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Friday, June 26, 2009

One-Year Blog Anniversary!

Wow, this date snuck up on me! Hard to believe, but it is the one-year anniversary of my blog!!

In honor of this momentous (ha!) occasion, I'm sharing my very first blog post. I can guarantee none of you have read it, because - when I started this blog - I was scared to death of being 'out there' in the blog world and didn't tell a soul that I had started a blog!

OK ... I told one friend and one of my sisters, but that's it. And my husband, but that's a given.

It was a very covert marketing plan.

It wasn't until around October that I actually started truly trekking into the blog world ... perusing and discovering YOUR wonderful blogs!

So, here it is, originally posted on June 26, 2008:

Eau de Chicken Manure

It’s official. We have gone all-organic with our outdoor lawn fertilizer. After reading an article that all but pegged the rise in childhood leukemia cases to the use of common lawn fertilizers (due to certain ingredients that link back to ‘Agent Orange’ and other crazy stuff!), we switched cold-turkey.

Or should I say ‘cold-chicken’.

Maybe I should explain.

After reading the article and making the decision to switch, it just so happened that a well-known lawn care company appeared at our door offering a special introductory offer for lawn services, including fertilizing. They offered an organic alternative, so we decided to take them up on the lawn fertilization portion.

They came in the early-morning hours, leaving a little yard sign in the lawn as proof of their service.

It was a beautiful blue-sky day, and a comfortable breeze was pumping wonderfully fresh air through the windows and into the house. As I made my way down the stairs to grab a quick bite to eat, I noticed a stench that I couldn’t immediately identify. There was no one else in the house except me. I’d showered and – as far as I could tell – did not have a stench.

Wait a minute.

That is not exactly “fresh” air coming through those windows. That is the distinct smell of … chicken manure?

I quickly learned that chicken manure was the organic treatment used by the company and applied to our lawn that morning.

Mere minutes after my chicken manure ‘aha’ moment, I was back upstairs working diligently at my computer. And, with the window open, could hear a young voice, fairly close to our house, say, “Ooooh, it smells like dog poo!”

I hoped with all my might he wasn’t referring to our house, and quickly decided it was a good time to get the mail, allowing me the covert opportunity to investigate the smell from outside.

It did smell … but, truly, it wasn’t that bad.

I guess now it is just a matter of waiting to see if we ruffle the feathers (sorry!) of any neighbors with our au naturale fertilizer!

[Author note: A year later, we are still getting the same service and have noticed that it doesn’t even smell anymore after they apply the fertilizer. Though … we’re not certain our neighbors would say the same!]

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Transported to France via "French by Heart"

If I had to choose one word to sum up fellow blogger friend Rebecca Ramsey's memoir, "French by Heart: An American Family's Adventures in La Belle France", it would be ... delightful.

No, wait ... engaging.

And, hilarious.

But, really, truly just delightful.

And touching.

Oh ... and heartwarming.

But ... really, I'm sticking with delightful.

And, very charming.

And real.

And oh so delightful!

Maybe it's because I dream of someday living in Tuscany. I know, I know ... that's not in France, but it's a similar uprooting kind of experience so just go with me!

I lived in Europe once before, as a college student in Austria. But that was different. I took two suitcases; she took an entire house worth of furniture, cars, a cat, and three children!

I attended a college where all the classes were taught in English, save for the intensive German class; she had to send her three children off to a French-speaking grade school.

I lived in a flat with other American students and not once did I lay eyes on our fellow building neighbors; she lived in a house in the middle of a French neighborhood with very curious neighbors!

Reading Rebecca's account of their four years in France was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining experience. It was the last thing I read at night before drifting off to sleep. It was like being transported to life in France each night, after a crazy day.

It became my nightly respite. When it ended, I was not pleased. My nightly trip to la belle France was gone. Where was I to go now?!

How about Tuscany via "Under the Tuscan Sun" ... after all, that IS my goal destination!

Thank you, Rebecca, for kick-starting my summer reading travels with your refreshing and witty account of family life in France!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Kind Hello

(Chinese Symbol for Kindness)

I was waiting for my mocha when he walked in. An elderly gentleman, perhaps in his seventies. Seemingly fit and slim, impeccably-dressed, though casual, he wore a sweet smile as he looked up at the board offering the names and prices of the various concoctions. The barista greeted him and offered his assistance. The man smiled. And, for some reason, something about him tugged at my heart.

He seemed a bit lost in this hustle, bustle place … wanting to be a part of it, but not sure what to do.

Was he meeting someone? Was he widowed? Recently? Was he lonely? Did he come to this coffee shop hoping for a friendly smile, a kind word, or was I just reading too much into it?

As I grabbed my cup, thanked the barista, and headed out, I noticed he was now near the door. No drink in hand. His head was down as he worked to get the zipper on his jacket working. I wanted to know that he was taken care of, but it wasn’t really my place.

As I walked by, he looked up at me. His eyes were a beautiful, twinkling blue, but there was a hint of sadness … or maybe loneliness. I smiled and shared a cheerful “Hello!”

I wanted to say more. I wanted to see if he needed anything. But, that would be too forward, too presumptuous … or would it be exactly what he had needed on that very morning?

I left the shop, hoping my smile and simple ‘hello’ was enough.

Have you ever felt that tug at your heart or that lump in your throat just from watching someone that you didn’t even know, sensing there was a need beyond what you could see?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Brilliant Jan Brett

If I'm counting correctly on my fingers and toes, it appears Jan Brett has written, retold, and/or illustrated over 35 books! Which brings one word to mind: "WOW!"

We own two of those 35+ ... "The Mitten", which is a Ukrainian Folktale she adapted and illustrated; and "The Three Snow Bears", a polar twist on the famed 'Goldilocks...' tale.

The stories are adorable. But, I could spend hours just looking at the lavish illustrations. They are phenomenal ... and make me wish I could illustrate!

They are also clever. Both stories feature illustrated foreshadowing, which I think is simply brilliant and is such an enticing element to a child (... and children at heart!).
For example ... in "The Mitten", on the left margin of each page, you see the main character - Nicki - going about his playful day, clueless that he has lost his white mitten in the snow and oblivious to the fact that he is being watched by the animals that will eventually crawl into that lost mitten. On the right margin of each page, you see the animal that will attempt to crawl into the mitten on the next page.

"The Three Snow Bears" applies that same concept with main character, Aloo-ki, as she simultaneously loses her dog sled team and discovers a lovely igloo, complete with a warm bowl of breakfast, comfy boots with a soft fur lining that fit her feet perfectly, and a cozy bed and pillow on which to rest. It just so happens the igloo belongs to a bear family, who saves Aloo-ki's huskies ... but is none-too-happy to find that she has eaten baby bear's breakfast, borrowed his boots, and is now resting peacefully in his bed!

If you are looking for classics to add to your bookshelf, these are a sure bet. Enjoyable to read over and over, and appealing for children and adults alike.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

“Little Piece of Heaven” Trumps Public Transportation

It was never my forte to begin with … taking public transportation. I would like to say that I did it because it was good for the environment and cost-effective. This would be a lie. I did it because I lived and worked in Seattle, and had few other options that didn’t cost me the equivalent of a month’s wages.

Our Seattle office of, oh, 275 or so employees had approximately 17 spaces crammed into the teeniest of spaces between multiple cement beams in the dungeons under the building. Parking was given to those with more seniority than I had at the time. My name was permanently on the parking-spot waiting list, in the hopes that one of the lucky parking spot owners would have a business trip or take a vacation day and I could use their space.

My other option was public parking in the downtown Seattle garages. The cost was somewhat staggering, but I always felt it was worth it when I did it. I used it way too often. Please don’t judge. Let me explain. Truly, it wasn’t just because I got to sleep a bit longer. And, it also wasn’t because I considered my dear automobile (which was quite fuel-efficient and considered low-emission, by the way) to be my ‘little piece of heaven’, which I did.

Let me give you just one example of my typical bus ride from West Seattle into downtown, and maybe you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

My bus route originated in the – ahem – rougher part of a little town that bordered West Seattle. My lovely little apartment complex sat on the side of a hill on the east side of West Seattle in a sort-of-okay neighborhood. In the fall and winter, I would walk up the hill from my apartment to my bus stop, darkness surrounding me in the early morning hours, hoping no one was going to jump out of the bushes. My plan of attack, if that did occur, was to use my high heels as weapons.

My stop was one of the very last before crossing the bridge and heading into downtown, thus the bus was often quite full. One piece of advice I’d been given by a seasoned bus-riding co-worker was to never, ever sit in an empty seat if you had the option of sitting next to someone who looked like they might make a decent bus-traveling companion. Better you choose who you’re sitting next to, rather than someone choose for you! Wouldn’t have thought of that myself.

One morning, I climbed onto the bus to find it completely packed, save one seat next to a lady. Perfect. I smiled at her as I quickly sat down, noticing that she looked like she had had a rough night.

I could feel her stealing quick glances at me, most likely calculating my friendliness-level and debating whether she should ask me what she wanted to ask.

“Um … excuse me,” she started, “how does my make-up look?”

I turned my head to look at her. Oh dear. What to say … what to say.

“Well,” I said, making the motion of a finger-sweep under my own eye, “you’ve got something here … and here.” Technically, her eye-liner and mascara were smudged beyond repair under and to the sides of her eyes. I gently attempted to guide her as she rubbed it off her face.

“I’ve been up all night,” she offered, “I had to work late, and close, and then this guy wouldn’t leave …”

“Oh, I know,” I nodded understandably, “that’s so hard. Well, don’t worry, you look fine. I think you got everything rubbed off.”

I thought we were done.

“My hair is a mess,” she continued.

“I wouldn’t worry about it … it looks fine,” I continued to encourage, noticing that it was a bit matted in areas.

“Do you know how to French braid?” she asked.

Are you kidding me?

It was at this point that I had a serious debate in my head. I didn’t want to lie, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to braid her hair even more. Would she know I was lying? I mean … here she was, sitting next to a girl with long hair. What girl with long hair doesn’t know how to French braid? Well, technically, I never did learn to French braid very well … so, in principle, it wouldn’t be lying to just say I didn’t know how.

“No, sorry … I never did learn how to do that,” I responded. “I always wanted to though.”

I’m not exactly sure why I felt the need to add that last comment. Thankfully, it didn’t open up an offer from her to practice my French-braiding skills on her hair during our bus ride that morning, and the remainder of the commute was travelled peacefully.

So, there … just one of my many Seattle bus stories. And one of the reasons my ‘little piece of heaven’ trumped public transportation.