Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Shake It Out

With the right music, you either forget everything or you remember everything. -Unknown

Tonight, I saw one of my favorite bands perform live. Manchester Orchestra hails from Atlanta, Georgia; their emotive, guitar-heavy, screamo style suits me perfectly. Though I've seen them at least five times before, I was as excited as ever to get the show started. After several opening acts, the stage was finally prepped for the headliners, and an enormous backdrop unfurled from the ceiling. The plain white fabric was emblazoned with a single word:


This happens to be the name of Manchester Orchestra's newly released album, but the word has special significance for me.

* * * * *

Five years ago, I was going through a rough time. A trusted relationship had been frayed, and the bonds of that important friendship were in serious need of repair. At the time, I had no idea if the connection would ever be restored, and I knew that I had no choice but to wait and see if time would heal what was broken. For several months, I struggled against that pain but in the process, I eventually learned ways to distract myself - to cope - with the situation.

Music was key.

Enter Manchester Orchestra's second album, Mean Everything To Nothing, which was released during this difficult time. The mood and style of the music fit perfectly with the overwhelming forces of sadness, frustration and anger that I felt in my own life, and listening to that album became a daily coping ritual.

One song in particular helped me let go. It's called Shake It Out, and while the lyrics may seem angsty and dramatic, they were exactly what I needed to shake off my troubles and deal with my life.

* * * * *

These memories flashed through my mind as I stood there tonight, waiting in a sea of texting teenagers for the show to start, riveted by those four big black letters that spelled out exactly what this music had done for me.


I felt a rush of gratitude, a sense of relief, and a thankful heart for the band who helped me through those dark days. How sweetly poetic that their new album would bear such a perfect name for what their music meant - and still means - to me.

Finally, the lights dimmed and the musicians filed in, strapped on their guitars and struck the opening chords of their first song. Surprisingly, fittingly, perfectly, they started with Shake It Out.

And though the music still echos with the pain of those bad times, the memories are tempered by the fact that my friendship was indeed restored and stands strong and true to this day, better than ever.

I moshed with joyful abandon.

* * * * *

Care for an encore? Here are more of my stories about live music performances: 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Support The Clippers

All my life, I've been partial to bright red tulips. Their bold, deep, saturated color pops out from all that surrounds them and satisfies my soul with its intensity. To tell you the truth, I just ignore all the other colors. They simply can't compare to the breathtaking beauty of the reds. 

But today I saw these pale, pastel charmers and it got me to thinking. Maybe I've been missing something. Could it be that light colors are just as good as red? Have I been overlooking the entire spectrum of tulips, by thinking that the red ones are the best?

Thanks, Donald Sterling; your ignorant attitudes and racist remarks have helped me rethink my floral priorities.

Just goes to show that good can come from some very dark places.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Perfectly Imperfect

I had a chores-y kind of weekend. 


Not the most exciting report for a sunny, springlike pair of days. And I can't even claim a noble, interesting transformative project. Just a pile-up of routine errands, odds and ends that have accumulated over the weeks and months. Here are the contents of my shopping bag after one of several Home Depot runs and a brief run-down on how they were put to use.

a. New light bulb for the big paper star in my front window. The old one has been out for a few weeks and despite our sizable inventory of new light bulbs, I haven't had any replacements of this unusual size on hand.

b. Here's an annoying thing about paint. No matter how carefully you apply it, a few drops always end up in the wrong places. There have been a few rogue bits of paint on my front porch, and I've heard that Citristrip stripping gel will bust those spots off in no time. Hmm. The results, I'm sorry to say, were mixed.

c. Painter's tape in my brand of choice, to be used on the interior door to my library...

d. ...which is long overdue to be painted bright red on one side. Way back in October, when making over my home office, I decided to splash some color on the inside of the door. In order to do the job right, I decided to take the old girl off her hinges and paint her outside in the driveway, propped up on saw horses. Which requires reasonably warm temperatures. Which means I've had a long wait. Hoping that this weekend would finally break the 70 degree barrier, I finally pulled the trigger on buying the paint. But alas. On Sunday, it rained. Maybe next weekend.

