20 Gifts UNDER $20

Nov 28 2017

A few days ago, I saw a “Presents Under $50” list that made me roll my eyes HARD and then ask my family to roll THEIR eyes, too, because my own two were an INSUFFICIENT NUMBER of eyes to roll in response. It wasn’t the general idea of presents under $50. I’m at least theoretically all for that. It was this specific list that caused the eye gymnastics. 

First, the list called its 30 items “white elephant gifts,” which, at least as far as I understand it, means these are the items the list-makers assume are good for either a) general gift-giving appealing to all sorts of people when you don’t know who’s going to end up with them, and/or b) gag gifts. I mean, if you’re spending $50 on gag gifts, more power to you, friend. Also, I want an invitation to your party, please, because that would be a cool cross-cultural experience for me. But at no time, in the history of my life upon this fine earth, have I ever, EVER spent $50 on a white elephant gift. 

Second, the list called $50 the “sweet spot price,” and “cool, cheap presents,” and “affordable.” Which… maybe… except for the fact that…

Third, the list includes items like:

  • a $47 mini mug
  • a $16 velvet hair ribbon
  • a $35 hair comb
  • a $45 bottle of handwash clothes detergent
  • a $10 one-time-use, plastic drinking straw 
  • and more items that made me cock my head to the side and go… what??

For a while, I thought the list must be satire — surely it was a joke — but a little sleuthing uncovered the fact that it’s legit. That’s when the eye rolling began. And when I started typing in all caps. PLEASE HELP ME UNDERSTAND WHO SPENDS $16 FOR A STRIP OF VELVET. PLEASE HELP ME UNDERSTAND $35 FOR A COMB. I mean, does the comb LIGHT UP? Does it BRING ME A BEER FROM THE FRIDGE? Does it MORPH INTO A GENIE AND OFFER ME THREE WISHES? I’m on a Need to Know basis over here — I NEED TO KNOW HOW THIS IS EVEN A THING. I can get 3 YARDS of velvet ribbon at Joann Fabric for $4, y’all. And a 3-pack of hair combs is $0.99 at the grocery store… or, if you want to be extravagant, you can get a fancy comb with a HANDLE for $1.49. Right? I mean, a small bottle of detergent for A TASK I REFUSE TO DO costs $45? And that’s a “cool, cheap, sweet spot” gift? Gah. Don’t worry about me, friends; I’ll just be over here hyperventilating on the floor.

Eventually, once I forced my eyes back down out of my forehead, I decided to put together my own list of gifts for under $20. Because clearly SOMEONE MUST. While $20 STILL may not be the “sweet spot” for gift pricing, it’s a heck of a lot sweeter than $50. Besides, the prices for the gifts below go down as low as $5, AND they’re not gag gifts. There’s stuff in here for kids and adults, bigger presents and stockings, picky teens, travel gear, jewelry, and more.


{And…psst… A BIG HUGE THANK YOU to all of you who helped put together this list of BETTER STUFF for $20 or less. You’re the raddest.}


Fred Bonehead Folding Dinosaur Comb, $14 — OK; I couldn’t resist starting with a comb. While I must admit, $14 is still, in my opinion, too pricey for ONE COMB, this one is a far cooler version than the $35 number, AND it’s fun enough to perhaps convince my kids to actually use it. 


4M Science Kits, $9-17 — a wide variety available, great for kids elementary age on up. Tin can robot pictured. Other options include crystal growing, kitchen science, potato clock, hover racer, water rocket, weather science, solar rover and more.


Mobile Phone Camera Lens for Macro and Wide Angle Photos, $15 — Not gonna lie — I’m hoping Greg reads carefully enough to put this in my stocking. Highly rated mobile phone clip-on lens to improve photo quality. Two lenses in one… a wide angle and a macro lens. Excellent for amateur photographers who want to up their photo quality. (THAT’S ME, GREG.)


Stainless Steel Reuseable Straws , $7 — Honestly, who wants a one-time-use plastic straw for $10 when you can get SIX REUSEABLE straws for $7? This one’s a win, and it comes with cleaning brushes. Hooray!


Infrared Flying Hover Ball, $12 — This looks like an amazing gift for older kids, teens, and grown-ups like me who think we’re still children. We’ll be launching these on Christmas morning. Sure, a lamp or two may get broken, but let’s be honest; that was going to happen with or without dueling hover balls. 


BEAST Double Wall Stainless Steel Tumbler gift bundle, $18 — You know what I hate about stainless steel tumblers? The fact that they’re handwash only. Not this one, though. This one’s dishwasher safe and comes with some of those stainless steel straws I mentioned above. I’ll take this over a $47 mini-mug any day, no matter how cute that mug is.


Handcrafted Cutting Boards, Cheese Boards and Coasters at Swamp Otter Designs, starting at $15. The board pictured is handmade with cherry, walnut, red oak and maple, finished with food-grade mineral oil, measures 8”x7.5”x1.25”, and sells for $15. Beautiful AND supports a small business owner and artist. 



Ladies’ Owl Socks, 5 pair, $14 — Guess what’s going in my kids’ stockings this year? Yep! These have already arrived at my door. 


John’s Crazy Socks, $6-12 per pair — John has a very cool story! Click that link to learn more. He sells ALL KINDS of cool socks, most for $6/pair. I’m currently trying to decide between Talking Goat Socks, Nasturtiums, and Portraits of Barack Obama. I just need to find out from John how well those Obama socks are going to soak up my tears. 


Sterling Silver Mesh Chain Bracelet, $19 — I bought this bracelet for myself two years ago, and it’s become my all-time FAVORITE. I wear it almost daily. It lays beautifully on my wrist without flipping, the mesh adds visual interest to a basic bracelet that goes with everything, and the price is right. Love this one.


VERO MONTE Slipper Socks, 2 pair for $20 — choice of grey or white. Classic sock slippers in white and grey options. 


Long-ass, Fast Charging, Durable iPhone Cable, $11 — While technically “long-ass” isn’t part of this product’s name, it should be. That’s what makes it great. It’s 6’ long, Apple certified, and charges FAST. 



Hummingbird Purse Mirror by New Hampshire Pewter, $16 — A lovely artisan product, this is the perfect small mirror to carry for those of us who care about such things. 😉 


Never Trust An Atom (They Make Up Everything) T-Shirt, $8 — Also available in a women’s v-neck, these are awesome science-geek-approved daywear. I get Greg a geeky shirt for Christmas every year. He always needs new t-shirts, and the price point is perfect. Last year’s shirt pictured a cat and a box and said, “Schroedenger’s Cat Wanted: Dead and Alive.” There are hundreds of clever shirts to choose from once you start looking online, and most are under $10. 



Handbag Hook, $5 — I love mine! This sucker unfolds so that the disk in the center can be placed on a table, and the linked metal around the disk forms a hook. It’s an easy, reliable way to hang my purse on the table when I go out. No more putting it on the floor, and easy to carry in my bag with me. Holds a surprising amount of weight.



Mini Backpack, available in 6 color combinations, $7 — I felt like I was taking a risk with these when I bought them for my kids last year. I mean, a $7 backpack can’t be perfect quality, can it? I took a risk and bought two anyway, and they’re one of my best purchases. We’ve been using them for 18 months now, through several trips, as kids’ daypacks. They’ve been awesome. Perfect size for kids to carry their own gear! Up mountains, through airports, they’ve been fantastic. The adults keep borrowing them, too.



Gerber Paraframe Knife, $17 — High quality, durable, all purpose knife. My 11yo bought this one with his birthday money last year on the recommendation of my father, the Marine. It has lived up to every expectation. Gerber makes excellent products, and this knife has served my kid well while camping and whittling in the backyard. My favorite part is it sharpens easily and maintains a sharp edge which (believe it or not) helps reduce the risk of injury. Has my child cut himself with this knife? YEP! Sure has. Even though a Marine trained him in its use. Nothing a bandaid can’t fix, though, and a great knife to learn on. 



Camping Hammock, $18 — Speaking of outdoor gear, hammocks are just all-around rad and an ongoing favorite of my kids. This one is highly rated and comes with straps and carabiners for hanging. 



Flingshot Slingshot Flying Screaming Monkey, $7 — For parents who have lost their everloving minds and simply no longer care what gets broken. You thought the hover balls were bad? I have no doubt these are worse. Which is why we’re getting at least two. I DID discover there’s a way to dismantle the screaming portion, though. I mean, I AM out of my mind, but I still have some standards. 



Bottle of Wine: Myriad Options Under $20 — There’s a reason a bottle of wine is a perpetual favorite. The bottles are often lovely, you can find very decent wines at reasonable prices if you know where to look (hint: ask the wine merchant at Trader Joe’s for the best bottles at your price point), and it’s always classy. Pictured here: wine I love from Anne Amie in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley


I have poop-water on my floor. Wanna hang out?

Oct 10 2017

We spent the weekend with our toilet in the backyard because a visiting child tried to flush it. This, of course, caused water to overflow the bowl, gush from the floor, and flood the bathroom. I don’t know how the water gushed from the floor, exactly. Greg told me, but all I caught was plumbing, something something, seal, poop-water, and locking the bathroom door forever. So a kid broke our toilet, and it’s Situation Normal around here; an ongoing bio-hazard and Greg is gagging in the corner. To be clear, I don’t blame the child. I blame the child’s parents for a) teaching the child to flush, a mistake we certainly haven’t made, and b) failing to teach the child that Nothing Works at the Woolsey House, Ever.

Also, our fence gate latch and garage door are broken, our car has a flat tire, the fridge water dispenser won’t stop dispensing so we fixed it with masking tape, one kid is having a (series of) meltdown(s), two kids are recovering from feeling barfy, and, while we had a lovely time on our trip, we’re also glad to be home again. Truly glad. This is us, and I like us, even with poop-water on our floor and really poor plumbing skills.


We are who we are, friends.

I started writing this post to let you know about retreats I have coming up next month and throughout 2018, and to invite you to join me, but it’s suddenly occurred to me that I just wrote about living in poop-water, and now I’m going to see if you want to hang out. I’d rewrite this whole thing, except I feel like our relationship is past the point of pretending, so I’ll just say…

I have poop-water on my floor. Wanna hang out?

We won’t be hanging out in poop-water. The retreats are in a pristine and lovely house that’s sort of Anti-Poop-Water. Or not anti-poop-water necessarily — like, I don’t think the house has some sort of doctrinal position that’s specifically opposed to poop-water, because, let’s be honest, poop-water happens — but rather absent poop-water. Like, it’s a whole retreat to get away from poop-water, both literal and figurative. A Poop-Water Respite Retreat, if you will. Which suddenly makes me feel like I wasn’t nearly creative enough — or accurate enough — in naming these retreats, because, while I suspect there are a whole lot of parents like me who would like to attend a Writing Retreat, or a Food and Wine Retreat, or a Book Retreat, or a Mindfulness Retreat, there are probably many, many more who would love to attend a retreat that lets us rest from All the Poop-Water, you know?

You know.

I know you know.

That’s why you’re my people.

Do come hang out with me if you can. Details below.

With love, as always,





I’m getting ready to release our 2018 Retreat dates. Mostly, the retreats are how I get to hang out with you, introduce you to other friends of mine who are experts in their fields and all-around rad people, while doing things I think are, well, fun. This year, in addition to the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat where we give shape to the messy and beautiful stores in each of us, and the Mindfulness Retreat where we learn to be kind to ourselves and to breathe, we’re adding a Food and Wine Retreat — self-explanatory — and a Book-Lovers’ Retreat, with three books, one memoir, one fantasy, and one TBD to read ahead of time and discuss together. I could not be more happy about these options, and I hope you’re excited, too! Here are the dates:

  • Book-Lovers’ Retreat — January 25-29, 2018
  • Food and Wine Retreat — March 8-12, 2018
  • Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat — May 3-6, 2018
  • Mindfulness Retreat — November 8-12, 2018

These four, small group retreats will be located at our previous retreat venue — a stunning, 8-bedroom home with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean in Seal Rock, Oregon — and will continue our tradition of rest, respite, supportive community, incredible food and wine, and new friends all around.

Registration for the 2018 retreat will begin soon. We’ll be releasing all the details shortly. However, if you want to get a jump on registration and hold your spot first in line, please contact Maggie Peterson, retreat registrar, at petersonm1@spu.edu to let her know which retreat you’d like to attend. This does not obligate you to attend, but does ensure you’ll be contacted via email as soon as registration opens.

On Giving a Rat’s Ass (A Business Opportunity. Obviously.)

Aug 30 2017

I meant to write to you today, but I got caught up doing more important things like complaining about people complaining about Melania’s shoes. Let’s be honest, if I didn’t take it upon myself to complain about things on Facebook, NOTHING WOULD EVER CHANGE. Also, it’s critical to point out how much attention people are taking away from the flooding in Texas by taking away people’s attention to  complain about how they’re using their attention.



Glad we cleared that up.

The crux of my complaint is this: Melania Trump wore expensive heels to fly to the Texas disaster zone. Do we not have more important things to fuss about??

In the words of Trevor Noah, whom I love and with whom I’m well pleased, “I don’t know why anybody should care what someone wears when they’re on the way to help people. Look at the Pope, you see how he dresses? All white with enormous bling; he looks like he’s going to a P Diddy party. You can’t go around helping people dressed like that.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

I mean, I get it; I do. We have a grand American tradition of criticizing the First Lady’s clothes. And I understand the “out of touch” and “insensitivity” arguments — Michelle Obama was the target of the same comments.

Part of me is all, “YEAH. Melania should TOTALLY experience what it’s like to walk with 4 year old, scuffed Target pumps through the rain only to have the water rush in through the hole in the glued-on sole.”

But the other part of me goes, “Melania wore expensive heels to fly to a disaster zone. I DO WISH we had so few other concerns that this should matter… but seriously. North Korea is launching missles, people are under water in Texas and Asia (and no one’s talking about Asia), GSM folks are under regular, blatant and insidious attack, Nazis are marching in our streets, folks are denying racism is an issue in this country, churches are excommunicating the “heretics” ’cause, you know, that’s what Jesus did, college is out of reach for many lower and middle class families, our children have less chance at improving on their parents’ successes and financial situations, black women are 2-6 times as likely to die during childbirth in America than white women, our president issues military orders BY TWEET… and on and on and on and on and on… but we’re bitching about the First Lady’s SHOES? Blerg.”

BUT DO NOT WORRY, friends! ONE GOOD THING CAME OUT OF THIS. One good thing that’s far more important than shoes, or, you know, people fleeing for their lives, and you know what that one good thing is? IT’S CAPITALISM. A Business Opportunity! A brilliant answer to Greg’s financial woes. His woes being WE HAVE A CHILD IN COLLEGE, and WE HAVE FIVE CHILDREN, and OUR CHILDREN KEEP EATING FOOD FOR EVERY MEAL. And also, WHY DO YOU REFUSE TO MONETIZE THIS BLOG, BETH?? WHY? This is why we call him Poor Greg. He suffers, friends; he suffers.

The Business Idea occurred to me in a flash, as the Very Best Ideas so often do. In response to my complaints complaining about the complaining, my friend Shelley wrote, “I wholeheartedly agree. I could give a rat’s ass what kind of shoes she wore.”

DO YOU SEE IT? The Best Business Idea Ever and the Perfect Gift for Our Times.

A rat’s ass, friends.

A rat’s ass.

I wrote back immediately. (Text below the photo.)

I feel like this is a good monetization opportunity. Taxidermied rats’ asses. Like, we could do it humanely and everything. Find rat roadkill or watch for where the vultures are circling over the fields, employ a skilled taxidermist, harvest the ass portions (of the rat, not the taxidermist), preserve them, and then sell them so people can give literal rats’ asses. Or keep them if they want to say “I couldn’t give a rat’s ass” — in which case, they’d take a selfie with their rat’s ass to prove they can’t give it. Really, I feel like both ways get the point across.

Of course, in the “I couldn’t give a rat’s ass” category, one would be able to procure a live rat, so that undermines the taxidermy business and we’d have to lay off the taxidermist which creates a poorer economy and a dirth of available rats’ asses. So never mind. I take back the “couldn’t” option. We’ll stick with “I could give a rat’s ass.” Better for business, far more practical than ongoing rat care (unless one particularly loves rats, in which case, go for it), and a much better comment on our current society.

Our start up costs will be minimal — we just need a crowd of, say, twenty 1st-5th graders (cost: we call this an After School Outdoor Program and MAKE money… $5/kid/hour… assume conservatively they only find 1/hour… we get $100/hour PLUS a rat’s ass), 20 orange safety vests (cost: $3.49 each on Amazon – I checked), and a taxidermist (cost: $20/rat if s/he/they will work on a consultancy basis — we care about liveable wages, obviously — or $0 if the zombie apocalypse arrives; in that case, Greg Woolsey plans to kidnap one to take to our compound because everyone knows how critical taxidermy is going to be when the world as we know it ends. http://bethwoolsey.com/2011/06/on-the-importance-of-taxidermy/ ).

Functionally, that’s $100 – $3.49 – $20 in production costs, so we net $76.51 per rat. Maybe $56.51 if we feed the kids snacks on our dime and don’t make the parents send some. I vote we go that route because I HATE remembering to pack snack. Our profit goes back up to $76.51 per rat, though, if we can find someone willing to infect Earth with the zombie virus and don’t have to pay the taxidermist. The zombie apocalypse scenario is the most probable, so let’s run with that number. $76.51/rat in production profit.

THEN, if we sell each one for $25/pop, which I feel is a very reasonable price for a rat’s ass, then we’re back up to over $100… $76.51 in production profit + $25 sale price = $101.51.

If we make buyers pay the shipping and handling, and gouge them by forcing them to pay $5.99 for $1.77 in postage, as is the usual way of doing internet business in America, we could really make bank. $101.51 + $5.99 in S&H fees – $1.77 in actual postage = $107.50/rat.

So what do you say? You in?

Eventually, we could get into raccoon asses and opossum asses, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.


Look. I don’t want to brag, friends, but THIS IDEA ROCKS. Furthermore, Shelley agreed and has since expanded on the idea. Soon, in addition to offering rat’s asses you can give with alacrity, we’ll be offering horse’s ass trophies so that those people who do NOT give a rat’s ass can give a horse’s ass. You know why? Because we care about the inclusion of ALL PEOPLE; the rat’s ass givers and those who need other types of asses to award.

DO YOU SEE THE BRILLIANCE? Yes. Yes, you do. CAN YOU WAIT TO BUY YOURS? No. No, you can not.

I rest my case. The world is saved.

I love you to the moon.


How to Host House Guests

Aug 18 2017

The eclipse is coming on Monday, and we here in Oregon in the path of totality are calling it the apoceclipse which turns out to be fairly accurate. There are gas shortages. The stores can’t restock fast enough and have apparently run out of some goods already. Traffic is at a standstill. The state has declared a state of emergency, ostensibly so government services can cooperate without the usual red tape getting in the way, but really because the end is near and they’re hoping we won’t panic.

As for our part, we’ve made sure we’re stocked on potato chips and beer, so I’m feeling good about our survival strategy.

We have friends flying in tomorrow from Great Britain for the event. They’ve been planning for 2 years, and we suckered them into staying with us while they’re here. We technically haven’t met — only on the internet — but I’m forcing them to be my friends anyway. My friends I see in the flesh used to think I was insane, traveling the world to see folks I’ve only previously met online, once in a parking garage in Vegas because that’s not dangerous, but by now I’ve convinced enough people to crash with us — people they’ve come to love — that they see my brilliance now. And that’s all I’ve ever asked of them, really: SUCCUMB TO MY BRILLIANCE, ADMIT I’M INSANE BUT ALSO STRANGELY RIGHT.

So our friends we haven’t met are coming tomorrow, and they’re fancy because they’re Brits. Everyone knows Brits are fancy. Also, proper. Also, have manners. Also, really excellent posture. And so we’ve been cleaning house to prepare. Not because we’re eager to lie about how we live, but because we don’t want them to catch the Black Plague. I mean, we’ve built our immunity to the diseases lurking in filth and squalor, but we ought not make the mistake of believing that just because our immune systems are made out of titanium, theirs are, too.

We’ve been cleaning, in other words. But sort of Woolsey half-assed style. Which is to say, we did some cleaning but not all the cleaning, and now we’ve quit and decided that’s good enough. We’re hoping clean sheets and one clean bathroom (we shall ban them from the rest) will be sufficient, and, if that fails, we inet do to distract them with beer and potato chips.

In lieu of thorough cleaning — I’d meant to organize the kitchen cupboards, for example, that they might find the items they need to sustain life — I’ve decided to provide them with helpful signs. As every road engineer in Washington State knows, if you can’t sort utter and complete chaos or create a system that’s navigable, at least provide confusing (aka, “helpful”) signs so you can pretend you’ve helped them out. Yes? Yes.

In case you, like me, need an Alternative Way to Host House Guests — one that doesn’t involve actual organization — here are some of the signs we’re using to help these poor people out:

Signs like “Breakfast Cereal.”

See? Isn’t that helpful?

And “Cinnamon Sugar and Butter with toast crumbs smashed in it.” Because who wants pristine butter? I mean, maybe fancy British people do, but we want to give them a full American culture immersion here. Just one of many services we provide.

“Bread, Bagels, Tortillas & it looks like someone shoved oatmeal in with the mixing bowls.” I don’t even know what’s going on with that, but in case anyone’s confused about where oatmeal should be kept, it’s with mixing bowls. Obviously.

In the pantry, there are “Possibly Snacks but opening this cupboard will likely trigger an avalanche, so proceed at your own risk.”

“Liquor and wine.”

And in case they wonder whether I know there’s food splattered on the cupboards and walls and doors,

I’ve provided a small tour of I Have No Idea What This Is Or How Long It’s Been There.

Here, too.

Also here.

Also, one bajillion other places, but not even God has enough sticky notes for every spot.

Finally, I gave them a tour of where to find caffeine. Because caffeine is my love language. Greg’s is Acts of Service. Mine is All the Caffeine.

“Coffee. Also tea with the word “British” on it.” We’re not tea drinkers. I have no idea how to buy tea they won’t find repulsive.

“Also-also, we bought you 80 bags because apparently that’s how much we expect you to drink in 5 days.” We would hate, after all, for our friends to come all the way to the States without learning the essential American skill of buying far, far more than you could possibly need. #MURICA

That is all for now.

In conclusion, you can pray for our guests.

With love,

The Pictures You Don’t See on Facebook: PTSD and My Son’s Service Dog Hero

Jul 11 2016

We went on vacation last week, and it’s not lost on me that we’re now part of a narrowing group of American families who can afford ridiculous luxuries like paid time off and time together in the sun and water. Never mind that this holiday was paid for by Nana and Papa, and not us; we won’t pretend generous grandparents involved in their grandkids’ lives and with the means to gift us family time isn’t its own elite past time. We’re beyond lucky. We know it, and we walk a line that’s littered with guilt and gratitude in equal measure.

I posted pics on Facebook to prove we vacationed. Our happy family. Smiles, surf, sun and silliness. And I didn’t feel guilty about that. Not even a little. I still don’t, in spite of the loud voices everywhere telling us we’re Fakebooking when we post the pretty things and are trying to deceive our friends by highlighting only the joyful parts of life and omitting the rest. Facebook is my scrapbook. It’s where I hold happy memories. And the more happy on Facebook the better, in my opinion. POST ALL THE LUNCH PICTURES, I say. I WANT TO SEE YOUR PRETTY SANDWICH, friends. And ALL THE BABY PICS, too. TOO MANY CUTE KID PICS, PLEASE. When did we decide to be the cranky, old lawn neighbors, anyway? “Damn kids! Keep your happy off my Facebook lawn!

I feel guilty, in other words, for having a vacation at all. Guilty and grateful because I want ALL the families to have one, too. But I feel no guilt for having a happy moment out loud, and one I can share in public. Maybe because I long to share your happy moments, too. Or maybe because I know that vacations and families and friendships and children and life are made up of the happy mixed with the unhappy. The joyful mixed with the barely-holding-it-together. The gasps of air at the surface mixed with drowning. The magic and the mess intermingled. Grace and grime all the time.

Maybe, for me, it’s because every moment like this one,


comes hand in hand with innumerable moments like this one
IMG_0547where our son, who experiences Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from an early life that was deeply unfair to him, falls all the way apart.

Our vacations, therefore, are moments of trauma and triumph strung together haphazardly. Angst and sorrow sprinkled with joy. Frustration, mostly, for this precious man-child, and tiny glimpses of freedom, now and then, and not often enough.

I don’t usually share much with you about Ian’s life or ours with him. I have occasionally here and here and here and here. But mostly we keep what he experiences to ourselves because each of our kids has control over the “publish” button when it comes to their stories, and Ian is the most private of our kids, the one who’s most bewildered about this strange life; the most uncertain that there are good things out there for him; the most sure that he’ll be hurt again like he was in his first life, before we were there were champion him and fail him and champion him again, like all parents who mean well and succeed and fail in equal measure but still hope they’re not screwing it up entirely.

I took the pictures below of Ian with his service dog, Zoey, months ago, because he asked me to. He wanted to “watch Zoey do her job, Mom,” and so I sat with him while she worked as she so often does to ease anxiety and panic that overtakes my son but which he’s helpless to explain, bearing the double burden of PTSD with an expressive language disorder that keeps most of his thoughts and feelings stuck inside with no way out. I’ve kept these pictures private, of course, because they’re really not mine to share.

Except that Ian has asked me now for a week straight to show them to you.

We had a conversation after vacation. A conversation about Miss Zo and her special place in our lives. A conversation about the many who suffer, as Ian does, from PTSD and myriad other disabilities. A conversation about mental illness, with which I am far too familiar myself. And a conversation about what it’s like to feel so terribly alone, wading through the muck and mire and wondering whether there’s a way out.

Ian said, “Show them, Mom.”

I said no. A whim on his part didn’t seem like a good enough reason to show his anguish to the world.

He still said, “Show them.”

I said no again. And again. And again.

But he’s asked me every day for a week after that convo. Until I said, “Why, Ian? You usually want to keep this to yourself. You usually don’t want people to see this. And once we show them, it’s not possible to take it back.”

And Ian said, “So they’re not alone, Mom. So they know they’re not alone.”

And so, to honor my son and his battle, my son the hero, and his dog the hero, too, here are the pictures we don’t show on Facebook. A face of PTSD and the dog who would lead him to the light at the end of each tunnel:


With love, friends, and the reminder from my kid that we’re not alone,


More Hope Than Certainty

Jun 14 2016

more-hope-2 more-hope-3 more-hope-4 more-hope-5 more-hope-6 more-hope-7

It’s 55°F outside and windy on the wild west coast where I sit in my flip-flops and parka, wrapped in the blanket I stole from the beach house, and write and write – by hand because I spilled coffee on my laptop AGAIN – and listen to the waves crash relentlessly, endlessly, while the sun and clouds fight for control of the sky.

I’m deliciously warm except for my nose and ears and fingertips and toes, which are ice, and I’m outside alone except for the teenager chasing her rainbow kite down the shore because it escaped her grasp and made the dash for freedom.

It would be more practical to sit inside where the temperature is controlled and the wind wouldn’t play with my paper and my hair. Surely I would be more practical there, too. And more productive. But my soul is one of the Wild Things and makes decisions sometimes for my body – when I listen – and She couldn’t sit inside today where She felt trapped by walls and ceiling. No, She longed to be set free today, so I’m taking Her where She wants to go and letting Her use my pen, which is always risky because my soul loves Jesus to the moon, and loves people, and says fuck a lot, so I never quite know where She’ll take us, my pen and I, if I give her free rein, but I am always interested to find out, and I’m more and more willing to let Her lead to these days. She loves well when I let her. Even me.

I woke up Sunday morning with Things to Do. Graduation Things for my high school senior. Packing Things for the retreats I’m running this week. One thousand things to finish by noon, and boxes and bags to throw in my fancy blue Pontiac with the cloth seats so I could book it for the coast where I hoped I’d beat my retreat guests, scheduled to arrive simultaneously with me.  I had, in other words, Things to Do and no time to Be.

Then I read Sunday morning’s news.

50 dead.
Biggest Mass Shooting in U.S. History.

The To Do’s faded away. My Soul sat us down. We bowed our heads and prayed:

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

We continued for quite some time. Days now, actually, the only variations, “Oh, Jesus, no,” and all the Goddamnits.

I thought maybe we should say something out loud, but the Soul said it wasn’t time for us yet, and Practical Me agreed that writing ALL the Goddamnits would take more time than we had at hand.

“AND,” Soul said…, “AND remember how we’re learning to not always tell others’ stories FOR them, Beth? Remember how we’re learning to tell stories WITH them?”

She’s right, of course. We are trying to learn this, my Soul and I. Trying hard to use our words to champion the vulnerable and marginalized, like our LGBTQ neighbors and friends, without speaking FOR them and rob their voices and co-opt their perspectives. Trying to learn to be good allies and friends. Trying to grieve our collective tragedies and losses while recognizing the particular and profound grief and suffering the targets of these attacks – the LGBT community – experience.

So I sat at the coast with new and old friends, in the wind and watching waves, and I scrolled through Facebook, where my friend, Geoff, who is a humanitarian at heart and by trade, who is a musician, who is kind and tall and handsome and gay and brave and a survivor, wrote this:

“Despite my sadness, I have great hope today, because at last night’s vigil I witnessed, once again, the community come together and show that, in responding to hate, our weapon of choice is more love. We greet with open hands those whose fists clench against us, we sing and joke and cheer when some would silence us, we assemble with lights and flags of all colours when some want us to disappear. The more we are persecuted the more deeply and widely our love spreads: for one another, our neighbors, and even our enemies. We say, You are invited to this party, too; there’s room here under our rainbow. We will not let you stereotype and demonize another minority in our name, either. And this is why, though we suffered terrible losses, we are winning.”
-Geoff Rempel-

“Can I quote you?” I asked Geoff.

“Of course,” he wrote, “if you wish, though I wrote those words with more hope than certainty.”

More hope than certainty.

More hope than certainty.

I love this. ^^^

Imagine a world with more hope than certainty.

More hope in love as a weapon than the certainty that our neighbors are evil.

More hope that we can find each other in the darkness than certainty we are two divided.

More hope in inclusion and invitations to dance and celebrate together than the certainty that the “other” is out to get us.

Yes. More hope than certainty. This is how I write, too, Geoff – with more hope than certainty. And how I live. And how I breathe. And how I love.

With more hope than certainty.

Always and forever.

This is, after all, what it means to be compassionately human and to live on after tragedies; to keep seeking change, and to act as if Love really does win in the end.

I keep seeing that rainbow kite tumbling down the beach. Free.

With love,


A Blog in Which We’re Concerned with Me and God and Telling the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth: An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Nate Macy

Apr 18 2016


Dearest Friends,

From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,





A Blog in Which We’re Concerned with Me and God and Telling the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
An Authenticity Project guest post by Nate Macy

I like to think of myself as a forthright person, even if that’s not entirely true. I suppose being forth right doesn’t mean always saying everything that’s on your mind, but sometimes, in close relationships, it feels like a lack of authenticity to not be entirely known. Is there a difference between being without guile and being stupidly vulnerable? I wonder about God and why it says that God likes people without guile. I’m not entirely sure I like guileless people, that friend who feels free to say whatever critical-but-at-least-partially-accurate thing uninvited, or the person who speaks just a little too candidly about their problems, I find that strange and off putting at times. I’m not sure I even like my guileless self, it feels naked and stupid and scary. As George Bernard Shaw said “it’s dangerous to be sincere, unless you’re also stupid”.

But I also wonder if my defenses and cynicism keep me less safe than I suppose, less wise than I perceive, and more alone than I intend. Not being authentic with those who know and love us best means faking it, it means never getting to live in reality. Of course it feels vulnerable and scary, because it is.

When it comes to the Divine, that’s even harder. Being open and honest and vulnerable with an abstract all powerful being ranges from feeling psychotic to life threatening. In the faith tradition I come from, we believe that God wants intimate relationship, to really know us, and we call this “good news”.

Frederick Buechner says “What is both good and new about the good news is the mad insistence that Jesus lives on among us not just as another haunting memory but as the outlandish, holy, and invisible power of God working not just through the sacraments, but in countless hidden ways to make even slobs like us loving and whole beyond anything we could conceivably pull off by ourselves.

Thus the gospel is not only good and new but, if you take it seriously, a holy terror. Jesus never claimed that the process of being changed from a slob into a human being was going to be a Sunday school picnic. On the contrary. Childbirth may occasionally be painless, but rebirth, never. Part of what it means to be a slob is to hang on for dear life to our slobbery.”

Maybe that’s why we’re so afraid to be authentic, that the people around us, or that God will see that we’re all of us slobs and cynics and scared to death that anybody will really know us and see us for the complex mess that we are. But truth be told, most of us aren’t fooling anybody much, people can see the mess through the windows even while we hold the door closed. So here’s to trying to be real, as John Wesley would say, warts and all, and to finding that living the truth openly leads to freedom.


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Nate Macy, though typically smarter than this, occasionally makes questionable life choices like leaving his bio up to Beth Woolsey who OF COURSE sources info from All Nate’s Friends on the Book of Faces. 

Although he may be most well known as King of the Coveted Coconut Monkey, Nate Macy is also deeply passionate about the Bible, theology, music, guitars, sound gear, football, bikes, history, beer, and fancy footwear. Widely acknowledged as the World’s Best Dance Party DJ for his stunning work playing tunes, running light trees, and creating a fun, fab atmosphere with bubble and smoke machines at the Woolsey home whenever Beth loses her poo about the state of the church and just has to dance it out, man, Nate did recently admit to a troubling addiction to bubbles after he correctly identified a commercial bubble machine that is used in Christian concerts. He and his family are in our thoughts and prayers.

Nate Macy is the founder of the Boston Honey Bear Museum and continues his ministry of finding strangers in the Alps, rescuing small children from baboons, and teaching people important lessons about not leaving their email accounts open where he can send messages on their behalf. He once guest starred on “The Voice, The View, and The Vatican,” a late 2014 reality TV show that unfortunately never made it to air. Former poet laureate of Freedonia, Nate taught graduate courses in ice carving for the Royal Uruguayan Institute of Fine Arts before his placement in Oregon through the Witness Protection Program, where he became a Quaker worship pastor and learned he’s a 3 on the Enneagram. Nate has jammed with Ziggy Stardust, Cher and Fog Hat. It was also rumored he was a guest artist for Snoop Dog. Only a few of those things are true, but that’s hardly the point.

In truth, Nate is insanely creative, passionate about making and listening to a broad range of music, deeply loyal in friendships, so willing to think outside the box that there are times we’re not sure he knows there is a box, is deeply, deeply in love with his family, is incredibly appreciative and honoring of women who have contributed to growth in his life, loves participating with others in creating meaningful spaces of worship, and is an ongoing danger to all small, fury creatures when out in the forest with his 20 lb. compound bow and arrows, but he’s usually tromping around, so they have plenty of warning time.

Most importantly, Nate Macy is a fan of the muppets, knows how to make an indelible impression with a bowl of M&M’s, writes rad guest blog posts on authenticity, and hates the texture of many vegetables, which, although a moral weakness for sure, is endearing and makes this Man Among Men more relatable to the Rest of Us.

P.S. You can watch him debut as Ludacris at minute 2:18 in this video.