In My Bones

I’m on my walk. It’s a 3 mile trail on a hill. There’s a huge section on the downhill that runs along what I think of as “the bracken”—wetlands-y, bordering the woods, lots of overgrowth.

Just as I enter the bracken, I see a man coming towards me. He’s about a football field away, which starts my heart racing because it’s not much time to plan.

Plan what, you ask? Ha! No you didn’t, because you’re mostly women here. You know exactly what I meant: I’m alone and here comes a man.

My first thought was I didn’t bring Dasher. Not that Dasher would save me from anyone, but only our family, friends, contractor, the pool guy next door, our neighbors and the kids down the street know that. To everyone else he looks like a German Shepherd tied one on with a Doberman. But I didn’t bring him with me today.

This is the moment I take a good hard look at the bracken to my right. Which, hey look at that, slopes downward. How have I never noticed that before? One good shove, and I’m off the path and into the blackberries. No one would ever know.

I’m not helpless, though. I can see him coming. He’s wearing sweats, a hoodie and sunglasses. I remind myself to strike for the soft spots. Then I sink into my feet, ready.

YOU GUYS. I am just walking on a Monday morning at 9:00 am in my own town, but I now have a plan for the man who is walking towards me on the path.

And it is only because of what he does next that I even spend one second of my day unwinding this moment.  

With at least 20 feet to go before we meet up, he swings wide off the other side of the path, putting a good 15 feet between us as we pass. I am so flummoxed by this that I actually think “Bit much, COVID dude” before I realize he did it to make me feel safe.

It shocks me. I’m not scared of much, but as I let go of all the ways I prepared to cross paths with him, I know that the threat I felt is ancient and generational, bred into my bones and reinforced by 49 years of living. Women are not always safe alone with a man. Vigilance is required. It has nothing to do with this particular man and he knows it, because he has a mom, wife, sisters, daughters. He doesn’t take it personally. But he does move to make me feel safe.

I’m telling you this thing that you already know as women because maybe we have forgotten that other people have ancient, generational instincts bred into their bones too, from other threats that also require vigilance.

We need to remember. We need to give people space for their vigilance, acknowledge that the vigilance is legitimate, and then earn each other’s trust. It’s not asking too much. It’s how we begin to fix what’s been broken.

It was the work of 10 seconds for that man to make me feel seen, respected and safe. We can do this for each other.

Coughs and Colds

Here comes cough and cold season.

Back in the day—and I mean way, way back—moms would whip up a hot toddy for their sick chickens, like the one my friend Paula’s mom used to give her: whiskey, honey, lemon.

That wisdom slipped away with the arrival of over-the-counter cough and cold remedies.

Then in 2007, we got told that we can’t give our kids over-the-counter medicines if they’re under the age of four. Wed MD explains why (emphasis mine):

For decades, parents have relied on kids’ cold medicines and cough syrups — typically grape, cherry, or bubblegum flavored — to ease their children’s discomfort. 

However, the FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4.

Evidence indicates that children’s cold medicines don’t really help and may pose a real (although small) risk of side effects, particularly to young children. This has cast serious doubt on a common and trusted group of medicines — and left many parents anxious and confused.

They don’t really help. And there was a dangerous downside. We had certainly seen that with allergy medication prescribed by our doctor for Gabe’s persistent runny nose in the Fall. We had seen it with the teething gel we gave to Kate when she was cutting teeth. And when I thought about it, I realized that I couldn’t honestly say that any of the adult cold and cough medicine worked for me or Shea either.

Except…we woke up with hangovers from “nighttime” cough syrup and walked like stuffed zombies from “daytime” liquigels.

So when I was pregnant with Annie and suffering from a winter cold, I reached for the homeopathics.

And they worked.

Let me clarify what I mean by “worked”.

There is a lot of evidence out there that all over the counter cough and cold medicines are ineffective, evidence which has been squashed by the mass marketing of the companies that make the meds.

See this, this, and this.

The homeopathics did not make me better. But no over the counter medicines can “cure” a cold or cough.

At 2 am, all we’re looking for is an alleviation of symptoms. Homeopathics and commercial cold and cough medicines both claim to help.

But some commercial over the counter medicines contain other things that are not so good for us and cause side effects. Most of the “inactive ingredients” in these syrups and capsules are “generally rated as safe” by the FDA, such as propylene glycol and synthetic food coloring. Generally. And most nighttime formulas use an antihistamine, like Benedryl, as the sleep agent.

This explains the Nyquil hangover. And any mom can tell you that a child’s reaction to an antihistamine is a crap shoot. Sometimes they get sleepy, and sometimes they run up and down the plane aisle like you fed them three chocolate bars before you boarded.

