Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Keepers

Decluttering can be seen as a necessary evil, a tedious chore, or even a punishment for overindulgent living.

I get that.

And if you've ever watched actual people declutter, such as shown with disheartening realism in every episode on the Marie Kondo series on Netflix, they do not make it look fun.

I, on the other hand, love decluttering.

And not just for the end result. Yes, it's fabulous to have open space where there was none, to be free of a mountain of things that you don't really want.

But I also genuinely love the process. Because buried in among the ho-hum flotsam and jetsam of your mostly unlovely possessions, there will be gems.

Gems, I tell you.

Wonderful surprises,
things you forgot about,
treasures that will bring tears to your eyes as you sit back on your heels and bask in the memories.

This lovely experience of stumbling upon buried treasures happens to me often when I declutter, and in the past week, I struck solid gold.

I was working my way through a series of boxes stashed full of old letters and greeting cards. Sorting through one by one, I took the time to carefully read each message, treasure each sender to my heart, and then pop that pup into the great recycling bin of life.

With the exception of anything sent by my mom, my mother-in-law, or my grandmother. All of their correspondence goes in a special keep pile.

As I sat, dutifully reading, treasuring, and popping, I came across two cards that made my heart positively sing.

* * * * *


About twenty years ago, I met a woman named Silvia Stone and our lives began to criss-cross in a tangle of interesting ways:

I watched her children as she got her new veterinary practice up and running. 
Her oldest daughter and my third-born had rollicking play dates together.
I welcomed that same oldest daughter into our Girl Scout troop. 
Our families became lovely friends.

And Silvia became our new vet, and began looking after our good dog, Casey.

Sad to say, Casey was near the end of his life when Silvia came on board, and she was the one to join us on the day he died. Sitting on our family room floor with us, she brought us peace as we said goodbye to our beloved boy.

A day or two later, we got this card in the mail:


Dear Diane, Gary, Molly, Emma, Janey and Tessa,

You have lost a very special friend, a special part of your family that you loved very much, that you'll miss every day.

Thinking of you and hoping that time will ease you sadness...and memories will warm your heart warmly. 

Dr. Silvia and Amanda

There really are no words to say how much Silvia's words helped me to grieve and also to heal. Her compassion and thoughtfulness meant everything to me on that sad day, and fill my eyes to this very day with tears of loss, yes, but also of comfort and love.

Not long after, Silvia and her family moved to Southern California, where they still live. In the beginning, we exchanged Christmas cards and made some effort to keep in touch. But over the years, we drifted apart, as often happens when life takes people in different directions. 

Silvia's sweet card is the gift of a lifetime and I will treasure it - as well as her gentle, loving presence when we needed her most - for the rest of my days.

* * * * *


It was maybe 1992 when Shannon moved into the house across the street from me. 

I was a confident and comfortable mommy of three, settled into my thirties, and on top of my game. Shannon, bless her, was ten years younger than me with a toddler son who looked like an angel but challenged her daily with his physical exuberance and defiant temperament.

And it didn't help matters that Shannon's devoted husband fished on the Bering Sea, and was gone for months at a time. True, she has wonderfully supportive parents and a sister whose husband also fished. But I noticed, during our play groups and neighborhood chit chats, that Shannon looked up to me. 

We grew close.

When I was expecting my fourth-born, Shannon offered to lend me some maternity clothes. "No, you keep them." I protested, knowing that she was desperately hoping for a second baby. 

"Alright, but at least take the black bodysuit. You'll love it." 

She was right. This one-piece wonder of perfect soft support was what every pregnant woman dreams of wearing, and I literally put it on every single day of my third trimester. And what a happy day it was, not long after my fourth was safely delivered, when Shannon called me to joyously announce that she would need the bodysuit back. I bought her a brand new one to celebrate her second pregnancy.

Apparently, I also bought her some Garden Botanika baby products for a shower gift and, in return, Shannon sent me this lovely note:


Diane, thank you for all of the Garden Botanika bath goodies. I know I will put them to good use! I really love having you for a neighbor more than you know. Thanks for being there whenever I need you.

Love, Shannon

Her second baby boy was born - another blonde-haired, blue-eyed perpetual motion machine - and a few more years quickly slipped by. 

Small changes fluttered into neighborhood life; it took me a while to notice that Shannon had stopped coming around the neighborhood as she used to. Her boys, now maybe six and three, played outside alone, and we other moms looked after them, giving Shannon what we thought was some much-needed alone time. 

Slowly, Shannon stopped calling me, and when we would bump into each other, her side of the conversation seemed awkward and forced. 

Eventually, I realized the problem. Shannon was drinking way too much. 

And soon her world came crashing down on her. 

Her patient and loving husband divorced her, got custody of the boys, and moved a few miles away to live near his parents who cared for the boys while he fished.

Shannon moved to an apartment, and worked on her sobriety, trying and failing, trying and failing. 

Eventually, she got sober and stayed sober. Her now ex-husband cautiously began to invite her over to visit with the boys; they carefully, cautiously began to spend time together. 

And it was on a Sunday evening after a day spent with her boys that Shannon was driving home on the interstate. Another driver cut her off, causing her to lose control of her car and hit a construction vehicle parked in a work zone on the side of the expressway.

She died instantly. 

This card from Shannon is a beautiful reminder of our sweet friendship, and of the precious and fragile days when she was happy. Her words touch my heart, and I will treasure them forever.

* * * * *


 If decluttering is a treasure hunt - and I sincerely believe it is - then these two cards are the precious jewels that can be found, if only I am willing to look.

* * * * *

Read more about my journey to mindful consumption:

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Rice Bowl Sauces: Hoisin Ginger

Why make just one flavor of rice bowl sauce when you stumble upon a recipe for five
Once I surveyed this quintet of delicious options, I set upon a plan to try them all.


Another perfect sunny summer evening in my backyard, another delicious rice bowl dinner.

This week, I served up brown rice, roasted radishes and lightly wilted arugula, and a tidy bit of roasted salmon, topped with hoisin ginger sauce. 

Hoisin sauce, if you didn't know, is an Asian condiment. I assumed it came from a single source, like the juice of the hoisin berry or some such thing; I didn't know. But after a bit of poking around online, I learned that hoisin sauce is composed of a number of familiar things like peanut butter, honey, rice vinegar and miso paste. You can make it yourself if you so desire. 

But I had no foreknowledge of this culinary possibility, so I whipped up my dinner using the basic garden-variety hoisin sauce from my local Asian supermarket, and the taste was phenomenal. 

I'd go so far as to say this rice bowl and its superstar sauce was lip-smacking good. And that, my friends, is darn near perfect. 

Ingredients & Directions:

Combine 1/2 cup hoisin sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger, and 2 cloves garlic, then blend till smooth. 

from the Kitchn

* * * * *

I've committed to a month of Rice Bowl Mondays, featuring each of the five sauces in the article. Here you go:

Monday, July 29, 2019

Four Important Truths About Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

To optimize my bedroom for sleeping, I keep the decor simple with a focus on comfort. And yes, that includes a bowl of fresh water in the corner for my favorite redhead. 


Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is not insomnia.

Insomniacs toss and turn through restless nights filled with sporadic and shallow sleep. No matter how hard they try, insomniacs rarely get a good night's sleep.

But for us Delayed Sleep Phasers, it's only when we force ourselves to go to bed before we are sleepy that we struggle to fall asleep. When we can go to bed and get up according to our own inner clocks, we doze off quickly, sleep well, and wake up refreshed.

I often find dried leaves and tiny bits of twig among my white blankets, but this is the price I pay for Gracie's five a.m. breakfast run under my husband's supervision. 


Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is not the same thing as being a "night owl."

True night owls stay up late even when their inner clock tells them they should be going to bed. As a general rule, night owls forfeit sleep for fun and pay the price the next day when they are sleep-starved during their normal work hours.

We Delayed Sleep Phasers use the late night and early morning hours to accomplish meaningful tasks. By making good use of our most creative and productive hours, we get done at night what other people do during the day.

I may spend hours looking at gorgeously styled nightstands online, but mine is strictly edited down to basics. And yes, I do consider a miniature brass owl and a pink potted plant to be essential to a good night slash morning's sleep. 


Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome  cannot be "fixed" or cured.

The internet is full to the brim with tips on how to be an early riser. With time, determination, and a huge amount of sticktoitiveness, Delayed Sleep Phasers can indeed force themselves to operate on a more conventional sleep schedule.

I should know. I've been doing that for all my life.

But here's the truth. We can manipulate our sleep habits but we can never reset our internal sleep clocks. They are biologically determined by our DNA and therefore completely impervious to change.

In addition to our internal sleep clocks, our bodies' various systems function according to their own internal clocks, all linked together and mutually dependent. When we disobey our bodies' sleep demands, we throw the entire networked system out of alignment, and trouble quickly ensues.

Depression,
obesity,
and diabetes

are at the top of the list.

Sleeping at the wrong time will literally make you sick, and Delayed Sleep Phasers who try to "fix" their biological sleep cycles put their health in serious jeopardy.

The art on my bedroom walls came from inside my head, and helps me relax and wind down. 


Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome sleepers face judgment and shame, especially in American culture. 

Early risers are valued as virtuous and good.
Those who sleep in are considered lazy.

There's no arguing with that perceived truth. Other cultures embrace more fluid sleep schedules, especially those in the tropics, but in the United States, we have long equated earliness with goodness and lateness with contempt.

All through my life, I've struggled with this shame. Mostly, I've tried to hide my late sleeping hours by clearing my throat extra carefully before taking those 9 a.m. phone calls, or scrambling to throw on sweats and splash water on my face when the doorbell rings unexpectedly.

The few times that I have tried to explain my sleeping habits to family or friends, raised eyebrows and clucked tongues have quickly shut me down. Very few people have ever understood.

* * * * *

But I'm done with feeling shame and judgment. I'm ready to fight the good fight, people, and I will keep explaining till the world understands what Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome is all about.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Shopping Ban Update: Three Months In

It's been almost three months since I declared a one-year shopping ban for myself. 

Well. I'm not so impractical and idealistic to think I could go 12 months without buying literally anything. After thinking hard about what I need to buy and what I like to buy, I laid out some rules, which you can read here

Now a quarter year into my shopping ban, here's an update. As you'll see, I've been living within my rules except for one crazy indulgence. But once you see that indulgence, I'm sure you'll understand. 


^ Three wire baskets 

Last May, as I went about my spring patio styling project, I happily rearranged and refilled my collection of pots and planters, fluffing up the older plants and buying a few new replacement plants as needed. But this counter space kept crying for a little something new. New pink annuals in the hanging cedar boxes, and a repurposed wire tray on the wall made a dent, but I still craved some new planters for the counter top. So I followed my rules and made a quick trip to the thrift store. Sitting together on a shelf, as if they were waiting for me, I found three wire containers - one of which I never got around to planting but I kind of like its weird emptiness - and now I'm 100% in love. 

$9


^ A butcher block top.

Somewhere around thirteen years ago, I bought an inexpensive IKEA cart for my kitchen. Seemed like a good way to put the empty square footage in the middle of the room to good use, though as we assembled it, my husband jokingly wondered out loud how long it would last. He made a good point; I tend to quickly grow tired of small things cluttering up my floor space. But the little cart ended up a hero. We use it for buttering toast, pouring juice, chopping vegetables, and who know what all else. In fact, my only complaint has been that the original cheap butcher block top sat a few inches lower than a proper counter, and my back would ache when I worked here too long. 

And then the ideal solution hit me: buy a new slightly thicker butcher block to mount on the existing cart. A quick Google search hooked me up with the perfect vendor, and I fell in love with a gorgeous hunk of walnut. The high price tag took some getting used to, but I decided - and my husband agreed - that it was still a modest indulgence. I decided to go for it, and set aside some money.

That was three years ago. One thing led to another, and I prioritized other remodeling projects ahead of my butcher block top. But finally, in May, the time was right. And now all of my walnut butcher block dreams have come true. 

$371


^ A ceramic planter.

In June, Gracie accidentally knocked one of my plants off the living room coffee table. The planter crashed on the floor and broke into smithereens. Totally not her fault. But my thriving pilea peperomioides plant needed a new home stat. So off I went to Swansons Nursery and found this minimalist gem. I love a happy ending. 

$30


^ A plant. 

On the very same trip to Swansons, I came across a darling peperomia angulata. In a flash, knew he was the perfect match for a copper vessel I've had on hand. In a former life, this was a candle, but it's since been begging for a plant of its own. So I bought the little green guy, brought him home, introduced the two of them, and the angels sang all around. 

$9


^ A blank canvas.

The bookcase in my family room is currently a work in process. Though I am always open to changing my mind, I'm fairly well set on using the top shelf to showcase a piece of art. I'm slowly brainstorming my way into that creative process, but the first step was to determine the best size and orientation for the piece. So I hopped off to Michael's for a blank canvas, unwrapped it, and started styling it this way and that, in all its unpainted glory. Now that I'm pleased with the position, I'm just about ready to get my DIY on and take a brush to the darn thing. 

$21


^ Wind chimes.

Two years ago, during one of our long and leisurely trips to Sky Nursery, my fourth-born led me to a display of capiz shell wind chimes and said, "Mom, these are so you." She was right - over the years, I've had several sets of these delicate shell creations and I adore them. Shoot, when I went on a high school senior trip to the Bahamas, I brought back a set of capiz shell wind chimes for my mom - the first souvenir I ever bought. They hung in our dogwood tree for years. 

Ever since my daughter spoke those words years ago, I've been thinking about buying them, and one sunny day in June, I finally did. Definitely met that three month waiting period.

$11


^ Flamingo potted plant. 

Last week, my third- and fourth-born and I were rambling around University Village, and stopped into QFC to buy a desperately-needed snack. As we circled the deli section in our search for delicious, my eyes fell upon a shelf full of tiny ceramic flamingos planted with senecio rowleyanus, also known as String of Pearls. Well. The cuteness was too much for me. And even though, prior to seeing this creation, I never knew for one second that I might ever want a ceramic flamingo planted with String of Pearls, I was powerless to resist it.

So, on a reckless, self-indulgent, totally unchecked impulse, I bought the darn thing. 

My one and only, utter and complete shopping ban violation. So far.

And you know what? I have zero regrets. 

$10

* * * * *

Read more about my journey to mindful consumption:

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Beeeeep. Beeeeep. Beeeeep.

You reach out in the darkness to silence the alarm, then rub your eyes and yawn as you slowly wake up. Funny, you feel considerably groggier than normal today. Like you were yanked out of a deep sleep hours ahead of schedule. You pull the covers tighter around you and notice that you feel unusually chilly, deep in your bones. Weird.

As you prepare to roll out and face the day, you glance at the clock. 

Wait. It says 2 a.m.

That can't be right.

So you grab your phone and bring up your calendar. First meeting of the day is scheduled for 3 a.m.

This makes no sense. Your normal wake-up time is 7 a.m. which gets you to work by 8 a.m. 

But something has clearly gone seriously wrong. 

Breakfast at this hour is a joke. Who's hungry in the middle of the night? You force yourself to take a few quick bites of whatever you can find, since even running the toaster seems more trouble than it's worth. You drag yourself through your getting-ready ritual, skipping all but the most essential steps, and manage to show up to work on time.

Bleary-eyed and sleep-starved, you stagger through that 3 a.m. meeting and then try to make some headway on your project. Strangely, everyone you meet is chipper and apparently well-rested. They joke about your lack of energy, give you some tips about how to be a better morning person, and knowingly smile at each other over their coffee cups.

Coffee, by the way, is not helping. Kinda makes that empty stomach feel queasy, not really clearing out the cobwebs. 

Around 8 a.m., your usual lunch mates pop by and ask if you're ready to eat. That sounds good. Your head is finally starting to clear and your appetite is raging. Let's go!

Back at work after lunch, you finally hit your stride. You can still feel the effects of that crazy early wake-up call, but you're in your groove now and the next few hours fly by as your energy finally kicks in. 

By noon, still riding high and feeling productive, you notice that everyone else is packing up and heading for home. How can it be time to go already? Seems like a horrible waste of your focus and drive to leave now, but apparently, that's how it goes. 

Back home, there's dinner to make, laundry to run, family routines to be managed. But as the sun starts to sink low in the sky, and you feel yourself finally starting to relax and enjoy a second wind of creative energy, another alarm beeps. 

This one declares that you have fifteen minutes to prepare for bedtime. At 6 p.m.

Your spouse and kids are rubbing their eyes and yawning big yawns, kissing you goodnight and sleepily toddling off to bed, while you sit in shocked disbelief

Why would anyone want to go to sleep at 6 p.m? The evening has just begun! You're not the least bit sleepy; in fact, you're feeling better than you have all day, ready to take on some fun projects of your own.  If you went to bed now, you'd waste all that momentum and end up lying on your back and staring at the ceiling until your normal bedtime, around eleven.

But nothing is normal anymore, is it?

* * * * *

This is not a screenplay for Black Mirror or an old episode of the Twilight Zone.

This is what it's like to live with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. 

This is how it feels to have a perfectly natural and totally healthy sleep cycle that just happens to work on a five-hour delay, compared to most other people.

This is my life.

^ People often ask me how I can possibly sleep through the bright light of morning. "You must have the best black-out curtains in the world," one commented. The truth is that light doesn't bother me at all; in fact, I almost prefer sleeping in a sunlit room.  

Here's how my bedroom looks during the morning hours while I am fast asleep. 


For all my life, ever since I was ten years old, I've tried 

to fight my normal sleep patterns, 
to deny my biology, 
to fit in with what everyone else defines as normal, 
to sleep when I'm "supposed" to sleep.

But what feels normal for everyone else does not feel normal for me.

Four months ago, after consulting with my sleep doctor, I made a bold decision. I'm not forcing myself into the world's expectations anymore. 

I am sleeping when my body wants to sleep. When it demands that I sleep. Which is on about a five-hour delay from what is considered "normal." Which means, on most days, I sleep from 4 a.m. to noon. 

And now, I feel like a whole new person.

^ Though she happily snores at my side till I wake up and start moving, I don't think Gracie has Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. She's just a loyal dog who loves to sleep. 


As I share my new lifestyle with the people in my life, the vast majority of humans have no idea what I'm talking about. They simply do not understand. 

The only people who truly understand Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome are the people who have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. We talk about these things during the deep hours of the night, when the rest of y'all are fast asleep. Most of the time, we don't even try to explain ourselves to the rest of the world. 

But that's not right.

So I have decided to talk more about Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. 
And I hope you are willilng to listen. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Anthropologie's Art

Today's adventures took me to University Village, an upscale outdoor shopping venue in Seattle. One of my go-to stops on any visit to U Village is at Anthropolgie, though I am quite unlikely to buy something there.

I go to Anthropologie to look at their art installations. 

The creative minds at Anthropologie have an incredible gift for taking ordinary, familiar objects and weaving them into astounding art pieces that highlight their funky fashion and define the fun aesthetic of their brand. 

So while my daughters are behaving like normal shoppers, checking out the gemstone coasters and monogram mugs, you'll find me lurking around these oversize works of art, examining the materials and the DIY magic to figure out just how they were made.

I also like to rate them, and chose a winner. 


^ This was the first installation to catch my eye today. At a distance, and even closer up, it seemed to be composed of dip-dyed plastic straws and silk leis that had been cut open and hung from one end. 


^ Upon closer inspection, I realized that I was looking at not straws exactly, but some sort of solid plastic cylindrical shape with a small hole at either end. Nothing I could place as an object from everyday life, which was a disappointment, but simple and pleasing. 

The white shapes began to look like small clam shells to me, and it wasn't till I reached out and carefully touched one that I could identify it as paper. I saw no signs of folding or gluing them, and suspect they were the work of a 3D printer. 


^ And the darker, more floral-looking shapes at the end of the strings seemed to be cut from paperboard egg cartons. You know, bumpy and a bit heavier than regular paper or standard cardboard, painted dark brown.

I found myself liking the plastic bits and the paper bits but not the plastic and paper bits together. The colors fought each other, for my taste; the more brilliant shade of yellow plastic was too bold for the more subtle clam shells and egg cups. 

Final grade: C


^ In the front window, I found a collection of tightly packed cotton strings hung from the top of the window.  Attached to the strings with a small segment of copper foil were a series of ginkgo leaves. Fake ginkgo leaves, as I soon deduced, ranging in color from brilliant yellow to burnt orange to a deep brick red. Probably also born from a 3D printer.


^The ginkgo leaves formed three large circles on the string lattice - you can see most of one circle in this photo - and the colors faded from yellow to red in a most pleasing ombre vibe. The full effect gave me a sense of quivering anticipation, as if a thousand brilliant butterflies were poised for takeoff. 

My biggest frustration was trying to get a good look at the full effect. When I went outside and looked into the window, the glare of sunshine against the glass made viewing impossible. So I went back in and literally squeezed myself between the inside of the glass and the row of mannequins to try to get myself into a position where I could crane my neck up to take it all in.

Yeah. That was a little awkward.

Final grade: B+


^ Now let's talk about this curlicue of cuteness on the ceiling. When I spied it across the store, I was sure that the suspended shapes were sections of natural bamboo, like the pieces used to make bamboo wind chimes. The bit of white at the top, I surmised, was paint. 


^ But as I moved across the room and stood underneath, I quickly realized I had it all wrong.

The shapes were sections of PVC pipe. Not bamboo.

The white bits at the top, which I guessed were painted, were actually the original state of the pipe.

The lower section had somehow been texturized - honestly, it looked as if someone had glued on bits of straw - and then painted in a natural-looking shade of mid-brown. I liked the idea of texturizing the pipe to present it as a more natural, organic material, but the straw was a bit too big and the finished effect a bit too sloppy for my taste.

And each little section of pipe had been suspended from the ceiling by a length of transparent fishing line, tied to an eye hook in the ceiling.

Deliciously clever and pleasingly organic, I love the way the line of pipes swirls around the ceiling, then spirals into a chandelier effect with longer sections in the center. As I gazed up in wonder at this marvel, my deepest desire was to throw open the huge double doors and let the Seattle summer breezes blow into the room and set the whole thing to swaying in the wind.

Final score: A-

Today's winner!

* * * * *

Thanks, Antropologie, for entertaining me once again for your creative and inspiring decor. I'll be back soon to see what you dreamed up for an encore. 

And who knows. Next time, I might even buy something. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Texas Rangers Vs Seattle Mariners

Mariners outscored the Rangers, 5-3, but on a perfect day at the ballpark, we were all winners. 

Some people think baseball is boring. 

I get that. 

Baseball is not a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute, rough-and-tumble sport like so many of the others. 

It's a game of nuance and patience.

Of secret signals between catcher and pitcher as they plan each pitch.
Of carefully calibrated rhythms and rituals as the batter prepares for each swing.

It's a game of split-second timing

As the batter has only a tiny fraction of a second to decide whether to swing at a pitch.
As the outfielders sprint, leap, dive in perfect harmony with the ball's trajectory.

It's a game of tension and uneasy waiting.

Will this be a home run, a pop fly, or another called strike?
Will the runner on second suddenly explode toward third in an attempt at a stolen base, or just lead off and tag back after the pitch?

And in its best moments, it's a game of surprise and great excitement

Like when Danny Santana tripled today only to be tagged out in a wild run-down play.
Like when Rougie Odor hoisted a three-run homer into the stands and challenged the Mariners' lead. 

So I don't take offense when people say baseball is boring. 

I just lean back in my seat under a blue sky on a perfect summer day, and smile. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Rice Bowl Sauces: Mediterranean Olive

Why make just one flavor of rice bowl sauce when you stumble upon a recipe for five
Once I surveyed this quintet of delicious options, I set upon a plan to try them all.


Mmm, last night, I slipped off to Italy for a rustic evening meal of grilled sausage, fresh flakes of pecorino cheese, and a medley of summery roasted vegetables, blended together with the warm flavors of olives, lemon and parsley.

Just kidding. I ate this in my back yard. 

But everything else is true and I give this week's rice bowl sauce recipe a definite thumb's up.

My family strongly agrees. Each one of them said this rich, earthy sauce was their favorite so far. For sure, we will have this again.


And now for a word about the rice bowls themselves. 

I feel pretty comfortable riffing on the basic components of what should properly be called a grain bowl. 

Choose a grain. I lean hard on brown rice but quinoa, millet, polenta, amaranth, farro, or orzo pasta are all options.

Add a protein. Tofu, beef, fish, lentils, seafood, eggs, cheese, beans, or pork.

Now ramp up the veggies. Mix color, texture, and raw with cooked. Go with what's in season, and what pairs well together. I like my finished bowl to be at least half vegetables, so I cook more than enough and balance proportions at the table. 

Top it off. Snip some herbs, grate a bit of fresh cheese, chop some nuts, slice up a scallion. A sprinkle of something new adds interest and texture to the very first bite.

* * * * *

Now, all this grain bowl freelancing is well and good, but sometimes it's fun to try someone else's concotion. I find that other people's grain bowl recipes will lead me to try new ingredients in new combinations, and I usually learn from the experience.

Happily, each of these sauce recipes I'm trying comes paired with a grain bowl recipe, linked at the end of each section of the original post. For the first two sauces, I invented my own grain bowls, based on what sounded good to me slash what I had on hand. 

But for this Mediterranean Olive Sauce, I worked more closely with the paired recipe. True, the recipe was based on polenta - a creamy cornmeal classic from Northern Italy - but I prepared the other ingredients much as suggested, and improvised my way into a happy place. 

Which is one of the truly lovely things about a rice, I mean, grain bowl. Experimentation is the name of the game, and as long as the ingredients are fresh and delicious, every combination will be a delight.

Especially when eaten in the Italian countryside. Or my backyard. 

* * * * *

Ingredients & Directions:

Combine 1 cup pitted olives, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water, 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, 2 cloves garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, then blend until you each your desired consistency. 

from the Kitchn

* * * * *

I've committed to a month of Rice Bowl Mondays, featuring each of the five sauces in the article. Here you go:

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Moodawg For The Win

Hey, remember my friend, Aqil, who built a rocket named Moondawg with 150 of his closest friends on the UW SARP team? Here, let me give you a few hints:

Hint 1: UW (pronounced "You Dub") stands for University of Washington, a world-class university here in Seattle from which Aqil just earned his bachelor's degree. 

Hint 2: SARP stands for Society for Advanced Rocket Propulsion, and what members do for fun every year is build a rocket in their free time and then, come June, haul it down to Las Cruces, New Mexico for a launch competition called Spaceport America Cup.

Hint 3: If that still doesn't ring any bells, you can always go here to read the full back story.

* * * * *

Well, I have great news. The results of this year's competition are in...and UW SARP won!

On June 22, Moondawg launched straight and true into the deep blue high desert sky, and performed just as everyone hoped it would  

Go here to watch the flight from countdown... to ignition...to liftoff...to the point where the UW SARP team still seem to be tracking Moondawg's trajectory although I can see nothing but clear, blue sky.

But if you want an image that captures the mood on the ground, look no further than this:


After a long year of long hours and hard work, nothing says, "Hell, yes, we did it!" than these five. figures, carrying their spent rocket back to the base.  

Congratulations to Aqil, the whole UW SARP team, and Moondawg too, for your brilliant, high-flying success. 

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More stories about my friend, Aqil:

Rice Bowl Sauces: Spicy Sriracha Peanut

Why make just one flavor of rice bowl sauce when you stumble upon a recipe for five
Once I surveyed this quintet of delicious options, I set upon a plan to try them all.


This week's option is a spicy sriracha peanut sauce, which I paired with broiled beef, steamed broccoli, and sauteed shredded cabbage and carrots.

The sauce delivered on all notes - it was indeed pleasantly spicy, punched up with Sriracha and soy sauce, and fueled by rich, creamy peanut butter. 

With a few tweaks, I believe I could successfully replicate the swimming rama peanut sauce on the Number 15 at Thai Tom's. And that would really be saying something. 


And while I can always dream of ways to take this sauce to an even higher level, let me be perfectly clear: it's absolutely delicious just the way it is.

* * * * *

Ingredients & Directions:

Combine 1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky), 1 teasponn sesame oil, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons water, and 1 to 2 tablespoons Sriracha, then blend until well-combined.

from the Kitchn

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I've committed to a month of Rice Bowl Mondays, featuring each of the five sauces in the article. Here you go:


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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.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Two New Friends

When Gracie and I are out walking, we never know who we might meet. 

Last week, Gracie and I were cruising along our usual path on the lane that runs between the back of the high school and the surrounding forest. Incidentally, this is prime rabbit country, a fact that will figure into my second story for today.

But in this first scenario, we encountered no rabbits. In fact, we rarely see even humans on this stretch of our walk. Occasionally, we bump into other happy pairs of people and dogs, but mostly back here, if we come across anyone, it's teenage students using the back lane as a shortcut between the nearby Starbucks/Subway/Walgreen's shops and their homes. I see their sandwich bags or their drink cups, and I know exactly what's up.

So it was a bit out of the ordinary that on this particular day, Gracie and I came across a pair of older teens, maybe even college students - a guy and a girl - walking toward us. The two were deep in animated conversation as my puppers and I entered their range. I stopped to collect Gracie at my side in a proper heel and gather up her long leash when I noticed that the guy, who had been doing most of the talking, had abruptly fallen silent.

I looked at his face, and saw a huge beaming smile aimed right at me. 

"Hey!" he called out as one might greet Odysseus upon his return to Ithaca, "I've seen you walking your dog around this school for years and years and years! Your dog's leash is so amazing. I've always noticed you."

Well. I was pretty much speechless. But I smiled, said something in response though I don't remember what, and we all went our separate ways without much further ado. 

But I will always remember that mostly-grown teenage man-boy. And I'll continue to imagine the 10-, 12-, 13-year-old version of him that noticed me from afar,  remembering me, tucking my memory into a tiny place in his brain, and thinking who knows what about me. 

By his smile, I am guessing he mostly thought good things.

And for me, I will take this chance encounter as a lovely reminder that we impact each others' lives far, far more deeply than we ever dream.

* * * * *

Yesterday, Gracie and I wound our way along and earlier section of that same lane, and took a hard right into the aforementioned prime rabbit country. 

At the exact same spot, in fact, where Gracie had recently raced a rabbit.

Lo and behold, there sat another fit and athletic brown bunny, twitchy to be sure, but just as calmly accepting of Gracie's presence as the Trojans were of their new wooden horse. 

In a flash, Gracie leaped through the railings and gave chase.

Off the two dashed, my red-headed dog and her cotton-tailed friend, sailing along the strip of green grass along the backside of two portable classrooms.

And just as I had done last time, I took a deep breath and dropped my end of the rapidly disappearing leash, leaving my dog to seek her own destiny.

Now, the last time I did this, I lost trust in my girl. I assumed she would lose her head over this rabbit business and forget to come back to me. So I went looking for her. Gracie proved her faithfulness by returning to the exact spot where we parted ways and then, finding me gone, coming to look for me. 

These thoughts blasted through my mind as I watched hound and hare disappear around the far end of the second portable, both still moving at warp nine.. 

Just like last time, my immediate instinct was to run wildly after my overheated dog. But I forced myself to stop and think.

Wait here, my brain demanded. See what happens next. 

Oh, how I was about to be rewarded.

Within three seconds, my dog came back around the same corner from which she had disappeared.

She was sprinting at top speed, tearing along in a straight line. Headed right for me.

About halfway down, she made eye contact with me, still absolutely blasting along the grass.

Eyes locked on mine, she soared up the final embankment and sprang through the railings with a flourish, landing neatly at my feet. 

Immediately, her engines dropped to neutral and she stood patiently as I breathlessly gathered up her leash. She was barely even panting. 

And then, as if none of that had ever happened, Gracie calmly resumed on our walk.

I tucked this lesson away in my brain, filed under T for trust. 

We haven't seen the rabbit since. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Fifty Years Later

The Apollo 11 Command Module can be seen just left of the center of this image, with the sharp-rimmed Schmidt crater directly left of it. This is the last photo taken from the lunar module prior to the powered descent. 

Just after touchdown on the moon, a panoramic view of the surface with a thruster on the foreground at left, and the lunar module's shadow at right, seen through Armstrong's window. 


I was playing Barbies in my friend's basement on a sunny summer afternoon when her mom opened the door at the top of the stairs and called down, "Diane, your mom's on the phone. She'd like to talk to you."

Huh. That was a little weird. Unless she was hailing me home for dinner, my mom rarely reached out while I was over at a friend's house. At the ripe old age of ten, I enjoyed considerable independence.

So I tromped up the stairs, my friend on my heels, both of us curious about why my mom was calling.

I picked up the Trimline and said hello.

"Ask Mrs. Dean to turn on the television right now. They're landing on the moon!"

 Of course, I knew all about the Apollo 11 mission. The whole nation knew. But my parents were true space geeks so at their urging, I closely followed every twist and turn of the space race. All our lives, my brothers and I had been rolled out of bed early to watch every single launch. And thanks to my mom, I was well schooled the ins and outs of the Apollo missions - the various functions of the command module and lunar module; the nuances of the flight path; the profiles and personalities of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. I was as excited and knowledgeable as any ten year old could be about the moon landing.

At the moment, however, I was pretty wrapped up in this game of Barbies we were playing.

Although I don't remember the exact words, I know for a fact that my reply was something like this: "Mmm, that's okay. I don't need to watch it."

But with perfect recall, I can hear exactly what my mom said in reply.

"Yes, you need to watch. You'll remember this day for the rest of your life, and you'll always be glad you watched the first men land on the moon."

So I watched.

And you know what? My mom was right.

Fifty years later, I'm still glad.


* * * * *

For beautiful photos of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969 
(including the ones I posted above), go here

And for a timeline of the historic Apollo 11 flight, from liftoff to splashdown, go here