Saturday, December 28, 2019

Christmas Refreshment

For my money, the perfect antidote to the classic day-after-Christmas extravagance hangover is a walk in the woods. My three younger daughters and our holiday house guest headed up to Deception Pass for some fresh air and soul-satisfying views. 

We started with a bit of hiking in the woods near the bridge; with really no plan in mind, we found ourselves on the neat and friendly Goose Rock Summit Trail

^ Despite her tropical blood, Nhu was a backwoods trooper. Layered up in plenty of warm weather gear, she happily marched along our wooded trails and gasped at the size of our massive PNW rain-fed fir trees.

^ Grace too was two-thumbs up for a day on the trail. As usual, she exuberantly led our group up the trail, periodically circling back to make sure the rest of us were still coming. Bless my patient fourth-born's heart for accommodating this redundant journey.

 ^ Many photographs were taken.

^ I managed to capture this red pom-pom in the corner of a couple of my shots, which turned out to be quite a happy accident. How can you really go wrong with a red pom-pom?

^ Gracie posed for some model shots. 

^ And in due time, we had looped back around to the bridge and ventured out into a blustery wind to check out the ever-mind-blowing views.

 ^ The story goes that British explorers were fooled into thinking that the southern side of this wild passage was a peninsula attached to the mainland. When the captain discovered that he had in fact sailed between two islands, he permanently celebrated his mistake by naming this Deception Pass. She is better know nowadays for her shockingly swift currents and gorgeous turquoise water.

^ The views through the Madrona trees are stunning enough, 

^ but the open vistas of land, sea and sky take my breath away every time. I reckon I've visited here a good twenty times in my life, and I never fail to fall in love with this view all over again, every time I come. 

However, with the thermometer reading 37 degrees F and a blustery wind sweeping in off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I fell in love quickly and raced back to the car before the hypothermia set in. 

^ See this little tip of land? On the far side lies West Beach, and that is our final destination for the day. 

^ My youngest takes a turn with Gracie on the beach while I quickly snap off a stream of photos, then she hands off the leash to me. I switched to Gracie's long leash so she could wander more freely, and yes, she did manage to wade out into the icy water. 

^ As my dog and I wandered up and dwon the wet sand, a pale winter sun sparkled across the water. With sunset falling at 4:22 p.m. we did not have much time to linger on our Deception Pass adventure but the time spent in this lovely spot did much to revive our overly-stimulated Christmas souls and thus refreshed, we headed back home for more celebration. 

 * * * * *

Our 2019 Christmas adventures:

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Another Happy Christmas Morn

 Merry Christmas morning!

Here are a few scenes from how the festivities played out around here.

^ The stockings were indeed hung by the chimney with care, though these are substitute stockings. Last year, I vowed to lay aside our red and green collection of stockings from childhood and embrace a more refined, neutral aesthetic.

However, despite my best efforts to comb the collections of West Elm, Crate & Barrel, and other upscale purveyors of Christmas stockings, I came up with zero options. So, on a last-minute Christmas Eve romp through Target - which was surprisingly drama free - I grabbed a set of eight sequinned stockings to get us through the year. 

Yes, eight. Six Streicher humans - all of whom were home for Christmas this year - one for Gracie and one for the cats to share. I mean, they're brothers after all. They are used to sharing. 

^ Gracie took it upon herself to inspect the stockings almost constantly, a task which I'm sure had nothing to do with the bowls of candy on the mantle, or the pup treats in her stash.

 And if you count carefully, you will notice that there are actually nine stockings under Gracie's purview: eight, as previously mentioned belonging to the Streichers, and one more - white with a gold cuff, for our holiday guest. A Vietnamese  friend of my third born is staying with us this week, and it's been delightful to share a typical American Christmas with her. Yay for company!

 ^ For the first time ever this year, I embraced the concept of a second Christmas tree, and an artificial one at that. I never knew that twenty bucks for an IKEA mini tree would make me so happy, but that's now a proven fact. This little tannenbaum stands in my family room, where I can see it from my usually cooking posts of duty, and I love the festivity it brings to my daily routines.

^ Family room mantle. My two younger daughters had a vision for greenery; I contributed our first nativity scene, candlesticks with lopsided candles - hey, that's life - and a strand of pom-poms from
the dollar section at Target. Feel pretty good about that five dollars too.

 ^ Okay, breakfast is ready. This year, in lieu of our usual yeasty cinamon rolls, my second-born asked that we try a gluten free version to help her manage her celiac disease.

Well, here's the verdict: gluten free cinnamon rolls are a really nice idea that does not play out in reality. She said, and I quote, "I'd rather eat real cinnamon rolls and deal with the stomach ache than settle for these." Good to know.

^ Now, on to the present-opening portion of our day. We enjoy quite an easy-going, orchestrated routine these days, with orderly decisions about which category of gift of open in what order. Here's our general approach:

Stockings first.
Then gifts between sisters
Gifts from parents to sisters.
Gifts from sisters to parents.
And finally, gifts between parents.

I received a lot of nice gifts. My daughters know me well and don't need any suggestions from me to pick out dreamy gifts: handcrafted soaps, artisan shampoo, artwork, handmade vases, a cookbook and a long-coveted 2020 Stendig calendar.

From my husband, I got exactly the gift I asked for: a new pain of L.L.Bean boots. For walking my dog in the rain. Mhmm. Can't wait to use them.

^ My daughters go all out on gift wrapping. Sometimes it's a struggle to rip open the presents, but eventually I find a way. 

By the way, I am a ripper. Everyone else in the family carefully opens the gift wrap but I take great glee in grabbing hold of an edge and letting fly. 

 ^ Over the course of the morning, she stole my seat half a dozen times but I forgive her. Look at those eyes. How could I not?

^ After our present-opening marathon, our energy reserves worn precariously thin, we were ready once again to eat. The Christmas Day lunch menu repeated our quick and easy post-worship Christmas Eve dinner: charcuterie with meatballs in the classic American style of chili sauce and grape jelly and washed down with plenty of sparkling apple cider. 

And so, satisfied of heart, mind, and body, we Streichers wrapped up another happy Christmas morn

 * * * * *

Our 2019 Christmas adventures:

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

What Matters About Christmas

As evening gathers over gloomy Pacific Northwest skies, I sit on my front porch and marvel at the way a few feeble strings of Christmas lights chase away the darkness and bring joy into my heart. 

Merry Christmas Eve

If you are anything like me, this day is a welcome to relief to at least a solid month of

overflowing to-do lists,
a tangle of online orders, deliveries, and returns,
heaping piles of secret boxes and bags in the back of the closet,
a near endless stream of trips to the grocery store,

and most of all,

an insistent voice in the back of my head that insists I'm forgetting something important.

This hectic, frantic busy-ness, we all know, is not what Christmas is supposed to be.

And yet it often is.

* * * * *

Tonight, this night, the night before the night before Christmas, is when I try to take a deep breath, slow myself down.

I remind myself that no matter how hard I try, no matter what happens, the Christmas celebration that is about to unfold will not be perfect.

I'm not a perfect person.
My family is not a perfect family.

And with any festival day that is built up as Christmas is built up to be, there will always be

failed expectations
and a general sense that things just did not turn out as I wanted them to turn out

If you are anything like me, Christmas often comes with despair and pain and regret.

* * * * *

But before I sink into this darkness, I remind myself  that all of this imperfection is okay.

What matters about Christmas is not what we do. It's about what God has already done,

He came to us as a child
He brought light and love to the whole world.
He had a special heart for the outcasts, the outlaws, the outsiders
He forgave us for our endless imperfections.
He taught us how to love him
He showed us how to love each other.

That's what matters about Christmas.

And it helps me to remember that

before the star burned bright in the skies over Bethlehem,
before the choir of luminous angels sang from the heavens,
before a bunch of grubby shepherds showed up at the barn with their lanterns aglow,

the story began with a baby born in the darkness of a barn at night.

Light drives out darkness.

And that's what matters about Christmas.

* * * * *

I know there are people in this world who push back from that kind of talk.

People who have had religion shoved down their throats.
People who have lived among hypocrites who do not practice what they preach.
People who have experienced ugly things in life, and wonder why God has left them to suffer.
People who have anger and pain and hopelessness that won't go away.
People who have come to believe that the story of God's love for his people is just foolishness.

I think that's okay.

I don't judge anyone for that, nor would I try to talk them out of feeling how they do.

But if you are one of those people, I only hope that you will pause to consider the sweet mystery of light and darkness.

And whatever brings you light, I hope there will always be enough of it in your heart to drive out the world's darkness.

Because that, too, is what matters about Christmas.

 * * * * *

Our 2019 Christmas adventures:

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Management

Readying my mini Christmas trees.
Making the annual ornaments.
Whipping up some math midterms.

This is what mid-December always looks like at my house.

Thank goodness I have my trusty cat, Luna, here to supervise the entire process.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Around My Thanksgiving Table

Ten people around my table and so many more present in my heart. 

Gathered around my Thanksgiving table this year could be found:

my husband, three of my four full-grown daughters, and my second-born daughter in Ohio who was present through the magic of the internet;

my friend, Aqil, a Malaysian native who grew up in various countries around the world and is now working on his master's degree in astronautical engineering here in Seattle;

Angelo, Aqil's friend and fellow Malaysian who is also studying here at the University of Washington;

Andy, an American-born student at Montana State University who, as the son of an international businessman, has lived here and there around the world and studied at an international school in Kuala Lumpur where he met Antonio;

and Kina and Tiara, two young women from Malaysia and Indonesia, respectively, who are best friends to one another, UW undergraduate students and friends with these three gentlemen.

* * * * *

We feasted upon roasted turkey with all the usual trimmings, ate until our bellies groaned, then summoned up the strength to play a few favorite Streicher after-dinner table games: paper golf and three-part people drawings.

Eventually, we dragged ourselves to the family room and indulged in our classic Thanksgiving movie marathon: the Indiana Jones trilogy. We just got past the big fight in the Moroccan market when we paused for dessert:

spongy trifle
banana cream pie
chocolate pie
and pumpkin cheesecake.

 * * * * * 

Our meal together was, like the best of Thanksgivings, an interesting mix of family and friends, old and new, gathering around the table together to celebrate differences and forge new bonds. 

This year as every year, I give thanks for many things, but most especially for the wonderful people who spent this lovely day with me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

My New Red Pot

In what world do I live that allows me to purchase a wildly expensive, high end European cook pot and call it within the bounds of my self-imposed shopping ban?

Well, I'll tell you. 

This flaming red Le Creuset Dutch oven has been on my wish list for a long, long time. 

For a long, long time, I've been making do with a 25-year-old cast iron model to cook dinner for the troops here several times a week. My old soldier was never meant for regular KP: I bought it in 1993 to use on camping trips and ended up cooking with it year round. Somewhere around 1997, I told myself that I was within my rights to upgrade to a more conventional, kitchen-friendly Dutch oven. I read a zillion reviews and decided that despite its steep price, the Le Creuset pot holds the best value and suit my purposes perfectly. I decided to buy one. 

But I never got around to making that happen. 

Fast forward to November 2019. Somewhere between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I was scrolling around the Crate and Barrel website, picking up a few Christmas gifts for my homemaking daughters, and thought to myself, Say now, I wonder how the prices are looking on the Dutch oven of my dreams. 

There she was, gleaming scarlet, generously larger than my cast iron model, in all ways perfect. And her usual $325 price tag had been temporarily slashed to $199. 

So you know what I did? 

Yep. at long last, I pulled the trigger. 

Two weeks ago, the new girl moved in, and I put her straight to work.

Among other things, she has served us up this delish sausage and white bean soup, a first-time recipe for me that won the family over.

And this weekend, I whipped up a pot of my homemade beef stew. I'm mot ashamed to tell you that we fought over the leftovers for breakfast the next morning.

So my new Dutch oven has been officially enthroned as the queen of the kitchen. She rules from a semi-permanent position atop the range, because my injured shoulder does not allow me to heft her up and down from the pot cupboard.

Besides, I still need to rearrange the other pots to make space for her. Because my old cast iron Dutch oven will not be leaving me any time soon. He'll still be joining us for camping trips every summer and occasional overflow duties. He's earned his reward..

* * * * *

So what about  my year-long shopping ban? Technically, my rules require me to just say no to new housewares. But, after twenty plus years of consideration and a 39% discount, I decided that this was no impulsive, emotionally-driven consumption-crazed purchase, and I gave myself permission to buy a new red pot.

And I have absolutely zero regrets.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

A Moveable Feast

"Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever 
happen to one again." -Willa Cather

This year's model is a scrappy girl, with an oddly rectangular shape and some rather large gaps between the tiers of branches. But I love her for her straight spine and lovely airiness. 

More than the first day of the year, or my birthday, or even Christmas morning, my heart best measures the passing of time according to the day each year that our Christmas tree goes up.

Over the past few years, we've finally managed to tame the once-hectic process - no one cries anymore, no one needs a nap or a diaper change or a time out to calm their teenage temper. In the course of a few hours, we can now go from wrestling the tree into its stand to putting the star up on top, and even getting the boxes back into the garage in a calm, orderly manner. We have indeed become a rational, efficient Christmas tree machine. 

But oh, how my heart fills with the memories of years gone past. 

As my thoughts skim back over the decades, I ride the waves of emotion that carry me from my own childhood into my daughters' lives, the years of my young adulthood and early married days - sights and sounds bring my whole life forward in my mind.

And while the memories are overwhelmingly positive, there is a bittersweet edge to my heart songs. 

This is my life.

I can feel the weight of it in my hands, I can smell it in the pine branches and see it in the lights. 

This is what my life looks like.

It has taken shape. 

And no matter what the future holds for me, these years, these memories of putting up Christmas trees, year after year after year, will always be mine. 

So, one more time, let's sweep up the last two thousand pine needles and comfortably crash onto the couches to admire our handiwork. Once again, the Streicher Family Christmas tree is up and I am ready to celebrate another year's success!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

What An Angel

Sitting while we saw. What an angel.

Behold the noble beast.

She roams the wet wilderness as her humans seek the perfect Christmas tree, wagging as she walks  and occasionally stopping to stare at a fellow canine assigned to the same task.

Quite the regal lady, she walks with aristocratic bearing and just a hint of street swagger, her nose to the ground, ever in pursuit of delicious scents. Now and then, she accidentally wraps her leash about a stubby little fir, but cleverly follows her human's prompts for corrective action. She stops, as her family does, to evaluate this tree and that, and while her mind may wander during these sessions, her little red rump stays firmly seated on the ground.

"Alright, folks, that tree is properly loaded. Now someone please 
open up the back door and let me get out of this mud."

She's come a long way, my lassie has, in proper holiday field etiquette, and though she still behaves like an ape at times, today at the Christmas tree farm, Gracie was simply an angel. 

* * * * *

Not every trip to the Christmas tree farm is quite so lovely. 
Get all the gory details in my reports of our annual adventures:

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Car Keys

"The thrill of coming home has never changed." -Guy Pearce

The last day of a road trip is always a different kind of day.

After day upon day of glorious sights to see and places to explore, the last day is spent mostly in the car. 

Long stretches of driving through huge states with lots of space between the people.

Tedious and empty hours pass by uneventfully.

We swing up through the southwestern side of Idaho, and across the northeast corner of Oregon, and then up into eastern Washington.

Dull and dreary, wide and brown.

And there is that subtle taste of bittersweet sadness, knowing that my vacation is almost over. Days, weeks of living with my car keys in my hand every morning, wondering what I will find along the way that day, are soon to come to an end, and the predictable pace of ordinary days will soon become my reality.

Then, as we always do, we come across Interstate 90 and begin the long, slow grind up the last great mountain pass that leads us into Seattle.

Clouds build as we race up the eastern flank of the Cascade Mountains. 
The air fills with moody, translucent mists that hover and drift above evergreen treetops. 
Approaching Snoqualmie Pass, granite boulders, snowy peaks and towering trees fill the vistas. 

Now I know I am home again.

Safe in the arms of the Pacific Northwest.

Where a lush, green, rugged brand of adventure is waiting around every corner, and I need not travel for days on end to find and enjoy it.

And while I am always excited to roam the world and explore every place I find, I'm never disappointed to come home to this remarkable corner of the planet, my beloved Pacific Northwest. 

Contentedly, I put my car keys down.

* * * * *

Road Trip 2019: read all about it.

Friday, December 6, 2019


"Life is too short to miss out on the beautiful things like a double cheeseburger." -Channing Tatum

Somewhere along the way, our culture has picked up some weird hang ups about cheeseburgers.

Thanks to our freakish obsession with pencil thin bodies, and our deep state fears that animal proteins destroy our health, the culinary creation of two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun has become short hand for irresponsible eating and full-on moral decay.

I call foul.  

Before we drove away, we bought one more cheeseburger for my eldest daughter who was cat-sitting back at home. I have a long history of transporting In-N-Out burgers across state lines. 

A proper cheeseburger layers quality beef with tangy cheese and a handful of ingredients from the garden, spiced up with a smooth layer of mustard, mayo or ketchup and tucked into a fresh bun.

Those are all reasonable, healthy things to eat. 

And while we may not want to lay into the full serving of beef or the simple carbs of a white bread bun every day, this is a perfectly reasonable meal for a healthy person to enjoy once a week. 

We split two orders of fries between the four of us. I call that restraint. 

French fries, in my opinion, are a different matter. 

Pure indulgence. 

No redeeming nutritional value whatsoever.

But sometimes, you just gotta have some

Stand back, I'm about to take my first bite. 

But when my family and I finally emerged from our adventures in the wilds of southeast Utah, we were ravenously hungry and ready to tuck into a proper cheeseburger meal. 

Gracie did not get a cheeseburger but she did get a full dish of dinner and 
a handful of chicken jerky treats. So I didn't feel too sorry for her. 

And thankfully, we faced only a quick two-hundred-mile jaunt up to Provo on beautifully straight and mostly empty highways through the desert to find our way to the nearest In-N-Out. 

Where the cheeseburgers of our dreams were waiting for us. 

* * * * *

Road Trip 2019: read all about it.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Canyonlands National Park

"In the past, I've visited remote places partly as a way to visit remote states of mind, remote parts of myself that I wouldn't ordinarily explore." -Pico Iyer

After a glorious day at Arches National Park and a mind-blowing sunset at Dead Horse Point. I thought I'd seen every flavor of majesty that this corner of southeast Utah has to offer.

Well, I was wrong. 

Because the next morning, after my close encounter with a bighorn sheep, we headed to nearby Canyonlands National Park for another eye-searing morning of sightseeing. 

Though the two park entrances are less than thirty miles apart, there's a world of difference between Arches and Canyonlands.

There are certainly gorgeous vistas to be had at Arches, but most of the park has an intimate feeling. Canyonlands, on the other hand, is vast, open, and unabashedly untamed.

There's an immensity of place that draws the visitor into herself. It's a place that begs us to sit and wait whereas Arches invites us to move in and around the places we see. 

I took a keen pleasure in the juniper berries, lush and pale blue on every bush in sight. They provided the only sense of closeness and detail in a place of unrestrained scale and size. 

We traveled out to the Grand View Point Overlook, where the waters of the Green River meet up with the Colorado. Then we circled back to the Green River Overlook. 

Red rocks.
Shimmering threads of water.
Broad basins of rock.
Canyons as far as the eye can see. 

If Arches is a dancer, Canyonlands is an astronaut exploring vast regions of the galaxy.

If Arches is an evening at home with a few friends, enjoying cocktails and good conversation, Canyonlands is a months-long cattle drive. 

If Arches is a perfect little cream puff, Canyonlands is a party-sized sub sandwich.

And if Arches is a place one could linger through for hours, it would take months or even years to explore Canyonlands. 

In fact, it's quite difficult to get around many parts of  Canyonlands. The park divides into three geographic regions and most visitors, including us, stick to the area called Island in the Sky. A mesa with easy access to Moab and plenty of well-maintained roads, this is the place to visit if you have limited time and want easy access to some fabulous overlooks.

The Needles is for the more committed visitor. Here can be found some stellar arches and rock formations, but unlike those over at Arches National Park, these are deep in back country so visitors need to take on long hikes or four-wheel drive trips to see them. 

The Maze is the third area of the park; it's the least visited and least accessible section of the park.

Not to be overlooked are the waterways, perfect for kayakers.

My husband visited here as a boy, and took a raft trip through the Needles with his adventurous dad and devotedly acquiescent mother. I cannot believe that woman went along with all of these crazy wildlife adventures but she did. 

As for us, we stuck to some easy strolls around the overlooks, a picnic lunch, and one short hike out to this finger of rock.called the Schafer Canyon Overlook.

Though we stuck to the well-traveled roads, we could see evidence of the park's more primitive pathways. Unpaved trails like this one offer a down and dirty way to get closer to the scenery, but four-wheel drive vehicles only, please.

And for the truly rabid animals among us, some visitors actually ride bicycles through the canyons along barely there roads like this ferocious grade.

We watched a trio of bicyclists descend this wild cliff - see them in the top half of the lower loop - but before we saw them, we heard their over-taxed brakes squealing with rage as they fought to maintain control against a big wallop of gravity.

Arches National Park definitely appeals to a tightly controlled and aesthetically precise energy; Canyonlands is a place, quite frankly, for thrill seekers and utter maniacs.

Cute red dogs, however, are equally happy to visit both. 

* * * * *

Road Trip 2019: read all about it.