I took 10 days at the end of December 2023 to go to Antarctica. I had no idea what to expect, other than penguins. I had a friend ask me what it was like, and he had done a stint in the Peace Corps in Namibia. I said, “Do you remember what it felt like when you got back from Africa?”

He said, “Yeah.”

I said, “It was like that.”

He said, “I totally get it.”

Having said that, I will try to share a few impressions.

Here is what I have to say about Antarctica. It is an incredibly beautiful place, unlike any place I’ve ever been. There is ocean, massive amounts of water, full of life – from the penguins porpoising through the water to the whales surfacing to breathe to the petrels flying above. Unseen to our eye is the phytoplankton and krill, which everything else in Antarctica eats. Literally every other animal eats krill. Side note, go watch Happy Feet 2 just for the krill subplot.

Antarctica 2023

There are towering mountains, covered with glaciers and ice, icebergs of all shapes, and very little color. The landscape is incredibly monochromatic, whites and shades of gray and black, with washes of blue in the sky and ice. The gentoo penguins have bright orange beaks, and I found some lichen but there is nothing that grows on the ground – other than moss. No trees, no bushes, no grass. It is wild beyond imagining, so vast, so incomprehensible.

Gentoo penguin

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sky, ever changing. Sometimes blue, sometimes gray and full of clouds, and on one day it snowed all day. The weather was on our side. We were very lucky. There was a group two trips before us who started their time on the boat a day late and had to return to the continent a day early. It was summer there, and the sun set at 12:30 a.m. and rose at 2:30 a.m. I felt outside of time, suspended in this special place.


I know folks have a lot of questions, many around the logistics, so I have described them below.


Wednesday: left Seattle early in the morning.

Flew Seattle -> Miami -> Santiago -> Punta Arenas. This took ~30 hours

Thursday: arrived Punta Arenas 

Friday: day in Punta Arenas.

Saturday: took a 2 hour flight from Punta Arenas to Frei Station in the southern Shetland Islands. Got on a zodiac to the boat. Spent the afternoon getting various briefings about safety and what to expect.

Transit the Bransfield Strait overnight


Morning excursion: D’Hainaut Island, Mikkelsen Harbour

Afternoon excursion: zodiac cruise Cierva Cove

Monday: transit the Lemaire Channel

Morning excursion: Petermann Island

Afternoon excursion: Pleneau Island


Morning excursion: Neko Harbor (continental touch!)

Afternoon excursion: Cuverville Island

Transit the Bransfield Strait (12-foot swells thank you ZOFRAN)


Morning excursion: Deception Island (active volcano!!)

Afternoon excursion: Half Moon Island (chinstrap penguin chicks)

Thursday: reversed back. Got off ship and on zodiac from ship to shore at 8:00 a.m., waited for ~90 mins for plane to arrive, then flew back to Punta Arenas where we spent the night.

Friday: started return journey home. Punta Arenas -> Santiago -> Atlanta -> Seattle.

Saturday: arrived back in Seattle

click on the picture below to go to the full album (there are also some videos in there)


What I brought:

  • 2 pairs of fleece leggings
  • Rubber/waterproof pants
  • Heavy parka
  • Neck gaiter
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Warm wool socks (to wear with boots)
  • Long sleeve cotton shirts (if you sweat a lot I do not recommend cotton for a base layer)
  • 3 Smartwool tops
  • 1 lightweight wool/cashmere sweater
  • 1 heavy cashmere sweater
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hand/body lotion
  • Camera
  • Phone
  • Binoculars
  • Plug adapters
  • Antinausea medication (we brought Zofran)

Depending on what operator you go with, you may have the option to rent things. The operator we took provided the boots. My sister also rented pants and a backpack. Our operator provided hiking sticks at every excursion.

Additionally, on our trip all of the expedition team were allowed and encouraged to intermingle with the guests, sitting with us at meals, etc. This is not the case on every boat. It’s worth finding out what the policy is. It made for a very intimate experience for us.

Let me know what questions you have! I will try to answer them for you.

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O Canada

Every story should have conflict. Every character should want something. And every story should have change: whether it’s the reader’s understanding or the character who evolves.

Day One: I fly across the continent, hop in a car and drive for a few more hours. After dinner I puke spectacularly and particularly all over my pants. I toss them in the tub and make them a problem for tomorrow.

Day Two: I want to wash my jeans. I wasn’t planning on doing any laundry, let alone the second day of my trip. I also want my head to stop hurting and to sleep for more than six hours a night. I am exhausted, I can’t think clearly, my stomach is tetchy, and I want to deal with the soiled pants before they become even more of a problem. Turns out there wasn’t any time to do laundry on Day Two.

Day Three: In the morning I go out on a whale watching boat, in my lightweight capris because my soiled jeans are sitting in a plastic bag. Fortunately it was fairly warm and I had a warm sweater and vest, but the jeans were still dirty.

In addition to being preoccupied with how to do laundry in a small town that doesn’t seem to have an actual grocery store or a laundromat, I choose to pull out my incredibly rusty French to accomplish this task. The night before we go whale watching, I ask a man at the hotel if they take laundry. He tells me no, there’s only an industrial washer which would ruin clothes. I ask if there’s a laundromat. He tells me yes, but gives me the wrong directions. Or maybe they were the right directions but I misunderstood. At least I know there is a public place I can do the wash. One foot in front of the other.

In the afternoon, I look for laundry detergent. I find a “convenience store” which has hand soap and dish soap, but no laundry detergent. I decide to go to the tourist information center, where I get confirmation for the location of the laundry machines. The woman I talk to is surprised I can’t find laundry detergent. She calls the grocery store and confirms they have Tide. I realize I may have missed the grocery store. She asks me for my zip code and her co-worker is surprised I’m from Seattle and speak French.

I cross the street and find the washer and dryer inside a tiny building we’ve passed 20 times. I didn’t know what it was for, but over the course of our stay it becomes apparent that many people know it is public toilets and a place to get potable water. Fortunately for me, there is someone else doing laundry. I confirm how much it will cost to wash and dry. A dollar and a half. Just like the washers in my apartment building. Finally we are getting somewhere. I understand how to operate a coin-op machine. Just keep in mind I am in a foreign country.

Enter the one dollar bill. Canadian. I ask my mom for the cash she brought so I can buy laundry detergent and get change for the washer and dryer. She gives me a ten, a five, and two ones. I walk up the street to the actual grocery store this time. I wander through, delighted with the options, until I find the laundry detergent, and even find unscented Tide pods! I march triumphantly up to the register and the clerk rings up my purchase. The total is just under $12, so I pull out the 10 and two ones. 

Canada - one dollar

The clerk asks me to wait a minute, she has to talk to her manager. The manager comes over and holds the bills up. I am used to this in the US, for large bills, but not ones. I keep asking if they are “trop vielle” – too old. My French is not good enough to understand what is going on, but she tells me I can take the bills to the bank next Wednesday. Finally someone in the line asks what is going on and explains to me that the bills are worth more than $1. I take them back and give the clerk the $5 and the $10. I want to make sure I have enough quarters to use the machines. She gives me my change all in coins and it looks like there are enough quarters for a load of laundry.

I go back to the hotel and tell my mom what happened at the store. Then I get online and do a bit of research. For those of you waiting for the big reveal, Canada stopped printing $1 bills in 1989. OY. Then I look at the change and realize I don’t have enough quarters. I should have twelve, but I don’t. I go to the gift shop and ask the woman to give me four quarters for a $1 coin.

Now I have the laundry detergent and the coins, so we take the dirty wash to the “laundromat.” I am still very out of it and try to make sense of the slots in the machine. There are only 3 slots for coins, but it costs $1.50. I cannot figure out how to fit six quarters into 3 slots. Finally I go outside and ask the woman who was doing the laundry before me. Between my terrible French and her English, the light dawns. I am supposed to use the $1 COIN. Mystery solved! I somehow have two $1 coins even with all my quarter hunting, so I can do the wash.

Canada - coin slot

High on our triumph of getting the washing machine going, we head down the hill to bakery for a treat.

A coda: several days later I want to do another load of laundry in the same town. This time I know the drill. I ask the woman at the hotel desk if I can get two $1 coins for a $2 coin. She says she can do that. I explain to her that in English we call the $1 coin a “loonie” because it has a loon on it, and the $2 coin a “toonie” because it’s two dollars. As I walk away, I hear her whispering: “looney, toonie. Loonie. Toonie.” As far as I know she’s still muttering it to herself.

