Monday, July 4, 2016

This Flag

"This flag, which we honor and under which we serve, is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation. It has no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation. The choices are ours."

                                                                             -Woodrow Wilson

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Road Less Traveled

The Road Not Taken

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

This poem, by Robert Frost, is a favorite. I have probably quoted it here, before.
We found this painting at a thrift store, and "had" to add it to our collection of mountain paintings, destined for our cabin walls once they are finished, beyond the stud stage.  

Since the time change, I have noticed new lighting patterns, the shift of the sun's position and the timing of the sun glow across the walls and floors. Right now, the evening sun shafts across this road, framing it in gold, making what is around that corner almost visible.

Our cabin in the mountains could be right around that corner, the road, its invitation to come and stroll, to welcome the quiet, or hear the wind waves through the trees. 

Signed Stanley Awbrey, 1973, it could have been painted on the road we take, the road to our cabin, one autumn day. I imagine a few deer strolled by while he sat and painted, a chipmunk paused a moment to watch, and blue jays chattered overhead at his plen-air intrusion into their quiet world. I have no idea who Stanley Awbrey is, or where he is now, or what he was like, but I am grateful he took the time to create this moment, preserved in time, for us to enjoy years later.

If I could be like Edmund and Lucy and Eustace and jump into a picture, this would be it. Oh, wait. We do jump into this painting when we go to the mountains, creating our place, there. This reminds me what a privilege that is, and I am grateful.

Monday, February 29, 2016

What I Learned in February

Looking back through my journal each month is surprising and interesting. Off the top of my head, I would have said I didn't learn much in February. Well, actually, by my journal entries, it was an amazing month. I am grateful to Emily and the monthly challenge on her blog to post what we learned, because, otherwise, I would barrel ahead and miss the chance to review and recoup.

#1 The name of a paint color is very important to me. In fact, I would not paint a color if it has an objectionable name. On a design blog, I saw a wall painted a deep green - beautiful! When I tracked down the color, it was from an English paint company. I ordered the sample chips, then found out their paint is not available around here - but I can do a formula match at our local orange home store.

Looking over the six fold brochure of color chips, I realized I wasn't even looking at the colors - just reading the words. "Mouse's Back." Ah, no. Won't be painting my walls that color. "Elephant's Breath." Somehow the idea of an elephant breathing on me all night is not a pleasant thought. "Salon Drab." Sounds charming. "Swiss Mocha." Yes, please. "Dead Salmon." Shudder... Are they serious? Maybe it doesn't matter to other people, but there is no way I'm going to paint a wall, or anything for that matter, "Arsenic." I am not making this up.

Come to think of it, the color I love is "Green Smoke," a deep gray green. Since our state has legalized a certain green plant to smoke, and since our cabin is in a potential wildfire area, maybe I don't want to use a paint called, "Green Smoke." The color doesn't come out well in this photo, but it is a perfect color for our mountain cabin. Maybe I'll just have to get over the name.

#2 For our February front door wreath, I clipped branches from the Nine Bark shrub, the Russian Sage, and the Butterfly Bush, and shaped them into a heart. Well, sorta. When I tied the top to pull it into the heart shape, it pulled the cross bar up and made it look like a great big frowny face on our front door. I untied it and let it relax back into a straight line. A little better.
When my husband got home from work, he looked at it and said, "A heart?" Well, at least he recognized what it was supposed to be. What did I learn from this? First, an attempt counts, even if it isn't perfection. And, after I made it, I read (think it was on an Ikea decorating post) that if you soak the wood in the bathtub, the branches become pliable and you can shape them easily. Next time, I'll know what to do. For Easter, I'll add an upright to make a cross, and change the bow color. Keep it simple.

#3 I love Landscape Design. Plunker, would be more apt for me, I thought. Have plant, plunk it in somewhere. Because of a xeriscape article I wrote for our local newspaper, a neighbor contacted me and asked me to help her re-design her back yard, to eliminate half her grass area and install water wise plants. We walked around her yard, discussing options and her ideas. Somehow, nothing clicked for me until I thought of the word, "immerse." There I go with my word mania again. Her yard should be a place where she wants to immerse herself, to enjoy and use the space fully, not just have it to look at. With that, I quickly drew up a flagstone walkway planted with groundcovers, and a raised berm on the west side that will pick up the evening sunlight, filled with ornamental grasses, tall agastache, salvias and plants that glow with the low sunlight shining through them. The raised berm closest to her patio, where she sits outside in the summer is for scented plants. The berm next to the back part of her yard is a bit wilder, with bright yellow and purple flowers (her color choices). She can meander the flagstone walkway, admiring and enjoying her water wise plantings.
It is not a professional drawing. She knew, and wasn't expecting a professional task. She wanted ideas and a different perspective - she said it was just what she wanted, and couldn't have come up with that design on her own. Success! And I had a blast thinking, planning, creating a plant list, and drawing it up. Better than plunking.

This book arrived this month. Read it through quickly, going back through it now, accepting the challenges and taking steps. His writing is kind of in-your-face, yet practical, challenging and encouraging.

"How can you show your work even when you have nothing to show? The first step is to scoop up the scraps and residue of your process and shape them into some interesting bit of media you can share. You have to turn the invisible into something that other people can see."

"Whether you share it or not, documenting and recording your process as you go along has its own rewards: You'll start to see the work you're doing more clearly and feel like you're making progress. And when you're ready to share, you'll have a surplus of material to choose from."

-Austin Kleon

#5 Last year, a daughter shared with me her Passion Planner. Three of us have been using it for a year, now, and I just ordered a new one. It has lots of goal-sparking ideas and pages for planning - it is good for me to be on an irregular year schedule - to be past the typical goal and planning focus of January, and to have my own time of review and beginning again with a fresh planner. There has been a long learning curve - weeks we did little, and weeks we plowed away at the tasks. During one conversation with the girls, one of them said, "Before, it felt like a checklist I was not getting done so I wouldn't even open it out of shame. Now, that it is a creative outlet, I open it to jot down a quote or doodle and am seeing my list." We play with creative lettering, sketching silly drawings, using lots of color, sharing quotes to copy, or whatever. Oh, and our to-do lists. I love the thought of it being a creative outlet - perfect with my one-word for 2016, CREATE. Each page becomes its own creation.

# 6 I wanted to learn how to make kitchen scrubbies out of netting. Looked it up on YouTube, looked easy. Hah! First, I tried crochet - couldn't manage to not get all tangled up in the holes, even though I used a huge hook. Pulled all that out and tried knitting. It is working, sort of. Won't say I have learned it yet. Will keep trying. If I don't figure it out, I'll pass it on to our knitting savvy daughter.
Won't she be thrilled?

#7 A  great blog post by momastery, Three Rules for Surviving a Creative Life, had this graphic:


Oh, the liberty this gives! Create, and don't fret over the hate. Yay!

#8 Ann Voskamp is coming out with a new book in September - another Yay!

#9 A quote on a chopstick package at the restaurant:
"Talk does not cook rice."
-Chinese Proverb

#10 Lid on my Dutch Brother's White Chocolate Mocha:
"You Got This."
Made me smile.

May your March be full of smiles, profitable lessons, and creativity.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

January, What I Learned

On our library website, if the book I want isn't on their book list, I can request a purchase! My library savvy daughter suggested this - she works in a library, and one of her tasks is book purchaser. Of course, the books are reviewed, but so far, the three I requested have been purchased - and that puts me as number one on the hold list for when it arrives. Habitat: A Field Guide to Decorating, is a new book recommended on several of the blogs I read. As a design book, it is full of photos, heavy duty paper, and gorgeous design, which all come with a big price tag. Perfect for my first request through the library. It came through this month, and I am delighted. Lauren Liess is a designer, and she does a beautiful job of suggesting and guiding and directing without making me feel like a less-than-smart-homemaker. With four young children herself, she knows a bit about messes and practical solutions.

She writes it as a field guide, with definitions, based on her favorite book and pastime as she grew up - a nature field guide she carried around with her everywhere, making notes, learning about plants and developing a growing love of nature. This love of nature is incorporated into every room; bringing the outside in is her favorite theme.

Now, if I had just known this little library trick back when Marie Kondo's book, The Magic of Tidying Up, came out, I wouldn't have been #80 (or whatever number I was,don't remember exactly), when I finally got around to putting a hold on it. I'm down to #7 now, looking forward to reading it soon.

My method: How To Organize, 101. Empty out the drawer or shelf or surface. Don't leave the things you know you will put back anyway, or the plant on the island, or the favorite shirt. Empty it all out. All of it. Empty. I am not repeating this because I think you didn't hear me, but because I have to repeat it to myself when I am attempting to organize. Pull it all out. Move it to a different place. On the bed, where it has to be cleared off before bedtime. On the table, where it will have to be cleared before dinner. Somewhere where you have to take steps, to see the stuff in a completely different context. Then, put back only what you really, really want to keep and will use.

I suppose I did know all this already, but this month, I re-learned it. Mostly, with our kitchen island, but I did several drawers this way, too. Since before Thanksgiving, I've had a few plants on the end of the island, and for some reason I cannot explain, since then, there have been piles of stuff. Random stuff, piled on the island. This month, I moved the plants, found places for everything else, and the island is again, empty. If I'm cooking, yes, there is a cookbook and measuring spoons and bowls and splatters. But when I'm done, it is amazingly easy to wipe it all down, and have it all cleared off again. Love it that way. I have space. Even if the rest of the counters are, let's say, busy with stuff, I have the relief of the island space. For me, it has to be extreme to make it work.

Now, if I could just do this consistently, through the whole house...

A new cast iron fry pan gives me new recipes and techniques to learn. For the most part, successful. One recipe was yummy, but the cooking time given was way too long. I burned a section along the side. You're not supposed to soak cast iron, it could rust, so I was afraid to try my usual technique of soaking damp baking soda on the spot overnight. I scrubbed and rubbed. Still stuck-on spots. I put a big blob of coconut oil on the spots, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the mess wiped right off. Yay!


A book I received for Christmas inspired my reading list for 2016. A Writer's Garden, How gardens inspired our best loved authors, by Jackie Bennett, has a chapter for twenty different authors, like Beatrix Potter, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Roald Dahl, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen. They are described in their gardens, with anecdotes from the time they lived there, gorgeous photos, lists of the books they wrote while living at that location, and how those books were influenced by where they lived and gardened. Photos of their studios, or sometimes garden sheds are inspiring. The paths they walked daily, their favorite plants, or the guests they entertained there, give you a glimpse into their private inspirations.

I have already read some of their classic books, but my plan is to read at least one book from each of the authors. Next up, Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, the play that became My Fair Lady. Then, something by Agatha Christie. I just finished The Lake House, by Kate Morton. I'm generally not a mystery fan, but have really enjoyed Kate Morton's mysteries. Have not ever read Agatha Christie, but it seemed a good choice since I'm on a mystery theme. Any recommendations for one of her mysteries?

A book about writers, their books, and their gardens, a perfect topic for me.

One of our daughters sent me this:
"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.
Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Philosophy is wondering if that means ketchup is a smoothie."
I am already ready for spring. Put in a large order for seeds: flowers and vegetables.  This month, I want to build a cold frame and set up my grow lights in the basement to start some seedlings come March. Or maybe in February, if I can't wait, maybe on February's extra day. My hoop cover is keeping chard, spinach, kale, carrots and beets snug, even though it was 12 degrees last night and snow is piled around.

My inside blooms - eight buds on one amaryllis bulb. Winter consolation.

Audrey Hepburn said, "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."
One more thing I learned this month:
Bill Keane, the Family Circus author and illustrator said,
"If you are afraid to make a mistake, you won't make anything."
In two areas, I am applying this. My writing for here, on this blog, and my garden writing, for the local newspaper and the Master Gardener newsletters. It is too easy for me to do nothing, to be afraid of a mistake, to not want to put anything "out there," because I am afraid. So, here's to making things, (create, my one-word for 2016), even if what I make is a mistake.

This list linked with Emily Freeman, Chatting at the Sky. There you can read what other writers learned in January.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Code Your Goals

The last week of January. Already. How are your goals coming along? Did you just roll your eyes at me? Crazy, isn't it? The way the hands on the clock keep going around and around and around. Those weekly calendar pages check off, one by one by one.

I purposely made my goals a bit vague this year. Rule number one about making goals: make them specific, actionable, measurable, and time sensitive. I thought, maybe, if I kept the goals in general terms, I wouldn't roll my eyes at myself as time slips by, unproductive, ineffective, goals undone.

Well, I'm not so sure about my vague goals. Perhaps there is wisdom in having a clear, focused idea of where I am headed each day. The journey is important, yes. But a destination is critical, too.

This photo, cropped from the first one, focuses in on the details of the snowflakes. At least as well as my camera and my photography skills can do. Amazing, this morning, seeing the light snowfall we had last night, the flakes, each crisp and ornate and beautiful. Beautiful as a whole, but even more impressive as unique and individual.

An idea I read: when Gretchen Rubin worked through her Happiness Project, writing it, developing her monthly goals and plans, she blogged her process. Her chapters contain some of the comments she received along the way. One of them really stuck with me. The gal suggested to use your passwords as goal reminders. How many times a day do you plug in certain passwords? Use those effectively. Say, you want to exercise five times a week. Set up a password like, RnwlkX5#.

I am not advising you on your password safety. There are general suggested structures for a secure password, and various sites have different guidelines. In general, at least eight characters are recommended, that it does not contain a complete word, and it includes four types of characters: uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special symbols. And, I would add, something easy for you to remember.

Take a goal you want to be reminded of, often. Turn it into a personalized, coded password, and remember it often as you type it on your keyboard, multiple times a day.

In my head, spring is not far away. I know, for a fact, that reality is a bit different than that. Our last frost date is May 12th, and we have seen snow on the last three Mother's Days. That is three and a half months away. What will I have accomplished by then? Will my vague, general goals still be vague and general by then? Yes, unless I change my way of thinking about them.

The last weeks of December, I jotted down a list of things I wanted to do in 2016; a random list, as things came to mind. Now, looking at the list again, I see a need to quantify them. What, how, and when will I do these? How can I make them specific, actionable, measurable, and timed? I made a note in my planner, on May 15th, to reevaluate the list. And, I made up a new password to remind me of a key, priority goal.

What do you think of making a new password, unique to your goals?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Have you thought about a one-word theme for this year?

Years before, I picked words. Last year was, "Wonder."

This year, it seemed the word picked me.


At first, I wondered, why that word? It sounded too focused on doing something, productivity, or making something, sewing or painting or something like that. But it wouldn't go away.

So, I started a list of thoughts, to catch my wandering ideas.

What can I create?

Order. As I organize and de-clutter and thin out the stuff, I create order.

Clean. As I clean and maintain things around our home, I create a clean, comfortable place to live.

Peace. The work of order and cleaning creates a sense of peace, a peaceful attitude.

And, please understand, these are goals to work towards, not statements of accomplishment.

Calm. As with peace, steps taken bring a sense of calm.

Beauty. In the garden, in the home, order and clean create beauty.

Energy. Goals accomplished, or even steps toward them, create energy toward more steps.

Contentment. Knowing there is progress, knowing the intention is understood, brings content.

Joy. A sense of joy in my work, creating not things, but joy through what I do.

Love. Love, expressed in creative ways.

And other ways, I'm sure I'll learn as the year goes by.

It is encouraging to me to see what I do in all the mundane details as creating something. Even washing the dishes is creating. Seems simple, really. The perspective of, "Create," applies to everything I do. Teaching, learning with our son -- creating opportunities for him. More than doing a task I will be doing again tomorrow, I can enjoy the cleaning, or whatever,  because there is a bigger perspective of creating while I do that whatever.

This is not an original idea by any means. To create, to make a home, to enjoy and thrive in it, is why they call it homemaking. It helps me to focus on a perspective bigger than that pile of dog hair waiting to be vacuumed.

All of it, everything I do, is a tool to be used creatively.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Silly Puppy

I wrote the following clip years ago as part of a novel that now sits in a box in the closet. Yes, I should polish it up and send it out, but that's another story. Anyway, in this clip, Libby is dealing with grief and family conflicts. She begins working with a neighbor, an older woman named Oliver (her last name, but she said her friends call her Oliver, so that's what she wants Libby to call her). Libby helps her around the house and with her home business, after Oliver has an accident.

At that time, I had not experienced a dog with separation anxiety. I made up what I thought a silly, confused dog would do when it was alone and worried. Well, since then, we adopted a dog with these struggles, my parents adopted a dog with challenges, and recently our son and a friend of mine both adopted dogs with these issues. Being left alone is traumatic for them. I guess it is common in shelter, rescue dogs, who have been abandoned for whatever reasons.

Have you dealt with these problem dogs? I asked our vet, and he said, "Give them time and security." Well, that isn't easy if you have to go somewhere and leave them alone. Even for a quick trip out, a short time alone, they panic and do crazy things. One solution I have heard is go for daily walks. The exercise is beneficial on many levels (for the person, too), and they return to the familiar security of their new home. Afraid I am not consistent on this one - this is one of my goals for 2016. Do you know of other, successful ways to deal with separation anxiety?


Oliver, seeing Libby struggle to keep back the tears, asked if she could tell her a little story.

"Of course," said Libby.

"Once upon a time," Oliver chuckled, and Libby had to smile at the silly beginning. "A young dog came to live with a young family. He worked hard at learning what was expected of him, and found that it was really quite easy to do what he was told. Except for one thing. When they left him alone, he became very unhappy, and very forgetful. He forgot that he wasn't supposed to drink out of the toilet, and he wasn't supposed to chew up the towels (they were so much fun to pull off the rods and rip to shreds), and he wasn't supposed to drag the newspaper all over the house. When his people got home, he tried to show them how glad and relieved he was that they were back, but all they did was scold and punish him. So, he became more afraid of times they would leave him. Not the best doggie logic," Oliver said in digression, "But a dog can't be expected to understand everything."

"Back to the story. One day they left him and didn't come back. Not at his dinner time, not when it got dark, and not when it was bedtime. He ripped up two towels and pulled the rest off the wall. He spread newspaper all the way down the hall. Which came in handy when he needed to do his business. He drank half the toilet water and drooled all the way onto the hall rug. But the newspaper absorbed some of it. He was so bored he took a nap." Libby laughed, picturing the dog's antics through the house.

"He became more afraid, the longer his people were gone. He became more forgetful, and forgot he wasn't supposed to howl in the house. The howling made him feel better. At least it wasn't so quiet anymore. When he stopped howling, it was fearfully quiet, so he howled some more."

Oliver paused, while the sound of the fearful quiet settled around them. "Now, dogs don't think in words, I guess, but they seem to sometimes. He wondered where his people were, and why they didn't come home to him. Maybe they were afraid of the mess they'd find when they got here? No, that couldn't be it. Maybe they got lost? Maybe they needed directions to get back? He howled louder so they could hear him and find their way home."

Libby laughed out loud. The silly dog filled her with a vivid picture of intensity and confusion and loneliness. "Oh, Oliver, what does he do? What does he figure out?"

"Well, using typical doggie logic," Oliver grinned back at her, "He decided to try to get out of the house. Not to escape or leave, of course, but to go and find his people and help them get home. Get home to him, to his house."

"He jumped at the front door, which was locked and secure. He scratched and dug at the back door, and pushed at the little door he usually used to get to the yard, but the flap was tightly shut and wouldn't budge. He wandered around the house, wondering what to do next. A cool breeze rustled across his ears. A window must be open, but where? He ran upstairs to the little girls' room. The window. It was open."

"He jumped onto the bed, and found he could reach the windowsill with his paws and look out. Hmmm. A long way down."

Libby laughed again the the dog's thoughts anticking at the window.

Oliver continued, "This story is fun. It keeps growing, but I'd better get to the point."

"You've made me laugh and cry because it is so funny. It feels good to have tears, and not because I'm so unhappy. Thanks. I needed that," said Libby.

"Then, mission accomplished. I'll stop now."

"No, no! You have to tell me what that crazy dog does next. You have to."

"As he is looking down the street, lights come around the corner. Of course, they attract his attention, and he watches them. They get closer to his house, and slow down, and then the lights stop in front of his house. He can't see the car from his window, but he hears a familiar voice, then several familiar voices, and realizes it is his people."

"Does he think to run out of the room, down the hall, and to the front door? No. He tries and tries to get out the window, to jump out and go see them. He begins barking and howling, desperate to get to his people. But he can't do it."

"Since he is so busy barking, he doesn't hear the children come down the hall. Suddenly their voices are right behind him, telling him to stop the ruckus and get off the bed. Another rule he'd forgotten."

"He leaps at them, knocking them over and expressing his enthusiasm and joy with all the wiggles and waggles he can muster. The children laugh and tumble with him. When the parents come to the room, it is to remind them it is late and to get ready for bed. He tries to greet them in the same manner, but it isn't received as eagerly."

"The mom lets him out the back door, but now he doesn't want to go. He wants to stay with them, inside. She boots him out, though, he takes care of business and runs back in through the doggie door to greet them all with fresh enthusiasm."

"In his doggie understanding, he just hadn't been able to see that with patience, they would have come home, that it wasn't all his antics that brought them back. All he knew was, that now they were home and he was happy again."

Oliver stopped the story with a flourish of her hand, like closing the pages of a book. Libby smiled, her mind absorbed in the story and mercifully distracted for awhile from her own panic and frustration at life's frightening twists and turns.

our silly puppy