The Easiest Hard Thing I’ve Ever Done

It’s been a cold and rainy Thanksgiving weekend. I slept a lot. I ate a lot. I worked HARD. All in all, it was a great balance of downtime and productive time. To wrap up the weekend, we’re snuggling in front of a cracking fire and getting ready to binge on some Netflix.

Within maybe two feet of my nose, my husband’s beer glass is wafting its yeasty malty funk into the living room air. It’s exactly the kind of beer I used to trip all over myself for. And I don’t just mean that figuratively.

beer in front of fire
It’s a dark winter stout, thick and almost chocolaty, not too cold, not very fizzy. I’m looking at that graceful glass and breathing in those scents, and I have one thought.


At this moment, I’ve been sober for 7 months, 28 days, 22 hours, and 35 minutes. My sobriety app tells me that at the rate I was glugging away, I’ve saved $2,477 and passed up 1,486 units of booze.

I’ll tell you something. If you’ve been here, there’s no surprise in this for you. But here it is:

Seven months and 28 days ago I didn’t think I could do this. I remember telling my husband, who had seen me make a good 60-day run at sobriety the year before only to pick up the bottle even more enthusiastically than before, “I think this will be really hard work and I just don’t know if I’m up to it.”

And that’s the irony of this addiction thing. When you reach your truth time – or what some people call “hitting bottom,” even though I’ll thank dog I didn’t have to do that – when you get there, you’re tired. You’ve been tired for so long you don’t even know you’re tired. You’ve been working so hard to keep things together you don’t even remember what a non-hungover, non-cloudy-brained, non-get-through-this-by-the-seat-of-your-pants day even feels like. That scary feeling of barely getting by, of putting on a front so others can’t see how much you’re not up to it? It’s not a bad day. You just call it Tuesday. It’s normal.

I’d heard that from long-time sobriety champions. Not so much in these words, but I’d heard people with dressers full of AA chips and directories of sponsees tell me that people who are practicing their addiction are living in a haze of delusion. The haze is so normal they don’t even notice it anymore.

I remember back in the day when my brothers were in constant legal trouble because of their addictions. DUIIs, probation, probation violations, jail, probation, more violations, more jail. I called an uncle who is one of those with a collection of AA chips and sponsees. He talked me out of trying an intervention with my brothers. Interventions usually don’t work, he said. And he said it would have to be up to my brothers. But when they did finally decide – IF they ever decided – they’d learn that this whole sobriety thing isn’t as complicated as the intoxicated mind makes it out to be.

“So, say you have a routine every night: you come home from work at 5:30 and have dinner at 6:00 and from 7:00 – 9:00 you watch your two favorite shows on TV,” I remember him saying, while I wondered why the hell he was talking about mundane weeknight routines when I was afraid my brothers were going to die. “It’s such a habit that you can’t remember what you did before that habit. And if someone suddenly took away your ability to continue this habit, you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself. But that would just last for a while. Pretty soon you’d find new habits – hopefully better and healthier than the old ones – and you wouldn’t miss the old habits anymore.”

Now, remember, my brothers were in trouble. Impounded cars and divorces and bad parenting and hiding-from-the-cops kind of trouble. And my uncle was suggesting that their solution could be as easy as deciding not to watch sitcoms for two hours every night.

I didn’t buy it.

And back then, I had never thought I’d face that habit shift myself. I’m what we call a functional alcoholic. I never got arrested or missed work. I was one of the countless among us who can do the college degrees and the business ownership and the volunteer jobs and the community involvement and manage a mortgage and a household and do it all through the haze of booze. Of course, I hauled home bottles of expensive Irish whiskey and cases of snooty wine, so I wasn’t just chugging down cheap beer and getting wasted like my brothers and so many other people we knew. To my mind, I was an entirely different story. I had outrun my DNA.

Honestly, holding my brothers up as a mirror let me stay in denial about two decades longer than I had a right to. I inherited that delusional mirror in the same way I got blue eyes and arthritic shoulders and a sneaky sense of humor. It came in the gene bundle. Generations of my clan have had barely functional and incarcerated kin who let the more functional drunks feel like they had it all together.

So when I reached my truth point almost eight months ago, I tried to steel my blurry and tired and traumatized brain for a hard fight. I started treatment for addiction and for PTSD. I tethered myself to my phone, streaming mindfulness and yoga apps into my ear buds day and night. I stocked up on fizzy flavored water and fancy loose-leaf teas and pretty teapots. I made new habits.

And today, sitting next to that stinky, sparkly glass of something that would have been an irresistible siren call a few months ago, I’m just a little queasy from the smell. I’m getting more space between the fumes and me, reaching for my diet ginger ale, and when I finish that I’ll brew some loose-leaf herbal tea and head to bed with my meditation app and my ear buds.

My uncle wasn’t the crazy one. I was. I have new habits now and I don’t miss the old ones.

It really is that easy.

And it’s more complicated than I can say here and now.

It’s one of the easiest hard things a person can do.

Oven Canning for Long-Term Dry Goods Storage

jars oven can

The irony of writing about killer DIY projects is that when I’m busiest with my DIY-ing, I’m not writing about it. Example: we recently finished the 400-square-foot addition on our house. I’ve tiled two showers and two floors, laid 300 feet of laminate, painted, installed lighting and plumbing fixtures, and now I’m building cabinets for the laundry and bath.

Now THAT’S a lot of DIY.

And not one blog post. Yet. It’s all documented and photographed and waiting to make its etherwebs debut.

There’s still detail and finish work to do, but the most urgent parts of that project are done. We’re sleeping in our new bedroom and the toilet flushes and the shower works and the laundry gets cleaned. So this week I’m working on a much more urgent project that’s been weighing on my mind. It’s emergency preparedness.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re chronically wince-puckered under the looming threat of a subduction zone earthquake. The Big One. The End Of The World As We Know It. Tectonic plates playing bumper cars, earth bucking, bridges cracking, buildings crumbling. When it happens (and apparently it’s a matter of when rather than if) the region could be without power or water or emergency services for weeks. Depending on the damage, it could take months to restore public safety and sanitation.

I’m no survivalist type. I didn’t build a Y2K bunker or stock up on ammo in the waning hours of 1999. Being a hardened contrarian, I generally meet public hysteria and fear-mongering with an eye-roll.

I refuse to freak out.

Preparing is not freaking out. In fact, it’s a remedy for anxiety.

I started stocking the garage pantry about a year ago. My husband would open a cupboard and say, um, we have a LOT of canned beans.

Yes, dear. Yes, we do. That’s the idea. Someday we might have to survive off of what’s in there.

He didn’t grow up in a Mormon household. I did, at least for the first nine years. I remember the six-month supply of canned goods and water jugs in our garage. Mormons are experts at this. Today, my step-mom is the preparedness leader for her church. She’s taken up home canning and keeps a 50-gallon drum of wheat berries in the garage alongside fuel, toiletries, camping gear, and first aid supplies. She’s given us our 72-hour “go” backpacks stocked with water purifying straws and toilet paper and mylar blankets. She’s a trusty source of tips and advice.

Maybe you know a preparedness buff. Make use of that knowledge. But if you don’t know someone, there’s an endless supply of info for free.

If you go looking, prepare to squirm through a meandering rabbit hole of patriot propaganda, anarchy and revolution fantasies, and fundamentalist weaponry worshipers. It’s a dark and camo world out there.

There’s also heated debate:

  • You should definitely store huge drums of white rice
  • No. Store brown rice. It has higher nutritional value.
  • No. Brown rice has omega fats that break down and make it harder to store long-term.
  • Don’t store ANY rice! It has to cook for a long time, and fuel will be scarce.

You get the idea.

And here’s another source of comments-section bickers:

Oven canning.

There are staunch critics and practiced proponents. I’ve read it all, and here’s what I decided:


Yes to the oven canning, but with caveats.

  • Use it only for shelf-stable dry goods like grains and dried beans and maybe dry pasta.
  • Absolutely don’t try this for vegetables or fruit or anything that you’d can with the normal water-bath method. Stick to the tried and true techniques for those foods.
  • Don’t use it for foods with oils (nuts, dog kibble) because they might go rancid.
  • Don’t use it for sugar (this is a common question in the comments sections.) Sugar will melt in the oven.
  • And definitely don’t put up ALL of your emergency stores this way. Even stored carefully and securely, these jars could sprout poltergeist wings and smash to bits during The Mother Of All Earthquakes. It’s like the investment advice: diversify. If you lose some of your goods when hell breaks loose, you’ll have others to rely on.

With these limitations, I think oven canning is a good idea. You’re storing things that might do well just closed up in a glass jar anyway, but the oven processing time can help sterilize and then heat-seal the jars for better and safer long-term storage.

Are you game?

If so, here are the easy instructions:

  1. Lower your oven racks to accommodate large jars (I got the half-gallon size).
  2. Place a roasting pan or baking sheet on the rack.
  3. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.
  4.  While the oven heats, fill your jars with dry goods. Leave the lids off.
  5. Place the filled jars on the baking pan and heat them for one full hour. Remember: the lids are OFF.
  6. Place the jar lids and rings in a large metal bowl.
  7. When the hour is nearly up, pour boiling water over the lids and rings. This sterilizes them and helps soften the seals.
  8. Place your rings and lids on a clean towel and dry them well. You don’t want to introduce moisture into your dry goods.
  9. Turn off the oven and leave the jars inside. Take out one jar at a time, using oven mitts, and use a clean cloth or paper towel to wipe the rim of the glass and then screw on the lid. Just hand-tighten.
  10. Wait. As the jars cool, the lids will “pop” and seal. After they’ve full cooled, if any of your jars haven’t fully sealed, you can repeat the process or simply plan to use them within the next six months or so.

For about $20, including the jars, I put away three gallons of grains and legumes. I opted for oats, quinoa, corn meal, and lentils. Compared to their counterparts (black beans, rice, and such) these foods have shorter cooking times and will need less water or cooking time.

I’ll be showing off some other preparedness projects that are easy to do yourself. Do it!

It brings a distinct peace of mind. And if you want to take a gamble at unleashing some karmic woo-woo, cross your fingers and light a candle and repeat your favorite mantra while you fill your garage shelves with food rations and rain ponchos. Maybe. Just maybe, a disaster-prepped household is like the newly-washed car that brings on a rainstorm or the closely-watched pot that won’t boil. Ommmmm. Rest easily, tectonic plates. Peace. Ommmm.

quinoa oven can3jars oven can

Honestly? Honestly?!? Okay.

I can’t remember the last time I read a horoscope, silly superstition that they are. I think of them as the stuff that captivated me and my friends at fourth-grade slumber parties, along with Magic 8-balls and Ouija boards carefully smuggled past watchful parents.

As an adult, I just don’t go for woo-woo. There is, however, this pernicious popular belief that all massage therapists just love some good woo-woo. I get on email lists that promise to prevent cancer through chakra tuning, cure acne with a juice cleanse, or clear bad family karma through prayer and ritual. Honestly, that last one was worth a curious click-through, but my critical thinking kicked in 1/3 of the way through the sales pitch.

This morning, one of the unsolicited intruder emails included my daily horoscope, which promised that anyone born under the Cancer sign will feel especially attractive and vibrant today.

Which pretty much proves my theory about the woo-woo bullshit.

Here’s how this Cancer actually started her day: with a wet, cold head. And a dirty toilet. And stinky armpits. And a grumbling husband. Construction workers busted a water pipe under our house yesterday. It took 24 hours to get a plumber here. So I used my emergency water jugs from the garage to flush the toilet (just TWICE, because did you know it takes about four gallons to flush a toilet?!?) and to wash my hair in the sink and take a few quick swipes at my pits with the corner of a wet towel. Grumpy Husband stayed home to wait for the plumber while I rushed out the door for a follow-up with my hand surgeon and a full day of massages on the medical staff at the local psych hospital.

Vibrant? Attractive? What did you say? Come over here and say that, buttheat. I dare you.

So one client bellowed before she’d even walked completely in the door, “Ohmygod you look tired! Wow!” I’m just returning to work after carpal tunnel surgery on both hands, so maybe that’s what passes for concern in her world. Another client, as she was leaving: “I notice you’ve put on weight. You know, I attend Overeaters Anonymous, based on The Big Book. I think you’d benefit.”

Of course I didn’t mention the reasons why I am not a fan of The Big Book and the 12-step meetings based on it. In fact, almost anything I could have said in response would be unprofessional. Or illegal, since I work only as long as I’m in the good graces of the Board of Massage Therapists (hallowed be Thy name). Board rules explicitly state that therapists shalt not ram elbows into clients’ eyeballs, genitals, carotid arteries. . .

Given the suffocating weight of ethical and legal restrictions, my best option was to turn it back to a therapeutic conversation. “So, you’re happy with that program? How nice that it’s helping you! Keep up the amazing work. I’m impressed. And thank you for the recommendation.”

Next client through the door: “Are you sure you’re ready for this? You had surgery, and now I’m coming in with this giant knot in my shoulder and I want you to dig it – HARD!” Absolutely, yes, I told her, let’s get to work on that shoulder. “Oh, good,” she laughed. “I thought I was enabling another person’s self-harm.”

And, bingo!

Leave it to mental health workers to use words like enabling self-harm, and to try to be tactfully direct about fatigue, weight gain, or other indicators of general well-being – or lack thereof.

I’ve worked on these people for twenty years. Their job is to treat and contain the criminally insane. Their job will eat them alive if they aren’t diligent about their own self care and their work-life boundaries. They’ve told me that our ongoing therapeutic relationship helps them maintain their sanity. They rely on me for grounding. Or, to use a less woo-woo word, it’s a source of solace.

I feel I should pause here to let that sink in. I provide solace for the doctors and nurses and technicians who take care of really super crazy people. I hold at least a part of the container that keeps them from buying a one-way ticket to Borneo or requesting their own bed and medication schedule so they can check themselves into the ward at the end of their shift.

Please enjoy the irony. You’re safe. My elbows are only licensed to heal.

But the point is, if I totally lose it (as opposed to just sort of losing it and then getting it together, and losing it a little bit, but then collecting my shit, as is pretty much the zig-zag path of anyone who’s truly paying attention) they need to find somebody else who will release their trigger points and restore motion to stuck shoulders and can pass the security clearance to get inside the hospital and back out at least twice a month. The part where I get back out always feels like I’ve just pulled one over on The Man. Every time, 21 years now, twice a month, they had me and they let me go. Wheeeee! Run like somebody left the gate open!

So I’m zig-zagging my way through this crazy-making life, and some of the curves in the road are a little harder than others. Call it car sickness. Right now I’m sticking my head out the window and letting the fresh air blow right in my face. That always helps. But if I still look carsick in two weeks when I’m back there? Damned right they’ll tell me. And I’ll wonder why the hell they’re being so blunt, but truly I’ll know exactly why they’re being so blunt. It’s like telling somebody they have a fever or that cough is starting to sound serious.

We’re not a straightforward people, are we? Even in this age of compulsive oversharing, we know what our friends ate for lunch and which celebrities are screwing around and how many people shave their pubes. But we don’t know how people are coping with the real stuff.

How are you doing after blocking your brother and unfriending your cousin because of their ugly, racist social media remarks?

How are assault survivors managing the daily barrage of triggering language from a proud groper who thinks he should be the leader of the free world?

How do sober people deal with the world’s jagged stabbing shards that most people soften with substances?

Good questions, right?

But to ask, you have to be a special kind of honest. Masterfully honest. And that shit’s real. So real, in fact, that some people’s ears aren’t even tuned to hear it.

Honestly. Honestly. It’s okay.




Totally Killer DIY

I love reclaimed stuff. The Habitat for Humanity ReStore is one of my favorite hangouts. It’s a great way to find cool vintage-looking stuff with oodles more character than the off-the-rack stuff at the big box stores. And it’s environmentally sound, right? But mostly I’m such a cheapo that I love getting a $100 box of tiles for $5. That just lights me up.

Even better, though: I love taking something off of my house and using it again. That way it’s free, and it goes with my house.

But here’s  my free door that turned into a $1,000 door. studio door 1

I took it off of my garage. And then I cut a really big opening and built these doors garage door one (with cool vintage glass blocks from the ReStore, of course). garage door twoThat way I can drive in the front of my garage, through the back of the garage, and bring my trailer into the backyard. That’s great for moving mulch and compost and whatnot.

