Thursday, September 30, 2021

My Homemade Shish Kebab
A million times I've toyed with the idea of upgrading to the kind of big gas grill that is in vogue nowadays. But I suspect I'll always prefer my tried and true Weber kettle

I stand outdoors on a gentle September evening, tending my dinner on the grill

My thoughts drift back to the lake.

 * * * * *

Southeastern Michigan is a place where glaciers once gouged the landscape and left behind a wonderland of freshwater lakes, and I was lucky enough to grow up on one of them.

Ore Lake.

We were country kids, us Ore Lakers. Detroit and Ann Arbor made an easy commute, and the closest proper town was just five miles off, but at home, we roamed our private paradise of dirt roads, acres of untouched woods, and of course, the lake.

And in this part of the world, lakes predominate. There's a distinct culture to the people who live on and around them, where it's normal to wear your bathing suit all day every day in the summer, and keep your ice skates and hockey sticks by the front door all winter. Ore Lake was shared between the laid-back year-rounders, like my family, and the cottage people who came out weekends and summers cranked up and in high gear for rest and relaxation, often times inviting carloads of friends and relatives to join in their lakeside parties.
Nothing like throwing on a plaid shirt and shorts over a soaking wet swim suit. Iykyk.

As a year-round country mouse, I was in awe of these celebrations.
Folding aluminum lawn chairs flocked across front lawns (in lake culture, the front of the house is the side facing the water), 

Coolers full of store-brand sodas and the occasional stash of Pabst Blue Ribbons. 

And the centerpiece of every weekend blast, the outdoor grill.

Around midday, you'd hear squeaking wheels as dads began to pull these rusty contraptions out from garages and sheds and back yards. Down near the shore they'd drag them, heap up the charcoal briquettes, douse them with lighter fluid, and then - magic to my little pyromaniac eyes - light them up with a flash of flame. 

Moms wearing swimsuits and cover-ups would hand out plates of burger patties and hot dogs, and onto the metal grate they would go, packed in as tight as those city folks in their cars, cooking under the watchful eye of the lakeside chefs. Flimsy portable tables appeared with condiments - catsup, mustard, and pickle relish - a couple bags of buns, some chips or maybe a bowl of potato salad, and a stack of paper plates. The plain white kind with the fluted edges. 

And then, with a final nod from the man with the spatula, dinner was served. All us kids scooped up a plate ("Just take one, don't waste them") and crowded around as the server asked again and again, "Hot dog or hamburger?" Either was fine with me. 

Because for whatever reason, my parents did not engage in this ritual. I'm not sure why - they surely loved most other aspects of lake culture - but grilling was not in their repertoire. 

So to my young and impressionable mind, the art of outdoor grilling swelled to majestic proportions, and whenever I was invited to join into the ritual, I accepted with holy reverence.

Now as much as I trembled at the sight of a grill loaded down with the usual patties and tube steaks, imagine my breathless wonder when I first feasted my eyes on a spread of shish kebabs roasting in the afternoon sun. The skewers themselves made me shiver with fascination: You can cook food on wooden sticks?!? Where do you buy such things? How do you get the bits of food to stay on? How do you eat them? 

And the kebabs - meats decorated with bright flashes of cherry tomatoes, green peppers, and white mushrooms - were just about the most beautiful and exotic meal my young mind could possibly fathom. In my early 1970s mindset, shish kebabs cooked on an outdoor grill sat right up there at the pinnacle of the food pyramid with Jello parfaits and cheese fondue, representing a lifestyle of elegance and ease that I could only dream of attaining.

Years passed.

I moved away from Ore Lake. 

But my love for lake living and my dreams of grilled shish kebabs lived on.

* * * * *
After years of trial and error, I've landed on the strategy of loading the skewers up with like items, rather than mixing and matching. which makes cooking a lot easier - meats go in the middle where the fire is hottest, veggies around the edges. We mix them up on our plates. 

Gently, I use my tongs to inspect the progress of tonight's dinner, and note with satisfaction that the meat and veggies are crisping up nicely. I smile. Shish kebabs are a long-established Streicher family favorite, and while they are often requested for a birthday or holiday dinner, I also whip them up for just an ordinary meal. 

Nowadays, I grill shish kebab all the time.

But I notice that every time I make them, as I'm threading the bits of meat onto the skewers (I own several sets of metal ones now), basting them with marinade as they cook, or carefully piling their roasted glory onto a heaping serving plate, that little girl from Ore Lake rises up within me, and beams with delight. 

I'm so happy that I've made all her shish kebab dreams come true. 

* * * * * 


2 lbs beef tri tip
2 lbs boneless chicken

1 C low sodium soy sauce
1 C rice vinegar
1/2 C olive oil
Splashes of whatever sounds interesting: garlic powder, onion powder, red chili flakes, ginger, honey.

Fresh veggies such as: red, yellow, orange bell peppers, Anaheim or Hatch peppers, mushrooms, sweet or red onion, broccoli, snap peas, asparagus.


1. Cut the meat into uniform portions, about one inch square.

2. Combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, olive oil, and splashes into a large food storage box. Add the meat and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 24 hours.

3. Clean the vegetables and cut into uniform bits, about one inch square. Veggies that are more dense can be cut in smaller pieces, so they will cook faster. 

4. Fill the grill with charcoal and light about a half hour before cook time.

5. Load the meat and vegetables onto skewers, baste with the leftover marinade.

6. Cook over the grill and baste periodically until browned and crispy.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Table Talk

Sunset was closing in as my neighbor walked up my driveway to take a closer look at what I was doing.

"You're refinishing a table?" Carol stammered, as if I'd said I was flying to the moon. "How do you know how to do that?"

In that instant, my feet left the ground and I soared back through the decades to land in my own childhood driveway. There was my mom, saw horses up and sander at the ready, hard at work on a refinishing project of her own. 

She never actually taught me how to refinish furniture. Not sure that we ever discussed it even once. But with a steady procession of old wooden furniture gathered up from this antique market and that grandma's attic, I'd watch my mom go through the checklist so many times that over the years, I readily gathered the confidence to make my own solo flights. 

Of course, nowadays I could just Google it, but I'm happy, proud and thrilled to say that everything I needed to know about refinishing furniture I learned from my mom. 

Allow me to reveal the mysteries.

* * * * *

1. Remove the old finish.

This step is the most fun and least work intensive because I use a chemical stripper to do all the heavy lifting.

Back in my mom's day, she used a product called Zip Strip which still exists but back then, this stuff caused a nuclear reaction. I mean, that solvent would make the paint would bubble up so fast, Mom's putty knife would have to zoomf to keep up. Of course, the chemicals also singed my nose hair and did God only knows what to my internal organs but goodness, it sure was fun to watch.

In a more carcinogen-aware world, I use a product called Citristrip that makes my work area smell like a blossoming orange orchard, which is sure nice. But the gentle formula also takes at least a half hour to get the old finish to bubble up, which is time that I mostly spend thinking about the good old days. Sigh.

But if I'm patient, I'm eventually rewarded with flaky bits of shriveled up finish that yield to the slightest touch of my putty knife. I scrape happily away till my table is bare, re-coating stubborn areas as needed. So satisfying.

* * * * *

2. Sand until you want to scream. Then sand some more.

Now don't get me wrong. Using an electric sander is a dream compared to sanding by hand, and my post-modern Ryobi offers many improvements over my mom's old 1950s beast with which you better wear shoes because sanding in bare feet (as she preferred) leads to some nasty electric shocks. 

But the thing about sanding is that sandpaper comes in different grades. 

So first you go over every inch of the table with painstaking precision, using a coarse sandpaper to remove every last scrap of finish. Dang, that takes a lot of time. And many pieces of Number 60 grit. Yep, Coarse.

Then, when the table finally looks stripped down to its birthday suit, you get to start all over again. With Number 100. Medium.

And again with 120. Medium Fine. 

And finally, I topped off my project with a good going over with Number 150 Fine. 

I skipped the Extra Fine papers because I'm not creating a museum piece. This is just an ordinary kitchen table for knocking about at dinner time and hosting a few after hours crafts and jigsaw puzzles. 

Although somewhere in maybe the third or fourth hour of sanding, I reconsidered that anyone would ever be allowed to touch this table again. 

Little did I know what was yet to come.

Side note: I didn't completely sand down the under side of the table top because it's a super old table and the wood is all ripply and handmade and I kinda like to treasure those details. 

I was ready to move on to Step 3.

* * * * *

3. Apply stain.

What I learned from watching my mom is that stains can be tricky and temperamental and a real Dickens to deal with. But times have changed for the better in that department, and the newfangled stains of the next millennium are great fun to work with.

Simply brush them on, give them a few minutes to soak in, then wipe away the excess and admire the lush grain of your beautifully sanded wood.

Except wait. What the heck. I've got a bunch of weird little dots following one after another to make long and curving circle-y lines of little dots. Before the stain, my eye didn't catch them. But with the stain on, holy moly, they look a fright. 

So I did what all expert craftspeople do. I got totally annoyed and stopped working for the day.

Mhmm. Pretty sure my mom would have approved of that call.

By the next morning, I was emotionally prepared to do what I also knew she would have done.

I started all over again.

Yes. Citristrip and patient waiting and scrape-scrape-scraping. 
And then with the sander: 60, 100, 120, 150.

Sweet Jesus.

Now, on the next day - and I can't even remember how many days we are up to, to be honest - I'm ready to stain again, right?

So, here I go. Brush on and wipe off. Rinse and repeat.

And when I finish, and stand back to look at my table in the setting sun of yet another day spent in my workshop aka driveway, I come to a stunning realization. 

I hate the color.

More precisely, I hate the color on the top of the table. The legs look great - exactly the color I'm shooting for - but the top is dark and cold and moody and honestly not a friend I want to hang out with. 

So. I went in the house.

And the next day, I started all over again. AGAIN.

This time, as I was stripping and sanding and trying not to scream while running in circles, I made an important discovery. My table is actually made out of two different kinds of woods. 

Oh yes, I most certainly can identify basic woods by their color and grain. Thanks, Mom.

The legs and short lengths of the apron (fancy word for sides) are made from pine, which is pale with gold undertones. 

But the table top and long bits of the apron are poplar, which reads greenish and dark. 

Suddenly, my stain drama was starting to make sense. 

That evening, I came back from Home Depot with multiple cans of stain, which hopefully, when applied to the wood, would sing together in a song of blissful color harmony and I could finally be done with this project.

And after multiple test patches, intensive conferencing with several members of the family, and a bit of overlaying one color of stain with another, I nuanced my way into a winning combination.

All was well.

Thank goodness. 

* * * * *

4. Polyurethane for the win.

Three coats of satin finish protect the surface of my table, which by the way is still dappled with a few remainders of those dotty lines. Turns out that there's a rubber pad on my sander that sits underneath the sandpaper, and over the years, that rubber has worn down, thus exposing several tiny screw heads. So, despite my very light touch on the sander - my mom used to have to exert pressure on her sander but I live in a luxurious new world - the screw heads were burning through the sand paper and making jiggly designs on my table top. I've decided to embrace them, and the story of this project will be recorded for all time, much like paintings of prehistoric buffalo in some hunting tribe's cave. 

The dotty lines simply add to the original marks and age-old stains that give my table so much character and I'm happy about that. In fact, I'm ridiculously satisfied with the whole sorry chapter, and frankly, relieved that this project finally has its happy ending.

* * * * *

All of those tips and tricks and details and memories zipped through my head as I stood in my driveway with Carol. I considered giving her an in-depth lecture on the topic, as well as a hands on demonstration, but as the clouds faded pink, I thought better of it. 

"My mom taught me," I answered, and Carol said, "How nice."

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Reading | A Man On The Moon and Apollo 13

A Man On The Moon | Andrew Chaikin

In spellbinding stories and neat, clean prose, Chaikin offers a brief prologue to the American space program, then dives in earnest to the Apollo missions. The moon landings. Just as each real-life mission built upon the successes of past missions, so does Chaikin build each spaceflight upon the others, leaving out the details that read more or less the same, and zeroing in on what made each voyage unique. Yes, there are some technical bits about lift-to-drag ratios and mid-course corrections, but Chaikin is at his best when he describes in vivid detail the particular landscapes where the astronauts landed, the different tasks they performed, and best of all, the colorful personalities of the moonwalkers and the fascinating dynamics of their lunar partnerships. A delightful, enjoyable ride.

Apollo 13 | Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

Yes, this is the nearly disastrous mission where the oxygen tank exploded with the three astronauts already well on their way to the moon, and their wildly dangerous but ultimately successful trip back home. Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell gets a well-deserved author credit for living to tell his story, but it's Jeffrey Kluger, his writer, who truly makes the story sing. Deftly weaving together terse technical details and terrifying plot developments, Kluger focuses on the considerable positive vibes and the profound sense of teamwork that bound together all the major players in the crisis, both in space and on the ground, and tells the story - especially the last sweet notes - with aching tenderness and sensitivity.

* * * * *

By now, you may be worried about me and this eight-months-and-counting space obsession of mine. Not only am I reading non-stop about Apollo but I think about the players and plot points of this fascinating space drama every waking moment. My conversations are peppered with references to the moon missions and my family members roll their collective eyes every time - and it is often - I start a sentence by saying, "You know, the astronauts used to (fill in fascinating tidbit here)."

But dash gummit, the space race generated truly amazing and action-packed stories, and these two books in particular relay those details in fresh, interesting ways. And you don't have to take just my word for it - both books caught the attention of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, master storytellers of our times, and under their guidance made the weird and distorted giant leap into film. 

Co-produced by Hanks, Howard and others, Chaikin's A Man On The Moon was developed into a 12-part HBO mini-series called From Earth To the Moon that employs perhaps a few too many artistic contrivances but is recognized as a highly accurate telling of Apollo story. And Hollywood's legendary Apollo 13 movie, directed by Howard and starring Hanks, earns kudos for its technical accuracy, even if it portrays the crew bickering and the ground team grandstanding to extremes that fall far outside the tight rein that the real players kept on their emotions. 

So sure, if you're looking for a place to dig in to the delicious banquet that is Apollo, by all means watch the miniseries and the movie to get a taste for the great adventure. Please take them with a grain of salt. Then do yourself a huge favor and get your hands on these books, so you can truly feast on the stories that charmed us all, Ron and Tom and me. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Etsy Haul

Buying things is fun.


Oh sure, sometimes I splurge on things that are indulgent, mindless, or downright wasteful. But I'm quite happy to report that after my yearlong shopping ban, I've got a much better handle on how - and how not - to shop.

But I will be the first to admit that sometimes I just gotta throw all this caution to the wind. I believe it's the tiny treasures and interesting details give a home its soul, and there's nothing like a late night online deep dive to scour up a few little unique and highly personal items that whisper to me and ask for a place in my life.

And for that kind of shopping, hands down, Etsy is the place to go.

So here are some highlights from my recent Etsy hauls, and I must say, buying each one of them was one hundred percent fun.

Here's a purple-grey still life printed canvas from an artist in the Netherlands, settled into its new home in a frame from Virginia. I first discovered this adorable little scene last December, and waited until July to pull the trigger. I love the dreaminess of the puffy peonies and the pastel tones. 

The frame I bought separately. It came unfinished, so I stained it myself and discovered in the process that the print actually looks better mounted so that it's facing out from what's meant to be the back of the frame. Somehow, I find this 'make it work' moment to be quite satisfying.

Meet my 1970 handmade sand-cast owl. He speaks to me, and among the dozens of vintage ceramic owl tchotchkies I found perched in the trees of Etsy, his voice came through loud and clear. A groovy dude with his geometrically on fleek feathering, this guy gives me all the best childhood vibes.

Okay so you know that little doll house / Christmas diorama I'm working on? Yeah, this little girl is going to live there. She is profoundly tiny, articulated arms and all, and carved from a piece of alder wood by a magical lady in Ukraine. I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a one-inch doll but you know, I have zero regrets. 

I also bought a tiny black cat to live in the house with this dumpling child, and the combined effect is so cottage core it makes me weep.

At Christmas, I've a small collection of tiny deer that I set here and there among the holiday clutter, and when I came across these, I knew they were destined to join my herd. I mean, never mind that they are literally meant to be children's toys. I love them so much that I've let these two dappled fawns live year round on my kitchen shelf.

And once I broke down the barriers around using toddlers' toys as home decor, I figured why not add a horse family to boot? This lovely handmade trio arrived from Russia just this week, and I for one am charmed.

Don't let my neutral walls, grey furniture, and black and white throw pillows fool you; I'm crazy for color. Yellow is one of my through-way favorites; little bits of it pop up in every corner of the house and I knew I could put this big mid-century vintage vase to use in a dozen different ways. A big friendly fellow, he lives in my front hall and makes me smile every day.

My parents-in-law built a lovely custom home back in 1959 and decorated it at the top of mid-century design curve. In the living room on their brick fireplace wall hung a painting of two quail, still proudly on display in the eighties and nineties when I joined the fam, and I have fond, fond memories of sitting on their couch, a bit harried from the process of winging my children across the country and into this Ohio nest, and staring at those birds. The painting has long since slipped through my fingers but when I saw this vintage pair of similar birds, I knew they were meant to be mine. 

* * * * *

P.S. When I get an itch to shop for one-of-a-kind treasures in the daytime, I go thrifting. In-person shopping breathlessly demands an immediate response, and while I hate that feeling of pressure, the single digit price tags keep the stakes low. Here's one of my favorite scores of the summer thrifting season.

^ I'm obsessed with small boxes. Their crisp, clean corners feel satisfyingly stable and square; their mysterious inner depths spark my curiosity. This lovely specimen features delicately straw-covered sides and a woven top featuring my favorite pattern, tumbling blocks. When I bought it, she shined with an unfortunately glossy sheen, but a few swipes of liquid sandpaper and two coats of matte urethane later, I fell in love. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Beef Ramen
If there is anything as cozy and satisfying as savoring a bowl of homemade beef ramen on a wet and windy Saturday night, it's eating the leftovers during a Sunday thunderstorm. 

Okay, fine, fall. I wish you would give me a few more weeks of gorging myself on fresh peaches and grilled shish kebab, but despite my annual outburst of kicking and screaming, I know that you will not go away. 

So I gracefully admit defeat. We will do this your way.

* * * * *

Soups and stews get me through the dark and gloomy months, and this bowl of veggies and beefy broth provides the bright flavors that I crave.

Based on a recipe by my friend, Danelle, over at Let's Dish, my version of this faux-pho often mix in different vegetables. But this time I followed the ingredient list exactly and every bite was sublime.

Although Danelle's recipe is designed for a slow cooker, I make mine in a big red pot on my stove top and have adapted her technique below. 

For chilly nights and seasonal temper tantrums, I highly recommend. 

* * * * *


2T olive oil
2 lbs beef

8 C beef broth
1 onion, diced
4-6 garlic, minced
1 T minced fresh ginger
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/4 C soy sauce (I use low sodium)
1 T fish sauce
1 T sesame oil

8 oz snow peas
1 T lime juice
4-6 green onions, chopped

3 packages ramen noodles (discard seasoning)
1 T olive oil

fresh chopped cilantro


1. Heat the oil and brown the beef, working in small batches if needed. 

2. Add the beef broth, onion, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, soy sauce, fish sauce, and sesame oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Cover and simmer for an hour or so.

3. Stir in the peas, lime juice, and green onions; simmer another 15-20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, cook the ramen noodles according to the package directions. Drain and stir in olive oil to prevent sticking.

5. To serve, place noodles in a bowl and ladle the soup over the top. Garnish with cilantro. Enjoy with chopsticks and slurp to your heart's content. 

Tipping Point
The wild tangles of trees and brush along our walk may still be lush and green,
handfuls of blackberries hanging rich on their arching vines

Rabbits still dine on fresh greenery, thoughtfully chewing blades of grass
then hopping away with their bobbing white tails when my dog stealthily approaches.

But the plain fact of the matter is that change is in the wind.

Rain stings my face as I burrow my hands into my pockets.
The first few leaves to fall, eager young things, clutter the wet walk.

Last night's winds blew rusty needles from the cedar.
We tiptoe across the carpet as we enjoy the branches' protection from today's rain.

We're almost home when I see the first hint of flaming leaves
And then I know for sure.

^ Sweet summer has reached her tipping point
And autumn is just around the corner. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Be Where You Are

When Gracie and I head out on a walk, we never know what might happen.

As I turned to press the crosswalk signal, I saw that she was crying. 

She was a beautiful girl, maybe sixteen years old. A thick mane of dark hair piled artfully on her head. Her outfit - a black hoodie with a white graphic paired with white jeans - was fire. She carried that confident and composed vibe of a genuine it girl. But her big dark eyes were dripping with tears, and her mouth crumpled in a sob. 

In a flash, I decided to ask. 

In that same instant, I heard a small, self-righteous part of me resisting the idea, sanctimoniously arguing that this girl's problems were a private affair, and I'd be wise to mind my own business. 

Sometimes, though, that bratty voice is the one who needs to mind its own business. 

Turning to face the girl, who was now just a few feet away from me, I spoke the words on my heart.

"Are you okay?"

She was close enough now that I could see the tears rolling down her cheeks. 

She shook her head emphatically. No.

"What's wrong?" I asked, allowing my concern for her to swell up in my voice, knowing full well that this could be the wrong thing to say just as easily as it was the right thing. 

Words flew out between the gasping breaths. I could barely make out what she was saying but I gathered that she'd been hanging out with friends after school and a few wise-mouthed boys in the group had dragged her. I did my best to convey to her that I understood.

"Jerky kids?"

Yes those were the exact words that popped out my mouth. Ugh. I cringed at my own bizarre phraseology.

She nodded. And I fumbled on.

"I'm sorry. It gets easier. But I'm so sorry."

She nodded again, and kept walking. 

Gracie and I crossed the street.

But Gracie is always ready for anything, and in that way, she inspires me.

I was glad that I'd talked to this girl; thankful that I'd taken advantage of that split-second opportunity to make space for her. But I hated what I'd said.

What I'd meant to say, I reflected, was something more like this:

I'm sorry you're going through this frustrating phase of life where stupid kids say messed up things and hurt each other, far more than they realize. 

I'm sorry you don't have a trusted friend at your side right now who would wrap her arm around you, whisper some hilarious clap backs in your ear, and set you to laughing through your tears.

I'm sorry that the world can be such a cruel and ugly place. I wish I could take away your pain.

And I wish I'd said:

Life gets easier. High school can be really rough but it doesn't last forever.

As you get older, you'll have more opportunities to choose the company you keep, and you won't have to waste your time on boys with bad manners.

You deserve better. Always stick up for yourself, even if the only thing you can do is walk away.

As I followed my dog home, I agonized: Why didn't I say more to this girl? Why wasn't I more articulate? Why didn't I take the time to think before I talked, to offer more than cliched catch phrases and vague bits of wishful thinking?

I don't know. I couldn't help but feel disappointed in myself. 

* * * * *

At home, as usual, I offered my dog her dinner and sat down on the porch to watch her eat. Desperate for an interruption to my self-judgement, I flipped open my phone and began to scroll.

Three posts in, I found it.

Be where you are. The rest will follow.

I let out a breath, settled back in my seat, and felt the tension fade from my shoulders.

By staying present in the moment, I'd reached out to a person in need, and that was the most important thing. The words themselves - "the rest" - had indeed followed. And if they'd felt silly, incomplete or ineffectual to me, no matter. They may have hit very different for this girl, and it was not my job to judge them.

Or myself. 

* * * * *

Reflecting back on my painful walk home, I remembered now that as I'd watched the girl walk along one side of the street, keeping pace with me on the other side, she'd pulled out her phone and began tapping. 

I'd like to think that she reached out to someone safe. Maybe her mom, or a sister, or a trustworthy bff. I hope she told them what happened, and I like to think that they responded with all the right words.

As for our chance encounter, I hope the day will come when this girl comes across someone in pain, and I hope she too will decide to respond, however her instincts dictate, in that pure and desperate moment.

Be where you are. The rest will follow.

Beauty's Where You Find It

 Beauty's where you find it." -Madonna

Look around, everywhere you turn is heartache

It's everywhere that you go

You try everything you can to escape

The pain of life that you know.

In a world that has had little to offer lately in terms of romance and aesthetic excitement, I don't think I've even realized how much I've been needing something new, something different, something beautiful, something to shake me out of this Covid funk that has drained so much of the radiance from our lives.

When all else fails and you long to be

Something better than you are today

I know a place where we can get away

It's called a dance floor and here's what it's for.

Madonna recommends the dance floor as a place to lift your spirits, and I'm not saying she's wrong, but my second-born has a different idea. Glossier - the beauty brand based on real life, as their About page reads - has just opened a new store in Seattle, and she suggests we go check it out. I normally buy my Glossier online but I've been to two of their pop-up locations, so I know I'm in for a treat. My adrenaline kicks in.

All you need is your own imagination

So use it, that's what it's for.

Go inside, for your finest inspiration

Your dreams will open the door.

The moment I step inside the Capitol Hill store, the sparks really fly. I'm suddenly intoxicated not only by the sleek spa vibe and minimalist displays of beautiful skin care and make-up products, with which shoppers are encouraged to play, but the entire space. Loaded with whimsy and bursting with charm, the interior features pink tiled archways, checkerboard floors, moss-covered boulders springing forth with space age wild-flowers and, of all the crazy Seattle-inspired things, gigantic fluorescent mushrooms.  I feel alive.

It makes no difference if you're black or white

If you're a boy or a girl

If the music's pumping, it will give you new life

You're a superstar, yes that's what you are.

Interestingly, beautifully, fluidly, Glossier embraces all skin tones, from the palest white to the richest coffee, and while the brand definitely skews female, I notice several male shoppers buying skin care as well as make-up supplies. This is much more than just a place to shop; I'm standing in a vibrantly alive and inclusive community, and I wish the whole world could feel like this.

Wanna see what I bought? 

body hero exfoliating bar | milky jelly cleanser | priming moisturize rich

balm dotcom in cherry | boy brow in blond

I dally around the tables, deliberate over my order, and then dreamily wander through the space, drinking in the details and delighting in the magical space that Glossier has made. 

This is where I find beauty.

* * * * *

Lyrics are from Vogue by Madonna.

* * * * *

Want to read about all my Glossier adventures 
and see more pics of their adorable stores? Try these:

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Mother Tahoma

On warm summer days, she calls to me, her face shining out across the miles that separate us, coaxing me to back to her loving embrace.

Her spirit is kind and gentle, no longer prone to the outbursts of her youth when lava flowed down her robes and ash flew from her crown. Now she sits quiet and serene upon her throne of Cascades, her regal face shimmering with crystalline light, benevolent and welcoming to all.

I am drawn to her as a chick runs to an outstretched wing, and she draws me in, safe and sound. Despite the fierce forces of nature I see all around me, I'm not afraid. I know she will protect me.

Her lap is spread with flowered meadows, and she watches us explore them, smiling as we discover secret treasures: tiny alpine firs, icy blue lakes, dancing butterflies, and a saucy brown marmot who rests his hands on his furry little belly and watches us walk by.

As the afternoon passes and shadows lengthen, I see her expression change to concern. It's time, she says. Darkness is gathering. She patiently guides us back to our car and watches as we buckle into our seats.

Drive safely! Come back soon! She calls as we leave. I watch in my rear view mirror to see her waving us off, smiling contentedly as we drive away. 

She knows that I'll always come back to her. 

Because she is my mother.

* * * * *

Native tribes knew this mountain mother as Tahoma which means mother of all waters. Only when white European explorers arrived was she renamed Rainier. Today, regional tribes are leading an effort to re-establish her original name, and I am purely delighted. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

My Old Army Buddy

I've always had a thing for sitting on stairs. 

Just like an old Army buddy, my childhood trauma comes to visit me.

Sometimes he stops by unannounced; other times I invite him to come spend the afternoon with me.

We sit on the concrete stoop of an old brownstone in the city. Fresh green maple leaves shade the sidewalk where children play, tossing their bikes into a heap as they pause for a game of hopscotch in the shadows. Several houses down, a handful of teenagers gather, teasing and laughing in amiable and indistinct conversation. 

A dog barks.

The postman walks by.

Sprinklers hiss and clatter on the neighbors' lawns.

Without a word between us, my old buddy and I breathe in the sweet summer sunshine, relax into the warm steps, and enjoy this simple feast of daily life. 

We found this old tractor on my great uncle's farm at a family reunion, 
and while my father looks on, my older brother and I pretend it's a tank. 

When we feel ready, words begin to flow, gently and carefully, as we talk about our days in the past.

During the war.

We remind each other of what those endless days were like.

Trapped at night in the silent trenches.

Tense and apprehensive, jittery with adrenaline.

Waiting for the surprise attacks.

Combat erupting in the dark.

Bullets flying, screaming through the air, ricocheting off the dirt walls.

Undermanned and outgunned.

Helpless to fight back.

Simply hoping to survive.

And begin the cycle of waiting for the next assault.

Wondering if the nightmare would ever end.

Miraculously, it did. The war ended. Peace treaties were signed, maps were redrawn, the aggressors packed up their supplies and their survivors and their arsenals and their defenses and moved on.

When it happened, we stared at each other in disbelief, my old buddy and me. We could hardly believe the danger had passed. Hours did we sit frozen in our bunker, afraid to raise our heads above the ground, straining our ears for distant sounds of incoming shells, before we could trust that the bloodshed was finally over.

Then we simply stood up and walked away. There was nothing much left for us to take. 

For the first few years after the war, the two of us clung together. The memories were still so fresh, so vivid, so terrifying that facing them alone was unthinkable. But with time, the terror slowly faded, releasing its choke hold on our psyches and preparing our souls to once again fly free.

It took a while for my life to come back into focus afterwards, but it did. And I am okay.

Now, as the fathers begin to stream down the sidewalks, swinging leather briefcases as they make the short walk from the train station; and the scents of dinner on the stove begin to drift out from kitchens up and down the street, my friend and I stand up.

It's time for him to go.

We shake hands, warmly but with an air of formality, and I step down to the sidewalk to watch him walk back up the street for a few blocks until he disappears around the corner. 

I have no idea where he lives. But it's better this way. I have deep regard for my friend and he'll always be a part of my life. But too much time together would mire both of us in the past, and that would not be good for either one of us.

No, it's better that he comes to me only now and then, when we can revisit our dark journey together as we sit in the sunshine on my stoop, my old Army buddy and me, and marvel at the miracle of life. 

* * * * *

More stories about how I work things through:

Never Mind. I'll Do It Myself.

My Old Army Buddy

Friday, September 10, 2021

Never Mind. I'll Do It Myself.

^ This photo reveals everything about my childhood. I both love it and hate it with all my heart. 

It all started out with a fun little game.

A few months ago, we decided to come up with family tag lines. You know, that one special phrase that each person tends to say over and over again; the instant you hear the words, you know who said them, and the tone of voice rings pitch perfect in your ears.

Took us no time at all to come up with a full set of tag lines, and we quickly came round to agreeing that we'd nailed each person perfectly.

Ok, fine (said with a heavy sigh).

ACT-ually (heavy emphasis on the first syllable).

It's just annoying (with a touch of singsong inflection).

Just wait (in response to being asked to do anything at all).

That's exciting (spoken with a touch of mild irony yet nary a trace of sarcasm).

Interestingly, each of us have been amused to admit that our appointed tag lines did truly fit us, and I am more than surprised to discover that I do indeed say my tag line on the daily, with precisely the same cadence and tone:

Never mind. I'll do it myself.

Day after day after day, as I catch myself speaking these words into the universe, I begin to pay attention to the context of the situations, to the emotions behind the words.

Always it is the case that I've asked someone to help me with a small task. Far from simply expressing impatience, I realize that with these words, I am reflecting on my original request and deciding that I am better off doing the thing myself.

And in a flash, I see the problem.

* * * * *

^ Champion self-soother.

I make no secret nor celebrity of the fact that I come from a traumatized childhood. 

For the first decade of my life, my father flagrantly cheated on his marriage, provoked terrible fights with my mother, disappeared for days or even weeks at a time, and mostly ignored his children. During the second half of my childhood, he divorced my mom, moved out of state, and despite lucrative employment on the faculty at MIT, often failed to pay child support. Between the ages of ten and twenty, I saw him maybe five times.

Strangely, little girl me managed all this turmoil with remarkable calm and self-direction. From the tender age of three or four, when I first became aware of the fights, I was determined to show my father that I did not need his help to make something of myself. Even though I was terrified of his outbursts, I positively refused to give him the satisfaction of falling apart. I learned very quickly to internalize my fears - hello, reoccurring dreams about being chased by a towering, angry bear - and keep a cool exterior for all to see. 

Along the way, I learned all too well that no one was going to take care of me - dad was busy cheating, mom was trying to cope with her own trauma, all the other adults in my life were either fooled by my self-sufficiency act or too busy to notice me. I did indeed learn to do things completely on my own.

Never mind. I'll do it myself.  

Once I graduated from college and landed in adult life, I looked my childhood trauma straight in the eyeballs, and dealt with it. I knew none of it was my fault - I'd always known that - and I knew I'd done all that I could to lift my life up and infuse it with dignity and purpose and honor, as much as any 21-year-old possibly can. And I felt pretty darn good about myself.

Years passed. Life moved on. I worked through forgiving my dad for being such a terrible father and all-around self-serving individual. In my thirties, I gave him a chance to show me that he'd changed; he quickly proved that he hadn't. So I forgave him for that too, and made my peace with our fatally flawed relationship. 

Yes, I did. I made my peace with my bad dad and the trauma he'd caused me. I learned to let that familiar pain sit next to me, close enough for me to see it and remember it, but not ever let it become a part of me again. I comforted the little girl who had faced those terrible nights, holding her close and smoothing her hair, assuring her that she'd done everything she could to right the wrongs she'd seen. And I made damn sure that I raised my daughters in a home where parents did not fight.

Decades later, I would have told you that my childhood trauma was healed. My parents are both gone now, and the end of their lives brought me to another, higher plateau of acceptance and forgiveness. They did the best that they could, and that's all anyone can ask of their parents. I hold no ill will.

But then this happened:

Never mind. I'll do it myself.

And I realize I'm still in the soup.

* * * * *

^ Don't tell Dr. Freud, but I still have that teddy bear. 

A bit of Google heavy lifting is required to nail down the exact term, but I know that this brand of extreme self-sufficiency is not necessarily a good thing. 

Avoidant attachment is an attachment style that develops during early childhood. It tends to occur with children who do not experience sensitive responses to their needs or distress. Children with an avoidant attachment style may become very independent, both physically and emotionally.

Never mind. I'll do it myself.

So I accept, once again, that I did indeed suffer childhood trauma, and that traces of that pain are sill with me. 

Will always be with me.

And that's okay. I've worked through my trauma before and I can work through it again. 

I think about ringing my therapist, whom I visit from time to time, to ask her help in this process. Then again, I'm pretty sure I know what her advice would be, so I feel a surge of confidence that I can walk this next leg of my journey on my own. 

But then I laugh, because my solution so perfectly mirrors my problem. 

Never mind. I'll do it myself. 

* * * * *

More stories about how I work things through:

Never Mind. I'll Do It Myself.

My Old Army Buddy