Friday, December 31, 2010


what a great word glaze is.  when you say it out loud- go ahead- you can feel it's smoothness, the dull shine, the slipping, dripping of it.

so many ways to use glaze- so many ways a glaze can be.  like the glaze on pottery which looks like chalky pepto-bismol when you put it on greenware.  then fire hotter than we will ever feel and live to tell about it, transforms all those milky minerals to a gloss, swirls of colors, a hardened shell.

some donuts have glaze.  sugar coated.  fine covering of syrup that is dried a bit.  it melts in your mouth.  it coats your tongue.  some avoid it.  others hunt it down in every city along with hot, strong coffee.

when you deglaze a hot pan by throwing liquid in it creates a rich sauce, potent with all the flavors stuck on the bottom of your cast iron.  spoon it over your steak and potatoes.  dip some bread into it.

and then there's the state of mind: glaze.  it may come upon you unannounced, uninvited or perhaps you seek it out through various means.  but you know when you are there.

your shoulders slump and your eyes narrow.  nothing can penetrate your glaze enough to cause any strong emotion.  it's not oblivion, but they live on the same street.  that place where we all go sometimes because it is possible to care too much, too often, too deeply.

and probably, it's a hard place to be for long.  for some of us, it takes just as much- if not more- effort to not to care.  to let things be. to glaze.  then it does to try to help.  to create.  to at least contribute our own opinions from the sidelines or the couch or the co-pilot seat.

when i am glazing i struggle against it.  that coating that holds me down- a place where all the flavors are too intense- i resist them all.  i want to Do Something To Makes Things Better.  and by better, i mean different.  i just want a shift, a change.  except when it's not the shift or change that i, specifically, was going for.

perhaps this glaze place can be a small refuge to just accept life, accept me, accept donuts, and salty food, and pieces of pottery that you work on for hours,days only to pull them out of a kiln completely destroyed.

except that they have a gorgeous glaze that catches the sun and spills back brilliance into your eyes.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


what's the first thing you do when your computer starts to act strange?  you reboot it.  you shut off the power source and watch the screen go dark with fingers crossed.  maybe you count to 39 or sing the alphabet or light candles while chanting to infamous deities.  then you turn the juice back on.  you watch and wait, breath held, and <sigh> all is right with the world.  the glitch is gone, the memory is intact, you can get back on facebook now.

this strategy has worked well for several electrical things in my life.  there was the boom box that i was given when i turned 18 that suddenly became very finicky about playing CDs- a relatively new method of music merriment at the time- only to accept and play them again after about 5 months in a closet.  it was like a retreat of sorts, maybe. 

then there's the vent in the bathroom- which you may have read all about in another posting- that suddenly stopped one day.  i pushed the switch on and off with renewed hope each time to no avail.  and then the power company turned off our power for 20 minutes to work on the lines outside and -presto!- the fan worked again.  maybe the electrical current got lost somewhere in the attic.  i don't understand why this works but it does.

now the stove has begun to flash F-5 at me while beeping as i prepared hot meals.  you may have also already read about my stove-fixing adventures.  when i mentioned the F-5 code at a dinner party recently someone said "oh that happened to my parents.  they unplugged it and it seemed to work fine after that."  so that's what i did.

that got me thinking about this need so many things seem to have to be cut off, powered down, rebooted, reset, decompressed.  including me.  the thing is that as i have grown up and reproduced children i have forgotten my own codes and signals.  i don't have a screen on my forehead that flashes any letters or numbers or any beeping...i don't even stop doing my essential tasks!...but it slowly becomes obvious that i am barely operational.

with my kids- it is very obvious and easy to reset: nap time.  sometimes it might be food.  or perhaps the need for a good belly laugh.  these things probably would help me to reset too.  the trouble is that i don't have anyone who says to me: nancylee, you need a nap now.  i might say this to myself but then the louder part of my brain either recites a list of things to do or a list of nice distractions.

maybe it's because as a kid people always told me what i needed.  and i went along with it.  at first i didn't.  i remember being somewhat "crabby" as they called me.  and then- well, i guess i gave up.  gave up on myself.  as a kid you realize your limited power in the world.  besides whining- what can we do?

now when one of my kid starts to show signs of needing a reset- i try to get them to come up with the answer.  i give them prompts like "what do you think will help you to feel better?"  or "did you drink enough water today?"

and other times i pull rank and state clearly "it is time to nap."  more often than not this is met with a big grin fro my 2 year old.  he loves nap time.

for me- in order to reset- i have to shut down through complete body exhaustion.  i have to wear down my mind until it has no choice but to surrender to my body's whims.  like when i was in labor.  eventually my mind realized i could not think myself out of the pain and just floated away so my body could take over.  but labor as a reset option is complicated, to say the least.

i think for me, and maybe for many other folks, we have to have some kind of resetting in our routines because we don't recognize the signs as we live our daily life.  we can hold off on the tantrum when we see the property tax bill if we know that some day soon we are going to yoga or to church or fish or to a bar.

pick your poison.  we usually do.  it's true that as adults we seem to gravitate towards the reset buttons that aren't so good for us.  or at least, i sometimes do this.  perhaps this is a sign of waiting too long to reset.  the weekly walk on the beach works nicely but it you go for months without it maybe it then turns into a bottle of gin.

the new year is when we reset the calendars and taxes and our resolve to live better, different, more fully.  to me- i simply need to have a reset routine that i can stick to.

with a tantrum clause if need be.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


i remember when my dad taught me to wrap a present.  being an engineer, his focus was on using a correct amount of paper, creating tight corners, and appropriate use of tape.  it was like learning the secret to a magic trick.  the way a plain package became cloaked in mystery.  like dressing up dolls but with more math skills. 

i've had my deep moments of wrapping-love.  folding the edges before applying the tape- horizontally, of course.  aligning the pattern so that the seam is invisible amidst the flowers or frogs or reindeer.  ribbons coiled about the box and then -zipppp! viola!- they are curly.  like the hair i always wanted.

i've experimented with ways to wrap with less paper, using fabric or making my own wrapping paper out of newsprint rolls left over from the herald or from sunday comics themselves.  i've used brown paper bags from grocery stores and old buttons. 

and i enjoyed it all.

this year, seren decided to wrap a book for his brother.  this was a book he picked from a shelf in his room.  a book, seren does not particularly like but maybe he thought the 2 year old would.  i saw it as a good thing.

he asked if he could wrap it and i spied him on the floor with scissors and tape near by.  his wrapping method is like making a burrito.  you get the biggest tortilla you can find, pile the stuff in the middle, fold all points around the center and secure as best you can.  in this case- he would often end up with about three times as much paper as he needed.  and about 4 times as much tape as needed.  and a finished package that in no way resembled the original item- the corners distorted with layers of shiny red paper.

he proudly presented the wrap present for my approval.


his brown eyes shined with pride.

"did you enjoy wrapping that?" i asked in my best impersonation of a loving, supportive mom who isn't overly focused on wrapping things correctly- the way her mechanical engineering father taught her.

"yeah!  i'm the best wrapper!" he crooned as he put the present under the tree.

he wrapped several more gifts like this.  i freely gave over gifts for him to wrap.  i looked for things he could wrap.

each time he cut too-big pieces and rip off strips of tape long enough to disable all eight reindeer.  and i held my tongue.

i was so proud. 

of me. 

of how i was holding my tongue and resisting the persistent urge to teach him how to do it my way.  the way that gives crisp edges and swirly bows.  how i was sacrificing for my child's needs.  see, how well i was adjusting?  see, how easily i gave up my needs for his? 

then came the present that was to go to someone outside of the house.  the present to travel.  the present that had a really great, sturdy box.  and all i wanted to do was decrease the amount of paper he used by about 14%.  i made the smallest suggestion, followed by a friendly demonstration and "poof" the magic spell was broken. 

he got that look.  the look of "can't you just leave me alone to enjoy this small task?  this task that ultimately does not really matter all-that-much because people just rip off the paper anyway!"

ok, maybe it was just a look of disappointment.  actually- it was more a look of irritation.  the look of "go away, mother."

so- i did.  i said casually, "yeah, your doing great.  i just thought i'd show you how i used to wrap presents.  but you don't seem to need my help," as i slid into the kitchen to drown my shame in eggnog.

i peeked back in to see him working on the next present- his eyes focus on his task.  not at all thinking about doing it "right"- just doing it his way.

Monday, December 20, 2010


no, this is not where dora lives.  but if she were a real person, rather than a cartoon on nick, she would love this place.  it's in old town albuquerque and it is a hands-on science "museum" for kids and their lucky adult companions.

we visited there for the first time on our recent trip to new mexico.  a state i have been many, many times in the past 10 years- usually with at least one child in tow- and yet, i have never before visited this amazing spot. 

here are some highlights:

there are very few instructions on anything.  just inviting little centers for you to play with.  some are so basic and beautifully inspiring that i was shocked that i haven't seen them replicated in every other kid's museum i've been to.  for example, a box fan- the kind you have in your attic right now- placed at one end of a long, smooth table and a stack of snap-together toys, some felt fabric strips and tape.  create a boat, turn on the fan to see if you sail works.  genius.

another easy example- large pvc piping and all the joints you could imagine with a platform drilled with holes that the piping fits into.  cyrus, at 2, found this delight and spent more time there then at the train table.

and a bubble table as big as a bathroom.  the only thing bigger than those bubbles were the bright eyes of the kids giddy at their popping creations.

there were other more in-depth spots too.  seren and stood in front of a large metal door trying to decide what to do next- when it swished open to reveal an elevator bigger than our living room- and complete with a couch and some arm chairs.  i felt that thrill of being thrilled- that moment of time when you are completely delighted by life's surprised.  "whoa!" sums it up pretty well.

the water fountain- not something you drink from- but a main piece of art in the central area- shoots streams of water so crystal clear and focused (due to some kind of filtering process) that they look like arcs of glass rods.  after a snazzy display of what the six or so jets can do- you can take over by pushing large buttons to control the flow of the water streams.  you can also take over when your kid is playing with it and you gently push them aside with your mama hips.  you could, but who would do such an evil thing....

as i wandered from station to station i wanted to spend all day here.  i wanted to be there without my kids! 

and, more than anything, i want every community- my community!- to have one of these. 

to take it a step farther...i want this to exist and i want it to be free to get into.  i want there to be staff to supervise kids if a parent needs to step into a meeting room to share with her support group, or to get a much-needed massage or to take a parenting class.  i want community to be a place where any parent and child can walk into and feel supported, feel challenged, feel alive.

now what's the first step to making this happen?

Sunday, December 19, 2010


zoos are strange places for me.  i have fond memories of them during my child days.  the wax mold machines that would magically create your very own model of a rhino or tiger.  the way it warmed my hands, the sound of my quarters clinking into the metal box inside the machine.

then there's the not so good memories.  the gorilla who would shit in his hand and then fling it at us humans while we ran to hide in the concession area.  the smell of elephant urine on los angeles concrete.  the dull stare animals give you once they realize they cannot fight you and they cannot escape you either.

as a mom, i never know if the zoo is really a good idea or not.  it is one of the few places in the big wide world where kids are accepted.  if you don't have kids you haven't thought of this yet.  unless you remember being a kid, that is.  once you are a mom you begin to analyze and categorize places based on kid-friendliness.  this goes beyond changing tables- cuz i will change a stank diaper at the table if your posh cafe or downtown ice cream joint (what's up with that mallards?!) doesn't give me a more private option.  people may sneer at me for it but it's your food they will associate with the smell of my child's pooh.  or not anymore- potty training accomplished.

so- the zoo.  it is designed for kids.  they have diaper changing tables- and step stools so kids can wash their hands after wards even. most of the dangerous things are in cages.  the food is too expensive to buy and you know that going in so you bring snacks along.  they encourage wagon use- and rent them if you forget yours in the backyard.  and the paths are endless so a good deep nap is almost guaranteed.

and my kids want to go to the zoo.  the idea of it is appealing.  look at animals.  see live zebras.  watch monkeys mate.  try to figure out what part of the koala you are looking at.  avoid stepping in bird poop. 

the reality is different.

in truth, the zoo is depressing.  terribly so.  the animals know they aren't supposed to be there.  even animals that enjoy human interaction no doubt get bored with the same scenery- it's just common sense.  cabin fever to the nth degree.  it reminds me of the time the mobile refinery behind my high school sprung a leak and i was stuck in 9th grade french class for 3 hours with the teacher who had that strange grape-cluster tumor hanging from her upper arm.  but at least she let us leave the room to pee.

seren noticed the animal boredom away when we recently visited the zoo in duke city.  it's an ok zoo but it needs to face facts that polar bears do not belong in new mexico.  but that's not the point.  here's the point.  as we watched the looming giraffes lope around there dusty "habitat" seren noticed how incredibly plain it was.  no trees.  no grass.  just dirt and some very tall straw umbrellas that hint at some type of "african" feeling.

"oh- how sad.  i feel bad for them," he lamented.  and yes, he laments.  deeply with sighs and eyes sad in a way only brown eyes with lush lashes can be sad.  i ask him why he feels bad for them although it is obvious what they are lacking in their daily lives, namely something green to look at, smell, nibble.

"they must be so bored," he explains.  and then with an optimistic lilt to his voice- fringed with possibility and the optimism of an 8 year old boy as he watches the giraffes meander in small circles, "unless they have some tic-tac-toe skills."

skills are the cure for common boredom.  even for giraffes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

the rub

as the holidaze descend my family, like so many others, makes plans to visit far-off family members.  we have to figure out the means to get 4 bodies and all our stuff from here to there.  this is no easy or cheap task because there are several hundreds of miles between here and there, so walking- as an option- is out.

driving, during the summer months, is possible; although my back and bottom hurt just to think about all of those hours sitting.  when it comes to long road trips i strongly support the development of a mechanism that makes your vehicle stall after 6 hours of driving and will not allow you hit the road again until at least 12 hours have passed.  of course, you could adjust these settings- these are just my preferences.

the last time we drove from here to there was when seren was 3 and his nephew was 6.  (yes, i know the math is confusing- just trust me on this one).  i was well-stocked with snacks, music, essential oil and a penguin puppet.  the puppet saved my sanity.  he waved to truckers, stuck his head out of the window like a dog and talked in a bad italian accent.  i am sure that if we had not had the puppet i would have had more than one episode of screaming "get me the fuck out of this van NOW!"  not my proudest moment.  in any case, driving in the winter is not a good idea.  i don't want to wind up in a cave in idaho and then months later be toeless.

the train- while romantic- is expensive and time consuming.  i once rode the train from seattle to LA and i woke up in a car full of sleeping strangers- the smell of their stale breath hanging in the air right above their snores.  ugh.  definitely will need a cabin the next time.  even if you take a train from here to there- you will wind up on a bus at some point.  and a bus is just like a van except you cannot stop when the child starts to scream and claw at their carseat like it is burning into their soft flesh.

the only option left- until teleporting has the glitches worked out- is flying...on an airplane.  for the 4 of us to travel it's about $1k.  that blows my mind first off.  i try not to think about that too much.  next topic.

then there's all the packing stress which falls into two categories: what to bring on the plane and what to pack into the suitcase knowing that strangers will paw through it.  guess the lace panties will stay home.  at least the on-flight packing has been simplified.  no liquids.  which includes bubbles in case you were hoping to entertain your child in the airport by blowing bubbles.  if you do somehow manage to forget you have the bubbles and wind up blowing bubbles all over and giggling as they land on the heads of sleeping people in LAX waiting for their flight to PDX, well, don't be surprised if a surly man comes over with his square hand extended and says...without a hint of a smile..."ma'am, you can't have those in here."  bubbles are dangerous people.  just know that.

this time around i have just recently learned that body scans are all the rage!  someday, mark my words, these will wind up being a cool toys at all-night raves.  i give kudos to the geek-genius who is getting rich off of this invention and somehow doing the jedi mind trick on the TSA guru to get him/her to sign up for these bad boys.  basically it's an xray of your entire skin surface.  which means it cannot detect if you have a stash of explosives up your wazoo but it can give a good indication if you are D cup.  which are as dangerous as bubbles.

it wasn't until i was stocking sandalwood oil at the coop while NPR was broadcasting about body scans that i even knew this was a reality.  i had heard about the possibility and foolishly disregarded it as too george orwellian to become truth.  that man knew something we are still afraid to admit.

fortunately i have an option.  i can present my body to be groped instead.  here is my butt, my boobs, my crotch- go at it!  i have been in enough mosh pits to have that desensitizing ability to strangers' hands on my privates.  the only challenge for me will be resisting the strong urge to elbow and scream "fuck off asshole!" in response.

then there's my kids too.  turns out kids cannot be scanned.  why?  well, because dr.frankinstein doesn't really know the long term effects of body scans.  maybe that rash you can't explain is from your trip to florida to see aunt may.  or maybe it isn't.  we won't know because we are the experiments.  call me "horsey" and put me in a change with timothy hay and pellets- guinea pigs- the whole lot of us.  TSA knows this on some level- and so they don't want to scan the delicate children or the delicate pregnant women or the delicate women who may want to be pregnant some day or the delicate man who may want to impregnate a delicate woman so they can have a delicate child.

so if we are picked from the lots of travelers- and let's face it my husband is a long-haired brown and big native american who looks like a member of AIM with a last name that no one can pronounce correctly so we will be singled out- the pat down extends to my children too.

here's the rub (pun intended) i have always taught my boys this: we make the rules of our bodies.  which means if i don't want to get hit in the face with ice cold water from your squirt gun you need to listen to me.   why?  because "i make the rules of my body."  if you don't want to wear a hat even though it is raining out, ok.  why?  because "you make the rules of your body."  of course, i tell them there are a very few times when your mom or dad or a doctor might need to do something to your body to help keep you safe and healthy.  like when i make you spit out that plastic doll head you are chewing on.  or if the doctor has to inadvertently gag you with a tongue depressor to look at your swollen tonsils.  other than that- say it with me-  "you make the rules of your body."

except when you travel via airplane in 2010.  then you either get scanned by sci fi rays which hopefully don't do more than show off your naked body but you probably won't ever be able to link any health problem to your air travel- or you get pat down and felt up and completely embarrassed and confused by someone wearing a uniform who is endorsed by the government to do this thing to your body.

again i find myself in that place of mamaness that i abhor.  that place where either option sucks.  where my child will see my powerlessness.  and if mama doesn't have power- than what does her 8 year old boy have?  a crack in his fragile optimistic view of the world forms and splinters.  a place where there are all these questions that i cannot answer.  the "whys" are overwhelming at times.

so i will tell him this:

yes, this sucks. 

it is completely wrong that our basic human rights- to make the rules of our bodies- is being ignored in the name of "national security" when many other countries have found ways to make air travel safe without the use of this type of invasion.  (ok, that might be over his head- i need to rework this part).

i'm sorry that you have to go through this. 

i'm sorry this is the world we live in right now.

son, you are strong and caring and clever.  one day you will be an adult with all that and more.  you'll have more influence than you have now.  hold onto those skills.  don't let your heart get too muddled or your brain too fuzzy. 

we need you to be the change you wish to see in the world. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


lately we've been in a sort of fix-it mode in our home.  i love this.  i love project completion.  i love that feeling of getting out tools and tearing into something before you even really realize what you are getting into and then working it through.  sometimes this means leaving a mess of fabric and thread on the floor for three days, as is the case when i try to sew.  or maybe this leads to heated debates infront of the plumbing pipes at lowes hardware store.  sometimes it ends with a frustrated call to a professional like when the washer machine stopped working and i found a similar model at the restore but after taking it apart and swapping out parts, i still hadn't solved the problem- so i called a fix it guy with a van, a toolbelt, and an ability to read those maps that come glued to the underbelly of large appliances.

we go through long stretches of not getting to some small projects though.  like the back porch light which burnt out over a year ago- i'm ashamed to admit- and didn't get replaced because it needs this special bulb that looks like a large mock-up of an alien nasal probe and never quite made it on any "to buy" list around here.  during a recent trip to the hardware store i was strolling about when i found myself in lightbulb land- the options are literally blinding.  there are all shades and shapes of bulbs these days- and then- there it was.  the back porch light bulb.  2 for $6.

i promptly handed it off to ben mostly because our back porch involves two long boards laid down from the platform of the stairs to our door.  these boards span only a small distance- 3 feet?- but they aren't installed in any fashion.  another unfinished project.  this makes me nervous.  as seren would say "it makes my feet ache."  within minutes i was able to blind ben as i switched on the high powered security light while he stared into it to see if the bulb worked.  yes.  yes it does work.  then there's that rush of "i did it!" feeling that is so good we start to look for other little projects to do. 

i like completion.  i like before and after mental shots of my space.  like living room wall with large gaping hole to....several months later albeit....plastered and painting, somewhat reminiscent of guacamole.  every time i look at that wall i think "damn, that looks so much better than that gaping hole."  i don't remember where my kids were as i slopped plaster on that wall. i was in my project mind- that dangerous place on complete concentration where nothing else exists except me and my beloved project.  i love that place.  i miss it. 
because here's the thing:  we have two boys that want nothing more than to be intimately involved, most of the time, with whatever project we are attempting.  the more dangerous it looks, the more tools involved, the more focus it requires- the more they need to be a part of it.  i understand this desire- it's in our DNA.  we are programmed to imitate those that are surviving.  their little brains are little absorbent sponges and adults the fountain of knowledge.

except that often having them part of the plan makes it incredibly difficult to get things done.  i try to multitasks...keeping track of cyrus and the drill and the box cutter while also attempting to engage my fix-it brain.  sometimes this works.  if i've had enough sleep, not too much coffee or sugar, all the required tools can be found and have been found, and the planets are aligned- i actually can get the boys involved in a project and we all strut about like turkeys when we successfully complete it.

then there's the normal sequence of things.  i'm not proud to admit this but let's be honest here- if you are a parent you have done this too.  and if you are not a parent- well, you need to know these things before you become one.  some projects go like this:

i see something that needs to be done.
i look for tools to do it.
i cannot find them.  the tool bag now only contains a dried out sharpie marker, a handful of rusty screws and some kind of screwdriver whose tip looking like a square.
i start to ask where the _____ is.
i get blank stares.
i go into a mumbling rant which is something like "why can't people just put things back in the tool bag?" but in reality is far more judgmental and callous.
i try to use several other macguyver inspired handmade tools before i hurt myself and swear loudly.
i give up.  the frustration boils over to a point where i cannot cope- so i go check facebook or fold laundry.

i have tried to remedy this in several ways.  i have bought my own tool kits and hidden them from all.  slowly they are dismemberd and discarded somewhere beyond my reach.  i bought a little battery powered drill with four bits and two drills and this handy little case.  i have the case now- in the tool bag- and now and then i hear the hum of the drill somewhere in the house.  i run to it- to find cyrus poking holes in the window's plastic insulation covering.  and then as i search for the packing tape ("has anyone seen the packing tape?") he is off again with MY drill.  never to be seen again.

recently while talking to my dad he said there are three kinds of people in the world.
1. people that want something to happen.
2. people that makes things happen.
3. people that stand around and say "what the hell happened?!"

i'm all three and then some.  i'm the person who wants to make something happen without yelling "what the hell happened to my drill?!"  i'm also the person who wants things to happen, makes them happen, and then asks in a bewildered afterglow "wow!  how did that finally happen?"

on being good

This article was first published in the Skagit Valley Food Coop's newsletter "The Natural Enquirer." 

At some point during my stint as the HR manager at the Co-op I began to write a parody of “Hotel California” based on my work experience here.  Only on my days off. It’s There were some rough spots because although colitas smell good rising up through the air, well, tulips don’t really have a fragrance, do they?  I had some catchy phrase about “the river bend” instead of “mercedes benz” that was inspired, but the last line was pure genius: “you can clock-out any time you like, but you can never leave.”  If you have ever worked here you get this.  You are most likely nodding right now.

So I am again working at the Co-op.  Every so often I get to put on a green apron and help out in the Health and Beauty Aid department, known to co-op’ers as HABA.  This job is very different than Human Resources.  In HABA people ask questions that often are solved very quickly and concisely.  The short interaction usually ending with me placing the product they want in their hands, smiles all around.  In HR...well, things sometimes got more involved than that.

What they both have in common is that I get to be around interesting and engaging people, coworkers and customers alike.  In HR, my coworkers were my customers, and most of the time, I really liked that part of the job.  In HABA, the customers give me the chance to share a bit of knowledge about the co-op and our products- and quite often it turns out- I learn something interesting through our conversations too. 

Here’s my top ten to date of things I have learned.

1. Soaking your feet in hot black tea for three nights in a row can reduce smell and itchiness.   An elder with a charming accent- maybe British?- told me of this simple remedy as we checked out the tea tree foot powder options.  Use a separate batch of tea for sipping.

2. Bees have to make their wax honey comb before they can produce honey.  Well, where else would they store it?  Since the wax takes up a bit of energy to make, many bee keepers have their bees reuse their wax.  Trouble is with folks spraying flowers with all sorts of chemicals the wax hexagons to house the baby bees can be toxic!  WSU recently published a study with these findings and now recommends that bees rebuilt their wax rooms every five years.  Another reason to use Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap to kill pests on plants. (For more info on the study go to and search for “beeswax”).

3. Green lipped mussels, the ones that live in shells and come from New Zealand, may help reduce arthritic inflammation in people and dogs.  I found this out while helping a customer research treatment options on the touch-screen computer in the HABA department.  This free resource is available for everyone to use and you can print out the articles to take home.  Plus it notes scientific studies and is available in Spanish!

4. Citric acid, which we sell in the bulk herb department, can be run through your empty dishwasher to help deoxidize and disinfect.  I learned this when answering the store phone.  I also learned citric acid is an essential ingredient when making cheese. 

5.  Digestive bitters, available in tinctures, help to curb acid reflux by stimulating our natural digestive powers.  They are to our gut what the phone booth was to superman.

6.  DGL, Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root extract, which is most often used to aid digestion may also help to treat pain related to inflammation.  It is a chewable tablet that also comes in german chocolate flavor!

7. Foot soaks are a popular present for moms.  The bulk sea salt is ideal for this.  I hope these are followed by foot rubs.  I am a mom.   I have two feet and two boys.  This could work out well for me. 

8.  Fighting oral thrush can be as simple as popping open a probiotic pill into water and swishing that about in your mouth for a few minutes.  If a nursing babe has oral thrush the powder can be dusted on the mama’s breast before feeding the little love bundle.

9.  A mint allergy makes finding a mouth wash very, very difficult.

10.  When we come to the co-op we are doing more than just buying.  We sometimes are looking for something that doesn’t come in a bottle, tube or jar.

This point is the most important to me. What I have realized is that people shop at the Co-op for many of the same reasons that I work here.  It’s the eye-contact, the smiles, the attention of another person inside of a store that has intentionality outside of making money.  We meet up here under the canopy of ivy plants with tendrils as long as Main Street because we are part of this community and we want to build onto that community through connection.

Case in point:  Recently a woman with gray owl eyes and a shy, polite smile walked up to the counter where I stood squinting at an invoice. She wore a plaid flannel shirt and jeans in soft tones, like stones. I noticed something else about her right away: she was present.  She was genuine.  She needed something from me, but that didn’t mean that she was treating me only as a means to an end.  I felt noticed as a person by her which sometimes doesn’t happen when you work in service jobs.
She asked me, somewhat hesitantly if we carried a product called “L-Theanine.”  Since we have thousands of products and I don’t work very often I used my Nancy Drew skills to figure out where the product would be if we did have it.  I asked her some questions  and located a bottle of it in our de-stress section.  She was hoping to find something to help her get to sleep.  I showed her the many options we have from kava to melatonin.  I pointed out the supplements, the tinctures and mentioned the teas I found relaxing. 
Folks ask for all sorts of things in HABA and sometimes they tell you what they want it for and sometimes they don’t.  In my own life, obstacles to sleep come in so many shades and hues- laundry, a good movie, a bad book, sounds of critters on the roof.  I honestly didn’t even ponder what was keeping her from restful slumber, but I got the sense that she felt vaguely embarrassed or uncomfortable about asking for a sleep aid.  She calmly and quietly said, “I’m having trouble sleeping.  My daughter is missing.” 
Did the world stop for a second then?   Did the ground dip down an inch or a mile?  Did this lurching in my chest take away breath from my lungs? Yes.  All of that and more.  We see Amber alerts and forward along emails, but have you ever before thought about the mother needing to go and purchase a sleep aid because at night the thoughts and fears have no where to hide in the darkness?  I hadn’t.  But here she was next to me, her shoulders both strong and curved toward, tipped toward her heart maybe a bit more than before like a shield. 
My respond, “I am so sorry” was, of course, not enough to express any of what I was feeling or wanting to give her: a hug, my tears, her daughter- safe at home.  My simple words did seem to offer her some small comfort.  She tilted her head downward in a slight nod.  The secret pain she carried was maybe lightened just for that moment by sharing it.  Maybe my thoughts and prayers for her and her family will help.  Maybe yours will too. 
Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”   This is what I relearn each time I clock-in.  The battle might be rough elbows or it might be cancer.  It could be an inflamed knee or a sore heart.  Whatever the battle- kindness will help both the giver and the receiver. It might just look like I’m dusting shelves and stocking soap; maybe it seems like you are only smelling shampoo.  But as we do this and that, underneath the pictures of those gnomes with signs that read “Be nice, it works!” we are also taking a respite from our own battles to hope for more neighbors, fewer strangers.   We are searching for allies in the fringes of our lives, in the aisles of our Co-op.  A place to put down a little bit of a burden or pick up a small piece of hope along with that toothpaste.
The Co-op is a community- has been for almost forty years- and while you can push your cart to your car and drive home or clock-out and breath a sigh of relief that you’ve got a three-day weekend ahead of you, you can’t ever really leave the co-op.  Because part of you stays here and part of you will always come back.  I’m glad for it and that’s the one line of my Eagles’ redo  I never did change: “such a lovely place.”

Monday, November 15, 2010


every now and then i make it to presence studio in bellingham where on sunday mornings this event called "sweat your prayers" happens.  it's a small miracle that happens every week in studios around the world. (find one near you.)

on a recent sunday i was dropped off early- the class starts at about 10:15 and when i climbed the stairs the candles were just being lit.  they creaked under me- masks on the walls whispering as i slipped by.  behind me cornwall avenue was swirling with large maple leaves burnt by winter's coming breath.  the white mini-van took away my family and i started to loom larger.

confession: i have to shrink myself to fit my life sometimes.   do you do this? 

bite your tongue. 
hold your breath.
clench your teeth. 
curl your toes. 
suck in your gut. 
hunch your shoulders. 
soften your glare. 
quiet your laugh.

the small ways we hold back because...well, we all have our reasons, i'm sure.   maybe we can't even actually speak the reasons.  this shrinking is important stuff.  so important we even do it in our sleep- curled on our side, knees to chest, hands to chin.  we are so small as we dream.  or should i say "I?"  perhaps you do none of this. 

i do this.  so when my family pulled away i grew a bit bigger.  they don't shrink me- i do it- i know that.  and when they left for their afternoon playing baseball in the park i breathed out and in.  there was no whining or hitting or crying or clutching.  no snacks.  no empty water jugs.  no crusty noses.  no requests.  no complaints.

it was just me- however me needed or wanted to be.  then it was just me and this glowing wooden dance floor.  i sat facing west, looking at six tall windows facing the alley.  this room is old.  this building of brick and beams from trees of the forest hold so many stories, so many moments of dance.  the morning sun slanting in through the sheer curtains and laid warm blankets on the wood floor.  i felt a cat's urge to curl up there.  i looked at the deep red walls- the richness of them could almost be tasted.  the ceiling was suspended somewhere up there far above me with dusty boot prints from carpenters. 

i imagined being out there in all that alluring space.   i could run from corner to corner without worry of flopping into someone.  i could crawl in tight circles without tripping anyone.  i could jump like a crackerjack or roll like a ball or prowl like a hungry dog or bounce like a rubberband off of a chalkboard right as the bell rang for recess.  the floor was completely open and huge and golden waiting there for me without any expectation.

i was terrified.

there was this feeling like- wow, here IT is.  now what are you going to do with it?  it was like the universe was wrapped up as a gift for me to open and i was stunned, scared by the possibilities.  i saw all this potential bliss fanned out at my toes and still there was a hesitation.  a fear of suddenly having the freedom to do whatever i wanted- and then realizing that i was not entirely sure what i wanted.

it's the blank canvas.
the new journal.
a box of crayons
still sharp.

that moment when all is new and we are desperate to create something that speaks from the core of us to the core of everyone else.  and that's big.

about as big as that dance floor.

and the moment is fleeting.  in the next beat the floor was being smudged by amanda.  she walked the perimeter of the floor with a large shell that spun out streams of sage smoke.  she walked slowly along the east walk.  the smoke pulsed and curled after her then drifted until there was a hazy wall all around me.  her features burnt out by the morning sun behind her- she began everywoman.  everywoman who has ever pushed through dark, everywoman who created light, everywoman who danced, everywoman who didn't.  she was all parts of me- her silhouette floating by- a smiling spirit. 

it was the invitation.

i accepted. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010


here's the story of my rock.  yes, i have one.  only one.  like a lot of things in life- when you find the one you stop looking for any others.  i still look at rocks.  i pick them up and observe them before tossing them back.

i found mine at rosario beach near the maiden pole.  if you don't live around here- this makes no sense.  if you do and you haven't been there yet- go as soon as you can.

see i live in this strange area of muddled coastline.  it's not like the coast where i grew up- where beaches are mostly straight and sandy.  the bay here is not open ocean water but a sound.  the coves are like bubbles in rock, with forests on the cusp.  islands are stringed along like oil beads in water.  sometimes it feels like you could hop from one to the next.  with the tide is low the slurpy mud lays flat and glistens brown- sometimes you can really walk to islands.

rosario beach is off of the highway 20 spur en route to deception pass.  i know it is called this because explorers thought it was the opening of a large river- or maybe even the northwest passage, that mythical body of water that would have provided a short cut through north america.  deception pass- is not a pass at all.  it's another bay.  i bet the natives knew that already.  i call it deception pass because the peaceful scenes often erupt into skull shaking explosions as the jets fly low overhead on their way to and fro whidbey island air force base.  i bet even deaf people can feel the vibrations of those engines up above.

rosario beach is a spit of land that juts out and ends in a large dot of a rock with a looping trailing circling around it.  you can tromp out there at feel like you are standing on the explaination point of the puget sound.  at the mouth of this trail is the looming maiden pole- carved by a local artist, to pay homage to the waters and her bounty.  the story is from the coastal salish people about the maiden who goes to live in the sea.  it is a good story and not my story to tell.

here's my story.  one day, years back, i started to walk out on the rocky dot with my mother-in-law.  the trail heads up slightly and for a bit you are walking through madrona trees that jut out from the cliff.  i happened to look down to see an orange rock quite different than the others.  it was embedded in the trail and i squatted down to dig it out.  as i scrapped away the mud and rock with my fingernails the swirls of color grew more intriguing.  this was not like any rock i had ever discovered.  it was soft- for a rock.  it was small enough to close my fist around and when i looked at it in my open palm it had the vague heart-shape of a rounded triangle.  as i pulled it up out of the ground and turned it over i saw that there was a deep cave in the rock and i could see smallest white crystals inside.

"oh, it looks like a vagina!" mary laughed next to me.  it did too.  the ripples of the color were like flames of red and oranges.  there were parts of it that seemed to glow- wanting to be translucent.  on one end was the cave and the other a point where you could see the pattern tighten.  i felt so blessed to have found it and  i wondered how it had gotten there- buried in the trail, surrounded by average stones that were all once underwater.

months, years went by.  i showed the rock to some folks and while everyone agreed it was beautiful no one knew much about it.  i hesitated taking it someplace like a store or a museum because i liked the mystery of it.  i didn't need to know it's name.

there was a span of time in my life where i traveled to olympia one weekend each month to dance in workshops put on by a 5Rhythms studio.  words often fail to explain what this dance practice means to me- it is church for my entire being.  not just church for my mind or heart or soul or spirit.  church for all that is inside of my physical body and all that could never be contained in any form.

these weekends were transforming and deeply healing- and thus- often extremely difficult.  fortunately the community of people involved were right there in it also,  we supported each other with hugs and talks and warm drinks and lots of laughter.  during spare moments i enjoyed strolling around olympia- finding treasures, looking at people, humming to myself, stunned by beauty, lulled by life.

i happened into a store that sold natural health care products, jewelry, books, note cards, scarves...the kind of store i could spend an entire paycheck in.  as i peered into the class jewelry case i noticed they had displays of several semi-precious stones and crystals.  and there nestled along side other beauties was my rock: carnelian.

i was shocked and thrilled to find its relations there- even more so to learn that these stones had been found locally and not imported from a far off land.  then i became stunned as i read about the stone.  you may know that stones are often associated with many different aspects of life.  i have no idea who decided all of this or how they did it- but stones are related to birth signs, elements, parts of the body, and the like.

carnelian is most often associated with leo which is what i am- july 24.  it is often associated with fire- probably due to the color of the stone- and which i often enjoy staring into while camping.  ok, maybe everyone likes that.  but as i read more i got chills.  this little hand-written sign said that carnelian was good for creativity and for opening the heart.  now i have since read other things about carnelian- some which repeats this message and some which says other things about it.  like how royalty was buried with it.  how it cures kidney stones.  it can all start to sound a bit woo-woo.

however, at that moment when i read the sign i really was struggling with my closed heart.  damn, if my body can't hold a lot of anger.  maybe you have this part in your body too?  like a swelling black bag that you can just keep stuffing regrets and misunderstandings and disappointments into. and our hearts, they clamp down, they shut down to keep it all in because it hurt.  until you can't keep it all in anymore because you have a heart attack.  or until you can't anymore because you run screaming into the woods one day stripping off your clothes. 

or until you can't anymore because you dance and find a way to open up your heart and wrestle it out of yourself so you can see it all again and look at its ugliness in order to see its beauty.

look at it just once more before you let it go.

i wonder where it all goes sometimes,
these ideas and memories that solidify inside of us-
where do they go
when we scream
or sweat
or paint
or write them out of bodies?
do they float up into those welcoming clouds? 
is that what makes the sunset so red and glowing-
the heat of our rage dying.

maybe they wait for the rain to push them back
down to the earth 
they gather in the depths of the ocean
until the tide pushes them
slowly, slowly, slowly to the shore
where we walk barefoot and mindless
to find them again

red, swirling rocks
to carry in our pockets
so that our hearts
can be light, 

so that our hearts
can be

Sunday, October 31, 2010

hell house

i'm sitting here flooded with halloween memories.  vague memories made fuzzy by the years and the candy- back then and now again.  i'm feeling nostalgic.  like i want every weekend to be halloween.  i want cat ears to be accepted accessories in the grocery store year round.  and i want my kids to feel excited going up to a neighbor's door that is glowing with jack o' lantern grins.

as i was chatting with katie- each of us gushing with snip bits of our past halloween adventures- she encouraged me to tell this particular tale.  it's scary, but not in the way you'd imagine.

i was in my teens- maybe 14.  it might have been my last halloween in torrance, ca- shortly after this i was brought, under protest, to the northwest.    halloween in california always involved some kind of haunted house.  the neighbors would convert their entire house or we'd go to knott's scary farm to be chased by creeps in costumes.  a group of friends had all decided to venture to a particular church to go to their haunted house.

i'm not sure if i knew what i was getting into.  there was a short period of my life when i went to a first assembly of god church with my friend and her mom.  so i knew the story of hell.  for a spell, i believed it.  i cried real tears because i knew my soul had been saved from that evil, dark place.  looking back, i have no idea what sins i had imagined i committed?  but by the time i was headed to "hell house" on halloween i had already figured out that i didn't need guilt to be a good human.

you may have heard about hell houses.  they are a big business now.  i've heard NPR do reports on them.  back then, they were just beginning.  so here's the premise: you die and go to hell.

here's what i remember.

my friend's brother or boyfriend had some connection with the place, so the door man relayed the message that we were to get the full treatment.  like dante's worst ring of inferno.  in southern cali.  from teenagers.

we had a guide for the tour.  the inside was pitch black.  we huddled close together as we were led down a narrow hall.  it had many turns, like a maze.  and then the walls started to get smaller and smaller.  until we were all squished together and trapped.  not sure how we got out of that.

i remember walking on a bridge with hands underneath us, grabbing at our ankles.

people jumped out at us from hidden spots.  flash lights.  strobe lights.  red lights.  black lights.

then we were led into a large room with a stage of sorts.  there we witnessed several skits about people who were now in hell.  i remember the person who killed someone drunk driving.  the girl who got an abortion.  the gay teenager.  at the end of the skit the condemned would whimper and cry out for salvation. alas, it was too late.

then folks came out to pray for us and our sinning teenage hearts.  i think i was offered a bible.  i didn't take it.

sitting here one click away from facebook, i am "friends" with one person from that experience.  i want to write to him and ask him about it because i wonder if i am making some of this up.  like if somehow bits of movies and stories and nightmares have all collided to form this memory that didn't really happen the way i think it did.

then i think sometimes its better just to remember your own hell house experience however you want. 


let's go back about thirty years.  i have long blonde hair with chunky bangs and large glasses.  i am shy but not shy enough to keep myself quiet.  i have one older brother who torments me endlessly- it's his way of showing love, i'm sure- hence the chunky bangs which he cut for me.  i have headaches most of the time.

i also have a smile full of smallish looking teeth that are firmly determined not to fall out and make way for the big ones.  i will have my last baby teeth pulled from my head in middle school.  stubborn is more than a disposition with me.  and it isn't until dentists start to question my slow-to-go teeth that they realize something is missing from my mouth.

lateral incisors.  both of them.  these are the teeth right next to your front teeth- between them and your canine.  my teeth had been evenly spaced and so no one noticed i didn't have these teeth.  my dad promptly blamed my mom's side of the family.

what then happened was years of braces.  years of them.  i actually remember the orthodontist removing all of the hardware and then reinstalling it a week later- all for the sake of insurance coverage.  the plan was simple- make space for where the incisors should be and then....well, go from there.

when i was 18ish, the go from there plan was two marilyn bridges.  which means they take the perfectly normal teeth and dig out the back of them, glue some metal brace-like things behind them with a fake tooth in the middle.  this is what we did.  i remember the technology of implants- where they surgically place a rod into your jaw bone and then built a crown onto that was experimental and not covered by insurance.  the life span of a marilyn bridge was about 10 years.  whenever i say "marilyn bridge" i think of marilyn monroe.  and then that elton john song starts in my head.

well, turns out the bridges lasted a bit longer.  in 2001, when barely pregnant with seren, the bridge on the right side broke during thanksgiving diner at ben's mom's house.  i remember i was eating this fancy pumpkin-stuffed filo triangles i had made.  the tooth broke and i looked hideous.  the fake tooth had just broken off from the metal bridge- so it just looked like i had a very rotten tooth right in the front of my mouth.  i remember the smell of the glue as the dentist glued the tooth back on.  it cost about $50 to have it fixed.

a few years later the entire bridge came out.  strangely i do not remember this at all.  i know i worked at the co-op because that halloween i dressed up as a rodeo clown- complete with pink wig and leather cowgirl hat.  the missing tooth added to the ensemble.

when it came to replacing the tooth my options hadn't changed much.  bridge or implant- neither were covered by insurance...still.  uw dental school told me that in order to have an implant i'd have to be in braces for a few years first.  there was some new technology in the world of bridges- which means an all porcelain bridge could be made.  which is good because metal conducts.  with so much metal in my mouth it was uncomfortable to drink really hot or really cold beverages.  plus i could sometimes hear radio signals if i wore cold necklaces.

turns out the bridge was spendy. could buy a good used car or travel comfortably through europe or live for several years in many third world countries.  fortunately, my dad paid for it.

there's a bit of irony here.  my dad blamed my mom's family for the missing tooth- and yet he paid to have it cosmetically replaced.  without the tooth- i looked....hillbilly-ish.  (that's the stereotype we have of people who don't have teeth- and guess what?  it's because dental care is expensive.) which is definitely from his side of the family.  not to say that my mom doesn't have that somewhere- it's just far enough in the past where we don't know about it.  my dad, however, grew up in rural ohio.  he tells me about drowning the barn cats in the creek and watching the chickens eat the baby mice from the nest under the feeder bowl.

speaking of missing teeth.  people react differently to you.  few people will actually ask what happened- even if they see you on monday with a full set of teeth and on tuesday with one gone.  i have found that usually it's children who will say with a horrified look on their faces "what happened to your tooth?!"  and it's really hard to be honest in that moment.  i admit- sometimes it just so entertaining to lie to children- another trait i picked up from my dad...and my mom, come to think of it...and so i often would tell them i got in a bar fight or the tooth fairy was desperate or i didn't brush my teeth.  plus, what 7 year old wants to hear about my dental history? 

kudos to you for sticking with this so far.

turns out- on friday- my left bridge gave away.  came out as i was driving.  no doubt on monday or tuesday the dentist will give me the same speech he did 5 years back.  this time around i think i'll be toothless for a while longer, so i've begun to think about possible temporary teeth replacement options.  beewax doesn't stick well to teeth, so i've been thinking about a fake tooth to wedge in there.  seren did offer me a pomegrante seed this morning to try.  he's been very supportive and in his honest-abe way.  he admits that i look hideous but doesn't keep him from loving me. 

i'm toying with carving a wedge out of bone, covering it gold  and putting a diamond in the  middle of it.   i think i could carry that look well.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


there are so many parts of technology that i adore.  and some others that i abhor.   and still others that i find perplexing, for example- is this computer a time saver or a brain drain?

i don't know.  it gives and it takes away.  sometimes i feel like it takes too much though.

life is stagnant inside this screen and there's that comfort here, but it pulls me away from the kaleidoscope of real life here under my nose.  my boys growing up, the corn withering in the our garden, the geese flying by, the wrinkles deepening around my eyes.

at the same time, it feeds the part of me that fears too much isolation.  the keyboard keeps up with my rapid thoughts in a way my journal and pen cannot.  i can satisfy my curiosity of strange facts in mere seconds.  i can pay bills late without feeling the gal on the is condescending to me. 

over the years- especially as the boys get bigger- i have often imagined a life without internet and welcomed it.  i miss being bored, i think.  because out of boredom comes creativity and spontaneity.  i used to listen to more music, do more stretching, draw, sew.  ok, honestly, i probably don't do much of that because of my children and their natural desire to do whatever it is that i am doing.  yoga with a 2 year old clawing up on your back is not so peaceful.

the internet is the easy escape.  the simple solution.  the quick fix.  but it's not always so good for my family.  for me?  if i lived alone?  sure, my eyes could grow square and my fingers become even more adept at typing and correcting typos.  but for a group of people that should be connecting to each other- i'm not sure the internet does us any favors.

it's like eating a candy bar instead of a meal.  over the long haul it's bound to screw up things a bit.

of course, sometimes a candy bar is a really great thing.  like this blog for example.  i've always wanted to write and to be read.  maybe it's ego, maybe it's just human nature.  we crave witnesses- one reason why facebook is so damn popular.  we want others to see us in the hopes that they will understand us a bit more.  and through that they may understand themselves a bit more too.  for me, having an easy place to publish my random thoughts has been incredibly motivating and a snickers.

in any case, the time has come for my family to snip the cord of the internet.  there's still free wi-fi all over the place here.  and i can write and them go somewhere else to publish my blog or email my articles to the co-op.  i know it will be one more step.  who knows?  maybe we'll be plugged back in before thanksgiving.

thanks for you support and encouragement with my writing.  i'll keep at it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


one of the parts about being a mom i enjoy deeply- is watching my boys and wondering how their personalities are going to change, morph, grow, develop.  i wonder what little quirks will fade away and which ones will take root, hold on, flesh out.

sometimes i watch them doing something they really are into- like how seren is focused on drawing right now- and i imagine him as doing this throughout his life.  i'm curious about how his skills will improve, if he'll study it in school, if someday he'll have a drafting table in an office at his house where he draws comics or greeting cards or illustrations for food processor manuals.

or if one day he'll just stop drawing and take up some other hobby like raising guinea pigs.

i know, of course, that without a doubt some parts of their character will always be there.  their sense of humor, for example.  i' betting that farts will not be as funny to them as they mature.  but then i still think farting is pretty funny so i could be wrong on that one.

i'm pretty sure that they'll always have relationships in their lives.  of all sorts.  some even.....sexual in nature!

the other day me and my boys were eating lunch in the co-op.  as we sat seren had out his sketch book where he was drawing various weapons.  yes, the universe finds this hysterically funny that i, a passivist with bad gun experiences, would be blessed with two warrior sons.  no doubt, i pulled this fate to me like a magnet on steel.  in any case, seren was drawing spears and bows and knives and other things that he knows the actual names of but i do not, when a young gal- about 3 and her mama and the baby sister come sit next to us.  the 3 year old picked the table next to us because she saw kiddos and she was smart.  sit by people you find interesting- this should be a rule, well, it is her rule.  she sat next to seren.

she watched him draw.  seren was kind of vague when she asked him what he was drawing, "some stuff."  at this point cyrus grew tired of stagnation and went sprinting toward the mercantile department (but he was not the one who threw those balls all over the place, i swear....not this time anyway) so i took off after him.  when i came back seren had gone to get a to-go box as i had suggested once i realized cy was headed toward pre-nap melt down, and this young gal was drawing in his sketch pad.  she assured me that he had told her it was ok.

i noticed seren had shifted to drawing some faces he has been practicing in his cartooning class.  as i wrestled cy around, shoveling soup into his round mouth, i chatted with the mom about how two kids is a totally different world- and why hadn't anyone warned us!- and about all the baby stuff at the co-op now, and where they lived, and all that sort of stuff.  as i got ready to go i noticed seren scrawling on a scrap of paper and he asked me, "mom, what's our phone number?"

yes- he gave his phone number to this sweet 3 year old girl.

now i know he was just being his normal, friendly self- but i had this strange sensation like i was glimpsing into the future when he would actually know his own phone number, probably have his own damn phone! and be giving it to girls and/or boys all the time.  it made me giddy to think about.  and completely terrified too.

it's not the sex talk- ever since that day at the zoo when he said, "hey mom, look at those funny meer cats wrestling!" i have been upfront and honest with him about "mating" and the like.  really that's just all chemistry.  hormones and body fluids.  you can teach safe sex and kids understand that.  as a middle school teacher i sat through these classes all the time and answered strange questions from students without even blushing.

i think what the potential freaking out part is the heartache.  the fact that realistically at some point in his life someone is going to want him more or less than he wants them to.  and this will happen with cy too.  when cyrus was just a few months old a gal stopped me and said, "oh- he's going to be a heartbreaker."  i've heard this often of seren too.  and i'm pretty sure they don't mean that tom petty is going to have a reunion tour when he is 78 and happen to recruit my boys for their rocking guitar skills.

no, they mean that my guys are handsome and that folks will fall for them and be rejected by my sweet children and will be crying about it and writing mean notes and talking thrash; wishing evil on them, to boot,  just the way that you and i did to those mean people that rejected us in the locker bays during recess.

i believe in romance and i also believe that it takes a while to learn enough about ourselves to know how we need to live in this world.  it seems that we have to figure out some parts of that before we glue our hips, or any other body part!, to another human.  but we don't do that.  we don't wait.  or maybe you did.  maybe you still do.  but most of us don't.  no. no. no.  because that chemistry makes it all feel sooo good.  remember young love!?  admit it, if you had a bottle of that shit you'd be hitting it right now!

when it comes to love it's trial by error.  we learn what we want and need by sometimes getting what we don't want and don't need.  and running screaming room it.  or dragging our sorry butts home with tail between legs.

like my first boyfriend.  i should have never lurked on his facebook page.   just resist the temptation to look up your first.   i could have gone on believing that he was only in a downward slump during our short stint as boyfriend/girlfriend.  sadly, his priorities in life have not shifted in the twenty years since we were together.  and they aren't now, nor ever were, priorities like: 1. work to end hunger  2. decrease my carbon footprint   3. finish high school.   ok, so maybe he did finish high school, eventually.  at this point, i'd like to give you specific examples but honestly i am too embarrassed.  i'm cringing.

i'm embarrassed because i remember the intensity of that swirly-eyed, tingling toes, fuzzy-headed feeling like he was my soul mate.  together forever.  always and forever.  i'll always love you.  and every other bad love song from the late 80s with some few classics from the 50s thrown in there.  he was thee one.  i was done- in my mind with all that dating stuff, whew!  found him.  at 14.  yup.

obviously, in hind sight, that was not the case.  but at the time you, or my mom, could not tell me- even hint at- the smallest possibility that we would not be blissfully happy together for the rest of our lives.  i believe in him, in us, in the face of ridiculousness....until he found some other chic and didn't tell me about it so then i found someone else and then i knew for real- that guy, not the first guy, was my true soul mate.  i was then 17.

so we know they've inherited some good decision making skills in any case.

how do i survive two heartbreakin' boys?  and really, even though they are exceedingly handsome, there's no guarantee that they aren't going to be the ones with the broken hearts.  at least once.

it reminds me of the first scar seren ever got.  a small nick from my fingernail as i was carrying him.  he didn't cry- the small crescent shape of blood rising on his perfect skin.  his smooth skin grew crinkled just there in the smallest way that only i could, can still, see.  i felt horrible-  it had changed him.  and life is going to keep doing that to them, to us.

heartbreak does that to us too.  it changes us in this strange way that also makes us more of ourselves.  reminds me of a song that says something like "the heart has no bones, so it can't break.  the purpose of love is the pounding it takes."

so pound on strong hearts of young warrior sons!   no matter what shape your heart takes- i will hold it inside of mine always and forever, for reals.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

warm belly

our bodies have memories our brains do not- this fact has always astounded me.  my skin, my heart, my ears, my nose- all have recordings of events, of experiences that were either good or bad and they send me messages about these that i cannot always decipher.  maybe it's the same for you.  as a mom i think about this- that my children's bodies will have a reaction to things that their minds do not understand.  somewhere in their cells small bursts of "danger!" will issue out warnings that their memory will have no way to comprehend.  for me this happens when i am in a pool or a lake and i get water on my face, up my nose, trickling down the back of my throat.  my heart starts to race, i take gulping breaths of air, i panic on a physical level even as my mind is saying gently "you are in water that is three feet deep- you are not in danger.  just stand up."

for many years i attributed this reaction to memory i do have- i was about 8 years old in a pool at my dad's friend's house.  i was alone in the cool water- laying on a floating raft when it flipped over.  if i could have stood up it would have been fine- the pool wasn't that deep, but my ankle had gotten twisted in the ropes on the side of the raft so i couldn't stand up.  one of his sons noticed this and rescued me- after i had swallowed some water and was fairly upset.  this explained my anxiety about drowning, or so i thought.

one evening as i was having dinner with brother in vancouver we started chatting about our various quirks and different labels we could apply to them.  he decided he was mildly psychotic and i confessed i probably could fit on the autistic spectrum somewhere.  at some point i mentioned my swimming- i think at that time i was trying to actually learn how to swim- my fear of drowning had kept me from this- quite a feat for a girl who has almost always lived on the west coast.  my brother, rather casually said, "well, that's because you almost drowned that time."

"yeah- at pete's house.  i remember," i replied.

"no.  you were like three.  you fell into a swimming pool.  when they pulled you out you were blue."

even as i write this- sitting here without so much as a glass of water near me- i can feel fear creep into me.  i was completely shocked by this.  my brother is almost four years older than me and his memory has always been fairly good.  sure, there's a chance he is mis-remembering, attributing someone else's trauma to my life except that this instantly made sense to me.  it explains the way my body tenses involuntarily when my feet stretch through water to reach bottom and cannot find it.  it explains how when i am in water i feel emotionally incredibly alone and vulnerable even as i physically enjoy the relaxation of it.  it explains how i know what drowning feels like without having any words for it at all.

it also explains my own struggle with teaching my kids to swim.  maybe when my cells split into my sons' cells it carried some of that memory to them, or maybe they pick up on subtle cues- but both of my boys are cautious about water.  as much as they love to be in, play in it- they don't take risks in the water.  they don't fully trust it.  i've never told them about my experience and i'm not pushing fear on them.  i encourage them, tell them it's safe- but still they are hesitant.

we are enrolled in swimming lessons like so many families.  the last lesson we went to cyrus was very fearful about being in the water- he has never reacted this way before.  seren was bobbing about having a good time, even as he resisted getting his nose underwater, but cyrus was clinging and fussy.  the instructor thought maybe he was cold- the water was a bit chilly- and she recommended putting a shirt on him.  he calmed down a little bit but was still not at all at ease.

after the class the teacher showed me the little tank-style wet suit her two year-old daughter was wearing.  it had velcro straps along the shoulders so it could "grow with them" and it kept their body temperature up while they were swimming.  she said these cost about $35- and went on about how that was a good investment while i tried to envision spending $35 on any one piece of clothing, let alone on something that would worn maybe 2 hours a week.  she assured me i wouldn't be able to find any second-hand.  they were just a hot item.

i am fairly oblivious to much of the messages i get about what i "need" and what i "should" do.  this has caused some struggles.  but with this wet suit, it hit at a core spot in me: wanting desperately for my children not to fear what i fear.  seren has already described to me his nightmares- the exact nightmares i had as a child- watching a tidal wave come at me and sweep away all i knew.  so this wetsuit- if it could make cyrus more comfortable in the water- was maybe a good thing to buy.

of course, i set about trying to find one second-hand right away.  i searched craigslist, posted on craigslist, called consignment stores, went to consignment stores.  nada.  then i hit up ebay.  there were two in cy's size.  one hot pink, one neon green.  the pink sold for over $20 plus shipping- i never even bid on it.  and then i watched and waited for the final minutes of the green wet suit auction which was several days away.

meanwhile, i fussed a bit about this other feeling i sometimes get.  this frustrated feeling of not being able to afford things or experiences that i'd like to.  coupled with this tormented feeling about how i choose not to work so that i can homeschool and not put my kids in daycare.  most days i feel good about this.  i'm ok with living hand to mouth voluntarily if it means giving my kids my time and attention.  they pay me in ways more meaningful than dollars.  but on other days i daydream about what my family could DO with another $40K a year.  we could actually landscape our yard, we could build a shed, we could visit my aunts in upstate new york.  we could bring our vehicles into the shop the first time they made a weird noise and have it checked out instead of just vacuuming it and turning up the radio.  and i could buy a new wet suit for my kid instead of lurking on ebay hoping that the other bidders would be asleep during the final minutes of the bidding when i launched my bidding- which, i already decided would be no more than $15.

last night- i was suddenly struck with the need to go to goodwill.  this happens to me.  i can just see myself in the store and i know something is there waiting for me.  sometimes i am wrong- i admit.  sometimes i go and there's nothing but other people's junk.  but sometimes i find amazing treasures.  on a side note- you may live in a part of the country where thrift stores thrashy.  that is not the case here.  our thrift stores are organized like a department store and they get some high end stuff along with the strange assortment of dead people's items the families have rejected.

so i went to goodwill.  i even brought both boys which is a form of torture for me.  they cramp my shopping style.  as i walked about i noticed lots of cool stuff, things i might like, things i might use- but i passed by them all.  they weren't the item i was here for.  yes, thrifting is a spiritual experience for me- trite as that sounds.  i put requests into the universe and sometimes it delivers.

like last night, as i was looking at bike helmets for seren and i noticed this bright pink, spongy wetsuit?  yeah, just like that.  the exact wetsuit- in cyrus's size- for $6.99 waiting for me like the blessing it was.  i could almost feel the giggling of spirits around me- like they were saying, "see, nancylee, you got enough to get your boys what they need cuz we are here to help you out.  you need this to feel better about your boys swimming?  then, here it is, girl."  this morning the neon green old sold for more than $20 too- i slept right through it.

even though i can't remember much about what happened when i almost drowned- i obviously know that i did not drown.  that something sparked, a thought flashed in the minds of people near me- and they pulled me out.  that the air pushed water out of my lungs and has held me on this earth everyday since.  that when i needed someone, something- it showed up just like that warm belly wet suit in the mount vernon goodwill.

i need to write that again: when i needed someone- they showed up.

Monday, October 18, 2010


my second vehicle was an isuzu trooper.  the first stick i ever drove.  i learned this skill driving around my dad's house in gardena during christmas break.  eventually the cops pulled me over because the neighbors were getting suspicious- "this truck just keeps circling the block!"  even when i finally did master that art she was like an elephant that needed to be coaxed.  yes, she had a name.  basheba.  she had the personality to fit it too.

now you could really road trip with her.  you couldn't go very fast uphill, but you could pack everything you needed in it and stretch out to sleep.  before my grandma dorothy passed away- after i graduated from college- me and my boyfriend decided to go to ohio and visit her.  along the way we made many stops.  and each stop had it's own adventure it seemed.  and each adventure somehow thwarted our attempt to actually camp in the back country.

the black fly incident on one of the great lakes, maybe lake michigan, was hilarious.  i still believe that some old timer watched us throw down our packs on that pristine sandy beach and then laughed himself sore as we tried to outrun those biting black flies.  now i know what that old song means "i'll die with those flies picking my bones."  we spent that night in the trooper.

just outside of glacier national park we were all geared up to hike in and camp out.  that year the snow fall was heavy and even though it was summer the animals were farther down in elevation because of the snow pack not melting off quite enough for them.  everywhere we went there were bear signs...not signs of bears, but signs warning us "this is bear country!"  my boyfriend, being from alaska, was mostly nonchalant about this fact.  me, being from torrance, was clueless.

what i remember most about this hike was the alpine meadows of wildflowers and butterflies.  they rolled away from us to the snow covered peaks.  the sky was that luscious blue and the sun was shining but not burning.  there were tall trees and bushes here and there, so as you hiked along sometimes your sight was limited.  as we rounded a corner we almost smacked into a bear snacking on some bush on the side of the trail.  my boyfriend was in front of me, and i remember that as he started to try to scare the bear off- i grabbed his pack and started to pull him back down the trail all the while saying softly "don't eat us bear- we are leaving."  we paused to look back and saw the bear standing up on his hind legs sniffing at us with a very large nose on the tip of a blondish head. finding us uninteresting, he rolled around on the trail some and then disappeared.

we weren't quite sure what to do at that point.  he thought it was a brownish-black bear.   i thought it was a juvenile grizzly.  we decided to hike on while singing very loudly.  i remember doing a lot of "second verse!  same as the first!" because it's hard to thing or harmonize when you are singing because you think a bear is about.  we got especially nervous when hiking through tall grass.  we hiked down into a small valley and as we came up we crossed paths with two young men.

we were the first people they had seen since their bear incident.

they were our age- in their 20s with new coleman camping  gear and doughy faces.  they told us their story with the wide eyes of someone thirsty for an audience.  they went out camping the night before- to the very site we were headed to, cooked dinner and then tree'd their goods which is what you have to do in bear country.  i think they probably ate the stankiest meat product around, like a slim jim sloppy joe, and most likely slept in the clothes they had cooked and ate in.  no doubt they didn't tree their stuff very well because they woke up to the sound of a bear ripping through their stuff.  they huddled in their tent as the bear sauntered over and sniffed at them through the thin nylon.  they said the full moon lit up the night so clearly that they could see the silhouette of the bear and as it sniffed at them the nylon stuck to its nose.

imagine that.

when it was quiet out again they peered out.  seeing nothing, they snuck out.  they told us they went to the bathroom.  i think this meant they changed their shorts.  having a bear that close could cause anyone to have a weak bladder.  then the bear reappeared and charged them.  they said they grabbed their tent and ran through the woods to the  next camp site.  in the morning they came back to gather their shredded goods.  they still had that nervousness about them- that sense that they had scrapped through something they might not have otherwise. 

we decided not to camp out that night either.   on the way back we passed the guys telling their story to the next folks on the trail.  and then they passed us as we ate lunch so we had to hear it again the next time we passed them.   a gal who worked for the forest service told them "a fed bear is a dead bear" and was sad to know that someone was going to have to find that bear and kill it.  she said once a bear figures out that human carry tasty treats they'll just keep at it.  bears are all about the easy meal.  she kind of glared at them as she said this.  i don't think they realized that maybe they should have done something differently.

when we got down to the ranger station we looked at bear photos.  i was sure it was a grizzly we had seen, my boyfriend wasn't so sure.  i like to think it was the same bear those guys had fed- that he has wandered far away from that campsite.  i like to think that he didn't really care for slim jims, turns out, and that berries were more to his liking. 


Ann came to the center, max's place, almost every friday and saturday night.  i met ann when she was in her late thirties, i think.  ann had down syndrome, so it was difficult to know her chronological age.  her spirit though was vivid and boisterous.  we often describe that as being "young."  she had a short bob of blonde and gray hair with bright blue eyes that were magnified by thick glasses.  her eyes darted back and forth, faster when she got excited.
ann was consistent in many things.  she always had her nails painted.  usually pink or purple.  she wore jewelry with pride.  she hated potluck dinners at the center- i share this feeling too.  and she was always ecstatic to see me.  and i her.

she would greet me with a smile and exclaim "nancy!" as she hugged me.  then she would launch into a description of what she was most excited about in that moment.  it was often something about her family.  usually it was good news- sometimes not.  ann lived with her sister and her family.   there were children and cousins and friends about ann all the time it seemed.

when the center started to have karate classes, ann was the star student.  she took it seriously and would show off her skills to anyone who asked.  she always sang great old songs for karaoke even when she didn't know all the words.  she liked to play solitaire.  she always won and she would cheer for herself each time.  and she loved to dance.

there's this magic thing that happens in bellingham once a month that most "normal" folks have no idea about.  it's called a spin dance.  maybe i've told you about the first time i went?  it was halloween and i walked into an auditorium of over 200 people in costume, dancing and singing...all with some type of disability.  it will always be one of my fondest memories of my life.  i don't think i can do justice to explaining it right now- why it was life changing for me.  you might have to go to one for yourself to understand it.

ann came to the dances dressed to the nines.  she wore dresses and long necklaces.  some folks came to visit, some for the cookies, ann came to dance.  you could find her close to the stage surrounded by her friends.  i would saddle up to her several times during the night to dance with her.  when she noticed me she'd shout something i couldn't hear and i'd nod and smile.  she often would proudly point out to me the man she was dancing with.

when ann died i was very sad about it.  i had stopped working at the center for a while by then and i searched my memories for the last time i had seen her.  it was at the valentine's spin dance.  she was wearing a purple dress and introduced me to her boyfriend, who was maybe 20.  i remember dancing next to her.  i can still see her with her hands up in the air, shaking up the oxygen above her short body.  her hips are bouncing side to side.  her face is exploding in pure delight and joyful celebration.  i deeply treasure this imagine of her.

there are things i don't do well in life.  lessons i refuse to learn.  traps i set for myself and then stumble into dumbfounded and then look for someone to blame.  i can't seem to keep my house clean, can't seem to find things when i need them most... but i can dance.

i dance with abandon, with fierceness, with passion, with rage, with gentle sways and fitful stomps.
i dance until my body is broken and rebuilt.
i dance until my soul is jiggled loose from my ego's grip.
i dance until i moan, laugh, cry, breath.
i dance in my kitchen to make my baby stop fussing.
i dance in a steamy room full of old friends i have never met.

and when i die, hopefully many, many years from now- as an old woman, i want the imagine that my friends and family treasure of me to be one of dancing.

see me with my face uplifted toward the ceiling
that has given way to blue skies
arms stretched past the clouds
my smile drinking in the rainbows in every warm drop of rain
feet jumping and skittering to my heartbeat
and if you are sad, dance that for me
and know that i have danced that grief too

through dance i have found many treasures
i have played games with myself
i have won
i have cheered.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

broody hen

i want to have chickens.  they are, right now, the only pets i have any interest in for several reasons:

1. outside is where they live-  all of the time.
2. you take care of them, they give you eggs, you can eat these eggs
3. those squishy red combs on their heads 
4. i like how they look when they run- kind of a waddle reminds me of being pregnant and dinosaurs

of course, i've never really had chickens.  we did have ducks when i was a kid...and that turkey....and a seagull.  but chickens are new to me.  next spring i'd like to get some with odd names from a catalog and have the post office call me at 6 am to come pick up my peeping chicks.

several things have to happen before the chickens happen- like winter- and putting our fence in and up.  but i am optimistic that it will happen, eventually.  and so i am doing research so i can be a good chicken owner. 

part of that was listening in on a workshop about backyard chickens where i learned lots of interesting things- about chickens and myself.  for example, chickens will eat mice, baby slugs, kale, cheese- just about anything except citrus.  me?  i like citrus- won't eat mice or slugs.  so me and the chickens share a very similar diet- which is good because i can feed our food waste to them instead of the rats.  bonus.

chickens don't like cold or dirty feet.  me neither.  i get blissed out by washing my feet in warm water before i go to sleep.  this also have kept me somewhat flexible because i usually do this in the bathroom sink- balancing on one leg- i've seen chickens balance on one leg too.

and now i have learned about "broody hens."  it was described to me kinda like this:
a hen who gathers all bits of feathers and straw to make a good nest.
a hen who just wants to sit on her nest. 
 a hen who will not give up her eggs easily. 
a hen who will steal others' eggs to sit on. 

in short, a hen who has a mission.

i'm like this in a way.  not to say that i sit on eggs or that i want more children.  no no no.  but i brood over other things.  i like to gather cozy thoughts and sit with them.  i like to mull over other tidbits of wonder and hold on to them.  i don't like to be interrupted and certainly don't take kindly to being pushed off of my little nesting box of dreams and contemplations.

 like the broody hen in most backyards, broody hens that sit on unfertilized eggs that won't ever hatch, broody hens owned by folks who want them to produce eggs not incubate them- i am not often allowed to just brood.  i got people, big and small ones, wanting things from me, like food and comfort and attention.  i love these big and small people so i huff up and do what i need to do for them.  much of the time i enjoy it.

sometimes though, when i'm all settled down and snugged in with a good thought and they come at me i want to squawk at them: "let me be the broody hen!" and i want them to get it- that it's not a choice for me to brood- it's just the way i am put together- like that speckled chicken with amber eyes.  and i want them to get it  before i resort to flapping my flustered feathers in their face- cuz that takes away from my energy to brood properly.

when i have chickens, sometimes i'm just going to let them brood.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


if i were a superhero i would be What If Woman, and my superpower would be to switch up your reality with the possible realities that keep you awake at night.  because i know how debilitating that is.  it is something i am really good at.  i'd call it a game except there isn't really anything fun about it.  even the best ones "what if i won a lot of money?"  eventually end with the POP of reality...oh wait, i don't have that money.

i used to get so deep into this that i would wind up crying...with real tears streaming down my face...over a "what if" that wasn't happening.  see, i got this morbid streak.  i remember driving home late at night with nothing but my what ifs to keep me awake.  and then suddenly i'd go "oh wait, a plane didn't crash into my house and kill everyone i love!" <shuddering sigh of relief followed by worried analyzing of my psyche>

i recognized that this was not a healthy use of imagination.  it was like my imagination was a caged beast.  a muse gone wrong from neglect.  does yours get like this?

i learned not to make up stories about my life or about anyone in my life.  which got kinda boring, honestly.  there was - there is- so much material to use!  and my muse still tapping on the bars of her cage demanding to be let loose.

which is part of the reason i started this blog.  unleashing the muse with her wild hair and sneering laugh.  she's a good one, mind you, but not so easy to predict.  her comings and goings are random, at best.  damn sneaky some of the time.

it's also why i started making up stories in my head about different fictional characters.  they all start with a feeling i've had or with someone i knew at one point or a curiosity about mixing up people in odd situations or a place that creeped me out.  like rest stops along the interstate.

i once went on a road trip through many states in a trooper i called Basheba.  i saw things in rest stops, felt things in rest stops that just made my skin crawl.  and so i started to wonder, what would happen if a young teen girl, like that one student i had- the one who had no impulse control because she had fetal alcohol effect- what if someone like her was here in this rest stop in the middle of night?  what if her friends, hiding out in an station wagon, told her to try to steal a purse from that wealthy looking white woman going into the restroom with a coach bag?  what if the girl did try to do this, but ended up getting abandoned by her friends when they took off after the white lady inadvertently gave the girl a black eye by opening the bathroom stall quickly just as the girl was reaching over the door to take her purse off the hook?  what if that woman wasn't rich at all- but had to borrow her dead mother's handbag because she had lost hers in the airport on her way to her mother's funeral?  and what if these two characters wind up having to drive 500 miles together because the woman wanted desperately to try to save this girl and because the girl wanted just be somewhere else than where she was?

really- that is so much more interesting than "what if i had joined the peace corp in college?"

all i ever wanted to do was tell stories, write stories.  i've done lots of other things and enjoyed them- but right here, write here- this is how i process life, share life, enjoy life.  no one ever denied me this.  except me.

that's the real rub.

somewhere i decided that being a writer wasn't enough.  solid enough?  or that i wasn't good enough?  i don't know, but my muse mutated slowly over time so that instead of writing stories that fed my soul she just spun stories tearing myself apart.

i wonder if other people do this twisting thing to their gifts.  i wonder if the person who carves designs into their skin is yearning to sculpt marble.  i wonder if we hide from our passion because we fear that it will be too much, so we try to squash it down into something that fits this small vision of ourselves that we've been sold for so long.  this idea that whatever we do has to eventually be judged or have value.

the ways we flatten ourselves- and the ways we learn to grow back into that multi-dimensional being- those are the stories i love to hear, the stories i want to tell.   it is the story that i am living.  right now, write now.