(Or maybe that’s just Kate?)

The homeopathics, on the other hand, have shorter, more recognizable ingredient lists. And they work. Our favorite is Zarbee’s Nighttime Cough Syrup, which is a dark honey formulation with vitamin C, zinc and melatonin. Like the old fashioned hot toddy, minus the whiskey. And it will soothe a sore throat and calm a cough. I’ve also had success with the Hyland’s allergy formula for Annie.

My girls have a cold this week and I am using the Breathe essential oil formulation from Do Terra. They get a bit on their chest and on the bottoms of their feet, plus some in the humidifier. Kate has a cough, but between the Breathe and the Zarbee’s, she is not coughing at night.

You know Dana and I are only crunchy-ish. We believe in flu shots and vaccines and antibiotics when they are needed. These are my precious babies and I am not fooling around with their health. Homeopathics are an ancient wisdom, but they come from a time when people regularly died of fevers. So we use our common sense and pediatricians who believe in a blend of the old and the new.

I do have a back-up bottle of Mucinex in the cabinet. What prompted me to sit down and write this post is that in cleaning out the cabinet in preparation for the move, I re-discovered the Mucinex—unopened and expired.


Recipe for Hot Toddy:

Zarbee’s Natural:

DoTerra Breathe:

Pennies on the Dollar


It’s October.

You wearing pink?

Dana and I have stayed away from this because even though I am a survivor of not-breast cancer and her dad passed away from not-breast cancer and America is coming to the realization that the whole pink thing is kind of a sham (where the money doesn’t go where they say and cancer-causing chemicals are sold in pink bottles), we do have boobies.

But I just read something that pushed me out of my silence. And that’s saying something. The first week of October I took a phone call from one of those breast cancer faux fund-raising companies where the person on the phone is being paid a commission based on the amount of donations they get, and less than half of the money actually gets donated to research. When I stopped the lady mid-sentence to explain that we donate to another kind of cancer, because I am a survivor, she paused and then said “So?”

This thing that made me get up in the middle of the morning on a Monday when there is laundry to do and a shower to take and Dana and I were going to repost last year’s Halloween posts because we just need a break? Here it is:

A little more than 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget goes toward childhood cancers. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society allocates 8 percent of what’s donated to research for cures for kids. In the past ten years, there have been nine drug approvals specifically indicated for pediatric cancer, which is a fraction of the number of adult cancer-fighting drugs approved each year. Even though childhood cancers do account for less than 1 percent of all cancers annually, they remain the leading cause of death by disease in children…

(P)art of the problem has to do with profits. Almost 60 percent of medical research in the United States is funded by pharmaceutical companies, not by the government. Because children’s cancers impact far fewer patients than adult cancers do, the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t have a financial incentive to invest money in developing new chemotherapy drugs for children because there isn’t a way for it to get a return on the investment.”

(“Your Child Has Cancer…”, Elizabeth Foy Larson, Parent Magazine, November 2014)

What does this have to do with pennies?

For every dollar donated to the American Cancer Society, one penny goes towards childhood cancer research. One.

From the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society—covering Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which is the most common type of childhood cancer? Two pennies.

The National Cancer Institute? Using our tax dollars? Only 4% of their annual budget. Four pennies.

Wow. Our childrens’ lives are worth pennies on the dollar.

Are boobies more important than babies?

If you don’t think that’s a fair question then how about this: How many women would trade their boobies for their babies without a thought?

Right. See what I’m saying?

This is not about valuing one life more than another.

And it’s not about a “my cancer is worse than yours” contest. Yuck.

Boobies are important. But the kids need a fair shake, which is something they don’t often get in the good ol’ US of A, where we value too many things more than we value the lives of our children.

Do you have pennies? We have pennies. What if we all took our pennies, turned them in and sent the money to organizations dedicated to childhood cancer research?

You can find a list of those organizations and how they use the money at

One Hour ~ Jen

I struggle to read the stories. Not the ones where the mom made it, got help, survived. I can handle those, like the many you can find here. It’s the ones where she wasn’t helped, and someone didn’t make it, that I can’t handle. It hits too close to home.

This week it was three beautiful little girls, ages 2, 16 months and two months.

I didn’t read the story, but my mom brought it up. She has learned like the rest of us to be so very angry at these stories.

“Her husband was right across the street.”

“I know mom, but she was probably listening to the voices in her head.”

Pause. Loooong pause. Then, “Did you hear voices?”

They weren’t really voices. They were more like thoughts. What if? And one of those was What if I can’t take it anymore? I knew one thing: I wasn’t leaving my kids behind.

Yeah, it’s horrifying. And someday I will have to explain it to my kids. But I keep saying it because you need to know. From the outside I looked and sounded normal. It was my inside that was all messed up and there was a part of me that knew it and was scared and so worked very hard to keep it all bottled inside. The only one who saw a hint of it all was Shea.

And he didn’t know what to do. We thought the baby blues was something that happened in the first two weeks, not something that dogged me for years after my first two pregnancies and then exploded after Annie.

So here’s my contribution to Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s not a story, even though the stories are so important. There is strength in numbers.

But I have a suggestion. A call to action. And it’s easy.

At our local hospital, there are all kinds of classes to prepare families for the birth of a new baby. Sibling classes and daddy diaper classes and nursing classes and labor classes.

I think we need one more. One hour. One person, preferably the spouse or partner. If not, the adult who will be closest to mom after delivery.  All the information they need to recognize and intervene in case of a maternal mental health issue.

What to look for (depression, anxiety, withdrawal, inability to sleep). Who to call (first, the OB/GYN; then, Postpartum Support International). What to say (This is not your fault. You will be ok. We are going to get help).  A magnet with PSI’s 800 number to stick on the fridge.

So simple. We can grass roots it, one hospital at a time. We’d need just a few women willing to talk once a month on a rotating basis. I would do it in a hot second. For free. Because if we empower one spouse to help one mom beat back the voice in her head saying What if?, then we win.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety after the birth of a baby, even months and months after the birth of a baby, you can visit or call 1-800-944-4773 for help. They will help you. I promise because I know. They helped me.


PSI Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Hop

The Names We Call Ourselves ~ Jen

For a long time I have thought about a tattoo to commemorate that I am a cancer survivor. But for four years, I haven’t done it. The hesitation came from something I read in an illness recovery book, that we have to be careful about the way we visualize our illness and our struggle against it. It makes so much sense not to use images of violence, domination, anger, loss. A sick person does not need to bring these energies into their life.

I didn’t battle my cancer. I told it to leave. And then I shut the door against its return. I guard the door carefully, with all the things that reduce my stress and keep me peaceful: food, exercise, God, family, friends and creating.

This is not new age-y philosophy. This is ancient wisdom, reflected in the scripture of Proverbs 17:22: A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.

So even though the symbol of thyroid cancer is a butterfly–and what could be more peaceful than a butterfly–I wasn’t sure this was good medicine.

Then last week I read this*:

If we stay survivors only without moving to thriving, we limit ourselves and we cut our energy to ourselves and our power in the world to less than half…once the threat is past, there is a potential trap in calling ourselves by names taken on during the most terrible times of our lives…it is not good to base the soul identity solely on the feats and losses and victories of the bad times”.

That’s it.

For a long time, every time I said out loud that I was a cancer survivor, a voice in my head yelled “GOOD LORD! I HAD CANCER! I COULD HAVE DIED A YOUNG WIFE AND LEFT BEHIND MY KIDS WHO WOULD HAVE NEVER REMEMBERED ME!!!!”

Every time, it was like hitting a wall. Or any other metaphor that describes the moment in a perfectly wonderful normal day when something makes you remember: I have been hurt. I have been abused. I have lost. I could have died.

It took me a long time to get past that place. It took a lot of work, prayer, reading and support. That time in my life is still framed in fear and anger and doubt, but those emotions are no longer with me on a daily basis.

If I marked my body with a symbol of that time, then those emotions would permanently be present. And for the love of all that is good, why would I do that to myself?

Whatever we have survived—cancer, sexual assault, violence, addiction, loss, our parent’s ugly divorce,  our own ugly divorce—it’s part of us, but not who we are. It’s a piece of our story, but not the whole story. The story isn’t over yet and we have to choose carefully which emotions and energies we are going to carry forward.

Not just for our mental and emotional health, but for our physical health as well. Because how we feel, and what’s inside of us deep, deep down will manifest itself physically. It will make us pay attention.

If you are in the midst of surviving, in the midst of the battle for your life and your heart, soldier on. Don’t be scared of the scars you are earning. Scars heal stronger than what was there before. I’m proud of my scars.

But if you are past the battle, like I am, then we have to consider the truth in the words: There is danger in calling ourselves by names we earn in the hardest times in our lives. We can get stuck there, in the pain, fear, anger, grief, bitterness, abandonment, addiction. Or worse, bring these things forward into our future where they will constantly demand our attention and make us sick in body and spirit.

I don’t want to manifest anger, fear, illness. I want to manifest joy and health. So no butterfly.

But that doesn’t mean no ink. It just means I am waiting for the right inspiration.


For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. How great are your works, Lord, how profound your thoughts!– Psalm 92:4-5

*From Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes