Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March In Review

Joining here with Emily Freeman, Chatting At the Sky, and others, to share as we glance in the rear view mirror and prepare to move ahead into April, equipped with all we learned in March.

March Lessons:

1. Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist, (great book), wrote on his blog a phrase I love.

                                                          mise en place

Love the sound of that (even though I won't pretend to say it with a French accent). It is a French term chefs would use for everything in place, all ingredients in order and tools prepared and ready to create a delicious masterpiece. He writes..."For writers, I think it is equally important to have your workspace organized and ready to go, nothing in your way."

Actually, I can quickly find just about anything on my desk, even if it does look a mess, there is some order to the piles and it drives me crazy when I can't find something. But I love this phrase - wrote it on an index card to lean against the lamp as a reminder to create order, to think ahead of the tools I'll need, to be prepared. To work toward mise en place.

I know enough of myself, though, to know I do need to just start. Not wait until everything is perfectly in line - it is a goal - but the balance is to do something, to write, even in my messy place (the English mispronunciation).

2. Another blogger and author, Melissa Michaels of The Inspired Room, wrote of her definition of style. It is a style I can understand without worrying about color wheels or texture or whatever. Real life.

"When  I talk about style, I'm thinking about my authentic style of living at home, not how stylish I am (or am not!)...I don't need all the latest rules...I just need to learn to be more in touch with how my surroundings impact my life."

"My home is a reflection of who I am because I'm happy to be surrounded by stuff that matters to me and I can say good-bye to stuff that doesn't. What that means is: I have to continually refine my home to let go of the stuff I don't need, the stuff that distracts me, and embrace the things that inspire."

What inspires me?
clean, uncluttered, uncrowded spaces
to know where everything is (even if it is in a pile)

She adds, "Creating an authentic home is a matter of personal reflection and the determination to make progress in letting go, as much as it is about what to add in."

I realized something. It may look like I collect books. What I am really collecting is words. I want to save them, savor them, remember them, and re-read them. More on this in #6.

3. Books I read this month:
Plain Simple Useful, by Terence Conran
Pottery Barn's Complete Book of the Home
The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
How to Grow More Vegetables, by John Jeavons
Propagation Basics, by Steven Bradley
In January and February, I read all fiction. The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and the first four Harry Potter books. It felt good this month to go back to all non-fiction, but I will mix it up a bit, for next month.

4. Thursday is my final class for the Colorado Master Gardener course. It has been so much fun to meet one day a week with like-minded plant lovers, to learn just how much we didn't know and still don't know about plants. Lugging our textbook around has built up muscle to prepare for the soon-to-be-here gardening season.

I am not a scientific thinker. Quick impressions and emotional response are more my speed. However, it has been fascinating to dig into the whys of plant growth, plant health, and plant identification.

At our mountain cabin, I recognized the trees are not all identical pine trees. I was able to use the identification key (like a computer flow chart) to discover we have three different types of conifers: Ponderosa Pine, Pinon Pine, and Rocky Mountain Juniper. Now, I see the trees in a completely different way, and around town I can recognize the variety of trees. Once the shrubs green up, I'll be able to identify and learn more about them, too.

On a Nasa website, they say, "Anyone can think like a scientist."
Science is . . .
  • Observing the world.
  • Watching and listening
  • Observing and recording.
Science is curiosity in thoughtful action about the world and how it behaves.
Anyone can have an idea about how nature works. Some people think their idea is correct because "it seems right" or "it makes sense." But for a scientist (who could be you!), this is not enough. A scientist will test the idea in the real world. An idea that predicts how the world works is called a hypothesis.
Hmmm. Is my hypothesis correct?
If an idea, or hypothesis, correctly predicts how something will behave, we call it a theory. If an idea explains all the facts, or evidence, that we have found, we also call it a theory.

I came across this looking up something for my son's schoolwork.
It helps me realize I apply science in more ways than I thought, giving me a new appreciation for science and learning.
Pay Attention.
Curiosity in thoughtful action.

5. I have written before of the benefits of aloe in treating burns. Do have an aloe plant in your kitchen? You should. The aloe plant I had before died, probably from overwatering. Three burns in three weeks convinced me I needed another plant.

Yes, I did. I grabbed a cookie tray fresh out of the oven. I can explain what I did, each step in slow motion - I can't explain the logic of it. Oh, it hurt. Six blisters on five fingers, my whole palm red and shiny. I split open a long aloe leaf, soaking my fingers in the cool, slimy juices. Over and over, wiping the fluid across my palm and fingers, gently rubbing it in. For an hour or so.

Our son, the day before, made some aloe jelly, a project from a Junior Master Gardener lesson book we are working through. The juice, scraped out of one leaf, mixed with hand lotion, kept in the refrigerator. I applied it to my palm and fingers several times during the evening.

The next day the pain was gone, the reddness gone, the blisters flat and soft, not raised or raw. Two days later, the two worst blisters were flat, brownish spots, the rest, gone. Amazing, especially as two of the previous burns were still ugly red lines.

Do you have an aloe? I will try very hard not to overwater this one. And, I will try not to burn myself (I do try not to, really!). I seem to have a knack for this - best to keep an aloe handy.

6. Paper. Pen. Pocket.
In "Becoming Jane", the movie biography of Jane Austen, she hears a phrase she likes, pulls a paper and pen out of the pocket in her apron, sits down on a nearby bench and jots it down. The grumpy lady asks, "What is she doing?" The young man, who understands her, answers that she is writing down words, or something like that, I don't remember exactly. Jane Austen was a collector of words, and she was smart enough to write them down immediately. I assume I will remember them later, but rarely do. I learned I do need to carry pen and paper, tucked in a pocket so they are always close at hand, available and ready to jot down a thought or a phrase or that perfect line. To collect those words.

That line she jots down makes it into Pride and Prejudice, "Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of a little wilderness on one side of your lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it..."
I love how the words she collected became the classic story.

Being a word collector, I collect quotes, thoughts, word images, stories, characters told in words. Why be a word collector? Because they are thoughts of people past and present - thoughts in tangible (sort of) form. Like being able to grab and hold a thought. Which I can't do, and which is why I write down the words. And collect them.

7. Our daughter shared with me a phrase she heard,
                                      THE EINSTEIN HOUR

That time of day when you are at your best, sharpest, most productive, most clear thinking. Plan for that time, use it for your best work. Right now, for me, that is 8 to 9 am. I mark that out on my planner pages and use that time to write. It helps me to have that hour set aside. Ideally, I would like to write much longer than that, but an hour done is far better than just intentions, and for me, real progress. The specific time may change as life changes, but think about when you are at your best. Pay attention to that productive time - use it for your best - it may mean reading with children, walking, cleaning - find your Einstein Hour and use it wisely. What is your Einstein Hour?

So, March accomplished.
April ahead.
Wonder what lessons April will offer?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Martina's Cornbread

New cookbooks are fun to browse and explore. Some recipes work, and some - well, they are not put in the repeat category. This new cookbook, by Martina McBride, Around the Table, gives an interesting insight into her family life, her home, her style, and, of course, how she cooks. The focus of the cookbook is on hospitality, on the events and occasions and just-because times she welcomes others into her home. Each section has decorating ideas, music playlists (of course - what else would you expect from a musician?), menus, recipes, gorgeous photos, and practical tips for welcoming others into your home and life. And we have several new recipes that are definite repeats.

Her recipe for cornbread has become a frequent staple here. I cut it in half, this is a party sized batch.

Cornbread With Green Chiles And Pepper Jack Cheese

5 tbsp unsalted, melted butter
2 tbsp butter for greasing the pan
1 1/2 c buttermilk
1 1/2 c milk
4 large eggs
2/3 c vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
3 c all purpose flour
1 c ground yellow cornmeal
2/3 c sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 4oz can diced green chiles
1 c shredded pepper jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Generously grease a 13 x 9 baking pan with 2 tbsp butter.

Combine the buttermilk, milk, eggs, oil and melted butter in a large bowl. Combine the flour, cornmeal, 2/3 c of sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Add buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Stir in the green chiles and the pepper jack cheese. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. (She sprinkles an additional 2 tbsp sugar over the batter - I omit this).

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

We're serving ours tonight with chicken enchiladas, Confetti Rice (also from her book) and salad.

This is my favorite of her songs. I have posted it before, but I think it is worth hearing again. And again. "Do It Anyway." A great theme song.

(Guess this cuts off just before the end - sorry. It's still worth the listen, just keep singing it in your head)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Windshield Goals

We have reached the end of February. Do you look at your New Year goals like this? Something you wrote down two months ago, part of the New Year planning, and now they are behind you. Unaccomplished. History. Looking backward instead of forward.

Donald Miller, on his Storyline blog, wrote a week long series, "Start Life Over." In the introductory post, he writes about the value of change, and he quotes two friends of his who own a successful restaurant. They said, "Life should be viewed similarly to how we look through the windshield of a car...the windshield is much larger than the rearview mirror."  Don adds, "Keep looking forward. Know where you are going and steer the car toward something new and exciting. And you can't do that if you're always looking in the rear view mirror."

I realized how often I think of my goals with a backwards thought. Guess that didn't work. What was I thinking? So much for that unrealistic time-frame. All those unfriendly failure words spoken in my head. But, instead, if I see them as Windshield Goals, the perspective changes. I am looking ahead, out the windshield, the road in front of me rather than behind. Any smart driver will tell you this is a much better way to drive - look through the windshield rather than the rear view mirror. Good driving involves a glance in the rear view mirror, but the attention is focused - forward. Of course, we say. But do we live that way?

Each day, on my daily list, I write my three main Windshield Goals as a reminder that I can take steps today toward them. Not big things, just little steps. And it moves me toward them, rather than seeing them disappear into the past, faded in the rear view mirror. The skill of resilience has its foundation in this, this ability to focus forward rather than on events of the past. How to navigate the next turn, the upcoming curve in the road? Focus ahead. Pay attention.

Sometimes, Windshield Goals can look like this. Blurred. Low visibility. Confused. Wish you were somewhere else. I took this photo last May. On the way home from a beautiful spring mountain drive, we encountered a surprise storm. Unexpected. Sudden. But we made it home, following the lines on the road, slowly, one mile at a time.

What if we looked at our goals as something in front of us? Ahead.
Forward looking.
Forward living.
Not full of regret or that sinking feeling, failed again.
Hope. Possibility. Do-able.
Try again.

Forward living. 
A much better choice.

This post is linked with Emily Freeman and Chatting At the Sky,
What We Learned in February.

Instead of feeling a failure, instead of those sinking regrests,
I can move forward.
For me, this is a huge lesson.

As Don said in his post, these paradigm shifts can change the way we view our lives, and the way we live our lives.

Green light ahead, GO!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wonder Quotes

Most of us have probably wasted five or ten minutes on Pinterest, right?


Well, if you have another five or ten minutes to spend browsing around, try Brainy Quotes. A bit more intellectual or philosophical perhaps, than Pinterest, but still a fun way to sink a few minutes. A way to get inside the heads of some interesting people.

On a recent stroll, I found these two quotes on my one-word for the year, Wonder:

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."

                                                                                                        -G.K. Chesterton

"Wonder is the basis of worship."

                                                                                                        -Thomas Carlyle

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Other People's Tumbleweeds

A new garden friend and I sat on the bench, chatting. About plants, of course. She maintains a large xeriscape garden and wished she could keep up with her planned chores rather than cleaning up other people's tumbleweeds, filling up the dumpster each week with the huge, bulky, prickly weeds that blow into her garden.

This one, around the front corner of our house is bigger around than I can reach. And if I did, I'd be full of prickers. I tried to take the photo with my hand holding the base for a size comparison, but I couldn't reach out that far without getting prickers stuck in my sweatshirt. They are too big for a trash can and have to be smashed down or clipped into smaller chunks, or some gardeners burn them down. Last year was a record breaking year for tumbleweeds, the second worst on record, here. I saw a huge one, caught by a gust of wind, blow completely over our roof. Some days the roads are full of them bouncing down the street. Avoiding them with the car is pointless. This year looks to be similar.

I wish I could assure you that in my yard, all the tumbleweeds came from somewhere else. Nope. Sorry. On the sides of the two back sheds, I didn't finish pulling them up last summer and fall. So, I am guilty. Some of those tumbling bundles of prickles are from my yard. If you don't pull them out when they are small, they seem to grow overnight into behemoth monsters, unapproachable and threatening. Don't touch me or you'll get hurt! Leather gloves are a necessity.

Under a cover of snow, they don't look so unfriendly. But they're lurking, waiting for a dry, warm breeze.

Even if you live in an area without these monsters, we all deal with other people's tumbleweeds. Other people's mistakes, messes, hurts, neglect, misunderstandings, spreading their prickers, poking us as we walk through our days. Dealing with problems when they are small is best, but not always possible. Some days it is enough to pull our own weed problems without having to deal with other people's also. But, reality is, it is not always our choice. They are there, tumbling along in front of us.

The answer? Clean up what we can. Be patient. Tackle them one at a time. Be prepared. Know that the seeds are being scattered with every breeze blowing them around. If this one is cleaned up, there will be others sprouting.

Does this all sound depressing? Hopeless? It helps me to know that, as in a garden and learning to take better care of my plants, there are many life lessons intertwined. Weeding is critical. Watering is vital. Neither of those tasks is done once. Over and over and over. Again and again. Daily effort. Life is full of small daily tasks, rinse and repeat. Once in awhile one of our guys tries the line, "But I'll just have to do it again tomorrow. Why not wait till then?" And my response, "Yup, and since the food will just get eaten and the dishes will just get dirty, I might as well wait till tomorrow, or even the day after that to cook, right?" Which of course, doesn't happen.

Other people's tumbleweeds. One at a time. Small steps. Solved, Cared for. And the life and the garden become beautiful and rich.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Best Buds

I do have something more serious I could write about.
But maybe you need a chuckle today?

I have these two face pots, and like to give them amusing (to me, anyway) names by what is growing in them at the moment.
Spike Jones
Do you know Spike Jones?
A musician from the 1940's and 50's, his group put a silly twist on whatever serious music they played.
Tchaikovsky or current hits, nothing was beyond their creative interpretation.
In the days before computer generated sounds, they added cowbells, gun shots, whistles, played tunes on air pumps, rearranged their instrument pieces, banged sticks on window shutters, or whatever it took to make the sounds they wanted. His early 50's TV show is full of the slapstick humor of that day. Nonsense, yes, light-hearted fun.
You-Tube has some of his music clips, if you want to watch.
My little Spike Jones even matches his checkered outfits.
You'll have to watch some of the clips to appreciate his style.


This is Cynthia. I planted these hyacinth bulbs last November, and tucked them away on a dark shelf in the garage, chillin'. After the leaves poked up, I brought them inside to keep in a low light corner for a week or so until the blooms began to form. Now in a sunnier spot, their fragrance and blooms perk up our winter landscape, making it smell like spring even if there is still snow on the ground.

                                                             Spike and Cynthia                                                                   
                                                                  Best Buds

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Touched by Scenes of Wonder

Have you read the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S.Lewis? Highly recommended.

This morning, watching the sunrise, I thought of the lines from the first book, The Magician's Nephew. Polly and Digory (old Professor Kirk in the other stories) watch as the great lion, Aslan, sings the sky and the stars into being.

"The eastern sky changed from white to pink and pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose...You could imagine that it laughed for joy as it came up."

I am grateful for these moments of wonder, the glimpse of the spectacular.

A little later, here, the ordinary gray skies glowed, illuminated from the sun, hidden behind.

 In the story, there are three others watching with Polly and Digory. One becomes a king, one becomes the influence of evil in the new world, and one just goes back to his selfish, narrow-minded ways. Polly and Digory go on to other adventures, but mostly, on to many ordinary gray days in their ordinary homes and lives.

The ordinary days, touched by scenes of wonder, don't seem so ordinary after all, do they?