Tuesday, August 31, 2021

My Happy Pantry

Welcome to my happy pantry, where imperfections are tolerated 
as long as their labels are facing forward. 

You know what I like?

A neat, clean, well organized and easy to use pantry. And I'm not gonna lie. I like a pantry that has a certain sense of style. 

You know what I don't like?

Spending a gazillion dollars on trendy organizers, and styling out a pantry so pretty that I can't use it without marring its pristine perfection.

So as is always the case, as I plowed through my annual summer pantry sort-out, I've been keeping my sights set on that happy medium.

Granted, this space has been reasonably organized for the past few years. I mean, after living in this house for more than three decades, you'd think I'd know where to toss the soup cans, right? But as life evolves - and boy, does it ever - so evolves my pantry, and in my inexhaustible brain, there's always a better solution lurking just out of reach, and so I march on, doggedly determined to improve my storage system.

wheat flour | white flour | sugar | powdered sugar | white rice | brown rice

spices in the back | dog treats | paper napkins | salt and peppa 

oils | sauces | vinegars 

Up on the top shelf, my baking basics got an upgrade this year. Gone are my circa-1986 plastic bins and may they rest in peace after serving me so well. In their place, I splurged on some new plastic bins that offer the advantages of a slim silhouette that I can grab with one hand, and lids that are both secure and easy to pop on and off. I love them.

I've considered labeling these new gents, but honestly, I don't readily grasp the point of labeling clear containers. I mean, isn't it easy enough just to look and see what's inside, rather than reading a label? But then again, I'm the person who recently dumped a quarter cup of powdered sugar into a unsuspecting roux sauce just as my brain was whispering, "Are you sure that's flour?" so maybe I should take all the help I can get. 

My spice storage stays the same, with all my dudes lined up in their original bottles rather than decanted into some snazzy custom glassware. Sorry, I know other people can make that work but my life is too short to rebottle my spices. But then again, I do love the pleasing uniformity of a matching spices, so I buy all the same brand of spices as proof of my commitment to elegance and beauty. 

Of course, a few years ago when I decided to commit to Spice Island and slowly weeded out all the other visually jarring brands, Spice Island up and redesigned their labels. So now my spice shelf looks like the infidels have invaded once again. Alas.

But the Big News of the 2021 Pantry Makeover Season begins on the third shelf down from the top. 

See the white trays that fill the shelf, dividing one big wide open range land of a shelf into three manageable corrals? Well. They got a bit of a face lift this year. 

You know what's better than a satisfying painting project?
A FAST and satisfying painting project. 

These super functional fellows began their lives at Target as simple unfinished wood trays designed for crafting purposes. They've been living it up in my pantry for about five years now, still in their natural  pine state.

Until this summer, when I brazenly dumped their contents out onto my kitchen counters, turned my back on that outrageous mess, and marched them out to the garage for a go with the paintbrush.

The aesthetic of the wood was fine but the white much more effectively bounces the light around inside my often-shadowy pantry and for that reason alone, I dig the new look.

oils | sauces | vinegars 

cans | sweet things | cereals and grains

water bottles | nuts and dried fruits | boxes and big bags

These trays help so much in communicating my organization system to the other people who use this space. Since Covid reared its ugly head in March 2020, my husband has been doing all the grocery shopping (under my direction, of course) and puts the new stock away before I even tiptoe out of my bed. With the help of my sparkling white trays, and several long-winded but entirely fascinating training lectures, he now at least gets the new stuff into the right box.

I call that a win. 

But like any good system, a pantry needs some breathing room. There are always gonna be days when you stock up on, oh let's say five bags of Trader Joe's popcorn, because your second born is coming in for a long visit and she lives for popcorn, but you don't necessarily have an official popcorn overflow section worked into your pantry design. Well, that's the job of the bottom right-hand tray in my system, and I must say, it works like a charm. 

* * * * *

Of course, the delightful irony of my pantry is that, thanks to my new eating regime, I partake of almost none of these foods. Personally, all I need to feed myself are the spices, oils, sauces, and maybe a couple vinegars. 

But life is a journey best traveled together, and my people do like to eat. And so I shall continue cooking whatever they want, and stocking up on all their favorites in my happy pantry 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021


My mom and me with a springtime view of our neighbor's back yard. 

Make the mud pies neat and clean

Help Mommy with a smile

Don't ask about the fights at night 

I learned to be a daughter.

Here I am being presented with my newborn baby brother, 

while the third-born attempts to reach the pedals. 

Feed the baby; make him laugh

Climb trees and play in the dirt

Don't cry over toys; share with the boys 

I learned to be a sister.

My grandparents owned an amazing collection of lawn furniture.

Play whatever game she wants

Be less so she can be more

Never compete for the spotlight she seeks  

I learned to be a friend.

The four of us in our front yard, and a moment I still recall with perfect clarity. 

Keep my feelings to myself 

Sit and wait till he calls 

Accept that love won't be strong or last very long 

I learned to be a girlfriend.

For a long, long time, I hated pictures of myself, but with the advent of web cams and camera phones, I forced myself to learn how to pose, This is the first one I ever really liked. 

Dream my own dreams and pursue them 

Stand up for myself every day 

Why settle for anything less than the best?

I learned to be myself. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Reading | First Man


First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong | James R. Hansen 

The whole world knows and admires him as the first man to set foot on the moon, but far above and beyond that moment of accidental fame, Neil Armstrong was a nerd. 

Oh, yes, he was.

And darn proud of it too. “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer — born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace, and propelled by compressible flow.”

This book, his official biography, was a long time coming. See, straight-laced Neil was very hesitant to put his life story into the hands of an author, even a well-known, deeply respected, highly professional author, because many of them offered to do the job. He worried, and rightly so, that his extraterrestrial walkabout on July 20, 1969, would be written to overshadow all the other accomplishments and highlights of his life, and if that was the price to be paid, he'd rather have no biography at all.

But good ol' Neil met his nerdy match in James R. Hansen. Under Hansen's careful pen, every stroke of Armstrong's long and illustrious life is captured in exacting and unemotional detail. And arranged in precise chronological order, of course. Starting with a multi-century look back on the roots of the Armstrong clan, the author meticulously details the particulars of Armstrong's life: his parents' courtship, his Boy Scout camping trips, his flights off a carrier deck during the Korean War, his contributions in developing the emerging schematics of the space vessel he would pilot to the lunar surface, and his hit-and-miss attempts to build a new post-astronaut life that would serve him well.

Though perhaps a bit of a slog for the casual reader, this book sends a diehard Apollophile such as myself, well, truly over the moon. 

* * * * *

This is a book about one nerd written by another nerd. 

And in that respect, it brings me great joy.

Neil Armstrong died in 2012, but to read this book is to feel that I'm stepping into his mind, very much alive and well, and coming to understand the man from the inside out. This is the essence of a successful biography, and author James Hansen, with his painstaking attention to the specifications of the story, achieves liftoff. 

I'll admit that at times, I find the unabridged intricacies of the story a bit tedious. Sure, tell me about Armstrong's post-Apollo work career. Elaborate on the interesting fact that he - like most of the other moonwalkers - floated from one sphere of public or corporate life to another, never quite finding a place to fit in as he once did inside a Lunar Module. But do I need a roll call of every short term corporate advisory group or board of directors on which Neil served over the years? 

Perhaps not. 

Even so, I didn't skim a single page of this book. 

The story goes that Hansen submitted every draft chapter of the book to Armstrong for his review and edits, and while Armstrong studied every single word, he suggested zero changes. While that anecdote beautifully underscores Armstrong's determination to stay out of his own hype, I find it also to be a fascinating statement about the author. Apparently, Hansen got every detail right the first time. 

And I shake my head in wonder at the magic these two men created when they made this book together. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

How Gracie Got Her Name


This is Gracie. Sometimes I call her Grace.

I was ten years old when my father abandoned our family.

After a decade of blatant cheating, volatile confrontations, and a whole lot of gas-lighting, he finally pulled up his tent stakes and moved on.  

And while he took with him our emotional and economic stability  - not to mention my mother's self-esteem - dear old dad left one thing behind. 

An Irish Setter puppy.

The back story, as my mom eventually shared once she managed to unclench her teeth long enough to tell it, was that my dad had grown up with two beloved Irish Setters - first, Lady and later, Duchess - and he wanted to bestow the gift of that experience on his own children.

As he was driving off.

From my point of view, swapping out a narcissistic father for a precious red puppy was an excellent bargain, and I could not have been happier with this turn of events. 

But my mom did not want a new dog.

It was too much, too soon.

My mom was stumbling headlong through the darkness of grief and loss. Not content to simply abandon her with a partially renovated house, four young children, the shame of a divorce in 1969, and no prospects for earning a living, my departing father landed one more burden on her shoulders: Here, raise a dog.

My mom had never owned a dog before. She had zero know-how about dogs, and from what I could tell, was not really in a mood to learn.

But the fates had brought this furry angel into her life, so learn she did. 

She learned how this happy little fellow lifted her children's spirits and brought laughter back into the house. 

She learned how he subtly changed the family dynamic. Our previous family of six, sick and broken, was reinvented and reshaped as a new unit of six, with a contagiously cheerful Irishman - vibrant, alive, and full of love - at the very center.

And as our sweet puppy, Kelly, grew and bonded to her above all others, she learned about the deep and abiding way that good dogs love their people.

Though I'm sure she thought she would never love again, my mom fell madly in love with her dog and her broken heart began to heal. 

* * * * *


Or Susan, or Pickles, or Poli which is short for Polar Bear. 

Kelly lived a charmed life for ten lovely years, but the inevitable day came. I was at university when my mom called to tell me the dreadful news that he had died; we were both shattered, surely, but I held a tiny unspeakable spark in my grieving heart because I knew that someday, somehow, another charming redhead would make his (or her) way into my life and I would love another dog.

But not so my mom. She didn't come right out and say it, but I could tell by the set of her jaw and the tension in her voice whenever the subject surfaced - there would never be another dog for her.

Years passed. I'd gently revisit the topic from time to time: "Have you thought about getting another?"

Always there were reasons - no kids around to play with a dog, too much of a time commitment to keep him properly exercised, plus that whole hassle of arranging for care when she wanted to pop off to Europe with her friends (which I'm happy to say she actually did do from time to time).

Plus the granddogs started rolling in, and she could enjoy plenty of quality time with these furry kids without shouldering any new responsibilities..

And I got that. 

But I also knew without a single doubt that the real reason my mom didn't want to get a new dog - and in fact, never did - was because she could not bear the heartbreak of losing another.

* * * * *


We also call her Swamp Queen, because when she's not daintily napping on pastel pink pillows, 

she can sometimes become quite earthy. 

It's true. We dog owners all know that we've entered into a Faustian bargain. For a handful of years, we're lavished with the most pure and radiant love imaginable on this earth. And then, with a gentle whimper and one last wag, our beloved companions will depart this life and leave us behind with broken hearts to slowly, slowly mend. 

But the only worse reality I can imagine is to live without a dog's love at all. 

So I understood my mom's agony, and the pain it must have cost her to lose her dog of dogs, as she always called him.

I really did get it. 

But I felt so sad that my mother could not find the emotional strength to fall in love with another dog.

She just couldn't do it. 

* * * * *


But mostly, we call her ours, and we are so thankful that she is.

Fast forward to 2017. 

After a long and lovely life, my third Irish Setter, Ranger, had just died a hero's death. I was, of course, bereft.

Back before Ranger, when my second dog had passed, I'd needed a full two years to tend to my grieving heart before I felt ready to love a new dog. So this time around, I planned to give myself at least a full 12 months before searching out any wiggly litters. 

Coincidentally, my mom had died just 96 days before Ranger.

Imagine my shock when I got a phone call almost six months to the day after Ranger's passing with an urgent request: "There's a Irish Setter here who needs a new home. Can you take her - today?"

My heart trembled at the very words. A new dog? Now?? Too soon. MUCH too soon! My heart is not ready yet. 

I did not want a new dog. 

But in an instant, a new knowing swept over me. This was my dog. I knew it. The fates had brought us together; she was meant to be mine. 

And though I was still stumbling headlong through the darkness of grief and loss, I realized that my broken heart would learn to love her - just as my mom had learned to love Kelly - and everything was going to be okay.

"Yes," I said, "we'll take her." 

And to honor my mother who taught me about the power of a dog's love to mend a broken heart, I decided to name our new dog Gracie.

Because my mother's name was Grace. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

My Heart's Desire

"Whatever it is your heart desires, please go for it, it's yours to have." -Gloria Estefan


^ Here's what ten days of progress on my doll house project looks like.

And here's a link to my first post, if you'd like to catch up on the doll house back story. 

Correction. It's not an actual doll house. Let's call it a Night Before Christmas festive diorama, which is a more accurate descriptor, and leave it at that. 


This is Version 2.0 of the bed design - a length of square dowel, with the rounded ends of popsicle sticks glued fore and aft. A scrap of lace for a bed sheet, and another bit folded and stitched for a pillow. 

Massive upgrade over bare wood. 


^ After seriously considering the insanity of making actual micro-miniature quilts, I obsessively cross-stitched these faux quilts instead. Still fine tuning the details...do I want to somehow attach the covers so they stay in place on the beds, or leave them realistically loose so the soon-to-arrive lady of the house can actually snuggle into her cozy nest? 

Decisions, decisions. 


^ My custom fireplace mantel was framed out with a collection of popsicle sticks and square dowels. The bricks were fabricated with Sculpey polymer clay, and glued to grey cardstock so the intentional gaps look mortar-esque. Currently under construction is a miniature fireplace grate that will be adorned with actual real life teeny tiny logs. 

And perhaps felt flames? 


^ Check out the itty bitty picture frame on the mantel. My husband, who is slowly gathering enthusiastic steam for this project - or should I say, never-ending series of mini projects - went all out on the infinitely small mitered corners of the frame. Next up, there's the matter of choosing some type of art to fill the frame. 

My fourth-born suggested a sprig of holly. 


^ The handmade wallpapers are also undergoing some tweaks. The original shade of red looked more orange-y with each passing day, so I've been attacking the stripes and dots with various shades of red colored pencils to adjust. 

They're not perfect yet. But they will be. 

* * * * *

I know. Important, impactful, intense things are happening in the world these days: 
  • There's a one TRILLION dollar infrastructure bill making the rounds on the Hill.
  • My typically chill Pacific Northwest is about to get socked with another climate-change-induced heat wave.
  • Arguments about mandatory vaccines and masking policies are blowing up school board meetings and deepening the divides in our already difficult public discourse. 
One might suggest that there are better ways for me to spend my time than twiddling my thumbs over such an utterly frivolous and perfectly pointless project. 

But I'd say that in the midst of these trying times, this doll house design keeps me surprisingly calm and centered, filled with positive energy. So I'm just going to keep going over here with my tacky glue and paintbrushes, because my Night Before Christmas festive diorama is exactly what my heart desires. 

Monday, August 9, 2021

Cooler Heads Prevail

Being cool is being your own self. -Vanessa Hudgens

Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes. -Walt Whitman


A blazing sun arcs across the top of the brilliant summer sky; scorched grass, long lost any green softness, crunches underfoot. 

I walk the maze of white tents,
peering inside each one,
eyes dizzily flickering from dazzling daylight to dark shadows
sipping lukewarm water,
and wondering what to buy.

I buy nothing.

But later than night
when my house is dark and quiet
and my over-baked brain is once again blessedly calm and cool
I wander back through the day
and reflect on what caught my eye.

Now I'm ready to shop.

As much as I enjoy the bliss of a sunny stroll through an art fair, discovering new artists and falling in love with their work, I appreciate the magic of finding these cool people online even more.

* * * * *

Thank you, Theresa, for making my fruit bowl dreams come true!

* * * * *

Other stories about my summer visits to street art fairs:

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Reading | The Astronaut Wives Club


The Astronaut Wives Club | Lily Koppel

Millions of words have been written about the American astronauts. Not just their countrymen but the entire world idolized them - from their go-go days of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo glory right up to the current day - and not only for their space cowboy bravado and smoking slide rules, but their freckled face Boy Scout 'aw shucks' demeanor, and their heart-warming heroics as family men. But precious little consideration has been given to their actual wives. Oh sure, back in the day, Life magazine held an exclusive contract on interviews with the astronauts and their families, so plenty of puff pieces were pushed onto the pages, with the wives calmly and confidently looking on as their husbands strapped into claustrophobia-inducing spacecraft attached to gigantic bombs, and maintaining their stylish hairstyles and carefully manicured wits until their astro husbands safely fell back to earth. 

But what is the truth of these ladies' lives? What were the pressures, the politics, the pure and simple realities of being an astro wife? Intrepid author Koppel sifted through reams of source documents and tracked down these real-life ladies decades after the fact, and convinced a good many of them to tell her their stories. The result is this tightly woven compendium of interesting facts, juicy tidbits, occasional tragedy, and the over-arching surge of pride and triumph that the wives of America's first astronauts experienced during their lives. 

* * * * *

Okay, I don't mean to be a snob about it, but I've been reading quite a bit about the astronauts lately, and when I first cracked open this book, I didn't think I'd find much new information between its covers. Sure enough, as I zoomed along through the highly readable early chapters, I recognized many of the colorful anecdotes offered up, and haughtily stifled a few intellectual yawns. However, when I wasn't shaking my head at the redundancies of the plot, I was a bit shocked by the unflattering ways in which the wives were portrayed. In the early years of the Mercury program, where the story kicks off, these women come across as naive, small-towny, under-educated, and well, just kinda plain. And definitely in way over their heads.

Only about two-thirds of the way into book did I begin to understand. At the beginning, the astro wives were indeed deer in the NASA headlights, unsure of how to cope with the tsunami of fame that was suddenly sweeping them off their feet and out into dangerous waters. But they changed. And they grew. And in not much more than a quick ten years, those same women found wisdom and self-esteem and genuine poise. They discovered within themselves deep wells of courage and self-confidence, not just as astro wives but as women who could stand on their own two feet and reclaim their own individual lives. And they did it together, helping each other along, every step of the way. 

By the time I'd finished this book, I realized my heart and mind had been opened to a completely new understanding of the American space program. I sill admire my astro men, but against the velvety blackness of their stupendous space accomplishments, their wives now twinkle like stars. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

Pie Season


Happy August!

For my money, this month marks the height of the summer fresh fruit season which means peak pie-baking time. With a long and legendary career as a prolific August pastry chef, I kicked off the 2021 season in fine style today by baking a blueberry pie.

When it comes to pie recipes, I'm a purist. I don't normally go for exotic add-ins or special technique; give me a basic pie crust and some fresh fruit tossed with flour and sugar, and I know the results will be spectacular. 

Let's be honest. The fruit is the star of the show. 


^ Rolling out a pie crust from scratch, I recognize, may be perceived as an intimidating skill by the novice. But with a little practice, this is a forgiving process. See how mine has imperfections galore?

A rip here, some wrinkles there, and a messy blob of flour in the bottom. 

But no matter. With a pinch here and there, the holes are easily repaired. And the flour simply bakes into the pie with no fuss or muss. 


^ I like to mix the pastry first, get the bottom layer settled in the pie plate, and leave the dough for the top layer balled up and on deck while I turn my attention to the fruit. Stirring the flour and sugar into the berries is a bit of a lost cause, so it's perfectly reasonable to let those ingredients settle to the bottom of the fruit bowl and then gently dump it all into the pie crust, distributing as evenly as possible

As long as everything ends up inside the crust in the end, it'll be fine. 


^ There are different schools of thought on top crusts. For sure, it's fairly easy to roll out the crust on my counter but a bit of a trick to somehow scoop it up and get it settled on top of the pie. 

I personally am a fan of the quarter fold technique. 

Which is to say that I take that circle of dough lying flat on my counter and fold it first in half, and then in half again to get a sturdy little wedge. Easily enough I can scoop it up and position it on top of the fruit, and then unfold it in place. 

Works like a charm. 


^ Venting - the process of creating openings in the top crust - has been raised in the Instagram age to an exotic art form. 

I remind myself that vents serve a practical purpose to release steam as the pie bake and allow for all the delicious juices to bubble up to the surface and temptingly trickle onto the top crust

A few quick and dirty slashes can get the job done.

But there's considerable creative delight to be found in amping up the artistry of the vents. 

Personally, I prefer my food to looks nice in a rustic and simply charming way, and my vents definitely lean toward function over form.

Ditto my crimping chops. My grandmother taught me the basic pinch-up-and-down fluting style, and while I know there are fancier ways to seal the edges of the pie, I think of her every time I use her tried-and-true method and wouldn't have it any other way.


^ Into the oven she goes, riding atop my mother-in-law's pie dripping catcher. I'm not sure if there is a proper name for this device, but it serves to catch the juices that bubble up through the vents and drip off the surface of the pie which would otherwise spill on the bottom of the oven. My husband grew up licking the drips of spilled pie juices off this serviceable pan, and I'm happy to keep the tradition alive. 


^Oh, pretty girl. 

Out from the over she comes, golden brown and bubbling lovely juices, and onto one of my mother's cooling racks. She is imperfectly perfect, which is good enough for me, and sure to be delicious when I cut into her after dinner tonight.

Pie season has officially begun!


I got real lucky at the thrift store last week. 

My queen.

This elegant chair was literally sitting on the edge of the sidewalk in front of the Everett Value Village, begging me to take notice.

She was so obviously worthy of her $20 price tag that I assumed someone had already bought her, and was circling the car around to pick her up.

If you were mine, I would never make you wait alone, darling. I would stay right by your side.

Imagine my delight when, after a protracted inquiry about this princess's status with the staff, I learned that she was in fact unattached. So I scooped her up in a heartbeat.

At the spa.

Once I got her settled at home, I was ready to make an honest assessment at her faults.

Poor thing. You've been suffering some neglect.

Handmade slip-covered cushions in deep burgundy, navy and forest green plaid.
A broken support piece in the seat.
And a wicked case of thrift store stench. 

So I set to work giving this beauty the full spa treatment.
  • Off came the makeshift covers, and into the washing machine went the surprisingly workable but cat-hair covered cushions inside. 
  • With a hose clamp and some Gorilla glue, the broken joint was repaired.
  • And after a prolonged scrub-down with Simple Green and an afternoon in the sun, I polished the pretty lady up with three coats of clear matte waterproof finish. 
Today, I made the final preparations for her glamorous entry into the garden by carefully placing four pavers under her tiny feet, so she need never touch any actual dirt. 

Dirt is for peasants like me. You, my queen, deserve only the best. 

With the stage immaculately set, the grand dame made her entrance, and I thrilled to see her take quiet command of her shady corner.

My two queens. 

And apparently, Gracie shared my sentiments because she promptly hopped up onto the gleaming white cushions of my beautiful new chair with four sublimely muddy paws and assumed her own regal position.

My red shaggy lady is on her new throne, and all is well with the world.