I adore Stephanie Klose, and I have for a long time (so much so that we’re vacationing together soon!). She’s a knitter extraordinaire, and a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. You’ve seen her Best in Show Craftsy’s 2014 Silvermine knitted wedding dress, right? Oh, you should see it now, if you haven’t:


Let’s kvell for a moment. Linen/cashmere, people. Her own design.

Okay. Whew. *wipes brow* I will never get over that dress.

Her side hustle is makin’ soap, and she’s just as good at soap as she is at everything else she does.

Schoon Soap. Now, there are a lot of soap makers out there, and I’m a scent-fiend. I have one of those dog noses (which makes it very hard o live with dogs, I’m telling you). Scents are hugely important to me.

And basically, I never ever ever want to live a life without her Herkimer soap. It’s spicy and clovey and completely wonderful. (Clove, cinnamon leaf, rosemary, eucalyptus, and citrusy, earthy litsea cubeba.) I love ALL her soaps, but this one has become essential to my day.

And she’s doing a giveaway AND a discount code for us!

SchoonSoap_StephanieKlose1.  Hey, Stephanie, in life, what’s your very favorite smell?

As if I could narrow it down to one—there are SO MANY smells I love. :) Some of my favorites, like mulch or woodsmoke, don’t really lend themselves to soap, but some do, like cardamom and bergamot. And then there are plenty of scents I love that are perfect
for soap, but can only be achieved using synthetic fragrances (lilac and almond come to mind), so they aren’t a fit for Schoon.

2. Do you do all this boiling/making in your home? What’s your setup like? 

I do all of it at home! Part of me likes the idea of a dedicated studio, but if I had to go somewhere else to do it, I’d be a lot less productive. I make the soap in our kitchen and use the guest room/office/amp storage room to cure the bars, wrap and label them, and store the wrapped soap. We also do all of the packing and shipping in there.


3. We are going to Iceland together! What are you going to be knitting? And will you be wearing any Alabama Chanin while there?

I’m SO EXCITED about Iceland! I’m not sure yet what project(s) I’m going to bring to work on (something at least moderately interesting to keep me entertained on the flights and something simple for bus rides and so on while we’re there, I think), but I did spin and knit a sweater especially for the trip. The yarn is one ply of a variegated charcoal Gotland fleece I bought at Rhinebeck two years ago and one ply black commercial silk/merino top. The Gotland is pretty hairy and wild so the silk/merino is barely visible; it just gives the yarn a little weight and drape. The sweater itself is a completely plain stockinette raglan pullover that I think I’ll wear to death if I ever get the neckline right. I’ve redone it three times now, but I’m still not 100% happy with it.

I’m going to try to pack as little as I can get away with (something I imagine you’d approve of), but I do have an Alabama Chanin skirt in the works using an old wool jersey dress I felted. That might be just the ticket for dressing up in Iceland in late October. :)

ONE WINNER will win a four-pack of soaps of your choice.


Go here. Peruse her creations. Leave a comment with which four soaps you would prefer if you are the lucky winner! Winner will be drawn in two days, Saturday afternoon. (International entries okay.)

Get a bonus entry by joining her email list.

If you miss out on winning, or just can’t stand waiting, use the code SOAPAGOGO for 25% off, good till Oct 16, 2015.

And if you buy all her Herkimer, I will come to your house and get some because I can’t live without it.

  • Winner has been drawn – congrats, JudithNYC! You’ve been emailed. 

Still Knitting

A-line dress in black, pewter stitching, red/black Bloomers stencil skirt

I was wondering why people were asking me, all worried-like, if I was still knitting. I didn’t get it. I’m always knitting. Of course I’m knitting! I’m mostly done with Bethany’s long-overdue sweater.

But I’ve always been the knitter who doesn’t blog about knitting, haven’t I? I get completely OBSESSED with new things, but it’s never to the exclusion of others. Knitting and writing I always go back to. They’re always with me, no matter what. I just don’t photograph them as I’m going along.

But I tell you what, the Alabama Chanin sewing? It’s blowing my mind. No WONDER people are wondering if I’m still knitting!

Anna’s Garden stencil

I made it myself, after finding out the stencils run from $90-120. (Alabama Chanin encourages you to learn how to make your own things, using her technique. You can make your skirt from 2 thrifted T-shirts = $4. Or you can buy a kit from them = $300. Or you can buy one sewn by the artisans = $1900. Your pick. It’s awesome. I recommend the fourth book, which comes with a CD that has all the previous books’ patterns and all the techniques.)

