Thursday, January 31, 2019

Done With Bell's Palsy

 Seems like it's been a long time since Gracie was posing under the clematis vine and my face was full of palsy. But the months ticked by and the curse was still upon me. 

Exactly nine months ago, I woke up one morning with a face full of Bell's Palsy.

Horrified to see my face twisted and contorted into an unrecognizable sneer, I headed to the doctor who told me not to worry. It's a fairly harmless inflammation of the facial nerves, driven by exposure to some sort of viral infection, and with an early intervention of steroids and anti-virals, the whole mess should clear up in a week or two.

And you know, I am all for positive thinking.

But that is not even close to what happened.

The first month was rough. I not only looked bad but I felt bad. My face ached, my brain was loopy, and I was continually sleep starved.

Around six weeks, I started to improve and  felt much more myself.

Right around two months, my recovery stalled out. My face looked normal, my mind and spirit were feeling better, but I still had some weird, mostly invisible symptoms. Though no one could see this phenomenon, not even me, I could feel my facial nerves twisting and rippling under the surface of my skin. These sensations didn't hurt but they were strange and disconcerting. A friend noticed that I had developed the habit of laying my hand over the left side of my face as I talked. Yes. I was trying to calm whatever was happening inside.

My doc told me to contact her if I still had symptoms at six months, so on Halloween, I gave her a call.

"Make an appointment and come on in," she phoned me to say. "We may be able to do something to get you healed up."

So in I went and long story short, she gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant.

Now I understand that drugs can be used for more than one purpose, but as I read over the literature that came with the medication, and contemplated the long line of possible side effects, I wondered if there might not be a better way.

I decided to put the meds on hold, and focus all my efforts into taking the best care of myself possible. For the next three months, I cut out all processed sugars and carbs, drank more water, and slept eight hours every night.

And guess what. My symptoms have almost completely disappeared. I still get an occasional sensation of mild puffiness under my eye. But mostly, I feel strong and healthy, and finally I feel done with Bell's Palsy.

* * * * *

Here are all the stories about my Bell's Palsy, in order from start to, hopefully, finish:

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Walking On Rialto Beach

"I look my best when I'm totally free, on holiday, walking on the beach." -Rosamund Pike

When my third-born was home from Asia last July, we had just one week to squeeze in as much summer fun as possible.

A quick trip to the Pacific coast for one night of camping was a must-do.

And so with plenty of optimism and no campground reservations, all four daughters, Gracie, and I set off for our favorite beach in the world, Kalaloch. 

But despite our best efforts, the trip did not work out as planned. The campground was full. So on the advice of the ranger, we headed fifty miles north to Rialto Beach. 

Gracie playing in the waves at Rialto Beach

^ See how we suffered?

Just kidding. Rialto Beach is every bit the rugged and picturesque slice of heaven that Kalaloch is with two regrettable differences:

^ 1. Rather than walking two minutes down a cute little trail to Kalaloch Beach, Rialto requires a quick car ride. Granted, it's only a mile or so from the campground. But for me, cars and camping don't mix.

^  2. Kalaloch Beach is sandy, and Rialto is covered with stones. Sometimes they are adorably tiny and jet black, other times they are large, grey, and tumbly. In either case, rocks are less comfortable for walking than sand, and that bums me out.


^ However, I will take a semi-distant and rocky Northwest beach over none at all, so immediately upon claiming our campsite and setting up our gear, we headed down to the beach. 


^ Well. We ate lunch first. For my money, any meal prepared and eaten outside tastes like heaven and these sandwiches were no exception. 

* * * * *

We parked our car at the beach and walked north. The beach was mostly level and open, bounded by crashing grey waves on one side and thick evergreen forest on the other. Though the weather was foggy and cool when we set out, the clouds soon vaporized and we shed at least some of our layers. July in the Pacific Northwest is not for sissies

After about thirty minutes of walking, this is what we found.


^ Sea stacks. Huge, glorious, imposing hunks of rock left behind after wind and water eroded the land around them. All around their bases we found tide pools full of anemone and sea stars and bitty little crabs.

^ At the back of the beach, we found a trail leading up the steep incline and coming out on a narrow rocky spine where the rocks are still connected to the land. 

This route required more precision and care than Gracie typically affords, so we stayed down on the beach while my daughters hiked up. 

^ Gracie enjoyed every bird-chasing, water-wading, rock-sniffing, and tide pool-gazing moment of our adventure. It's hard to imagine a happier place for dogs to play.

* * * * *

^ Usually our camping breakfasts consist of a quick grab into the cooler for a yogurt or into our pantry stores for a breakfast bar of some sort.

