These Are Puzzling Times…

I am not a jigsaw puzzle doer. Oh sure – I’ve paused at the table a few moments to work out a piece or two when someone else was doing one nearby, but I know my patience level and I know it doesn’t have the endurance for a tedious project like puzzle hobbying.

But quarantine takes us to a whole new level, no?

I’ve had this puzzle in our game closet for over a year and thought it was time to take a crack at it.

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After only 8,273 hours, I had the edge pieces in place. (Was I insane for doing this??) Turns out the answer was yes. It wasn’t until much later that I noticed the ‘Challenge Series’ notation on the front of the box. CHALLENGE?? I haven’t done a jigsaw puzzle in years. Was this really where I should start?

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I ordered a different puzzle and was much more pleased with the design. Before I started, I looked up some puzzle tips to see if I could work a little smarter.

Here are some things I’ve learned as a novice puzzle gamer

You need a colander, ziploc bags and foam board.

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Before dumping all the pieces out onto the table, first pour them into a colander over the sink. This will get rid of all the puzzle dust and it won’t get all over your workspace.

Speaking of workspace – if you don’t have a dedicated table for the puzzle, work it on a large piece of foam board. The foam board is very lightweight and easy to move out of the way when you’re not working on the puzzle.

We all pull out the edge pieces first, right? And that’s cool cause they’re the easiest to work. But then try to group all of the same colors together. Even if the reds don’t all go in the same place, you’ll have a stockpile of them when you need them. For the puzzle I was working on, the colors were very segregated so I put the individual color piles into separate ziploc bags.

After I’ve worked on a section for a while and started to feel ‘stuck’, I then grouped my puzzle pieces into ‘like sizes’. I put all the horizontal pieces together and all the wide pieces together. It’s not always easy to tell which is which but a lot of the time it is. Again, it just gives you a stockpile of similar sizes when it’s obvious the next piece HAS to be an up and down piece.

Many people suggested turning your puzzle occasionally to give you a different perspective, but that seemed to work against me so I didn’t use this tip very much.

It still took me quite a few days to complete since I was working on it in between other projects. Poor Scott asked me if he could help when I was nearing the end. I said “Sure!”, and handed him the ziploc of black pieces – the hardest section!

As with most things in life, the color is relatively easy. It’s the shadows that take the most time and care…

Once we finished we were faced with the universal puzzle-making decision: Do I break it all up and put it back in the box to do again at another time? (which we probably never would) or do I try to preserve it?

I liked the colors and the topic of books so I decided to hang it in my home library/office.

If you decide to break up your puzzle and save it for another time, I read a couple of tips I thought were helpful.

  • Break off all the edging pieces first and put them in a separate bag. It will save you time the next time you do the puzzle. If you want to separate and bag all the separate color pieces you can also do that – but don’t make your puzzle-making toooooo easy for the next time! Where’s the fun in that?!
  • If you own a number of puzzles, make sure you bag all the puzzle pieces in each of their boxes to avoid a catastrophe of toppling them all over and pieces getting mixed up together.

But I had decided to preserve our finished puzzle.

There are many puzzle products that can help you save your puzzle, but since we are in Quarantime, I wanted to use things I already had at home.

I placed a large piece of wood over the puzzle so I could flip it over to the backside. I then Mod Podged the back of the puzzle. Many people suggested Mod Podging both the front and the back to make it sturdier, but I wanted to try to maintain that authentic puzzle look on front so I just did the back and then laid newspaper over the glue as a ‘webbing’ of sorts to hold it all together. (Extra bonus points if you can glue Tom Brady’s head to the back of a puzzle!)

I let that all dry overnight. If there was any newspaper showing, I trimmed the edges.

So far so good! I was liking the way it was all turning out. I then asked Scott if he could make a frame for me. I just wanted a simple black frame.

He backed the whole puzzle with a piece of thin plywood. He made the frame and put a groove in the wood so the puzzle would slide right in. I wanted it to be in the front of the frame and not against the wall.

I’m not sure this is the final spot for it, but I like the way it works with my books and bookshelf!

This puzzle will forever and always remind me of the sequestered days of Corona 2020. In the midst of the scary and unknowable, it was nice to work on something kinetic together to occupy our minds for a few hours.

While he was making me a frame, Scott also made a book rest for me. No bookmarks or dog-ears needed – simply lay down your book where you left off and pick it up when you’re ready for it again. Cute, huh??

I’m not chopping at the bit to start a new jigsaw soon, but I’m glad I learned a few ‘pro tips’ for the next time I tackle one.

The Colors of Quarantine

One of the smaller home projects I’ve been meaning to get to (thank you, COVID-19 for forcing my hand) is to refresh my home office/library/blog-writing room.

I am firmly in the neutral camp when it comes to the rest of my home but I wanted to add in some color to a room filled with books.

This homemade table is what I use as a desk. I don’t think you could offer me a free $6,000 desk to replace it – it’s the perfect size for me and I love its sturdiness and size. However, I wanted to amp it up a bit.

These Mildliner markers are a daily supply for me. I love them! I use them on various lists, etc. They aren’t an intense marker that will soak through your page and I absolutely love their color sequence. So honestly…I think I based a lot of the room on their presence.

sidenote: I just checked on Amazon and they are about $40. There’s no way I paid $40 for them so maybe it’s just the crazy times we’re in at the moment. I’m sure they sell for less at other times and also at craft stores – so I’m not linking anything here. Just Google them for a better price.

Before I started painting, Scott offered to ‘shore up’ the warped edges, etc. “Nah…I think that’s what I like about it. It’s wonky and imperfect.

Earbuds in. Audiobook on. Paintbrush in hand. By the way…when you’re working on a project while listening to an audiobook, do you ever get back into the aura of the storyline when you see the finished project even months later? Or like…craft projects I’ve worked on while watching the World Series will always remind me of the World Series when I see it.

No? Just me? (Surely not.)

I wanted to paint the desk a combination of blues and greens to go with the plants I have in this space. In the back of our house we have some fantastic windows that get a strong, bright light. Then in this room we have this big window that gets fantastic filtered light. It’s bright – but not quite so harsh as the southern exposure of the backyard. Therefore, my plants are pretty much divided into two sections: those that like it hot and those (…like me…) that like it bright but let’s not go overboard on the sunbeams.

I really like the way it turned out…

The top row of my bookshelves are my fiction books. Those books and only those books are in rainbow order. (The rest are all in genre order…nothing cutesy.) Eventually I think I’d like that back wall to be a bright fuchsia or something. We’ll see…

Can’t stop won’t stop with the rainbows 🌈

Scott built this ‘plant altar’ (I jokingly call it) last year to hold a bunch of my plants. It’s been moved around the house numerous times – but I mostly like it right here under the window, soaking up the sun.

This airplane plant is a lot of fun – it has SOOOO many pups!

This room is impossible to take a picture of and get all its sides, but I think you get the idea. I like the burst of color the desk brings without it being TOO colorful or childlike. It’s calming and cool and it’s forever linked to Corona Quarantine Survival time.

And in the evening when the twinkle lights turn on… it’s a perfectly cozy spot.

What projects are you working on while you’re hunkered down??

This is 55.

Scott and I had a few days off together around my birthday. A double nickel birthday… that seems impossible. My mind completely disagrees.

I have a favorite birthday cake. My mother made it for me and after she was gone, my mother-in-law made it for me for many years. For the last two years, Scott has been making it in California. It is a delicious banana cake with a coffee icing that is to DIE for. We made the whole thing, ate a few pieces, and then froze the rest for future days when all you need is just a little bit of cake.

Thank you Thank you Thank you, Scott… for the love, the calories, and the very fond memories of Mom.

Here are a few highlights from the last few days:

For any of you who are fans of the 2014 movie, Chef, (and all of you should be because it’s such an enjoyable movie) starring Jon Favreau, there is a Netflix series out called, The Chef Show, where Jon Favreau and Chef Roy Choi explore food with renowned chefs. It’s a somewhat unique food show that’s entertaining and very informative. We are big fans here at our house. 

We were recently watching an episode in which they made corn tortillas from scratch. Scott (who has a deep and abiding love for cast iron) was intrigued. Before the show was over he’d ordered a tortilla maker and a few days later we were having one of our favorite roasted salmon fish taco recipes from Ina Garten. The meal – and the corn tortillas! – was delicious. What a fun experiment. 

This is not a good foodie photograph (it was a hurry-up-I-want-to-eat-this kind of photograph) but you get the jest of the taco. Dill, cucumber, avocado, lots of lime juice…like I said, it’s one of our go-to recipes. Fresh and scrumptious.

Scott suggested we go check out an exotic plant store I’d heard about. It’s not a very big place, tucked in behind some buildings, but we spent a solid hour there. Flori-Culture started out as an accompaniment to the orchid society. But then they started growing and swapping unique plants with area botanical gardens and zoos and people started taking notice. They are now known for their unique and rare types of plants (along with their amazing orchid collection, if you’re into that kind of thing.) 

The owner was there and was so gentle with all our questions. He wasn’t demeaning (some plant people can be), and he was thorough in his answers (not to hear himself talk but to truly help us make a decision.) It was a fantastic experience. 

The spores on this plant…amazing.

The below Trichogiottis brachiata was interesting to see how it grafted itself onto a tree. The aerial roots were amazing.

Something cool about the shop: Plants had different colored plant tag stakes stuck in them. If it was a blue tag, that meant it was a mother plant. Some had numerous red tags stuck in them. He explained to us that if you’re interested in a propagated rooting from that plant, you write your name on a tag (phone number and date of request) and stick it in the mother plant. When they can, they take a cutting from the mother plant, root it and when it begins to show growth, they start calling the people on the red tags. So cool, right?! (Okay…cool for plant nerds anyway.) The below plant was one that I stuck a red tag in. 

I have the below plant – a peperomia or Baby Rubber Plant. Mine is smallish and growing straight up in a pot. I saw this one and asked him why theirs was so different. He told me it’s really a ground cover so if I move it to a shallow dish, it will branch out like this one. (Duh! I had no idea. And immediately went home and repotted it.)

I’m not an orchid person but I can certainly appreciate them and the work it takes to get these beautiful blooms.

One of the benefits of living on the west coast and most everyone else I know lives a few hours ahead of me, is that I can wake up on my birthday to a phone filled with birthday messages. It was a nice way to start the day!

I don’t ever recall my birthday being on Ash Wednesday before. And for us, it was also Voting Day. We have been VERY diligent about looking at all the candidates. We’ve waited as long as we could to make the right decision and thoughtfully watched each debate –  and STILL, it was difficult. In fact, I’ve never been so split on who I wanted to vote for in the primaries. There is the added pressure of voting in the California primaries where there are 416 delegates so the pressure was on thick for us. We sat down with coffee and filled out our ballots and dropped them off at the early voting locations. After months of struggling, it was all over. Votes cast.

I couldn’t decide between a few candidates so I did the drop-the-pen-and-see-where-it-lands thing. It landed on Tulsi Gabbard (eyeroll) so I went back to comparing the facts and issues.

Ballots cast, time for a trip to Green Acres Nursery. Scott has been researching composting and I am always up for a plant trip. This particular Green Acres in Rocklin is the last one we haven’t visited (it’s the newest) and might be our current favorite.

I fell in LOVE with these wonky pots. I love their texture and uneven design. They look like they were just pulled off the potters wheel.

The below tree – triangularis – is on my long-term Plant Bucket List. I love the leaves so much.

The Rocklin houseplant area was really nice to walk through and dream.

We stopped by In-N-Out (because California) where this cute employee was standing outside talking to a group of twenty-something’ers. He was really cute to watch.

Then we went to get a hydro massage (some people call it ‘going to the gym’ but let’s be honest…it’s all about the hydro massage bed!) My gym clothes consist of this t-shirt… -ha!

And please don’t hate me for my fanny pack. Honestly – this is a great invention. I’m sold on it. Kangaroos have known the secret all along!

This text message was nice to see pop up on my phone – especially compared to the news alert that came at the same time.

In all honesty, it’s a little eery around here with regard to the coronavirus. Feels like a ticking time bomb, particularly as they keep flying more and more people into the states here in northern California. 

These are a few of the plants I picked up over the last few days. I think I’ve become a Hoya fan. There are so many different types – it’s fun to think about collecting each one. Some refer to those hoya collectors as Hoya Heads. 🙂 I might be heading straight toward that title soon.

At the exotic plant store I bought this Pinguicula moranensis which is a carnivorous plant. The rosettes (its winter dormancy) will flatten out like the lower leaves which have a sticky surface. My plant gnats have numbered days ahead! Once the gnat lands on the leaf, they can’t get off and die and the plant absorbs its nutrients. Do I feel badly for the gnats? Not.one.bit. They are the downfall of having a houseful of plants.

I picked up some more oxalis at Green Acres. I don’t have the green version and it seemed most appropriate for upcoming St. Patrick’s Day. 

A few additional hoyas I added to my beginner ‘collection’…

This one (not yet planted) is called a String Bean Hoya – I know…right??!

My Angel Wing Begonia has started unfolding a new leaf for my birthday 🙂 

And my Christmas/Valentine’s Day/Martin Luther King Jr/Easter cactus is also blooming again.

My cut flower garden has turned over about 3 times now. I’m cutting them as quickly as they’re producing new blooms. It’s been a thrill. I’ve started giving away bouquets to neighbors like people try to get rid of their zucchini and tomatoes! (Speaking of which, Scott also planted some tomatoes, peppers, chives and cilantro this week. Salsa is just around the corner.) 

To wrap up my birthday, we stopped by this hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant we like. Each time we get fortune cookies, we decided beforehand what their messages will apply to. Since it was my birthday, we dedicated them to Greta 2020. -ha.

I’ll gladly take these messages; I identify with them. I love unveiling the mystery…that’s where the fun is.

It was a fun and somewhat laid-back birthday. I deeply appreciated the cards and phonecalls and texts and social media messages. It’s always a great opportunity to stop and think about each person and how important they are to my life. Thank you.

Seasonal Affect Reorder

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

With over 3 million cases each year, winter depression is a recognized affliction that many people suffer from.

A helicopter crash that takes the future from young, ambitious lives does not help with the heavy feelings of dread.

I believe myself to be a fairly resilient person. Looking back over my life I see times that could have dragged me under, but through stubborn determination I stepped past the pain and into the future. I’ve found a certain amount of suppression is necessary in life.

But this helicopter crash is staying with me. In my mind. In my ready tears. I am not going to wax eloquently about my love for basketball or my love for Kobe Bryant because that wouldn’t be true. I nominally follow basketball and while I recognize Kobe as a tremendous basketball player, I don’t know much else about him.

My mind remains around his wife and other daughters. The spouses and family members of the other people killed in such a tragic way. But ultimately, the heaviness I feel is my own mortality. We all collectively feel it when something like this happens. The brevity of life. The delicate nature of relationships and how quickly they can vanish. What were our last words to them? Were we on good terms? Did I tell them I love them enough?

A little over a year ago, my husband and I moved away from our hometown. From family and friends. We had the opportunity to move to California and experience a new part of the country – so we took it. We have done our best to delve into all the adventures that surround us in this beautiful part of America. It has been renewing and filled with thrills and awe-inspiring views.

But it has also been isolating. Friends and family that I assumed were close when we lived in Kansas City are absent now from our lives. Unless I contact them first, our relationship would dwindle into nothing. And so I have chosen to allow it to do so in many cases. Not unlike a dating scenario, I have said to myself, “They’re just not that into you, Greta.” 

I have been deeply grateful for my father’s weekly phone calls. I call him or he calls me. We complain about politics and commiserate over this or that. He tells me about their latest adventure. I tell him about ours. It’s a two-way street. But most days, I just have the company of my husband to talk to. The occasional neighbor during the summer as we work in our yards. Thankfully Scott’s schedule has changed that will allow us to attend church more regularly and that will help build relationships.

But what to do with the relationships I considered solid when living in close proximity? Does one ever get used to letting those evaporate into the ether of time and location? How long is too long to pursue them? I don’t have those answers yet.

I am thankful we made a trip to our local garden center when we did. I excitedly brought home cut flower plants, dug deeply into the dirt of a raised flowerbed and watched as the rain washed them and soaked their tender roots.

After being mesmerized in front of the tv on Sunday, watching the horrific scenes and news unfold about the helicopter crash, I eventually turned it off and went outside. I cut a few snapdragon and ranunculus and anemone buds to watch them unfold inside the house as an attempt to reorder my affect. I harvested some lavender buds to enjoy their calming scent.

That evening I readily picked up the ringing phone to hear Dad’s voice. We talked about the Chiefs and the Impeachment Hearing and a trip Scott and I have planned this week. We talked about the beauty of a Madagascar boys choir that was featured on CBS Sunday Morning. We talked about the way celebrities can have such a strong influence on everyday people’s lives.

In a world of texting and social media comments and likes – there is nothing like hearing the voice of someone who is still actively pursuing a relationship with you. It doesn’t have to be a phone call every time. But reaching out and connecting with someone is a powerful way to say, ‘I’m still into you. I still care.’

———-

I am sincerely interested in your thoughts about adult relationships with family and friends. I’m interested in hearing about your experiences of moving away from everything and everyone – and how you started over again. Please comment below or send me an email. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Artifact Uprising

Now that Christmas is over and all the gifts have been given, I wanted to share with you some albums I passed out as gifts this year.

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In May my extended family visited us in California. (Everyone except my daughter who was in the busiest time at work and couldn’t get off.) Scott and I showed them all around Northern California: San Francisco Bay, The Redwood Trees, Carmel-at-the-Sea, Napa Valley etc. A million pictures were taken that week and I wanted to capture the memories in a single, condensed form.

I’ve ordered pictures from Artifact Uprising many times in the past and am always overwhelmed with their quality. They take your pictures and create magazine-worthy products. Their signature matte finish brings it all together beautifully. So of course I went to them to create my trip keepsake.

After receiving my 50-page book in the mail I quickly realized I wanted to buy one for each family unit who came to visit us. I tweaked each book to have more pictures of their individual families in their unique book.

The books are clearly titled on the cover. I’m envisioning a shelf with many similar books lined up from other special daytrips we’ve taken in the years to come. I’m so excited about the possibilities!

Then in the fall, my daughter came out for a visit. Her trip was a completely different season and therefore a different experience. We visited Yosemite National Park – a first for us all – as well as the other special areas of northern California. Her photo book was very different than theirs – although I added some group shots in hers so we all had pictures of the family together.

The reaction to the books was more than I could have expected. Each family ooo’d and ahh’d over their photo books as they opened them at the same time.

I am so thankful for Artifact Uprising’s commitment to excellent work and timely delivery. I am a true fan (and not being paid in any way for this post.)  One of the best parts of the process is that the album can easily be put together from your phone on their app.

I’ve already started working on a daytrip Scott and I took to Bodega Bay recently. Here’s a look at it from their app…. looks like a good one, doesn’t it?! I’m so excited to get it finished and ordered and placed right next to my other photo book. May they increase in volume as we continue to travel and learn about our new home state of California.

Thank you again, Artifact Uprising! Please go check out their website. They offer many types of gifts as well as just photo prints, if you’d like. They make great gifts – even to oneself!

Low-key Organization

Okay, so California Closets it’s not. It’s not even a cool, interlinking IKEA closet. But for me, it’s exactly what I needed.

Not to be a pollyanna, but buying this many plastic tubs made me a little sick. And yes I know…your organization isn’t the problem, your STUFF is. Yes, yes. Joy sparked, etc. etc.

But the truth of the matter is that I have greatly culled my stuff. It’s an ongoing process (so don’t let anyone ever lead you to believe you’ll ‘get there’ someday.) But I am a creative being and with creativity comes stuff. Since moving to California in September 2018, I have had my creative life tucked into various closets and garage storage. I’ve been perfectly happy doing other things and keeping busy with all that life has been for us this past year. But for 2020 I have promised myself that I would get back to some artfully creative projects.

And thus – The Creative Closet Clean-up of 2020 (enter triumphant music.)

We dragged all the various boxes and bags out into the living room. I organized and threw away stuff while Scott built shelving in a back closet we aren’t usefully using.

I thought it would make me feel a little shameful – all the disparate supplies being left unused. But instead, it made me feel excited for 2020 and spending a little bit of time creating again.

All projects should include an old-school label maker. You can have the newly automated printing ones. A person’s hand should ache at the end of a labeling project. -hee

Yes, a box of broken dishes. As favorite dishes have broken over the years (…I swear it’s never my fault…), I have been tucking them away into a box for a mosaic piece someday.

Do you know how to mosaic??, you ask. Why no. No I don’t. But I’d really like to learn someday. And when I do, I’ll have some starter broken dishes with which to start!

I’ve used these IKEA storage tubs quite a bit in the past. I like that they’re modular and stack nicely. They’re very sturdy and easy to move around.

The fact that I put the label on the right side on my old bins and on the left side on my new bins is not something I’m ready to talk about yet.

(GULP! Why didn’t I double check?!)

Let it go… Let it go… (Someday I’ll re-label them on the same side. For now, I’m calling it done.)

Each bin is now labeled and containing alllll the creative things.

The shelves were built to accommodate two bins high plus the extra wiggle room to lift them. I have plenty of room on both sides of this closet for more goodies in the future.

(An interesting 21st century consideration: when we installed the lower shelf, I wanted to make sure the Roomba could get underneath it. -hahahaha!)

Sewing machine, odds and ends – it’s all now contained in one closet and easily marked so I can go straight to the project I’m looking for. Macrame’, weaving, painting, watercolors, yarn, cross-stitching, card-making…you name it. I’m ready for it!

(The IKEA containers also have the option of an insert that fits at the top. Very useful!)

This closet has ’70s-style sliding mirrored doors and I am so oooooookay with it.

Of course in the process of cleaning out one thing, six other clean-up projects pop up. It felt good to get rid of some things through donation or just plain ol’ trash. We’ve lived here a little over a year and it was time to clean out. I can’t imagine what living in one house for 50 years would be like. (aka: my parents!) There are a lot of ups and downs with moving – but gutting out unwanted/unused things is definitely a plus!

Hoping you are also nesting into 2020 in a big way.

The Best Advice My Mother Gave Me

I always enjoy the week between Christmas and the new year. I love the way it helps us let go slowly and say a proper good-bye.

My mother was a 7th grade English teacher. If you remember 7th grade English, it was saturated with grammatical work. Proper use of commas, dangling participles and conjugating verbs. She was the one we all called when we were stuck with a sentence while writing a college essay. “Mom – tell me again the difference between ‘lay’ and ‘lie’. Was it people lie and objects lay – or the other way around?” She always knew. And if not, she’d go straight to her textbook bibles to double-check. (But she always knew.)

The best advice she gave me, when I struggled through a particular phrase, was to simply change the sentence around.

When you can’t figure out if it’s ‘me and him went to the market’ or ‘he and I went to the market’ – stop trying so hard to figure out the correct grammatical rule and just rearrange the sentence! ‘I went to the market with Scott.’ It’s as simple as that. I’ve used that advice over and over when writing something out and getting stuck mid-way. Take a second. Back up. And rearrange the sentence. There’s always a different way out of the glitch you’ve worked yourself into.

It occured to me this morning that Mom gave me a much deeper piece of advice. The frustration surrounding this unmoored Week-In-Between which is filled with the pressure to make new year’s resolutions, is that too often we can become bogged down in the mire of Making It Important Enough. Looking back over the past year – or in this case, the past decade – we can tend to feel the weight of all the should’ves we shoulda done. This week is not unlike any of the other 51 weeks, but we all fall into the collective trap of Doing Better and Wish I Had… type feelings.

I’m going to take my mother’s advice and try seeing the simple solution: just rearrange the sentence. Can’t figure out how to cultivate a more grateful heart? Stop looking at all the gratitude journals and blessings systems, and simply say to yourself, ‘I am grateful for the sun’s rays this morning.’ Maybe that’s the last moment of recognized gratitude I’ll have all week. I hope not. But I don’t need to be weighed down with all the logistics. I just need to feel and recognize the gratitude and move on. Same with healthy choices and marital relationships and friendships and financial goals. Don’t get pushed under the current of what’s right, what’s acceptable, and what’s expected. Rearrange the sentence…the trajectory…of your life and then you’ll be able to move forward. One sentence after another until the paragraph, the story, the year, the decade begins to take shape.

We all have 24 hours, 52 weeks, and untold years in which to live out our uniquely chosen life. My mind often reels with questions about what is the right way to go about this task? What is the correct thing to do in this situation? Should I have… Could I have… And yet an unfinished sentence is a task not yet completed. An unfinished sentence serves no purpose. No solution.

Sometimes the most grammatically correct thing one can do is the simplest thing.
Simply change the sentence.

 
Here’s to a new year. A new decade! Sure, we have goals in mind and that’s great because that’s what keeps us moving forward and growing stronger. This is just a friendly reminder from a 7th grade English teacher: Don’t drown under the logistics of it all. Go to the gym – even if it’s not the right gym. Have the difficult conversation even though it might entail ugly crying. Reach out, even when you think you’ve done nothing wrong. Save the extra dollar instead of increasing your spending. Don’t get bogged down in the HOW. Live out the WHY.

I’m ready for you 2020. Let’s finish up this sentence so we can go kiss that cute boy waiting for me at my locker (which was always more fun than modifying a clause!) Still is!

My 2020 Unread Book Project

It seems every year I go through the same mental tennis match: ‘Do you REALLY want to set resolutions and goals for January 1? They’re always fraught with so much pressure.’ There is something about a goal set on a random Tuesday that holds more promise of completion for me.

That said, I have decided to participate in a bookstagram challenge for 2020. It’s simply to read more of the books you already have on hand.

While the premise of this challenge originally seemed like a very good idea, I began to see it as something a little more meaningful. As with each new year, I want to make strides in personal growth, namely by reducing the amount of things that activate my tendencies toward addictive behavior. As with many bookish people, it is hard to resist the newest, latest, greatest, trendiest new book on the market. I’m as bad as the next person about falling into that trap, thereby ignoring all of the wonderful books that are sitting right next to my reading chair, waiting to be picked up.

Of course this applies to many areas of my life. I thoroughly enjoy Instagram. The other bookish and plant-loving people I have connected with over there has meant a great deal to me. Some of them becoming authentic online friends. But Facebook? Not so much anymore. I often find myself frustrated and spending an endless amount of time scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through stuff I’m not even really paying attention to. And so for 2020, I am going to attempt to give up Facebook – an unnecessary amount of time that pulls at my addictive behavior.

Lord help me, I am certainly not saying social media is bad. I love it for its many little pleasures and inspiration. But my relationship with Facebook has changed drastically over the years and I think it’s time that we attempt to go our separate ways. The now trendy phrase, Does this bring me joy?, is something I’m asking myself about many of my habits as I head into a new year. A new decade!

This project is being spearheaded by Whitney of The Unread Shelf. She has challenged us to take a good look at our unread books on our own bookshelves and select specific ones that we would like to read in the upcoming year. These won’t necessarily be the only books we read in 2020, but they are books on which we’ve put a higher priority.

I felt a connection with this unread project and asked myself why does this excite me? Why does this make sense to me? I think it’s because using what I already have and what I already own seems to be stepping away from the addiction of needing to have the very latest thing people are talking about. I have a wealth of depth sitting untapped in my very own space. So I think the challenge to read my own unread books will serve a dual purpose. If not more.

What I am not committing to, however, is not buying any books in 2020. (I’m not a masochist. -ha!) But I am going to set some personal goals of reading a certain number of unread books before I can even think about buying a new book (or even reserving books at the library – a.k.a.: new-to-me books.)

In many areas of my life, I am looking forward to discovering what I already have.

I selected each of these books for a particular reason:

Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media by Susan J. Douglas
Truth: (gulp) I was one of those obnoxious people who, while in grad school…back in the room where the textbooks are…picked up this book and added it to my class textbooks even though it wasn’t on the list or even from a class I was taking. (aaaack!) I know, I know. Every professor hates it when students do this. They’ve ordered the correct amount of books needed for their class and suddenly they don’t have enough books to go around. It was me! I’m willing to come out about it now. (But can you blame me?!) Doesn’t the tagline sound fascinating?? How has the trajectory of women’s lives been affected by what we see in movies, tv or (and especially) in commercials? This book has been on my bookshelf for FAR too long.

…And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
Oh my word…I am completely intimidated by this book. I need to overcome my fear of its size.

One of my best and dearest friends, Jenny, threw her very book-loving daughter, Katie, a book party when she turned 16 years old. It was the greatest idea. Each attendee (adults and kids) brought a book that has been significant to them as a gift for Katie. Can you even imagine?! At the end of the party she had a huge pile of books. (Can I get a party like that at my age??)

Anyway, this was one of the books. Here’s a section from the Amazon description of it: about a group of women in the fictional town of Waynesboro, Ohio who begin a woman’s literary club, which evolves through the years into a significant community service organization in the town. The novel, which looks at the club as it changes throughout the years, spans decades in the lives of the women involved in the club, between 1868 and 1932.

I mean. It sounds fantastic, right? I need to conquer it. Maybe I’ll break it up over the course of the year. Hmmm…

Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
I very much enjoy early American history. I am a bit jealous of well-known author, Goodwin, for her concentrated expertise on Abraham Lincoln. Wouldn’t it be incredible to be an expert about one particular subject?

One of the monthly challenges that Whitney has laid out for us is to read an unread book we own that was gifted to us by someone. This book fits that bill. My father went to see Goodwin last year and sent me a signed copy of this book. So this year it goes into my must-reads for the year.

Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts
Again, early American history and also – it’s Cokie Roberts.

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
This book represents a specific challenge for me. When I was a teenage reader, I loved to read scary books. Amityville Horror and Flowers in the Attic for example. But then adulthood and parenthood TOTALLY changed that and I became a bigtime chicken! -ha. And yet, every time I pick up a ‘scary’ (to me) book like The Girl in the Train – I absolutely love it! I flip the pages faster and faster and love the raised heartbeat of a (somewhat) scary novel. I need to force myself to read them more often. So this Book of the Month novel I’ve had for almost a year needs to be tackled in 2020! You can do scary things, Greta!!

Mariana by Monica Dickens
I have a number of Persephone Classics books on my shelves and yes, mostly, because they have absolutely beautiful covers! Maybe I ought to give them a try as an actual book???

From the Amazon blurb: Monica Dickens, the great granddaughter of Charles Dickens, published Mariana in 1940 when she was only twenty-four years old. A bestseller in its time, Mariana is the often-comical story of a typical English girl growing up in the 1930s.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
Again, this has been on my shelves since grad school (but yes, this was an actual required book for one of my classes.) As with many required reading books, you quickly blow through them, looking for whatever you need to accomplish for the class assignment. I’d like to go back and actually read this classic.

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England by Carol F. Karlsen
It’s a weird subject but one I’ve found interesting in the past. The basis of the book is that the practice of ‘calling out witches’ during the Salem Witch Trials (and so many more!) in many ways defined how it is we see women in society. Subjugated and easily manipulated. How much of a deficit did this cause in the fight for women’s rights?

The last block of books are some of the best books written about Writing and Creativity. I look at them and wonder how much I could learn from these great masters of storytelling and prose:

Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver
The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
On Writing by Stephen King

I’m not going to lie, it seems like a daunting task. But it’s daunting because these books are so important to me. I will count this reading year successful if I can incorporate these Unreads into the other books that come my way in 2020. As always, the biggest goal: to read more, expand my mind, increase my vocabulary and always, always have a little more fun in the towns and situations I’ll find myself in through the pages of a well-crafted book.

Rethinking Small Bedrooms

If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed I’ve been moving around my ‘library’ and reading corner recently. I’ve tried it in a couple of different areas (always built around natural light options), but I had a little bit of an aha moment (aka: DUH! moment) and wanted to share it with you – definitely still a work in progress.

We live in a smallish house in northern California. We love our little spot of the world, but there are challenges with space sometimes. If you have a large home, this post won’t click for you much, I would suppose. But if you are a small-home-dweller, maybe something like this will help you too.

Enter our three bedrooms. They are smalllll bedrooms. What would be considered the Master Bedroom is only a few feet larger than the others so I came to a conclusion: Since the rooms weren’t vastly different, why was I giving the largest of them all the ‘time of day’, if you will, but only sleeping in it at night?? Who says this has to be the main bedroom for sleeping?!

So we pulled everything out of the ‘Master Bedroom’ and swapped it with a smaller room across the hall where ‘The Office’ once was.

I’m pretty minimalistic anyway with bedroom furniture and decor.

We didn’t finish painting before completing the move, but it’s just going to have to wait until we get back from vacation next week. Besides, you can see how the bedroom is evolving from a nice gray (which was too dark for this room) to a bright white that plays nicely off the very sunny window.

Scott built us these floating shelves a few months ago and I can’t recommend them enough! Easy cleaning and forced simplicity. Win win!

These mirrored closet doors are soooo seventies. Initially I wanted to take them out and do something different with the space, but I do really like the way they double the natural light in the room. I think they’re staying put for now. I lay in bed in the mornings and watch the palm trees swaying and the birds coming and going – all through the view of the mirror. I’m kind of digging it.

Some black and white decor via 1967. You’ve gotta love the arts and crafts that stand the test of time! 🙂

We’ve got our air-purifying snake plant next to the bed for all the extra good juju breathing we can get.

I don’t know what i’ll do with the shelf in the room yet (something clean and simple though) but for now, this calathea is enjoying her spot in the bright but indirect sun.

And now what was originally the master bedroom is the library/reading and writing room.

A quick word about this majesty palm… I had it in the wrong place last summer and it got dried out. I was ready to get rid of it but decided to make some drastic cuts to it. There was one new palm growing in so I cut off ALL the older palms. In the past few months two more new palms have grown in. I put a humidifier on it a few times a week and make sure it doesn’t get dried out (but not too wet either.) It seems to like it’s new lease on life. My PSA is to try drastic measures if you’re going to be throwing a plant away anyway. Similar to ctrl-alt-del, sometimes cutting a plant down to nothing and letting it start over again is a viable solution. We all kind of desire that fresh start, don’t we??

This big window is where all the cool plants wanna hang out. It doesn’t get the harsh sun from our backyard but is bright and cheery with big views of the sky. It’s also a wonderful place to sit and write to you from my laptop…

So what happened to my cozy reading corner? Scott and I are jokingly referring to it as our ‘Mud Room’. I set up a desk in there that holds essentials. It’s where we throw our canvas bags after using them before they go back to the car. Our car keys, sunglasses, you get the idea. The door to the right goes out to the laundry room and then the garage and with all the winter rains we are getting, it’s the perfect place to take off shoes, etc. I’m looking for just the right durable rug to go here as well.

Lots of room switching around (per usual for me) but we’re both happy with the results. Now for the Big Painting Project of 2020 where all the house will change from gray to WHITE! I love the blank canvas that white affords.

Are you working on any last minute home improvement projects before the decade begins? I can’t guarantee it, but I would bet my first project of the decade was painting something white. -ha! I guess I don’t deviate from a good thing, do I?

Just a Whole Lotta Lake Tahoe

Fall in Northern California is something special. I am unapologetic about photographing every leaf around Lake Tahoe…

When will I tire of standing on a hill and looking down to the bottom of the lake??

We were a little disappointed the day was so overcast. The white clouds gave a cast to the lake that took away its brilliant blue hue.

You can see every pebble on the bottom.

As Hannah and I ooo’d and ahh’d, I realized Scott was no longer with us. I started looking around and found this curious site…

He found a treasure. 🙂

There are a few years between these two pictures, but the look-what-I-found enthusiasm is just the same!

After spending some time around the northern part of the lake (my favorite spot), we drove along the edge – along MANY winding, hairpin curves – to the southern part of the lake. Emerald Bay is a big touristy spot so there are always lots of people around. We lucked out that there weren’t as many as when we were here in August.

(Did I mention it was a really windy day?!)

We stopped to walk on a beach front off the lake. It’s hard to beat beach sand, clear water and mountains in the distance.

Autumn in northern California is a thing of beauty and contrast.

There was a kid’s playground we had a little fun with too…

Hannah and I walked a beautiful trail from the beach over to a dock area for some more pictures of the lake. It’s hard to stop finding new vistas and new jaw-dropping views.

I mostly try to wait and take pictures of the scenery without cars in the way. But sometimes it’s good to see the vast size difference between ‘regular life’ and nature.

The nearby wildfires were also evident. As the sun set, the hazy smoke in the sky became more and more apparent.

Another day of magnificent granite rock and pine trees unbelievably tall and so long you can hardly bend back far enough to see it all. The aspens were making a spectacular show of things too!

The drive was picture perfect. We couldn’t have asked for a better day of brilliant color, cool temperatures and memory-making views.

Napa Valley

On Monday we explored the grandeur of Yosemite National Park (read here) and on Tuesday we drove north to Napa Valley. Yountville and Calistoga are favorites.

Of course Hannah (rightfully so!) compared everything to the movie Parent Trap! -ha.

I loved how this winery mixed fall decor with succulents. (I was taking copious notes!!)

This statue will always remind me of visiting Yountville right after my son and daughter-in-law lost their beloved dog, Max. It was such a sad time for everyone so seeing this statue entitled ‘Who Saved Who’ was very sweet.

Wandering around the old Marketplace building is enjoyable both from the perspective of the shops as well as the architectural elements of the building.

Hannah’s love for Young Frankenstein knows no end!!

Scott and I have been to the Napa Valley region in the winter, the late spring and now Fall. It’s fascinating to see how things change from season to season. One magnificent highlight dies back as a new spotlight appears somewhere else.

The French Laundry. I have talked before about my respect for this restaurant and its owner and chef, Thomas Keller. Named the Best Restaurant in the World in 2003 and 2004, recipient of the coveted 3-star Michelin award and ultimately called “the best restaurant in the world, period” in 2005 by Anthony Bourdain.

In the 1920s, the building was owned by John Lande who used it as a French steam laundry, thus the name.

The restaurant wasn’t officially open yet so Hannah and I wandered around to the back…

It was beautiful and calm in the back. Easy to imagine guests milling about on a cool, Fall evening.

But then I noticed the open windows across the way and about dropped to my knees! It was the kitchen!!! I stood for an awkward amount of time – in reverence – and watched all the kitchen staff in their sharp, white uniforms, diligently working to prepare the evening meal.

In my imagination, this was Chef Thomas Keller. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it! 🙂

The door that leads to the magic.

Not to mention that Anthony Bourdain once walked through it. Maybe stood outside and smoked a bit before returning to the kitchen to see how they prepared his delicious meal. sighhhh…..

Across the street from The French Laundry, is their garden. Without hesitation, it is the most beautifully perfect garden I have ever seen. We spent a long time walking around, reading about the different types of vegetables growing, etc. It’s the garden every gardener dreams of in their wildest imaginations.

And let’s face it – it’s all about the irrigation capabilities, right??

Bees to support the garden…

The most adorable chicken coop area…

And an enormous herb greenhouse.

It is a dream to imagine living like this. Supporting yourself through your own sustainable gardening.

We have yet to identify this nut tree. Anyone have any ideas?? (It doesn’t appear to be an almond when we broke it open.)

Down the street from The French Laundry is a Thomas Keller owned bakery, Bouchon Bakery. While I can’t afford the $310 a plate dinner at TFL, I will happily pay for the best croissant I’ve ever had. And the best macarons. Each time I come I think it might be a fluke, but no…they are the best in the universe!!!

Hanging in the Marketplace building is a colored drawing of the cookbooks from the local chefs of Napa Valley. I want every book – and the drawing of them!

We spent most of our time in Yountville, then drove through Napa’s plethora of vineyards. We’ve seen these vineyards in 3 seasons and each one is as fascinating as the next. It was fun to be experiencing it with Hannah this time.

Rows and rows of perfection.

Miles and miles of fun.

A perfect way to relax.

 

 

 

Yosemite National Park

Our daughter, Hannah, flew into town on Sunday. We started right out on our California adventures on Monday morning. We are tired and car-weary, but it’s been an incredible two days (and more to come!)

(interesting water levels on the rocks across the lake)

We drove 3.5 hours to Yosemite National Park yesterday. Lots of talking and catching up along the way (…the good, good part…) We were each completely overwhelmed with the enormity of the iconic views of Bridalveil Fall and the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome. Once again, California has taken my breath away.

(picture above: why do I doubt the validity of this statement?? -ha Regardless, I am thankful for the commitment to preservation of Muir and Roosevelt.)

The talls are so tall and so straight and SO difficult to capture on film.

Half Dome…

An awe-inspiring waterfall. It was so high up that by the time it reached the level we were, the water dissipated into mist and blew away.

Notice the people on the ground below…

…and the full-grown pine trees on the top of this ‘lil rock’.

I was a little enamoured with this photographer. He looks like he holds a lot of stories…

Unfortunately, we saw a lot of burned forestry in the Park as well.

On the way home we took Hannah by one of our favorite places: Big Tree State Park. We arrived near sunset which made it even more amazing.

What I didn’t get were pictures of us. It was all just wonderfully overwhelming. Cameras aside… eyes up.

It seemed the right place to be, Yosemite National Park, on Indigenous Peoples Day.

Thankful for my people. And the fascinating Northwest.

[Adding some of Hannah’s picutures too]