Thursday, December 29, 2016

Adieu, little cat

Meet Lou, the adorable black kitten who was adopted from the SPCA on December 23 by my Canadian family. They had fostered his mother and three siblings since early December. The family had collectively decided to keep the only male in the litter because he seemed the most connected to the humans in the household. As one might expect, he was alert and interested on Christmas day during all the activities of the morning. So much fun to see the gift opening, to follow a cloth ribbon wriggled on the floor, to pounce on the little blue cat toy ball and watch it roll.

At his ripe young age of two-plus months, he typified the life of a kitten--buoyant playfulness followed by short, restorative naps. The four of us who were celebrating Christmas together that day constantly kept our collective eyes on him. If he left the room for any reason, someone jumped up to check up on his activity (usually something as basic as a food or potty break) to make sure he wasn't getting into anything that would be dangerous. Nothing bad was going to happen to that little cutie.

When he became less interested in the activities around him  later in the day and more prone to napping, our collective assumption was that he was worn out from his antics and the stimulation of the morning. Also, we thought it was possible that the routine neutering surgery he'd undergone two days earlier might be catching up with him.

But just three days after Christmas, Lou died. He had spent the better part of Monday and all day and night Tuesday at the veterinarian with a mysterious fever, lethargy and dehydration. By Wednesday morning his health had deteriorated to the point-of-no-return. There was no definitive diagnosis of the cause of his demise, as of my departure from Canada later that day.

Lou was an adorable baby cat with the promise of a joyful lifetime spent with caring guardians. With tears and trauma 'his people' are still adjusting to the terrible news. This will be a Christmas no one in his human family will forget.

 Sweet, Lou, the pleasure and joy
you brought to your adopted family was a lovely gift,
even if for just that short period. 
You will be missed for a very long time.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Recycled box claims poster-child status for its owner

Our waste disposal company in Bothell, Recology Clean-Scapes, just sent its customers an email encouraging people to buy local to reduce the enormous amount of cardboard utilized this time of year in packaging for deliveries. It's true--I've noticed more cardboard than normal arriving at my house in the last few weeks, and by most people's standards, I get very few packages. But the several items I've ordered online (one was an ordinary food item no longer available at the four local grocery stores I visited) arrived with more packaging than may have been necessary. And yet, it's hard to be critical of the overkill of cardboard because good protective wrapping assures minimal damage when packages get dropped into sorting areas from conveyor belts and stacked on top of each other in delivery trucks.

The email from Clean-Scapes brought to mind my own thirty-year-old Christmas wrapping-paper box. I guess I don't have to apologize to anyone for wasting that cardboard! The home office of Northwestern Mutual Life in Milwaukee ordered its premium-payment envelopes in boxes of 2,500. In the service division where I worked, one such carton of envelopes was delivered to our supplies area on a regular basis. Made of heavy-duty cardboard, the boxes had sturdy lids and were an especially convenient size for lots of things one might want to store at home under a bed! Service reps practically fought over whose turn it was to "recycle" (e.g. take home) the empty box.

After working at NML for three years, it dawned on me that I could use one of those boxes to store our leftover Christmas wrap, so I became the proud owner of an empty envelope box in 1985. Now, these thirty-plus years later, the very same box is loaded with ribbon, tissue, flat-paper, left-over cards and stickers and tags, the sole keeper of Christmas wrap at my house. I hauled it upstairs from the basement last week, marveling at how well it has held up through three moves, one of which was cross-country. Sure, it's pretty battered, but it's still sturdy!

It owes me nothing, and I'm pretty sure I qualify as a veritable poster child for recycled cardboard.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Walk in the neighborhood

 There I was . . .  last Sunday morning . . . an old woman walking slowly downhill after chugging uphill for half-an-hour, pulling out my phone to snap pictures of some wondrous sights. I was on my routine Sunday morning walk (the only day of the week I choose to take city streets instead of the paved trail by the river) . . . and it's always fun to notice nature's changes, despite its being an urban corridor.  Today not only did I stop to watch a chunky spider weaving its web between a lamp post and a fence (probably it isn't there even just a few hours later) but noticed these amazing colorful and textured organisms. I didn't touch or reposition anything.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A surprising stare . . .

I can't remember the last time a face was staring at me while I was cleaning up the dishes after dinner. 

I had finished off   leftover pizza slices from a couple days earlier (as well as a delicious kale salad) and was loading the dishwasher, when I reached for the plate the cold slices had been on in the frig. I had to laugh at the image. The face seemed decidedly female, and I projected a smart-alecky remark coming from it, something like "Well, did you feel like a cannibal tonight?"

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

And one more (important) thing about Patsy . . .

Here is the family portrait Patsy created
for our six-member family. It always
makes me smile.

Patsy's take on the "pet rock" trend.
Yesterday's post may have made it sound as though the only reason I remember Patsy O'Brian is because of the earring incident. However, that is not the primary reason I think of her daily. 

Two of her lovely and imaginative art creations grace my home. Both were hostess gifts, lovingly presented to our family when she and Pat stayed with us on their visits to Milwaukee. 

No one who notices the quirky little face smiling from a table in my house can resist commenting on it. It's both goofy and creative. Patsy had her own take on the trends and was always experimenting in media to add dimensions to existing three-d objects.

Patsy's art was represented by the popular art gallery located at the downtown Frederick and Nelson, in those days Seattle's most respected department store. 

It was whimsical and beautifully crafted--much of it three-dimensional work (fabric, knitting, applique, etc.,)  but some rendered in masterful strokes of the pen or brush. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A "nothing-event" remembered forever

Isn't it odd how we can engage in what would be a completely forgettable act, but remember it for the rest of our lives?

In the late 1980s, Patsy O'Brian and I had a date for lunch at Frederick and Nelson Department store in Aurora Village. She and I had been friends since the early '70s when our husbands introduced us. They had been in grad school together at University of Washington, and her husband, Pat, became one of Jay's closest friends. After Pat died in 1987, Patsy had an especially tough time, not just because of grief for her dear husband, but because of her recently declared 'legally blind' status,the result of Type-1 diabetes. She couldn't leave her house without someone to guide her.

I arrived at her house at our agreed-upon time and rang the doorbell. As usual, she'd asked me just to ring the bell and come on in--the door would be unlocked. When I entered her house, she called to me from the upstairs. "I need your help with something, Sallie. Come on up!" As I entered her bedroom, she was sitting on the edge of the bed, cursing a blue-streak (something she was notorious for). "I can't get this #@&*% earring in," she informed me. "PLEASE help me."

"Sure," I replied and sat down beside her on the bed. I expected it would be a breeze to plop an earring into the pierced hole in her left ear. But it wasn't. I struggled, and fussed, and fumed, and failed. There was just something about someone else's ear . . . the angle of the piercing? the thickness of her earlobe? the curve of the earring itself? I don't know what it was--I'd had no problem helping my daughter a decade-plus earlier when she had her ears pierced in sixth grade. I could NOT get Patsy's earring in. But we went to lunch, anyway and had fun. I drove Patsy home and settled her in--end of story, right? Wrong.

I don't remember what we ate, what we talked about, what we wore. I couldn't even find her house now, if I tried (she departed this earth in the early '90s). But every time I put in my own earrings (and I have several pairs that are difficult to insert for various reasons), I think of Patsy and those few minutes we spent, sitting side by side on her bed. We alternately laughed and fussed (with Patsy spewing forth the unladylike vocabulary she was known for), and, of course, with me profusely apologized for failing at what should have been a simple task.

As long as I live and wear pierced earrings, I will think of Patsy.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A new meaning for the phrase, BOOK TOUR

Yesterday I found myself doing the mental equivalent of pacing . . . trying to find something to entertain myself on a rainy afternoon devoid of any plans. I thought about cleaning a closet--ugh. Making cookies? Nah. I considered pulling out my watercolors to fiddle with them, or really fiddling on my violin. Maybe I should take a walk in the rain? Nothing appealed, and I had nothing to read, either, having just finished two non-fiction works I'd been simultaneously working on. I ended up writing yesterday's blog post.

Later when I entered my office, I had to cluck at myself. Nothing to read? Who am I kidding? These are just some of books I have chosen to keep (they made it through the first downsizing six years ago and some periodic purges, as well). Why do I think I have nothing to read? If I don't intend to reread any of these books, why am I keeping them? To loan to others? To burden my children when I'm gone? I began to look at their titles.

My grandfather's books, such as The First Year of the War by Edward A. Pollard (published 1863), provide an emotional conduit to a man I never really knew but have enormous respect for. Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again connects me to my emotionally wrought sixteen-year-old self, and my volume of Sherlock Holmes stories links me to the junior-high girl who felt entirely grown up as she discussed the plots with her father. My two-volume music encyclopedia takes me back to the fifteen-year-old musician who eschewed the frivolous silliness of wanna-be debutantes in order to practice with her piano quintet pals every weekend. Finding The Boys and Their Mother by Keith Jennison hilarious when I read it in my thirties connected me with my deceased parents in a new and wonderful way. (I'd thought it stupid when I was sixteen and my folks were reading it aloud to each other). The volume of S.N. Behrman plays makes me remember my sophomore year at U.W. with my passion for theatre and the boy playing opposite me in a scene from "Biography." Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety articulates a reality that Jay and I lived through at Marquette. The list goes on . . .

Perhaps the books line my office solely to remind me who I am in 2016. I'm not just an old woman who complains about driving in the dark and wears sensible shoes. I'm not just dabbler or opinionated elder. Nor am I just a grandmother or widow or do-gooder. Maybe when I'm bored next time I will sit down, open a book, and reacquaint myself with one of my former selves. It's been a long journey and perhaps it's time to let the books remind me of its highlights and low-spots, as well.  

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Fitting Juxtaposition

Odd, I'd call it, to have two back-to-back blog posts about what one sees when one walks 'looking down,' but it's too wonderful not to share.

Yesterday as I was returning my trash and recycle cans to the garage after their weekly pickup, I noticed something unusual on the cement in front of the garage door. I don't know what the species is, but I think it is the largest dragonfly I have ever seen. I'm quite glad it wasn't flying, because I could never have photographed it (and would have been quite intimidated, too). I realized it was dead only after sneaking up on it with my cell phone to take its picture. It was VERY large, and now I wish I'd measured it.

But here's the real reason for today's post. The dragonfly made me especially grateful to my neighbor,Tom. Usually, I don't take my own garbage cans back and forth to the curb. Ever since Jay died, Tom has insisted on doing this weekly chore for me--wheeling my filled trash cans from the garage to the curb and returning them after being emptied. Although I am capable of doing this chore myself, it is a lovely gesture and I deeply appreciate his kindness.

Tom is out of town, so I was 'on my own' for garbage duty, And although I'm very glad I saw this astonishing insect, I realize how much I appreciate Tom's kindness and weekly tribute to his late friend and neighbor, Jay.

Monday, September 12, 2016


On Saturday afternoon I headed to the local branch of Bank of America, hoping to get there before it closed. I made it in plenty of time—with half-an-hour to spare. I was somewhat surprised to see an armed security cop standing outside the entrance. Feeling awkward walking by someone whose license to carry arms is so obvious, I said hello as I passed him. With his arms folded across his chest, making the revolver on his right hip stand out as an asymmetrical accessory, he gave me a perfunctory nod.

As the only customer inside the branch, I took care of my business easily. I couldn’t help but remember years gone by when there would have been a line of people rushing into the bank before it closed for the weekend. I am so happy for the transactional ease of ATMs. As I pushed the door open and stepped into the sunshine, I noticed the guard had moved about a foot closer to the door, positioning himself as if ready to open the door for customers. But . . . he clearly wasn't (nor should he have been) on door-duty.

Walking toward my car, I fumbled with the receipt and manager’s business card that I'd be needing in a few days’ time. I wish I had a paperclip, I thought, as I stepped off the curb and into the parking lot. Ah, wait—I think I saw one on the sidewalk by the bank. I turned around and—because I didn’t want to make the guard nervous (I could be an old lady criminal, after all)—began to explain myself.

“Uh, I just realized I saw a paperclip here somewhere—it’s exactly what I need to keep my papers together,” I said rather self-consciously. I spied it and stooped to pick it up.

“It’s been there since Tuesday,” he said.

Four days?  I cannot imagine standing in one place for eight hours, all the while hoping that what you were there for wouldn't happen (or maybe hoping it would). The idea of staring at a paperclip, noting its presence but doing nothing about it, is puzzling to me. If a brightly colored item hadn't seen as reusable, why wasn't it perceived as trash? Perhaps that's the philosophy of the copleave well enough alone. Probably a good thing, actually. But four days? One little paperclip became a giant eye-opener.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

He's a Poet, and Don't I Know It!

Falling in love with a poet . . .well, not that kind of love. But I’m definitely smitten with the idea of a busker-poet, and the image that a certain young man projects as he sits at the Lake Forest Park Farmers’ Market to create poems on demand.
C. Stavney  working at the Farmers' Market
 August 28, 2015
C. Stavney has been at the market for its startup at ten o’clock almost every Sunday this season (May - October). After he learns his assigned location from the market manager, he sets up shop with just two props: a backpack full of paper and his typewriter. Wearing a version of the same outfit every week—a jaunty combination of brown tones that becomes him—he writes poems on whatever topic you want

He is amazingly gifted. Shoppers at the busy farmers' market wander by his chair. Some point at him; some read his sign and giggle; some stop and talk. Children love him, crowding around to see the keys of the typewriter move up and down. The lucky people who decide to become customers can offer topics, words, or occasions to write about, or they can describe a situation that begs for a poetic take. Whatever he gets as a ‘poem seed’ appears to immediately inspire him. He removes a sheet of paper from his backpack, rolls it into the platen of his small manual typewriter, and begins to write.  

