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.