Monthly Archives: January 2014

chainmail made of lace

Day 130

photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

Some days I am consumed with wanting,

overcome with a love so strong it pricks my eyes with tears and tightens my throat.

This boy, my son. His cousin, my nephew.

They are perfect. Their eyes sparkle and their laughter loosens all the too tight things in this world.

They please the Gods.

I just know it.

And I




for them.

I want it so bad it makes my palms itch, makes my skin crawl,

leaves me breathless.

I want a world perfect for them.

Clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean food.

Kind people, many friends, laughing faces, love.

Hope, happiness, peace.

I want them to run wild,

climb high trees,

drink water while swimming.

I want them to carry the smell of sunlight and wood smoke in their hair, on their skin.

I want them to know their people, to be confident and secure,

shoulders back, heads high.

To be sure the world is good,

ordered in a magic way,

in the Old Way.

I just want it.

I want things to be right.

And you know what kills me?

What crumbles me,

squeezes my heart like a shiny, steel vise?

Is that no matter how much I wish,

or how much I want,

it doesn’t change anything.

They will still have their challenges.

Zander will have to work to read faces, make friends, make sense of a mixed up world,

Revie will have to learn to protect his soft heart, recognize the battles he can win and those he can’t.

And that’s the thing about mothering no one tells you.

That one day, you will send your small children out into a world,

that is big, and scary, and unknown,

and the only armor you will be allowed to give them,

is a lifetime of your own love,

wrapped around them and woven,

like chainmail made of lace.

Will it stop bullets? Or broken hearts?

But this must be every mother’s, and father’s,

and person’s challenge,

regardless of the state of the world, the purity of the water, the health of the planet.

To balance worry and wanting with

a willingness to do the work of

actually changing the world.

I’d make a deal with the devil

if I thought it would make things right.

But there is no devil to fall back on.

Just very, very good people,

working very, very hard.

I always think that if I died right now,

my greatest achievement would be having loved a few people

very, very much

with each cell of my being.

And that even if I live to be one hundred,

that would be enough.

The loving.

That is always enough.

Because when it comes right down to it,

what else is there?

I love you.

I am sorry.

Thank you.

Please forgive me.

Thank you for listening,



photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen


The world is nothing like they tell us

Day 129

photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

They make us feel afraid of one another.

Lock the doors, stay inside.

Don’t let your children out by themselves.

Watch out in public places, someone will try to rob you.

Don’t talk to strangers.

Don’t make eye contact.

You are in danger, you are not safe.

The warnings, the cautions, the tales of disaster spewed on the nightly news,

must be constantly poured upon us

rivers of scary stories

to make sure we don’t forget

that we are alone.

But it’s bullshit.

Those locks aren’t on your doors to keep people out,

those locks are on your doors to keep you in.

To keep you from venturing outside to adventure, and experience, and explore,

and go wild.

Yes horrible things happen,

and my heart breaks for those touched by such grief.

But fortunately it’s very rare,

and  violence is created,

out of the terror, and the tension, and prejudices we hold

against one another,

because we’re constantly

reminded how terrible everyone is.

Well guess what?

Everyone’s not terrible,

most people are actually pretty great.

Mostly we all just want someone to listen to us,

someone to pay attention,

someone to love.

Break down your walls,

or at least loosen them up.

Unlock your doors,

go outside,

LIVE outside

The world is NOTHING like they tell us.


Make eye contact.


Tell stories.

Befriend complete strangers.

The world is beautiful.

See for yourself.

