Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

Category Archive: voices

  1. Grey Area

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    Life is easier, in some ways, when things are neatly divided into them/us, bad/good, never/always boxes.

    When those boxes crumble, when the lines between certainties blur, our assumptions and givens shake. Things get trickier and more interesting.

    A few box-crumbling events have happened in my world over the past few years:

    • a friend’s husband was accused of molesting their granddaughter. I believe that he did not do it.
    • another friend was attacked in her home and brutally beaten. She found her way to deep forgiveness.
    • a trusted employee was arrested for domestic violence. I decided to pay for his bail.

    In an either/or world, I believe in accusers/victims no matter what; I want my friend’s attacker to go to prison for as long as the law allows; I draw a hard line and fire the batterer.

    In the grey zone, I can be open to the possibilities of believing in the accused, marveling at forgiveness, and hoping for the batterer’s change.

    My bias remains toward accusers and victims. I believe there is no justification, ever, for emotional or physical violence and also that it is very, very difficult to stop learned behaviors like battering.

    Living a little bit more in the grey helps me better understand my own story. Living in the grey is expansive.  Challenging my assumptions makes my ultimate conclusions–or what will be my interim conclusions–more nuanced, more complex, more allowing of further refined understanding.

    Living in the grey allows the possibility of telling and hearing all the stories.


  2. What have you survived?




    In From a Survivor, Adrienne Rich writes,

    Next year it would have been 20 years
    and you are wastefully dead
    who might have made the leap
    we talked, too late, of making

    which I live now
    not as a leap
    but a succession of brief, amazing movements

    each one making possible the next





    Every one of us who lives another day is a survivor of something, or everything.

    Survivors of  violent, personal trauma–domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape.

    Others are survivors of cancer, accidents, natural disasters, genocide, the suicide of a loved one.

    What have you survived? What has been your “succession of brief, amazing movements”?



  3. Nest-Making Retrospective



    On March 1, I had an idea so clear and bright that before I knew it, I was sending out this email:

    I’m putting together a month of blog posts for National Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is Women’s Education–Women’s Empowerment. Women’s stories are near and dear to my heart, and I believe they are important to you, too.  I admire your writing, and I would be honored if you would be willing to share a story and/or photos in a guest blog post at  I’d love to read your stories of women who’ve contributed to your education and/or your empowerment, in whatever way(s) you choose to define the words and convey your stories. Poetry, prose, and photos are welcome.”

    After the initial email,  I exercised no more control over this series than I did over the hydrangea pictured here, and the pieces worked together just as beautifully, just as organically. With the exception of knowing that I wanted to contain the posts within the supportive bookends of Jeanne and Julie, I posted them in the order I received them, and if you read them in order, I think you will see that a whole, greater than the sum of its parts, was formed.

    Part of me, not wanting to impinge upon the nest that’s been created of its own accord, wants to post an awestruck retrospective that simply says, “Wow.”

    Wow to the synergy and the dance of the posts with each other. Wow to the openness and the willingness of the writers. Wow to the women they honor, the personal journeys they share. Wow to those who continued the conversation through their comments.

    Another part wants to acknowledge the generosity of each woman who gave of herself and her life and her stories. Another part wants to highlight some of the themes that emerged.

    So, in awe mixed with gratitude, I do a little of each, although these pieces are so tightly interwoven that they touch each other in many more ways than I can show here.

    Wow–to Jeanne and Josie and Ann and Sally and Cheryl and Liz and D., who celebrated collective feminine power in  Fran and Marcia and The Fierce Feminine and Hey Girls, We Slipped Up and A (Wonderfully) Mixed Relationship and Her and This Little Light of Mine and Loving women comes easily.

    Wow–to Shannon and Alana, who wrote about their grandmothers in Happy Birthday Viola Sylvestra and Her Unseen Hand on My Back.

    Wow–Julie and Bindu and Teresa and Kelly and Streetlights, who wrote about mothers and mothering in Empowerment and The Birth of Compassion and The Body as Nest and Lesson Plan and A Transforming Force.

    Wow to Illuminary and Megan, who described solace and comfort in Auntie Jaquie and Someone Makes a Nest For Me Today.

    Wow to Meredith and Bridget, who celebrated women teachers in  Short But Sweet and Wonder Woman Hilda Raz.

    See what I mean? Just–Wow.

    Now: how can we continue the spirit of nest-making every day, with every breath and step?




  4. The Body as Nest


    Today’s Nest-Making guest post in honor of women and Women’s History Month is by Bindu Wiles. It’s a milestone post  for two reasons: it’s the blog’s 500th post, and more importantly, Bindu is one of  the  first people I met online to become  dear  to me offline as well. I’m very happy to have her words and images here today.


    In honor of all the women who have given their bodies

    as a soft place to fall

    to rest upon

    to enter into the world

    to bear witness

    to hold

    to love.

    We are all mothers of some sort.






    Bindu Wiles is in a deep mid-life crisis that she is walking, writing and photographing her way through. She has an undergraduate degree in fine art (photography) and 3 graduate degrees because the one she really wanted all along was an MFA in writing, which she finally received at 47 years of age from Sarah Lawrence College. The tattoo on her left forearm sums up her life motto: Art Saves Lives. She has completed a 300 page memoir, her essays have been published in various literary journals, she is bringing more of the under 12 years of age crowd into her life, and is always up for a good laugh. In fact, she is trying to stay in a state of silly as an approach to aging.


    Looking for more Nest-Making posts? You can find them here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

  5. This Little Light of Mine …



    Today’s Nest-Making guest post in honor of women and Women’s History Month is by Sally G. It’s an honest and heartfelt account of one woman’s process of becoming her Self, a woman to be honored. 


    The moment I saw Angela’s introduction to this Nest Making series – I felt its importance. Like a quiet call to action, it captured my heart immediately. Something inside me shifted, and part of me stepped a little more fully into Who I Am.

    A blog post immediately flowed through me, honouring the quiet shift taking place right now, online and offline, toward healing, shared compassion, inspiration and support.

    I appreciated the way this quiet movement is cutting through the noise of the ‘connection and conversation’ geared more for sales and self-gain than community and service as it was once known and experienced. And I expressed a desire to somehow be part of it.

    Here in the Nest ~ I intended to be part of it by showing up, filling with inspiration, admiration and wisdom from the experiences of others. I’ve been moved by what’s been shared so far and feel so happy to be here. Angela then invited me to contribute a story of my own ~ and while my heart surged at the invitation, the inclusion, my mind wondered what I could possibly contribute. You see, I don’t really have anyone specific in my life story that I’d hold up in the light of “you changed my life.” Even now, almost five decades into this journey ~ I look back and see paths populated with those who dismissed me, let me down, hurt me, marginalized me – palpable with the disappointment that I didn’t turn out as they’d hoped, or expected, or – desired.

    Please don’t read those words with heavy residues of pain – because in the five days I’ve spent reflecting on how to meaningfully contribute to this series, I realize that these people ARE the shining lights who pushed me to learn about my Self, to trust my Self and to even grow to like my Self. Over the years, I’ve learned that we all serve as Mirrors to each other – each reflecting something back to the other. It’s an integral part of our feeling, and understanding, the connection we all share, that we’re all here to help each other along. Sometimes the help is instantly recognizable and appreciated. Other times, its true value emerges in hindsight, in all its depth, significance and meaning.

    I spent the first few decades of my life seeing others as Mirrors reflecting back Who I Am. This began a process of defining myself on others reactions to me and fitting myself into the interpretation of what I thought I saw. I guess on some level, I figuratively dismantled who I naturally felt myself to be, because only distortions of it could be found in the Mirrors around me.

    One can only do this for so long though, for the discomfort becomes unbearable and the future feels limiting, at best – hopeless, at worst.

    Supported by life circumstances, like giving birth to two daughters, for instance (and feeling a fierce responsibility to get clear about what it meant to be a Mother, a Daughter, a Woman) – I opened to facing the reality that what I’d been doing and how I’d been feeling wasn’t working for me at all. This Honour Student, Exemplary Employee, Perfect Wife, Disappointing Daughter and Hopeful Mother found the courage to accept the fact that “the worst” had probably already happened: I’d failed.

    I stand before you to confirm the truth that acknowledging Shame and accepting Vulnerability is a powerful catalyst to meaningful change. Approaching life with Humility and a willingness to learn healthier and more empowering methods of travel has made all the difference. I’m still very much in-process, but I see things differently now, I do things differently and I no longer define my Self by the judgements, feelings and opinions of those around me.

    Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” This, I’ve experienced, is true. The caveat, however, is that you have to know who you are to allow the emotional detachment necessary to feel the words of another as merely words.

    Looking back, I see my paths populated with Shining Lights, Earth Angels, who created opportunities for me to learn valuable life principles like Self Acceptance, Self Awareness, Non Judgement, Unconditional Love, Forgiveness, Hope for the Possible, Humility, Empathy, Enchantment and a Sense of Humour that brings laughter to me on call.

    I am nothing in particular and absolutely everything – all at the same time. And with the help of everyone I’ve ever met along the way ~ I have created my Self to be the kind of Woman I’d have given my right arm to meet at any point in my past.

    We grow, we learn, we heal – all while in relationship with others. They reflect to us Who We Are, Who We Are NOT and Who We Have the Potential to Create Ourselves to Be; from the platform of Character, Values and Spirit more-so than personality, lifestyle and career (though we can always do that too).

    Knowing this has allowed me to accept the gift each person brings when our paths cross. Judgement, Criticism and/or Dismissal moves me into reflection and assessment. Is any of it true? If yes, I’m grateful for the information and course correct appropriately. If not, I let it go – I don’t have to accept others’ opinions of me, sometimes they’re seeing me through filters I can’t see – and it’s not actually about me at that point anyway.

    Most important of all, for me, is that I move through Life serving as best I can as a soft, quiet light to others. I see others, I hear others, I accept others – and, others matter.  I’m ever so grateful to everyone who has, in their own special way, contributed to the Wonder-in-Process that I am. And with luck ~ I’ll serve as the kind of woman many of you recall with such fondness and appreciation to someone in my Present, today – so their tomorrow is a better place for the encounter.


    Sally G’s blog address is Her Twitter ID is @sally_g.

    Her Modus Operandi: “Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”


    Looking for more Nest-Making posts? They’re here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

  6. Lesson Plan


    Today’s Nest-Making guest post in honor of women and Women’s History Month is by Kelly Letky. Every day as I post these, I marvel at the stories and try not to editorialize (too much) in these introductions, but I love this post about “what really matters.”


    My mom never graduated from high school.

    I can’t remember how the story went exactly, I think it had something to do with a fight with a teacher who mocked her for being poor, but that is not what really matters anyway.

    Years later, when I was in my twenties, she went back to school and got her G.E.D. I have always been incredibly proud of her for that. But for this story, that is not what really matters either.

    What matters is how much my mom taught me, and my three siblings.

    My mom taught me to always stand up for myself. She taught me to be kind and generous, she taught me to help those less fortunate, she taught me the importance of family.

    She taught me manners and protocol, not to wear white after Labor Day, to never go out in public wearing holey underwear, just in case you get in an accident or something.

    She taught me how to keep house and how to cook dinner, how to fold laundry and how to hem a pair of pants, how to get over a broken heart and how to keep going when I wanted to give up.

    She taught me that money isn’t everything, that what you give is more important than what you get, that everyone is valuable, that loyalty matters.

    She taught me compassion, how to laugh at myself, how to be brave and honest and hard-working. She taught me all these things despite the fact that she herself had learned very different lessons as a child.

    My mom taught me how to survive.

    Because that is what she did. She came from a background that would have crushed most people, one that did crush the rest of her family. Out of eight children, my mom is the one that got away. From the abuse, the alcoholism, the poverty. Not only did she get away, she built a better life, for herself, for her husband, for her children.

    Together with my father, she made certain that we had the kind of childhood that she never had, that we were always cared for and safe and knew that we were loved.

    We never had a lot of money, but she always made certain that Christmas was magical, that we had a new outfit to wear on the first day of school, that no one ever went hungry or had to hide in fear beneath the bed.

    She yelled a lot, we drove her crazy sometimes, always fighting over who got to drink from the blue cup, or eat the last handful of M&Ms, or who got to sit in the front seat when we all went out for ice cream.

    She never learned how to drive (by choice), never went to college, never got a job until we were all well into adulthood. She adopted too many pets, collected too many dolls, ironed too many sheets, drank too much coffee, let the world hurt her feelings too many times.

    But she has always been there, with her shining heart of gold, ready to give a piece to anyone that needs it. She would give me, or you, a perfect stranger, the shirt off her back if she thought you needed it more than she does. She gives too much and takes too little. She talks too loudly sometimes, but she always listens more than she talks.

    She can’t walk past a baby in a store without stopping to make google eyes and silly talk. She has been known to hug strangers in the hospital, simply because she thought they needed one. She spends her evenings crocheting hats and blankets to give to anyone who can use them.

    She isn’t perfect, but she taught me how to love someone even when they are not.

    My mom never graduated from high school.

    Yet she taught me everything I’ve ever really needed to know in this life.

    Perhaps we can all learn something from that.


    Kelly Letky works as a freelance graphic artist and jewelry designer. She is also a writer, photographer, wife, mother, sister, daughter, crazy cat lady, friend, runner, knitter and gardener who makes regular attempts to be kind, loving, generous, artful and immersed in every moment. Sometimes, it works.

    You can find her art and writing at and you can also find her on twitter under @mrsmediocrity or facebook under Kelly Letky.


    Looking for more Nest-Making posts? You can find them here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.


  7. Wonder Woman Hilda Raz


    I am very happy to post today’s Women’s History Month Nest-Making guest post by Bridget Pilloud, to (and for) whom I am grateful for so many things, not the least of which is her introducing me to Hilda Raz and her poetry.  Please do click the links and read the poems.


    Many women have formed me. Many,  I don’t even know the names of them.

    They’re the subtle hands behind books and inventions and television shows. They’re the women who first sailed boats, who first went into business, who wrote when all of their peers were men. And further back, the ones who loved ritual, who worshipped divine energy, who created the child who created the child who created the child that created many generations that finally created me.

    Most are un-named, unknown, only appreciated in the abstract.

    With the exception of the women in my family, the woman who had had the greatest impact on me is Hilda Raz.

    She was my poetry professor, twenty years ago, at the University of Nebraska.

    She was fierce. She spoke with absolute authority all of the time. She was so sure of her own voice, and talent and contribution.

    And yet, when you opened her poetry book, you saw love, wistfulness, a person questioning everything, a person experiencing transition after transition, not exactly caught, but only allowed to transcend only after she’d squeezed every bit of understanding from a situation.

    She seemed like a woman caught in a current, mostly keeping her head above water, occasionally raising her hands to wave or juggle or point in a direction.

    She asked me once what I wanted to do with my life. I told her I wanted to be a chef. She asked Have you considered being a poet?   I had not. I had wanted to be a poet, but had no idea I was good enough. She was the first professional that saw talent in me, that respected and admired me. She absolutely did not coddle me.

    I didn’t become a poet, but I am a writer and the work that I do, as an intuitive, takes the same kind of bravery as poetry.

    The biggest gift she gave me was showing me how a person could face despair and get through it by the way of words.

    Hilda had been diagnosed with cancer. It was breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Her odds were not good. She felt the despair that we somehow feel immune from, that we imagine happening to others, but not us.  The diagnosis that happens to other people was hers.

    One late night, as she white-knuckled her way through her cancer, she decided to create a list called: What is Good .  It turned into a poem, which turned into a book, and she ultimately beat cancer. She’s still alive 25 years later.

    She told this story to her poetry class at a time when I was ready to check out of life. I wanted this life to stop. I was tired. I was done. And I didn’t think life was going to get any better.  Her story gave me pause. She had been given a terminal diagnosis, and she fought to stay.

    And then, several months later, she saved my life with her words again. I write about that story on my blog.  I wanted to kill myself and she gave me the exact words I needed to stay alive, and to never consider suicide again.

    What Hilda Raz taught me was that even if I had never thought of myself as an authority, one day, I might grow into it. And this place of authority won’t happen because I’ve lived my life perfectly, or lived a life of ease.

    She taught me that even if I never thought of myself having a clear voice and something to say, I might find myself in a place where I do.

    She taught me that difficult times, transitions we do not choose, somehow have a way of making us better and, in turn, happier.

    She taught me that excellent strong women aren’t that way because they’ve never faced hardship or failure, but because they have, perhaps many times, from the very beginning of their lives.

    Hilda was the first poet who showed me the link between an outward, curious focus, and a commitment to my life. She showed me how outward curiosity and commitment make all the difference.

    I want to share two of her poems with you. I don’t have the rights or permission to copy them, but I found them online, so you can enjoy them. I hope that you do.

    Day-Old Bargain:

    Wonder Woman’s Rules of the Road:

    I don’t think that Hilda  (or any woman, for that matter) knows how much she has impacted others. I hope she has an inkling of it, at least.


    Bridget Pilloud is an intuitive consultant, a healer, a writer and a teacher. She works with people to help them enact positive change in their lives. She writes at The Intuitive Bridge  and at Chez Bridget.



    Looking for more Nest-Making posts? They’re here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

  8. The Fierce Feminine


    Today’s guest post in the Nest-Making series for Women’s History Month is written by Josie Beug, the woman who walked beside Gracie and me as our veterinarian and trusted friend. I’m very happy to share the gift of her writing in honor of the fierce feminine in all of us.


    I resisted being “female” for half of my lifetime. It began when I was three years old, in the driveway with my father and older brother, working on cars and the small forklift my father used in his business. I remember him lifting me up and setting me down in the seat of the forklift so I could pretend I was operating it. So much fun, I was one of the boys, turning the steering wheel and pulling and pushing the control levers. It was a warm summers day, and both of them were sweaty and shirtless. Following suit, my little three year old arms yanked and pulled until I, too, was topless. My mother walked out with some cold drinks. Her mouth dropped open as she let out a loud gasp, “What are you doing out here with your shirt off, young lady?” It was my first experience with gender roles. “I’m hot and sweaty, too,” I thought to myself.
    I hated the stiff patent leather Mary-Jane shoes my mother made me wear. I hated the dresses that provided no protection for my knees as they skidded across the pavement of the playground. I resisted wearing a bra until forced to, by my mother. I resisted wearing make-up until peer-pressure finally won out. I shaved half my head in college. I began wearing boots, my very first pair bought for me by my father – a pair of purple Tony Lamas. These were eventually replaced by black combat boots.

    Throughout the years, I have often asked myself, “Am I a lesbian in denial?” The answer was no, and remains no. I enjoy hanging out with the boys. I have even been privileged to partake in “boy conversation,” you know, the type where the subject is quickly changed when a girl enters the room. I enjoy the male anatomy and enjoy, really enjoy, sex with men. Girl-on-girl is okay, but doesn’t really do it for me.

    It has taken a personal healing journey of many years, including healing the sexual abuse I suffered as a young child, and the token abusive relationship, to fully accept and love myself, and my own brand of femininity. Three years ago I began hearing about a different feminine archetype being (re-)born, that of the Solar Feminine: the feminine that is strong and fierce, the Lioness that fiercely protects her young and takes down a gazelle with one savage bite to the neck. She is represented by the ancient Fire Goddesses: Pele of Hawaii, spewing volcanic lava, birthing the earth itself; Sekhmet, the Egyptian Lion-headed Goddess, primordial creator and destroyer; and Kali, wearing a belt of severed men’s heads. Strong, passionate, creative and energetic. Embracing the first archetype of femininity that I could relate to, I finally felt comfortable within my own skin. I honor Her by donning my war paint – not make-up found in glamour magazines, make-up to make me look fierce, leather gauntlets, spiked collar, and knee-high black leather boots. And the Goddess comes out to play.

    My father recently transitioned from this Earthly realm. In the days immediately prior to his death, he opened his Heart and allowed me to see into his Soul. He was a tough task-master of a father, and it was not always easy to be his daughter. Yet, upon feeling his unbounded love, I came to the full realization of how he had nurtured my strength, my independence, my courage, and my fierceness. He taught me to honor and value and protect the Earth and all of her creatures. He bought me my first pair of boots, and reminded me of it on his deathbed. And, as a parting gift, he taught me how to die a beautiful death. Looking at my two sisters, I realized he raised three strong, powerful Solar Feminine daughters, ready and willing to re-birth into the world a new, and very ancient, form of what it means to be a Woman.


    Josie Beug is a holistic healer of animals, a writer, and an adventurer exploring the Earthly realm. She is a non-affiliated spiritual seeker and has spent most of her life walking the threshold between the realms. Her perfectly maladjusted musings can be found at


    You can find more Nest-Making posts here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

  9. A (Wonderfully) Mixed Relationship


    I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Cheryl Ives primarily through Twitter, and today I’m very happy to share more than 140 characters of her writing.  I find in her story a mirror of my own, and I hope you, too, will feel honored and seen in this latest Nest-Making post for Women’s History Month.


    I have a mixed relationship with women.

    I noticed early on that my mother seemed to do the most work, receive the most complaints, get the least praise, and take the short end of the stick in the family. I got the impression that being a woman means always giving more and taking less. Maybe I unconsciously judged my mother weak for putting up with it. I wanted no part of that for myself, my life.

    Besides, girls made me nervous. They had strange rules no one explained, and they wouldn’t tell you when you broke them. They ostracized you and then claimed they were your friends. They were always whispering and giggling. I found girls consistently interested in boring things and bored by interesting things. I had no idea what to make of them.

    Teenaged girls were worse – make-up, clothes, crushes, pin-ups…I felt pretty impatient with all of it. I faked what I could to fit in, but I never did. Then in University, the so-called Feminists I met made me mad with their demand that we all think the same, and their judgments of choices women made. I felt out of step with all womanhood, on all sides.

    Bisexuality only complicated an already confusing relationship with the females of the species.

    Workplace women presented another side of the creature. In the professional office environment, I saw undercutting behind faked support, overdone kindnesses masking shared smirks, resentments, and even sexual manipulation of men. That wasn’t all I saw, and many competent, respectable women rank among my former co-workers. But I felt that each of us, in our way, forged our own path. Women as community, in these workplaces, tended towards the social circles I thought I’d left behind in grade school – cliques with very specific expectations of each other. Even the most supportive team of women I’ve ever worked with often succumbed to the schoolyard dynamic. In this environment, success became isolating for women. For me.

    So, to recap – I grew up thinking that being a woman meant being treated as less and asked to do more. I grew up without a sense of shared community with other girls. I made my way in my career without a sense of shared community with other professional women. Frankly, I didn’t really respect most of the women I met. I wouldn’t have believed that at the time, but looking back, I see it’s true. I saw most women as weak for being willing to do more and get less, and as mean for holding each other to that same reducing standard. I saw women restricting each other with judgements at any sign of “selfishness” or ambition.

    And then, I had a baby.

    Women who had never bothered with me pulled me into the fold. Baby showers, hand-me-downs, advice, cupcakes, casseroles, hugs – the side of women’s community that had always left me out suddenly surrounded me, drew me in, called me theirs. Women I didn’t know shared smiles and supportive words. Co-workers cooed over pictures. Women fussed over me pregnant, and as a new mom, in a way I’d never imagined. It felt like a cocoon of female support. It felt like…mother’s love.

    When women tune into their mother, even women without children, everything changes.

    When women tune into each other with love, it changes the course of history. I know, because it changed the course of my history.

    The women of Twitter rode the heels of the mother-culture for me. In this world of non-physical interaction, I found myself enveloped with a community of seeking women, wise women, loving and giving women. Women creating and birthing, not babies but ideas, beauty and trust. A community of women surrounding and nudging each other, cheering each other on, clapping with joy and weeping tears together without even meeting in person. In this community, women of different ages, backgrounds, cultures and beliefs seek the common and share widely. In this community, I feel nurtured as my shoots of inspiration grub up through the soil.

    I am daily deepening my understanding and participation in the primal nurturing care that women protect in this world of hard ideas and incomplete logic. Women have allowed the masculine to dictate what is valuable, and our systems have consistently failed to value caring and human life. Now, it lies with women to re-value caring in our societies through how we live and create community together, and how we support each other to carry this wider and higher until it infiltrates every system of government and economics.

    It’s together that women can remind the world: Every Life Has Value. It’s together that we can nurture love and support for every shoot of inspiration, every shoot of creative life that reaches for sun.  The mother-love inside us, regardless of whether we have birthed a human, can reach beyond our petty fears to love each of us for how we matter to the world. This is power unique to us.

    And that inspires me.


    Provocateur by trade and nature. After 16 years in the corporate sector and a two year non-profit experiment, I have decided to only seek work that I’m interested in doing, with people who are interested in doing it. In the meantime, I’m photographing, painting, speaking and writing about the things that matter to my heart. Website in progress at Blog at  and open source novel at

    Cheryl tweets as @MrsWhich.


    You can find more Nest-Making posts here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

  10. Her Unseen Hand On My Back


    This exquisite guest post by Alana Sheeren is the latest in Nest-Making, a series honoring women and Women’s History Month.


    My grandmother was born Laura Lee Weisbrodt on July 16th, 1903 in Georgetown, Ohio. Her father abandoned the family while she was still young, leaving her to help her mother raise four younger siblings, the youngest, my great-aunt Sarah, ten years her junior. I don’t know much about her childhood. There are memories of stories held in my mind, like broken shards of glass I desperately want to piece together. She met my grandfather, Ora Smith, when they were both graduate students. He was immediately taken with the five-foot-nothing spitfire. They were married on June 13, 1927, right after she earned her Master of Science in Chemistry. She was a food chemist and the first woman to graduate with a  PhD  in Nutrition from the University of California at Berkeley in 1930. The first time I drove up from Los Angeles to visit my brother and his wife there, themselves new PhD students, I made a wrong turn and drove past the house my grandparents had lived in 75 years prior.


    She was a stubborn woman; opinionated, driven, some would even say hard. Both she and my grandfather had full careers as professors at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. A woman of integrity, she demanded excellence of her students. When asked once to boost the grades of a certain favorite football player who was failing her class, she refused. The story I remember is that he thanked her in the end, but that could be my childish memory romanticizing the details.


    Though my older cousins had more difficult relationships with her, as a child I adored her. I remember waking as the light of summer mornings crept into my room, wanting to race downstairs and be with her while everyone else slept. We would feed the fish together, make breakfast, set the table. I don’t remember what we talked about but my mother tells me I thought of her as my “second mom.” Every so often a bird would fly into one of their picture windows and they would collect its body and put it in the freezer in the basement until they had enough to take to the Cornell Ornithology lab. When I was old enough to be sent for the ice cream sandwiches, I remember having to move their stiff bodies aside, not realizing this wasn’t something every local family did.


    As I entered my teen years we skirmished over my desire to wear makeup and there were times when, with typical teenaged selfishness, I wished my family could go to Hawaii instead of making the triangular trek to visit both sets of grandparents every school holiday. She was 68 when I was born and her health was good well into her 80’s. By the time I was old enough to grasp her place in history, old enough to want to know the details and hear the stories, a stroke had hampered her speech. After my grandfather’s brilliant mind left him and care at home became too difficult, she lived the last two years of her life without him in the home they loved, with the Scottie dogs, the birds and the deer, and her beloved flower garden. He died in early February 1993. They waited to tell her, until her children could be at her side. She was devastated. A week later she went into the hospital, a week after that she slipped into a coma. Three weeks after his death, my mother told the doctors to take her off life support and let her go. With him gone, it seemed, and after 65 years of marriage, she no longer had a reason to live.


    As I write this, tears are streaming down my face. It feels different from this vantage point, on the eve of my fortieth birthday. I understand her life in a new way and wish she were here to answer my questions. What was it like to be one of the few women in the sciences, one of the first to be getting advanced degrees in the 1920’s? What was it like to raise children in the 1940’s, and juggle a career when the Ivy League was very much an old boys’ club? What was it like to lose so many babies?


    My connection to her has grown alongside my attempts to have children. She had several early miscarriages. Two? Three? I can’t seem to keep it straight in my head. I know that as she and my grandfather drove across the country from California to start their new lives, somewhere on the side of a road in Texas, my grandmother, who was 8 months pregnant, gave birth to a stillborn child. And I know that later, in Ithaca, there was Robert, who lived 24 hours and was buried in an unmarked grave. Eventually she gave birth to my uncle, and five years later at the age of 40, to my mother.


    I know that my grandmother did not talk about these things – her dead babies, her lost father. I know that her life informs my grief, that in some way I am healing a wound in my lineage as I mourn the stillbirth of my own son. I believe that when others describe her as hard, or distant, it is her grief they are speaking to, for I knew her as love.  It has been almost twenty years since her death and I often feel her presence. We are connected in a way I’m not sure I understand. I am proud to be her granddaughter and my heart – oh my heart – knows that the work I do now, helping people soften into their ache, is work that heals her spirit. And with her unseen hand on my back I know, without a doubt, that she is proud of me.


    Alana Sheeren is a writer, speaker and emotional alchemist. When in doubt, she always chooses love. You can find her at, on the beach in Ventura or in the mountains and coffee shops of Ojai, CA.




    You can find more Nest-Making posts here and here and here and here and here and here and here.