Friday, May 31, 2013

Hands And Feet

"Oh, I got music coming outta my hands and feet and kisses." --Julian Casablancas

Brace yourself. I'm about to show you some adorable kids.

Yes, adorable they are. Also they are smart, clever, intelligent, creative students who have not only learned a lot about art this year, but can also apply this theoretical knowledge to their work any old day of the week.

Bold claims, I know. But I've got the photographic evidence to prove it.

Here you see my darling students partaking of one of their all-time favorite projects - making hand and foot prints. We tackle this messy but oh so fun task every year on the last day of class, which happened to be yesterday, and my students are always enthusiastic. As usual, sleeves are rolled up and socks stripped off at record paces. The paint flies thick and fast, and bright pages of colorful hands and feet eventually cover the top of every table in the room. It's been this way for years.

One of the joys of our school is that students can choose to work with the same teachers for years on end.

One of the challenges of our school is that teachers must find ways to keep the learning fresh for students who keep coming back.

So this year, my students and I talked a lot about the Elements and Principles of Design. These advanced art concepts represent a range of ideas and choices that artists ponder as they create their work, and my students have astonished me with their ability to not only understand these concepts but to apply them to their own projects.

Even on this traditional day of chaos, my students thoughtfully applied their understanding of color theory, movement, value, shape, pattern and the other elements and principles as they created art with their hands and feet.

They are true artists, and I could not be more proud.

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For more stories about my talented and adorable art students, read:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ride Or Die

Birthdays are for mothers. 

They are a time for remembering all the life-changing little details about the day your very own baby came into this world. Also, for remembering all the tenderness and intensity of her first few years of life. And for feeling so proud of all the important milestones and steps to maturity that this amazing person has accomplished.

Sometimes, it gets a little bittersweet. The years fly by, and somehow they turn into decades. It gets a little scary and weird to think you are now the proud parent of a full-grown adult. Ack! How did this happen and how, please tell me, may I turn back the hands of time so we both can go back to those precious baby days?!

Then, you find yourself one birthday evening, crashed out across the bed with your grown-up baby, eating big bowls of pasta at 11 p.m. and cracking each other up with snarky commentary while watching old Fast and Furious movies together. 

And you know, that's pretty precious too. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Langkawi: Somewhere Over The Rainbow

"The sky broke like an egg into full sunset and the water caught fire."
-Pamela Hansford Johnson

After two heavenly days of island hopping, waterfall wading, and swimming at perfect beaches in Langkawi with my new friends, our four-way fellowship came to an abrupt end. Happily, this turned out to be just a temporary condition, as we eventually reunited. But still, late one afternoon, we sadly said goodbye to our beloved Arman, and sent him off on a ferry back to mainland Kedah.

Sigh. People come and go so quickly here.

As we waved him off with our final farewells - see him in his white shirt peeping out through the rear windows of the ferry? - the first colors of sunset were beginning to deepen. So the three of us - Nana, Izzah, and I - decided to spend some time at the waterfront and watch the evening settle in.

The blazing tropical sun eventually slid behind the distant islands, and figuring that the show was over, I wandered inside the nearby Starbucks to grab a drink.

{Side note. Malaysian Starbucks tastes just like American Starbucks. I only went to Starbucks just this once during my entire trip, and it was fun to have a little taste of home.}

When I came back out, I was very surprised to find that the colors of the sky not faded at all; in fact, they had intensified. Where I live, once the sun sets, the show is over. But clearly, I was not in Kansas anymore.

Over the next half hour, the sky literally exploded with color. These photos are unedited - this is exactly what I saw with my own two eyes, and I can still scarcely believe it's true.

As I stood in dumbfounded amazement and watched this glory unfold, I reminisced about all the other lovely sunsets I've seen in my life. I've been blessed with some amazing sights. But all of them paled in comparison to this outrageous display. 

When it comes to brilliant evening skies, there's no place like Langkawi.

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To find all the stories of my amazing adventures in southeast Asia, go here:

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Ready for more sunset adventures? Read these:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Langkawi: In Search Of The Perfect Beach

"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence." 
-Vince Lombardi

Here's the thing about Nana. She doesn't like to waste time.

So when my host for this lovely island getaway decided that we needed to find the perfect beach, I knew there would be no messing around. 

And when she directed me to pack up my beach bag and head out to the car with a commanding, "Jom!" I didn't ask any questions. I sat down, buckled up and waited to see what would happen next.

This is where Nana took me.

Oh my goodness. Skull Beach, despite its macabre name, was heaven. Sadly, I took very few photos on this afternoon. But that's because I was so busy playing in the water. The soft golden sands and warm turquoise water were everything a pale, rain-soaked, wiinterized Seattleite could dream of, and I basked in the balmy, buoyant waters of the Indian Ocean for hours. Just look at those water-logged fingers!

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The next morning, Nana was on a mission to find a new, even better beach. She set her sights on Pantai Tanjung Rhu, on the northernmost tip of Langkawi Island, and I was excited to see what we might find.

After a long, painstaking drive, we arrived and quickly piled out of the car to explore. On the plus side, the row of sea stacks guarding the entrance to our little lagoon was enchanting, and the tall, puffy clouds beautiful. I also quickly found a handful of darling, tiny shells.

But this was a very narrow beach; just a few steps in from the water's edge was a steep drop off, leaving little room to play. Compared to wide, shallow Skull Beach, where we could safely venture at least thirty meters out from the shore, Tanjung Rhu was insufferably small and dangerous.

As we stood there, glumly surveying our circumstances, Nana did a brave and wonderful thing. She said,"Let's not waste our time here. Why don't we just go back to Skull Beach?"

And so that is exactly what we did.

We spent another blissful couple of hours in our little private paradise. I helped Nana and Izah learn to float, and we all got lovely sunburns. And best of all, when we finally forced ourselves out of the water and back into our clothes, a thunderstorm came crashing down on Skull Beach. 

Which just goes to show that not only did we find the perfect beach, two days in a row, but we didn't waste any time at all.

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To find all the stories of my amazing adventures in southeast Asia, go here:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Curry Worries

"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." --Henry Ford

Like most Americans, I eat foods from many different cultures. Just in my small suburban town, there are restaurants specializing in Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai dishes. 

I never really thought much about the international stylings of my diet until I was in Malaysia, where most of the locals were surprised to hear that Americans eat so multiculturally.

As I explained this fact over and over to my Malaysian friends, an interesting truth dawned on me. While I often eat international foods at restaurants, I rarely cook authentic meals from other cultures at home. 

Hmm. I decided that needs to change. 

I drew great inspiration from my Malaysian host's mother-in-law, the lovely Mak. She is a powerhouse in the kitchen, whipping up multicultural meals from scratch at all times of day and night. Especially impressive to me is the fact that Mak does not rely on prepared sauces, packaged seasonings, or processed ingredients. This is a woman who grinds dried chiles, chops fresh ginger, and cleans raw seafood. As far as equipment goes, she uses an old-fashioned mortar and pestle, a good knife, a wok, and not much else. After several weeks of hard-core cooking with Mak, I came home fired up for some changes in my own kitchen.

Which brings me to this delicious plate of curry chicken. 

Homemade curry dishes are a dime a dozen at Mak's table, but I've never made curry myself. So the other day, I found a  recipe, followed it faithfully, and turned out a lovely meal that my family and I all enjoyed. 

And I was feeling all smug and satisfied with myself until I made a sad discovery. I had used a prepared curry powder instead of making my own curry paste from scratch!!

Sorry, Mak. I'll try again.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Wilderness Adventure: Part 3

After a sturdy hike through the giant sequoia groves of Yosemite National Park, and a stormy clifftop photo shoot, I was ready for a more easy-going wilderness adventure.

So my third and final hurrah was a drive along the Merced River on the Yosemite Valley floor.

After the menacing high mountain roads, the softer curves and smoother inclines of the valley were a relaxing change. We cruised through a long rock tunnel and came out to find this iconic and jarringly beautiful scene of the Yosemite Valley.

Framed by the gentle sweep of green forest, two sentinels guard the entrance to the valley: the massive granite El Capitan on the left, and the graceful Bridalveil Fall on the right. Centered between them, off in the distance, is Half Dome. The lingering clouds of the storm added to the power and majesty of this mesmerizing scene. There were at least a hundred other people at this spot, all of us frantically taking photos, but the vast majority of them were Asian tourists. 

We drove to the base of Btridalveil Fall, and hopped out to take a closer look. Local Native Americans used to say that there was an evil spirit who lived here, and visitors who stared directly into the fall would be cursed. Oops. If that's true, I'm in serious trouble.

El Capitan is nothing more or less than a giant hunk of rock, flat on top and sharp along the edges. Much too steep for anything to grow, his long, straight, shimmering sides play off the sun's light. It's hard to explain why one feels such drama and power in the presence of a big rock, but I do. 

At the base of El Capitan flows the Merced River, the creative force that carved out this valley long ago. Powerful though it might be, it meets my eye as an friendly, refreshing, happy mountain stream.

I would have loved to wander much longer along the river. The grey clouds had finally blown away; the late afternoon sun and peeks of blue sky brought a whole new character to the valley and filled me with enthusiasm. But daylight was fading and I still faced a long and harrowing drive back to civilization. So I took the time for just one last photo stop as we headed west out of the valley

The next few hours were intensely beautiful and dangerous, and I was thankful to make it down out of the mountains as the sun was setting. I drove on through the darkness to Sacramento, where a soft warm bed awaited me. And so ended my three-part Yosemite wilderness adventure.

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Check out the rest of my Yosemite travels:

Friday, May 24, 2013

Wilderness Adventure: Part 2

After an awe-inispiring stroll through the Giant Sequoias of the Mariposa Grove, and a deliciously sustaining snack, I was ready for my next Yosemite destination: Glacier Point.

Glacier Point is a viewpoint, high upon the end point of huge rocky cliff, that affords brilliant panoramas of the park. Waterfalls, granite rock formations, the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevadas are jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly beautiful. I couldn't wait to get there and take a billion pictures.

However, as I drove out of the parking lot in the lowlands of the grove, what stood between me and my glorious destination was 36 miles of steep and winding mountain roads. Half of that distance was on the most treacherous conditions imaginable: two very tight, shoulder-less lanes of traffic, one shoved up the side of the rocky cliffs, the other offering a complete and utter lack of guardrails. One false move and it's down the steep mountainside for you.

Steeling my nerve, I chomped down the last of my beef jerky and entered my Zen zone for the hazardous drive. An hour or so later, I safely reached my destination, no worse for the wear, and hopped out of my car to take in the sights.

How's that for a glorious sight? The cold winds were whipping about, making me wildly homesick for the tropical Malaysian heat, but the dark, moody clouds created gorgeous and dramatic atmosphere. Thunder rumbled ominously in the distance. Like every other person in sight, I grabbed my camera and started shooting.

That gigantic rock formation in the center of the shot is Half Dome, one of the geologic wonders of the park. To the right of Half Dome are two of Yosemite's waterfall superstars: Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall. When I visited Yosemite on my honeymoon, we hiked from the valley floor, past the lower Vernal Fall and on to the top of the upper Nevada Fall, and they feel like old friends.

At this point in our visit, the thunder grew more menacing, and lighting strikes began to cross our field of vision. Uh oh. We retreated to the car for safety. Driving rain turned to hail, and the storm raged mercilessly while we fished a soggy block of cheese from the cooler, whittled it down to the relatively dry and edible core, and ate as if we were starving. This was one of those hilariously miserable moments that make road trips so memorable.

A half hour later, the electrical storm gave way to harmless rain and wind, so we determinedly made our way back to the cliff's edge. This photo is not really any different than the ones I took earlier, but  it speaks volumes to  me of a stormy afternoon's wilderness adventure 

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Check out the rest of my Yosemite travels:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Wilderness Adventure: Part 1

On my way home from Malaysia, I took a side trip to Arizona.

On my way home from Arizona, I took the scenic route through California.

On my way home from California, I took a day off from driving to visit Yosemite National Park.

This may sound like a lot of detours and diversions to tack on at the end of a two-and-a-half month long trip to the far side of the planet. Let's be honest - I may have been crazy to complicate my life in this way.

But I have no regrets. Yosemite is a slice of heaven. Rich forests nestled in a glacier-carved mountain valley filled with spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, and a grove of Giant Sequoias.

We started our visit with the trees.

Giant sequoias belong to the family of redwoods. These particular beauties live only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is exactly where Yosemite happens to be. They are the largest trees on earth, as measured by volume. It's difficult to convey their majestic presence through photographs because it's almost impossible to fit the whole tree into the camera's view finder. They are just plain massive.

We took a short hike into the woods among the giants, and quickly found ourselves speechlessly trying to capture their magnitude. These four trees, called The Bachelor ad Three Graces, would barely allow me to squeeze their trunks into a single shot. In real life, their graceful trunks soar up to the sky together, young and straight and lean. 

But the primary goal of our walk was this fellow: Grizzly Giant. He is estimated to be about 2.000 years old, and one of the biggest trees in the world, by volume. With limbs bigger than most normal trees, deep black scars from forest fires, and and ever-admiring crowd of onlookers gathered at its base, this gentleman does not disappoint. He is mindbogglingly large.

Look, I even posed for a pic in front of this lovely beast. That's how you can tell that I really love it.

Just a short walk beyond Grizzly Giant is this curiousity, the California Tunnel Tree. Back in the 1800s, scheming businessmen cut an opening through the tree just large enough to allow a coach to pass through. They were hoping to tempt hoardes of city folk out to the park for a look-see at a drive-thru tree, which may have worked, but they also earned the disdain of 21st-century visitors who are shocked to see how the tree was mutilated. Poor baby.

Our total hike was not much more than a mile and a half, but afterwards of course we were famished and desperately in need of snacks. Ice cream bars and a package of particularly good beef jerky pulled us back from the brink of starvation.

Then we continued on with our wilderness adventure.

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Check out the rest of my Yosemite travels:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wandering In The Desert

When I flew away from Malaysia, I did not go home.

True, I returned to the good ol' US of A. But not to my home in Seattle.

Instead, I landed about 1200 miles to the south, at Los Angeles International Airport. After a adrenalin-draining six-hour wait, in which I ate entirely too much ice cream, found the best phone charging station ever, and struck up a fantastic conversation with a Malaysian couple who were vacationing in the United States. I knew they were Malaysian because I overheard them saying, "Kelana Jaya."

Anyway, after that long, blurry wait, my three eldest finally arrived at the terminal and scooped me up off the curb. They had partaken in a two-day drive down the coast, and now that they had me in tow, we all headed east to fetch my youngest home from her university for the summer holiday

We spent the weekend in Tucson, and as usual, spent some time strolling around the University of Arizona. Now, I've visited several times before, and have seen the highlights of the campus. But this time was different - and special - because my Wildcat daughter has made this place her home. We weren't exploring as newcomers; this time, she was sharing her now-familiar world with her family.

And that made our visit extra interesting and extra fun.

The campus observatory is surrounded by orange trees which were currently bearing fruit. This was cool because a) my daughter is studying astronomy, and b) I love orange trees. 

I've never noticed or appreciated that there are so many different types of palm trees. Psh. I'm such a rookie. I love the feathery fronds on this one.

But come on. Saguaros are the best. I still have a major plant crush on them. 

In a funny little corner of the campus, there is a turtle pond. It's full of shockingly green water, and dozens of turtles. They were quite friendly and inquisitive fellows; definitely the most extroverted members of their species that I have ever met. 

More palm trees. 

Let me first say that I had a great time in college. I kept up an active and interesting social life, and still managed to study hard and get good grades. I always prepared for tests and handled academic stress fairly well. But there is something about this building that makes my blood run cold. I'm not sure why, but as I gazed up at those steel windows set in a rigid grid against the bright brick, I felt a solid and heavy load of scholarly stress and test anxiety hit me squarely on the shoulders like a ton of bricks. I really hate this building. 

Dainty purple flowers have a much more soothing effect on me. Thank goodness.

This charming red door, set in a rounded wall of brick and stone, is not quite connected to the ground. I like that.

And even though that scary building is lurking on the right side of this shot, I love the three palms. They are the kind with tall and skinny trunks, and I think they are very dashing.

Here we are standing in a narrow passageway, a tiny canyon created by several interesting buidings. The sun was shining in at a friendly, late afternoon angle, and we found this to be a cool and cozy retreat. My daughter said it is one of her favorite places on campus, and I can understand why.

The air of the canyon was sweet with the fragrance of flowers. Star jasmine was blooming in great glossy mounds all along the edges of the walkway, and I was in heaven. 

Tall, skinny palm tree. Tall, skinny shadow. 

The short and stock palms have their charms too; such as the woven pattern of old branches that covers their trunks. I always have to touch it to believe that it's real.

Sweetsy little mums.

Soaring skinny trees.

Any my favorite piece of architecture on campus - the center court of the Student Union Memorial Center. I love the interesting play of circles and lines, white on white, with shadows and sunlight that changes hour to hour as the sun passes by overheard. 

And that is how I spent my first full day back in the USA - wandering in the desert with my daughters.