The Beautiful Fragments that are Orlando

One week ago, 49 people were killed by one man with two guns. Dozens of others injured.

The world is watching, Orlando. We have witnessed time and again how beauty can come from the broken. But first, the brokenness must be seen. Held. Nurtured. And we see you. I see you. And I will not look away until the pieces begin to be put together again. My love letter to you:

“Shards of glass can cut and wound or magnify a vision. Mosaic celebrates brokenness and the beauty of being brought together.”
– Terry Tempest WilliamsFinding Beauty in a Broken World

I am not Orlando. I’ve never even been to Florida. Orlando is a world away, in my mind. A world of heat and color and Latin grooves. A world that I envision with palm trees, ocean breezes, open sky, tourists in white pants and bright tops, beautiful people, verandas, sidewalk cafes, brightly colored drinks with umbrellas, and gay bars filled to capacity.

I am not Orlando or the Pulse Nightclub or one of the numbers of people shot down at the end of an evening of celebration. I am not one of the invisible people who lost someone they love who may or may not have been out as gay or queer. I am not someone healing from multiple bullet wounds, praying to forget the sounds of the blasts or the wicked laugh from the shooter who was reloading his weapon. Again. And again.

I am not Orlando.

Orlando stands out in my mind as a place shattered in a million pieces, torn apart by bullets and hatred. Orlando struggles mightily at the bottom of my feet, suffocating from all the ways people are stepping on its uniqueness. Orlando sits in the pit of my stomach, screaming to get out where it can begin to turn back into a reality of a diverse group of people living their own unique lives; some broken, some thriving, some sobbing, some dancing, some hanging on for dear life, and some lost.

I am not Orlando.

Orlando may not even be Orlando, at least in the ways we as a society are trying to pigeonhole it. Because the Orlando we are calling Orlando is a subsection of Orlando- a beautiful, diverse, queer-identified community of people who were gathered together to dance to the Latin beat when one man armed with 2 guns began his rampage. In the name of hate. In the name of fear. In the name of nonsense.

I see you, Orlando.

I am not Orlando, but I stand here, open heart and open mind to what it must mean to be in the heat of your pain. I acknowledge it while knowing that I could never fully understand what it is like to be among your ranks. I hold this truth as someone who has identified as queer for 22 years, and as a person who has experienced being fragmented and judged and spat on because of that fact. I say this jagged truth as someone who can easily pass as straight and as someone who has chosen to do that far too often in my life. I admit this as a real person who has spent many nights dancing in the sanctuary of gay bars with people I love and with total strangers, feeling joy and pride and a sense of community that nourished me into the weeks ahead. I cringe when I admit that my formerly righteous activist self has fallen into a blissfully boring life with my partner of 22 years, and that waking up to the news of your tragedy made me remember the fact that this level of hatred and fear still exists in this world.

I am awake, Orlando.

I am your sister, and I will not look away. I am your ally, your posse, your comrade, your witness, and I will not stand idly by. I stand with you.

You are beautiful, Orlando.

And what I know is this; there is resilience and beauty in Orlando. Right now you are shattered, but you have already begun to pick up shards, recognizing that there are glints of possibility in the rubble. The most beautiful mosaics have been created with less.


open up and say AWE

*pardon the long absence. I’ve been distracted by…life.

Spokane River
Spokane River

flow like a river

When I was a kid, I used to spend entire days wandering the riverbank near our family home. The allure of the river and all that surrounded it called to me on a daily basis, and there was no end to the wonderment that I experienced once I crossed River Road. Even without knowing the names of the trees, the brush, the birds, the wildflowers, I knew they were a central part of who I was, and I knew that I was more myself when I was in that part of my world.

Beginning in the early spring, I took to the terrain surrounding the river like a true explorer, ripping off my shoes (and sometimes more) and padding through the thickets without any worry about what anyone thought. I delighted when the spring runoff caused the water to rise, creating secret lagoons where I pretended the cottonwood and alder trees were the canopy of a Louisiana swamp. I hid in the grass, ran through the fields, jumped over horse droppings, and sang at the top of my lungs. To this day, the blossoms of red osier dogwood and the tender toughness of buttercups and bluebells enchant me. And to this day, I feel the pull to run barefoot over the earth while swinging my arms in wild abandon.

I wish I had a river so long. I would teach my feet to fly.
-Joni Mitchell

And yet I don’t do these things now. In fact, I rarely even walk my dog without my smart phone tucked into my pocket, because God forbid I see something spectacular that I miss for an Instagram shot. And what if someone tries to reach me by text? Or I want to casually glance at Facebook or Twitter, or to look at something interesting through the view of my phone, thinking about capturing an image rather than taking it in and tending to the experience that comes up when I look at beauty or witness nature?

Never, in my entire childhood, did I carry a camera to the river. I don’t even know that I owned one. I can’t imagine that I thought about what anyone else was doing, aside from whatever random friend or relative I managed to wrangle into what I considered my very own nature preserve. I simply entered into my experience fully and with all senses alive to whatever came my way. As an adult, this takes more intention and a willingness to pull away from the distractions and minutiae that so often pull away the possibility for moments of awe.

awakening AWE

The river and the area surrounding it represented where I found my “flow”; not for the way the river carried water or fish or water bugs, or for the way groups of children careened down the steep banks on inner tubes after a snow storm, but for the way I lost track of everything and entered into ‘effortless action’ when I was there. Now, as an adult, I recognize my need for more opportunities for flow, and, more importantly, for A.W.E.: (an acronym I made up while riding my bicycle) aesthetic wonderment experiences.

AWE’s don’t have to take a lot of time, and they certainly don’t have to be moments of spiritual awakening. They merely require an ability to awaken the senses to wonder (which may be easier without a computer, television or a smart phone nearby…). Moments of AWE are different for everyone and there are a bazillion opportunities for AWE for each individual. The only similarity is that all AWE moments are opportunities for letting go and experiencing what it is to be alive and connected in this world.

For me, these moments are most likely to occur when I’m outside. Maybe it’s in the garden, on the beach, riding my bike, stomping in puddles, or running with my dog. But they can also happen when my face is buried in my partner’s back while I listen to the heaviness of her sleeping breath or when I pause from looking at the computer screen to gaze out the window at a couple of birds frolicking in the tree. There aren’t rules. Just possibilities.

And that’s the beauty of it. AWE is available right now. And I firmly believe that AWE could save the world. Sort of an alternative version of ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’. Only in this case, no need for psychedelics. Turn on your intention, tune in to experience, drop out of the judging, thinking, worrying, craziness of life. Be. Here. Now.

Will the real YOU step forward?

Enough about you already. Let’s talk about YOU.

It’s not that I’m antisocial; I hate useless small talk. It’s not that I don’t enjoy good conversation; I want dialogue that involves some amount of meaning. My head spins when people give me the rundown of their weekend (e.g.: I did this here and then I ate this and did these chores and this thing that has little to nothing to do with anything that really matters to you, or me for that matter, I’m just filling up your time with useless facts about my life because I’m uncomfortable with silence).

Seriously. Enough already. Aren’t we beyond this by now?

I want to know (ala The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer) what is on your heart, burning in your mind, making you want to scream with joy. I want connection. I want authenticity, even when it involves some amount of mess (maybe even especially if it involves some amount of mess). Anything else, when it doesn’t entail matters that I need to know (such as weather patterns that involve a need to run for cover, gather emergency equipment, or make plans to escape to higher ground), doesn’t usually interest me.

 I blame it on the cancer.

After being diagnosed with cancer five years ago, I realized I had little room for crap in my life. In fact, I worked pretty hard to limit the people whose energy dragged me down. As one colleague kindly described it, I encouraged more “net positive” people into my life and limited the amount of “net negative” folks. It’s been quite lovely, actually.

I’m not saying I only want positive folks in my life. “Net positive” is not exclusively positive. It’s not happy go lucky. And it’s not fake. A net positive person is authentic, genuine, willing to admit to limitations, able to sit in silence before giving unwanted advice, and totally, beautifully, perfectly infallible (i.e. very messy from time to time).

When I am around someone who is net positive, I feel whole and lifted and not dragged down.

A net negative person, on the other hand, could be someone who is passive aggressive, painfully phony, or tedious. A net negative person most likely has little insight into their own crap and tends to be one sided and self-centered.

When I spend time with a net negative person, I am antsy, exhausted, frustrated, and often distracted by thinking of ways out of the situation.

Unacceptable. Best to cultivate net positivity in my life.

A few ways I encourage net positivity, wholeheartedness, authenticity, and realness into my life:


  • Allow for messy. Perfection makes me uncomfortable and just a little skeptical. I crave a little bit of mess in my life, which means I want to be able to see other people in less than perfect states. Part of asking for messy means that I have to admit to my messy. 
  • Stop doing. Just be. This goes beyond mindfulness where one is expected to breathe into discomfort, be in the present moment, blah, blah, blah.  I love that, too, don’t get me wrong, but what I mean here is to stop trying to do, help, or fix what isn’t broken. Listen more. Love more. Forgive more. But mostly, stop and just be present with another person. It’s a miracle. 
  • Send out love without being prompted. A text, a card, an email, an impromptu hug or appreciation. I work at being grateful for the small and large miracles in my life that come in the form of human beings, and let them know what it is I’m grateful for. 
  • Model authenticity and positivity. As easy as it sounds. When someone is draining my happy juice with their negativity, I do my best to infuse the conversation with as much realness and positivity as I can possibly muster. And when that fails; 
  • Walk Away. It’s ok to pass. It’s ok to decline offers for dinner, walks, coffee breaks, telephone chats, etc. If it’s draining and awful, I pass it up. I make it my own personal responsibility to fill up my own container of happy for when I might need it one day.

 And for inspiration, I refer to someone like the amazing Brené Brown, Ph.D.:

 Authenticity is a daily practice.

Choosing authenticity means: cultivating the courage to be emotionally honest, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made strength and struggle and connected to each other through a loving and resilient human spirit; nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we let go of what we are supposed to be and embrace who we are. Authenticity demands wholehearted living and loving- even when it’s hard, even when we’re wresting with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it.

Mindfully practicing authenticity during out most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.

Be authentic. Be messy. Be wholehearted. Be YOU. And then tell me about what’s really going on.

good old summer days (when thongs were footwear)

These long summer days have made me wistful for the days when my beauty routine consisted of stealing into my sister’s jar of Noxema and then rolling on enough cherry flavored Lip Smackers to coat the entire surface of my lips and beyond. I felt pretty fancy back in the day with my hair parted precisely down the middle and then feathered away from my eyes for a look that I felt was spot on Sabrina (ala Kate Jackson) from Charlie’s Angels. Truly, I would have preferred to look like Jill (ala Farrah Fawcett), however I knew my style was far more tomboy than sexpot. Besides, Sabrina was spunkier and had a better sense of humor.

In the late 70’s I wasn’t even double digits, but I knew quite well that I liked being just girly enough not to be mistaken for a boy, and just tomboy enough not to have expectations for higher standards of grooming (some things never change). Summers were meant for finding the balance between lazy and excitement, and when excitement meant exploration beyond our rural(ish) property lines, the summer footwear of choice was “thongs”. Not flip-flops. Thongs. This was before “thongs” meant skimpy underwear.

At least where I grew up, thongs were the rubber bottomed footwear that had a stripe of color between the black and brown upper and lower, a really uncomfortable plastic piece that sat between the first two toes, and a thick strip of material that looked like big shoe laces that held the look together. When I was really getting fancy, my own thongs might have a slight lift at the back with several colored stripes. I loved them. That was, I loved them when I had to wear something other than nothing on my feet.

Mostly, summer called for bare feet. Still does. And this is one of the reasons I adore yoga and boating (and even gardening). Anything that gives me an excuse to spread my toes and allow my feet the pure pleasure of spreading out on the earth (or alternative surface). Especially since my job now forces me into practical footwear five days a week. Not even thongs/flip flops. Real shoes with real arch support that fits a business casual attire. Big bummer.

And that brings me to the sad fact that my beauty routine is no longer easy. Beginning with my incredible array of lotions and potions that promise brighter, softer, smoother, more energized and wrinkle free skin to the make ups touting perfecting, lengthening, covering, and long lasting wear. Ever since the days when I snuck into my mother’s jar of Oil of Olay, I’ve been a sucker for beauty products. Only now I have added concerns that compel me to spend extra time researching products and extra money on products that assure a lack of parabens, sulfates, carcinogens and basic toxic compounds. Then, of course, anything I buy must be cruelty free with packaging that can be recycled.

So. No cobalt blue tub of tingly goodness and no tubes of cherry flavored gloss. Not like the ones from “the good old days”. And, for that matter, no running outside without a slathering of an Environmental Working Group’s approved sunscreen and a practical hat to avoid sun damage or skin cancer. But nothing, and I mean nothing, can keep me from adoring summer and from tossing off my shoes every chance I get. And when shoes are called for, if I can possibly get away with it, I go for my thongs flip flops. Because that’s how this angel rolls.


home between home

road home

home  /hōm/

The place where one lives permanently, esp. as a member of a family or household.
Of or relating to the place where one lives: “your home address”.
To the place where one lives: “what time did he get home last night?”

