my mother-in-law's ceramic light-up house, a set of simple white Scandi style houses, a whimsical assortment of deer, several handmade quilted and cross-stitch pieces made by my mom, and a whole lotta Santas.
Yes, on the bottom right, that is a ceramic vase shaped like a deer head. And she is cuddling her fawn. It's a piece that lives right on the borderline between awful and amazing. I'm still trying to decide. 
Bottom shelf: Oversize parking
Oh. it seemed like a great idea at the time. As I was building the cabinets, I figured I'd leave a big space at the bottom for those bulky or tall items that would not fit on the relatively tight upper shelves. But that kind of wide ranging space, my friends, is an invitation for Trouble. Extra big spaces are absolutely ideal dumping grounds - you know, the kind where you lay something down on top of the neatly arranged bits and tell yourself, "I'll come back and put that away properly later on." And of course, YOU NEVER DO. Or at least, I never do. But today, I did.

And I know this probably sounds rather clunky and lacking in finesse, but the answer to my problems was a cardboard box. 

By sliding all the truly oversize pieces to the left, and then tucking the box into the space on the right, I was able to create two tiers of medium sized space, and land a handful of super Santas, medium large vases, and more candle holders into perfectly crafted homes. 

Cardboard boxes are never elegant, but dang, sometimes they just get the job done. 

* * * * *

Thus my session with Bravo ended on a delightfully high note, and I am energized to continue my organizing extravaganza across the alphabet. 

Next stop: Alpha!

Next stop: Alpha. Roger that. 

Monday, August 8, 2022

A Dog Party

A dog party!
A big dog party!

Big dogs, little dogs, 
red dogs, blue dogs,
yellow dogs, green dogs,
black dogs, white dogs
are all at a dog party!

What a dog party!

- from Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman

* * * * *

^Our host for the day, Heather, proves that the best way to make an Irish friend is with an open bag of beef jerky in hand. Do not think for an instant that Gracie (far right) was shy about stepping up for handouts; at this point, she had such a belly full of treats that I'm surprised she was still standing.

^ Heather's plan was to use the treats to coax the dogs over to her photo station, where the obedient animals would calmly and patiently take turns posing in her kissing booth. Apparently the lads and lassies cared less about doling out smooches and much more about scoring delicious treats. Please note Gracie, front and center, third dog from the left.

^ If you've ever been to a toddler's birthday party, you know that there's always that one kid who doesn't want anything to do with the games or the crafts or the other tiny guests. That one kid who just wants to eat cake and ice cream. Yes, that one kid at this party was my very own Grace. She spent a good portion of the day sniffing at the treat table.
^ This moment was captured near the end of the party, when many dogs had already left and my head-spinning excitement had slowed to the point that I could think about taking photos.

* * * * *

On Saturday, I took my dog to a party. A big dog party.

And yes, there were big dogs and little dogs.

But all the dogs were red.*

Yes, this was an Irish Setter party and my red dog was one of oh, maybe 25 redheads who spent the afternoon gamboling about a beautiful horse arena that had been turned over to the pups for the day.

Oh, I know. Every dog person's heart is shaped to love a certain type of dog, and there is no right or wrong, good or bad breed to love.

But for me, spending time in a romping mass of spirited Irish pups is surely a taste of heaven, and honestly, it was an afternoon that simply took my breath away.

What a dog party!

* * * * *

* One dog, a Gordon Setter, was black.

Friday, August 5, 2022


"Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a pivotal stroke of luck." -Dalai Lama

^ We planted this paperbark maple in Year Two when it began its life by casting a tiny puddle of shade for the babies' sandbox. Now at its mature height, it's just the right size and I adore it.

^ Though the patio has changed several times, this winding path of step stones goes way back. I installed it during the first summer we lived here, and the little ten year old girl who had become my neighbor and constant companion complimented me on the way I'd laid out the curves. "That makes it look more mysterious,' she opined, and I often remember her feedback and smile.

^ This back section of the garden along the back fence has been through many changes, though the same old flower friends turn up again and again in its composition. Those shasta daisies have been falling over from the rain for decades now, just like my mom's and my grandma's always did, and I don't know which one of us was the more exasperated.

^ Our first-born was almost a year old when we bought a truckload of "one man rocks" with which to build this retaining wall. My husband spent many weekends that summer puzzling over how to best fit the rocks together, and when his parents came for a visit, he and his dad spent hours moving this one and that, aiming for German perfection. I love that my father-in-law's handiwork lives on in my yard.

^ This purple clematis is a wildly cascading lady, and in her earlier days, her vines piled up on top of the trellis, making a nifty little cave in which the cats loved to sleep. My husband built the trellis with his own two hands, using plans drawn up by yours truly.

^ During midsummer, the flowers in this part of the garden take a breath, and gear up for their mid August displays. The climbing rose survived the house painting, and in other news, despite many other easier options for watering holes, Gracie prefers to drink from this fountain.

^ In her lake house, my mother's entry way was covered in fairly large, naturally shaped pieces of slate and it was her pride and joy. With the gift of her inheritance, I had our patios rebuilt with similar stones, and every day as I cross back and forth across these stones, I think of her and her beloved slate floor. 

* * * * * 

"Well, here's the thing," the pool guy said. "All in, you're looking at $250 to $300 grand."

And the most shocking thing about that statement was that I plowed on, undeterred by the fact this man just informed me that the in-ground pool of my dreams would cost me somewhere around a third of a million dollars. My husband would die if he knew how quickly I began mentally calculating which assets could be cashed out and how much this expenditure would affect retirement plans: I was still very much in the game. 

"That includes our construction costs," he continued, "and also your electrical work, your gas hookups, disposal of the dirt we remove, and landscaping costs after we're done."

"Oh, haha," I responded with a cheerfulness edged in mania. "At least I can save a little money there. My backyard is already landscaped so I don't have to worry about that."

"Umm," he replied carefully. "I don't think you understand. Putting in a pool is a major construction project, and the existing landscape is going to be gutted. That's flowers, grass, bushes, possibly trees, as well as your pavers or patio stones. We'll try to protect your driveway but we can't make any promises."

Annnnd that's where he lost me. 

Yeah, I want a pool. But at the cost of the thirty-six years of blood, sweat, and overspending at the nursery that I've invested in my beloved gardens?

Absolutely not. 

We chatted on for a few more minutes, but as if a switch had been flipped in my brain, I had already moved on. 

An in-ground pool is now officially out of the question. I don't even want one, if it means losing a single flower bed. 

So now I pivot. 

Stay tuned. 

* * * * *

I'm a lake lady and I need water. 
Follow along as I try to make my pool-owning dreams come true.


Thursday, August 4, 2022

Back To Normal

As I walk past my daughter's bedroom on a sunny afternoon, I glance in and there he is, stretched out across the sunny sheets in all his resplendent feline glory, reveling in a luxurious and delightfully cozy  nap.

And I smile to myself as I head down the stairs. Every single thing in Sirius's world is perfectly normal. 

Which is a lovely turn of events, because for the last 48 hours, they have not. 

* * * * *

It all began around 3 a.m. on Saturday night - or, I suppose, early Sunday morning. My fourth-born was going about her normal routine when from out of doors, she suddenly heard a notable sound. 

The unmistakable sound of a cat staking his claim. 

It wasn't a fight per se; she heard just one cat's voice. But in an instant she knew who was speaking.


She dashed down the stairs and out into the backyard, my second-born and I trailing along, piecing together the story as we went. We all spilled out into the heavy summer night air, and my fourth-born put voice to her most enticing kitty calls. 

Sure enough, within sixty seconds, ka-fwump, Sirius hopped down from the fence and landed with a thump in our garden, then headed right for her. She scooped him up and we all went inside. 

A quick going over yielded a happy result - no wounds, no blood, no apparent injuries. He calmly allowed us to examine his every inch. But we noticed a slight limp and the wild eyes and edgy, wound-up behavior of a cat who has had a close encounter of some kind. Ah well, off to bed with our furry fellow, and we left notes and texts for my husband, who handles morning cat duties, to please keep Sirius in for further observation. 

Which he did.

But by midday, I knew we had a problem on our hands. 

Sirius, darling kitten, is a sweet, poetic sort of cat. He loves to spend time outside, napping under a drift of daylilies, sitting primly on the front sidewalk, or lounging like a lazy leopard on a fence post, dreamily watching the world go by. And here's the kicker - in those rare occasions when he is feeling a bit off, he seeks his out of doors comforts more than ever. 

Which he was now doing. 

Meowing, pacing, beseeching first me and then my husband to please, Please, PLEASE! let him go outside, he finally broke me down. By 2 p.m. I opened the slider to the back patio, murmured a brief prayer over his silky black head as he rushed out the door, scooted under the table, and disappeared beneath the hydrangea. 

Did I mention this was happening during our unseasonably hot weather? 

Granted, the low 90s F are not exactly considered scorchers in many parts of the world, but this was a Pacific Northwest heatwave.

So I kept the water bowls and pet pools refreshed with plenty of cool water, and waited for my kitten to come home. 

Which he did. 

Normally, Sirius goes in and out often. After a few hours outside, he's ready to come in for a snack and a house nap. Several hours later, he's ready to go out again, and the process repeats until dark when - other than a brief potty break around 3 a.m. - he stays inside. 

But now the pattern was going something like this:

Disappear for 8 hours. 
Show up limping and skittish, eat ravenously, stay inside for a half hour max. 
Cry piteously to go back out. 

We knew Sirius was okay. 
We also knew he was not quite right. 
And we knew that there was very little we could do about the fact that he was going to stay outside to nurse his wounds until he was good and ready to return to his normal routine.

Which he finally did.

We had just finished dinner on the front patio when Sirius popped up out of the garden and strolled over, as he often does, to say hello. 

We noticed the limp was gone.

We observed that he was his calm self again. 

When we stacked up our dishes and went into the house, he happily followed along.

And that was the end of it. 

* * * * *

In the days since, our Sirius still loves to be outside. He prances through the grass, sleeps on the shady patio stones, rubs his back on the driveway. He is so happy to be out in the sunshine and fresh air. 

But I'm happy to say that Sirus is once again enjoying his indoor activities - he snoozes on his favorite blankets, sleeps on the wool rug by my bedroom door, and wreaks havoc on his cardboard scratching toy.

In other words, Sirius is back to normal, and I am glad. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022


 "Commitment is an act, not a word." -Jean-Paul Sartre 

Yesterday, it happened.

After years - no, decades - no, my full literal lifetime - of wishing to be the proud owner of an in-ground swimming pool, I have committed myself to making it happen.

Or at the very least, I've committed to exploring my options by talking to real-life pool designers to see what is possible in the space I have, and exactly how much this dream of mine might cost. 

Today, I took the first step.

I googled around a bit to find Seattle area pool peeps, and found three pool designers to start with. Here's a photo from each one that highlights what it is that I'm looking for in my very own dream-come-true pool.

Not only is my backyard fairly small - my lot is a standard suburban quarter acre and most of the yard space is in the front - but I have invested much time and love in my English cottage style flower gardens. I still want my darlings to be the stars of my backyard show. So my initial thoughts are that the pool should be sleek and simple with slim margins around the edge. I love the minimalist and softly curving lines of the walkways around this stunning set up. 

In some ways, this photo is a lovely example of what I don't want: stripped down plantings, a lot of harsh rectangular lines, and a yard full of pavers. No, thank you. But what I love here is the color of deep teal of the bottom of the pool. I adore the darker tiles that have become a stylish alternative to the classic brilliant blue so often used in pools, and I'm hoping to go with a more subtle color like this one. 

No, I do not live next door to a wide and gently sloping vineyard, so this photo is rather aspirational in that respect. But I adore how this pool yields center stage to the natural environment, and presents itself as a quiet understatement amidst the gorgeous greenery of the landscape. Exactly what I'm hoping to accomplish in the humble setting of my own backyard. 

* * * * *

I realize that this is an exotic and expensive dream. But I can imagine no luxury greater that floating around my very own backyard pool on a sunny summer afternoon, or slipping outdoors at 3 a.m. for a quick splash before bed. I dream of hosting pool parties, complete with soggy towels thrown all over the yard and wet footsteps tracked around the house. I even look forward to cleaning it daily, and learning how to clean filters and fix pumps and whatever all else will need to be done to keep my dream alive. 

So tonight, I emailed each one of those three pool designers, and asked to schedule a consultation. 

I've waited a long, long time to say this, and who knows, reality may make me change my mind. 

But for now, it's official. I'm committed to getting a pool!

Monday, August 1, 2022

My Perfect Formula For Summer Dinners

"Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability." -Sam Keen

Grilled (protein + vegetable) + fresh fruit + one surprise = the perfect summer supper. 

Look. The summer is a very busy time for me. I've got an obligation to spend countless hours every day with a running hose in my hand, lackadaisically watering flowers, blowing bits of bark off my patios, and refreshing the water in my pets' favorite outdoor drinking bowls at least five times a day. 

So I'm not saying I'm lazy. And I genuinely enjoy cooking, even the day-in-and-day-out drudgery of whipping together a family dinner on the regular.

But when summer rolls around and I'm preoccupied with running up the water bill, I need to keep my evening meals super simple yet also extraordinarily delicious.

So here's my perfect formula for the best and easiest summer suppers. 

* * * * *

1. Pick a protein. Chicken, steaks, shrimp, salmon, even a basic burger: bison, beef, or plant-based. Marinate if time allows.

2. Pick a vegetable: Zucchini, summer squash, asparagus, tomatoes, sweet corn, green beans. 

3. Season both with a good drizzle of olive oil, and generous salt and pepper, then slap them on a hot grill and sizzle 'em up. 

4. Meanwhile, wash the fruit, and put it on a tray with silverware, napkins, and glasses of ice water. 

5. Once the grill has worked its magic, heap the protein and veg on a platter and bring everything to the coolest part of the yard, which for us is our front patio. 

6. Sit down, let the cool breezes soothe your sun-soaked skin, and enjoy. 

* * * * *

But wait. Here's the best part:

In some part of the meal, add one surprise ingredient. 

Toss a handful of mint leaves into the fresh strawberries.
Add some maple syrup to the basic marinade.
Along with the salt and pepper, mix some red pepper flakes into the seasonings. 

Or in the case of tonight's dinner, serve the burgers with a festive slice of red onion. 

I know. This is not exactly rocket science, and it's probably not going to change the world. 

But my summer days are so much more enjoyable when I use this plan for building fast and fantastic meals that also challenge me to use my imagination.

And then, when dinner is over and I still have some daylight left, I go back to my hose and spend a few hours soaking the dry patches in my lawn. 

Summer is a very busy time for me. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Reading | Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel

Station Eleven | Emily St. John Mandel
The Glass Hotel | Emily St. John Mandel

In Station Eleven, a lethal virus has decimated the global population and the world as we know it today has collapsed. Small bands of survivors roam deserted countryside; the story follows an itinerant band of Shakespearean actors and symphonic musicians knows as The Travelling Symphony as they travel  what was once western Michigan, fleeing the wrath of a local cult leader known as the Prophet. 

The Glass House tells the story of a different sort of collapse. After decades of lies and lavish spending, a financial investor's massive Ponzi scheme comes crashing to the ground. The  consequences of the collapse ripple out from his life to his staff, his family, his investors and the effects are catastrophic, particularly for his partner, Vincent, whose life takes a wholly unexpected turn. 

Both stories are deftly woven, skipping back and forth across multiple time lines, following a handful of different protagonists, and using several motifs in common: the mysterious and unseen world of the shipping industry, graphic novels, what it means to make art, young women who meet rich older men and experience a rags-to-riches-to-rags chain of events. Even more intriguing, the author uses several of the same characters in both novels, exploring what might have happened in their lives if circumstances had been different. 

Mandel's work is layered and rich, elegant and not to be hurried through. satisfying but not necessarily sweet. In the end, her stories and characters may be about resilience, as much as anything else, and that ensures their enduring beauty. 

* * * * *

Did I love reading Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel? Yes, absolutely. Here's why:

Emily St. John Mandel sets her stories in beautiful parts of the world - Vancouver Island, New York City, Toronto, and the shores of Lake Michigan, to name a few - that resonate with me. And she deftly uses her settings to enhance the mood of the story, alternating between remote wilderness and world-class cities with great success. 

“I've always had a weakness for places where it seems like time slows down.” - The Glass Hotel

Her plots skip about - using different timelines, shifting locations, and changing from one protagonist to the next - in a way that keeps me on the edge of my seat and draws me deeper into the story. 

She links ideas from one book to the next, apparently because she finds those concepts  - such as the real-life "ghost fleet" of shipping vessels abandoned off the coast of Malaysia - so interesting that they apparently bob about in her brain and insert themselves into her imagination over and over again as she writes. And the happy coincidence is that much of what fascinates her fascinates me too. 

“A memory, but it's a memory so vivid that there's a feeling of time travel, of visiting the actual moment.” - The Glass Hotel

I love Mandel's explorations of "the counter life;" that is, what might happen in a person's life if they made different choices, if circumstances were different. Sometimes these alternate pathways are explored within a single character - a man serving life in prison develops a rich fantasy of himself living free - or by transporting characters from one book to another, where they find a different destiny. And playfully, Mandel experiments with ghosts as another way to explore what might have been. I am here for all of it.  

“I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.” - Station Eleven

I'm fascinated by the concept of collapse, and the accompanying shock that one would feel when suddenly finding oneself in a whole new world. Station Eleven features global collapse, as 99.99% of the world's population dies off in a snap; The Glass Hotel tells a story of financial collapse that affects hundreds of investors whose considerable life savings are wiped out overnight. 

“Dr. Eleven: What was it like for you, at the end?
Captain Lonagan: It was exactly like waking up from a dream.” 
- Station Eleven

But on a smaller scale, Mandel experiments with personal collapses, like drug addiction, prison sentences, failed marriages, and death. In doing so, her writings remind me what a miracle it is to wake up every morning and face a world that I know and understand. Her books make me grateful for my life; what a wonderful gift. 

* * * * *

Hey! Wanna read more about the books I've read in 2022? Check these out:

* * * * *

For a full list of books I've read in the past few years, click here: