Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Gifts Of Easter

This is how much God loved the world: 
He gave his Son, his one and only Son. 

The very best thing about Easter, I think, is that it offers a gift for everyone in the whole wide world.

The point of the whole 'Jesus dying on a cross and then raising from the dead' drama was to demonstrate God's crazy love and bottomless forgiveness for human beings.

All human beings. God loves the whole world.

And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, 
anyone can have a whole and lasing life. 

God made one thing very clear - he didn't put Jesus up on a cross to die just to save

Jesus' friends and followers,
the future self-proclaimed Christians, or
the perfect people in the world.

God loves each and every one of us.
He let Jesus die for each and every one of us.

Doesn't really matter how we might feel about God.
He adores us all exactly as we are and he wants us all to live in love, joy, peace and hope.

God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely 
to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. 
He came to help, to put the world right again. 

God offers you and me his unending, unfathomable love and forgiveness, and what we decide to do about that is completely up to us.

So we are free to practice any religion we want:

Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism,

Or no religion at all.

God gives each and every one of us the freedom to chose.

Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted. 

But if we decide that we want to claim his promise of boundless love and infinite forgiveness, well, that offer is always on the table.

And all we need to do to receive the joyful gifts of Easter is to simply reach out and take them.

* * * * *

More Easter stories? Yes. 

A Long-Distance Easter Basket

The Easter Bunny either doesn't know or doesn't care that my third-born is living in Vietnam again this year. Because on his special day of celebration, he filled her basket with all the usual sweet treats and hid it for her in the dining room, along with her sisters' surprises. 

Sometimes, when I am staring in the face of the fact that my daughter is far across the ocean from me, a little bit of denial gets me through the day. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Great Seattle Graffiti Wall

During the photo-posting extravaganza that was my fourth-born's golden birthday celebration, I came across this shot of my then-fifteen-year-old, impersonating a T in front of an amazing wall of graffiti.

Memories quickly came rolling in as I recalled the day that I went by myself in pursuit of this legendary place.

Yes, my daughters accompanied me on my second trip to the wall, but the first trip was a solo run. When they heard that I was going alone to explore the back side of a warehouse in a gritty city neighborhood, they all questioned my sanity. But when they saw the photos and heard the amazing story that I brought home, the only question on their minds was whether we could go back the next day.

Those photos of mine popped right up on on my Facebook page, where I shared them as part of an ongoing digital tour of Seattle, undertaken to give my Malaysian friends a first-had look at my city. Here are my favorite excerpts from that album, along with the original captions from July 20, 2009:

^ so one day nasir and i were talking about street art and graffiti, and it got me to thinking about this place i'd heard of, called the great seattle graffiti wall.

the story goes that down in the industrial part of seattle, the owners of a warehouse decided to allow graffiti on their building...and that it was a pretty amazing thing to see.

so today i decided to go see for myself. i found the front of the warehouse, painted ugly grey...but as i walked toward the back, i saw this wrting on the building and knew i was in the right place. 

smile emoticon

this is the full view of the back of the warehouse. the art literally covers every bit of the building that you can see from this shot. it was such a blast of energy and color...i couldn't believe my eyes.

i took some shots of the building, just to help you get oriented. then i went crazy on close-ups.

from this shot, you can get an idea of how there are just layers and layers of designs.

^ "Paint runnin in my veins - like a vet staring at trains.

And then, this happened:

^ ok this pic has a very special story that goes with it. i already told it to nur bahiyah so she will help me tell it to you:

streicher.diane: so i was at this graffiti wall today, right?
streicher.diane: i was alone behind this warehouse
streicher.diane: near railroad tracks
streicher.diane: no one around
Nur Bahiyah: yeah
streicher.diane: but a man sitting in like a big SUV
streicher.diane: it was kinda freaky but i just walked along and took all my pics
streicher.diane: and i hear a voice saying...hey, lady
streicher.diane: which, first of all, let me say... LOLZ
streicher.diane: 'lad'?
streicher.diane: 'lady'*?
streicher.diane: that just makes me laugh
streicher.diane: but anyway i turn around, and this gangsta ish man is walking over to me
streicher.diane: crap
Nur Bahiyah: oh god
Nur Bahiyah: then
streicher.diane: i say, yes?
streicher.diane: and he says, why are you taking pictures
streicher.diane: and i said cuz i think its really cool
streicher.diane: he is standing by me now
streicher.diane: and he says, wait here
streicher.diane: and he starts walking back to his truck
streicher.diane: im like...oh shoot, hes gonna get me
streicher.diane: but he takes a bag out of the back
Nur Bahiyah:
Nur Bahiyah: what is in the bag?
streicher.diane: and i realize right away that its a bag of spray paint can
Nur Bahiyah: pictures?
streicher.diane: cans*
Nur Bahiyah: ohh ok ok
streicher.diane: and he gonna teach you how to paint
streicher.diane: hehehehehehehe
Nur Bahiyah:
Nur Bahiyah: thats cool
streicher.diane: it was AWESOME
Nur Bahiyah: so you learn how to paint it eh?
streicher.diane: yes
streicher.diane: he was gonna write my name for me
streicher.diane: but he only got the D finished and he had to leave
streicher.diane: but he told me to buy some paint and come back
streicher.diane: he wants to see my name on that wall
Nur Bahiyah: have u take the D's picture?
streicher.diane: of course

