Sunday, December 1, 2013

Beauty Basics

In addition to having a really cool name and being one of my favorite people at Mariposa Bakeshop in Oakland, Flynn May has a special talent that not enough people know about:  she makes amazing skin care products! I can imagine Flynn right now, blushing in response to that claim, smiling, shaking her head, oh well I don't know about that, she might say.

Well I do know I love her lip gloss.  Three tubes of it sit on my bedside table.  A refreshing, citrusy tangerine, a yummy raspberry, and one unflavored concoction of simple, pure, skin loving oils all vie for my attention each night at lights out.  In the morning my lips are soft and smooth, but I can't resist one more raspberry kiss before I begin my day.  

But these are not typical lip glosses.  They do not add any color to your lips, because Flynn thinks your lips are the perfect color, just the way they are.  She shared with me her guiding philosophy:  beauty is within each of us and we only need to take care of ourselves to be radiant. We are Fine from day one. In fact, we are our best when we are natural.

Wise words, and while I won't be clearing out my makeup drawer anytime soon, I will be adding more of Flynn's products, which are tantalizing in their natural simplicity (they're also going to make great holiday gifts).  Curious about her process, I emailed Flynn asking for more information.

Tell me more about your products. 
Born Fine Body Care is a nature based body care line I developed while crafting winter gifts for a fundraiser several years ago. I had planned to bring gluten free baked goods but my kitchen wasn't available so I improvised and created some lip balm with a friend. Born Fine was born.

Now, I design handmade body products from natural oils, herbs and flowers. Currently I sell lip gloss, bath salts and face scrubs and masks. I am developing unscented body cremes and hair products by popular demand from my customers. 

What inspired you to begin concocting?
Just a happy coincidence of having the right ingredients and running out of lip gloss. Then the creative juices started flowing for different flavors. I wanted to improve texture and the tint of my tinted gloss so I started to research how to do things properly.

Did you have a mentor?  

I had the help of my experienced friend and local herbalist Elokin. I also call on my friend Elise Loschaivo when I come across a road block in a formula. She has a successful cosmetic line in Maine.

Are there certain essences or oils that you especially enjoy working with? 
As it turns out my coconut oil base makes my unscented products very popular. But chocolate and tangerine are my most popular flavors of lip balm. And I even find myself drawn in when I'm making them.

I love combining scents that are not often thought of, like citrus and lavender together. Or  finding compatible woodsy scents to make more masculine blends. I am working on a few new lip flavors like Birch and a moisturizing bath tea that uses violets and osmanthus.

To learn more about Born Fine and browse its products, you can visit the Born Fine Body Care website.  You can Like Born Fine Body Care on its FaceBook page.  You can also order products by emailing Flynn at  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

If you can't be with the one you want...

I have wanted to play the guitar since I was about five years old.  My mom plays, and I remember pages of sheet music strewn about her as she gently strummed chords and sang in her flute-like voice.  She also used to accompany the family on Christmas Eve as we sang carols, fussing and protesting that she hadn't practiced, and then brightening the whole house with the music from her little black guitar.  She took me to try lessons with her guitar teacher, but I only remember going once or twice, so I'm guessing I did not show much aptitude.

When I was 19 or 20 my dad tried to help fulfill my wish to play guitar.  He told me to cut my nails and then showed me a scale exercise to practice on the strings, plucking as he moved along the fretboard.  He made it seem effortless and fun.  But when I tried, the guitar jutted into my arms and chest as I held it, and maneuvering all those strings to play a chromatic scale didn't seem worth the sore fingers it caused.

In my mid-twenties I tried again, purchasing a small guitar that suited my hands fairly well.  I learned four chords and could haltingly play a few songs.  I asked my husband, who I was dating at the time, to help me learn a Credence Clearwater Revival song.  An hour later we had broken up, and I had resolved never to touch a guitar again.

Then came this summer, when I taught sumer camp at Fairyland and found out that one of the other teachers is also a musician, and lives in my neighborhood.  One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, I had booked a lesson.  A ukelele lesson.

