Saturday, February 28, 2015

Among The Giants

It's one thing to look at brown desert landscapes peppered with multi-armed green cacti and think, "Oh, sure. Saguaros. Those are cool."

But it's another thing altogether to encounter them in person. 

Mind-blowingly tall and disproportionate to the average human. 

There is only one way to truly experience and appreciate the power and glory of the saguaro cactus and that is to walk among the giants. 

* * * * *

I've been lucky enough to visit the Sonoran Desert and the magical cacti who live there. Read more about my adventures:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Yin And Yang

Up in Washington, our trees grow all the way to the ground. The iconic Douglas fir is a perfect example. Though its uppermost boughs stretch to the heavens, the trunk is adorned in heavy, lush, and fragrant branches all the way down to the forest floor. The full effect is a pleasing mass of evergreen beauty, solid and stalwart against the gentle elements of the Pacific Northwest. 

And that's why I am surprised and delighted all over again every time I wander down to the high Southwest deserts of Arizona. Here, the uniquitous palms, though also towering, are decorated only with a touch of delicate greenery at the tippy top of their supple, swaying trunks. Those fragile fronds are perfectly suited to catch the blazing desert sun and set themselves aglow in their own unique show of finery. 

And this mysterious yin and yang between these two wildly different corners of our dear planet Earth is exactly why I love to visit Tucson. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Happy Birthday To You

If you were to look inside my fourth born's mind, this is what you would most likely see. 
The lights of the city sparkling against the jagged teeth of the high desert mountains. 
The lingering glow of the sun, setting far to the west. 
The deepening twilight, stretching navy to black in the heavens above. 
The evening star, Venus,  rising against the western horizon.

Yes, this is a perfect picture of my fourth-born's inner landscape. A surreal mix of reality and fantasy; of nature and the wonders of the great beyond. She is a woman of mystery and sensibility and limitless possibilities.

And yesterday was her birthday. What a day to celebrate!

Happy birthday to my inscrutable, metaphysical, contemplative young dreamer. You never fail to amaze me.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Brownies In Asia

For the last twenty months, my third-born baby girl has been living in Vietnam.

"I don't know how you do it," Well-meaning friends and acquaintances often cluck their tongues and shake their heads in pity for me. "I couldn't stand it if my daughter lived so far away."

Well, let me be clear. I don't always love the 7,028 miles that separate me from my girl. Sometimes, it's hard:

When she had her impacted wisdom teeth pulled.
When she crashed her motorbike.
When she sang in a Christmas concert
When I make her favorite dinner and wish she were sitting next to me, enjoying every bite.

But I also find a lot to celebrate about my daughter's bold and courageous spirit of adventure.

* * * * * 

Baking is a big deal in our family.

Ever since my girls were old enough to stand, we included them in the creation of snickerdoodles, apple pies, birthday cakes and countless pans full of brownies. 

There were tiny aprons involved.

And plenty of measuring and stirring and recipe-checking and finger-licking and good-natured squabbling. 

And flour spilled everywhere. 

As the girls got the hang of baking, I quickly learned to back out. Leaving my kitchen in their competent hands, I would often retreat to my bedroom and deal with some neglected task up there while listening to their merry chatter through the floorboards below.

In those moments, I often daydreamed about my future grandchildren, and how someday they would carry these fine family baking traditions forward to a new generation and multiply my efforts to spread delicious desserts throughout the world.

* * * * *

However, to be completely honest, I never imagined that my third-born would move to Vietnam and live with a family of native Koreans. 

I did not foresee the sweet relationship that would spring up between her and this family's ten-year-old girl.

I couldn't know that my daughter would invite Sally to share her love of baking. 

And never, ever, in my wildest dreams, would I have guessed that pans full of our favorite brownie recipe would spring forth from a little Asian countertop oven and fill these faraway hearts, minds and tummies with their chocolaty delights. 

And that is why I happily support my daughter's life in Vietnam. Because you never really know how your own dreams might come true. 

Photo credits to Sally, who will someday come to America and bake brownies here with me.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sunset Chasers: Philosophical Edition

Often times, when I am chasing a sunset, I find myself filled with regret.

Happened again just the other day.

Sitting behind the wheel of my car, which was still running while parked haphazardly in a light industrial park near my neighborhood, I was jumpy with adrenalin from the mad dash to get to this optimal sunset-viewing spot before the colors faded from the sky as I asked myself once again:

Why, oh why, do I turn a sacred moment of peace and brilliant beauty into a cross-country, heart-attack-inducing steeplechase?

Why do I behave as if a gorgeous photo snapped in haste means more than the sweet memory of a sunset savored in real life?

And why, once again, am I sitting in here staring at my dusty dashboard and thinking these troubled thoughts while my daughter is outside, actually taking all the photos?

I don't have any good answers for myself

But I do conclude that I am not the only person who struggles with the art of being truly present in the precious moments of life. My thoughtful and talented friend, Chris, created a video in which he wrestles with his own distractedness during a recent visit to Abbey Road. Check it out.

And while I am often tempted to beat myself up for - as Chris puts it - missing the moment, I wonder if there is something more going on here than meets the eye.

What if there is just as much value in evaluating the past and planning for the future, as there is in living in the present?

What if this constant tension between staying truly present in each moment, and rushing on to the next, are the twin guide rails that run parallel along the pathways of our lives, pushing us back from one extreme to the other as we try to find a reasonable balance?

And what if we are meant to wrestle, each and every day, with our hearts' desire to stay deep and truly grounded in the moment, while our hyper human brains and survivalist sensibilities demand that we shift our focus to the next big thing.?

Hmm. This is something to think about next time I'm gazing at a sunset.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Moments Of Peace

I did not have a tea party today, but I did manage to put my hands on a bouquet of daffodils that 
were clearly tea-party worthy.

"Hi, Diane!"

My mom gaily picked up her phone and greeted me.

"What am I doing right now?"

Always with the guessing games. Even in these days of advanced dementia, my mother loves to quiz me.

I can't imagine, I replied. Tell me!

"Samantha and I are having a little party. She baked us some peanut butter cookies and right now, she's making me some fancy coffee. We're almost ready to eat!"

And while that may sound like a lovely afternoon in any context, the news that my mom was sipping cafe-au-lait and munching treats with her caregiver spun me around like a cyclone till I was limp as a rag doll, dizzy, and seeing stars.

Because just 24 hours earlier, my mom's anxiety levels had spiked off the charts. Hoarse from hours of uncontrollable screaming, intermittently curling up on the couch in the fetal position, and interrupting our phone calls to wildly argue with her hallucinations, Mom's behavior was so extreme and concerning that I placed an immediate after-hours call to her physician and asked if he thought she needed emergency care.

Daffodils are one of the first to flower each spring, and many specimens - like these - are grown indoors and forced into bloom ahead of season, while winter's pale still settles over the earth

My mom most likely has Lewy Body Dementia.

Overshadowed by its more famous cousin, Alzheimer's Dementia. LBD is a little-discussed, hard-to-diagnose, and frustratingly mysterious memory-loss disease.

In simple terms, my mom struggles with visual hallucinations, extreme anxiety, and an ability to concentrate that changes from day to day, even minute to minute. It must be terrifying to suffer from LBD, and the panic and free-floating despair that she often expresses are real and justifiable responses to her condition.

A whole new approach to communication is essential. Whatever Mom is seeing, feeling, or thinking in the moment is totally and unarguably real to her; those things must become my reality too.

Mom is unusually sensitive to the emotions of her companions. When I'm with her on the phone, as I often am for hours each day, I must present my most strong, soothing and stable self. When she becomes agitated, angry, anxious, then it's all the more important that I stay in my Zen zone.

Patiently, I try to listen and truly hear what she is saying.
Calmly, I try to acknowledge how she must be feeling.
Soothingly, I try to redirect the conversation in more positive directions.

None of this is easy.
None of this is fun.
And none of this works every time.

I struggle every day.

They bring me joy, these daffodils, as they celebrate spring's lively hopefulness on yet another 
dreary day of February gray.

But I have learned a lot about how to be at peace with my mom.

And while the storms will surely continue to rage in her desperately damaged brain, I will celebrate every moment that she finds a way to be at peace with herself.

Especially when there are cookies involved.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Life Of A Math Teacher: In Honor of James K. Polk

A President's Day algebra/history mash-up. 

One of the best things about being homeschooled is flexibility. Class times, study hours - heck, even subject matter and teaching style - can often be negotiated and rearranged to suit individual circumstances, and there are precious few hard-and-fast rules.

However, one of the worst things about being homeschooled is putting up with an entirely too flexible, convention-less teacher who makes up her own rules and insists on meeting to study on a national holiday for crying out loud, when decent, law-abiding traditional schools are closed for the day.

Yep. That would be me.

I know. Sounds so ugly when I say it like this, but last week, I told a group of my students that I expected to meet with them on President's Day.

The stunned and sickened looks on their faces told me that they had not seen that one coming. Surely, they expected the day off to sleep in and play video games with their more traditionally schooled friends.

Quickly, in an instinctive attempt at keeping the peace, not to mention saving my neck, I concocted what I thought was a stunning proposal.

In honor of President's Day, let's all bring in a snack to share that represents our favorite president.

Oh my gosh, brainstorm! I love presidentially inspired snacks. In fact, my teaching buddy, Heidi and I once made a year-long celebration of the U.S. presidents, exploring each Commander in Chief according to his interesting quirks and biographical oddities, including his favorite dishes. That experience was a high point in my teaching career, and I was beside myself with excitement over this unexpected chance to relive the fun for a day.

Apparently, my students felt differently.

With their faces blanched and foreheads gently perspiring, they barely responded to my festive idea. They were gathering up their books and running for cover as if they half-expected me to suggest holding the final exam during a family trip to Disneyland.

* * * * *

My students' expressions were equally quizzical when I showed up to class today with a bag of Tostitos.

Oh right, they remembered my President's Day snack idea. But exactly which president is represented by corn chips?

Well, obviously, James K. Polk.

Our nation's 11th president, Polk was a gem. Among his long list of notable presidential accomplishments, he led our country into a war with Mexico that allowed us to gain the territory that now makes up the American Southwest, thereby single-handedly introducing the unique deliciousness of Mexican flavors and all things taco-related to American cuisine.

Probably, Polk should be considered the founding father of Taco Bell, and the fairy godmother of the humble jalapeno. His contributions to the sour cream and salsa industries are staggering, and for this flavorful reason alone, Polk is a true American hero.

So, while I am perfectly willing to admit that I am probably a nihilistic meanie of the highest order for making my math students meet with me on President's Day, may I also venture to say what a refreshing and relaxing moment we shared before beginning our algebra lessons, as we munched on tortilla chips and swapped stories about the amazing and colorful legacy of our American presidents.

And the flexibility that allows us to pull that off is, without a doubt, one of the very best things about homeschooling

* * * * *

More stories about the interesting overlap between learning and eating:

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Teenage Encounters

In this view from the high school's back parking lot, a late-winter miracle has occurred. After enduring darkness for the past few months, I can once again enjoy the sun n the sky at walk time!!

a)  I live smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood full of young families, and
b)  there's a giant high school just down the street

it stands to reason that:

c)  I come across a lot of teenagers when Ranger and I do our daily walks.

And since:

d) I am a huge fan of teens, in all their awkward, dramatic, posturing glory,

I totally enjoy these momentary encounters. Interestingly, I've noticed that they tend to fall into three specific categories.

Groups of Gushing Girls

It's a rare thing to encounter a solo teenage girl. No, girls prefer to travel in cozy, sociable groups of three or four, and are typically seen long before they are heard. Chattering over the top of each other, laughing nonstop, they are invariably caught up in their own conversation as they come into view of me.

And then their attention shifts.

"Oh my goshhhhhh!"
"Your dog is so cuteeeee."
"Can we pet him?"

Yep. Of course you can.

Ranger and I are only too pleased to stop for some dog lovin' and he plays each of these situations to his cheeky advantage. My boy trots out his most dapper Irish gentlemanly charm, and greets the ladies with just the right amount of enthusiasm and tail-wagging.

The girls invariably swoon.

Batches of Boisterous Boys

Whenever I cross paths with multiple boys, two things are generally true.

One of the boys is usually carrying a skateboard or a longboard, or riding slowly alongside the group on a bike, which leads me to presume that these entourages have spontaneously come together; I imagine that the guys simply bumped into each other on the street, and are now pursuing adventure as a team. There's a mischievous innocence and friendliness about them that I adore.

Secondly, one of the boys always - and yes, I mean always - observes to me, "Wow! That sure is a long leash!"

Yep. So true.

(Ranger benefits from my generosity in the leash department, and by securing him with a 25-foot lead, he gets maximum wandering capacity while we walk.)

I can't help but smile as I agree.

Lone Wolves

Older teenage boys leave safety of the pack and cruise the streets alone. As I draw near to them, I notice the hint of stubble on their chins, the ubiquitous earbuds, their eyes focused anywhere but on me. Solitary creatures they are, and wanting mostly to be left alone.

But here is the special thing about Lone Wolves, Just as we pass each other, at the very last minute, they suddenly direct their gaze to me, and slowly, slightly, almost imperceptibly, nod.

Yep. Just a simple, singular nod.

As calmly and quietly as I can, I nod back.

And those are my favorite teenage encounters of all.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Share The Love

What could be more simple, straightforward and honest than a love note.

A cheery burst of color.
A simple line drawing.
A signature: XO from me.

And a plain but deliciously tiny envelope to hold in the heartfelt emotion of the day.

The essence of Valentine's Day is no more or less profound than this: share the love.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Pursuit Of Pretty

In the deepest, darkest corner of my family room stands a white bookcase. 

Round things fascinate me. Can you tell?

It's been there for years. Decades even. And the contents of the shelves have evolved over time.
  • Crawling babies routinely emptied rows of board books from the lower shelves.
  • Girl Scout handbooks, songbooks, and a sizable stash of field guides, camping tips, and craft books lived here for a time.
  • Let's not forget the astronomy books, dinosaur guides, atlases, maps, medical dictionaries and copies of the United States Constitution. 
  • And a herd of photo albums documenting the glory days of my daughters' waning childhoods have held a long-standing place of honor.

I made that little yellow dog out of clay in an art class many years ago. While I worked on him, my fourth-born created a tiny black cat which sits on the bookshelf in her dorm room at this very moment.

Of course, like every other nook and cranny of my home, I've organized and tidied and reconfigured this area countless times. 

But this hardworking bookcase served a long-standing role as a no-nonsense repository of our family's resource and reference materials. 

No frills. 
No fuss.
And no fooling around.

A particularly random cross-section of my literary interests.

Until last month. 

When, out of nowhere, my brain leaped into hyper drive and produced an entirely new and profoundly radical idea.

What if, I pondered, instead of using this bookcase for practical and efficient storage, I threw practicality to the wind and just made it straight up pretty?

The bookends belonged to my father-in-law, and are made of petrified wood.

Mhmmm. You can guess what happened next.

An irresistible urge to color block swept through my soul and compelled me to immediate action.

Yellow books make me smile. I can't help it. They are so darn cute.

Within ten minutes, my family room looked like the aftermath of a tornado.

Teetering stacks of books covered every available horizontal surface.

At first, my goal was simply to empty the shelves for a good cleaning. Then, the notion of color blocking became an irresistible ideal. First, I played my own version of literary Jenga by pulling certain colored books out of my wobbling stacks, and then I dashed around the house, raiding other bookshelves for volumes that would match.

I'm not going to lie. That was such a fun afternoon.

Gilgamesh is an epic poem considered to be the first great literary work in history. It's surprisingly readable, and full of action. I highly recommend it. 

Lest I come across as completely shallow, let me note that to make the cut to my stacks, a book must meet my color criteria, to be sure.

But it has to be a good read, too. 

I made no rules about content. Fiction and nonfiction, children's novels and business handbooks, ancient literature and hiking guides; all comers are welcome on my shelf as long as they suit my fancy.

When I found the aluminum vase, it was stuffed full of  tiny fake evergreen branches. 
But why??? Thrifting can be so weird. 

And yes, several trips to the thrift store were needed to fill in the gaps.

Which led me to start a collection of sassy vases, and a fledgling collection of 20th century works in their original covers. I might be obsessed with that concept now.

When I was in high school, we read The Little Prince in Spanish class. El Principito. I'm still looking for a copy to keep company with my English edition.

And then, somehow, our old Game Cube made an appearance, and I was inspired all over again. Pretty sure I've got some components from my college-era sound system lying around somewhere, and they might make a nice addition to the arrangement. 

A trip to the attic heads up my weekend to-do list.

I took these photos twenty-four hours ago, and they are already obsolete. Sigh.

As one thing leads to another and another, I get the distinct feeling that my bookcase transformation is far from complete. 

Because seriously. When is a styling project ever done?

Never. That's when.

I expect that my pursuit of pretty will be raging on for quite some time to come. 

I'm happy to report that no dogs were crushed by falling towers of books during this project. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Cure For Curve Balls

One set of my white bowls is in the dishwasher, but even three stacks out of four are enough to make my heart sing. 

We all have days and weeks like this. Sometimes, months or even years.

When life throws curve balls on every pitch.
When complications mount up to overwhelm the day's plans.
When the ebbs and flows of daily life just don't go our way.

I've been a bit of a roll this week.

My mom's in the hospital.
My car needs new brakes.
My third-born required some emergency help from me with finances.
Several of my students are struggling with their lessons.
I'm still dealing with doctors' appointments.

And even Ranger is having medical drama. More tumors on his little red rump.

Only the daily essentials are allowed to sit out on the counter these days: 
salt, pepper, olive oil, and art.

I'm not too worried about any of this. These seasons of chaos have blown throw my world before, and I know that, in time, all will sort itself out and life will eventually calm down.

I have no doubt. 

In the meantime, I will admit that I am 

keyed up and jumpy.
stretched way too thin
and just plain stressed out.

However, all is not lost. I know exactly how to deal with these edgy and exhausting emotions.

I clean my kitchen.

I've been obsessed with keeping the top of my salt shaker free of any stray grains. 
I know. Super neurotic. But it beats biting my nails. 

Keeping up with the dishes.
Wiping down counters. 
Maintaining my winter minimalist mode.

These simple steps soothe my stressful soul and calm my jangled nerves.

And let's be honest. A tidy kitchen makes every day better. 

Even the crazy, complicated, curve ball days.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Behind The Camera

Photography is both a deeply intimate and highly impersonal act.

In one sense, we become one with the eye behind the lens. Through the photographer's careful composition, we see exactly what she wants us to see. Her vision becomes our vision, and we share a unique idea of what the world can be.

At the same time, by definition, the identity of the photographer remains a mystery to the viewers of her photos. We have no opportunity to see her at work, to understand how she moved within the scene to engage her subject. Mostly anonymous, she leaves us with precious few clues to imagine what she thought and felt about her photograph.

That is why I love to look at shots of photographers at work.

Like this one of my fourth-born, braving the wild winter winds of Whidbey Island to snap the setting sun over her beloved Puget Sound.

While her posture reveals quite a bit about her intensity, focus and determination to capture the scene just so, as her mother, I notice something more.

She is smiling.

And that tells me all I need to know.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

All Things Are Possible

Just when it seems the heavy grey damp of winter will never end
and the soggy, leaf-strewn garden seems devoid of life, save the unrelenting weeds.

Just when my spirit sags at the sight of yet another cloudy, rainy day
and my soul is crushed by the utter dreariness of February gloom.

Just then, I notice that the first crocus has begun to bloom
and all things - even spring - suddenly appear to be possible.

* * * * *

And here is a story about last year's first crocus. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

You Know You Love Me

I have a weird obsession with scraps.

When I'm messing around with my art, I never know what little snip or snap might eventually come in handy. So I take the prudent course.

Every cast-off trimming is carefully protected and added to my you-never-know pile.

And while I continue to work on my main project, my eyes often wander back to that unassuming little heap, sifting through the odds and ends and imagining what they might become. 

Some days, I get nothing, and end up sweeping the whole mess into the recycling at the end of my work session. 

But other times, I hit the jackpot.

Yesterday was one of the good days.

I might be in love with this tiny Valentine banner, fashioned from:

leftover scraps of pink and red painted paper
brown paper grocery bags used as drop cloths for a gold-spray painting project, and 
rejected bits of baker's twine.

Kind of obsessed with the bright bursts of intense color against the lush gold backgrounds.

And I'm fixated on the idea of taking a break from hearts. This XOXO motif, popular as it is, reads like a breath of fresh air in my Valentine-y brain. 

Plus, every time I see this darling little frollop of festive fun, I hear a soft, familiar voice purring in my ear:

Ranger, you know you love me too.

And I love you...even more than Chuck Bass loves Blair.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Valentine Chaos

Psst! Valentine's Day is just a week away, and before another holiday sneaks up on me altogether, I've decided to get busy.

With a proper plan and a well-laid inventory of supplies, I began working on my handmade valentines this afternoon. And now, several hours into Operation Agape, my kitchen looks like a pink and red bomb went off. 

Strips and scraps of trimmed-off paper.
Palettes of half-dried paint.
Several soggy paintbrushes.
Stacks of sorted envelopes.

And other various bits and bobs.

For the rest of the weekend, I will be living amidst this mad chaos. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

* * * * * 

More sweet whisperings of Valentine love:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Breaking Bad

Today I drank this actual glass of water and enjoyed it. Weird.

Just over a month into the new year, and already, my New Year's resolutions seem like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. 

This year, I decided to make mini-resolutions - one for each month - so here is my slightly overdue report on my first month's progress.

For January, I resolved to drink only water.

Now that may sound fairly easy. But here's the thing, I have wrestled with a life-long addiction to diet soda. 

There. I said it.

But oh. The delicious snap of the bubbles and the crisp, spicy taste of the cola; the waves of cooling refreshment that soothed my throat and settled my stomach. 

I craved every sensation associated with single swig of soda.

And even though I've committed myself to periodic dry spells over the years, going as long as six or even twelve months between sips of the bubbly brown nectar, I've always happily returned to my habit and scorned the notion that life could actually be enjoyable without that delicious elixir. 

So I figured that would happen again this time. I'd tough out my thirty-one days in the Diet Dr. Pepper-free desert, and then happily, thirstily, thankfully return to my soda-guzzling ways.

But this past month has been quite full of surprises.

On January 3, my gallbladder blew up.

Along the way, I learned that my innards have been in turmoil for years - nay, decades! - because of that heinous fellow. And the truth dawned on me that my addiction to bubbly beverages was driven a desperate need to calm my stomach and bring peace to my long-distressed digestive system.

Once I got the gallbladder pain under control, I found that I no longer craved the soda.

And drinking a glass of water - a simple act that used to upset my stomach - has now become a pleasant experience.

Imagine my surprise.

I can't say that I held exactly to my month's goal to drink only water; I required some orange juice and cranberry juice to get through my medical drama. But in the end, I accomplished something far more difficult and noteworthy that my original plan.

Drum roll, please.

I seem to have kicked my soda habit once and for all.

And that surprise ending to my first mini-resolution of the year makes me so happy I just wanna kiss 2015 right on the lips. 

* * * * *

My mini-resolution for February? Send more snail mail!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Dream Come True

Here is something that is true about all mommies.

We dream huge dreams for our children. 

From the very first day of our babies' lives - if not back to the days in which they were mere dreams themselves - we mothers stockpile our wants and wishes for their futures. Sometimes, we wish for our children to enjoy the same comforts and pleasures that we experienced in our own childhoods. But at other times, we hope to fill in the holes - to give to our kids what we ourselves lacked.

And that is where my story begins today.

Pretty twinkle lights at the top end of Freeway Park lend an air of magic and celebration.

I grew up in the country. 

Oh, I had fine adventures there, 
swinging from trees, 
and venturing off to play with friends and no adults at a most tender age. 

That was a fabulous way to live, and I wouldn't change a minute of it.

But another part of me always longed for the city.

The back side of the  Lindeman Pavilion is one big trompe l'oeil painting. We used to stand and marvel endlessly at this clever illusion.

Now let me be clear. I never wanted to live in the city. No, no. Way too noisy and crowded and stuffed full of humans for my taste.

Sometimes we were lucky enough to find parking on the street, often in front of the classic beauty of this apartment building on University.

Instead, I yearned for adventures in the city. 

Just short jaunts into a crowded metropolis, 
to feel that pulsing energy that only comes from an urban center, 
to crane my neck up and stare at towering skyscrapers,
to cross busy streets with throngs of fellow pedestrians,
to feel at home in a land of sidewalks and traffic lights and buildings that crowd up to the very edges of the streets. 

On the top floor of the Lindeman Pavilion is an open-air courtyard. On warm, sunny days, we would buy lunch in the hospital cafeteria, then take our meal up there in the sunshine. 

Now, eventually, I did all those things. After graduating from university, I moved to the big city of Chicago, and made all my dreams come true.

Even got to be pro at hailing taxi cabs and riding the subway.

The back sides of buildings along Boren Avenue.

But when my daughters began to arrive in my cozily suburban life, I realized that I wanted my own children to grow up feeling at home in the city. 

I had no idea how I would actually accomplish that. 

Mothers' dreams can be unhelpfully vague at times. 

The front door of the main hospital. We used this entrance almost exclusively on the days when a new baby was born, and it carried great significance in our memories.

Interestingly, I got by without a plan. As is often the case in life, I made one good decision that led to another, and another, and another.

I decided to give birth to my children at Virginia Mason, a sprawling hospital on Capitol Hill in Seattle. 

Then, I chose a pediatrician at the same location.

And for the next ten years or so, we made many, many happy trips to this interesting corner of the city.

Trees and windows. Windows and trees.

There were dozens of maternity check-ups at my nurse-midwives' office, with many little helpers on hand to help check my blood pressure and listen to the newcomer's heartbeat.

And an endless stream of well-care visits for the already-born crowd. Our pediatrician kept us entertained with his amazing wardrobe of colorful ties and an uncanny ability to guess what his patients had eaten for breakfast, just by feeling their tummies on the exam table. 

The concrete corridor of Freeway Park connects the core of downtown Seattle with Capitol Hill, smoothly transporting pedestrians over the mad chaos that is Interstate 5.

My husband worked nearby, and often hiked up the hill through Freeway Park to join us. We usually met him at the upper end of the walkway maze, and it was a true rite of passage when the girls were old enough to venture down the first few flights of stairs to meet him once he came into sight.

Pink camellias grown in wild abundance here, and bloom earlier than any other place I know.

The neighborhood around the hospital became one of our favorite playgrounds. We knew which bushes had the prettiest flowers, which parking garages had the best stairways, and how to make shortcuts through the buildings in order to stay dry on rainy days.

Bushes and checkerboards. Checkerboards and bushes. 

We crossed the busy street via the skybridge, and paused for long, luxurious looks down on the hurrying cars below.

We learned to navigate elevators but preferred stairwells, where our echoing voices and stomping feet took on a life of their own.

Best of all were the four glorious days when new baby girls were born unto us. The first of the four birth-days was a bit more sedate, since there were no older siblings to help welcome her. But for the younger three, we had lovely parades of ecstatic toddlers carrying hand-picked bouquets and their own baby dolls as they came to visit me and greet their new sister. 

The view of Buck Pavilion from the Ninth Street parking garage. Just looking at this sight makes me want to load up a baby in a backpack and grab the diaper bag. 

And somehow, over all those days and weeks and months and years, my little girls became, at least part of the time, accomplished and experienced city girls. 

* * * * *

After a decade or so of our adventures, Virginia Mason began to open satellite clinics in suburban areas. With a new office located just ten minutes from home, our trips to the big hospital downtown became unnecessary. We ventured into other parts of Seattle, but our frequent visits to this familiar neighborhood became a thing of the past.

* * * * *

Unexpectedly, my recent gallbladder drama brought me back down to the big hospital last week for surgery, and again today, for a post-surgical check-up, I took some time to wander by myself through the old familiar neighborhood and remember fondly all our adventures from days gone by.

Though younger mothers may cluck their tongues in sympathy and make the reasonable assumption that I must have felt a sense of sadness and loss that my daughters' childhood days are over, quite the opposite is true.

We mommies all dream great dreams for our children.

And it feels AMAZING to realize that those dreams have happily, perfectly and completely come true. 

Hiking downhill feels almost as good as knowing your dreams have come true.