Friends are kinda like good art and music and stuff.

I love when I'm experiencing artistic expression - getting completely lost in patterns, rhythms, expectations and predictability - and then the anomaly happens. The variant. The surprise.

Like when you're listening to a song you've never heard before and you can sing along the first time. But then you find yourself surprised by a dissonant note.

A key change.

A bridge.

It's clashing colors.

An accessory that pops.

A lyric that doesn't rhyme.

It's the juxtaposition of styles and genres.

Like the first time you notice color in a black and white photograph.

Or an object protruding from a painting.

It's mixed media.

The essence of jazz.

And improv.

Pure comedy.

Twisting plots.

Interesting character flaws.

It's when I know I love a friend.

When I'm getting lost in their patterns, habits, predictability, loyalty.

And then they surprise me. Share a new layer of themselves. A fascinating story. An unusual hobby. A simple, unexpected gesture.

Here's to the friends and family who surprise us daily.

One gaudy little Christmas mouse.

It's hard this time of year to not be a tad pensive; reflective on the year that passed and the years that have passed, collectively. It's a season that evokes intense emotion for many. Total bliss and quiet sadness dance together in unexpected ways.

We're over-induldging in comfort foods and favorite treats while anticipating the lifestyle shift as we embrace health in New Year's resolutions, right around the corner. After at least one last evening of imbibing on sparkling wine, that is.


Earlier this year, my mom's oldest sister, Delphine, passed away.

My Mom is the second youngest of seven children - 5 girls and 2 boys. The men moved to Southern California, the other siblings raised their families in the Midwest, but my Mom and Aunt Delphine raised theirs in the Northwest.

Delphine and her husband, Gene, had six children of their own. I have so many fond memories over the years spending the holidays with the Kettler family.

One year, Aunt Delphine and Uncle Gene were living in West Seattle and all six kids were still at home, and they were hosting Christmas. My Mom figures this was probably in the late 1960's.

My Mom had gone to Gov-Mart Bazaar, a place where you could find very inexpensive (read: cheap) little things. (Looks like it was later acquired by Thirfty Payless.)

She got a bag of little tie-ons for Christmas gifts. Most of them were little bells, etc. One of them was a little mouse.

But this was no ordinary mouse.

This was an ugly, gaudy little mouse. It wore a gold lame dress. It carried a baton. It had dangly little legs. It was tacky.

It ended up on a gift from my Mom to Aunt Delphine. Who knows what the actual present was. The kids couldn't stop laughing.

My Mom recalls that Maxine laughed so hard, she cried. Everyone was rolling around on the floor laughing. The Kettlers are known for their fabulous senses of humor, afterall.

And a tradition was born.

This ugly, gold-lame-wearing, baton-holding, straggly little mouse became an annual joke. Year after year, it would be passed back and forth. Pieces and appendages started to fall off. The lame dress looked more and more tattered with every year.

Some years were missed. Hectic holidays. My Mom started her own family (enter Carter and Noelle). Grandma Kampa rotated through living with her children.

One particularly hectic year, my Mom just hadn't quite gotten around to taking down the Christmas tree. When she finally did, on March 31st, she found the little mouse tucked away in its branches.

My Mom joked with her, "You put that mouse in the tree just to see when I'd take my Christmas tree down!"

The mouse broke free from only being a Christmas tradition. The two sisters would tuck it into a birthday present. Mail it for the 4th of July. It would end up in a kitchen cupboard or a bookshelf - just waiting to be discovered. Sometimes it would show up at the kids' homes, where Aunt Delphine had been visiting.

This mouse was passed between Priscilla and Delphine for, likely, around 40 years!

When Aunt Delphine passed, my Mom had hoped to place it in her coffin. When this didn't happen, she realized it is probably because the mouse needs to live on. When I go there this holiday season, I'm going to try to find it and, at the very least, take a photo of it. And, cousins, don't be surprised if the mouse continues to circulate for many more years to come.

I'm thankful for the time we shared, earlier this year, celebrating Aunt Delphine's life.

In loving memory of Aunt Delphine. You are missed.


At the crab cracker


Intentional Gadgetry. And reveling in the moment.

I'm on my way home yesterday, commuting via public transportation from one end of downtown to the other. Earbuds in, listening to music. In my own little commuter world. Headed home, but first to the grocery store to pick up ingredients to make mac 'n' cheese for book club. Making mental grocery list.

