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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. 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!

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

Mossfigure

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

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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.


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.

 


Amazing Grace, the Seventy-Something Power Yogi: Could You Keep Up?

  Gap-Ad1

One of the main characters in my Dreamslippers mystery series is Amazing Grace, AKA "Granny Grace," a lifelong yoga devotee. At 77 in Cat in the Flock, Grace begins an apprenticeship with her granddaughter Cat not with a lesson on dreamslipping or even sleuthing but with yoga. Grace wants to train Cat in a holistic manner, not teach her "dreamslipping parlor tricks." The evening Cat arrives in Seattle, she and her grandmother practice together in the "Yoga Yolk," a room Grace designated specifically for this focus, a bit like this awesome meditation room I pinned to this board showing the entire novel as told through Pinterest photos.

Yoga-Meditation-Interior-Design-Photo-4
via CarolineBakker.com

Here's a roundup of Grace's poses. How many can you do? This first one is from that beginning scene in the Yoga YolkNote how in yoga, experience often trumps youth: "Granny Grace moved into crow pose, crouching forward till her knees touched her upper arms and then lifting her legs so her whole body was balanced on her arms. Cat couldn’t do that pose yet, so she sat in a wide-legged squat, watching her grandmother with admiration." 

via GIPHY

Cat struggles with meditation, especially taught by one 'Guru Dave' at a studio over a record store--you try holding Downward dog while listening to the umpa umpa sound of polka music. But Cat persists in her training: "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." Here's a yin variation on swan pose. Can you hold this for five full minutes? 

IMG_0585_2--_Swan

photo by Christy Collins, via Wikimedia Commons

Grace is adept at full lotus (spoiler alert: until book three), and she often turns to seated meditation when she finds herself stuck on a case. How's your lotus these days? If it's not exactly waterfall-rock-perch worthy, don't worry. There's an alt pose below.  

Tanumânasî_en_Meditacion_Loto_Padmasana

I've been practicing for twenty years and still can't get into full lotus. Neither can Cat. But all of us can handle Cobbler's pose, so why don't you try that instead. Yay for Baddha kohnasana! 

  Olderwomancroslegged

via Elephant Journal/Christine Festa

Probably my favorite yoga moment in the series is when Grace convinces Cat to try "Midnight Moonlight Yoga" in Framed and Burning. This powerful experience gives Grace metaphysical insight into the case, foreshadowing the darkness to come:

The energy was dark and red, vibrating to some frequency that wasn’t positive. She thought she heard the sound of large wings beating. Her eyes flew open. Breathing hard, losing her ujaiyi breath, she carefully extracted herself from the pose and took a resting pose on her knees, her hands in her lap. The place where her heart chakra should be ached.

The instructor is a composite inspired by the many memorable yogis who've taught me over the years, not the least of whom is Greg Bowles from Embody, who might recognize something here:

Their teacher, Spiritfire, was a master yogi who had traveled through the earth’s chakras, from points in India to South America and beyond. It had never occurred to Grace that one could travel through the earth’s energy centers. She made a mental note to do so before she died.

I dare you to practice yoga under the moon tonight. Just think of your sun salutation as moon salutation instead.

Beachyoga 

via Pixabay

If you're reading this thinking that someone like Amazing Grace (yes, it's her legal name) can only exist in fiction, here's some evidence to the contrary. First, she was in part inspired by my husband's mother, the late A. Grace. Second, I offer you these beautiful photos of the oldest living yoga teacher in the world, a woman who at 93 has more than a decade on Granny Grace.

Namaste.

Gap ad (kudos to them for the age diversity) via In My Own Style


A Hotel for Geeks, Complete with Joystick Sink!

Modular

Last week my husband and I took a short trip to Walla Walla and stayed in a hotel room that at first felt to me like stepping into an airplane in the 1960s. The furniture is built-in, curved, and modular. Case in point: The microwave is behind this abstract cupboard (above pic). Then I realized this is a safety feature: Everything is attached to everything else, so even if you wanted to steal the beside-the-bed lights, you couldn't, as they are built into the cabinets.

But THEN I realized the hotel was actually designed with nerds in mind. Behold, the sink handle is a joystick!

Joystick

Also, this is definitely a Lego toilet.

Legotoilet

 That is all. Oh, if you're planning a trip to W2, and this looks fun to you, the hotel is the Courtyard Marriott. We went because the man had a business meeting, so we got the government rate, but I suspect it's pretty pricey otherwise. On that note, is it becoming impossible to travel now? I mean, who can afford a couple hundred a night for a hotel? I don't know what I'd do without Airbnb.

 

 


Things I've Experienced While Meditating, in Order of Occurrence

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  • Thoughts about how stupid meditation is.
  • Heavy processing of the day in review.
  • Hearing the sound of my husband snoring.
  • Hearing the sound of myself snoring.
  • Reaching over and touching my husband's hand and deciding it's OK because there are no rules in meditation.
  • Feeling my husband reach over and touch my hand and not feeling as if this breaks the reverie or anything but is rather part of it.
  • Some of the most blissful sleep ever.
  • Random body spasms.
  • Focused relaxation of my jaw.
  • Comparisons to getting acupuncture.
  • Comparisons to yoga.
  • Comparisons to the fugue state of sex.
  • Questioning: Why is 'fugue' always a bad thing? Isn't that in effect the perfect state of nirvana?
  • Wake feeling refreshed.
  • Deep listening, mostly to the harps/piano/sitar/chanting but sometimes to the blaring train horn outside.
  • Feelings of annoyance at the overly repetitious nature of most music labeled for meditation.
  • Random visions of flying or dancing.
  • Focused forgiveness of myself for the times I've failed at life.
  • Focused visions of myself succeeding at life.
  • Random laughter.
  • Random tears.
  • Random sighing.
  • The solution to a writing issue becoming clear.
  • Focused relaxation of various body parts.
  • Anger, which must have been suppressed and is now bubbling up.
  • Focused vision on the ties that connect me to others.
  • Character dialogue like an internal radio.
  • A perception of vibrational harmony.
  • Colors. Sparks. Dare I say glitter?
  • Feelings of expansiveness and love.
  • Fleeting moments of divine connection.

How about you?


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.

 


‘Granny’ Award Winner No. 3: Cheryl Sesnon, An Expert in Getting You ‘Unstuck’

Sesnon_Cheryl_5x7_cweb_credit-Karissa Carlson,The Evergreen State College

Cheryl Sesnon. Photo by Karissa Carlson, The Evergreen State College.

Everything about Cheryl Sesnon screams success. At 58, she’s currently the executive director of Jubilee Women’s Center, a well-regarded, highly effective non-profit organization that helps women transition out of homelessness. Besides this Amazing Grace Award, she’s received a number of others: Harlequin’s “More Than Words” Award, the Aubrey Davis Award for Progressive Leadership, and Seattle University’s “Lead, Ignite Award,” just to name a few. And she was the leader behind FareStart’s legendary job training program, which boasted an 82% retention rate under her tenure and experienced explosive growth.

So it might seem surprising that Sesnon once thought of herself as doomed to a life of failure.   

At 24, she suffered from chronic depression, low self-esteem, and substance abuse. She was in an abusive relationship. She attempted suicide.

“I realized I needed to either commit to dying, or to living,” she says. “I felt hopeless, I was on a negative, destructive path, and I had no idea how to get out of it.” Sesnon remembers standing on the sidewalk and watching happy people walking by and thinking they were stupid, that they didn’t know how awful the world really was. 

To snap herself out of this bleak world view, she adopted the attitude that everything she assumed about the world was wrong and vowed to watch how happy, successful people lived their lives and learn from them. She got herself into therapy, took classes, and stopped feeding her anger toward the world. “It was coming from a place that was wired up wrong,” she says.

Now she considers herself an expert at how to get people to break out of the limiting patterns of their lives, and she clearly does so with compassion for how difficult change can be. “I understand being stuck in a certain way of thinking,” she explains. “It’s very real. You think it’s the way.” 

Sesnon’s positive rewiring was so complete that it forever altered her career path. Early on, she launched a successful catering business, but ultimately, the work felt unsatisfying. “We were spending money to make money,” she says. “There was a piece missing for me.”

She found her heart’s work in non-profits, but she doesn’t consider herself a “bleeding heart.” Rather, that work feels solid to her, substantive. “Jubilee is my dream-come-true,” she says. Now she works with women whose life circumstances have brought them to a place where they feel stuck and don’t know how to live differently. “To work with women and meet them at that place, it means the world to me.”

At the start of our interview, Sesnon shared with me that she’d recently beat breast cancer after a nearly yearlong process that included a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. She describes this ordeal not in terms of her own struggles but for the remarkable experience of being cared for by others.

“I’m used to being on the service end,” she says. “I’ve never been on the receiving end of being surrounded by compassion and care. I felt so loved. Everyone—staff, residents, donors—were incredibly generous and supportive.”

Congratulations to Cheryl Sesnon for winning a ‘Granny,’ and may she continue to serve the women of Jubilee well with her talents and gifts.

About the Amazing Grace Award

The 'Granny' recognizes the outstanding achievements of women over 40. It’s named after the trailblazing character in my Dreamslippers Series, Amazing Grace, AKA Granny Grace, a seventysomething who solves crimes while pursuing her own spiritual path.

The first recipient of the award was indie writer Karen Nortman, 72, award-winning author of the Frannie Shoemaker mystery series. 

The second was Cherie Althauser, 65-year-old yoga teacher, volunteer, and spiritual devotee.

Winners are profiled at www.catintheflock.com and receive a modest award self-funded by me. 

A Note About My Involvement with Jubilee Women’s Center

I’m a Jubilee donor and have previously written about the organization for Seattle Woman.


They Picked Me Up in a Limo, and Other Car Stories

Limo

The chariot that awaited me: An early 90s-era limo that once served the White House.

While in D.C. this past week, I was the featured guest at a book event. Looking for my ride to the event that night, I stepped out of the hotel and scanned the drive-up for a vehicle befitting a middle-aged guy like my friend Brewster, the host. A fuel-efficient compact, perhaps. After all, I'd met Brewster when we were both interns in the arms control community back in '92. I completely ignored the stretch limo in front of me until a black-capped attendant popped out and said, "Lisa Brunette! Your ride is here!"

For the record, this has never happened to me before. I've never even been inside a limo. Seriously, not even for prom. In case you're wondering, my mode of conveyance then was an '80 Pontiac Grand Prix, fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror.

But there was Brewster, ensconced with his fiancee Kate in one of the limo's rear-facing seats. It turned out the limo was his. The story goes that one day he went out looking for hub caps and came back with a limo instead. He'd taken Kate along to dissuade him from frivolous purchases, but she had encouraged this one.

Here's a rather blurry photo of me peeking out of it. My husband apologizes for his picture-taking skills, and since he has tremendous qualities in every other aspect of existence, we don't fault him for it. Unfortunately, though, this shot cost him his phone, which he dropped, shattering the screen.

Limopeek
 This is my limo face.

(I know, right? My hair is SO BLONDE. And if one more person says, "Your hair doesn't match your name," or something equally inane, I am going to dye it PINK. OK, not really.)

Another capped driver, Roger, squired us to the venue: A sort of compound of houses and garages on an acre of land just inside the Beltway. Several people live there in a community that frequently hosts events like my book reading. Brewster, whose last name really is "Thackeray," dubbed it 'Makepeace Manor.' The name has been printed on posters and pens.

It was a lovely crowd of about 20 all gathered around the Manor fireplace. I read from my poetry collection and both Dreamslippers novels and had a blast doing so. Because I like to make things interactive, I tapped into the group's energy, which was extraordinary and vibrant. We got into some really interesting discussions about dreams, lucid dreaming, and the edge between reality and dreaming. There was an epically long Q&A. I think I'm still there, in fact. These people asked great questions.

MPM_reading

Many of them are self-identified "burners," which is not a reference to Bernie Sanders (although a good number of them support him). It's from the "Burning Man" desert festival, which has apparently spawned smaller "burns" and burner communities all over the country. I have never actually been to Burning Man, but it's great to see people coming together for artistic collaboration and togetherness.

Incidentally, Brewster, who with five project cars filling the Makepeace Manor garage is just a bit of a gearhead, helped inspire Granny Grace's car Siddhartha from my Dreamslippers Series. Back when we stomped around D.C. together in '92, he took me for a spin in this little beaut:

Siddhartha

Of course, the above is a hardtop (sunroof), and Granny Grace's is a convertible. I loved the impracticality aspect of a convertible in a city that rains nine months out of the year, and I also have vivid memories of my father's convertible Fiat Spider, a car I'd hoped to inherit when I turned 16. But Dad traded it in for a Ford Escort just as I was taking my driving test. I could tell you that to add insult to injury the Escort was white, but I think a Ford Escort is enough injury, regardless of color. What is it that hippie folksinger Melanie used to sing? "White should be beautiful, but mostly it's not."

I'm grateful for the opportunity to introduce my work to the burners and share in their company for an evening. There's nothing better than old friends with old cars in an old town like D.C.!


Who Needs Eggs?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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A Requiem for the Egg

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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?”

 


The indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop: My Miami Christmas Tree, and More!

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The fine folks at indieBRAG asked me to write about my favorite Christmas carol for this blog hop, but the first carol that came to mind is one I can't stand: "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

Maybe it's the crassness of it that has always bothered me, even at an early age, or the cliché image of a grandmother as a doddering, wig-wearing, egg nog-guzzling dodo who gets herself killed by Santa. I mean, Grandma receives short shrift in this tale, while Grandpa, on the other hand, "we're all so proud of" for "taking this so well." The vague misognyny, the lyrics, the music, everything about the song makes me cringe.

So I used my intense dislike for it in fiction.

In Framed and Burning, 78-year-old renegade grandmother Amazing Grace shudders when her granddaughter cues up the song to play at a party. Grace uses the opportunity to check in with her erstwhile beau, Ernesto:

Grace despised the song, deep down in her bones. She hung back as the rest of the crowd laughed and began to carry on. Grace hooked her arm through Ernesto’s and squired him to the balcony.

“Horrid excuse for music,” Grace said, shaking her head.

“Yes, well, it is Americana at its worst.”

There was a pause as they gazed at the moon casting a beam of light on the waves far in the distance. Then Ernesto turned to Grace, swept his arms around her and said, “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” she said instinctively, though she realized she was only being polite. She’d been so wrapped up in the case that she hadn’t had time to miss him.

I'll stop there, since what happens next yields crucial, plot-spoiling information about the case Grace is working on. The point is that it was satisfying to juxtapose the schlocky grandma from the song next to my sharp, savvy Amazing Grace.

That whole Christmas scene was great fun to write for another reason as well. I lived in Miami for two years and celebrated two Christmases there. Holidays in the tropics can be strange for anyone from a Northern climate, as the typical trappings of merriment--snow, snowmen, sleighs, evergreen trees--can seem out of place amidst palm trees and sunshine. It's a quirkiness I've always enjoyed, probably because my earliest Christmas memories are of growing up in Arizona as a military brat. In the Chandler town square back in the Seventies, they used to erect a Christmas tree out of tumbleweeds spray-painted white. 

That experience informed my thinking on the matter of how to celebrate Christmas when one's locale is far from snow and evergreen trees. One of my favorite Christmas carols is Big Crosby's tribute to Christmas in Hawaii, "Mele Kalikimaka." I've also tried to be environmentally sensitive in my domestic practices, so I've rarely ever purchased a Christmas tree that would only be discarded at the end of the season. So my Miami tree for two years running was a potted hibiscus:

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Christmas in Miami, 2000 or 2001.

The bright blooms of the hibiscus lent themselves to quirky pairings such as this:

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In Framed and Burning, the Christmas tree becomes a way to memorialize the friend they've lost:

...Cat and Mick came home bearing a small, potted hibiscus tree. Its tangerine flowers resembled umbrellas that would unfurl in full bloom, a decadent pistil of pollen beckoning from its center.

“Let’s set it here, in the window,” Grace said, beaming at her two lovely family members.

Mick and Cat carried the hibiscus together and set it down delicately. They stared at the tree for a moment.

“I’ll go get the other swag out of the car,” Cat said.

“I’ve got some bling upstairs to add to this thing.” Mick winked at Grace and slipped out the door.

“It’s perfect, isn’t it?” Grace said this to Rose, who was stroking one of the soft blooms.

“It smells like tropical Christmas.” Rose stuck her nose closer to the flower and inhaled.

Cat came in, her hands full of shopping bags, which she dropped onto her chaise lounge, now clear of paperwork related to the case. She reached into a bag and withdrew a box of retro bubble lights. Together, the three of them strung the lights onto the miniature tree. Once the lights had warmed, Cat, who said she had experience with these kinds of lights, tapped or inverted them to get them to bubble. Their effervescence made the room sparkle.

In came Mick with a canvas drop cloth he placed around the bottom of the tree as a skirt. He also brought down a box, which he offered to Grace. “Will homemade ornaments work for your solstice party, Miss Pris?”

“Oh, Mick.” Grace took the box and reached inside. He’d fashioned the most delightful ornaments out of bits and pieces from his studio: a few spines of an old Chinese fan tied together with red velvet ribbon; a garland of driftwood and shells; a vintage toy car hung with glittery string. The four of them decorated the tree together, marveling over Mick’s creations.

When they were done, they stood back to admire it, and Rose said, “We need a star.” She looked at Grace and smiled. “I know you’re not hot on the Jesus story, but that star of Bethlehem, it always makes me weepy to think about it, a beacon in the night.”

“I’m not against those aspects, per se,” said Grace. She thought about the church sermons of her childhood, the fire and brimstone and talk of sinning. “There’s a reason they’re always claiming it’s the greatest story ever told. I think it resonates with us to think of God as not just a man, but a small baby in a manger. He’s nothing but potential.”

“I think I have an idea for our star,” Rose announced. “Mick, come and help me.” The two of them left....

In the book, there's more here, but I'll cut right to the next Christmas tree scene. Readers of the novel know by this point in the story that Donnie, who died in a fire in Mick's studio, has been cremated, his ashes stored in an urn:

...Rose and Mick resurfaced, Rose holding something delicately between her hands. “I got to thinking about the star of Bethlehem, and the wise men, bringing gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Well, we don’t have any of that, whatever it is, but we have something better.”

She moved her top hand to reveal a star crafted out of thick white paper stock backed by tracing paper. There were cutouts in the thick top layer of paper so that the lights from the tree would shine through the tracing paper, dotting the star with glints of light. It was a six-pointed star with beams emanating downward. She shook the star softly, and fine glistening grains of sand filled the beams of light like stardust.

“Did you use beach sand?” Grace asked. “It looks sugary, like it came from Bahia Honda.”

“No,” Rose said with a glowing smile and a wink at Mick. “That’s Donnie.”

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Miami tree at night.

Tomorrow's stop on the indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop is Carrie Beckort, Literary Engineer. Check it out!


What I'm Reading: Lost and Found: One Woman's Story of Losing Her Money and Finding Her Life

Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and MoneyLost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food and Money by Geneen Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've never suffered from an eating disorder or been a compulsive shopper, but I can see how this book would be a godsend for those who have. And it can have wider application, if you take Geneen Roth's conscious, practical spiritual work as a model. Roth calls us all on our false narratives and coping mechanisms to get to the root of our problems around money. While it could be hard for many readers to relate to Roth's basic position of privilege, the lessons here are worth the effort. For example, Roth describes the "what-the-hell myth," which is when your budget gets derailed by one indiscretion, so you throw your hands up and decide you might as well give up the budget and go on a spending spree. Since Roth's primary work has been with one's relationship to food, the myth applies there as well.

One of Roth's most powerful moves is her debunking of New Age "affirmations." She says:

You can repeat 'I am lovable' a thousand times a day, you can put 'I am successful beyond my wildest dreams' on your mirror, your computer, your dashboard, you can sing it to your yourself when you go to sleep and think about it the minute you open your eyes, but if an earlier belief or conviction of being unlovable is installed in your psyche, you will be wasting your time because you won't believe yourself. If you don't do the actual work of deconstructing your fundamental beliefs, the affirmations have no place to land or stick; they won't work.


She also takes to task those who wish to be "saved" when it comes to money and being responsible with it, whether that's by a mythical parent or actual higher power. Rightly, she asserts:

Being saved implies staying small and willfully blind. But it also implies one more thing: Since not everyone can be saved, the saved one must be imbued with something different, something extraordinary. To be saved, you must invest in being special.


Roth might have connected her lessons in the private sphere to our collective insanity in the wider economy, and that would have given the book more heft. It can also at times feel as if the reader needs to be more familiar with Roth's previous works on food to get the lessons here about money, which seem at times overshadowed by the food discussion. Nonetheless, it's a useful hybrid between memoir and self-help that has likely already made a difference in the lives of many readers.


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Born-Again Meat Eater

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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:

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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

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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:

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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

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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." 

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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 Power of You

The Power of You: How to Live Your Authentic, Exciting, Joy-Filled Life Now!The Power of You: How to Live Your Authentic, Exciting, Joy-Filled Life Now! by Chris Michaels
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclosure: Dr. Chris Michaels and I have been guest writers on each other's blogs. However, we've yet to meet in person. I first heard about his work when I listened to a podcast about being gay and spiritual in America. I was deeply impressed by his honesty and passion, as well as his unapologetic attitude. After reading his blog, I felt a definite kinship with him, and I thought our audiences would appreciate hearing from each other. When I saw that he'd written this book, I immediately added it to my reading list, and I'm glad I did.

I've always craved spiritual connection but have not often found it in organized religion. And I approach all teachings with a heavy does of skepticism. Even in the most liberal of churches or from the most seemingly open-minded spiritual leader, I've struggled with teachings that seem to me to be victim-blaming or self-destructive or just plain impractical. But I had none of those problems with Chris's discussion in The Power of You.

I was highlighting so often on my Kindle, I thought I might as well highlight the whole book. Chris's teaching is grounded in day-to-day reality, and from there, he provides concrete examples and advice for getting in touch with the divine and building the happier life you want. What I love about Chris is that he doesn't use his religious teachings to judge or shame or blame someone for their own unhappiness. Rather, he meets you where you are and shows you how to get where you want to be.

"When you take God out of the sky and place it down here in your life, everything changes," he says. Let that change begin with this book. But read it with intention, and commit to doing the exercises. You are definitely worth your time!

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Introducing the First Winner of a "Granny" - the Granny Grace Award for Outstanding Women Over 40!

 

Karen Musser Nortman
Karen Musser Nortman, Winner of the First-Ever Granny Award

We often obsess over youthful achievement in our society, but I think it's more important to recognize what a person accomplishes over the long haul. Not everyone has the opportunity to publish in their twenties, for example, and some choose motherhood first or the responsibilities of working and paying off student loans before they feel they can follow their dreams. This is especially true for women, who even today more often have to make the choice to put their creative endeavors on the back burner. 

To recognize outstanding women over 40, I've created the Granny Grace Award.

My first "Granny" recipient is fellow mystery writer Karen Musser Nortman. She's the author of a clever series of campground mysteries that deliver murder and mayhem along with helpful camping tips. The Frannie Shoemaker series is at Book No. 4 and counting, and Nortman received an indieBRAG medallion for all four. Book No. 2, The Blue Coyote, was a finalist in the Chanticleer 2013 CLUE awards.

I reviewed Book No. 1, Bats and Bones, here. It's a must-read for anyone who loves to camp, especially if you're interested in "glamping," or glamor camping. For those of us who enjoy learning new skills best when they're wrapped around a compelling story line, this is the perfect book. And mystery fiends will enjoy the well-crafted whodunit. 

Frannie Shoemaker is a great heroine. Neither detective nor cop, she nonetheless has a mind for motive and can't help being drawn into solving whatever case presents itself to her on the hiking trail.

And Karen hasn't stopped there: Her recent endeavor is a time-travel novel.

 

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Images courtesy of Karen Musser Nortman

The most amazing thing about Karen is that she launched this--her third career--entirely as an indie. Her craft, quality, and professionalism as a self-published author stand out as best-in-the-business and no doubt come from a lifetime of experience.

Her first career was as a social studies teacher, a job she held for 22 years. She says this is the hardest thing she's ever done. "I am by nature more introvert than extrovert, and those first years were a real challenge. I was very lucky that my first class was an outstanding group and not out for blood. Writing a book by contrast was a walk in the park."

For another 18 years, she was a test developer. The two of us first struck up a conversation, as a matter of fact, over a case Granny Grace pursues in Cat in the Flock, when she investigates a fraudulent ACT test. (Thankfully, my research passed Karen's muster.) But retiring from test development didn't mark the end of Karen's working life. "I knew I couldn't be done yet, because in fourth grade, I had decided to be a writer," she says.

Her lifelong dream to be a writer hitched up with her passion for camping, and a series was born. She explains:

A love of mysteries combined with our avocation of camping provided the inspiration for the Franny Shoemaker campground mysteries. My husband Butch and I originally tent camped when our children were young and switched to a travel trailer a few years back when sleeping on the ground lost its romantic adventure.

Karen has been especially pleased with how her books have reached a wider audience. She got a note from someone in Australia who heard about her books in an Australian campground, and she's built a network of friends around the U.S., fellow campers who sought her out after reading her books. She says, "One is always pleased, of course, to have friends and family read one's books, but it is uniquely gratifying to hear from complete strangers." 

What's the most amazing thing that's ever happened to Karen? Her family. "Even though our children went though lots of teenaged and twenty-something turmoil, they are all now caring, responsible adults and have given us eight delightful grandchildren, four of whom are also adults," she says. "I am especially proud that they are all active volunteers in various causes."

Congratulations to Karen Musser Nortman, and happy trails to all her readers.

 

 


Guest Blogger: Location, location, location

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by Dr. Chris Michaels

LB: Today on the blog I have Dr. Chris Michaels, an inspiring author, speaker, and executive coach. I asked him to write about relocation in order to achieve one's life purpose. Some people might say you're just running away from your problems when you move to another place, but on the other hand, doing so can be an enormous step toward positive change. The question is an important one for me, as the main character in my novel Cat in the Flock relocates to Seattle from St. Louis in order to apprentice with her grandmother as a dreamslipper and private investigator, but then her first case, ironically, takes her back to St. Louis.

Here's what Chris has to say.

Who doesn’t want an adventure? 

Today a lot of millennials are turning their backs on traditional jobs and traveling the world instead of settling for a more conventional life. Shows like HGTV run non-stop marathons featuring families looking to purchase homes in far-off, magical lands. Last week I attended the World Domination Summit with author Chris Guillebeau. He wrote the book The Art of Non-Conformity, which chronicles his 10-year quest to visit every country in the world.  Chris’ book has motivated millions to pursue their dreams of adventure.

This need for mobility, freedom, and adventure isn’t really new. Historically, Americans have always been a bit restless. And we have always felt like the grass is greener on the other side… 

But sometimes, the grass really is greener somewhere else. 

I grew up in a small, rural town where conformity was the norm. There wasn’t a lot of room or acceptance for boys like me. I knew from a very young age that if I didn’t get out of that town my life might be in danger.

Time has changed some things. (Although in many parts of America we still have a long way to go.) But the truth is if I stayed in that small town I would have never met my partner Aubrey. We’ve been together for 19 years. And he has supported me and helped make me the man I am today. If I stayed in that small town, I would have never started the Center of Spiritual Living in Kansas City. I would have never met the people within that community that have given me endless inspiration to carry on and do meaningful work in the world.

Some people think who they marry or what career they choose is the most important decision in their life, but I think where you choose to live is of equal importance. If you love to surf, you’re probably not going to be very happy living in Iowa. If you want to be a famous actor, living in Montana is not going to help you achieve your dreams.

Over the years, I have done many personal and professional development programs. Location is often a topic that comes up for people as they consider how to live a life of purpose and meaning.  As people start to pursue their dreams, they sometimes realize they aren’t in an environment that supports them. 

Location is important to me, too. I live in Kansas. But during the winter months I run screaming to Florida. The bleak, grey winter does not inspire me. In fact, being trapped in a house without sun and vitamin D makes me sluggish. So I plan my escape each year.

Changing locations isn’t easy. Family, money, and career obligations often keep us in one place, even though we may long to be in another. But that doesn’t mean we can’t travel to other places.  Airbnb opens up wild new opportunities to go places that are affordable. 

Think about what feeds your soul. Where do you dream of living or traveling? What goals do you have for your life, and where are they most likely to be achieved? Create a plan and start taking actionable steps. 

How do you know when the grass really is greener? 

There is only one way to know. You can only know this if you really know yourself.

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Chris Michaels is a husband, executive coach, national speaker, entrepreneur and author. Chris’ recent book, The Power of You, published by Penguin Press in 2014 received a Silver medal in the Nautilus Awards, an organization that recognizes world-changing books.

When not building programs, writing, and speaking, Chris is traveling to Bali, Thailand, or Europe. During the winter he can be found in Florida soaking up the sun and dreaming of his next big assignment.

To learn more about Chris or to stay connected, sign up for his weekly newsletter here.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.

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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:

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And me, too.

Me and tino barrels

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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...