Friday, June 30, 2017

A Letter To The Children At The Pool

In June of 2017, my husband and I flew to Ohio, loaded up a U-Haul van full of 
family treasures, and drove it 2500 miles back across the country. 
These are our adventures along the way. 

* * * * *

Dear children of O'Neil, Nebraska, 

I heard you playing yesterday. While I ate a picnic lunch under the huge old cottonwood trees in the park, you were splashing and shouting and living it up in the town pool. Teenage girls with golden tans guarded your lives while at least some of your moms sat near us and chatted in the shady park. . 

Music from summers gone by played over loudspeakers at the pool. I know these are old songs from at least ten years back. But you will remember them as the soundtrack of your childhood. 

Thunderheads rolled in. 
A lightning bolt flashed overhead. 
Both lifeguards blow their whistles at the exact same moment and all of you obediently climbed out of the pool, wrapped up in your towels. 

As I packed up my picnic, I watched you. 

As I drove past the front of the pool entry, I saw you slowly streaming out. 

As I stopped at the gas station mini mart down the block, I watched you there too. 

Girls with girls. Boys with boys. 
All of you ten or eleven or twelve years old. 
Still children. 

And like all children, you are most certainly full of dreams for your lives to come. 

But as I continued to watch, I noticed something more. 

I saw the teasing. 
I heard the flirty laughter. 
I could feel an irresistible tension springing up between you, as you watch each other begin to change from gangly tweens to beautiful young women and handsome young men. 

And in my mind's eye, I knew what is most likely to come.  

I could see you pairing off. 
Having sex by age 14.
Having kids by age 16. 
Having your dreams cut short. 
Having dead end lives in this tiny little town with nothing more to look forward to than someday dropping your own kids off at this very same pool. 

So I wish with all my heart this wish for you. 

Please do not give in to the small town trap of thinking that sex is the only answer to your dreams. 

Instead, I hope that you will:

Graduate high school 
Go see the world 
Educate yourself
Learn who you are
Give yourself time to grow up. 

And then, if you are still dreaming about that little girl with the sunburned freckles on her nose, or the skinny-chested boy who made cannonballs off the diving board, back at this very pool, then by all means reach out and tell them so. 

Maybe, in the end, you'll be dropping your kids off at this same pool after all. 

But I hope with all my heart that you, adorable children of O'Neil, will have first made all your dreams come true. 

XO me

* * * * *

Here are all of our adventures from this summer road trip across America:

Off Again

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Smiling Faces

In June of 2017, my husband and I flew to Ohio, loaded up a U-Haul van full of 
family treasures, and drove it 2500 miles back across the country. 
These are our adventures along the way. 

* * * * *

The past few days have been spent sorting through the last remaining treasures of my mother- and father-in-law's comfortable Ohio home. Though this has been a work in progress for the past decade and a half, and we are winding down to the last few boxes and bins, we are still turning up the occasional hidden gem. My husband's younger sister struck gold three times in a row:

^ First she stumbled upon a handful of missing links in her big bro's proverbial school photo collection. Yep, that's my husband in third grade, sixth grade, tenth grade and senior year (from left to right). Though I'm looking forward to folding these into the incomplete K-12 series we have at home, I must say they make a fun little chronology all on their own. 

^ If there is anything that can beat these shots of my husband climbing into his '71 Vega, it could only be that sassy red sweater vest he's sporting over his light blue button down. 

^  These are slides. Have you  seen them before? Tucked inside the cardboard frames are tiny clear images that can be both projected onto a screen or reprinted as hard copy photos. My father-in-law generated hundreds of thousands of these pups in his lifetime, and while there are many that I have never seen before, these contain a special surprise. They are shots of me, taken in 1985 at a family picnic along the shores of Lake Erie. Unbeknownst to me, he loaded up his zoom lens and captured me wandering here and there around the water's edge. I can't to get them home to check them out in a bigger format, and see me through my father-in-law's eyes.

* * * * *

Certainly, there is still plenty of grief and loss to be experienced as we sort through our lost parents' possessions. But their endless love for us feels very real as we find these little traces of our smiling faces

* * * * *

Here are all of our adventures from this summer road trip across America:

Off Again

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Cute Cat Photos

In June of 2017, my husband and I flew to Ohio, loaded up a U-Haul van full of 
family treasures, and drove it 2500 miles back across the country. 
These are our adventures along the way. 

* * * * *

While I'm busy in Ohio, Seattle is enjoying a patch of unseasonably warm summer days. My cats particularly enjoy the glorious weather, and Verizon has been nearly crippled by the volume of cute cat photos flooding into my phone. 

Exhibit A: Sirius simultaneously rubs his back and begs for belly rubs in the back yard. 

* * * * *

Here are all of our adventures from this summer road trip across America:

Off Again

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Journey Through The Sky In Three Stages

In June of 2017, my husband and I flew to Ohio, loaded up a U-Haul van full of 
family treasures, and drove it 2500 miles back across the country. 
These are our adventures along the way. 

* * * * *

^ At 2 a.m. Seattle time and 34,000 feet, the eastern skyline explodes into new day. 

^ There was a day when she was called "the Mistake on the Lake," but seen while dropping down through the clouds over sparkling Lake Erie, Cleveland looks nearly perfect. 

^ Touchdown on Buckeye soil. It's a perfect Midwestern summer's day - 75 degrees with a cooling breeze and a hint of fresh green in the air.

A good day to be in Ohio. 

* * * * *

Here are all of our adventures from this summer road trip across America:

Off Again

Friday, June 23, 2017

Off Again

Feels like I've barely got my feet on the ground from my trip to Mexico yet I'm already back at the airport. My heart's desire is to stay home with my blooming roses and freshly painted lawn furniture and cats sleeping in the sunshine. But adventure (and duty) calls so I'm off into the golden skies of a perfect Pacific Northwest sunset. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Happy Birthday, Janey

When your third-born wild child is far away in South Korea and you have no choice but to celebrate her birthday without her:

You firm up the menu with a quick iMessage but you knew all along that she would ask for enchiladas.  

And you bake her favorite cake - Katie's Kentucky Chocolate Cake - on the page that is falling out of the cookbook because you've baked it for pretty much every birthday of her life.  

Then you light the candles and with the whole family, sing to her, because the windows are open and maybe the breezes will blow just so and carry our voices far across the sea to her waiting ears.

And when the time comes, you get to blow out the candles because that's a mother's privilege.

Happy Birthday, Janey!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Luna Comes Home

Our beloved Luna is safe and sound and living, as usual, in the lap of luxury.

I was sitting at the kitchen counter, working on a to-do list, when I caught a glimpse of a dark smudge of movement at my back door.

The sleek little body
The orca's fin of a tail.
The reddish brown glint of the black sun-swept fur

I knew in an instant this was my Luna, and my heart nearly leaped out of my chest.

Calming myself so as not to frighten him, I cautiously opened the slider as I crooned to him.

Hi Tooney. I'm so happy to see you.

Soundlessly, fluidly, he flowed across the top step and wound his way around the house to the side yard. I followed, fighting back the urge to shout my joy from the rooftops.

Near the side door to the garage, Luna paused, still and alert, and posed under a pink rose bush.

I'm just going to pick you up, Toonus. Don't worry. Everything's okay.

My blood pulsed in my ears as I bent down and scooped him up. Surprisingly passive, he leaned into my shoulder and let me hold him tight. Then the tears which had been bottled up for the past four days finally flowed

* * * * *

Luna had been missing. For forty-eight miserable hours, we saw not a hint of him.

* * * * *

Our three cats, Luna, Sirius, and Cedric, are indoor/outdoor cats. 

While we let them roam free outdoors whenever they so choose, the brothers are rarely far from home. Most of their outdoor adventures take place in our back yard, often with other cats from the neighborhood who come over to play or nap with them

They occasionally stray to our closest neighbors' yards to play with the neighbors' children and taunt the neighbors' dogs, but my three cats make a point to keep close to their food dishes. And barring the half-dozen summer nights that are so warm that they prefer to curl up in their garden nests and sleep in the starlight, my cats always come in at night when we call them, to sleep upon pillows, sheepskins, and the fluffiest of down comforters.

* * * * *

Sirius sleeps blissfully unaware in the bark while Cedric the chair hog hops down to investigate the photographer, and Luna is mesmerized by a bug crawling on the rocks. 

I understand that some people find us to be irresponsible cat owners. The world is a dangerous place, they say, and cats are safer indoors. When left to run free, cats can get hit by cars, or lost, or worst of all, carried off by the wild things that roam suburban streets at night. Shame on you, they say, for not taking better care of your cats.

I can only shrug my shoulders and say, maybe some cats are happy to always live indoors.

But if you saw my cats

leaping at elusive butterflies,
sleeping in the shadows under the day lilies,
surveying their world from atop the fence posts,
curled up in the vines on top of the trellis,
dozing on their favorite wicker chair,
waiting on the front porch for me to come home,

then you would understand that my cats' souls come alive when they are out of doors, and to deny them this freedom would be to break their spirits and consign them to lives of misery.

We realize the risks we take every time we open the door to let our cats run free.
We accept that they would probably live longer if we kept them inside at all times.

But a miserable life is no life at all.

So we let our cats go out.

* * * * *

Despite our worst fears, Luna showed no sign of injury or attack. 

But he was definitely skinny and uncharacteristically passive. 

Relieved and certainly protective, we whisked our prodigal son back into the house when we hoped he would stay safe for hours if not days, while we all recovered from this trauma. But as soon as we set him down in the family room, he circled round and round by the back door, pacing and yowling, clearly terrified to be indoors. 

Luna must have been trapped, we surmised. Somehow, he must have gotten himself shut up in a garage or a shed, and that's why he didn't come home. And that is why he is so upset about being kept inside at home. 

And we knew that as much as we wanted to keep him safe indoors, we could see that his little soul was in a panic. 

Luna needed to go out. 

And we needed to be brave enough to let him go.

So we all hugged him and kissed him and made him promise to come back very soon. Then we opened up the back door and let Luna go out into the night.

* * * * *

Epilogue: It's been three full days now since Luna came back. He is still a little jumpy and sensitive. He's eating often, though his meals are smaller than usual, and he's asking to go in and out of the house countless times a day. 

We also notice that he is staying very close to the house. 
And when we call, he always comes running back home. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

True Prince

Came upstairs after dinner tonight to find this happening in my room. 

It's not often that one of the cats choose to snooze in what until recently was known to all pets as Ranger's territory. 

But Cedric not only elected to nap on my bed; he somehow managed to tuck himself under the comforter, serene and perfect in the warm evening sunshine.

Cedric is a true prince. 

A Royal Journey

"The world is full of a number of things. I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." 
-Robert Louis Stevenson

We sailed away from Cabo to explore the ocean blue.

^ Make no mistake, the marina proves there is plenty of money ado.

^ Our outfits were rich and stylish  - orange vests are for sure the new black

^ This last bit of rock is the end of the land - sail south and never come back.

^ The arch at Land's End is a landmark carved by water in granite stone.

^ Like explorers, we sailed from the Sea of Cortez and into the Pacific zone. 

^ This sea lion welcomed us back to the east and posed like a perfect king

^ And this regal fellow demanded a treat though, alas, he ate not a thing. 

Our travels soon came to a happy end as we sailed back up to the pier
And we felt like queens for the rest of our trip, remembering what we'd seen here. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

My Fish Taco Challenge

Lately I have been obsessed with fish tacos.

There's something about the intricate balance of flavor and texture 

the delicate fish, 
the earthy tortilla, 
the crisp slaw, 
the tangy sauce and 
the bright note of cilantro 

that fascinates me and reassures me that every time I bite into one of this angelic creations, it will surely be just a little bit different than any fish taco I have ever eaten before. 

During my trip to Mexico, I decided to challenge myself not only eat fish tacos every day but also to rate them and choose the winner. Here's how my eats stacked up.

Day One: Las Palomas at the resort

Pros: After a long day of travel, I was starving, and ready to eat a caballo. The fried fish was crisp, the slaw was tangy.

Cons: No cilantro. What. 

Day 2: Herradero at the marina

Pros: Fresh caught sea bass. Crisp slaw. I tucked the orange garnish from my plate into my taco and went straight to heaven. Fresh pico de gallo and possibly handmade tortillas (note rips and tears).

Cons: There were only three tacos. I could have eaten eight. 

Day 3: Las Palomas served poolside.

Pros: Even when served outside, the warm components were still warm and the cool components were still cool. The chipotle sauce was sassy and bold. 

Cons: Breaded fish. I prefer unbreaded. 

Day 4: The Bistro at Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach

Pros: No but that cilantro. So much. And so good. Fresh red snapper.

Cons: Sauteed vegetables and rice missed the mark. Uninspired salsa. 

Day 5: Las Palomas served poolside again

Pros: For the third time in a row, this kitchen managed to serve the fish warm, and the slaw cool, even under the unforgiving Mexican sun.  And I could drink that chipotle sauce straight from the cup. 

Cons: The guacamole is wasted on me (I can't eat avocado), and the refried beans heavy and tasteless. I would have gladly traded it all in for a fourth taco.

Day 6: Wahoo's Fish Tacos at LAX

Pros: Delicate and pretty little tortillas with a pleasing proportion of filling to wrap. Beautiful colors and presentation, albeit in a styrofoam clamshell.

Cons: The flavor notes were bland and muddled. And what's up with just two tacos? I consider a trio of fish tacos to be gospel. 

* * * * *
And the winner of my South of the Border Taco Challenge?

My Day Two plate at Herrado, served by an adorable waiter I nicknamed Baby Lupe and threatened to bring him home as a Mexican groom for one of my (unsuspecting) daughters. He was handsome and polite and funny and thoughtful and brought us endless Mexican Cokes on ice and this amazing dish of pineapple ice cream as well.

He promised us this dessert would be to die for, and said that if we didn't like it, he'd eat it for us. 

So huzzah to Herrado Restaurant and our own Baby Lupe and to delicious fish tacos everywhere!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Letting Go In Mexico

 Traveling south down the long, lean line of Baja California, 
with the Gulf of California and the mainland of Mexico in sight on the left. 

Last week I flew away to Mexico and spent five lovely days of pure, unadulterated leisure. I stayed with my two elder daughters at a resort in Cabo San Lucas, at the southern tip of Baja California, where the closest body of land to the south is Antarctica.

I had never been to a proper resort before, where all your needs are laid out before you, and nothing more is required than to lean back and enjoy. Quite a different experience than my recent international cultural immersion adventures, or the golden days of road tripping across the country with four children and assorted pets in a minivan.

I will confess that I struggled at first. Doing nothing is an acquired skill, and I had to make a concentrated effort to let go of all the things I could do - surfing! parasailing! painting ceramic bowls! - to embrace the fine art of sitting still.

And so I sat.

Golden squiggles mark the paths of dry riverbeds, a sure sign of desert terrain. 
As if the never-ending brown landscape left any doubt. 

Well. Technically, I did a lot of lying. On my chaise lounge.
And on my floaty as I drifted around the pool.

I allowed myself to take a lot of pictures, and to play at the beach.
And to eat fish tacos every day.

But that was about it.
And you know what? An amazing thing happened.

Little islands litter the eastern coastline. 
And all I can think is that this is where grey whales come to have their babies.

I found myself not filling up with new ideas, new experiences, new plans, as I usually do on vacation.
I found myself emptying out.

All of the priorities and principles and pressing needs of my day-to-day life gently subsided.
I didn't forget about them. I just let them sit with me.

And then, at then end of my trip, I realized that I now had a choice.

I could pick all those things back up and carry them home to keep on with my life as usual
Or I could let some things go.

And that's what I did.

Back home again. 
As we descended through the marine layers over good ol' Seattle, 
the Olympic Mountains showed as a row of smiling teeth in the west.

I gathered up some of the fears, stresses, anxieties, and troubles that just don't suit me anymore, and I cast them off like so many messages in a bottle into the refreshing waters of the Sea of Cortez. They were floating off into the horizon as I turned and walked away. Next stop: the South Pole.

Since I've been home, I've been tempted - probably more from habit that desire - to pick those troublesome thoughts and emotions back up. But every time I do, I see in my mind's eye those imaginary glass bottles bobbing up and down in the water. They've surely been swept out into the wide open Pacific by now, and while I hope to never see them again, I certainly wish them well.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Homemade Pad Thai

Ok, I'll be honest. When it comes to Pad Thai, I'm utterly, hopelessly, desperately spoiled.

First of all, I learned to love this Southeast Asian delight at the dining tables and food stalls of my friends in Malaysia. What reads as exotic fare to me is simply home-cooking to them, and their love for and familiarity of the dish shone through in their handiwork.

And following up my fantastical foreign feasts, I found a local Seattle joint that serves up an equally legitimate plate of the good stuff. Thai Tom's on the Ave is not known for its comfortable surroundings or courteous staff, but they can cook like the proper Thais that they are, and their food definitely rings true to my Asian experiences.

So it was with very high expectations and a shocking lack of experience with these flavors that I set about perfecting my own version of Pad Thai. And I readily confess that my early experiments were disappointing.


Oh sure, I was still clearing the bar set by the typical American suburban interpretation of Pad Thai, as served up in styrofoam clamshells for convenient takeaway at the local strip mall Asian fusion joints. But my goals were loftier than that.

Behold the beauty of my latest attempt:

The proportions of veggies to proteins to noodles to sauce are perfect.
The flavors are spot on.
And every bite is a tiny explosion of Asian deliciousness that takes me right back to my first flirtations with this dish.

* * * * *

Here's the recipe that finally led me to this flavorful Nirvana:

For the noodles:
  • 8 ounces dried rice sticks

For the sauce:
  • a big, fat tablespoon of tamarind pulp, soaked in 4 T of hot water
  • 4 T brown sugar
  • 4 T fish sauce
To chop up and then saute together:
  • 2 shallots
  • an onion
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic
  • a box of extra firm tofu
  • 1 pound of large raw shrimp, cleaned
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 green onions
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
To garnish:
  • lime wedges
  • red chili flakes
  • peanuts, chopped

1. Set the noodles to soak.
2. Set the tamarind pulp to soak.

HINT: If you do not have a sweet friend named Rungfa who literally delivers this exotic spice from her own kitchen to your door, you can easily order it off Amazon.

3., Chop everything up.
4. Stir the brown sugar and fish sauce into the tamarind and water. Set aside.
5. Add a nice splash of cooking oil to a wok over medium high heat. Add shallot, onion, garlic, tofu, and shrimp. Cook until the shrimp are white and curly. Set all that aside in a big bowl.

HINT: I should probably own a wok. But I don't. So when I need to stir fry, I haul out my big black cast iron beast and make no apology for it. Feel free to improvise.

6. Heat more oil into the now-empty wok, drain the noodles and cook them in the oil for a minute or two. Push then to one side of the wok.
7. Crack the eggs directly into the wok alongside the noodles, and scramble them. Cook until set.
8. Add the sauteed veggies, shrimp and tofu into the wok.
9. Fold in the sauce, and then the green onions and bean sprouts.

HINT: My mainstream grocery stores are afraid of salmonella poisonings, so they no longer carry fresh sprouts. I have to settle for the canned version, found in the Asian aisle. However, if I take the time to go to an Asian market, I can usually find fresh.

Watch the proportions! Nothing is worse than a soggy ball of dry rice noodles pretending to be a delicious Asian feast. My end game is to always go low on noodles and high on sauce; it's easy enough to add another handful of noodles but devilishly complicated to fish out undesired noodles from the sauce.

(My recipe was inspired by this one. I owe its author a debt of gratitude. Or maybe a helping of Pad Thai)

* * * * *

I will admit, it took me a fair amount of perseverance and patience to get this dish right. I can only thank those who inspired me to keep trying:

To Baby Boy, who made me so many delicious dishes at his food stall in Shah Alam.
To Kama, who fed me untold plates of delicious food in Thai-inspired Kelantan.
To Nana, who bought me Pad Thai in Langkawi.
To Chris, who got chased down the street by the waitress at Thai Tom's which convinced me that there had to be a better way to eat delicious Pad Thai.
To Mr. David, my boss during my high school sous chef days, who taught me not to cook but to believe that I could learn to cook anything I wanted
And to Jurie, who fed me deliciously saucy noodles at his office and made my whole Southeast Asian experience possible.

* * * * *

Thai Tom's is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the Ave in Seattle, and if you ever have the chance, go there. In the meantime, I highly recommend you read all about it.

* * * * *

Ready for more stories about my most dearly beloved, tried-and-true homemade meals?