Monday, October 26, 2015

Counting Boards

In the interest of full disclosure, here is the nitty gritty on my aforementioned staining project.

Forty-one pieces of trim needed to be stained by yours truly.

Every single stick must be dry and ready to frame out the new windows due to arrive at the end of this week.

And so most of my weekend was devoted to this tedious and painstaking task.

My fourth-born jumped in to help out, and despite the on-and-off-again rain showers, we completed the whole crazy forty-one-piece stack.

And I should know, because, just to be sure, I counted each and every one. 

^ No words are necessary to describe these photos. Instead, for your listening pleasure, I offer you the song that was stuck in my head while I worked.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Mount Rushmore National Monument

During our summer road trip, we saw more interesting sights that I could squeeze into my real-time posts. Now that I'm back home and have fished all 548 photos off my devices, I have a few more road trip stories to share. 

To catch up on the rest of the trip, start here.

* * * * *

I can relate to a person who loves the out-of-doors, especially the grand and majestic landscapes of the American West.

And I totally understand the human desire to leave a mark on the world, so that future generations will remember who they were and what they stood for..

But a man who combines those passions by dynamiting the face off a mountain and then chiseling in the features of his heroes?

Yeah, that pretty much blows my mind.

But that's exactly what Gutzon Borglom did when he brought to life four familiar faces of our country's founding fathers in the granite of the South Dakota skyline.

Mount Rushmore National Monument is the name of this quirky landmark, and though full of funny ups and down and peculiar musings, our stop here was one of the highlights of our road trip.

^ Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Mount Rushmore! Step right up to the viewing terrace!  Proceed down the Avenue of the Flags, featuring state banners from every corner of the country displayed with pomp and circumstance.

Undeniably elegant, this elaborate entry experience feels more like a circus than a national park. Usually, the man-made structures are designed to blend into the natural surroundings and draw little attention unto themselves, but here we were all but rolled out a red carpet. 

^ Much more pleasing and reflective is this view. Cropping away the fancy details, all eyes turn to the four men whose wisdom, courage and love for country are at the heart of this special place.

George Washington: Revolutionary War general and first president. A humble and visionary leader.

Thomas Jefferson: diplomat, adventurer, scientist, and all-around awesome third president. My hero.

Theodore Roosevelt: our cowboy president who inspired the name, "teddy bear" and loved nature.

Abraham Lincoln: plainspoken country boy who became president and saved the Union in her darkest day.

^ After a quiet hour of gazing at these remarkable men's likenesses and wandering through the interestingly fact-filled visitor center, we stepped back into the circus of souvenir shops and eateries.

Presidential snack food? Check. The ice cream shoppe on location features the vanilla recipe brought back from France by my personal hero and favorite founding father, Thomas Jefferson. You know I ate a cone full of that goodness and relished every drop. 

 ^ Though our late-afternoon and evening visit was satisfyingly complete, we returned the next morning on our way out of town to grab some photos of the east-facing monument in the bright morning light.

Yep, everyone was still present and accounted for, those dynamic and responsive men frozen forever in bedrock. I found myself wondering over and again, how George, TJ, Teddy and Abe would feel about being carved into stone. My guess is that they would be honored, proud and probably a little embarrassed about all the fuss.

^ As we bid our farewell and headed west, always west toward home, I was shocked to find a last fleeting view of the monument, quite different from all the rest. Washington's face in profile, squinting in the morning sun, appeared far more natural and alive at this angle.

Keep an eye on the place, George. Stay strong and steady. We look up to you, and always will.

Seen While Staining

I snapped this photo today from my front yard. Had the camera lens been angled just a bit more toward the ground, this is the sight you would have seen:

An open garage and driveway strewn with upwards of fifty pieces of milled lumber in various stages of the staining process.

Drop cloths, 
odd bits of random 2x4s. 
cans of stain, 
paint stirrers, 
paint brushes, 
and half a dozen rags littered this work zone.

A large red dog, who was sure that his walk would be forgotten, was barking at full volume from inside the house.

This, as I'm sure you have gathered, was not a pleasant or relaxing scene. And that's exactly why my camera did not capture the shot. 

Instead, I chose to look up, where the late afternoon October sun cast a golden glow across a row of feathery Douglas firs, and streams of white rumpled clouds flowed across the sky in fine geometric style. 

Despite the chaos of my immediate surroundings, that amazing sky knocked all the wonky edges off my workaday mood and filled me with 

a natural high
a simple joy
a outdoorsy peace. 

Just might have been the nicest afternoon I've ever spent wearing blue latex gloves. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Upside Down

I'll be honest. What I really wanted was a nap.

But as I lay in a heap on the couch, just about to doze off with Ranger sleeping peacefully nearby, I made the monumental mistake of opening my eyes to look out the window.

Oh my goodness. The maple tree out front has exploded into its breathtaking golden display and the glorious blue Pacific Northwest sky blazed beyond.

The vision dazzled me, and the deep, aesthetically-minded voice within began its despotic demands. This scene demanded a photo and there was no excuse but to go outside and take one.

Lazily, I rolled over and desperately tried to un-see that tree, and un-hear the sweet song of nature beckoning me to come out and take pictures.

Unflinchingly, my primitive self continued to demand sleep.

Torn, I searched for an answer to my dilemma that would not require standing up.

And miracle of miracles, one was provided.

There, on the nearby table, just a few inches from my outstretched hand, lay a camera. With a bit of rolling, leaning, and one extreme reach, I pulled it to my fingertips and sighed with relief.

Still sprawled across the couch, I turned my lens toward the window and snapped.

Not bad.

Inspired, I noticed my feet, pale in the autumn afternoon sunlight and contrasted by the shadowy corner.

Also not bad.

Suddenly, as I glanced around the room from my slacker's slouch, the whole room transformed. Everything looked new, fresh, and unexpected from my horizontal angle, 

So I snapped some more.

^ Yes, I do have a folded paper tiger head on my wall. No regrets. 
Also, my fiddle leaf fig is brushing the ceiling and I can no longer deny that it's time for a pruning.

^ My husband's side of the desk, covered in his neatly stacked but ever-present piles of stuff, looks much neater from this angle.

^ When standing right side up, these lights hide behind the shelf trim, but when viewed upside down, all my secrets are revealed.

* * * * *

Here's how the rest of my afternoon played out:

I took way more upside-down photos than anyone could ever possibly need.

I pondered deep and interesting thoughts about how changing one's point of view puts a whole new perspective on life.

And though I never got my nap, my boy Ranger snoozed peacefully till walk time. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Islands Of White

White is a lame excuse for a color.

Sure, scientifically, white light is made by blending all the colors of the spectrum, and artistically, white plays a role in creating volume, perspective and negative space.

But in home decor, white represents a failure of imagination and is often employed by those who timidly refuse to take a leap into the vibrant world of bold and varied color. And the vibe of an all-white space is pretentious and overly fussy, utterly unconducive to everyday life.

Or so I used to think.

Thankfully, one of my students taught me a few lessons about white.

My schooling began from the moment that I first walked into Katie's family apartment,

The space was a modest modern unit, built within the past decade or so, and utterly lacking in stylish amenities or architectural charm.

But as soon as I dropped my book bag and settled on the simple couch, a profound sense of peace and order settled over me like a dove. I immediately began my search for the mysterious source of this serenity and calm.

Several weeks passed by - each session feeling like I was floating on a cloud - until my eye finally perceived what my soul had felt all along.


Katie's entire apartment - every dish, every rug, every inch of furniture - was decorated in nothing but shades of white.

"Oh, right," Katie laughed when I shared with her my discovery. "My mom loves white. She thinks it's calming."

Well. I couldn't have agreed more. And to be honest, my old preconceptions about color - "the more, the better" was my motto - began to crash around my mind as if blown by the winds of a blizzard.

^ Alright, I'll admit that neutrals and natural textures sometimes creep into my islands of white. But for a person whose favorite color is fire engine red, this still represents major restraint. 

As my studies with Katie progressed, so did my newfound obsession with all-white living. 

I noticed the many nuances of white. Like any color, there is no one shade of white but a delicious spectrum of cream, eggshell, buttermilk, ivory, linen, and of course, good old white-white.

Rather than creating a flat, one-dimensional space, these varied tints and shades came together in a cozy, dynamic and eminently livable room. The signs of use - a tiny ding in the coffee table, a smoky smudge on a sofa pillow - came across as evidence of life well-lived and lent a happy, homey vibe.

Much to my surprise, I began to crave some white space of my own.

For a few months, I puzzled over this incongruity. My home has always reflected my obsession with color, bright and bold. As much as I loved Katie's place, I couldn't imagine transitioning my whole house into an Arctic tundra. Where was a happy halfway point?

I stumbled on to the perfect solution by accident. 

Islands of white.

Here and there, throughout my colorful house, I've gathered small collections of white objects - books, planters, dishes, frames, vases and furniture. While these spaces don't have quite the same head-to-toe soul-soothing impact as Katie's mom's all-white home, they give my eye a much-appreciated space to land and to rest, amidst the riotous rainbow that most of my house continues to be. 

So thank you, dear Katie and your wonderfully wise mom, for teaching me the power and beauty and perfect practicality of the color white.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Smashing Pumpkins

Pumpkins, on the outside, are a perfectly pleasing lot.

Geometrically satisfying with their spherical shapes and curious curves, their smooth, vibrant skin is outdone only by their gnarled, knobby stems. 

And while each individual pumpkin certainly has its own personality - thus the fun of choosing one - the truth is that every single one of these beauties is more or less as perfect as the next.

But - as anyone who has ever opened up one of these gorgeous gourds can attest - the inside of a pumpkin is a whole 'nother matter.

Pale white flesh lacks the strength and vitality of the outer skin; its fibrous mass quickly breaks down into shapeless shreds. 

And the gushy orange guts, cold and stringy, cling defiantly to those fragile fibers to form slippery handfuls of yucky mush.

In comparison to their smooth and sumptuous outer selves, pumpkin innards are messy, complicated and difficult to deal with. 

In this way, I suppose that pumpkins are a whole lot like people.

On the outside, we present ourselves as smooth, centered, colorful, and balanced.

But inside, we are oftentimes a mess. Life's circumstances fill each one of our lives with challenges, traumas, hurts and fears, and while we all learn to manage them, one way or another, most of us try to keep the messy and complicated parts of ourselves hidden deep within, where no one else can see.

Hmm. I'm not particularly flattered to be likened to an overgrown gourd in this way but I can't deny that there's some truth in the comparison.

However, there's one more thing on the inside of every pumpkin - seeds.

Seeds represent growth, hope and the blessed assurance that new life is just around the corner.

And in this way, I am perfectly pleased to be a pumpkin.

* * * * *

A song called Hope from Smashing Pumpkins.

And now my metaphor is complete. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

I Am Not A Leaf

Autumn is upon us once again, and the scarlet leaves will soon be fluttering down.

So many times in my life this has happened. Summer gives way to fall, the seasons change, the leaves on the trees give way. And as I noticed these changes in the air yesterday, my first reaction, I'm sorry to say, was this.

I've seen this all before
And I'm not that impressed.

Then, in a snap, I realized that I was a fool.

True, this has all happened before. Leaves change color more or less the same way each year, and the ritual repeats itself in nature's unending cycles.

But here's what's different this fall:


Now granted, my personality has not completely transformed in the last twelve months. 

But I'm definitely not the exact same person I was last year, or the year before. And next year, God willing, I will most certainly be just a little bit different than I am today.

Mother Nature runs round and round in her predictable and pretty circles, but we humans grow on a greater trajectory. 

Every year, 
every season, 
even every day, 

life changes me and expands me and - if I'm keeping my head on straight - gives me endless opportunity to make myself more of who I want to be. 

And that is an idea that impresses me very much indeed. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Being A Mom

Three of the five remaining state-side Streichers.

Being a mom is the hardest thing in the world.

Today I drove my third-born daughter to the airport and sent her off on a one-way ticket to Asia. She'll be gone for a year, give or take.

I tried not to notice how her face still captures the same exact expressions as when she was a baby.
I tried not to think about how tiny and vulnerable she seems, bitty little hands waving goodbye to me from the other side of the security checkpoint.
I tried not to cry, but settled for wiping away the tears as fast as they fell.

How does this happen, that babies grow old enough to fly away?
Where do the years go, so impossibly quickly?
Why do these same old predictable emotions and motherly cliches still rise up in my heart, even when I have been through these goodbyes many times before, and know perfectly well that everything really is going to be okay?

I don't really have many answers. All I know for sure is this:

Being a mom is the hardest thing in the world.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My New Roof

We also got new gutters. Gorgeous, amirite?

Last week, I bought the second most expensive thing I've ever purchased in my life.

Yes, my house represents the number-one big-ticket item. And ever since the day we signed on the dotted line to become homeowners, I've known that this enormous follow-up expense was unavoidably coming my way.

A new roof.

Blah. How boring is that.

I've been dreading this expenditure for years. I knew the day would come when we would be forced to blow somewhere around $25,000 on this utilitarian and mandatory but mind-blowingly mundane maintenance item and there was no way to cushion the blow.

I mean, we did what we could to stave off the pain.

We kept the first roof as clean as possible.
We replaced worn shakes and repaired small leaks.
We waited as long as we possibly could. And then some.

This summer, my husband and I agreed that the sorrowful day could wait no longer. We met with our roofers to seal the deal, and wrote them a big fat check. Then as I sat glumly by, imagining my hard-earned dollars sprouting wings and flying out of my bank account, a fleet of workers descended upon my home and began ripping my old roof to shreds.

Somewhere around the time that the giant heaps of worn shingles were carted off to the industrial size dumpster in my driveway, and the massive crane arrived to deliver the new shakes to the tippy-top of the now-naked roof, I began to get excited.

My new roof is unexpectedly beautiful, its fresh-cut cedar shakes shimmering in the autumn mist. Architecturally, our roof is a huge feature of our home's street appeal, and those new shakes make the place look like a million bucks. 

It never occurred to me how pretty a new roof can be.

But best of all, my new roof is a beautiful metaphor for protection and safety and preservation of all that goes on underneath. I can't help but feel that my  home is now ready for a fresh cycle of life, and I'm excited to see what happens in this new season. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Badlands National Park

During our summer road trip, we saw more interesting sights that I could squeeze into my real-time posts. Now that I'm back home and have fished all 548 photos off my devices, I have a few more road trip stories to share. 

To catch up on the rest of the trip, start here.

* * * * *

The story goes that the French fur trappers who wandered through this place bemoaned the lack of water and difficult passage, and deemed these to be "bad lands,"

I fervently disagree.

Granted, I had a cooler full of chilled beverages, Google maps and a team of National Park Rangers to usher me through. But on our half-day tour of Badlands National Park, I found goodness to behold around every corner.

^ Approaching from the east, this canyon land marks the unofficial beginning of the American West, and on those merits alone, fills me with excitement and a spirit of adventure. Take that, you South Dakotan corn fields - here the frontier begins!

^ While the first vistas in the park allow sweeping views of the distant rippling rock formations, the scenic drive soon winds up, in, and among the stone walls. While my family happily took in the sights from within the comfort of the air-conditioned car, my restless spirit demanded that I get out and explore each and every stopping point, at roughly three-minute intervals.

^ Any patch of wilderness tender enough to nurture wildflowers is a softie in my book.

^ I'll admit that the midday sun was scorching, but these picnic shelters went a long way toward providing some comfortable shade. In the interest of full disclosure, I must point out that the seats - made from recycled plastic - bowed in the center, apparently having melted from the heat. Yikes.

^ Continuing our looping westward drive, we noticed storm clouds piling up on the horizon. 

 ^ And sure enough, just a few minutes later, the heavens opened up and the glorious rain poured down. For the rest of our visit, we drove in and out of these squalls, adding to the drama and charm of the landscape.

^ Here and there we discovered areas of soft, flowing table lands, prairie green from summer rain, with just the tips of rocky ranges peeping up far beyond. I just wanted to spread out a blanket in that lush grass and eat my lunch all over again.

^ More rocky ravines. More cloud bursts.

  ^ More precious clumps of flowers.

