Saturday, February 23, 2019

Stories Of My People 

A family of German violinists and pianists farm for a living but live for their music. 

Red-headed and freckle-faced Irishmen bury their noses in poetry books and live with their heads in the clouds.

English folk cherish their simple ways and countryside life.

French Canadian prim and proper Catholics enjoy never-ending broods of children and an affinity for genteel ways.

These are the stories I’ve been told about my ancestors. Probably my imagination has embellished the bare facts but over the years quite an colorful portrait of my family has taken shape in my mind, and I’ve wondered exactly how many of these stories of my people are true.

Today, I learned that the answer is probably quite a few. I got the results of my 23 and Me genetic testing and the findings are spot on


38% German, strongly affiliated with the region of Bavaria.

37% United Kingdom and Irish, with UK genotypes sprinkles around d England and Scotland, and a dollop of the Irish Counties Limerick and Cork

17% general northwest Europe, which probably reflects the French and Welsh bloodlines that wandered through Canada for several generations.

And here comes a lovely surprise:

2% Swedish. Which explains my passion for snow, forests, and flat box furniture.


So now I know that the stories of my people are told in the strains of blood that course through my veins. And while I don’t think that any ancestral heritage or cultural background is better than any other, I am fiercely proud that these stories are mine.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Patience Is A Virtue

I spent the weekend emptying every single stick of furniture and scrap of belongings from my entire first floor. 

Why, you may ask. 

Why indeed. 

I’m not moving, if that’s what you’re thinking. 

Quite the opposite 

I’m making a dream come true. 

When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a lovely, rambling old apartment in Evanston, Illinois, the first suburb north of Chicago. Though our home was in need of an update - and, it turns out, was properly renovated and sold as a condo shortly after we moved out - we loved the crown moldings, the airy rooms, the fireplace, the shutters on the windows, and maybe most of all, the endless hardwood floors. 

After two years, when we pulled up our tent stakes and moved to Seattle, we were thrilled to discover how much more house we could get for our money out west. When we viewed this house, where we still live to this day, we loved the similar sense of spaciousness and classic style. But woe unto me, where were those hardwood floors?

To be fair, the hallways and the kitchen areas of our house were hardwood from the get go. But sadly, the family room, living room, library, and dining room were all done up in builder beige carpets. 

“Oh, that’s no problem,” perked my real estate agent. “You can always put in hardwoods.”

And since that moment in May, 1986, I’ve dreamed of doing exactly that. 

And today, thirty-two-and-a-half years later, my dream is finally coming true.  

* * * * *

Follow every step of my floor restoration and home reinvention journey:

Friday, February 15, 2019

2019 Valentines

Happy Valentine's Day.

It's my annual rant that Valentine's Day does not belong solely to lovers.

February 14 is a day to celebrate love in all its many shapes and flavors, and there is a lot more to love than romance. 

So here I offer to you, interspersed with photos of the watercolor Valentines I made this year, a series of love songs that open our minds to the many forms of love. 

Better known as the theme song to a sweet 60s sitcom called The Courtship of Eddie's Father, this song is about the love between a father and son. 

People, let me tell you bout my best friend
He's a warm hearted person who'll love me till the end
People, let me tell you bout my best friend
He's my one boy, cuddly toy, my up, my down, my pride and joy

It's a seventies song about a dude taking a road trip with his dog and a friend. The dog doesn't get a lot of play in the lyrics but in my mind's eye, I see a good ol' hound dog hanging his head out an open window during every note. 

Me and you and a dog named Boo
Traveling and a'living off the land
Me and you and a dog named Boo
How I love being a free man. 

Yep. A tender and moving ode to mothers from the sassy Spice Girls.

Back then, I didn't know why
Why you were misunderstood
So now I see through your eyes
All that you did was love. 

My Best Friend by Weezer

Straight from the heart, this short and simple song says, hey, best friend, I love you.
And that is a sentiment worth celebrating not just on Valentine's Day but every day of the year.

You're my best friend
And I love you
And I love you
Yes I do.

* * * * * 

More sweet whisperings of Valentine love:

Gracie Plays In The Snow

I still cannot believe my good luck.

The snowmageddon that blanketed Seattle for most of the ten days I was in Seoul held out, and
I arrived home to be greeted by a true winter wonderland. Everything was covered in a deep blanket of snow, and flakes were falling heavy as we pulled into the garage. 

^ Gracie, who of course had come to pick me up, immediately leaped from the car and ran willy nilly around the driveway, running her nose deep into the snow, licking up delicious tastes, and generally living her best life.

^ We soon set out on our walk together, with Gracie bounding through the drifts much faster than I could trudge along in my boots. Thankfully, she was patient with me. 

^ I was so busy managing my wild dog and her long, frozen leash that I had little time to look around and enjoy the scenery. But when I did, it was breathtaking. I was living my best life too. 

^ Though Gracie's senses are always heightened on her walks, the snow brought out even more curiosity and keen observation skills. Every flicker of a bird's wing, every gusting breeze, every call from the kids playing outdoors pinged her radar. I love watching my dog so alert and attentive to the world around her. 

^ Over the years, I've enjoyed many a snowstorm with a loyal Irish Setter, but this is the first time I've played in the snow with Gracie. More so than my other dogs, she has quite a fascination with licking the snow, and had her head well buried in this mound of snowy bushes until I called to her.

^ And very much like my other setters, Gracie ends each snowy outing with giant snowballs clumped in her furry paws. It's hard to make out what's what in this photo, but the snowball engulfing each paw was easily five inches in diameter. I used my mom's old trick of dipping each red foot into a pan of warm water to melt off the snow, rather than allow the gargantuan snow balls to melt all over the house. 

^ While I enjoy every moment of our wintry adventures, I also admit that I love the long, peaceful naps that my girl takes after a romp in the white stuff. Every minute of the day is special when Gracie plays in the snow. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Flying Away

Just after noon, I open the door to my daughter's Seoul apartment. Pushing my bags out into the hall, I turn back for one last look. She'll be moving from this place in a few weeks, and I'll never see it again.

With the door clicking shut behind me, with a particular automated click that always sounds like Korea to me, I begin the task of wrestling my bags down the hill to the taxi stand.

I travel light. Just a carry-on size roller bag and a backpack. But I am also bringing back a huge hard-sided suitcase on wheels and a medium sized duffel, each stuffed to the brim with belongings that my daughter is sending home with me.

All of these bags generate considerable gravity and I muster up all my wits to keep them under control. One errant move and I can see in my mind's eye a bag careening down the steep street, crashing into a parked car and exploding open, sending my daughter's beloved possessions into the air.

I'm being real careful.

I find a taxi waiting at the curb, just as I hoped I would. The driver is a polite older man who looks at my bags and silently groans. He begins the process of stuffing them here and there into the cab, but this proves to be no easy process. I take mercy on him and help rearrange them so that all the doors and the trunk can actually close.

After studying the maps and instructions in Korean that my daughter and her boyfriend prepared for me, my driver's light bulb goes on, and he says to me, "You go airport?"


Well, technically, he is taking me just a few miles to the COEX City Terrminal, which is kind of a remote airport check-in location. At the Air Canada counter, I present my passport and explain that even though I bought a ticket through to Seattle, I'm going to fly only into Vancouver. Rather than wait through a double digit layover in Canada, just a few hours from home, my husband is coming to get me in Vancouver.

My able agent gets this all sorted out, hands me my boarding pass, and takes the two heaviest bags off my hands. Whew.

Now I'm off to the upper level of the terminal to buy a ticket for the limousine bus to the real airport in Incheon. I see a row of four kiosks where I can make the purchase, but despite my best efforts to unlock one in English, they all speak to me only in Korean.

So I seek out help at the information desk and a young woman comes to my rescue. To my great surprise, there is a seat available on the bus that leaves in fifteen minutes and in the blink of an eye, I find myself seated front and center, heading for the open road.

Incheon Bridge connects the mainland to Yeongjongdo Island, home of the airport. 

We crawl through city traffic, winding along with the Hoh River, and eventually pick up speed as we leave Seoul behind. One very comfortable hour later, we cross a sliver of the Yellow Sea to the man made island where Incheon International Airport sits. 

Once inside Terminal 1, my brain needs a few moments to comprehend that because I'm already checked in, I can proceed directly to security and passport control. The South Korean bureaucracy functions efficiently, and in a very few blinks of an eye, I'm seated at my gate. 

Gate 22.

Well. I've got hours to go before boarding, so I entertain myself by alerting my family to my progress, eating a sandwich, viewing an ancient episode of Star Trek, and watching two adorable Indian-Canadian girls romp up and down the mostly empty rows of seats. 

Just below this window stood a mob of cranky and impatient people. 

 As the seats slow fill up with my fellow travelers, I remind myself that my time in South Korea is quickly coming to an end. I stare out the windows at the mountains in the distance and the clear blue sky, I try to capture and calibrate exactly what it feels like to be here.

It feels good.

And then finally, as the long line of antsy travelers slowly snakes into the plane, I find myself walking down the jetway in the exact moments that the sun fades into the horizon and disappears.

How perfect.


Then I board the plane, sit down in my seat, and fly away.

* * * * *

A full accounting of my trip to Seoul:

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Seoul Food

One last day of delicious eating in Seoul.

A Western breakfast of Eggs Benedict on smoked salmon at Oasis Cafe. Elegant, understated undeniably influenced by American tastes but unmistakably Korean as well.

One more round of Korean barbecue for dinner. This time beef rather than pork, but all you can eat. And oh, boy, did I eat. Side dishes of milky corn and grilled rice cakes rounded out the feast. For dessert, we trekked up the block to Shake Shack and ordered a trio of black and white shakes. Eighteen hours later, I’m still full.

My stomach wants to stay in Seoul forever.

* * * * *

A full accounting of my trip to Seoul:

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Gracie’s Snowmageddon

This week, while I’ve been in Seoul, back at home Seattle has been dealing with a full-on snowmageddon.

Flakes have been falling for days now, and at home we have an accumulation of anywhere from four to eight inches, depending on where you step.

And Gracie, apparently, has been stepping in the deepest drifts. After one of their recent walks, my fourth-born sent me these photos of her snowball-coated paws.

Looks like Gracie is thoroughly enjoying the snowmageddon.

* * * * *

A full accounting of my trip to Seoul:

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Cheonggyecheon Stream At Night

The first time I visited Seoul, I fell in love with the Cheonggyecheon Stream. Tumbling through the city center, this sweet sliver of water was once the place where washerwomen carried the royal laundry from the palace and scrubbed linens in the sunshine while their children splashed and played nearby. Over the centuries, as a busy city grew up around it, the little stream suffered, struggled .and died. By the twentieth century, it was boarded over and lay forgotten beneath the city streets.

I’m lucky. I’ve been able to travel around my country and around the world more than I ever dreamed I would. This has been a special gift and I appreciate every minute of my trips, including this current visit to Seoul, South Korea.

Around the turn of the millennium, the Cheonggyecheon was rediscovered and restored. It now runs freely from its source, first through the concrete surround of a waterside park, and eventually coursing along a strip of relatively untamed nature, right through the heart of Seoul.

I’m especially fortunate that I travel not as a tourist. I know the people who live in the countries I visit. I eat at their tables, I sleep under their roofs, and I see them live their day-to-day lives. We talk about what matters - our hopes and dreams, our pain and fears.

And along the way, I have gathered up a clear picture of all these different people, living their different lives all across the globe. I see what unites us.

I love the Cheonggyecheon.


We all just want to be loved.

It’s that simple and that profound. We want to be supported and encouraged and valued for who we are. As we face the challenges that this world throws at all of us, we want people to have our backs. We want to be known and understood. We want the people in our lives to choose us again and again. We want to feel not alone. We like material comforts too, for sure, but what we ache for most is the comfort of someone’s arms, someone’s smile, someone’s kindness, someone’s respect.

What we all want is love.

And when my daughter, her boyfriend, and I stopped in for some shopping at the nearby bookstore, even though it was after dark and we were on our way to dinner, I asked if we could please stop by the stream for a quick visit.

They said yes. And I’m glad that they did. 

So today and every day, I challenge myself to say yes to love. Maybe you would like to challenge yourself too.

And I think we will all be glad that we did.

* * * * *

A full accounting of my trip to Seoul:

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Cheongdam Square In Gangnam

Cheongdam is the name of an area in the district of Gangnam in the city of Seoul.

It is also the name of a tall building that catches my fancy every day as I stroll past.

Here’s just a little hint of what it feels like to walk by Cheongdam Square in Gangnam.

* * * * *

A full accounting of my trip to Seoul:


Yesterday for lunch, my daughter and I ate in. We whipped up a meal of creamy pumpkin soup, crispy garlic bread, fresh dark cherries, and a few more of those crazy delicious fried dumplings. An interesting blend of Korean and American flavors, the plates of food crowded the top of my daughter’s tiny table and we ate every bite.

For dinner, we went out to a nearby burger place called Downtowner. American style burgers have an avid following in Seoul and this place put forth a solid contender. Both the basic cheeseburger and the standard fries were up to U.S. standards, juicy and delicious, with an unidentifiable spiciness that we found appealing. The restaurant was trendy, popular, and packed to the rafters at 8 pm on a weeknight.

These back-to-back meals, both delicious and satisfying in completely different ways, shed light on the range of dining experiences I’m enjoying here in South Korea and give new meaning to the phrase In-N-Out.

* * * * *

A full accounting of my trip to Seoul:

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Our Bakery

This morning we went out for coffee and pastries at Our Bakery.

Not our bakery

Our Bakery.

Get it? Koreans can be quite playful with the English language and this is a prime example.

Certainly, it’s a nice bakery. My daughter chose a croissant filled with a light chocolate custard and topped with sweet rice powder. I opted for a classic croissant and an adorable little jar of fig jam.



After we ate, my daughter studied while I messaged with friends and FaceTimed with my second-born, all back in the U.S. How effortlessly we stay connected, how different the world is when we communicate literally at the touch of a finger.

As much as we all know this magic of instant connection to be real and honestly not all that new anymore, it’s another thing altogether to actually sit at your breakfast table on the other side of the planet and make it all come true. Still astonishing to me.

So in truth, this bakery - Our Bakery- does not just belong to the people sitting at the tables inside. Our Bakery belongs to the whole wide world.

* * * * *

A full accounting of my trip to Seoul:

Happy Lunar New Year From Seoul

Happy Lunar New Year!

Here in South Korea, the custom is to spend a quiet day with family, so my daughter and I followed suit. Her everyday table bouquet stood in for our holiday decoration, and another bowlful of the delicious dumplings we’ve been enjoying served as our holiday feast. After dinner, we walked to     7-11 for a carton of ice cream and that was festive too.

Just to be here in Seoul is a holiday in itself. But our simple Lunar New Year celebration is something I’ll always remember and what could be better than that?

* * * * *

A full accounting of my trip to Seoul:

Monday, February 4, 2019

Sipping And Shopping In Sinsa

A quiet afternoon of coffee shop sitting and low-key shopping on the day before the Lunar New Year in Seoul. .


^ David and Molly, Molly and David. 
Cross-country cousins who made each other laugh. 

Here’s to my good nephew, David, who entertained us all for two decades with his wit, charm, and winning ways. We miss him daily but continue to give thanks for every day of his sweet life.

And if you have lost a young person in your life, let me say that even though each loss is unique, I know a little bit about what that pain is like. Just remember that you are never, ever alone.

Sunday In Seoul

^ Sunday started out with a solo breakfast trip to Starbucks. I’m not in the habit of taking all my international meals at an American chain but since my daughter needed an hour for quiet study, I went to the one coffee shop that I could find on my own. She joined me later, and I ate this sandwich as my second breakfast. 

^ This neighborhood is easy on the eyes. Located south of the river in a posh part of town, there’s an interesting mix of soaring skyscrapers and cozy cottages to take in. This one, with its wood slats, brass accent, and vibrant red door, is one of my favorites. 

^ For dinner, more Korean barbeque, every bit as good as the night before. This time, my daughter’s boyfriend joined us so we went to an all-you-can-eat place.  Let’s just say I got my money’s worth. 

^ After dinner, we browsed around the shopping area of Hongdae, testing lotions, looking at BTS’s line of stuffed animals, and inspecting the household gadgets at one of my favorites, a store called Butter. This is the ladies’ room at Butter, which I find insanely aesthetic and a joy to behold. Since seeing this sight in my first visit to South Korea in October 2017, this bathroom has even shown up in my dreams. It’s nice to see it again on a Sunday in Seoul. 

* * * * *

A full accounting of my trip to Seoul: