Friday, February 26, 2021

Spring Sun

Yesterday around mid-afternoon, I glanced across my kitchen and what I saw took my breath away. Streaming across my table, the spring sun set the room aglow. Shadows criss-crossed the floor, and the entire space was bathed in golden light

Now granted, sunshine in any form is a rarity during Seattle winters; my city's reputation for grey, overcast skies is well deserved. But even on a clear day, the February sun is weak and pale, illuminating but hardly lighting up our dreary homes.

No, my friends, these magical rays of light signal loud and clear that spring, bless her heart, is just around the corner. They make my heart beat fast, and send a little shiver of shock through my system, giving me delicious hope for the days soon to come, when the spring sun will make a habit of showing us her lovely face. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

This is Tongue Point at Salt Creek Recreational Area, a prime spot for whale watching. 
Sadly, I must report that Gracie and I saw zero whales. 

I've lived most of my life with dogs who are bolters.
Though the views were lovely from the top of the bluff, our prime destination was the beach. 
But how to get there?

A dog who is a bolter, if you haven't had the pleasure, is a beast who is driven to escape the confines of his existence and run 



He will sense the slightest gap in the front door, and uses his muzzle ever so slyly to widen that wedge until he can slip through, fast as a flash, and escape.

He notes the click of his leash coming off his collar, and cunningly rotates his head just so to either twist out of the hands of the unsuspecting human, or slip the collar off altogether, dashing away in an instant.

He happily jumps over fences, digs under gates, or tunnels his way out of any backyard contrivance designed to keep him in check. 

And once he is free, the accomplished bolter does not come when he's called. 

Even though he perfectly understands that command, and may actually be quite obedient to it when wandering around the house or on leash (aka in captivity), if you beseech him to "Come!" during a bolting session, he will laugh at you. 

Oh yes, he will. 

He will curl up those panting lips into a rascal-y grin and simply giggle to himself at the absurdity of your suggestion. 

* * * * *

It's hard to live with a bolter. They are a crafty lot, always thinking not one, but two, three, or ten steps ahead, plotting to win their freedom against all human devices meant to contain them. And once they are free, they are devilishly hard to catch. 

But it's also hard to stay mad at these free spirits. They are driven by beautiful instincts to want nothing more than to simply run free. And what could be more natural for a dog than that?
We followed a winding trail along the edge of the bluff, offering more tantalizing views of the beach and the adorable mini-island at water's edge. 

I have been very well trained by the bolters in my life.

Kelly, the dog of my childhood, sidestepped the issue of bolting to a certain extent by being a country dog. In the lake culture of rural southeastern Michigan in the 1970s, he enjoyed lovely freedoms, and was mostly allowed to run as he pleased, roaming miles in this direction or that, on rare occasions even logging an overnighter. Any attempts to control that blarney bloke were a joke - he could skillfully twist his collar out of my fingers in a blink of an eye, toss a smile to me over his quickly escaping shoulder, and go about his merry way.

Casey was the dog of my daughters' babyhood, and he could leap our six foot cedar fences in a single,  shockingly graceful motion. Also a master of the front door wedge, he slipped out during a UPS delivery only hours before my first daughter was born, and I spent the next 90 minutes wandering through the fields with an empty leash in my hand, alternately hollering his name and timing my contractions. 

And Ranger, beloved kindred who tried to please me in so many ways, was not against a mad romp himself. His signature maneuver involved the not-quite-latched door from the laundry room to the garage, which never closed properly when one of the big garage doors was open. His ears would pick up the subtle distinctions between a proper click and the gentle sounds of air passing through the unlatched door, and oh, so silently, oh, so stealthily, he would slip through the laundry room door, out  the garage, and run bonkers through the neighborhood before I ever knew he was gone.
Looping inland from the bluff, the trail led us to the old WWII bunkers on the site. 

So when dear little Gracie arrived on the scene, she met a well-trained adversary. Though she didn't display the speed, cunning, or guile of my former fellows, she was a true Irish lady and I assumed that she would also hold true to her breed's well-known reputation as skilled bolters.

I have not given her many opportunities to prove her innocence.
Finally, the trail brought us down off the bluff and along the edges of the creek that runs into the surf. Gracie stopped for a drink. 

But lately, I've noticed a few non-bolting tendencies from this little girl.

When we walk, even on her literally fifty-foot long leash, she usually prefers to walk right next to me. She seems to feel safer there at my side. 

And when she does forge ahead, she often turns around every now and then to make sure I'm still coming. 

She's very obedient about not stepping out of the house until I go out first. 

On the occasions when she does make a break, she wanders only as far as the neighbors' yards, and  only for two or three minutes, before she races back to find me. 

And though I can hardly believe it myself, nineteen times out of twenty, Gracie comes to me when I call her. 

Even when she's running free.
We used to be up there among the trees. Much happier to be down on the sand. 

And that has got me to thinking.
Out beyond the mini island lies Tongue Point and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, 
which leads to the open Pacific. PNW heaven. 

What if Gracie is not a bolter after all?

What if, miracle of miracles, she is the kind of dog who can, say, on a huge, empty, far-away-from-cars, beach, run happy and free with nothing holding her back but her pure, simple desire to stick close to me?

Honestly, to a bolter-accustomed human such as myself, that seemed almost too much to wish for.
Sniffing the salt air and listening to the bald eagles scream. 

Still, I decided to try, and during our lovely visit to the beach this week, I found the perfect opportunity  to give my dog a chance to prove her non-bolting ways to me.
Daughters three and four were off leash as well. 

At low tide, the beach was big and wide, flat and sandy, quite unusual for a Pacific Northwest beach. 

And thanks to the rainy forecast and remote geography, there were almost no other humans afoot. We had the joint to ourselves. 

So, fighting my mental mindset and long, infamous history with my bolting boys, I dropped my end of Gracie's leash and let her run free. 

And run she did. Far and wide, off into the sunshine, splashing through puddles, crashing into the trailing waves, veering in enormous arcs across the wet sand. 

But never once did Gracie stray far.
Gracie and me together again. 

And when I called her, she came right back to me, and sat at my side. 

Apparently, Gracie is not a bolter after all. 

* * * * *

For a recap on my lifetime of loving the Irish, read these stories:

Sunday, February 21, 2021


 This is my story about negative body image, disordered eating, dieting, and ultimately, healing. 

In no way am I judging, shaming, or giving advice to anyone who is dealing with similar issues. If that is you, I wish you well on your journey. 

me at deception pass circa 2004. peak skinny.

I was nine years old when the idea was planted in my head that I was fat.

In truth, I wasn't fat. Not even a little bit chubby. But once the idea was planted, it put down roots and settled in. 

Over the rest of my childhood, it grew. 

In shadowy dark corners of my mind.

I might be snacking on cheese and crackers before bed,
drinking one of my two-per-week allotment of sodas with a big bowl of popcorn,
dipping my hand into the cookie jar four or five times after an afternoon of swimming,

when the negative thoughts would come.

Fat girls are not allowed to eat delicious snacks. 

me in college circa 1979

It wasn't until I got to college that the dieting began in earnest.

I noticed that the two cutest 'it' girls in my dorm always had salads for dinner.

Oh sure, they generously ladled the thousand island dressing over a bed of greens topped with layers of ham and cheese. I didn't really think about that. I mostly admired the way they denied themselves the regular dinner options, and limited themselves to the salad bar. 

Fat girls don't get to eat whatever they want. They must restrict themselves to diet foods. 

Of course, these girls weren't fat any more than I was. Later, we all became dear friends and mulled over the guilt and shame we all felt around food. These discussions often took place after we had 'gone on a run' which meant jogging up to the ice cream store and walking home as we ate our cones. 

Fat girls must punish themselves with exercise before they are allowed a treat. 

After graduation, I lived with a roommate who was slim, trim, and 4'11" tall. I'm 5'8" tall. At breakfast, while I tucked into two halves of an English muffin, she would eat only one. When we ordered pizza,  I wolfed down three pieces as she struggled to finish one. Though I was never disciplined enough to be truly anorexic, I was ashamed. So I started eating less for breakfast and dinner - the meals I shared with my roommate - and allowed myself to fill up only during my midday meal at work. 

Fat girls want to eat all the time. They need to learn to deny their hunger.
me at age 24. 

By my mid-twenties, my self-image as a fat girl was well established and growing with fury. 

Still, I was not actually fat.

I bought stylish clothes that fit me well. 
I had many friends - male and female - and plenty of boyfriends who admired my appearance.
I was physically active, reasonably fit, and in wonderful health.

But my mind carried this ugly self-image and I struggled with shame around my eating habits every day.
  • At lunch one day, a co-worker made a joke about how quickly I'd eaten my cheeseburger. I turned scarlet and didn't speak for the rest of the meal.
  • One of my work girlfriends and I often took lunch together but prided ourselves on eating only soup.
  • My social drink of choice was lite beer which of course is still Very Fattening. Luckily, I tended to get sick to my stomach after just a few glasses, which I considered a delightful relief.

Life moved on. I got married.
me on my wedding day in 1984.

And that opened up new shoots of leafy, green concern. I was very concerned about becoming an old married lady who let herself get fat.

Or should I say, fatter.

So I turned to exercise. Aerobic dancing. This was the 80s, after all. I bought a bunch of cute leotards and some high-top Reeboks, and kept careful track of my progress, logging my workout sessions on my calendar with a special red pen, admiring my consistent dedication.

Fat girls must exercise obsessively in order to keep their weight from spiraling out of control. 

Then I got pregnant. 

Three times
Four times. 

Four babies in six years.
me in 1991 at 8.5 months pregnant with my third. 
hiking in the mountains with my second-born on my back. 

Now, with pregnancy came a whole different philosophy for eating, and I gave myself permission to eat. No stress, no rules, no shame. 

I gained 35 pounds with my first baby; effortlessly lost it all within a year. 
I gained 30 pounds with my second, and easily lost all but the last 5 pounds.
I gained 25 pounds the third time around. 

All of that felt great.

But in the year after my adorable and perfect third daughter was born, I lost almost none of the pregnancy weight. 

And with my fourth, I gained a mere 18 pounds  - of which my darling baby child weighed 10 - but I lost none of the remaining weight.  None. 

This was a terrible turning point for me.
My fat fears flowered into full, magnificent bloom. 

I no longer simply felt like a fat person.
When I looked in the mirror, I saw a fat person. 

I could barely recognize myself. 

Looking back, I'm not sure if I actually was fat, or if I was just a normal woman whose body had been cranking out babies left and right. Probably the latter, though I had no ability to judge. All I know for sure is that I gave up on jeans and fitted clothes, and bought only soft, stretchy, over-sized things like leggings and tunic-length hoodies, voluminous cotton knit dresses with empire waistlines and full, flowing skirts.

These are the best clothes for mothers to wear, I told myself. Soft and cuddly; perfect for bending over and scooping up little children and holding them close to me.

But I knew better. These were the only clothes that fit me. Because I was fat. 

Physically, I felt fantastic. I had a ton of energy, kept up with my busy babies and even stayed a few steps ahead of them, constantly carrying them around on my back and in my arms. Worked out hard at Jazzercise 3-4 times a week, had tons of friends with their own little ones with whom we had many delightful and active adventures.

I loved my body for serving me so well But I hated myself for being fat. 

Every day was an exercise in self-denial. I ate the same kid-friendly and adult-approved, balanced and healthy meals that I served my family, trying to limit my portions and settle for less. Mostly, I failed at that, and excused myself because keeping a positive mental energy seemed more important for this phase of life than a trim waistline. 

I'll eventually lose the weight, I told myself.  When the time is right.

In 2003, we were visiting family in the Midwest. At my mother-in-law's house, I was flipping through a women's magazine and came upon an article about weight loss that emphasized counting calories: "Manage your food intake by the numbers, because numbers don't lie, and watch the pounds fall away."

The day we got home from that trip, I began my diet. 

For the next eight months, I ate 1000 calories a day.
For two months after that, I ate 1200 calories a day.

That is not very much food. But I had known for a long, long time that if they ever want to be slim, fat girls must suffer and deny themselves. So all of this suffering and denial felt very effective.

And it was.

I lost a ton of weight.
me (on the left) in 2008, five years post-weight loss. 

I didn't weigh myself, but according to my calculations, I dropped at least 60 pounds. 
I was undeniably skinny.

I fit into all my pre-pregnancy clothes. With room to spare.
I was sharing clothes with my slim now-teenage daughters.

People didn't recognize me. 
I didn't recognize myself. 

At some point, a friend asked me when I was going to stop dieting. I said, I don't know. She said, well, just don't lose too much weight. You don't want to be too skinny.

That puzzled me. I'd never considered that before. Too skinny? Was that even possible?

Because even though I could objectively see that I had lost weight, I did not feel skinny. I still felt like a fat person. And I slowly realized that I was going to have to be skinny for a long time before I finally felt anything other than fat. 

Still, I decided to stop the calorie counting, which was an all-consuming lifestyle, and began looking for another eating methodology that would more easily yet still effectively restrict my calorie intake.

Over the next few years, I tried

zero sugar
low fat
high carb
eating for my blood type

and any other kind of dietary restriction I'd ever heard of. 

None of those strategies really worked for me - they didn't take the weight off like the straightforward calorie counting - so I resorted to a modified version of my original diet.

I just starved myself as much as possible.

Breakfast was a bag of snack-size rice cakes and a fruit smoothie, dinner I ate with the family. Otherwise, I survived on Diet Dr. Pepper.

And you know, it kind of worked. I kept most of the weight off for ten years.

 me in Malaysia in 2013

Then, in 2013, I went on a three-month long trip of a lifetime to visit friends in Malaysia. 

And I sure as heck wasn't going spend my trip of a lifetime eating rice cakes and drinking diet soda.

So I ate.

I didn't go crazy wild. 

I just ate what was offered to me, 
ate what was polite, 
ate what looked interesting. 

I ate like a normal person.

And my poor metabolism, which had been so drastically deprived for the past decade, bounced back with a vengeance. 

I gained weight. And I felt fat. 

When I came back home, I decided that I was not going back to starving myself. 

I needed to find a new way to eat.

And until I figured that out, I was just going to live with the fact that I was fat. Again. 

* * * * *

Read about my body image journey:

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Reading | Where The Crawdads Sing

Where The Crawdads Sing | Delia Owens 

Meet Kya, a little girl in the marsh lands of North Carolina, who grows up among the birds and fish, shells and flowers of this wild place. Agonize as her life fills with hardships and suffering, exhale with relief as she finds peace and purpose; feel the wind in your face as she maneuvers her little rowboat through the winding waterways, and let your heart sing as she finds a few trustworthy friends. Marvel as Kya's life unfolds, full of surprises both good and bad, and wonder whodunit as a mysterious murder threatens to disturb Kya's future. 

If you enjoy a lush narrative told with exquisite language and precise attention to detail; if you adore richly imagined characters who walk the lovely line between realistic and fantastical; if you relish a crazy plot twist or two, and an ending that leaves you breathless; then this is a book for you. 

* * * * *

I grew up in the great hardwood forest of Michigan and spent my childhood roaming among the trees, using acorns, twigs, leaves, and bark as playthings, soaking up the woods with all my senses. At home, my family life was often painful and confusing, but when I was nibbling wild strawberries found growing in the warm sun, or organizing a imaginary log cabin laid out with branches under the trees, all that chaos fell away and my world was safe and secure. 

In this way, I feel a great kinship to Kya, who loves her home in the saltwater marshes just as much as I did mine in the woods. I understand the solace that comes from escaping the world of people to explore and play in a place that feels so safe, so full of fascinating flora and fauna, so utterly magical.

And I also understand how adolescence changes this peaceful reverie, stirring up new energies, forcing us out of our quiet places and into the world of other people. Complicated things happen, and though my life protected me from the tragedies that fall to Kya, I can relate to her frustrations. Growing up is powerful and exhilarating and full of new possibilities, but sometimes it's painful to let go of the simple rhythms of a childhood spent in nature. 

I don't think it's necessary to identify with the main character of a story in order to enjoy the tale told, but in this case, I do. Kya is a sweet kindred spirit to me, and her story makes my heart sing. 

Reading | A Million Little Pieces

A Million Little Pieces | James Frey 

"I am an Alcoholic and a Drug Addict and a Criminal." James Frey spends six weeks in an icy Minnesota rehab, learns some stark truths about himself and the people who love him, and manages to come out the other side as a human being who is not fully healed but on a path toward healing. Along the way, James takes full responsibility for his problems, rejects Twelve Step therapy as a foolish means of replacing one addiction with another, and comes to terms with his explosive, seemingly inexplicable anger which he calls The Fury. He also learns to love. Written in direct, demanding prose, the author dispenses with grammatical conventions to create an experience with the written word that puts us directly into James' stream of consciousness. 

* * * * *

If I had read this book five years ago, it would have completely freaked me out. Gritty, harsh, unrelenting, the author pulls no punches in revealing all the sordid details of the addicted life, and its ugly underbelly of lies, betrayals, violence, and dishonor. But for the past 4+ years, I've walked alongside of a friend who is also an Addict, so there is not much that shocks me anymore.

Which is to say that James' story rings true for me. His devastated body, tough guy exterior yet tender heart, constant need to fill himself, and unflinching assessment of himself as unworthy of love - these are all things I know to be true of the addict in my life. James' story also plays out a truth that I believe holds for many people whose lives are in crisis - he learns that at the root of his addictive, destructive behavior lies a childhood trauma, an event that skewed his early perceptions of the world and of himself, and sabotaged his ability to develop a healthy sense of self-worth.

I've come round to believe that this type of childhood trauma, consciously or subconsciously, lies at the heart of every addict's journey. No sane person would ever choose to be an addict; but when there is a profoundly painful trauma that needs to be suppressed, mind-altering drugs actually provide a powerful albeit deeply flawed solution. 

I'm thankful that books like this exist

to shine a light on the humanity of addiction, 
to remind us that addicts are often intelligent, sensitive, thoughtful individuals, 
to give us insights into their struggles and pain.

And I pray for the day that our world learns to treat addicts with kindness and care, leading them toward trauma-based counseling and a deeper understanding of themselves, just as James received, that will allow them also to heal. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Snowflakes Fall

Snowflakes fall 





Not just because 
they cover this imperfect world 
in sparkling white perfection.

Though they do.

Not just because
they transport me to the magical winters 
of my Michigan childhood.

Though they do.

Not just because 
they balance nature's year,
in perfect complement to days of summer sunshine.

Though they do.

Snowflakes fall and I am glad because 


deep down in my soul, 

they make me feel more like myself.

Snowflakes fall 





Even when they melt. 

* * * * *

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:

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Reading | The Art Of Racing In The Rain
Hello, I am also an actual dog and I highly recommend this book. It's soooo good.

The Art of Racing in the Rain | Garth Stein 

Stories about the inherent wisdom of dogs and the way they use their intuitions and instincts to positively influence the lives of their humans are familiar beasts in the literary world (hello, James Herriott) but this is the first one I've ever read that is told by an actual dog. Enzo is a delightful Labrador who tells with dignity and style the ups and downs of his life with his human, Denny, and Denny's wife and daughter. Denny happens to be a professional race car driver, and Enzo takes a great interest in his career, building beautiful metaphors between the fine points of a Formula One race and the challenges of being alive. Anyone who has ever loved a dog will readily resonate with Enzo's profound wisdom and loving spirit, and if you also enjoy reading about fast cars, you're in for a real treat. 

* * * * *

Unlike me, my mom always had a soft spot for reading books about dogs.We both knew that virtually all good literary dogs die in the end, and while I find that plot point to be an agonizing heartbreak, she actually enjoyed the bittersweet tears. So it was that whenever she came after me with a new dog book, I ran away as fast as I could. 

And that's exactly what happened with this book. By the time she read it back in 2008 or so, my mom was already several years into her battle with Lewy Body Dementia, with enough damage to her memory that I tried to sidestep her recommendation and indirectly ignore her repeated question, "Have you read this book yet? It's soooo good." One of my few regrets about how I handled her illness is that I didn't read it. I wish I would have read this book back then and told her what I thought of it. That would have made her very happy.

Shortly after my mom died, I spotted this book on the shelf in a bookstore, and remembering how she loved it, I bought it. I'm sorry to say that I then left it sitting on my own bookshelf for years, wincing with remorse whenever the spine caught my attention. But this week, for reasons I can't explain, I suddenly felt inspired to pick it up and give it a read. And I'm so glad I did.

I wish I could call my mom and tell her that I took her advice and read this book. I wish I could say, "Hey, I read that book about the dog and you're right. It's soooo good." 

But she's gone now, so I will tell you instead. 

You should read this book. It's soooo good.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Valentine's Day Challenge

My husband and me back in Chicago, thirty years after we left.

Here, enjoy this MySpace-style questionnaire designed to reveal weird things about my marriage to you and the rest of the world.

Spoilers: There isn't much about us that is actually very weird. We were nerdy CPAs in Chicago during the 80s when true love took ahold of us and joined our fates. Then we moved to Seattle, birthed four free-spirited little girls, and became West Coast homeschooling progressives. I have no secrets. 

How’d you guys meet?

We worked together on the audit staff at a high-flying public accounting firm called Arthur Andersen & Co. in Chicago.We knew of each other for several years before our paths actually crossed through a mutual colleague named John Keller who eventually stood up as best man in our wedding and probably single-handedly upped our reception bar bill by several orders of magnitude. Technically, since we were professionals working in the same division, we were not supposed to date, so that led to months of sneaking out of the office separately to walk to the train together, and smiling discreetly as we passed each other in the halls. Thankfully it was the nature of our business to spend most of our time working directly in our clients' offices, so we didn't have to pretend not to know each other full time.

Still, it was a big deal when we finally let the cat out of the bag. My friend, Cairy Brown, who as my work bestie had known the full deets of our relationship all along, broke the official news of our status to our co-workers by revealing to them (with my blessing) the monogram on the new leather briefcase my fiance had given me for Christmas. The shiny gold letters of DCS represented my soon-to-be married last name, and though it took them a few ticks to put two and two together (which is adorably ironic considering they were all accountants) the revelation sent a literal gasp through the group of on-lookers.

Where did you go on your first date?
We went to the racetrack and bet on the horses. I'm serious. Looking back, I'd say that's one of the most bizarre and uncharacteristic things we've ever done together. We have zero interest in gambling; once we spent an evening wandering the casinos at Lake Tahoe and had to literally force ourselves to invest a quarter - yes, twenty-five lousy cents apiece - in the slots. I have no idea what compelled my now-husband to suggest gambling on horse races as a first date, and I'd certainly never been to a track before, but I remember having quite a bit of fun studying up on the races, making my bets, and cheering my horses on to victory. Pretty sure we ended up a few dollars ahead, and stopped at Hackney's for some legendary cheeseburgers on the way back to his Evanston apartment.

How long have you been together?
The meter started running that day at the racetrack - late August 1982 - so that's closing in on forty years. Good lord, where does the time go.

What's your age difference?
He is 3,171 days older than me, almost nine years. Though that gap has never seemed particularly significant in real time - by the time we met, we were both established in our adult lives and professional peers at work - but looking back at how the age gap worked in our earlier years seems a little crazy. I was in fourth grade when he started college, and had barely turned twelve when he hit 21. But cradle stealing seems to be a time-honored Streicher tradition since his dad was exactly 3,233 days -approximately nine years - older than his mom.

How long did it take to get serious?
Just a couple months. Both of us had come from serious relationships that we ended in order to be together. Though neither of us were actively thinking about marriage, we both knew that our previous partners were not who we were looking to spend a lifetime with, and with each other, things felt different. Two particular connections really helped us turn that all-important corner toward marriage: 1) we both had fond, formative memories of taking family road trips across the western U.S. and both wanted to bring that tradition forward to our future families, and 2) during our childhoods, our moms used the exact same cookie cutters for our Christmas cookies. If those aren't two key indicators of marital compatibility, I don't know what would be.
Who was interested first?
Hard to say. Since relationships at work were taboo, all of our preliminaries were kept very much under the radar. And there were those previous relationships that needed to be discreetly untangled before we could date. Looking back, I see the forces that brought us together as intuitive and highly nonverbal. And mutual.

Who is taller?
He's 5'11; I'm 5'8". So that's convenient when I want to borrow a jacket, a flannel shirt, or a pair of boots.

Who said I love you first?
I have no memory of that exact moment but as I was always one to hold my emotional cards close to my vest, I highly doubt that it was me.

Most impatient?
He's impatient with other people or flawed processes, say, servicemen who don't show up for appointments, closed lanes due to construction, or the woman at the dentist's office who keeps trying to bill insurance for procedures that never happened. I'm more likely to be impatient when I am excited to get something done. Let's say I wake up on a gorgeous summer morning and want to get straight out into the yard for a day of gardening; I won't have much patience for dealing with dishes in the sink.

Most sensitive?
Him. Classic first-born with only sisters. He grew up in a much calmer system that I did, where emotional issues were tread around very carefully and behavior kept firmly under control. With three rowdy brothers, I learned from the get-go to roll with the punches of constant teasing and rough-housing, so I tend not to take things personally.

I'm the one who sings made-up songs, hollers up the stairs, makes ridiculous jokes, and engages in nonsensical banter. Not necessarily loud, but definitely more high energy.

Most stubborn?
Oh, him. Once again, my husband's that classic first-born dominating type who is quite confident in his ability to form correct opinions and expects this expertise to be accepted without objection. I'm a second-born go-along-to-get-along, and as I often point out around the house, I'm the consummate team player.

Cooks better?
My husband can cook just fine. He used to share KP duties with me back before kids, and spent many hours baking snickerdoodles with the girls when they were young. But after decades of serving up three meals a day for a family of six, I've got major chops as an expedient and efficient home chef and I unabashedly rule my kitchen single-handedly. Sometimes he assists me but mostly nowadays, he just watches and occasionally taste tests as I cook. He has no complaints.

Falls asleep first?
Better morning person?
This is one of the most interesting aspects of our partnership. My husband is an extreme early bird. Pre-Covid, he used to happily rise at 4:30 a.m. for his morning commute to Seattle; now he sleeps in until 5:15 a.m. But even more significant than the time he wakes up is his early morning mood; from the minute he turns off his alarm and swings his feet to the floor, he is alert and energetic. His mood stays high all morning, and then begins to gradually temper back throughout the rest of the day. Though his bedtime is officially around ten, he's often snoring in front of the television by 8:30.

In contrast, I am a severe night owl, though my sleep doctor advises me to call my sleep pattern what it really is: Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. Which means I shut my eyes around 4 a.m. - yes, just as my husband is getting close to waking up - and wake up feeling fresh and rested around noon. My energy starts slow and rises throughout the day; I hit my major stride around midnight and am most productive in the wee hours of the night.

While many early risers do not understand this sleep pattern or have any frame of reference for considering it to be even remotely acceptable, over the years, my husband has seen for himself that there really is something remarkably different about the way our bodies need sleep. We've learned to use our opposing sleep habits to our shared advantage, and appreciate the benefits.

Better driver?
Me. Enough said.

Most competitive?
Neither one of us is particularly competitive, especially in the typical let's-have-a-contest-and-I-need-to-win kind of ways. My husband has a steel trap memory for details and facts so I don't challenge him to his face. But every now and then, I'll Google some information that he vows is correct, and find out that I was actually closer to the truth than he. But I don't need to throw that back at him; I just enjoy it with a secret smile.

Umm, I'm pretty hilarious so it's probably not fair to compare. Like his mother, my husband does love a good pun, so he usually sticks to that niche.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
As far as meals go, we are extreme homebodies. But when it comes to coffee - and my husband is all about the coffee - we run through Starbucks almost every time we go out. In another bizarrely bipolar aspect of our relationship, I have zero interest in coffee or any warm drinks, so I'm usually sipping on a cold can of La Croix.

Who is more social?
Me. He's a fairly extreme introvert, and after work hours is more than happy to spend some quality time alone with his BFF,

Who is the neat freak?
My husband is not messy. He has literally never thrown so much as a single sock on the floor, or left a box of cereal out on the kitchen counter. But he can tolerate a lot more visual clutter than I can, and does not understand my deep need for cleanliness and order.

Do you get flowers often?
Usually he buys them for my birthday, anniversary, and Valentine's Day. Sometimes he'll surprise me. Most of the time, I buy them for myself.

Who is the first one to admit when they’re wrong?
Me. I'm quick to apologize. Middle child.

Who sings better?
Me. Also I get a lot more practice.

Hogs the remote?
This is not even a question. He does.

Did you go to the same school?
No. My husband grew up near Cleveland, Ohio; I'm from lake country outside Ann Arbor, Michigan. He went to Northwestern University; I went to Michigan State University, and we met in Chicago.

Where is the furthest you two have traveled?
After graduating college, our oldest daughter spent a year living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and when her visa was up, we drove across the continent to fetch her home. That's 3,481 miles out to pick her up and 3,481 miles home in a minivan with two parents, a young globetrotting adult, three younger teenage sisters, a year's worth of belongings, and a big red dog.

Who drives when you are together?
We mix it up, usually depending on the time of day. If it's morning or early afternoon, my early-bird husband drives; if it's later in the day, yours truly.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Year Of The Ox

Happy Year of the Ox!

I know, I know, I know. You may be slightly perplexed as to why a person such as I, with not a single drop of Asian blood coursing my veins nor any legitimate ties to the East, persists in celebrating such a distinctly Oriental holiday. 

And persist I do. For the past ten years or so, I've celebrated: 

with my students and my neighbors
on the ground in Malaysia, Vietnam, and South Korea,
and with my family at home.

Why? What's the back story to this Asian persuasion?

Well, for starters, I can get behind any holiday that calls for

a week-long cleaning binge to kick things off
armloads of fresh flowers and heaps of fresh fruit
an inspirational animal theme,
and sixteen days of celebration featuring food, food and more food.

I also think it's good for all of us to get outside our own cultural bubble and explore how the rest of the world celebrates special days. 

While continuing to honor our own holidays, of course. I'm proud to be a white person of English and German ancestry, and I love my people's holidays. 

But that doesn't mean I have to keep my head in a fish bowl and only celebrate what I already know. 
I like to swim around the whole ocean, ya know?

And while those reasons more than justify my fascination with the Lunar New Year, there's one more that is near and dear to my heart.

Asia has been really good to me. 

Arguably, it's not easy to have a personal relationship with an entire continent, but if anyone can lay such a claim, I daresay it's me. 

In 2009, I began making friends with what turned out to be approximately half of the population of Malaysia. I've made several visits there since then, crashing weddings, cooing at newborn babies, and chatting with the village aunties who've never before met an American in real life. 

In 2012, my third-born made the short list for a mission trip to Vietnam when she was hoping to get sent to France. Sad about the lack of croissants and worried about the Communists, she went anyway and fell madly in love. 

Exactly one year later, the very same daughter packed her bags and moved to Vietnam to teach English to the adorable children she'd met on her mission trip. After conquering Vietnam (which she accomplished in three short years), she moved on to South Korea, and taught two more years worth of darling youngsters before moving back to the U.S. of A. 

Which meant that I, as the dutiful mother of an expat, had no choice but to fly off once a year to visit that intrepid daughter of mine, touring around her home countries as well as the neighboring lands in our annual jaunts. 

And now that she's back home, my daughter teaches English online to kids in China. Yes, five nights a week, a portal opens between our American house and the students' apartments sprinkled around greater Beijing, and our Asian connection is restored.

I love a lot of people in Asia. And celebrating their New Year according to their customs connects us in a emotionally meaningful and tangible way, and gives us one more experience to share.

And for me, that's the very best reason of all to welcome in The Year of Ox. Happy New Year!

* * * * *

You're on a roll. Want some more stories about the Asian New Year?

Friday, February 12, 2021

Reading | Normal People

Normal People | Sally Rooney

Star-crossed lovers Marianne and Connell zig zag through high school and college, caught in a cycle of getting together and falling apart. Quirky individuals that they are, no one else holds a candle to the flame that burns within for each other, and they can't help but wonder if maybe they belong together. Rooney's writing style is lean and spare. She writes in present tense and forgoes the use of quotation marks. The effect is direct and commanding. Conversations blur with the narrative, demanding that I slow down and pay close attention. Every exquisite detail serves the myriad and ever-shifting emotions of the main characters. This writing fills me with joy.

* * * * *

This story makes me angry. .Look, there's no other way to say it - Marianne and Connell's make-up-to-break-up relationship is profoundly unhealthy. Sure, they share a deep intellectual connection and they have great sex. but both are clearly suffering from unresolved childhood traumas (and there are plenty to go around.) What truly unites them is their brokenness, and as beautiful as it may seem to fantasize that two battered human beings can rescue one another, that's not the way real life works. Two drowning people can't save each other; they watch each other drown. 

At least Connell seeks out some counseling for his depression which apparently responds well to medication, but Marianne spirals into darkness resulting from emotional and physical abuse and ultimately concludes that her dissolving self-esteem is just an ordinary part of life. As the story winds down, Marianne reflects in numb and emotionless tones that she's "a normal person now" and I want to scream. No, Marianne. The pain you feel is not normal. You're deeply traumatized and you need help to get better. Please go to counseling. You deserve so much more than this. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Reading | Centennial

Centennial | James A. Michener 

Imagine a story that begins three billion, six hundred million years ago, and spins out over the eons until the present day of the mid 1970s. Visualize a plot that weaves together dozens of colorful characters into a rich generational tapestry that spans race, ethnicity, and culture. Dream of a novel that is born in a highly particular location, and an author who has the will and skill to incorporate events from around the world while keeping the story's feet firmly planted in that specific geographical place. 

This is the formula for success derived by one of America's finest writers, James A. Michener, and  Centennial is yet another of his true-to-form mega novels. This time the story is set in fictional Centennial, Colorado and tells the tale of the American West. Remarkably fresh and relevant, Michener's writing is particularly sensitive to the delicate issues of Native Americans, the buffalo, Mexican immigrants, slavery, environmental damage, and mental health. Almost fifty years old, Centennial still stands as a complex and comprehensive analysis of the forces that shaped the West.

* * * * *

As a young adult, I went from high school to college to - on top of my full-time professional job - six months of evenings and weekends spent feverishly studying for the CPA exam, and I began to wonder if I would ever have time to read for fun. But miracles really do happen, and finally the day came when I enjoyed the luxury of perusing through my roommate's fiction-filled bookcase and reading to my heart's content. Along with extensive collections of J.R.R. Tolkien and Ayn Rand, my roommate leaned heavily into Michener's catalog and I fell in love with his epic style of storytelling. Many a late night I would spend flipping pages while absent-mindedly dreading the morning alarm, too engrossed in the rich adventures at my fingertips to give a hoot about the late hour. I read at least a half-dozen of Michener's books and loved every word. 

Like a good Michener plot, several decades of my life then passed without incident. I stayed up late reading other good books, and Michener faded to the mists of my memory. Then one day about a year ago, searching for a story that would feel comfortingly nostalgic, I picked up a Michener book that I'd read back in the day, and reintroduced myself to him. And it turns out that I'm still in love with every word.