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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In Memory of Luke Rogers

Luke Rogers
July 19, 1989-September 20, 2008

Dear Readers,

Two days ago I had an exciting idea for this week’s blog post. Then one phone call changed everything.

Now it’s late Tuesday night. I publish on Wednesday. I sit here alone at my keyboard, hearing the clock tick, hoping I’ll choose the right words, having to trust my heart. There’s only one subject possible now.

Nobody wants to get one of “those” phone calls, the kind that gives you a strange feeling within a few seconds. You sense the weird vibes. What is it? Then the caller says, “I’m afraid I have some bad news…”

You expect to hear that some friend is terminally ill, or has even passed away. Thoughts of people you know, mostly older ones, crowd your mind. But you never expect to hear that the nineteen-year-old son of good friends, a young man you’ve adored and watched grow up, has died. The words sound foreign, incomprehensible.

First, I think of his eyes. Luke Rogers had the bluest eyes of anyone in the world, except maybe his mother, who shared that gene with him. They were the kind of eyes responsible for the expression “windows of the soul.” To look into them, even in the face of a blond little boy, brought a humbling awareness that you stood in the presence of someone extraordinary. In them you saw a deep serenity, a wisdom, unusual in one so young. I will never, ever, forget those blue eyes.

From both his parents, Karin and Terry, he also inherited the ability to sing. Oh, how he could sing. And he could play the drums, and write, and create art, and excel in school and outdoor pursuits, and anything else he tried. But when I think of Luke it is not those things I think of first. Rather it is the essence of him, his sweet soul, his sometimes shy and sometimes mischievous smile, his humor, his respectfulness, that I remember. I see the kid laughing in childhood photos with his sister Cara Beth or his older siblings, Andrew, Tim, and Cynthia. I see a person with a gentle way about him but full of fun, a loving son, grandson, and brother, a guy with a huge number of friends. Included among those friends, and no less important, were the family’s dogs.

Today while we gathered in the kitchen of the Rogers’ Seattle home, there came a moment of intense human suffering, a moment when the heart feels the quick, mean jab of pain. Where conversation had been, only silence remained. In the background of that silence I barely heard the whispered voice of intuition when it said to me, “Look down.” There, in the upturned face of a black Labrador Retriever, a portrait of worry and confusion, I saw another pair of eyes I will never forget. The vibrant and eternal soul we knew as “Luke" touched all our lives.

Tonight, back in Tacoma, I think about his family. I saw how empty a chair can look, how still a car not driven. When the phone is answered his voice will not be on the other end. But I also think of the lessons he learned by his parents’ fine example and the lessons he taught by his own, the way he gave to others, matured and blossomed, realized his own gifts and found joy in them, brightened the world and left it better. Luke Rogers changed many things forever, in such a short, short time.
Next week Tuesday night will come again. I’ll write my blog, trying to remind myself of my purpose. I have much of value to share with you yet and still believe we are all meant to live a “Good Life” with joy and a sense of abundance, like my title says. That’s how Luke lived. Next week his family and friends will have no choice but to try to move on, to begin the long, slow journey called grieving. We will think of them each difficult day.

I told Karin, “I know if he could, Luke would dry your tears.” She agreed. I believe that all those who go before us, all those in millions of families, lost through illness, accidents, or war, would want us to go on living. They would want us to remember them laughing hysterically over a joke at the dinner table, raiding the cookie jar, letting the screen door slam, throwing a stick for a dog. They would want to remind us that it’s the little everyday things, the cooking aromas and smell of mowed grass, the hugs, the sunsets, the music and magic that make up this crazy, wonderful, vivid time we call our lives. They would say to us, “Take it all in. Be happy! Do this for me.”


Goodbye, Luke. We’ll do our best to live as you lived, with joy, full of wonder and a sense of possibility, full of love. And we’ll always remember how it felt when you looked at us with your beautiful eyes.


Around noon on Saturday, Sept. 20th, 2008 Luke lost his life in a tragic boating accident on Lake Powell. He lived it with exuberance to the end.

A note from Candace:

To all of you who have read my blog post about Luke, I am humbled and deeply moved, to realize how many people out there loved him. On the first day of publication ten times more readers than usual visited here. Thanks also to those who left comments. I'm not able to answer you personally, because even if you leave a name they come to my email address anonymously. Otherwise I would. I still feel and appreciate the connection we all have, and it illustrates to all of us what a special person he was. I'm so honored that I have had the opportunity to share my heartfelt thoughts with each of you.

Candace Brown

To Luke and the Rogers family: You are in our hearts and minds, always.
May peace be with you.
With love from all your friends.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Walking the beach to "home"

I make my way home, to the beach. It knows me as kin, island born, salt air in my lungs. It waits for me. With my first step down from the end of the wooded path, the clink and crunch of rocks beneath my feet, the scent of seaweed and brine, seagull cries, and the dominant sound of moving water, I am welcomed back. The secret heart seeks it’s own place of repose. This is mine.

Above the clay banks, trunks of old Madronna trees lean at precarious angles, roots exposed, making a bit of shade. Their color of rust against blue sky pleases me. I find shelter in this curve of shore, sitting for awhile on a splintered driftwood log, like I’ve done all my life. One of many gathered here, it once lived, stood tall, in the shadowed forest where brown salamanders darted on damp moss, and ferns grew, and the only sounds came from birds and wind in its upper boughs. Now they all lie in the sun like dinosaur bones exposed, bleached white. I could hide here behind them, on trapped sand, among the bits of shells and dried seaweed, if I wanted to. Instead, I get up and walk. Like the trees, I now lean out to meet life in my own daring way.

We call this place Titlow Beach, named for Aaron Titlow who bought land here in 1903. By 1911 he had opened the grand Hotel Herperides in the Swiss Chalet type building, now shortened in height, owned by Metro Parks Tacoma, and called the Titlow Beach Lodge. Out in the water stand old pilings left from demolished piers. They can only hint at the businesses and commerce, the ferry service, and the steamboats that brought tourists from Seattle and beyond, to this spot of unbelievable beauty. These days the commotion is gone. Though dwellings spread from the railroad track at the beach and right on up the hill, there's only a tavern, a lunch spot, the park, and Steamers Seafood cafe'. Trains come through, too loud and fast, but the moment they pass the peace returns. In the quiet, I think of the Indians who once camped here, and wonder what they called this place.

Shore birds rest on the pilings, cormorants and gulls. In the distance to the north I see the two Tacoma Narrows bridges. To the south are islands, different than my own, that I’ve never been on. The cormorants rise to their feet now and then, to flap their dark wings, or hold them out to the sun. Seagulls take off. Announced by their cries they come gliding down to the picnic tables to walk about on stiff legs, looking for handouts. I walk about too, down by the sea’s edge. At my feet saltwater flings itself over the rocks with a slosh and gurgle, then pulls back again. Surge and recede, surge and recede, it repeats in rhythm, forever. I can see through it like glass, to where patterns on the surface, in the sun, make shadows on the rocks below. Their details seem clear, almost magnified. In this place I can also see clearly what lies beneath the surface of my own life.

A late September day can be so gorgeous on Puget Sound. The poignancy of time passing makes it more so. Fall comes next week. I look at Steamers, squeezed between train tracks and water. People sit outside at their little tables in the shade, but just weeks from now the rain will set in. Then you will find me inside, with my husband and a bowl of chowder. Some cheerful server will bring it to the table where I mumble a thanks while staring out at the beach. Maybe rain will streak down the window glass, or the stillness of fog will blanket the scene. Maybe it will be clear and cold, or dark, with the lights on the bridge glowing in the distance. No matter, I will love to be there, cozy, quiet, and deep in thought, even during conversation.

We all need special places. Why are they so? Is it because of something essential to their nature, a certain vibe, that makes us feel they way we do when there? Or is it our own nature,the combination of memory, experience, and connection, that we bring to it? I can’t answer that question. I just know that to have your own special place, where you can be your true self, is to come back home again. Isn't it time for a visit?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What to serve at a fall Garden Party... how about fertilizer?

When I scooted through the door at Commencement Bay Coffee I saw Geoff Rinehart already at a table in front of the sunny windows, waiting for me. I landed in the chair opposite him, caught my breath and apologized.

“Sorry. I’m ten minutes late. It just took longer than I expected, with traffic and all.”

Geoff smiled from one of those friendly faces that make you feel like he’s your next door neighbor, and assured me it was not a problem. He seemed relaxed. I noticed his bicycle helmet on the chair next to him and realized he probably didn’t even have to care about traffic. Geoff likes to keep life as simple as possible. He lives what he teaches.

Geoff Rinehart has taught me and others a lot already. He brings dedication and enthusiasm to a one-of-a-kind job with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, as their man in charge of outreach and education on the subject of natural yard care. He does this through workshops, staffing booths at fairs and festivals, and much more. We met so he could give me the details on some upcoming events I wanted to share through Good Life Northwest. But even more exciting than that, I’d hear about a pilot project he’s starting: events held in homeowner’s yards with neighbors invited, called Garden Parties. I’d volunteered to host the very first one.

So why would the Health Department be sponsoring garden parties? Well, this is the kind of party where the word “spread” isn’t something on a cracker. It refers to natural organic fertilizer, and while guests relax in lawn chairs, or stand around, Geoff himself will be spreading it on my own lawn. Better yet, all those guests get a free bag to take home, along with a lot of good information. That’s in addition to some of my cookies and coffee. Sounds like a deal to me. What’s more, my husband and I will receive a special gardening gift pack as a thank you for hosting the event.

The lawn treatment and freebies sound great, as does the chance to just get some neighbors together. But the real reason we’re doing this, is to help Geoff get this program going because we think he’s making a difference by using a positive approach. Geoff has faith that most people want to do the right thing, and that results will come through education and encouragement.

“I believe most people do care about the environment” he said. “ And they must care about the health and safety of their own families and pets. But they aren’t always aware of the natural products and ways of managing pests and disease that can be used as alternatives to toxic chemicals. Or they’re just not convinced these things really work. Then there’s also habit, doing what you’ve always done. It’s easier than trying something new.” The idea behind the Garden Parties is that homeowners will see the tangible results in their own neighborhood.

Geoff Rinehart’s goal, which is very personal to him, is threefold. He wants to educate people about the garden management practices best for the environment, provide them with the tools (literature, product samples and sources, visual example, etc.) and lastly, encourage implementation. It’s more than a job. It’s what he loves doing.

I love gardening, but must guiltily admit that my husband tackles most of the heavy work. I’m inclined toward the more ladylike chores, such as daintily cutting flowers for a vase, or pulling weeds, as long as they come out easily, or better yet, just pouring a cup of coffee, sitting down, and writing about gardening. You might say I prefer “spreading the word” over “spreading the manure”. But I have gone to several of Geoff’s excellent Natural Gardening Workshops, and even wrote about them here last spring. I’m excited about this new program.

Now autumn is upon us, and fall lawn and garden care is needed. If you love gardening, and our planet, you’ll want to learn what Geoff can teach. Better yet, if you too would like to host a Garden Party, either this fall or next spring, just call or email him. Here’s his contact information plus dates for upcoming Natural Gardening Workshops in the Pierce Co. area. Happy fall gardening, the natural way.

Geoff Rinehart at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: 253-798-4587

Natural Gardening Workshops are presented as a series with a different topic at each one. Call for information or to pre-register, as space is limited. There is a $5 program fee.

Tacoma: Thursday, Sept. 25 and Friday Oct. 3, 7-9 PM at the Tacoma Nature Center

Spanaway: Sat. Sept. 13, 9:30 AM -noon at the Spanaway Water Co.

Key Peninsula/ Gig Harbor: Tuesdays, Sept. 16th, 23rd, and 30th, 6:30-8:30 PM at the
Peninsula Light headquarters

Edgewood/Milton/Fife: Wednesdays, Sept. 17 and Oct. 1st and 15th , 6:30-8:30 PM at the Milton City Hall

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


"Smart Monkey wanted to save the planet
but didn't know anything about
environmental science or CAFÉ standards,
and wasn't even rich or powerful.

But Smart Monkey had gone
to fashion school and
one day had an idea…"

So begins a brochure created by Leah Andersson, Tacoma entrepreneur and owner of Smart Monkey Knits. This morning I asked her about the name.

"One day I dropped a pen behind the couch and couldn't reach it with my hand" she said. "Then I thought to turn my hand, twisting it a certain way, and suddenly it worked and I said out loud 'Smart Monkey'. That's how I got the idea but it also means I hope mankind is getting smarter as we continue to evolve."

Leah wakes up every morning focused on her goals. But even with all her intelligence, hard work, long hours, and dedication you could say that Andersson's business is unraveling. Literally. She unravels gently used, natural fiber sweaters and turns them into newly created knit or crochet garments and accessories, or simply gorgeous skeins of what she calls "refurbished" yarn.

How does she do this? It involves buying sweaters at thrift stores or garage sales, taking them apart, unraveling, thoroughly washing the yarn, wrapping onto racks for air drying, and then gathering it into skeins using the skein winder she recently purchased. Before that she wound all the yarns into balls by hand. It's the first step, that most excites the keen eye and imagination of this fiber artist who holds a Certificate of Professional Designation in Clothing Production from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in California. She can see the hidden potential in an ugly sweater, if the yarn and colors hold appeal.

Why does she do this?

" Because our planet is smaller than we think and we should all do our little bit to manage the resources we have. Synthetic/petroleum based fibers and dyes pollute the environment. Imported items take away jobs from Americans and screw up our trade deficit" she says. "The production of even natural yarn leaves a big carbon footprint. It takes fuel to raise the sheep, do the manufacturing, and transporting, sometimes around the world. I can't undo those things but at least I can extend the life of it once it's been made."

Beyond all that, Leah's efforts are a reflection of her philosophy of avoiding waste and "making do", far from a new concept. In my generation I watched my mother save every button and zipper from discarded clothing and then cut it up into rags, typical of women like her, who lived through the Great Depression.

The "whys" also include less tangible benefits, like the delights of creativity. Whether by her hands or those of someone else, seeing the metamorphosis of used garments into stunning new fashions with exciting combinations of colors thrills Andersson.

I met Leah not long after Smart Monkey grew from a fuzzy little idea to a real business. In the beginning she concentrated on creating simple knitted and crocheted items like hats, scarves, shawls, ponchos, and baby blankets to sell as finished products at farmers markets and street fairs. As a knitter I couldn't resist walking up to her booth the first time I saw the rich palate of colors and tactile appeal it presents. I also liked her sign that says "Not made in China".

After finding out I could knit and crochet Leah recruited me to help with production, a growing challenge. In addition to the beauty of the finished items customers loved the whole idea of recycling and reusing and demand soared. I became one of several women who helped Leah keep the inventory coming.

Of course knitters embraced the whole concept of the business, but knitters are always thinking "I'd rather do it myself". Leah soon had requests for just the yarn. She filled a few orders but continued making items to sell. As business increased time available for the needlework seemed to decrease. That's when Smart Monkey had another great idea: emphasizing selling the yarn.

Now when you visit Smart Monkey at the Broadway Farmers Market in Tacoma or the Fremont Market in Seattle, your eyes will go straight for the neat brown paper bags with handles, full of luscious offerings: wool, cotton, silk and ramie, with a richness of color only natural fibers can attain. The hues and textures will delight you and so will the prices. A bag of yarn averaging 1,000 yards, plenty for a sweater (after all it WAS a sweater) will cost you about $35. Where could you ever find such a deal on good yarn, much less a finished garment?

I love the tags tied to the handles. In addition to telling "The Story of Smart Monkey" they show a photo of the original sweater that particular bag of yarn came from and the original fiber content and care label is attached. Custom orders are also available. You can even bring in a used sweater of your own and let Leah work her metamorphosis magic on it.

Leah still sells plenty of finished items too. One of her most popular with shoppers is the reusable "market bag", perfect for all that fresh produce. She can't seem to make enough of those and sells many for gifts.

"Remember, there are only about 114 days until Christmas" she said to me today. Thanks Leah. That isn't necessarily what I wanted to hear, but I know this much. When I do get around to Christmas shopping I'll be doing some at Smart Monkey, especially for myself. Hey, I've been good this year.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Leah Andersson can be reached at (253) 229-2841 or
Coming soon:
Smart Monkey will be at Tacoma's Broadway Farmers Market every Thursday until it closes on Oct. 16th and at the Fremont Farmers Market in Seattle every Sunday all year long.

Also be sure to check out the radio interview Leah gave about her business on the KUOW program "Sound Focus".