Holey trinity: Mother, daughters, and the holy nose


I was always bargaining with God in the back seat of the car on the way to church about picking my nose.

This is the last time, I promise, then I’ll never pick my nose again. I really want to go to heaven, so this is the last booger, I swear.

Then it would itch.

Or it was an especially dusty day.

Or I could feel it in there, waiting. God would understand.

My Dad always picked his nose in our pick-up truck on the way to school. I pretended not to see, staring out the window, peripheral vision betraying me.

There were all kinds of hairs in there, I knew. I’d seen those, too. He was 6’6″ tall, so it was difficult not to look anywhere but up his large-nostriled nose.

If I hadn’t picked my nose so much as a kid, then maybe my left nostril would be the same size as my right one.

Now I’ll never know, because I’m not a kid anymore.

Now I have my own kids, and I’m sure they’ve seen me pick my nose a few times. God knows. Okay, many times.

My daughter picks her nose while she reads books. Completely absorbed, absent-minded picking. I’m not sure where they end up. I try not to stare that long.

Upon being introduced to Michigan State University’s mascot at age 4, she promptly picked her nose. Sparty got down on one knee, nose to nose, and brought his felted finger to his fuzzy, oversized nostril in mutual understanding.


Most mammals can’t pick their noses, it’s not physically possible. Imagine a cat trying to do that. Or an elephant.

Or a whale.

It’s impossible to pick your nose while snorkeling and listening to millions of tiny underwater clicks–fish mandibles munching minerals–while feeling the strangest, strongest desire to never exhale carbon dioxide ever again in order to preserve this beautiful, intricate, aquatic dance of astonishing color, light, and texture.

Coral icons, layer upon layer of life, plated with sun-gold.

Is it only hominids who dig for gold? For there is something extremely human about nose picking. The pointer finger neatly fits (but not the thumb). It is completely self-directed. An exercise in free will. Public or private? Long or short? Deep or shallow?

I’ve outgrown my original deal with God. As my daughters and I grow older, there is more reason to believe God delights in creating life, not bargaining with it.

My daughters’ noses were cleared after their first, startling, beautiful breath fresh from my womb.

God took a deep, loving belly breath–in through the nose, out through the mouth–and dust swirled into life. The same dust forged in exploding stars, the same dust we pick from our noses.

Now I know (tapping the side of my nose) that the nose was created not just for fingers, but for aromas–detectors of danger and decay, gateways to otherworldly pleasures and pains, solidifiers of memory, pathways for life’s breath–inhale and exhale.



my Mom’s perfume and favorite, faded pink and purple plaid shirt.


my shoulders drop.


the top of my daughters’ tiny heads, smooth baby scent tinged in tiny, translucent hair.


I close my eyes


my husband’s aftershave, a can he used for more than five years because he loves adventure, not things, people, not self-grooming.


I am still


motorcycle exhaust and 5-year-old me between my Dad’s arms, leaning into every turn without fear, hair flying, elation, alfalfa, and dust filling my nose.


I miss him


asphalt after rain, nettles in spring, pine needled trees on Mt. Adams, strawberries in warm June sun, cookies in the oven.


Way to Compost 2: Worms

They are born, eat, breathe through their skin, and burrow beneath us in the darkness of the soil. Darwin described them as “the intestines of the earth” and went on to say that “it may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures.”

Lowest of the low, or saints of the soil?

Anatomically speaking, worms are wild. Between mouth and tail, earthworms are divided into more than 150 segments. If you cut a worm on the 75th segment, it will not, as the urban myth suggests, become two worms. The head may grow a new tail, but the tail will not grow a new head. With one, long digestive tract that runs the entire length of its body, worms are born to digest. They are also hermaphrodytes, have five hearts, no need for eyes, hatch three or four at a time from a cocoon, and breathe through their skin.

But not all worms are the same. In fact there are over 7,260 species of worms. Some, like the inch-long ice worm called Solifugus (sun-avoiding), have adapted to living on the edge of icebergs in Alaska. Their ability to provide a burst of energy to their cells in extreme cold may help scientists understand how life could survive on icy moons like Europa.

One of the largest earthworms on the planet is found in Washington State, if you can find one. The giant Palouse earthworm is pinkish white and smells like a lily if you were to scratch its slimy chin, hence the name Driloleirusis, “lily-like” worm. The Palouse worm is a native species that thrives in the bunchgrass prairies, but agriculture has destroyed much of its habitat. Only one person has seen this lovely giant since 1978.

For composters, the red wiggler is the holy grail of humus and is found on every continent except Antarctica. Eisenia Fetida, which means “to stink,” loves to live in loose, rich, warm places like manure piles and worm bins. If they feel threatened, they release a yellow, stinky liquid that deters birds. But if you give them a safe place to live, time, and food, they produce manure, or castings, that contain about 50 percent more calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and bacteria than the surrounding soil. These castings do not stink at all. In fact, they smell like soil and feel like silk. One day, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Each red wiggler can digest up to its body weight in one day. So, five pounds of red wigglers can eat up to 35 pounds of food waste every week! In economic terms, there is no better return on an investment. Worms are livestock that eat leftovers we don’t even want, multiply themselves twice or thrice every three weeks, and create one of the most balanced, nutrient-rich soil amendments on earth. All life in and above the ground is partly dependent on worms’ ability to transform organic matter into available plant food.

I am a dedicated practitioner of worm wifery, and you can be, too! Here are the basics:

1) A home. Any kind of closed container with good drainage will work. I made one from plywood, but Rubbermaid bins with holes in the bottom work, too.

2) Bedding. Red wigglers need plenty of carbonaceous material to move around in. Shredded paper from the office, a shredded newspaper (after reading it), peat moss, and manure are all good sources of bedding.

3) Moisture. Dry conditions suffocate the worms. If you squeeze the bedding, a little water should drip from your hand.

4) Food. Red Wigglers are mostly vegetarian, and dislike anything acidic like tomatoes and lemons. Occasionally, I throw in some citrus peels and a little leftover cheese because the worms are active enough to eat it up quickly. Like us, worms need carbohydrates. All carbon sources like paper towels, napkins, paper plates, and newspapers go in the worm bin. Crushed egg shells help balance the pH in the bin, and a few handfuls of dirt give the worms grit for their gizzards.

Once all of the essentials are provided, an amazing transformation takes place. A worm bin becomes an entire ecosystem unto itself. I’ve had beetles, springtails, frogs, lizards, spiders, tiny white worms called potworms, and an earthworm or two find their way into my bin. The red wigglers don’t mind the extra boarders. New worm owners are often afraid they might escape out the drainage holes at night, but if the bin is raised off of the ground, the worms will stay in the dark and the moisture. The only reason my worms have fled the coop, so to speak, was because I taped off all the drainage holes in preparation for the moving van (oh yes, my worms have traveled across the country). They must have needed that oxygen, because the next morning, I had little pyramids of worms on the floor, fleeing the sealed bin to catch their breath. I never closed those holes again. To keep critters out, I sometimes put a bit of hardware cloth over them.

It’s easy to take worms for granted. It’s easy, once you have an established bin, to forgot about them completely. But once you have a few thousand of them silently and steadily eating leftovers in your garage or backyard (or inside your coffee table?! Oh yes, it’s been done), their quiet, slow, transformative magic will startle you. Each time I lift the lid of the worm bin and see absolutely no trace of rotten food, only dots of castings scattered across shredded newspaper and clumps of red wigglers hugging food or curled inside eggshells, I am amazed at the absolute transformation. All I needed was a bin, a few worms, shredded paper, and my own food waste for creatures to transform it into the richest plant food on the planet.

Click on the links below to the Tilth Alliance’s worm bin designs. These are the ones I started off withhe plywood bin is for those with access to power tools, or a neighbor’s shop. Mine is still going strong after 20 years!

This “off the shelf” bin is much easier to make. Instead of the “O-ring” and metal valves, and metal vents, I simply drilled holes at the top for ventilation and a larger hole in the bottom for drainage. Tilt the bin towards that hole and place a container under it to catch the worm juice. This has been in my garagin and going strong for 10 years.

Questions? Share them with me! I’m happy to help!


A few years ago, one of our best loved chickens died.  Despite her constant search for a hole in the garden fence, Cacciatore was a wonderful earwig eater and provided our family with beautiful, light brown eggs.  Mom liked having her around while she was weeding, so instead of burying her way out in the field somewhere, I decided to compost her.

Composting farm animals like chickens and cows is a feasible and efficient way to return massive amounts of nutrients to the soil.  “Offal,” as the carcasses of animals are called, is an invaluable resource for composting.  Temperature requirements for this kind of compost are higher and need to be sustained for a longer period of time, which means a lower carbon to nitrogen ratio.  The more nitrogen in the pile, the hotter the pile will be.  Sustaining this heat is the trick.  There needs to be plenty of water and oxygen in order to provide the heat loving bacteria with enough energy and food to keep up the good work.

When I decided to compost Cacciatore, this is what I did.  I gathered all the nitrogen I could find—green grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and chicken manure—and mixed these with bulky carbon material for aeration.  I watered as I worked until the finished pile, about four cubic feet inside strawbale walls, was as wet as a wrung out sponge.  A thick layer of straw served as insulation and discouraged flies.

After two days, the dial on my compost thermometer registered 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  I dug into the center, put Cacciatore in, covered her, and waited.  The pile stayed at 150 for about a week.  I turned it once more in the fall, watering as I worked, and the temperatures rose again to 160 for another week.  Turning the pile twice allowed any material on the edges to have its turn in the hot center.  This ensures that any harmful bacteria or weed seeds all got hot enough to be completely broken down and inert.

I let it sit for a few months until the time came in late summer to move the compost pile into the garden.  With every shovelful, I half expected to see bone, beak, or feather, but crumbly, deep dark humus was all I found.  Cacciatore was finally welcome inside the garden fence.

How does such a complete transformation happen inside such a simple pile of kitchen waste, garden trimmings, and manure?  With the help of billions of microorganisms.  Where on earth will you find these microorganisms to help you transform waste into compost?  Don’t worry, they have already found you.  Just building a compost pile is like lighting a neon sign that buzzes, “Microorganisms Welcome!”

When Carbon and Nitrogen are combined in the right ratio (25 or 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen), when there is enough moisture, some oxygen, and enough mass, the bacteria already found on the waste begin to go to work.

When temperatures are high in a compost pile, anywhere from 130-160, heat loving bacteria (thermophyllic) are hard at work in compost.  On a chilly day you can see the evidence as steam rising from your pile.  Bacteria sweat.  Like us, they burn carbon and release carbon dioxide and water into the air.  They can sustain this work for 3 days to a week, just the right amount of time for many of the pathogens and weed seeds in the middle of the pile to break down (tomato and squash seeds are another story).

Turning the outside of the pile to the inside will ensure that the rest of the pile gets a seat in the middle, too.  You can turn a pile by hand.  If you are lucky enough to have a front loader handy, this is a fast way to turn a large pile on a farm.  Composting in a barrel allows for easy turning either raised on an axel so you can turn it with a handle or just on the ground so you can roll it.  Worms will turn the compost for you (see “worm husbandry”).

When temperatures fall between 80 and 100 degrees, conditions are right for mesophyllic (middle loving) bacteria to explode in numbers.  Now the pile smells “earthy,” like soil. This is the pleasant halitosis of the bacteria actinomycetes (act-tee-no-my-see-tees).  They are breaking down the compost into even tinier particles, and you can see them as white, webby strands throughout the compost pile.

Fungi make their appearance at the very end.  The fruits of their labor bloom as mushrooms on the surface of compost, telling you it will be ready soon.  You will know compost is ready when it smells good, like rich soil, is dark brown, and looks nothing like the slimy, rotten waste it was before.  According to a 1996 article in the New York Times by Nicholas Wade, bacteria “comprise as much as half of all living things on the planet.”  Bacteria are found on almost every surface of the earth, whether internal or external.  Lucky for us, they work to our benefit in compost piles, our stomachs, landfills, wine casks, breweries, forest floors, and sourdough bakeries.  Such a transformation is miraculous, and the end result, humus, is still a mystery to scientists, but there are some things we do know.

We know that humus is the most stable form of plant food available on the earth and can remain in the soil, providing plants with nitrogen, for over 100 years.  We know that over half of the humus on the planet has been lost to over grazing and over working the land.  We know that humus takes a long time to form.  The longer a compost pile cures, the more stable humus you will find.  Like good bread, wine, and beer, it’s worth the wait.  One to two years is a safe bet.  Then it’s time for the compost to return to the garden, the fruit trees, the house plants, and the earth.

Why Compost?

Let’s talk about compost—what it is and why we need to make it happen now more than ever. Every time we eat plants or animals who eat plants, the nutrients they and we need to grow are taken from the soil and put into our bodies for energy. We burn it as energy, but there are always leftovers. Up to 40% of the food grown in the United States is wasted. If these leftovers are not returned to the soil to be recycled, then the cycles that sustain life are broken and things start to get messy.

You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s worth repeating. A handful of compost contains more living organisms than there are people on earth! Our eyes cannot see it, but compost is dynamically alive! The nutrients, minerals, bacteria, fungus, and other microscopic life forms found in compost are vital for healthy soil.

In the United States, we use soil 10 times faster than the natural rate of replenishment, and we only have about 60 years of topsoil left in the world. Such an estimate has to give us pause, and a dose of healthy concern. We need compost in all its forms—backyard piles, turned under cover crops, worm bins, municipal compost operations, forest floors, manure left in the field or composted in the barn, compost toilets (yes, human compost)—and every other way we can think of. We need to balance our soil withdrawals with compost deposits.

This can happen in your own backyard, in a church kitchen, in a community garden, in a garage, and even in an apartment. I’ll discuss how to make compost piles unique to your life style a bit later, but for now I’ll sum up what makes composting work no matter what form it takes. There are 5 keys to creating a healthy compost pile—carbon, nitrogen, water, air, and mass.

1. Carbon and nitrogen are the main ingredients of compost. Vibrant compost piles need a ratio of 20-35 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Carbon, the “brown” materials, are usually brown and dry. Bags of fallen leaves, newspaper, cardboard boxes, paper towels and napkins, wood chips, straw, brown grass clippings, and the morning croissant are all examples of carbon. These are what the compost microorganisms need for sustained energy. Smaller pieces of brown material will break down more quickly because there is more surface area for the microorganisms to work on. Chipping wood or mowing leaves helps to speed up the composting process.

2. Nitrogen, the “green” materials, are usually green and wet. Fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps, manure of all kinds, coffee grounds, and nutrients like blood and bone meal are all good sources of nitrogen. These will be used by the microorganisms to build their microscopic bodies.

3. A compost pile should be as wet as a wrung out sponge. In order to move, breathe, and function, the microorganisms doing all the work need this water.

4. The microorganisms that break down organic matter also need oxygen. You can compost without oxygen, but it’s smellier. This is called anaerobic composting (more on that later). Making sure the pile has plenty of brown, carbon material to create pockets of air will ensure it has enough oxygen. The pile should be a bit fluffy, like a compost soufflé. As it breaks down, the cake will flatten and reduce in size. This is a good sign.

5. The last key is mass. If it’s not big enough, the compost pile will not be active. A 3’ by 3’ pile is the minimum size for decomposition to really start. But piles built outside need to be at least knee high and wide. You can put your pile inside chicken wire, straw bales, re-used pallets, or even a cheap garbage can buried a foot in the ground with holes drilled into the bottom. For more about how to do this, visit my Ways to Compost.

Way to Compost 1: The Backyard Food Digester

For gardens and people in the city, room and time are big obstacles to composting.  A food digester, sometimes known as a green cone, is perfect if you want to keep organic matter out of your garbage but not work too hard, take up too much space, or think too much about composting it.  Basically, it’s like building a stomach in your backyard that will digest all your leftover food.

Here’s how to do it.  Find an old plastic trash can, or buy a cheap one at the hardware store.  Drill holes all over the bottom and about two feet up the side all the way around for drainage, aeration, and to let the worms in and out. Then, dig a hole so that at least a quarter of the can is in the ground in a shaded, well-hidden place.  This is the only hard labor required.  Put a layer of leaves or small twigs in the bottom of the can.  This is the first layer of your compost “cake.”  From here on out it will go like this:  kitchen scraps, browns (leaves, a little soil, old grass clippings), kitchen scraps, browns, and so on until it is full.

Here’s how the digester system works from kitchen to compost.  Keep a gallon sized, lidded container under the sink to scrape food scraps and vegetable peelings into.  It can be plastic or stainless steel.  Don’t be afraid to put in uneaten mac and cheese, soup, bread, rice, tacos, Fritos—anything you didn’t eat.  And don’t forget that all paper towels, napkins, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, paper plates, the tubes inside of toilet paper, and newspaper can go in, too.  Carbon sources like these help keep odors at bay (carbon is a great filter) and worms very happy.

Make a trip to the compost container once a week to dump your lidded container.  Be sure to cover it brown stuff—soil, grass clippings, or straw.  You can keep a pile of these brown materials right next to the digester.  I suggest putting on an “inner” lid of pine branches or even a pizza container as well as the trash can lid.  This keeps down smells and reduces fruit flies.  The outer lid should be secured with a bungee cord so little critters like raccoons and rats don’t help themselves.

That’s it!  In about a year with no turning or thinking, the bottom of your bin will be rich compost ready to put around plants in a small garden.  Two digesters side by side is another good idea.  When compost is harvested from the bottom of the first one, the partly digested top material can be shoveled into the bottom of the second one and the process starts over.  Or, you can fill up the first and wait for it all to compost while filling up the second one.

Of course, there will be some troubleshooting.

  1. If the material becomes too dry, it won’t decompose. Be sure to water the digester, especially in the summer, if it is too dry.
  2. Remember to keep a lid on.
  3. Avoid putting meat and dairy in the digester, and bury the food well each time with browns and the inner lid so that maggots and fruit flies will not be a problem. Besides worms, there will be all kinds of bugs in the food digester. It’s a plethora of study material for future entomologists.  Sow bugs, little white springtails, ants, centipedes, beetles, and other kinds of creepy crawlies are harmless and help to break down the organic matter.
  4. If the digester smells (too wet, maybe), mix in soil and carbon sources and it should be better in a couple of days.
  5. You may find vigorous, hybrid varieties of squash and tomato growing where you spread the compost. These seeds persist in this type of composting since there isn’t enough heat to destroy them.

And now for a sneak peak at my backyard food digester, eight years old, quietly working away, mostly forgotten, tucked behind the shed where I hope no one looks. But for you…

Notice three large pinecones–raccoon latrine deterrents (ouch! works great) and weight for lid…a brick or bungee also works…a pile of leaves to layer after dumping kitchen waste…only pistachio shells and pumpken seeds are recognizable. I never turned it or rolled it, only layered it. About once a year, I shovel the finished compost into my wheelbarrow. Looks like it’s time!

One stomach behind the shed is great, two stomachs would be ideal. One to fill again while the full one digests. Don’t you wish you had two stomachs? Now you can!

Composting back to life

Compost connects leftovers to new life

When anything once alive dies and is put in a compost pile, microscopic life forms begin their work of living and dying. They break down organic matter into tinier and tinier pieces, more elemental with each pass through their microscopic bodies. They eat and live and also die, until all that has died becomes entirely new—a particle of nitrogen or carbon, a trace mineral, a salt—so it can be taken up again into plant roots, into animals and human bodies, into trees, then fall back down to the soil as sticks, leaves, bones, and flesh. We label this up and down rhythm life and death—a beginning and then an end. But death it is not the end with compost, rather it is the beginning of something new. I do not completely understand how the transformation happens. Science can explain the invisible process in books, but I go out to the compost pile on a regular basis to observe and maybe absorb a little of the mystery that gives life to our human and earthly bodies.

There is not just one way to compost. It can be done in many ways, and all of them lead to a rich source of life for the soil. I admit that composting is not always fun, like riding a roller coaster or going to a movie is fun. It is not always easy, like throwing away food is easy. It can be mundane, messy, and sometimes annoying. Composting is a mindful act—a decision to humbly take responsibility for our own waste. I found, once I committed myself to it and carved out the time to care for my own waste, that I had invisible helpers. I created a big pile of smelly, clumpy, sloppy waste, but a mysterious collaboration of earthly life transformed it into sweet smelling, crumbly, richly dark humus—the building block of life in the soil. I also noticed that I was more forgiving of my own “garbage.” My life’s leftovers—the sadness and pain I usually put a lid on and never wanted to deal with—were uncovered, held, observed, and worked into my life with love. I began to feel more whole.

I invite you into the messy, mundane, mysterious, and restorative life of compost.



You will get the call

That changes most things, not everything

But most.

You take it at the coffee shop, Blue Owl,

Where your favorite table is not taken,

Your laptop open to work,

the news article you are writing about mouse research.

Your Mom’s number, good, you needed a break.

You take it

Stepping outside to the empty parking lot

A quiet place between two concrete buildings

The sun shining on a west facing wall

Leaning against it in between two yellow lines

And you will hear that something is not right.

They are doing tests,

Lab work needed in Portland

Pancreas and liver showed up on the MRI, lights,

Could be something else.

Your Mom does not say it on the phone,

But from this day on they are the hardest,

The most precious days.

The days you are furthest away and closest to home.

Painful distance, painful diagnosis.

Six months to a year, but your dad is strong

And on the young side,

So aggressive treatments could be worth it.

Treatments like holding back a flood

With just a few sandbags, piled up

As the rain pours down, chemicals pour through.

There is no holding it back.

The Power Ranger is powerless as it stands,

In the om position

On the table beside him during chemo.


I fly home after the call and

My eyes rest easy on the folds

Of hills that reach down to the river.

I think, “They are like the folds of my own brain.”

The river circuitry running through it

A pathway of blue.

“The folds of my brain, they must be similarly drawn

Down to the water that runs through them.”

I drive east after flying west to meet my mom,

Preparing for an experience I’m not prepared to have.

Thinking of my dad, who never complained,

Always worked hard.

Spoke a little too fast without listening,

but his heart was always good.

He always had a way forward in mind.

I wonder what way forward he will find this time.

That’s really the only way that Dad goes, forward.

Finding a way.

I don’t know what new folds

In my brain I’ll come upon as I go down this winding river.

I can’t see around the bend.

Should I stop now and wait?

Should I keep going?

Should I build a fire here?

Should I portage?

What’s around the corner?

Is it that water fall?

Is it a dam?

Is it rapids?

I’ve had a calm journey until now.

I’m not prepared.

I want a life jacket to save me.

I’m not ready to take off my Dad’s.

Michigan smells different…

“Like we’re camping.”

The first positive words that came out of my mouth about our new home in East Lansing, Michigan were olfactory. I sat on the top step of the back deck, our 3-month-old cradled in my arms, back aching after moving quickly and sleeping badly and breastfeeding constantly, and breathed in the spicy, evening scent coming from the exhalation of old trees and the swampy-sandy soil I would soon be completely baffled by when trying to grow anything other than purslane (edible), creeping charlie (I confess I love the smell of it) or sedges (native).

I did not want to be on that step.  

My back to our unfamiliar house, my eyes wandered along the tops of the pine trees concealing the parking lot on the other side of our fence, the human-sized eastern black nightshade and garlic mustard inside the fence and the enormous wild cherry leaning uncomfortably over the fence.

This was not the step I wanted to take.

We had been living in Columbus, OH (Michiganders, stay with me) for 5 years already, and I was ready to move on. True, Columbus had a food scene that satisfied the cravings of two, older-than-30-something graduate students who enjoyed a bite beyond Chipotle. True, our dearest friends lived in Columbus and our two-year-old daughter’s first, dearest playmate: all heartbreak (hearth-break) to step away from.

But if we had to leave, I planned to go west, all the way to the coast where I could stand and spit into the Pacific Ocean on any given day, as my Grandpa would say, or at least a river that ended up there. Somewhere between Oregon and Canada.

Instead, we went roughly 3 degrees North and 2 degrees West from the middle of Ohio to the middle of Michigan.

Columbus, OH:
39.9612 N by 82.9988 degrees W
East Lansing, MI:
​42.7370 N by 84.4839 degrees W

People refer to Michigan as “the mitten.” There’s a reason why they do. You need them. Winters are cold. And long. I’m writing at the end of April and last week we had an inch of snow. No one gets their hopes up above freezing until the middle of May. 

Oh, and Lower Michigan is a mitten-shaped peninsula, a wool-wrapped hand gently patting the frozen waters of the Great Lakes.

Michiganders do that thing where they hold up their hand in the shape of a mitten, fingers together, thumb out, and point to where they live. I swore I would never do that.

We bought our first home right in the middle of the mitten. Hold out your right hand facing away from you, fingers together, thumb out to the right and put your left pointer finger in the middle of the palm of your left hand. There we are. Dead center. Oops.

When I did the mitten thing for someone the very first time, my thumb, meant to be representing the Blue Water Area of Michigan (think Flint, Detroit, Motown, light houses, St. Clair River flowing into the largest fresh water delta in the world and driving south to Canada) pointed the wrong way. It was sticking itself into Lake Michigan instead of Lake Huron, looking to hitch a ride West (wait, is that right?).

I know, my hand’s backwards

I was inwardly rebellious of the entire lower mitten, not to mention the other one above it.

What’s the big deal with the cherries and the apples? I grew up in Eastern Washington with plenty of apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, pears and grapes. Washintonians also say “pop” instead of “soda” and we never drink either one with something called a Pastie (short “a” sound, not long). Trolls and Yoopers (no comment)? I tried it, and Superman ice cream is gross (Michiganders can throw some at the screen if you like). Can the Great Lakes compare with the Pacific Ocean? Why does everyone casually mention they’re going up North to their cabin for the weekend? What’s up there, and why does everyone have a whole other house, excuse me, cabin? Why can’t I just turn left without being forced to first turn right?! Do I have to love Sparty (my daughter fell in love the minute he mimicked her picking her nose at an MSU baseball game) or the Lions (I grew up loving Seahawks)? Will I need to learn Euchre (my husband’s family plays Pitch, for all you Nebraskans out there) or how to cross country ski?

Not           my            step

I eventually pulled my daughter close, got up from the top step of our deck, went upstairs and opened the bedroom window of our 1948-built home that first night, and almost every night after, because the air smelled good. Even though we lived in the middle of East Lansing in the middle of Michigan in the Midwest, that smell in the air was annoyingly, invitingly, invigorating.

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In Between

Acronym stands alone and credible.






in utter importance it discards the in-between.

free of further verbalization, independent of long vowels and

clunky consonants

that impede the progress of CAPITAL LETTERS.

acronym uses more ink for one loud fact

than all indispensable, indivisible in-betweens put together.

acronym assumes abbreviation is understood,

that ideas need nothing but skeletons.

large letters, quick, efficient, cool, savvy

have left neighborhood letters behind,

small ones that slow CAPITALS down,

inconsequentials that love to be to be pronounced,

that bring assonance and alliteration when spoken openly—given voice.

in-betweens shrivel and die in dark shadows between UPPER CASES—

big letters, suave and slick, with-it and quick,

forget how the word sounds, how the world sounds,

in the smallness at their feet.

acronym leaves behind

the curved bottom of y, the strong back of h,

the inclusiveness of o, the quiet invitation of b

to sit in a comfortable chair

and stay for t


I want to shout enough!


About the places that we board and we take and we squander.

The women crying out! Listen to them

The vulnerable, the small, the poor,

We steal their right to be.

To speak is to exist, to take up space, to complete the whole.


I want to have a tantrum like a toddler

Scream the hurt and pain that lingers.

Why do those in power get the voice?

Why do those with money get the choice?

The woman who sat with her coffee and her paper

The men with their boots and opinions

The women playing mahjong and bridge

They gather, they talk, they interview, they bring

Their family and sisters and brothers

And developers? They say it’s not enough.

Not enough money.

They say you are not enough!

The love of money is evil, he said, and he was right.

We love it so much we give those who have it the right

To decide

Where buses go, good produce, green parks.

The best streets, the most trees,

The beings we save and the beings we let die.


These words aren’t enough!

Why do we act from scarcity?

Why don’t you act scared of me?

I am the woman, the athlete, the mother

I speak for the little, the forgotten,

the soil, the air, the mammals warm and dying,

the children, the teenagers, the elderly.

They are our enough!

Give them food and shelter,

Give them beauty and plenty,

Hell, give them money, yes a minimum standard for everyone

to ease the burden, to lift the weight

So they can fly, their imagination, their ingenuity, their creativity

Their capacity

To love!

To experience this world in all its beauty!

Beauty is enough!

Why do we take land from native people and

native flowers and trees and birds and bears?

There is enough!

Stop reaching, stop taking, stop fighting,



Why aren’t the voices speaking for love

Amplified like the fear that we hear in the news

In the news, it is not enough, but here, right here

It is enough.


to turn the tide

To stop the hate and the violence and the unjust, the persecution and damning blindness.

ENOUGH I say to administrations that abuse and use and persecute and squander

The beauty that is the immigrant and the refugee,

And the dream that most Americans have woken from.

Enough! Enough guns for they fail

To make us safe, they replace

The words we need to speak

To hear where we hurt, where we are ignored and forgotten.

Walk into the garden, look at the pain the world is in

put your guns down, dig your hands in, sweat!

It is enough!

What words do I need?

Life is too short

Life is too precious

Life is found in forgotten streets,

in quiet meadows,

in trees growing through sidewalks,

in the apartments shoved out

and all the people who made their home

there stepped on, told to go.

Enough, I say,


Are you uncomfortable yet?

Is this Enough?

Your voice belongs here, too. Please,

an invitation to

Tell us your enough