People have been asking me about how I made the stencil:

I bought a large-enough sheet of .75 mil mylar from a local art supply (I think it was 24 x 30 inches, something like that). I also bought a $5 printout of the Anna’s Garden stencil from the Alabama Chanin site. I used blue Sharpie to mark the mylar, then I used a heated stencil cutter* to cut it out (rested the mylar on the glass of a large picture frame so I didn’t burn anything underneath). It took about 3 hours total, but since it’s the stencil I’m most in love with, I can foresee using this one a long time.

Kay Gardiner commented on Instagram that this kind of sewing scratches the same itch that knitting does, and it’s so true. I’m not a fan of sewing-as-in-mending. I’ll let a ripped shirt go to the thrift store for recycling (watch this movie on Netflix, The True Cost, to learn more about the clothing industry — fascinating), and buttons that fly off my sweaters (because I swear that’s what they do) tend to stay off for way too long. And I love to sew clothes, but it’s really time-intensive. You have to be with your machine. You have to have your stuff. I was never a person who could sew for just twenty minutes and then put everything away.

But this hand-sewing is portable. You’re embroidering small pieces. Everything is in my little sewing basket. No one stitch matters too much because there are so many of them. If you screw up, you’re going slow enough to fix it (not so with a serger! Oh, no! Zip! And your finger’s lying on the ground along with the sleeve of the dress! Maybe I’m not the best with my serger. Hmmm).

And this kind of sewing is gorgeous. Slowly, so slowly, I’m making pieces of clothing that works with MY aesthetic. So far I’ve made a skirt, and a dress, and a tunic, and now I’m working on an embroidered tank. I want to wear all of them, every day. This is my style. This is ME, because I chose it. I spent hours and hours making it, thinking about it as I went. I made the dress out of Alabama Chanin cotton I bought at Verb, but the other pieces are all from thrifted T-shirts (god bless a 5XL man who’s not too hard on his clothing — I SCORED at Thrift Town — some still had tags on!)

It’s bringing out creativity, too. Shirts big enough–those 5XLs aside–can be hard to find. I love gray. So I cut up 5 shirts and started piecing them, for the tunic.

It was fast and dirty, just like everything else I do, but it worked out well. I cut strips and basted them together so they were big enough to use to cut out the pattern pieces.


Ended up with pieces like this:


which I then sewed together into this:


Comfy worn with this gray skirt! (Flat-felled to the outside, knots in, 2 ply black button thread.)

Now I’m working on a black-under-blue tank (same as the above tunic, just a bit shorter).

I sponge-painted the pieces with Jacquard cloth paint. It was a SUPER messy process, and I did it on one of the days recently which was like 140 degrees in the house, so I sweated and swore my way through it. But it was worth it.


Look how beautifully it’s stitching up!


That particular pattern, Anna’s Garden, just makes me weak in the knees. This one will take a while (the simple sewing, like the black a-line and the tunic, go REALLY fast — appliqué like this, of course, goes slower. Still, everything is faster than knitting, amirite?). But slow is okay.

Slow can be really darn fine, actually.

* affil link: That stencil cutter was a piece of crap and I broke both tips. But it worked till I was done, so there’s that.

Falling in Love AGAIN

The goal of my life has been to fall in love as much as possible. I used to laughingly say that when I was dating (but I meant it) and even now that I’m very-happily married (is there anything nicer?), I still say it because it’s still true.

I fall in love ALL the time. I fall in love with individuals (as friends, as crushes, as mentors). I fall in love with groups (my new mastermind writers’ group, IMPACT self-defense). I fall in love with people I see waiting at bus stops and sitting in cafes. And obviously, I fall in love with all of my characters. Those last, actually, are usually a slower burn, now that I think about it. Normally I write most of a first draft before I can see them clearly. I’m irritated with them until that moment, and then bam, I’m in mad-delirious love, even with the problem characters.

I fall in love with activities, too: square-foot gardening! Bread baking! Straw-bale gardening! Minimizing! Spinning! Running! Ukulele! Accordion!

I have two brand new loves, and they couldn’t be more different. One is physical and loud, one is introspective and quiet. Both are beautiful.


Kajukenbo is a Hawaiian hybrid mixed-martial art, made up of a mishmash of KArate, JUjitso, KENpo, and BOxing. It’s pretty high contact (meaning: hitting! kicking!) and very high intensity. It’s gorgeous, a blend of dancing and fighting, and the Oakland kwoon (school) is just as incredible: a mix of races, genders, and sexual orientations. It feels safe that way. It’s okay to have a girl tummy (big and squooshy and sexy) and fight, too.

The thing is: I’m bad at it. I love things that I’m automatically and quickly good at. The arts tend to come quickly to me. Anything physical is harder, and this is SO physical. Last Thursday night, I wanted to run away. My beginning class was with a substitute, and I wasn’t following her language as well as I did our normal teacher, and it was a millionty degrees in the room, and I just kept thinking, “I could leave. I know no one here. No one but Twitter knows I’m trying to do this. I won’t tell them I left! No one has to know!”

But I want to be someone who says, “I’m a martial artist,” instead of someone who says, “I’d love to be a martial artist.” So I stayed. And I’ll keep going. I’m stubborn, thankfully.

And I love the way I feel afterward. I have yoga-eyes when I get out, if that makes sense to you. All floppy and happy, top down on the car on the way home and even more in love with the overhead moon than I was before.

(I just remembered — I don’t know where it came from but when I was little, I had a serious phobia of substitute teachers. My first act of the school day was always to find the yard-monitor teacher and tug on her dress to ask her if my teacher was there that day. If she said no or that she wasn’t sure, I usually threw up. This is true. Apparently I still get nervous around substitutes. Luckily, I didn’t vomit, but it was touch and go there for a minute.)

Alabama Chanin 

I know I’m the last to this party, but PEOPLE. I’m in LOVE.

Clothes, made by hand (every little bit, every stitch), to fit, in jersey (because we all live in jersey, or want to). I went to hear Natalie Chanin speak at A Verb for Keeping Warm last week, and I tried on the clothes in the trunk show. Completely unembellished, those clothes fit me better and looked better than anything ever has. I felt like I’d finally found my true style. When your aforementioned soft belly feels like it’s wearing PJs but you know you could go from the office to the garden and then to a party and look great at all the places? Hello. Come to me, darling.

I was a bit worried, getting started. The only crafting thing I hate to do is sew by hand, so I’m not sure why I was so sure I’d love the reverse appliqué method. But I was pretty dang sure I would. Then I started, and I remembered that I’ve always loved embroidery, and that’s all this is. You’re using embroidery methods to hold fabric together. How cool is that?

This is the stencil I cut from felt (using the Blooomers stencil in her first book).

2015-07-31 17.11.22

I’m making a 4-gore skirt from thrifted XXXL T-shirts. I cut the eight pieces (two layers) and painted the top layer with fabric paint:

2015-08-02 11.35.59

This is an afternoon of Gilmore Girls, more than half a gore’s worth of stitching accomplished.

2015-08-03 04.32.21

Eventually, I’ll cut out the middles, like in this swatch:

2015-08-02 12.30.00

Ain’t she stunning?

Next week I expect I’ll be obsessed with deep-sea crabbing or ice surfing or something. (Never fear, I’m still in love with writing and knitting. Those remain constant. Hey, in case you missed it, A Life in Stitches* is currently $1.99 in most e-versions! Grab it while you can, if you haven’t read my memoir. Plenty of falling in love there, too. Send one to a friend! Cheaper than buying her a cup of coffee!)

What are you in love with right now?

*affil link


Knitting for Bethany

This is to mark my place.


I’m knitting a sweater for my sister, Bethany. I thought it was such a clever idea. For her birthday, I presented her with a gift certificate for a Custom Fit sweater. It’s great — have you used it yet? You enter your exact sizes, put in the details from your swatch, and whammo. Sweater time. Amy Herzog is genius.

I had a plan: I would measure my sister, she would choose the yarn, and bam, she’d have a new sweater in next to no time. After all, I’m quite a fast knitter. *blows dust off invisible knitting badge*

She loved the idea. We even went to the yarn store to pick out some yarn (which I was going to buy later — the store didn’t have enough in stock). I was going to measure her really soon.

Then I forgot for a year and a half.

A YEAR AND A HALF. What a jerk.

I’ve ticked off way too many people with this forgetful brain of mine. Bethany loves me (and when I wailed, WHY DIDN’T YOU REMIND ME? she said something nice like I knew you were busy) and forgave me. I know she’s not even mad at me.

But I’m damn aware that it hurts when someone you love doesn’t make you feel special. I think I might owe her a couple of sweaters now. Man, I’ve been feeling so lucky in love and family and friends lately. I love that feeling. It kind of knocks my pins right out from under me–that I get such amazing people in my life, that they choose ME and I choose them right back.

I’d like to forget more things (laundry soap, paper towels, oil changes) and remember more people, my people, who are the reason for everything.

So this post serves to remind me that I have a sweater to knit. And socks to send to Linda. And books to mail to Diane. And marmalade to make for a couple of people (oops).

I have probably forgotten a lot, yes, but I haven’t forgotten you. 

Breathing is Great!

You know I like life-changing things, be they marathons or new jobs or wacky eating habits. But this one may take the cake for being most AWESOME.

Let’s back up to: I was having difficulty concentrating on writing. Like, a LOT of difficulty. It got to the point I went back to the psychologist to get re-diagnosed with ADHD so I could get some meds to help me focus. (I’m on hyperactive side of ADHD, if you hadn’t noticed. Diagnosed at about 5 years old, still running hyper these many years later.)

Ah, you say, life-changing. Sure, Ritalin. 

But that’s not it! (Ritalin is very helpful — it’s like aspirin, only used when needed, which is only when writing, and only on days when I just can’t stay in my seat long enough to get to the end of a single sentence without wiggling to the floor like a dancing squirrel.)

Here’s the zinger: The psychologist said, “Do you have apnea?”

“No, I have insomnia.”

“Is it caused by apnea?”

“No, I don’t snore. I just wake up every ten minutes all through the night, but not because I’m gasping for air or anything. It’s just simple insomnia, I think. That’s what the other doctors have told me.”

“Apnea and ADHD can be related sometimes. Might be where your migraines are coming from, too. Go get tested.”

So I did. And I have it. (Mild apnea — I stop breathing between 5 and 15 times an hour, for 10-30 seconds at a time.)

One month ago, I got a CPAP. Yep, one of those crazy mask thingies (only mine is only a nose pillow, very low-profile. I still feel like the dude in Mad Max with it on).

Honestly, I was surprised at how scared I was to try wearing it. See, it blows air into your nose. When you’re asleep and your palate falls, obstructing your breathing, the machine blows air harder to open it and you start breathing again, rather than what happens naturally (your heart beats faster and harder to make up for the lack of oxygen until you wake up with a gasp (or, in my case, no gasp) and start breathing again — this is, obviously, very bad for the heart and blood pressure over time).

But with the nasal mask, you have keep your mouth closed, or the air goes in your nose and RIGHT OUT YOUR MOUTH, none of it reaching your lungs. When I asked what would happen if I accidentally opened my mouth while I asleep, my too-cavalier respiratory tech said, “Well, you’ll suffocate. But that will wake you up.”

This did not inspire confidence.

But even though the first few minutes were stressful (I actually started hiccuping from fear, something I’ve never done before), it turns out that sleeping with a CPAP is AMAZING. The first night was all right — I slept a bit — and the next few nights were a bit rough as I trudged sleepily around the learning curves (wrapping the tube around my neck, waking to the mask blowing my eyeballs dry), but on the fifth night, I hit sleep nirvana.

I just slept and slept and slept. And slept some more. I slept without waking up for hours at a time. (Keep in mind, I usually sleep for ten or fewer minutes at a time. To wake up hours later? Oh, my god. The best.)


In the month of using the CPAP? I haven’t had one full-blown migraine.

Not one. 

I had the start of a migraine for two days, but both days I was able to fight it off with medication.

This is a bloody miracle. Lately I’ve been fighting migraines at least once every two or three days and losing the fight at least twice a month.

Things I’ve done to relieve my migraines over the years:

  • Full hysterectomy (found out afterward I was allergic to estrogen, so I hit full menopause at 39)
  • Botox (lost the use of an eyebrow for 3 months but had very young-looking shoulders!)
  • Alternos: Acupuncture, yoga, meditation
  • Triptans – all
  • Triptylines – all
  • Medications – all: opioids, barbiturates, caffeine, NSAIDs – if it exists, my doc has given it to me to try.
  • Supplements – all (including B2, butterbur, ginger, feverfew, magnesium, etc.)
  • Dietary changes – gluten-free, anti-inflammatory, paleo, no dairy, no sugar, no caffeine, no fun

It’s not possible that this whole time my migraines were triggered purely by sleep apnea. The cyclical migraines, for instance, stopped after my surgery. But the rest of them? Is it possible they’ve all been due to the fact that oxygen wasn’t reaching my brain and my brain was rebelling against that fact? (This would explain why I always got migraines after drinking—even a little bit of alcohol makes muscles relax even more than they normally would, exacerbating sleep apnea to a more dangerous level.)

Is it too early to get excited about this? Because if I could really get my life back… Check it out: usually when I get too tired, I get a migraine. Auto-trigger. But on Saturday, I worked eight hours, then flew to San Diego and went to the zoo all afternoon and evening, then went to see fireworks, and NO MIGRAINE.

I rate my headaches by level of pain. 10 is better-pick-out-a-casket. 1 is a lightly-stubbed toe. Most good days for the last few years have been 2 or 3.

Now I’m just zero, all the time. Lala keeps asking, “What are you at now?”


And being zero means I’m running a hundred everywhere else. My energy is back. Instead of napping, I’ve been hiking in the afternoons. I’m writing my ass off, and not needing Ritalin to get it done. I’m just LIVING. And sleeping.


Clementine, exhausted after big hike

It’s absolutely tremendous.

(I realize that writing about my migraines isn’t very exciting, but if someone in the future googles migraines and botox, for example, and comes up with possibly undiagnosed apnea and it helps them? Yay.)

PS – are you on my mailing list? I’ve been chatting about fun things on it, MUCH more exciting than migraine talk, I swear.

Why Saying “All Lives Matter” Sounds Racist

#BlackLivesMatter — that’s the conversation we’re having. The conversation is not #AllLivesMatter. I'm talking to you, my kind, liberal (and conservative!) friends who vote and eat college-educated meat and read the New York Times and believe gays should get married if they want to register at Target for a waffle iron they'll never use. You are against racism. I know. Let's talk about why #AllLivesMatter is just wrong. 

(If you left an “all lives matter” message on my Facebook, thank you, friend. I know what you meant by it, and I think you’re darling. Yes. We want all beings to be happy, safe, and well. People of all races, genders, and sexual orientations suffer harassment and deserve better. But we shouldn’t co-opt this particular message, and here’s why it can be dangerous and inherently racist to do so.)

The BlackLivesMatter movement was started by three queer black women. Their message was simple—

#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation…We’re not saying Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways.  We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.

When we drop the word Black, we further the racist legacy of erasing black lives, something our country has always done. 

The conversation we are having this week is about the 9 killed in Charleston, South Carolina, at Emmanuel AME Church in a terrorist attack (defined as: the use of violence to intimidate a segment of a population in furtherance of a social objective). Edited to add: Even Fox news agrees

The conversation last week was about unarmed black children being held down forcefully when found to be in the wrong space. The conversation before that was about Tamir Rice. And before that, Michael Brown. And before that, Eric Garner. I won't go on, but of course, I could. 

“There are black people in America dying because of racism.” W. Kamau Bell, a comedian who lives in Oakland, said this six months ago. 


In January, you may have heard, he was book shopping while his wife and child ate at a sidewalk cafe with some friends in Elmwood. He stopped by to show them the book he’d bought. He’s black. The women he was talking to were white. Let's make sure we understand this: 

He was a black man standing next to a table full of white women, talking to them. 

Then employees of the restaurant told him to scram. To git.

He was told to leave the property because he was a black man, harassing the white ladies. They tried to chase him away from his wife. 

He was recently on This American Life, talking about the community meeting he organized after this happened (worth a listen, or fascinating transcript here). 

At that meeting, UC Berkeley professor Nikki Jones asked everyone to think of the world in terms of black space and white space. She said that people have ideas about black space: that it’s poor, that it’s the ghetto. Just about everywhere else is white space.

And this: Black people have a special burden to bear when they are in white space—black people have to prove they are worthy of BEING in white space. 

How rare it is, she said, for white people to have that experience, of going into black space. 

Here’s where I puffed up with pride. I wanted to raise my hand, even though I was listening in my car. Me, call on me! I live in one of those so-called "bad" neighborhoods, a black neighborhood! When we moved here, people stared at us when we walked the dogs. They still do. I can count on two hands the times I’ve seen other white people walking in my neighborhood in the past nine years. 

That means I understood it more. By dint of where I live, I was—automatically—more sympathetic to the plight of black America because I saw more, witnessed more. 

But I was shaken to my core when Bell pointed out the obvious fact that I can leave whenever I want. 

I have a white passport. 

I had never thought this clearly about it. 

I live in a black neighborhood in Oakland, sure. This means precisely nothing. The fact remains that I can dive headfirst into white space (the grocery store, the sushi restaurant, the library) AT ANY MOMENT without anything to prove. I can go just about anywhere I want. Without being stopped, without being harassed, without being in danger. I belong. 


In our country, black people have to prove they deserve to exist in white space (and a hell of a lot of people don’t think they do).

If you’ve ever given a black man on the sidewalk an extra once-over just to make sure he’s not doing anything hinky, you’re guilty of this. I’m guilty of this. We’re guilty of this because, as Americans, racism is our legacy. 

I used to think I was better than most at understanding racism, at being sensitive to it, at not letting it anywhere near me. Let’s face it, we all tend to think we’re better than others—it’s a human failing, and maybe it’s what keeps us reaching to do better. But the real, painful truth is that I’m just accidentally privileged, by virtue of my skin color. 

Kadijah Means, an 18-year-old Oakland social activist said at Bell's community meeting: "Focus less on color blindness, because honestly, you're not going to get a gold star for that. Be more color competent."

That was my sin–thinking I could somehow become color blind if I just tried hard enough. Turns out I need more competence in the subject. So I implore you: Please think before you try to erase the word Black from this conversation. It NEEDS to be said.


My mother was so proud she'd been witness to and a part of the Civil Rights movement. "We Shall Overcome" was, literally, one of the very first songs I ever learned from her. She would hate that I had to write this today, more than fifty years later. 

Black people are dying because of racism. Today. 

This has to change. We are the ones who have to effect that change. 



I just watched a Ted talk by Jay Smooth, and I think he gets it right when he says that our own pockets of racism are not like tonsils, which you either have or don't have*. It's more like plaque on our teeth, something we all have to work on. We don't stop brushing our teeth because we're already clean. I HATE it when someone tells me I have spinach in my teeth, but I appreciate being told to go brush, you know? 

Video is here, in case anyone would like to watch him speak way more eloquently than I could.



Yeah, I do keep adding to this post. This update is because people are asking me what they can possibly do. Jon Stewart broke it down in a way that resonated so hard with me my whole body hurt:

"I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the…the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist." 

What can we do? I sure as hell don't know any better than anyone else, but ignoring it isn't working. Talking? Maybe that's what we have right now. Speaking with respect, but without fear. Speaking even when we're scared. Over on Facebook, I'm losing friends and readers. And you know what? For the first time ever, I paid to boost a post, because I'm not sure I'll ever write a blog as important as this one again. (I could only afford $30 from the budget. That'll probably get me somewhere into the Facebook algorithm, but not far. Share the post, if you'd like. That's a free boost, and a kind way for you to help.) 

  • Talk. When your coworker says something about mental illness and how we'll never know what really went through the shooter's mind, say the truth: That Dylann Roof was a grown-ass racist man who used lynch language ("they're raping our women")  in order to justify killing six black women and three black men.
  • Speak up. When your friend says something disparaging about Section 8 housing, say, "Wow. I bet you didn't know that sounded racist." (It's not about lower income families. It's about what those lower income families look like. Your friend will deny this. That's okay.) 
  • Speak up some more. When your mom says how she won't park in a certain area of town, say, "Wow. I bet you didn't know that sounded racist." (It's not about crime in that area. It's about how she feels being white with a nice car in that area. Your mom will deny this. That's okay.)
  • Be educated. Watch some more Jay Smooth. Start with this short video on Systemic Racism. (The median wealth for a single white women is $41,000. For a single black woman, it's $120. READ THAT AGAIN because you will think you read it wrong. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?)

  • Be ready to talk. Be ready do admit you might not know your ass from your elbow, but that you're willing to learn. Be willing to admit you were wrong.
  • Stand up for someone else. If you're in the restaurant where W. Kamau Bell is chased away from his white wife because of a "misunderstanding" about race, make it really freaking clear that it's not okay. 
  • Be ready to fight. The system we live in is wrong. As Jon Stewart pointed out, black people drive on streets named for confederate generals who died to keep black people from having the right to drive on those same streets. The confederate flag flies over the South Carolina State House and the state governor doesn't have the authority to change that. Our legacy, our heritage is wrong. (Update from Allison:  It USED to fly over the state house but we successfully fought to have it removed 15 years ago. At that time it was MOVED to a memorial located IN FRONT OF the state house. This is still unacceptable, of course, and many South Carolinians are working to have it completely removed from the state house grounds.)

Black people are dying because of racism. Today. 

This has to change. We are the ones who have to effect that change. 

PS – Comments welcome. Disagreements and conversations welcome. Rude language or a fists-flying attitude will get your comment/tweet/FB response whomp-blocked, so don't bother. 

* Some of  you might remember that my tonsils keep growing back every time I get them taken out. Sadly, the analogy doesn't stretch that far. 

Tic Tack Talk

Craft of Writing 

Dear Writer-Readers of the Blog,

I use a little trick for creating rounded characters that might come in handy to you at some point. This is not their inner motivation — that comes from the inside, way down deep. Crafting character arc is a whole different and much more complicated post (let me know if you'd like that one sometime — I draw most heavily from John Truby's and Michael Hague's techniques, which might give you a starting point).

This technique, on the other hand, is something that gets me a little deeper into my characters after I've worked out their character arcs and interior/exterior motivations. It's something that's super useful if I come up with it ahead of time, instead of being 75% into a first draft and realizing I still don't have a good handle on my people yet. (In that case, I go back and pepper this stuff in during edits.)

Tic Tack Talk

Tic: A repeated physical action used to show inner emotion.

Everyone has one. I've had characters that create made-up words under stress (phloobts! stamzik!) and characters who tap their teeth. Their tic can be pushing their glasses higher every minute or two or forgetting to say the last few words of their sentences. The tic should be both physical (observable) and unconscious, and it should say something about the character that she herself isn't keen on revealing to anyone else. 

Tack: A concrete object used as a place to store a character's emotion.

It's a touchstone. Let's call it a tack because it's just fun to say tic tack talk. It's normally (but not necessarily) small and it's always meaningful. It could totally be a tack (like, if the main character sat on a tack left on her seat by her annoying but adorable brother who died later that day from a random but wildly-vicious rabid-squirrel attack), but I bet it won't actually be a tack. That would be a pointy, possibly dangerous touchstone (ooh, now I want to use one in a book someday). I have used coins and pebbles and pieces of beach glass and knitting and jewelry. They're clutched and treasured until,  as the character's arc resolves, they are needed less. 

Talk: The character's diction, taken directly from his passion.

This one is super obvious but it took me a while to figure out how effective this shortcut to point-of-view voice is. Here's a grossly-exaggerated example: If your hero is a fisherman, he won't see pink and white clouds at sunset, he'll see a school of salmon and whitefish in the sky. His lover's skin won't be clammy after she's poisoned (go with me here), it'll feel like the inside of a wet wader. When he finds out he's going to jail for poisoning her, he'll feel like he's swallowing rusty fish hooks, one after another. And when he cries in his death-row cell, he can still taste the sea. 

As readers, we love these three things, all of them. We eat 'em up as long as they're not too overdone, something that's completely possible, see previous paragraph. Sure, we can see them for the devices they are, but something in our brains, that simple part that wants to sit around the campfire and listen to a good yarn, still loves them. 

Take your main characters (who are already rich and round, who are already going places in their arc) and give 'em each one of these. Let me know if it helps. 

The Magic of Travel


I'll be speaking this Sunday at 1pm on banishing your inner editor with Chris Baty and Grant Faulkner at the East Bay Media Center in Berkeley. Info here. (Free! You should come!) 


There's so much to say and catch you up on, and I've hit that overwhelmed point at which I don't know HOW to catch you up on anything at all, and so, very happily, I'm letting that go. I'll give you a few highlights. 

I went to Edinburgh to write. 

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Who gets to say that? I DO. *boggles and blinks*

Sometimes (more often than I ever would have thought) I get to say amazing wonderful sentences like that, and it feels–literally–magical. When I was a little girl, I'd dream about traveling the world, writing as I went. I didn't really think it would happen, though. Who thinks that? 

But now? I've written all over the world. While traveling, I like best to write in hotel breakfast rooms (after breakfast is done) because there's nothing interesting to look at and no one bothers you. The thing I've found, though, is usually I do much less writing that I hope to when I travel. I was on deadline during this last trip, and I did do quite a bit of writing. In Edinburgh, I was with four other writers, and we were there to write (we also wandered and ate and found castles, but mostly we were there to work). So we wrote. 

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Lisa, Gigi, Em and I writing at the Elephant House, where Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book


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But I had this one day slated as an all-day writing binge. It was on my schedule. It was my only full day in London, and I was by myself, and I had this romantic vision of myself moving slowly from cafe to cafe all day, working on my book as I went. 

Well. I woke up in London and thought to myself, SELF, YOU ARE IN LONDON. GO LOND. So I did. One never regrets wandering Camden Market, or people-watching, or finding a boat and just getting on it without knowing (or caring) where it was going after it cruised the canals (I hadn't even known London had canals! Or that the boat would let me off in Paddington! I was practically the bear!).

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I could have worked on my book that day. But I didn't. 

Usually, when you're traveling, your environs are new and sparkly. They're fascinating. You want to watch, to participate, to wander. What you do not want to do is put your head down and go back into the world that you made up. You know that world intimately. You can visit that anytime. Go be where you are. Take that home with you. 

I've found the magic is in coming home. It's not something you have to really think about. You don't have to write up your findings and assimilate your new knowledge about Bloomsbury walkways into your everyday life. You don't have to suddenly write a book about a ruined castle or the fighting couple who ran the pub or the gorgeous French barista who sang along with the classical music in the cafe. You don't have to use any of those things at all. That stuff is just in you, and you'll use it when you need it. It'll be there. 

*Y'all, my packing was a thing of beauty. One half-sized carryon, one purse.I kept coming up with things (need a charger? Here's an extra! Clothesline, here you go!) and Lisa kept saying, "WHERE? WHERE DID YOU PACK THAT?" and there is nothing more satisfying for an obsessed underpacker to hear, ever. 



Grey Water on the Cheap

So California's in a hell of a drought, and what's worse is that this water shortage is coming to 40 more states. We've been asked (and will soon be forced) to cut back by 25%. It's hard in our house, where we're already water conscious (we don't water the lawn, letting it go brown ever summer and green in the winter). Of course, I know that single-family residences like ours aren't the big problem in the state. But since I like projects and because I like helping the earth, I'm enjoying thinking of ways to save water simply. 

(What I really want is a laundry-to-landscape grey water system, but 1) it's daunting and 2) we have a creek below our house. You don't want to add (or risk adding) unfiltered grey water to a body of water which it might harm, and we also don't want to risk over-irrigating our back slope, which could lead to a landslide. I love me some Fleetwood Mac, but not that much.)

So while we try to figure out if a mulched grey water system would be safe and not send our house sliding down the hill into the creek, here are a couple of easy things we can all do to save water for under ten bucks: 

1. Get a bucket – Put it in the shower. Catch the cold water you don't stand under while you're waiting for the shower to warm up. Then let the same bucket catch some of your shower water behind you while you soap up, but don't stress about how much. If you fill the bucket, hooray! Don't worry about whether or not it's clean water. It doesn't matter. 

2. The next time you flush, use the bucket water. Don't pour it in the tank, that would be gross and would eventually grow things and clog other things up. Just pour it in the bowl. Every toilet is gravity-activated. Just pouring water in the bowl makes it flush (and you can control how much water you add, using even less than your toilet usually uses). Soapy water in the bowl! It evens helps keep it clean. Speaking of which: 

3. Mellow yellow. Yep, I hate the concept, too, but I was raised doing it that way, so it's okay at home (not at work – perish the thought). At home, just do it. Good article here.  Man, even typing those words just took me back to the 70s when we mellowed every yellow and my mom washed every kid in the same tub of water. I HATE sharing bath water. (Unless it's a jacuzzi bath tub, you know what I mean? I think you do.) 

5. Speaking of bath water – think about not taking a bath. If that's not possible because you need to soak the day off your skin with a Lush glitter bomb or your own awesome handmade bomb, use that bath water to perform Step 2, above.

6. Compost instead of using your garbage disposal. We put our kitchen waste in the green recycle bin right now, but I'm hoping to get back to composting in the yard at some point. It's a big project. (Speaking of big projects, I have the seeds in the straw bales! I set up the soaker hose to both that and our square foot garden! It went off using its timer this morning and scared the hell out of me! (The spigot is under the bedroom window.) It ran for a short ten minutes and things were wet! I won't forget to water! And more than that, I won't overwater!!)

7. Shower water. I'm not going to tell you to turn off the shower water while you lather. That's just crazy. I don't even mind being cold, and I wouldn't do that. (Maybe it's easier in one of those one-handle showers? Ours is two handles – you mix the hot and cold to get the right temperature and it's a delicate dance and what a pain in the ass it would be to get it right for the second time with shampoo in your eyes.) 

Updated to add this from reader StaceyK – a $5 piece of hardware* that attaches to your shower head allowing you to turn off, or lessen the flow of the water while you lather without adjusting the water temperature - we're going to get one! 

8. But do turn off the water while you brush your teeth. That's easy. It's just plain dumb not to do that. 

9. Dishes – sadly, we don't have a dishwasher yet (they save water, did you know that?) so I just bought a dishpan basin to rinse the dishes in. After rinsing them, I'll dump the basin in the garden (I know: not on leaves, no contact with humans, not on root vegetables. The lemon tree will love it). 

What are your easy (cheap) tips? 

*Affiliate link cuz Mama's got a water bill to pay.