^ And a constant wild wind, buffeting my ears and whipping my hair in every direction. It was fierce and lovely.

^ As we edged closer to the western perimeter of the park, the steep, sharply pointed cliffs abruptly gave way to older, rounder formations. Tinged with layers of pink and yellow sediments, these geologic layers date back to the times when this was a sea, and then a jungle, and then a sea once again.

It seems that this land is indeed ever-changing, reinventing itself over the eons, transforming beyond recognition from one age to the next.

So don't let those old fur traders fool you. This may have been a "bad land" in their day and age, but for us, these are very Good Lands indeed.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Perfect Autumn Day

Pumpkins and sandals. 

Crisp October mornings where the golden sunlight is still warm enough for bare toes. 

This is my idea of a perfect autumn day. 


On Saturday morning, my adored wooden-wastebasket-turned-planter took a bad turn.

It exploded. There's no other way to say it  

I'm assuming that the wooden slats absorbed enough moisture to blow out one of the seams and bust the whole side loose from the base. 

Definitely not a pretty sight. 

And let's be honest. After going through heaven and earth to,lay my hands on this baby in the first place - go here to read all the twists and turns - it's an understatement to say I grieving this loss. 

But I trust that time will heal my wounds. 

And now I'm off to find a new home for a certain traumatized cactus. Who knows what pennies from heaven might fall on me this time. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pennies From Heaven

Every time it rains, it rains
Pennies from heaven
Don't you know each cloud contains
Pennies from heaven

My drama began just a few hours before we were due to leave town for a two-week road trip.

Scrolling around the internet at 2 a.m, too antsy and keyed up to sleep, I fell in love.

Passionately in love.

With this

No, not the wooden dresser.
Or the brick wall.
Or the collection of vases.

Adorable as all those things were, it was the tall, dark and handsome teak container on the far right that totally made my heart sing.

I know.

It's a wooden wastebasket, for heaven's sake. Makes a cute and inexpensive planter but perhaps not necessarily worthy of a full-scale obsession.

But my heart was set and my brain, having dealt with these matters before, pragmatically turned to the issue of how to win one for myself.

The blogger handily mentioned that she bought hers at Bed, Bath & Beyond. My heart beat stronger - there's a store nearby, not too far off my beaten path.

But let's be reasonable, my brain countered. The store is most certainly closed at this moment, and won't be open until long after we roll out of town at six a.m. 

I had neglected to build a last-minute shopping trip into the road-trip agenda.

Well. Other options?

All I could imagine was begging my eldest daughter, who was not joining our cross-country caravan, to run over to the store and snatch one up for me. 

But let's be honest, I told myself, that store is a pain in the neck to get in and out of. I can barely motivate myself to deal with the traffic drama over there; how could I possibly convince my daughter to waste an easy half-hour of her life sitting in traffic in order to fetch me, of all forsaken things, a wastebasket?

I mean, it's the cutest wastebasket ever, and I'd vow to love with with all my heart. But I doubt my daughter would be particularly impressed.

It seemed certain that my wooden wastebasket and I were simply not meant to be. 


Fast forward. Six a.m. came and went; we spent the next twelve hours careening across the landscape, traveling from Washington to Oregon and east into Idaho. On and off throughout the day, the wooden wastebasket would flicker back into my mind and I tried, regretfully, to push my forbidden love away.

Double sigh

Still reeling with obsession, by late afternoon, I found myself at a Boise-area Target where we had stopped for a few groceries and a box of Band-Aids. Ranger and I strolled and sniffed our way around the parking lot while the rest of the family shopped, my mind still running circles around my dilemma. 

When suddenly, I lifted my head to draw a fresh breath. 

The clouds parted, 
the heavens streamed with light, 
and an angel chorus rang out in my ears.

For there, next to the Target, literally right smack dab in front of me, was a Bed, Bath & Beyond store.

Long story short, I bought my beloved wastebasket, gave it a big fat kiss, then stashed it in the back corner of the trunk where it lived for the next two weeks until we got back home. 

Now housing a cactus with funky little arms, this handsome guy lives in my bedroom, and every time I glance over to his corner, I am reminded that sometimes, pennies really do fall from heaven.