* * * * *

So that is the story of how I learned to paint graffiti from a straight-up Escalade-driving g at the Great Seattle Graffiti Wall. And while I do not expect to ever top that experience in my whole entire life, I must say that the next day's visit, with two of my daughters and one splendid niece, was pretty darn special too.

Friday, March 25, 2016

How To Style Bookshelves*

* In Real Life

* * * * *

Today, I tackled the job of dusting and restyling my library bookshelves.

Whoa now. You know I didn't just run a fiber cloth across the whole arrangement, and call it a day.

No, no, no. Bookcases demand much more effort and intention than that. 

What we need, here in the new millennium, are bookshelves that are arranged - nay, curated - to showcase artsy collections of carefully layered items of decor in prescribed and complicated ways. 

There are innumerable articles and videos threatening to tip over the internet that purport to teach us exactly how to perfect this. And while I'm always open to new ideas, I find that many of the styling tips I read online do not jive with reality.

So allow me to offer my own bookshelf styling hints and tips, starting with the best that the design world has to offer but adapted to work my very own real life. 

Step 1: Organize your books

Start by emptying your shelves. Dust them thoroughly and then carefully add back only your favorite and most cherished volumes. 

First off, do not - repeat do not! - empty your bookshelves. The teetering piles of unshelved books will overwhelm your workspace and your motivation, and if you're like me, you will either give up and go watch the fifth season of Psych yet again, or risk death by avalanching books. That's a slippery slope we never want to face, Instead, just dust one small section at a time, scooting out a handful of books and wiping them down and the shelf underneath as best you can without ever actually taking them down off the shelf. 

Now, at this phase it's important to be realistic about your inventory. In my case, I need to wrap my head around the fact that my bookcases are full of books. Sometimes, I wish I was working with nothing more than a half dozen sleek leather-bound volumes of poetry, or a stack of glossy photo essays on graphic design, but friends, that is simply not the case. 

My shelves house approximately one billion sun-bleached, serious-slash-boring-looking books. 

Most of this collection belongs to my husband and includes autobiographies of Washington, Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, Winston Churchill and Henry Kissinger. There are handfuls of books about military planes, famous generals and illustrated battles. We also happen to own a full set of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Not even kidding.

The simple truth is that my bookcases are probably always going to be jammed full of these no-nonsense books. 

And while these are important books and useful books and books that I am perfectly proud to own, they are in no stretch of the imagination pretty books. So, in the spirit of compromise that marriage demands, I turn most of them around to hide their drab navy and maroon bindings, and work from there. 

Step 2: Add artwork

Gather up a collection of framed artwork to be propped up in the empty spaces between the books, or layered in front of the books. These pieces will add visual interest and draw the eye to different depths along the shelves.

This is a lovely idea. 

I can just imagine sweet watercolors and hand-drawn pen-and-ink sketches, tucked here and there among the volumes. Truthfully, I've optimistically experimented with this technique, to a single result.

Too cluttery. 

Those aforementioned bazillion backwards books of mine go a long way in filling in my available bookshelf real estate, and any framed pieces that attempt to join the mix are simply trampled underfoot and end up as visual clutter. 

No bueno.

So, what with necessity being the mother of invention and all, I've developed an alternative approach: I use strategically colored books to fill in the gaps. 

I know, I know. Displaying books by color is so 2007, but I'm sold on this trick. Choosing a limited color palette, I drag myself through the thrift stores until I amass a substantial hoard, and then use these treasures to accomplish the same goal. The punctuation of the fresh colors - especially among the backwards books on my shelves - creates the desired visual interest and keeps the eye moving along, just as the framed art is meant to do. 

Step 3: Mix it up!

Bring in an assortment of vases, bowls, sculpture, collections in a variety of shapes, materials and textures, to mix among the books and art on the shelves. Shop your house for interesting objects. Edit carefully to achieve a harmonious look.

This step is often a curse and a blessing for bookcase stylists. Because there are an infinite number of objects available in the universe for such purposes, and countless ways to arrange them.  Honestly, the whole process can become a labyrinth of options and on more than once occasion have I rearranged the same ten items over and over, desperately seeking but never quite managing to achieve styling nirvana. 

So my mantra here is simple: don't take this part of the process too seriously. The shelves look fine. 

Also, beware of the treacherous advice about shopping the house. 

No, no, no, I say. This is a terrible idea. Because if I wander past the living room coffee table and lift a knick-knack to carry away to my library bookshelves, I am creating a new problem. The empty space on that coffee table is going to haunt me until I am driven to pull some other curio from my dining room cupboard, to be replaced by an ornament off the kitchen counter, to be filled in by something from some other room...

You see the problem. 

Do not - repeat do not! - set off this chain of decor dominoes unless you fully intend to drive yourself mad, and turn every room in the house upside down in the process. Trust me, I have been there and I have done that. It's not pretty.

Honestly, when I find myself a bit short on trinkets for a styling project, I've learned that the wisest solution is to hop on over to Target or Urban Outfitters or Hobby Lobby or Value Village or wherever it is that I'm most likely to find choice tidbits, and drop a few dollars on something new. 

My family, who has waited out many a late dinner because of my errant "shop the house" exploits, firmly supports this strategy. They will, on occasion, even drive me to the store and place objects in my hands, saying, Yes, buy it. Life will be so much simpler if you do. 

* * * * *

So I made good progress on my shelves today. The basic books are dusted and tentatively arranged on the clean shelves. My arsenal of red-, yellow- and orange-covered volumes stand arrayed across the couch, and my heap of tchotchkes is ready and waiting.

Honestly, I got all the boring work done and was just about to start in on the fun stuff when this happened:

Today's work session was cut short by a red-haired gentleman who showed up at my door, expressing great certainty that walk time had arrived. He was right. I can't say no to that earnest little face. 

But come tomorrow, I shall style the crap out of those bookshelves. Just you wait and see.  

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Good Hope

My house is trashed right now. 

We're in the middle of a painting project so the contents of one half of house have been dumped in the other half. 

And in the midst of that moving process, I discovered water damage to one of the walls. So now the painting project, in all of its drop-clothed and masking-taped glory, is on hold while we march in a team of moisture abatement specialists to deal with the water issue. 

Undoubtedly, that problem stems from the master shower. So the chaos will soon be stretching an ugly tentacle upstairs as we face the much needed and long overdue demo of half our bathroom and who knows how much reconstruction work. 

As Ranger and I sit in the disheveled family room this morning, staring at a soggy hole in the wall and waiting for the workman to come, my eyes found a miracle. Tucked into the corner, as yet untouched by these wild winds of change, one little bookcase sits quiet and serene. 

This oasis of normal makes me happy and gives me good hope in the midst of this mess. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Feeling Good And Sassy

Ranger has always been allowed to sleep on our bed, with certain caveats.

No pillow sharing. Ranger's place is at the foot of the bed, and he's fine with that.

No monopolizing the blankets. In fact, Ranger doesn't like our fuzzy comforter so he lies only on this sheet that I so generously provided for his comfort. 

All in all, Ranger is a very agreeable bedfellow and has warmed my toes on many a chilly night. On days when I must get up early, though, he is a terrible influence and has often caused me to be late. 

In the three weeks since he was attacked and injured by another dog, Ranger's life has gone right back to normal. 

Oh, well, certainly the first few days were a bit rough, but since then:

His cheerful and bouncy disposition is back in full force.
His wounds have healed far better than the vets predicted.
And after going silent for most of that first post-accident week, his automatic time-for-my-walk! alarm system is fully functioning once again. 

For the most part, Ranger has returned smack dab to his old schedule, and much to our amusement, refuses to recognize a few needed changes to his routine.

Case in point: for the last decade, Ranger has taken two pills at bedtime, rolled up into balls of cheddar cheese. His clever nose demands that we create a third, empty cheese ball as a decoy; rather than give him time to sniff round the first two and possibly pick out the pills (which he did a dozen times before we got wise), we hold that blank ball out for last so he will gulp down the medicine-filled cheese balls in his hurry to get them all. 

Since the accident, we've been giving him two extra pills at bedtime - a dose of antibiotics that was first prescribed to ward off infection from the dog bites but now seems to be keeping his skin healed and healthy.

Which means that Ranger now gets five - five! - cheese balls at bedtime each night. 

However, creature of habit that he is, he often turns and walks out of the kitchen after three cheese balls, oblivious to the two remaining tidbits awaiting him on the counter. Takes a fair amount of prompting to coax him back in to finish the party.

Once he remembers the drill, Ranger is more than happy to eat the last two treats.

The simple face is that he is used to three cheese balls. Not five. And the old habit is still firm in his sweet red noggin. 

* * * * *

But just as he refuses to adapt to some changes to his regime, my boy has learned some new tricks all on his own.

Here's the one that's really got me up in arms.

Ranger no longer tolerates my late-night work sessions. 

Before the accident, he would stay downstairs with me and snooze nearby as I typed and scrolled till two or three a.m., moving from the couch to the floor under my desk and back again. Always patiently did he wait for me to finish up, and when I turned off the lights and called to him, he would groggily rise to his feet and clamber up the stairs to the bedroom where he slept all night long.

But no more. 

Now, around midnight, when the rest of the family migrates up the stairs toward bed, Ranger comes in to find me at the computer and begins a barrage of barking and whining noises calibrated to wake the dead. Utterly inconsolable, he pauses for nothing but the occasional drink of water until he gets what he wants.

And what he wants is for me to snap off the lights, close down the computer, and head upstairs. 

Honestly, my best guess is that he wants to fall into his deep sleep for the night without having to worry about my movements. 

But the bottom line is that my ornery dog is now telling me when to go to bed.

Not exactly sure how I feel about his headstrong ways. But it's nice to know that my boy, Ranger, is feeling good and sassy again. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Good Sunday Evening

As I sit down to write tonight, a half-dozen ideas are ping-pinging around in my head:

I could tell you a story about the art I made this weekend.

Or the excitement in my cats' lives as I dragged their favorite old broken-down wicker chair back out to a sunny corner of the patio. 

I've got some pretty pictures of fresh flowers on my camera roll that would be perfect for sharing. 

Plus I had an interesting adventure to watch the U.S. Women's Hockey team practice for the upcoming world championships. They're working out in my backyard, so to speak, at the Everett Events Cebter and you can go watch them for free any night this week. 

But honestly, I don't really feel like talking about any of that. 

I'd much rather drink in the last peaceful minutes of this good Sunday evening and wish you a blessedly normal and happy new week ahead. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Finals Week

During my college dayzz, I lived in the dorm for eight quarters.

And each and every one of those quarters, during finals week, usually around midnight on Monday night, a male voice would ring out from one of the upper floors and bounce around the courtyard for all to hear:

"I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!!!"

I never figured out who he was. But he yelled that phrase, word for word, quarter after quarter, just like clockwork.

I really loved that guy.

He was quoting the movie, Network. Watch this clip and maybe, on behalf of stressed-out college students everywhere who are cramming for finals this week, you'll get up from your chair, run to your window, open it up, stick out your head, and yell that legendary phrase.

Listen carefully, and you might just hear me yelling too.

Life As A Math Teacher: Sweet Inspiration

When I'm working with my students, marching through math lessons together during the morning and early afternoon hours of my day, my brain is totally focused.

Normally one to have a thousand thoughts dancing through my head, my algebra-teacher brain singularly zones in on such scrumptious topics as inverse variations. rationalized denominators, and quadratic equations. Nothing distracts me from my numbers.

Well. Normally, that is true. But today proved an exception

Today, as I was seated at the dining room table in my student's home, I looked over at her face to see if she was getting my instruction. Inadvertently, I glanced over her shoulder to take in the scene behind her. 

And BOOM. My head exploded. 

Painted a pale shade of grey and offset by the grey-green walls, this adorable piece grounds a grouping of light neutrals and projects a calm, soothing authority. 

This lovely grey cupboard - which I've passed by literally hundreds of times on my way in and out of the house - suddenly spoke to me.

"I just might be the answer to your family room decorating dilemma," she said. "If you painted your pine TV cupboard a serene shade of light grey like me, you could cut back on the number of competing natural wood surfaces in that room, bring more light into a dark corner, and refresh an old piece of furniture all at the same time." 

Accessorized with metal geometrics and white twinkle lights, this cupboard and I already speak the same language. I wonder if she can simplify square roots?

Hmm. Duly noted, cute cupboard. You have given me a lot to think about and I appreciate your sweet inspiration. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Me And My Lucky Charm

On this St. Paddy's day, here's an old Gaelic blessing from my sweet full-blooded Irishman to you.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand. 

Oh, and that's from me as well. I may not have much Irish blood but I've got plenty of blarney

Monday, March 14, 2016

Center Stage

Spring has sprung early here in the Pacific Northwest - both inside and out - and I could not be happier.

Yes, it is possible, practical and probably more polite to purchase blooming branches at a flower stand, or snip them from your own garden.

But I'll confess that I wangled these branches off a tree blooming along the path of my daily walk. Don't worry - they weren't on private property but growing from a neglected, unkempt specimen hidden by several big fir trees and a tangle of brush. I snapped them off in a moment of passion and have no regrets.

I also have no regrets about sweeping everything else off my living room mantle and letting this profusion of pink steal the show.

Because when pink blossoms arrive after a long, grey, Washington winter, they deserve center stage.