Sunday, July 30, 2017

Director's Cut

It's one thing to haul a van full of stuff from your parents' homes across the country. 

That's the easy part. 

The hard part, I am learning, is trying to figure out what to do with it all once you get it back home. 

I'll be honest. I'm not going to spend my precious and fleeting Seattle summer in my garage, digging through the endless boxes and rearranging all my storage. Oh no. There will be time for that when the clouds roll in. 

For now, I'm leaving my newfound treasures to rest in the dark while I enjoy myself in my gardens. 

Well. Except for two striped director's chairs from my mom's deck at the lake in Michigan. 

The minute I dragged them out of the truck, I knew just where to put them. They seem to be enjoying their new life in the Seattle sunshine just fine. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cat Chair

My mother-in-law, bless her soul. was a cat lady. Now, for the most part, this was a theoretical concept, as she really only had just the one cat during her entire adult life.

Well. One live cat. During her battle with Alzheimer's, she cared for a whole collection of stuffed cats and happily enjoyed their quiet company until her dying day.

So it has given me great pleasure to let this old wicker rocker - which she gave me many years ago - live out its waning years as a special spot for our three furry boys. 

Now lately we've developed a problem. The weather and the years and the sharp little kitty claws have each taken their toll, and what I discovered when I lifted up the seat cushion this spring was that the bottom of the seat had finally given way. 

Well. I was not about to give up quite so easily.

So using my best MacGyver meets Gilligan Island repair skills, I armed myself with some sisal rope from Home Depot and went to work. 

Mmhmm. I know. I've got some pretty professional weaving chops right there. 

But the bottom line is that my kittens are back in business with a soft, secure cushion underneath their furry selves for some sweet afternoon naps in their favorite chair. 

And I'm sure that my mother-in-law is smiling down from heaven. 

Chicken Drumsticks

This is the chicken I got from Aqil last week.
I unashamedly begged him for a few pieces of his latest shipment.
He goes to school at University of Washington, and lives twenty minutes away from me.
Though Aqil is totally in the swim of American culture, he loves his native Malaysian cuisine

The chicken was prepared by his mom.
In Havana.
Where she lives with her husband, the Ambassador of Malaysia to Cuba, and Aqil's brother and sister. Her Cuban kitchen is filled with the spices of home, and even in the midst of this sparse Caribbean island, she manages to feed her family their favorite, familiar meals. . 

Aqil's mother grew up in Kelantan, a quaint little corner of Malaysia, tucked up under Thailand on the beaches of the South China Sea. She learned how to blend spices and flavors in proper Kelantanese style from her mother, Aqil's grandmother, whom I hear was quite a cook. 

As so, as I tore into these delicious drumsticks with my fingers and sucked every delicious and spicy morsel from the bones, as is the Kelantanese way, I thought of Aqil, and his mother in Cuba, and his Kelantanese grandmother, and what a beautiful miracle it is that they all helped to bring this tasty treat to my American table.

All I can say in return is, hey Aqil, thanks for the chicken.

* * * * *

More stories about my friend, Aqil:

Two Weeks In

That eager sprint and rollicking pink tongue make me smile every day. 

It's been a minute. 
It's been forever. 

I still can scarcely believe that I did this crazy thing of adopting an Irish Setter with about five minutes of consideration, long before I thought I was ready to open my heart to another dog. 

Then again, when I look into those shining teddy bear eyes and laugh at the range of expression she can manage with just the curl of her lip, I wonder if I haven't known this little girl forever. 

But as of yesterday, it's been two weeks that this sweet dog has been in my life and here's an update on her settling in. 

She's learning to love the whole family. For the first week, she loved me with an insane intensity and laser focus. Flattered though I am to be loved by a dog, I nearly drowned in all the attention. Now she's happily taking walks, car rides, and play sessions with every one of us, and we are all better off for that. 

She's allowing me out of her eyesight. With a hitch. The trick, I have learned, is to talk to her. If I want to slip into the next room or pop my head outside for a moment without a hundred pound red furry freight train rushing to my side, a bit of chattering on my part helps to convince this girl that I'm not so dangerously far away after all. 

And speaking of those one hundred pounds, the new weight loss plan is kicking in and my girl's starting to slim down. Her neck is now slender and streamlined, rather than chunky and thick; the contours of her powerful shoulder and flank muscles are beginning to take shape as the extra layers melt away. Adorable as she is now, my dog will be graceful and gorgeous when she gets down to a healthy weight. 

Though she was bred for the show, it's already clear to me that my dog's best attributes are her serene temperament, inquisitive intelligence, and natural desire to hunt. She's already dealt with surly dogs trying to pick a fight and a two -year-old whose concept of petting looks a lot more like poking and punching. She wagged happily and stayed calm through both encounters. New commands come quickly to this girl and she's already added a dozen new words to her obedience vocabulary. And though I didn't expect much hunt to be left in this girl, she has begun to ruffle her nose through the dry leaves, and stealthily track squirrels and crows on our daily walks. Once, when she found a cat luxuriating under a bush, she set and pointed in perfect style. So proud of her. 

No, she does not yet have a name. But we're getting close.

And while I am still waking up every morning to a fresh wave of shock and surprise that a new little redhead is sleeping at my feet, I can't imagine my life without her.

It's been a minute.
It's been forever.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Red Beauty

When I was a little girl, my mom mentioned to me that once, when she was a little girl herself and a sick one at that, her mother read her the story of Black Beauty.

Ahh. Those facts created lush poetry in my mind. I longed for my mom to one day place a cool washcloth on my fevered head, stroke my hair against the pillow, and read this book to me. Eventually, I told her of this dream.

"Oh, that's a terrible story," my mom dismissed. "You wouldn't enjoy it at all."

Hmm. I knew this was a book about a horse. And while I was not one of those girls with a seemingly inbred passion for horses, my early childhood bestie was. As she was three years older than me and infinitely more worldly and accomplished, I thought it in my best interest to learn more about this mysterious world of horses. 

Despite my pleadings, my mom stuck to her no-Black Beauty guns, so eventually I checked the book out of the library and read it to myself.  

As my mother predicted, the story terrified me. This poor horse, passed from one miserable owner to the next, suffered what my childish mind deemed the worst fate imaginable, and my childish heart overflowed with anguish and compassion.

* * * * *

My new dog began her life in Florida. On January 12, 2015, she was born to a litter with at least two other girls, and lived, I presume, a happy puppy infancy. 

At an appropriate age, she and one of her sisters sailed off across the country to Oregon where they began their new lives on a Portland-area horse farm.

There must have been some lovely days there, with these two gleaming redheads romping around the horse paddocks and dozing in the golden sunshine. But trouble soon stirred.

Seems my baby developed a fondness for humans and wanted more time with her owner. But an older farm dog, a female German Shepherd, considered herself the alpha when it came to human contact, and she did not welcome my child's advances in this department.

So it was determined that my little girl needed a new home. At the ripe old age of eighteen months, she parted ways with her sister Lily and the horses, and headed north to Everett, Washington. 

For the next twelve months, she lived just a few miles away from me with an older man named Jeremy. While he drove overnight rounds for the post office, she rode shotgun and learned to keep new hours. She also apparently learned to eat new foods because my girl gained thirty pounds in a year. Oops. 

Sadly, Jeremy was diagnosed with cancer and accepted the reality that he could no longer care for this big red pup. Through the Seattle-area Irish Setter grapevine - yes, there truly is such a thing - my baby came to find me.

* * * * *

After those first few awful pages, I put down Black Beauty and never picked it up again. Decades later, I can still think of few things more terrifying than what an animal must feel when it passes from one owner to the next.


My mind reels to think what my poor dog has suffered in her short little life; my heart breaks every time I see the traces of her abanondments as she whines for me or races to follow me through the house. 

I can't change the Black Beauty days of her life. But I do promise my new little girl this:

Never again. You will never be handed off again. 

You have found your forever family and we will be with you to the end. 

First Visit To The Vet

First, we visited the vet.
Then we walked in the late afternoon sunshine.
And then this big red baby laid in the shade and watched the world go by. 

My unnamed puppy and I made our first visit to the vet together.

Though there are plenty of good local vets, we hopped into the car together yesterday afternoon and drove forty minutes north to visit our friend, Dr. Jackie. To be sure, that's a long way to go for a vet visit, but given the special role she played in Ranger's life, it seemed like the right thing to do.

The three of us made some interesting discoveries. 

Baby is seriously overweight. 
She tips the scales at 98 pounds, and her ideal weight somewhere around 80. Jackie calculated an appropriate daily caloric intake of 900 Kcals and so Baby is hereby restricted to three cups daily of Science Diet weight loss formula and plenty of exercise.

Both of her lower canine teeth are fractured. 
The remaining stubs are still healthy, so there's no need to act upon this news, but she definitely suffered some sort of forceful accident to snap them off. Jackie speculated that she may have been kicked by a horse. 

Fleas and heartworms be gone:
Revolution is still the best, tried-and-true medication to keep the insects at bay. It's easy to use, harmless, and best of all, effective. 

Mani/Pedi? Check:
Took two grown women to wrestle my child to the ground and get her nails trimmed, but once they had her pinned, she took it like a champ.

* * * * *

And though all these tidbits are interesting, here is hands-down the most mind-boggling development of the day:

Jackie's assistant is a college student whose family lives in my neighborhood. That, in and of itself, is remarkable since this vet's office is a solid thirty miles away. But even better, she recognized me as the mom of Ranger, the dashing Irishman on the long leash who loved his daily walks.  

And that lovely coincidence was without a doubt the most interesting discovery of our first visit to the vet. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017


My first-born has been planning out this triple layer cake for days. 

She special ordered the pans and searched out matching pre-cut parchment paper liners. 

She found the richest and lushest chocolate cake recipe and did a special shop for the ingredients. 

She spent the better part of two hours on this gorgeous sun-soaked day slaving away in the kitchen, getting every detail just right. 

And when the last bit of frosting had been gracefully swirled into place, she stepped back and said, "Hmm. I feel like it needs just a little something more."

"Washi tape mini banner," I mumbled from the other side of the counter, where I was coaxing my baby dog into yet another drop stay position. 

"Say what?l" she countered. And I quickly whipped through my Pinterest app to show her an example of what I meant. 

"Perfect," she agreed. "Can you make me one?"

Five minutes later, my wonky little flags fluttered in place atop this chocolate majesty. 

And that was my contribution to tonight's delicious dessert. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Say Hello To The Byway

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 sand hill country of Nebraska has an other-worldly beauty. 
I feel like I was moving through a sea of pale green waves. 

If you've ever considered traveling through Nebraska - and really, you should - please do yourself a favor and take U.S. Highway 20.

Oh sure, you can opt for Interstate 80 that bombs east and west along its concrete corridor in the lower part of the state. But Route 20 is the road less traveled and all the more glorious for its isolation.

^ In our family's childhood tradition, cows are horses and horses are cows. 
This is definitely a field full of open range horses. 

We picked her up westbound in Iowa, just north of Des Moines, and enjoyed a day of rambling through small towns, grain elevators, and cornfields. But the real fun began on a stretch of the road in the northwest Nebraska panhandle that goes by the fancy moniker of the Bridges to Buttes Byway.

Now, truth be told, I slept through the scenic bridges. I woke up as we were already rolling through the eastern end of the byway near Valentine, and my husband reported to me with unaccustomed enthusiasm the gorgeous structures I'd missed during my nap.


^ There are a few signs of human existence in this gorgeous corner of the world. Very few.
And in their rarity, they take on a new shade of beauty. 

But the next six hours redeemed my losses as a wild landscape of sand hills, pine ridges, and rocky buttes passed before my eyes like a dream. Underneath a huge blue sky full of rolling clouds, this place shone like an unassuming jewel. Antelope bounded through the open range, old school windmills spun in the snapping breeze, and time stood still.

My pictures don't do it justice. And honestly, I was so caught up in the kaleidoscope of ever-changing sights that I didn't really use my camera much. My brain was focused on soaking up the entire experience, rather than slicing it up into individual images to examine later.

^ Taking photos through the windshield is never a good idea. 
But I could not resist a capture of this adorable tree. 

So let these few photographs serve not as a travelogue but simply a temptation.

Come to northwest Nebraska and see this amazing place for yourself.

P.S. If you like to drive fast, the Bridges to Buttes Byway is a dream. Two straight lines of clean, smooth pavement and next to no traffic. Even in my clunky U-Haul van, I took it at 75 mph all day long.

* * * * *

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

Off Again

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bad Habits

I personally would have opted for the ice cream cone distraction. 
A tried-and-true solution to the road trip blues. 

A successful entrepreneur who jets around the country as her hipster business explodes, this thirty-something mom was recording an Insta story from the front seat of the car.

Intentionally positioned in the shot behind her was her five-ish year old daughter. She sat still and silent as her mom continued to narrate her story.

Quick-witted and clever and no stranger to snark, the mom was making the point that her daughter was annoying her. They were on the outbound leg of a cross-country trip, and the kid had been asking, "When will we get there?"

Shocking, I know.

Mom continued to drive home her thesis with a series of pointed, unkind remarks: this kid was awful and aggravating. Yet during the video, the little girl simply sat quietly in her car seat, absorbed and thoughtful, and clearly taking in every word her mom was saying.


My hackles rose as I watched this scene unfold. When moms get together and privately gripe about their kids, that's bad enough. Everyone needs to blow off steam now and then, and who better to sympathize than other moms. I get that.

But when busy, working parents who travel for work finally take some time for a family vacation, and use that time to sarcastically complain that their kids are - wait for it - acting like normal kids, I'm not impressed.

So. I decided to send a direct message:

Maybe it's just me but sometimes the jokes about how your kids drive you nuts come off a little too snarky. I'm sure you are a loving mother but that doesn't always come through.

Her response chimed in within a few minutes:

That's okay! Just who I am... I love my kids, but can't change my personality. 

Hmm. I resisted the temptation to fire back. But here's what I wanted to say:

Talking smack is not a personality attribute. It's a bad habit and it has no place in a loving home. I don't know what kind of Friends-driven fantasies you have about real life, but people in loving relationships don't talk to each other in put-downs and punch lines. Least of all parents who are attempting raise young children.

So why don't you take the precious time that you have with your babies and use it to show them what a loving, respectful relationship looks like. Talk to them kindly, acknowledge their emotions, and show them positive alternatives to bad habits.

Yeah, in order to accomplish that, you may have to put down your phone from time to time.

Instagram will survive for a few days without you.

Wake Up Call

This morning, a man named Hau came to build me a new patio. I knew he was coming today, but I didn't know what time. 

At 8:30 a.m. our story begins.

Hau: (rings my doorbell)

Me: (eyeballs pop open, flies out of bed, scrambles around for two minutes trying to look presentable and pretend to be wide awake)

Me. (answers door with cheery smile) Good morning, Hau! How are you?

Hau: (as if this were unimaginably preposterous) Did I wake you up?

Me: Sorry. I was on the phone. ......................... -_-

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

My Bowl

My mom used to serve mashed potatoes in this bowl.

Made of stainless steel, the curving sides of this mid-century classic hold its best secret. When everyone else thought the bowl was empty, I knew that some careful spoon work up inside the rim would always yield a few last, hidden bites of deliciousness.Waiting until my impatient herd of brothers had pushed back from the table, and my mother had begun the long process of cleaning up, I held my secret close and hoped no one else would ever discover me.

Mashed potatoes were holiday fare for us, and this bowl only used for special occasions. Since we celebrated most other holidays at my grandparents' home, I associate my mashed potato ritual and this bowl mostly with Christmas. And as anyone who comes from an emotionally difficult family knows, the biggest holiday of the year typically unfolds as a complicated and painful day.

Sometimes, the mashed potatoes grew cold as I waited at the table for an argument to wind down.

Or suffered during the chilly silence of an unhappy meal when my stomach tied itself in knots.

Sometimes the smooth, starchy goodness was exactly what I needed to soothe my troubled little soul;

Other times I simply choked down what I knew was good for me.

One year, everyone in the family got sick except my mom and me; we had all the lovely steak and mashed potatoes for ourselves. Despite the gloomy atmosphere of a sick house on Christmas, I remember feeling happy that year.

All those times are over now. I've let the troubled memories go, just as I eventually carried this bowl to the sink and scrubbed out the last unreachable bits of potato and sent them swirling down the drain.

And now my bowl sits, gleaming and alive, on my family's table where we now like to fill it with fresh fruit. I don't need it to keep my secrets any more.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What's In A Name?




* * * * *

My new dog came with an old name. 

And while that name is a perfectly fine name, we want to give her a new name to honor her new family and her new life.

So far, we have generated a number of worthy candidates but no clear winner has yet emerged. 

For now, I call her Baby or Sweetie. And as you can see, she doesn't seem to mind.


^ "After a dip in the kiddie pool, I like to lay out in the sun. Does that work for you?" 

^ "Here, Kitty Kitty,"

^ "I will stay here while you cook....but only if I can hold your hand. Um foot."

"I missed you while I was sleeping. Now please cuddle meeeeee."

^ "So you say we're going to take this walk every day? Fine by me."

^ "I think I can learn to like it here."

I had no idea this was going to happen. 

I had no idea that I'd get a call on Saturday morning from a neighbor telling me about an Irish Setter who desperately needed a new home. 

I had no idea I'd ever consider taking a rescue dog. 

I had no idea that my heart, still grieving my sweet Ranger, would tell me to buck up and make room for this new dog. 

I had no idea that I would know deep in my bones that this particular dog was meant to be mine. 

I had no idea that I would get my family to. buy into this crazy plan in 24 short hours. 

I had no idea that this new dog, who has been through so much change and upheaval in her two and a half years of life, would fall so madly in love with me in a single day. 

I had no idea that I was ready to love her back. 

But a lot has happened in a very short time. And right now, as a big red dog sleeps peacefully on the floor alongside my bed, I am happy that everything turned out exactly as it did.