e. Black and white spray paint. I usually keep a can of each on hand for touch-ups here and there, and as luck would have it, I happened to be out of both. This weekend, I used a bit of each new can. First, I took apart my doorbell and wanted to freshen the black bar that surrounds the actual bell button. Mission accomplished. And the white was used to successfully recoat the cans for the recessed porch lights. Sad truth - only just this moment, while glancing at this photo, I realized that I accidentally bought white primer. Oh. I meant to get a satin finish. Oops. 

f. I'll be honest. I've been dubious about these Magic Erasers for a long, long time. But my third-born bought one a few months back, and I'll be darned if that sucker doesn't clean everything to a shiny perfection. I'm in love, and since I now use Magic Erasers to freshen up everything under the sun, decided to invest in the multi-pack.

* * * * *

As  I ground my way through these chores, and an equally unpleasant list of more just like them, I thought a lot about the never-ending job of maintaining a home. When I bought my house, it was brand new and darn near perfect. But from the first day we moved in, our daily living has served to wear it down, break it in, and mess it up. 

I do my best to keep up. On many weekends like this one, I scrub and repaint and sand down and replace whatever needs fixing. It's a constant, on-going job and while I enjoy the battle, I know that the minute I complete one task and move on to the next, the inevitable decline and decay begin again. 

And while I am still highly motivated to fight the good homeowner's fight, I'm also reminded to slow down and enjoy my house exactly as it is.

Worn, loved, lived-in. Perfectly imperfect. Just like the people who live inside of it.

And that is good enough for me.

P.S. Here's how ol' Ranger spend his weekend - keeping an eye on me between catnaps in the warm sun. And of course, despite my demanding list of household chores, he got his usual walk, right on schedule. Sounds pretty perfect to me. 

* * * * *

I love to clean. And I love to tell stories about cleaning. Wanna read some more?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

From Me To You

On a day when I needed a little pick-me-up, this sweet chalk drawing popped up literally in the middle of my path, filling the wide sidewalk before my feet.

I have no idea who put it there. And certainly, that person could not have known that I would see this creation and feel better because of it.

That is the beauty of a random act of kindness. We offer a moment of grace and goodness up to the universe, not always knowing who will be affected or how they will be changed. If everything goes just right, those who receive that action will not only benefit themselves, but may also pass it along to others.

We are ripples in a pond, butterflies flapping our fragile wings and creating hurricanes in far-off lands.

In the same spirit of infinite, unforeseen possibilities, I share this drawing with you.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Hello, Hydrangeas

^ Hello, hydrangeas! You're awful cute. 

Yesterday, as I was running into Trader Joe's to buy more chia seeds, I was arrested.

Well. Technically, my eyeballs were arrested. But they were not put in handcuffs by an officer of the law, and read their rights.

Instead, they caught sight of these extravagantly frilly powder puff blossoms. Immediately, an order was sent to bring my feet to a screeching halt. Simultaeously, my right hand was commanded to scramble around in my bag until out popped my camera, ready for action.

And thus this photo shoot was born.

^ When I was growing up, hydrangeas were always blue. But I eventually learned that the color of the blossoms is affected by the amount of acid in the soil. 

Hydrangea blooms - for that's what these are called - have become quite the rage lately and I couldn't be more pleased. They've been a part of my life for a long, long time, and I'm thrilled to see this modest backyard bush make it to the big times.

But honestly, I find it a bit jarring to see them in April flowerstands.

^ The charm of the hydrangea lies in its sweetly rumpled petals. Rather than the stiff, formal arrangement of the typical rose, or even the daisy or lily, a hydrangea flower is a easygoing fellow.

