Doctor’s (marching) orders

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I typed up notes for this post in a flurry of activity after I got home from the Womxn’s March and then decided not to finish and post it. Enough has been said on this topic, I thought. But then I said it out loud, finger poised to click “delete post” and I thought, as though someone else had spoken, “Are you fucking crazy?” So here it is: the gajillionth take on the Womxn’s March. My hot take: A) I was in Seattle and B) I was marching for women who aren’t much like me.

Also, I was there at the behest of my doctor.

Let me back up. My mom and I see the same doctor. We also have both been laid low by anxiety and creeping dread (and out-of-control emotional eating) due to the election. We have lost friends, stopped talking to relatives (in my case), and (in Mom’s case) stopped attending a once-vital club, all due to Trump and his spiteful minions.

Mom told our doctor about her feelings of helplessness and sadness at a recent visit and she prescribed activism. She said that taking action would help in a way that pills would not. She said that she and her husband and a group of friends were going to the Womxn’s March in Seattle and that we should come.

So we did.

We took advantage of the fact that most of  our neuroses are sort of like puzzle pieces (I can’t drive on the freeway, Mom can’t drive in Seattle – she has no problem with the freeway, I have no problem with Seattle) and worked around the ones we share (neither of us can drive in the dark, so we stayed overnight).

Still, we were both nervous. But being there together we were able to pretend that it was excited-nervous and not shit-imma-puke-nervous. (Or at least I did. Maybe Mom wasn’t faking. She’s a lot tougher than me. At some point during the march she told me that it wasn’t her first – she and my dad had marched for union rights a few years back and there had been police snipers on the rooftops!)

Stewart? What the fuck, Amanda. You’re on Jackson. In the International District. Where you used to work seven years ago?

The skyline and my mom (center, pink hat).

A post shared by Amanda Sterling Fink (@sterlingfink) on

White Feminism

But this was all we had to overcome: nerves. Not even full-blown clinical anxiety. (And I’ve been there. There was a time when I was having a panic attack a week while medicated. Now I haven’t had one in a year and it’s been five or more since I was weaned off my medication.) But other women were prevented by much bigger blocks: disability, inflexible jobs, lack of child care, or disapproving significant others. I decided to deal with my low-level anxiety and march for them. This mindset, in fact, was crucial in getting me over my nervousness.

When current events feel overwhelming and personal and the fear and confusion make me dizzy I try to remember that this is what it is like every day for women of color, indigenous women, disabled women, trans women, gay women. This is new for me but daily life for them. And I get angry on their behalf. I channel the anger into phone calls, emails, research, and tweets.

It took me a long time to come around to feminism in the first place (because like most people I had been lied to about it all my life) and after that to figure out what “white feminism” is. White feminism isn’t feminism at all. Feminism is an equality movement. It is named for the party that is being repressed in exactly the way that Black Lives Matter is. OF COURSE ALL LIVES MATTER THAT IS IN FACT OUR POINT. But in practice they do not matter equally and both feminism and Black Lives Matter work to address the inequalities.

White feminism is “feminism” that excludes non-white, non-straight, and or non-cis women. White feminism is just as bad as the GOP party line because it says “issues that have never personally affected me aren’t problems and should be ignored.” I do not believe that just because I, a straight white cis woman, have never experienced discrimination due to the color of my skin, my sexuality, or my gender identity, that it doesn’t happen to other people. When other people tell me that bad things are happening to them I do not respond “Well, they’re not happening to me, so you must be lying.” I respond “That fucking sucks, what can I do to help you?”

If your feminism isn’t for all women then it isn’t for any woman but you – and that isn’t feminism at all.

If you are white and a feminist (as opposed to a white feminist) here’s what you can do: you can use your privilege for good. In fact, I feel that I have a responsibility to do so. If I am closer to the goal I will claw and scrabble to get it and then happily hand it around.

As the amazing lady feral said on her tumblr “I also know that once all of these police-hand-shaking white ladies finish taking their cute activism selfies and put their pink pussy hats away in their keepsake boxes, they’ll pat themselves on the back and then they WILL leave the rest of us hanging. Maybe literally. They will retreat into the relative safety that being white and cis and straight gives them and leave trans women and disabled folks and black women and queers and nonbinary folks and sex workers out here flapping in the fucking breeze.”

I don’t want to be that asshole. I don’t want that on my conscience.

Next time there’s a smaller rally, maybe one that will have counter-protesters and more cops, I will do my damndest to figure out a way to attend. (I used to be a genius at bus schedules – I didn’t drive until I was almost 20) and I will use my whiteness and cisgender as a shield and march with women who need to be heard.

Something I cannot repeat enough is that back in the day the majority of white people thought that the civil rights marches and demonstrations like lunch counter sit-ins and the Freedom Riders were unnecessary, disruptive, and/or counterproductive and should be stopped. Now, of course, those same people claim that they were supporters all along. They may even believe that they were. I want to be on the right side of history from the get-go, thanks. I don’t want people of the future trawling through the archives of this blog and my Twitter and tsk-tsk-ing at my hypocrisy.

Getting Emotional

This was a very peaceful demonstration, and catered heavily to white women, but it was still a good start for me and a lot of other women who had never marched for anything in our lives. Though I knew this was sort of Activism Lite I still felt empowered because there were so fucking many of us (the latest crowd estimate I heard was 130,000 and only 50,000 were originally expected) and I still felt solidarity because there were women marching on all seven continents (yes, Antarctica, too) and in tiny little cities where a march of fifteen people made up 23% of the population.

Indigenous women led us (specifically Indigenous Women Rise) and I will follow them to hell because they are stalwart in the face of injustices I cannot fathom.

I didn’t cry until approximately halfway through the route, just after we had turned onto 4th Ave. I looked up at the classy Prefontaine Building, the monolithic Columbia Center, and the absurdly phallic Municipal Tower and I got a lump in my throat and my eyes burned. I was suddenly overcome by the sensation that our 130,000 person march was at least one short. I knew that my late mother-in-law would absolutely have been there next to me, had she been alive to attend. She would have had the loudest outfit, the biggest sign. She would have hooted and hollered and brought a mob with her from the Cascade foothills in a convoy of minivans. She would have thrown glitter on everyone who marched and thrown kisses at everyone who waved at us and flown the bird at the three (count ’em three, just three) counter-protesters.

 

What I Learned

This is physical work. I smiled the whole time (excepting the five minutes I choked back tears about my mother-in-law), but Jesus, it hurt. The route was just 3.6 miles, a length neither my mother nor I thought excessive – but because we were packed in like sardines we could not take normal steps. We shuffled. I took probably four tiny little mincing steps for every one stride I would have taken when walking anywhere else. We began our exit from the starting point, Judkins Park, at 11:00 am and we didn’t hit asphalt until 1:30 pm. And the whole time we shuffled. I wasn’t able to take a normal-length stride until somewhere on Jackson Street. And at that point I had been moving abnormally for so long that the muscles in my thighs and hips were clenched tight and shuffling was all I was capable of. I had walked 3.6 miles but I felt like I had taken 10 miles worth of steps – but in miniature. My legs didn’t really work right for the next two days. I had to get a new pair of jeans when I got home because the shuffling, combined with my rather generous thighs, rubbed right through the crotch of the jeans I wore to the march.

This was easy. (I know, I know, I just said this was hard. It can be both.) This was a sanctioned march on an approved route, fully permitted. There were portable restrooms every few blocks. The police officers who lined the route were mostly parking enforcement officers. Most intersections had just one officer each, just there to keep people from trying to drive up side streets and into the march. They leaned on their cars. They waved. The scene was dramatically different than the impromptu, non-permitted protests we saw the night before from our hotel window. There were a dozen cops per block, the protesters wore black, not pink, and most of them ran. There was a shooting on the UW campus, for fuck’s sake.

Liquid antacid is hard to find. They didn’t have it at WinCo or the IGA. I had to go to a proper pharmacy. (Liquid antacid containing aluminum hydroxide or magnesium hydroxide, mixed with water, is recommended for washing pepper spray out of your eyes.) I didn’t need it, but I wanted to have it on hand because if I (or someone else) needed it we weren’t going to want to wait for someone to run to a pharmacy.

130,000 people wearing Gore-Tex are very loud even when they are trying to be quiet.

— Amanda

P.S. I didn’t know where else to squeeze this in, so here, have a picture of a doggy that smiled for the camera when we were assembling in the park.

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P.P.S. I moderate my comments, motherfuckers. Nobody but support is gonna see your hate.

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My favorite lamb meatballs

img_0492_fotorOnce upon a time I wanted some nice tender lamb meatballs for dinner but I couldn’t decide which of the four recipes in my big bad recipe binder to use. So I pulled them all out and listed the ingredients I liked and left out what I didn’t. I doubled up on what I really liked and managed to forget to list an egg while I was at it. I mixed those ingredients up and baked them up and fucking loved them. (Even without the egg.)

img_0487_fotorTIPS: 1) do not use a mixer or food processor to combine the ingredients. The meatballs will be tough instead of tender. 2) I use a 2 tablespoon disher (like a giant melon baller crossed with an ice cream scoop) to portion out my meatballs so that they are uniform and then roll them between my hands so that they are round.

My favorite lamb meatballs

  • Servings: 4 normal people, 2 gluttons
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced onion
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchement paper.
  2. Combine all ingredients by hand. Shape into balls the size of a golf ball. Place 1-2″ apart on prepared baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes.

I like to serve these with The New York Times’ Rice Pilaf with Golden Raisins and a little dish of plain yogurt – or yogurt with a minced clove of garlic mixed in – and a mixed greens salad with a tart vinaigrette.

— Amanda

Write what you didn’t know you knew

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Used with no permission what-so-never! ©Andrews McMeel Universal

This is not an original sentiment, but it has been needling me lately, so I’m going to let it out.

“Write what you know” is misunderstood. People think that means that they can only write literally about their limited sphere of experience: that if they have never left America they can’t write about world-traveling spies. But I don’t think it refers to technical aspects. I think it refers to themes and relationships. I doubt George Lucas had personal experience with telekinetic space knights, but he did seem to know a thing or two about hope. I don’t think J.K. Rowling actually attended a secret wizarding school, but she does seem to have insider information on the importance of friendship and perseverance.

What do you know about? Woodworking? Bureaucracy? Ceramics? That’s nice, but it’s inessential. You can research those things. You can understand them pretty well without experiencing them. And you can freely invent space ships and elves – you don’t have to experience them at all.

So what else do you know know? What have you experienced or witnessed that you can really expound upon, that can be your theme? Poverty? Betrayal? Second chances? I know about being eccentric, about learning to improve oneself the hard way, about making mistakes, about being wracked by anxiety, about surviving depression. These are things I can dig into and live in for a whole book. I can say much more interesting things about these themes than I could by rattling off my technical knowledge of the behind scenes work of building public parks or even the sounds and smells of beekeeping.

What have you done in your life? (Or what has been done to you?) Look at your resume, think back over your life. Maybe you haven’t had a sweeping romance or a brush with crime or a death in the family. Maybe all you’ve had is a job at McDonald’s. Dude, you can still use that. Transform the people around you. The night shift manager that magically motivates everyone to give a damn in the face of the unending onslaught of drunk and otherwise shitty customers? That person can be your Gandalf, your Dumbledore, your Obi-wan. The petty little shit who shifts blame and weasels out of work and thinks they’re too good? That’s your book’s Draco Malfoy. Walter Mitty your life. (I don’t mean you should fall in with spies – I mean your should recast the people around you into fantasies.)

Do the same to your experiences and relationships. Remember that time you were mistaken for a local celebrity or wanted criminal? It’s a funny anecdote now, but really remember it. Remember the thrill? The terror? Remember imagining how cool (or burdensome) it would be to be that weather guy for real? Remember wondering how you were going to get out of going to jail when your phone and wallet were locked in your car so you couldn’t prove you weren’t the robber? That’s at least enough for a short story. Transform your close bond with your dog into a boy and his dragon or a girl and her assassin-bot. Fictionalize that comedy of errors from last year’s drunken thanksgiving into a Medieval farce. Get pretend space revenge on an alien version of that boss who sabotaged you to keep you from getting promoted.

You can research or invent places and technology and worlds and customs and just about everything. But Wikipedia can’t grant you substantive, nuanced insight into the human condition. You have to be like Star Trek’s Data: consult the ship’s computer whenever you can and for the rest of it – the interactions, the feelings, the relationships – you just have to throw yourself in and live.

— Amanda

Recipe roundup

recipe roundupMushroom Lentil Burgers from Cooking Light. It was difficult to divide this recipe to make a single serving (the ingredients include a whole egg for 4 burgers and a baggie of precooked lentils) but it was so worth it. There’s way more flavor in these patties than in any frozen-foods-section veggie patty I’ve ever tasted: very umami and filling without any pretense at being real meat. I’ll never go back!

Jeweled Rice Pilaf with Carrots from Food & Wine. This goes-with-everything side dish features not one, but two carbs (rice and broken-up pasta), as well as toasted nuts, fresh herbs, lemon, and roasted carrots. I made two substitutions: pine nuts for the almonds and golden raisins for the olives. This makes enough for an army so either cut it down or do as we did and have the leftovers as a main course the next day with diced meat and/or an egg on top and a salad of mixed greens.

Homemade Multigrain English Muffins from the Woks of Life. These nutty, simple, chewy get their whole-grain goodness from one of my favorite ingredients, 10-grain cereal. (I use Bob’s Red Mill because I can get it in bulk at WinCo.) They have this in common with one of my favorite sandwich bread recipes of all time, Amber Waves of Grain Bread. I made muligrain English muffins once before from a recipe which baked in the oven. These get fried in a skillet, more like “real” English muffins (which are made from a batter, rather than a dough and are cooked in rings on a skillet).

— Amanda

Off the charts

The diet charts, that is.

Two years after reading my first Geneen Roth book (Breaking Free From Emotional Eating) I am finally putting her good advice to work.

I have quit dieting.

Whoa, whoa, whoa – calm down! I didn’t say I was giving up on myself! I said I have quit dieting. There’s a big difference.

You know that tired old adage (misattributed to both Einstein and Franklin) that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result? Tired (and hard to source) as it may be, there is some truth to it.

This was, though not at all in those words, a large part of the gist of a book I recently read, Diets Make You Fat. I know the title sounds clickbaity but it turns out to be completely true. This refreshingly well-sourced book (Ah, nonfiction by someone who knows the difference between a long-term and short-term study and acknowledges that results from studies on rats do not necessarily indicate similar results would occur in studies on humans!) explains that what you’ve long suspected is true: dieting doesn’t work in the long term. 95% of dieters regain their lost weight or gain more than they lost. If the calories-in/calories-out math were as simple as we wish it were any jackass could lose and keep off their excess weight. But it’s not that simple. It’s dauntingly complicated. Too complicated to summarize here. It’s neuroscience. It’s hormones. It’s intestinal flora. It’s the snail speed of evolution vs the warp drive of civilization. Just read the book. It’s wonderful.

