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Cool Announcement Coming Soon... For Now, Lessons from the Garden

Table w coreopsis

 It's hot today, with the thermometer already at 94 degrees and steadily climbing. So I'm inside, working on a cool announcement I'll be making this week, hopefully. In the meantime, here are some pics of my garden. 

I keep moving my household to different homes, so I haven't been able to get to the point of a well-established garden yet, but the upside is that I've experimented a lot. It's fun and creative in a different way than writing. I love playing with the color and texture of leaves and flowers, growing my own food, and the challenges and victories of a totally organic garden. I've rescued many a rose and turned lackluster yards into whimsical retreats. I always leave a place better than it was when I found it.

Rose swirl

Like many of you, I'm sure, I often feel emotionally shredded by dismal environmental news, like bee colony collapse. I'm very sad to have witnessed the reduction in the numbers of butterflies in my lifetime. So much of that feels outside my control, but the garden is all mine. I plant the flowers the bees and butterflies like, and my own hands are the only weedkillers. 

Chive flowers w bee

The garden is great therapy, too. I know I feel restored when I can putter around out there planting, relocating, deadheading, trimming, and the like. But did you know there's scientific evidence that gardens really do reduce depression? There's a microbe in the soil that could actually improve your coping ability, according to this study. Mice exposed to the microbe were much less likely to give up trying to find an exit route when submerged in water (sucky thing to do to mice, though). So working in a garden might actually make you better able to escape the next time you feel in danger or trapped, or at least find a solution to your next big problem!

Other studies show that the microbiome of your garden can be good for your gut. And since we seem to be finding out more and more how important gut health is for general wellbeing, it's safe to say a little dirt can do you good.

As soon as it cools off, I'm going to pick some arugula for dinner. (I love that pungent green, which works well in both stir-fries and salads.) Happy Sunday!




How to Visit Seattle Like a Native Even If You're a Newcomer


On a recent trip to Seattle, I asked my husband to ask me a question, any question. This is a good way to keep things interesting in a long relationship, as you learn something new every time, even if you've been together for years and think you've heard each other's stories already. He asked, "Of all your journalistic articles, which one do you think is your best?" Funny thing, I didn't even have to think about it. 

It's been almost a decade now since I wrote for the new media web site Crosscut. A for-profit startup back then, the skeleton crew of publishers and editors had high ambition that we were going to save journalism. Of course, that was a tall order during a time of massive newsroom layoffs, many papers across the country swallowed up by larger entities or simply folding. But Crosscut is a thriving non-profit now, and I moved on to writing games and books.

During those heady years of '07 to '09, I served as deputy editor and wrote more than 60 articles for Crosscut. Two of them stand out as my best, or at least my favorite, as it's hard to be objective about one's own writing. They're both travel pieces, which surprises me, as I'm not particularly well-traveled, although I've certainly lived in a lot of places. Both express a joy for local travel in and around Seattle. I share them with you now to help inspire your own travel to the Emerald City, my beloved home for a decade. Both excursions are still do-able today; Agua Verde is alive and well, as is Kalaloch, though I suspect they've since swanked the place up. 

 A newcomer goes kayaking

Agua verde

Six years in the Northwest and I’d never set butt in a kayak. Not that this should be that surprising. I know people who’ve been here for 20 years and haven’t so much as touched a kayak’s plastic skin. A friend of mine in her 30s who’s lived here all her life hasn’t been on a floating vessel of any kind except for the bridges and ferries.

But I used to edit Fishermen’s News, a gig that gave me access to 100-year-old halibut schooners and 100-foot ocean trawlers. I live in Ballard, where one sees intrepid kayakers come through the locks on a regular basis. There was no excuse.

On the kind of freakishly warm, sunny day in late September that makes Seattleites feel as if they’re getting away with something illicit, the hub and I went down to Agua Verde Paddle Club to brave the waters of Portage Bay.

| Kayakers look free, but they look awfully vulnerable, too.

At the check-in counter, they make you sign a release form. There’s nothing like a release form to up the anxiety meter. Not that I was feeling anxious. OK, a little. The kayaks are small and sit atop the surface of the water, and the ships passing by are very large in comparison. Kayakers look free, but they look awfully vulnerable, too. My kayaking experience thus far in 36 years of existence was limited to the waters off Miami, which were warm as a bath, and a basin in the Florida Keys where the water was actually hot. This Puget Sound water is so cold, I can’t stand to be in it further up than my knees, during the hottest part of the summer — you know, that one week in August when you partially break a sweat.

To say that I had a healthy regard for the realities of the situation would be euphemistically accurate. To say that I had a perhaps paranoiac fear of the water wouldn’t be inaccurate...

[Continue reading at Crosscut.]

It's stormy, and the Pacific coast beckons


Seventy-three miles long but just a few miles wide, the ocean beaches of Olympic National Park in Washington have been — miraculously — left wild. There are no fried fish stands, no motels; no one beckons you to parasail or buy a hot dog. You are not to drive your car along the beach as is done with scandalous complacency just 20 miles or so to the south. To get to most of Olympic’s beaches, you must be willing to work, to walk in sturdy shoes for some time, and to climb a bluff or two, perhaps pulling yourself along by the fixed ropes provided for your safety. You must pay attention to the changing tides, as the beach may be for hundreds of feet decidedly walkable when you wake up in the morning, the sand seeming to stretch with flat, mirror-like grace to the far retreating surf, only to, by afternoon, disappear under the swirl and toss of water against the base of a bluff. The beach is there, and then it’s not.

| The beach is there, and then it’s not.

Visitors flock to Olympic National Park in ever increasing numbers — visitation grew 10 percent this past year over last – but a trip during off-season is a good way to avoid crowds and experience the beach in its wildest state. The hub and I stayed at Kalaloch Lodge over a three-day weekend in late fall, when the lodge had ample vacancy, and we nearly had the beach to ourselves, especially after sunset.

The Quinault word “kalaloch” means “a good place to land,” and that utilitarian mindset still characterizes it. Kalaloch Lodge is no high-end resort; nor is it a gem in the national park lodge tradition. Disabuse yourself of any vision that includes a massage, stone fireplace, 300-thread-count sheets, or complimentary cotton robe. The accommodations are old-school and basic. Not rustic – you’ll find showers, alarm clocks, and coffee makers in most rooms. But you won’t find a TV, phone, or wi-fi. The furnishings and decor are several decades out of date, and that’s not such a bad thing...

[Continue reading at Crosscut.]

I hope your travels are full of wonder and discovery. Happy Memorial Day!

All photos by me, with the driftwood image appearing previously on Crosscut. Want to read more of my articles for Crosscut? Visit the author page.

What's the Motive? Ellen King Rice


Debut author Ellen King Rice explores the mysterious world of mushrooms in this "What's the Motive?" post. A former wildlife biologist, Rice discusses epigenetics and the genesis of her character Edna Morton, who one day begins to sprout feathers.

Ellen King Rice:

Proteins. That was my motive. Thank goodness for you, dear reader, I wasn’t interested in high fiber at all (your inner life of fiber is, please, Dear God, your business). For years I’ve been curious: why don’t we see people breaking out in feathers? Feathers, after all, are made of the protein keratin. We produce one type of keratin in our fingernails and hair, so why, oh why, couldn’t a ‘mature' lady break out in angelic feathers instead of coarse chin hairs?

From my years as a biologist, I knew that all life is in a state of constant experimentation. We also know that there are ancient pictographs showing people with wings. Is it possible that there have already been people with feathers? Could that be the origin of our angel stories? 

As I mulled over the idea of modern bodies changing to produce a new protein, I realized I would need a trigger for this new pathway. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider before changing into Spiderman. What could I use? 

One day I was making my tortuously slow ambulation out to the mailbox when I saw a flush of mushrooms peeking out from the undergrowth. Hmm. Could mushrooms trigger anything in a person? I went inside, mulling this idea. A few minutes of Internet searching and . . .  Holy Mother of God! Fungi are everywhere! (There are molds in the shower with you when you are naked and alone. Very creepy.) Not only are there millions of species of molds, yeasts, and mushrooms lurking everywhere, but some of the species absolutely have the ability to unspool dormant portions of human DNA. I had my trigger. 

I began writing The EvoAngel in 2011. It was a stop-and-go process because a very new science was unfolding daily in the news: epigenetics. All DNA for all species has the ability to respond to environmental changes--and the really gobsmacking amazing thing? Once a DNA section is activated or stored, that change can be passed down to subsequent generations. I was writing a gallop through the woods of the Pacific Northwest as a fun thing to do. The more I learned about epigenetics, the more I realized how important it is for everyone to understand this new science. 

Ever beat yourself up? Ever struggled to lose weight, be happy, quit drinking soda pop, or be less anxious? There can be a genetic aspect of each of these struggles--and, even more powerful to know, is that the responsible genetic switches can be jiggled from “on” to “off.” This is huge for mankind. It means that many things that have been regarded as “moral failings” are, instead, part of our cell structure. Furthermore, we don’t have to surrender to the situation. We can take charge and change--and we can do so in ways that will make our descendants healthier and stronger. 

Alas, some of the science is more than a little tedious (Go ahead. Try murmuring “DNA methylation at the Cytosine juncture” into the ears of your beloved and see if you garner anything more than snores.) If I was going to keep readers interest on the science of feathers, mushrooms and epigenetics I clearly needed...lots of sex. Oh, dear. Could I really manage that? Hmm. Villains could help. So might a large adorable dog. 

Buoyed by the reality that barnacles really do have an inflatable penis that is fifty times longer than the average barnacle body, I did my best to add in enough sex, villainy and puppy charm to keep the pages turning.

The end result is a story about an elderly mushroom hunter, Edna Morton, who has sprouted a feather. A trip to the local health clinic exposes her to an ambitious and aggressive physician who wants to take control of Edna and research this new biological oddity. The EvoAngel is a good gallop through the woods of the Pacific Northwest. It is part adventure, part science class, and totally fungi-friendly. My motive is to change the way you see your body and your world while making you laugh, gasp, and blink. All these things go well with a glass of wine and a slice of cheese, so prepare yourself and let’s begin...

Review The EvoAngel on Amazon.

Follow Ellen King Rice on Facebook.

Ellen King Rice photo

Ellen King Rice is a former wildlife biologist whose fieldwork was ended by a back injury. She has reinvented herself as a writer, artist, and chocolate tester. Besides Amazon, her book can be found in Olympia-area retailers Orca Books, Island Market, and Bay Mercantile. She hosts Mushroom Tuesdays on Facebook. See for more.


Writing Locally

Debbie Rosas at Embody
 I covered a local fitness guru's master class for our local paper.

Over the past year I've really been drawn to unique stories in my newly adopted small-town, rural community. I've published pieces with both LewisTalk and The Chronicle, on topics ranging from a 65-year-old yogi to the story of how two guys took their family inheritance and used it to open... a bong shop.

I found through this process that it's generally good to be friendly and invite conversation, especially if you're a writer, as you never know where a good story is hiding. My thing has always been to ask a lot of questions, no matter where I am or with whom I'm talking. Not many people do this anymore--sometimes I think conversation is a dying art--so when you do, it really stands out. And you uncover stories.

Like this one about a mom-and-pop organic, grass-fed cattle ranch. If my husband and I hadn't asked around about local sources of protein, we'd have missed out on their story--and their beef.

The bong shop story grew out of another one I wrote, about a yarn-and-cheese shop. I noticed a sign that said, "Coming Soon: The Jackal," so I asked the yarn-and-cheese shop owners about it, since they're across-the-street neighbors. They of course had heard the rumors, and in the polite way people have here, they said it would be "interesting" to see how that experiment worked out. I was intrigued. When I interviewed the owners, I kept asking questions in my non-threatening way to get into how they came up with the funds for the bong shop, which turned out to be the story's lede.

Some writers might turn their noses up at this kind of work, but I have nothing to prove. I wrote regularly for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer when it still published a print version (interviewing celebrities, even), and I've been told my bio is impressive. Both outlets paid me for the work, I enjoyed writing the stories, and I'll likely use that experience and material in another way sometime, too.

What stories have you uncovered lately? 

Embodying Good Health


My husband and I, at the peak of our acroyoga practice.

I've been writing weekly wellness articles for a local "movement studio" where students can take yoga, a sensory-based dance class called Nia, tribal belly dancing, and meditation. I'm a member of Embody and can be found there nearly every day. The owner is running a 90-day fitness program, and the articles I'm writing are part of an exclusive newsletter for those who sign up for the challenge.

Ironically, I've been sick nearly the whole time I've been writing these. Along with a number of others I know in the community, I succumbed to a bug that doesn't seem that bad at first, just a cold, but then it takes up residence in your lungs and won't leave. 

The struggle to write about wellness while feeling not-so-well aside, I've enjoyed tackling topics that are near and dear to me. These have ranged from how to create a network of support for your physical practice to the health dangers of sitting. Because I've practiced yoga in studios for about 15 years now, I bring that experience to bear on my subjects. For example, in this piece on the emotional component of integrated movement practices, I reflect on the multitude of expression I've witnessed and experienced in my classes:

Once a woman who reeked of cigarettes plopped down on her mat during a Bikram yoga class and refused to get back up. She lay there, heavily breathing through the rest of the 90-minute sequence, tears streaming down her face. In vinyasa yoga, I've heard people giggling uncontrollably, or making satisfying 'mmm' noises. I once shared a class with soldiers who'd recently returned from war, and there was an audible moan coming from more than one of them. I've seen--and I've felt--anger, sweetness, pain, happiness, struggle, release; in short, the full spectrum of human emotion.

It's something to be tasked with providing health advice to others. As I've researched, interviewed, and thought about wellness issues, I've learned a lot, too. For me the biggest challenge is in the area of self-acceptance. I should give myself the assignment to read my own article on this topic at least once a day, because it's easy to forget that skinny does not equate to healthy and that weight might actually be a sign of health. It's kind of ridiculous that we have trouble wrapping our minds around this since other cultures embrace these concepts naturally. But damn, is it hard not to judge that body in the mirror when it doesn't conform to societal stereotypes.

The best part of writing that piece, by the way, was including my stepson in it. He LOVED the tribute.

Those of you who read my blog regularly know I've discovered the benefits of living close to my food source here in rural Washington, where I've purchased grass-fed, organic beef, pasture-bred lamb, and of course, organic vegetables right from the producer. I've spent more time than most thinking about food due to allergic sensitivities, and it was gratifying to share my insights in the newsletter devoted to healthy eating. I think it really is as simple as these five rules: 

  1. Avoid Food Fads
  2. Eat Close to the Source
  3. Go for Variety
  4. Lifestyle Changes, Not Diets
  5. The Key Is Prep

Since I'm not a biological mother myself, I had to step outside both my comfort zone and my own experience when I wrote about how your physical practice can carry you through the life stages. It was fascinating to hear Embody Owner Christina Wolf discuss how she juggled opening her studio and becoming a new mother at the same time. Because I'm here at life's middle stage facing the aging process myself, that one was more accessible.

We have just a few weeks to go in the challenge. Next I'll be writing about the histories of Nia and yoga, as well as the importance of sleep and how to keep going once the challenge ends.

There's a true sense of community at Embody. While I've been a part of yoga studios in the past where the owners and teachers pay lip service to "community," but you could practice there for years and not really feel it, Embody's community is genuine. Maybe that's because the small-town setting fosters it naturally, but I also think it's because people here really mean it.


Who Needs Eggs?


Nobody, that’s who. And what a radical declaration that is! I bet the powerful egg lobby is marking a red X by my name as I type this.

What I’ve realized so far in my egg-free diet is that I don’t need them. Just. Don’t. Need. Eggs.

But of course, when I’d found out that once again, eggs were showing up as a major allergen for me, I kind of flipped out, and not just because eggs are such a staple of the American diet. 

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, you see, I’d discovered that I can bake.

I’ve never been a baker. I’m old enough to be correctly referred to as middle-aged, and I’ve mildly enjoyed cooking on occasion, but for most of my adult life I’ve lived in cities with great restaurants and bakeries and was more than happy to patronize them, saving myself the trouble.

So it surprised me when, nostalgic for my mother’s sweet potato pie, I whipped up a couple of them. From scratch. Yeah, including the crust.


What a blast that was, making those pies. From rolling out the dough to creating a pudding-like sweet potato filling out of golden yellow potatoes to seeing my husband and stepson scarf them down.

It was my first attempt, and they came out AMAZING. It was as if baking were in my genes. 

And I guess it is. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and she was more into baking than cooking. It seemed like she was always in the kitchen, baking cookies or pies or cakes. When I started rolling out the dough for my own sweet potato pie, I was awash in memories of helping my mother in the kitchen. But it's not just that she baked under the mom designation. She also spent the last twenty years working at a bakery.

I don’t want you to romanticize this, picturing some quaint little bakery where my mother happily decorated birthday cakes, exercising her creativity to her heart’s content. The bakery was inside the Scott Air Force Base commissary. The work was physically hard. Picture industrial-sized racks of buns being pulled out of ovens by a five-foot-one woman who’s old enough to retire but can’t afford to. Fortunately, she's no longer working there.

Please don’t romanticize my relationship with my mother, either. For most of my adult life, it’s been a struggle. Her life "ain't been no crystal stair,” to quote Langston Hughes, and she's had a lot to work through. So have I.

We’ve only recently enjoyed a new closeness, and this shared baking was part of it. So when the no-egg mandate came down, I felt the loss.

That is, until I realized what my mother had taught me. “Baking is chemistry,” she’d say. “All the ingredients come together to make something that looks nothing like the ingredients did on their own.”

So after returning from Walla Walla for the holidays, where I couldn’t eat a single cookie or piece of pie, I marched into the kitchen on a mission.

I read on the side of my package of flax meal that you could mix it with water to create something called flax eggs. Skeptical at first, I tried flax meal mixed with a banana for breakfast, and it did create a kind of porridge.

First I baked cocoa cherry cookies, making a pudding with flax meal, applesauce, blackstrap molasses, and corn starch with hemp milk and water to substitute for eggs as a binder. This first time out, I discovered something incredible: Eggs are just a slimy substance. You don’t need them! Just find another slimy substance!


They were delicious but gave me problems because the flour I used was “gluten-free” and made out of garbanzo beans. I’m allergic to white and green beans, so I guessed that meant no garbanzo either. Yeah, I’m gluten-free as well, which makes this whole egg-free thing even more of a challenge.

After that, I switched to other flours: hazelnut, brown rice, and corn. Everything has turned out beautifully, without a single mishap. I made a carrot cake that was the consistency of brownies for my husband’s birthday, and I made pancakes that held together perfectly. For my pinnacle achievement, I reserved the slimy liquid that cooks off a pan of cactus planks and used it as a binder in cornbread muffins. They were moist and held together very well.

So there you have it. Who needs eggs? No one, as long as you’ve got mom on your side, and a little slime.


A Requiem for the Egg


I can write about anything I want here on the blog, so today, it’s eggs. Or rather, the absence of them, from my diet.

This is Day 39 for me on an elimination diet, with eggs at the top of the list of foods that have been cut. Two of the others are what you’d expect: Gluten (I can hear you groaning) and dairy. But then there’s also almonds (no other nuts, just almonds), clams (no other seafood, just clams) and beans (definitely navy and green, and maybe more).

It’s a quirky list. I have 21 more days to go.

But today I want to talk about eggs. Because EGGS. Seriously, people. Eggs. Do you think you could go without eggs for very long? Close your eyes and think about everything you’ve eaten in the past week that contained eggs. I’m not just talking about the Big American Breakfast but also all the baked goods in the world and pad thai and stir fries and even hard candy, can you believe it, hard candy. Yeah. Now you see what I mean.

A special note to vegans: I see you sitting there all smug, saying to yourself that you’ve got this no-egg thing down. But did you notice the rest of my list? Can you do without eggs AND beans AND gluten? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

You over there, looking at me with duck-egg eyes. Nope. Don’t even go there. I’m off all eggs. Probably even emu.

(Yes, people eat emu. There’s a ranch not far from my house.)

So you can see my predicament. This egg thing isn’t something I pulled out of the air, either. Over the years, I’ve had two blood tests plus a skin-scratch test consistently show a high reaction to eggs.

The first blood test was taken after I’d been on a self-selected diet of only fruit, vegetables, rice, and meat, plus eggs. Essentially, I’d eliminated all of the standard food allergens EXCEPT eggs. Why? I don’t know. Maybe denial. 

In an attempt to eliminate symptoms, I had been going off the results of the allergy skin scratch test I’d had nearly a decade before, in 2002. (This allergy issue has plagued me my whole life.) Everyone knows by now that the skin scratch tests aren’t very reliable, and that one showed me allergic to pretty much everything. I guess I chose to ignore the egg portion of “everything.”

But what’s really curious is that after that blood test came back in 2011, and I’d completed a yearlong egg abstention, I returned to eating eggs again.

It could be that the one food I really should never eat is the one food I apparently will continue to eat to the point of self-delusion. I had two allergy tests identify eggs, and I reverted back to eating them after each go with the elimination diet.

Eggs. I love them. Poached, fried, sunny-side up, whipped into quiches and meringues, placed atop a Korean bibimbap, snuggling cheese and veggies as an omelet blanket. I love a runny yolk, sopped up with toast. I look forward to Easter for the hardboiled eggstravaganza (you knew that word would work its way in eventually, right?) When I was a kid, it was eggs with ketchup. We ate a lot of foods back then that weren’t good for you or that didn’t even taste all that good, but eggs weren’t one of them.

In my defense, I had a conspirator in my delusion. I’d begun to see an acupuncturist, who was convinced after he was done with me, I’d be able to eat “anything.” He put me on a cleanse, and after I completed it, I had a new eating plan, eggs included. I tried to tell him I was supposedly allergic to eggs, but he wasn’t having it.

He was great help in getting me off an inhaler, and on that new eating plan plus running every day, I was a weight I enjoy being. But my symptoms never really went away.

So, I switched acupuncturists. My new one wasn’t convinced of my egg allergy either but said I wasn’t eating enough protein. That was a watershed for me. While more recently, I'd eaten meat, I'd never fully embraced a meat-eater's existence. I’d been a vegetarian for 13 years, and a vegan a good portion of that, and you know, I just don’t really like meat. It was a struggle, but I upped my protein intake. This helped more than anything, as I’ve written about previously. All of my symptoms cleared up.

…At least for a while. But then last summer, I had symptoms again, some new, some old. Hence the latest blood test and quirky list of foods to avoid.

When this latest test came back a high positive for eggs, I kind of flipped out. I thought maybe since I’d eliminated it twice before in my life, for significant periods of time, and health-care providers I trusted seemed to think I could eat them again, that I was fine. But apparently not.

You don’t hear about egg allergies much; it’s not as common as say, a peanut allergy, or a gluten sensitivity. A lot of those gluten-free foods I can’t eat by the way because they’re loaded with eggs, which act as a binder in the absence of gluten. 

Crazy, the power of eggs. Note not one but two acupuncturists totally spaced on the egg-allergy thing for me, despite the test history.

But my new small-town acupuncturist/naturopath, who seems a bit bemused by the quirkiness of my allergen list, declared a moratorium on eggs for two months, and possibly longer.

So there I was at the beginning of the Season of Baked Goods, with a no-egg death sentence.

To find out how I survived this ordeal, check back on the blog next Monday for “Who Needs Eggs?”


For All the Knit-Wits


A gathering of knitters at Ewe & I.

I'm not a knitter, but I'm fascinating with the tribe. The craft is very popular with women, young and old, and some men seem to find the work soothing as well. 

Cheese, though, I'm all over that stuff. So when a new store opened up in my small town that paired yarn and cheese, I had to check it out. They're both the products of sheep, so it totally makes sense to pair them, if you keep animal products close to their source. 

Here's my latest article for LewisTalk:


To the uninitiated, yarn and cheese might seem like an odd pairing for a retail space. That is, until you realize that the two come from the same animal.

Meg and Brad Gregory have been raising sheep on their Adna farm for 11 years. This husband-and-wife team is best known for the Black Sheep Creamery cheese label, which can be found in Lewis County stores and farmer’s markets.

But now you can buy the signature sheep’s milk cheese at their store in downtown Chehalis as well, where you’ll be treated to tasting samples, a full coffee bar, and of course, a wall of yarn. Read More


Born-Again Meat Eater


An old friend came to visit recently and was shocked to find out that I eat meat. Back when we met in the early 1990s, I was the first vegan he'd ever known. 

My friend had recently adopted a vegetarian lifestyle himself, but when I offered him beef made from grass-fed, organic, humanely- and locally-raised cows, he accepted. A nice, juicy hamburger is hard to turn down once you've removed the ethical stumbling blocks.

My food journey has been a bumpy one. I grew up a meat-eater like everyone else I knew and didn't meet a vegetarian until my high-school best friend became one. She was a strong influence on my decision to give up meat entirely, once I left home for college.

It was easy for me to make the transition. I'd always felt "meat squeamish," and considering the low-quality meat my struggling family of six could afford, such as cheese hot dogs and hamburger with bits of bone, it's not hard to see why. Away at college, I had access to an astoundingly good vegetarian restaurant called The Sunshine Inn, and my activist friends were either vegetarians themselves or at least flirting with the lifestyle. I went from vegetarianism to veganism, only missing the cheese.

But the problem was, those 13 years of the no-meat lifestyle were my sickest years. I bounced from one upper respiratory infection to another and constantly struggled with hay fever. I was diagnosed with asthma and went on an inhaler. Heartburn and acid reflux were regular occurrences. I suffered digestive issues as well.

By 2002, I wound up in an allergist's office after a severe reaction to soy. He put me on a restrictive diet, but without meat in the equation, that meant only vegetables and rice. He urged me to eat lean meat, a little turkey and chicken.

So I did.

And I immediately felt better.

Most of my symptoms went away for a time, but then they came back as my diet broadened again. It wasn't until recently that an acupuncturist had me keep a meal-by-meal diary and pointed out I still wasn't getting enough protein. 

This time I went whole hog, so to speak, working to get protein at every meal. I found out on my honeymoon in Barcelona that I felt better than ever on a diet of sustainably-produced, mostly local meat, cheese, yogurt, vegetables and fruit, with a few whole grains.

This year, for the first time in my life, I got to experience spring without hay fever, and I've stopped needing to use an inhaler. The digestive issues have mostly cleared up as well. Admittedly, there are other factors, such as the fact that I now work from home where I'm less exposed to fluorescent lights and the toxins of the average workplace. But I believe diet has a lot to do with my greater equilibrium.

When I moved to farm country, I realized I could buy meat right from the producer, and that's helped ease my squeamishness. Fascinated by their long-term commitment to sustainability before that was even a thing, I wrote a piece for LewisTalk about my source for local beef:

Paul and Dalene Olson have been in the organic business since before there was one. The husband-and-wife team have lived and worked on their family farm near Chehalis since the 1970s. “We’ve always followed safe field and animal practices,” Dalene explains. “We only used treatments when absolutely necessary and stayed away from commercial fertilizers and herbicides. We’ve never used hormones.” Read More

I sometimes get snide looks or comments from vegetarians who think they're superior or smarter or stronger for being able to adopt a diet I can't, even when I can see they might be suffering from food-related illnesses as well. It's ironic. I spent the first half of my life dealing with conservative bullies who criticized my vegetarianism, and it looks like I'll spend the next half dealing with liberal bullies who criticize my meat-eating.

As for the ranchers and I, we're well aware of the poignancy in the circle of life here. Being able to meet the cows that will be your dinner puts you ever mindfully in touch with it, and raising them yourself does so all the more. Folks here often say they are "harvesting" animals, the same as the squash. Both are tended to with care. In the words of the rancher:

“Probably the hardest thing for us is sending the animals for processing,” says Dalene. “A person works so hard to keep the animals alive and healthy, and it can be hard to finish the process by turning them into meat for consumption.”

Wine and Needles

I've got some talented, inspirational family in Walla Walla. During a recent trip there, I got to tour not one cool place but two: Tertulia Cellars and Thompson Acupuncture.

Tertulia Cellars is staffed by my brother-in-law Thomas, my husband's little brother. After a long career as an indie rocker, Thomas went back to his home town to study viniculture, and he's been deep in the wine barrel ever since. 

Thomas took us behind-the-scenes where they process and ferment the grapes. Thomas' work is very hands-on, and yes, it involves some sampling to get the process just right.

Although Tertulia is a small, boutique winery, in my head I kept contrasting it with the Adam Puchta Winery I toured in Missouri, with its old-fashioned, hand-cranked equipment. Adam Puchta is the oldest continually operated winery in the country. Not many people know this, but Missouri was the first wine district established in the U.S. Compared to the Adam Puchta Winery I remember from the early 90s, Tertulia seemed sleek and modern.

Thomas and Tino Wine1 Green5

Of course, as much as I think back fondly on my Missouri wine-sipping days, I know those grapes and the quality of the wine aren't on par with the world-class wine made in the Walla Walla Valley today. We tried wines at both Tertulia and Mansion Creek Cellars, which keeps a small tasting room in the Marcus Whitman Hotel in town.

The barrels are distinct, and pretty much the same as they were when wine was introduced in this country by Thomas Jefferson. Yeah, that Thomas Jefferson. Here's my gorgeous hunk of a husband among them:


And me, too.

Me and tino barrels

At Tertulia, wine is taken very seriously. There's even a lab:


I've always liked that word, "mouthfeel."


Because wine weaves its way through everything in Walla Walla, we attended a chamber music concert one night, and it took place inside Pepper Bridge Winery. This "portrait of an artist" featured a soloist on harp. Memorably, she covered "Stairway to Heaven."

Speaking of music, Thomas has returned to the stage recently as the bass player for the Poetry Assassins. In another life, he's also the Mighty Malbec Man.


Thompson Family Acupuncture is the brainchild of my sister-in-law, Lindsey Thompson (aka, Thomas' wife). She was an artist and snowboarding instructor before finding her calling in this Chinese healing practice with ancient roots.


Let me just say that if it weren't for Lindsey, I'd still be on inhalers and allergy meds and casting around for a diet that might heal my gut. Before I met her, I thought I was vehemently opposed to acupuncture... because NEEDLES. 

But her passion, knowledge, and conviction won me over, not to mention her assurance that the needles were so thin I wouldn't even feel them. And she was right. I was lucky to get a couple of cracker-jack acupuncturists in Seattle, and over a year of treatments, my allergies, asthma, and digestive issues cleared up.

Lindsey and I talk about acupuncture often, and I find the Chinese philosophy behind it especially fascinating. Lindsey writes a blog about her work called Stick Out Your Tongue, where I'm always learning something new. For example, there's a specially designed cup she can use on your jaw to treat TMJ.

This photo by Brittany Yunker. All others by Lisa Brunette.

I'm proud of Lindsey for starting her own business and couldn't wait to see her office, which turned out to be a gem of a space. It's in a mid-century modern building that is so cute, not only would I go there for treatment; I'd live there!



I commented on her use of orange and blue paint, which seemed to both awaken and soothe the senses, and Lindsey explained she'd done some research on the psychological effects of color before making her choices.

Her practice has really taken off, and it's easy to see why. I'd let Lindsey stick needles in me any day.

Now if we could just figure out a way to combine wine and acupuncture...


Cat in the Flock Excerpt: Training with Granny Grace


Chapter 2

Cat was sitting in full lotus, with both legs crossed, a foot resting on top of either thigh. It was a position she had never been able to do; she knew right away she was dreamslipping in her grandmother's dream. All around her on the floor were bills Granny Grace couldn't pay: the heating bill, another in an exorbitant amount for her cell phone, a medical bill, and others, along with receipts for the money she continued to give to charity. But Cat could feel that she shared her grandmother's thoughts and attitudes in the dream, as if her and her grandmother's minds were fused, so despite the bills, she felt at peace. In front of her was a Buddha statue, and in his palm were coins. He winked and said, "Bless the bills, my Grace. Bless them."

Then the paper bills on the ground around her morphed into hundreds of butterflies--orange and black monarchs and viceroys, pale yellow swallowtails, iridescent blue sulphurs, and delicate cabbage whites. They flew up and covered the Buddha statue, where they sat flexing their wings in the sun. She watched them there, a feeling of peace flooding through her. Then the butterflies rose into the air as if they were one being, circled around her for a time, and then flew off into a ray of sunlight.

Cat woke early, still on St. Louis time and worried about her grandmother's financial situation, despite the odd feeling of peace the dream gave her. Was the dream accurate? Was Granny Grace having financial trouble? She tiptoed down the hall to her grandmother's study. She knew she shouldn't snoop, but the quiet in the house told her Granny Grace was still asleep, and she would have to do a bit of detective work on this one, as her grandmother wouldn't tell her the truth even if she asked. Granny Grace had an overdeveloped sense of pride; she carried herself well and was never one to accept help but was always helping others. Cat certainly had no intention of sponging off her grandmother forever, but if she were having financial trouble, there was no way Cat was going to accept her help in getting the PI firm started, no matter what cryptic, New Agey messages Granny Grace got from the Buddha.

Cat was seated at a rolltop desk, absorbed in the saga of her grandmother's financial life and didn't hear the septuagenarian enter the room behind her.

"I thought you came here to train as a PI, not serve as my personal bookkeeper," Granny Grace said.

Cat turned with a start. "Gran, why didn't you tell me about this?" She held up the cell phone bill, which included calls all over the world, with a balance upwards of five hundred dollars, most of which were past due amounts carried over.

"My cell phone habits are none of your concern, granddaughter," said Granny Grace, ripping the phone bill out of Cat's hands. "Besides, I'm in negotiations with them right now to get that lowered. They're going to fold it under a special 'international friends and family' plan."

"Grandmother," Cat said sternly. "You're giving money away, and at the same time, your bills are piling up." Cat pulled out the statement from her financial advisor. "And judging by this, your investment accounts took a huge hit."

Granny Grace ripped that statement out of her hand, too. "This is none of your business, Cat. And you should know better than to use a dream this way. You've got a lot to learn."

Cat took a step back, realizing how far over the line she had crossed. "You're right," she said. "I'm sorry. Let me make you breakfast, and we can calm down and talk."

She toasted sourdough bread and put out preserves, butter, a bowl of fruit, and a pot of tea. Her hunger satiated and her grandmother cooled down and seated across from her, Cat had to ask, "What exactly does 'SPOETS' stand for? You gave them a couple hundred last year." 

"Specialist Pogoists of East Tacoma," Granny Grace quipped. 

"Grandmother," Cat groaned. "Be serious."

"Sound Patternists of Elementary Tea Services." 

Cat giggled, and Granny Grace smiled. "They're a group of citizens devoted to the study of the largest earthworm in North America," she said.

Cat stared at her. "Earthworm?"

"That's right," she replied. "It's the Society for the Protection of Earthworm Triticales Somas."

"Triticales somas?"

"Yeah. T. somas. That's the Latin name. I'll have you know it's several feet long and almost as wide. It lives entirely underground on the Washington Palouse."

"I didn't know you had a soft spot for earthworms."

"Only this one. It's special. Not to say the ones you use in your garden aren't special as well, but this one is unique."

"But Granny Grace, why didn't you tell me you were having trouble?"

"I'm not. Weren't you there, in the dream, Cat? I could feel your presence. So you know that bills are to be blessed."

Cat wouldn't be put off so easily. She pressed her grandmother further. "But why do you give so much away when you're not in a position to do that? You gave another small amount to a group that studies a rare type of moss that only grows on the eastern side of the Olympic Mountains. And the Dykes with Bikes? Do they really need your help? I think there's even a Bisexual Basket-Weaving Bar Mitzvah group in the mix."

"Oh, I only wish. If there's one thing a bar mitzvah could use, it's more bisexuals weaving baskets." Granny Grace crossed her arms and leaned forward on the table. "Look, Cat. I'm seventy-seven years old. This karmic approach to money has held me in good stead for many years. You get back what you put out in life. It works. You wait and see."

"Okay, but listen," Cat said. "You told me I could stay here for free and that I wouldn't have to work while I trained for the PI exam. But I don't think that's practical. I can't do that. I'm going to get a job."

"You'll be putting everything off that way," Granny Grace countered.

"There's no way I can let you support me," Cat said. "I'll keep training with you and working toward my goal, but I'm going to pay my own way." She nodded her head affirmatively, as if to seal the deal.

"Well, if you insist..." her grandmother replied.

"I insist," Cat said. 

There was a long silence while they sipped their tea before Granny Grace changed the subject in a tone that meant she was resuming Cat's training there and then.

"You broke the first rule of dreamslipping this morning," she said. "Don't ever use the information gleaned from a dream to invade the privacy of someone you love."

"But isn't dreamslipping by its very nature already an invasion of privacy?"

"Yes, it is," Granny Grace said, a shadow of sadness flickering across her face. "Why do you think I live alone? That's why you can't ever use what you learn like that again. I know you were doing it with concern in your heart, but you crossed a line."

"I'm sorry," Cat said.

Granny Grace reached over and squeezed her chin. "Don't be sorry, Cat. Just remember the rule."

"I will."

"Good. By the way, don't chide yourself for invading the privacy of your dreamers. That's a waste of time. This thing is involuntary--it's not like you can turn it off. Believe me, I've tried. That's why I call it dreamslipping. We can't help slipping into other people's dreams."

Cat sighed, feeling pressure inside her chest release. "Thank you for telling me that," she said.

"Our first appointment today is with a meditation guru," said Granny Grace, clapping her hands together. "Your training has begun."

The guru--Guru Dave was his name--held meditation classes on the top floor of a record store, so in addition to the singing bowls he employed, there were the ever-present strains of whatever music the clerks downstairs happened to be playing. For Cat's first class, it was polka music, which the hipsters must have been playing ironically. So when the guru asked her to empty her mind of everything and to cultivate nothingness, she couldn't help but picture a bunch of men in lederhosen and women dressed as Heidi hefting huge beer steins into the air.

When Guru Dave spoke, he drew out his syllables so that it took him twice as long as everyone else to say the same thing, but the effect on the listener was trancelike. "Let goooooooo of attaaaaaaaachment," he intoned. "Reeeeeleeeeease your eeeeeeegooooo."

The only thing Cat felt herself let go of was the contraction in her lower abs, the "root lock," as Guru Dave called it, which she was supposed to hold, it seemed, for an eternity.

At the end of class, which consisted of sitting cross-legged (Granny Grace was in full lotus, of course) till her lower back hurt and her brain was screaming insults at Guru Dave, he asked what insights she had to share with the rest of the class.

"The rhythm of life is in everything," Cat said. "Even beer."

Guru Dave thought this was profound, and Cat inadvertently became his star pupil. But nothing got past Granny Grace. After class, she teased Cat. "You've been to one too many Oktoberfests."

"I could use a little bit of the rhythm of life after that class," Cat said. "This tea isn't quite cutting it." They both burst out laughing.

That first couple of weeks in Seattle were a whirlwind for Cat. She accompanied Granny Grace to more meditation classes, and while nothing broke through her skepticism about them, she did find herself enjoying both the time to sit and think, as well as the strains of music from the store downstairs, which ran the gamut from classic rock to folk to R & B. They practiced yoga twice daily--an energetic round in the morning at a studio near the house and a slower style called yin that Granny Grace led in the Yoga Yolk each evening to wind down. 

Her grandmother also took her shopping, and over protests that they didn't have the money, she helped Cat create a wardrobe "more befitting a PI." Granny Grace had a knack for how to find deals at consignment shops, cobbling together a selection of well-made pieces with less expensive accessories, so that the overall look was sophisticated and fun.

There were more direct lessons in dreamslipping as well, but Granny Grace took her time. Instead of showing Cat how to do "fancy tricks," as Granny Grace called them, they were taking an inventory of Cat's dream life up till now, which for the most part meant excavating through some awkward revelations Cat had had about her various boyfriends and how the dreamslipping had interfered with her ability to have what she called "normal" relationships with them. For example, she'd dated an emotionally unavailable soccer player for far too long, mainly because he wasn't an active dreamer, and there were no issues to confront. Prior to that, she'd dated a psych student whose own dreams bordered on disturbing, and he was only too willing to spend hours analyzing them, to the point where Cat felt she should be charging him for her therapy services. 

"You can use the information in dreams to solve a mystery or catch a crook," Granny Grace said, "but healing someone like that--that's a different kind of work."

"Yeah, and I'm not cut out to be a psychotherapist," said Cat.

"It's really hard to know things about people that you can't talk about with them," said Granny Grace, as if she were thinking about her own past. But then she shook it off, changing the subject, and Cat didn't want to press her.

Cat also immediately set about looking for a job, with dismal results. She tried to find something as close to her chosen profession as possible. She sent out more than fifty résumés, interviewed with six recruiters, and heard nothing in return. She couldn't even get a part-time job at a supermarket, as the hiring manager there said she was overqualified and would be gone at the first opportunity. She sent résumés into the ether, and she imagined them evaporating into ones and zeroes in some large central database where bored clerks sat typing all day.

What finally got her a job were her grandmother's connections. 

Granny Grace took Cat to a fundraiser for one of her favorite charities, City Goats, which promoted goats as an alternative method for removing noxious weeds from vacant lots, as well as a more environmentally friendly way to trim back grass lawns. The fundraiser was at a hotel on the Seattle waterfront. Dale Chihuly glass sculptures tastefully referenced the shapes of goats everywhere you looked, from the horned chandelier above the ballroom to the bearded chin sinks in the bathroom. 

Granny Grace was busy networking for future PI clients; Cat could hear the melody of her laughter across the room. Cat took a breather from the talk to stand at the window facing the Sound. She watched as two green-and-white ferries, their lights reflected on the water, passed each other on their ways to and from Bainbridge Island. She remembered her first ferry ride in Seattle, when she and her parents came to visit when she was six. She thought Puget Sound was a river like the Mississippi, but it startled her for being so blue. The Mississippi was muddy, like coffee with lots of cream.

"We hear you're starting up Grace's PI firm again," said a voice that brought her back into the room. It was Simon Fletcher, one of her grandmother's best friends. Following close behind him as usual was his partner, Dave Bander. The two were never separated; they seemed to function in every respect as a unit. They both wore immaculate tuxedoes that looked tailor-made for them as opposed to rented, and both men's hair was close cropped and spiked slightly with gel. 

But it's not as if they were truly twins. Dave worked for a nonprofit with a creative, accepting environment, and, particularly at fancy events like these, he wore makeup--a little "manscara," as he called it, and sometimes "guyliner." Simon, an architect, had a Roman nose, stylish frames perched gallantly upon it, as if he'd personally designed the sweeping features of his own face.

"Hello, Simon!" Cat said, giving him a hug. "Word does get around. Yes, I'm hoping to take over Granny Grace's firm. But she's training me first."

"I bet she is," said Dave, who gave her a kiss on the cheek. "There's no better teacher than Amazing Grace."

"What did she ever teach you?" Cat asked.

"Didn't your grandmother ever tell you how we met?" asked Simon. 

"No, she didn't."

"Well, Dave here went to her for spiritual guidance. He was forty-two, unhappily married--to a woman, let me add--and working as a corporate lawyer for a chemical company. After a couple sessions with your grandmother, he filed for divorce and quit his job. I met him two years later at one of Grace's legendary cocktail parties."

"My grandmother, the matchmaker. And now you're helping those in need," Cat said, finishing the story. Dave was a lawyer who represented women pressing charges against abusive men.

Dave put his hand in Simon's. "But most importantly, now I'm happy." The two smiled at each other.

"I didn't know Granny Grace counseled people," she said. 

"It was part of what she did as a volunteer for a meditation center," Dave explained. 

"Yes, that was back when Dave was dabbling in New Age spiritualism, trying to find himself," said Simon, a teasing hint to his tone.

"Don't mock it," Dave said. "It led me to you, didn't it?"

"True," he admitted. Then, turning to Cat, he asked, "Has your grandmother taken you to her meditation class?" 

Cat laughed. "You mean, have I sat in the presence of Guru Dave? Yes, I have. And my spirit has transcended the physical sphere and is entirely without ego attachment."

Simon snickered. "Oh, God. It's all over once the chanting begins."

"At least I don't have to shave my head," Cat said. "Guru Dave thinks shaving hides what the divine has created."

"I once had my chakras realigned," Dave said. "My heart chakra slipped down to my butt." The two men roared with laughter.

"Now, how are you really doing?" Simon asked once the laughter died down.  

"Honestly speaking," Cat admitted, "I'm having the hardest time finding a job. I can't even get work as a barista. Of course, it would help if I'd ever made something besides my mom's drip coffee."  

"It's rough out there these days," said Simon, and Dave nodded in agreement. 

"We've halted construction on one of our condo projects," he continued. "The irony is, we have to pay to have a security guard on the premises."

"Say," Simon faced Dave, looking as if a lightbulb had popped up over his head. "Maybe she could be our booth guard."

"Yeah, yeah," agreed Dave. "The guy they've got out there now just sleeps all day. Cat would be great!"

They turned to her. "We know it's beneath you, sweetie," Dave ventured, "but think about it. We'd love to have you as our rent-a-cop!" 

As they moved to greet some friends of theirs, Dave, the bigger jokester of the two, squeezed her arm. "Hey, Cat, did you see the satyr in the bathroom? Crazy what that Chihuly can do with glass, isn't it?"

Simon pulled him away, making tsk-tsk noises. "Dave, I think that's only in the men's room." Then turning to Cat, he winked and said, "We'll call you about the guard gig."

And that was that. Cat had her first full-time job. At first she thought it wouldn't be so bad. She imagined she would be like the security guards at the hospital where she'd been a candy striper: sit in an office all day, maybe even watch a little TV, walk around the building every hour, piece of cake. 

But when she showed up for her first day--make that first night, since she'd been given the highly despised 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift--she met Tony, the security company's general manager. Tony only came up to Cat's shoulder in height, and he had a row of broken, crooked, yellowing teeth. He smelled of cigarettes and mothballs. 

"I'm here to guard the building," Cat said by way of introduction. Conscious of favoritism, she didn't mention Simon and Dave.

"You're not guarding a building," Tony barked at her.

"I'm not? Well then, what am I guarding?"

"A construction site."

"Well, yes, I know they're not done building it. Am I guarding the equipment?"

"No equipment," he replied. "The contractors cleared that out already."

"Um, I don't understand," said Cat. "What is there?"

"About three floors of an eight-story condom project," Tony said. He leered at Cat to see if she had heard his mispronunciation. 

She decided to ignore for a moment his attempt at wit, and the fact that this constituted sexual harassment. "I know that, but what am I protecting? Are they afraid the copper pipes will get stolen?" She knew copper was sometimes stolen out of abandoned buildings and sold for scrap.

"Yeah, that's part of it, smart girl. The other part is liability. Someone gets hurt there, they sue your fairy friends." He made a little flying Tinker Bell motion with his hands when he said the bit about Simon and Dave.

So Tony already knew her ties to the owners. This was not going in a good direction, and Cat hesitated to ask the next question--after all, this was Seattle, and it had been raining for the last three days. 

"Is there a roof?"

"Only in part of the building, but that don't matter none to you. You'll stay outside the condo in the hut."

Tony hadn't lied about the booth, and she thought maybe his word for it, "hut," was more accurate. Cat spent her first week sitting in a four-by-four hut with one tiny window. She had a radio that ran on batteries, her flashlight, and a clipboard of papers on which she was supposed to record her rounds. The bathroom was a port-a-john about ten feet away. 

To make the job even duller, Tony had carefully instructed her about how this security thing worked: "You make your rounds every hour on the hour. You take ten minutes to make the rounds, no more, no less. The rest of the time you stay in the hut."

"Won't that make it kind of easy for someone to avoid security?"

Tony looked at her with contempt. "Listen, smart girl, here's how it works. We contract with the client to provide security. In the contract we specify exactly what we will do, and we do exactly that. If a representative from the company comes by to check on you at five minutes after the hour, and you are in the hut, you are fired. On the other hand, if he comes by at fifteen minutes after the hour, and you are not in the hut, you are fired. Do I make myself clear?"

"So what if someone steals something at half past the hour?" 

Tony had a surprising ability to convey disdain with his expressions. "It's an empty building. And you'll spot the thieves before they ever get around to ripping out any copper, trust me."

The only bright spot for Cat was that Granny Grace let her drive Siddhartha to work, since by bus it would have meant three transfers and more than an hour-long trip to the Eastside. Granny Grace had taken Cat out in the old Mercedes for an instructional test run. The car handled beautifully; it was the smoothest ride she'd ever driven. On Cat's first day of work, Granny Grace had been on hand to bid her bon voyage. 

Cat sat in the driver's seat while her grandmother assessed her from outside. "The only thing missing is your attitude," she observed. "You look like someone borrowing a Mercedes for the day. You need to drive it like you own it."

"Now how am I supposed to look like that when I'm wearing a rent-a-cop uniform?" Cat asked.

"Put these on," Granny Grace ordered, handing her a pair of her Jackie O. shades. 

"Gran, it's dark and rainy outside."

"So what? Now stick your chin out."

"There. That's my granddaughter." Granny Grace smiled her approval. "Don't let the birds poop on Siddhartha," she added, patting the car's fender as Cat started it up. "He's used to the garage."



Where the Beef Is


The Beef Is Here
All photos by me.

Earlier this year, I moved away from Seattle after calling it home for a decade. My destination: a small town in Lewis County. It's so small, you haven't heard of it, I guarantee you. Most people are vaguely familiar with our sister town, Centralia, which is twice the size, but still...small. Your association to Centralia is probably "that place with the outlet malls I pass on my way to Seattle or Portland."

But there's so much more here than outlet malls. For example: beef.

My husband and I just bought a quarter of a cow. Yep. A whole quarter. It's the meat of grass-fed, organic, free-range cows. These cows are also practically our neighbors, as we drove for, oh, about 10 minutes to get to the farm where they live.

The Beef Is Here

 I've never done this before, met the cows that will eventually become my hamburger. My former vegetarian self would be appalled.

 That's right. I was a vegetarian for about 13 years, and a vegan for a good chunk of that. Why'd I return to meat-eating? That's a rather big topic for another day (or a whole book, maybe, someday). But in a nutshell: I'm the type of body constitution that does best on an omnivore's diet and does worst on a vegan diet. If I could eat anything, I'd subsist entirely on a diet of raw fruit and vegetables, bread, and cheese. I LOVE tofu, for the record. It just doesn't love me. You know what gave me the worst food-allergy reaction of my entire life? Soy milk.

 But back to the cows. Because cows! They are beautiful, in a stand-there-and-ruminate kind of way. And they're raised by a couple, Dalene and Paul Olson, who live right there on the farm, where they tend to the cows literally out their back door. Here's Paul on the farm. Note his kids' former basketball hoop in the background:

The Beef Is Here

 It doesn't get much more local than this, folks. We cut a whole string of middlemen out of the loop and shrunk the carbon footprint to practically zero, I'm betting. The only other person involved in this transaction was the butcher, who took our slaughter preferences over the phone.

 The Olsons are, obviously, a mom and pop biz. We had to pick up the meat ourselves, which was wrapped individually, the steaks in paper and the ground beef in little plastic baggies, and all of it loaded into cardboard banana boxes. We paid with a check, which happens a lot here in Chehalis. (At first I felt as if I'd transported back to the 80s. Our local bookstore owner bought several books from me to sell in his store and paid me with a check!)

 Dalene and Paul were kind enough to give us a quick tour of their land. The pics above are of the calf barn and some of the calves. Here's where their parents hang out, in the field beyond:

The Beef Is Here

 The Olsons have been farming since the early 80s, when they bought Paul's father's dairy farm. Like a lot of family farms, they've been "organic" since before it was the thing to do, never using hormones on their cows or commercial fertilizers or herbicides on their pasture land. They recently converted to all-beef, and the two run the operation themselves now.

 If you're as obsessed with farms as I am, you'll appreciate the below darling tractor. It's so beautiful, I want to write a children's book about it. Oliver, the Green Tractor!

The Beef Is Here

 Where did we put a quarter of a cow, you ask? In our enormous freezer. The house came with it. The former owners of our home are the ones who referred us to the Olsons for beef. Everyone here in the twin cities knows everyone else, it seems.


Things That Should Never Be Localized #2

Dec 27, 2014

One of my colleagues at the day job went to Vietnam recently and brought back this little jar of dried fruit as a gift. It's delightfully called "wampee."

But it gets better! Apparently by eating the wampee, we were going about it all wrong. We should have followed the instructions, which calls for wearing the wampee. You're supposed to "don" it, "quietly," in fact. And it's not a mere fruit--it's affectionate! Wampee is a "loving cultural feature"!!!

Dec 27, 2014

 We must all quietly don wampee and go to Vietnam RIGHT NOW.

Take a Cue from the Spanish Lifestyle

Drinking water

Imagine a daily lunch that isn't spent eating microwaved food at your desk or rushed at a fast-food place but instead unfolds over the space of two hours, between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, spent in the company of friends and family. This lunch includes wine and good, local food made from scratch, and it ends with fruit for dessert and the most amazing espresso you've ever sipped. No one's rushing or checking their watches. Everyone's laughing and talking and taking their time.

Welcome to Spain. 

Before this 2 pm lunch extravaganza, you might have had a sandwich snack around 11 at a local street cafe, with that glorious coffee, or maybe a pastry. Maybe that was the second time you ate that day, depending on when you got up, which didn't have to be early.

Coffee and pastry

After this 2 pm lunch siesta, you go back to work for another two or three hours, heading home around 6 or 7, when you might have a snack. Dinner then is as leisurely paced as the lunch was, maybe even more so, and it doesn't start till at least 9.

Adding the Spanish work day up, I'm getting about 5 hours of actual work. To Americans, this probably sounds appalling. But after working like a dog for 25 years, the Spanish work/life balance seems much more civilized to me. 

And so is what they eat. It's hard to find a fast-food place in Barcelona; they're all clustered around tourist attractions for a reason. Most of what you find to eat in Spain came from a farm or ranch nearby, and is presented in its close-to-original state, like the famous Iberian ham, carved right off the shank.


During my recent trip to Barcelona, all of my admittedly low-grade, not-serious-but-annoying digestive issues entirely cleared up. Sure, it was in part due to the fact that I was away from daily work stress, walking every day, and breathing in warm, Mediterranean breezes, but I happen to think the food - and a radically different food culture - had something to do with it.

For one thing, it's hard to argue with black squid ink paella...

Black ink paella

Or seafood soup. (And in the background, there's a right-sized dish of homemade ravioli. Next to it, a bottle of wine, which came with the meal, all for far less than we'd pay in Seattle.)

Seafood soup

For another thing, the amazing artisanal yogurt pictured below seemed to heal my gut in the space of a week. We imagined it was made from milk gently and humanely harvested from Pyrrenese cows who enjoy daily massage and are sung to by maidens playing lyres.


Next door to our apartment was one of many fresh food markets throughout the city, which is where most people shop. The procuring of food is not a chore done in one large mega-trip to a mega-store but rather woven into the fabric of your life, so that you're stopping in for fresh produce, meat, dairy, and bread as part of your daily walk route, and taking the time to chat with the vendors. There are small stores resembling the grocery stores in the States, but even they have barely any processed foods. For bread, you go to a bakery. For toiletries, you visit a farmacia.

Concepcion market

In the U.S., we're too prone to taking the quick route, turning our fad-food-of-the-moment into something packaged, with a long shelf life. Just think about the section now devoted to "gluten-free" packaged food in a lot of stores lately. As detailed in this New Yorker piece, gluten-free does not usually mean healthy. 

Unless you have a true food allergy or celiac disease, restrictive diets like the gluten-free one probably won't cure all that ails you. Believe me - I've tried them. I was a vegetarian for 13 years, and about half of that included stints of true veganism. I tried the wheat-free thing back in the 90s before the word "gluten" was used by anyone but nutritionists. I've gone fat-free, egg-free, and paleo. These diets might make you feel better for a short time, as you tend to be more mindful of what you're eating and avoid gut triggers like fried food and alcohol, but they inevitably lead to further restrictions, frustrations, and failure. 

In Barcelona, we cooked frequently, used fresh ingredients, didn't eat anything processed, and were the better for it. We also spent less money on everything, but especially cheese and meat, than we do in Seattle. We ate everything, and we still lost weight.

Balcony spread

What seems to be the key is admittedly harder than simply cutting out a particular food, and that's eating as a truly healthy omnivore. Supporting that would be a less stressful culture and much better work/life balance.

Good, local food and dishes made from scratch, eaten at a leisurely pace in the company of friends and family, and a working lifestyle that supports it. I know some of you are probably thinking right now about Spain's economy and saying to yourself that their lifestyle is to blame, but I'm not convinced of that. I don't believe it's necessary to sacrifice our personal health and well-being for the sake of the health and well-being of our economy. That doesn't seem like a logical correlation.

It's no accident that one of the chief tourist attractions in Barcelona is La Boqueria, an incredible food market where local food artisans have been hawking their goods for centuries.


Boqu nuts

  Boqu meat

Since I've been back in the States, I've tried to replicate the Spanish way of eating, with mixed success. It requires carrying a lot of food with me for the long work day, and I still eat at my desk, which is the only way I can fit in a workout. And yesterday the organic farm we subscribe to delivered its last box of the season. Since I didn't have the time to can, dry, and freeze the summer's bounty of foods, I'm trying not to panic.

What's your food story? Tell me all about it.



The Greatest Thing to See in Barcelona, Without Exception

Sep 15, 2014

Sep 15, 2014

This is not your grandmother's church.

(Unless, of course, your grandmother is like the character in my novel Cat in the Flock, which one reviewer called a "Seattle-style Shirley McClaine." Granny Grace would be all over this place.)

Barcelona's, and one of Spain's, most celebrated artists, Antoni Gaudi, is largely responsible for this grand cathedral for the modern age, despite the fact that he died in 1926 and work has gone on ever since. It's a continuous work-in-progress, largely due to its ambitious nature. He became so wrapped up in the project that he slept at the site during his final years.

It's called La Sagrada Familia, and it's worth traveling to Barcelona, never mind the jet lag, just to see.

This is hands down the most impressive architectural structure I've ever seen in person.

While it was on our must-see list, we actually found it by accident the first day there. Once we settled into our rental, we went out for coffee and a stroll. Suddenly the characteristic spires appeared above a building in the distance, so we followed them, marveling as the vision took full form the closer we came to La Segrada Familia.

What you see in the above pictures: 1) The passion facade, with two cranes showing ongoing construction. Some day, there will be a central spire rising far above the eight spires you see here. 2) The nativity facade, the original construction and the first completed (plus two goofy honeymooners taking a selfie).

We split our visit into two: This first day, walking a perimeter across the street, circling the church. The next time we visited, we went inside. I'll post on that later.

Incidentally, Northwest travel guru Rick Steves suggests in his Barcelona guide book that one might skip the tour inside and just view the outside of the building. But he's smokin' weed (actually, he is), as you'd miss something amazing and possibly life-changing if you did that. So don't. 

The Stevester is wrong/maybe just out of date on a couple of other points about Barcelona, by the way. Not a single Barcelonan leaves his napkin on the floor in a tapas restaurant. Good thing we ignored Steves' advice on this point, or they might have thought we were rude. And sangria is not just for tourists. If you go to a restaurant at 10 pm on a Wednesday night, and the restaurant is famous for its snails, and not a single person in the restaurant besides yourself is speaking anything but Catalan, and everyone has a pitcher of sangria on the table, then it's safe to say it's not just for tourists.

 Part 2: Inside