Because the moment that the images of these beauties hit my temporal lobes, I was swept back through the decades to my grandmother's backyard. A fine gardener in all respects, my grandma had a special way with the hydrangea. In late summer, her hedge of these specimens, which ran along the north fence, exploded into luxuriant bloom. The hot smell of dry grass, the hum of August cicadas, the grouchy feeling my little self got from playing too hard in the sun - all these memories come back to me in a symphony of Michigan summers, and the oversize blue blossoms are an integral part of the tune.

^ None of her hydrangeas make an appearance in this photo, but here I am, happily playing with a mound of sand, in the far reaches of Grandma's back yard. 

So, go right ahead, trendy flower shops and decorating blogs, make a year-round hero out of the happy hydrangea. But in my mind and in my heart, those big puff-balls belong to the dog days of summer, just like the ones I spent in my grandmother's magical back yard.

* * * * *

Ready for more stories about Michigan, my mitten-shaped home land? 

Happiness Is A Long Leash

I know, I know. I talk a lot about Ranger and our daily walks together.

We pet parents can be so obnoxious sometimes.

But my boy is such a super cute hunter and all-around happy lad when he is out and about, and his joy rubs off on me. Can't help myself from passing the love along.

So please enjoy these rough cuts from our travels

* * * * *

In this first take, notice that Ranger never lifts his nose from the ground. In fact, it seems to have a power all its own, leading the rest of his body onward, helpless to resist the delicious and fascinating smells that it drinks in.

Also, note that directly opposite Ranger's path, across a tiny paved lane, stands a high school baseball field at which a spirited contest was taking place. Is Ranger distracted by this commotion or interested in any way by this public spectacle? See for yourself

The second take offers a good view of Ranger's long leash with most of its length extended. As you can see, he does a lot of strolling back and forth, following scents and looping back on his trails, which is why the extra footage is so useful. I keep walking along at an even pace as he bobs and weaves, and we are both content.

You'd be surprised how many times strangers point out to me, "That's a really long leash." Why, yes it is. Thank you so much for noticing.

Also, there are raindrops on Ranger's nose. Cute.

Adorable points of interest in Take Three: 
  • The trip-trapping footsteps of my red-headed billy goat as he crosses over the little wooden bridge, with his friendly tail a-waggin'.
  • An encounter with a tree branch and a nice example of how Ranger waits patiently while I deal with any drama that happens to cross our path.
  • Clear shots of his surgical sites, and ample evidence that his lush red fur is slowly growing back.
  • I love the way he hustles to catch up to me when I call to him: "Hey, Range." Good dog.
  • And oh, that cheerful little face.

These little videos explain exactly why I willingly invest an hour of my time, each and every day, in taking my boy for a walk. Sniffing in the wet grass as we cruise the back lots of the school is absolutely what Ranger was born to do, and giving him that experience brings me great joy. 

For both my good red dog and me, happiness is found at the end of a long leash.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easter Morning In Malaysia

A few days ago, on Easter Sunday, I reminisced about my adventures on last year's holiday which fell during my two-and-a-half month-long trip to Malaysia. Surely, I posted about it on my blog, right? But when I went looking for an entry, I realized that I never wrote about this beautiful morning.

Well. Better late than never, right?

* * * * *

We left the house at 6:30 a.m.

Let's be honest. I don't get up and moving at that dark and despicable time of day unless I have a darn good reason. 

A Malaysian hot air balloon festival? Yes. That's a good reason.

Now I'll admit that I was a bit forlorn on the morning in question. I love the story of Easter, and I look forward all year to the joyful celebration of Easter morning worship at my home church. While I was very happily enjoying my long stay on the other side of the planet, on this particular morning, I was just a wee bit sad to be away from home.

But by the time we rounded up our posse and drove about a half hour south of Kuala Lumpur to the adminstrative capital city of Putrajaya, my curiosity was in overdrive. Dawn had broken. In a central parking lot, countless yards of gently billowing nylon lay quivering on the ground. Though a fence on the perimeter kept us onlookers at a safe distance, there were plenty of people quietly attending to their business among the still forms of the sleeping balloons. In the calm and relatively cool morning air, we watched with reverence and anticipation for signs of new life.

With the blink of an eye, a change passed over the tarmac. Whooooosh! From one work site to the next, propane burners burst into life, directing superheated air into the empty envelopes and sending shock waves of excitement and adrenalin through the crowds. Honestly, I think the workers themselves were the most thrilled of all  - their voices rose in pitch, their movements became more animated, and their delight in the balloons' transformation was palpable. 

Slowly, slowly, each balloon tilted up from the ground, standing full and ready over its now seemingly-tiny basket. And then, as we all seemed to hold our breath in response to the pure magic before our eyes, the enormous, graceful, brilliant, gently swaying beings silently lifted off the earth and sailed up, up and away. 

I was awestruck. As the last of the air-filled giants silently floated away, I pondered the amazing sights I had just seen. While I had missed my traditional Easter worship, I wondered if my morning's experience might have been a bit like that first Easter day when, just after dawn, a quiet place was suddenly transformed by larger-than-life glory. Surprisingly, I felt a new kinship to the two women, Mary and Mary, who were the first to discover that Jesus had risen from his grave, first-hand witnesses to the miracle of resurrection.

And that was a very lovely discovery on my Easter morning in Malaysia.

P.S. After the balloons had all sailed away, I went with my host and all of his lovely family-in-law to eat breakfast. And I found myself hoping that, after all the hub bub of that first Easter morning finally died down, Mary and Mary had a nice big brunch themselves. Happy Easter!

^ Me, Wannie, and Aleesya, ready for some food!

* * * * *

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

Messages From Mother Earth

I love our mama earth, and I'm happy to do whatever I can to keep her fresh and clean. Lucky me, I live here in Seattle, a city that is devoted to reducing, reusing and recycling in the extreme. We have curbside green bins for our yard waste and kitchen scraps, restaurants that provide compostable spoons and forks, and local bans on plastic grocery bags. At this point in my life, I would rather carry my recyclable trash home in my purse than throw it in the regular garbage, and given a choice, I will always opt to purchase the item with the least wasteful packaging.

In my little corner of the world, going green comes naturally, all year round.

So as I contemplated Earth Day, and wondered what I might do differently today to celebrate our planet, the answer came with deceptive clarity. Maybe, after devoting myself all year long to natural cleansers, toxin-free paints, and reusable shopping bags, I should stop worrying about doing harm to the earth and simply enjoy her gorgeous bounty.

And while I would have loved to ski the Alps, hike the Grand Canyon, or ride a zip line through the Costa Rican rain forest, my adventures in nature today - as most days - were found much closer to home. While on my daily walk with Ranger, I gathered up a small bag full of pine cones, sticks, leaves, and wild flower blossoms that I found along the way. Back home, I shook them out on a spot of fresh green grass, and sat down to play with them, not sure exactly what I might create. After a few moments of playful experimentation, this message appeared before me.

In those few moments, I was lost in the fragile beauty of the fading yellow forsythia blossoms, the interesting variation of shape, color, and texture among the Douglas fir cones, and the delicately curving stems of the tiny daisies. The headache-inducing busy-ness of my day slipped away, my senses were delighted and my spirit was renewed.

Maybe the true power of Earth Day is about more than just what we do to our global home, but also about the miracles of nurture, growth and beauty that our Mother Earth brings to us..

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Vintage Sperry Rand

Notice anything new on my library bookshelves?

Well, I'll give you a hint. This object is not a book. And it isn't new at all. In fact, it's pretty darn old. Technologically obsolete, to be exact.

Yep. You found it. My husband's old typewriter.

Now, I went to college back in the Dark Ages. Which is to say, before personal computers were as prevalent as blue books and red kegger cups.

But my husband got his education during the Triassic Period, when students actually owned these nifty and highly portable little machines, on which they banged out papers in late-night typing sessions that must have been filled with curse words and tiny bottles of white-out

I sure hope they had white-out back then. I can't even imagine how they would have survived without it.

And while I never owned my own personal typewriter, I grew up in a home where the slightly more modern electric typewriter was a standard piece of equipment, right up there with the electric carving knife and the digital clock radio. Every Sunday afternoon, my mom would crank up a piece of paper, switch on the magic power button, and clickety-clack through the front and back of the page with a newsy note to my grandmother. Fascinated by this grown-up tool, I often used it to compose anonymous messages and secret documents. 

For the past several decades, like most of his typewriter bretheren, this model has lived in the shadows. Oh sure, we busted him out every now and then during my daughters' childhoods, so they could conduct typeface experiments just as I did. But for the most part, this trusty dude stayed inside his custom case, quietly collecting dust in the back of the hall closet or stashed in the garage. 

Somewhere during the last few years, manual typewriters have made the trendy leap from history to hipstery. Postmodern decor mavens dig the retro look, and a quick cruise around Pinterest or the revered design blogs will reveal trusty old-school typewriters tucked here and there as fashionable accessories.

So, you know, I figured the time was right to bring this good ol' boy back into my life. Artfully arranged with my husband's equally antique college texts, this vintage Sperry Rand looks right at home.

P.S. Speaking of artfully arranged good ol' boys who look right at home, say hello to Ranger, who is napping peacefully nearby.

* * * * *

Wanna snoop around my house some more? Go to:

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Dinner

First we eat, then we do everything else. -M.F.K. Fisher

^ My Easter feast. Plus a baked macaroni and cheese casserole that was just coming out of the oven as this photo was taken.

Let's be honest. The make-it-or-break-it moment of every great holiday is the meal.

Take Easter. As a Christian, I'm awed by the message of hope and joy that came from the empty tomb. As a resident of the northern hemisphere of Planet Earth, I rejoice in the turning of the seasons and the burst of new life that this spring holiday represents. In response to this gladful day, I happily go to worship and decorate my home with armloads of fresh flowers.

But the centerpiece of my favorite celebrations is always the meal.

Across cultures and back through time, we all share that passion, don't we? Gathering up the loved ones and feeding them the best food available - that's what we humans do when we have cause to celebrate.

^ Ham is a traditional Easter favorite, but my family does not love ham. So we opted for steak instead.

Since my little family lives far and away from the rest of the clan, I've planned, prepared and presided over a good many holiday meals. Over the past two decades, my family and I have perfected the art of the holiday meal by following these seven simple steps:

Timing is everything. For all of our holiday meals, we generally sit down at the table in mid-afternoon. Strategically, this not only gives us plenty of time for preparing the meal without any dawn wake-up calls, but also allows appetites to recover by the early evening when we all return to the fridge for a lap of leftovers.

Our menu is usually fairly simple, but everyone's preferences are represented. While I generally set the overall menu, I always canvass the group to see who wants what. I'm willing to go the extra mile to make sure the table is loaded down with everyone's favorites.

^ To create more options and add to the festive holiday fare, I also served up some roasted salmon. 
My wildflower dishes speak of springtime in the woods to me, as do little bowls of fresh strawberries and fresh cut tulips. Simple and sweet.

Presentation matters. Over the years, I've accumulated a mix-and-match collection of table linens, dinnerware, silverware, and serving pieces; my daughters and I enjoy the process of sorting through the options to create a table setting that matches to the mood of the holiday. We don't have a lot of room on our little table for centerpieces and candlesticks, but we do our best to squeeze in a few flowers or a plant to glamorize the tablescape.

Everyone helps with the cooking. Sometimes we work in shifts, other times we all pile into the kitchen at the same time and get in each others' way. One of the things that makes a holiday meal different from our usual daily dinners is that each member of the family lends a hand.

Give thanks. I don't care if you reach out to God, Buddha, the Prophet Muhammad, or Mother Earth, someone besides you deserves credit for the bounty of the meal. Taking a moment to express gratitude and appreciate the gifts of the day makes every bite taste better.

^ This year, my two eldest surprised me by peeling and chopping all the potatoes, and preparing the deviled eggs without me. And speaking of deviled eggs, here's a weird fact. For 364 days of the year, none of us have any interest in eating deviled eggs, They are just not our thing. But on Easter Sunday, we all crave them. 

Afterwards, we are all allowed to crash and burn. Oh, there's nothing quite so satisfying as giving in to post-feast sleepiness. When my daughters were babes and tots, we would take them directly from the holiday table to their cozy beds and wrestle them down for some shut-eye. Now that they are all grown up and actually like to nap, we have continued the tradition with a few hours of family down-time. Sweet heaven, I love a good holiday snooze.

Separate sessions are scheduled for dessert and leftovers. There's no need to eat too much at once. By pacing ourselves with several long breaks, we can turn a single holiday meal into a full day of feasting.

* * * * *

So whether I'm preparing a Labor Day backyard barbecue, New Year's Day brunch or Christmas dinner, these steps can be adapted for the particulars of the day at hand, and still serve to create a winning meal. And as far as I'm concerned, that is the simple secret to a great holiday.

^ Even after the pans are licked out and the dishes are done, the happy memories of this lovely Easter dinner will live on.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Action Painting: Polka Dot Pet Party

Due to popular demand, my art students did some watercolor splatter painting this week.

It's one of their favorite action painting techniques. Here's how it works:

1. Load up a paintbrush with lots of loose, drippy paint. 
2. Aim your brush at a big piece of paper and let the paint fly.

As usual, we had some fabulous fun. In the past, we've used tempera paints as our weapon of choice and worked outside so we could really let the colors fly. But yesterday, since we were stuck inside on a rainy day, I opted to use watercolors which are a bit more controlled and easier to clean up. 

Before laying our hands on the paint, we chatted a bit about how modern art is used as a vehicle for expressing thoughts and feelings, and I challenged my students to reflect similar emotion in their creations. And in an unusual twist, I required that they name their finished products.

Here are some of their masterpieces:

^ Lonely In The Black Room by Myles

^ Seasons (detail) by Audra

Happy Frustration by Laney

Crazy Fun by Katie

Left Behind by Madalen

Primary Emotions by Avery

Motions by Audra

Easter (detail) by Ashlyn and Laney

Alone, Scared and Confused by Avery

My students' exuberant and expressive work inspired me to make my own watercolor splatter painting, so the next morning, when I was at home alone with some time to myself, I gathered my supplies. I decided to snap a few photos of process, starting with the blank canvases. Very quietly, so as not to disturb my slumbering puppy, I slid open the back door and tiptoed across the patio to take this shot in the grass:

Never satisfied with just one frame, I fired off a second. As my finger tapped the shutter, I noticed a swift movement in the upper left corner of the view screen:

One grey striped kitty paw. Mmhmm. I know who that belongs to. Moving stealthily, I lifted my camera to widen the shot and captured this image of the paw's sassy owner.

Hello, Cedric.

My cats are independent little fellows. Most of the time, they pay no attention to my life, caught up as they are in the comings and goings of their own. But whenever I introduce paper into their surroundings, they are captivated.

And I am using plural pronouns for a reason. Within seconds, mysterious Luna popped out of the bushes and joined Cedric in exploring my interesting devices:

At this point, we heard a set of businesslike footsteps from within the house and you'll never guess who popped his cute red head out the back door and joined us:

Ranger is not one to miss a party. And clearly this little gathering was quickly turning into an important social event, because next we heard a plaintive cry coming from....overhead??

Why are all of you down there together and why am I up here all alone? Someone help me, please!

My goodness. I went upstairs and let Sirius in through a bedroom window, then we all reunited on the patio. Good times and plentiful petting ensued. Eventually, miraculously, I managed to get my splatter painting done and later turned it into gift wrap for a pair of presents.

And in keeping with my students' challenge, I decided to name my creation Polka Dot Pet Party (In Pink and Blue).