I take the bus tunnel. Could walk from Westlake home, but the streetcar is at its southern stop. I get on. Find immediate seat. Thinking about ingredients. Listening to music.

And then I look up. The young man standing next to me is filming another young man and an older gentleman. Small handheld video camera. Pause.

Earbuds out.

Nothing life altering, but I sit and watch the younger man ask the older man about his paper-folding business. As the older man works slowly on folding a flower and talking about his website domain on go daddy. Look for a documentary featuring an interview of a paper folder on the Seattle Streetcar, coming soon to a theater near you.

It was a good reminder, however ultimately uneventful it was, to take the earbuds out. Put the phone away. Raise my gaze and pay attention.

It's a frequent topic of conversation in these iphone/crackberry/camera/mp3-player days. We all have these gadgets that can do some pretty phenomenal things.

As our guide in Thailand took video of us interacting with Burmese children, I was thankful he had that gadget on him.

When I get a funny, random text message from a friend, I'm thankful for our mutual gadgetry.

But when it takes away from our capacity to be in the moment; to truly listen to and witness the world around us; to be present with the people we are interacting with - That's where our technology has the potential to fail us.

I'm no luddite. I think technology can be used for good, and can actually help connect us in remarkable ways. It is powerful stuff. But it can also be addictive and distracting and take us out of the moment.

When I was sitting at Banya5 the other night with two dear friends, this came up. Our phones were all locked away. Other than a clock on the wall (which reminded us how long we had until they closed) - there were no signs of the outside world. We were able to relax, relate and be completely present.

We reveled in this.

A word surfaced in our conversation. Being intentional with technology.


Music can set a mood and a soundtrack to your day. Intentionally disconnecting from the world around you and listening to songs that will lift your spirits? Sounds like a good use of time.

But then, so is intentionally leaving your phone off for awhile. Letting it settle to the bottom of your bag. Leaving it at home altogether. Easvesdropping and people watching on the bus. Paying attention to things as you navigate downtown streets - like music echoing through alleyways and creative grafitti.

(Like the little silver stencils of people figures that showed up rather recently along 9th Ave N.)

The second night of our island stay in Thailand, we went to the beach to watch the sunset. The night before had been stunning. But when we got to the clearing and saw the horizon, there were a lot of clouds. It was hard to tell whether we'd get a sunset as bold as the prior night's.

And then we looked up and noticed a little rainbow up above the clouds. We all sat and watched as one little rainbow turned into three - colors shifting, moving, dancing, playing off eachother.

Definitely goes down as one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen.

And I didn't take a single picture.

I couldn't.

It was too beautiful to get behind another gadget and spend time playing with settings and trying to capture it perfectly. (Which never would have happened.)

I needed to just watch it, through my own eyes, and fully experience it. Our group got a photo in front of it. I didn't join. Because that would have required taking my eyes off of it. And I couldn't.

I didn't want to understand the science behind it. I didn't want to break it down or have it explained to me. And I know I'm not doing it justice by attempting to describe it here.

I don't have a picture (that I took at least) of one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my entire life.

And I couldn't be happier about it.

Part of something bigger.

We'd just eaten an amazing meal of fresh fish and vegetables and rice.  Oh, so much rice.  We sat on the floor of our homestay in Tung Dap with our Moken hosts.  Beautiful, airy beams.  A home built by hand. 

Our host asked us why we were there.

Why would ten farangs take two weeks to travel to the other side of the globe to spend a few days painting a school and planting mangroves?

Jan's answer, as I paraphrase, was about family.  In our culture we don't live, with multiple familial generations, under the same roof.  But we still seek that connection.  That community. 

We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

I've been taking these service trips through Seattle Works since they first gathered a group of people together to travel to Biloxi, MS in early 2007.  It had been a year and a half since the storm devastated the Gulf Coast.  I was deeply moved when I watched the storm coverage.  I was glued to the TV, thinking about my cousins who live in Biloxi, thinking about the beautiful city of New Orleans I'd visited a few times with my family before the storm.  So when Seattle Works decided to send a group to help hang drywall, I knew I had to sign up.

We stayed at a big church, most of us sleeping on mats on the floor.  Taking four minute outdoor showers.  Hanging drywall.  Cleaning a nearby neighborhood.  Meeting longterm volunteers who'd been there since just after the storm.  Spending some time at the pub next door, playing cards - Apples to Apples. Being genuinely inspired by fellow humans from various walks of life.

One of our first nights there, a gentleman named David, who had just celebrated his 60th birthday by volunteering with his family in Biloxi, shared about Tikkun Olam.

... There’s an important principle in Judaism – it’s a commandment of Jewish law – called Tikkun Olam. Tikkun Olam means to repair the world. The Talmud says: “It is not up to you to finish the work, yet you are not free to avoid it.” No one can fix it all; but we all have a part to play. What’s going on down here could not be more important as an example of Tikkun Olam.

Upon our departure, I realized that experience changed me.  I was definitely part of something bigger than myself.  I met a very dear friend, Jaxon Ravens, on that first trip.  Did you know he's the son of a preacher man?  Take 5 minutes to watch this and you'll be a believer too:

I returned to the Gulf Coast that summer.  Spending a week in New Orleans volunteering with Katrina Corps.  Then went back once more, right before Mardi Gras, volunteering with Hands on New Orleans.
Seattle Works partnered with Crooked Trails last year, sending a team to Peru.  I had some friends go and was convinced to take these experiences abroad.  So, despite feeling like I had no vacation time and no extra money, I signed up to go to Thailand.

Thailand was amazing.

Now that I've been back a few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about what makes these experiences so powerful.  It isn't just where we're going or the work we're doing.

It's the people.

I've met some remarkable people in the Seattle Works community.  Spending time traveling, serving, and bonding over beers (whether Chang or Abita!) takes you into some pretty profound relationships in a short amount of time.  You learn a lot about someone when you're spending every day with them.  Often in less than luxurious accomodations.  Challenging days.  Sharing in breathtaking vistas.  Reflecting on the work you're doing, the people you're meeting.  Remembering what's important.  Finding shared values.

Then these lovely, overlapping social circles emerge when we're all back in Seattle.  You take a group of volunteers and recruit them for your kickball team.  You take a soccer team and recruit them for your volunteer project.  Before you know it, you're attending feasts in church basements and friending inanimate objects on Facebook.

At some point, you're not just a part of something bigger than yourself.  You're creating it.





Ethical Consumption. Am I a jerk? Let me tally my mitzvah.

First, read this article in Slate.  It's a good read and conjures up a healthy, constructive dose of self-criticism.  Hard not to read and wonder where one's own ethics fall.

Also, read this.  Good quote here:

The word “Green” has become a separatist adjective. A term used to separate something from the norm. Until products become Green by default, Green will always be an outsider.

I find myself in regular discussions with certain friends about the buying choices we make (or don't make) in our daily routines.  The ubiquitous conversations are happening with books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Omnivore's Dilemma.   Films like Food, Inc. and The Future of Food.  (Here's a longer, fantastic list of movies.) 

You ask yourself questions like - Is it better to buy organic food at Walmart or local, non-organically certified food (that may actually be grown organically, just not labeled as so) at your local grocery store?  Should dairy have RSBT in it?  How free-range are those chickens?  Do I really need to eat so many corn, soy and wheat products?

In one of my past lives, I worked a short while as a sales rep for a really high-end pet food.  We were only distributed at one, big-box pet-supplies chain.  For six months, my job was to drive up and down the I5 corridor, from Bellingham to Eugene, OR, and try to get people out of the habit of buying their Purina kibble and into the habit of buying a more expensive, but vastly superior brand.  Without grains, filler, by-products, etc.  With added nutrients.  It wasn't organic (nor raw, which is really what makes the most sense), and there are lots more products in this super-premium category now available.    But, in its time, it was a great product, but not everyone wanted to pay for a food that might actually relieve their pet's itchy skin, crystals, or joint issues.

Times have changed.  This was less than 10 years ago, and when I worked for this company a lot of people didn't read their food labels.  A national rep mentioned their observation that people in the Northwest were more likely to read labels.  I found this true in some stores - Bellingham, Portland, closer to downtown Seattle.  But there were still lots of people who refused to look at or care about the ingredients in their pet's food.

I'm not sure when I became a label reader.  Maybe when I decided to no longer consume high-fructose corn syrup and chemical sugar substitutes?  I know the studies waver on this, but I can feel the difference.  Maybe I'm in tune with my body, maybe it's placebo effect.  Either way, diabetes runs on both sides of my family and I've learned that many sugary foods make me feel sick.  And sucralose and aspartame make me feel sick as well.  And healthy fats and proteins and fresh vegetables and whole grains make me feel good.  And not in a morally-superior way. 

Maybe I started reading labels when Breyer's started to market their all natural ice cream brands.  Remember those?  With the little kids stumbling over difficult-to-pronounce additives?

I try not to even talk about these topics unless I know I'm in company that wants to.  And I'm only bringing them up here, because this article sparked some thoughts I felt the need to lay out.  If you've gotten this far, you're obviously interested in this topic as well, right?

And that's just food.  What about green products that are greener, but still just disposable products that emphasize the throw-away culture we live in?  Is it better to buy cloth napkins than paper napkins made from post-consumer materials?  Is it better to use a handkerchief than a facial tissue?  (I just can't seem break this habit.)    Is it better for me to buy a handmade dress off Etsy, or an organic-cotton mass-produced American Apparel dress, or a custom-tailored dress by someone making $1 a day in Thailand, or a second-hand dress at Goodwill?

A brand of deodorant may not contain aluminum, but it still contains propylene glycol.  I'd be happy to tell you all about the glories of menstrual cups, depending on your level of comfort discussing female hygiene products.  I can tell you, I haven't purchased other products (like tampons) in years, and that, in and of itself, is quite liberating.  Then there's the question of phthalates in toys, both of the children's and adult varieties.  As you can tell, the discussion of "green buying habits" can get very personal, very quickly.  (We haven't even touched on the ingredients and materials associated with things like condoms and lubricants.)

Anyway, I've managed to bring up a lot of topics, without really offering solutions or conclusions.  Typical.  I also only talked as a consumer, not about the habits and lifestyle modifications that likely have much more impact on the world than buying organic produce. 

Back to the ideas in the original article, I'm not sharing any of this to pat myself on the back.  I'd love to believe that my personal actions and lifestyle choices are altruistic.  But, while I may spend my time and money doing do-gooder stuff like volunteering abroad, I can't deny that I get a lot out of these types of experiences.  And I probably lack some humility in the way I discuss them later as well. ;-)  I'm proud of some of the choices I make, but more-so, I hope to share positive stories in a positive spirit that may inspire others to give.  Is this ego-based? 

As a wise friend pointed out recently, "Only the ego wants to get rid of the ego."

Ponder that one.

Tung Dap

After leaving the school, we spent two nights with a host family in Tung Dap, on Koh Phratong Island.  This part of our voyage was filled with amazing beauty, gracious hospitality, and even more delicious food. 

I wrote this while I was there.  Words won't do the experience justice, but they are the only way I can convey the two days we spent there:

I am listening to conversations in languages I do not understand.  The wind talking to the trees.  The clucks of chickens and roosters beneath the beams of the house I am sitting in.  The scent of onion, sizzling as our hosts prepare dinner.  Children's brief calls.  The silence of cats and dogs sleeping.  The rumble of man and machine.  The dash of geckos on the roof.  I may not understand them, but knowing them, in this moment, gives me peace.

We are in paradise.  Where a flicker of light could be a spark on a tractor or a firefly.  Where little boys catch bugs and give shells as gifts on long beach walks.  Where the crescent moon catches where the sunset left us on the last horizon.  We can get lost in stars and styrofoam signs.  The water is warm.  Did you feel the foxtails tickle your arm?  Did you let the sand fill between your toes?  Did you breathe in the salty air?  Breathing in and out with the currents.

May I remind you again that we are in paradise.  Where bright eyes meet ours with smiles.  Where the baby sits behind his father's wheel. 

What woke you this morning?  The far off fisherman's boats?  Scooters?  Ducks?  The booming, buzzing sirens of the cicadas?  Or did you rise when our host tossed the dry grains of rice in her pot?  Did the alpha wake you with his growl?  Or the roosters echoing each other's calls?


As my eyes closed to rest on our mats, the vision of a miracle played itself out on the backs of my eyelids.  My toes still felt themselves being sucked into the muck near the newly planted mangrove seeds.  I feel the layer of fine sand coating my skin.  And now we rise to Nescafe.  Rice and shrimp.  Folded mosquito nets and textiles.  Let us never finish this conversation.  As the sea gypsy "Noi" tone loops in our memories.