Amuse Bouche



In keeping with my intention to share the writerly process and occasionally post an excerpt from the novel-in-process, still tentatively titled One Dish at a Time: a Story of Family, Forgiveness, and Finding One’s Place at the Table, I decided it was time to post another one. (The first two are here and here.)

The question of what to choose was answered for me when recently assigned by Jeffrey Davis to share the first five hundred words of our book with the other participants in his eight month long author’s mentorship program.

This was the first declaration of the beginning of the actual container that will hold this story, and was the first step in being able to start assembling the many pieces and scenes and conversations – both past and present – into what I hope will eventually be a coherent and captivating whole.

So in the spirit of writerly courage, here you have the first draft of the first five hundred words:






Amuse-bouche: noun \ˈä-ˌmüz-ˈbüsh, from the French meaning “entertaining the mouth.” A single-bite appetizer or hors d’oeuvre that sets the tone or theme for the meal that will follow.



Bea’s grandmother made bread every Wednesday. After school, when she and Alice walked – or more typically ran, bursting through the kitchen door with the slap of the screen door behind them – into the house, it was to be enveloped by the heady aromas of baking and heat. Bea would sit on a tall stool by the massive butcher block, watching the choreography of her grandmother’s hands and the moving ball of dough. “You just get a feel for it in time,” she’d say.


* * *


Every time Tyler smelled freshly baked croissants he thought about Octavia.

As the years went by, he got to know the shape and texture of his grief in such a way that he could almost feel it, pliable and soft, but ever-present with a tenacious solidity.


* * *


Alice breathed deeply and caught a whiff of the Plumaria blossoms near the steps – that faintly spicy, faintly sweet combination that brought her comfort. The scent that welcomed her home after a long day or occasional week or more away for a photo shoot. It was the scent she had first encountered when she stepped off the plane at the Honolulu airport; the woman walking ahead of her was greeted by a group of friends, one of whom placed a lei of creamy white flowers around their returning friend’s neck. When she later saw the Plumaria tree growing next to the porch of a cottage she was looking to rent, she knew she had found her new home.


* * *


Michael eased himself down onto the step of his airstream as the sun was just beginning to dip down and color the western horizon of the far hills. He groaned slightly and then coughed. It had been a long day of pulling a stubborn engine out of a Studebaker, and he wasn’t as young as he used to be. He coughed again, ran a hand through his graying hair. He took a long drink from the cold beer and sighed with satisfaction. He never got tired of this view, of so much sky that held so many stars to look at in the middle of the night when he couldn’t sleep. He was glad he found this place on the periphery of town and beyond the reach of the lights that obscured the stars.

He coughed again.


* * *


Bea sits at table on the deck, overlooking the greenway and beyond it the river, with stacks of recipe books and her laptop and an indulgent mid-afternoon glass of wine. She picks up a fawn-colored file folder with long-ago notes and scribbling on food-stained pages; the remnants of her months in culinary school. She slowly turns over page after page, looking for a clue, an idea, an inspiration from these ghosts from her past.

     Goddamn it, she thinks. I need a plan.


Autumn Equinox


So, here in the Pacific Northwest, autumn is starting to make itself known – in the cool mornings, bright sunny days without the scorching heat, the coloring of leaves, the winding down of the garden. The mornings will soon start to occasionally be blanketed in fall.

The equinox is that liminal tipping point that comes twice a year, when day and night are in equal balance on the teeter-totter of the year. It is that moment’s pause before the balance shifts toward the light in spring or toward the dark in fall. It signifies the ending of the harvest season, the time to take stock of the abundance we have received and the remnants of which we will carry into and through the winter; likewise what we leave behind to feed the soil for next year’s planting.

And it is also the time of year for reflecting on the personal seeds we planted earlier in the year, and what those seeds yielded. It is the time of year when we begin to take stock of what we have been able to harvest – what we have achieved, accomplished, realized – and what seeds never managed to sprout or thrive, maybe even despite our best efforts.  It is time to celebrate what we have been able to produce and glean, as well as release our grip on what didn’t come to fruition.

