Tuesday, February 23, 2016

snow moon

It is the last snow moon;
the last of its kind.
The last time the light would shine so brightly
that daylight kissed the sky through the darkness
and all the mysteries of the night were laid bare in plain sight.

The waning brings with it the rising of a different season
and the snow moon sleeps again.

In this blue light, I love you more
and no horizon exists to limit our hopes.
I will exhale my ambitions and breath in
the green grass of springtime.
And dream of the snow moon and the
frosty spirits that flow from me
freely toward the stars.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Middle Age; The Short List

Several truths of middle age that no one will ever tell you about (until it is too late); these are the things I think about when I am stuck at my desk fulfilling the tasks that are required of me to be a successful adult (When really, I would rather be outside playing).

1. You will drown in paperwork. You will spend hours of your life sorting through applications for health insurance, sports team sign-ups, vehicle registration, employment forms, school permission slips, jury duty surveys, mortgage applications and tax documents. You'll hate it and wish you could pawn it off on someone else but find that there is actually no one who can save you from this dreadful fate.

2. In your late 30s your skin starts to loosen. Those small, fine ridges that you observed on the arms of your grandma have now become the same topography  you observe on your own arms. Suddenly, your evenly toned pigment begins to dissolve to reveal every scab you ever picked, every sunburn you ever regretted, every cut or scrape that you forgot you even received. Its all there, written out in the colorless blotches that now begin to spread over your hands.  Your veins begin to fatten and pucker; popping up like a hidden mountain range in purple and green.

3. Hair grows at an astounding rate. Your eyebrows, nose hairs, chin hairs, lip hairs, mole hairs, shoulder hairs, back hairs, ear hairs, belly hairs.... all take on a life of their own as the hair on your head that you are accustomed to caring for coarsens, grays and may eventually fall out. Slowly, you spend more time managing all the funky unwanted hairs than the hair you actually like on your body. You invest in multiple pairs of tweezers and stash them in emergency locations (like your purse).

4. My God! You own a purse, and its getting bigger. Probably to hold all that paperwork....and all the other odds and ends that you now seem to require on a daily basis just to make it through life. Gone are the days of a tube of chapstick and a $20 bill stuffed into the front pocket of your jeans.

5. Your favorite music is at least 20 years old. Yep, it happened. Somehow along the way you stopped spending your life's energy keeping up on the most popular, most hip, most cutting edge new bands and found that really, all you wanted to listen to on this beautiful sunny day was the Cure. You still attend shows but have found that even your favorite bands are now touring acoustically and with assigned seats. Eventually, your kids will discover that everything that you have been forcing them to listen to all these years is actually Not That Cool when you are under the age of 30. And, even more cruelly, when you do start to find yourself gravitating toward modern day talents, you start to feel awkward and creepy; like that old dude who always stood at the back of the show and you wondered why the hell he was still hanging out with a bunch of kids. Congratulations, that is now You.

6.You want to go to bed early. Your parents weren't actually as lame as you thought they were. You really do get tired more easily as you get older. Must be all that shitty paperwork....

7. It's harder to stay strong. Part of the loose skin issue mentioned in #2 comes from the ever-decreasing muscle mass that actually took up space under all that skin. Take pictures of yourself in a bikini now...your days of  looking good in it are numbered. You feel every major injury you ever received and realize that if you stop moving now, you will remain forever stuck in an arthritic stupor that will never loosen its grip. You decide to start drinking lots of water just to keep your eyes from sinking into your skull, exposing the dark circles that show exactly just how old you are becoming.

8. Sugar doesn't taste as good. Probably because now, every time you eat it, you feel it gnawing away at your receding gums, the root canal you should have gotten last year or the cavity that seems to be forming just to the side of your last filling. Your teeth are f*d up, but at least they haven't started falling out....yet....

9. You now know with certainty that you are never going to retire. All those aspirations you had when you were younger of putting aside enough money to quit your job when you turned 45 to travel the world, are laughable now. Mostly, you are hoping that you will be able to save enough to get your kids though college and maybe hold on to your house long enough to die in it and not in some housing complex above the senior center.

10. You never knew you would have so much happiness and heart ache in your life. You never knew the world could be so deceptive and so kind at the same time. You never knew how lucky you would be or how hard you would have to struggle. And now that you know it, you can't help wondering how you will make it through the second half of your life without suffering a mental breakdown. But you also know that time seems to move faster as you get older and, in a way, you wish it would all slow down and that summertime would last forever the way that it did when you were a child.

And lastly, and most importantly, you realize that although your body will eventually fail you faster and faster with each passing year, your soul will go on forever. And beauty really is in the eye of the beholder and that youth is a state of mind. And that nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. And that the only way I am going to finish mine so that I can go out and play, is to get back to work.....Happy Saturday.

2016 Cold Stratification

*This month I sort of took the path of least resistance and wrote my column for the Wenatchee World as a shorter version of the blog post I wrote for Mother Earth News....*

The snow is rapidly melting, leaving behind a landscape that seems almost barren and asleep. However, for many native plants, it this act of freezing and thawing that awakens them and actually increases their ability to survive and reproduce. Cold stratification is the term used to describe this very basic need; the need for winter.  Winter has the ability to soften the outer seed coat of some of nature’s toughest seeds through the action of freezing and thawing in a moist environment. For many plants that require stratification, this process can take up to 2 months and typically happens between 34 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit. During that time, the seed coat softens and embryonic growth is stimulated. Eventually, the embryo bursts through the softened coat and begins the process of germination.
For those of us who enjoy starting our own flowers, there are some classic perennials that require a period of stratification to increase germination. One example is Echinacea. Without a period of stratification, the germination rate for this garden favorite can plummet to less than 30%. However, with stratification, it is possible to germinate nearly 100% of all seeds that are started.  Cold stratification is a process that is easily replicated at home in a controlled environment. After the seed is planted into a potting mix, water thoroughly until the soil is completely saturated but no longer dripping out the bottom drain holes (I like to plant one seed per cell in a 78 cell container). Then, wrap the top of the container in plastic wrap and secure loosely with duct tape. Put a piece of tape on the top of the plastic wrap with a label indicating both the date the seed was planted and the date that you are removing the container from cold stratification. Also include the name of the cultivar that was planted in the container. Place the container onto a cookie sheet or nested in another tray that will catch any excess moisture and eliminate any dripping or mess. When all of these steps are complete, slide the tray into a spare refrigerator (like the drink fridge you keep in the garage) and place a note on the outside door of the fridge with the date the tray should be removed from cold stratification. Typically, 30 days is enough stratification time for Echinacea. Other species may take longer. During those 30 days, check on the container and make sure that the soil is still sufficiently moist. If need be, pull out the container and water thoroughly. This should only need to happen once in the 30 day period since the plastic wrap will help to contain the moisture.
After the period of stratification has finished, pull the container out from the fridge, remove the plastic wrap and continue the seed starting ritual like usual including any heat mats or lighting that you typically use for your vegetable starts. 

For those of us who like to collect native seeds (ex: Balsam Root), an easier method is to take the saved seed (good quality, mature seed heads), plant it into a ½ gallon or similar sized pot, place the pot in the shade outside your house for the summer and then water the pot intermittently over the fall and allow it to freeze and/or get snowed on over the winter. Come spring, move the pot into a sunnier location and water regularly without overwatering. Take note of the rate of germination and experiment with overwintering your seeds in different locations around your yard to see if germination increases or decreases with location.  Stratification can be a lot of fun! Good luck and Happy Gardening.

Mother Earth News Blog #7 Growing Echinacea from seed and the importance of cold stratification

Here's a link to the blog post at Mother Earth News.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

2014 For You

If I could find my voice,
And words flowed like water....
I would whisper to you love, respect, awe, gratitude
What I allow to share with you instead
Amounts to a jumble of gravel, boulders
Course sand
Papercuts, blood.
I remain mute, afraid of the
Broken glass, slivers and shards that amount to my love

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


**This piece was written for the Write On The River annual writer's competition where it received an Honorable Mention for non-fiction writing.**

Her grandmother called it a sin.

  March got her first tattoo when she was twenty-one. A Christmas gift from the Wolf (her lover), it was a modest self-drawn snowflake inked into place by a shaky-handed apprentice to the great Wanda H. of Peoria, Illinois.  They had driven 7 hours along flat, featureless winter roads to fill a weekend with wake-n-bakes, hard music, heavy drinking, long-standing friendship, unspeakable love and some virgin ink. The needle offered a new sensation to her life and her brain felt in tune with the rhythm of its sounds and the heat from its sting. Later, standing in the filthy bathroom with her shirt pulled up over her head, March carefully removed the bandages from her shoulder, examined the art she had acquired and smiled. It was as if someone had opened the door to an invisible cage and allowed her to walk out, free.

  Thinking back, March remembered the first time she had entered this room. Flash Art encased in protective acrylic sleeves filled the walls as her high school girlfriend flipped through the pages of each plastic-bound book of images. It was a neon-filled parlor in a Wisconsin tourist trap of a town. Overweight moms and Harley dads and newly turned eighteen-year-olds exploring their freedom and not much else. She couldn’t even remember the symbol that had finally been chosen since it was meaningless. Art didn’t live here. This was more like a dare. This way, was without love.....

  Her next visit to a parlor happened within the year but, again, it was not she who sat the chair. Standing alongside her enigmatic friend, March watched as the artist tried to make sense of the sinuous space left behind from the scoliosis along Little Bird’s spine. Little Bird had been a gymnast as a child and the rigors of training and poor genetics left her twisted but strong. The final piece followed the center of Little Bird’s back, but not the bones beneath. It was a list of carefully chosen symbols in black and flesh, set with an overly-heavy hand. The art healed dark and scarred and beautiful like Little Bird herself.

  At a party that winter, someone pulled out a home tattooing kit and began working the soft skin inside Kiah’s lower lip. Small stabs of blueish ink began to form out the word that would remain there forever. On the perpetrator’s wrist lived a bolt of lightning and on her partner’s hand a crescent moon.  Eventually, March would watch those two people grow older together, separate, remain friends and finally dissolve into obscurity. But still, the bolt and the moon remained alongside the memory of that night.

  In the spring, March got home late from class and had to ride her bike as fast as the wind to reach the shop in time. He was already in the chair and the work was nearly complete. The Wolf had chosen an ancient script that wrapped gracefully around his muscular calf. The needle began to bounce as it passed over the bone in his shin and he drew in his breath deeply to compensate. The size and scope of the art was larger this time, the session lasting hours. In the end, the Wolf was tired and drawn and shivering with adrenaline. March followed him home and kissed his watery eyes.

  The fall was crisp and golden. Always happy, Cat decided that her time had come and asked if March would sit with her while the ink work was done. Cat’s skin turned red and blotchy beneath the needle and small droplets of blood exuded themselves from the damaged tissue. A cacophony of musical notes spread gracefully across her supple back; a symphony to play on forever….

  And then, nothing. For years, there was nothing. No needles. No Art….at least not for March. She wandered into a small shop at some point during the hot summer and had almost conceded to a meaningless piece of work if only to have some connection again to the transcendence, focus and love that the ink offered. She made an appointment; but never showed up.

  Then quite suddenly and unexpectedly March’s heart was again moved. Captivated, for 10 years she carried a photograph tucked carefully inside the creased and dirty pages of a CrimethInc. novella.  Occasionally, she would pull out the aging paper and wonder if she would ever commit to fulfilling her desires. Once, she thought the image to be lost and nearly panicked; so encircled was her soul around its subtle meanings for her life. A mustang ensnared by a pair of griffins. In the face of certain death the steed remained poised and strong, meeting its fate boldly and without fear.

  It was her 37th birthday. The Wolf had arranged for her to meet Little Bird in a back-alley parlor amidst the chaos and beauty of Capitol Hill. The room had tall tin ceilings and walls the color of new blood. The vertical surfaces were adorned with mounted animal heads (boar and coyote)and the gilded frames of petit paintings in oils and acrylics. The windows were large open panes of glass and as the needle worked, March watched a man walk past dressed in tube socks, underwear and nothing more. Over the course of four hours, the soft skin of her belly became transformed into the gruesomeness of a truth only she could really understand. The wings of each beast spread out toward the bones of her hips with the head of the wild horse dipping gently below her navel. As the ink flowed, March did not cry out. Indeed, she barely moved. Her thoughts remained quiet and her breathing came in long flowing sighs as she explored the calmness of the world inside her mind. After all this time, March had again found peace….. At last.

Monday, February 1, 2016

2016 February Edition of the Good Life Magazine: Van Camping on Maui

**The printed story with photos can be found at The Good Life Magazine, February 2016 issue. The unedited text is below...

Every fall for the past 4 years, my husband Willy and I have embarked on a multi-week family road trip with our two kiddos. It is a chance for us to re-connect as a family through camping and adventuring. This year, instead of remaining in the Continental United States, we decided to branch out and do our first ‘exotic’ road trip. Since our kids are now 8 and 6, I wanted to start exploring parts of the world with them that are highly inconvenient/less enjoyable when traveling with toddlers. For our first airplane-necessary road trip, we decided to explore the Island of Maui in a 1989 pop-up Volkswagen Westfalia camper van. I’ll preface my story by saying that the trip I am about to describe is not for everyone. If a Hawai’ian vacation to you means poolside drinks and over-priced luaus then please don’t attempt our style of vacation. However, if you are comfortable with adventure and the unknown, then this may be the next trip for you.

I first came across the ad for Aloha Campers when I was searching for tent camping options on Maui. We knew we wanted to visit the island but didn’t want to be stuck in one location for the entire trip.  We also weren’t interested in visiting Maui for the resort experience. A vacation for us means the opportunity to see new plants, animals, birds and aquatic life. It also means hiking, sleeping under the stars and (at times) putting ourselves as far away from civilization as possible. We knew that logistically, it was going to be difficult to bring all of our camping gear with us on an airplane. Renting the Westfalia seemed to be the best solution to our problem…..enough sleeping space for 2 adults and 2 kids, a small fully stocked kitchen and the ultimate freedom to explore. This was going to be a great trip!

We landed in Kahului, Maui at 2 PM in the afternoon and caught our shuttle to Kihei where we first became acquainted with our home away from home for the next 6 nights; a 1989 Steel Blue Volkswagen Westfalia pop-up camper van. Brandon, her owner, briefly acquainted us with her quirks and showed us the location of several essential features including the jumper cables and an extra screwdriver….just in case…. We threw our packs in the back and prepared for departure. As I was about to turn the key, one of the mechanics knocked on the passenger side window. Willy rolled it down and the guy threw us a big smile…. ‘Her name’s Stella!’ he shouted through the window. We promised to take care of her and headed out in search of a grocery store and a place to spend the night. We made a quick stop to a local pawn shop and purchased a set of snorkel gear for $8 and a fishing rod and reel for $25. We were set!

Camping on Maui was an interesting experience. Lately, the islands have been getting a reputation for being un-friendly to tourists. Although this may be true if you are touring around in an Č•ber fast cherry-red mustang convertible or a shiny new Jeep Wrangler, this isn’t the case when cruising the island in an old Volkswagen bus that tops out at 50 mph. People love these vans. Even though we knew we were running the risk of stepping on the toes of locals during our camping trip, we found that it was easy to make friends when traveling along in Stella. People would wave, throw us solid shakkas and made a point to come over and say hi and have a look inside the van. We discovered that Westfalias are a hot commodity on the islands these days. Very few of them still remain in private hands. They are a throwback to a time when surfing and good vibes still ruled the island; before the mega-resort complexes became king. We had no trouble backing the van in to some prime on-water camping. Often, we were peacefully nestled between old-school surfers who had been living on the beach for years.

Truly, this trip was amazing from Day 1. We hit up nearly every public beach on the island; snorkeling 2 or 3 times a day in warm, pristine azure waters. We spotted more sea turtles than we could count, saw octopus and eels and more fish than an aquarium can hold. The only beaches with trash in the sand were those adjacent to the mega resort complexes. Those beaches also held the least diversity of sea life and the cloudiest waters. The county beaches set aside for locals were well maintained and uncrowded. They often had showers, bath houses and sometimes a playground.
Because of the mobility the van afforded us, we were able to drive the infamous road to Hana and could spend several nights exploring the more remote areas of Maui. We hiked through bamboo forests, slogged up muddy trails that wound beneath wild papayas and banyans to hidden waterfalls, explored freshwater caches within ancient lava tubes and spotted elusive native birds in their jungle homes. Willy fished the rugged inlets along the North Shore and the kids made sand castles from dawn until dusk with intermittent pauses for boogie-boarding and snorkeling.  We dined on fresh pineapple and star fruit, tiny sweet bananas, creamy avocados and sugar cane.

When it was time to return Stella, we were all overcome with sadness. We had become attached to our nomadic life in the van. Living on the beaches of Maui for that brief period of time was certainly one of the best adventures of my life. I am overcome with happiness that we could all enjoy the trip together as a family. I am already planning our next vacation. Who knows what possibilities the future holds? But I wouldn’t hesitate to repeat our Maui road trip. Indeed, I would return to van life in a heart-beat…..and my family would too.

Heirloom Apples 2016

Heirloom apples have a particular appeal to me.  There is a richness to the flavors, colors and textures of an heirloom that cannot be found on a grocery store shelf.  Often, heirloom apples have qualities that lend themselves more readily to sauce making, cider pressing or baking. They may keep longer without refrigeration or may reach maturity earlier in the season making them a better choice for the short seasons associated with mountain climates. Many are pictured in great works of art; great still-life paintings pay homage to the qualities and values that made some of today’s lesser known varieties the staples of a time that has come and gone. Still, even in our era of stream-lined convenience, heirlooms (of all kinds) are re-gaining their lost foothold. As a home gardener living in a region surrounded by the ‘tried and true’ apples associated with mass production, adding an heirloom variety or two to the mix may add some ‘spice’ back in to your small orchard.
Many reputable seed catalogs are starting to carry grafted tree stock from all types of lesser known apple varieties. Tracking down some historic favorites is getting easier and easier to do, but this is the time of year to do it. Most heirloom apples sell out quickly since only a small number of grafts are made each season. Also, apple trees are only shipped for a small portion of the year, when the stock is dormant and before bud break.  Here are a few varieties that are of particular note for their flavor, though not always their appearance (heirlooms tend to have speckled or mottled skin tones):
Cox’s Orange Pippin-I crave these apples! Considered one of the best dessert apples, this variety originated in England in 1830. This apple is very aromatic and has a relatively attractive, medium-sized form.
Ashmead’s Kernel-This apple was first discovered in the 1700’s and is one of the few edible varieties that originated from a seed rather than a sport or mutation off of an already established variety. This apple tastes more like a crunchy lemon when it is first harvested; with sugars developing over time. They are a medium-sized golden fruit with some russetting.
Winesap- An East Coast apple that was developed in the early 1800’s, it is another medium-sized apple with red skin and white flesh. This apple is both sweet and tart and is of good storage quality. Winesaps are used for fresh eating, cider making and cooking.
Esopus Spitzenburg- The claim to fame for this apple is its close ties to Thomas Jefferson and Monticello. This apple originated in New York in the 1700’s and is blocky in form with a reddish-orange skin.
These are just a handful of some of the more popular heirloom apples available for purchase. A little detective work can find you swimming in choices…so many, that it can be hard to decide what to plant. For a home garden, stick with varieties that are grafted to a smaller root stock. Several small root stocks are available and each is geared toward a different soil type. Be sure you understand your landscape before purchase to be sure you are picking the most appropriate stock for your conditions. Also, please be aware that homeowners are responsible for the maintenance of their trees. This includes any necessary spaying. If unsure of the best course of action for caring for and maintaining your apple trees, please contact the WSU Master Gardener diagnosis clinic for help.  Because of the commercial nature of apples in our area homeowners must be vigilant in caring for their trees to avoid large-scale pest problems. Happy Gardening!