First Flower of the Season

Sister number three in our line is a winter baby, born on this date a few decades or so ago. But like the few blooms that brave the cold grip of the January earth in Washington state’s temperate climate, she is an early sign of the season of warmth and growth yet to come, a reminder that winter is finite and spring is ahead.Photo: First Crocus

Like the ethereally delicate crocus, whose pristine tenderness belies its vigor in breaking through the hard earth of the cold season, my sister brings a shining intensity to life that would be unexpected in someone so kindhearted and sympathetic and sensitive, at least to any who didn’t know better. But like the first flowers of the season, she is tougher than even she gives herself credit for being. She sustains an accomplished life that no shrinking violet could hope to do, raising with her marvelous husband two outstanding, smart, and exceedingly charming sons, and keeping her three sisters in line when our inappropriately youthful enthusiasm for life occasionally threatens to get in the way of getting any grownup sort of business done. She’s practical and clever enough to corral our tangents, but also creative enough to steer us toward worthwhile tangents of her own when it’ll help get our projects in hand. For decades, she’s also successfully applied these cat-wrangling skills to the demanding and volatile world of tech business, being the administrative linchpin of support for an array of engineers and executives and other fellow workers that surely must remind her at times of a class of unruly kindergartners destined to never graduate to the first grade. And yet I marvel that she rarely seems to lose her equilibrium over their, or our, antics for very long.
Photo: Thalia in Bloom

Like the Thalia narcissus, she instead continues to break through the tough old world as a spot of dazzling joy, her bold and decisive will to prevail against life’s trials and vicissitudes carried always in the fragrant flowering of early bloom highlighted by the solemn backdrop of the still-sleeping earth. May the year ahead hold bouquets of such lovely surprise for her, in turn, and her days be a garden of promise and delight. Happy Birthday, my sweet!

Eldest Child

It isn’t easy being the eldest child. You tend to be expected to carry the world on your shoulders for any kids that come after you. My older sister certainly had her hands (and shoulders) full when it came to the other three of us. Following her lead was the logical thing I expected to do from Day One, and she undoubtedly knew that her every word and act would be scrutinized and grasped as tightly as any life’s-mystery-solving clue could be.
Photo: The World on Her Shoulders

Unlike many, my elder sibling was neither empty-headed nor empty-handed when leading or hauling me through the years, however. I must assume that she was generally more conscious of what she led me toward or away from than I ever was, and whether there was a particular purpose regarding its effect on me or it was simply what she needed to do in her own life was as irrelevant as if I’d been a duckling following a duck, since after all, our parents didn’t go to school with me, play in the yard with me, or otherwise have anything like the minute-to-minute impact a sibling could have. I apologize, here and now, for whatever time and energy I stole away from my big sister that she ought to have been spending on herself alone! Strangely, she still likes me, though, so I take the liberty at the same time of assuming her forgiveness on that front.
Photo: Show Me the World

I certainly didn’t quit the hero-worshiping dependence when we were young, either. It was my sister who gave me the world. Our parents saw to it that we learned to read, and that is an enormous gift that can only be repaid in kind by handing it on to younger people as they come along, but it was and continues to be my older sister who blazes the path down every library aisle on earth (and a few in the ether, too) and inspired me to try to better my reading and writing. She always had astonishing verbal skills and a voracious appetite for all sorts of books, so she set the benchmark in reading and writing that I will always lag behind but continue to pursue.

If that cracking open of the world in the pages of books weren’t enough, there was always the lure of the tangible world as well. There, too, our parents paved the way for our ventures beyond home borders, both financially and with the encouragement to broaden our horizons beyond anything they were privileged to experience at our young ages. But again, it was at big sister’s beckoning that I took up the challenge given by Mom and Dad to take a semester off from my university studies, spending both the time and the money I’d have devoted to those on traveling Europe, instead, with my sibling. It was more education than I could possibly have crammed into the other three-and-a-half years of my undergraduate studies altogether, utterly worth all of the angst and expense it terrified my twenty-something soul to expend, and all happened under the tutelage of my sister, my intimidatingly fearless guide and hilarious friend.
Photo: I Wish You Ten Candy Stores

There’s nothing a sister can say or do to make up for all of the times I was a pain in the neck—or anatomical regions south thereof—to my older sister. Despite her admiration for all things chocolate, no amount of truffles and cakes and French Silk Pies will do. But I am grateful, and I do thank her, and I certainly wish her a wonderful birthday today and many more of them to come. I’ll just have to watch and see what she does in times ahead, so as to get inspired for how to handle the next such conundrum as they always do come along in life. That’s what elder siblings are for, it seems.

Sparkling Repartee

It’s my sister’s birthday again—not that she’s getting old at a ridiculous rate, but rather that I have three sisters, so their birthdays occur with a certain frequency, since we all have different birthdays despite people’s occasionally mistaking two or more of us for same-day siblings. While we are separated by gaps, there are enough commonalities in our selves and our looks, I suppose, that it’s not entirely shocking anyone might make such an assumption, but those who know us see the vast array of differences more sharply than the less informed might.

And that, my friends, that differentness, is a grand thing. I adore all three of my sisters and love that we have enough in common to be real friends as well as family to each other, but we are clearly the better for having our unique characteristics and points of view and experiences to further enrich our life in common. It’s those distinctions that keep us from being in any way interchangeable and certainly, from having nothing to talk about when we get the all-too-rare chance to visit. We’re all four fabulous, if you ask me!

Take Sister #3, for example, whose natal day we remember on this date (I’m second of the four). From when she was very small—and she was mighty tiny indeed—her fierce drive for perfection and her native and highly honed intellect awed me. She ‘gets’ things that I will never wrap my head around, things like mathematics and the myriad business-administrative powers that keep the machinery of life and work and family ticking along in ways that only happen to me by lucky accident. She is and was the athlete and outdoorswoman I could only dream of being, and her cookery and baking, frankly, kick my measly skills to the curb. And she’s beautiful, inside and out, even if as a typical sibling I didn’t always manage to remind her so as often as she deserves.

That’s all just for starters, but if I were to go on too far I’d sound like I was making her up out of fairy wings and dewdrops and cookie dough, so instead I shall just wish her a spectacular birthday and a year full of wonder and happiness, beginning to end and for many birthdays and years to come.
digital illustration from a photoSpirited Pleasure

Let us raise a crystal glass of Champagne Brut to toast the passing

Of the weeks and months, the years, to raise resounding shouts of “Cheers!”

We’ll ping the flutes “Salut! Cin Cin!“, tip up the stems and drink it in,

For nothing makes it taste so great as bubbly wine to celebrate

(Though if you care not for its pop, I recommend a Lemon Drop)!

Only a Dreamscape will Do

It’s my big sister’s birthday. Granted that she’s already gotten to have more of them than I have, I still wish her masses more birthdays, and not just so she’ll set a good example for me to follow. She’s done that all along, and though I’ve been imperfect at best in living up to her fabulosity and smartitude and funny-tations and whatnot, I’m still counting on her to continue the kindly gesture for ages to come. Having an older sister like her is like going to see a pretty view of the landscape and discovering that all the landscapes along the way are connected into an equally pretty, endlessly inviting prospect full of breezes, candy floss clouds, sunlight, streams, and sweet wildflowers. If I could give her all of this as a birthday gift, it might montageShe’s no billionaire, but she seems to know how to live well and build happiness around her remarkably well, so unless I come into billions myself I might have trouble finding her a gift that’ll knock her socks off properly. Guess I’ll have to settle for loving her to pieces (all of them, hopefully, remaining firmly attached to each other as they should be), admiring her immensely (and that’s not a crack about my weight, wink-wink), and giving her the same old big, shiny nothing that I give her every year (though it’s always tied up with a massive bow of plots for sisterly laughter), wrapped up in good wishes and the promise of a paltry but delicious dinner in her honor when I finally get to see her again. The requisite amount of good chocolate included, of course.

Happy Birthday! Encore, encore!


To my beloved youngest sister on her birthday:

Taking life from the real to the magical and from drabness to brilliance, luminosity is the agent of glorious change. Little Sister is such an agent in many lives as well, bringing beauty and joy to us solely by existing, let alone having the sweetness and humor and wisdom that fill her with the warm inner light I so treasure. Simply, my world would be far smaller and more limited to the dull version of reality if it weren’t for the presence of her gracious illumination!

With that in mind, here is a series of illustrations of that progression of luminosity to celebrate the gifts of sisterly love.

graphite drawing

digital illustration

digital illustration

digital illustration


Along with all of the other, perfectly legitimate and obvious, reasons that I celebrate every year when I am remembering the arrival of my next-younger sister on her birthday–the first one remembered mostly anecdotally given my tender years on the occasion, and all of the subsequent ones fitting days for delighting in the gifts with which her continued presence graces me and all of her circle of influence so consistently–I rejoice in the greater sense of appreciation for nature that she has given me.photoShe is something of a bouquet herself. Indeed, she is beautiful in the way of pretty things throughout nature, and also filled with liveliness and energy and purpose and growth that inspire me and amaze me regularly. I look on her as an enhancement of the world a little like a human bloom in its garden, unfolding each day and year with new surprises and joys that reinforce the very image of goodness in life.photoIn a more concrete way, with her love of the outdoors and its grand presents, pleasures and promises she has taught me and continues to teach me to appreciate the natural world as well. As much as our garden-genie mother shared her love of interacting with the created spaces in nature and even getting outdoors appreciatively on day hikes, in parks and on strolls wherever we could, the number-three sister in our quartet has given me yet greater love and sympathy for the breadth and depth of possibility in all those realms of nature and more. I will never keep up with my sister’s skill and prowess when it comes to being physically ‘outdoorsy’ as athlete, gardener or explorer, but every time I step out any door into the untrammeled world, I do and will see much of it as a living bouquet paying tribute in return to one of nature’s loveliest flowers.photoHappy birthday, my dear sister, and I send you these little pictures and words in token of my love that spans from your first blooming in the world to the end of my seasons.

Most Wonderful Time of the Year *

* You may think I’m warming up for my big Christmas caroling solo, but I’m not planning to torture anyone with that, just rejoicing in the anniversary of my #1 sibling’s birth. Happy Birthday, big sister!

photoYour kid sister is mighty happy to celebrate your birth for more reasons than I can begin to count. Nah, let’s go ahead and enumerate awhile.

For starters, there’s the plain friendship and sisterly guidance that have kept me centered, contented and with my head above water and showed me wonderfully how a life of excellence could be lived. There’s your being a fabulous traveling companion throughout not only life but also the world, from our expedition to Europe during our college days to places in the US as exotic as any overseas, and of course in our own hometown. There’s the delight of daily conversation, movie-watching, book-critiquing, dining out, opera-going, and many other kinds of adventures or occasionally misadventures, not all of the latter strictly of my own making, but some of them weirdly wonderful, hilarious and memorable all the same.

photoNow that I, along with flocks of cormorants this winter, have come to roost in Texas, it’s a long way from where you live and I don’t get to see you and give you squishy, ridiculously big hugs to celebrate the day, so I’ll greet you via phone, email, and blog. I’ll wish you a day of great happiness and many, many more to come. And I’ll thank you for all of the loveliness you’ve brought, and continue to bring, to my life.

This year especially, your birthday is not only a most wonderful time, but truly THE most wonderful time. Your birthday is clearly the first day of the rest of our lives for everybody, since apparently the world did not end. So glad the Mayans‘ message was just misread by all the doomsayers, because I look forward to a marvelous 2013 enjoying the marvelous wonderfulness that is my older sister–and many more such years ahead.

Wordless Wednesday with Wiggles, Wags & Warmth*

*(Dog & cat friends from the last week)


The venerable Tyree




Puppy Milo, a.k.a. Milo Minute






Ruffian, doing what she does best–lounging languidly





Mercer, ruling from on high (where he can be both imperious and safely out of reach of all scary things)






Amazing but True

Some years ago on this very date there was a shift in the universe. It wasn’t exactly an unexpected one, in the sense that it had been foreseen for about nine months, but surely its full grandeur could not have been predicted. And not everyone on earth knew right away what a wonder had occurred, because the wild and wonderful event in question was the birth of my third sister.

digital painting from a photoWhile she was, like the others–I can’t speak for Big Sister‘s first two years except upon having studied pictures of her effortlessly spectacular adorableness before my own appearance in this plane of existence–charming, pretty and charismatic from the start, there was no way of knowing in advance just how fabulous she would prove to be. That’s the thing about siblings: they are inherently outliers to our frame of reference until their influence on our lives appears in real time. And like our two other sisters, the youngest was her own brand of greatness from the start.

What we quickly learned was that she had a uniquely clever and witty point of view and was rather fearless about besting her trio of big sisters in many a moment simply by sitting back and watching our various adventures, figuring out where we might have gone a bit astray with them, and powering on ahead when her turn came. This was perhaps most evident to the rest of us when she would check in with our parents on whether a particular action of any of ours that seemed just a little outrageous was in fact worthy of our getting in trouble over, and if not, then couldn’t she do it, too? [I am not entirely certain that she wasn’t occasionally disappointed when we weren’t in trouble for the activity in question, but that’s a topic for another day.]

And Little Sister wasn’t very old at all when some wise guy quizzed all of us girls on our life’s plans. What did we intend to be or do when we grew up? Undoubtedly he was looking for some nice, pat conventional answer like Teacher or Nurse or some superlative man’s nice little wife, but my littlest sister’s response was unhesitatingly ‘Amazing but true!’ We did not quite grasp at the time that this was indeed both a plan and a vocation, but by cracky, she turned out to have gotten it exactly right. In all of the years since, she has been and done many things, accomplished a tremendous amount, continued to be charming and beautiful and charismatic, and absolutely has embodied a life’s saga that despite being utterly Amazing is still entirely True. We can all vouch for both

She has been, in various turns, an outstanding student, a fine violinist, and an intrepid traveler; all three of my sisters studied and/or worked overseas at college age, and this youngest met and married our superlative brother-in-law while doing so and has now lived longer in Norway than she did in the US. She speaks Norwegian not just like a good student of the language or even like a person whose lineage encouraged her to hone it to refinement but like a native-born speaker, which prompted one of her nephews in his youth to proclaim her the Smartest Sister in our family. Since I happen to think each of my sisters the Smartest One as well as the Most Fabulous (and if you can’t do that kind of math, refer back to my post on Auntie Ingeborg’s science of favorites) I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. My sister has been an administrator, translator, friend, daughter, wife and mother, and much more. She has navigated the waters of an adventure-filled life with both nerve and verve and I still marvel at her excellence every day.

So, on this anniversary of that auspicious occasion whereon she first graced us with her presence, I can say as I always have and always will that her arrival completed the set of our family in ways that we could never have expected or would have dared to wish, and filled any empty spaces, even where we didn’t know they’d existed, with a rare form of love and happiness. I thank her for this gift of herself. And I wish for her many, many more years of being as Amazing as ever!photo

She is a Bringer of Light

It’s a beautiful day today.

It’s been raining cats, dogs, longhorn cattle and armadillos all night long in the north of Texas, decorated with streaky lightning and accompanied by the timpani of repeated rolls and crashes of thunder, and the front yard is now a series of canals and minor swamps, the back patio steps a reflecting pool high as my ankles. The grey felt of the sky remained uninterrupted in its scowl from imperceptible dawn to murky dusk, and the low-hanging clouds coughed out leftovers from the night’s storms at intervals all the while. And it’s a beautiful day.

It’s my sister’s birthday. She who came next in line after me among the four woman-children born to my parents is now a year older by our reckoning and all the more beloved as each year passes. It should be no surprise that she is to me still something of a mystery and decidedly a treasure, the first of my younger sisters to be subjected to my admittedly unskilled ministrations in my first job as Big Sister, who (thankfully) proved far too strong to quail at them and yet somehow still likes collage

It can’t have been easy for her. I will never claim to have been a particularly dandy specimen of a sister to any of them, but since I was sometimes the babysitter-designate and often the closest to hand when this little one was to be led or tended, she probably bore the worst of it. That she was born beautiful, a dainty doll of a creature–despite my fond declaration of “Oh, look at the ugly little thing!” when faced with her fresh out of the delivery room where, to my childish surprise, she turned out not to look like a six-month-old cooing and coiffed infant–must have perplexed me, since I was already old enough to notice that everyone unavoidably fawned over the pretty baby and we old, used up grade-schoolers were dull goods by then.

That she quickly proved to be clever, bright, charming and unreasonably likeable, even by her sisters, could have been an annoyance. That she had interests and intelligence and exponentially increasing skills in areas that to this day remain closed doors to my would-be prying mind (have I mentioned math lately? Sports?? ) could have been supremely irritating and possibly deserving of sisterly sabotage. That she did all of this and much more while remaining cheery and likeable could have simply driven us all over the cliff.

But aside from the inevitable struggles of a girl who discovered she was not only wise and talented and admired, but in extraordinarily different ways from the rest of us and who was additionally a frightful perfectionist and self-critic, she had the Secret Weapon few can wield: she was, and is, a bringer of

There are certain people who brighten the room merely by vacating it, and then there are those special, miraculous few who can do the reverse magic. My sister is one of the latter rare creatures. I have often thought that it is no coincidence that from when she was quite tiny her favorite color was yellow. The color we associate with sunshine and happiness and precious gold. She is a ray of human light and when I think of how fortunate I am to have three incredibly dear sisters and among them, this incandescent bit of sweetness, I am suffused with sunlight myself.

Happy birthday, dear Sister, and long may you shine. You are a gift and a golden treasure, and loved more deeply than a few words can ever say.