From the Heart to the Hands: The Final Push

Trigger Warning: This post is part of a series related to domestic violence. The truth is that domestic violence is ugly, uncomfortable, and often brutal. This will read much along the same lines. If you are sensitive to the topic you might just skip to the bottom of this post.

If you have been following along throughout the From the Heart to the Hands donation drive (in honor of my biological mother who was killed by her partner when I was a girl), you know that Domestic Violence and Assault Services of Whatcom County serves thousands of people in my Tiny Town every year. Consider that the number of phone calls and direct services they handled amounts to roughly 10% of my hometown's population... and that's just those who find their assistance. My mother saw no relief from the unrestrained effects of her lover's tendency toward violence. If you've been following along, you know that healing from the tragedy losing my mother in this way is just one part of my motivation for this donation drive.
The other is my firm belief that all families deserve to feel safe and to be healthy. People working with DVSAS are heading to brighter futures framed by these premises, and I want desperately to provide this organization--which does so much for my community--respite from the constant need that nonprofit organizations typically face. Providing them several totes of items directly from their published list of wants and needs will help to seal financial gaps in provision, while also painting silver linings on the experiences of the clients they will distribute them to during some very challenging times.
When my mom died and my dad and stepmom (neither of whom I knew) got custody of me, I was given a coloring book to occupy me as they drove me "home" across state lines. I am 34 years old and still remember coloring pictures of Cinderella; tracing the sections with careful attention, gently etching back and forth with the crayons, focusing on something other than my dead mother and all of the uncertainty ahead.
I want every child who needs one to have a box of crayons and a coloring book to sink into when the grownups in their lives create heavy things for them to process. I want for every woman who will feel the sting of her face breaking under the pressure of her lovers' knuckles to have a journal to record both no-contact order violations, and the journaled words that will eventually come to heal her. I want for the staff at DVSAS to have the printers, thumb drives, and other tools they need to perform their invaluable work. And I want, perhaps more than anything, for the results of this drive to illustrate that my mother's life was not lost in vain. Here, her death helps others.
By the start of week two of her three-week hospital stay my mother had the entire left side of her body casted from the shattering force of her collision with the car her boyfriend crushed her with. Her lungs were collapsing; she developed pneumonia. Her liver was fighting to function; her kidneys were failing. She had a tracheotomy tube, several blood transfusions under her belt, and the blessing/curse of periodic consciousness through it all. Because her brother was born deaf, my mother and our family were fluent in ASL. We each had the opportunity to visit and speak with her this way before she died. We learned the events of that night and about the pain she was in, and then we said goodbye. The severity of her injuries took her at the age of 25. She left behind two daughters who came to understand life filtered through violence and colored by the repetition of our own experiences with it.
It makes sense that I would go on to do this work for other women.
This is the last image ever recorded of my mother. In it, you can see the tangible effects of violence in her life and therefore in mine. It is devoid of the color, the life, the emotion, and the personality that Lynn carried with her in her short life. It fails to convey the passions she enjoyed, the devotion she had toward her daughters, and the love she carried for her friends and family; nor does it illustrate her beauty, her will, or her strength. But I can assure you, she encompassed all of these things.
So now I am asking readers, community members, friends, and strangers to help me through one final push in my mission to collect the needed items for DVSAS. Please follow the facebook event here, LIKE the blog's corresponding facebook page here for updates, and support the work of similar organizations wherever you may find yourself if you are so inclined. I will be at the collection spot during these remaining time slots: 
Wednesday, 4/23, 5-7pm
Friday, 4/25. 5-6:30pm
Saturday, 5/3, 11-1pm
Consider taking a look at the list of needs in this post to get an idea of what would be useful. Thank you to all of you who have come out already, to those businesses who have offered incredible gifts, and to all of you who have shared with me your stories of tragedy, healing, and hope. Your gifts are varied and vast, and your resilience commendable. 

In peace.   

Something Better to do with Peeps than Eat Them.

It's that time of year again. In addition to fake plastic grasses that will kill your cats, the brightly-colored overpriced plastic crap from China packaged in cellophane, the Easter Bunny that shits out little jelly bean eggs (gross), and the disgustingly sweet descendance of the Cadbury Creme Egg, it's time for grandparents the country over to send their little lineages packages stuffed with the sickest of sugary treats... Peeps.
When I was a kid I would devour them. I loved the way the sugar left furry little sweaters on my teeth, the way the grains of dyed sugar crunched between my tiny teeth, and of course, surreptitiously biting of the tiny chocolate dotted eyes. Now, however, as an adult with dental insurance and a fondness for oral hygiene, I can't stand the thought. When I see them lining the endcaps at the stores I shiver. For just  $1.29 you, too, could have kids foaming at the mouth, getting the sugar shakes, and leaving a sticky trail of destruction in their wake. A confectioner's manifesto incarnate, those little bastards are a mother's worst nightmare.

UNLESS... You make Peep-Doh with them. This fully edible (though my boys seemed way more interested in playing with it than eating it) activity is an exercise in science, art and cooking, took literally five minutes to make, and even leaves skin feeling silky soft (weird, right?) afterward thanks to the secret ingredient. Aspen and Birch played together with the Peep-Doh for an hour this morning, and I hope your kids enjoy it too!
Coconut Oil
Powdered Confectioner's Sugar
Glass bowl
Sprinkles, chocolate chips, food coloring, or other edible add-ins are optional
First I let the kids pack the Peeps in the bowl. Next, we added about a tablespoon of coconut oil and popped the bowl into the microwave for 30 seconds. Next, let cool until the melty birds are lukewarm to the touch. Once cool, begin to add powdered sugar. This is a great sensory based activity where kids can do it all. Birch smooshed and squished and squeezed the concoction until it was the perfect doughy consistency, and Aspen and I worked together to make his. If it's too sticky, just keep adding sugar. If it's too dry, add more melted coconut oil. Add some cookie cutters, a rolling pin, or other kitchen gadgets to the mix and you've got a whole new way to enjoy Peeps that's actually, you know, enjoyable (because those things are actually disgusting).
Peeps post-meltdown.

Well that's ironic.
Once it's all done, simply spray down the surface with some DIY grapefruit cleaning spray and you're good to go. Enjoy!

When Life Hands You Grapefruit...

When we received word we'd be getting a delivery from a Fruit of the Month club as a holiday gift from a friend, though it was slightly reminiscent of the Jelly of the Month club bonus Clark Griswold received and we couldn't tell whether we were being punked at first, we were excited about having a box of fun food delivered to our doorstep. So far we've recieved pears (which I made crockpot GAP {ginger apple pear} Butter with), pineapples (which we grilled in a delicious teriyaki glaze and enjoyed with chicken), oranges (plain devoured), and six plump, deliciously sweet grapefruits. I have made it my goal to waste as little foodstuff as possible so the grapefruit found itself first devoured in fleshy, juicy bite-size chunks, and then I turned the byproduct into FOUR awesome life-extending creations.

The first one was a simple stovetop simmer of grapefruit peels, cinnamon, and water. I left it on the range for hours, turned to the lowest degree simmer possible, and let it fill my house with the smell of clean comfort.

The second is a byproduct of the byproduct simmer... Is that like a double negative? Anyway, blending the aromatic pulp down to a puree makes it a perfect addition to any number of inexpensive body scrub recipes I utilize. The smell creates a great pick-me-up in an energizing morning shower, while the cinnamon helps to reduce acne-causing bacteria and exfoliate dead skin cells.
 The final two creations come in tandem, and are an incredible blend of house cleaning awesomeness fit for the dirtiest jobs. Using simple nontoxic ingredients and a little bit of leftover citrus, you too can create this easy cleaner that your children can literally drink if they wanted to--which they won't, unless they happen to be weirdos with a constant hankering for pickles doused in citrus air freshener, and who has that?
Rinds of six citrus fruits
Cinnamon oil (if desired)
1 gallon distilled vinegar
Airtight glass storage containers (I use mason jars)
Spray bottle(s)
Cheesecloth (though I found a mesh produce bag worked well)
Total cost: < $3
Simply stuff the rinds into the jars leaving headroom to fill with vinegar. Secure lids and put it somewhere safe to sit for two weeks. Every few days shake each jar vigorously to release the citrus oils. Once the two weeks are up simply strain the vinegar through the cheesecloth or mesh bag, taking care to wring the pulp. Reserve the pulp for the next project. Add cinnamon oil if you like the combination (I think it's wonderful), and bottle the citrus vinegar using a 50/50 ratio with water. You are now ready to clean up your act, your kids' act, your dog's act, or any other "act" you might find stuck to your counters, floors, appliances, toilet or walls. My favorite use so far? Whatever that shit is that's plastered to my dining room table. Whatever it was, it's gone now. You will have plenty, so save it for refills or put a cute bow or homemade label on it and drop it on the porch of a sweet friend to brighten their day! To use, simply give the bottle a little shake to enliven the oils, spray, give it a second to work it's magic, and voila! Wipe off the grime with ease.

As for the vinegar pulp, pulse blend it until it is nothing but small lumpy chunks. Store it in an airtight container, and simply mix a small amount with a dash of baking soda for a good extra-strength cleaning scrub for the extra-tough jobs!    

Week One Debrief

Week one of the donation drive is well underway and things are coming in at a slow and steady trickle. While sitting on the tailgate of my van waiting for donors to show up (of which there have physically only been four so far, but four with generous donations) I have reflected a great deal on the ways in which my life has been negatively impacted by domestic violence. Here in summation:

  1. It has created some divides that are too rocky to traverse.
  2. I still have regularly occurring nightmares wherein I relive helping my mom clean her blood off of the waterbed after a fight between her and her partner. That was thirty years ago. I was four. 
  3. Violence fostered a climate in my brain where my already genetically predisposed neurotransmitters could easily misfire, causing irreparable damage to my psyche. This means the pathways in my brain are lined with violence.  
  4. I will probably be medicated and go to therapy for the effects of the many types of violence I experienced in my young life for a very long time. That fact alone is shrouded in concern for my body, for the safety of medication, for the fear of dependency to feel 'normal', and for the financial responsibility of a lifelong need.  
  5. My children have felt the effects intergenerationally. It trickles down in the angry and short-tempered side of me, the embarrassing behavior, regretful words, and shameful acts of yelling mean things at the people I love most in all this world. Meanwhile they have had to look at me through frightened eyes, the grinding of my teeth audible and my knuckles tense and white as I stomp out an aggressive infantile rant. It hurts to admit these things and to know that they happen in part because I was heavily conditioned by similar behavior as a child. It is such hard work to rewire, but I have made it my life's work to do so for my children. 
  6. I walked down a lot of statistically predictable paths as a result of my mother's experience, including: teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol use, lack of high school completion, divorce, receipt of welfare, having children from multiple fathers, chronic underemployment, estrangement from family, and cycles of violence and assault. 
  7. At the tender of of six I said goodbye to my mom. Her casket lowered, and I never saw her again.
Since announcing the donation drive last week I have received three emails from strangers, empathizing and sharing their own experiences. I have had two good tailgate cries in reflective homage to all of my friends and family members whose names I could rattle off without blinking who have all suffered various forms of abuse at the hands of partners and loved ones. I have listened as my son Koa serenaded me with a song he wrote about my resilience and presence in his life, and bawled until I almost couldn't breathe from the beauty of his words and the depth of his love. If nothing else comes in the coming days, I have all of this and more already.

I have  been changed by the experience of this donation drive already, and it's just getting underway. It is one way for me to have some control over all of the things that happened to me and around me that I had no agency over as a child. In this scenario I get to determine what my response to domestic violence is. I get to speak openly and honestly about my loss. I get to speak up for women who can't. I get to do something that turns the experience into one of growth and strength instead of stifling me and making me fearful. I get to empower others on their quests for Life. 

That is the greatest gift my mom ever gave me; I just didn't get to open it until now, when I was ready to. 

Come by and say hello this week, and bring a donation if you can: 
Wednesday, 4/16, 4:30-6pm
Friday, 4/18, 12-1:30pm
Saturday, 4/19 12-2pm   

From the heart... to the hands.

Trigger Warning: This post contains subjects some readers may be sensitive to. It's about violence and it's about love, and it's about what happens when the two mix. Domestic violence isn't something that everyone is comfortable talking about without a warning, so this is mine to you. 

The fast approaching weekend and in particular Saturday, April 12th, marks a very special anniversary. The date conjures a void that is almost tangible, like a penny falling down into the darkness of a never-ending well. It marks one of those defining moments where something happens, and then nothing is truly the same ever again. For me, this weekend symbolizes the beginning of my journey toward a lifetime as a feminist, as an advocate, and as a survivor of domestic violence. It is the same weekend that, 28 years ago, my mother Lynn was plowed down on a rural highway. Her lover was behind the wheel, alcohol and aggression exploding in between the slurs and swerves, and the topography of my life and hers was changed forever in that moment.

The moment that the tiny yellow car caught up with her brought with it a full and weighty clarity. Her body exploded in a cacophony of noise--the sound of bones breaking, organs bursting, and her heart slapping against the busted up framework of her chest cavity--to which she sang a song that I would come to know as a verse in my anthem.
May you only experience love like you deserve to be loved.   
The arrest report from that night.
But that's not always what happens when you are 6 years old and you see your mother lying in a hospital bed so badly injured that she is almost unrecognizable, statistically speaking anyway. Children like me--little girls who know what it sounds like when a full-grown woman's body smashes into the side of a single-wide trailer, who help their mothers clean up post-battle blood--we tend to find ourselves in similar patterns when we get old enough for our own relationships. I don't know what it is about seeing the matron pilar in one's life peppered with hemorrhages, weakened by blood loss and holding to life by the wire threads in her monitors, that leads little girls to believe they deserve to be treated as anything less than the queens they are; however, there is an expansive body of evidence suggesting that children who witness domestic violence are prone to play out the role in their own lives. I did too, to a lesser but no less valid extent than my mother. Thankfully I escaped that life and built up my confidence before injury ever left me hospitalized. Feeling hopeless, worthless, scared and scarred for my life, yes, but hospitalization, no. Ever since, my life has been on a steady trajectory toward empowering other women to do the same.

Kindergarten missed me.
In honor of my mother's strength through the trying weeks that she faced lying in that hospital bed, and in honor of my own experiences with domestic violence and of the experiences of as many as 4,000,000 other women in our country every year (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current of Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends, March, 1998), I am going to do something to help the women and children in my community who live with the effects of domestic violence. In honor of the 65% of children who will also be abused by their mother's abuser--all those tiny eyes and ears who live through the terror of a violent upbringing--in honor of my boys for whom I am breaking so many cycles; and in honor of the 3,247 people served by Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County (DVSAS) last year and the countless others who need but do not seek their services...
A witness statement.
You may remember the success of the Warmth Wagon coat drive (if you don't know what that is click here and here). Well, I need you to help me fill my van once more. Beginning April 12 and lasting until May 3 (the duration of my mother's hospital stay following the incident), I will be in the parking lot of the Lakeway Market at designated times collecting items of need for DVSAS. I have coordinated with the organization to determine their greatest needs at this time and would be grateful if you would join me in helping to meet them. Many of the items are low-cost to purchase, or may even be things you have spares of around your house, and will greatly help ease the impacts of domestic violence on our community. Please, for little girls like me and their moms both in Tiny Town and everywhere else, and for everyone else galvanized by the crippling damage of domestic violence, consider skipping a latte this week and bringing a donation by instead. You will soften someone's experience guaranteed; trust me, I know. Here are the most pressing needs:
Children's Programs
Activity jumper/jumperoo (stationery, not door frame kind)
Art supplies (buttons, clay, dry-erase markers, crayons, markers, construction paper, glue, etc.)
Boppy pillows
Coloring books
Cookie cutters
Disposable diapers, all sizes
Dress-up clothes, and a storage trunk for them
Ergo baby carriers in new or good used condition
Full-length mirror
Gerber sippy cups
Non-perishable single serving sized snacks and juice
Play-Doh, rolling pins and other tools for it
Wooden high-chair
Adult Programs
Blank journals and notebooks
Gift cards to help meet basic needs (gas/food/groceries)
Greyhound vouchers
Non-perishable single serving sized snacks and juice
Pre-paid cell phones
Pre-paid calling cards
Agency Needs
Coffee, tea, and creamer
Desktop photocopier for copying protection/restraining orders in client rooms
Desktop printer, any kind so long as it's in good working order
Hot plates
Large plastic storage totes
Magazine subscriptions for the waiting rooms
Bathroom supplies: toilet paper, pads, tampons, bleach wipes
Thumb drives 
So, Tiny Town, show me what you've got! I will be in the Lakeway Market parking lot at the following times in the coming week, and will post the next week's schedule in a forthcoming blog post. Be sure to join the event on Facebook too, to keep abreast of the developments as the project gets underway.
Saturday, 4/12 9-10am
Monday, 4/14 12-1:30pm
Wednesday, 4/16 4:30-6pm
Friday, 4/18 12-1:30pm
Saturday, 4/19 12-2pm
Please swing by, say hello and help me make someone's life better through your kind deeds by taking your concern from your heart, to their hands.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner...

...except for the whole "chicken" part, since I happen to know for a fact that one of the randomly selected winners is a super-vegetarian... if not vegan. She just might be a vegan. (And we're totally cool, by the way. It's fine because, like, I'm pretty sure she doesn't even hold my birthday party against me since she knows the fur has no nutritional value and that there's no such thing as a vegetarian wolf.) Ahem, moving on.

Opting to share the bulk of my cloth diaper stash with other families instead of sell, consign or donate the diapers and other goodies means that families who might otherwise not try cloth diapers have the opportunity to fall in love with this eco-friendly, totally adorable option for FREE. These diapers are well known in the land of cloth diaper lovers and will easily last another child or two, so my hope is that the winners will share the love when they are done with them by passing them to another sweet family who will use them.  

Anyway, I am so happy to announce the two winners of the Great Stash for NO Cash cloth diaper giveaway prizes. The names were randomly selected using through Rafflecopter. The Full Stash packages each include 1dozen Fuzzi Bunz diapers, 18 microfiber inserts/doublers, a large wet bag, a small wet bag, and a dozen reusable cloth wipes--all from my collection. The Bonus Stash package includes two Fuzzi Bunz diapers, five inserts, and a sweet boutique blanket that we just loved from area craft masters Crackabo.
FULL STASH WINNERS: Jaycie W. and Megan T.
There were nearly 100 entries, which is pretty sweet considering this was all through the grapevine and my blog is pretty much brand new. Of course I know one of them because, well, 30% of my facebook followers and blog readers are technically real-life, true-blood friends who have seen the whites of my eyes in the last month or two. It will be nice to send her a personalized little card with the package. The others are women whose names I recognize from online community support groups for local mothers. I haven't met them yet, I don't believe, but it is cool to know that two of the packages will be staying here in Tiny Town. Lucky mamas and sweet babes--I can't wait to pass on the stash that we so loved. Watch your emails, ladies--I'll be in touch for delivery info soon!

Thanks to everyone for entering, for reading, and for simply being you. Don't you ever stop.