Monthly Archives: March 2010


Our house was built in the 60’s. It was maintained for 40 years, then trashed for five and hastily remodeled before we bought from a construction company two years ago. The remodelers found the yard a wasteland of debris, and by the time they were finished they’d removed five dumpsters of junk and blackberry vines. But before all that, one family had tended and loved that garden for forty years.

The Plum

When we arrived, the property was a nearly clean slate with only a few old hearty plants – an ancient, moss-covered dogwood, a cherry, a plum, and a hawthorn. I could see the character of the gardeners that came before me in what remained. Near the fence were two Japanese maples, one with green leaves and one with red, that had been trained to twist around each other so they formed one two-toned unified shape above the trunk. The same technique was used on the old lilacs, with half of the tree blooming early and half late in the season.

There was a sprinkler system.  It seemed to work, except the heads were all broken or missing and water shot in every direction – primarily away from the needy plants. I replaced the heads but for that first summer, with a new house and a six-month-old, I didn’t do much planting or maintenance. It was all I could do to water on the hot days.

The Trillium

After a year of semi-regular water, mysterious plants began to emerge from the ground – a cluster of trillium next to the new fence, hyacinth, daffodils, and the dogwood bloomed delicate pink flowers. Under the stairs the ground was covered with heart shaped leaves and tiny pink cyclamen. Near the deck was a cluster of daisies and another of iris. I started to see how the previous gardeners had used the space. The cutting flowers were in the bed near the deck and stairs. The roses were in the side yard and the shrubs were lined up against the fence. Except for a few months every winter, there was always something in bloom.

The Cyclamen

We’d been in the house about eighteen months when the wisteria bolted from the dirt, its vines all needy and grabby, looking for the trellis it used to climb. I found a bamboo lattice and when I placed it next to the plant, I could see how it must have looked in its glory days, with purple flowers draped over the deck rail.

The Wisteria

Now that we’re settled and Josie is two, I’m able to do a little more work in the garden. We’ve built vegetable beds in the side yard. Frequently while I plant, prune, trim, train and water I think of the family that lived here and loved this garden for forty years. I know from their mail that he was a veteran of the Navy. I imagine him as a guy’s guy. I picture him building the sprinkler system and her tending the cut flowers. I can see them together but I cannot figure out who had the vision, the foresight, and the persistence to twist those trees together. Maybe it wasn’t him or her alone. Maybe it was something they did together.

I imagine they used chemical fertilizers, that’s the way people did things then, the nitrogen giving the plants a boost of short-lived green growth. I wonder if they used pesticides, wiped out the beneficial microbes and organisms in the dirt. It’s likely they treated the lawn, and if they did, when it rained the leads, toxins, heavy metals from all this “help” washed downhill the few blocks to the lake where the couple swam in the summer. 

Then I think about the years when the yard was overgrown with ivy and blackberries, when none of the plants were given any attention, when many of them withdrew into the dirt to wait for better days, and I realize those years of recovery, when the dirt could regain some of its natural composition, were one of the best things that could have happened to this yard. 

There’s still a lot of work to do in our garden. I hope this year to get the vegetables in the beds for cool season planting, to prune the weigela and the lilacs, and to plant some peonies in the bed of cut flowers. We plan to live in this house for a long time and sometimes I wonder about who will love it next, if they will care for the yard. I hope that I will be lucky enough to tend this yard for forty years, and that I will leave my mark in the form of strong branches and dirt that will continue to give for many years after I am gone.

PS  – This post is for the Green Moms Carnival on Gardening hosted on April 12 by Green Talk. Check it out!

Pockets of Cheese

I bet you’d be super-surprised to hear that I’m a list maker. There are post-its all over the place here covered with chicken scratches about raisins and plant sales and the broken Dustbuster (Maybe I should make that D*stbuster so the search engines don’t find it.) I make notes about blog posts and new stories and dried fruit. Then I transfer these little notes to the bigger corresponding lists – grocery, blog, household.

The other day I found a note that said ‘pockets.’ I have no idea what I meant.  Did I mean pockets or maybe packets or pictures or printers or pintos and windows and leantos and tacos or maybe a pingback or a wingback and cheese, of course, I must have meant cheese. Doesn’t it always come back to cheese? I was supposed to fill my pockets with cheese.

