Sunday, June 30, 2013

Nephy Ties The Knot!

Good news: Today I went to a beautiful, sacred, meaningful, elegant, joyous, delicious and downright fun wedding.

Bad news: I was so busy enjoying myself that I forgot to take pictures. I got a few, but my camera roll does not do this event justice. I have a few regrets about that, but not many. Sometimes, living in the moment matters most.

At least I can tell you about the happy couple - meet my nephew, Steve, and Helen. 

Well. Steven is not really my nephew. He's a college friend of my second-born who bears an uncanny resemblance to us Streichers but is actually no relation whatsoever. Still, he insists he's part of the family, so that's all that matters to me. His 'Auntie Anne' I have gladly become.

Steven's bride is an articulate, intelligent woman who is passionate about her faith and the pro-life cause, and she also happens to be a first-generation American of Vietnamese descent.

Which explains why she was able to round up five - count 'm, FIVE - adorable little shiny black-haired flower girls. Squint at this blurry photo, and they will almost appear to come into focus.

The entire ceremony was a lovely mix of two cultures, with songs and readings alternating between the two languages. I sat on the groom's side of the aisle with the pale white Irish and German types, and listened in fascination to the lilting tones of the bride's family as they spoke in their native tongue. 

God bless America. I'm proud to live in a country where multicultural, multiracial marriages happen every day and no one bats an eyelash.

After the marriage was finalized, we left the soaring brick cathedral and zoomed down to the reception at the Renton Pavilion. No offense, Renton, but I was really surprised to find such an interesting, modern space with an industrial vibe and tons of gorgeous natural light. I loved the exposed wooden ceiling, the no-frills lighting, and the giant white organza bow.

And Helen incorporated more bows into her decor with green sashes on the chairs and matching green table runners.

Oh. I should probably mention here that Helen and her bridesmaids all wore bright green sashes around their waists, just like the ones on the chairs. Too bad I didn't think to take any photos of that. Well, just trust me...they were gorgeous.

The reception was a multicultural mash-up too - the food was mostly American; the live dragon dance performance was straight-up Vietnamese, and the band played some Irish reels. For an hour or so, Helen changed out of her traditional Western wedding gown into a Vietnamese áo dài, and it was fun to see how the Asian women beamed when she was dressed that way. 

We all enjoyed the fantastic international hospitality.

Then we danced to Bye Bye Bye and The Chicken Dance and Thrift Shop, and got all sweaty and disheveled.

And that's when I thought it might be a nice time for a photo shoot with the happy couple. 

Oh yeah, I was really on my camera game today.

Well, my photos of this special day are definitely bad news, but Steve and Helen's wedding is good news, indeed. Congratulations and best wishes for a blessed life together to my nephy and my new niece-in-law!

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My other musings about marriage:

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Visiting Kelantan: A Dream Come True

Going to Malaysia was a dream come true for me.

But on the last weekend of my trip, I lived out a precious dream within that dream.

I went to Kelantan.

Kelantan is one of the thirteen states of Malaysia, and the home state of my dearest Malaysian friends. While most of them now live six hours away in the big city of Kuala Lumpur, they are still passionately devoted to their homeland. Over the years of our friendships, I've seen so many photos and heard so many stories that I've fallen in love with this magical place, sight unseen.

Now, finally, I was about to see it with my own eyes. 

We left KL at ten p.m. on Friday night. Torrential rains were dumping down as my host, his mother, his daughter and I loaded up the car and drove off. Aleesya and I were in high spirits, singing and playing in the back seat for the first hour, until she suddenly wearied and fell asleep. I tucked her in among her Hogwarts pillows and flowered blanket, where she sweetly dreamed for most of the next 11 hours.

Yes. Our trip took twice as long as expected - a full 12 hours. For reasons that I will explain later, the roads to Kelantan were jammed almost every kilometer of the way.  My host and his mother chatted through the long night, the sound of their Kelate accents comforting to my ears. I felt the spirit of the land change as we crossed over the mountainous spine of the Malaysian peninsula and down to the east coast, along the South China Sea. I watched the shadows of jungle passing by in the dark, So clearly I felt the rhythms of life changing as we moved from city to countryside. We had definitely left the stressful vibe of urban life far behind; what would I find at the end of my journey? 

I wasn't sure. But as we traveled, I felt as if I was crossing over into a magical place where time moves slower, life is simpler, and people are more content. I felt like I was moving into a dream.

* * * * *

The sun came up as we approached the outskirts of Kota Bharu. I was bleary with fatigue and giddy with excitement, all at the same time. This state of being definitely added to the surreal quality of the experience.

We arrived at my host's family home. Everything I saw and everyone I met was bright, bold, and larger than life. After a spicy, spunky breakfast of nasi lemak, I was led to a room where I could sleep. 

The curtains glowed with golden sunlight, the bed was heaped with colorful stuffed animals and pillows. A fan was blowing, and I could hear the leaves of the banana tree outside my window rustling in the steamy breeze.

I lay down and slept. 

My dream of visiting Kelantan had come true. But this was just the beginning.

* * * * *

For more stories about my favorite Malaysian playmate, Aleesya, read these:

Day One

Friday, June 28, 2013

Fresh Raspberries

Sometimes, life gets messy and complicated. 

Sometimes, horrible things are said out loud and feelings get hurt. 

And sometimes, relationships are on the verge of irreparable harm and it's hard to know which way to turn.

That's when I start to think about raspberries. Tender, sweet, and indescribably delicious, they are a perfect metaphor for God's grace. He pours out his unending love and forgiveness for me not because I've earned it or because I deserve it, any more than I've earned or deserve the juicy perfection of a red, ripe raspberry. He's just cool like that.

Then I am ready to offer my own pale imitation of God's grace to those who have hurt me. 

And I might even serve them some fresh raspberries.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Wild Thing

Today, at the request of my third-born, I went on a roller coaster junket at a local theme park.

Here's the thing. I used to love roller coasters. I loved the dead drops, the tight turns, and most of all, the raw speed of a good ride. But then, about ten years ago, I rode a big coaster back-to-back-to-back, three times in a row, and basically overdosed my brain. Ever since, motion sickness takes me over when I so much as look at a roller coaster, especially one with 360 degree spins. I've kept my distance.

But my third-born was itching to ride every coaster in the park, and my fourth-born, who came along too, has her own reservations about daredevil rides. So as we walked through the park to the belly of the biggest beasts, we agreed to start with a few simple rides and progress slowly up to the heart-pounders, giving us chickens a chance to work up our nerve.

First up: the carousel. Yes, I think I can handle that. Bring it on.

Yes, they are smiling weird on purpose. 

Okay, now my fourth daughter and I were feeling pretty good. Obviously, the merry-go-round was about as scary as sitting on grandma's lap, and happy and relaxed, we quickly fell into a walk down memory lane, reminiscing about the many times we visited this park with groups of fellow homeschooling families in years gone by. So many sweet stories and funny adventures.

Hmm. But this conversation stirred up a troubling memory in me. On a long ago trip to this park, my friend, Marilyn, and I had made a pact. Do something every year that scares you. As two women cut from the same crazy cloth, we have encouraged each other over the years to push our limits, try new physical and psychological challenges, and generally refuse to get old and timid.

Dang it. What would Marilyn say if she knew I was wimping out on roller coasters? 

This gave me a lot to think about.

In the meantime, my little coaster aficionado had marched us up the hill to the Timberhawk, one of the biggest rides in the park. Forget about taking it slow, she urged us, let's just dive in and do this!

Ughhh. This is the dizzying monster that had broken my spirit years ago. 

What can I say. I was weak. I lost my nerve and waited on the sidelines while my daughters bravely jumped in and rode off.

Yes, I was embarrassed and ashamed of my coaster cowardice. 

Yes, the words of my longstanding pledge with Marilyn burned in my ears.

Yes, I was determined to do better.

So then this happened:

And then this:

After sending ourselves through the series of dizzying drops and spins that these lesser coasters had to offer, we were in need of a break. We wandered through the woods, drinking a coke Icee and taking in a few tame rides until our heads began to clear.

It was at this point that we noticed that the western horizon was filled with advancing black clouds. 

As soon as we saw them, I immediately knew what Daughter #3 was going to say:

"We need to ride The Wild Thing before it rains. Will you go with me?"

Double dang it. The Wild Thing is an amped-up metal coaster with three corkscrew turns and two full loop-the-loops. That's a total of five 360 degree rotations. My motion-sickness-fearing brain was screaming "Noooooo!" as I heard my voice say:


We quickly dashed through the entrance and up the steps toward the platform as I soothed myself with calming reminders. 

I've been on this ride before. It's not that bad.

My stomach is empty, my mind is clear, I feel great. 

I will be calm and relaxed, and just go with the flow.

Rounding the last turn in the stairway to face the loading platform, we arrived just in time to see a 20-ish-year-old young woman stumble out of a car that had just pulled into the station. She crawled to the far side of the waiting area and leaned her head against the wall, moaning in misery. Her face was ashen, and she rubbed miserably at her legs. Her friends quickly attended to her, with grave faces and serious concern. 

Triple dog dang it. This was not what I wanted to see.

Momentum carried us into the waiting car, and we quickly buckled our seat belts and pulled down the harnesses while the attendants helped the poor woman. 

And that's when I felt the panic surge through me. My adrenalin was pumping, my fear was raging, and all I could think about was getting out of that car and running as far away as possible from this hellish place.

But I didn't. I thought about my pledge to Marilyn. I breathed slow and steady. I brought all of my powers of reason and rationality to bear on the situation.

As our car clanked up the big incline, and I thought about the dead drop that was just seconds away, I turned to my third-born, smiled, and said, 

"It's only physics."

Then the car topped the hill, raced toward the ground, and my mind went blank.

As it turned out, the ride was fine. I really enjoyed the speed of the banked turns and straightaways, and anyway, it was over in just a few seconds.

The storm broke as we were exiting the ride; the rain poured down, and lightning split the sky. For safety's sake, the park immediately closed and we all headed to the parking lot, soaked and satisfied.

Thank goodness I rode The Wild Thing. I made my daughter happy, I faced down my coaster fears, and best of all, I can say that my pledge to Marilyn - to push myself, to refuse to get old and timid, to live my life as a Wild Thing - is largely intact.

Then I drove home on Interstate 5 through heavy traffic and a monsoon-class rainstorm. And that may have been the Wildest Thing I did all day long.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sirius And Cedric

You know, I like to pretend I'm not a cat person. 

I'm all about my good dog and constant companion, Ranger, and I tend to act like the three cats who live here are just furry little ships who pass in the night, and make no difference to me. 

But the truth is that I am madly in love with my sweet feline band of brothers, and when I find them curled up together, sleeping in each others' arms, my heart plain melts. 

* * * * *

I've written more stories about my cats. But wait. That doesn't make me a crazy cat lady, does it?

I'll Do Almost Anything For A Pink Rose

For the past three days, I've been working in my garden. 

These were no poetic trimming sessions or random bits of weed-pulling. I'm talking about blister-making, thorn-scratching, back-aching work. 

For example, I used a hand saw to prune back at least a dozen enthusiastically overgrown bushes,generating massive piles of debris, like this one. 

Ranger likes to guard my piles. Often, he lifts his leg to them, just do everyone knows who's boss. 

I also spent some quality time with this handsome green fellow. 

Yeah. My wheelbarrow. He and I go way back, and have had a lot of good times and wild garden adventurers together. This weekend, I used him to haul new plants and full loads of composted soil here and there, as I was filling in a few blank spots in various beds. 

Of course, I worked up a powerful thirst. This weekend's be enrage of choice was sparkling water with a splash of orange juice in my favorite jar-turned-drinking-glass. Delicious, refreshing, and awfully cute. 

Amidst the crazy energy of a work session in the garden, I reminded myself to stop at least once of twice to savor the  goodness that lives out there. 

Luscious red strawberries, clouds of dainty pink blooms at my feet, and extravagant roses. 

These are the incredible God-given gifts of my garden, and they make all the hard work worthwhile. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Coal Miner's Daughter

Two particular cooking challenges I enjoy:

Trying to cook new dishes from other cultures.
Making up my own recipes.

So when my fourth-born mentioned to me that she's been hankering for a British pasty and wanted my help in improvising a recipe, I was totally on board.

A pasty is basically a hand-held meat pie. Flaky crust on the outside, tasty bits of meat and vegetables on the inside, this is a perfect workingman's lunch because it is portable and filling. The history of the pasty is murky, but commonly this hearty fare is associated with coal miners from Cornwall, England. Over the past few centuries, as the coal miners have spread around the world, this rustic treasure has become known far and wide.

Following my instincts and little else, I started with potatoes and carrots cut into bite-size bits. We found these adorable tiny red, yellow, and purple potatoes at the store and thought they looked legit. Kinda like something that would have grown in the rocky soil of a coal miner's home garden.

Along with the vegetables, we added beef, onion and mushrooms. Really, we just tossed in what sounded good to us in the moment. And we precooked every ingredient, which I've since learned is a departure from traditional pasty baking. 

We wanted our pies to be extra moist and juicy so we made a peppery, seasoned roux sauce:

4 T olive oil
1/4 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 cup vegetable stock
lots of black pepper
fresh rosemary, dried basil and some celery seed

Then we made two batches of my basic pie crust recipe:

2 cups flour
2/3 cup shortening
Just enough water to barely hold it together.

We used the dough to line six small baking cups, piled in the veggies and meat, and topped them off with a big spoonful of sauce. Then we added a top crust, and crimped the edges together. 

Traditional Cornish bakers do not trifle with silly little baking cups. They make their pies free-hand. 

Some day, I shall aspire to such greatness. But for now, I use cups. Whatever.

We baked the little morsels at 425 degrees F for about 15 minutes, then turned the oven down to 350 degrees F for another 20 or so, until the tops looked golden and we saw bits of sauce bubbling out. 

Oh my. 

Unlike Cornish coal miners, we ate our pastys fresh from the oven. I served them piping hot in their little dishes, but we all promptly turned the cups upside down and popped out the pies.

Then we used our forks to break open the crust and say hello to the savory goodness inside.

If I was a coal miner on a lunch break, and I reached my grubby black hand into the pocket of my worn coat pocket, this is exactly what I would want to pull out. Warm, filling, hearty and oh so very yummy. I can see why this meal caught on so well in the coal mines, and I'm glad it's still going strong.

Obviously, I am not a coal miner. But here's a fun fact: I am a descendant of Welsh coal miners who emigrated from the UK to eastern Canada and eventually made their way to the USA.

So as a matter of fact, I am a coal miner's daughter. It's no wonder then, that making and eating these pastys comes naturally to me.

* * * * *

I like to write stories about pies. If you like to read stories about pies, try these:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Blue Skies

When Seattle skies are blue and sunny, something magical happens. My spirits soar, and the sky seems to be a great big canvas upon which I can write my hopes and dreams. I feel optimistic, invincible, and full of limitless options.

I feel the same way about photos of the sky. I love to shoot one image after the next, capturing the field of blue, the fluffy heaps of harmless white clouds, and random bits of earthly objects. And then I am fascinated with editing them to my heart's content - shifting the shades of the colors, increasing the contrast to reveal the shapes of the clouds, playing up the natural sun flares, and occasionally creating some highlights of my own.

It's not to say I don't appreciate the natural beauty of a gorgeous Pacific Northwest sky. But when I use my imagination to playfully reinvent them, I appreciate those blank, blue skies of possibility more than ever.

* * * * *

Other stories of hope, offered from me to you: