Thursday, February 27, 2014

One Year Ago Today

Exactly one year ago today, I made a dream come true. After years of wishing, hoping, saving money, and working around obstacles, I boarded a plane and flew away to Malaysia.

What happened next is hard to explain.
  • I did not travel as a tourist. I was visiting my Malaysian friends, staying in their homes and living alongside of them.
  • Although we had been great Facebook friends for several years, I had never met any of these people in person.
  • While I knew that my friends understood and accepted me for who I am, I also knew that I was stepping into a radically different culture, and my assimilation would be an interesting process.
  • I traveled on a one-way ticket. Though I was certainly planning to return home within a few months, a friend advised me to luxuriate in the freedom of an open-ended trip for at least a few weeks before I locked in a return date. Great advice. 
The next two and a half months were among the most intensely challenging and deeply gratifying weeks of my life. I never could have anticipated the emotions of the trip, and I learned more about myself than I ever expected. By the end of my stay, I understood that this was not a one-time visit; somehow, this little country was destined to be part of my future as well.

But on the second evening of my visit, I didn't understand any of that yet. I only knew that I was taking photos with my newly adopted family at the base of the iconic Petronas Towers, breathing in the sweet Malaysian night air and basking in the heady glow of dreams that are coming true.

* * * * * 

In honor of the first anniversary of my amazing trip, I'm gathering up all my stories from my travels and publishing them in a new feature called Me in Malaysia. To find these tales of my amazing adventures, go here:

Hoping For The Best

Ranger went back to his surgeon for a check-up today.

It's been two weeks since he had four tumors - four blessedly harmless and cancer-free tumors - removed from his red, furry body. Time for the forty-some-odd stitches to come out and his general recovery to be assessed.

Now, the surgery yielded nothing but good news, medically speaking.

And the little lad has done a great job of healing during his recovery.

^ "Extra treats are very beneficial to a speedy recovery. More, please." 

But I have to be honest. The reports that came back from the surgical staff suggest that my sweet angel was not exactly a model patient during the day of the procedure.

When I dropped him off early that morning, he was in a typically delightful mood. Greeting the various office workers and vet techs, he wagged and frisked happily, his usual exuberant self. When the moment came, I gave him a low-key farewell and then watched him trot off down the hall with one of the women. His luxuriantly fringed red tail swinging happily, head held high, ears alert, I could tell he was blessedly trusting all of us and expecting only the best.

They prepped him for surgery almost as soon as I walked out the door. He was conked out for a couple hours, and then woke up in a kennel especially designed for post-surgical comforts.

That was when the trouble began.

As the surgeon put it to me over the phone, Ranger "expressed his displeasure with the accommodations."

Which is to say that as soon as our little patient woke up, he stood up in the kennel and began to whine.


One of the staff thought he might need to go potty. So she opened the little door of his cage and took him outside. He didn't go, but when she returned him to his kennel, he stopped in the entry and froze in place.

My darling invalid, just moments after regaining consciousness, stood in the opening of his comfy kennel and refused to budge in or out.

He just stood there. And whined some more.

That kindly worker then went so far as to gather up some work from her desk and move a chair within eyesight of my naughty lad, so he could stand where he pleased. She also thought, quite hopefully, that perhaps a human presence would calm him down.

Nope. More whining.

Now if you have ever heard Ranger whine, you'll understand when I say there is nothing cute about this noise of his. It's a high-pitched, modulating series of squeals. And he repeats the pattern with shocking regularity, bombarding the eardrums with a devilishly rhythmic and tortuously shrill tone. Honestly, he drives me to misery with two minutes of that nonsense, and I'm his devoted and loving human.

I can't imagine how the staff survived his drama. At first, I suspected Stockholm Syndrome.

But then the woman fessed up. They sedated him.

Yes. My dog is such a drama king that even after major surgery and major pampering by a full staff of kind-hearted dog lovers, he needs tranquilizers in order to calm down and take a nap.

Needless to say, he was happy to see me at the end of the day, and when we walked out the door, he shook himself as if to say, "Ugh! So glad to be leaving that pit of despair."

^ "I don't care who sees my pirate scars and hideous haircut. Let's go on a walk!!"

So it was with some trepidation that I led him back through those same doors today. Ranger's memory is quite sufficient to remember his unpleasant previous visit, and as I checked in at the front desk, I watched him carefully for signs of impending rebellion.

The office worker - the same woman who had tried so hard to calm him - seemed to share my concerns, because she leaped up from her chair and quickly greeted him, "Hi, Ranger! Let's go get those stitches out!"

Sure. I saw what she did there. Dump the little whiner on the surgeon as soon as possible. Good strategy.

But to my surprise and absolute delight, Ranger did not protest in the least. In dazed disbelief, I watched him stroll contentedly down that same hall with his old friend, brilliant red tail wagging in the morning sunlight, head held high, ears alert.

Somehow, my good-hearted and infinitely optimistic dog decided to trust all of us, and once again, hope for the best.

" Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home. And my mom's lap."

* * * * *

Here's the backstory on Ranger's medical drama:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thank You Berry Much

My second-born's current passion for power foods is definitely my gain. After a whirlwind shopping tour to fetch home some interesting ingredients, she not only whipped up this delicious acai smoothie for me but shot the photographs, as well. Thanks, Fronk!

1 package of frozen acai berries
1 banana
Splash of coconut water
Handful of frozen blueberries

Blend and adjust proportions. Add more coconut water or more fruit, as desired.
Top with 1/2 tablespoon of chia seeds, banana slices, and a sprinkle of coconut shreds.

* * * * *

For more stories about my carb- and sugar-free eating adventures, read:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Precious And Few

Sometimes, in the waning days of February, we Pacific Northwesterners need a little help.

Our winter days, already short and sun-deprived by our northern exposure, are further dulled by the seemingly constant layer of drab grey clouds. The lack of lively color and light can dull our spirits, to say the least.

^ So it's no wonder that we try to cheer ourselves with energetic displays of color and light, like this one that I found above my head at Whole Foods today. Such a sweet surprise to look up and love what I see.

^ However, this was one of the precious and few late-winter days when we didn't need the help.

Home Tour: Old Dog, New Tricks

Meet my dining room table. He's been with me for decades, ever since the first year of my marriage. I remember pushing six chairs around him, daring to hope that someday I would serve meals to a busy family upon his worn wooden planks.

Those dreams definitely came true. Four little girls joined our circle and every evening, for all of their lives, we've gathered in the dining room around this faithful fellow to eat, laugh, shout, squeal, pray, spill glasses of milk, and talk about life. Sometimes, friends and relatives joined us, squished into the small spaces between our plates, but happily we always found room. Holiday feasts, birthday celebrations, fond farewells, and many a happy Welcome Home meal have transpired around this table, and I have a lifetime supply of cherished memories of this table and the dining room in which it stood.

^ My old table came from an antique sale in Saline, Michigan; the school chairs are from a surplus sale, and the black chairs are straight-up IKEA.

So it was with much boldness and derring-do that I proposed to myself a dining table change-up.

Why not, I dared myself, move this friendly old guy into the kitchen nook? My temporarily down-sized family of four has been enjoying meals in this smaller space, but the round table that lived here was an awkward shape for the room. 

And the dining room has been begging for a bigger table. This family is likely to expand in the next few years, and I've been considering the need for more space to accommodate the newcomers. The round table from the kitchen, with its expandable leaf, is not my ideal dining room solution but it could serve that purpose for now.

So the other day, in the midst of a solo crazy cleaning binge, I decided the time for experimentation was now. Dragging, sliding, twisting and turning the tables every which way, I managed to accomplish my objective. 

As soon as I got the round table situated in the dining room, I hated it. Definitely have some DIY plans up my sleeve for a brand new dining table to seat ten. All in good time.

^ I made the painting; my husband and his father made the red china cupboard, though it was originally designed as a separate bookcase and desk. Most of the white dishes are thrifted, though the adorable elephant tea pot on the top shelf was a gift from my fourth-born this past Christmas. 

And what was my response to seeing my good old table in its new place in the corner of my kitchen? 

Surprisingly emotional. At first, it felt strange - and oh, so wrong - to move him out of his traditional spot in the dining room. But now that he's been settled in this new space for a few days, I'm slowly warming to the idea. He's the perfect size for the four of us, his rectangular shape fits the flow of the room, and I've noticed that we are starting to use him in some new, happy ways. 

The other morning, my eldest was getting ready to bake some chocolate chip cookies, and she began gathering her ingredients. I came into the room to find the table decorated with her supplies, and it felt so right to see him doing this domestic duty.

So I'm not sure if this proverb applies more to the table or to me, but I'm beginning to think it's true that old dogs really can learn some new tricks. 

* * * * *

Monday, February 24, 2014

One White Crocus

My life has been awfully complicated lately.

I don't say that in a purposefully vague or dramatically self-pitying way.

I mean to say that there's a lot of challenging stuff going on in the lives of my family and friends. These are not my stories to share, but still they touch my heart and flood me with confusion, compassion and pain.

These are times when it's easy to feel discouraged. Depressed. Even tempted to despair.

My mind was swimming with these downhearted thoughts as I drove home today. Emotionally drained, I pulled into my neighborhood and cruised by my own front yard.

In the grey light of yet another rainy February afternoon, a little sparkle of light caught my eye.

Immediately I knew what it was.

The first blossom of spring.
Glistening with raindrops, perfect and pure.
Pale and pristine against the rough bark and dark soil from whence it sprang.

My patience for the present and hope for the future were instantly restored.

All because of one white crocus.

* * * * *
Other stories of hope, offered from me to you:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Powering Through

When I ripped open the first bag of concrete and began my counter top renovation, I was brimming with confidence. 

Sure, I expected some hard work. Everything good comes at a price and home improvement projects are no exception to that rule. Especially when the main ingredient is concrete. But the tutorials I read stressed over and over that this technique was straightforward and relatively hassle free, so my attitude was positive and my outlook was definitely optimistic.

Two weeks into the project, I now know what I underestimated.

The mess.

Thanks to multiple rounds of extensive sanding, a substantial layer of concrete dust has settled over my existence. The kitchen, of course, is ground zero for this fallout, but this heinous substance has spread to infect most of the first floor of my home. 

I've put up with it for as long as I can. But the past few days, my sanity demanded that my attention shift from the almost-finished counter tops to cleaning up the debris. Honestly, this job has been a royal pain in the neck and my attitude has been flagging.

Which is why I bought myself this handful of pink tulips. Beacons of hope and beauty, they calm my dusty nerves and remind me that good things can arise from dirt. 

Thank you, pink tulips, for helping me power through this mess.

* * * * *

A break-down of my kitchen upgrade adventure:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pay Dirt

After yesterday's grubby session of mixing and spreading concrete over my kitchen counters - layer four - I treated myself to another dream and scheme session on Pinterest.

The purpose of my mission was to continue my research on possible cabinetry updates. I'm committed to keeping at least some of my cabinets in their original wood mode. But I'm also open to painting or staining a portion of them, or coming up with some other DIY upgrade:

^ I can get excited about a lot of different ideas, and I happily mulled these options as well as many others.

But somehow, I couldn't imagine myself actually pulling the trigger on any one of these possibilities. These rooms are gorgeous but they just don't feel like me. For a while, I was stumped, stymied and a little bit confused about how to move forward.

Then I remembered another kitchen. I had saved a photo of this beauty on my hard drive, back in the pre-Pinterest days when I accumulated digital inspiration through my own methodolgies. So I dug back into my Beautiful Homes folder, and voila, I found it:

A quick Google Image search later, and I was engrossed in the entire Apartment Therapy post from which my lovely photo apparently came. One gorgeous angle after another, the shots of this kitchen blew me away.

The natural wood upper cabinets.
The boldly colored stain on the lower cabinets.
The simple and sleekly modern hardware.
The inventive tool cart repurposed as an island.
The concrete-look alike counters.
The adorable dog gazing in wonderment as his human cooks.

Yes. After a quick study, I can easily imagine how to transform my space with a few simple changes to look something like this. Heck, I've already nailed the upper cabinets, the counter tops and the adorable dog.

But more important than a manageable work plan, this photo lights a spark in me. It just feels right. I can envision my kitchen looking like this, and I can see myself living in this space and loving every minute of it. I'm filled with that familiar and overwhelming sense of conviction that says, YES. This is the way to go.

In other words, my search for kitchen inspiration is over. I've finally hit pay dirt.

* * * * *

A break-down of my kitchen upgrade adventure:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bloom Amidst The Chaos

The doldrums of winter are upon me.

My new year's cleaning projects are stacking up on my to-do lists.
The windows have been closed for months.
My ski gear, which always begins the season in a neat and tidy array, sits in a tangled mess.
Concrete dust and pet hair layer over everything in sight.
The gardens lie beneath brown heaps of dead foilage, left from last summer's bounty.

But there is hope.

Blooming admist this chaos is one brave species - the heather. I think I shall try to be like him.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Working Men

Today I visited a different world.

I didn't have to go too far. I just ran up I-5 to Marysville, about 20 miles north, to fetch more concrete for my kitchen counter top project. See, this product isn't sold in typical suburban big-box home improvement stores. To buy my Ardex Feather Finish, I had to venture into a legit construction materials store.

You know the kind of store I mean.

Where they sell hard hats bedecked with all the local sports teams' logos.
Where a solid layer of dust and grit covers everything in sight.
Where all the employees are wearing work gloves.
Where the guy behind the counter asks if you have an account with them.
Where they carry your purchase out to your car, because you are a girl and they don't want you to get dirty or nothin'.

I was definitely not in Kansas anymore.

^ As I drove out of the parking lot, exhilarated by the novelty of my strange adventure, my eyes riveted onto a familiar sign on a nearby building.

^ National Marine Exhaust??? Hey! That shop is owned by my friend, Scott.

AKA Conman.
AKA husband of my BFF and former teaching partner, Heidi.
And I impulsively decided to pay him a visit.

What happened next was amazing.

He invited me into his shop.

Okay, no. I invited myself.

I didn't take any photos during my visit. I was too busy absorbing information about this foreign land. I stole these images off Conman's Facebook. 

^ But anyway, Scott graciously showed me around the floor, explaining how they make gigantic exhaust systems for gigantic boats, and pointing out things like lathes and presses and welding stations. Several times, he cautioned me to look out for sharp and dangerous objects. All the equipment and projects in progress looked complicated and heavy and completely unfamiliar.

And I was fascinated by every single bit of it.

Because, you know, it's not every day that I get to visit the world of real working men.

Driving home, I saw a huge double rainbow hovering like a halo over a white heavy-duty truck. Yep, this is  definitely Working Man Land.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Love The One You're With

This photo speaks for itself.

Yep. My messy remodeling project has become a hands-on experience. 

What can I say. Tools are great but when it comes to smoothing concrete into the tiny nooks and crannies of my kitchen counter tops, I end up ditching the putty knives and diving in with my bare hands. 

I realize that my technique is a little unorthodox but whatever. I'm three layers in to the five-layer process and my methodology is working for me, so I'm going with it. I'm super excited about these new counter tops.

Well. I'm excited about the finished look. The work gets a little monotonous. So, as I'm splashing around up to my elbows in wet concrete, I find myself daydreaming about the other (low budget) changes I may make to my kitchen, once the counters are finished. 

Repainting walls.
Refinishing cabinets
Restyling open shelves.
Rearranging counter tops.
Refreshing rugs and window coverings.

And as I ponder the possibilities, an image keeps popping into my brain.

This kitchen. I can't stop thinking about it. I am fascinated with every inch of its precious white-on-white-on-white decor:

the ceiling,
window trim,
tile work,
counter tops
and dishes on display.

Shiny stainless appliances, a hardwood floor, the rug and window covering lend texture and warmth. The totally neutral and oh so light-filled room comes alive from the green plants and the yellow lemons, with similar colors echoed in the books so sweetly displayed.

I love it. I adore it. I want to break it into sprinkles and eat it on top of my ice cream.

There is only one slight problem.

My kitchen could never look like this.

I mean, you know, hire the right contractors, blow a wad of money and sure, the effect could certainly be reproduced.

But it would be so wrong. Because my kitchen is not meant to be all white.

My 1980s kitchen is full of natural wood:

upper and lower cabinets
as well as the railing, mantel and ceiling beams in the nearby family room.

And to be fair, this is not that glossy and garish 80s golden oak that nightmares are made of. The look is all glowy and natural and actually pretty nice.

I have no desire to repaint a million miles of perfectly fine wood. Maybe some of it. But Lord have mercy, not everything.

That is why I've accepted my kitchen for what it is. A lovely wood-filled room that I choose to embrace, rather than try to change into something altogether different.

So sorry about it, all-white kitchen. You are a gorgeous dream but you are not the kitchen for me. Luckily, I've discovered plenty of natural wood inspiration to help me find new ways to love the one I'm with.

Music to scroll by. 
Or you can skip the photos and just watch the California sunset in the video. 
Either way is fine with me. 

(Pretty sure this is from Design Sponge but I can't find the specific link.)

* * * * *

A break-down of my latest kitchen upgrade adventure: