Sunday, July 31, 2016

Silver Threads

Trees along Chennault Beach Road decorated with tributes for the fallen, 
created by my sweet teenage across-the-street neighbor. 

We were wrapping up a scary movie Netflix binge when my second-born breathlessly rushed into the room.

"Something MAJOR is going down out there," she gasped, nodding her head toward the front yard.

Twenty steps beyond my home lies Chennault Beach Road, a silver thread of asphalt that comprises the main thoroughfare and sole route into and out of our neighborhood. Leading down the bluff to a small cluster of well-kept homes, even on a Friday evening after midnight, it's usually a quiet street.

But as we turned our attention away from the murderous zombies on the TV screen and followed my daughter's gaze, we immediately understood the horror in her eyes.

Police cars.
Fire trucks.
Emergency vehicles of all shapes and sizes were streaming into our little community, sirens blaring and lights ablaze.

At least twenty first-responders screamed past our front door; as five, then ten, then twenty minutes ticked by, we noticed that not one of them was coming out.

Regular traffic - strangely heavy for this time of night - began to rush through a nearby side street, clearly seeking an alternative route out of the Chennault Beach loop. Apparently, the main road was closed.

Trapped drivers pulled their cars to the curb along my yard and gathered on the street corner. From the open windows, we strained our ears in the hopes of making out their conversations, in the hopes of understanding what was going on.

My mind struggled to bring order to this jumble of riddles. I could imagine only one scenario that would explain the facts.

A live shooter.

Shaking off the chill of that ominous thought, I blamed my dire conclusion on the scary movies, and after another half hour of nothing happening outside, we all gave up and went to bed.

* * * * *

"Three people were killed at a house party down the street. One more was injured. They caught the shooter."

My husband greeted me the next morning with the answers to my questions, but the ones I least wanted to hear.

Flipping open my Facebook feed, this news was affirmed in spades. Friends across the world were tagging me to a crush of articles describing the horrors that had unfolded at this gathering of local college kids in my neighborhood, though there were few details to be found at that point.

As more facts came in, the scenario went from bad to worse.

The shooter was someone we knew. He worked for my second-born at Abercrombie & Fitch during most of 2015, and had earned her respect as a hard-worker and conscientious young man. She gave him a funny nickname and they shared pictures of cats on Instagram.

One of the victims was the best friend of a young family friend. Her name, we learned, was Anna and by all accounts, she was lovely. She had been dating the shooter and apparently broke up with him last week.

The rest of the morning was a blur of emotion and communication.
I burned through my phone battery in record time.
By noon, my soul craved some peace and fresh air. 

How to make sense of these tragedies? Lord knows we've all had plenty of practice lately, working through the anguish of senseless shootings and terrorist attacks.

Yet how infinitely more painful the process becomes when the people involved are real, living human beings that walk the same paths, share the same streets, breathe the same air as me.

Three young lives cut short for no good reason.
Three devastated families who will mourn this horrible day forever.
Three bullets shot from a killing machine that deserves no place in civilized society.

I have no words to wrap around the injustice, the shock, the outrageous crime of their deaths.

And I pray for these three victims, for the peace of their eternal souls, for their families, for all of us who bear the scars of this brutal tragedy and all the other tragedies like it.

* * * * *

But then, what about the shooter?
Is he to be hated, despised, cast off as pure evil?
Is he as demonic and inhuman and other-worldly as the monsters I watched in my movie?

No. I can't accept that. Until Friday night, he was known to be a smart, friendly, loyal and hard-working young man with a successful life and a bright future.

How did he fall so far?
I can't explain. But I know this.

The shooter committed an act of evil.
But he is not evil.
He is a human being.
And human beings have been killing one another since the dawn of time.

Each human being on this planet is capable of great violence.

Our souls hang by silver threads, beautiful and pure, yet undeniably vulnerable and infinitely fragile.

And while I pray that your humanity and mine will never be tested by a temptation to murder, I also pray that we find compassion and forgiveness in our hearts for those whose silver threads give way.

* * * * *
To read more about this tragedy and the healing in its aftermath, try:

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pallet Possibilities

My latest stash of free lumber. 

Wooden shipping pallets are good for lots of things. 

Psh. Any Pinterester can tell you that. 

^ In their original form, they shape up into a nifty coffee table.

^ And house a vertical succulent garden just fine. 

^ Deconstructed, pallets can also provide useful distressed lumber. At my house, we've transformed them into towel hook holders and several types of shelving. 

And now, the experiments continue as I attempt to answer the question, can pallets help to solve my side yard problems?

* * * * *

In my opinion, you can never have too many succulents, and you can never have too many stories about succulents. Here are a few to choose from:

* * * * *

For more of my pallet projects, check out these stories:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rocks On Rocks On Rocks

Welcome to my side yard. 

This narrow strip of sloping soil has given me nothing but heartache ever since the day I moved in. 
Too sloping and skinny for a proper walkway and too close to the fence to properly improve.

A crooked little path, it seems to be good for just one thing. 

Rocks on rocks on rocks. 

Over the years, we dug up each and every one of these granite trophies from our garden beds. There's no easy way to get rid of them, so we've made a home for them here.

Rocks on rocks on rocks. 
Heaped up along a crooked little path.

Someday, I will build a long and skinny deck that fills the space between the house and the fence, and the rocks will live happily underneath. 

But I don't have money for that right now.So I'm dreaming up some low- to no-cost strategies to deal with this space. 

Rocks on rocks on rocks. 
Heaped up along a crooked little path. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

No Finer Place To Be

Wind-whipped waves rock the dock.
Gold sun slips behind the land.
Ferry slides across the Sound.
Summer sky fills with pastel light.
Grey boy feeds the seagulls.

All is well at Mukilteo Beach at sunset, and honestly, I can think of no finer place to be.

Monday, July 25, 2016

My Real-Life Fire Pit

If wishes were horses, I know just what kind of a fire pit I would build. 

Set high on a rugged bluff over looking the Pacific
Wide open to golden grasses on the north and south, and to the west, glorious blue water
I would build a massive limestone terrace
Adirondack chairs would run the length of the space, all facing to the ocean
And a huge dugout pit would dominate the opposite side of the terrace.

I'm a major fan of roaring big fires. 

And other than a big stack of firewood and  a side table heaped with s'mores supplies, that would be all that I need. 

But I do not have a dreamy fire pit on a golden California hillside.

My real-life fire pit is tucked into the back corner of my suburban back yard. Green and lush, it speaks of coziness and seclusion and damp summer evenings. 

Rather than the product of a grand design, the space has evolved over many years, in bits and pieces. 

I've made do with what I've had on hand and what I can easily afford. 

 Even the plantings are rescued cast-offs and runaways from other corners of my garden.

This fire pit is real and true. And while it might not be as grand as my dreams, it is mine.

And even if wishes were horses, I don't think I would change one single thing. 

Oh. and also, in my real-life fire pit, I roast chicken sausages and zucchini. I much prefer them to s'mores.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Praying For Heather

Heather is dying. Just a few more days is she likely to live. For the past four years, she has put up an astonishing fight against the lung disorder that is now taking her life. But in no way has she lost the battle. 

Right this moment, she is surrounded by her family and dearest friends, spending her last precious hours wrapped up in their love. 

This is victory.
This is triumph.
These holy moments are the prize of a life well-lived.

I knew Heather only during her high school years; her brother - who died of the same disease - and my first-born were close friends. I am not a hands-on player in her inner ring of support.

But I can pray for the courage, the fortitude, the glory of this tiny blond warrior woman.

So that is what I do.

Where our strength ends, God's strength is just beginning.

Heather, you know better than most of us the heights and depths of His indescribable love and I pray that as your journey continues, you will feel eternally safe and secure in His arms.

Death is not a punishment but it is a great mystery. Still, I have a feeling that when you slip beyond its veil, you will feel closer to your loved ones than we earth-bound humans can imagine. 

I pray that your love will continue to pour down on your husband and your children.

I pray that they will feel, in dreams and precious still moments, the living presence of your loving spirit forever.

I pray especially for your children. 

I pray that the love you've given them in their short lives is exactly what they need from you. 

I trust that your guidance and influence on their character will stay with them always. 

You have done your best for them with the time you were given, and that is absolutely the most that any mother can do.

I pray for the joy of your broken body made whole in heaven. 

I pray for the blessed relief you will feel when this agonizing battle has ended. 

And I smile to think of your reunion with your brother and other loved ones who await you in eternity. 

Sweet peace to you, Heather, as you close your eyes and prepare for what comes next. 

You are a precious child of God, a daughter with whom He is most certainly well pleased. 


Friday, July 15, 2016


Summer, in all her ruffled extravagance, lives in my backyard.

Basking in sunshine, she fills me with luxurious excess.

Spellbound, I watch and wait, hoping she can somehow last forever.

But her time is fleeting. So I revel in each glorious day.

Hari Raya Cookies

Hari Raya cookies.

Baked with love by my friend, Nor Abdullah, for her Eid al-Fitr celebration in Cuba.
Dutifully carried across the North American continent by her sons.
They grace my Seattle table and warm my heart with each beautiful bite.

I do not understand why my life came to be filled with such sweet mystery
but I'm certainly glad that it did.


A long walk on a hot day,
a deep drink of water,
and a nap in the shade where the grass grows soft and long.

These are the things that make my good dog happy.
And therefore, they are the things make me happy too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Induced By Induction

Last October, my thirty-year-old cook top died.

RIP homely little Jenn-Air electric two-burner. You and I had some good times and I'll remember you fondly.

In November, after much rumination, we picked out a handsome new Bosch induction cook top with a down-draft ventilation fan. The unit was installed six months ago, in January. 

And this week, well into July, I bought some new pans so we can actually cook on it. 

Yay progress.

When this journey began, I thought I wanted a gas range. Psh, everyone knows a big beautiful Wolf cooktop is where it's at, right? I was so ready to buy one and make out with it every day.

But wait. What's this? My Google-searching reverie was broken by a single word: induction. 

Induction technology, I learned, is fast, clean and ridiculously safe. Magnetic fields generate heat if and only if they come into contact with a steel pan or pot. The glass cooking surface gets moderately warm but can't set fire to anything that isn't made of steel. 

And wiping down the sleek black glass truly is a dream. 

After learning that induction technology is old hat in Europe and finally catching on in the U.S., we decided to take the plunge. 

Thankfully, my tried-and-true trio of cast iron skillets made the leap to the new technology. But the rest of my pots and pans were rendered useless and marched off to the secondhand store. 

No worries, I told the family. I'll buy some new pans pronto.

That was a dirty lie. 

It actually took months of alternating online searches and frequent perusals of the checkbook balance before I decided on a set of three pots from IKEA'a 365+ line. Are they dreamy, top-of-the-line, for-the-rest-of-my-life, finest quality cookware? No. But these stylish stainless steel workhorses will get the pasta boiled and the stews simmered around here for a few years while I decide if some aristocratic Le Creuset is truly worth its outrageous price tag. 

My new cook top has changed my life. My cooking technique has improved by leaps and bounds, thanks to the amazing performance of this snazzy fellow. From melting chocolate to putting a crisp char on some steaks, my induction cook top gets the job done with style.

I'll admit that I still dream about the red knobs on that sexy Wolf model, but all in all, I'm thrilled with the match I made.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Garbage Cans And Geese

Two weeks ago, I scrubbed out the inside of my rubbish containers. 

No, I do not mean the managably-sized bins and baskets that live in the house. 

I mean the big-daddy curbside boys. 

^My various garbage bins, resting on their immaculately clean sides in all their post-scrubbing glory. Aren't they pretty? 

Once a year, these plastic caverns get hosed and scrubbed to within an inch of their lives. Copious amounts of bleach, a high-pressure hose, and a feisty old broom are employed with abandon to polish each receptacle to near perfection. I invest a ridiculous amount of elbow grease in the process, but by gum, I only do this once a year and so I'm determined to give the job my all.

Full confession: I'll admit that when I was done, I was so pleased with the results that I seriously considered taking a few shots of my glorious handiwork. 

I know. Garbage cans, right?

^ This is my blue recycling bin, where plastics, paper, glass and aluminum are all tossed in a heap together, resulting in a sticky mess of residual food and bits of paper along the bottom. 

After a moment's reflection, however, I decided that the bleach fumes were surely getting the best of me. So I laid down my camera and passed on the opportunity.  

Then I posted the good news of this auspicious event on Facebook and wouldn't you know it, one of my friends asked to see photos. 

^ The grey receptacle is for regular trash, which we gather up in bags from the house. Accordingly, he stays fairly clean, but its previous owners stuffed him full of used cat litter and I'm forever trying to wipe out the last of the odors. 

Ha. Guess that wasn't such a crazy idea after all. 

^ Green is for yard waste and food scraps, the hardest working soldier of the three. Week after week, this bad boy ends up jam packed with grass clippings, plant debris, heaps of weeds, and a handful of errant snails, and interwoven with coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable trimmings and the occasional piece of rotten fruit. By week's end, the whole mess has slightly decomposed and leaves an onerous bit of residual inside this bin. 

Now multiply that by fifty-two weeks in a year, and trust me, that allows for one dirty bin. 

Sadly, though, my pretty cans had already resumed their life of drudgery and were no longer picture perfect. But fear not, I reported to my friend; just give me a week or two and I'll give them a quick touch-up and share photos for sure. 

^ This brown boy served as our main garbage receptacle for twenty-five faithful years before the grey guy took over. Now, even with a few holes in the bottom, he serves as our back-up compost container and during the summer months often gets called into play. 

So today was that day. 

I re-rinsed.
I re-scrubbed. 
I shamelessly photographed my clean containers, standing in the street for the best angles and proudly snapping away as the neighbors drove past.

And now I have shared my story with you.

And on the off-chance that photographs of my clean garbage cans don't quite fill your soul with the peace and serenity that they offer me, maybe these geese will suffice.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Love > Hate

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. - Martin Luther King Jr.

More tragedy spills out on American streets and darkens American souls:

Philando Castile shot dead by a police officer over a broken tail light.

Peaceful protests in Dallas interrupted by intentional fire that leaves four police officers dead. 

President Obama tells America that we all have to do better.

The Washington Post echoes a familiar sentiment: white people must take responsibility for dismantling white supremacy.

Like most Americans, I recoil from this news with heartbreak and horror. This is no way to live. The petty differences of race are literally superficial; our hearts and minds and souls are meant to be united as fellow humans.

The idea that we should judge one another by the color of our skin is surely evil.

But I don't feel confused or corrupted by this evil. I know exactly how I will respond to this latest affront to human decency.

I will keep doing what I'm already doing.

I will treat every human being who crosses my path with dignity and friendliness and human kindness.
Just as I greet the groups of black and white boys skateboarding behind my local high school. I look at their faces and they look at mine; we smile and say hi to each other.  
Just as I keep Ranger close to me when we pass the older Asian gentleman on our walk because I know he's afraid of my dog. 
Just as I count down the days of Ramadan with my Malaysian friends and share their holiday spirit. 
Just as I offer my unopened soda to my African-American airport shuttle driver in Detroit, and listen attentively as he tells me stories about his visits to Seattle. 
Just as I show my deepest gratitude to Asian friends who host me in their homes.  
Just as I relax and enjoy the comfortable silence with my black seat partner on a flight to LAX, occasionally bumping elbows on the armrest or nudging past him as I climbed in and out of the seat.   
Just as I share a special greeting with a teenage girl in my neighborhood. She's black, overweight, and has a killer fashion style which I often compliment.  
These are the ways that I choose to fight back against the anger and racism and hatred and intolerance that threatens to poison our beautiful country and our very souls.

And I share these examples not as an excuse to hold myself up, or as laundry list of things I've done for "those" kind of people.

I simply believe that the solution to our problems lies not in policies or protests, not in legislation or lawsuits.

With all my heart, I believe that we must love one another.

Person to person. Face to face. One human being at a time.

Because I believe that in the end, this is the kind of love that will surely conquer hate.