12 Books on Editing & One on Life that should be on every Writer’s Bookshelf.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal February 28, 2018

“You’re free to write the worst sh*t in America. That’s how you’ll get better. Writing is an athletic activity. The more you practice, the better you get. People don’t realize—when you see a football team on television, they’ve practiced for hours before they’re on T.V. You don’t go on the tennis court and expect to be champion. But with writing? ‘If I don’t write The Great American Novel, I quit.’ Writing needs a large field, and a lot of practice.” ~ Natalie Goldberg

I love books.

I love the dry pulpy smell, the crisp feathery pages, the colorful covers, and the promise of entire new universes. At any one time, I’m reading about six.

While I adore getting lost in a story, we writers tend to give short shrift to our technical books. They get dusty, musty, and outdated. Reading books on editing often sounds like homework. They’re oatmeal when we only want to eat chocolate chip pancakes.

But what makes a must-have technical tome for writers?

Read the full article here.

He’s not My Son, I’m His Momma.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal January 31, 2018

A few months ago, I dropped off my son at daycare for the first time.

He was excited by all the new toys and playmates, while I frantically tried to hold onto my hot tears until I stumbled out the door.

Nothing really prepares us for the shocking separation between a momma and newly independent child. It’s heartbreaking, exhilarating, and traumatic all rolled into one great big pile of sleepless nights, changing roles, and soggy tissues.

I also learned a painful lesson in ownership. My son isn’t mine.

Biologically yes. My body grew his sturdy frame and beautiful eyes. And I most definitely gave birth to him.

By creating prolonged physical space between us for the first time, we both learned (well, I relearned) that we are both functioning individuals on our own. Radical! Often this is shocking for new moms. We know it intellectually, but it’s incredibly easy to let our sense of self be defined by parenthood.

Our language feels so woefully inadequate to describe our deepest bonds—what we say aloud creates the relationships that we live.

Too often, we parents approach parenthood with ownership. My child, my daughter, my son, without ever analyzing the power dynamics, expectations, and relationships we create with our words.

I don’t feel pride in saying my son, I feel pride in being his Momma. This slight shift of perspective can fundamentally change how we approach parenthood and hopefully how our children grow into independent…

Read the full article here.

Trump is making it Hard for my Immigrant Family to live a Normal Life.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal November 30, 2017

Like many working people, my husband and I want to take a mortgage out on our house.

There is only one hiccup—my husband is an immigrant.

How many of us take the inner workings of normal daily life for granted? How often do we ignore the news, keep our noses to the grindstone, and watch too much reality television because what’s out there definitely doesn’t affect me here?

Until it does. I didn’t pay much attention to United States immigration policy until I fell in love with an immigrant. Then my whole world changed.

Falling in love while traveling abroad sounds romantic, but in reality it means years of sometimes heartbreaking long distance dating and the perils of immigration. Skype calls, thousands of dollars in plane tickets, digital anniversary cards, constant explanations of “yes my boyfriend is real, he just lives in another country,” and loneliness.

True, there are the romantic getaway destinations, the excitement of absorbing a new culture, and of course, love.

But love doesn’t get us far with immigration.

Read the full article here.

Feminists Don’t Do This.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal August 21, 2017

When I run into former colleagues, I dread the inevitable question, “So where are you working these days?”

I take a deep breath, lengthen my spine, and with defiance and a touch of embarrassment, I respond that I’m currently staying at home with our little one—and that I unabashedly love it.

Their eyes always widen and I imagine the internal judgment. The same judgement that I used to give, unsolicited, to those I knew who gave up their jobs when a little one came along.

To begin, let me apologize to all the women I judged for not being working moms. And the ones I judged for working too hard. Being a parent is a radical choice. We try to make decisions that benefit not only our children, but ourselves.

We’re all just trying to get along in this messy, imperfect life. 

People who know me well are unsurprised to hear how judgmental I can be. Until recently, my Myers-Briggs personality rated incredibly high on the judge-y scale. I grew up with a very clear sense of right and wrong, and little tolerance for what I perceived as wrong.

This translated into my personal expectation of feminism.

Of course I’ll be a working mom. Of course I’ll juggle all the things and be all the people. Of course. Of course. Of course.

Parenthood kicks ass—both in the “yay I totally dig being a parent” and the “my ass is being kicked” varieties.

Becoming a parent not only reaffirmed my commitment to reproductive justice, equality, and access for all, it forced me to re-evaluate my assumptions about what it means to be a feminist.

And the conclusion I came to?

Choice.

Feminism is choice. It’s the choice to be the best that we can be in the circumstances we find ourselves. It’s the choice to determine our own destiny. To be, to do, to create a life that is authentic and true. When we are able to make the decisions that are best for us…

Read the full article here.

I Stopped Praying & Saying Happy Birthday for the same Reason.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal June 10, 2017

I am a heathen—but that’s not why I stopped praying or posting Facebook birthday messages. 

We live in a time when there’s just so much to do, especially online. Most of us have a Facebook account—it’s almost criminal not to have one. It’s handy for staying connected to people who live far away, and let’s be honest, we use it to stalk each other.

We’ve passed that time, about seven years ago, when it was still awkward to pretend we didn’t know everything about someone’s engagement, divorce, weekend plans, or last night’s dinner when we bumped into them in person. That silly dance where we both feigned surprise when we heard the newsworthy details of each other’s lives.

“You’re in a relationship? That’s great!” What about the juicy details of your last messy breakup? I thought you were such a cute couple!

“I had no idea you were just in Hawaii!” It’s your third trip this year. How do you get all the vacation time?

I, for one, am happy to be past this juvenile denial. I often start sentences when I see friends in real life with, “Oh, I saw your post. Your new puppy is adorable!”

A few months ago, I made a new rule for myself: I wouldn’t post birthday greetings to friends on Facebook, unless I planned to call or spend the day with them. If they fell into that category, I usually called, texted, or visited them. Sometimes I still posted a birthday message—but not always.

Why would I make such an arbitrary distinction?

Guilt. The same guilt that convinced me to stop praying.

My parents chose to forgo any kind of Christian baptism for myself and my brothers. We didn’t attend church or adhere to any religious precepts, except the universal: Be kind and treat others with…

Read the full article here.

One Simple Thing to Get Rid of Stress (& It’s Definitely Not Baking a Unicorn Sparkle Cake).

Originally featured on Elephant Journal June 10, 2017

Every yoga and meditation teacher worth their salt will remind us to breathe.

The good ones will also give specific body cues. The really astute ones will gently remind us to release our jaws.

Why?

Like most of us, I spend a lot of my day convinced that I’m busy. All day, every day, it’s something—and it’s exhausting.

We’ve convinced ourselves that we need to constantly be:

productive

successful

making something

buying something

learning something

doing something

busy

busy

busy…

I can’t be the only one who gets stressed seeing all of the short video clips of recipes, DIY projects, hairstyles, and children’s activities constantly cropping up in my social media news feed. Like angrily stressed.

Of course I should have the time to make a unicorn sparkle cake with five different colors and confetti that rains down over everything and is impossible to clean up, while teaching my baby to sing the ABCs in seven different languages after I put avocado on all the things.

Geesh. I’m exhausted just writing that all out.

I’m also guilty of losing sight of the present moment. While nursing my little one, I think about making breakfast. While in the shower, I wonder if I really want to go to law school. While getting dressed, I remember that I need to take out the recycling. While taking my little one for a walk, I try to avoid imagining the mountains of laundry spilling out of the dryer. While eating dinner, I calculate how much time I’ll need to attend my upcoming board meeting. While falling asleep, I worry about all the people I forgot to text back.

We’re all guilty of it. While it may look like multi-tasking, what we’re actually doing is deflecting and feeding the monkey mind—that little voice that distracts us…

Read the full article here.

Want to Protect the Environment? Prepare to be Shot.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal May 6, 2017

I grew up thinking “green” was a dirty word.

No one in my family would identify as an environmental activist, let alone an eco-warrior—but they do care about the environment.

My dad and I are often—almost always—on opposite sides of local resource arguments. We debate, we raise our voices, we disagree, then we sit down and have a nice family dinner together.

We’re privileged to debate civilly. For many, arguments about the environment are a matter of life and death. Reasoned discourse is giving way to deadly violence around the world.

Caring about and advocating for our environment shouldn’t be a death sentence. I was horrified to learn recently that this past year will top 2015 as the deadliest year on record for environmental activists according to Global Witness.

Environmentalists around the world are defending forests from big mining corporations, the last mountain gorillas from poachers, indigenous land use rights from unscrupulous government officials, and urban communities from pollution.

They are also dying by the hundreds.

Just last Saturday, April 22, 2017 activist and author of I Dreamed of Africa, Kuki Gallmann, was shot in the abdomen by men at her conservation ranch at in northern Kenya. Dozens of others have been killed or wounded in the past few weeks.

 Each year, in recognition of the courage and sacrifices of incredible grassroots activists, the Goldman Environmental Prize honors the efforts of six individuals working for environmental sustainability and justice.

On April 23, 2017 this year’s recipients were announced. They include a Congolese park ranger and former child soldier reporting on bribery by oil companies, a Slovenian organic farmer fighting air pollution, a third generation activist from California fighting industrial contamination, an Indian social justice leader, an Australian farmer fighting against coal development, and a Q’eqchi Guatemalan indigenous land rights…

 Read the full article here.

Are Houseplants as Green as We Think?

Originally featured on Elephant Journal April 27, 2017

Our Fetishism with House Plants.

While searching online for baby-proofing tips, I came across an article about common toxic indoor plants. In a flash of embarrassment, I realized I knew nothing about the plants gracing my home.

I expected the baby-proofing basics—hiding cords, finding cap thingys for electrical sockets, elevating curtain drawstrings, and picking up all the appetizing detritus perfectly sized for little hands and curious mouths. But—toxic house plants? That’s a thing?

Besides being told that we need specific plants for Feng Shui and better air quality, how much do we really know about the plants sharing our homes? We may know how to keep them alive, but do we know much more?

I’m not exactly a green-thumb, but I didn’t even know what types of plants we have. Some were passed on from the previous owners of our house and some I bought from our local grocery store. Most I’ve managed to keep alive.

Hanging in my living room I have one vibrant vine varietal that I can now name—devil’s ivy—also known as the golden pothos or money plant. It sprawls across the ceiling and drapes around our big south-facing windows.

When I recently visited Dubai, I noticed my mother-in-law has the same plant in her desert home. A couple of weeks ago, on a trip to Hawaii, I saw the same plant while out on a hike. Did I mention I live in Alaska?

At first I thought this was a great example of how globalization has brought us closer together. But once I was past my ‘Kumbaya’ moment, it dawned on me that this might not be the sweet fairytale it seemed.

I belatedly asked: Is this plant toxic if ingested? The unfortunate answer was easy to find—yes.

So, house plants. Where do they come from? Why do we have them? Are they sustainable?

Although we have been living in tandem with house plants for millennia…

Read the full article here.

How a Dress with Pockets Can Cure Everything.

Originally featured on Elephant Journal April 26, 2017

I love my dresses with pockets.

I have at least four. One in cream linen with fuchsia and lavender wildflower print, one in white muslin with burnt orange embroidery, one in slippery man-made fabric with hot pink ornate vases, and one in studious black cotton with white lace.

Most importantly, they all have functional pockets.

 Any time I was sick growing up, my mom’s advice always included putting something nice on (after drinking a glass of water, of course). As a teenager, I humored her. I didn’t believe there was any way that getting out of my comfy pajamas would actually get rid of my headache. Until, of course, I got out of my comfy pajamas and my headache went away.

My mom was unwittingly channeling Chögyam Trungpa and his teachings on inner drala. Psychologically, it’s similar to “fake it until you make it,” and I can attest that it works.

When we look good, surprisingly we feel better.

Dressing is a way of communicating with the world around us. For better or worse, we dress according to gender norms, wealth, religious beliefs, activities, culture, age, body shape, and the weather. We most often dress for others before we dress for ourselves. We meet work dress codes, uniforms, and society’s relentless expectations.

Getting dressed each day can quickly become a chore.

But we have a choice. We can choose instead to dress joyfully.

My teenage self would be loath to admit it, but my mom was onto something. In the same way that clearing and cleaning the space around me instantly improves my mood, I always feel better after putting on an outfit and jewelry that I love. It’s like magic. When I lived alone and insomnia kept me up in the middle of the night, I’d try on my fanciest clothes just…

Read the full article here.

Decadent, Raw Vegan Truffles even the Carnivores in your Life will Love. {Recipe}

Originally featured on Elephant Journal April 16, 2017

Many moons ago, I was vegan.

I never adopted a raw-food-only diet, but I surrounded myself with plenty of people who did. Now, not so much.

 My husband proudly tells my family that he “cured” me of my hippie-food ways. He likes to think so. Deep down—actually not so deep—I’m still a pure food foodie. I just camouflage these tendencies by eating almost everything now.

But there are a few holdovers from my vegan-dominated diet that will never disappear from my life. This raw, vegan truffle recipe is one of them.

It was inspired by a friend from college. She made a variation of these and I devoured them, even though they weren’t meant for me. I kind of felt terrible, but not enough to actually stop eating them.

I’m not always good at following recipes. When I cook, I make most dishes based on the ingredients on hand. This drives my husband nuts. He’s an engineer, so when he cooks, measurable numbers rule the kitchen. He will often make a dish without ever tasting it before serving. I find this sacrilegious, but it works for him.

Me? I cook with approximations. I cook based on what I’m hungry for, or what happens to appeal to me. Sometimes, dill makes it into every dish I prepare during the week. Sometimes I crave fresh mozzarella and it sneaks into my shakshuka recipe.

I use a lot of loose guesstimates when measuring too. I make a Moroccan carrot soup, and it’s different every single time I make it. Sometimes, I vary the ratios based on my mood. Because of this, I’ve never actually written down one of my recipes—until now.

This means that I had to whip up a new batch of these truffles—oh no! And sample a few—or a lot. They’re practically vitamins, so feel free…

Read the full article here.