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.’

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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.

WHISKEY WHEN WE’RE DRY by John Larison

UH-OH!! I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I just finished reading Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison and it might be the best book I read in 2020 – and it’s only January 13!

This book was storytelling at its lyrical best. WHISKEY was a gripping read – Midwestern true grit with a southern lit style prose. Each description, painted magnificently on the big, open skies of the 1800’s Plains.⠀

Orphaned in 1885, Jessilyn finds herself alone. Having learned sharpshooting from her father on their cattle farm, she sets out to find the only other family member she knows, her older brother, Noah, who left home years before and was now an outlaw on the run. Knowing the limitations and boundaries she would encounter as a female, Jess cut her hair, bound her body and rode into the outside world under the guise of a young man.⠀

The adventures and circumstances that ensue develop Jess’s strong character and resolve but do very little to answer the questions about her past. Her mother died during Jessilyn’s birth and her stoic father died suddenly, just as she was becoming a young woman.

“What started the war, pa?”⠀
“Stories, Jess. Stories. We tell ourselves the wrong stories.”

It was not difficult to make the parallel to much of what we listen to on the nightly news. Or experience in our own relationships. What wrong stories are we repeating? What wrong stories are being passed down, generation to generation? Culture to culture?

Her father taught her many things during her young life, not the least of which was to shoot a gun with precision. There was no way of knowing how well that would serve her in the years to come.

For many years Jess maintained her male identity. She developed friendships with other guys but never revealed her true story. Confiding only one time to an old lady her true past: “It was such a relief to hear this in the air outside, rather than echoing endlessly within.”

This is a coming of age story as well as a story of familial reflection and connection common to us all. Thank you, Anne Bogel, for your recommendation. This expansively beautiful story will ride with me for a while.

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.

THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 

I was in a bad temper and talking ill of folk and she turns around to me and says ‘Thou doesn’t like this one and thou doesn’t like that one. How does thou like thyself?’

Next year, I am determined to read more classics. When I find myself thinking, ‘Have I read this already? I can’t remember.’ Those are the books I want to intermix with my other readings next year. Since I currently have a few classics on my bookshelves and am also participating in @theunreadshelf’s 2020 challenge to read the books we already own, I should be able to tackle some of the classics I have on hand. I’m excited for the people and places I’ll meet along the way!

[sidenote: There are many English and Scottish phrasings in this book. If that makes it more difficult to read, I highly suggest getting an audio recording of this book. It was the perfect way to listen to this classic.]

My initial (modern day) reaction to this book (written in 1911) was that there was some very sketchy parenting going on! Children being forgotten or left to fend for themselves. (If I were a child reading this, however, I’m sure I would think that was super cool!!)

Mary Lennox is a sickly, unwanted 10-year-old that is left orphaned after both her wealthy parents died from cholera. Even before their death, however, her parents didn’t want to interact with her so they left her to be raised by servants who did whatever she asked – leaving her a very spoiled and unlovable child.

Mary is sent to live with her wealthy uncle who is, himself, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. Archibald Craven travels frequently, leaving Mary on her own once again. Living in Yorkshire, England now, Mary wanders the property – initially hating the moor near which her uncle’s grand home was built. In the process of looking at the gardens (and hearing of a secret garden that no one knows how to get into!), she befriends a robin who daringly follows her on her walks and quickly becomes her first friend ever.

Mary’s world begins to drastically change as spring begins to show in the gardens – and especially after the robin leads her to the buried key that unlocks the secret garden.

One of the characters in this book is a weak and ill-tempered hypochondriac little boy named Colin who has overheard adults saying all his life that he was going to die soon. He lies in bed, afraid to walk, afraid to be seen by others, afraid to go outside his room – until he meets Mary and her secret garden. Just as being out in nature made a dramatic difference to Mary, Colin also begins to trust in others and believe in his own future of health.

Amazingly descriptive detail was given to the garden and surrounding English countryside. The temper tantrums and kids-as-bosses added lots of flair in creating the images of the central children of the story. Once these initially spoiled children began thinking about others and how to bring their secret garden back to life, their minds were filled with things other than their own fears and selfish desires. What a beautiful book for a child to read.

Truly, what an important book for an adult to revisit. Are you living your fullest life? Are you being brave when others around you are doubting your strength? Even more difficult, are you being brave when you doubt your own endurance? What treasures are out there, waiting for us to discover if we’d only step outside our self-built boxes and walk into the fresh air of new possibilities.

Give this book a try, friends. You might be searching for A Secret Garden in this stage of your life. A garden you didn’t even know you needed.

A FINE ROMANCE by Candice Bergen

This has been one of my favorite memoirs to read.

The original Murphy Brown TV show came out when I was in the throws of motherhood. I loved watching her show (from a VCR!) The writing was funny and her character helped me feel more secure in my own evolution as a woman. All things seemed possible.

My mistake, however, was subconsciously assuming the character Murphy Brown was, in fact, Candice Bergen. Bergen historically plays strong, independent, female roles. I have also loved her roles in the tv show, Boston Legal, Sweet Home Alabama, Sex and the City, Book Club, etc. All unflappable characters.

Reading her memoir, A Fine Romance, changed many of my misconceptions of her and broadened my respect for Candice Bergen as Candice Bergen.

Candice walks her readers through her early career, her marriage to French director, Louis Malle and their daughter, Chloe. We caught a glimpse of Candice Bergen as a mother and wife which was a complete thrill. She is warm and gracious and her love for their daughter was – to be honest – somewhat convicting. She was a truly incredible and nurturing mother.

Bergen spends time on the Murphy Brown years – which I particularly enjoyed. She spoke of her relationship with the other cast members – and humor, always humor. She talks of her current husband, Marshall Rose. I related to the struggle she went through after her divorce and before remarrying again many years later and her adjustment to another person being in her life. She was honest and transparent about her two marriages.

The biggest thing I enjoyed was her openness about aging. It is tough, this getting older business. I laughed often and appreciatively.

Thank God for my friends. Mothers in their 50’s – running to beefy now, the traditional thickening through the middle. We clumpt together in our middle-age camouflage – black pants, long sleeves, more make-up than in years past – compensating with wit, attention, intelligence, experience. Bringing to bear, not the extra 15, 20 pounds we all seemed to be packing, but our confidence in who we were. The sizeable weight and force of our personalities.

I was initially interested to read this memoir about a woman who shaped many of my generation’s views on feminism. I was pleasantly surprised to find a woman who is all I expected – independent and strong – but also so many other layers of depth were revealed. She is a wonderfully loving woman who seems to have the gift of giving small tokens of love to those she holds dear. She was always, always, always gracious to the subjects about which she wrote.

Unflappable, yes. But moreso – cultured, loyal, well-traveled and fluent in French. An affectionate mother and friend. She seems to possess that powerful concoction of femininity + strength. An ever-evolving and relevant woman even now.

THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

Books celebrating books. Authors paying homage to readers. This enticing concoction of book-celebrating is an intoxicating elixir when it occurs in a storyline and The Giver of Stars is no exception.

This book is based on a true story in American history.

Historical reference: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Works Progress Administration created librarians – primarily made up of women – to ride horses into rural areas and high in the mountains, bringing books to those who otherwise would have no access to books at all. The purpose of this New Deal program was to expand the minds of those that knew very little of a world outside their own immediate family.

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These women were often referred to as ‘book ladies’ or ‘packsaddle librarians’. Riding through snow, rain, and very difficult terrain, these traveling librarians dropped off books (and picked up returning books) to the outskirts of society. It is estimated that 63% of the state of Kentucky were without access to public libraries and around 30% of rural Kentuckians were illiterate. Roosevelt understood that education was the foundation of change and a path out of poverty and that the education gained from borrowing donated books could have a lasting effect.

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This program also created jobs for women during the Great Depression. ‘Book ladies’ made around $28 a month (the equivalent of about $500 a month today), delivering books to homes and schoolhouses between 1935 and 1943. In 1943 the service lost its funding leaving many Appalachian communities without books for decades until bookmobiles were introduced in the late 1950’s.

The Giver of Stars is a harrowing story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond, to bring books to those who had no access.

Alice Wright, born and raised in England, marries wealthy businessman, Bennett Van Cleave, an American from Kentucky. After settling into their new home in rural Appalachia, Alice soon discovers small-town living in Baileyville, Kentucky can feel very claustrophobic. When she learns of the packhorse book project, she eagerly signs up. ‘She covered her own anxiety with activity.’ The five heroic women who eventually form the book distribution team, soon learn to rely on each other as a means of support against familial and community outrage. Many townsmen (led by Alice’s wealthy father-in-law) were indignant that a woman would be capable of such a daunting task.

In any other town, such misdemeanors might eventually be forgotten, but in Baileyville a grudge could last a century and still nurture a head of steam. The people of Baileyville were descended from Celts, from Scots and Irish families, who could hold on to resentment until it was dried out like beef jerky, and bearing no resemblance to its original self.

Alice begins to gain confidence and independence through the difficult work of the packhorse library, traveling hours by herself in the beauty of Kentucky mountains and wide open skies, meeting the warm-hearted people of the rural country, while learning to trust and lean on her fellow librarians.

She had built a new Alice over the frame of one with whom she had never felt entirely comfortable.

I highly recommend this beautifully written book. At times it seems certain they cannot recover from many of their adventures and Moyes leaves you hanging until the last minute. Loss and love and renewal and commitment weave themselves through each adventure. Getting to know each of these remarkable women was a literary privilege for me as well as delving deeper into the historical facts surrounding this amazing chapter in American history.

THE YEAR of MAGICAL THINKING by Joan Didion⠀ ⠀

It would appear to be a morbid book to read, yet this memoir about the year following Joan Didion’s husband’s death, was a systematic, matter-of-fact approach to try to make sense of the common process of grief. I mostly found it fascinating that our mind tries to make sense of something our heart cannot easily process. ⠀

Didion’s husband (John) had a sudden heart attack and died at home one evening. Didion recalls simple things like going to the hospital with the paramedics and her husband’s body to take care of the paperwork…’the regularization of death’. At the NYC hospital she recalls looking at the time and realizing that John had not died yet on LA time. Didion wondered, for a brief moment, if she could somehow stop him from dying before that California time arrived.⠀

The Year of Magical Thinking would be particularly fascinating to anyone who has grieved the loss of a loved one as they would surely find similarities in the way Didion processed her husband’s death. ⠀

As is common, she spoke of wanting to tell John something important, only to realize she could not. “It was as if I put the arrow in the bow, pulled back and just before shooting it realized he was not here to listen to my story, and I would release the arrow and set the bow back down.”⠀

Didion recalled the many times in their marriage that after having a dream she would tell John about it in the morning when they woke up “…not to dwell on the dream but to let it go.” As a reader I wondered how therapeutic this memoir must have been. To write about her process of grief. Not to dwell on death, but to let it go.⠀

After a year of grieving and looking back on what was happening the previous year between she and John, she realized that while his death occurred on December 30, December 31 would be the first day in which John was not a part of the previous year. That is when she began to move forward and her way of thinking shifted. “I began to allow him to simply be the photograph on the piano.”⠀

This was a fascinating book about the process of grief – universally experienced but very uniquely felt.⠀

A highly recommended book.

Family Al Fresco

It’s that time of year. School is finished (or soon to be), the temperature is rising and sleeping in is on every teens agenda. If you have kids at home, a common summertime question is ‘What’s there to eat?’ I might be able to help with that last question with some simple summer meal items.

I recently posted on social media about a family meal we had outside (al fresco: in the open air). I was contacted by a few people asking me to post a more detailed explanation. I promised a blog post about some DIY tablescape hacks that made the evening a little easier and the simple summertime recipes we used to make our family meal a success.

My extended family came to visit us in California. The enormous sacrifice they made – financially and most importantly, timing and scheduling – meant a lot to me. Scott and I wanted to have one evening where we all sat down together around a family table and simply relaxed into an evening of conversation and California weather.

For those of you that are fans of the tv series, Parenthood, you’ll understand my desire to have a Parenthood-style dinner together in our backyard, under the lights and California setting sun.

First of all, I needed a long table.

We took our dining room table out to the patio plus used another dining table we have in the garage that Scott uses as a work table. The work table was a few inches shorter than our dining table so we used wooden blocks to prop it up to be an equal height.

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I was tempted to do a charcuterie board down the center of the ‘long table’ but ultimately decided it was too fussy and one more thing for me to plan out. My goal was for all of us to feel comfortable and laid-back so I nixed the cheese board idea.

Instead, Scott cut me a long piece of 2×4 board, sanded all the edges round and stained it. He coated it in coconut oil to seal in the stain.

I cut rosemary from our large rosemary bush and lavender from the three Spanish lavender bushes we bought in the Fall. They were three small bushes when we purchased them but they have grown SO BIG over the past six months! As an aside – I knew the rosemary would last a long time but I wasn’t sure of the lavender. I cut it all just a few hours before our meal. For awhile, it was sitting in the hot afternoon sun. The rosemary held up great but the lavender got a little wilty looking. By the next day it was shriveled. So make sure to cut the lavender fairly close to the event. This served as a nice centerpiece but also held off any flying insects that don’t particularly care for the smell of the rosemary. Win-win! At the last minute, I grabbed some clementines in our kitchen and haphazardly placed them among the rosemary and lavender for a pop of color. I also cut a small sprig of rosemary to place on the napkin at each place setting. Super easy way to put a finishing touch on the appearance of each setting. If you don’t have a rosemary bush in the backyard, rosemary plants are easy to find at grocery stores and gardening centers. (We use ours for cooking all the time!)

I wanted the table to be somewhat minimal in decoration. Casual and welcoming. Here are a few ways I hacked the table decor…

I am a big fan of this set of three candlesticks from IKEA. I have two sets and use them in different spots in our home. Their stark black added just the right amount of drama to the setting without being fussy or overwhelming.

I am a big fan of linen. I love its look and universal appeal. It’s not faddish or decade-specific, which is just the kind of decor I adore! But if we’re all honest, linen can be expensive, right??

A good rule of thumb for just about every decor situation (and more!) is to mix and match real with fake. I went to Harbor Freight and bought two canvas paint dropcloths. They resemble linen and cost about $15 each. Spilled wine? No problem. Dropped food? It will either wash out or, I have a new dropcloth to use! No fuss. No problem.

I even used another dropcloth I had to sew a basketful of coasters for the table (instructions here.) The trick to using dropcloth for your projects is to wash them first. I generally wash them 2-3 times to soften them up and get the distinctive smell out of them. Once they’re softer, the possibilities are limitless.

I mixed the canvas tablecloths with actual linen napkins from World Market. I used 4 different neutral colors to tie everything together without looking too matchy.

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I have really enjoyed my ‘wonky’ dishes from Magnolia. It seems like not that long ago that we lined up outside Target, waiting for the doors to open on the new Magnolia line, Hearth and Hand. I elbowed and crowded in with other Joanna Gaines style followers. I think I grabbed a 4-plate setting the first day and have been picking up more bowls and serving trays ever since. They’re a little harder to find these days but they pair well with a line of dishes from World Market. Again, mixing and matching takes the exactness out of any task (my biggest design hint.) I love the uneven edges of both lines. They look like they’ve just come off a potter’s wheel. Love it.

The table was set with a mixture of items but they all fell into a neutral palette, therefore pulling them all together cohesively. The neutral foundation allowed the colorful food to stand out and shine.

And speaking of the food…

I had to constantly put before myself the goal of the evening: easy, laid-back, casual. I didn’t want Scott and I to have to spend all our time in the kitchen and not sitting with our family enjoying the evening. The following were some of the recipes we used. Many can be put together in advance.

This Avocado Corn salad is de.li.cious. It tastes like summer. It killed Scott a little to have to buy tomatoes since his aren’t ready yet -ha. (All the recipes are at the end of this post.) I’m of the opinion that putting an avocado with just about anything makes it better. You can use fresh corn on the cob but we opted for frozen sweet corn from Trader Joe’s. The very smell of cucumbers makes me want to rush outside. It is such a fresh summer smell.

I’m sure I will receive a lot of crap for this (probably deservedly so), but……..I don’t care for fresh onions. There. I’ve said it. The color of purple onions would round out this salad nicely and 99.9% of the world will put it in.

This Pecan Apple Slaw is a constant in our refrigerator this season. It’s light and easy to keep in the fridge for those quick food cravings. The juicy Craisins make it almost snack-like.

My sweet 21-year-old niece sent me a thank you text after they left to go back to Kansas City. She ended the text with “…and I neeeeeeed that zucchini boat recipe!” -ha! Again, these are easy to make and a great addition to just about any meal. The recipe came from Ina Garten so you know it’s trustworthy! We’ve made them several times and are always happy with the results. Crunchy and salty – my favorite combination.

The main dish was Caprese Chicken. For an easily prepared dish, it packed a lot of flavor. The key is fresh mozzarella and the balsamic glaze.

To be honest, we were introduced to balsamic glaze by a friend just last year. We’ve been ardent fans ever since. There are soooo many things you can use it on! It’s thicker than regular balsamic and adds the perfect tangy-sweet flavor to side dishes as well as many meats.

Maybe it’s just me, but drinks for a dinner can get a little stressful. Do you offer a million options or do you limit it to just a few? My answer for this very flavor-packed meal was to simply serve water. I used some inexpensive water decanters and placed mint leaves in milk white jars on the table. My neighbor gifted me with a starter lemon mint bush and wowzers has it grown! I can’t use enough mint to keep up. So even if it was just decoration and no one used it, it was worth trimming back my container and it added another natural element to the table.

We ended the evening with a HAPPY BIRTHDUATION cake for the people having birthdays and graduating high school. Had it not been for that, I would have gone with a simple Peanut Butter Pie. It’s another easy recipe you make ahead and is always a crowd pleaser.

And because we’re in California, the evenings can get a little chilly if the conversation lingers long enough. I rolled up some favorite throw blankets, put them into a basket and took it outside. When people started getting cool, they grabbed a blanket and the conversation never even paused. No searching for or asking about a blanket – it was right there at the ready when they needed it. (And bonus: it looked cute while it was waiting to serve!)

I hope these suggestions sparked a few ideas of your own. Gathering family and friends together (no dreaded ‘kids table’ separation!) is always my idea of a perfect evening. Multiple conversations interrupted only slightly by the ‘Could you please pass me the…’ requests is pure joy to me.

Before sharing the recipes with you at the bottom, will you indulge me in a few family shots from our Family Al Fresco evening??

Wishing you a season of good food, simple pleasures and all the bent-in-half-ugly-laughing your soul can take!

Corn Tomato Avocado Salad

INGREDIENTS
corn kernels from 1 large steamed corn on the cobb (1 cup)
5 ounces diced avocado from 1 medium avocado
1.5 cup diced Persian cucumbers (about 3 small)
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
2T diced red onion
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
fresh black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Toss all ingredients together and serve.

Cranberry Pecan Slaw

INGREDIENTS
2) 11oz bagged cole slaw mix
1 large Gala or Honeycrisp apple – chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped pecan

Dressing:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream (can substitute with yogurt)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2% honey
1/2 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS
1. Add slaw mix, apple, cranberries, pecans and onions to a large bowl. Too to mix all ingredients. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, add mayo, sour cream, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Whisk together until smooth. Pour 3/4 of dressing over slaw and toss until mixed well. Add remaining dressing if desired.
3. Serve immediately. Slaw can be stored, covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Toss slightly.

Zucchini Boats

INGREDIENTS
3-4 smallish zucchini
2T fresh parsley
2T fresh basil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
3/4 cup panko
3.5T olive oil

DIRECTIONS
1. Cut the ends off the zucchini
2. Cut in half lengthwise
3. Scoop out center seeds (this is what makes it watery)
4. Put on a sheet pan and brush with oil and salt
5. Turn them over (scooped side down)
6. Cook at 425 degrees for 12 minutes
7. Turn them back over
8. Fill the cavity with panko mixture
9. Put them back in the oven for 8-10 minutes until browned and crisp

Chicken Caprese

INGREDIENTS

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
1T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp dry Italian seasoning
4 thick slices of ripe tomato
4 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
2T balsamic glaze
2T thinly sliced basil

DIRECTIONS

1. Heat a grill over medium heat
2. Drizzle 1T of olive oil over chicken and season to taste with salt and pepper
3. Sprinkle Italian seasoning over the chicken
4. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for 3-5 minutes per side, or until done. Cook time will vary depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts
5. When chicken is done, top with a slice of cheese and cook for one more minute
6. Remove from heat and place chicken on a plate. Top each breast with a slice of tomato, thinly sliced basil and salt and pepper to taste
7. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve

Peanut Butter Pie

INSTRUCTIONS
1 graham cracker crust
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
1.5 cup creamy PB (or crunchy PB for more crunch)

DIRECTIONS

1. Soften ice cream enough to swirl in PB completely (considerably soft)
2. Mix in PB as evenly as possible
3. Pour into crust and freeze
4. Remove a few minutes before serving for easier cutting

PLACEMAKER by Christie Purifoy

I am currently reading this beautiful book by Christie Purifoy, Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty and Peace. The book releases in mid-March 2019 and will be a soothing balm for our overly-stressed, multi-tasking souls.

Placemakers is for the home lover. The outdoor admirer. The family gatherer. The story collector. For the past decade I have felt very strongly that one of my biggest roles in life is to create a welcoming home. My regret? That I didn’t embrace this role stronger when my children were young. Perhaps that is a natural occurrence for many of you as well. When your babies are young, there is so much clutter and lack of sleep. As they mature, there seems to be nothing but running and doing. Concerts and sports events. Home tends to be a quick landing spot between the lines of your to do list.

But the older I get, the more I realize the respite that is home. It has been my passion to create a soothing and calm place for Scott to land after a 12-hour day at work. Even in writing that line I am aware of how genteel and old-fashioned it sounds. Perhaps even egotistical. I balk at the pollyanna nature of it, but I know in my heart that it is the mission I have been given. Does this sound anti-feminist? I certainly hope not as I stand here a proud feminist. We too often acquaint progressive women’s rights with doing and becoming. But the true essence of the movement is to create space where women can become anything they wish to become – which does not exclude the role of supporting and encouraging those we love. But it isn’t all done just for my family. Beauty and consistency makes my own soul feel calm and settled.

We plant seeds or saplings in neat rows. We prune limbs, and we tend the soil. We do not make the trees, but we make a place for them.

I did not have a word for the role I play until Purifoy so elegantly termed it: placemaker.

When I was first married and moving into our apartment (my first home ever away from my childhood home and college dorms), I found great pleasure in creating a homey home. I remember one of my friends came over for the first time and as she left she commented: “Your home doesn’t look like you just moved into it. It looks as if you’ve lived here for years.” I considered this a huge compliment – and still one of my favorites.

For friends and family to find a place that evokes feelings of warmth and welcome – that is my greatest joy. I am (…to a fault and the butt of many jokes…) constantly tweaking things around our home. And now, with the California weather, our backyard is merely an extension of our physical house. I am invigorated by dirt and the care of each plant and tree. I grieve when they die and I feel empowered when I can help to save them.

Making and tending good and beautiful places is not a dishonorable retreat. It is a holy pursuit. We were never meant merely to consume the gifts of creation. We were made to collaborate. We were made to participate. This book is an invitation to reconsider your own relationship to the ground beneath your feet and roof over your head.

I expected this book to be a pretty addition to our coffee table. How surprised I’ve been to find the girth of insight and encouragement I’ve found between its pages. A book that I could probably ‘whip out in a day’ has become a slow and methodical read – filled with underlined words and many pauses for reflection. And sometimes shouts of ‘YES!, that’s exactly how I feel!’

You can pre-order the book now. I strongly suggest you rush to your favorite book-selling site to grab one for yourself.

Meanwhile, I continue to read…

grateful for a week of vacation…

Scott went back to work today after being off for a week. I am thankful for the week of vacation. I am thankful to be back to a routine. You know the feeling, right?

We all have different kinds of friends in life. It adds the spice to living. When we announced we were moving to California, almost to a person our friends said, ‘We can’t wait to come visit you there!’ It’s something you say, no? It just seems like the appropriate thing to lessen the upcoming distance in your friendship.

But not our friend, Rachel. As soon as we found a house here in California, she sent me a text with her available dates and asked, ‘When can I come?’ (big grin) For any enneagram followers, Rachel is an 8. She waits for no man! She strikes out and gets what she wants. A weekend trip to the west coast was what she wanted.

And we were more than happy to oblige!

Therefore, our week of vacation was spent preparing for Rachel’s arrival, the daytrips we took with her, and then spending some quiet evenings alone after she left – vegging and relaxing. It was the perfect week!

It was great having Rachel here. She is a bundle of sunshine and energy. But we were also glad to have a representation of Kansas City walking around in our California home. It was a nice connection to our home town and our first out-of-town guest.

We picked her up from the airport and drove to San Francisco – defying the rain to stop our plans. We ate seafood on the boardwalk and shopped at an adorable Marketplace on the pier that was filled with artisan cheese shops, meat and fish markets and everything in between. All local shops. Scott and I both want to head back there soon with a cooler in the trunk to buy some freshly caught fish and make – what I’m sure will be – the most amazing charcuterie board ever! We always look forward to going back to San Francisco. There’s so much to see and do. And there’s nothing quite like the smell of ocean air all around you.

I told Rachel my goal for the weekend was for her to be able to go home and say, ‘We saw the ocean and then the next day, we saw the mountains.’ That’s the greatest thing about where we live – we are a short drive to both extremes.

On Day 2 we drove to Calaveras Big Tree State Park to gawk at the enormous sequoia trees. For me and Scott, it was our first time seeing snow for the year. It was chilly but certainly not unbearable. Besides, the enormity of the sequoias and the immense height of the pines kept your mind off any cold. It was a beautiful, picturesque drive. We stopped to take the occasional picture (but never enough for me!) and even popped into a local donut shop in a small town along the way. After seeing the trees (and eating our picnic lunch in the middle of the park…but inside the warm car!), we stopped in a few antique shops in towns we passed on our way up the foothills. It was the perfect little daytrip.


(Scott is standing on the stump of a giant sequoia. For reference, Scott is 6’3″!)

We arrived back home in mid-afternoon as the Kansas City Chiefs were playing their play-off game against the Indianapolis Colts. We recorded the game so we could watch it a little later than the start time. We sped through the commercials and eventually caught up to the end of the game to watch with the rest of the world as the Chiefs decidedly, 31-13. We are now gearing up for the game on Sunday against the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship. All fingers and toes are crossed.

On Day 3 – and sadly the last day Rachel was here – we drove around our nearby town of Folsom. We spend a lot of time in Folsom as well as attend church there. We wanted to show her our little historic church where we attend as well as some area shops. We did a little shopping, grabbed some lunch, then drove by the Folsom Prison (made famous by Johnny Cash) before driving to the airport in Sacramento for her return flight home. It was a jam-packed weekend and it felt invigorating and adventuresome.

For the remaining days of his vacation, Scott and I worked on a few projects around the house and did the normal running around town for this and that. But mostly, we took it easy. We watched some favorite movies and we watched some new ones. We played card games (complete with thick banter and bullying) and Scott made some wood projects in his workshop (which I will blog about soon.) I worked on my California Adventures album (also, an upcoming blog post.)

Scott and I are good at doing hard things together and doing slothful things together… we are a good team and you know what? I really miss him when he’s gone back to work after being off for a week…

We continue to enjoy our life out here on the west coast. It’s also a lot of fun when others come and enjoy it with us. Thanks for a great visit, Rachel!