So then I took the old door and put it on my soon-to-be writing studio – the one I’m converting from a greenhouse. And it was all going beautifully. I was just putting the last few pieces of trim on it and ready to come take a shower and eat something and celebrate a job well done. And – BAM!

nailed finger

I love using the nail gun. Rawr! Such power! I was zipping right through that trim – pop, pop, pop…a nail here; a nail there…pop, pop, pop. And I was done. See, that’s the thing. The job was done. Done! And I saw one little crooked piece around the window inside the door. It’s hard plastic trim. On a metal door. Blame it on dehydration or exhaustion or bold stupidity, but I though, yeah, the nail probably won’t penetrate that stuff, but it sure would be a nice fast fix if it did, so I’ll just hold this trim in place and…


My first reaction: run to the garage, grab the needle-nose pliers, and yank that sucker out. But it wouldn’t budge. It had bent when it hit the hard plastic, and then it curved into my finger. So I got my husband. I walked calmly into the house and said, um, hey, hon. I need you to drive me to the urgent care for something. All calm like. But that did little good. He does not handle emergencies.

The x-rays (dang, I wish I had those to post here) sort of looked like the nail went through the bone, but then in another angle it looked like it hadn’t. Either way, it hadn’t shattered a bone. The doctor used needle-nose pliers just like mine, only a whole lot cleaner and probably 32 times the cost. He put his weight behind it, and he got that sucker out. Then I just needed some antibiotics.

It really didn’t hurt the next day. I was so impressed. It healed quickly. And then the bill came.


A grand. For a free door. A thousand bucks for “surgery” that amounted to a numbing injection (which hurts like a mutha, by the way, and was a lot more painful than the nail, thank you very much) and a yank with the pliers. Such is our modern medical system.

And such is the life of a DIY nut. Sometimes there are unforeseen expenses. Dammit anyway.

I am a bit accident prone, it seems. I’m starting to get a bit of teasing about that. But there’s a real bright spot here. If I’m ever bleeding out in my backyard, an ambulance will be able to get to me in a hurry, now that I have that fancy drive-through garage.

How’s Your Precious Little Spark of Madness Today?

Robin Williams Madness

My feeds are sprinkled with Robin Williams tributes. He would have turned 65 this week, and judging by the chosen quotations in his many tributes, this is his most enduring message: “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

It’s fitting that we remember his little spark of madness, since he’s the reason we all owned rainbow suspenders and thought “Nano-Nano” was a stupidly hilarious punchline for nearly anything. But maybe this quotation endures for other reasons too. After all, it might have been his own little spark of madness that metastasized into the thoughts that murdered him by his own hand. But perhaps it endures for the simple fact that we all sometimes feel singed by our own sparks of madness, and framing them as precious incendiary gifts is immensely comforting.

So, how are your cherished sparkles of crazy today?

I’ll tell you how mine are. They’re dancing like fireflies in the summer sky, nimble and uncontainable.  I had them captured in Mason jars for a bit. They were glowy and almost cute, as if I could post selfies on Facebook with my crazies’ cherubic brightness buzzing behind me, the way I post pictures of my dogs sleeping in comical poses. “Life is good, all. My dogs are snoring on a pile of my bed pillows and my batshit is all closed up in a jar with a ribbon on top. So, so pretty.”

Not to make light of crazy, because its spectrum ranges from quirky to criminal, but let’s talk about the relatively benign portion of that bell curve. We all know, or at least suspect, that our efforts to chase happiness and cling to normalcy make us feel crazy. If your gray matter contains even the average number of colorful sparks, they will forever conspire to steer you off the bucolic road into the wild woods, and then back to center, and then off again. But somehow we convince ourselves that all of those turns in the road represent some pathology, or some failure of character. That’s where we get into trouble.

I recently read a dour interpretation of Buddhist thought asserting that you’re meant to suffer.  That’s true enough, of course. After all, no being navigates life without suffering. But the author’s enthusiastic embrace of suffering is somewhere I’m not yet ready to go. According to my novice interpretation of Buddhist teaching, a clinging affinity for any state – pleasant or unpleasant – is the source of all suffering. Our challenge is to simply accept and observe all of our states, like the passing scenery out a train window, without judgment. If we try to exert control, if we think we’re called to create a constant state of happiness – or even believe we should be capable of it – we’re fools.

I’ve been that fool lately, not just because I’m as prone as anyone to pathologize my own sparks, but because other people’s sparks insist on ramming into the side of my cozy little Mason jar. And how dare they? Don’t I have enough to do just keeping my own little fireflies in check? I found my equilibrium here, and zap, zap, zap.

My mom texted that she just had a heart attack, although she reports that a series of medical tests confirm there’s zero damage to her heart. Which – and I’m no doctor – I think by definition rules out an actual heart attack.* A normal person would feel concern about her mother’s potential heart attack, but this particular heart attack sounds like her others, plus her several strokes, two rounds of nondescript cancer, MS, fibromyalgia, childhood polio, and a recurring case of “blood clots in the rectum,” all of which didn’t actually happen in any medical sense. They only happened inside her little firefly farm. Zap, zap, zap. So where’s my sympathy, whether her illnesses is in the heart muscle or etched indelibly into the scrambled eggs of her brain? My husband says we’ll send a get-well card. Okay, fine. We can do that. What kind of terrible person am I? Zap, zap, zap.

Getting ready for construction to begin on our master bedroom addition, I rushed through a last-minute door installation, mis-aimed the nail gun, and embedded a nail, curved through the bone like a fishing hook, into my index finger. My husband’s cognitive process turns to TV static in an emergency. He can’t remember the way to the hospital, traffic is bad, my finger hurts like a mutha. I used every muscle in my body to muzzle the snark. It was hard enough work that I walked the last block and a half to the ER to spare me watching him find parking while his brain frizzed. I silently chided myself, finger held high, trying to speed-walk but not run: So now I’m someone who responds to pain by poking everyone else with angry, impatient barbs? Shove those fireflies back into the jar and be lighthearted during the three-hour ER visit, you jerk. Zap, zap, zap.

Just a few days into construction everything stopped because the guy who will install our heat ducting is out at sea for a second week of catching and selling tuna. I’m stressed over the unscheduled stoppage so he can kill members of a drastically declining species instead of doing his job.  Move the electrician and plumber around, force the carpenters to take a two-day break, but swallow down the fireflies and say nothing, you militant vegan freak. Zap, zap, zap.

During my flurry of rescheduling with all the subs, a friend sends an ominous email with no subject line. “Please call me asap.” I take the bait, only to hear she has extra garden produce to share. Oh, yeah, she knows the email sounded alarming, hee-hee. On a troubled and hungry planet, I’m the monster who’s inconvenienced by free arugula and green beans. Swallow those fireflies, you ungrateful First World brat. Zap, zap, zap.

I’m still rearranging the construction schedule when my sister sends two text messages, one Facebook message and a voicemail within five minutes. She has an emergency. I need to call her NOW. Her deeply troubled Chihuahua snapped at the dog walker, who popped the lid off a food-service-size jar of fireflies and said my sister shouldn’t even have a dog. The walker then calmed down and is willing to walk Rocky, but my sister thinks maybe she should just let the cleaning lady walk him because he likes her and because that dog walker treated my sister so unprofessionally. Your dog walker doesn’t have a Harvard MBA, for crying out loud. The dog can’t stay in your apartment for 12 hours, so work it out with the unprofessional one or hire someone else. I don’t care. Zap, zap, zap. It’s one of the few times I let the fireflies out of the jar instead of swallowing them down. I hang up the phone knowing I was too hard on her. I’m a terrible sister. Zap, zap, zap.

That evening I’m planning the next day’s logistics with my husband: I’ll work a full schedule and oversee the builders and meet a City worker for a plumbing inspection. I’ll leave home around 9:15 and be home by 3:00, I say. Glazed and inattentive, my husband asks me what time I’ll leave the house in the morning. Zap, zap, zap. By now the fireflies are harder and harder to contain, and I don’t want to spill them all just because my husband too often asks a question I just answered. It’s not worth the upset, but those little sparks are just zapping and zapping and zapping away.

I was already wound like a tight spring, along with everyone of conscience in the world right now. Bombs are falling, snipers are shooting, cops are killing civilians, civilians are killing cops, refugees are fleeing, and thousands of Americans wearing red and blue sequins and yearning for the good pre-civil-rights era spent the week cheering an orange-hued misogynist racist in his bid to be the leader of the free world. Zap the fucking Zap and Zap Zap.

So I doused the zaps. In whiskey. Sobriety, schnobriety. The warm calm oozed through me. The fireflies floated happily into their jar and lulled off to sleep. Nighty-night.

The fireflies awake in the morning, of course. They can’t spend forever in a calming whiskey wash. Or maybe they could, but the whiskey would make a far bigger mess of me than my sparks would ever dream. So the trick is to not pathologize the sparks to the point that I want to silence them. And to remember that without our madness twinkling through the darkness, we’d be damned boring. I’d have nothing to write. I’d have less arugula.


*Merriam Webster. “Full Definition of heart attack: an acute episode of heart disease marked by the death or damage of heart muscle due to insufficient blood supply to the heart usually as a result of a coronary thrombosis or a coronary occlusion and that is characterized especially by chest pain —called also myocardial infarction.”






I Found the Miracle Fix for My Noise-Sensitive Dogs

There’s an excavator digging up my back yard right now.

Can you hear it?

Probably not.

And the great news is, neither can my girls Roxy and Willow.

This is amazing, stupendous, world-changing. I know it just looks like a couple of goofballs wrestling, but you’d have to know Roxy to feel the full impact here.

Roxy is a textbook clinical case of noise reactivity. By that I mean, noises make her drool, shake, poop on the floor, bark, run blindly, try to break out of windows and doors. And as you see, she’s got some strength behind her. (She’s the pibble; Willow is the brown doggie.)

I’ve been working on this with a trainer for as long as I’ve known Roxy, which is about five years now. One of our best discoveries to date is the air popper for thunder storms and fireworks. This great technique has one major flaw: thunderstorms can last an hour; fireworks can go on for days; popcorn is all popped out in a few minutes.

In our neighborhood, we’re still hearing nightly fireworks and struggling to keep Roxy from shattering windows. To up our challenge even more, we broke ground yesterday on a long-awaited addition to our house (including a mud room with a dog shower – stay tuned!). That means an excavator, jackhammer, nail guns, air compressors, big guys with wheelbarrows. And we signed up for about four weeks of this. Knowing how construction goes, that’s likely to turn into six weeks or more.

In near panicked desperation, I started an online search for noise-cancelling devices. I was ready to pay nearly any price for something that would spare us weeks of misery. I knew sedatives weren’t the answer, because her anxiety is severe enough to break through any mild haze from the kinds of anxiety meds that allow her to still function. The other stuff, like Acepromazine, leaves dogs physically incapacitated but still mentally jacked up. Watching a dog wobble and belly crawl while her eyes are feral with terror is my idea of hell. So I needed some technology, some magical gadget to save the day.

There are window-mounted devices for noisy city apartments. There are expensive headphones that generate their own frequencies to counteract whatever noise frequency is coming at them. There are doodads that make swooshing sounds or some other white noise. I read the reviews and made a choice and finally clicked “purchase.”

sound spa

The thing that saved my sanity

Here’s the stupendous result: the Homedics Spa Sound Machine for $19.28. Two of them. So, my $40 investment gets me a babbling brook in the den, chirping crickets in the living room, and blissfully quiet dogs.

No drugs. No drooling or pooping or charging at plate glass. We had a few half-hearted barks followed by napping and eating and tugging and wresting games.

happy Roxy

Guys are throwing chunks of concrete into a dump truck now. Look who doesn’t care.

This. Is. Bliss.

Writers Describe How Depression Feels

depression stock photo

I was first diagnosed with depression in my early 20s. In truth, I’d probably experienced the symptoms years before, but the diagnosis came about when I was working a highly visible, pressure-cooker job as a TV news anchor and reporter. I found it increasingly harder to be “on” when I needed to be, to get out of bed every day and keep a professional smile while doing stressful work under intense public scrutiny. So I sought help and got it.

KPIC 1990

Me, putting on my brave face, but depressed as hell.

Hearing the diagnosis – and hearing there were medications and other treatments proven to help – lifted me immediately. I called the doctor the next morning and said I thought the medications were already helping. He assured me they don’t work that quickly, but if there was some combined placebo effect with the relief of knowing I would soon feel better, that was great news too.

As writers tend to do with profound life moments, I brought my experience to the page. I did a week-long series of reports on depression and revealed my own experience. Some people thought I was oversharing and warned I might be sorry for going public. I never was. When appreciative feedback came in from viewers, I knew I’d made the right decision.

My only fear was that it would become my identity – that people would think of my depression when they thought of me or my work. That didn’t happen, either. My last day on air, when the news team did a tribute, the depression thing didn’t even make the cut. So there’s that. Speak up. It’ll be okay.

Back then, it was highly unusual to talk about depression. Today is different, though possibly no less scary. There’s still a stigma to overcome. You have a problem with your thyroid or bowels or plantar fascia or carpal bones? Talk it up! A problem with your brain? Eek. Talk about that and people might think you’re broken.

It’s probably no coincidence that writers are often the people to push through the stigma and describe depression in a public way. Why writers? I don’t know. Our ability to put experience to words? A function of the kind of interior life that leads one to write in the first place? A proclivity for navel-gazing?

Some still write anonymously when they can, like the woman who’s been tweeting as “So Sad Today” since 2012. She’s since been more public about her identity, but started initially with a keen interest in avoiding possible judgment while sharing thoughts like, “trying to act normal feels lonely,” and “is gravity getting heavier.”

Writer Tim Lott shared in The Guardian that depression for him feels like, “There is a heavy, leaden feeling in your chest, rather as when someone you love dearly has died; but no one has – except, perhaps, you.”

David Foster Wallace famously shared that his depression felt like severe nausea in every cell of his body. It’s being trapped in that moment before throwing up, the unbearable full-body sickness, but the vomiting never comes. Like other depressives, he knew the non-depressed had no capacity to fully understand it. A severely depressed person who chooses suicide, he wrote, is like the desperate person who jumps from a burning high rise. The fall is still terrifying, but it becomes slightly less terrifying than the flames. So “nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

Wallace eventually jumped from the flames too, joining the legions of famous writers whose brains ultimately murdered them.

Other writers from Stephen King to Mark Twain and Sylvia Plath are known to have struggled with depression. This perplexing and mysterious illness has been around us forever, and still we understand so little. Experts still debate whether depression is a physical illness, brought by faulty brain chemistry, or a strictly emotional illness, arising out of faulty thought habits. Famous thinkers and writers offer a clue to this question as well: most, like Twain, came from families that contributed both the social and biological ingredients: both nature and nurture.

Whatever the cause, no matter how mysterious, we know that this disease resided in some of the most brilliant and influential minds ever to put pen to paper. People who write – people both famous and unknown – can describe depression in all of its nuanced shades of black and gray.

For me: depression is a heavy, cold clay encasing my body. My eyelids and facial muscles are harder to move, my limbs are heavy, and all is futile. Effort, hope, plans become folly, as I’m convinced they’re powerless to add meaning to the utter absurdity of life.

To my brilliant writerly friend: depression is a continuous tape loop of negative messages going around and around and around in her brain. You’re not meant to be here. You’ll never be good enough. You’re a fraud.

For Margaret Atwood: “I have done something wrong, something so huge I can’t even see it, something that’s drowning me. I am inadequate and stupid, without worth. I might as well be dead.”

To JK Rowling: “It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope.”

To Jonathan Franzen: (the description most similar to my own experience) “Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression’s actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity.”

As detailed as these descriptions may be, depression likely always will be a deep mystery to the non-sufferers. To my one blood relative who likely has never experienced depression: “Maybe you should just eat a nice piece of fruit and you’ll feel better.” To those who would throw peaches as life-preservers into our stormy tides: go back to your happy place, please. Leave the dark stuff to the experts.

But to those who have tread water in those stormy seas, take heart. The essence, in Franzen’s words, of the “overwhelming estrangement from humanity” is a brain glitch. It’s a lie. There is good company in those dark waters. Reach out. They’re there.




How to Remember Harambe


As with so many issues in our public sphere these days, there’s no lack of outrage over the death of Harambe, the 17-year-old gorilla shot to death after a four-year-old boy fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Well, good. There should be outrage.

But, as with so many issues that inspire outrage these days, the rage may amount to nothing more than a spasm of public fit-throwing and agenda-pushing, unless we carefully channel this anger into something useful.

This tragedy reminds me of a wrongful killing that happened years ago when I was board president of a large animal shelter. A German Shepherd-type dog was admitted to the shelter. His people were located and they were coming to get him. In a nearby kennel there was a very similar shepherd-type dog, but his people weren’t coming to get him. He was slated for euthanasia. But, on the morning of the euthanasia, a confused staff person grabbed the wrong dog. They killed the dog whose family was enroute to get him.

There was a terrible uproar and it was an excruciating time for everyone involved. The family contacted the media and the shelter spent a couple of weeks under an angry spotlight. None of us slept much, and when I was lying awake I was, of course, grieving for the dogs involved, for the people who lost their dog, for the poor staff person who had made that mistake. And I also wondered what a brilliant public relations mind could do to help shape this narrative.

The question was this: how can we use this anger? You would think I’d want the public to stop being angry, since their anger was directed at the shelter. But who would want to  live in a community where people didn’t get angry about a thing like this? I wanted them to be angry, damned mad, in fact.  And I wanted their angry gaze to last long enough for them to connect the pieces.

At the time (though thankfully these days are long gone) the shelter euthanized several thousand dogs and cats a year, and nobody seemed to mind much. The public continued to bring their animals to the shelter’s front door, about 12,000 times a year, 1,000 times a month, 230 times a week, and leave their dogs and cats to this potential fate. The public seemed okay with this reality as long as it happened in a building on the edge of town where underpaid nonprofit employees accepted the community’s burden and kept quiet about it. Statistics showed the community as a whole had some of the nation’s lowest rates of charitable giving. People were contributing 12,000 animals a year to the problem, and alarmingly little to the solution.

The outrage over the one dead dog is like the public outpouring of concern for the occasional cow who escapes a truck on the way to slaughter, or like the current communal roar of grief over Harambe. Our challenge as advocates is to capture that anger, maybe to fan its flames just enough, and then to show the angry mobs what’s behind curtain #2.

Let the martyred animal become an ambassador. Let his memory speak for the untold others who have no voice.

Leaders are trying to do this in the wake of Harambe’s death. Captain Paul Watson from Greenpeace issued a commentary condemning the humans who contributed to every level of the tragedy: the careless mother, the “gawkers” at the zoo who kept screaming and elevating the hysteria, the zookeepers who should have seen Harambe’s gentleness and concern but rewarded it with a bullet. Ultimately, Watson writes, Harambe belonged in the lowland jungles of Africa, not in a zoo. And now a child will have to live with having witnessed the tragic death of the gentle giant who held his hand.

In contrast, my friend Wayne Pacelle of The Humane Society of the United States wrote a blog post with less emotion and a stiff shot of his characteristic philosophical eloquence. Rather than debate the rare crisis scenario that makes for good conversation (Would you redirect a train to kill three animals but save one human? Would you kill a gorilla to save a child?) let’s focus instead on the daily decision we all make that have even more impact. Perhaps they make for less interesting conversation, but that’s because these are mundane, easy choices.

Would you kill an animal for a meal if there was another perfectly good animal-free meal available to you? Would you kill an animal for a pair of shoes or a purse if there were equally good non-animal ones available? Would you buy products that are tested on animals if the products on the next shelf over are cruelty-free?

The Cincinnati Zoo will remain under the angry hot spotlight for a few days, and then the attention likely will drift to the next distraction or cause for outrage. But what if we were able to do it differently this time? What if we turned the hot spotlight into a broad floodlight and used it to take a good long look at our entire relationship to animals?

There are other gentle giants to save, if only we will look long enough to see them.


Vegan Mojito Meringues (Aquafaba)

20160527_181525Oh, the possibilities. Have you heard about the new vegan cooking phenomenon that’s taking even the mainstream cooking world by storm?

It’s light, low-calorie, gluten free, vegan, and since you make it from stuff that you normally pour down the drain, it’s FREE!

The funny name aqua/faba (water/bean) tells its whole story. It’s the liquid from garbanzo beans. And when it’s whipped it forms a stiff, white, airy meringue that’s indistinguishable from the stuff made with egg whites.

(And why not egg whites? Oh, so many reasons.)

So, we all know vegan cooking is going mainstream now, but when the likes of the New York Times and Cooks Illustrated are sharing aquafaba recipes with their readers, you know it’s officially a thing.

I had to try it, of course. So I first dove into the NYT recipe for aquafaba meringues.

I’m hooked. These are light as air, slightly crispy, lightly sweet, and only about 25 calories each.

Working with aquafaba is just like I remember egg-white meringue: it requires patience because it needs a solid 15 minutes of whisking to form stiff peaks. It also requires some flexibility on your part, because it’s sensitive to changes in humidity. I tried these on a rainy day and my dogs were happy with the little meringue blobs, but I was disappointed.

aquafaba blobs

I’m already scheming up holiday versions of these wonderful little meringue nibbles: peppermint flavoring and sprinkles of crushed candy cane, chocolate extract and cocoa powder, mint and lime. And the piece de resistance: I’ll start working on making an aquafaba version of my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie. That particular pie is like kryptonite to my dad, and I haven’t made it in at least five years because I get hung up on the egg thing.


But first: my mojito meringues. It marries my new aquafaba obsession with my hobby of inventing fall-over-delicious virgin cocktails. And this is super simple, although you’ll want to make your minted sugar a day ahead of time.

Open a can of garbanzo beans and drain off the liquid. It’s not very much (maybe 1/2 to 3/4 cup) but fear not.

Whip it. My stand mixer doesn’t have a whisk attachment, so I use the hand mixer. Give it the highest speed your gadget has, and give it a good 15 minutes.

These are soft peaks: almost there. The peaks need to be pointy for this to really work.

aquafaba soft peak


Soft peaks won’t work at all for this, so keep going until you can make little peaks that stay standing. Like this.

aquafaba stiff peaks

Then add 2/3 cup sugar, a little at a time, while you beat another 5 minutes. For the mojito version, I let my sugar sit for a couple of days with some bruised mint sprigs* so it was infused with mint flavor. Once whipped with the sugar, the aquafaba gets shiny. Now you’re ready to add flavoring.

I added the zest and juice from one small lime, then whisked some more.

aquafaba with lime

Can you just about smell that lime? I wish I was posting this in the Scenternet.

Drop your meringue onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

aquafaba on paper

Depending on the size of your meringues (larger ones take longer in the oven) you’ll bake them about 90 minutes at 250 degrees. (At that temperature, you’re really drying them as much as baking, so you just look for them to be dry, firm, and light.)

Let them cool. These are light, crispy, minty, and like nothing else you’ve ever had. Enjoy!

aquafaba finished


*To bruise mint leaves like a pro bartender (no, don’t ask me how many times I’ve seen this in person) you set the mint sprig on your open palm, then clap your hands together once or twice. It releases the oils. Just bury the bruised sprigs in your sugar and let it sit.


Good DIY Gone Bad. Very @#%& Bad.

The ugliest table ever

The ugliest table ever

When I watch woodworking shows, I always get this nagging feeling at the moment when the compound mitered joint or the custom-built cabinet must now go together. The thing’s creator – some flannel-clad master like Norm Abrams, Zen-like and confident – will say, “Now, let’s see how this fits. {dramatic pause} Ahh! Perfect. Now our next step…”

Oh. Come. On.

I wanna see the outtakes. Hey, I used to work in TV, so I know there’s a mountain of shots gone bad, all saved up for the blooper reel that everyone will pee themselves while watching at the staff Christmas party. Why wait til December? Lemme see! Lemme hear Norm’s Boston accent go salty. Lemme hear, “Now, let’s see how this fits. {dramatic pause} Son of a … Dammit. {pounding, grunting, trying to make it fit} Ow, shit. I busted my knuckle. Fuggin cut, dammit. I said CUT!”

Family legend has it that I was still in diapers when I loved to watch my dad and his friends tinkering and creating and repairing stuff in the garage. I’d toddle back into the house where my mom and her friends were visiting over tall glasses of iced tea. As they offered to make snacks for us kids I’d show off my new garage vocabulary. “Jesus Christ, that’s a lot of fucking milk.” To this day, there’s something about the juxtaposition of a cherubic face and raunchy language. It doubles me over.

Keep me away from your toddling cherubs if raunchiness makes you faint. And for the sake of your health, stay far from my garage. Also, don’t read the rest of this.

I just spent three weeks on a project that was supposed to take an hour. I had these 3×10 boards from an old waterbed frame we hauled out of my husband’s basement before we sold his house. Good, solid wood in unusual dimensions. I got this genius plan to build a simple writing desk for the greenhouse I’m slowly (Yes, fucking yes, I’m still working on it so quit asking. Damn!) turning into a writing studio.

First step was to marry the two boards to make a 20-inch plank. No problem. Hot damn. I’m gonna build the shit out of this. Next step was to make two precise 45-degree cuts, rendering the long plank into three pieces that would fit together with two 90-degree joints. Simple.

Horse shit.

My Skil saw blade wasn’t deep enough to cut all the way through the butt-pluggin’ plank at a 45-degree angle. I tried a few times, in the back yard, between surprise rain showers. At one point the calm sky suddenly hurled ass-sized hail stones at my head. I actually shouted “Fuck you” to the sky, because we know that can alter weather patterns, but I also I unplugged electrical stuff and ran tools to the garage before I could get tits-up electrocuted right there next to the patio table.

It’s a shitty carpenter who blames her tools, but I took the low road. Dickless wimp of a saw, that’s the problem. So I bought a table saw because I’m sure I need one anyway. It was so cheap I snagged the last one in the store because everyone else knew it was a mama-humping good deal, but if you’re curious just Google table saw prices. Hell yes. Bought one. What’s money when you’ve got a score to settle? Because I was pissed. And because tools. I sang to my dogs all the way home in the car, “Mamma got a new toy, a new toy, a new toy.” They thought we were going to the park. They hate me now.

Well, here’s the thing. When you get the least expensive table saw in the entire western United States, it might not come with all the fancy table saw shit you’ve seen when you watch that genius bastard Norm Abrams. Like, for example, there’s no way to fit a 20-inch plank onto this son of a mutt.

That is, there’s no orthodox way to fit a 20-inch plank onto my new face fart of a saw. But I did it anyway. Because.

Result: buttloads of sawdust all over hell and back, plus three boards that look excellent. At first glance, that is. Try to piece them together and you get these piss-swigging crooked-ass 90-degree joints that don’t meet up. Like, gaps big enough that some guys I’ve known could get all conjugal with those holes. This effort was a total donkey queef.

Seriously. I'm not kidding about these holes.

Seriously. I’m not kidding about these holes.

So, just check out this butt munch of a table. Oh: and it wobbles like a drunk on Mardi Gras. Dog-ass ugly I could forgive, maybe. But this doesn’t even work as a table. Ugly AND not functional. Worthless son of a Trump.

So today it sits in my greenhouse (Jeezus, quit asking when I’ll be finished with that studio conversion ass-ache, okay?) Guano-licking ugly and useless.

Totally guano-licking useless

Totally guano-licking useless

I will not be defeated. Stay tuned. I will have my monkey-shagging writing desk. I will show you when it’s done. But in the meantime, don’t ask. Seriously. Don’t fucking ask.