Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I Am An Irish Setter

"A setter silently searches for game by scent; hunting is done systematically and methodically. When prey is encountered the dog freezes rather than chasing after the game. Setters get their name for their distinctive stance, a sort of crouch or "set" upon finding their quarry." 

I'm out in the fresh air, enjoying my afternoon walk.
I come upon a green open space.

It's familiar.


Suddenly, I stop.

My feet freeze in mid-step.
My brain tingles.
My heart beats with excitement and readiness..


I attune my ears to the slightest whisper.
I breathe in deep drafts of air, sifting through the variety of scents nearby. 
I scan the grayscape of the meadow, searching for a particular shape and size.

Perhaps it is all these things taken together, or maybe it's the glint of sunlight reflected in the huge dark pupil, but all of a sudden, I know.


There's a rabbit out there. 

But this is a sort of knowingness that feels different. Not like the other things I know, like where my treats are stored, or when it's time for a nap.

This is beyond knowing. My brain pulses with deep currents; my body is driven by ancient energies.

I do not think. I simply act. 


I am frozen in place, my eyes locked on the target, my muscles tensed and every so slightly quivering. My heartbeat slows to a barely perceptible hum.


There is nothing in the world but me and the rabbit. 


I wait. Still. Silent. Satisfied in every cell of my body to simply stand in rapt attention and watch my quarry. 

I have no desire to chase or catch the rabbit. I only desire to watch, to breathe in the bunny's essence, to vibrate with the sheer delight of seeing it. 


Slowly, subtly, as my body instructs, I step forward, one paw at a time, towards the rabbit. 

Only my paws move. Every other part of my body remains smooth, supple, fluid. I flow forward like a silent red river, inch by careful inch. 

Sometimes the rabbit will notice me from a considerable distance. Other times, I creep quite close.

But sooner or later, the rabbit will sense danger. In a flash, it darts into the undergrowth, little white tail bobbing along as a last treat to my eyes.

The spell is broken. I come back to myself, no sense of time having passed, not even sure exactly what happened. I'm perfectly happy to bounce back into step and carry on with my walk.

Bumpety bump bump.
Bumpety bump bump.
Bumpety bump bump. 

Until I come again to another open green space, and find another rabbit.


Or, as it happened today, I find two. 

Finishing Strong: My Stash

"Starting strong is good. Finishing strong is epic." -Robin Sharma

* * * * *

I'm a huge believer in finishing strong. In my book, enthusiastic starts are easy. There's plenty of motivation to be found in the early stages of any commitment, but sooner or later, every enterprise hits a seemingly solid wall of frustration and failure. 

And many times, that's where the project dies. But it's no cliche to say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The satisfaction to be found in not only finishing what I've started - or even better, finishing stronger than when I started - is to me the sweetest success of all. 

* * * * *

Back in the day, I used to make a lot of journals. For decades, I've logged my then-babies' milestones, logged our family road trip adventures, and collected a hodge podge of old-school recipe clippings. As my daughters grew older, they started making journals too. Some were undertaken just for pure artistic fun, others served as custom collections of essays, reports, and projects done for our classes. 

About ten years ago, two significant events changed up my journaling mojo. 

1. My youngest daughter wrapped up her homeschooling career as well as mine, and there went my best excuse for journaling as a priority in life.

2. I began to present my journalistic endeavors in blog format. Editing photos and typing text trended over glue sticks and cardstock, and the old days gave way to the new. 

This double whammy of a  transition probably happened over the course of several years but looking back now, it feels to me like a dramatically abrupt shift. Apparently, I ran out of journaling juju in a snap.

Because this weekend, I ran across my ancient pile of half-done journals. 

Yep. Some were barely started, others almost done, but each one had come to its own special place of hitting a wall, and in my frustration, I'd laid it aside and never come back to it. 

Until now.

But as I sifted through the pile and looked over my abandoned works in progress, my finisher's instincts kicked in and I made a promise to myself. 

I'm finishing up each one of these suckers, no matter what. 

* * * * *

I've had one for many years. 

I call it my stash. It's a collection of odds and ends of my daughters' childhood lives, too precious to be thrown away but defying categorization with any other storage solution under my roof:

Oddball photographs,
treasured drawings,
significant certificates
meaningful ticket stubs, 
precious cards,

and other precious historical documents from family life that need, nay - deserve! - a proper home.

Now to be sure, these are not the top tier artifacts from my children's childhoods. Of course I have albums and journals and storage boxes devoted to a carefully curated collection of the best of the best. 

The items in my stash missed that first cut; at some later date, I probably came across these gems hiding under someone's bed, two layers deep on the side of the fridge, or languishing at the back of a desk drawer. Too late - and out of chronology! - to join their betters, I set them aside to "do something with them later." 

Mhmmm. You can guess how that's ended up. 

After years - okay, decades! - of stuffing my stash into gallon size Ziploc bags, hiding it in the back of the bookcases, or shoving it into a banker's box destined for the garage, I finally gave these souvenirs of days gone by a permanent place to live. 

My solution is shockingly simple. I took a blank scrapbook - mine measures 8.5 x 11 inches and I made it on the nifty little binding machine we kept in constant use during our homeschooling days - and a glue stick, and had at it. Though I used a bit of paper engineering to cope with some odd shapes and sizes, this was not a technologically sophisticated project. 

And while I'm sharing these photos now, I'll freely divulge that this project is not quite done. In the next few days, I'll add some labels and explanatory notes, and zhuzh up the design a bit.

But after all these years of waiting, I'm beyond excited to have made even this much progress, and can't wait to share a sampling of my now-organized stash. 


^ On the left - a sunny handmade birthday card for my first-born's fifth birthday from her one-year-older cousin. Certainly, this was a gem from the first moment it landed in our mailbox, but as this cousin passed away when he was twenty years old, our sentiment for the card has deepened. We will cherish it forever.

On the right - In 2002, on a family vacation, we stopped by one of my childhood friend's home in southern California. Little did we know that my kids and her kids would hit it off like wildfire, and we soon made a second trip to visit them on the following spring break. After returning home, we sent our friends this photo collage representing all the fun times we had together. 


^ Sometime in the early 2000s, my kids' art teacher challenged them to create an illustration using colored pencil, and then write an accompanying story. We Streichers took that one step further by setting the parents to the same task, then publishing spiral-bound books of our illustrated stories and giving them out as Christmas gifts. The original artworks, two of which are shown here, have been living in my stash ever since. 


^ And here's more of that artwork - a piece done by my youngest on the left, as well as a second drawing she did in a similar style, on the right. The photo above captures her around the same age with a friend whose mom snapped the photo during a play date and sent me a copy. Oh, the simple days before we posted and tagged. 


^ At the top: Here's me, my four daughters, and a few friends who wandered into the frame of a photo commemorating our first snowboarding trip to Stevens Pass, circa 2002. I spent the morning falling down and switched out to skis after lunch. 

Below: Two photos - snowy tree tops and a mini snowman - on repeat in a tiled image. Super artsy.


^ On the left: During my daughters' earliest years, I kept a set of four frames devoted to their artwork on the wall near my kitchen. I mounted whichever recent masterpieces tickled my fancy onto colored paper cut to fit the frames, and after displaying them for a while, tucked every single one into their official art boxes. Except this piece, done by my youngest at the ripe old age of two, somehow missed that boat. So now it lives here instead.

On the right: My years as a Girl Scout leader gave birth to a steady stream of projects and props, most of which no longer exist. But this set of paper dolls I made to feature the uniforms worn by Girl Scouts at different levels struck me as too cute to pitch. So now these girls and their GSUSA togs live in a snazzy white paper pocket. 


^ Once upon a time at our school for homeschoolers, there was a magical place called the IPC Lab. I can't recall exactly what those letters stood for, but I am still imprinted with the fun that went down within those four walls. Robotic building sets, bins of journaling supplies, and computers for playing LEGO Island 2 were all the rage, but my second-born absolutely lived for the newfangled digital cameras. Pretty sure she must have convinced one of the teachers to shoot this series of photos of her with my eldest; later, my youngest joined the party for some of the cutest darn photos ever.


^ In August of 2002, our family blasted off on a spontaneous cross-country road trip to fetch a new puppy who would become our beloved Ranger. What was meant to be a long weekend journey ended up taking the better part of a month, and later I created an entire journal chronicling that trip. But there were a few photos that turned up after I completed that book, and I could never live with myself if I got rid of photos of this little red angel. 


^Oh, the joys of the web cam. Here's a sweet tween photo of my second born, probably 2001, and below that, a nifty collage she made around the same time. 


^ Gems, from left to right: 

A photograph of sunset at Stevens Pass (top of Hogsback if I'm not mistaken) printed on particularly lovely photo paper.

A b/w photo of baby Ranger trucking around in the dirt and sunshine at his original home on the day we came to pick him up. 

A small square torn from a 1970s Thomas Guide (a cleverly designed book of maps that helped us navigate the world before GPS was a thing) that shows my neighborhood before there were any streets built here. 

Casey caught in the act at the kitchen counter.


^ Above: For many years, at the end of the school year, I'd make certificates for my math students. First, I'd pick a theme - Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings were particular favorites - and then choose the character that best represented each student in the class. In an elaborate ceremony, I presented each student with a handmade collage explaining who they 'were' and why, and this particular year, I went so far as to make one for myself. Gandalf, naturally.

Below: Another collage - this one having nothing to do with math - I made from tiny bits of colored scraps, torn from pages of old National Geographic magazines. 


^ Three random photos of my third-born, printed on plain ol' paper but worth their weight in pure gold, and the crown she made for herself that settled her nickname for years: Princess Jane. 


^ Teenagers like to keep their own journals and photo albums - at least mine did - so by the mid 2000s, my collections fell on lean times. But among the gems that I did find (from left to right) are a photo of my second-born at a scholarship presentation, a few small photos of another California trip and some shots around Seattle, and my 17-year-old second-born with four friends, one of whom had just earned his Eagle Scout award.

* * * * *

Want to see the other journals I've finished? Check them out here:

Friday, April 24, 2020

Finishing Strong: My Princess Book

"Starting strong is good. Finishing strong is epic." -Robin Sharma

* * * * *

I'm a huge believer in finishing strong. In my book, enthusiastic starts are easy. There's plenty of motivation to be found in the early stages of any commitment, but sooner or later, every enterprise hits a seemingly solid wall of frustration and failure. 

And many times, that's where the project dies. But it's no cliche to say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The satisfaction to be found in not only finishing what I've started - or even better, finishing stronger than when I started - is to me the sweetest success of all. 

* * * * *

Back in the day, I used to make a lot of journals. For decades, I've logged my then-babies' milestones, logged our family road trip adventures, and collected a hodge podge of old-school recipe clippings. As my daughters grew older, they started making journals too. Some were undertaken just for pure artistic fun, others served as custom collections of essays, reports, and projects done for our classes. 

About ten years ago, two significant events changed up my journaling mojo. 

1. My youngest daughter wrapped up her homeschooling career as well as mine, and there went my best excuse for journaling as a priority in life.

2. I began to present my journalistic endeavors in blog format. Editing photos and typing text trended over glue sticks and cardstock, and the old days gave way to the new. 

This double whammy of a  transition probably happened over the course of several years but looking back now, it feels to me like a dramatically abrupt shift. Apparently, I ran out of journaling juju in a snap.

Because this weekend, I ran across my ancient pile of half-done journals. 

Yep. Some were barely started, others almost done, but each one had come to its own special place of hitting a wall, and in my frustration, I'd laid it aside and never come back to it. 

Until now.

But as I sifted through the pile and looked over my abandoned works in progress, my finisher's instincts kicked in and I made a promise to myself. 

I'm finishing up each one of these suckers, no matter what. 

* * * * *

It was on a Friday night maybe ten years ago that I found myself lying flat on my back on the carpeted floor of a suburban hotel ball room, staring up at the acoustic ceiling tiles and feeling my entire perspective on life suddenly snap into place.

The room around me was crowded with people - the vast majority were teenagers - also lying on their backs, also staring up into the same acoustical tiles, and while, if they were listening at all, I have no doubt that their lives might also have been changing. I do remember quite a few stifled guffaws and giggles, so I'm not sure how much was seeping into their ears. But these are the ways of teenagers and God does indeed work in mysterious ways. 

I was at a Lutheran youth gathering. Our speaker was a thirty-something slightly chubby youth pastor from Minnesota, the Lutheran homeland. In plain, direct language and engaging good humor, he talked to us about relationships and sex and self-worth.

That sounds so hokey and boring and even cringe-worthy when I say it like that.

But thankfully, he didn't say it like that. 

He first spoke to the young women in the crown, and said something like this:

I understand what it is that you want, ladies. You want to be loved. You want to be cherished and cared for and loved in such a way that you know you come first to your beloved, you will always come first. You ache to be loved for exactly who you are, you want to be respected and protected. You wish to be adored. And you deserve that. All of that. 

Someday, you may meet a man who can love you in these ways. But the boys your age are not ready yet, so be careful not to give your heart or your body away to them until they prove themselves worthy. 

 But there is someone who already loves you perfectly, just as you want to be loved.

God. Your heavenly father, your king.

And you are his treasured daughter, his princess. You are a princess of God. 

* * * * *

Now, to be honest, the Minnesota youth pastor said this way better than I just did. He spoke with snap and sizzle; his words electrified the crowd. About halfway through this part of his talk, which lasted an easy quarter hour, the sniggers and whispers abruptly died away and the room fell dead drop silent. 

I saw several girls wiping away tears. I felt a lump in my own throat. 

We knew, every girl, every woman in that room, we knew exactly what he was talking about. 

And we felt the power of that perfect love come over us, and a sense of comfort ease into our souls.

* * * * *

The boys and men in the room were aware that something was happening, but bless them, they couldn't fully grasp it. But then it was time for our speaker to turn his attention to them.

Young men, these young women around you are the princesses of God, but you are not the princes. A prince simply sits back in the authority of his blood line and awaits his turn to rule, but that is not your destiny.

You are God's knights. Your duty is to protect God's kingdom and defend his honor. You will go wherever he sends you and act on his behalf to bring his light and mercy to the world. You will do these things not on your own authority, but only in accordance with God's authority and you must live up to his standards at all times.

Between missions, you must return to God's feet, kneel before him, and learn from him. Only by applying God's wisdom to your own life will your reputation grow. 

Now I've seen you looking at the princesses of the kingdom. I know you'd like to win the heart of one for yourself, and in time, as your training advances, that will come. But now, while you are earning the privilege of a princess's love, your knightly duty is to protect the honor of all princesses, to defend them against all harm and wrongdoing, to ensure they are all treated as God's precious daughters should be. 

Because you are his treasured son, a true knight of God. 

Now we were all spellbound. From the males in the room I sensed a healthy surge of adrenaline and testosterone; an unspoken pride in this charge. I felt each young man square his shoulders and stand a little taller (except we were still lying down, so I guess they actually laid a little taller) in this new sense of purpose.

From the young women, I felt a further awakening, a new awareness of who these boys were and what made them tick. No wonder these girls couldn't get their peers to behave as proper boyfriends; they needed to slay some dragons first. 

* * * * *

This was a night that changed my perceptions

around youth ministry,
around teenagers,
around what it means to be created by God. 

From this day forward, I told and re-told this story - in my own fumbling way - to the kids I met with at youth groups. I passed out stickers of princesses and little toy knights - like army men only wearing suits of armor and carrying swords. As I said goodnight to them, I looked at them hard and said, "You are a princess of God. You are God's knight."

I let these images and comparisons soak deep into my soul, so that I didn't have to remember them consciously when I spent time with the kids. I did everything in my power to treat them like princesses and knights. I felt in tangible ways my ideas about who we are, we children of God of all ages, undergo some pretty radical transformation.

And I knew deep in my heart that it was true. I am a princess of God.

* * * * *


Around that same time, I was noodling through the craft store one day and found a tiny pink sparkly notepad in the bargain bin. Without hesitation, I reached in and drew it out. "This will be my book about fairies," I announced to myself.

Years flew by and I found my creative energy for a fairy book to be entirely stifled. The whole concept made no sense to me. I've never been particularly drawn to fairies but I'd told myself that's what this book was meant to be about, so I felt rather stuck.


I consoled myself by swapping out the cheap lined pages for an assortment of hand torn art papers and replaced the wire spiral with a ribbon. 

The new and improved book sat empty for years.


"This is my little book about fairies. It's been waiting a long, long time to be born. And finally that day has come."

As soon as I wrote those words, a new thought burst into my mind.

It's not a book about fairies. It's about princesses. 



This is a book about my life as a princess of God.

And now, at long last, my book is complete. 

* * * * *

Want to see the other journals I've finished? Check them out here:

The Presidents' Pocket Biographies
My Princess Book
My Stash

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Blossoms Of Spring

Earth Day is a time to celebrate our planet, and remind ourselves of our duty to protect and cherish her health and dignity.

In some ways, the ornamental flowers I grow in my garden are an affront to Mother Nature's goodness. Developed by humans to maximize beauty rather than contribute to the ecosystem, garden flowers go against the grain of Planet Earth and her special day.

But when I watch my gardens burst forth every mid-April with form, color, and beauty, I know that these spring-blooming flowers fill me with gratitude for our planet and marvel at the miracles she brings forth.

Which is a perfectly lovely way to celebrate Earth Day.

By this time of year, the crocuses and daffodils have already come and gone; my earliest-to-bloom rhododendron is fading fast. But here, on Earth Day 2020, are the show-stopping blossoms in my Pacific Northwest garden. 


^ When I was a little girl, my grandmother had a massive magnolia tree in her front yard and every spring it exploded in resplendent pink blossoms that eventually carpeted the grass underneath with a shower of pastel petals. What makes me laugh now is that I didn't really grasp the idea that this was a spring phenomenon, that these flowers came just once a year, and that this showstopping beauty signaled the beginning of a new season of flowers. 

Only as an adult growing my own gardens did I really lock in on the concept of spring flowers and the special joy they bring. 


^ Red tulips invoke spring for me like nothing else. My grandmother always grew them, and my mom too. But these particular gems have been growing in my own garden since the first year I moved in. I planted the bulbs in the fall of 1986, and every single spring since then, they have been brilliant harbingers of the new season. Right now they're blooming in several different spots in my gardens, and in the backyard, amidst a splash of these hardy red fellows, I noticed one yellow tulip, the last representative of his color tribe to survive all these years. 

The reds however are still going strong. 


^ Bleeding hearts are new to me. They're an old-fashioned favorite, to be sure, but not a plant I'd ever seen before planting them my own gardens many years ago. What I learned is that not only are they a delicate, sweethearted flower that chimes in perfectly with other, more robust spring bloomers, they are a little girl's dream. Perfect pink hearts that open to reveal what looks like a drop of liquid gold, many a time did I find my little daughters and their friends standing in front of a stem full of blooms, carefully and tenderly taking each one into their fingers, holding it in amazement, and then letting go to explore the next.

About a decade ago, my original bleeding hearts died after a particularly tough winter and I've since replaced them. I'll never go without these beauties in my garden ever again. 

* * * * *

I support Earth Day's more political and practical movements. By all means, let's lobby for environmental protection, attend rallies and marches, reinvest ourselves in effective recycline, and participate in clean-up projects. 

But all of our actions to protect Planet Earth are most effective when they are grounded in our deep love for Mother Earth. And sometimes, that love is best nurtured by enjoying the blossoms of spring. 

Sitting Pretty

"My room for sitting and thinking about nothing in particular to see what would happen was at the end of a hall." - Carl Sandburg

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, 'Go away, I'm looking for the truth,' and so it goes away. Puzzling." -Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

* * * * *

After a busy day of recording math lessons for my socially distant students, I sat down to upload them to YouTube. Eight videos, some fairly long at 30 or 40 minutes, others as short as ten, would take about an hour of my attention to be properly uploaded where my students could get their hands on them. Rather than drift around the house doing this and that while trying to keep this task in the forefront of my mind and failing, if the past was any predictor of the future, I decided to stack the odds in my favor with one simple act.

I sat down.

"I will not budge from this place," I told myself once settled on the living room couch, "until my uploading task is done."

Click, click. Tap. 

And so it began.

Within moments, Gracie woke from wherever she'd been sleeping and shuffled in to join me. I scooted back to the far corner of the couch and gave her plenty of room to stretch out. And also the pillow.


Once she got herself all comfy, I angled my legs up alongside her for my own maximum comfort, and breathed a sigh of contentment.


Gracie must have sensed my human legs nearby, and without so much as a twitch, shifted her furry back legs so they were resting up on top of mine in a most agreeable and cozy manner.

We both sighed. 

I flipped open an e-book and found my place in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I'm learning is a fictional autobiography - ?! - with equal parts Upper Plains travelogue and metaphysical ponderings. It's a weird book but I'm enjoying it immensely. 


I read for about a half an hour. Every now and then, I'd toggle back to YouTube to see how my upload of the moment was progressing. As soon as I'd discovered that one video was safely landed on my channel, I'd start the next.

Click, click. Tap.


Sunshine streamed through my living room window, warming the air in a deliciously relaxing way. From the next room, I heard my husband on a Zoom call for work. The other callers' voices were muted so I heard nothing from their end but every so often I caught an indistinct rumbling as he contributed to the conversation.

My daughters were up in their rooms, silent. 

The cats, wherever they were, were apparently content to be there.  Probably out sleeping under some fresh spring leaves in the garden.

Gracie snoozed on. 


My eyes felt heavy. My head nodded once or twice.

I checked my phone - still uploading - then shifted, still under Gracie's furry feet, so that I could lean back against the arm of the sofa and close my eyes in comfort. The images of the motorcycle trip through the Montana landscape drifted through my mind as I let myself relax into the moment. 

Should I sleep? 

Well. My goal was to tend the uploads but on the other hand, I'd promised myself that I wouldn't get up till they were done. I never said how long that process should take.

Yes, I decided. A nap would be fine. 


As it turned out, I wasn't ready to fall asleep after all. But I stayed there, perfectly happy on the couch in a quiet house with my faithful dog at my side, thinking about life and mindfulness and road trips and the beauty of every single moment, as my videos continued to upload.

And when they were done, I got up.


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Accidental Beauty

"I like the accidental nature of being in the real world." -Beeban Kidron

Some years ago - maybe ten or twelve - I went to Washington's famed Skagit Valley tulip fields to take pictures of the annual spring miracle. 

Field upon field upon field - as far as the eye can see - are filled with row upon row upon row of tulips, 

gloriously colored,
geometrically perfect, 
swaying ever so slightly on their stiff green stems in the gentle breeze.

As anyone who has ever seen them - and most Seattleites have made the trip - will tell you, this is quite a sight.

I'd been to the fields before this particular trip, so I knew just how to catch a great shot. Pay a few dollars to park your car not at one of the garden centers but along one of the fields where visitors are welcome, and traipse back along muddy lanes through the acreage to get a proper vista of the wide-open fields. 

I was with several of my then-teenage daughters and a friend or two, and that's exactly what we did. 

The girls wandered off by themselves, as girls that age will do, and I was left to roam on my own. After filling my camera roll with countless shots of the brilliant fields, I navigated my own way around giant puddles and deep trenches of mud, and in the bend of the narrow track, I came across an ancient red, rusty tractor parked off to the side.

Hitched to the back of the tractor was an even older wagon. It looked to be a custom job, improvised from rugged and well-worn wood. The sides stood maybe two feet above the open bed of the wagon, but from my perspective, I couldn't see inside.

So I walked around to the back of the wagon, and this is what I saw. 


Armloads of discarded tulips lay heaped in the wagon, 

colors gently muted, 
petals slightly worn, 
stems softly curving and ever so slightly wilted.


And while these were apparently considered substandard in some way to the regimented soldiers still standing at attention in the fields, I thought that the faded blooms lying in the back of the wagon were the most beautiful tulips I'd ever seen. 

I admire their accidental beauty, even to this day.

* * * * * 

Before the tulips, daffodils bloom. Read about that visit here.

Before And After

"The moment between before and after is called Truth." -Dainin Katagiri

When I'm working on projects at home, I love to take some Before shots to capture the way things looked when I started to work.

The problem is, I usually forget.

I guess I'm so excited to get to work, so fueled by adrenaline and enthusiasm, that my brain skips over "hey, let's take a few photos" and zooms right into DIY mode.

This happened once again this weekend. 

I was a full 24 hours into repainting the woodwork in my front hall before it dawned on me to capture my starting point.

Patient pup. 

So if you'd like to know where I actually began, please imagine this white trim - ceiling moldings, doorways, and wainscoting - in a light beige semi-gloss sporting a ten-year-old supply of scuffs and dings. 

If I squinted my eyes, it looked mostly fine but it was time.

What you actually see in this photo is the entry stripped bare, a gala festoon of Frog Tape, and the first coat of Bleached Linen. That's my go-to white for ceilings and painted trim all around the house. To my eyes, it reads plenty pure and bright with just a touch of warmth that feels cozy, crisp, and clean to me. 

Like every other painting project I've ever done in my life, when I laid down my paintbrush for the day, I immediately took up a cleaning rag. I don't mind the hard work of painting but lordy be, I despise the mess. So all the accessories get put away for the night, and the floor gets a good washing to be sure all the fresh paint freckles are scrubbed away.

Gracie, bless her, is waiting patiently for her walk. Eventually, we made it.

Now would you like to see an oh-so-satisfying After shot with the room restored to glory and everything back in place?

The yellow upper walls are staying the same. And they are not as shockingly bright in person as they appear in this photo. 

Well, me too. But I haven't taken a proper After yet. Because I'm not quite done. 

This is technically an in-progress shot: two coats of paint on all the trim but only one on the doors. ugh. There are five -count 'em, five - doors in this room. I've got somewhere around another five hours of work before I can fully re-inhabit the room.

Still, at this point, I decided it was fair game to rip down all the violently ugly tape and rehang the art. Later that same evening, I washed the outlet plate, and arranged for my husband and fourth-born to lug the dresser back into place. 

This little table was only here to hold my candle during my work hours. I've been painting for the last four out of five weekends, and I'm a bit sick of it. The flickering light and soothing scent of a quality candle provided a bit of the motivation I needed to slug through another day as a slave to the paintbrush.

Also, Harry Potter audio books are my secret weapon against painting drudgery. Jim Dale sure knows how to make the hours fly by. 

* * * * *

So as much as I enjoy the striking contrast of Before and After photos that capture a home transformation, I'm notoriously bad at taking them.

Mine are more like Kinda Before and Getting Close to After.

Which I realize is really not satisfying at all, and I apologize for letting you down.

To make amends. let me offer this shot of my red tulips as they break out into riotous bloom.


Though they are also somewhere between Before and After, they speak - as Dainin Katagirias points out - an achingly beautiful truth. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Donica And Me

I honestly can't remember a single thing about what's going on in this photo of Donica (left) and me, but in terms of background, I can provide an ocean. 

Once upon a time, I was six years old.

I know. We're deep diving into the past but stick with me and I'll eventually bring us back to the modern era.

It was a morning in the early summer between first and second grade. I heard a knock at the door (no one had doorbells in that place and time) and my mom called to me.

There at my front door stood Donica.

Of course I knew her name. She lived in my neighborhood, though a bit beyond my usually traveled circles. All during the past school year, we had waited at the bus stop together with the neighborhood kids and rode on the same bus to West Elementary. But she was assigned to the other first grade teacher, so even though her classroom was just one door down the hall from mine, we might as well have been on different planets.

In many ways, we were different species, Donica and me. I'd mostly ever played with boys - my brothers and their rough and tumble friends - or my special forest friend, Marilyn. But I knew from afar that Donica lived in a different world. She had sisters, and even more so, Older Sisters and I was in proper awe.

Nonetheless, there she stood at my front door, bold as brass and ready to play. And so play we did.

I can't begin to recount all of our crazy adventures over the years.

There were endless hours of swimming, including underwater handstands, diving for clay scratched from the lake bed, and one highly impactful lesson on why one might feel free to go Number One in the lake, but never, ever Number Two. Winters were a blur of sledding, skating across the frozen lake, and nearly frostbitten fingers. One fall, when the men of the neighborhood lit a smoldering fire in the stump of an old willow, we'd spend the afternoons feeding and fanning the coals back up into a proper flame.

We alternatively made fun of the neighborhood boys and played with them, riding bikes, squirting hoses, sledding until our toes froze. We mastered their games of nighttime spear fishing, make-up-your-own-words Scrabble, and catching frogs and crayfish. There were countless games of spoons, a dare that involved sending a comrade to a neighbor's house to ask for white raisins, and then the infamous evening in which I spouted orange pop out my nose.

Donica's house was a source of fascination for me. There were three bedrooms for the four girls, and to my utter amazement, they often switched around who stayed where. We played endless Barbies, watched Bonanza on her family's new-fangled color TV, and listened to her sister's Beatle albums. Freshly released Beatles albums. Quite the gourmet in the kitchen, Donica taught me the magic of tomato sandwiches, and even more exotic, radish sandwiches. 

At some point, Donica’s parents split up and got divorced, just like mine. This was the first time I’d had friend go through what I’d been through, and while I didn’t wish upon her the shame and stigma that came upon so-called broken families back in that time, I was so relieved to know that someone else understood   

Years sailed by. Middle school and then high school happened, and though we both made other friends and swam in other circles, our lives never drifted too far apart. After graduation, I settled into a university routine and Donica set off to Denver to join her oldest and most mysterious sister. It seemed our anchors to one another had finally been cut, and we were moving away at last.

But there was one surprise left to come.

The summer of '79.

It was a morning in the early summer between my junior and senior years of college. I heard the phone ring (no one had cell phones in that place and time) and my mom called to me.

There on the phone was Donica.

She'd come home for the summer, she said, and wondered what I was up to. And thus began what could be considered, I suppose, the last summer of my childhood. Donica was with me every step of the way as we pursued more adventures, crazier than ever before. Somehow we both made to September in one piece (and with no arrests!) and with a fresh new crop of memories, we parted ways.

Since then, life has taken us in different directions, Donica and me. I settled first in Chicago and then up here in the Pacific Northwest as she has ping-ponged back and forth between coasts, ending up back in our home state of Michigan. It's fair to say, I suppose, that our lives have gone in different directions.

Yesterday brought us right back together again.

After a good dig through her vintage photo archives, a third member of our Ore Lake friendship club texted the above photo to me and apparently to Donica too. I really have no clue what's going on in this photo, and I'm not even sure when it took place, though based on my haircut, I"d lay my bets on that summer of '79.

But what's most important about this photo is that in a flash, it brought back a childhood crammed full of hilarious memories of time spent with a true friend, a friendship that's held us together for over a half-century. And I don't think that anything will ever pull us apart.

P.S. The day we tried to make blue pancakes at my house but they actually turned out green.

P.P.S. Try saying "comb" but do NOT laugh.

P.P.P.S. When we both said, "Eat it, Ronald, eat it," to the weirdo kid on the bus and the creepy bus driver told us we had to write that out 100 times and give it to him the next day. And after you wrote that all out, you cut every one of the hundred sentences up into a separate strip of paper and delivered them all to the bus driver in a handful of confetti.

Friday, April 17, 2020


For the past couple evenings - well, what I consider the evening is more like the middle of the night for most people - I've been rummaging around in the depths of my kitchen cabinets, trying to track down a certain pair of plates and matching mugs. 

A picnic set.

These tried and true 80s gems came to me as wedding gifts, and my husband and I put them to immediate use on our cross-country honeymoon to California. 

We lived in Chicago at the time - Evanston, Illinois, to be exact - so we really did cross a goodly portion of the USA. 

And in the fashion to which we later became very accustomed, we practiced the fine art of rest stop picnicking along the way. Though breakfast and dinner were eaten in proper sit-down restaurants, lunch was always a picnic table in the sunshine, with our new red dishes front and center. 


See? Here's proof.

As the years and then decades flew by and our family grew from two to six, the red picnic dishes began to drift toward the back of the kitchen cupboards. I realized lately that I hadn't seen them in a while. 

I also realized that they are old enough now to be considered vintage. The Heller brand has enjoyed a bit of resurgence in the new millennium, and I've seen these very same pieces on Etsy and Ebay for a price well in excess of the originals. 

Night before last, I finally turned up some good news. I found the plates! Just as I'd suspected, they were buried underneath a stash of plastic Mariners soda cups but none the worse for wear. 


I was, in a word, overjoyed.

But my quest was not yet ended because the matching mugs were not in the same location, as I had crossed my fingers and hoped that they would be. 

Last night, as I triple-checked the weird cupboard over the fridge that houses orphans, and took a quick tour through my overflow dish storage in the garage, I remembered with a sinking feeling a prior cleaning binge from several years back.

Some part of my brain recalled that I'd been considered getting rid of my red plastic picnic gear - I mean, we now have a full set of camp dishes for a family of six, so why did I need these old codgers too? And while I obviously hadn't parted with the plates, I seemed to recall making a weird deal with myself that if I let go of the mugs, it would be okay to keep the plates.

Ugh. I'd given away my 1984 red Heller mugs and I was consumed with regret. 

So I did what any red-blooded declutterer does when she realizes she has gone too far.

I jumped online and scoured up some replacements. 

Now these replacement mugs looked exactly like the ones I'd had before. But they were not cheap. 

I thought about what else that money could buy. 
I remembered my shopping ban.
I reasoned that I had made the decision to let the originals go. 
I reminded myself that don't need two thirty-year-old chunks of plastic to feel good about myself. 

These thoughts didn't even slow me down.

I plowed through to my shopping cart and began ticking through the screens as I placed my order.

And just as I was about to enter my CVC number - which means I pushed back my chair to go get my wallet because I can memorize the 16 digits of my debit card number but I never remember that three-digit code - I suddenly had a vision.

The red plastic mugs were in the picnic basket. 

Yes, we also received a cute little Yogi Bear-style pic-a-nic type basket with our red dishes and that, I knew for sure, was safe and sound out in the garage. My mind suddenly seemed to recall putting the mugs in the empty basket as a clever way to store them, I couldn't be 100% sure but I could definitely: 

sprint through the house, 
haul the basket off its high shelf, 
flip open the lid, 
and look inside. 

Which is exactly what I did. 


And this is what I found. 


My heart surged with happiness as I re-introduced plates to mugs and happily admired their timeless beauty.

I promptly cancelled out of my pending order, and wished the replacement dishes well. I hope they go to someone who really did get rid of their 1980s wedding gift and regretted it as much as I temporarily did. 


This morning, my friends and I held a quick photo shoot to celebrate their reunion.


I even invited the napkins that came along with the picnic dishes to join in. After all these years and countless al fresco meals, they are still in mint condition. Sadly, the coordinating tablecloth has long since bit the dust. We loved it well. 


And then, to round out the reunion, I added my picnic basket to the scene. Now the whole picnic gang is reunited and I could not be happier. 

P.S. In case I ever forget, please remind me that the plates, mugs and napkins are now all being stored inside the picnic basket. I won't get fooled again.

P.P.S. Bonus footage of me on my honeymoon amidst the blooming flowers of Napa Valley. 


P.P.S. Bonus footage of me on my honeymoon amidst the blooming flowers of Napa Valley.