Monday, March 31, 2014

A Fine Spring Day

^ Me: Ranger, whoa. Stop right here. I wanna take your picture by this bright yellow and way spring-y bush.
Ranger: Ok fine. I guess that's the price of being a devilishly handsome rogue such as myself.

^ Ranger: Hurry up, woman. The scents of the road, they beckon to me.
Me: *click click click click click*

Ranger and I went for a walk this afternoon.

Boo. Totally un-newsworthy.

But here's a major plot twist and a real game-changer. Today, the weather was sunny. SUNNY. Not just a few little breaks in the clouds but a straight-up blue sky and tweeting birds and everything.

If that's wasn't enough to blow my socks clean off, that beautiful, golden, sun-lit air was warm. Oh, not the least bit hot or uncomfortable, mind you. Just that perfect soothing hint of warmth that reminds my rain-soaked, winter-chilled, hypothermia-accustomed, Pacific Northwest-mildewed soul that there really is another alternative to rainy, grey days.

And I don't mean to be dramatic, but on a fine spring day such as this, when I feel warm air gently swirling around me, and notice the stirrings of nature awakening from its winter gloom, I honestly feel like the world and I have both been born again.

^ Me: That's right, Range. Give me your best shot.
Ranger: *sniff sniff sniff sniff sniff*

* * * * *

Wondering why Ranger has such a weird haircut? Read all about it here:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Land Of Pink And Fluffy

It's cherry blossom season at the University of Washington, so you know what that means.

Yep. At least a hundred new photos on my camera roll and lunch at the nearby Chipotle. Who am I to tamper with tradition?

Thankfully, I've done a bit of editing and present you only with the best of the best in this year's version of UDub: The Land of Pink and Fluffy.

^ Here's the money shot of this gorgeous place. I'm standing atop the stairs at the north end of the quad, which are typically jammed with people selfie-ing or group-posing their hearts out against this magnificent backdrop. The view, even on an overcast and annoyingly cold day such as today, is just ridiculously beautiful.

^ Almost as fascinating as the blushing blossoms are the vast numbers of camera-toting tourists. Yes, this is an active college campus but see all those folk out there? Definitely not students. These five blokes in the foreground were the only possible co-eds that I observed all day, though in my opinion, they didn't looks nearly hungry enough to be college students.

^ The quad is surrounded on all four of its rectangular sides by soaring buildings in the typical Gothic styling so common on American college campuses. I'm not a fan of their fussy forms or ornate details but I love the way the pointy bits of the roof lines mimic the triangular tips of the tall evergreens trees, and the natural rosy stone of the buildings echoes the delicate pink of the blossoms.

^ The craggy, crackled bark and curvy black branches provide perfect contrast to the softly billowing blossoms. 

^ And the carpet of pink below is precious beyond words. Looks like a pack of flower girls went wild.

^ The multicultural mash-up of the many admirers is proof that the American melting pot is on full boil. I suspect that most of the guests wandering among the grove are graduates from this fine university. In any case, skin colors ranged from Casper to Mace Windu, traditional clothing rivaled a United Nations fashion show, and a cacophony of foreign tongues filled the air. But no one seemed to notice or care. We were united in our love of cherry blossoms and our mad desire to capture them in photos. 

^ Asians were well represented in the mix, as they are in the UW student body, and it appears that these once-industrious students are now hard at work populating the next generation. There were chubby cheeked Asian toddlers running everywhere and I could hardly resist the temptation to hug each one.

^ But enough about the curious onlookers. Let's get back to those trees. 

 ^ I got all excited when I saw these puddles, and managed to work out the shot so the reflection of this nearby specimen is pieced together across the water.

 ^ I also discovered this sweet little heart, left over from someone else's Instagram moment, and captured it for myself.

^ The atmospheric conditions were not exactly perfect for a cheerful day, but the light from the flat, overcast skies created some interesting photographs. As I walked around the rectangle of trees and shot from different angles, I was fascinated to see how the intensity of the petals' color shifted and changed.

^ My second-born and proud UW alumnus took her share of photos too. Good thing we were not charged by the frame.

^ And I ended my happy tour on these no-nonsense brick steps with a sprinkling of rosy blossoms still adorning my boots. Come home with me, sweet pink fluffy petals, and live in my life forever!

* * * * *

For more stories about late winter and early spring, try these:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Dreamy Day

^ Five fir trees stand bold and tall against the misty background, lending to the dreamy quality of the snowy landscape.

Yesterday was a dreamy kind of day at Stevens Pass. See, it's springtime down in the lowlands of home, where the grass is green, the daffodils are in bloom and the weeds are growing in gleeful abandon. But up at the pass, winter is still in full force. The frigid mountain air was thick with fluffy snowflakes and the ground was covered with a luscious white blanket of fresh. That odd contradiction always makes me feel like I've just stepped out the back of the wardrobe into the wintery world of Narnia, which is a dream-inducing sensation indeed.

As I settled into the ever-enjoyable skier's rhythm of racing down the runs and trails, then riding silently up back up to the top, I began to reminisce about my passion for skiing and how it all began. Interestingly enough, it started with a dream.

^ The path leads that way, down through the trees and into the foggy beyond. 

^ Just a few tracks have been laid in this precious fresh powder.

Picture me as a teenager in the great state of Michigan. The city boys who spent summers water-skiing with us country girls on our lake were also avid alpine skiers during the winter. Well. My girlfriends and I were not about to let them get too far ahead of us. Luckily, we happened to have our own little man-made "mountain" just five miles from home, so after a few seasons of dreaming, we got to work on our parents' wallets and soon found ourselves in possession of season passes and a basic load of starter gear. We also convinced the city boys to give us our first lessons. Mission accomplished.

^ Two adorable little girls hopped the chair in front of me, and I daydreamed about them as I followed them up through the flake-filled sky and up to the top.

Years later, when the demands of college, then career, and then a passel of sweet little children entered my life, I had to lay my skiing passions aside for a while. Especially after I moved here to the Pacific Northwest, where skiing in real mountains is within reach, my soul mourned during the winter months. I dreamed longingly of the day when I might find a way to return to the slopes with my young 'uns in tow.

But wouldn't you know that when the time came that I felt ready to take the whole brood of them up to the snow, money became a limiting issue. Unexpectedly, a short-term part-time job fell into my lap and provided exactly the cash I needed to gear us all up. And to top off my good fortunes, our lives crossed paths with a bounty of like-minded families who also loved to ski and ride. They provided much of the encouragement and support that I needed to get back to skiing after a 22-year hiatus, and that was an unbelievable dream come true.

^ Peek-a-boo view to the blanketed basin beyond.  

^ This is my favorite trail through the woods. Every time I slide silently toward its mysterious opening curve, I get a thrill of excitement for what is to come.

Which led me to thinking about my most recent skiing-related dream. I always knew the day would come that my daughters would no longer be children but busy young adults whose lives led them away from our weekly trips to the mountain. And for many years, I dreamed that somehow, I would find a way to keep going, even if it meant skiing alone. This season, that dream has also come true and I'm honestly as surprised as I am grateful.

Somewhere in the midst of sorting through these skiing dreams, I got caught up in dreaming about dreaming itself.

Dreaming is easy.It's natural. It's part of what makes us human. But in order to actually make a dream come true, I've discovered that it's an ongoing process of:
  • Imagining my wildest desires for the future.
  • Understanding how today's reality gets in the way of the dream.
  • Figuring out how to break down the obstacles.
  • Making a long-term commitment to the dream. They don't happen overnight, you know.
  • Every single day, doing something - anything! - to move one step closer toward the goal.
  • Saving money. Dreams always seem to require money. 
And perhaps most of all, I've learned to invite my emotions along for the ride. Dreams require a curious balance of patience and persistence, but they are ultimately fueled by passion. My dreams have taken me on a wild roller coaster of emotion, mystery, and surprise, and on this snowy day of dreaming, I'm thankful for every twist and turn along the way.

^ My head is full of dreams. They are almost as plentiful as the snowflakes in my hair.

* * * * *
More stories from my 2013-2014 adventures at Stevens Pass? Comin' right up:

Friday, March 28, 2014


^ He was also the first to learn to mow the lawn, but that may have seemed more a curse than a privilege. 

On March 26, 1986, this strapping lad made me an aunt. In fact, David was the first-born child of the new generation in my family of origin. Ten more cousins eventually fell out of our family tree, including my four girls, but David was the first.

