Category Archives: marriage

Fishing Family

My friend Heather’s husband Ross is headed to sea today,
or maybe yesterday or tomorrow.
They never know the exact date when he’ll ship out,
and they don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring.
They chop firewood
plant gardens
rebuild portions of their house
hang nets for the summer salmon season
teach their sons to climb ladders,
use tools
prepare food,
practice kindness.
They go on dates in canoes,
birth babies at home,
and snowshoe a few miles into the wilderness
to have family time
in a primitive cabin.
They volunteer in their community,
preserve hundreds of pounds of food from their garden,
and eat well.
I’m fairly certain that between the two of them,
there is nothing they could not do.
While Ross pits himself against the elements
to make their living
in the wintry Pacific a few thousand miles to the north,
Heather will keep everything going
with grace
and humor
while training to be a doula,
caring for ailing elders,
building furniture,
traveling cross country to see the grandparents,
and growing more gorgeous all the time.
Sometimes she takes the kids camping as a solo mama,
and laughs that its easier than being at home sometimes.
Depending on which fishing season it is,
she can talk to her husband daily,
or only once a week, for ten minutes,
or not even then,
but after a while,
the call inevitably comes
that he’s headed home.
Until then,
they labor through the seasons,
adding weft
and strength
to the warp of a marriage
seasoned by saltwater
struggle
and joy

my fishing family. Ross, Haven, Heather, and Liam.

my fishing family. Ross, Haven, Heather, and Liam.

(To read more about their family and their work, check out some of the words and pictures here).

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Filed under basic goodness, blue collar, Family, Food, Garden, habitat, Labor, love, marriage, motherhood, Ordinary

turn of phrase

we lay close,
conversing
while the toddler slept
and the year moved inexorably forward
in the thawing dark outside

these conversations are rare
we are reminded to be grateful
for each other

like old times, eh?

we ask our dog, who has been with us nearly six years
she rouses herself
shakes her thick black brown white coat,
and pads to the other room
and you laugh quietly
and say

too many atoms in the room
for the dog

and i am delighted by the turn of phrase

in the morning i set out ice cube trays of water
uncorked the food coloring,
and set our son loose to play with hues

i am sending out a prayer to Robert Sund
and the Fishtown poets
and Vi Hilbert
and Sherman Alexie
and Richard Hugo
and Chogyam Trungpa
and Terry Tempest Williams
and my vast and resilient lineage
let me be inspired
by all of this
here and now

#montessoriinspired art project #januarymorning

#montessoriinspired art project #januarymorning

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Filed under basic goodness, Family, marriage, memory, motherhood, Ordinary, Peace, stories, watching it all go by

the housewives of america would like their accolades

(sum spontaneous prose dedicated to every woman
who ever got the water of postpartum depression
up her nose)

while scrubbing the stovetop again with the baby strapped to my chest
it occurs to me:
June Cleaver kept vodka in the laundry room for the same reason I keep abandoning the dishes to go
stare numbly at the garden, hoping for a ripe tomato or
significant growth in the winter greens.
we labor at the same tasks
dayafterdayafterday
and there is no appreciable result
no skyscrapers
no accolades
no quarterly reports
no published works
only a maintaining of socially prescribed norms

thou shalt have a clean stovetop
thou shalt have a healthy, well-fed happy offspring
within the prescribed percentiles of height and weight
and neuronal development
thou shalt have a full cupboard of sterilized breast pump parts
and clean laundry in which to clothe your kid, daily
thou shalt prepare healthy wholesome delicious food, repeatedly, and
thou shalt look good doing it.
don’t take too long to shed those pregnancy pounds, now.
thou shalt not have a floor made filthy by the feet of dogs in the rainy season
thou shalt not have a flock of wandering dog hair dustbunnies
the size of actual rabbits
thou shalt not have a screaming baby around people
unaccustomed to screaming babies

why is it that i have to interupt this poem to assure you that i’m fine
that i’m not depressed?
that i love my baby and my husband and my life?
because i am, and i’m not! i don’t think, and i do, oh i do
i’ve never been happier
all of these assurances are true.
but the other day it took an entire ferry crossing for me to screw up the courage to admit to my husband that i was indeed,
sad
for no reason

i would like to say i don’t give a rip about social norms
but it turns out some of them exist for a reason, sometimes.
and some of them are just destructive.