So, with that in mind, I offer up a writing prompt:

Reflect on the seeds you planted earlier in the year – which of them bore fruit and which lay fallow? What do you celebrate from this year’s harvest, and what must you simply release?


“In holding these two in tension we are reminded that in our letting go we also find abundance.” – Christine Valtners Paintner


(I have written more and have shared others’ wise and inspiring words about the autumn and its equinox here.)





One (more) Dish at a Time

Raw coriander, garlic and flax on vintage desk

The first excerpt of the novel-in-process was published last spring (with much thanks to  Marisa Goudy for giving me the nudge and the venue). It was anxious-making and exciting to see it out in the world as a Real Thing, even virtually, and I decided I would post more bits and pieces as I went along.

Since that first excerpt, I have doubled my page count (up to over two hundred pages, though I know there’s still quite a ways more to go on a first draft that has yet to be subjected to the editing and shaping process), and have added to the working title. For now at least, it’s:

One Dish at a Time: A Story of Family, Forgiveness, and Finding One’s Place at the Table

And now I am in the midst of a several-month online mentorship program with Jeffrey Davis and Tracking Wonder which is helping propel me through this process. Their encouragement, too, reminds me that I said to myself I would share more of the process with you, too.

So, here is another draft excerpt. Hope you like it.

     “Did you know that if you hold the end of a piece of string to your nose with one hand and take the string in the other hand and stretch it out straight to your side, that piece of string will measure one yard?” Michael Smithson’s face held a grin and look that made Bea think of a magician that once did an assembly in her school. “Although you’re still a little small, you might have to turn your head and stretch the other arm back some,” he added. “Shall we see?”

     Bea’s father just happened to have a small ball of string in his jacket pocket (of course), and demonstrated how it was done.

     “How do you know that’s a yard?” asked Bea with small-child skepticism.

     “Hah! I tried it once and then measured the piece of string,” her father replied. “I don’t have a measuring tape on me, I don’t think,” patting his pockets to be sure, “but look, remember how I showed you once that the tiles here in the kitchen were twelve inches across? How many feet is twelve inches?”


     “Good. And how many feet in a yard?”

     Bea squinted in concentration. “Three?”

     “Yes ma’am. Good work. Any chance you know how many inches in a yard, then?”

     Bea squinted her eyes almost closed, trying to make a number appear in her mind. She opened her eyes and shook her head.

     Her father laughed, “That’s okay, sweetie, that’s a hard question and more math than you’ve done yet. I’ll show you on paper later, draw it out for you so you can see it. For now, though, let’s measure. See? This is how it’s done. Now take this end – hold onto the string right where my fingers were so we get it right – and put it at the corner of the tile there at your feet. Now don’t let it move.” Bea squatted down and did as instructed, being small-child-careful to be precise. She watched as her father took the other end and, laying it along the edges of the tiles, until it was a straight line, just past the corner of the (one, two, three) third tile. Bea’s eyes opened wide like she’d seen a magic trick, was waiting for the string to suddenly change into a strand of knotted, colorful scarves.

     Her Father smiled, triumphant. “See? Pretty neat, isn’t it?”

     “But it’s more than three feet….well, just a little” she hurried to add, seeing her father’s eyebrows raise and not wanting to hurt his feelings.

     “Right you are. Using a body ruler – that’s what they call it – is good for approximate measurements. You know what approximate means, right?”

     “Almost?” Bea answered, her voice raising into a question with uncertainty.

     “Yes! Almost, or more-or-less, or close enough to count. You couldn’t build kitchen cabinets that way I don’t think – we could try it though. Think your mother would mind?” Bea giggled. “Now, let’s check your body ruler.” He handed her the string and she copied what she’d watched him do. The results were a little short of three feet.

     “Try again, and this time turn your head toward the side of the hand that’s on your nose, and stretch your other hand back as far as you can.”

     This time the measurement was almost three feet.

     “Approximately,” said Bea, smiling.

     “Exactly right. Now, no matter where you are, you’ll be able to measure a yard of anything you can hold like that in your hands. Back in the olden days, women used to measure fabric that way for the clothes they made. I remember watching your grandmother do it when I was about your age.” He wound the string back into its ball and returned it to his pocket. “There’s lots of these kinds of measurements. I’ll teach you more of them if you’d like sometime.” Bea nodded enthusiastically. It felt like she and her father now shared some kind of important secret. She could hardly wait get home to show her sister.


