Thursday, December 13, 2018

Soap Bubbles

Groggy and fuzzy with blankey withdrawals, I pulled on the shower knob and undressed. I put my hand in the icy spray and quickly pulled it back. I slumped into my usual waiting posture. Then a thought zinged...

Oh, yeah! I wanted to try out our homemade soap today.

I crept through our house in the buff, conscientious of all the open windows. I selected the raggedy end piece of the cucumber mint soap that was curing on the shelf and gave it a sniff drawing in a cool, fresh, barely-there scent.

I tip-toed back into the steamy shower, because quiet = invisible. I let the water run over me as I grabbed my trusty loofah. I rubbed the soap into the loofah and was rewarded with a big pile of lather. I soaped up and scrubbed down twice, thoroughly happy to be covered in lather from our homemade soap.

I washed my hair and rinsed and turned off the shower. I carefully balanced the thin piece of soap on end to allow it to dry better.

In the hours since my shower, I have been noticing the softness of my skin and the fresh scent. It’s lovely.

My mind always goes to the why of these feelings.

Is it the reality of the superiority of homemade soap or the satisfying experience of making a thing, then using that thing, that is creating this lovely feeling?

On the one hand, homemade soap is supposedly superior to mass produced soaps because it retains its natural glycerin created during the chemical reaction. Also, I used good quality oils with a superfat (oil left over after reacting with lye) that I thought would work well on my skin. (It tends to be dry.) Also, I love the fresh, yet mild smell of mint and cucumber and picked out this recipe specifically for the hot, sweaty summer.

On the other hand, I made it myself. I used dried peppermint from my garden to infuse the olive oil. I pureed cucumber in distilled water and added the lye. Then I strained the mint from the olive oil and combined it with weighed out portions of other oils. I blended the mixture until trace and added a weighed out portion of green clay and peppermint essential oil. Then I blended again and poured the batter into a soap mold and wrapped it in a towel. After four days of peeking at it in the mold, I popped it out. Waited a few more days and sliced it up and set it aside to cure. That corner of the house smells so fresh and nice. It could use another week to cure but that thin end-slice was close enough.

So is it the custom fit or the satisfaction of using something I hand crafted? Or maybe a bit of both?

Charley brews beer. His favorite is IPA and when he makes one, I hardly want any other variety when he has his homebrew on tap.

Over the summer we had many salads from our garden, romaine lettuce, and other mixed greens, cucumbers, strawberries... They were four months in the making and worth every moment of effort. So. Good.

We are growing blackberries and the ones I didn’t pick and eat warm and fragrant from the cane I’ve made into cobbler or frozen on trays. Oh my, the cobbler… The smoothies… Oh the nostalgia of being five years old foraging Blue River for blackberries on those long summer days.

My kids insist that birthday cake I bake at home (from a box) and frost with a simple buttercream recipe is the only way their birthday cake should taste. Boots still talks about the one year she opted to order a cake from Fred Meyers (Yay for me!) because she liked the horses on it. She still says, “The frosting was way too thick and it tasted chemically and gross. The cake was moist, but weird and spongy. I’m never doing that again.”
I have the same issue with apples. We had an ancient apple tree in the yard of the duplex we lived in. For three glorious autumn seasons I gorged myself on these softball sized, crunchy, juicy apples. After we left that place I couldn’t eat grocery store apples. I still think about them every time I cut into an apple and try to enjoy it. It falls short. I’m growing apple trees now, and whenever I lose a crop to pests, I’m devastated. People tell me that I can still use them for juice and apple sauce so I do, but I don’t want to. I want to pick and eat the apple and be ten years old again. Then end. Good day.

Berzo has a bazillion stuffed animals, but the one she treasures the most is a ratty old teddy bear named Theodore. He gets the primo spot snuggled next to her under the blankets every night. She loves him because Theodore was Charley’s bear from when he was a baby.

My father-in-law’s smoked salmon. Lina’s pickled asparagus. Kim’s brownies. Dad's biscuits and gravy. Tricia’s zucchini bread and stuffed peppers. Lori's spaghetti casserole she gifts you when your family struggles. Warren’s salmon. Katie’s Slutty Brownies. Oma's chocolate cream pie... I could go on, but I won’t...

OK, I lied. Just one more.

I have eaten a lot of trout in my life, but never are they so tasty as the ones I caught on my own line. Is it the superior freshness? Is it that they sizzled in Dad’s cast iron with the spices and breading I like best? Is it that it reminds me of the trout I ate as a child? Probably. I don’t even order trout in restaurants anymore because because I always find the experience disappointing. It tastes OK, but there’s something missing.

That’s it, isn’t it? That there’s just something missing. A missing connection. A connection to our memories. A connection to our efforts and experiences. A connection to people we love.

Maybe that’s why restaurants use so much butter and salt on everything, to try to make up for that missing something? How many times do I eat without even tasting what I’m eating? All the time except, when I’m eating something that I’ve grown, caught, or made from scratch. Then I sit back and take note. Do I notice how nice grocery store soap feels? Nope, I just scrub up and get out while my mind churns on the day’s to do list.

I think we try to fill this something-missing void with new stuff, distractions, ice-cream, coffee, or try to dull it with chemicals, but it never quite does it. We’re still searching for something...

Maybe it’s all those little connections that make life sweet. Feeling connected to our friends, family, backyards where we grow stuff, the lakes and rivers where we fish, and forests where we hunt, forage, and play, and to our past...

So bake the bread. Play and sing the songs. Ferment the beer. Sew the dress. Knit the blanket. Sip the Oyster Stew. Use your dad’s iron skillets whenever you can. Take out your grandpa’s fishing pole. Smell the soap on your skin.

Then share all those wonderful connections with others and weave a beautiful web of meaningfulness and community.


Or maybe I think too much...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Learning to Fall

I'm learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings. Coming down, is the hardest thing.
So true, Tom Petty. So. True.

But...maybe...I should learn to fall.

I watched a video entitled, “People are Awesome”.

Cool right?

If you didn't watch it, one clip after another showed men and women doing incredible acts of athleticism and grace. A woman leaps backwards from a cliff, twists, tumbles, into a dive into the waiting water below. A man does a series of bouncing flips on a slackline. A snowboarder glides up a tree gives it a push, flips and continues on his way down the hill. Awesome, indeed.

I’ve never attempted anything shown here. Not even close.

On the flip-side there are also thousands of fail videos out there. Epic crash and burns. I’m sure all these people have fallen thousands of times with a few epic crash and burns among them. The slackline guy was over water, and though the video didn’t show a fall—his hair was wet. However, I’d bet serious injuries for them are rare. So rare, that it never deterred them from pushing their boundaries.

Falling/failing was a non-issue. Part of the process.

I developed a fear of falling as a kid. I never learned to cartwheel, handstand, walk on my hands, flip from the monkey bars, and as I grew up my fear of falling kept me from learning to snowboard.

I had taken some bad falls you see, I over-rotated a few times and hurt my lower back with the resulting solid thump when I fell. I’ve fallen and hurt my tailbone countless times.  I've knocked the wind out of myself. I’ve sprained my wrists and ankles. I’ve been knocked backwards and saw stars. I’ve caught my snowboard edge many times with bone rattling spills, sometimes on ice.

My first and only newspaper appearance for sporting. 
I love team sports and played them all, regardless. Although I got good at not falling, when I did I was usually sidelined for weeks with a sprain. I’d chafe while sitting on the bench watching someone else play the position I’d worked so hard to earn. The worst was when my absence caused a position shuffling that ruined the team’s chemistry and caused us to lose. I went to a small school and every player mattered.  I played a lot of ball games with taped up joints. “Nah, coach, I’m fine. Ankle, wrist, knee, leg, feels fine—see? Put me in.”

Then I graduated school. Moved. Started a full time job. Got married. Went to college. Started a career. Did that for ten years. Became a mom.  Competitive sports gave way to running, indoor rock climbing, hiking, biking, and working out. Falling was pretty much a non-issue at this point in my life.

Then at 38, I started learning Martial Arts. Taking a fall is an integral part of the deal and at first it was my least favorite aspect at class. But it was unavoidable. Throwing and being thrown is a fundamental aspect of training. I throw my partner, then it's her turn to toss me around.

About to be swept.
Seeing our (OK—my) terrible falling skills, our instructor stopped class and gave us a talk about proper falling technique. He said that of all the martial arts skills he’s learned over the years, learning to fall properly was the biggest contributor to his personal safety. He had many stories of devastating falls that only resulted in a few scrapes. He had stories about his sons, who have grown up with martial arts, avoiding serious injuries as little tykes because of their falling skills.

He then showed us several safe falling techniques and we spent the remainder of class falling. It was first. Then easier. By the end of class it I, tall-gangly-Amy, was having fun falling. From then on, whenever we were going spend the class working throws, I would warm up with a dozen or so falls to remind myself of the finer points: tuck chin, round back, arms in, aim for one of my squishy butt cheeks, breathe out, break fall if needed. Then we learned rolls. Not somersaults...rolls. 

So fun.

Now...I can cartwheel. Now...I can handstand (sorta—my legs kind of flail) but if I go over I tuck my head and roll down a rounded spine. No more bashing my sacrum on the ground.  It ain't pretty, but I can do it!

I was on a run recently when I tripped over nothing and fell. As I was going down—face first, I remembered not to straight-arm it, and deflected it into a sideways roll. I had a few minor scrapes but no real injuries. What could have been a bashed knee and two sprained wrists was nothing. I think falling is the coolest thing I’ve learned so far...that and the butterfly kick. Butterfly kicks are pretty cool too.

Then my mind, as it is wont to do, slips to metaphors. Falling and failing is the same thing.

I was trying to do something and I fell/failed.  Sometimes it’s just a flub, like when I fell running or when I misspell an easy word. But often fails/falls happen when we’re stretching ourselves (flailing) and trying something new.

Twenty some years ago, a-hem!, I strapped on my shiny new rollerblades and went skating with my cute boyfriend and his sister at the Memorial Coliseum. I was cruising along, then suddenly I was spinning around on the floor. Lina said, “Hurry, get up, Charley’s coming around the bend.”

I scrambled to my feet, wobbled, and pushed off grateful to avoid the embarrassing scene. I’ve been saved from other embarrassing mistakes by not speaking up in class, by not finishing that project, by not sending my work out to a publisher, by not trying for that position I really wanted because I knew I wouldn't be able to take the fall—it would hurt too much. 

“What if I fail?” So embarrassing.

But why are mistakes so embarrassing? So what? It is really that bad for the world to see I’m not perfect?

Last school year, a little girl I know (and adore) in Berzo's First Grade class was brought to tears because she made a mistake on the book she was making, she started on it upside down so it opened the wrong way, and we didn’t have any extra for her to start over. Another kiddo in a different Centers group, cried when she made a mistake on her construction paper paper project she couldn’t erase. She nearly burned up the entire session fretting over her error before she decided to cut a scrap of paper to cover her mistake before she could continue her work. I would have loved to see these kids creatively incorporate their mistakes into their project and go with it, or just shrug it off and move on. But upon realizing their mistakes they were horrified, embarrassed, and brought to a standstill.

Huh, so this is a thing...

In my time helping out in Berzo's classroom, I’ve repeated this experience with virtually every kid. From backward letter Bs, to misspelled words, to circling the wrong picture... Upon realizing their mistake they'd call me over, desperate for my help.  I’d tell them that’s it's OK, just line it out and keep going. And that's why they’re in First Grade, to learn these things and make mistakes.  If they already knew everything they would be in the Second Grade then there would be a whole new set of mistakes to make. I told them that I make mistakes. All. The. Time.

They’d look at me like, “Really? Well, I don’t. Help me fix it before someone else sees!”

They are FIRST GRADERS, so literally everything in academia is new, and yet they expect perfection from themselves and they shut down when they fall short.

My own kids are this way too. Innocent mistakes and missteps own them and shut them down. They live in constant fear of messing up. They are even embarrassed in front of us. Charley hears, “Don’t tell Mama.” I hear, “Don’t tell Papa.” Us! We have changed poopy diapers that blew up their backs and out their collars countless times, and they act like we don’t know they aren’t perfect.

Boots said, “I’m just going to be the quiet little mouse that never speaks up,” about her 6th Grade year.

I said, “Why would you do that? I think the world needs to hear what you have to say.” This kid is a deep thinker and has a lot to contribute.

Boots said, “I might be wrong. I might sound stupid.”

Damn, she’s just like me. 

I said, “So? If you ask a ‘dumb’ question, you know you just asked it for the at least half of the class that had the same question, right?”

“I just cant, Mama.”

Berzo won’t even let me put water in her lunch bag because one time last year it leaked and got her backpack and pants wet. She was horrified. It. Was. Just. Water. I would have loved for her to have said, “Haha! It looks like I peed my pants! So funny! Can you pass me a paper towel, please?” Nope, she’d rather choke her food down dry.

I have a feeling the people who reach their personal goals are experts at failing.

I have a feeling that every person in that People are Awesome video is an expert at falling.

I taught my girls to walk, but did I teach them to fall? I’m pretty sure, my “Uh-Ohs!” when they took a spill and a scoop-and-cuddle delivered the unintended message that falls are bad and scary  and should be avoided. They are learning to succeed in school, but what about persevering through failures? Their terror at making mistakes tells me, no, they’re not.

BUT there’s still time. I can show them fails/falls are not to be avoided but to be sought out and practiced, so that they don’t become a barrier to who and what they want to be.

Get used to being wrong, and learn to admit to it, and keep moving forward.

Get used to losing, and learn handle it with grace.

Get used to being laughed at, and laugh too. This was super-hard for me. But I’m pretty good at it now.

Get used to falling down, and learn to do it well.

Get used to being rejected, and learn to shrug it off.

Get used to falling short, and evaluate the scenario to figure out why and fix it.

Makes mistakes, and learn to own them, so they don’t own you.

Learn to fall, so you can learn to fly.


Miss you Tom Petty. Say “hi” to my dad for me.

 I'm flying!  Hold my hand!

Rock on! But be safe!

Look at you go! Don't fall!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Lice Capades

I kinda wanted to cry a little.

I kinda wanted to shave my head.

I kinda hated hair.

On a chilly night last spring, I reclined on the sofa snuggling my blanket, sipping tea while watching a show with Charley. Berzo came up and flipped her head down exposing her neck and said, “Mama, can you check my hair for lice?”

We’ve been dealing with lice for a couple weeks and I felt confident that the problem had been eradicated from our household. But, hey, doesn’t hurt to check, and it’ll set Berzo's mind at ease.

“Sure. Go grab the lice comb.”

“OK, Mama!”

She ran off then came back and put the comb in my hand.  She flipped her head down again. I started to comb.

I combed and looked. Nothing. Nothing.

My mind began to wander.

Gosh, I’m tired. I’m so glad it’s Friday. Don’t have to get the kids up early. Morning coffee with Charley will be nice…

Wait. What the fuck is that!

I stopped and inspected the bug that was scrambling on the comb.

“What is it, Mama?”

“Not sure. Go grab a paper towel, please.”

I wiped it off on the paper towel and experimented with smooshing it. It doesn’t smoosh. I smoosh harder and grind it with the comb tines into the paper towel. Still squirming. For a moment, I lost the bug in the towel folds and think it’s in my blanket. I pushed my blanket on the ground and searched the towel again and there it is. I expected it to jump like a flea, it didn't; it just flailed on the towel. I pinned it with one thumbnail to isolate the head, then brought in my other and pressed them together.
Crunch, snap. It’s dead.

Huh, so that’s a lice...louse..lice-louse or louse of lice?


I got up. I sat Berzo in front of the computer and got the Lice Detection Spray and hosed her head down with the stuff. I combed and found some nits and another louse. I comb and comb.

I wash the comb.

Lice are afraid of me.
I sat Boots the Impervious down and sprayed and combed. Her hair is much longer, so as I pulled it through her hair and she squealed each time as I neared the ends of her hair.



All the years lice has gone through our school Boots has never gotten it. Even when she’s played with kids for hours that had an infestation, for whatever reason she’s never gotten it. Until now.

As I combed my own hair, I informed Charley, “If I have it again. I shaving my head too.”

Cue head scratching.


The Lice Capades began with a frantic note home from Berzo's teacher about a lice outbreak in her classroom. Berzo was checked at school, no bugs found. Whew! I double checked her at home—no bugs. (Not that I really knew what I was looking for.)

I figured that our string of lice-doging luck was continuing as usual. Perhaps helped along by the magic spice spray we use on the kids before we send them off to school.

Then on a Monday, just as I was arriving home from helping out in Berzo's class, I got a call from the school with the report that Berzo had lice.

“Really? OK, I’ll be right there,” I said.

I picked up a distressed and embarrassed kiddo and brought her straight away to Lice Knowing You in Beaverton. We walked up to the door and I tried to pull it open.


What, what? Noooo….

“What are we going to do, Mama?” Berzo said squeezing my hand.

We idled for a few minutes while I tried to figure out what to do. We walked away to see if there was another entrance, when a head popped out of the door.

“We’re you just trying to come in?”

Slightly desperate, I say, “Yes…”

“We’re closed right now…” she looks at me intently, “but come on in, I’ll help you.”

“Oh, thank you so much,” I said. I wanted to hug her, but thought a lice expert might not appreciate the gesture.

Just like this...
She let us in and sat us down. She sprayed Berzo's head with detangler and ran a lice comb through her hair and wiped it on a paper towel. She walks over and shows me the myriad of lice bugs and eggs littered all over the towel.

“Oh, OK.”

She put a shower cap on Berzo to contain the zoo in her hair and checked me. She sprayed my hair down and ran the comb through a few times.  A paper towel appeared in my field of vision, “You have it too. See?”

“Oh, OK,” was all I said.

 Inwardly I was stunned as I watched the lice louses squirm in the sticky spray stuff.

That just came off my head!

On the flip side, it was nice to find out there was a problem moments before having it treated.

She deloused us both with oil and combing and combing and oil and more combing. My scalp felt bloody, but also kind of awesome, like it was a really thorough treatment.

Another person came in and she paused to help her. The phone rang. She answered it. Combing. Combing. Combing...

It took a long time. And then we were done.

I did some shopping. Lice Detection Kit—yes please. School and Play Spray refill—yes please. Comb for the neighbor boy who played with Berzo while she was infested—yes please. (That's the funnest part of lice, letting others know your bugs might have hitched a ride on their kid.) Prevention spray for her classroom—one of those too.

I gasped when I paid the bill. (It’s $100 per hour!) But she reminded me it comes with a 30 day guarantee; provided the other family members get checked. I scheduled their appointments then thanked her and left for home with a very oily head.

Berzo and I washed our hair, and washed it again. It actually felt quite luxurious afterwards.

Boots was horrified at the news that Berzo and I had lice, so I checked her hair with the new kit and couldn’t find anything. Charley shaved his head. I was a little jealous… They went in the next day and were both cleared.

We all attacked the house following the guidelines provided by Lice Knowing You. We were surprised to find out that lice in your environment is not all that much of concern. Any eggs that fall off die, because they need your body heat to incubate. Any bugs that fall off (they rarely do, holding on is their specialty) can barely move and begin to die within about 12 hours.

Reassuring as it all was, we still vacuumed everything, washed bedding, bagged teddy bears and moved all our couch cushions to the garage.

I brought Berzo back in the next morning to school with a clean head of shiny, spicy smelling, hair. The school nurse rechecked her and gave her the go-ahead to return to class. I brought her in and gave her teacher the School and Play Spray for which she was grateful and joked about spritzing the kids as they came in and out of the classroom.

I looked around and saw all that all the kids’ backpacks and coats were bagged. The fluffy green rug was gone. Most of the girls were in braids and pony tails. The boys had fresh looking short cuts.

Her teacher and I thought we’d seen the last of them.

We both reached up and scratched our heads a little. I wished her luck and left.


And then, like the Terminator, they were back.

I called the Beaverton office first thing in the morning and they are booked solid. She recommended I call their SE Portland office.

Through the tunnel! Arg!

We got appointments and all headed in to have our heads examined again.

She informed me that the head-check costs $15 per head and that any necessary treatments would be free.

“Can we skip the check and go right to treatment?”

I showed her the louse I saved in a plastic bag. She took it and gave it a good look, “Yep, that one of them. But, we don’t want to oil up your head unless there’s something left in there.”

“But we’re already so deep in this,” I said—pleaded.

She checks and her eyes widen when she sees our last transaction...

We waited for another family to be checked. Then it was our turn. She checked us all and we turned out to be clean. The re-infestation must have just gotten going.

I went up to pay for the head-checks and she waved me off, saying, “This one’s on the house.”

I tipped her anyway and thanked her for her help and we left. At home we repeated the vacuum, wash, bag.

And that was that.

I informed Berzo's teacher and she filled me in on the resurgence of lice in her room, despite all her preventative measures. "Stay strong," we told each other.


Now summer has summered. Fall has returned. The big yellow bus has swallowed up my kids and burps them back up for school. We’re working through our first set of cold viruses. Will the Lice Capades return?


Scratch, scratch.