(of an animal) Return by instinct to its territory after leaving it: “geese homing to their summer nesting grounds”. 

I never fail to get a lump in my throat when I drive away from my hometown; the place that I will forever call “home” when referring to it. Memories fill my car, making it hard to breathe, which makes me nostalgic, which then leads to me yearning for all of the things that are no longer in my grasp. I think of all of the ways my family and my home town and my friends have changed, and I think of the many ways I’ve changed. I think of the fact that some of the people and the places that I find dear may not be there the next time I visit, which makes my heart ache and the tears form.

Home: I try to think of the many meanings this one word encapsulates. The places I’ve called home, the people I’ve considered my home, the ways I’ve been at home in nature or in my body. Home as the place where I can be fully embodied as myself- the many faceted, wildly scattered, emotional bundle of me- and still be loved.

I try to remember that nothing is permanent, and that this is part of the wonderful mystery of life and this world. I try to remember the fact that this moment is the only true moment. I try to breathe in gratitude. I try to take it all in and recognize that I was not just formed by this place or by the village of my family. But all of this fails as the ghosts of my past buzz my car.

Usually, I take a detour past the home I grew up in, situated smack dab in the middle of a quaint little cul-de-sac in what used to be a very small town bordering the state line of Idaho. My breath usually catches when I turn onto the road and hear the familiar sound of gravel under tires. I eagerly take in the sight of the yard where I spent more hours than I could possibly count chasing dogs, playing with dolls, turning cartwheels, and digging in the dirt. I lean over to squint my eyes into seeing the space on the cement steps that hold the names of my siblings and me along with the paw print of our little dog. And then I pull away, pausing for a moment before turning back onto the road that follows the path of the Spokane River, windows down so that I can breathe in memories and listen for birds.

I think about balancing between leaving home and heading home. I think about birth and death and everything in between. I think about big things and small things, sticking my hand out the window to feel the dry air between my fingers, sensation of home.

There are several places I slow down, memories of my childhood self, scraped knees and uncombed hair, flooding my entire body. I slow down to stay in my hometown for even a few minutes more, and also to look at the places that  helped to form who I am to this day, including my love of nature; the view of the dismantled bridge, the beginnings of trails I know by heart to this very day, the cove where I learned to swim.

And then I make my way to the Interstate, usually blasting music and wiping my nose with my sleeve. It takes a good twenty miles for the ghosts of my childhood to settle down and begin emptying from my car. Just in time for me to start digging into the bag of snacks my parents lovingly pack for me. Road spanning out in front and behind me as I settle for the long drive home.

song of myself (it’s my birthday)

from iPhone 320

Holy crap. It’s my birthday.

That used to mean something. I used to wake up expecting miracles- gained knowledge, growth spurts and special treatment. I went to sleep the night before thinking of all the fabulous things I dreamed of and praying that every wish would be granted. Birthdays were to be held to high standards of greatness with me as the princess. I looked forward to gifts wrapped up in bows and big slices of ice cream cake.

And now. Now, all I want is the day to pass without catastrophe. That, along with time for quiet reflection, strong tea, bare feet and family. Add to that wish a day that feels leisurely with sunshine that covers my face and sunscreen that works. Gifts be damned. I want the miracle of peace and the wonder of family. I want moments of clarity where I notice the sounds and smells that surround me and a day that goes by with me being present for every single moment.

Mostly, I want to be alive in the bounty of the earth (as sappy as that sounds).

Yesterday I started the day by reading Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself. In its entirety. I started by looking for the part about containing multitudes, and ended up eating up every line the way I devour a bag of popcorn before the movie even starts. I read the poem as though it was advice I needed to memorize. From the beautiful parts to the sexy parts to the challenging parts to the parts that left me tilting my head and furrowing my brow in confusion. Like it was the wisdom this birthday contained and Whitman was handing it to me in the pages of this very second hand book. The book that sat on the bedroom shelf for years, ripening for this very day.

And then I stepped out into the world, running the usual Saturday errands. All of Whitman’s words fell away as I busied myself with distractions and became overwhelmed by all of my self-imposed chores. I found myself thinking in the old pattered princess ways: I deserve to be celebrated; I shouldn’t have responsibilities during my birthday weekend; It’s my (insert whiny voice) birthday…

Oh, how easy it is to slip into old patterns.

When I was around 8 years old, I had a little book about a witch, a ghost, and a ghoul (or something like that) that lived deep in the woods. They looked like little children dressed up like these things, but they had no parents and they relied on each other to get through the day. I never questioned the oddity of that, because I loved the stories. One that stands out is the one where the witch was having a birthday. She expected to wake up wiser and with more witch powers than she had the day before. She not only expected it, but she knew it. In her smugness, she prepared to be this wise and powerful witch. I think she also expected to be taller, but that’s beside the point…the point is, she didn’t wake up with anything she expected. She woke up to a day like any other day, at least in her mind. And yet her friends offered their sweetly wrapped gifts and supported her in her disappointment, even though she was downright nasty to them and spent the day stomping around and sulking.

I can’t remember the exact ending of this particular book, or whether there was a moral or not (of course there was). What I remember learning from reading the book, though, is that birthdays aren’t about becoming something we didn’t work to become or about receiving anything outrageously fancy (I’m still learning this). Birthdays are about noticing and celebrating the multitudes that make up our individual selves and honoring the world in which we live.

Yes, I still have princess tendencies. And I still want to be celebrated from time to time. But the gifts I want are the gifts that come from the heart- those sweet moments that happen when there isn’t an agenda or an expectation for an outcome. Time with people I love and some time for myself. Moments to reflect on what I am grateful for and opportunities to step into nature. Because that’s what really matters. Well, all of those things…and cake.

choosing to blossom.


Pardon my absence. I’ve been using springtime as an opportunity to sprout; to push through a thick layer of earth and reach toward the sky in hopes that I will develop flowers. It’s been lovely, really. And more challenging than I ever imagined.

 That’s germinating.

My work and my personal life have been stretching me in ways I never thought possible. Which is what it takes to bloom, I think. No. I believe it. Because it has been those times in my life when I have gathered everything I thought I could possibly have in myself to achieve what I never thought possible, only to find out that I had that much and more.

 That’s sprouting.

I learned how to blossom from an early age- watching my mother dig (literally and figuratively) to make plots of abundance out of very little. The soil was often rough and the tools were frequently rusty, but she tended her family garden with courage, wisdom, grace, and, often, pure stubbornness. I’ll always love my mother for that. Out of adversity and challenge grew a plentiful crop of goodness.

That’s cultivating.

As a kid, I fought against all it took to make a garden grow. Chores were a drag. I didn’t understand that tending the garden by weeding and mulching and loving unconditionally was what made the veggies so delicious and the berries so sweet. I only knew that I wanted the end result without all of the work. I keenly remember the taste of the bright orange carrots picked fresh from the soil when I wanted a snack and was kicked out of the kitchen. My memory is ripe with images of the raspberries I picked for my morning cereal, our trusty dog at my side. And yet I hold the distinct memory of rolling my eyes and stomping my feet when I was given the chore of weeding row after row in our vegetable garden- thinking that my time was far better spent hiding out in front of the basement television watching the fuzzy re-runs of Charlie’s Angels or Eight is Enough.

That’s growing.

Jumping forward to the present, I love every part of gardening. I especially love to get down and dirty, bare feet touching the earth as I squat over the vast expanse of luscious soil, searching for another space to tend. I adore the process of watching something grow from seed to plant, unfurling into fullness. I like knowing where my food comes from and witnessing the seeming miracle of nature’s bounty. And mostly, I enjoy the memories that come from placing my body near the earth.

Every time I step foot on the earth, my senses come alive, and I remember that I am part of something so much larger than myself. I honor my roots, and experience what can only be described as full body sensory memory where my toes spread out, my skin tingles, my nostrils engage, and my eyes take in the world as brighter and more expansive.

That’s blooming.

Plants often need to go through challenging times to blossom; winter, drought, a harsh pruning. These experiences are sometimes the very things that provide what it takes for a plant to pull up what is necessary to push forward a bloom. And that’s life. Harshness can be just harshness, sure. Pain and suffering can be terrible and debilitating, yes. But sometimes it’s these times of challenge that provide the environment for shiny new growth.

That’s surviving. That’s thriving.

That’s beautiful.