A few days later we are Montreal and I find a bank. I go in and ask if I can exchange the bills. The bank manager helps me. He takes the bills and inspects them, then says, “They aren’t worth that much.” He asks if I want two $1 coins or a $2 coin. I tell him I’ll take the $2 coin. I ask about getting more than face value for the bills, and he said if I sold them on the private market I probably could, but that sounds much harder than trying to get my soiled jeans washed in a coin-op laundry in a small town in Quebec.

I put the toonie in my pocket and walk out of the bank.

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Holiday Treat Planning

I made a list of treats I am considering making and some folks wanted the recipes after seeing the list, so I thought I’d share. Most of these I’ve made, a couple are things I want to try! I am listing in alpha order, and will note which treats/dough you can freeze, if you are planning ahead. I don’t even have a very large freezer and the freezer is my friend.

almond cookies

Pasticcini di Mandorla

These are very soft, once baked. The dough comes together very easily. Will keep in a container for several days. Also I added the wedge of chocolate on the top (from Trader Joe’s). Play around!

bakery-style butter cookies

Butter cookies

I used a cookie press to make these. For greater success, freeze your cookie sheet before pressing the cookies out!


Chocolate covered buttermint

I freeze these! They freeze great! Also freeze the buttermint before dipping.

cardamom buns

Swedish buns - vetebullar

Buns freeze great. Reheat in toaster oven. Enjoy!

chocolate crinkles

A classic. You can make the dough and make the individual balls and then freeze.

fig walnut biscotti

Fig and walnut biscotti

I would not freeze, but also biscotti is meant to be dry!

Kumquat and Chocolate Yule log

I saw this recipe and decided if I was ever going to make a yule log, it should be this one. I have never made one. Wish me luck!

Marbled tahini cookies

Marbled tahini shortbread

Can definitely freeze the log of dough, then slice and bake!

pistachio cardamom cookies

Pistachio cardamom cookies

Just like the chocolate crinkles, you can form the cookies and then freeze until you are ready to bake!



I love this recipe because there are many places you can stop and then pick up and do the next step. Make the dough, chill/freeze. Make the filling. Roll out dough and form log and then freeze. Slice and bake when ready. You can also freeze the cookies after they are baked. It’s great.


I just made marshmallows for the first time and a co-worker had mentioned getting a scotchmallow, and since I’ve successfully made caramel previously and gotten the hang of dipping in chocolate, I figured I could challenge myself. Another thing I will report back on. Also someone on the internet told me I could replace some of the water in the marshmallow recipe with BOOZE. Amaretto is probably the best option for what’s in my cupboard.

thumbprint cookies

Chocolate thumbprint

I make these about once a month I think. They never last long in my house. I often put chocolate ganache in the dip. If you do that, bake the cookie first and add the ganache after the cookies have cooled.

unfussy sugar cookies

Unfussy Sugar Cookie

I had a lot of fun playing with the colors and marbling the Royal icing on these.

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On Closets and Portals

I have been wanting to write about the interest in coming out stories for awhile, and what better time than Pride month? As a queer person, it can be exhausting to be asked to recount my coming out story. There are a lot of reasons why someone might not want to share their story. I have enumerated a few:

  • you might be asking someone to revisit trauma. For many people, especially older people, being queer was rarely met with acceptance and more often with violence
  • coming out is not a singular event or moment
  • for some people, coming out is a non-event
  • some people don’t feel the need to come out, especially younger generations
  • THERE IS LIFE BEYOND COMING OUT and also for some of us, we are always coming out

Snail on blade

Focusing on the coming out experience means ignoring the entire rest of the LGBTQIA experience. It might be like asking someone about their flight, instead of their trip to a destination. Yes, they had to travel to get there, but it ignores the vast part of their experience. Other questions one might ask:. Who did they meet? What did they do there? What delighted them? What did they eat? Did they dance? How was the music? Etc etc.

Asking about coming out can be very othering. It is essentially asking “when did you recognize you were not like the norm.”

For a lot of queer people, coming out is not something we talk about with one another. Again, instead of putting the onus on the individual experience, take a step back and try to think about what might make coming out so hard (for those who it is hard for). There are countries where it is literally illegal to be LGBTQIA, and being seen for who you are is punishable by death. Consider instead, what are you doing to make the world safer for people?

If and when someone does share something about their identity with you, it’s probably for a few reasons:

They want to include you in their life
They think you are safe (enough)
They are tired of hiding and pretending
Alternately, they are not “coming out”, they are simply sharing their life

If someone decides to share something about themselves with you, while it might be surprising or new information to you, it is not new for the person sharing it. It does not mean the person is untrustworthy, it means they decided to finally trust YOU.

It is worth considering how much pressure people who are coming out feel to conform to idealized and highly publicized stories. What if their story doesn’t match any stories that you are familiar with? Does that make them less valid in your eyes?

One case for interest in coming out stories is around looking for models or pathways for people who are themselves trying to navigate their own

If you are questioning your identities, I hope you are able to take as much time as you need. I hope you are able to come out on your own terms, in your own time. Consider the Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. My primary takeaway from that book is the critique of the binary division of the world – who is in and out; consider trading that for Jacob Tobia’s snail moving through the garden, protected by its shell. You can be in the world, with your armor, moving at your own speed, until the world is safer for you.

What I am trying to say is that the framing is outdated. Instead of trying to cram people into discrete boxes, there are thresholds and doorways which we might cross. The world is infinite, and we each have our own experiences of it. I am inviting everyone, including myself, to let go of binary thinking. Instead of closets, there are portals into new worlds, new experiences, and ever expanding ways of identifying.

*a note on language. I prefer to use the term “queer” as an umbrella term to encompass everyone within the LGBTQIA+ world, and I will be using it throughout. It is not my intention to erase any identity.

**additionally I would like to thank my friends Kate, Carly, Meg, and Austin for taking the time to read and give me feedback

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When the Cookie Crumbles (Part II)

It turned out after I posted that round-up of all the things I’d baked since the pandemic began, I went and baked a few more things.

Paul Hollywood’s Wagon Wheels

I figured if the GBBO contestants could do it, why couldn’t I? Turns out there is a learning curve to piping marshmallow, and coating a cookie entirely with chocolate is hard. My fans didn’t care that Paul Hollywood wouldn’t give me a handshake for these.

Wagon wheel cookies

Then Purim was upon me and I had to make hamentaschen. Usually I stick to the Joan Nathan prune filling, because that is my favorite (I always double this recipe), but I got on a brown butter kick so I had to give these Smitten Kitchen brown butter apricot hazelnut hamentaschen a try:

Apricot Hazelnut brown butter hamentaschen

Turns out while these are delicious, prune still holds the top spot in my heart. I have a vegan roll out cookie dough recipe I modified years ago from the back of some packaging:

Prune hamentaschen

I have been looking for thumbprint cookies recipes forEVER and I finally found the perfect one:

Apricot thumbprint cookie
Chocolate thumbprint

After the thumbprints i was ready to dive back into the marshmallow sandwich cookie, this time a malt chocolate and marshmallow:

Malt chocolate and marshmallow sandwiches

At some point I was thinking it would be fun to add cinnamon and a little cayenne for a Mexican hot chocolate twist.

Tea cakes started showing up. I had no control! They just busted in:

Earl Grey tea cake with dark chocolate and orange zest

Earl grey tea cake with dark chocolate and orange zest

Followed by a lemony turmeric tea cake:

Lemony turmeric tea cake

And then I had to make Ottolenghi’s blueberry, almond and lemon cake, but with raspberries and lime:

Raspberry lime almond cake

I took a little detour into savory, with this chili crisp. If Sohla could do it, so could I. I shared it with two friends, who had to go and make their own batches. It’s pretty easy, just takes a bit of time (in my case it took about 3 hours total).

Chili crisp

A friend posted this brownie cookie sandwich with cookie dough buttercream and I HAD to try them:

Brownie cookie sandwich with cookie dough buttercream

Another foray into aquafaba macarons with better results:

Aquafaba macarons

And a red wine chocolate cake, with that buttercream frosting piped on top (and a layer of ganache hiding underneath). Decadent!

Red wine chocolate cake

I am almost fully vaccinated, two-weeks post second vaccine shot, and I have a feeling the next thing I bake will be shared with friends in a gathering. I don’t know what to expect, but whatever happens, it will be sweet.

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The Encookening

Blame the pandemic or blame the Great British Bake Off, but as the pandemic wore on and I found myself at loose ends, I started to bake. And bake. And bake. I may have now baked my bodyweight in butter. I wanted to create a catalog/record in a single place of the things I’ve made and also links to recipes, should you so desire to try one (or many) of the recipes.

I will, however, try to organize a little bit by type of cookie, since I am a taxonomist.

Roll Cookies

Unfussy Sugar Cookies

Unfussy Sugar Cookie

Unfussy Sugar Cookie

I used both a classic Royal icing recipe with egg white as well as a vegan one, with aquafaba (bean water). The red design has egg, the blue does not.

Gingerbread tiles with rum butter glaze

Gingerbread tile with rum butter glaze

If you like a cookie with A LOT of flavor, this cookie IS FOR YOU (and me). Super.

Drop Cookies

Brown butter toffee chocolate chip cookies

Brown butter toffee chocolate chip cookies

I decided to make my own toffee for this recipe, and you can find the toffee recipe linked further down this page. Keep this in your back pocket for another one that will impress your friends.

Chewy Ginger Rye cookies

Chewy ginger rye cookie

These were a big hit with the fans of molasses ginger cookies.

Tahini, orange and chocolate chip cookies

Orange, tahini, chocolate chip cookies

I asked a while back on Twitter for recommendations of cookies that people bring out to WOW their friends. This was one that showed up and did not disappoint. Very interesting, with a nice light bite that then turns a little gooey.

Freezer Cookies

Korova cookies

Korova Cookie

A rich, chocolately shortbread style cookie, studded with chocolate chunks.

Marbled tahini cookies

Marbled tahini shortbread

I thought these looked really cool but didn’t taste like much. I am planning another go-round with some added flavor.

Pistachio pinwheels

Pistachio pinwheel

a subtle cookie, mostly like a sugar cookie

Salted chocolate chunk shortbread

Salted chocolate chunk shortbread

Alison Roman’s THE COOKIE – this is rich, dense, salty, sweet, crunchy – satisfies me on pretty much every level. I pretty much always have a log (or 3) in the freezer to bake up as I want.

Filled and Sandwich Cookies



I have been baking these for YEARS. A perennial fave. Also great because you can do these in steps, and freeze the dough, logs, and cookies.

Baci di dama

Baci di dama

I am on the hunt for a strong chocolate hazelnut cookie. This had the right ratio of hazelnut to chocolate, but the cookie wasn’t quite the texture I was looking for. It is gluten-free, so that’s a bonus for those of you looking.

Bakery Style Butter Cookies

Butter cookies

This was one of the first recipes I tried. I actually made them a second time because I wanted to see if I could improve on the first batch. Happy to say I did! I used a cookie press rather than pipe the dough and it worked great. The recipe says to make the sandwich and then dip in chocolate and decorate with nuts or sprinkles (as you can see), but I found I liked them better when I just put chocolate and jam inside the sandwich (also displayed above).

Chocolate peanut butter cup cookies

Chocolate peanut butter cup cookie

I just made these and they are THE BOMB. Have also compelled several friends to make them. Just do it, as that ad campaign would say.

Spiced brown butter Linzer cookies

Spiced brown butter Linzer cookies

If you are looking for ONE COOKIE to impress, this is it. A couple of notes: use whatever jam you like. I tried it with currant (as the recipe calls for) and found I liked raspberry better. Also the dough is incredibly crumbly and difficult to work – add water, a tablespoon at a time, until it comes together and you will stop cursing. Additionally this was my first foray into brown butter and now I AM OBSESSED.

Vegan macarons: filled with either vegan ganache or vegan lemon curd!


Macarons, what can I say? If you love ’em, you love ’em.


Double-almond biscotti

Double almond biscotti with chocolate drizzle

The recipe does not call for chocolate, but I think everything is better with chocolate. So I drizzled.

Fig and walnut biscotti

Fig and walnut biscotti

These ended up being my favorite. The crunches from the figs are super and the walnut gives it a nice fragrance. I suppose you could try a different nut if you don’t like walnuts.

Chocolate hazelnut biscotti

Chocolate hazelnut biscotti

These were just ok in my book. I did not break a tooth.


Sea salt vanilla caramels – as you can see, I covered mine with chocolate

Chocolate covered salt caramel


I’m sorry I don’t have any good pictures to share of the toffee. It’s not the most photogenic.

Chocolate filled with boozy spiced ganache

I have some candy molds that I just coat with melted chocolate, let the chocolate cool, then fill with a flavored ganache. Ganache recipe as follows:

6 oz chocolate
3 oz coconut milk/cream
2 Tbl Cointreau
Pinch or two of salt
Shake of cayenne

Melt the chocolate in the coconut milk, add the Cointreau and spices to your taste. You can make the chocolate as dark as you like. I often use half 72% and half 100% chocolate.

Chocolate lips

Spicy chocolate skulls


Parmesan cream crackers

Parmesan Cream Cracker

She says these are like Cheez-Its and my friends, she does not lie. They are amazeballs. Also I had made some olivada/tapenade and the crackers were otherworldly topped with the olive spread. But you can just pop them in your mouth too.

Croccantini (I think I tried this recipe)

Cream Scones

Cream scone

Just made these as well and they were super. I did end up baking them about 5 minutes longer than the recipe said, but I think I didn’t make the dough thin/flat enough. Also they toast up well. They made my tea taste that much butter.

Tune in next month when I shall have more cookie updates (and possibly a few other treats).

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Why Borrow Poverty?

I saw a post on Instagram Annie had made about creating a necklace as a talisman for a client, and even though I’ve seen previous posts she’s made before, for some reason it clicked that I could ask for something now! But why now? Annie and I have had a connection about menstruation for several years now, and last winter I had talked to her about my experience around perimenopause. With the advent of the novel coronavirus in Feb/March and the increased level of change/uncertainty, I wanted something to ground myself as I move through this experience of my body changing. When I went through puberty I was very disconnected from my feelings. I often joked about wanting to be like Spock, and was very shut down around physical desire. As I’m transitioning to a new stage, I am incredibly aware of my emotional state as it changes. I like to joke that I am on the hormonocoaster.

When I talked to Annie about what I wanted, I threw a hundred ideas at her. There was Mary Ruefle’s poem, Pause and Ursula Le Guin’s essay, “The Space Crone,” which I have from her collection Dancing at the Edge of the World. Le Guin says, “… it seems a pity to have a built-in rite of passage and to dodge it, evade it, and pretend nothing has changed. That is to dodge and evade one’s womanhood, to pretend one’s like a man. Men, once initiated, never get the second chance. They never change again. That’s their loss, not ours. Why borrow poverty?” [emphasis mine]

As our conversation continued, I repeated something my therapist told me several years ago: “You don’t have control, but you have a choice.” As I go through this experience, I certainly don’t have control, but I can choose how I respond to what is happening. I likened this to Penelope, waiting for Odysseus to return, and how every day she would weave and every night she would undo her day’s work in order to delay potential suitors. She had no control over her situation, but she did have a choice as to how she would face it and where could exercise her choice.

I also asked Annie to make the earrings asymmetrical, to represent the unbalanced feeling, as well as three different phases of life. We talked about including rubies for menstrual blood, but also moonstone as a connection to the moon and space (crone!), as well as bloodstone.

I couldn’t be happier with what Annie created. I see all of the things we talked about in these earrings and that also gives me strength, a reminder of these various threads.
If you want to see Annie’s work, please visit her at her website, Dotted Line Jewelry

And here is what the earrings ended up looking like!

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Instead of resolutions, every year I pick a word for my intention. The last several years I’ve picked words that had to do with effort and trying, and while it’s good to achieve and work towards goals, I am feeling tired, so I thought I’d do a 180 and try something a little different.

violet-breasted roller

This year my word is delight. Usually by the end of November I have a sense of what I want my word for the next year to be, but I was utterly stuck. And then just a few days before the end of the year, I was walking home and a little Bewick’s wren fluttered down to the sidewalk in front of me. All the heaviness I’d been carrying just lifted and I felt utterly light – delighted. And then I realized, I could have this word be my intention for 2020.

For me, delight is about being present in the moment, available to whatever might arrive – like the little wren, who we don’t usually see. There is also the element of surprise, the unexpected – which shocks me out of my gloom. My senses expand, and suddenly everything that was gloomy and dark changes – in the blink of an eye. The trees that seemed so dark are now havens for the chickadees and bushtits and juncos. Okay, I will admit the low cloud cover still challenges me, but it doesn’t infuse its heaviness into everything else.

I recently learned that in Swedish, “bushtit” translates as “butt dork” which was yet another cause for delight.

Since I’ve picked the word, January has proven to be a challenge. The world feels horrible, with world leaders making choices that feel like they are driving us all off a cliff. Even in the midst of all of this, it’s the joy and connection to others that makes the fight worthwhile.

In the words of Mary Oliver, “keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”

I invite you to share these small moments of delight as they arise throughout the year. Perhaps I will post some updates here.

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Last week I was chatting with my friend M and she mentioned that she didn’t care for Weird Al. This was in response to another person saying that if someone didn’t like Weird Al, they could GTFO (essentially).

I can appreciate that desire to have everyone around you like the things you like, but I find life is so much more interesting and rich to surround myself with people who are interested and passionate about things that I am not. This was basically the toast I gave at my brother’s wedding.

super space titan kitty

I told my brother and his wife that passion is important in a marriage, but we often think of passion as the feeling between two people and leave it at that. I encouraged them to maintain their passions and interests in things outside each other, because that would keep their relationship fresh and interesting. When I go along for the ride with a friend’s passion, I get to experience something I never would have otherwise.

One of my brother’s passions is music. It is a touch point that connects us. I was a teenager when Tipper Gore founded the Parental Music Resource Center (PMRC), to label albums with explicit lyrics. It was rooted in her horror at discovering her 13-year old daughter was listening to a Prince song that talked about masturbation. The intention of PMRC was to raise awareness for parents about the music their children were listening to, it also made my local music store restrict the age of customers who could purchase those albums. When I was 18, I went to Specs with my brother so we could purchase the Guns N Roses album, Appetite for Destruction. We went up to the register where my brother handed me the album and the money. I passed them to the clerk, who rang it up and then gave me the album and the change, which I returned to my brother.

Fast forward a decade, and I’m now living in Seattle. My brother has graduated college as well and is living on the west coast. His favorite band, the Beastie Boys, is doing a west coast tour and he and a few friends decide to follow them for a few shows. He stops in Seattle for one of them.

I love telling this story, because it was an epic event. The concert is held in an arena (at the Seattle Center for those who know it), and the show is staged “in the round.” The stage is in the center of the floor and spins, like a lazy susan. The crowd completely surrounds the stage, separated from the performers by a 6 or 7 foot security moat. We sit up in the stands and can watch all the action on the floor. We see a few circles in the crowd where people are moshing, and it’s amazing to watch the energy ripple and flow through the crowd.

Every so often someone tries to breach the security moat and get on the stage, but they are dragged down by the security folks. UNTIL one guy does it. The band is performing the song “Sure Shot” and this guy somehow pops up on the stage! He whips out a throwaway instant camera and while being chased by security, he stops and snaps a selfie with at least two of the band members. Just as it seems security is going to nab him, he runs to the edge of the stage and LEAPS OFF, clearing the moat and falling into the crowd, who catch him and swallow him up. The crowd roars for their hero and the security folks are probably telling the story to this day, not to mention my brother and I like to share this memory and revisit it. I just had to ask him what the song was, as a matter of fact, since I couldn’t tell you a single one they performed.

A couple years ago, the musical Hamilton hit the zeitgeist. I heard friends raving about it online and sought it out. My brother remained clueless about this one, until his daughter brought it to his attention, and he became a fan. I love this thread connecting us through time and space, and seeing his daughter picking up the tradition thrills me.

Sometimes other people’s passions become integrated into my own spheres, but often they are something I enjoy vicariously. It adds color and dimension to my life, sometimes turns my brain inside-out and makes me think about things in different ways, and always challenges me to give something a try. Except shrimp. Sorry Mom, I still hate shrimp.

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The Dance

I have come to the conclusion I’m a kinesthetic learner. Feeling something in my body means I have integrated the information on a deep level. Most of the insights I’ve gotten in my adult years have pertained to how I operate in the world, how I respond to challenges that come my way. Both yoga and swimming have provided powerful metaphors for how I move through life.

mambo steps

Recently while reading a novel I was struck by the metaphor of partner dancing. I’ve been a reader all of my conscious life, but I didn’t start partner dancing until I was an adult. Reading was the way I escaped as a child. It was a place of refuge, where I could find more people like me, or be transported far away from the world I was living in, a world I felt I didn’t fit. Reading was also how I learned about the world.

Reading felt like a solitary affair, a thing I did alone. I entered the world and was there with my thoughts, but I didn’t see anyone else there with me. I would shut out the world around me to enter the one in the book. I’ve often heard that there is a dynamic between a reader and writer, and intellectually I understood this. But it wasn’t until I made the connection with dance that I really got it.

Partner dancing, conversely, is about connecting with another person in this world, and together creating an experience that can take both dancers out of this world.

The first partner dance I learned was country two-step, which I learned as a follow. When I first began learning, I had to consciously count the steps in my head, unable to converse with my lead until I had incorporated the rhythm in my body. Once I was comfortable with the basic step, I started learning more moves. A lead has many options they can take their follower through, from the basic step to a variety of moves beyond moving in a line. You’ve probably seen them on the popular dance competition shows.

After I’d gained a level of proficiency with following, I began to teach myself how to lead, reverse-engineering if you will. It was purely self-serving because I wanted to dance, and there were people who would only lead or only follow. Now I could dance as much as I wanted, as long as I could find a partner.

I have dabbled with writing for much of my life, but only started getting serious about learning craft in the last several years. As with anything, when we first start to learn a thing, we are highly conscious of all the things we have to do while we are doing them.
Since I’ve been dancing for over two decades, I have a level of comfort and ease that comes across to others. People have told me they feel intimidated to ask me to dance, because they believe I am more skilled than they are. For me, I have two requirements for a lead:

    1. keep the rhythm
    2. don’t run me into other dancers (or avoid the erratic dancers)

I’m perfectly content and satisfied to follow a lead who does these two things, without adding any extra moves. I’m not disappointed in the least. We can talk, or not, but just moving around the floor to music, entrusting myself to someone else, is fun! Just like writers, there are certain dancers who I find an ease and connection with more easily than others. Sometimes it can take a while to warm up to either, but the work is usually worth the effort.

I was talking to a friend who is also a dancer about the parallels between reading and dancing. I asked him what he felt the job of the lead was. He said, “To keep me safe.” I was startled by his answer, but I also loved it.

I’ve been playing a lot with this metaphor since I thought about it, overlaying it on my experience as both a reader and a writer. With partner dance there are many styles, from tango to waltz to salsa; in fiction, genres are like these different dances. They both have rules and patterns. The follower or reader understand there are basic rules, but the lead or writer can create endless variations on top of the set pattern.

As a lead in dancing, it’s my job to maintain the rhythm and send clear signals to let the follow know what I want her to do. As a writer, in telling a story I have the same responsibility. If I lead a move and stop in the middle to change it, my follow is going to lose her trust and end up confused.

As a writer, I need to lead my reader through the story as skillfully as I can. There are cues I can give, just as I would in dance, to let the reader know something is going to change. Basically, I want to manage expectations so the reader is not thrown for a complete loop. Just as in dancing, timing is everything. I can’t front load the story, because the reader will become overwhelmed and quit, but if I wait too long, the reader will become bored and walk away.

There are many reasons a reader or dancer will stay, even if the timing isn’t great. Making it fun and engaging is just as important. Your style is unique. It won’t speak to every reader, just as in dancing there are some people you connect with more easily than others.

As I think about the stories I want to tell, I want to remember this metaphor of the dance. Just as I moved from a follow to a lead, I can shift between reader and writer, thinking about the experience from both sides – a 360 degree view, rather than 180. There’s a partnership between the two, even if it’s not carried out in real time, but the dance of the writer and reader can span the distance of space and time.

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