Friday, August 30, 2019

Small White Vessels

Every morning, as I bounce out of my bunk to start my day, I like to get my mind right to work on a creative challenge.

Those of us who don't drink coffee must use other means to jump start our brains, and this is what works for me.

For today's puzzle, I saddled up my CRV and headed off on a three-part round-up of local thrift stores, in search of small white vessels.

cups, and

that I will use to organize a little collection.

As luck would have it, I wrangled up a nice little herd.

For today, I'm enjoying the clean and fresh vibes of my new and surprisingly satisfying assortment of small white vessels, empty and eclectic though they may be. 

And tomorrow, I can't wait to wake up  and face the new challenge of putting these little doggies to work. 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

A Pear-Colored Pitcher

There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship." -Thomas Aquinas 

Even if the flower is no more, still the fragrance can be." -Jaggi Vasudev

Another dear friend is moving away.


It's a part of life, isn't it, this ebb and flow of people into and out of our lives, going here and there as their lives call them on.

I truly believe that my role as a friend is to embrace these leavings, to celebrate whatever is calling my friend forward, to look with hope and anticipation on this new journey.

And I do. For this friend, as with all the others who have moved, I wish her blessings and happiness and all the very best. 

And while it's not easy to be the one moving on, it's also difficult to be the one left behind. To feel this person's absence, the place where she used to be, most acutely. 

Especially when this is a friend with whom you have shared some deep, dangerous waters; some difficult seasons of life. A friend to whom you have revealed your troubles and your vulnerabilities and your fears, a person who has revealed the same to you. 

When that kind of a friend pulls up tent stakes and moves on, she leaves a big hole behind. 

Oh, but of course, we can stay in touch. Digital options abound and we will stay in touch. Probably even visit one another from time to time.

Of course.

But it will never be the same, and that's just the truth.

I remind myself that some friendships improve over distance and time, and there is every reason to believe that my friend and I will grow closer as years pass.

There is every reason to anticipate joy.

As she has been sorting through her treasures and packing up boxes, my friend came across a ceramic pitcher and gave it to me yesterday as a remembrance. It's the perfect shade of a fresh green pear. I brought it home and filled it with fresh hydrangea blossoms from my backyard, and now it sits on my kitchen table.

This sweet gift from my friend will always remind me that even though life is ever changing, the fragrance of our friendship is ours to savor forever.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Less Than Perfect

"Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees." -Paul Strand

"Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward." -Drew Houston

Little dog, big world: views along the trail at Ebey's Landing. 

When I hike, I take a lot of photos. And because my rusty old iPhone 6S is barely up to the task, I keep my Nikon at the ready in my holster, pulling it out and firing it off to take photos every few steps along the trail. 

There's a special joy in capturing crisp, clear shots of the beautiful places I go, and compared to every other camera I've used in my life, this one takes fantastically perfect photos. 

As I was trudging along, I accidentally creased the corner of the photo on the left, 
and the instant-development chemicals created that weird little dark triangle. Another imperfection that only adds to the photo's scruffy charm. 

\So it's laughably ironic that on my left wrist usually dangles my Instax 8. Forget all the fancy dials, meters, and metrics on my DSLR; this little baby sports four light settings and an always-on flash. It spits out bitty little technically-compromised photos that do not even begin to compare to the realistic precision of my Nikon shots.

The images are blurry and the colors are a bit washed out. But when I look at these shots, I remember with perfect clarity the quality of brilliant sunlight on the sparkling water. 

But why, then, do I love my Instax photos so much? Why do I treasure each one for the tiny, precious memory it holds? Why is it that I leave my perfect digital images resting tidily on their memory cards and in neatly organized files on my desktop, while propping up my Instax shots here and there around the house, admiring them and sharing them with anyone who walks by?

I'm not sure, but maybe I'm just a little more comfortable embracing something that is less than perfect. Because things that are less than perfect are a whole lot more like me. 

* * * * *

To look at technically superior photos of my delightful hike at Ebey's Landing, go here. 

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More stories about my Instax photos:

Monday, August 26, 2019

Roses And Ivy

On this sunny Sunday afternoon, as I sat on my front patio watching Grace tuck into her post-walk dinner bowl with her usual gusto, I radiated in the glow of accomplishment. 

Because on this very day, I finished a project that I started literally three years ago.

Could've been four. Or possibly even five. After all this time, it's hard to recall the exact moment when the seed of an idea was planted. 

But there was a day when I stood in Sky Nursery looking at the outdoor macrame plant holders and thought, Hey maybe a row of hanging pots would be just the ticket for that hard-to-grow west side of my house. 

Though my macrame chops were purely undeveloped at that point, I took great confidence in my ability to make said plant holders. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to buy one to use as a prototype. So I invested twenty bucks in my brand new idea, took the hanger home, and hung it up - empty - on a nail already positioned in more or less the right place.

Aaaand....that's all.

For three, four, maybe five years, that empty macrame plant hanger hung there on that sad little nail, flimsy and forlorn, while I tackled other, more urgent projects in the same area. 

This summer, however, the winds of change finally blew in the right direction.

Emboldened by my other knot-tying projects and ready to bring some closure to my west side story, I finally got busy.

And now, on this full and rich late August day, I have brought my project to fruition. 

As Gracie licked the last few crumbs from the bottom of her bowl, I grabbed my camera and slipped off around the corner to grab a few photos. I must confess that my pink rosebush sidetracked me.

Correction. It's not exactly pink. the color of this rose is delicate and dynamic, shifting as it blooms from pale yellow to tips of pink to a soft apricot blush. The colors are pure heaven, and as I walked by, I could not help but take a moment to capture the late summer blossoms .

Soon enough, I drowned myself in the roses' glory, and resuscitated myself to regain control of my mission.

Oh, right. The hanging pots.

There are five of them in all. They hang from the ends of my rafters along this narrow walkway, filling in the spaces above tiny gardens of ground cover, along my pallet walkway.

Each hanger holds a pot of ivy. In time, the graceful green leaves will spill down in long tendrils, poetic and self-contained and quite unlike the invasive vines I once grew to monstrous proportions along this same space. Never again will I plant such villainous beasts in the ground again, but safely confined to terra cotta, I welcome the ivy back.

Each ivy is a slightly different variety, and each planter is a different design. This first one is the original I bought at Sky oh, so many years ago, and I must say, it has weathered nicely. 

The other four I made from various cords and twine that I already had on hand. I milled about online looking at various patterns. Since these bad boys will be spending their lives out in the elements, I figured it made sense to keep the designs simple and replace them from time to time, if they get to looking shabby. No need to get overly fussy. So I mixed up my repertoire of basic knots and improvised with wild abandon. My favorite kind of project. 

As I have boastfully explained to my husband more than once (more than twice), I spent almost nothing on this project. 

Already had all the cording supplies on hand.
Same for the pots. 
I used up my ever-present supply of potting soil, so I spent ten dollars on a new bag.
I bought the ivy for a total of twenty two dollars. 
And the cost of that original model was around twenty dollars as well. 

The knots were free. 

Spinning gold from straw - also my favorite kind of project. 

I was just about to photograph the fifth model when I heard the familiar sound of footsteps along the path beside the rose bush, slipping up behind me.

And there was Gracie, my faithful macrame assistant who politely napped through my work sessions, joining me to celebrate our completed project. 

She joined me in a victory lap through the hanging ivy garden and we both radiated happiness in the late summer sun. 

* * * * *

More macrame projects to make your dreams come true:

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Hiking At The Beach

There is much to be said for the glory of a mountain hike. 

Deep forests.
Soaring trees.
Rocky outcroppings.
Streams and waterfalls.

And if you play your cards right, at the top,  a mountain lake or a flower-strewn meadow or a vista that knocks off your proverbial socks. 

I love that my Pacific Northwest backyard is full of the best in mountain hikes. 


For my money, a beach hike is where it's at. 

Ebey's Landing for example, is a perfect day's adventure. Drop a pin about two-thirds the way up good ol' Whidbey Island, and hop a ferry; we made our way there in just over an hour. 

^ The trail head parking is literally on the beach, and plenty of people had simply poured out of their cars and onto the sand, but our plan was to hike the 5.6 mile round trip Bluff Trail. Right out of the gates, the way leads up a steep hill through golden grasses under a perfect blue sky.

Warm sunshine tempered by crisp breezes off the water kept us cool as we climbed. 

The Olympic Mountains stood guard on the horizon, and ahead through the Strait of Juan de Fuca we saw the wide open ocean.

^ Once we chugged our way up to the top of the bluff, the trail leveled off. Sunlight poured over us as we wound our way along the edge of the cliff, enjoying the broad vistas and wildflowers at our feet.

^ Though she has a firm understanding of the purpose of trails, and usually leads our hiking party exactly where we want to go, Gracie enjoyed a bit of off-road adventuring, occasionally exploring the grasses on both the up side and the down side of our trail. 

^ The trail eventually leads round a bend in the land, and in a flash, Perego's Lake suddenly popped into view. Interestingly, this lagoon created a new sense of perspective for me, and I suddenly realized just how high we were above it. 

^ Perhaps Gracie noticed that too; maybe she got a touch of vertigo or the heat of the day got the best of her. But as we passed a shady patch of grass under a tree along the trail, she suddenly detoured into the shadows and laid herself down, panting heavily. Poor pup was clearly pooped, so we broke out her trail drinking dish and our precious supply of water, and helped her cool down. 

^ Soon enough, we were marching along again. The trail continued to wind along the bluff all the way to the far end of the lagoon, then dropped precipitously through a series of switchbacks down the grassy hillside to the beach. 

^ As we hopped over the jumbled beach logs and crossed twenty feet to the shore, Gracie all but sprinted the final distance. She raced into the shallow waves, plopped down on her belly, and let the deliciously brisk waters wash over her overheated body. 

^ I did the same. 

Comfortably perched on an enormous beach log serving as both table and chairs, we broke out our picnic lunch and dined in the sunshine with our toes in the warm sand and the sparkling sea just beyond. I waded in the waves with Gracie, hunted for perfect white stones, and drank in the scenery. 

^ And then, when we all felt rested, refreshed, and relaxed, we tied our shoes to our backpacks and walked barefoot along the wet sand for the return leg of our journey. 

* * * * *

Now I know that there are those who prefer the alpine adventure of  a mountain hike. And I won't argue that. But for me, the salty scent of sea breezes, the sparkling sunshine on the water, and the sensation of sand under my feet carries me away to a magical place like nothing else. After more than three decades, I still pinch myself to believe that I live among these beautiful beaches, and I find the greatest joy in hiking them.

^ And as a bonus, the very best beach hikes, like this one, end with a ferry ride home

* * * * *

More stories about beach hikes? Here you go:

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Wanna see some Instax photos I took on this hike? Go here

Thursday, August 22, 2019

We Can Make It Happen

This is me on the far left at about age welve. 
I'd just hopped out of the lake for a birthday party which explains my soaking wet hair and shirt. 
I was also busy in those days learning how to think for myself.

There's no denying that the 2020 election cycle is heating up. 

Candidates have surfaced, 
town halls are happening left and right, 
and the Iowa caucuses are coming up fast.

Which puts me in a reflective state of mind.

+ +

It's no secret what I think of our current president. Ever since he declared his candidacy in 2015, I have boldly declared my outrage at everything he stands for, and I object to his leadership on every level. 

And I know my voice has turned off some people in my life. 

You know what? I'm okay with that. In fact, it only makes me want to speak louder. 

Because I believe, more than anything else about politics, that we the people have not just a right but a responsibility to speak our minds, to ring out the truth as we know it, to declare to everyone who is within earshot exactly who we are and what we stand for. 

Because that, my friends, that willingness to stand up and speak out is where real change begins. 

+ +

And sometimes, I think about that imperative to speak out, so deeply wired into my head and heart, so vital to my understanding of what it means to be an American, and I wonder where it came from.

Certainly not my mom, who held strong opinions but also believed in keeping her head down and not rocking the boat. 

Nor my many teachers and professors, who - each and every one - failed to connect for me the dots between learning about the past and acting in the moment to influence the future.

Nor did the vast majority of my other adult influencers and generational peers - friends, colleagues, family - stir up their own passions for social justice or encourage me to do the same through their example. 

No, I've lived in a world where good people say nothing about the outrage in the world around us. 

+ +

Except for one strong and stirring influence; a voice - melodic and mature far beyond my tender years - that spoke to me in tones as clear as a bell. 

When I was eleven years old, by the decibels blasting out from my older brother's basement bedroom that literally rocked the rafters of our house, I was introduced to the band, Chicago. And while my first interests may have been the power chords opening 25 or 6 to 4, or the horn solos in Make Me Smile, my attention soon turned to the deeper, more resonant messages of the music. 

My heart for political action was stirred up by any number of songs on their first few albums, but it was this song, released on Chicago V when I was thirteen years old, that changed my life forever. 

+ +

So be forewarned. As the election cycle spins forward, I will be speaking up loud and clear for what I believe, for the change toward civility and compassion that our country so desperately needs. And I hope you will do the same. 

Because together, we can make it happen. 

Are you optimistic 'bout the way things are going?
No, I never ever think of it at all

Don't you ever worry when you see what's going down?
Well, I try to mind my business, that is, no business at all

When it's time to function as a feeling human being
Will your bachelor of arts help you get by?

I hope to study further, a few more years or so
I also hope to keep a steady high

Will you try to change things
Use the power that you have, the power of a million new ideas?

What is this power you speak of and the need for things to change?
I always thought that everything was fine

Don't you feel repression just closing in around?
No, the campus here is very, very free

Don't it make you angry the way war is dragging on?
Well, I hope the president knows what he's into, I don't know

Don't you see starvation in the city where you live
All the needless hunger, all the needless pain?

I haven't been there lately, the country is so fine
My neighbors don't seem hungry 'cause they haven't got the time

Thank you for the talk, you know you really eased my mind
I was troubled by the shapes of things to come

Well, if you had my outlook your feelings would be numb
You'd always think that everything was fine

We can make it better
We can make it better
We can make it better
Yeah Yeah Yeah

We can change the world now
We can change the world now
We can change the world now

We can save the children
We can save the children
We can save the children
Yeah Yeah Yeah

We can make it happen
We can make it happen
We can make it happen

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Day In My Delayed Sleep Phase Life

My day begins at midnight.

Unlike most of the world, who is either already in bed or on the way at that moment, sleep in the last thing on my mind.

Though I have burned the midnight oil for most of my life, I now embrace my daily schedule without shame or remorse. It was back in April - four months ago - that my sleep doctor and I hatched a plan to lean into my Delayed Sleep Phase body and adjust my daily routine to accommodate my chronotype.

Here's how the day unfolds in my Delayed Sleep Phase life:

Focus Inward: 12 midnight to 3 a.m.

Around midnight, my daughters go up to bed. My husband has long since retired. With the house clean and quiet, I'm at my most creative and intellectually energetic peak and ready to begin my private time of the day.

I read whatever book I'm enjoying.
I write letters, or long notes in cards.
I catch up on social media, which I try to avoid during the other hours of my day.
I scroll around online to find inspiration for ideas that are taking shape in my brain.
I read other blogs and news articles.
I work on my blog: developing ideas, sorting and editing photos, doing research, drafting posts, polishing pieces for publication.

If I feel like cleaning, organizing, or making any kind of art, I go for it.

Or you know, sometimes, I just need a few episodes of Queer Eye or a Candy Crush session.

And I take care of business: responding to messages and email, handling logistics for my math, classes, organizing to-do lists for things to get done during business hours.

Winding Down: 3 to 4 a.m.

Time to get ready for bed. I wake Gracie, who is happily snoring in her usual spot on the couch and we head upstairs together. I turn off lights as I go, and the house is dark. I pass silently through my dark bedroom where Gracie climbs into her favorite chair to continue her slumbers; and into the dark bathroom. I flip on just the light in my closet, which gives me enough light to see but also signals my brain that it's time to wind down. Slipping into the darkness is the first step in my bedtime routine which soothes me and slows me down as I prepare to sleep.

I take a cool shower and go through my tooth-brushing, lotion-applying, face-moisturizing routines, slowing my mind to focus on each step in the process.

I clean and tidy the bathroom as I go, so it will be fresh and clean when I wake up.

Just before I hop into bed, I switch on a box fan. Though my body temperature is finally beginning to fall at this time of night, the breeze amplifies the cooling effect of my shower and helps me more comfortably drop off to sleep.

And the very last thing that I do before lying down? I put lotion on my feet.

I cannot sleep without fresh lotion on my feet. Trust me. I have tried.

Sleep: 4 a.m. to noon

I sleep. Warmly, deeply, deliciously.

If I'm late to bed or slow to fall asleep, I occasionally hear my husband's alarm go off at 4:25 and then again at 4:30. Sometimes I may even be awake to listen to the water run in the sink as he shaves, or as he takes his morning shower (less than an hour after my bedtime shower. Ha.) But rather than disturbing me,  the sounds of his activity strike me as soothing, and though I'm never afraid to be up by myself during the dead of night, it's somehow easier for me to fall asleep knowing that he is up and beginning his day.

In the winter months, my room will still be dark for several hours after I fall asleep, but during summer, the dawn is often breaking as I am drifting off, the sun shining through the sheer curtains at my window and flooding my bedroom with light. Just like my husband's getting-ready noise, this sunshine is soothing to me, and I have no problem falling asleep and staying asleep in my brightly lit room.

Waking Up: Noon to 1 p.m.

My goal is to sleep till exactly noon, when my brain automatically wakes me up

Unlike every day of my life before April, I now open my eyes and feel rested and alert. Every day it is a miracle and a joy to wake up feeling good. I allow myself fifteen minutes to pray before I lift my head off the pillow.

Then I begin the process of getting ready.

Good morning, sunshine. Gracie has no problem adapting to my Delayed Sleep Phase schedule. She sleeps till I wake up, greets me and the new day, then settles back down for a nap. 

As I dress and freshen up, I take several mini-breaks to wander back into my bedroom and spend some quality time with Gracie who by now is sprawled out across my bed. She usually needs her chest rubbed and her ears scratched; we reconnect and revel in each other's company.

Before I go downstairs to eat, I re-tidy the bathroom, grab any laundry for the day, make my bed, and straighten my bedroom.

Focus Outward: 1 - 5 p.m

For me, the absolute worst thing about my Delayed Sleep Phase life is missing out on half the day's sunshine. And the second worst thing is limited time for socializing with people who live on a standard schedule. So once I am awake and ready to rock, I usually head out the door and into the world to make the most of the day time I've got.

Most plant nurseries are only open till six. That means I have to work fast to get my plants purchased and home to be planted before the dinner hour kicks in. 

I run errands by myself, go shopping with my daughters, or meet friends for lunch.

I go on hikes or adventures or outings in the city. I go skiing and camping and berry-picking

Or I stay home and work on my never-ending stream of projects around my house and garden. If the weather is good, I'll definitely be outside.

On school days, I zip off to my students' homes and teach for a couple hours.

And at some point during these afternoon hours, I figure out a plan for dinner and round up some groceries.

Family Routines: 5 to 10 p.m.

Oh, the golden glow of the family dinner hour. This is the midpoint of my day and it almost always plays out like this:

Every day, our walk is an adventure. The past few days, Gracie has been obsessed with a dead and very dry rabbit that she found in the bushes. Her feelings seem quite hurt that I'm not impressed with her prize. 

Take Gracie on her walk.

Feed Gracie on the front porch and chill outside with her for a while.

Greet the family as they wander back home from work.

Well. I call it dinner. But it's actually my lunch. 

Cook, serve, eat, and clean up after dinner.

SET is a pattern-matching card game with which my family is obsessed. 

Play cards and eat chocolate. For the past seven years, our game of choice has been SET. The best.

Every night after dinner and before TV, Gracie gets to eat an apple, which we cut up and feed her piece by piece. Then she makes one last trip around the backyard, and when she comes in for the night, we slip on her socks and she's ready for bed. 

Once the post-dinner routine is complete, around 8 p.m., we adjourn to the family room for a bit of television.

By 10 p.m., my early bird husband heads up to bed.

Second Dinner: 10 p.m. to midnight

In the late evening hours, my daughters and I, Delayed Sleep Phasers one and all, eat our third meal of the day. We gather in the kitchen for sandwiches, popcorn, pots of ramen or plates of leftovers, cleaning the kitchen and tidying up the family room as we go. Sometimes we'll watch something on TV, always we talk, and around midnight, my daughters say goodnight and head upstairs.

And then, when the house is once again clean and quiet, my new day begins.

* * * * *

I sleep at really weird times. Read here to learn why:

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Reading The Truth

This is the copy of Charlotte's Web that I bought for myself many years ago, just after college. I have no idea how many times I've read it, but I can say for sure that I've cried every time. 

Charlotte's Web by E.B.White

We all know the tale of Charlotte's Web, right?

A sweet story about a superlative pig and the little girl who loves him? 

No. Not really.

Every time I reread this book, I'm surprised all over again to remember what it truly is, and what it is not.

Though it's tempting to assume that Wilbur the pig is the star of this story, he is not. Of course, he's a charming little squealer, what with his tender heart, tremendous ability to turn back flips, and willingness to be tucked into a doll stroller for a nap. But Wilbur is not the hero of our story; he's the victim. It's his understandable horror that he will soon be turned into bacon and pork chops that puts the plot properly in motion, and poor Wilbur has no idea how to save himself.

Nor is eight-year-old Fern our heroine. Sure, it's Fern who kick starts the story by saving a newborn piglet from certain death and raising him to healthy adolescence, but her devotion to Wilbur doesn't last. As Wilbur's life is threatened, Fern simply sits idly by and watches as the plan to save him rolls out. And when the plot climaxes in Wilbur's shining moment of redemption a the fair, Fern is off riding the Ferris wheel with icky Henry Fussy, oblivious to Wilbur's triumph and Charlotte's impending tragedy. Fern's life spins away from the rhythms of the barnyard, and in the end, she's no longer relevant to the story.

No, it's Charlotte, wise lady spider, who cleverly saves Wilbur's life and spins out the truth for all to see:

"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing...after all, what's a life anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die...By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."

As Charlotte gently dies, leaving in Wilbur's capable hands, er, hooves, her 514 babies to be born next spring, she teaches us that the natural cycles of life and death spin ruthlessly on, but friendship never dies.

And though this may be a book meant for children, that is a difficult, painful, beautiful lesson to learn. Thank you, Charlotte, for telling us the truth.

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Read more about what I've been reading:

Friday, August 16, 2019

Flower Power

"Always have something beautiful in sight, even if it's just a daisy in a jelly glass." 
-H. Jackson Brown Jr. 

Ever since I was a little girl, I've always loved daisies.

Maybe it's because I was a child of the sixties, when the daisy was an icon for love and peace.*

Maybe it's because my mother and my grandmother both grew deep drifts of Shasta daisies in their gardens, and cut bouquets by the armload every August. 

Or maybe it's just because of their sweet and beautifully simple style.

 All I know for sure is that I've always loved daisies, and I don't expect that will ever change.

* * * * *

* Flower Power is the name of a famous photo from 196t. It shows a young man slipping flowers into the barrels of guns pointed at him at an anti-war protest at the Pentagon. The photo, especially the young man's gesture, made a huge impression on my child self. I always thought he used daisies, but tonight I learned that the flowers were actually carnations. Well. They'll always be daisies to me.