Writing a poem for
me on July 3, 2016
Last Sunday a large contingent of Taiko drum students beat rhythms as impossible to ignore as fireworks. But even that didn't appear to daunt him. He works among the sounds of tantrum-y children, yipping dogs, and the excessive chatter filling the deliciously fragrant air. Nothing appears to derail Mr. Stavney's creativity. He types away and within just a few minutes, pulls the poem out of the typewriter, signs his name to it in light blue ink, snaps a photo of it with his cell phone, and hands it to his customer. 

His sign (taped to his typewriter case) announces that he will write a poem for any price and reminds his customer (in parenthesis) that ‘free’ is a price.

The poem written September 4, 2016
by C. Stavney at the Farmers' Market
in Lake Forest Park, Washington. 
I am so impressed with his gift for words and his edgy, sensitive take on the various topics of poems, I contribute to his "kitty" each week—even if I haven't needed a poem. Lately I confess to wondering, when don't I need a poem? He has managed to fold me into the bosom of the human race a little tighter with each of his works. (I’ve purchased a total of six this summer, and when possible I've drummed up a little business for him from market shoppers wondering 'if he's any good.') The produce vendor in a booth near Mr. Stavney's chair told me that he and his girlfriend loved the poem he wrote for them so much they’d be framing it. Good plan!

Last weekend I jokingly threatened to reenact the story of Rumpelstiltskin by trying to guess his first name. And I did!  But I won’t share it; he admits he withholds it to establish market  mystique. I think his gift is all the more remarkable for his age, and the University of Washington must agree with me because I also learned he'll attend the U.W. this fall as an upperclassman English major. The UW is a stickler of a school to be accepted to, and he's not yet twenty years old (is actual age is another piece of his mystery). 

Today I told him I was going to write about him on my blog and asked for a poem I could 'publish' here. I proudly use it with his permission. When Mr. Stavney is famous, I'll boast that I was his patron“back when” he was busking his poetry at the Lake Forest Park Farmers’ Market. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Long term friendship

I have very few friendships that have lasted more than four decades. Geography, interests, life events: many changes affect them. I can count my "lifelong" friends on one hand. Even rarer is having a friend for forty-five years without even one in-person visit to shore up the sagging that usually happens with distance. When my Kentucky-dwelling friend, Pat, emailed to tell me about a family gathering her daughter was planning for August on the coast of Washington—it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to catch in-person glimpses of each other. 

Pat and I befriended each other in the late '60s in our shared Seattle neighborhood. We were both stay-at-home moms with children close enough in age to play together. She and her family moved away when her husband, John, accepted a position at the University of Kentucky in 1971—and then Jay accepted a position at Marquette University in Wisconsin in 1972. 

With the huge adjustments required of changing locale, we had even more in common and wrote lots of letters—then the only "sensible" (read affordable) means of staying in touch—commiserating over the demands of long distance moves and the challenges the kids (and their moms) experienced, as a result. Gradually our communication thinned to the annual Christmas-season catch-up, birthday cards, and the occasional note during the year.

Our long-distance bond solidified into a kind of supportive sisterhood when both of our lives were rocked and reshaped by similar offspring revelations in the early '80s. We were able to help each other accept and embrace the ways our family dynamics were changing with our flow of candid letters. Pat was a godsend for me, and the feeling was mutual.

Eventually we  added email as a form of communication—and we have continued to keep in touch once or twice a year plus the Christmas letters. However, email wasn’t the form I wanted to use when I informed her of Jay’s death. I wrote her a letter via 'snail-mail' and few weeks later, I opened what I thought would be a condolence letter. Instead, I read of of yet another bond of circumstance we share: John died less than three weeks after Jay did.

In the past two years through our shared bereavement, Pat and I have been in frequent communication. Now we mostly text. But whichever way the communication occurs, nothing is quite like the support that comes from a friend’s going through the same life-changing event. Of all my friends, Pat’s ability to understand what I’ve gone through is unique. Even bad stufflike our shared circumstance of widowhoodhas deepened our connection.

The picture of the two of us was taken at breakfast in Long Beach, Washington. Pat has been living with cancer for two-and-a-half years, and has a wondrous story to tell about the power of positive thinking . . . but I’ll save that for another posting. It was a long drive from Seattle, but a worthwhile excursion in sunshine and hot summer weather. I finally got to be in the presence of, and physically SEE my friend after forty-five years of no in-person visits! 

It should be noted that the only friend I've had all my lifemy older sister, Judykept me company on the 185 mile drive to Long Beach. I have two friends to thank for the special visit. Is there anyone who'd disagree that little in life that surpasses the value of long-standing friendship?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Real Life Conversation

My front yard was the scene of a neighborhood coffee-hour recently. By noon everyone was leaving, carrying their own chairs back home, chattering in friendly tones as the gathering dissolved into the next segment of Saturday.

The eleven-year-old boy from across the street offered to help me carry and put away my lawn chairs and tray of mugs. For some reason, my nose was dripping, so I said, “Just a minute, I have to get a hanky first.”


“I have to grab a hanky.”

“What’s a hanky?”

“You know, a handkerchief  . . to blow my nose on . . . like a tissue.”

“Oh!” and with that detail, he nodded in recognition.

When I was his age, at least once a year, my mother ordered for my sister and me each a dozen hankies with our names embroidered on them. That way, if we dropped one or left it at someone’s house or school, we’d get it back. Obviously, it didn’t work too well because the next year we’d each get another dozen hankies. 

The conversation with my young helper is a telling distillation of our double-generation gap, and it makes me feel very grandma-like.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Minute Pudding

In the late 1940s and '50s, once a year for Sunday lunch my dad would make a family recipe called minute pudding. He always invited his family, especially his still malleable daughters, to share it with him. 

Minute pudding is not a delicate dessert, as you might imagine of a recipe called "pudding." It's a main course made from flour, milk, baking powder, and salt—flavored with nutmeg. The gooey dough looks something like dumpling dough, and after it cooks it still looks like a big, doughy lump. We would sprinkle sugar on it and pour milk over it. It was like eating doughy, flavorless bread dunked in milk. It was awful!

“Can you this being your entire food for the day?” Dad would ask us. We'd grimace. "I'll bet you'd think it pretty darn good on an empty stomach, though,” he'd continue, then add something like “M-m-m-m . . .  there’s nothing quite like minute pudding.” 

He was right; there is nothing like it in any recipe book I’ve ever seen. It was a strictly homemade concoction invented out of desperation by my great-grandmother, Anne French Johnson.

Minute Pudding  (recipe copied in my hand more than forty years ago)

Bring to a boil 1 pint of milk
Add Salt and nutmeg to taste
Sift flour (there is no quantity, but start with 1 cup) with ¼ tsp. baking powder

Keep adding flour to the milk until thick. 
Turn into a bowl and bake for 20 minutes in a slow (300 degrees) oven.
In my handwriting I added,Eat with reverence.”

As we ate our minute pudding on those Sundays, Dad would narrate stories he had heard as a child from his father who grew up in rural Iowa and left home to 'come out West' as soon as he completed eighth grade. 
Inside my great-grandfather's saddlebag was
the 'good book'--the only tool of the trade
itinerant preacher needed in
the mid-nineteenth century.

Apparently there were a lot of times in my grandfather's childhood when he didn't have enough to eat. Grandfather died when I was three (he was born in 1860), so I never had a chance to talk to him about his early years myself. But my father filled us in on tidbits, as we were ready for them.

We learned that sometimes grandfather and his two sisters suffered from much deprivation in their isolated cabin in rural Iowa, especially if hunting was poor and someone didn’t shoot a turkey or some other wild animal for them to eat. "They went to bed hungry many nights, and if it hadn't been for minute pudding, they might have starved to death.”

This is my great-grandfather's hide-
bound Bible published in 1840--
well worn and well used.
Their father, my great-grandfather, was Rev. Allan Wesley Johnson, an itinerant Methodist minister born in 1819. He traveled from town to town on horseback throughout much of Iowa and Minnesota. His work kept him away from home for long spells, and clearly the remuneration was little more than the hospitality of the people he ministered to. He was also an alcoholic (although my father’s word was 'drunkard,' no doubt used by my grandfather, too, when talking about his childhood deprivation). That meant when the Reverend Johnson was home, he was frequently unable to provide for his family.

I was probably thirteen when I realized my dad actually didn't love minute pudding, despite the "m-m-m-m" that inevitably accompanied its consumption. Instead,Dad was repeating a personal ritual that he had learned from his own father, a ritual created to never forget how blessed it is to have enough food to eat.

As I read about the increasing poverty rate in our country, I think about this story . . . this recipe. I haven't made minute pudding but once in my adult life, but just thinking about it makes me feel so blessed.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Shocking Pencil

Several years ago now, our granddaughters from Minneapolis and their parents came to visit us in Bothell. As the hosting grandparents, we wanted to do some activities unique to Seattle. In that spirit, we planned a trip to the Seattle International District to shop at the 'nothing-like-it-in-the-Midwest store, Uwajimaya. Not only did we enjoy wonderful food there, but the shopping was fantastic. Among other purchases, my younger granddaughter and I each bought a pencil that looked like a cigarette.  

 Recently I was cleaning dresser drawers and came across it. I have to confess, just for a moment, I thought there was a real cigarette in my dresser! (Good old days? What an awful thought!)

I stopped cleaning and began to pose in front of the mirror, considering how I might have a little fun with my wooden 'cigarette.' 

I don't ever want to sharpen it so I could write or draw with it. No, I'd rather horrify people--taking it out of my purse in a restaurant, say. I would be immediately asked to leave the premises! Driving with it in my hand on the steering wheel could be fun, too. Then there's Symphony Hall, cinema lobbies, art museums . . . the list goes on. What about just standing in front of my house, holding it in a provocative pose? 

Of course, it just went back into the drawer and I continued tidying. The next time I clean out that drawer (five years, at the rate I'm going), I'll probably have forgotten all about it and will have the same--or even stronger--reaction. I hope so. My life is pretty dull these days.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Nature's Polka Dots

On my regular Sunday morning walk, I pass the back nine holes of Wayne Golf Course. The golf course was established in the 1930s, and presumably the apple orchard was planted before the course was established.

Now, as typical of century-old apple trees, the fruit isn't very good now. Even most of the critters that roam the land seem to leave it alone. The trees drop their bounty all over the golf course (probably making it hard to spot a ball that's gone missing) in this random pattern. Isn't it beautiful? I was quite taken with the cheery, perky look of light green little spheres lounging about on the deeper green grass, as I passed by this morning.

The Wayne golf course land, by the way, has been saved from development by the hardworking grass roots organization I've written about in past Check out the new website to see what a wonderful and vital success story it has to tell. I'm a proud volunteer for OneBothell.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Singapore (Old Tom) Gin Sling

In 1959 my dad visited Singapore and stayed at The Raffles Hotel. When he came home, he raved about the  delicious Singapore Gin Sling he’d had there. The fancy drink had been invented by a bartender at the hotel forty years earlier and drinking one was considered essential as a the local experience. 

Here is the story behind getting the recipe--typed up by my dad in 1959.

When Dad showed us the recipe written down for him by its originator at the Raffles, we asked him if he was going to try making one at home. He answered, “Oh, no—I can’t. Old Tom Gin isn’t available here.” (In those days the monopoly of Washington State Liquor Stores greatly limited availability and selection of all alcoholic beverages.) In fact, maybe Old Tom Gin wasn’t available anywhere in the USA.
I recently read about Old Tom Gin making a resurgence as a craft  liquor. Apparently craft liquors are becoming as popular in their own right as craft beers. I dragged out the recipe given to Dad, written on a piece cash register paper by Mr. Seng,  


1 glass Old Tom Gin (port wine glass)
1/2 a glass Heering Cherry Brandy
1/2 glass local Lime Juice (Fresh) & sugar
Add dashes of  Doorn Maraschino,  Curacao, Angostura Bitters & Orange Triple Sec
Cracked Ice in a shaker
(Shake well & serve)

This piece of paper the recipe is written on is almost sixty years old, and its ingredients don’t quite match the one identified online as “the original Singapore Gin Sling” recipe. Maybe this is the first time the secret is out. My dad returned to Singapore several other times and with each visit always made sure to have a Sling at the Raffles. They must have been good, but I know he never even tried to make one at home.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Always learning something new . . .

Here I am, seventy-six years old, and still discovering funny little mistaken ideas stemming back to childhood. I just learned I’ve been mispronouncing a word wrong since I first learned it in fourth grade.

My dad read aloud to us a lot. A favorite book of his and mine was Nathanial Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales and A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys. The two books, originally published separately, were bound in the same volume we owned, and my favorites were Hawthorne’s retelling of many Greek myths. Before I took a fantastic course on Greek and Roman Mythology at the University of Washington, that first exposure in fourth grade was my base-line for everything I knew about Greek mythology (and I had to unlearn a lot of misconceptions that Hawthorne propagated based on his nineteenth century understanding).

One of my favorite characters was Pegasus the flying horse, and I especially loved how he heroically enabled the killing of the chimera. My father (who—when I was ten—could do no wrong) pronounced the name of the three-species-monster as “shimmer-uh” as he read the story aloud, with the accent on the first syllable and a nice, soft ‘sh’ sound starting off the word.

I’ve read the word from time to time over my lifetime, each time imagining that’s the pronunciation, and never questioned it—ever—and never heard anyone else say it, either. Well, at least not that I realized, until . . .

. . . an NPR story about biotechnology’s push to  intentionally create hybrid embryos from several different species came on my car radio, and the announcer talked about the creation of a modern-day monster, a “kye-meer’-uh.”

What? It took me a few seconds to make sense of this new word, and then a quick judgment that the announcer was mispronouncing chimera!  But wait—wouldn’t he have checked the pronunciation before doing a radio program about it? A big ‘oops’ crossed my thoughts about then, a big "Don't tell me it's my mistake!"

As soon as I arrived home, I opened the Mirriam-Webster dictionary on my iPad and touched the icon of the speaker on the word chimera—and, sure enough, I have mispronounced it for about sixty-six years. In my head, anyway. I don't think I've ever needed use the word.

I’m smiling as I write this. I love how humbling a little event like this can be. I’m smiling thinking about how my dad probably heard the word mispronounced by his dad when A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys was read aloud to him in the early 1900s. I’m smiling thinking how hard we both would have laughed over this perpetuation of error, if I could share it with him. I wish.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Please pass the peonies

There was a time in my life where I wasn't keen on peonies, at least not inside the house. Every time I picked one to use in a bouquet, an earwig (or two or three) would arrive with it. Earwigs are insects that give me the crawlies. But I guess I have something in common with them. If earwigs could talk, we might both say the same thing: What's not to like about peonies?

I love how peonies start out as round tight buds, not even hinting at the glory that will burst forth when they reach full bloom. They remind me of children--you can't tell what they're going to be like when they're little. You have to wait and see.

Peonies introduce fragrance and color into the garden and when brought indoors defy visitors and unobservant inhabitants to ignore them. A person simply cannot walk into a room with a vase filled with peonies in full bloom and not remark on them.
Photo  by Katie Sullivan Remley
used by permission

Many years ago, a favorite coworker married a young woman who was a serious photography student. When Micah told me that some of Katie's photos had been accepted into a juried art show, I was impressed and made a point of attending the exhibit to demonstrate my support for her hard work and talent. I fell in love with her photo of a peony and purchased it for our home where it's been hanging ever since. I don't know if Katie Remley is still photographing flowers, but I do see the amazing photos she takes of her two growing sons every year in her family's Christmas card.

My one and only
big vase--in use for more
than fifty years already!
As I was snipping the ends of a half-dozen tightly closed buds I bought today at my local farmers' market, I stopped to study the vase I was using. Received by Jay and me as a wedding present in 1962, it is the only large vase I own (except for a few florist freebies).  It's a great size and shape, but I rarely think about its enameled design.

Today, I couldn't help but notice the design. No wonder I like it!

The flower-grower at the farmers' market told me today's peonies could be the last of the season because of our early spring and the heavy rains of the past several days. The best thing about peonies is that they'll be back again next year and every bit as spectacular as they are this year.

Meanwhile, breathe in. Imagine a spring evening where the light is fading and a beautiful fragrance fills the air. What a wondrous gift.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Heartbreak of Cherry Blossoms

My recent sadness at the departure of visiting family reminded me of this essay, written nearly ten years ago. I searched for it in my computer files and up it popped. Unlike many titles, this one stays with me, and I think about it when when spring arrives in Seattle and the cherry trees bloom.

For almost an entire year I've looked forward to the last two weeks of April when my roving Canadian family (on sabbatical) would be staying with me. Their house in British Columbia, leased for the academic year, wouldn't be available for them until until May 1. When I was asked last summer if, by any chance, they could live here for a couple of weeks in April, I was thrilled and eagerly anticipated it all these months. But then . . . so quickly, the figurative cherry blossoms blew off. Poof--it was over.

Here's the essay written almost TEN YEARS AGO. Sometimes my old writing doesn't hold up--I write sometimes just so I can 'move on.' But this one? It still speaks to me.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~                          ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~                    ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

June 2006

   A photograph of my youngest granddaughter in newborn slumber greets me each time I sit down to use my computer. I have carefully arranged my software shortcut-icons around the edge of the lavender fleece blanket, which envelopes her as she sleeps in Grandpa’s lap. I can see her picture out of the corner of my eye every time I pass the den. She is ten days old today—already twice as old as she was when I snapped the picture, and I am wondering how much she has changed.

   Not that I wouldn’t recognize her. I am certain I could pick her out in a lineup of a hundred babies, even if we had not had the chance to meet at the end of her first earthly day. I saw her again when she was five days old, and enfolded her tightly swaddled little self in my arms. But this morning, when I turned on my computer and saw the picture of sweet Mae filling in across my monitor, I thought my heart might break.

Initially I was surprised by how I felt. My gut reaction upon seeing her picture, with her eyes tightly shut against the world, was to change the computer wallpaper. What about a photo of our garden in its full rhododendron bloom? Or the rocky Oregon seashore snapped last autumn? I realized that I was feeling a pang of deprivation, the loneliness that comes from having grandchildren who live elsewhere—whose lives are not entwined with mine. I recognized it as similar to my feelings when I see cherry blossoms.

Since my college days forty-five years ago, the sight of cherry trees in full bloom invariably makes me want to cry. Although the obvious reason for my tears would be the breathtaking contrast of the trees against the sky—the way they burst into the drab, still-wintry scene to surprise us like cheerleaders—only recently have I identified the real reason for my reaction. It is the fleeting quality of the bloom that I find upsetting, the foreshadowing of disappointment. A display of blossoms—even a spectacular one such as the dozens of blooming trees at my alma mater’s central quadrangle—lasts only a week or so. Then the petals fade and drift or blow away. Cherry blossoms are a tangible reminder of how fast the moment disappears. Obviously, my reaction is the glass-is-half-empty type, yet I think of myself as a person quick to celebrate wonder, one who enjoys life’s smallest pleasures. But certain things seem to trick my imagination into projecting absence instead of appreciating presence. I usually see the positive image in those psychological optical-illusion pictures, but with cherry blossoms it is though I can see only the negative space.

Observing contrail billowing from a jet plane in a clear blue sky has the same effect on me, but without the weeping. Instead, I just have a sensation of longing for something unnamed. I used to think my reaction was a yearning to travel. But recently, as I tried to explain to a friend why I feel that way, I realized it’s because contrail evaporates so fast. I want it to stripe the entire sky before it begins to wisp away, so the foggy thickening as it dissipates is almost unbearable to watch.

Little Mae lives two-and-a-half hours away from me. For the next few months I can see her frequently, possibly even once a week, but in a year she will be moving with her parents several hundred miles away. My other grandchildren have always lived a thousand miles away, so I have never been acquainted with their yearnings or sadness, their day-to-day achievements and little triumphs. They don’t know my foibles, either. Two visits a year never let us get past the acquaintance stage.

If I give voice to my disappointment about not living closer to my grandchildren, well-meaning friends quickly jump in with a hundred suggestions for developing and maintaining long distance relationships. I am willing to try them all, but nothing takes the place as frequent flesh-and-blood contact. The absence of easy-going rapport with my grandchildren is painful, for even when it is circumstantial, deprivation has no salve.  

I know I should enjoy the cherry blossoms while they are blooming, and contrail shouldn’t make me sad. I know Mae lives close-by for the time being. Perhaps my knowledge of how transitory our time together is will afford a deeper level of delight in the moments we have together—more than if the experience felt endless. Of course her picture on my computer monitor will stay put; it is too beautiful to replace. And ephemeral happenings—the pink puff of cherry trees or the blanched streak of contrail—bittersweet as they are—teach us to stay in the moment. And that, after all, may be the one lesson we can’t have repeated too often.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Happiness is having your owner return to claim you

For the past four months, I've been watching over a number of favorite stuffed animals belonging to my granddaughter, Mae, while she's traveled to far away lands with her parents.

As I prepared for the family's return and the several days they would be staying with me, I had an idea.

The beloved stuffies should be as excited to see their owner as their owner would be to greet them after such a long absence. 

Obviously, these are both canines
Therefore, I created welcome home tags for each to wear. Here are only a few of the greetings that awaited. And, yes, Mae was thrilled.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


 For someone who is determined not to have a stale blog, I'm not doing so well, huh. Well, now that spring has truly arrived in the Seattle area, and Bothell specifically, it's time to convey what makes it so special.

So here goes--an April update and small sample of our local beauty. Now is it any wonder I may have been a bit distracted? Sometimes writing something for a blog seems completely beside the point.