Thank you for listening,



photo by Wilson Alvarez

photo by Wilson Alvarez

Cancer; Please read this one

Day 128
photo by Wilson Alvarez

photo by Wilson Alvarez

Sometimes, somebody writes something so honest, so truthful, so from the heart,
that it speaks to all of our deepest feelings,
our hopes,
our loves,
our fears.
Sometimes, someone speaks about their experience,
and we all catch our breath in
collective understanding,
in collective recognition,
in collective knowing.
This is one of those times.
Michelle, when I met you in the crowded supply tent,
of Art Park,
your blue eyes sparkled like the summer sky.
You are good, you are kind. You are a terrific friend.
You deserve only happiness.
I love you.
I’m sorry.
Please forgive me.
Thank you.
Please read Michelle’s piece.
Please share it far and wide.
So many families are touched by cancer at this time.
I lost my Aunt, and my grandmother to breast cancer.
Thank you Michelle, for putting words to our fears. To our love.
This is what civilization does.
This is why we need to find another way to live.
Our own cells are reacting to the craziness in the world.
Shell, my thoughts are with you and your family at this time. You are strong. You love each other very much. You will beat this thing.
We will all hold you, and your mother, and your family in our thoughts.
It will help.
That’s a promise.
I love you.
Thank you for listening,
Please take the time to read Michelle’s beautiful piece:
“My Mother”
by Michelle Johnsen
All my life, on my birthday, I’ve heard this story (longer versions, shorter versions) from my beautiful mother’s lips. Her face shines with happiness telling it, even now. The next time I hear this story, I’ll be 30.
I was born on a Sunday.
The hot August sun was shining down on Chestnut Street. My mother sat sewing on the front porch of my parents’ house- the home she grew up in; the home I would grow up in.
“I think I’m having this baby today,” she calmly told my father.
So, he inexplicably shaved his beard. She finished her sewing. She packed a few things.
They drove the few blocks to the hospital where my mom worked- where she has now worked for over 45 years.
“I felt a little uncomfortable,” she said. “I felt like pushing, and then you were born.” Their small daughter, their first born.
I was so wanted. So, so loved. Still am.
A few days later, I came home for the first time. My father took a picture of me in my mom’s arms. It matches a photo of my Gram holding my mother, the day her parents brought HER home.
shell's mama
I’ve always looked forward to the day I could add my own photo to this tradition- myself and my newborn daughter, or my newborn son. Line it up right next to the others: my grandmother, my mother, and me. Each of us shining with motherhood. How wonderful a grandmother my mom will be, how proud.
This morning my mother called me, as she does often since I moved to Lancaster, an hour and a half away from my family.
“I wish I could tell you in person. I have breast cancer,” she said.
My head swam. I swayed where I was standing. My blood pounded in my ears. And I thought immediately of those photos, all three lined up. My grandmother, my mother, and me.
And I thought of another photo.
Me, newly born, in the arms of my mom’s older sister, my Aunt Linda, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32. Who passed away at age 35, the very year my mother gave birth to me. Just a few short years between. In the photo, I am bundled up in a blanket, fresh and new. Aunt Linda is frail in a hospital bed, only floors from the room where I was born, in a plain gown, her hair short. Smiling, smiling. Her baby niece!
I cherish the photo as proof that she loved me, even if I can never know her. I came into the world just as she was leaving it.
Aunt Linda pregnant with my cousin Michael

Aunt Linda pregnant with my cousin Michael

Always, as I approach 30, I consider the risk that I, too, might someday be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Maybe so very young, like my mom’s sister. A tiny fear lurks deeply, reminding me of my beautiful aunt whom I never knew,
and the nudge of a suffering I have yet to encounter.
Now, the threat is closer: my sweet mother, the helper. Our family’s rock. My mom and her three remaining sisters debated being tested for the “breast cancer gene”, the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. One aunt was tested and was positive for the mutation. She underwent a voluntary, preemptive hysterectomy and double mastectomy. My mom was tested, has the mutated gene, and opted instead to get mammograms and MRIs every 6 months.
She doesn’t smoke. Barely has more than a drink at a time. Walks often, eats well, lives a very happy life with my dad. But she got it anyway.
6 months ago, the scans were clean.
Now they want me to be tested.
Do I want to be tested?
Find out no, I don’t have the gene mutation- but that doesn’t mean I won’t get it. Find out yes, I am positive for the mutation- also doesn’t mean I definitely will or won’t get it. If yes, I have access to free preventative resources. If no, those tests will have to come out of my pocket. I don’t even have health insurance. But will it consume me? Will I live in fear of the day I am potentially diagnosed?
Is it selfish to ask these things, when it’s my mother who needs the support?
So we’ll band together, take the short ride to the hospital where I was born, and learn about options in surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. About alopecia, anti-emetics, the TNM system of rating- tumor size, lymph nodes, and mets. A new vocabulary.
And in every thump of my heart, every breath waits the thing I’m most afraid to ask. Is she going to make it through this?
shell and mama
Mom, Thank you so, so much for raising me with your overflowing heart, and passing it along to me. I want to use it as often and as well as you do.
Please forgive me for all the ways I have strayed from you and the things you taught me.
I am so sorry we live in a world where 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer.
Where it is the second leading cause of death in women.
Where harmful, toxic carcinogens spoil us- in our air, our soil, our water, our food, in deodorant, a bar of soap, toothpaste, hair spray, detergent, in the material used to make carpets, in our insulation, rubber, batteries, house paints, preservatives.
I’m so so sorry Mom, that the gross excess of estrogen in our world may have caused you to have breast cancer,
in things like: hormone-injected meats and so many other foods; in hair gels, shampoos, and moisturizers marketed to enhance our beauty; in chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides that mimic natural estrogen; in the lining of the familiar cans of soup we always ate with our grilled cheese; in all the plastic SHIT we have created including pink breast cancer bracelets, car tags, and water bottles;
in our water itself- from the millions of birth control pills consumed each year, excreted in urine naturally, flushed down with the toilet water, ineffectively “treated”, and returned to our flowing sink tap.
I love you so much, Mama.
I’m right here fighting next you.
To be continued.
my mom and dad

my mom and dad

The ancient ones

Day 127

photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

If you drive as far South as you can go in Florida,

you’ll come to a place where the water meets the land.

In that place, you will be closer to Cuba

than the nearest Wal-Mart. As the locals will proudly point out.

Wil’s grandfather came from Cuba,

was 2 grades under Fidel Castro in school,

took to the seas with the Merchant Marines when he was a young man,

and eventually washed up on the shores of America.

But before he left, there was already rebellion,

gatherings and protests on the college campus,

a growing unrest in the air.

My Grandfather was born in the Ukraine.

His parents were farmers.

He met my grandmother after escaping from a Nazi work camp.

She was beautiful, with a deep and mysterious scar from bomb shrapnel on her leg,

that fascinated me as a child.

My great grandmother lost a child, my grandmother’s littlest brother.

a boy, about the same age my boy is now.

He was cute, we have a grainy black and white,

showing his round cheeks, her mother’s love.

They didn’t have much food, times were hard,

he became sick, and died.

It stunned me, this fact about my great grandmother, when I found out.

Already old when I knew her,

she spoke Russian and French,

smoked cigarettes,

rode the bus to visit us, and brought us olives.

She was loving. She was spirited, she was alive!

How? How did she live through the loss of that smiling boy?

Go on to immigrate to Canada,

raise my grandmother,

raise my mother,

visit us.

What strange lives the Old Ones have lived,

what secrets they hold in their hearts,

carry in their long memories.

What toughness they have,

strengths I cannot know,

have not yet earned,

in my short life.

Blessings to the ancestors,

and thanks.

I welcome your guidance,

pray for it in dreams.

I am listening.

Thank YOU for listening,



photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

The waters of my life

Day 126

photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

There’s the water I was born from. Salty as the sea, warm, amniotic.

And then there’s the waters of my childhood, with bubbles in the bath, with chlorine in the pool, spring fed in the Gretna Lake, crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

And then there’s the waters of my travels, hot springs in Arkansas, and Texas,

and the icy cold creeks in the canyons of Big Sur, and the rain falling in sheets in Oregon and Washington,

The Pacific Ocean, with it’s whales, and seals, giant trees, and crashing waves.

The lakes of Winnipeg, Manitoba where my grandmother lived, great, large bodies like seas,

And the smaller lakes of Vermont, and Maine,

wild with Otters, Beaver, and Moose.

There’s the water of my homeland,

The wide Susquehanna, The muddy Conestoga, and the meandering Mill Creek.

There’s the water that carried my nephew, buoyant, birthing, new.

And the water my own son sailed here on,

Soaking, salty,



tell me your sorrows, so I might carry them with you,

hold them in my own cupped hands.

We are the same.

Thank you for listening,



Stake Your Claim

Day 125

photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

We need to stake our claim.

We need to stand, back to back, tall, straight and strong,

with burning hearts and fire in our eyes,

gazing into the distance,

a place where our future shines,

as bright as the sea,

on a moonlit night.

We need to return to the semi-wild lands,

the forgotten places, the ignored,

where the Old Way rules still reign.

Next to the train tracks, under the highway bypass, next to the dark alleys where the broken glass shines like diamonds.

We need to grow food there, plant the medicines that will bring us health, watch the rabbits, and the squirrels, and the raccoons, and the deer,

that call those zones home.

that live out whole lives like shadows,

secret shapes moving in the night.

We need to be saboteurs,

flipping switches and causing trouble,

wherever we can, whenever we can,

in whatever fields we have access too.

We must work tirelessly, and furtively,

and also make ruckus in the streets.

There is a need for all of it,

we need all of it.

We must leave the jobs that no longer serve us, that hold us like slaves in shackles and chains,

learn to live with less,

learn to live.

Find small ways to make money, barter, trade,

extract ourselves bit by bit

from an economy

that turns us against one another,

consumes the land.

We need to raise our children up,

to know they are powerful, and brilliant, and strong, and vulnerable,

and part of a much larger whole.

And we need to allow ourselves to love one another,

passionately, desperately,

breath quickened,

chest to beating chest.

And that will help us love the land,

it will open our hearts,

make us soft, and sweet,

like babies,

suckling at the breast of a mother,

who never turns us away.

Go camping, sleep under the stars.

Spend as much time as possible outside, surrounded by wild things.

In a world that is false, they are true.

Stake your claim,

take a chance,

fall in love,

make some noise.

There are great changes happening now.

Many brave ones have stepped forward,

let yourself be among them.

You are strong in ways you’ve never even imagined.

Let yourself



Thank you for listening,



photo by Wilson Alvarez

photo by Wilson Alvarez

Oh I love my friend Sarah H. This is a guest piece inspired by her recent experiences. So often we are made to believe that clarity can come from turning inward. But really, we must take chances, risks, do, and act. It is this motion that allows us to build our own wisdom, and helps us to know our own hearts. Thank you for reminding us of this truth Sarah!!-


by Sarah H.

Meditation is digging a hole so deep into the ground that a fresh spring is released into your brown black palms, and drinking it straight, without a cup…

Meditation is squeezing your lover so hard, their heart is your heart…

Meditation is speaking the truth with such grace and dignity, nothing about it is harsh…

Meditation is teaching yourself to breath into your solar plexus and hold it, til it pours from your skull and carrying it all day and all night…

Meditation is crying so loudly everyone wants to ask why, but they know…

Meditation is on your knees, begging to know this is who you are- My Beloved, ” I am bliss, I am bliss, bliss absolute, bliss I am”…

Meditation is thanking your water and food…

Meditation is singing the song you love…

Meditation is courage…

Meditation is interconnected, the voice of Mother, who gives you everything…

Meditation is singing the song you love to the plants, and listening to their harmony…

Meditation is bare feet…

Meditation is feeding someone who needs food, even if they need food everyday…

Meditation is being a woman and flowing, and allowing your scent to drip all over your body, even if men go to war…

Meditation is closing your eyes and letting the darkness feed you…

Meditation is opening your eyes and letting the sunlight feed you…

Meditation is drinking salt water til you puke…

Meditation is making up your own meditation…

Please keep us in your thoughts

Day 124

photo by Wilson Alvarez

photo by Wilson Alvarez

This blank page staring back at me,

reminds me of snow.

Each flake,


no 2 alike,


I think of the paper snowflakes I made as a kid.

Carefully cut from sheets of smooth paper.

Scissors making delicate cuts,

a triangle here, a circle there,

symmetrical, tidy, neat.


I want to write this, but I can’t. I’ve been side tracked by nursing and snuggling with my baby.

And I’m feeling heartbroken about my father-in-law.

We got some letters today, from him.

Desperate notes, scrawled on the backs of denied requests,

for toothpaste, for food, for care.

A month in the hole, solitary confinement. No one to talk to, nothing to do, nowhere to go.

Yes, he committed a crime. Around money, his obsession. Not violent. He’s gentle, really.

He has not been tried yet.

Guilty until proven innocent, it seems.

It is very hard to deal with this.

I am  so sad for him, for my husband, and our whole family.

Please keep us in your thoughts.

Thank you for listening,