Friday, August 22, 2014

Look Up From What You're Doing

I hiked Patterson Mountain this morning. More than half-way through I realized I had been looking down, buried in thought. I suddenly felt small - the breeze chilling my sweat, the views, smell of sage brush, birds calling. That feeling of being small came as an enormous relief.

The weight of thought can be overwhelming, to a point of self-destruction. Grief can result in confusing, desperate isolation, an inability to see light streaming through cobwebs. I find that grief rushes in, then fades away, and this roller coaster recurs many times throughout the day.

How can we sift through heavy layers? How can we think of rebuilding? Where will we go? We're still paying mortgage for a non-house. We have to pull down dead trees, remove debris, check the well, and think about a design? Trivial things add weight, too. We need to clean up the dog poop around our borrowed home, but we don't have a shovel yet. I had to buy Saran Wrap for the first time in my life because we don't have a drawer filled with recycled plastic bags. My drill press is stuck in Wenatchee because there's no home for FedEx to deliver it to. A change of address takes 3 business days to mean we have to drive 2.5 hours to pick up my package?

I am self-consumed. I only hear the first part of most conversations, and then my mind drifts off again.

Can someone give me a magic wand?

My cousin just underwent brain surgery and will soon begin chemotherapy. Robin Williams committed suicide. Several more homes down-valley were lost in last night's flash flood. Gunmen shot and killed 65 people and injured 17 others in a Sunni Muslim mosque. A friend's daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia and is now undergoing chemotherapy. BKS Iyengar died. Protests in Ferguson - tear gas deployed, bottles flying, bullets flying. Wait - what's going on in Ukraine?

If it were me - if my tire went flat, sparked, ignited a wild fire that burned 10 homes flat and displaced families, I might contemplate suicide. To the person who did this: PLEASE do not blame yourself. We forgive you. Shit happens. But if you get the chance, go ahead and make a donation to Room One.

And here's me: finding my breath. Searching for heart rocks.

Join me this very moment. Look up from what you're doing. Take a breath. Give someone a hug. Cherish what you do have. Pay attention. We were given this life for a reason.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Today's Rose: Our Community

I don't know which is more overwhelming, losing our home to a wild fire or the incredible, loving response of our community.

A) Losing our home to a wild fire and the aftermath.

Navigating all of the logistics results in fatigue - scrutinizing insurance and the bank and continuing mortgage payments. We must figure out how to affordably and sustainably remove tons of debris and hundreds of dead trees. We must determine the best way to restore the land - sit back and watch it, let it guide us, not rush into planting native grass seed just because we desperately want it to be green again NOW. We want to love it again, but it's too soon to know if we can.

Derek wrote a letter to our senators. We are very concerned for the people and small businesses of our valley. We appreciate the President's declaration for assistance with infrastructure. The county and PUD are strapped for cash, and every little bit helps. The county is making us truck our fire related debris over the mountain pass from Twisp to Omak (instead of using the transfer station) because they don't have the resources to haul it themselves. That means each landowner is paying a significant amount in hauling costs to clean up their sites, some of which may be covered by insurance, but not all.

We need additional resources in our valley for those affected by fires and for small businesses. We also need resources to train BAER coordinators who can work on private/state land to rehabilitate the resources. As Derek wrote his letters, both HWY 153 and HWY 20 were closed because of rock and debris slides. 

Please write our senators to request that they continue fighting for resources for all of us to get back on our feet.

B) The warm embraces we continue to receive after the wild fire. Allow me to elaborate.

We have received hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters, packages, financial contributions from across the globe (Africa to Alaska), shelter, clothing, toiletries, books, journals, bright flowers, tools, offers to help sift and clean, blankets, stuffed animals, jewelry, meals at local restaurants, gift certificates, fresh food, and hugs. We are doing our best to keep a list of who donated what so that we can send thank you cards, but I think we've lost track.

A few examples of giving might shine light on the nature of our community.

A Seattle friend purchased a gift certificate at Twisp Feed & Rental to help us replenish Sa'be's food, bed, and ball. We went to redeem the gift certificate, but Katrina (the owner) refused to accept it. She said that we can use it sometime when she's not there. I will not buy dog food anywhere than Twisp Feed and Rental. Please join me in doing the same.

Our landlord will not accept any insurance-supported rent payments from us. Instead, she requested that we pay our rent forward to valley-based non-profits. Yes, we will.


Red Shed Produce is generously donating fresh produce to fire victims. Our fridge is stocked with carrots, beets, several different types of squash, tomatoes, strawberries, onions and herbs. After losing our extensive garden, pantry filled with canned goods and 2 freezers stocked with home grown food, we were grateful to receive the gift of farm-fresh produce.

Twice since the fire we were too tired to cook for ourselves so went out to local restaurants. Both times we were surprised by members of the community who purchased our meals.

Although the small businesses in our valley have taken a huge hit this year, we received a gift certificate directly from Goats Beard Mountain Supplies.

Yesterday four woodworking friends gathered at Local 98856 where I will rebuild my studio. They measured the space and brainstormed workbench designs, a mind-blowing birthday gift to me. The men are determined to incorporate a kegerator which is funny because I don't drink beer. As we were talking, Tess (the owner of Local) gave us a huge box of fresh peaches from her garden.

Local 98856

The list of giving continues on and on. And on.

I wouldn't choose to live in hell, but if I did I would want to do it here.

Close friends stayed with us throughout the first week to cook, clean, wipe tears, listen. At the end of each day they asked us what our thorns and roses were. Two weeks ago I couldn't decipher the thorns from the roses. Today, thanks to our community (no matter how overwhelming it can be), roses are abundant.

Monday, August 11, 2014

After The Disaster: The First 10 Days

Ten days after our home was destroyed by a wild fire, I struggle to find the right words to express where I sit in the world. There is a heavy weight behind my eyes. I'm exhausted.

Day one: I stood inside the grocery store staring at shelves of food. Where do you begin when your pantry is empty? What pantry? I couldn't bring myself to buy eggs.

I wanted to see our home again. Once we arrived at the property, I felt like I was suffocating. Derek wanted to stay. I couldn't.

Day two: It took us 6 hours to run errands in Twisp, an endeavor that would normally take 2 or less. We absorbed embraces, shed tears, shared our story and others' sorrow. We provided shoulders for others to cry on. Our trunk overflowed with gifts - locally grown produce, flowers, clothes, a yoga mat, backpack, books and handmade journals for Cymone, rocks, cards, gift certificates, and fresh eggs!

We drove up to the property. Derek wanted to stay. I had to leave.

Day three: I am starting to lose track of time.

Day four: Red Cross, Room One, a meeting with the insurance agent. We were informed we had to file a separate claim for the truck. That damn truck didn't burn and the key (a security key that can't simply be replaced) was inside the house.

We are fortunate to have insurance, yet it means we're not eligible for certain services. We have to pay out of pocket, and insurance doesn't come close to covering the cost of our loss, or what it will take to rebuild. We must continue to pay off our mortgage. Note: we realize that we are fairing better than many others who have suffered losses in our community, but have been forced into the shameful role of self-advocacy.

Day five: My birthday.

I tried to go back to work, unsuccessfully. How am I supposed to be a leader when I'm feeling so weak?

We went to the property. Derek wanted to stay and I couldn't. Why did I keep rushing him? Being there made me gag. I was sure I could smell the cats.

Derek dropped me off at the Lewis Butte trail head. I walked - fast - up and over the hill, sweating, breathing. I wanted to cry but my eyes were dry.

That night friends surrounded us, loved us, consoled us. There were too many faces, too many questions, too many melancholy stories, too much talk about the fire, too much love - just too much. I broke down, yet I soaked up every ounce of love and energy, storing the support for later.

Please keep the love coming, even if you think we don't want it.

Day six: My body returned to work. I'm not sure where my mind was.

We went to the property. I managed to stay for an hour. I kept returning to Cymone's bedroom. I found some of her writing.

Day seven: We aren't certain if we're more stunned by our loss or by the response of our community. Food, clothing, gift certificates, financial contributions, quilts, tools, books, more journals, art, hugs, tears, ample offers to help, more hugs.

Day eight: I keep reminding myself that I'm incredibly lucky. We are alive. We have one another. We have - much more than we realized - a breathing, dynamic community. Yet I need space to grieve the loss of things that are more than things.

Of course, there were the things-that-weren't-things like photos of Cymone over the past 11 years, my own baby photos, my grandmother's engagement ring, art collected throughout our travels, blankets and curtains woven by my mother, heirlooms, my wedding dress.

But then there were the un-things.

My great-aunt Lenio had TB. She spent time in the mountains to clear her lungs. In 1938 she designed a poster for an auction to increase awareness about TB. She became a social activist, eventually joined the resistance movement and assisted in the escape of Jews from Germany to France. She was arrested and taken to a concentration camp where her TB became active, ultimately killing her. Our daughter bares Lenio's name (Cymone Lenio). We were gifted the poster...

Cymone's kindergarten class spent weeks painting a batik which one of the parents transformed into a quilt depicting the natural wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. The quilt was auctioned off to raise funds for the school. I bought what became Cymone's favorite blanket.

How can we hold the un-things in our minds and hearts to ensure that they aren't forgotten? Cymone's years of writing & paper cutouts, my first painted chair, my first natural rock ring - a gift from Derek, the mandala I drew for our wedding program, all of the letters (several hundred pages) I wrote home while in the Peace Corps, the cassette tapes of my grandmother sharing her life story when she was 92.

These un-things aren't replaceable, little moments of history that will no longer have a voice.

Day nine: We are both so tired. We are asking ourselves when the grief will turn to hope will turn to the ability to pay forward the gifts we have received.

Day ten: That's today.

I woke up with my head spinning, random thoughts and questions rolling over one another.

Maybe I shouldn't have driven last night. I was tired and probably wouldn't have responded quickly if a deer jumped out in front of the car. My eyes hurt. Stop pitying yourself, Nicole. Get out there and help someone else. Wait. You need to take a nap. Why did I let Blue Star Coffee Roasters give me coffee? I need to support our local economy, so I bought a travel mug. I desperately want to hug Cymone. What's this about people saying our fundraising efforts are inappropriate? The news broke us even more. Why blame the victim? This is what we do in the face of a disaster. Embrace the reactions - they are merely a part of your experience. The conversation with my brother was the best we've had in years. He stepped up to be my big brother. I think that was the best present of all. My thoughts are beginning to spill.

We're ready for this vacation to be over. We want to go home.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Life Changing Event

I thought I might slip away. Grieving the loss of our home morphed into shock. My body became numb, and I couldn't hear. Friends spoke, sharing concern, yet their mouths made no sound. Should I feel guilty when I laugh? Am I supposed to always look forlorn? I can't stop saying the word "fuck".

We chose to build in the forest. The forest did what it was supposed to. We were just in the way.

How were we going to break the news to our daughter who was on vacation, in part, to escape the horror that has been this summer of wildfire in our beloved valley?

Our house, our garden - my art studio, three years of investing every dollar of jewelry sales back into my work space - gone. Within 2 hours of the start of the wild fire, the flames consumed everything we owned. Years of love perished. Nurtured earth scorched. Our chickens - our daughter's 2 cats....

Sleep deprived. No appetite. Helpless. Raw. Flat. I peed on our house. Then I threw up. "The Horror. The Horror."

Our daughter thought we were joking, then cried. Her years' worth of creative writing gone. She asked if insurance would reimburse her for the $80 she had been saving in her wallet. What about her favorite blanket and stuffed animal?

Hundreds of emails, Facebook posts, phone calls offering support - every one of them giving us a much needed boost. Sometimes our response is overwhelm. Other times it's laughter or tears. How can we accept the offers? How can we channel the energy to ensure that it's well-spent? Mostly, we don't even know what help we need, so our response is silence. Silent appreciation.

Yes, we need your help. Please, please help.

Derek, Cymone and I are strong. We love one another deeply. We are thankful to have one another - that's more than many will ever have in their lifetime. We will persevere. We will take this experience and grow, blossom - maybe ripen a little. Just like a good bottle of wine.

It's too bad our chickens were scorched beyond edible (I'm laughing painfully). On a positive note, the morels on our property will be excellent next year. Please skip over the next picture if it's too difficult to swallow. I might be hollow right now, floating above the blackness with a third person's perspective.

Slowly, we will replace our belongings with locally made beauty. Our dollars will be spent close to home. We will "consume" intentionally. This new beginning gives us the chance to make every decision thoughtfully, consciously, deliberately. To start:

Cymone (our mature, imaginative, loving daughter) is passionate about reading and writing. She would love to BORROW books and will give us a list to share, and she would like a new journal. Handmade comfort items are encouraged - a blanket, quilt, jewelry, mixed CDs or music of any sort that an 11 year-old would enjoy. Please hold off on giving her toys or things we'll have to move around.

We welcome gift certificates for Winthrop Mountain Sports and Methow Cycle and Sport, or certificates for future use at any of the following locations:  Ace Hardware in Winthrop, North Valley Lumber, Local 98856, and Confluence Gallery. Our community needs you as much as we do.

We welcome CSAs for Bluebird Grain Farms or Crown S Ranch. You can also donate to the Community Foundation of North Central Washington for others in this beautiful place who lost so much - more than 300 homes gone so far.

My studio. My God. My studio. We have launched a fundraiser to help replace tools and equipment so that I can continue to create. Here is the link if you would like to contribute: Nicole's Studio.

We cannot thank our community - our family and friends - enough for your support. Yes, we are grieving, and we do need you. We are grateful to be here grieving. Just know that we might not be on our best behavior.

What will we do? Our future is uncertain, but we'll undoubtedly regrow our roots.

We are safe, surrounded by friends - you.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Creation of a Poppy

I have become obsessed with watching our poppy plants as they cycle through life. Seeds will germinate within 10-20 days, and then they grow, flower, fruit, and seed, offering fabulous bursts of colors in areas of your garden that have poor, stubborn soil.

As I've watched our poppies this year, I designed a sculptural piece of jewelry to ease my obsession.

Red poppies  grow upright with a single bloom on the stem. The stem is slightly hairy and can reach 3 to 4 feet in height.


Poppies produce a spectacular flower. The petals are thin and fragile and can easily be shaken off. The petals resemble crumpled tissue paper and are formed in a cup shape.



The poppy fruit is the seed pod. When the flower has finished blooming the petals drop off and the center ovary swells. It contains the seeds and will open valves on top to release the seeds when they are ripe. The fruit has a greenish skin and is shaped like a ridged pot with a little lid.

Poppy seeds are tiny and dark brown. They are the source of the edible poppy seeds used for decoration on food and for seasoning. They can also be pressed to produce poppy-seed oil. The fruit or seed capsule contains hundreds of these little seeds which escape the pod through fissures in the top. One poppy seed head can produce a beautiful, bright field of poppies. The seeds disperse a variety of ways and germinate.

Here is an interesting fact:

It's true that the flowers are very fleeting, lasting in a vase sometimes only for hours. They don't wilt, but the delicate petals begin to fall quickly. To avoid this, there is something you can do. As you cut the flowers, take only the freshest. Then use a large match or cigarette lighter, holding the cut end of the stem over the flame, and let it sear the end of the stem until it's almost black. This seals the milky juices into the stem, and usually at least doubles the life of the flower in water. Even with searing, your arrangement won't last long. But don't hesitate; if you want poppies on the table, cut them and enjoy. Everybody will love them.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Natural Rock Jewelry: A Gallery of Recent Work

Some of these recent pieces are available on my website, while some were sent to galleries or purchased by customers. This is a place where I can show my hand fabricated work in one photo gallery. If there are any pieces that speak to you and you would like a custom order, let me know.

Hand fabricated sterling silver, oxidized. The stone is naturally tumbled by the Pacific ocean.

I was inspired to make this piece after spending the morning in the garden. The naturally ocean-tumbled rock symbolizes the soil.

Hand fabricated sterling silver hoops. The gemstones symbolize the freshness of an alpine lake.

I made this ring with sterling silver and a natural beach stone.

These are hand formed sterling silver links. The bead is an African trade bead that I purchased in Ghana a couple of decades ago. I finally figured out how I wanted to use it.

I made this ring with sterling silver and a recycled vintage Coke bottle. I tumbled the glass until the edges were smooth.

These necklaces were made using naturally tumbled rocks from France - a custom order. 

This was another custom order for a lovely person in Ohio. I found the rock alongside the Methow River just beneath our home. The sterling silver is hand fabricated, and the cord is adjustable.

A rock within a rock - hand drilled and strung on a delicate sterling silver chain.

This is a custom piece for a gallery in Jacksonville, OR. The natural river rocks are from the Methow River. Again, for this necklace I hand fabricated the sterling silver to make a half-sun.

These funky earrings are made with sterling silver and glass beads.

I was on a roll with the glass beads. These earrings are made with sterling silver and glass beads, and were sent to a gallery in Tacoma, WA.

This unique artisan pendant is made with a natural rock from the Methow River. I drilled and hollowed out the rock, and hand fabricated the sterling silver. It's called "Rain Showers".

Drilled rock, custom order: "Summit Cairn".

Another custom piece for a woman in France. I love the colors in the naturally tumbled beach pebble.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Serviceberry and Raspberry Syrup: Recipe

Right now we have serviceberries and raspberries up the wazoo. We're harvesting and processing as quickly as possible, trying to pick every last berry (impossible with the serviceberries, but more feasible with the raspberries).

One of my favorite uses for the nutty-flavored serviceberries is homemade syrup. This year I decided to throw in a few cups of raspberries and am delighted with the results. Following is a recipe, which I've broken down for a smaller quantity.

Serviceberry and Raspberry Syrup:

4 C. serviceberries
1 C. raspberries
2 cups sugar
You will also need:
Fine mesh strainer
1 pint-size glass jar
  1. Rinse the berries and let air dry.
  2. Place the berries in a medium saucepan.
  3. Add sugar and stir. Reduce to a medium simmer and let the berries cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. After about 20 minutes, the berries will be nearly a thick paste. The liquid will be deep a deep, gorgeous red color. Remove from heat.
  5. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a clean glass jar, separating the solid berries from the liquid. Note: DO NOT press down on the solids to extract more juice. Doing this will make your syrup cloudy. Instead, you can blend the remaining solids in a food processor and dehydrate them into delicious fruit roll ups. Serviceberries are seedy, but they soften when cooked.
Serve your syrup on ice cream, pancakes, or add a little to bubbling water for a Shrub.

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