Taking In Fall & Toasting Mom

There are moments in life when we hang onto every minute.  The first time I experienced this, I was 19 years old, and leaving my hometown for Washington State University. I had worked part-time at the tennis club since I was in high school and through a year of community college, and it was time to transfer as a junior to WSU. I remember going to the tennis club where I worked, standing out on the balcony where I had stood so many times, and gazing out at the tennis courts on which I had played hundreds of hours of tennis over the years.

I was super excited to go away to college and finish up my Bachelor of Arts at WSU, but a part of me knew that opening one door meant closing another. And I remember breathing in that moment so completely that now, more than twenty years later, I can still close my eyes and conjure up exactly how I felt that day.

The Pacific Northwest is known for our four distinct seasons – although not always equally divided up among the calendar year. Some people love them. Personally, I resonate better with a climate where I can wear shorts and swim outdoors year around. But right now, as summer has ended and fall is in full swing, I know winter is coming. Winters in the Yakima Valley can be severe. Snow. Ice. Unimaginably cold temperatures. Last winter was especially rough.

And so those days when the upper temperatures hit the upper sixties in October, it’s worth drinking in. It’s worth capturing physical and mental pictures, because like the days before I moved to Pullman, I sense life is about to change. And so here in the fruit and vegetable bowl of the nation, when the fall days are sunny and warm, and the evenings require only a light windbreaker, it’s worth appreciating.

Life has seasons too.

Today is a particularly special day for me. I finished the first draft of the final chapter of my first novel. Now the editing begins. It started out as a trilogy, but the books nestled so perfectly and they were on the small side. So instead of three small books, three shorter stories, I’m pulling them together to create one epic story of a how one family transformed in four years. I’ve been working on it since January 17, 2015, although I still do not have a name for it. The book is a special nod to my mom.

Mom and I are in many ways opposites. We see and experience life from very different lenses and that hasn’t always made for agreeable conversations. I wanted to get to know my mom better, and appreciate her more. I wanted to experience life with her in a way that would ensure I wouldn’t live with regrets if the day came where I didn’t have her. So I created one of my protagonists loosely based on her. It would have been impossible to make Harriet so likable and relatable without developing a better understanding of my mom.

Just tonight I called my mom for advice about some pie crust dough that had dried out due to inattention. “How long did you step away from it?” she asked.

“Well, it’s actually for the book,” I said. “Isabelle asks Harriet’s advice and I wasn’t sure how the dialogue should unfold.”

Without missing a beat, mom jumped in: “Throw it away and start over. That’s what Harriet would say.”

I smiled and savored the moment.

Mom and I are still very different, and we still get under each other’s skin from time to time. But I appreciate her and what drives her in a way I never could have without this book. And so, tonight’s wine is a toast to a dear lady who still drives me a little cra-cra, but who I have come to respect, accept and like as much as I’ve always loved – my mom. Here’s to you, mom. And to the changing seasons of life.Patio dinner 2

Enjoy the Harvest Without the Fruit Flies

Fall in my parents’ backyard is reminiscent of a postcard rack in a small town general store. After months of hot desert sun, regular irrigation, and cool nights, the fruit trees, grape vines, berry bushes and vegetable plants pour forth a colorful buffet of everything one might need to create the most delightful potluck. From pies to preserves, salads to salsa, root and squash vegetables to melons, and fresh herbs to season all of it perfectly, there’s no doubt my parents’ backyard offers something for everyone.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I always looked forward to experiencing the changing seasons of the Pacific Northwest, and a weekend slice of small town life in the agriculturally-rich Yakima Valley. What I didn’t look forward to was the fruit flies.

Compared to mosquitoes in the Midwest and scorpions in the south, or even the buzzing June bugs in California, fruit flies seem like a relatively harmless nuisance. Still, leave a peach on the counter or a bowl of apples prepped for a pie, and overnight your kitchen is somehow filled with these miniature flying bugs. Growing up as an apple farmer’s daughter, in forty years I still haven’t figured out where so many of these insects are invisibly hiding to appear instantly on the patio and in the kitchen. And it’s not like there are just a few. I am not joking when I say fruit flies show up with an entourage the size of a village.

The great news: this year, we’re enjoying the bountiful harvest without the insect village. I discovered a magical recipe while doing research for the novel I’m writing about a city-dwelling family who returns to their grandparents’ farm in Ellensburg, which has just been turned into a charming bed and breakfast, for a Thanksgiving celebration together. The B&B, still set in an orchard, offers guests a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables harvested onsite farm-to-table. But in the story, there are no fruit flies (which could be creative writing or really could be the case with this simple trick.)

I tried this, and the results are amazing!

RECIPE: Simply take a normal wide-mouth quart jar. In it add a mixture of 1 pump of liquid dish soap (about 1 teaspoon) and 2 cups of EITHER apple cider vinegar OR red wine vinegar. (The red wine vinegar is a prettier color sitting out on the counter and hides the dead fruit flies at the bottom better. But the fruit flies tend to swarm to the apple cider vinegar faster. Both work, so it’s your choice.)

DIRECTIONS: Cut a standard piece of typing paper in half vertically, and bend it to create a cone shape. (No need to tape it, just drape it cone-shaped around the inside of the mouth of the jar.)

Leave it on the counter and no matter how much fresh fruit and berries or how many delicious tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers you allow to ripen on the counter, you’ll be able to enjoy the perfect harvest without any pesky visitors.   Fruit fly 1Fruit fly 2Fruit fly 3Fruit fly 4

Peach Pie & Growing Pains

Have you ever struggled with something that comes easily to others? Years ago, a neighbor of mine in Kirkland, Wash., shared with me that she was learning to receive. Learning to receive? The qualifications to receive something seem pretty simple on the surface. You embrace the gift and the gift-giver with graciousness and you say thank you.

It was easy for me to dispense this advice, because as a gift-giver, that’s exactly how I want the recipient of my gifts to react. I’m not a random gift-giver or a serial re-gifter. I know each receiver of my gifts, and I invest my resources in crafting a meaningful package – sometimes bought and sometimes homemade. And what do I want in return? I simply want to know they loved it. That’s all. I never give gifts to get something in return. Gift giving is one of my love languages, so to thoroughly experience maximum pleasure, I want to hear the joy, surprise, appreciation in their voice. I want to see their eyes light up or, if they are at a distance, I want to actually imagine them opening, loving and using the gift I sent. Knowing I brightened their day is the best reward!

So imagine my confusion about a week ago when my mom revealed, “You give but you do not know how to receive.” Did I forget to say thank you for something, I wondered. What brought this on? I didn’t need to ask. Without pausing, mom shared what was on her mind.

“You cook for me. I eat it. You bring me gifts. I use them. You offer to take me to appointments. I say yes. But every time I ask what I can bring, you say you don’t need anything. When I cook, you tell me you’ve already eaten. When I try to give you something, you tell me you have everything you need. The only explanation that makes sense is that you aren’t very good at receiving,” mom said.

It’s weird to admit but mom is right. I do prefer to give than receive, mostly because I am embarrassed when I operate from a position of need. I’m terrified my friends and family will pity me or feel sorry for me. It’s less vulnerable for me to simply manage my own needs.

I’m having surgery next week, and many of my friends have offered to help me when I get home, take me to appointments, make meals or visit. It shocked me how difficult it was to accept help. Mom was right, and upon realizing this, I’ve had to give this entire conversation a lot of thought. It made me think back to my neighbor so many years ago. Had someone pointed this out to her? How did she know she needed to learn to receive better?

Just then, the phone rang. It was my friend Liberty calling to say my peach pie was in her oven baking. Every year, she donates a homemade peach pie to the school foundation auction and she makes a second gluten-free peach pie for me. Her pies are perfection and I’ve never struggled to accept this gift. But it’s one of the few gifts that I accept so cheerfully. I love that she makes this for me each year (despite the fact I have to freeze half right away so I’m not tempted to “counter nibble it” until it’s gone.)

Liberty is like family. Maybe that’s why it’s easier to excitedly and graciously receive this gift. It feels good to receive this gift – just as it does to cook, can and find gifts for her. While I don’t want to be that person who ever takes advantage of someone, I’m going to work on receiving. I liken it to growing pains.

Oh wow! Just received Lib’s response to my IG post about her pie. Confirms I’m on the right path!

I appreciate how great it feels to make something, do something or put together a special package for people who are important in my life. I guess it’s only right that I give them the same opportunity to surprise me with gifts of love and acts of service they imagined.

Peach pie

Fantastic Foodie Photo Fails

There are three kinds of people in this world. People who love food photos. People who have no desire to see another picture of breakfast, dinner or any snack in between. And people who can’t imagine why anyone would take a picture of their plate before offering a blessing or just digging in. I’ll never forget the time my uncle exclaimed in an utterly perplexed tone, “You’re taking a picture of a shrimp?” It was actually a set of Madagascar prawns, plated with precision.

Most foodies celebrate fresh, colorful, textured food that tastes even better than the finely tuned arrangement on the plate appears. Like singing, the art of considering oneself a foodie, progresses with time, experience and God-given talent, from someone who appreciates the fine food crafted by others to actually morphing into the creator of fine cuisine that others beg to taste and photograph.

As a freelance food stylist and photographer for a Dallas-based food brokerage, I never turn down an opportunity to style and capture exquisite food compositions. I might even love photographing food more than I love eating it. As the highest order of foodie, I relish any opportunity to take that exhilarating leap to creating the ultimate original masterpiece in my own kitchen for others (and myself) to enjoy.

What many self-proclaimed chef foodies, like myself, do not share, are the fantastic foodie photo fails that precede the social media perfection we all see posted with half a dozen hashtags.

The other night, I got what felt like a bright idea (divine inspiration) to create a gourmet snack that started with gluten-free fresh lasagna pasta and sharp white cheddar cheese. Once I perfected the base, I planned to add an interesting combination of fresh herbs, sun-dried tomatoes and perhaps a small crumbling of chunky sea salt. Doesn’t that sound yummy?

Well, it wasn’t. I burned the first batch in the air fryer. The next batch came out looking nice enough, but as it turns out, fresh lasagna pasta is not a gourmet alternative on which to build fancy tapas. I could have dressed it up to make it photo worthy, but why? It tasted terrible!

So I did the only decent thing, I tossed my experiment and made a slightly healthier version of traditional lasagna with the remaining fresh pasta, a ground turkey-and-beef mix, homemade marinara sauce and three kinds of cheese. And it was spectacular. Moist, flavorful, and just the right amount of richness to taste slightly decadent. I devoured the corner piece on my plate, before it dawned on me: I forgot to take a picture.

I grabbed my camera, took a few shots, and then quickly divided the rest into containers to share with family and friends. Truthfully, I could never trust myself with an entire batch of scrumptious lasagna within nibbling distance, unless I was willing to buy a larger wardrobe.

I was proud of myself for trying something new and creative, even if it did end up as a fantastic foodie photo fail.  As it turns out, even for a self-described foodie, sometimes a proven recipe really is the best way to cook.


A Small Step in a Fresh Direction

We’ve all experienced those times when the best laid plans in life fell apart. It’s okay to grieve and grouse, but then it’s time to take a small step in a fresh direction. It’s basically that or drink a lot of wine, give up or die. This post tells you which option I chose.

We all have dreams! As a dreamer, I have lots of dreams! Have you ever felt stressed when you know you should be feeling lucky and thankful? I’m referring to those moments when everything in your rational brain knows one thing to be true, while at the same time, another voice is grumbling inner sounds that resemble the famous mumbling teacher in every Charlie Brown television special?

Despite the fact that looking back at what might have been is unproductive – unless there’s a specific lesson to be learned to move forward – I feel a bit like a puppy chasing its tail as I reflect on the last year.

Winter in the Northwest can be a bit of a bear, and last year, Central Washington saw more snow (I hear) than in the last twenty years. I’ve only been back here for twelve. It was also colder than when I lived in Wisconsin! So this past spring, I decided last winter was my last winter in a cold climate, and I started applying for jobs in Arizona (where I have a solid network of friends), California (where I lived for six years), and Texas (where two of my best friends live.)

And then it happened. My best laid plans went up in smoke. Last month, my knee surgery was postponed, and the dream job, with the huge salary and benefits amazing enough to make a grown woman cry with joy fell through. I came in second. It’s mid-September now, and I should feel incredibly lucky – but instead I honestly feel a little bit (okay, a lot bit) like engaging in high levels of grousing.

I really shouldn’t be complaining. I mean, I am really lucky! I tore my meniscus on the job 18 months ago and I had a Washington state claims manager who fought for me to have my case reopened and receive a second opinion. He even warned me not to move out of state until I had my surgery because he feared I might not actually get it once I left Washington, and he wanted to see me healthy again. (WOW!) I was assigned an exceptional physician for my second opinion. I was accepted by the exact surgeon I wanted, despite the fact that he rarely accepts L&I. My long projected recovery is due to the fact that I have no arthritis in my knee and the surgeon will be able to stitch my injury up in such a way that will result in a perfect knee ten weeks from now. I am employed at a job where I make a difference to thousands of students and teachers. I have a roof over my head, basic needs met, family and friends, three pets I adore – the list goes on.

But the other side of the coin: I lost a dream job and dream house, with a hot tub for ten, in Phoenix. I haven’t even had my surgery yet and I’m looking at a recovery that includes crutches for six to eight weeks. It’s mid-September. And the thought of spending another winter here makes me want to cry.  But I don’t cry. I take a deep breath and murmur quietly to myself like the teacher in Charlie Brown specials. I watch hurricane aftermath coverage and read social media posts about people who are battling life-threatening illnesses and I feel worse. Because despite the fact that another year passed me by without my dreams materializing, I know that life truly could be so much worse.

And so I do the only things I can. I send out resumes, connect with former colleagues on LinkedIn, hug my pets, thank my loved ones for caring and pull out boxes of Christmas cards to start addressing. Because if I’m stuck in a full leg brace, in a cold climate for yet another winter, at least my holiday cards are going out on time this year. It’s not Phoenix, Los Angeles or Dallas, but it’s a small step in a fresh direction. And hopefully it will silence the disappointment and grumbling sounds in my head.

Blog puppy


Everybody loves a great comeback story – especially in sports by a team with nearly impossible odds. Last night, I missed what will probably go down in the history of my alma mater as one of the greatest games of all time. But it could have been any team at any college in any state. A great comeback story needs only to include a few key elements: The odds must be stacked against the eventual victor. There needs to be a struggle – and a pending heartbreak – where at least one of the competitors stands to lose more than a game. And there needs to be at least one unlikely hero, who in a tiny, squeaky voice says, “We can do it.” For a story to be retold for years to come, the spirit, confidence and perhaps the entire momentum or memory of the season must be on the line. Last night, those pieces knitted together in a most unexpected way.

We hear stories of hurt, loss, disappointment and the long rebuilding of dreams and circumstances that didn’t go as planned. Those stories are sad, but unfortunately ordinary.

It’s that crazy story that defies all odds, and touches us in just the right spot to make us scream, “Yes!” – that rouses a throbbing hope buried deep inside, longing to re-surge. Without the slightest hesitation, our inner champion confidently shoves the cynic to the ground, and grabs tight to the belief in this indelible victory, both for what it represents to the underdog team and what it potentially represents to our own hibernating dreams. And just like that… Poof! That great beam of optimism and anticipation suddenly and instantaneously returns.

There’s no need to rehash a college football game that’s over, but I wanted to share a few highlights that made it one of the greatest comeback stories that will likely be told at WSU for years to come – mostly because we can all use a great comeback story, especially with all the bad news in our world right now.

When I graduated from Washington State University in the 1990s, we didn’t go to bowl games. We supported our team, celebrated with our friends – which is code for drank a lot of beer – and the most hopeful of us walked away believing, “Next time will be different.” In fact, there’s actually a term called Coug It which refers to our football team giving up victories that should have been in the bag. And sadly for me, when I went to bed last night (before the game ended at 11:44 p.m.) that’s pretty much what I thought. I wrote off this game the same way I have some of my most precious dreams. Discouraged by the score, and the small amount of time left on the clock, I checked out.

With eight minutes left in the home game, WSU was down 31-10 against the clearly formidable Boise State team, in Pullman. Boise State had just scored AGAIN when a freshman player walked up to a senior and said, “Yo, we’re going to come back and win this game.” Imagine what that senior player was thinking. (It’s worth searching the game to read the play-by-play.)

The facts included these: The 20th ranked Cougars were down 21 points and their starting quarterback. It was very late at night and fans were starting to leave the stadium. The Cougars needed to come back bigger, better and faster than they had in more than three decades (with three touchdowns to just tie the game) – and for this miracle-believing freshman to be right, they had to do this in less than eight minutes.

At 11:44 p.m. local time, in a game no one imagined would go into triple overtime, WSU shocked Boise State and football fans far and wide with a 47-44 win. I’d like to say it was a moment I’ll never forget, but of course, I went to bed. Frustrated. Fearful. If we Couged it in a non-league game, so early in the season, what would it do to team morale for the Pac-12 games still to come?

The Sunday morning headline in the Spokesman Review: Washington State Beats Boise State With Miracle Comeback.

How many times in life do we give up and go to bed early because our dreams seem too impossible to reach? I’ve done that in my own life. I have this great plan, and then I take a pounding, and a win seems so unlikely.

But what if it didn’t have to be? What if the freshman voice of possibility in each of us talked back to the senior voice of experience and said, “Yo, we’re going to come back and win this game?” What if we didn’t settle? What if we didn’t go to bed? What if we stood strong and kept fighting?

Life has pushed most of us down at some point – or will. Circumstances, injuries, relationships and choices have taken the wind out of our sails.Dreams get crushed. And sometimes in life, we simply Coug It. But what if, when these things happened, we kept believing? What if we actually found the strength to get up one more time? What if we believed?

It’s football season and hopefully that means months of excitement ahead. Each day is also a chance to create a new season in life. For some, that’s the excitement that comes at the coin-toss to start the game. For some, it’s rebuilding a life after an illness or a natural disaster, when exhaustion is yet another obstacle. For all of us, it’s a reminder that with faith, determination, and a little grace, there’s always the chance to do the impossible and create the greatest of comebacks. We just have to believe!


wsu football

Sometimes Love Requires Getting Poked

Winnie adopted me. She was feral when someone dumped her litter off on my street. Four starving kittens.  I already had a pet bird and was not in the market for any felines. But, as is often the case with animals, they pick their humans, and Winnie picked me.  The short story was that while I fed her (how could I not?) she remained feral until she had kittens two years later, and today, my fully domesticated and spayed Winnie, and one of her kittens has joined the bird and me in our forever home.

Getting poked (whether by life, a finger or a needle for a vaccination) is never fun. But keeping animals safe and disease-free is important, and it’s one of the best ways humans can show them our love.

Like many cats, Winnie and Lucky do not particularly enjoy car rides or visits to the veterinarian – despite how truly gentle, supportive and nice he and his staff are – despite that these adventures always include food treats at the end of the visit – and despite that each time, after the quick check-up is complete, I cup their little heads in the palm of my hands, stroke them, kiss their noses and give them the hard truth: Sometimes love requires getting poked.

The fact is that loving – a person or an animal – means investing in a living, breathing, changing relationship. And relationships are not always how they appear in static photos on social media. Sometimes they feel amazing. And sometimes they hurt a lot.

When I have a tough day, few things bring the level of comfort that comes with snuggling an animal  – a dog, cat, bird or whatever that curls up beside you quietly, looks you eye-to-eye and tilts their head as if to say, “I understand.”  Humans come with opinions, questions, ideas, judgments and sometimes unwelcome commentary. Animals come with a need for basic necessities (food, water, shelter) and love.

I wish there was a more enjoyable way that I could keep my pets safe and healthy. I wish the shot didn’t make them whimper and the car ride wasn’t uncomfortable. “We protect responsibly” is the motto at our veterinarian’s office. And because love sometimes requires getting poked, it’s my motto too.  Winnie