1.25.2017

civil war v. 2.0

Amtrak Coast Starlight observation car (December 2016)

Along with millions of people in cities around the world, I protested George W. Bush's Iraq invasion in San Francisco in 2003, media helicopters hanging overhead. On the Portland waterfront in 2011, I protested with Occupy against the 1%, a friend's baby strapped to my back. We legally and peacefully expressed our discontent. The media dutifully covered the protests as news. But nothing has changed: the rich are exponentially richer, the poor and middle-class even poorer, and soldiers and civilians (aka collateral damage) are still dying overseas. Like former-Occupy-co-founder-turned-Nehalem-resident Micah White, I feel disillusioned with protest marches.

So instead of protesting Trump's inauguration on Friday or marching in the rain with the pink pussies on Saturday, I went swimming. Protests seem mainly an outlet to blow off steam—a collective temper tantrum before we all go back to work (if we have jobs). And swimming, for me, worked just as well.

What we should have done on Friday and many more Fridays (and Mondays and Wednesdays)—those of us, at least, not in severe poverty—was go on strike from work (a hard thing to ask of poor people, admittedly, when there is no union backing you up) and do something other than consuming products—like joining a local group, reading a history book, playing an instrument, doing hobbies, or visiting friends and family. What history has shown is that the elites never grow scared until either their bank accounts are affected or their lives theoretically endangered by mobs with pitchforks and torches. Or as Aziz Ansari said on SNL the day after the inauguration, "Change doesn't come from presidents [but] large groups of angry people."

We, the people, are both the producers and the consumers. We are the economy. Without us, finance will fall. Financial elites like Trump desire to keep us distracted and divided amongst ourselves because that way they can keep acquiring and hoarding all the money. But if we continue divided beyond all fair proportion between the 99% and the 1%, the republic may fall. It is an ominous sign that the U.S. has been downgraded to a "flawed democracy" for the first time.

Trump, an effective salesman (of his own mythic self), has merely underscored the existing fault lines in American society between conservatives and progressives, between authoritarians and humanitarians, between the patriarchy and feminists. Yet if we look at the global picture, the clearest fault line is between those who believe white men should forever remain in charge (by way of a presumed natural order) versus those who believe in equal human rights. It's nearly impossible to view what's happening in European and American politics with the rise of far-right movements as anything but white patriarchy's last gasp: a brittle, angry refusal to relinquish global cultural power. As if at once, even more moderate conservative whites have realized the brown hordes are flooding North. Rural whites look around and fail to see the homogeneous towns and villages of their youth. This then, the white backlash, is the climax of post-colonial identity politics and increasing wealth disparity: a perfect political storm.

And yet this rise of the far-right may also give us hope—a candle to be lit during terrors ahead—because it is the beginning of the end of white power. The population numbers are against them (or us, rather). The white patriarchy will, of course, go down fighting, burning the planet down with them. Yet the future, if we survive as a species, is on the side of racial and gender equality. As science fiction has shown, the robots are the future, human consciousness evolved into AI. If we do not learn how to band together, white with brown and black, how will we ever fight our future electronic overlords?


1.13.2017

de-stressing: lavender oil

bottles of lavender oil, soap, & lotion

Being cold makes me cranky, so mostly I hate winter. Before Halloween even rolls around, I've already channeled my inner Dane (and I am part-Danish) to create a nest full of hygge—cozy comfort—by lighting candles, clicking on (all the) table lights, piling on blankets, fluffing up pillows, wearing thick socks and sweaters, pulling curtains closed, turning up the heat, cooking soups, making tea and hot chocolate, reading books, watching mysteries and comedies, stroking my sleepy cat.

At the same time, recurring anxieties about money and right livelihood don't exactly fit well into a cozy domestic scene. But this winter such thoughts have been pressing in even more than usual as I'm in the process of reconfiguring the big picture of my life and what direction to go from here, with the embodied knowledge as a cancer survivor that life really is short and there is still so much to do.

So in trying to figure all this out, I've been doing more yoga, journaling, brainstorming, and reading across genres for inspiration, including books about meditation (because that's much easier than actually meditating). But when coziness, self-help, and deep breathing are not enough, or even when all that is enough but I still need to go to sleep quickly or de-stress fast at work, I've been turning to the magical medicinal properties of lavender oil.

I have a big lavender plant growing in a pot outside, plus dried lavender stems in my closet and in floral sachets amid my sweaters. And this fall I had switched to using Dr. Bronner's Liquid Castile Soap in lavender (instead of unscented) as both body soap and shampoo, making my shower time extra fragrant and relaxing. Even my current hand lotion is scented with lavender oil. Just before bed, I've also been opening a bottle of lavender essential oil and dousing my wrists and neck for a burst of aromatherapy. The strong scent coming off my skin soothes me to sleep—aided by a dose of melatonin. 

And if you don't like the scent of lavender, maybe because it reminds you of old ladies with white hair, why not try a different essential oil? Sometimes all we need is to start a new daily ritual, a placebo action like applying body lotion or cracking open a book before bed. Whatever works to feel better, right?

1.12.2017

de-stressing: snow days

snowy trees on Clackamas River

Winter months are hard in the Northwest. Daylight hours are short—not as short as Norway or Alaska but short. It's chilly, damp, and dark here. These snowstorms we've been having remind me how much lighter a cloudy sky is when reflected by white snow than in rain when everything is gray and moody. (There's a reason Portland is known for craft beer, strip clubs, and coffee shops: people seek escape.)

During winter, I long for summer. I muse over past idyllic island vacations. I daydream about moving south. I get tired of wearing two coats at once and waiting for buses and trains out in the cold. But when it snows? Yes! Snow days are one of the perks of working at a public school. During the pause of daily life that is a snow day—no work, no commute—it's easier to be present in the moment.


mini-snowman


mini-rabbit snowman

And not one, not two, but three is exactly how many coats I wore on a walk to the grocery store yesterday—plus a sweatshirt layer, my handknit mittens, a wool hat, and two wool scarves. The usual walk took on a magical quality when everything was blanketed in snow. It also took twice as long, trudging through slushy and compacted snow in rain boots—meaning snow, like sand at the beach, makes for a better workout.


snowy riverbank, Clackamas River

Down by the river in the snow and muffled air, I could almost forget about the housing complex being developed over on the Oregon City side of the Clackamette Cove, an inlet pocket of the Clackamas River, and the fitness center and large parking lot going in across the street, blocking our view of the riverside. One must be anointed by natural beneficience when it comes, while it lasts.

1.01.2017

de-stressing: swimming

Makry Gialos, Crete, at dusk (July 2016)

I'm not much of a swimmer. I had a swimming lesson once as a kid; the tan, smiling, sun-bleached teenager in red trunks instructed us to stand and dip our faces underwater, blowing bubbles. Unlike my Californian cousins who had a pool in their backyard, sliding in and out of the water like seals, my family donned swimsuits once or twice a year during mid-summer: while camping up at icy-cold Oregon mountain lakes and during the week at our grandmother's cabin in the High Sierras, my grandmother paying for tickets to the town's private man-made lake. Underwater activities for me have always meant risking screaming ear infections requiring antibiotics, my ear canals neatly trapping water, tubal petri dishes for blooming bacteria. Even so, I can (approximately) frog-swim, tread water, side crawl, and float—all self-taught.


southern Crete coastline (July 2016)

But this summer in Crete, my younger sister, who has more normally shaped ear canals, insisted I try snorkeling, handing me a drugstore package of Mack's silicone putty ear plugs. I suppose I had always assumed ear plugs would never really work. Even on two separate occasions as an adult in warm sub-tropical Hawaiian waters alongside sea turtles, I refused to snorkel. But in Crete, post-cancer, a new me, I thought, "Oh, why not?"
 
So I did, for the first time, borrowing gear from the hotel. My sister gave me a quick lesson at the beach near the hotel. Even with me nearsighted, all margins blurry, the feeling was freeing, slipping underwater into the muffled quiet with the fishes like any other mammal.


swimmer at Vai, Crete (July 2016)

The next day we took a party-boat cruise to a nearby uninhabited island where the water was crystal clear. We snorkeled later in the week at the northeast beach at Vai under Crete's sole stand of palm trees, the water a pure turquoise. Our last full day we returned to the magical island via the party boat for more hours of snorkeling. If I'd had the money, I would have bought a little hill house and stayed in Greece forever, hiking the herb-scented hills and swimming in the buoyant sea.


Mediterranean Sea viewed from hills over Makry Gialos, Crete (July 2016)


sunset view, Crete (July 2016)

I've been missing that feeling of escape from routine, the feeling of floating in a body of water. So one evening this week my roommate and I drove over to our nearest local public pool. I forgot to put in my ear plugs before stepping into the water, but it didn't matter. We spent an hour treading water and chatting, splashing around, schooled by the high-school swim team practicing in lap lanes on one side. The water was 86 degrees and the room humid but still a bit chilly when half-naked, winter's cold breath pressed against the tall glass windows. Instead of natural sea-salt breezes, we grew redolent with poisonous chlorine. But the pool was sparsely populated, only a handful of water-aerobics class members, plus the swim team, so we had much of it to ourselves.

After a warm shower in the changing room, slipping on yoga pants and an oversized, thick cotton sweater, my hair wet under a wool hat, I felt more relaxed than I've been since paddling in the summertime Mediterranean Sea. Exercise and de-stressing for five dollars at a public pool—I'll take more of that, please.

12.27.2016

Christmas Le Creuset gratin pan

vintage Flame Le Creuset gratin pan

My good friend and roommate, Jeff, gives the best gifts: my chef's knife, my vintage Cuisinart food processor, my red frying pan, my green Dutch oven, my smaller black Dutch oven, and this Christmas a big (36 cm), shallow vintage Le Creuset enameled cast-iron gratin casserole dish. He says he found it on eBay one day at 3 AM, made a bid, went to bed, and woke up as the winner. When the heavy package arrived this month, I asked teasingly if he'd gotten me a Le Creuset gratin dish, and he said, "Hell, no. They're too expensive." He lied, leaving me gleefully surprised when I opened the box.

He must have grown tired of me begging him for one of the two Le Creuset gratin dishes he'd found at thrift stores for himself, a 32 cm white one and a 28 cm Flame one. His white one cost just seven dollars (!) because some Goodwill employee hadn't recognized what it was, the brand imprint being faint on the bottom enamel. This new (old) gratin dish in Le Creuset's traditional 'Flame' color is bigger than either of his. I was sure he'd keep the largest one and give me one of his smaller ones, but nope: I get to keep the big one. And just one of these dishes is all I need.


vintage Le Creuset gratin pan in "Flame" (bottom view)

Le Creuset doesn't make this classic style of handled cast-iron oval gratin dishes anymore, only their Signature oval bakers with cut-out handles or stoneware ones made in Thailand or China. But the cast-iron low-profile ovals made in France are perfect for roasting vegetables, my favorite way to eat Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. And the 36 cm size should hold a whole head of cauliflower pieces or a big batch of halved Brussels sprouts. Thickly sliced mushrooms are also wonderful roasted with garlic and a little wine or wine vinegar and herbs. These types of roasted veggies taste fabulous atop baked polenta or tossed with garlic, olive oil, and a grated hard cheese into cooked whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, or pearl barley.

Baking dishes like these can be found secondhand on eBay at a fraction of their new retail price. If you're extremely lucky, you might find one someday at a local thrift store for even less. For roasting, the even heat and ease of cleaning of French enameled cast-iron can't be beat. And what a lovely way to cook through the cold winter months. . . .


(Thank you, Jeffrey! xo)

12.25.2016

Christmas cemetery

peace sign, Rolling Hills Cemetery

One set of parents lives within walking distance of the cemetery where my mother's parents, brothers, and several extended family members are buried. The cemetery residents have a great view, so to speak, of the eastern mountains of the Klamath Basin. One of these mountains sat behind me most of my childhood years, the reason why mountains for me feel protective and mysterious, while vast stretches of flat plains feel disorienting, lacking, and dull. My grandparents' plots look out over this mountain they used to live under. They preferred the high desert, moving back here after a brief stint in rainy Portland during WWII.


view of Pine Grove from Rolling Hills Cemetery

Growing up, I refused to see the beauty in this landscape of juniper, sage, and sparse pines, preferring the golden oak hills of California where my father's parents lived or the thick-treed mountains of the Cascades, the lush green of the Willamette Valley, or the flat horizon line over at the coast, where the sun sank each night into the depths of the Pacific. I couldn't wait to live in cities. I tracked airplanes high in the sky, wishing myself aboard. I left this place, seeking adventure (not that I've never been back). Yet the older I get and the less time I spend here, maybe a few days a year, the more beautiful my hometown seems—the natural geography itself, not the human settlement. The town is still poor and the weather too cold.


bird house with angels, Rolling Hills Cemetery

When I visit, I often walk over to the cemetery alone, across a highway, in a kind of pilgrimage. This time, there was a thin layer of snow and no one in sight. The plastic flowers were dusted white, the trash bins full of rotting bouquets. What struck me were the cemetery's new marketing signs for "Family Estates," "Private Estates," and "Value Estates," as if the cemetery were miniaturized suburban developments with gated communities for the wealthy. (Even in death we find status markers.)


Private Estates sign, Rolling Hills Cemetery


snowy pine needles


Family Estates sign, Rolling Hills Cemetery


Christmas trees, Rolling Hills Cemetery

While most Americans have been busy buying gifts and baking cookies this holiday season, I've been thinking about how in past decades, let alone centuries, I would by now be well on the way to dead, the cancer slowly spreading each progressive year from lymph node to lymph node, eventually reaching my organs, finally causing great crushing pain. And then I, too, would be lying near my grandparents, my closed eyes or cremated dust (depending on whether my family followed my wishes) in view of the childhood mountain. This is a sober, morbid, humbling reminder to be grateful I am still alive like the rest of you. It reminds me to take more risks, to be more present, to leave, somehow, some kind of legacy. The hero's journey is a spiral, returning and leaving, returning and leaving, finding one day, perhaps, peace.


No Trespassing sign


two llamas and a sheep


brown llama


fenced goat


white llama

On the way back to the house, two llamas, a sheep, and a goat walked up to the corner of a fence in a field—which sounds like the start of a dirty joke but isn't. The goat was friendliest, sticking its nose through the wire and licking my hand like a dog. The sheep was most circumspect, staring frozen in the background. The llamas with their lovely long lashes approached cautiously, but I couldn't remember if they bite (they don't). It started to snow, big wet flakes in our hair and faces. I laughed at the silly goat, called them all pretty, told them I was sorry I didn't have food for them. I sounded exactly like my mother.

12.19.2016

how to sell your extra stuff on eBay

sold on eBay: vintage yellow Dansk Kobenstyle casserole pot found in a free box on the street

Instead of Christmas shopping this year, with all its expense and stress, I've been Christmas selling. It's different from a No-Spending Year or Buy-Nothing Challenge in that you can actually make back a bit of the money you've already spent as a capitalist consumer. It also gives you positive environmental karma by promoting secondhand reuse, returning perfectly functional objects to the reuse stream, rather than further depleting Earth's nonrenewable resources—objects like electronics or carved marble kitchen-utensil holders.

When I returned from my summer in London, completely broke and facing more medical bills, I immediately signed myself up on eBay and started selling spare clothes, shoes, kitchen items, and small decorative objects, most of which I had picked up inexpensively in thrift stores and later changed my mind about but that were too hard (usually meaning too small) to sell locally on Craigslist. The biggest advantage of selling pre-owned (aka used) household items on eBay and Amazon is their huge national—even international—customer markets, making sales for smaller or more niche items easier and faster than selling in a local market.

Selling on eBay really means having your own small business in microcosm, which in itself is a useful learning experience if, like me, you've never owned a business. It can thus become a safe, inexpensive way to test out desire and aptitude for self-employment. You can have only three things for sale or three hundred, but you still must offer a good product at a good value and keep customers content by providing good customer service. Because eBay and PayPal have been around so long, they've made the complex pricing and shipping aspects relatively easy by offering suggestions based on similar items. Payments are automatic via PayPal. eBay and Pay take their cuts, of course, but it's worth it and far cheaper than swallowing the costs of leasing a brick-and-mortar shop space.


sold on eBay: Brooks Brothers shirt purchased by the pound at Goodwill Outlet


sold on eBay: tote bag hand-crocheted from yarn made with plastic bags


sold on eBay: vintage teak salad bowl, refreshed with spoon oil


sold on eBay: Ralph Lauren handknit linen sweater

Things you'll need to become an eBay seller are:
  • eBay account
  • eBay app
  • PayPal account
  • smartphone with camera
  • free USPS Priority Mail envelopes and boxes (ordered online)
  • reused empty boxes
  • free reused packing materials
  • measuring tape or ruler
  • clear packing tape
  • scissors
  • box cutter
  • digital kitchen scale
  • bathroom scale (if selling larger items)
  • computer printer
  • black ink cartridges
  • copy paper


sold on eBay: brown Dansko heeled clogs


sold on eBay: Women's Columbia jacket found in a free box on the street


sold on eBay: Banana Republic Outlet Women's linen button-front shirt purchased by the pound at Goodwill Outlet

Once your supplies are in place, you can start selling. Here are some quick-start tips learned over the last few months as an eBay seller:

:: Order free Priority Mail envelopes and boxes from the United States Postal Service (usps.com).

:: Customers prefer receiving items quickly, even cross-country. Try to mail things out the same day or the next day to limit handling time. USPS is most accessible and usually the best-value shipper. Ship Priority Mail on most things for faster delivery, including tracking and basic insurance. Heavy items can sometimes be shipped in Flat Rate boxes or travel Parcel Select. Estimate shipping costs carefully by weight and measurements before listing to avoid losing money on shipping. The goal is not to make money on shipping, but rather not to lose money.

:: eBay currently has an easy international shipping option called "Global Shipping" in which the seller mails the item domestically to a processing center in Kentucky, and then eBay handles the international shipping processes and costs on their end. You can enable this option to increase sales.

:: People have become used to "free shipping" from big retailers like Amazon. Shipping is never actually free, but if you can build "Free Shipping" into your item pricing, all the better.

:: Take photos on your phone and upload them directly to the eBay app. Photos should be taken from multiple angles, preferably in natural light, and include close-up details of any flaws.

:: Describe objects in detail in the listing, highlighting any flaws. Buyers should know exactly what they're getting. It's far better that an object arrive in better-than-expected condition than the reverse.

:: Source packing peanuts and bubble wrap for reuse from local businesses. Reuse newspapers as fill.

:: Wrap and pack objects carefully to prevent breakage or other damage. Use extra packing material to keep objects from shifting around in transit.

:: Most clothing items will fit in a Priority padded flat-rate envelope with no need for other packing material.

:: For all but the most experienced or volume sellers, the eBay phone app is easier for managing listings—because simpler—than the eBay website itself.

:: Avoid auctions on most things. Instead, list items as "Buy It Now" with "Best Offer" and as "Good Till Canceled." Research other people's listings and do experiments because how you list items will depend on what you're selling. If it's a highly desirable item you know for certain will sell within a week, do an auction. Otherwise, skip auctions to save yourself the hassle of relisting items every week as well as eBay's listing fees. 

:: eBay will almost always side with buyers over sellers. Keep this in mind when making decisions or resolving issues with buyers.

:: Provide feedback on buyers only after they've given feedback on you as a seller. Aim for 100% positive feedback by making the customer happy, even if they're in the wrong. As in life, most people are well intentioned.

:: eBay via PayPal will hold funds until you've established yourself as a reputable seller. After a few months of positive transactions, money will be released to your PayPal account more quickly. You can transfer money easily from PayPal to a bank account.

:: Boxes, packing materials, and merchandise all take up physical space and require solid organizational skills, so carve out a space in your home that's easily accessible but out of the way, ideally in a spare bedroom, home office, or garage.


sold on eBay: West Elm vase (bottom view)

If you have the time and energy, you can make more money selling your unwanted stuff on eBay than at a garage sale and often more than on Craigslist. I wish I had started selling my more valuable discards on eBay years ago, rather than donating them to Goodwill for free. Now I know better. With more Americans making less than our parents did (or do), despite having more education, and with cost of living increasing faster than incomes, especially in coastal urban areas, you, too, might one day need to become more creative in funding the basics of life.



(Note: Thank you to the Portland friends who've mentored me as an eBay seller, demystifying the process. I'm passing along their hard-won selling tips, as well as those learned on my own.)

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