My new ukelele has four easy-to-press strings and weighs less than a pound.  I can wrap my fingers all the way around its neck.  Yesterday I had my first lesson, and it was the first time I truly felt successful with a stringed instrument.  All day I sang my favorite songs, imagining the happy strum of my ukelele that would soon sing along with me.  Later that night I practiced the transition from C to G7 until I could do it without peeking, then played a triumphant Row, Row, Row Your Boat.  It might be too early to tell, but I think my ukelele and I will be friends for a long time.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

I Heart Fairyland

This has not been my typical summer.  On the hunt for a new teaching position, and thinking a summer job would be a good way to make extra money just in case nothing turned up for the fall, I took a job teaching at Children's Fairyland summer camp.  This meant giving up eight weeks of free, unstructured time- two months of freedom that I have looked forward to each year since grade school.  At the same time, I was excited to become a part of Fairyland, a beautifully whimsical place that brought fairytales to life when I visited as a child.

Eight weeks later, I am incredibly grateful I took the job.  I learned Fairyland secrets and watched the puppet shows from backstage.  I held the guinea pigs, brushed the miniature donkeys, and scored fresh eggs from the chickens.  I was impressed each week by the imaginations of my campers as they created an original production inspired by the week's theme and their own pretend play.  I got to use a walkie talkie and spend time in places like Jack and Jill Hill, The Old West, and The Pirate Ship.  The best part of the summer, though, was working with an amazing team of fun, talented, supportive people.  

For several years I worked in a place where community was valued and teachers and staff took time during the day to connect with each other.  We enjoyed each other's company and gave each other empathy and encouragement.  During my final year there that feeling of camaraderie began to disintegrate, as increasing pressures and duties kept teachers more and more separated.  By the end of the year I saw that our once solid community had broken and crumbled.  I felt isolated, and sad to see unhappiness and even fear of our administrators among some of my colleagues.

That experience made me truly value my new work environment.  My boss this summer was the most supportive and openly appreciative I have ever had.  She expressed gratitude for her team of teachers and was always ready to help us with anything we needed, without making us feel that a request for help pointed to some incompetence.  My co-workers were kind and genuine, creative and open hearted.  They made me look forward to showing up each day, and they made it feel safe for me to connect with them.  The eight weeks I spent as a summer camp teacher were more healing and meaningful than eight weeks of sleeping in could ever have been.

On Monday morning my summer will be officially over as I begin work on my new classroom.  Of course there were moments over the past two months when I wanted a break from the eight and a half hour days on my feet wrangling young children in an open air distraction-filled space.  More than once I wished I had just one more week to catch my breath before jumping into the school year.  Instead, I will make do with a good night's sleep, a luxury mani-pedi, and warm fuzzy memories of my best summer ever.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Icebergs and Demons

I have not been very persistent lately, but I've had a lot of good reasons not to be.  Sort of.  The real reason is that I've just been discouraged and unmotivated.  My plans to be up an extra hour early so I can have some writing time are thwarted each morning by a haze of sleepiness and a demon that whispers to me, 'What's the point?'

My dad likes to tell me that William Somerset Maugham used to get up at four o'clock every morning to write.  I would like to have that discipline, although maybe not get up quite so early.  People often say that I am disciplined.  Somehow I've managed to commit to enough writing time in order to finish a few books.  Lately, though, I've really felt the truth in what they say about writing being a lonely pastime.  I do feel isolated, like I'm on my own little iceberg, floating aimlessly through frigid waters.  I'm guessing I'm not the only one who feels this way.  If I could just catch a glimpse of someone else navigating their own iceberg, and we could reach our hands out so that our fingers would brush as we passed each other, that would be nice.

This weekend I went to Peet's with a friend who is also a writer.  When we first began to connect about a year ago, I remember being excited to learn that, in addition to being a fun and caring person, she liked to write.  I talked to her about struggling to motivate myself, and she had some helpful suggestions.  When feeling resistance around her own writing time, she tries doing an exercise out of a book instead of working on a personal project, or analyzing someone else's writing, or reading about writing.  That way, at least she has done something writerly with her hour.  I had always felt that if I wasn't using the time to move forward with my current project, it didn't count.  My friend's way of thinking is much better.

My friend's advice was just what I needed, but there was something else I wanted to try.  I asked her if we could be writing buddies.  She said yes, and we agreed on a time when we would call each other each day to check in.  Over the rest of the weekend I planned out how I would manage my time on Monday morning, and what I would work on this week.  For today, at least, it worked!  I'm sure the What-does-it-matter demon is still lurking in my subconscious, but now I have more tools to fight it.  I also have the comfort of someone else riding alongside my iceberg with me.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Persistence and my first author visit

Last summer I met a woman who teaches second grade in a local school district.  I gave her copies of my books to share with her colleagues and students, and she suggested we set up an author visit.  Months later she contacted me.  She had met with her principal and set up an account with to raise money for me to visit.

Part of me wanted to just do the visit for free.  Part of me insisted I was worth the $300.  After all, established authors charge $2,000 or more for a school visit.

So we sent out emails asking for donations, and the money dribbled in.  In April, three or four months after setting up the account, we were still short about $180.  My friend sent a final plea, since the target amount needed to be reached by April 15.  We sent out more emails, resulting in one more donation, and I don't know about her, but I employed every form of manifesting technique I could think of, despite feeling that that stuff had never really worked for me before.

A few days before the deadline, our project was fully funded, the final chunk of money coming from a complete stranger who simply wanted to support education.

Last Wednesday I had the great pleasure of visiting my friend's school and talking about writing with about 80 second graders.  I got to answer questions like "How long have you been writing?" and "How does Jenny solve her problems in the end?"  Afterwards, my friend reported that in that afternoon's writing workshop the students were more excited and motivated than before.  She's hoping to set up another author visit early next fall, as a way to kick off her school's writing workshop program.

And this morning, my check came in.

Thanks to hoping, thanks to the donors, and especially thanks to my friend's persistence.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Pity Party

While I typically keep a pretty steady pace as I climb towards my goals, I do take a break for the occasional pity party.  On a day when nothing seems to be going right, I easily slip into despairing that I will never realize my dream of success as an author.  Most likely this vision of authorhood is very much like the idealized image of perfection that I imposed on all my high school crushes.  Only now, instead of mewling over the cute boy who never notices me, my inner teenager has found something new to whine about.  If only a few Newbery Awards would come my way, followed by a movie deal, my life would be perfect.  If only I really could focus the bulk of my energies on my writing I would never have another bad day.

As I wallow in the awful unfairness of it all a tiny voice feeds me platitudes:  life is a journey, not a destination; it's always darkest before the dawn; plenty of famous authors were long dead before their work was embraced  by the world.  This brings on another wave of pity, which is usually when my inner drill sergeant takes charge.  What are you sniveling about, you big baby?  Are you a sissy or a writer? I CAN'T HEAR YOU! You want to waste your time complaining and feeling sorry for yourself, or do you want to get on with your life?  WRITE, DAMMIT, WRITE!

And I start to write.  I remember how good it feels to glide my pen over paper, and to surprise myself with the flow of ideas I didn't know were buried there in my own mind.  I scribble my problems away, transforming them into raw material that will become plots and characters.  In my mind I start back up the mountain, which still seems impossibly high, and as I walk I close my eyes and savor the wind on my face.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


My favorite Christmas gift this year was a set of micro-fleece sheets.  In the coldest weeks of winter, I can see my breath in my house, a small price to pay for living in a house that has so much 'character'; but my bedroom is a place I refuse to be cold.

The micro-fleece sheets are soft, but the best part about them is that when I stretch a leg out my foot doesn't get cold.  There are no cold spots, only slightly less warm spots.

My new sheets help me get up in the morning.  My strategy is to bury myself, head and all, beneath the covers until I start to overheat.  Then I can burst out quickly and change into my clothes without feeling hypothermic.

The only downside to my new micro-fleece sheets is that they hold heat so well, when I make my bed I can still feel their warmth, inviting me in.  Soon, I tell my sheets as I smooth them into place.  Soon it will be bedtime again.  I look forward to it every day.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

but enough about me

I wanted to toot someone else's horn for a change.  Someone who also does a little dreaming in their spare time, and whose creations deserve more recognition.  After several Blackle searches, I came across this YouTube video, featuring art work by Lucy Romero.

Lucy's colors are as bold as her designs.  Her pieces could be illustrations from a Day of the Dead inspired graphic novel.  I don't know how to talk about art.  I just know her blue-skinned creature in Por Vida has a haunting yet peaceful look with her shimmering green eyes and blood-red, full-lipped pout.  I imagine her as a fairy godmother character.

My favorite, though, is Blank Sugars, which shows the profile of a young woman.  I see her as the heroine, innocent and naive, with sugar beaded lips.  The sweetness of the roses that surround her is laced through her hair in pink, flowing ribbons.  The dark patterning around her eye is like a mask.  Lifting the mask would reveal to her the truths of the world, and that's where the story begins...

I found Lucy on FaceBook and sent her a message asking her about her artwork.  She is incredibly open and friendly, and I instantly liked her.  After e-mailing back and forth with her, here is what I learned:

She has been an artist as long as she can remember, at first drawing, and beginning at age 17, painting.  She was first 'discovered' by Keith "K Dub" Williams, who happened to see one of her paintings as she walked past his classroom at Oakland High School.  He included her work in an exhibit entitled "Cool Remixed" at the Oakland Museum, as well as in "The Most Known Unknown" exhibit at the Oakland Airport.

Lucy candidly admits that her motivation for painting at first was primarily to "show off,"but she soon developed a passion for it.  In describing what inspires her, Lucy wrote, "I get all my ideas from different places, mainly my Mexican heritage. I love Halloween, tattoos, Dia de los Muertos, Sugar skulls, eyes, clowns, masks, anything that has to do with decorating, painting, and piercing the body.  Most of the time when I get to sketching a piece those things cross my mind a lot."

Lucy has been a licensed cosmetologist for 3 years and does nails and hair at Mariely Beauty Salon (where more of her art is on display) in Oakland at 46th and International.  Some of her artwork can be purchased at Who's Your Betty? Boutique in Oakland, as well as on her FaceBook page and her Instagram page.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Christmas Past

Three Christmases ago I sat in my parents' front room with my mom, dad, and younger sister.  I was in my favorite chair, an old wooden wingback upholstered in a scratchy brown material.  My stomach was full of Christmas roast.  The walls, the mantle cluttered with colored lights, Christmas cards, and candlesticks, the vaulted ceiling were like a second skin, comforting and draping easily around me.

Dad was telling stories about his father and grandparents.  Bertha McClellan and Rudolph LaFleur never should have married in the first place, if their families had anything to say about it.  Scottish Canadian and French Canadian weren't supposed to mix, but they did, and started a family in Butte, Montana.

Bertha was a furrier, while Rudolph worked in the copper mines and was a paid organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World.  The family eventually moved to California, where Rudolph worked as a plumbing contractor and built houses that Bertha designed.  The stories my dad told about them and their four sons were not the happily ever after kind.  Bertha became ill with cancer.  Rudolph became sick as well, most likely as a result of his work in the mines.  I remember my dad saying that by the time his father was 18, he was an orphan.

Reluctant to disentangle ourselves from the gentle web of family and home, my sister and I listened to story after story of sticking it out, and sticking together as a family.  I was inspired by the independence and ingenuity of my great-grandmother, and by the relentless hard work of my great-grandfather.  I had recently decided to start my own publishing company and self-publish my first book.  After all, if Great-grandma Bertha could create houses, what was stopping me from putting my books into print?  Wanting to pay tribute to a part of my past, I chose the name Storymine Press.  Instead of copper, I would mine stories, and if I keep on listening to my dad (which he claims I never do), I just might hit the motherlode.