Health and Beauty Feed

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!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave


That Reaction We Have to Our Bodies in Photos

LIsa-Email-Banner

So here I am, for the first time my body used in an ad.

The dance studio I belong to draws on its members for depictions to help celebrate—and yes, advertise—its offerings. The owner only uses images of members who have given permission to do so. 

Over the past six months, I have given and then rescinded and then given my permission again, struggling with the power of seeing photos of myself in motion. Not controlled. Not posed. Not sucking my belly in but breathing fully.

I’ve seen many images like this in my Facebook feed--showing other women. I even have a calendar on my kitchen wall, each month a photo not of Photoshopped models but of the women I see every week on the dance floor, in all their sweaty, smiling glory.

Without exception, I’ve viewed these photos as beautiful and inspiring. But when my own image, the one above, graced the top of an email banner one day, and a slew of other photos followed close behind on Facebook, I felt mortified with embarrassment.

And this surprised me.

It still does.

You see, I’m someone who’s done all the work. I long ago tossed aside Hollywood beauty standards, have never wanted to be New York thin, and have always praised myself on my body-positive attitude. More than a decade ago, I brought the multimedia production bodyBODY to the college where I taught so that students could participate in a show that celebrated the diversity and health of real women’s bodies.

Apparently seeing what women really look like is great as long as I’m not one of the women in the photos.

I can keep doing the work. That’s why I’m sharing this post.

But you have to do it, too. 

When I lose weight, even if it’s from illness, I am praised, mostly by other women. But if I gain even within a healthy range, no matter what amazing feat I’m achieving on my yoga mat, there’s no praise.

I’ve been asked if I’m pregnant when I was merely bloated. By the way, “Are you pregnant?” is a question that should never be asked.

When dating in my late thirties, one man told me flat-out that he preferred “skinny Asians.” Another said a weight-loss and exercise plan would be “such a great trend” for me.

The very photographer who took the picture above told me the only way to photograph “curvy” women like me in a flattering way is from above. I was criticizing her, and she was being defensive, but this still came out. 

Once, my own mother went through every one of our family photo albums, cutting herself out of all of the pictures.

Why wouldn’t I react to seeing myself in photos?

How did you react?

Did you think I was being brave?

Consider that for a moment.

To paraphrase comedian Amy Schumer, no woman wants to be told “you’re brave” in response to sharing a picture of herself.

Because here I am, dancing my dance, working every breath on loving myself. And I could use a little help.

 


Sex-Positive Research for Sexy Mystery 'Bound to the Truth'

The armory
The Armory. 

 In case you missed it, the third book in the Dreamslippers Series has a sexy theme. Cat and Granny Grace must find out who killed up-and-coming architect Nina Howell. Her wife is convinced a libertarian talk show host is the murderer. Following the clues takes the dreamslippers into what in another novel might be labeled Seattle's "perverted dungeon" or "dark underbelly."

 But not in Bound to the Truth. After a decade in Seattle and a lifetime studying human behavior, my position is that there isn't anything inherently dark or perverted about sex. And by sex, I mean the activity engaged in between two consenting adults that may or may not have anything to do with procreation but could include any number of "kinky" behaviors. Spoiler alert: Through the course of the novel, Cat explores a shop selling bondage gear, she and her grandmother go undercover in a sex club, and several characters confer on lingerie and sex toys.

 Readers of the series will know this is not shocking new territory for me. As I've said on social media, book one was about religion and sex, book two art and sex, and book three politics and sex. Septuagenarian heroine Amazing Grace is sexually active and forthright about her trysts; twentysomething Cat is exploring her sexuality as a new adult. These women own their desires and act on them, apologizing to exactly no one.

 HUGE CAVEAT: The sex scenes happen mostly off-screen. This is NOT erotica. This is NOT porn. Sorry to disappoint you. Now, continuing on with the discussion...

 Readers of the blog know I've been highly critical of Fifty Shades of Grey, which utterly fails because rather than challenging its audience in any way, it allows readers/viewers to preserve their judgmental prejudices against the kink world and the presumed "broken" people who inhabit it. They can naughtily dip a toe into the world but then ultimately reject it, just as the vanilla protagonist does. With Bound to the Truth, I wanted to treat kinky people with the respect they deserve, rendering a realism that I hope not only transcends cliché and judgment but results in fully developed characters and concerns. 

 While Fifty Shades served as a sort of negative inspiration, and my writing on this book started as a reaction against it, here's a peep show of my research sources for this book, all positive inspirations.

 News flash to any Emerald City resident who hasn't discovered this yet, but when Cat observes in Bound to the Truth that "Seattleites as a population must quietly be getting their freak on in the bedroom 24/7," that comes from first-hand experience. Enter the city's decidedly online dating scene for two seconds, yes, even as a middle-aged divorcée as I was, and you're immediately barraged with a cornucopia of kinky come-ons. After thirteen years straight of committed monogamy, it was eye-opening, to say the least. If you have single friends who are also dating, you compare notes and see the same. 

 I owe a debt of gratitude to Savage Love syndicated columnist Dan Savage, who not only writes intelligently, compassionately, and wittily on the subject of sex but also launched a brilliantly curated alternative porn film fest. I've attended a couple of Hump Fests, which seemed to both sell out, and I highly recommend them.

 When I wrote as a freelancer for several Seattle publications, I had the opportunity to interview University of Washington sex expert Dr. Pepper Schwartz. A well-respected academic with a long list of accomplishments, the occasion for my interview with her was the publication of her tell-all memoir, which chronicled her experiences entering the dating pool post-50. As you can see from my choice of subject matter and character, Dr. Pepper had an influence. The piece was one of my most popular, too. Originally published in Seattle Woman magazine, it was linked to by Crosscut, where it was in the top ten for traffic that year.

 While I never joined a sex club, I did talk with people who have, and I also toured The Armory in San Francisco. You might recognize the signature building in the image at the top of this post. The Armory is a sort of castle of kink. Tours are open to the public, and knowledgeable guides wearing nothing sexier than street clothes will lead you through many a porn set. The building itself is worth the price of admission even if you profess a distaste for porn; the Moorish castle was completed in 1914, with much of the stone staircases, wainscoting, and impressive corridors intact, not to mention access to an underground cave, Mission Creek running below the structure.

 I also toured the Erotic Museum of Barcelona, but who wouldn't do that on her honeymoon?

 The drag and burlesque communities deserve credit for shaping my thinking on sex. In Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, you can catch first-rate live shows in which respectful, supportive audiences embrace a diverse spectrum of lovely people on stage in various states of dress, dancing in a variety of suggestive ways. Most notably for me is Seattle's Nerdlesque. In fact, I'm still pondering my affection for and confusion over "burlesque Carl Sagan." Affection because he was one of my childhood nerd crushes. Confusion because I'm not attracted to women, but this gal was a dead ringer for my beloved astronomer, so...

 I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Laura Antoniou's mystery set in the middle of a kink convention, The Killer Wore Leather. And Seattle's sex-positive culture in general for its art shows, film screenings, articles, workshops, and overall work toward making sex something that can be talked about without stigma, shame, and danger. If we could free ourselves from those chains, then the ones some people put on just for fun become simply that.

 I hope you enjoy Bound to the Truth. You can pre-order it, and Amazon will magically deliver it to your Kindle on the day of release. Or Barnes & Noble will mystically transport it to your Nook. Or, or, or...

 Now tell me what you think of all this in the comments! What turns you on? I mean in terms of literature, people.

 


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

Yoga_fly

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.

 


My So-Called Freelance Life*, Week One: From Belly Dancing to Rosie the Riveter

View

The view from my home office is not exactly the ocean vista I always imagined. Think of it as 'American Gothic.'

On Friday, I said good-bye to my crew at the day job in Seattle and turned in all my equipment and official access cards. It had been five years, my longest stint at any one company. I shed a tear as I pulled out of the parking lot for the last time.

Or maybe not last time. I'll still have a contract relationship to work with Big Fish on games. Who knows what will happen with that as the industry continues to evolve?

I pretty much hit the ground running this first week of independence. I had a two-hour meeting on Monday with a new client and then an interview with a real 'Rosie the Riveter' that evening. Sara Bowles was a shipyard worker who got laid off during the big recession. A single mom, she went back to school, earned a degree in the energy conservation and now holds her dream job at Tacoma Power. It's one of many stories I've got on the docket for The Center of Excellence for Clean Energy.

After that, it was back up to Seattle on Tuesday to give a presentation on how marketing is all about storytelling.

My other two interviews this week? A tribal belly dance teacher, on the subject of female adornment, and her daughter, a Nia teacher, on the subject of dancing before, after, and during pregnancy. Nia, for those of you who don't know, is a joy-centered barefoot dance practice that incorporates martial arts and the healing aspects of yoga, Feldenkrais, and others, as well as established dance styles like jazz and modern. I've been practicing Nia myself since last spring and love it. And for the past month, I've been writing a weekly wellness newsletter for Embody Studio, where I dance. It's a fantastic community, and I really feel 'in the zone' on this new work.

I also submitted an application for a writing residency at Mineral School (wish me luck) and wrote articles about healthy ways to celebrate and how to cultivate a wellness practice that carries you throughout life's stages.

This all happened in the midst of continuing to battle a cough that's plagued me for weeks. And then I got some upsetting news, something personal I'm not ready to write about yet. I am focusing on the best possible outcome, though, and I have mobilized my support system.

Then, because life is a roller coaster, I found out this morning that my first novel has made me a #1 best-selling author. Read more about that here.

Next week I'm in D.C. for a book event, as well as to conduct some research for a secret project and meet up with a few old friends.

Week one of freelancing, no regrets yet! Thanks for caring.

*My So-Called Freelance Life is a book by my friend Michelle Goodman. I've reviewed it here and recommend it to anyone considering the life.


Who Needs Eggs?

Egg-943413_1280

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.

IMG_4972

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!

IMG_5129

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.

IMG_5135


A Requiem for the Egg

Egg-1090878_1280

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?”

 


#FridayPoetry: August

Broom of Anger

 August

 

This summer,

the hottest day of the year,

I met my neighbor on the sidewalk.

The scarf on her head hid no hair.

She told me my errant cat

climbed through the dog door

to sit with her through long days.

We talked of tulip bulbs 

and chemo.

I had just returned 

from a cold movie theater.

When we hugged,

my hands on her hot skin felt cool. 

The heat of the day made us part,

she to her living room A/C.

 

I have not seen her in months.

Her house sits on a hill,

the windows an empty stage.

A Mylar balloon has pledged 

Get Well for weeks,

the message now deflated.

 

The front garden has gone to seed,

the dandelions triumphant,

a bag of mulch unopened.

What was she going to do 

with the empty whiskey barrel, 

turned now on its side?

There’s no one left

to keep the weeds at bay.

 

This poem appears in my collection, Broom of Anger.

 

 


Born-Again Meat Eater

Inside_calf_barn

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_olson
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.”


The Joy of Movement and Mandalas

Cherie_mandala

Yoga teacher Cherie Althauser makes elaborate mandalas using Sharpie pens.

In case you missed it, I'm writing for a new site called LewisTalk, and my first article is a totally new, fresh take on 'Granny' Award-winning yogi, Cherie Althauser.

In this piece, I delve into Althauser's emphasis on the joy of movement at any age and condition, tell the story of her connection to Embody, the studio where she teaches, and describe her nifty hobby of making mandalas like the one above.

Here's the story:

Cherie_side_plank


Ask most people to describe what a yoga teacher looks like, and it’s likely the image doesn’t include grey hair.

Or a chair.

But both are part of the yoga life for Cherie Althauser, whose side plank could be the envy of the most youthful yogi. At 65 years and more flexible than many twentysomethings, she’s a walking advertisement for staying active past retirement. Read More

I really enjoyed talking with Althauser in person and corresponding with her further after she left the area for her fall travels. She's humble, but strong and centered about what she has to offer others.

When I met her in that first yoga class this summer, I realized she'd be the perfect recipient for the Granny Award. And that was before I found out she creates mandalas out of Sharpie pens and plays a lovely harmonium!

Namaste.


'Granny' Award Winner No. 2: Cherie Althauser

Cherie_side_plank
 

Cherie Althauser, teaching yoga with the Sea of Cortez as backdrop. All photos courtesy of Cherie. Video by me.

I named the Granny Grace Award for Outstanding Women Over 40 after a trailblazing character in my Dreamslippers mystery series. Cherie Althauser could play her in the movie version.

Like Granny Grace, Cherie is an accomplished yogi who's committed to a spiritual path. I met Cherie when she taught a class called "Chair Yoga" at Embody, a gem of a studio in my adopted new locale. The inspiration for Chair Yoga came from Cherie's study of Iyengar yoga, which pioneered the use of props to help students get into postures correctly and safely.

As an experienced yogi, I was deeply impressed with Cherie's use of the chair to give students support--without sacrificing challenge. I took the class because I'd sprained my ankle. I made it through the class without any pain but left sweaty and feeling invigorated. It was especially fun to practice wheel pose using the chair.

Something Cherie said that day stayed with me: "All movement with intention is yoga."

Cherie's focus on movement began in childhood with ballet. She maintains she was never interested in the performance aspects of ballet, but she practiced it as a child and then returned to it for exercise as an adult. Now she applies her ballet training to teaching yoga. She explains: "In ballet, you learn that a movement can express itself from the core of your body out through the hands and feet. It's the same with yoga." 

Cherie_arabesque
 

Cherie in arabesque on the edge of a cliff near Sedona, AZ.

It's clear that Cherie brings diverse movement experience and training to the mat. In addition to Iyengar, she has studied a little Rolfing and Feldenkrais, both methods that focus on movement in order to heal or retrain the body. "I'm interested in how the body moves through life," she explains. "Yoga is the platform."

But movement alone would not be enough to sustain Cherie's path, which is also a spiritual one. In 2004, she came to a fork in the road that lead her to engage in spiritual research. "My whole life turned upside-down," she says. "I had a quantum change experience. I had a vision." She read books on religion and spirituality, reaching out to the authors when she had questions. 

Eventually, this brought her to a guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, and provided structure for her spiritual path in the form of the Self-Realization Fellowship. Cherie, who strikes me as level-headed and practical, says she was highly skeptical at first, wary of being drawn into a "cult." But she learned to meditate, which she and her husband do together now twice daily, and she returns to the Yogananda center in Los Angeles each year to check in with others on the spiritual path.

"He found me," she says. "I wasn't looking for a guru."

Cherie has taken up playing the harmonium and is committed to learning all of Yogananda's songs. She sometimes ends her yoga classes with a short concert.

 

In the U.S. the term "guru" can often have a negative connotation, as someone who exploits his position at the helm of a community of slavish followers. In stark contrast is the way that Cherie herself conducts class: with a sense of humor, as well as humility. She never takes herself too seriously. "Let's do...whatever that pose is called, something in sanskrit; I forget," she'll say. Or this: "You might want to grab onto your chair, as I'm going to, since I'm the one losing my balance." Her teaching reminds me that at its root, "guru" simply means "teacher," or better yet, "guide."

Undoubtedly her yoga instruction is grounded in her longtime career as a teacher and then program manager for the Child and Family Studies department at Centralia College, where she worked for more than 15 years. "The divine has always placed me in the role of teacher," she explains. But this role didn't come naturally. Cherie describes herself as intensely shy, admitting that this call to teach pushed her outside her comfort zone, again and again.

Her first encounter with the Child and Family Studies department came after she gave birth to twins and found herself feeling unsure as a mother. She tried to remember that when she taught, and then again when she supervised other teachers. 

At 65, Cherie is an inspiration for anyone looking for such an age to be filled with vitality and well-being. She shares this gift with others, both in Centralia and when she winters in San Carlos, Mexico, where she teaches English to underprivileged children, as well as yoga to retirees. 

Cherie_kids

 When asked what advice she'd give to others, Cherie answers, "Learn how to nurture your intuition. Learn how to hear it. Cultivate a close relationship with the divine, whatever that means to you. It's speaking all the time. You don't want to miss it."

 


What I'm Reading: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the best book I've read all year. At first the kid voices bothered me because they sound like the writer expressing his viewpoints through them with his vocabulary and education but with a few annoying "whatevers" and "likes" thrown in to remind you they are kids. But the story transcends this issue and is true and beautiful and so significantly well done that even the most critical reader gets swept into the gentle drama and wonderfulness.

View all my reviews


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:

  Tino_barrels

And me, too.

Me and tino barrels

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

  Wine_lab

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

Lab2

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.

Sign

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.

  Door

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.

Lindsey_cupping
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!

  Entry

  BlocksJPG

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...

  


A Couple of Witchy Women

Brooms

On vacation in Walla Walla, I stopped to take pictures of a row of gorgeous brooms, as they reminded me of the cover of my poetry collection, Broom of Anger.

BROOM OF ANGER 1890x2880

 The owner of the store, Kim Hedine, and I struck up a conversation. My husband, who grew up in Walla Walla, went to high school with her, so the two of them kind of knew each other already. The first gift he ever gave me, coincidentally, was a trio of the fragrant, mystically named goat milk soap bars she sells in her shop, Midnight Oil.

  Midnight_oil

I told Kim my fascination with the brooms came after working on a cover design for the poetry collection, and we got to talking about what it means to recognize anger as an essential component of the healing process. Like a lot of people, she could relate and had her own story to tell.

I stocked up on perfume, more soap, and a couple of bottles of massage oil. Kim carries some really great products in her cute little Walla Walla shop. It's kind of hard to control yourself from breaking the bank in there. I resisted the cuticle cream because I always get my hopes up too high about cuticle cream, only to be disappointed.

Just as we were leaving, Kim asked if she could get a copy of Broom of Anger

"It hasn't released yet, but here's a card for my debut novel," I said, reaching into my purse and pulling out a card.

Kim stared at it in disbelief. "Wait a minute..." she said. "I'm already reading this book!" She opened up her purse and pulled out a dog-eared copy of Cat in the Flock, one with the original cover of the cat on the front.

I gestured toward my husband. "You didn't hear about my book from him?" (The two of them are Facebook friends, owing to the high school connection. And he's my biggest fan.)

"No!" she said. "I found it on Amazon. I had no idea!"

By the way, my husband and I have different last names. When we got married, I kept "Brunette" since I have so many bylines and credits under that name. Besides, Valterra is a made up name he created with his ex-wife, so it doesn't have any lineage or history; whereas, I come from a long line of Brunettes. It's my maternal grandmother's name, which I took after my own divorce.

After we cleared up that I am indeed the author of the very book she happened to be reading, Kim hugged me and said, "Oh, my God! I love your writing! The twist, and the character Cat... I love it."

I walked around on cloud nine the rest of the day. I think I might still be there, in fact.

The next day, I realized it was dumb of me not to buy that broom, so I went back. On my way there, I ran into my husband, who unbeknownst to me, had just stopped by the store. He'd picked up the cuticle cream, which my sister-in-law had assured us would not disappoint. And he said Kim was trying to get a hold of me for a picture to post on her store's Facebook page.

So we trooped back to Midnight Oil, and this happened:

  Riding_broom

  Broom_jump

 


Blisters No More

At one of those amazing, ubiquitous farmacias in Barcelona, I picked up this handy little product, which resembles a tiny stick of deoderant but is actually so much more.

Compeed

It's like what you'd get if a stick of Dry Idea had a three-way love child with Vaseline and a wax candle. And it's the answer to your prayers, if you've ever had a pair of shoes that were super cute but gave you blisters.

All you do is roll up the stick, slide it on your ankles wherever your footwear rubs or pinches you, and voila! No more problems. Because blisters are caused by friction. This stuff makes the blister-causing heel or strap just sort of glide comfortable over your precious skin.

Apparently, Spanish women are all over this miracle invention but are keeping it to themselves. I have never seen this product in the States anywhere, but here it is through a Spanish Web site, with its unsurprising five-star rating and cheers of "perfecto" and "muy practico." 

BUT WAIT. Surely Amazon, which now sells every product known to man, can get me the hookup? Yes. Yes it can. Whew. Now I don't have to go back to Barcelona just for this.