When I first (very noisily) read Breaking Free From Emotional Eating (“Oh!” “Ah!” “Yes!” “Finally!” “Ugh, so true!”) I actually cried a little. (Books almost never make me cry. Where the Red Fern Grows didn’t make me cry. Sadako and the Thousand Cranes didn’t make me cry. Sad books make me angry. I got recess detention for chucking Where the Red Fern Grows across the room when I finished it ahead of schedule in the third grade and then bellowed spoilers at my classmates.) But this wasn’t a sad book, it was a tragically relatable book. And yet, as moved as I was, and despite feeling like Geneen Roth was both my new best friend and a surrogate mother, I outright scoffed at the notion of intuitive eating. Let my body decide when and what and how much I should eat? Are you fucking kidding me? I can’t trust this meatsack! It’s ravenous and untrustworthy and hideous!

Two years later I read Diets Make You Fat, which says almost exactly the same things as Breaking Free From Emotional Eating – but fortified with SCIENCE™! I love me some science. But more importantly I trust science, and the science in this book seemed particularly trustworthy and sound. Anecdotes and personal experiences are interesting but they do not move me like science does.

So I was finally moved to give intuitive eating a try.

(A quick aside: intuitive eating, which goes by many interchangeable names such as mindful eating, attuned eating, and instinctive eating, is not about casting aside all nutritional knowledge and eating whatever and whenever and however much you want. It is about eating only when hungry and only until full – and if that sounds easy to you then you clearly don’t have overeating issues. I recommend this site to clear up any confusion you may have about this practice.)

Once you get over the hurdle of thinking that intuitive eating sounds like the worst possible thing a lifelong fatty could attempt you have to address the reason you think that: a lifetime of dieting and being browbeaten by “experts” and diet companies (who are usually owned by food companies who just want to sell you smaller portions at higher prices, and I know that sounds conspiracy-theory-y, but it’s totally true) has left you with the almost unassailable impression that your body cannot under any circumstances be trusted with anything ever. It doesn’t want to exercise when you know you must. It wants cookies when you know you must eat salad. But this isn’t your stomach you’re fighting with (barring a serious medical problem affecting your metabolic hormones). Your mind is fighting your mind. You know you would move your body but you don’t want to exercise because you are out of shape and it’s hard and you don’t like how you jiggle when you move. You want those donuts that asshole keeps bringing into the break room not because your sensible chicken and spinach salad wasn’t nutritious, but because your job is dissolving your will to live like acid and a cupcake would give you a few minutes of pleasurable respite.

You, no doubt, like the rest of us who have been battling our weight for decades, have been taught to ignore your body’s signals at all costs. Feeling hungry? IGNORE IT. Feeling tired? IGNORE IT. Feeling a craving? IGNORE IT. DRINK SOME WATER. DO SOME CRUNCHES. LOOK AT PHOTOS OF VICTORIA’S SECRET MODELS TO REINFORCE YOUR SELF-HATRED. BUY A $400 JUICER. DETOX. JOIN THIS SHAME CLUB AND WEIGH IN IN FRONT OF STRANGERS ONCE A WEEK AND TESTIFY IN GROUP LIKE YOU’RE A GODDAMN ALCOHOLIC BUT LESS DESERVING OF EMPATHY BECAUSE YOU AREN’T A “REAL” ADDICT, YOU FATTY.

*Ahem*

The very simple concept of eating only when hungry and stopping when full is made very difficult by  two things: 1) You probably have lost all concept of what physical hunger and satiety feel like, knowing now only ravenous, painful emptiness and distended, painful fullness and 2) You probably do not have the ability to discern between physical hunger and emotional hunger. (Do you need a sandwich or a hug? They aren’t interchangeable, as it turns out.) This is my new struggle. Learning to discern between these two kinds of hunger, observing where they overlap and what factors make them come and go, finding ways to soothe both, and getting in touch with the sensations of real physical hunger and fullness.

In poking around on other blogs and in forums I have found that the average person needs about a year to get the hang of this, to get back in touch with their metabolic intuition. I stopped counting calories (and using MyFitnessPal after logging in for 250 consecutive days and being a member since 2012) on August 5th, but I started to stray from my rigid food plan back in June. Since then (that is, June), I confess I have gained 16 pounds. There were a few weeks of crying jags and terror and frequent binge-eating as I second-guessed myself every other minute.

(I cannot understate the fear I felt in stepping off the socially accepted path of the great and mighty diet. I have never felt much of an urge to conform to the media’s image of the modern woman – I am an eccentric dresser, I prefer old things over new, I don’t shave my underarms or legs, I have a facial piercing at age 35, I am a life-long atheist, I have an awkward vocabulary, I have chosen to remain child-free, and I haven’t worn “real” makeup since I was in middle school. But I was as fanatically devoted to the Church of Dieting as any other member of that powerful cult. No matter how wacky I may have seemed to female coworkers or other women at parties, we always agreed on this one thing: we hated our bodies and struggled daily to punish them into socially acceptable shapes and sizes. It brought us together against all odds. Women who appeared to be physically repulsed by me as though we were opposite poles of a magnet were re-polarized when they overheard me lamenting a binge day or talking up my latest foray into punishing exercise. Women I wanted to strangle as they recited by rote their pastor’s latest long-winded sermon about the importance of women serving Christ by bearing children and submitting to the yoke of marriage AND NO OTHER MEANS WHATSOEVER were suddenly my besties when I overheard that they, too, had gotten that red-font notice from MyFitnessPal about their maintenance calorie level being below medically recommended standards – but if we went over by so much as fifty calories we’d gain a gosh darn (pardon my French) pound!)

However, I gained most of that weight over the course of August, after my official decision to stop dieting, and then the gain all but stopped in September. I weighed in this morning, for the first time since the 1st of September, and was stunned to find that despite a 3-day no-holds-barred eating fest on our anniversary trip (when I ate whatever the hell I wanted but tried not to eat unless hungry and to stop when comfortably full) and this being, ifyouknowwhatimean, the heaviest time of the month for me, I am only up two pounds. Shark week usually bumps me up 2 to 5 temporary pounds, so it’s actually possible that I didn’t gain any weight on our anniversary trip! I cannot, of course, be sure that I have reached my hang point already, but I do know that the panic has passed and I feel like I’m getting my feet under me. I have by no means mastered my eating intuition, but I am on my way. I can only hope that I will slowly lose weight from this point on, but I have to (and here’s another really hard part) learn to accept that I might never lose another pound.

Wut?

Yes.

Intuitive eating is not a weight loss diet. Intuitive eating is a healthy habit. A lifestyle. A method.

I may remain at this size for a long time. Perhaps forever. I have to remember that it is not true that there is a direct correlation between weight and health. As Dr. Aamodt explained in Why Diets Make Us Fat, you can be fat and healthy, and physical activity is more important for your health than your BMI, as it protects you against the hazards of obesity even if you are obese. There are obese Olympians, for fuck’s sake! So I have to accept HEALTH as my new life goal and reject the old false idol of THINNESS.

Easier said than done. But I’ll keep you posted.

— Amanda

Anniversary 2016

Longtime readers know that Matt and I save up all year for our annual getaway to Lake Crescent (home of the chair on the shore that I have declared my official happy place). We like to stay two nights so that we have at least one day where we are on the peninsula all day.

Clearly we haven’t yet tired of Lake Crescent (perhaps because there was that off year where we didn’t reserve in time and ended up at its sister facility, Lake Quinault) but the tricky part of returning to the same vacation spot every year is not taking the same pictures of the same stuff every year. But I enjoyed the challenge. This was also the first year I shot pictures entirely with a phone (baby’s first smart phone) and not the little old digital camera we received as a wedding present nine years ago.

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The view from the porch of our cabin just after check-in. We got cabin #21 again.

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Breakfast in the sunroom on our first morning. Omelets, fruit, potatoes, very sweet butter, jam, amazing English muffins, very good coffee. Seriously, I don’t know what was up with those muffins, but they were fucking awesome.

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Look. At. The. Color. Of. This. Water. I did not use a filter on this image. This is actually what the lake looks like from the Spruce Railroad Trail on the north side.

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Cool rock formations on the Spruce Railroad Trail.

L: A tree etched with lovers’ initials and other graffiti on the Spruce Railroad Trail. R: Naked madrones on the Spruce Railroad Trail.

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We thought that this massive, flat rock in the middle of the Spruce Railroad Trail looked like the ideal place for local witches to get together. (My mental image includes both athames and Starbucks, because this is the Pacific Northwest – although there isn’t a Starbucks for an un-fucking-believable 20 miles.)

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Albino slug???? We thought at first that this might be a super-duper light-skinned Banana slug (Ariolimax columbianus) but it was not the right shape at all and completely free of spots. It was, however, the right shape and size to be one of the more common Black slugs (Arion ater). Wikipedia makes it sound like white Black slugs are totes normal, but trust me, as a Pacific Northwestern native and a lifelong gardener I have seen more than my fair share of slugs and I had never seen a white one until this moment.

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Lake Crescent, afternoon of day two, with little white caps and a steady breeze.

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Churning water at the side of the MV Puyallup on our ferry ride home. I love this color.

— Amanda

Mickey

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My mother-in-law, Mickey. Matt took these pictures when he caught her, her sister Lyn, and the grandkids guerrilla gardening at his first house.

It’s been a year now since the untimely death of the my mother-in-law. My dad and I have always both said how we lucked out in the mother-in-law department. People traditionally hate or resent their mothers-in-law, but we married people whose mothers were welcoming and not adversarial, judgmental, or possessive.

I know how cliche it sounds to say that it seems like just yesterday that we drove through the Darrington 4th of July parade the day after her death, simultaneously smiling with joy at being alive and surrounded by friends and family, and as raw as if our hearts had just been belt-sanded. But I don’t know how else to phrase it.

I also don’t know how to adequately explain the feeling that she has been deleted. There’s no Mickey-shaped hole – there’s just no Mickey. She doesn’t call us, we don’t call her. She doesn’t holler “come in!” when we show up unannounced at her door. Her chair is still at the kitchen bar. Her name is still in our phones. One of her plants is thriving on top of one of my bookcases. Her husband still gets mail in her name. Her handwriting is still on the chore chart for the grandkids. Her jewelry is still in the bathroom. Her voice is still on the answering machine.

But she’s not there.

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Matt and his mom on his graduation day.

A year on, I have found a coping mechanism: when I start to feel that tightness in my chest after thinking about her for too long (like right now) I remind myself that over decades of official and unofficial counseling Mickey talked sense into a whole lot of people. I console myself with the thought that, in a world that has people like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and kids who kill their parents to hock their electronics for smack, there are also people who are in desperate times and might resort to desperate measures except that they stop and ask themselves “If Mickey were here, what would she tell me to do? What would she think of this bullshit plan?” She isn’t physically there to open her doors and let them crash in her back room, but she’s there in their minds, nonjudgmental, offering sage advice, keeping them calm: mothering.

I get it now, the line about how someone lives on in our hearts and minds. I thought that meant simply that we remember them, but now I see it means something more. We’ve all downloaded the Mickey algorithm and it’s still humming away and doing its work in our brains. She’s still mothering Matt and her grandkids and a host of kinfolk and near-strangers. And maybe they’ll unwittingly spread that benign virus, that natural vaccine against cruelty and malice and stupidity.

It’s a thought that doesn’t exactly ease the tightness in my chest (in fact, sometimes it brings on a lump in my throat and a prickly behind my eyes) but it does change the tone of my feeling from bewildered to hopeful.

— Amanda