     Bea hadn’t thought about that afternoon in years. But she realized she had committed all the “body ruler” measurements her father had taught her to memory and used them often. Just now, she had unwound a length of kitchen twine and, knowing from experience that to tie a pork shoulder roast of this size required about three feet of string, put the end to her nose and reached her other arm out, reaching back and turning her head to give her a bit of extra to work with, then cutting it with her kitchen shears. She bound the piece of meat into a nice, even cylinder; she recalled as she was tying the ends together that it had been her father who had also taught her a lot about knot tying. That was the summer before he left. It was a lesson that had been left unfinished, for he knew more knots than he had shown her. It had been hard for Bea to make her seven-year-old fingers work together right, but he had said it just took practice, that she had good slender knot-tying fingers and when her hands got a little bigger and stronger she could probably even enter knot-tying competitions. What a bullshitter, Bea thought to herself, shaking her head.

     But she realized she loved knowing practical things like tying knots and being able to measure things without having to first stop and scrounge in a drawer or toolbox for a ruler or tape measure. For example, she knew the span between her thumb and little finger, when she opened her palm wide, was eight inches. Handy (no pun intended) to know when picking a pie or cake pan out of the cupboard and wanting to be sure whether or not it was eight or nine inches (or ten, for that matter. She could determine an inch or two beyond her hand span).

     Bea placed the roast in the oven, wondering what more her father would have taught her if he’d stayed.

Finding Words


I am a writer. Words and stories are the internal thrumming of much of my life. Yet in the face of still more acts of unthinkable physical and spiritual destruction, an accumulation  to our collective pool of anger, divisiveness, hatred and violence, I have been at a loss for words.

I, like many people  – of all skin colors, nationalities, backgrounds, religions and occupations – search to find a way toward a sort of equilibrium. A place from which we can finally have the long-overdue conversations, and correctly demand the needed changes to help heal the broken parts of our world.

Fortunately, there are many who are finding words and giving voice to this deep need. Some I know personally, many I have never met; all help buoy my aching heart a little, and I am extremely grateful to them all. Here are two:

  • Krista Tippett, who is thoughtful and wise and is never afraid to look at the hard questions with a heart full of compassion.
  • My friend Suzy Banks Baum, who has the ability to bring forth things that are important with a laser-sharp, deep-hearted elegance.

And there are so many more.

I invite you to find those voices that speak to our best selves, not those that try to keep us hamstrung and hopeless with fear; that challenge us to look deeply into our own hearts and ask the hard questions – with compassion – that will lead us toward real and lasting change, into a healthier world in which we all have a place.

One Dish at a Time


So, today (thanks to the generosity of Marisa Goudy) marks the publishing of the first excerpt of my novel!  There, I’ve said it out loud – I have called it a “big hot mess of a fiction piece” as recently as a year and half ago, but not too long after, at the end of a five day intensive workshop with Jeffrey Davis and Tracking Wonder, I found myself willing to say that yes, I was actually working on a novel. In the time since then there have been scenes sketched, characters poked and prodded to see who they were and what they were about; there was a blooming of sorts, like a picture coming gradually into focus. You can read this short excerpt here.

I have carried this story in fits and starts for a long time, but haven’t ever been able to simply walk away from it: This story of family, of the struggle to understand and forgive; of the connections and anchors that come through food; the physicality of cooking, of the stories and shared experiences that get passed down through the generations, that weave family members together whether they like it or not; of finding one’s own place in the world. For some reason this story has captivated me, so I have to think that there are readers who might likewise be captivated by it. I hope so anyway.

I printed it out the other day, and yowza, I had a stack of a bit over a hundred pages of text! Well what the hell…. that’s not huge, but it means I am definitely a good way into a first draft; further than I’d anticipated, more substantial in its still-growing parts than I’d thought. A good thing.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have set myself the goal of having the first draft done by the end of the year. It is time for me to settle in and write this. Seriously. I have just signed on for an eight-month mentorship program with Jeffrey Davis and Tracking Wonder, which will help me focus and direct my trajectory toward that goal.

Last week I  finished a five week “hammer & nails” novel workshop with Jennifer Springsteen and PDX Writers, and there were some significant breakthrough moments – including  A WORKING TITLE! Even though the title may change and change again before it’s in print (note the optimism, there?), for now One Dish at a Time suits me just fine. A title makes it real, right?

I’ve decided I am going to post snippets and scenes every so often here, just to keep the tease and hopefully the interest (of you, dear readers) sparked and alive. Also to keep me accountable, for this is a fairly daunting project. But it needs to be written. I really believe that. I like and have stake in these characters, so I need to tell their stories. So, here’s the first published bit. Thank you very much to Marisa Goudy and #365StrongStories for honoring me with a place at their table.

I hope you come back and read more as it’s posted, here. And leave me your thoughts down there in the comments box.

Book Release!

It has been a long time since I have posted anything (there is a New Year’s Resolution looming, I’m sure of it), though it has been a busy early autumn of writing and puppy-raising – but the book has arrived! It landed in my hands a few weeks ago, and on the shelves at Powell’s not too long after. More locations to follow.

But for now, as promised, your invitation to the release and party! Come say hello, meet some of the makers, help us celebrate this most amazing book. I couldn’t be more proud to have been a part of this project (yes, that is my name below Kelley’s on the cover).

Portland Made Poster

Portland Made is on its way!

Okay, time for a little shameless self-promotion:

The upcoming book, Portland Made: New American Makers of the Manufacturing Rennaisance is due to hit the shelves in December. I have seen a draft, and oh my it’s really exciting to finally see it in its close to finished form! It is inspiring, and makes me appreciate this city even more (and no, not just because I got all giddy seeing my name and my words in print, either, though I admit that was quite the thrill!). I am truly honored to be a contributing writer for this book – I had such a great time meeting and interviewing some of the folks profiled in the book, getting the chance to tell their stories.

Author Kelley Roy has just launched a crowd funding campaign, to help defray some of the costs – much of which has come out of her own pocket – of this wonderful project.

So please, take a look, here – if nothing else, it will tell you a bit about the book and the process and hopefully inspire you to buy it when it comes out at the end of the year.  Or, maybe you’ll be inspired to donate, which would be great too.

And stay tuned – you’ll all be invited to the official release at Powell’s!


Learning to Discern

ArtMark - office floor 1

I have always been curious, always loved learning new things. Was able to read from a very early age, and in high school and college inevitably opted to do a research paper over a final exam when the choice presented itself.

It took me five years to get my undergraduate degree, for goodness’ sake! I discovered when I examined my transcript at the end of my junior year that my credit hours were evenly split between four departments (as I recall, English was one in this grouping, no surprise). “Your problem – and it’s not really a problem – is that you have too many interests.” This, from my college advisor and mentor. He was right, and I ended up graduating with some enormous number of credit hours; a major (Art) and a double minor (Psychology and Social Science).

What happened to English, you may be asking? An unfortunate experience with one of my professors who (falsely) accused me of plagiarism, turned me away from that path (he has since passed away and it’s of no use to speak ill of the dead so I will let it lie) – but in truth I turned away, no one made me. It is almost laughable now, to think I could be so swayed by one person’s action or opinion. I often wonder how my personal movie would have played out had I put English at the top of the academic roster. Not a regret, but a definite curiosity, as I learn many years later about things like story arc, etc., that are probably the bread and butter of English majors, certainly of MFA students. (My beloved mentor at the time said that with an MFA and a quarter you could get a cup of coffee – tells you how long ago this was – so I opted to not pursue an advanced degree. What would have happened if I had?)

I am a bright-shiny-thing magpie when it comes to information and books.

I am a big fan of webinars, seminars, podcasts, workshops, classes, downloadable PDFs. My capacity is nearly endless, to the point of near-overwhelm. A free webinar? Sign me up! Generative writing workshops? Love them.  In my most recent attempts at decluttering, I took myself seriously to task over the accumulated paper file folders stuffed with information and things I was sure I want to keep for reference and referral. My inbox and computer files are abundant with articles, ebooks, interviews, essays, blog posts about one thing or another, much of it about writing. Or much of it good writing that I want to read.

I am an information hoarder. There, I’ve said it. And I can justify it any number of ways, especially being a writer; like I used to be able to justify pack-ratting all sorts of odds and ends and ephemera when I was actively doing collage. But seriously, it is past time for me to learn and apply the gentle art of discernment a bit more.

I have been writing one thing or another since I first could take a pencil and ride the waves of those cursive loops on those cardboard strip running along the upper edge of the blackboard in  every elementary school class of my childhood. And before I could write? I dictated stories to a willing parent, who dutifully transcribed it onto a piece of newsprint that had been stapled into pages, which I would then illustrate. I claim that now as my first foray into the world of self-publishing. So precocious.

In 2008, after having had a story about a local youth farming project published in a local magazine, I caught the bug to turn my attention again in a more directed way toward writing. What followed was a series of workshops and classes – both in person and online – that generated a cornucopia of snippets and bits for larger pieces, and put me more determinedly on the path of being a writer. It all started with a food-themed series with Cultivate Clarity (originally Ibex Studios), out of which spawned a monthly writing group that has morphed and changed members, self-published an anthology and still amazingly continues to meet monthly in a smaller, more focused version of itself nine years later. I have explored and added more workshops of all sorts, both in person and online. Two (so far) ten-day, 1000 words/day “boot camps” and some private coaching from creative firebrand (and I mean that in the best possible way) Max Regan;  an intense weekend of writing with Ariel Gore; two out-of-town multi-day intensives – one with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and one with Jeffrey Davis; most recently an ongoing series of poetry workshops with my good friend Claudia Savage. IMG_2906

It is a trajectory that has barely slowed, once it started in earnest; though there have been no extended out-of-town workshops this year, but I have made up for it with multiple (and sometimes simultaneous) online and local ones. And now I am enmeshed in an accumulation of generated rough draft bits and pieces that could keep me busy for years, questions and “assignments” barely completed or not-yet approached. And still, I am thinking about future out of town forays – including the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) workshop facilitator training – and some personal retreats.

Magpie, like I said.

I am in need of some serious discernment.

And yet, I have absolutely no regrets about how I have done all this so far. Quite the contrary: I have not only stepped out of my comfort zone, I kicked down a lot of the walls along the way. But kicking down the walls has meant I had almost no boundaries, no door I could close when I’d had enough for awhile. It was a classic pendulum swing. So now I need to discern what I do and do not need for this next chapter (writing pun intended). I don’t need more. I need more focused. I need to slow down and stay with a story, a poem, the book, and delve more into the gristle and meat of it. Even the scary heart of it. But I long for that now. It’s time for that now. Hence, the personal retreats. I am finding a certain lack of time to circle around and settle into that flow (an adolescent puppy is a lot like a human toddler, and my appreciation for those moms who are also trying to maintain a creative life has once again grown ten-fold. I bow deeply to you). I am astounded, week after week, what can be gleaned from an uninterrupted two-hour poetry class, with eye- opening, mind-opening, heart-opening inspiration and prompts, what juicy and evocative bits and launching-off points can be discovered. What if I could bring that presence to my desk every day? I am on the threshold of 150 days into #continuouspractice – which astounds me no end – but it is time to make even that more mindful, more specific, more directed.

I have thrown down the gauntlet for myself. Pretty exciting stuff, because it’s time. If I have learned anything, it’s that timing is everything.

I have started learning more about the characters in my book. I like them. And the more I know, the deeper the story becomes. I like that too. So stay tuned. More will come. And for those of you who are wrestling with creative projects of one sort or another, stay with it – it is the most important work you can do.

But I think discernment is the key.

100 Days of Discovering Continuous Practice (and counting)

IMG_5364 A few months ago I accepted Saundra Goldman’s invitation to join her #continuouspractice project. It is a group whose members strive to post a photo each day that reflects a dedicated ongoing practice; for most it is about writing, but there are also photographers and a runner, and still others who simply make a point to be present to the world around them and document that practice with a photo. We are a supportive community of like-minded strangers; we come together on the pages of Facebook from all over the globe, aligned in the determination to mindfully establish a disciple of regular attention to our chosen activity.

Do some of us miss the occasional day? Do I? Oh hell yes. But this is not another rigid taskmaster exercise that becomes an easy set-up for failure and self-recrimination – every day is a new day. There is something, however, about the intention of posting a daily photo of one’s work that lends itself to a certain accountability. Not a bad thing.

I have missed the occasional day, but less often than I would have thought. You see, the momentum and practice of showing up every day becomes sort of self-perpetuating. I miss writing if a day goes by without it. Sitting down to the desk with pen and paper or keyboard has become a sort of coming home, one that deeply satisfies (even as I sometimes wrestle mightily with the muses of fiction and poetry, not to mention my own internal critics). And that is the point really. The showing up, come hell or high water. A sink of dirty dishes, lack of sleep, requests from family and friends, to be given their due, but not given all. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Twenty minutes is the suggested minimum, but truly, even ten minutes a day, every day – and like the birds who somehow know the feeder is full of seed, the muses will come by and pay a visit. It is a creative anchor upon which we can hinge our days. It is no small thing, even though perhaps a small amount of time. It is a stand for our own creative worth.

Some days I write a little, some days a lot. Sometimes it is a letter to a friend (yes, I do write letters, on paper and in envelopes with stamps), journal entries to myself, work for a freelance client, work on my own creative projects. Or some combination of these. It just has to be something. 

Earlier this month I  up-ed the ante and took part in Max Regan’s online “Boot Camp” (actually for the second time). Daily prompts, lessons and encouragement; writing 1000 words/day. For ten days. Put my head up after that marathon and lo and behold, I had cranked out 10,000 words! All rougher-than-rough draft, the point is to establish the practice of showing up. Every day. It’s frankly exhilarating. Some of it is well worth keeping, some of it’s pretty much drivel, but a lot is in between, and has potential.  But again, the point is the Practice. In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott has a lot to say about the reality, if not the value, of shitty first drafts. I still struggle with scheduling time to write. I still find ways to procrastinate, derail myself. It’s why they call it Practice. But. With very few days missed, today I posted the photo for Day 134 in #continuouspractice. That is something.

Oh, and the photo above includes a bowl of some sort of salad creation of the day. Not 134 days of cooking necessarily, but creating dishes with an assortment of ingredients on a regular basis satisfies me in similar ways to creating bodies of written work with an assortment of words.

Creativity taking several paths, in my life.

(no accident that the protagonist in the ongoing book project loves to cook, and that the entire story is interwoven through a multi-course meal that she is asked to create. Curious? Stay tuned.)

I’m in a Book!!


Here it is, the cover image of the book for which I am Contributing Writer- woohoo! (is “woohoo” too unprofessional? Do I care?)

I have been sitting on my hands for months not spilling the beans to  everyone I know, anxiously waiting for the official press release that would signal my ability to finally tell the good news and help spread the word about the book.

As some of you know, for the last several months I have been writing profiles of some of Portland’s innovative makers of one-of-a-kind products and innovative businesses for the Portland Made Collective website; some of those (and more besides) are part of Kelley Roy’s new book Portland Made: New American Makers of the Manufacturing Renaissance. 

You can preorder the book starting July 1st. It is scheduled to hit the shelves sometime in the fall of 2015. I will keep you updated here, definitely! Everyone should get a copy (no, I don’t get royalties, I’ve already been paid – I just think it’s going to be a great and inspiring book).

It has been a blast, talking with such a creative bunch of people, hearing their stories, being caught up in their infectious enthusiasm for what they’re creating. The challenge is keeping each profile within the desired word count! It is amazing to discover the thrum of creativity that is hived here in Portland. Come to find out, Portland is one of the leading, driving forces of the Maker Movement, of the redefining of American Manufacturing. Pretty exciting stuff. I’m really quite pleased and honored to be a part of spreading the word.

To find out more about this book and Portland’s Maker Movement, click here.