its not that i’m a big believer in Results
I could care less about skyscrapers

now i’m remembering all the stories about zen monks
and the spiritual practice of sweeping
chopping wood, carrying water.
there are days when i take intricate joy in my routine
and others when i’m just too tired to get mindful with it
sometimes its just too depressing to see the dishes pile up again
mere hours later

i guess i don’t really want accolades
they don’t taste nearly as good as my calzones
or smell half as sweet as my little boy’s milk breath
or make me feel even a tiny bit as beautiful as my husband does

i guess what i want is a revolution

a revolution
in the way we think about the difficult work of daily living
the countless unglamorous repetitive tasks
undertaken by millions of women and men every day
not just in the home
but everywhere

on rainy days, someone ventures onto the rainslick freeway
-on foot-
to clear out the storm drains of leaves and debris, and keep the roads safe
as we fly past them in our cars
at night, long after we’ve gone to sleep, someone empties the trash can at work
and cleans the toilets used by hundreds
someone stocks the supermarket aisles
someone scrapes the gum off the underside of your plate
someone inhales pesticides in a poorly ventilated greenhouse, picking the thorns off roses
someone changes kids’ diapers in daycare,
again
and again
and again
we see only the clean kitchen counters
the well-fed baby
the unflooded freeway
the emptied trashcan
the thornless roses
it does not occur to us to see the labor behind these things
it does not occur to us to be grateful

why the accolades for politicians, who are millionaires, generally,
and accomplish so little, so much of the time?
why the accolades for athletes,
for musicians, who are paid to do what they love, after all?
not denying their efforts.

but it takes work to grow a baby
and so much love
it takes effort to procure food, and put it on the table
and struggle, to live in some semblance of orderliness
it takes labor
to keep each other safe
and well

so the housewives of america
and the blue collar workers
and the laborers who toil the world over
would like their accolades
cuz if we stop what we’re doing
eventually
all the roses will have thorns again,
there will be no clean dishes,
and there will no one to vote for you
or watch you hit balls on a television screen.

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Filed under blue collar, gratitude, love, marriage, motherhood, Ordinary, poetry

birthplaces

We’ve moved into “anytime now” mode.  I regard every kick, every cramp, every shift the baby undertakes with new fascination, and I nap as if I’m making a career out of it.  Ryan’s been reading bedtime stories to my belly, and the dog never strays more than a few feet from my side.  It’s a dear time, quiet and unhurried. Hard to believe one can be pregnant for forty weeks; harder still to believe its possible to feel this good at the finish line.

A few weeks ago,  our birth class instructor asked us to do birth art.   Despite our mutual enthusiasm for art, we felt a little odd about doing art about birth after a guided visualization sitting on the floor in a tiny room crowded with 14 other people.  I had trouble focusing on an “image of birth,” and midway through the instructor’s visualization,  I realized I’d spiralled off into a reverie about our trip to India last summer, and was contentedly imagining sunrise over the Ganges, and mornings drinking black tea in our little room in the Himalayan foothills.  When the birth class instructor told us to pick up our art supplies and render our images, I was thinking about mist and blue water, and green leaves and bamboo silhouettes in the fog.

“What are we supposed to be drawing?” Ryan whispered in my ear.  I grinned at him.  “Dunno, really. Our concepts of birth?”

I figured the soft colors floating around in my head were as good a thing to draw as any, so i peeled the wrapper off a blue pastel and swirled the entire length of the crayon in concentric circles. Realized that in thinking about water and mist in India, I’d begun to picture our birth tub in my head, and the place its going to be set up in our living room when I go into labor.  Realized that in thinking about greens, and plants in mist, I might also be thinking about the maple in full leaf right outside our livingroom window, and how I would perhaps be able to see it from the birth tub.  Started playing with the green pastels.

Looked over to see Ryan sketching out a square pool of water and a tree, and realized I knew exactly what he was drawing. Realized, somewhat startled, that we were in fact, drawing the same thing.  Sort of.

Birthplaces.

I was drawing my conception of a tranquil birth space, one situated in our cosy little house with a pool of water and windows looking into the trees.  Ryan was drawing a similarly tranquil birth space, also featuring a pool of water and plenty of trees,  one also rooted in memories of our travels in India last summer.  His was a place where a birth had already occurred : a sacred and well-marked spot outside of the tiny village of Lumbini, Nepal, where a woman named Maya Devi gave birth to a son she named Siddhartha, sometime around 500 BCE.  Siddhartha would become known as the historical Buddha, and thousands upon thousands of pilgrims would venture to the site of his birth in the centuries that followed.

ruins of ancient monastaries on the site of Siddhartha's birth

The site of the birth, partially excavated, is protected from the elements by a simple roof and unadorned walls, and a wooden boardwalk allows pilgrims to circambulate the site in meditation.  We visited Lumbini in the monsoon, and the air inside the birth-site smelled of damp and dust.  We stood at the site, staring up at a carving of the birth scene, installed on the site many years later by a Buddhist emperor paying tribute.  Maya Devi labored standing up, supporting herself from a tree branch, with her attendants close by.  In the carving of the birth scene, the infant is shown just before the mother, seated on a lotus blossom.     I stared up at the carving of the laboring woman, and noticed that so many pilgrims had touched their hands to the stone in reverence, her face had been worn off, as had the face of the infant Buddha.  They were a mother and her son, not royalty or spiritual leader incarnate.  The birth that happened here was, for all intents and purposes, as ordinary as it was sacred, a quality I felt certain the Buddha would underscore were he here to converse on the matter.

I wandered back outside to stand in front of the pool, built to commemorate the pond in the woods the mother had bathed in after giving birth.  The water was still, disturbed only by the occasional raindrop and the slow-moving ripples of turtles swimming beneath the surface.  A giant bodhi tree branched out over the pool, grown from a cutting of the tree in Bodh Gaya under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. A little girl and her father were tending the shrine under the tree, and offering incense to the pilgrims in exchange for donations.

We spent three days in Lumbini.  In the calm and quiet of that little village, and hours upon hours spent wandering the massive peace park dedicated to the Buddha’s birthplace, we had conversations about our visions and fears and hopes around becoming parents together.  We shared delicious food in a restaurant in which we were the only customers at nearly every meal.  We listened to the rain, and bought incense and umbrellas from the tiny shops on the street.  By the time we left, we had decided we were ready to bring a child into the world.

When I saw Ryan drawing the pool at Lumbini, our time there, and the significance of it, came flooding back to me in a wave.  The next day I had prints made of the tree and the pool, and I hung them around our house so we could be reminded of that tranquil place as we bring our son into the world.

Dove back into my India journals to re-experience the memories more vividly… excerpts below for anyone who wants a little vicarious time abroad.

Boarded a train in Varanasi to Gorakhpur, experiencing our first taste of “sleeper class.”  no AC here, and close quarters with other passengers after the busy stops.  We sit as still as we can, sweating and watching an exquisite sunset unroll across the countryside,  glowing on dozens of kids laughing and throwing their weight into makeshift swings hung from trees with bicycle tires tied together…

6 long hours later, we pull into Gorakhpur… get a room for the night, then hire a taxi to take us to the India-Nepal border in the morning.  Walk across the border in the rain, our first taste of monsoon.  its a dry year, we’ve been told… we experienced no rain up till now in the other places we have been.  It is creating great pressure across the countryside, as farmers cannot plant their rice until there is adequate water.

We get our visas in order and our passports stamped, and hire another taxi to take us the rest of the way to Lumbini, the village on the site where the historical Buddha, Siddhartha, was born.  The countryside is rich, verdant green, and the rain is pretty much constant.  Our taxi driver leans out the window every now and then to wipe the rain from the windshield with a rag, as the wipers are apparently not in working order.  Mango trees, more kids on makeshift swings, tiny brick abodes with bright laundry dripping in the rain and each home with a water buffalo tied in the yard eating from the center of an old tire.  Around 11 we arrive in Lumbini, a tiny village with only one main street, and a quiet one at that, more traffic from herds of goats and cows and water buffalo than anything with an engine.

take a tiny, dear room on a 3rd floor balcony, looking out over the rice paddies.  discover, as the hours pass, that monsoon has arrived in this part of southern Nepal in earnest.  it rains at all times of the day here, sometimes slow and steady, sometimes hard and fast… riotous birdsong all the time, and the power is out as often as it is on.  its cooler here than it was in India, which we’re grateful for, but the humidity is still very high.  If we get wet in the rain, our clothing does not dry, and we realize we’re going to have to buy umbrellas, as we’ve only got a few sets of clothes each.

In the late afternoon, we rent bicycles from our hostel and pedal down the short road and through the gates of the international peace park built around the site of Buddha’s birthplace.  Its late day and we simply want to get a feel for the place, so we pedal down the narrow dirt roads, through tall grasses and past still, quiet ponds and slow moving rivers.  There are beautiful monasteries from a dozen countries set back in the trees as we go, and giant white cranes flap slowly overhead every now and then, on the wing from the crane sanctuary at the south end of the park.  We are pedalling along a brick path lining a long pond when the monsoon begins again in earnest…

we take shelter for a while under a thatched hut and listen to the downpour, watch it soaking into the dirt road and running down the tall stalks of grass, tiny beads sliding along the fibers of the thatched roof, piling onto each other until their weight becomes too much and they carry themselves downward to splash up again from the puddles below…

calm suffuses this place, and we drink it in.  The park alone would be something indeed, but to know the story that is rooted here, the birthplace, literally, of a spiritual tradition dating back hundreds of years before the birth of Christ… a tradition rooted in contemplation, in this very landscape.  There is meaning in the damp air and the muddied earth that settles into your bones and asks for your heart to consider it.

Realizing the monsoon isn’t letting up, we venture out from under the roof into the torrent and climb onto our bikes… i pocket my glasses, useless in this sort of rain, and the landscape’s edges blur into softness, green on brick on greysky. we pedal through the mud and the puddles, laughing and grinning like fools… soaked through, and no reason to care, the rain is warm and we’ve got no where to be.

my kind of honeymoon, i holler to Ryan, wiping the sheets of water from my forehead and eyes

he grins back

we splash along the road near the entrance,

locals smile at us and shout namaste as we pass.

In the village, I try to bargain with a woman shopkeeper for a set of black umbrellas.  She doesn’t speak much english, and calls her husband out to help translate.  Since my negotiations appear to be failing, I decide to attempt the “walkaway,” and tell them I don’t think I should spend so much, and am going to ask my husband.  Her husband begins to laugh. “She never asks me what I think.  This is her business.”  I grin back, impressed by her chutzpah, and pay full price for the umbrellas.

That night, we take cool bucket showers in our tiled bathroom and then spend the evening reading on our beds before the open windows, watching the endless raindrops soaking into the rice paddies.

The next morning, we walk down muddy paths, rain thudding onto our umbrellas and cascading down around our feet.  White cranes flap overhead, wide-faced water buffalo feed in the tall grass.

As we attempt to visit monasteries, we are turned back by closed gates and flooded paths, but make our way anyway, by walking. Walking, walking.  Two thousand years of pilgrims here, prayers, contemplation in this place.  Even though I hesitate a bit to call myself a pilgrim, I begin to feel it in my body, my subconscious.  Mind softens, quiets.  Feet sting, where blisters are opening under wet sandal straps.  We keep walking.  The rain keeps falling.  Cranes flap overhead.  At the monasteries, we shed our shoes and walk barefoot over smooth marble and stone paths, made slick by sheets of flowing rainwater.  It feels divine on aching feet.  Monks sitting under monastery eves laugh and watch the monsoon.  Others chant softly in the temples.  We find our own sanctuary from the rain, and unwrap the newspaper from a pile of samosas I’d bought earlier from a street vendor, lost in the sound of the unceasing rain.

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Filed under art, fathoming, International travel, love, marriage, memory, Peace, Pregnancy

Waiting for Annie’s birds

She was pregnant here too,
in this little house set back from the street
in South Seattle
I think of her sometimes, running her fingers over her belly,
standing in the hallway I stand in now
feeling tired, and curious,
wondering about the tiny person living under this stretched-out skin
wondering what lies ahead

She raised six children in these rooms,
and I know that there were mornings during the Great Depression
when she watched the sun come up through these very windows.
She prepared meals in the same kitchen i do, while the Second World War raged
and as the Atomic Era dawned,
I know there were nights she laid awake listening to her husband breathe
in the same bedroom I do.

She worried about money here,
and got bad news in the mail here,
and shed tears alone in this very breakfast nook
at least once
of that I am certain

She planted the cedar tree outside my bedroom window
and the flowering dogwood I gaze at from the laundry room
She cooked on a wood-fired stove for years, right where I stand now to make tea
If i run my fingers over the plaster I can find the place the stovepipe met the wall.
I think of her every time I roll out a piecrust

She watched news of Vietnam in this living room, I am certain,
shaking her head beneath these arched plaster ceilings
She welcomed visitors and grandchildren through this very front door
as Reaganomics trickled down poverty on the neighborhood around her

knowing this, today I wrapped my fingers around the dented doorknob
and did not turn it
but stood there
in her footsteps

she washed dishes at this sink during the First Intifada,
and climbed these steps as the Iron Curtain fell
She grew feeble here while I learned geometry formulas in high school,
and she filled birdfeeders outside these windows
as I drove past on the freeway, bound for college to the south

Her elderly son Roger told me she received a card on her hundredth birthday
from President George W. Bush
and that she quipped
“that’s silly, I didn’t even vote for him.”

Sometime during the second US invasion of Iraq,
Roger built her a platform off the back steps,
so she could wheel herself out to watch the birds congregate on her feeders on sunny mornings

As she began to die, they moved her into the room that will belong to our son
there was a bed for her nurse
and a hospital bed for her
and a white rotary phone
and now I want this stanza to sound like Goodnight Moon
but it won’t.
although I’m sure at some point
there was a comb, and a brush
and a bowl full of mush
and a quiet old lady,
whispering hush

She may have breathed her last breaths in the room where we’ll read our son bedtime stories
I do not know.
if she did, it does not seem macabre to me
but right, somehow.
She lived here eighty years,
and I know nothing about her.
Sometimes I bake pies in her kitchen and feel I know everything
that matters

When we came to see the house for the first time, we noticed the birdfeeders were full,
though she’d been dead a year
and in a few minutes, i saw over a dozen hummingbirds
Roger had been feeding them in his mother’s memory
and he made me promise that if we bought the house,
I would do so also

weeks and weeks went by before i acquired new feeders
and a few more weeks passed before I got around to filling them

in the meantime
we ripped out the ceilings and walls in her bedrooms,
we tore up her carpets and put down bamboo floors
i don’t know if she’d like the changes

The birds have stayed away
since there’s been no food for them
and the yard has been thick with the chaos of a remodel

but the feeders are full again
and the quiet has returned

and I am waiting for Annie’s birds
and baking pies in her kitchen

and hoping she knows that I will love her home
the way it ought to be loved

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Filed under Americana, basic goodness, Change, Family, History, love, marriage, memory, Mothers, Ordinary, outside, Peace, poetry, Pregnancy, stories, watching it all go by

Please Approve Referendum 71.

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Last fall, I was dancing at a friends wedding on Vashon Island. As darkness settled in, a string of paper lanterns was turned on, and I discovered that looking at the soft glow of the lanterns produced an intense pain in my right eye. The light sensitivity was nearly unbearable the following morning, and shooting pains had begun to radiate back into my skull. I tried to grin and bear it for a day or two, assuming I’d rubbed my eye too hard and bruised something.

When the pain continued to intensify, I called Group Health’s consulting nurse. The nurse took down my symptoms, then ordered me to be seen immediately. I got on the bus, and was sitting in an optometrist’s chair within two hours. They diagnosed me with Iritis, an autoimmune disease that results in an inflammation of the iris.

I’d never heard of it before. Turns out, its the 3rd leading cause of preventable blindness in the developed world. Left untreated, the inflamed iris can swell until it permanently fuses with the cornea.

Fun stuff.

They dialated my right eye until it looked like a shark’s eye (not kidding) and kept it that way for over a week.

Shark Eye.

Shark Eye.

Any time with my eyes open made me nauseous. (Contact lens wearers: try spending seven days in a row with only one contact lens in.) I was ordered to put steroid drops in every thirty minutes, then gradually phase off the drops when they deemed safe.

At the end of it all, I’d came out unscathed, with no permanent damage to my eye.

Nine months later, I ended up in the hospital again, with the same symptoms. This time, three different doctors misdiagnosed me, even though I told them my symptoms matched my last bout with iritis. After an emergency room visit on the fourth of July, I was finally referred to a specialist in degenerative eye disorders, who immediately diagnosed me and quadrupled the prescription other eye doctors had given me. I spent the entire month of my honeymoon in India putting in twelve steroid drops a day, and I will continue putting in one a day until November.

Two weeks prior to my first bout with iritis, I lost my health insurance from Basic Health of Washington. I was making too much money waitressing to qualify. Within a few more weeks, the economy would begin to crash into recession, and thousands more people would be dropped from the state healthcare system rolls.

Washington State’s Domestic Partnership law enabled my partner Ryan to add me to his insurance. It wasn’t cheap… over three-hundred dollars a month would be deducted from his teacher’s salary to cover my healthcare. I protested, worried we couldn’t afford it.

He insisted we go ahead, and after he threatened to make me call my parents to tell them I was willingly going without insurance, I acceded.

In all likelihood, that decision—and the domestic partnership law that gave Ryan the right to add me to his healthcare plan—-saved my vision in my right eye.

Ryan and I are just starting out.

at our wedding in June, 2009

Neither of us has much extra money laying around. Certainly not five hundred dollars or so to walk into the Emergency Room—not unless the situation is desperate. Had I been uninsured, I would have waited until I could no longer tolerate the pain in my eye before I sought medical attention. Chances are good I would have been misdiagnosed in the emergency room, or been prescribed the wrong quantity of eyedrops. Unable to afford follow-up care, I would have suffered further damage to my vision.

The domestic partnership law helped save my eyesight, at the age of 28.

Wait, you say, that’s you in your “wedding picture.” You don’t need the domestic partnership law anymore, right? You’re married, so you’re automatically entitled to coverage under your husband’s plan.

Yes, we got married in June, in the eyes of our family and friends, and the holiest people we know. Not, however, in the eyes of the state.

Too many of our friends and thousands of people we haven’t met yet are unable to marry the person they love. They are denied the right, legally, to take care of the person they’ve committed their lives to, by providing them access to health care, or comforting them in intensive care. Other people have deemed it their moral right to dictate who is entitled to love whom, and take care of whom.

We do not accept this reality and we refuse to tolerate it. Which is why we had a really beautiful wedding, committed to each other in the presence of everyone we care about, and never signed a single paper. We call ourselves married. Ryan is my husband, and I am his wife. We wear rings. And we are provided the legal rights of a “traditionally” married couple by the domestic partnership law.

A lot of people think that law threatens “the sanctity of marriage,” or the “integrity of the family.” These people gathered signatures to initiate a challenge to the domestic partnership law. 4000 of the signatures they gathered were judged to be of questionable validity, but the challenge to the domestic partnership law was allowed on the ballot.

Washington State law mandates that when a measure already signed into law is put up for a referendum, voters vote either “approved” to confirm the law or “rejected” to oppose it. Thus, although the petition to put this law to a vote was circulated by its opponents, the ballot wording is such that voters vote in the affirmative to approve the law or in the negative to reject it.

A little confusing, eh? Which is what the opponents of domestic partnership benefits are banking on.

If you vote to approve Referendum 71, you will be voting to PRESERVE domestic parnership rights in Washington state. (The rights that helped save my vision.) IF you vote to reject Referendum 71, you will OVERTURN domestic partnership benefits in Washington state, causing me to loose my health insurance.

Ryan and I are privileged. If that happens, we have the right to go to the courthouse, get legally married and rescue my health care. A lot of people we love and respect are denied access to that privilege.

Please take a moment to shelve your dogmas, your slogans, your culture wars, your ideologies, and your biases (on both sides of the aisle.)

This is the bottom line, as I see it (out of two seeing eyes):

If People Love Each Other, Let Them Take Care of Each Other.

VOTE YES on Referendum 71.

Here’s the dates you need to know:
October 5, 2009 (TOMMORROW): Mail-in and online voter registrations and transfers deadline
Seattlites: go to http://www.kingcounty.gov/elections/elections/200911.aspx

October 14, 2009
Ballots mailed to voters. As soon as you get it, mark it and mail it back.

YOUR BALLOT MUST BE POSTMARKED BY 3 NOVEMBER 2009 OR IT IS INVALID!

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Filed under healthcare, marriage, politrix