Observations from a year on the edge.

There’s a place I go at the end of the year. That suspended, ethereal place between Christmas and New Year’s, when Christmas isn’t but still is, the New Year here but not quite there.

The hours pass uniquely this week somehow, different from all the others; muffled soft and thick, like cold molasses poured through a sparkling, snowy glow.

I am not religious in the slightest (although I used to be: fanatically, in fact, but that is another story). I am an atheist who loves Christmas. One who loves trees and tinsel and lights, and to reflect on the passing year, pondering what was supposed to have been with what actually was.

Twenty Sixteen, you were not nice. An outlier, though, as most years of my life, in the grand scheme of things, have been if not good, then at least bearable. Which leads me to believe there was something important to learn from you. So here I go, relaying, in no particular order, observations from 2016 as related to favorite work consumed last year.


Early mental models are everything.

“The first thing I remember tasting and then wanting to taste again is the grayish-pink fizz my grandmother skimmed from a spitting kettle of strawberry jam. I suppose I was about four.” – M.F.K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me.

curls

Bria’s curls. Seattle, January, 2016.

curls

Bria’s curls. Seattle, January 2016.

Dutch Babies are one of Bria’s favorite things for breakfast. On Sundays, we wake early and make them together, opening the oven to watch the fluffy air bubbles grow. Her other breakfast of choice is bread and oil and peanut butter banana shakes with Castelvetrano olives and a square of dark chocolate. Through cooking and eating together, developing a shared love of food is one of the legacies I want to leave with her (not to mention a love of snow). For what happens in the first five years of life stays forever.

Childhood mental models are the building blocks on which our entire worlds are formed. More and more research points to the importance of the developing brain in the first five years of life. Which is why we continue to invest time and money in early childhood education for Bria. Her entrance into this world was not under the best of circumstances, but hopefully, Will’s and my efforts at providing support and stability for her and Michaela will be felt for years to come. After a couple of years in daycare at Bright Horizons, she is now enrolled in the Alcuin School, a private preschool on Queen Anne where she is starting to read. This is money we could be saving for other things, but we have no regrets. Investing in Bria is one of the best investments we could ever make.


Business building is city building.

“A sense of place is built up, in the end, from many little things too, some so small people take them for granted, and yet the lack of them takes the flavor out of the city….” – Jane Jacobs

The soul of a city is made up of small businesses. My soul is nourished by building one. Bellflower Chocolate Company is steadily growing. We are not profitable yet, but now have our products in 12 locations across four states and our cargo bike Kickstarter was funded: our first mobile retail space, we anticipate launching the bike in Spring, 2017.

Will and Lucas at our Kickstarter Launch Party, September 2016.

More importantly, life as a small business owner introduces us to amazing people in Seattle and around the U.S. whom we otherwise would have never met. Like Lucas Rickerson, the young, passionate, talented barista we met through Instagram and La Marzocco. Jill Killen and Neil at Royal Drummer in Ballard, who helped us throw our inaugural coffee and chocolate pairing. Demian at Annie’s Art and Press, with whom I’m working on packaging for new limited edition bars. And Simran Sethi, the strong, amazing, feisty, opinionated writer of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. She was at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in November and I met her during the women-in-chocolate happy hour. I am oh so happy I did!


Growing old is hard.

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true, I was made for you. – Brandi Carlile, The Story

Selfie in the bathroom at the Queen Anne Starbucks. Seattle, Washington; November, 2016.

2016 marks the last year of my 40s. The past few years, more notably than ever, I’ve watched myself age and it is not fun. No. Not only is it not fun, it’s harder than I thought. But every time I find myself dwelling on youth lost via an increasing number of lines across my own face, creaks in my joints, cancers on my hands (I had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from my right hand this summer), and dimples on my thighs, I hum the lyrics above, buy another pair of designer high tops (I can still wear high heels, but not like I used to), and renew my vows to always strive for glamour anyway. Less fretting, more red lipstick, more doing as French women do. To grow old and lose my looks in the process is a privilege, I constantly remind myself. The only other option is to stay beautiful but die young.


Marriage is.

“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life maybe empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.” – Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

I always take my wedding rings off when baking or rowing. Hidden under my silver bands lies pale, emaciated, puckered skin, shrink-wrapped to my fourth finger bone. It looks odd and feels even odder. I am diminished with my wedding rings off, and immensely relieved to put them back on.

Flaxa Bay

Will looking out over Faxaflói Bay. Reykjavík, Iceland, March 2016.

licorice latte

Icelandic licorice latte in Reykjavík, Iceland. March 2016.

I’ve considered during significant moments in 2016 to take them off for good. Marriage is messy and hard and painful and binding and stressful because we are emotional humans, and sometimes I don’t want to do it anymore. I just want to run away to Paris and live unfettered, alone. But doing that would determine the arc of my story in ways that would leave the whole of me pale, emaciated, and puckered. I am still married because Will is a wonderful human to be married to and married is what I want to be.


Solutions can be elusive.

“An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.” ― Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

I don’t remember much about my mother, but I do remember a plaque she had hanging on her wall when I was little: “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” it said.

Bria’s father is a young black male. I am a middle-aged white female. Will is privileged and white. We have been in and out of the court system with Bria’s father since Bria was born and not a day goes by that I don’t consider the power dynamics of this relationship and how they rest in our favor due to our skin color. I straddle a very thin line between enabling and condemnation, empathy and hate. And while I very much want to end this paragraph on a note of resolution, I can’t. For now, I remain conflicted, reading to gain context, seeking first to understand, trying to find ways to be part of the solution by not looking away.


The kitchen is my studio.

“No yoga exercise, no meditation in a chapel filled with music will rid you of your blues better than the humble task of making your own bread.” ― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

Olive oil gelato. December 2016.

My stainless steel bench is my palette; the spatula my brush; eggs, oil, and flour, my paint. 2016 was stressful for many, but to be culinary is to be calm and centered. I love to cook and take great pleasure in sharing things I’ve made to the sensual delight of other peoples’ mouths. Some of my most memorable culinary creations in 2016, according to Will: lentils with cream and pancetta. Farro salad with candied lemon and pistachio. Salted caramel, fried fish, dark chocolate and olive oil gelatos, numerous stone fruit galettes, sweet and savory crepes on the leafy back patio and the famous Momofuku birthday cake. And lastly, Bellflower’s candied cacao nibs. “Like crack!” people say.


We still have a long way to go, baby. A really long way.

“Introduction: Domestic violence (DV) continues to be a widespread societal problem with consequences both inside and outside the family. Once considered merely a symptom of other underlying individual problems such as poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, or a dysfunctional relationship, domestic violence now is understood to be a problem in and of itself that is found independent of or co-occurring with other individual, family, or community problems.” – Washington State Domestic Violence Manual for Judges, written by the Honorable Helen Halpert, the presiding judge over my daughter’s domestic violence child custody case.

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to date assholes. If only it were that easy. They say that patterns follow families; almost every woman in my immediate family has experienced significant levels of domestic violence, including my mother in her first seemingly untouchable Ivy-league, privileged white marriage to an heir of the Bemis Bag Company. One of my deepest regrets as a parent was failing to prevent my own daughter from suffering this same fate: in 2016, we continued learning the intricacies of the Revised Code of Washington as it mandates family law and domestic violence policies, all resulting from a guy my daughter met as a freshman at Roosevelt High School, twelve long, painful, twisted years ago.

I don’t discuss this openly with that many people because not everyone understands nor cares to understand the dynamics of abusive relationships: this subject makes people very uncomfortable. The discomfort I can handle, but the ignorance I cannot. My responses are most likely to be filled with impatient flashes of indignant anger, and so…I say nothing.

I’m writing openly about it here, however, because this medium shields me from your discomfort: people don’t know what they don’t know, but should. Odds are highly likely that you know a woman who’s been a victim of domestic violence and if I could only help you understand three things, it would be these: misogyny is everyone’s poisonous problem; we must all, especially men, teach boys not to abuse; and most importantly, it is not her fault.


I will always love snow.

“The snow-covered world is an abstraction of the world that lies underneath: the details are smoothed over, the color is removed, all that is left is an essence of shape. These are the forms that one can work with. This is how the mathematician thinks. This is what she does, in her minds eye, to the world around her.” – Gregory Buck, The Wondrous Mathematics of Winter

I miss snowy winters. My earliest mental models consisted of a world that was white: of Austrian ski sweaters and the tips of six-foot icicles dripping down from building tops to meet impossible depths of snow. I love snow and realized this year while at the Methow Valley that I will be contrarian into very old age. I will retire one day to the snow and cold rather than sand and warm.


The future is brown.

And don’t worry If you don’t approve when they criticize you
Just say
Only me
It’s me It’s me It’s me
It’s me
– Bomba Estéreo, “Soy Yo”

Bomba Estereo – Soy Yo from Torben Kjelstrup on Vimeo.

An “ode to little brown girls everywhere”, this is my favorite video of 2016. Bria, this one’s for you. The future is brown and we are not going back. Said Gloria Steinem in response to Trump’s election:

“When a woman is about to escape a violent household is the time when she is most likely to be beaten or murdered. She’s about to get outside of control. Just as we wouldn’t send a woman or child back to a violent household, we’re not going to go back. And maybe we’re about to be free.”


Let us fight for this freedom in 2017. With love, peace, and civil disobedience.

Siblings

With cantaloupe, eat ice cream.

For those times when you’re pinching pennies:

    One ripe cantaloupe, transported from as far away as possible. Halved, seeds removed, pesticide residual remaining.
    Two scoops of Lucerne vanilla ice cream.

For those times when you’re not:

    One ripe cantaloupe, organic, local (no more than a 100-mile radius!). Halved, seeds removed.
    Two scoops of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream.*
*Garnish with three mint leaves and a side of prosciutto.

Carrageenan is the worst thing ever. But he didn’t care. Every Saturday morning, my red-headed brother emerged in jeans and a t-shirt, walking stocking-footed into the kitchen. My ginger-haired brother, old enough to be my dad which was good because, after my mother died, he practically was. He opened the freezer, crunching masculine knuckles past the frost, removing the rectangular cardboard carton of cheap vanilla ice cream, setting it on the counter. It wouldn’t take long to soften in the mile-high light of the New Mexican sun.

The cantaloupe sat next to the chipped, electric stove, grease dappled beneath splattered, dusty panel board. He opened the cupboard above it, taking out one of those bowls we’d earned by trading in our S&H stamps. Those bowls with chipped green borders and tiny blue flowers. There were five of us living on two hourly Safeway incomes. We took whatever we could get, as long as we could get it at Safeway.

He cut the cantaloupe open with a steak knife, scooping out the seeds and cutting off the rind, right on the counter: we didn’t do cutting boards. But he always cut it only in half, anyway, so damage to the formica was minimal.

Forgoing the bowl, he walked back to the ice cream, taking the mechanical scoop out of the drawer, avoiding pulling it out too far lest its flimsy construction result in what could only pass as a pathetic attempt at culinary tools, spilled all over the floor. He slid two vanilla bolls into the center of a cantaloupe half, grabbed a spoon, then headed to the couch. He lay down, back to the side and head propped up, comfortably sunken into the synthetic plaid, licking the creamy fringe of his mustache, excited for the game. The Broncos played the Cowboys, while my brother, with his vanilla ice cream and cantaloupe for breakfast, played my dad.

siblings

Top photo: My brother Seth and me at my sister-in-law’s funeral. Durango, CO, 2005. Seth and me at Alki Beach in Seattle, on his visit for my MFA graduation. June, 2006.

shoes

Wednesday, April 13. The shoes I wore to meet the architect.

Living in a trailer isn’t so bad. That’s what I like to tell myself, anyway. I moved into my first one in 1975, a year after my mother died and my brother saved me from foster care. A step up from the low-income apartments we lived in (all seven of us), it was a “14 x 70”; i.e., a single-wide designed to fit snugly in one highway lane, towed over Independence Pass by an experienced, weathered, snuff-chewing trucker, no doubt. One who knew how to traverse the Continental Divide without slipping over the edge.

Mine Water Poses Danger of a Toxic Gusher

Losing a mother early shapes a woman’s emotional terrain for life

Assessment of blood lead levels in children living in a historic mining and smelting community.

Ozzello explained the blood lead program Lake County had initiated and their successes in just the first few years. They were targeting areas where the danger was highest – the east side of town, Stringtown, and the Lake Fork Mobile Home Park. Blood lead levels were already dropping. At Lake Fork, the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels had dropped in half since 1993, and more than eighty homes had already had or agreed to have their soils tested.

Leadville, the Struggle to Revive an American Town, by Gillian Klucas.

It was parked at the foot of Mount Elbert, the highest peak in a state called Colorado and a town called Leadville and a neighborhood called Stringtown and a trailer park called Lake Fork. My “rich” friends lived in trailers, too. Around the corner in double-wides and man did I envy their extra girth. More bedrooms, bigger kitchens, nicer finishes. Depending on your vantage point, living in a double-wide constitutes either the lap of luxury or the depths of despair.

Lake Fork

The entrance to Lake Fork Trailer Park in Leadville, Colorado, where I lived as a child from 1975-1979.

So when I tell you that this visit to the architect was one of the most disheartening experiences of my life, I tell you in the context of having lived knowing far more fundamental, less privileged problems.

On the east side of town, in Stringtown, and at the Lake Fork Trailer Park at the confluence of California Gulch and the Arkansas River the numbers reached 22 percent. The average blood level for the entire town was only 4.8 micrograms, and the highest blood lead hit just 16.7 micrograms. The EPA, ASARCO, and the town all claimed victory. Nine percent was much lower than the EPA’s original prediction and the state’s previous results, and Leadville felt vindicated.

Leadville, the Struggle to Revive an American Town, by Gillian Klucas.

I used to play in the Arkansas River at California Gulch. Wandered down as a lithe, trusting nine-year old, hair as rusty as the mineralized water, exploring alone on the metallic banks, passing away many a cold summer afternoon.

Their town wasn’t the diseased community the EPA and the national media made it out to be. “This is nothing compared to what you see in inner cities,” a Lake County Health Department employee told the USA Today in 1994. “Of course there’s no one to pay the bills there. The EPA sees a mining company with deep pockets here.”

Leadville, the Struggle to Revive an American Town, by Gillian Klucas.

Will got laid off three days before my birthday. Six days after I’d picked out the bathroom tile. One month before we were scheduled to start construction. One week after we’d written a $10,000 non-refundable check to the builder.

So the shoes I wore to meet the architect this time are the shoes I wore to table a dream. For now, this project is on hold. Again. But, to put it all in perspective, I lived in trailers off and on for the bulk of a motherless childhood and a chunk of a penniless first marriage. I’m sure I can handle life in an old, small house in one of the nicest neighborhoods in one of the nicest cities for a little bit longer.

And the drawings. The drawings are done and we will always have the drawings. I’ll be goddamned if I’m giving up on this house now.

babycurls

When you’re in love with a black baby.

She got on the Number 13 at 2nd and Galer. A white woman and a little black boy. You don’t see that combination very often in Seattle, let alone on top of Queen Anne. His cherubic, brown cheeks. Bright yellow jacket. Baby hoodie with khakis and little black Nikes. What was he, two? Maybe three? They were going to the science center, she said. The Pacific Science Center. He was a black baby and she obviously loved him. She was a white woman in love with a black baby, just like me.


When you’re in love with a black baby, you learn things you already knew. You learn that watching babies grow is a miraculous, incredible thing. You learn that babies are people, too, with personalities and minds of their own, who exert more force on the universe as they grow. You learn that babies are little scientists. The whole world is her lab and she quickly professes favorite things, like blueberries and princesses, pistachios and saucisson sec. You learn that she loves to go on “bike wikes!” and to the “pwaygwound” and to see the Space Needle from the city bus. You discover that her mouth is just like her Uncle Seth’s and her feisty spirit just like her Tt’s.

2014-11-27 13.05.29 2014-11-27 13.06.03

 

When you’re in love with a black baby, you learn new things, too. You learn that people stare when they see a white adult loving a black baby. You learn that people ask pitifully if she’s adopted. You learn that black hair feels a lot like you imagined it would: springy and soft. You learn that you can tame this crazy, curly, beautiful hair by watching YouTube videos and asking your ever-so-patient black friends and black strangers at the farmers’ market lots of questions. You learn that olive oil is in. You learn that chemicals and shampoo are not. And you learn the hard way, the white fucking clueless way, that there exists another “N word” in reference to black hair that white people should never, ever use.

Six Words: Black Babies Cost Less to Adopt

You learn that little black girls want to be princesses, too. You learn that up until 2009 – TWO FUCKING THOUSAND NINE – all the Disney princesses were white. You learn phrases like “white male gaze” and that brown lives really are worth less, literally.

On the killing, assault, and devaluation of black girls and women: Why don’t we talk about young black females?

You learn that her existence will likely be very different from your white, privileged own. You learn that there are some things she will never be able to take for granted simply because of the color of her skin. You learn that she needs to know her black roots. Because even though she’s as much white as she is black, her skin is brown, her hair tightly coiled. Which in America means she’s black.

If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. 12 Things White People Can Do Because Ferguson

If you’re sensitive enough, you learn that real knowledge of her black roots sure as hell isn’t going to come from you. You learn to appreciate the strong black women in her life who will teach her things you cannot. You learn that the knowing, empathetic bond that black people share is a beautiful thing that white people will never know. So you learn to respect being on the outside looking in. You learn that as a white person, the best thing for you to do is sit down, shut up, listen, and believe.

You learn that things that happen in Ferguson and Florida and Ohio to boys named Michael and Trayvon and Tamir really bother you. I mean really, really bother you. Because you learn that the odds are against young black females, too. You learn that that kind of injustice, which bothered you a lot before, almost rents your heart in two.

You learn that there are fires raging in your heart. One from loving that baby and the other from seething hate. Hate for the forces that conspire to stereotype her. Break her. Silence her. Destroy her.

Most White People In America Are Completely Oblivious

When you’re in love with a black baby, at least one black life matters. A lot. And you learn that in that one important life lies the beautiful black lives of many preceding her. You learn that love breaks stereotypes. You learn when a child takes your heart in her hand and leads you out of your comfort zone, that maybe you’re more prejudiced than you once knew.

When you’re in love with a black baby, you learn it’s not about blackness or whiteness at all. You learn it’s more about the humanity we share than the things we don’t. You learn that it’s simply about loving a beautiful baby.

Bria. 2014-11-27 09.20.02 2014-11-27 09.21.00 2014-11-27 09.21.19 2014-11-27 09.23.19 2014-11-27 09.24.11 2014-11-27 09.24.18 2014-11-27 10.38.30 2014-11-27 10.38.52 2014-11-27 10.39.25 2014-11-27 10.39.34 2014-11-27 10.39.38 2014-11-27 10.39.57 2014-11-27 10.39.51 2014-11-27 10.40.00 2014-11-27 10.40.39 2014-11-27 10.40.43 2014-11-27 10.45.39 2014-11-27 10.45.26 2014-11-27 10.45.20 2014-11-27 10.44.37 2014-11-27 10.44.21 2014-11-27 10.44.18 2014-11-27 10.44.12 2014-11-27 10.43.57 2014-11-27 10.43.23 2014-11-27 10.43.11 2014-11-27 10.42.53 2014-11-27 10.47.16

wedding vows

On naming and marriage and owning yourself.

When Will and I were married, I did not take his last name. He was a little crestfallen when I told him I wouldn’t. I kept my mother’s maiden name as my surname instead.

“It may mean something different to you now, but it was designed to signify ownership.” Men Who Insist You Change Your Name Make Terrible Husbands.

Her biological maiden name, not her adopted one (i.e., “Ellis”). I had taken a man’s surname once before, and didn’t want to again. So I took a woman’s name instead. My mother’s, after I divorced Seth and Michaela’s father. In honor of her, my mother, who died when I was six.

A History of O’Neylan: an anglicized version of the Irish surname Ó Nialláin.

So how to honor a husband and a mother at the same time? How about this: go down to the King County Courthouse and take your husband’s first name as your middle name. So that 36 years after you’re born, your nominal evolution goes a little something like this: Catherine Neylan Holmes, 1967-1986 (but always call her “Callie”, please. Never, ever “Cathy” and “Catherine” only when she’s in trouble or dealing with the government); Catherine Neylan Pomeroy, 1986-1993; Catherine Ellis Neylan, 1993-2003; Catherine William Neylan, 2003-forever.

And that, my friends, is the story of a name. September 5, 2003.

wedding kiss

brother portrait

To Seth and parties of five.

I always wondered which one of my siblings would die first. Now I know.

My brother lies in a funeral home, waiting to be cremated. I will fly back to Colorado in the spring when his ashes are interred next to his wife at Greenmount Cemetery in Durango. She also died young, just 53. He’s pictured above in his high school graduation photo taken in 1968, a year after I was born, and below with my late sister-in-law, LauraLee.

Seth and LauraLee, 1970 or 1971. Durango, Colorado.

Seth and LauraLee, 1970 or 1971. Durango, Colorado.

Six years later at the tender age of 23, in addition to being a father to my niece Tiffany, 2, he became legal guardian to me, 6; Carrie, 10; and Lissa, 14, after my mother died in January 1974. Megan, my oldest sister, was 20 and dropped out of college at the University of Colorado after the whole ordeal, moving with us to Leadville, an old mining town way up high in the Rockies, close to Vail.

Because when you lose a parent when you’re young, your whole world turns upside down and it fucks you up.

She never went back to CU. My brother never even started. Because when you lose a parent when you’re young, your whole world turns upside down and it fucks you up. You know that 90s TV show, Party of Five? That was us, minus the big inheritance and awesome San Francisco real estate. All we had was each other, the Colorado Fourteeners, and the deep, white snow.

When you’re in love with a beautiful house.

On Saturday, after almost five years on the East Coast, I left Baltimore. On the plane ride to Seattle, I penned a love letter on my iPad to my house on Lafayette Avenue, my home for almost four years. It’s a beautiful 19th-century rowhouse – tall, stately, well-crafted and elegant – the likes of which do not exist on the West Coast. I love that house like none I’ve ever lived in before and will miss it immensely. Honestly, I’m getting teary-eyed as I write. When thinking about leaving Baltimore, the one thing that gave me pause was the thought of leaving that house.

On Monday, I lost my iPad. I hadn’t backed up my letter to the cloud yet, so my letter was also lost. I am writing another one, which I hope will be as good as the one fresh from the pain of my parting, but until then, this:

We seem divided between an urge to override our senses and numb ourselves to our settings and a contradictory impulse to acknowledge the extent to which our identities are indelibly connected to, and will shift along with, our locations. An ugly room can coagulate any loose suspicions as to the incompleteness of life, while a sun-lit one set with honey-coloured limestone tiles can lend support to whatever is the most hopeful within us.

Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or worse, different people in different places – and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be. – Alain de Botton in The Architecture of Happiness

Sugar Darling.

Bria. Photo by Callie Neylan, March 23, 2012.

Sugar Darling, you are my sunshine. No,
moonshine. Intoxicant, swooning.

Down where the wild things grow and the
slit comes to life with a flower of flesh and bones and innocence.

Lost when he found you, lost when he stole you. Detested he is but
loved you will always be.

Sugar. Darling. Dolce. Sweet and tempered with
lavender bitters.

Je t’aime mon ange ma douce ma jolie fille.

Get Me Out poster

On forces of nature, packaging design, and the amazing uterus.

AskNature.org is an online source for biomimicry inspiration, a place “where biology and design cross-pollinate, so bio-inspired breakthroughs can be born.”

Speaking of births, there’s an impending birth in my family, one that could happen any day now (no, it’s not me. I AM NOT PREGNANT). There was also a birth in my family yesterday, but on a yesterday 25 years ago. So, childbirth and pregnancy and uteri are on the brain. So much so that I designed a poster around the topic for The Hello Poster Show, given that the theme this time around is “Forces of Nature”. What better example of a force of nature to draw from, really? Especially when considering the wonder of the female body when expulsing a baby, as relayed in this biomimicry inspiration from AskNature.org.

Similarly, the uterus of female mammals must expand and contract with gestation and birth, often an order of magnitude (ten-fold). The hooped fibers of chitin in the locust are paralleled in the interior circular muscle fibers of the uterus. Of the three layers of the uterus, the central myometrial layer is responsible for the expansion and contraction of the uterus. It is composed of connective tissue, mainly smooth muscle fibers with an external layer laid longitudinally and an internal layer laid circularly at the base which then spirals in both directions around the uterine body (which might even be a logarithmic spiral…).

AMAZING. Then, this:

The lessons from these ‘hooped’ chitin fibers and spiral muscle fibers could be incorporated into a polymer packaging material, thereby allowing for expansion and contraction of the packaging depending on the size of its contents. The result of packing multiple items into a shipping case would be the absolute minimization of air space between objects created by the packaging alone. Additionally, the same packaging product could be specified for a large variety of object sizes, i.e. the bag holding the baby shoe would be the same SKU as the one holding the basketball shoe or the soccer ball.” (Biomimicry Guild unpublished report)

Design is everything. Everything is design. Hurry up, Little Bria. We can’t wait to meet you!

On Irish heritage and going home.

Cliffs of MoherFields near the Cliffs of Moher. County Clare, Ireland. Photo by Callie Neylan, February 6, 2012.

My maternal grandfather’s name was Frederick Leslie Leopold Neylan. O’Neylan before he emigrated to the US from the Emerald Isle. I don’t know why he left or exactly when, but being in Ireland for the first time, seeing red-haired, pale-skinned, fair-eyed people like myself, was a comforting experience.

My mother was adopted. Frederick was her biological father. My oldest brother, Seth, was also adopted. From an orphanage in Dublin. One of my sisters once told me that my mother chose baby Seth because his biological mother also bore the Neylan surname.

In light of its recent hard economic times, Ireland wants the Irish back. Quoting In Tough Times, Irish Call Their Diaspora via the New York Times:

The visitors came at the invitation of Ireland Reaching Out, an organization that just put on its first Week of Welcomes after a year spent tracking down the descendants of Galway exiles and preparing for their return.

“The project is based on a very simple idea: Instead of waiting for people of Irish heritage to trace their roots, we go the other way,” said Mike Feerick, who has been leading the charge to rekindle ties between the Irish and their diaspora.

“The people who left Ireland were in some sense the best part of us,” said Stephen Kinsella, an economist at the University of Limerick. “They were the most dynamic, the most ambitious, the most willing to succeed, and we did not give them the conditions where they could succeed.”

I love you, Ireland. You’re a hearty, jolly, beautiful old country – so verdant, so green. I’ll be back.