Just like Paul believes that rubber chickens are inherently funny, I think anything that has to do with a block of cheese is funny. Try working a block of cheese into a story; it makes it funnier, doesn’t it? So when I saw this SNL skit about the closet organizer, I’m sure you can imagine my delight.

Anyway, my point is this: I have a hard time remembering things. Also: blocks of cheese are funny.

But you see I have a good excuse. Chemo brain. For reals.

The American Cancer Society classifies chemo brain as including memory lapses, trouble concentrating/focusing. Trouble remembering names and details, trouble multi-tasking, and trouble finishing a sentence. Brains of cancer patients have been monitored and studies found that certain parts of the brain that deal with memory, planning, putting thoughts to action, monitoring thought processes and behavior and inhibition (pretty much everything) show up as smaller after chemo. These changes are still seen on scans five to ten years after treatment.

They recommend making lists and keeping a wall calendar to help keep your memory strong but those things don’t always help. Sometimes I completely lose a word or thought. One of my friends described it as going to the file in your brain that holds that word, opening it and finding it empty. Saucer! That little dish that holds a cup is indeed a saucer.

My memory has not been the same since chemo, but now I have a hard time determining if my lapses are the result of chemo brain, sleep deprivation, or mommy brain. It’s impossible to untangle them. As a friend says, sleep deprivation is key to the mommy experience. Does the well-rested parent exist?

Web MD claims that pregnancy brain and mommy brain subside after the first few years. Is that because children usually start sleeping longer? Is it because pregnancy hormones have leveled out by then? Do adoptive mommies get mommy brain? Clearly, I have a lot of questions and a lot to say on this topic so I’m going to continue to explore these ideas, if I can remember them, in a memory mini-series. I recommend you read it while gnawing on a block of cheese.

The Food Mini-Series

Nothing to do with anything.

A few more of my friends have gone gluten-free, and I’ve been thinking about diets and nutrition and giving a lot of advice and (hopefully) support. Being gluten-free seems so easy to me now (six years later) that I’ve almost forgotten what they’re going through.

All this and the changing of the seasonal produce from winter squash and sweet potatoes to lettuce and green beans has been stirring up thoughts on nutrition and diet. I can feel a series of food-related posts coming like a storm brewing.   

I have a friend who is particularly fond of the television mini-series, claiming that because they are longer than movie you become more invested in the story, and because they have endings, unlike a regular series, they provide answers. (Curses to Lost for making me wait this long for answers). She makes a valid argument. Maybe we should return to the days of classics like Mother May I Sleep With Danger?

Anyway, if you haven’t noticed by now, I seem to be fond of the mini-series of posts. The things I want to explore are generally too complex for one post but eventually I run out of things to say. So, for now I’ve included a recipe. Perhaps it’s the beginning of another mini-series. I’ll have to come up with a name… Any ideas?

The recipe: it’s chicken. It’s easy and good and (of course) gluten-free. Enjoy! 

Recipe: Five-Spice Roast Chicken


  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 cut-up chicken (8 pieces; about 3.5 pounds)
  • 1 large onion, peeled, cut into 16 wedges


  1. Combine garlic, salt, olive oil and Chinese five-spice powder in a large bowl. Add chicken pieces and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 F. Arrange onion wedges in 13x9x2-inch roasting pan. Arrange chicken, skin side up, atop onions. Roast until chicken is cooked through, basting occasionally with pan juices, about 50 minutes. Remove chicken from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Arrange chicken and onions on platter and serve.

The Sun Brings Shadows

The Rose

I was trying to participate in my friend Christina’s self-portrait Sunday. She requested her readers post an image of their faces partly shaded. I failed at the task but did spend some time in the sun looking at shadows, and that is not a bad thing. Not at all. In fact, I highly recommend it.

A Self-Portrait

Christina is a beautiful writer, photographer, visual artist and blogger. She’s raising funds for what will be an amazing collection of essays accompanied by illustrations. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Go to her site and support her if you can. The world will be a better place because of it.

Or maybe this one

I’m taking a photography class next weekend. I can’t wait.

No Warts!

A little bit of pretty for no reason at all.

So when I wrote the post about being a creepy parent, I was sporting some righteous indignation on behalf of angry parents everywhere. Then… We watched Mary Poppins, again, and I got that damn song stuck in my head. You know the song that Jane and Michael write about the perfect nanny-to-be. These two lines in particular. 

If you won’t scold and d*minate us
We will never give you cause to hate us

D*mination. (In case you’re wondering, the asterisk is an attempt to avoid the attraction of search engines to that particular word. THERE’S NOTHING TO SEE HERE PERVS. WE’RE JUST HAVING A NICE CONVERSATION ABOUT MARY POPPINS. MOVE ALONG. After the mattress post, when I mentioned I would h*ndcuff the mattress to Josie’s a*kle, you should have seen the search terms that were directed to HMN. Yikes! I changed h*ndcuff to attached in a jiffy. Sigh. I have so much to learn.)

Anyway, D*mination is such an ugly word. Perhaps sometimes, my frustration and/or anger is about control or even d*mination. She’s TWO for god sake. She wants everything exactly her way. No, Daddy, change diaper! She insists I sit on the ‘touch’ right this minute so she can comb my hair with a coaster NOW. Sit! Mommy Sit!

Sometimes her demands are reasonable. Yes, you can have more gogurt (yogurt) or a boo (blue) poon (spoon). But, no, you can’t cross the street by yourself. You must hold my hand in the parking lot. And there are others… While I was sitting in the sun, on vacation, thinking about this, I could not come up with any of them. The humming of the honey bees devouring the nectar of little rosemary flowers was too distracting. While she’s snoring in the other room, all her requests seem perfectly reasonable. I wasn’t in my usual frame of mind.

Rosy cheeks, no warts!
Play games, all sorts

Hmmm, play games. I do sometimes trick her into doing what I want, but I don’t think this is the kind of games the kids mean. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. I think Mary Poppins is becoming one of my primary sources of parenting advice (or parenting guilt). Move over Parenting with Love and Logic. I’ve had enough rational thinking, I’m all about flying umbrellas and jumping into chalk drawings from here on out.   

Never be cross or cruel
Never give us castor oil or gruel

Sometimes I can’t help but be cross but I will do my best to never be cruel. I guess cleverness is the goal, distraction the aspiration, persuasion the dream, but when all else fails, as I said before, I reserve the right to bring out the angry. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go scream at my umbrella until it learns to fly.

A Few Notes

I found this on Sunday.

I should go on vacation, the universe is telling me to, but I can’t. I mean I already did. So instead, I went on a mini-vacation to Renton to see my acupuncturist (yes, he really is that good). He put tiny titanium seeds in my ears. He says they’re really hip right now. Take note.

Maybe I should laugh more too.

The Red-Headed Messiah of African American Haircare

Have I told you about my new favorite site? My new best friend? The red-headed Messiah of African-American haircare? Perhaps Messiah is a bit much, but let me say this: she is the BOMB. Really. Joyful Mom has two African American children, one with kinky, curly hair and one with looser curls. She posts information on haircare tools, products and how to execute different styles. Furthermore, she only uses natural products. Love. Really.

I’ve been kind of obsessed with the site the last few weeks. It’s always up on the computer in the kitchen and every spare minute, I’m reading about a new style or product or bead. Yes, I’ve spent another fortune on supplies, but look!

Little braids

Look what Josie and I did together. They’re cornrows. No kidding.

After her bath and a dinner break, I sat on the couch with her on a pillow on the floor. I laid out my Noah’s ark full of haircare products (2 brushes, 2 combs, 2 tubs of hair goo). I popped in the Poppins, detangled and sectioned her hair, and started cornrowing. The style took about 30-45 minutes to complete (I’m so slow). Josie had to get up and run around a few times. I was sure she was going to refuse to sit back down and that we’d be stuck with half-finished hair for the week, but she came back. She came back! When I really needed her to sit still, I held her head between my knees. When I did the sides I sat on the floor. We make such a good team.

Tough to get her to hold still for the picture

If you have a kid with curly hair or have curly hair yourself go visit Happy Girl Hair. I think you’ll kind of love it too.

She asked for "sumpin with cheese on it" for dinner

In Defense of Alec Baldwin

After my post about being an angry parent versus being a creepy parent, a friend mentioned a segment (or Act) on This American Life where Dan Savage makes the case for yelling at your kids. It’s hilarious. Probably not the best parenting advice but super-entertaining. I highly recommend stopping by for a good Friday afternoon laugh. Dan’s part begins at about 45:40 minutes into the segment and lasts about ten minutes. If the link does not work, it’s episode #341. Enjoy!

How to Talk to Kids

Hey Everyone, Let’s Panic!

By now you must all know about BPA, right? If not (are you trapped under something heavy?), Bisphenol A is a chemical that, among other things, makes hard plastic bottles shatterproof and is found in the lining of most cans and food packaging.

On Monday, Washington State voted to ban BPA in products for children under the age of 3. Similar restrictions are in place in Chicago, Minnesota, Connecticut and Suffolk County in New York. In Congress, a bill has been filed that would block BPA from all food and drink packaging. Those wise Canadians banned BPA in baby bottles in 2008.

90% of us have this stuff in our bodies and recent studies have found a presence in the majority of newborn babies. In the last 50 years, dozens of studies have linked BPA to health problems, including abnormal growths and tumors in animals. Some studies say BPA alters healthy breast cells, turning them into abnormal cancer cells. Other studies say BPA contributes to tumor growth by mimicking estrogen in the body.

My cancer was hormone positive. That means there were teeny-tiny receptor sites on the outside of my cancer cells that estrogen would bind to. The abundance of estrogen (naturally occurring and from BPA and other toxins) in my system may have accelerated my tumor’s growth.

This is how my war, not just against cancer, but against estrogen began. Chemo drugs shut down my ovaries. After treatment, I started receiving injections to stay post-menopausal but the drug didn’t always work as planned, and I popped in and out of medically-induced menopause multiple times.

Let me take a moment to acknowledge how wrong it is for a person to go from post-menopausal to pre-menopausal. It’s like changing the rotation of the earth and moving from winter back to fall. You can imagine the mood swings. Picture me with my hands clutching my mother’s collar screaming at her to clean my fridge. Right this minute. I sounded like my two year old (I guess some relationships never change). Just do it LADY

I also started avoiding BPA by drinking from glass and stainless steel containers. If I hadn’t had all that fake estrogen in my system, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten cancer at 31 or, if I had, maybe it wouldn’t have been hormone positive.  

Let me be clear: I’m not saying I believe BPA definitively caused my cancer. I don’t believe any one thing causes cancer. I am saying there is a good chance BPA played a part in its development.   

But enough about me, back to the topic at hand. Perhaps you’re asking yourself why Washington state is banning BPA, isn’t this the FDA’s job? In past years the FDA has maintained that BPA is completely safe based largely on the findings of two industry-funded studies. In January the FDA reversed their position and they have expressed concern about the effects of BPA.

Then this from the Washington Post

FDA officials also said they were hamstrung from dealing quickly with BPA by an outdated regulatory framework.

Awesome. And then this:

One administration official privy to the talks said the FDA is in a quandary. “They have new evidence that makes them worried, but they don’t have enough proof to justify pulling the stuff, so what do you do?” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “You want to warn people, but you don’t want to create panic.”

Sure, let them eat poison but, for god sake, don’t freak anybody out.


I’m enjoying the stories in the comments section of the last post. You guys are hilarious. This will not be the last you hear on this topic. More soon.

Well Fed

But on to other things, like: Saturday. Good-ness. You guys in Seattle know what I’m talking about, no? Sunny, warm and 65 F. It’s difficult to know exactly what to do with yourself on a day like that in March. There are so many things. Paul and Josie were at “soccer class” so I pulled on some old denim and an old sweatshirt and slipped my clippers into one pocket and my i-pod into the other and ventured into the jungle that is our yard.


I selected some summer music (Spoon) and went to work. I upgraded from the clippers to loppers; then from loppers to the saw. Perhaps I should have stepped aside for a moment to consider my actions when I retrieved the saw. Perhaps that should have been a sign that I was getting carried away. We’ve got some old shrubs in our yard that have turned to trees. Unhappy, unhealthy trees. They needed to be liberated. They told me this.

I spent the morning chopping and pulling and wandering around the yard dirty and breastless. Oh no. Did I just say that aloud? Yes indeed. Does it make you uncomfortable? It shouldn’t. Really, it’s like talking about the gap between my front teeth. It’s just the way it is. I wear prosthetics. They’re heavy and hot. That’s all (for now).

By the time I was done, the trees were about half of what they were. Maybe they’ll love their new looks. Maybe they’ll die. Who cares?


It was a good day and hopefully good enough to get us through the next 11 days of rain predicted in our 10 day forecast.

If you’re outside Seattle, I hope spring reaches you soon.