My eldest was the second baby of the clan, following David by just fourteen months. They got on quite well, those two, and together formed the top tier of the cousins' social order. But when the whole gang of them met up, there was no question who was top dog. David was the one with the craziest ideas, the wackiest sense of humor, and the spirited ability to take things up just a notch further than anyone else thought to go.

And logically, he was the first to hit all the milestones of childhood.

The first to get braces.
The first to learn to drive.
The first to graduate from high school.

For two decades, he was undoubtedly the lead goose in the V-formation of our family's youngest generation.

Sadly, David was also the first to pass on from this life. Just short of his twenty-first birthday, David died in a freak accident. While his death stunned all of us, I suspect that his cousins and siblings were hardest hit. It is a very difficult thing to lose the one among you who came first, and I expect that they miss him profoundly.

And while I celebrate David's birthday this week, and give thanks for the fine, fun years that we had with him, I say a special prayer for my daughters and my nieces and nephews who carry the pain of his loss in a way I will never truly understand.

* * * * *

Certainly, I know that my family is not the only family to grieve the loss of a young person. And we are not the only ones to lose a first-born. So this story is dedicated to all of you who have lost a first-born sibling or cousin, and still feel the echoes of their influence in your life.

* * * * *

Here's a story about David's siblings and how they have coped with his loss:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cleaning Frenzy

Usually, they sneak up on me, unannounced and unforeseen. Like a bad cold. A runaway train. Or a rogue tornado.

But today was different. I saw this one coming on like a thunderstorm across the prairie, far in the distance yet clearly headed my way. There was plenty of time to ponder and prepare for the oncoming fury, and I was awestruck by the extraordinary power that was unleashed before my eyes.

Yeah. You know what I'm talking about. A wild and full-on cleaning frenzy.

* * * * *

I'd been having a difficult day. Not gonna say there were any major problems to deal with, but a host of niggling frustrations had worked me up to a full boil. By mid-afternoon, when I stopped for a grocery run at Target, I found myself wandering the aisles of the housekeeping section, lusting after the shiny new spray bottles and fresh microfiber cloths.

That was a pretty clear sign of what was to about to happen.

So I treated myself to an indulgent armload of cleaning products, paid my bill, and gleefully headed out the door.

Back in the car, I texted my two eldest daughters, who were innocently enjoying the day off at home, that I was about to rain down some house cleaning-crazy of biblical proportions. 

And then I drove home, fantasizing about where I would start and what I might clean.

* * * * *

What a glorious afternoon. I scrubbed spots out of the carpets, rearranged furniture, washed walls, and dusted with a vengeance. While I worked, my mind sorted out plans for upcoming home improvement projects and built up a wave of enthusiasm for keeping the cleaning frenzy alive. It was a highly productive session.

Best of all, when I came up for air several hours later, I felt refreshed, renewed and completely at peace with the world. The dark storm clouds had blown through, brilliant sunshine was now lighting up the freshly washed world, and the birds were singing.

Nothing settles my stormy moods and calms my heart like a good cleaning frenzy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Life Of A Math Teacher: By The Numbers

My Tuesdays are devoted to teaching math. I'm what you might call a free-lance teacher; I work mostly with homeschooled students and my style is a bit unorthodox but super effective. Let's break down my busy day by the numbers:

 Math lessons I taught today.

Students I met with. I have a seventh student whom I see on Mondays and Wednesdays.

1/1 and 1/2     
My favorite teacher-student ratios. Students learn best when I can adapt to their particular needs so I  keep my classes tiny.

Problems completed during my lessons. And I got all answers right. Woo hoo!

Snacks consumed by one teenage boy during our lesson at his kitchen table. His brain works best            when he's eating.

Colored markers used by my girl students to create cute and colorful pages of detailed notes.

Notes taken by the teenage boy. He is not impressed with colored markers.

Miles away from my third-born but that distance collapsed to zero when we Facetimed her during class.

Distance in feet which my can of Diet Dr Pepper sprayed when I accidentally kicked my purse during    class and the can of pop inside exploded on impact.

Approximate number of irrelevant side stories and bad jokes I told during my classes. Math lessons        an easily become tedious and dry, so I do my best to break up the boredom.

Hours elapsed between the beginning of my first class today and the end of my last.

Minutes we were distracted when a cute little six-year-old boy wandered into our classroom and asked us to help him look for his missing papers. Never did find them but we were glad to help him look.

Week left before spring midterms!

Photos taken by one of my students at the end of class. She wanted to write about our math class in      her blog.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Primrose Patch

If I had a choice, I would live in the woods.

I would take my house, which is currently sitting smack dab in the middle of suburbia, and copy and paste it to a couple acres of secluded woods.

I dream of a yard that ends not at the neighbor's fence, but one that wanders off towards the trees. Rather than clipping and pruning every square inch, I'd like to embrace the wildness, and cultivate a natural, organic and slightly messy vibe in my gardens.

But alas, I'm not expecting to move any time soon. Instead, I've settled for a solid compromise.

If I can't bring my yard to the woods, then I invite a woodsy vibe into my little plot of green.

And my project today is a perfect example.

Bright and spunky primrose. This classic northwest beauty is easy to grow in our wet and cool climate, and commonly planted in color-coordinated rows or precise geometric arrangements.  

But I strive for a naturalized style. Three simple steps help me create a woodsy little primrose garden that keeps my forest-dwelling fantasies alive.

1. Lay out the bed to look organic and natural, rather than stiff and formal.

The overall arrangement of my primrose patch is a loose oval shape; any planting that is circular or rounded usually reads as natural. I eyeballed the plants to keep them roughly the same distance apart, but intentionally avoided planting these beauties in straight rows or precisely spaced measurements.

Similar colors are grouped together, just as natural drifts of wildflowers often grow in clumps and bunches. 

I try to lay out the colors in such a way that as my eye travels across the planting, the various hues will mix and mingle in my line of sight. I also think about the shades of the colors, and intentionally weave the bright and dark colors, the warm and the cool colors, to create a pleasing effect.

2. Buy plants from the half-off rack. 

Most nurseries sell their tired and less-than-perfect specimens for deep discounts, and I not only like to save money, but I prefer the imperfect look of these babies. Once I pinch off a few spent blooms and fluff a few faded leaves, these rejects actually look more natural than their greenhouse-perfect counterparts and that's my jam.

3. Mulch with fallen leaves. 

A forest floor is littered with an accumulation of past season's fallen leaves, and my garden is no different. While I do sometimes mulch with my own compost, or when my supply runs low, a bag of store-bought, my favorite way to keep down the weeds and protect my plants' roots is by tucking handfuls of old leaves around them.

I love the texture. I love the color. I love the virtually impenetrable shield against weeds.

The only thing not to love is the slugs who love these leaves too. Perfect hiding places for the little devils. 

* * * * *

My primrose patch may not fool anyone into thinking that they are miles from civilization. But when I peep out my living room window and see this tiny island of color in my mostly brown spring garden, I feel like I've stumbled upon a sunny wildflower meadow in a forest glade. With a little imagination, I can almost forget that my neighbor's yard is just five feet away.

* * * * *

The story of my gardening season:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Wandering And Wondering

Yesterday morning, my spring-breaking fourth-born and I went on an adventure.

Well. Not just an ordinary adventure. A very specific sort of adventure.

Our exact mission was this: we had no mission.

Yes. In a life full of syllabi, to-do lists, appointments and class schedules, preset maintenance mileage and automated bill payments, we dared to dive into a full Saturday's worth of ambiguity and unplanned happenstance.

First, we had cheeseburgers. For breakfast.

^ Then we hopped a westbound ferry out of Edmonds and headed over to the Olympic Peninsula.

If you're not familiar with Washington geography, here's a crash course. Our state looks like a rectangle with a bite taken out of the upper left corner. Directly underneath the bite, there's a chunk of land that sits off at a funny little crooked angle from the rest. Surrounded by water on three sides, that pointy bit is called the Olympic Peninsula.

The skies were cloudy, the winds fierce, but a ferry ride never fails as a great way to jump start an adventure.

Once we were delivered to the wild side of the Sound, we pulled out a map and decided on a route. Here's how that conversation unfolded:
I don't care where we go as long as there are beaches. 
Okay,  I'm down. But it's your spring break, so you choose a random place.  
Umm. What about Poulsbo. Have we ever been there? I don't remember it. I don't even know how to say it. 
"Poul" rhymes with "soul." So "Soulsbo" equals Poulsbo. I think? And I've never been there either. So let's go.
(Later, I learned it's pronounced more like Pawls-bo. Oops.)
What we soon learned is that Poulsbo is a pretty typical medium-sized town, with a nice new Safeway, a five-lane highway that passes as Main Street, and down on the waterfront, a fairly charming historic district with Nordic architecture, street murals of Viking ships, and countless Scandanavian flags. But we skipped all that and headed straight to the beach.

^ We soon learned that the beaches of Poulsbo are mud flats. Stepping gingerly through the squelchy goo, we discovered an endless stretch of mush to the north...

 ^ ...and to the south, where a layer of stones does little to combat the squishy features of the beach. Boo.

^ Happily, we also found this fabulous walkway that rises above the whole murky mess and allows beach-goers a smooth and satisfying stroll. Heaven help me, I love a good boardwalk.

^ And speaking of love, we happened to look over the railing and discover this ubiquitous springtime sign of American teenage romance: Prom? We wondered if she said yes. 

 ^ We walked as far as the marina, then wandered through the docks, debating the pros and cons of the various yachts and sailboats. What we found most irresistible, however, was the thick layer of sea life clinging to the pilings.

^ When the spirit moved us, we traced out steps back to the far end of the walkway and back up through a thin buffer of forest to the streets above. 

^ Daffodils were everywhere and we wondered endlessly about how they might have come to be sprinkled through the forest. 

^ Hey! Wait! A heart-shaped trunk. I love finding heart-shaped anything.

* * * * *

With Poulsbo in our rear-view mirror, we weren't exactly sure where we were heading next when a sign leaped out at us: Bainbridge Island 11 Miles.

What? I knew Bainbridge Island as a popular Seattle community that blends rural living with a short ferry ride to downtown. But I didn't know it was connected to the Olympic Peninsula via a back door bridge. Cool. So on we rode, following signs for the ferry dock and trusting that where there is a ferry dock, there is probably also going to be a beach.

^ What we found was a waterfront park with a big pink flowering tree, 

 ^ lots of sweet spring daisies,

^ and a barely-there peekaboo view of the ferry.

The Bainbridge beach was a bore. Much more entertaining was a twenty-something man in the park who we found standing amidst a dozen or so Frisbees. As we stealthily spied on him, he would pick them up, one by one, and whale them, with all his strength, to a spot in the grass on the far side of the park. Once he had tossed them all, with all the ceremony of a Greek discus champion, he would march over to the landing site, now littered with all of his colorful flying discs, and proceed to whip them back to their starting place.

We loved this guy.
We appreciated his tenacity and determination.
We were impressed with the extreme gusto of his delivery.
We admired his obvious devotion to his sport.
And we were totally captivated by his deliberate methodology.

I wanted to take his picture. But my daughter discouraged me. Too creepy.

Yeah. She's probably right. So I resisted.

* * * * *

We took back roads out of town, winding our way through some gorgeous neighborhoods with beautiful houses and breathtaking views of the Seattle skyline. Covetously, we plotted how we might get our hands on such a prime piece of real estate and debated whether it is possible to steal a house.

^ And before we knew it, we were back on the bridge,

^ and returned to our dear Peninsula. 

We headed north again, vaguely returning toward the homeward ferry, but without any urgency. The winding road suddenly brought us to the water's edge once again and we pulled off to check out the new vistas.

There's something indescribable about a town on an Indian reservations. I can't quite put my finger on how those communities are any different than any other tiny American town, but they have a certain vibe that always captures my attention and fascinates me. This little spot, Suquamish, had that effect on me. As we strolled out on the well-kept dock and surveyed the small waterfront park, my daughter and I discussed the strange bond between our land's native peoples and all of us immigrants who came later.

 ^ Looking back at Agate Passage - the water between Bainbridge and the Peninsula - and the delicate bridge over which we had just traveled.

 ^ Barely discernible on the pale horizon to the left stands the Seattle skyline. Despite our valiant efforts, our phone cameras refused to do it justice.

 ^ Lovely homes spill down the bluff with stairs and walkways to reach the beach.

 ^ The shapes and colors of nautical trappings always inspire me,

^ as do long-legged girls on perfectly straight docks.

As we bailed back into the car and began the last leg of our journey back to the ferry and our side of the Sound, my daughter mused aloud:
I think it's great that we have a black president. And I hope someday there will be a woman president too. But what I'm really looking forward to is the day that the United States has a president who is a Native American. 
It took a few moments for that profound idea to reach my brain.

What a thinker my little fourth-born has turned out to be.

And how grateful I am for a day spent wandering and wondering with her.