Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A Christmas Ferry Tale

Once upon a time there was a cute little town called Mukilteo that was home to a ferry boat.


1. It's actually more of a suburban bedroom community full of Boeing managers, Seattle commuters and Amazon/Google/Microsoft techies than a proper stand-alone town, but we Mukilteans like to think of this place as a regular Stars Hollow.

2. Technically, Mukilteo is home to not one but two ferry boats but they take turns tying up across the water in another little town (that is still kind of a suburb but located on an actual island and therefore a bit more town-like) called Clinton. 

Notwithstanding, Mukilteo is definitely a ferry boat town.

Every day, all day, in half-hour increments, the giant beasts gently ease out from their berths, blasting their horns to great effect, and neatly chug across Possession Sound, carrying every year literally millions of people as well as their cars and trucks to their destinations.

At the center of our local waterfront, to accommodate all this to-ing and fro-ing, stands an enormous pier and a hulking drawbridge of a thing that allows these many vehicles to zoom on and off the ferries, 145 at a time. 

Also taking up valuable space on the crowded waterfront is a parking lot to hold all those vehicles waiting for their turn to ride the ferry, various ticket booths and passenger waiting areas, motorcycle and bicycle zones, HOV lanes, and other structures dedicated to the fine art of ferrying. 

So it has been for the past 63 years. 

Until this week

Because, after literally decades of wrangling about 

how best to manage this unmanageable mess of congestion, 
where the new structures should sit, 
how traffic should be routed to and from this new location, 
how the local environment might be protected, 
and countless other complicated details, 

a brand spanking new ferry dock and terminal is opened and ready for business. 

It is surely a Christmas miracle. 

And on the last day of business for our much beloved old ferry dock, my family and I wandered down to the beach to walk for one last time in the shadows of these friendly giants


From our beloved vantage point on the rocky beach in front of the Mukilteo Lighthouse, one of the ferries sits at her dock that is located just a few hundred feet away. 

Correction: was located just a few hundred feet away. 

In their new home, the big girls will make land another third of a mile to the north. 

We will miss seeing them here. 


Although a lovely set of waterfront walkways connect the new terminal to the beach, gone are the days when the ferries play peekaboo with the lighthouse and a diligent photographer can capture Mukilteo's two proudest icons in a single shot. 

We will miss seeing them here too.


One last time, after hundreds of other times, I watched  the Suquamish and the Tokitae criss-cross the chilly waters of the Sound, sliding smoothly past one another, taking turns in this endless game of fetch that they play.

And we will miss seeing them here as well. 

But while the angles of their routes and the intimate views of their arrivals and departures will soon be changed forever by their move to the new terminal, the ferry boats of Mukilteo will continue to ply our winsome waters for decades to come, and I'm quite sure that we will all live happily ever after. 


P.S. Gracie is not impressed with watching ferry boats sail across the water. She would much rather hunt for rabbits in the lighthouse lawn. And so we did that too. 

The End.

Christmas Scenes

Every year on Christmas Eve, I tuck myself into bed with not only visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, but also a firm reminder to take lots and lots of pictures of our festivities.

And just as predictably, as Christmas Day winds down and I once again lay my head on the pillow and rue the fact that the day slipped by with precious little in the way of photographic documentation.

Ugh. How does the day slip away so quickly, one activity blending seamlessly into the next with nary a moment to pause and reflect on such a simple task as grabbing my phone and snapping what's in front of me?

Well, of course, I'm thankful. 

This is not an actual problem, this never-ending flow of celebration. But this series of photos is just a hint of the way I spent my Christmas Day, and I invite you to use your imagination to fill in the rest!

* * * * *


^ I am not ashamed to say that I literally chugged my breakfast drink. It tasted like heaven. 


^ During my high school days, I went through a multi-year phase of eating a giant cinnamon roll every day for my lunch. Now they make me surprisingly sentimental 

When my daughters were young, our Christmas breakfasts were either an afterthought or a candy fest, but these we plan them out and heartily enjoy the delicious prelude to the day. This year's menu features Irish coffee - or hot cocoa with Bailey's for the non-coffee drinkers such as myself - and a luscious pan full of homemade cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven. A breakfast fit for hearty Hobbits and we enjoyed every morsel. 


^ Underneath that giant heap of paper is a sleepy dog. 


^ Christmas morning is so exhausting, amirite?

We open our gifts with alarming order and ceremony, patiently taking turns to go one at a time, passing the freshly received gift around for all to admire, the giver often sharing back stories about how this particular item was chosen, and the recipient offering thanks. In typical Streicher apple-pie order, we also sort the wrappings as we go, separating the recyclables and the trash into two piles. 

Early on, Gracie wanders into the beginnings of the heap of recyclable paper and lies down for a nap. Her eyes shut tight as I begin to cover her, layer after layer, with discarded paper until she is buried three feet deep. 

We smile, we laugh, we finish our unwrapping and get ready to move on. Still Gracie sleeps.

Finally, I call to her, wake her from her slumbers, call her out to join me in the kitchen. The rest of the family waits in excitment to see how she will react when she realizes that she napped under the Mountains of Moria. 

But Gracie, unruffled as ever, simply stands up and walks on. 


^ Call it a charcuterie or a cheese board, it's always a delicious midday meal.


^ Not only are they bound to please a wide variety of taste buds, these arrangements are highly photogenic and always stirs up a bevy of eager IG hounds. 

Years ago, when I first began to lay out these spreads, I put a significant emphasis on pretty. What we actually wanted to eat took a back seat to what made for an aesthetically apprealing arrangment and while I can certainly say that we managed to accomplish both objectives, I've since changed my ways. Our charcuterie this year featured only the most adored and devotedly tried and true family favorite food items, and I cared not one whit about how they looked. 

Well, that's a lie. I cared not one whit as I laid on all the cheese, meats, nuts, and crackers. But at the last moment, I tossed on a couple handfuls of fresh raspberries and two sprigs of soft green rosemary, turning this simple crowd-pleaser into a feast as beautiful as a soft summer morning in the Shire. 

* * * * *


Along with tasty meals and lots of presents, our Christmas Day festivities almost always include a viewing of the Lord of the Rings. After all the years of this tradition, I feel quite sure that Mr. Tolkien is with us as a welcome guest at our holiday table, though I'll probably never get a photo to prove it, 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Christmas Swag

It was about three weeks before Christmas - a week before she hopped on a plane headed for Seattle to spend the holidays with us - that my second-born said to me, hey, do you want to make dried orange garlands with me when I get home?

Yes. Obviously. 

I'm always down for a handmade Christmas.

So as soon as my cross-country Covid-free traveler settled in, we got to work.

Before assembly, the dried orange slices look a bit brown and drab. But never fear!

Supplies were very simple and so was the process.

We gathered up:

8-12 fresh oranges
wooden beads in various shades and sizes
a spool of twine
a big fat needle

First, we sliced the oranges about a quarter inch thick, laid them out in a single layer on baking sheets, and popped them into a 200° F oven. Every couple hours, we flipped the slices over and assessed their progress; after about eight hours, we called them done. 

Once the orange slices were dried and cool, it was a simple matter of threading the needle with twine, loading on the beads and slices.

We cut a piece of twine twice the length of the mantle, tied a loop into one end (and eventually at the other end), and settled on a pattern of two beads between each orange slice. To keep the garland neat and tidy, we tied a simple overhand knot before and after each bead, mixing the colors and sizes of the beads to create a happy chaos. For the orange slices, we simply took a big running stitch through the diameter of the fruit, starting and ending each stitch on the front side of the fruit.

Not that there is a clear front and back to an orange slice. Both sides are adorable. We just stitched happily away and enjoyed the no-way-to-mess-this-up process. 

Well. Turns out there actually is a way to complicate this project and that is to leave the dried orange slices out on the counter unattended because I happen to know of at least one large red dog who is not ashamed to jump up and eat large quantities of the crunchy morsels without batting a single long red eyelash. 

At least we don't have to worry about any Vitamin C deficiencies in her current diet. 

Once strung and hanging  where they catch the light, the dried oranges sparkle with color and translucent charm. 

The finished effect is timeless and charming, and while it may not solve world peace, I can attest that making this garland brought some joy to my world, and this year, it seems that some easy Christmas swag was exactly what I needed. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Peace

^ My tree in a rare puddle of winter sun. We’ve been using the old pages from our Stendig calendars for wrapping paper and I must say, it’s a dreamy look for a math teacher.  

^ For something different than the usual greens, this year, I made a couple garlands of eucalyptus. Of course, as 2020 would have it, my grocery store was out of the classic circular leaf so I went with what I could find. And it turns out that the floppy willow-like eucalyptuses leaves make a perfectly serviceable yuletide garland. 

^ Ornaments on a tree are always a good idea, but I also like to sprinkle my favorites around to other spots in the room. These hex boxes are ideal for showing off some of my favorites as the red and green sing out among the yellow. 

^ I’ve never been one to collect Santas but my mom did and now that a good part of her collection lives with me, I enjoy concentrating them in one Santa-filled spot. 

^ Sometimes I plan out my Christmas vignettes with the deliberate care of Payton on D-Day. Other times, I just prop holiday artifacts here and there, moving them idly about until I hit on something that I like. This kitchen shelf styling is definitely an example of the latter. 
^ Are little oranges officially considered Christmas decor? I vote yes. 

^ An offbeat assortment of bottle brush threes, glass trees, and tiny Nativity peeps come together in a cake stand and reach their best potential.

^ For most of my life, I’ve stubbornlybresisted resisted the siren’s song of artificial trees on the premise that live trees are better. Last year, in a bold and daring move, I bought this small chap and fell madly in love. Apparently I have room in my heart for both types of trees. 

^ For decades I’ve mulled over the idea of adding some sort of Christmas Village mojo to my holiday look. After considering dozens of pricey options, I ended up grabbing two sets of plain wooden houses from the Target dollar bins, painting them white, and finding them to be exactly what I’d dreamed of. Total cost: $6.  So glad I waited. 

^ Tiny forests of simple trees is apparently my new Christmas live language because they are popping up all around the house. From this angle, the ivy and cacti still flourishing outside add some fresh layers of green to the woodsy vibe.
^ Though it’s all the rage these days to douse earth-tones bricks in white paint, I will forever stay loyal to my original look. Yes, it takes some restraint to design around what is essentially an orange palette but the results work for me. 

^ This quiet corner of the family room features a funky bookshelf slash side table built by my grandfather, a framed piece of white paper that awaits an upcoming burst of artistic creativity, and a branch festooned with white wool acorns made in Lithuania. 

^ This year's outdoor look is a study in simplicity. And I’m just fine with that. 
* * * * *
Christmas is a season of peace. 

Peace comes from within ourselves. 

In the quiet moments between words and actions, music and celebration, I can find my peace. 

I can treasure it, soft and still in my heart and feel calm in my soul 

But. As long as there are people in this world 

Who are hurting
Who feel pain
Who cannot find their peace

My peace is incomplete. 

So if you are one of those people who are struggling this Christmas, please know that you are not alone. 

I am with you. 

And together we will keep searching for peace. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Forest Fires

I have several friends who are walking through dark and dangerous times in their lives. 
This is how I have learned to share their burdens. 

I see a narrow path winding on the ground below me. 

Far above, the peaceful night sky twinkles with stars. 

But between the wandering path and the quiet sky stands a dense forest of towering trees. The path weaves back and forth between the enormous trunks, with barely a glimpse of sky visible up through the thick branches. Certainly there is no other way through the forest; the path is the only way out of the trees. 

And the trees are on fire. 

Billowing plumes of flame stretch back as far as I can see. As fire consumes the trees, they collapse. Huge flaming branches crash to the ground and block the path. 

There is no going back.

Ahead on the path, trees continue to burst into flame. Deafening explosions rent the air as they combust; showers of sparks erupt. 

The way ahead is filled with danger. 

From my vantage point, safe above the tree tops, I look down on the path and see my friend. She’s there, in the midst of the maelstrom, paralyzed with fear, almost beyond hope. 

She doesn’t know which way to turn. 

I see the way out 
I call to her
I tell her I want to help. 

I do my best to guide her, urging her to dart and dash along the path, stopping now for this new shower of sparks, hurrying ahead before the next branches collapse. 

Sometimes she responds to my suggestions. Other times she does not. I accept that I can’t control her. 

I want to climb down from my safe place, join her on the path, holding her hand as we run toward a safe place. 

But I can’t do that either. 

It’s not my calling to walk the path. I am called to 

And accompany my friend as best I can, while she must face the forest fire directly. 

I can’t take on this challenge for her. 
I can only do it with her. 

And while my friend learns to place her trust in the perspective that I can offer not from wisdom or experience but only from my unique vantage point, I am blessed beyond measure by watching her face the forest fires of her life with courage and exceptional bravery. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Of Christmas Mice And Men


It was right around this time last year that I found myself one afternoon wandering around the aisles of Michaels, browsing the devastation of the Christmas products which were all on considerable markdown. 

Now this is always a tricky time of year. Because as much as I want to believe there are some hidden gems still waiting for me to swoop in and snatch them up at a giant mark-down, the truth is that most of what’s left at this late stage of the game is either ugly, beat up, or both. So it was with a heavy dose of caution and high degree of scrutiny that I patrolled the displays. 

In that frame of mind, I came across what I’d describe as a decorative holiday shadow box. A wood frame painted turquoise bordered a white background that sported some festive leaves and berries, and large letters that read “Oh, snap.” Attached underneath was a resin replica of a gingerbread man with an oh so wittily detached leg. 



No judgment to those who enjoy that kind of art, but I knew in a flash that this was not my jam. 

But there was something about that turquoise frame that lit me up. I stood for a moment, holding the frame, while my creative pistons fired away. 

And in an instant, I saw it. A clear vision of this dorky little shadow box transformed to my idea of cute. 

Which by the way was a vision many miles away from my usual holiday look of white lights, neutral colors, sticks from nature, and a handful of fuzzy textures. I am not usually drawn to detailed or figure-oriented holiday decor. 

But for seven lousy bucks, I decided to trust my gut. I bought it and took it home. 

Stopped to rip the plastic gingerbread man off and throw him in the trash as I walked into the house. 

Grabbed a piece of cardboard, cut it to size, wrapped it with a simple silver dot wrapping paper and tucked that into the frame to hide the original message. 

A few days later, I ran across a trio of wooden figures at Target. Are they upright reindeer? Mice in sweaters? An anthropomorphic interpretation of the Three Kings? I had no clue but I bought them (also on radical sale), took them home, and lined them up inside my shadow box-in-transition. 

And that’s when I ran out of gas. 


Several times over the intervening year, I came across my half-baked creation and considered dumping it as an ill-conceived experiment that belonged in the trash. But my gut told me to hang on, to play my vision all the way out before I let go. 

Still, when it came time to decorate this year, I saw the ugly little mess and decided to ignore it. 

Until today. When working on a different project, I was suddenly gobsmacked with creative drive and knew exactly how to finish off my original efforts. 

And a half hour later, the vision that had appeared in my mind a full year ago in the dusty December aisles of Michaels had come perfectly to life, and I was holding the finished product firmly in my hands. 

I’m smitten.
I’m charmed. 
I’m really quite in love. 

And while I’ll gladly double down on my original thesis that this little shadow box doesn’t really vibe with the rest of my Christmas look, in some ways, that just makes me even happier. 

Because I know for a fact that this project isn't anything I would have intentionally chosen to make. My turquoise shadow box is simply the joyful result of a nearly prophetic creative impulse, and every time I glance at it, I’m reminded of and humbled by the human brain’s awesome power to create. 

Epilogue: Later that same evening, I made a quick trip to Michales to grab some wooden beads for an entirely different project I’m working on, and as I made a quick diversionary hike through the heavily discounted Christmas aisles, you’ll never guess what I found. 

Yep, another so-not-me shadow box. 

And though lightning doesn’t usually strike the same place twice, creative thunderbolts apparently do.

Because I’ve got a fun idea for this new acquisition and I can only sit back and wonder when I will see it come to life. 

Covid Christmas


Hey, look! The Streicher 2020 Christmas Tree is up and properly aglow. If you’ve seen this corner of my living room during any holiday season in the last, oh, eight to ten years, you know that this display follows along in the fine traditions we’ve observed for quite some time now. 

New Christmas stockings. We’ve been using the set I bought back when the third and fourth daughters were nothing more than wishful thinking, so I decided it was high time for a change. 

But please don’t be fooled by superficialities. The truth is that this year is most definitely different. 

Because what we learned in 2020, beyond the behaviors of an airborne virus and the limits of our medical infrastructure, is that life has the capacity to throw some major curve balls. 

And no matter how many vaccines roll off the pharmaceutical factory floors and and into our arms in 2021, life will never, ever go back to what it was at this time last year. 

Seems like a long, long time ago. 

We’ve learned. 
We’ve changed. 
We’ve grown. 

What we know now is that in spite of our technological prowess, postmodern self-awareness, and innovative ability to confront new challenges head in, we actually have precious little control over this world and what happens to us as we ride around the sun. 

Mantle styling by me and three of my daughters. Truly a team effort.

At first blush, that may sound like a terrifying curse. 
Simple things that we, oh, so recently took completely for granted have become deadly dangerous. 

Visiting grandparents at the nursing home. 
Mailing out invitations for a wedding. 
Sending our kids off to college. 

People have died. Lots of people. Those of us who survive are left to not only to mourn but to navigate a heaping helping of survivors’ guilt. 

And still we find those among us who see wearing a scrap of fabric over half their face as a symbol of oppression and governmental overreach. 

Yes, yes, yes, this year has given us much cause for dismay. 

Here’s something else I learned this year: working from home involves a lot of electrical cords. 

But this year has also taught us some beautiful truths:

The selflessness of our medical professionals - practitioners and researchers alike - and the people who make their work possible 

The adaptability and ingenuity of our education professionals who found clever and never-been-done-before ways to turn their students into at-home learners. 

The willingness of almost everyone to dig in and do their share, helping out wherever they saw a need.

The beauty of our interconnectedness
The capacity of the human spirit for hope.
And the delicious realization that even in our world of movie reboots, gender reveals, product launch parties, and Wikipedia, this world still has a profound capacity 

to catch us completely off guard,
to send a shock to our systems, 
to make us rethink exactly what it means t be alive,
and to make us appreciate, even more than before, every single day that we are alive and well. 

Our old tree lights were about 50% dead, and the new lights back-ordered till December 23, so I had to make do with a rather janky light situation. Still, when I squint my eyes, the tree looks fine. 
And if that isn’t the perfect metaphor for this interesting year, I am quite sure that don’t know what is. 

So as we trim our trees, deck our halls, and hang our stockings with socially-distant care, I am especially thankful to be here, alive and well with plenty of toilet paper on hand, for this crazy Covid Christmas.

* * * * *

My Covid compendium of stories:

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

O Christmas Tree - 2020 Remix

"Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation." -Mason Cooley


O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
Here we come to search for thee.
We're thinking straight but not too tall
So's not to dwarf our living hall
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
Here we come to search for thee.


O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
We found you waiting for us.
Here in the sun where you have grown
And now we've come to take you home.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
We found you waiting for us.


O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
How quiet this year's trip was
No daughters here to scheme and talk
Just him and me, and dog to walk
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
How quiet this year's trip was.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
Next year will feel more normal
When Covid goes, we'll all come back
And for opinions, we won't lack.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
Next year will feel more normal

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
What matters most still stays the same.
We wish for all to live in love
And give our thanks to God above.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
What matters most still stays the same.

* * * * *

A poet named Mary Jane, who is also my friend, invited me to write 
a poem a day for eight days in a row. Here I go!

And one more for good measure:

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Haiku On A December Afternoon


evergreen treetops
sway against the clear blue sky
longing for raindrops.


outrageous ruffles
extravagant as august
bravely face the cold.


grand golden lady
bears her crown above cedars
ruling winter woods. 


the last yellow leaves
scatter to the grass below
unleashing their earthy scent. 


evening closes in
warms the dark with golden light
all is well tonight. 

* * * * *

A poet named Mary Jane, who is also my friend, invited me to write 
a poem a day for eight days in a row. Here I go!

And one more for good measure: