Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Backyard Herbs

I used to set my potted herbs directly on the top step out the back door. But Ranger loves an easy target, so we built this bench to get the edibles up out of his range, if you get my drift.

I've got great news. Summer can officially start now. Because I finally got my herb garden whipped into shape. 

Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm way behind in tackling this annual project. Let's blame it on the Asian flu.

As I pass in and out of my back door somewhere around ten thousand times per sunny day, I often pause right here to admire the happy green faces of my herb dudes. 

But let's be honest. If these fresh green leaves growing from the terra cotta pots nestled together on my green wooden bench look familiar, there's a good reason for that.

I do this every year.

Thyme has sweet purple blooms and I love it for that reason alone. 

However, this season, I have a major twist to this familiar plot.

 I plan to actually use these babes in my kitchen.

Quite a few years back, I acquired a rosemary plant entwined around this wire heart. Thus a tradition was born. 

Oh sure. I tell myself that every year. My head swims with visions of me snipping here and there, tucking tiny fragrant sprigs of greenery into the pockets of my flowing apron, then breezing into the kitchen where I whip up fabulous homemade pastas and hand-turned pizzas bursting with the flavors of my backyard herbs.

To be honest, that never happens.

Clockwise: chive, mint, thyme.

This time around, I've scaled back my fantasies considerably. 

Clockwise: cilantro, oregano, rosemary.

For the past couple weeks, as I'm tossing together the evening meal, I challenge myself to use one of my herbs - just one - in whatever I'm preparing.

Skip the flowing apron.
Forget the dainty sprigs.
And sigh,
Let go of the rustic Italian menu.

A few years back, my fourth-born created name tags for all the herbs. She's amazing. 

Though my new approach may be less romantic, it takes me no time at all to toss a handful of mint leaves into an ordinary fruit salad,

And only a few extra steps to fetch some fresh oregano for my everyday spaghetti sauce, instead of hauling the dried version out of the pantry,

Not to mention the easy snap and sizzle that a handful of chopped chive adds to the top of my tried-and-true potato salad.

And if those are not reasons enough to encourage me to make that five-step trip out to the herb bench, here is one more incentive:

Cedric the Protector guards the herbs.

My three cats love to nap in the cool shade underneath, and almost always greet me with a special hello when I come to harvest some backyard herbs.

* * * * *

More stories about my food gardens, farm-to-table dining, and those lovely home-grown tomatoes:

Happy Golden Birthday (Part Two - The Photos And Lots Of Commentary)

So the Golden Birthday gauntlet had been thrown down.

Read more about that here

Twenty four years of my third-born's life to celebrate.
Twenty-five photos to be carefully chosen; one for each year of her life.
Twenty-four hours to post them.

Here are my final selections, in all their chronological glory, along with a few notes about why I chose each one.

24: Taken just a few weeks ago, this is a perfect capture of my daughter's working life. For the fourth summer in a row, she's teaching English to a group of Vietnamese teens who have qualified for a special program called East Meets West. Her year-round students are 7- to 10-year-old city kids, but these East Meets Westers come mostly from the surrounding countryside. Their families are typically poor, but the program pays for the teens to come stay in Danang for the summer and study full time. 

My daughter not only helps teach them, but also invests her time in eating, sightseeing, and just generally hanging out with them. Oh, she poses for pics with them too. Peace signs preferred. 

23: For the past two years, I've been lucky enough to buckle on my Birkenstocks and go visit my girl in Vietnam. Last year, she hiked me up to Marble Mountain, a Hindu temple in the hills, where we explored the gardens and sought sanctuary in shady places. 

22: Here we stand, mother and daughter, in the peaceful shade of a massive sequoia, deep in the forests of Yosemite National Park. We look so calm and centered, don't we?

But my adrenaline still surges when I survey this scene, as the backstory is ever fresh in my mind. Forty eight hours earlier, after spending three months in Malaysia, I had flown directly to Los Angeles. After a six-hour wait, my three elder daughters picked me up in the family van, which they had driven 1163.9 miles south to fetch me. Then we turned east, and drove another 500 miles to collect the fourth sister home from college for the summer. After a whirlwind of packing, we headed back up to Washington, pausing long enough for a day's tour of Yosemite. Toss in a few good sisterly fights and a series of challenging phone calls from my dementia-suffering mother, and you get a much better idea of what's going on in my artfully tilted head. 

21: Freshly graduated from college and anxious for her new life to begin, this is my daughter on a suffocatingly hot and restless day at home. I convinced her to come on a photography mission with me in the back streets of our hometown downtown, and ended up taking shots of her against a variety of interesting backgrounds. America's Next Top Model.

20: For the spring quarter of her second year at college, my baby studied in Europe. Prancing across France, Switzerland and Italy, she practiced her French, prowled through cathedrals, pierced her nose, and made precious new friends. And thanks to the magic of Facebook Messenger, I did not worry one little bit. 

19: In what is still standing as our last full family camping trip, the seven of us (Ranger counts) headed down to Nevada's Great Basin National Park for a week of hiking, star-gazing, and forced family fun. En route home, we toured Crater Lake National Park in Oregon where my third-born adopted her newly minted favorite pose, as shown. Since then, this has become her iconic photo look, and we have an ever-growing collection of her salute to gorgeous scenery.

18: You see a girl with short hair and a brown coat sitting on a little metal elephant. I see a lifetime of memories.

The brown coat belongs to my second-born, and my mind stirs up volumes of clothes-sharing "discussions" that those two enacted over the years.

The short haircut resulted from a regretful highlighting episode, and my ears ring with the agony that ultimately led to chopping off the offending strands. 

I loved every minute of my daughter's teenage years. But I will never pretend they were placid. 

The elephant, though, conjures up only sweetness. During my daughters' young childhood days, we hung out at the zoo like it was our backyard. It was nothing to go once a week, and we knew every inch of the place. Then the middle years came along, and suddenly, the zoo was no longer cool. Sigh. I marched on with the times, and left those precious days in the past. But lo and behold, something interesting happened when my older girls got to wrapping up high school. The zoo became cool again! So my heart was duly warmed when my girls begged to go back, and these photos of them seated on their old childhood statue friends are a precious reminder that life has many seasons. 

17: If Photobooth was not created for teenage girls to kiss themselves, then I can't imagine what it's good for. 

16: My daughters were born with the digital age, and they grew up alongside of Magic School Bus computer games, Kiwibox, and the emerging art of the self-portrait. Many a time did I catch my teenage middle two engaged in such a session with the camera, and on some occasions, like this seaside moment in Northern California, I snapped a few shots of them snapping themselves. 

Mothers of teenage girls have to amuse themselves somehow. 

15: On the way home from a camping trip, we impetuously stopped at Crescent Lake for a swim. The sunny day was just hot enough for the crisp mountain water to feel refreshing, and the whole spontaneous experience was a giant win.

Until, on the way back to the car, I realized I had locked my keys inside.

14: Although she had already been a teen for a full year, the cool jean jacket, on-trend side-swooping bangs, and closed, braces-hiding smile all scream "Welcome to the Teenage Years!"

13: When I began this Golden Birthday project, I knew that my daughter was sensitive about pictures from her early teens. Despite my motherly protestations that she was always adorable, my daughter often cringes over pictures from this era, pointing out what appears to be a chubby tummy, an awkward outfit or a double chin. Well. I still hold to my claim that those are mere photographic illusions, but I brought plenty of caution to my photo selections for this age.

Sorting through a box of random film photos that I discovered in her bedroom, I found this gem and immediately knew it was sure to please. The Pacific fog is magic, the clothes are just right for a camping trip, and those skinny little legs are undeniably adorable.

12: Our kids grew up with kids of all ages, and I'm especially happy that my third- and fourth-borns had plenty of family friends to be their younger brothers and sisters. This trampoline shot shows a happy menagerie of psuedo-siblings and when I first saw it, it awakened in me the reality that my baby girls were growing up.

11: Posing at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Though our daughters were all born and raised in Seattle, my husband and I both grew up in Great Lakes territory - Ohio and Michigan, to be exact. Over the decades, in order to keep family ties strong, we earmarked virtually of our vacation dollars for return trips to the homeland. When the girls were babies, we flew. But once the youngest was out of diapers, we embarked on a long and glorious tradition of cross-country road trips. 

These three-week sagas brought us the best of both worlds. Granted, the middle ten days were devoted to descending with full force upon innocent grandparents, running wild with Midwestern cousins, and going along with whatever the locals planned for us. But thanks to the miracles of road-tripping, we also enjoyed family time for the six of us as we adventured back and forth across the northern tier of the country. 

As the years flew by, though, we realized that we had never actually taken a proper family vacation. And perhaps even more shockingly, though my kids could name the exit of every McDonald's along two thousand miles of Interstate 90, they had traveled only east and west. Never once had we ventured south from our corner of the Pacific Northwest, and there were some places we needed to go.

So during this particular summer, we gassed up the car and headed to the great Southwest Desert: 

Bryce Canyon National Park
Zion National Park
Four Corners
Grand Canyon National Park

and this lovely day tour of San Francisco all made our must-see list. 

As it turned out, this solo family vacation marked the first of many trips to California, Arizona and other parts of the sunny Southwest. 

But this visit - the one in which we finally claimed our right to take a family vacation - will always be near and dear to my heart. 

10: Sisters on the beach at sunset. And I should probably mention that the orange fleece pullover modeled here on my second-born now serves as my favorite Ranger-walking jacket which I wear about 330 days a year.

9: Tomboy or princess? Easy answer. This girl was the epitome of both. As shown, she could wrestle with sticks, dig holes, and throw stones like any self-respecting boy. But always with her hair styled, earrings in, and a super cute outfit.

8: Oh, I remember this day perfectly. These two had cooked up a wild game of hospital drama, complete with a dying patient whose oxygen tube was held in place by toothpaste, and were only too happy to enact the scene for the camera.

But looking back now, I am transfixed by the changes in my baby girl. Those new big girl teeth and the freshly pierced ears (for which she mounted a three-year campaign) mark a momentous moment in her transformation from little to big. Honestly, I tear up every time I look at this one. 

7: She loved that rainbow-striped tee shirt so much that we ended up with two of them. If one was in the laundry, the other was on her back. Life was so simple back then. 

6: By the time my fourth-born (on the left) turned two years old, these two were often mistaken for twins. For almost a full decade, their height differential was never more than an inch. They loved to dress alike and clearly shared the same sense of humor. We have many fond memories of this season of life, which is especially hilarious now that they have assumed their adult heights, and our fourth-born "baby" is ironically ten inches taller than her "twin."

5: I love everything about this pic of my wild five-year-old romping in my mom's backyard. The only drawback to this afternoon of great fun was the unending torment of Michigan mosquitoes.

4: I know it's hard to believe that this precious birthday princess could be anything other than perfect, but I'm sorry to say that she was going through a bit of a rough stage.

Sadly, my angel had been unkind to her little friends and I could not in good conscience offer to give her a birthday party. So, in order to find compromise within my torn and tender mother's heart, I planned for her a surprise party. While the big sisters and I set up for the secret event, I sent my birthday girl to spend the morning with her most tormented playmate (on the left.) Thankfully, the girls enjoyed a delightful time together, my four-year-old was thrilled to discover she would have a party after all, and we all had a sweet afternoon.

3: During my third-born's third year of life, she made a special friend named Mrs. Lohr. The Lohr boys were age-mates and play partners with my two older girls, and my newborn fourth-born was but a lump in my front pack, so this lucky little toddler had Mrs. Lohr all to herself. Whatever my girl wanted - piggyback rides around the zoo, an extra strawberry in her bowl, or someone to hold this somewhat frightening baby chick - Mrs. Lohr was always there to provide.

2: "Where's my cake?!" So glad that I occasionally wrote direct quotes in my photo albums because those words make this birthday portrait that much more special. 

1: Oh. Those big blue eyes, expressive little eyebrows, and ever-ready smile. Babies make me drunk.

0: Here is a undisclosed truth about motherhood that no one ever told me. Birthday are actually for moms. 

My children's birth days hold secrets that no one else will ever understand and each year I quietly celebrate those mysteries in the deepest places of my heart. Though twenty-four years have passed between this moment (from the third day of my daughter's life) till now, I remember every detail of her arrival with startling clarity and intense emotion. 

Happy Golden Birthday to my adorable third-born girl. 

* * * * *

See more of my Golden Birthday stories and photos here:

Happy Golden Birthday (Part One - An Idea And A Baby Are Born)

Day before yesterday, I found myself in a real pickle.

My third-born daughter's Golden Birthday was fast approaching, and I needed to plan some fanfare-filled festivities fast.

A Golden Birthday, I might explain, is the birthday in which one turns the age that matches to the date of her birth. I was born on the first of January, so my Golden Birthday was spent wriggling through diaper changes and dribbling strained plums onto my bib, I suppose. But my daughters all had the good sense to appear in this world around the end of the month, and have thusly spent a good many years anticipating the arrival of their Golden day.

Complicating these important celebrations considerably was the fact that the birthday girl is currently living in Vietnam.


I had just been to visit her, but I didn't have the foresight to bring gifts.
The hour was far too late to send anything, plus the Vietnamese postal service is notoriously ineffective and sticky-fingered.
And sadly, Amazon does not deliver to Danang.

Desperation consumed me as I pondered my shocking lack of options.

I was MacGyver on a mission with nothing but a match.

Outtake #1: At four months, she's too old to be a newborn but not even close to that first birthday. And there's a tiny bit of rash left on those cheeks. So this photo did not make the cut, that though smile is awful cute. 

The inspiration did not come over me piecemeal. It knocked me off my feet with a full force of fabulousness.

I would spam my daughter's face all over social media with a wave of pictures from her life.

Twenty-four years old
Twenty-four hours of photographs.

I would post the first shot of her newborn adorableness at the exact moment of her birth, adjusted to her current time zone in Asia.

With each passing hour, a new shot would be posted, documenting her growth through the years.

And in the end, she and I would both enjoy a digital album that captures who she has been and what she stands for, at this Golden Moment in her life.

Hallelujah. I was so relieved by my brainstorm that I promptly forgot all about it. Assuming I had plenty of time to thumb through photo albums and choose my favorites, I did nothing to prepare. Predictably, the pre-birthday days quickly slipped by and the crazy fourteen-hour time difference almost caught me off guard. At 4:30 pm, in the midst of a backyard weeding frenzy with a dog that was giving me the usual pre-walk "don't-you-dare-forget-me" stare-down, I suddenly realized that the first photo was due at 6:44 pm.

I was Harry Potter facing the second Triwizard Tournament Challenge

Outtake #2: Crazy vacation fun but the sun made for some squinty eyes. Plus this one is way too hard to crop into the mandatory square; I could never chop off those beloved white sandals. 

I have to admit, the process of choosing photos was tougher than I had blithely anticipated.

First, I wanted most of the pics to be solo shots of the birthday girl. As any parent of three or more kids can attest, individual portraits are tough to come by at this stage of family life.

Second, my goal was to choose photos that were taken in the same season as her actual birth date, in order to best capture her growth from year to year. That knocked a goodly percentage of the archives out of contention.

Thirdly, variety was essential. Spamming the internet is one thing, but subjecting her friends and mine to several dozen photos of my girl staring at her birthday cake was not my intention.

And last but definitely not least, she had to look good. We all have those photos of ourselves that make us cringe, especially ones taken during the pesky middle school years, and the last thing I wanted to do was inadvertently post a double-chin shot that would fill my daughter with a murderous rage.

This was supposed to be fun.

So, with a huge stack of photo albums and the entire family archives at my fingertips, every digital device in my arsenal, and an unrelenting 24-hour challenge before me,  I set to work.

I was Chloe at CTU on a crisis day.

Outtake #3: You can never go wrong with a pack of Streichers, but sometimes a girl just needs to be alone. 

In the end, I survived. Twenty-five Grade A shots, culled from the files, edited and posted exactly one hour after the next, telling the tale of my third-born's life. Go here to see them in all their chronological glory, along with a few notes about why I chose each one.

* * * * *

See more of my Golden Birthday stories and photos here:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Joyful Flags

When I was in India, I made lots and lots of art. 

Correction. The Indian princesses made lots of lots of art, and I stood back in awe. I also ran for extra paper and washed the paintbrushes in the end, but that's no matter.

And within just a few days, the girls of Joy Home had produced a perfect storm of beautiful paintings, more than their walls could hold. So in my never-ending quest to string the world with garlands, I took a heap of extra artwork and converted the masterpieces into paper flags.

We festooned them all around the house.

But I also held a few back; just enough to make mini-garlands for foster mom Natty, myself, and the three other women who were visiting at the same time.

Mine is currently hanging above my American front door. 

Although I am far, far away from the love and laughter of Joy Home, the memories of my days there flood my heart each time I pass underneath. 

And that is a very nice feeling indeed. 

* * * * *

Here is the full story of my trip to Hyderabad, India and my visit with the Indian Princesses:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Five Stars

Here's my go-to salad for these hot Seattle summer days. 

a bed of mixed greens 
sliced strawberries
sprinkle of toasted sunflower seeds and a dollop o poppyseed dressing. 

No matter what else the meal holds, as long as I eat this salad, I feel healthy, nutritious, and full of delicious summer. 

I highly recommend. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Good Advice

Lately, I've noticed that my life has been feeling overwhelmingly complex and maddeningly complicated. Small tasks turn into overwhelming burdens, and frustrations freeze me in my footsteps. 

Yep. It's definitely time for an attitude adjustment. 

So I'm taking a few lessons from my desert hero, the saguaro cactus:

Stay calm. 
Focus on what truly matters. 
Do only a few things but do them well. 
Make the most of what you've been given. 
Try to be strong. 
And enjoy the sunshine.

* * * * *

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pure Magic

We went to the beach to observe sunset on the longest day of the year. 

And what we saw was pure magic. 

^ To the southwest lies the Olympic Peninsula, with her tiny triangular purple peaks just barely popping up over the trees. 

^ Calm waters reflect a rosy glow of purples and pinks. 

^ Seconds later, breezes rearrange the clouds into a tidy half-circle and a sweet new scene is born. 

^ The  sun slips behind Whidbey Island and waters turn gold. 

^ As it steams away from the dock, the ferry's nose points to snow-covered Mount Baker up near the Canadian border. 

^ Distant cloud layers burn in sunset's fire, while a low-lying marine layer deepens to midnight blue. 

^ A perfect image of summer in the Pacific Northwest. 

Like I said, pure magic. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

No Problems At All

Oh, it all started so innocently.

Lying in my bed one golden Vietnamese morning, texts from my first-born began to ring in.

Wanna go to a soccer game in Vancouver?
FIFA Women's World Cup.
USA versus Nigeria.
It's an afternoon match so we can make a quick day trip.

Yes! Of course! Sign me up! That should be no problem at all. 

All things seem easy when you are on the opposite side of the planet.

So this week, the day of our trip rolled around.

Well. We planned to leave at noon for the 5 p.m. kickoff. With the drive time calculated as 2.5 hours, our timetable seemed prudent. But when we actually backed down the driveway at 12:10 and my daughter expressed concern that we were 'late,' I should have taken that as a sign.

I also should have seen the writing on the wall when we caught sight of the first border crossing reader board. Here in western Washington, there are a handful of different ports of entry into Canada so we have options. Since the main checkpoint at the Peace Arch often suffers multi-hour back-ups, the transportation agencies have thoughtfully placed signs on incoming highways to allow travelers to see the wait times at the various crossings, and adjust their travel plans accordingly.

Our first glimpse showed us a 2+ hour back up at Peace Arch, and one-hour waits at the smaller stations. Boldly, we headed to Sumas, the easternmost crossing, and congratulated ourselves on our clever tactics.

This giant gold miner loomed over us as we waited to cross. Sadly, he did not prevent a snobby SUV with BC plates from cutting me in line. 

And when we ended up waiting for almost 90 minutes to cross in Sumas, well, I should have known my day was cursed. But no, when we finally crossed the border and hopped onto Canada 1, westbound for Vancouver, I assumed that all of my problems were over.

Gorgeous bridge but no time to dilly dally. I've got a Suburban to follow.

We did ride smoothly into the city. I spied a Washington mom at the helm of a Suburban full of teenagers in red, white and blue jerseys; she seemed to know where she was going so I cruised along in her wake, far above posted limits. The kilometers flew by and with still a full hour before game time, we were caught up in the predictable traffic jam outside the stadium.

No problem, I optimistically reasoned. We are just backed up as we move into the parking lots. Surely this stream of cars is all headed in the same direction, and the police officers directing traffic will shoo us right into a parking place.

Except no. That is not what happened at all. As we reached the head of the back-up, cars wandered off in every direction and we could see no sign of a place to park. Before we could say Bob's your uncle, we were spit out onto a useless side street and found ourselves looking down on the acres of stadium parking, within our sight but far beyond our grasp.


Round and round we went, circling the stadium and her precious parking lots, Time was quickly ticking by. Finally, ignoring our map apps and just using our eyeballs to navigate the best route, we worked our way to Carrall Street and landed on an entrance, only to find a "full" sign, enforced by a parking lot attendant who clearly meant business.

"We're full," she barked unhelpfully as we pulled up.

"Yes, we see that," my daughter patiently replied. "But can you tell us where we might find some open parking?"

Again with the optimism.

Our new friend was blunt. "You're not going to find any parking left in the city. You're too late."

Well. Let me just tell you that our jaws dropped to the floor. As my youngest later remarked, this was how the people in the Titanic must have felt when they went looking for a lifeboat.

And in that the same moment, I felt my eldest's calm break apart like a capsizing ocean liner. With just 20 minutes till kickoff, I made a snap decision.

"Get out," I commanded.

My daughters did not hesitate.

As they scrambled to the curb, I hollered, "Leave me a ticket and turn on your phone. I'll call you when I figure this out."

Under the glaring eye of the parking attendant, I quickly turned the car around, headed back up the street, and took stock of my situation.

I was alone in a car in an unfamiliar city.
My map app was off. So was my cellular data.
The congested downtown streets allowed me no place to pull over to assess my situation.
The hectic pace of traffic compelled me to move further and further away from my destination.

And I was NOT about to miss a soccer game that I had come so far to see.

I imagined showing this photo to a full-on Canadian Mounty  and begging, 
"Please help me find my car!"

Well. I carefully proceeded down Carrall Street, my new Ground Zero, making as few turns as possible, till my eyes mercifully fell upon a random parking place on a side street. I pulled in, read the meter, and thrilled to discover I had landed on a two-hour spot.

Then I remembered I had no Canadian coin to feed said meter.
Then I realized I could pay via an app, as noted on the meter.
Then I sat down in the car to fiddle with my phone settings in order to get internet and load said app.
THEN my eyes fell on the handful of Canadian coins that my eldest had thoughtfully brought along.


Then I hopped out of the car, loaded two hours' worth of Loonies and Toonies into the meter, gathered my belongings and set on up the street.

Now, for a normal person, remembering where one parks one's car is not usually a big deal.

But I am not a normal person.

I have a bad habit of forgetting. Certainly, I could justify this memory problem with a long and convincing story about my gift of focusing on the big picture, centering my emotions in the here and now, being present to the moment. But the truth is this simple: I often forget where I put my car.

Burned into my memory forever. 

So the gravity of this moment was not lost on me. I shouldered the full responsibility of tracking myself back to this very side street, in the middle of this strange and literally foreign city, and if I lost my daughter's car on the same week that she finally paid the darn thing off, well, she would kill me.

I stopped.
I studied.
I took photos of the car's immediate surroundings. From several angles.
I stepped up to the nearest cross street and I took more photos of the street signs.

And as I made my way back to the stadium, I recorded on my phone a careful list of directions, noting each turn and each street I crossed along the way.

I felt like Magellan, charting my course among the vast unknown. Though I suppose he didn't have as many signs to go by.

And I made it in time to see the game's only goal. Yay, USA!

Sat behind a row of cute little patriots in tutus. 

My reward.

Well. I'm happy to say I made it to the stadium without further incident. In a mere twenty minutes, I was squeezing my way down the row of seats to my daughters, who were clearly impressed to see me so soon.

"Did you have any problems?" they asked me.

"Nope," I replied. "No problems at all."