But since this trip was so short, we decided to squeeze in one more proper cooked meal, a breakfast of pancakes, sausage, and sauteed peaches, covered with a nice dollop of maple syrup. Yum.

With our camp broken and the car packed, we headed back to the beach, this time for a few relaxing hours sitting among the beach logs.

^ Gracie was surprisingly satisfied to lie in one place and watch the humans and dogs wandering past. 

^ We humans took photos, played with sticks and rocks, read our books, and snacked. 

^ When our time was up, we walked on a cute trail through this tiny ridge of sea-worn trees and found our car waiting for us. 

Views from the ferry on the Kingston-Edmonds crossing

And then, after winding our way across the Olympic Peninsula, we hopped our ferry for the final leg of our trip and found ourselves back home, thinking once again that nothing is finer than a day spent walking on the beach.

* * * * *

My family and I go to Kalaloch a lot. Here are stories from our trips over the years:






Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Patiently Waiting

"Home is where somebody notices when you are no longer there." -Aleksander Hemon

Sirius has always been partial to sleeping on my eldest daughter's bed. 
Don't worry, little guy - she'll be back soon. 

Look, this empty nest business is no joke.

My journey as a mom with offspring living at home has had a long, long run. And even though two daughters flew away in the last six months, there's still one here and another set to fly back soon. So I'm not pretending that I'm a true empty nester.

But even so, I have learned that life in an empty nest is hard.

Hard to set just three plates on the table.
Hard to keep track of only one daughter's comings and goings.
And hard, so hard to walk past bedrooms with empty beds at night.

Before I fall into a complete pity party, though, I often remind myself that at least I understand what's happening.

Our poor pets must be so confused.

Well. Let's be honest. Gracie loves everyone in the family with all her heart. But as long as she can keep me on her radar, she isn't too concerned about where the others have gotten off to.

It's the cats that I am thinking of. When we adopted three abandoned baby brothers in 2010, they quickly bonded with our daughters and fell in love. They have all been inseparable, these kids and kittens, and most especially at night. For all these years, the cats have curled up each night on one cozy bed after another, happy to share their sleeping hours with their favorite warm and cuddly people.

So what are they to do now when their human sisters inexplicably disappear for weeks or months at a time?

Well. They simply curl up on the empty beds and patiently wait for their girls to come home.

Monday, January 28, 2019

My Young Hero

To see her relaxing like a princess, you'd never think that she could stealthily hunt down 
rabbits and chase them at the speed of light. But she can. And she does.

In the blink of an eye, Gracie took off after the rabbit.

Diving under the railing on the walkway behind the high school, she leaped through the planting strip and raced down to the lawn that lay three or four feet below us, along the edge of the woods.

Alas, it turned out to be not a rabbit at all. Just a leaf.

Oh, but that's alright. The chase is half the fun and my girl gave it her all. Happy and invigorated, Gracie retraced her steps, bounded back up the embankment and slipped skillfully under the railing.

But the shrubs that grow in the planting strip had been cut back, leaving half a dozen two-inch stumps in the garden, and her long leash caught, as it has before, between them. Not a problem. Rather than climbing down into the muddy mulch, I can usually remain up on the walkway and flick the long leash just so, getting it to pop loose from its trap.

So I was standing and flicking thusly when from the twilight shadows, a young man appeared.

He was dressed in a stylish navy suit with a dark dress shirt buttoned all the way up. No tie. Sensing my predicament, he asked if he could be of service.

"No," I said. "I'm fine. My leash is just caught on a stump down there but I can flick it free."

"Let me help you," he offered.

"No, no," I objected, "It's fine." Acknowledging that my technique was not working, I added, "I can climb down there and work it free."

"I insist," he politely insisted.

Before I could reply, gracefully, he bent down and laid his phone on the sidewalk.

And then, lithe and limber as a cat. he laid one hand on the railing and in a single, fluid motion, leaped effortlessly over the top.

In his dress shoes, he stepped confidently through the wet mulch, and walked around to where Gracie's lease was wedged. Reaching down into the soggy, mildewing leaves, he quickly worked the rope free and courteously handed it up to me.

"Thank you," I murmured, slightly under his spell.

He retraced his steps to the railing and just as effortlessly and elegantly as before, performed another perfect two-footed leap over the guardrail.

"No problem at all," he smiled as he delicately brushed off his fingertips before picking up his phone.

"Have a good evening."

And with that, my young hero walked off into the gathering darkness.

I'll Probably Be Asleep While You Are Reading This

Tonight I worked on my Valentines.

I used to call myself a night owl but that label can be quite misleading.

Because calling myself a night owl suggests I have a choice in the matter. It implies that my sleeping habits are simply preferences and if I choose to stay up late and sleep late, then that's my choice and really, shame on me for not getting a jump on the day.

I've come to accept that the hours that my body craves sleep are non-negotiable and I can no more change them than I can change the number of fingers on each hand or the shape of my nose.

Believe me. I have spent a lifetime trying. 

Now science is proving that our sleeping behaviors are not preferences at all.

Here's a four-minute video with the latest research findings:

This research data is great, but it's nothing that we delayed sleep phasers don't already know.

We know what it's like to set an alarm to wake up in the morning with the rest of the world, and literally feel drugged and unable to stand up and function. Trust me, this is not a fun way to live. 

But here is the joy of being a delayed sleep phase sleeper. While the rest of the world is heading off to bed, we are just hitting our stride. 

And while all the night owls and so-called "normal sleepers" are lying asnooze in bed, our world comes alive. 

For me, I wrap up my daily duties around ten, when my early bird husband goes to sleep. 

Then I am free to 

deep clean
talk to my daughter in Asia
catch up on email and messages

and prepare for the new day ahead.

I also have to eat another meal, because dinner at 7 p.m. isn't enough to get me through nine more hours. Which works out fine because my first meal of the day is around noon. Even if I force myself to get up early, my body is not ready to eat. 

So when I get into bed tonight around 3:30 or 4 a.m., I will close my eyes with the sweet satisfaction that although the rest of the world will soon be up and busy while I am fast asleep, I already accomplished my morning's work before I went to bed. 

Have a great Monday morning, world. I'll see you later on. 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Glory Day

My fourth-born burst into the house at noon after an early morning shift at work, and that was my first sign that something special was about to happen.

Most days she droops in, ready to eat a quick bite and crawl back into bed. 

But today she was hyped. 

"Hey, there's some really cool clouds down by the water. Wanna go to the beach and check them out?"

We live just up the cliff from Puget Sound, so maritime clouds are our daily business. But my daughter has a keen eye for interesting and unusual scientific phenomenon so if she wanted to go, I was down. 

"Birds!! Shoot 'em, Mom!"

A half hour later, we were marching Gracie around on the rocks of a low tide. A wispy layer of fog lay on the water, obscuring our vision from the optical effect my daughter was hoping to find.

After our brave hunting girl got plenty of time to stalk the seagulls and pigeons, and wade into the cold water, my daughter offered a Plan B.

"Maybe if we took a ferry ride, we'd get a better perspective."

At high tide, this heap of rocks is deep underwater; at low tide, it's a throne for seagulls. 

"A ferry ride? Yes, please!"

So off we headed to the ferry dock, just a few hundred feet away, Gracie on her long lead running circles around us to chase after the birds on the ground, my daughter beating a path to the walk-on ticket window.

Grey water merges seamlessly with purple fog. 

Lucky for us, we stepped onto the deck of a waiting ferry, and the boat immediately left the dock. We rushed to the side of the lower car deck and looked out to find...


Fog, fog, and more fog.


Fog, in fact, for dayz. 

"Ok, this has been fun. But isn't it time for a treat?"

"It's a little chilly out here for a girl with a wet coat."

Gracie was not horribly impressed. Drooling delicately, probably from drinking too much salt water, she sat patiently as we watched hopefully for glimpses of the sky from our seats behind the wind screen.

But to no avail. 

Kingston Landing

After our fifteen minute crossing, we landed on the other side and saw that the fog was showing signs of lifting. "Maybe we will have better luck on the trip back," my daughter said hopefully. 

I was still not sure what we were looking for. 

But as it turned out, she was right. 

On our first crossing of Puget Sound, the fog had been too thick for the fog bow to appear. 
But on the way back, conditions were perfect. 

What we saw as we stood on the outdoor passenger deck with the sun at our backs looked like a white rainbow, arching across the water just beyond the ferry.

"It's a fog bow," my daughter explained. "Like a rainbow only the colors are much weaker because the water droplets of the fog are much smaller than the drops of rain that create a normal rainbow. 

Very cool. 

We could see the entire half-circle within a good stone's throw of our deck. We could even make out what must have been a reflection of the fog bow on the water which gave the impression that we could see the white arch reaching down beneath the grey waves. 

Very, very cool.

When viewed in real life, each person can only see their own glory. 
This one belongs to my daughter. 

"Now," my daughter told me, "look at your shadow. What do you see?"

Looking out at my shadow projected high and tall across the water that still lay mostly hidden in the dissipating fog, I noticed a white circle glowing around my head.

A halo.

And as I stared at myself in the flickering mists, I noticed something more. 

When the density of the fog was just right, the white circle around my head burst into colors from red on the outside edge to blue inside. 

A rainbow halo. 

This effect is called a glory and it is, in a word, amazing. 

Gracie, at this point, was not impressed. Still very patient, but not impressed. 

Deep in our own thoughts, my daughter and I stood and stared at our glories until the loudspeaker announced our arrival back home. Our feet touched the ground as we walked with Gracie back downstairs to the car deck. 

But our heads were still in those beautiful clouds. 

 Homeward bound on the Kittitas, looking back at the marvelous mists. 

* * * * *

All photos courtesy of my science-loving fourth-born daughter.. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

My Dining Room Table

"A perfect dinner for me is being with people I really want to be with. It starts and 
stops with ... my family." -Catherine Bach

Pop into my dining room on any given day, and you will likely see a few photos at the far end of the table. 

These are our people.

Our parents and grandparents, those who came before us and are now gone head of us, those who gave us life.

It's become a fun tradition for me to dig out a few photos of those special people and place them on the table during the months of their birthdays or wedding anniversaries, 

It's the next best thing to having them with us in person. 

This year, you'll also find a handful of flowers  - the birth flowers for the month. 

And always candles. Because I like to burn things. 

The large photo is my father-in-law, Charles Leroy Streicher, during his teenage years. Might be his senior picture, if that was a thing during the Depression. 

He was born January 4, 1916, son of a dairy farmer in northern Ohio. 

At a high school state track meet, he and his teammates ran a four-man relay with a record time that stood for decades at Elyria High School. That accomplishment was a matter of great pride to my soft-spoken father-in-law and I heard the story many times. When the record finally fell, the local paper printed a great story about the old-timers and my mother-in-law clipped the article and proudly shared it with us around their dinner table. 

A few years after high school, Chuck was out hunting with one of his buddies from the relay team, Bob Vanek, and accidentally shot him. Bob completely recovered from his wounds but my father-in-law never hunted again. 

* * * * *

The small Polaroid captures a family breakfast from my childhood with a rare image of my father at the far left. 

He was born January 2, 1926, son of a locomotive engineer who worked in the freight yards at the River Rouge plant in Detroit.. 

My parents bought my childhood home before I was born, when it was literally nothing more than a one-room fishing shack. Over the years, often with the sweat of their own brows, they turned it into a home. 

Though my mother preferred more traditional furniture and fixtures, my dad was a mid-century modern guy all the way. At his insistence, our home featured:

a soaring A-line roof, 
a turquoise front door, 
gleaming hardwood floors, 
clean-lined Danish furniture, 
and several on-trend hanging lamps. 

In this shot of our dining area -  a table complete with steel hairpin legs and orange Eames chairs - the fixture over the table looked to us kids like a flying saucer on an adjustable cord that could be pulled up or down, if you had the right touch. 

As much as my dad let me down in countless other ways, I always enjoyed his sense of style. 

I wish I could go back and spend more time with our people. I miss sharing meals with them.

But I am happy for their stories that I carry with me every day of my life.

And I'm happy to put their faces on my dining room table. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

My Sweet Ranger


Last Friday was January 18. 

I remember this date because I was walking my dog, Gracie, in the twilight when a man approached us on the sidewalk.

Gracie heeled politely onto the strip of greenery along the walk, allowing the man plenty of space to pass, but he stopped to say hello to my red-headed girl. 

After praising and petting her, the stranger asked me, "But didn't you used to have a different dog?"


What a discerning eye my new friend must have, to distinguish one lanky and energetic red dog from the next. 

And what a long memory.

"Yes, that was Ranger. We lost him almost two years ago."

It wasn't until I got home and sat on my porch swing, watching Gracie inhale her dinner, that I realized the date. 

January 18 

Ranger died on January 19, 2017.
So this day was exactly two years since the last full day of his amazing life.

And I'm so glad I met a stranger on the street who reminded me that I am not the only one who still remembers and misses my sweet Ranger.


Saturday Night Sauté

You know, I'm not usually one for prepackaged meals or fancy bagged food kits. 

Ninety nine times out of one hundred, I'd rather buy simple, fresh ingredients and cook them up at home, seasoned mostly with onions and garlic, olive oil and pepper.

But then again, I have cooked up and served about a billion dinners in my lifetime, and I am always looking for something new and different to try. 

Enter this new product from Trader Joe's. 

While wandering around the internet last week, I came across a complimentary review of these veggie-based sauté kits, and asked my husband to grab one on his next Saturday morning trip to TJs. 

I do all the regular grocery shopping, but my husband loves his monthly trip to Trader Joe's. 

So that evening, along with a gorgeous fillet of lemon and dill baked salmon, I whipped up the Brussels Sprouts Sauté Kit.

What I found inside the main bag was a lot of loose Brussels sprout leaves and a few slices of the actual heads with the leaves still connected, if that makes sense. There were also smaller packets of hazel nuts for roasting, lemon vinagrette for dressing, and lovely Parmesan flakes for melting. The ingredients were fresh and generously portioned; the directions were simple and clear. 

The salmon baked for ten minutes, and the veggies were even faster. Honestly, the most time-consuming step for the entire meal was ripping off a properly sized piece of parchment paper to fit the baking dish for the fish. 

A bowl of fresh red raspberries rounded out the quick, easy, and visually appealing meal. 

The verdict was unanimous. My husband, my fourth-born daughter and I agree that the Trader Joe's Brussels Sprouts Sauté Kit was every delicious thing it was touted to be, and I have no snobbish regrets about using a kit.

In fact, I've authorized my husband to make an unscheduled visit to TJ's this Saturday to pick up the green bean version.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Origami Gifts

My fourth-born daughter has mad origami skills. 

Ever since she was a toddler hanging out at her older sisters' Girl Scout meetings, she has had an uncanny knack for seeing in her mind's eye how to bend the two-dimensional paper into intricate 3_D shapes. Her fingers are insanely skilled at folding with intense precision and managing the tiniest twists and tucks. And her memory retains countless patterns which she can fold up at a moment's notice. 

And while she often treats us to origami gifts - a set of puppy dog valentines when she was eight, several years's worth of help with my Ornament of the Year, and a set of boxes to fit over my twinkle lights - she also shares her gifts with the world. After the 2011 tsunami in Japan, she folded 200 tiny cranes in an afternoon and sent them off for a fundraising project. 

But most of the time, the process is more important than the product. Ever since high school, at church, my daughter quietly rips her worship folder into bitty squares and folds elephants, cranes, boxes, what have you, as she listens to the worship. Afterwards, she hands her creations to children or leaves them silently standing on a table for someone else to come and discover. 

Origami is a special part of my daughter's life. 

Origami meant something special to my grandmother too.

I remember with fascination an origami book that I found in her basement when I was probably five or six.. Complete with a set of exotic origami papers, this book became an obsession for me and I desperately wanted to figure out how to make the projects in the book.

I remember trying and trying to interpret the directions and make the right folds but failing very time.

I remember carrying the open book up the stairs with my failed attempts carefully balanced on the pages, and asking the grown-ups for help.

Although I don't recall her exact words, I remember my grandmother giving me the direct impression that this origami business was far too difficult for anyone to understand, let alone a child, and I should take the book back downstairs, put it away, and forget about origami altogether.

And I remember feeling a bit sad for my grandma. She obviously cared enough about learning origami to buy the book, which would have been considered a luxury. And as I considered her a capable grown up, I certainly expected she was clever enough to figure it out. But for whatever reason, she had given up. And that seemed incomprehensible to my childhood self.

So as I watch my daughter sit and quietly fold the complex, masterful shapes like the ones she has conquered this week, I think about my grandmother.

And I imagine how impressed Grandma would be to see my daughter effortlessly folding up a storm of precise and perfect origami shapes, far more intricate and challenging that the ones in her old origami book. I think she would be very proud to see her frustrated dreams come true in her great granddaughter's gift for origami.  

And that is something very special to me. 

* * * * * 

If you'd like to see more of my daughter's origami magic, check these out:

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

2017 Ornament Of The Year

For this year's version of my annual Christmas ornament gift, I will gather sticks and paint them shiny colors. 

Said no sane person ever. 

Yer that is exactly what I did for my 2017 Ornament of the Year and guess what. 

No regrets. 

To be fair, there were a few refinements to the process.

I chose only locally sourced natural driftwood, combed from the finest beach in the Pacific Northwest.

That would be Kalaloch. 

Holes were custom drilled and wire hanging loops artisinally crafted from, um, wire. 

And each piece was painstakingly painted in metallic paint and sprinkled with a corresponding shade of fine metallic glitter. 

I'm still finding drifts of that glitter on my garage work table. That stuff plays for keeps. 

But yeah. Paint on a stick. 

I won't pretend it's any fancier than that.

But that's the tremendous thing about my Ornaments of the Year. They don't have to be fancy.

All I ask is that they be unique, handmade, and given in love. And in those respects, this year's ornament is definitely a winner.

* * * * *

For more Ornament of the Year posts, check these out: