thanksgiving, birthday, knockturn alley

Alternate title: Things That Happened In November And December, About Which I Have Not Blogged.

I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time this year.  Yes, I cooked.  No, it wasn't stressful.  I did not roast a turkey.  I grilled kebabs - chicken and steak and bell peppers and onions - and roasted garlicky parmesan potatoes.  There was salad and hummus and fruit.  And cranberryish sangria.

People were legitimately shocked when I told them my menu.  Scandalized when I said we were eating at actual dinner time - 5:30 - instead of in the middle of the afternoon.  Not the ones who came to our house for dinner, of course, they knew what to expect.  I just have never understood why one day a year we serve food we never normally eat at a time we never normally serve it.  We can express our gratitude just as easily over a plate of grilled chicken and fresh vegetables as we can over a plate of carved turkey and green bean casserole, right?  There's no need for extremes.  Maybe I just don't get it.  I have said before that I'm a Thanksgiving Scrooge. It's the one holiday I really can't jump on board with, for a lot of reasons, but I was happy to throw together a tasty family dinner just the same.  Here is the sangria recipe, if you are into that kind of thing.  I'm normally not but this was DELICIOUS.

Cranberry Sangria (adapted from this recipe)

Mix together one bottle of white wine (I used Moscato but it's a matter of preference), 2 cups cranberry juice, 1 cup pomegranate blueberry juice (the blueberry was an accident but a happy one and I recommend it), 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup simple syrup, 2 or 3 quartered mandarin oranges (Halos), 1/2 meyer lemon (sliced into thin rounds), 1 cup fresh cranberries.  Chill 4-6 hours before serving.

We did that thing at dinner where everyone said what they were thankful for and I totally choked.  I couldn't find a good way to articulate everything on my heart.  Everyone forgave me.  Then I talked a big game about how much butt I was going to kick at Trivial Pursuit and I lost terribly and everyone forgave me for that as well.

We went to Universal Studios to check out the new Harry Potter stuff.  It was awesome.  Knockturn Alley was impressively creepy.

And then it was my birthday.  I turned 33.  I ate a cupcake.  And then a few more.  Happy Birthday to me.

2015

The other day I was talking to my mother in law and sister in law about all of our plans for New Years Eve.  They both admitted a reluctance to accept the invitations they had for the night, saying that they just weren't that into the usual midnight celebrations.  Honestly?  I have to agree.  At least about the midnight part.  I don't feel any different at 12:01 on January 1st than I do at 11:59 on December 31st, there's nothing magical about flipping a page on the calendar.  However, I am into the idea of New Years.  I like resolutions, I like fresh starts and the excuse to create a new vision and set new goals.

Last year I created a pinterest board dedicated to that vision (I wrote about it here) and, looking back, it feels pretty accurate.  I wrote at the time, "There's a conscious simplicity to the things I am devoting my days to.  Just as there is a conscious, cool simplicity to the images I'm using to represent them."  That feels truer now than it did even then.  It's not exactly how every day of the year played out, of course, but close enough.  2014 was good.  2015 will be just as good, in a different way.  I'm sure of it.

1.jpg

You can click through to see the board I'm working on for 2015.  I love it so much.  It's all a bit more earth-toned and real than I expected it would be when I started.  I feel a bit more earth-toned and real myself.  More external than in previous years, if that makes any sense.  Less stuck in my head and more solid on my feet, which is exactly what I want.  I want to pull myself even further from the less productive habits and desires of the past (as last year, saying no to things that aren't a perfecter-than-perfect fit) and more into the places and people and efforts that mean the most to me.  I think that's a pretty natural and obvious progression and I think it has a lot to do with my age, with the clarity that comes only from getting older.  Everyone says it and everyone is right.

I'll keep adding to the board (and all of the rest, of course) throughout the year so, once again, feel free to follow along and please please please let me know if you have something similar - on your blog or pinterest or wherever - because I would love to see it!

kitchen vignettes

Finding a new favorite blog is one of my main thrills in life.  No kidding.  And as my days and priorities have evolved over the past few years, so have my blog tastes.  Design, writing, weddings, food.  No matter how many times I go through my feed and try to streamline my subscriptions, there is a huge variety of stuff hanging out there, waiting to be read, and I love it all.  My current new fave is extra special because it's one I can share with my hilarious, cooking-and-baking-obsessed 3 year old. It's called Kitchen Vignettes.  It is a wonderful blog and so real and simple and accessible.  Most of the posts include a beautiful video - which is what my little one loves best, of course - like the one below, from last Thanksgiving.

I can't get enough.  I honestly wish Aube would make a feature-length film just exactly like this.  No talking, just cooking and music and beautiful, flattering light and freshly-harvested ingredients and bright leaves blowing in the cool breeze.  Perfect.

blogaversary

According to the emails my domain registrar has been sending me for the past two weeks, my blog is nearly a year old!

Hooray!

And it has been over a month since I last posted!  

Boo!

This time of year, I suspect, is busy for everyone.  Back to school, new routines, holidays approaching (I'm one of those dorks who gets my shopping done before Thanksgiving so that I have the entire month of December free for baking and carol-singing and good, twinkly-light times with family).  In my case, I also have the momentum of a new writing project behind me right now.  It's risky, riskier than anything I've ever written anyway, and scary and exhausting but I'm devoting myself to the effort anyway.  For me, the first 1/3 of a novel is the hardest to get through (probably because I'm not much for planning, it takes a while for me to figure out what exactly is happening) and after that it picks up speed.  I just hit that milestone yesterday so I'm finally at a point where I can resurface, just for a minute, and have a look around at life.  It's a nice feeling.

All this to say that, while posting might be a bit spare for the next month or two, I am really grateful for my past twelve months in this little corner of the internet.  And especially for all of the wonderful friends I've made here.  Rest assured that, while I may have shoved my own blogging habit to the back burner for a moment, I am still diligently reading every post and newsletter of yours!  And loving them!  And I have a list as long as my arm of things I want to share here so I can't wait to get a couple thousand more words of this story out of my head and then I'll be back to my old self.

In the meantime, if we aren't pals on Instagram already let's link up over there!

Thanks again for an awesome first year and hopefully many more to come!

What I read in July

I haven't done a "what I read" post in a while.  Mostly because I was starting to feel a bit squicky about writing reviews, however casually and neutrally I tried to do so.  In fact, I've started to feel a bit squicky about even reading them.  But I have been reading a lot and I do love to share that because I myself get so many book recommendations from other bloggers, it feels kind of like my way of contributing to the conversation.  So, without any judgement or opinions, in no particular order, here is what I read in July.

Shift by Hugh Howey, Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood, The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

Naturally I liked some more than others.  Some were newer and more relevant, some were recommended by friends.  Some I could get totally fangirl-gushy about and others not so much.  But I like the idea of just keeping it positive, if a bit cryptic, and being grateful that I even have the luxury of reading books at all.  Good or bad, they are all valuable.  Maybe that's enough.

crappy drafts and rocky roads

While I was on vacation this summer I got an idea.  Like, a Big Idea.  It was all I could think about while we were traveling and by the time we got home my Wunderlist app was full of lists and notes and details I wanted to remember to work in once I actually got started.

But it's summer and I have kids and I live in a small house (I'm writing this blog post from my kitchen while the girls eat their lunches) so it was hard to find the time and space to really work on anything that didn't involve crayons or watercolors or inflatable pools in the back yard.

We are so incredibly fancy.

But the other day I finally - FINALLY - found an hour to sit down and start.  It felt good but, ya'll, it isn't good.  Yet.  It is probably the roughest rough draft I've ever produced, no kidding.  It's a mess to the point of being overwhelming to even look at.  (I'm exaggerating, but only slightly.) 

Starting a project - wether writing a story or designing collateral for a brand launch or opening a new shop - can be so discouraging.  It's hard to feel capable, like you know what you are doing enough to justify the time you are about to invest.  So today I closed out my mess of a document and took 30 minutes (broken up into 5 minute chunks, between fetching drinks and coloring fairies and ironing psychadelic perler bead tiles) to watch this video.

Jen and Omar are the designers behind These Are Things and I've loved their work since that first fateful map showed up in my blog reader.  I can't honestly say that I learned "how to stop worrying and enjoy the ride," but their presentation is a funny, genuine look at the ups and downs that even the most successful creative businesses experience - the things that aren't always obvious from the outside.  That whole idea of a highlight reel not telling the entire story isn't a new one but it is always so reassuring, for me personally, to hear it from someone who has worked and succeeded and failed and worked again.  

The truth is that starting can be hard but carrying on can be hard as well, it doesn't really get easier for any of us.  Crappy drafts and rocky roads are all part of the creative adventure.  Everyone has them, even if they don't want to admit it the way Jen and Omar have.  Rough patches may feel like good reasons to change direction but getting past them is what gets you into the club, it's what unites us as artists and entrepreneurs.  It's all good stuff.  Good messy stuff.  

cape cod

We spent the 4th of July on Cape Cod and it was as beautiful and refreshing as you'd imagine.

I don't have too many photos to share because, while we managed to squeeze in a couple of beach visits, some strolls through the farmer's market, and a very tiny amount of sight-seeing, mostly we were there to visit with family.  And, despite Hurricane Arthur coming through and sogging up our July 4th plans (my daughter was really disappointed when they canceled the fireworks) it was a wonderful visit.

washington, dc

"I'm never going again.  It was so un-fun.  It was boiling, it was too crowded, I did not enjoy it at all."

Those aren't my words above.  Those are Gwyneth Paltrow's words from a couple of years ago, when asked about the Met Ball (the one where she wore the big pink dress that, as much as I love Gwyneth, gave me a serious case of the Opinions).  I'm very immature and follow much more gossip than I should so that quote was, naturally, the one that was echoing around my brain as I dragged ass through Washington, DC, the second stop on our road trip.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Washington has long been one of my favorite cities - and still is - but I had never been in the summer before this year.  And I had never been with my kids.  And those two key elements made a huge impact on my experience.  I wouldn't say I'm never going again or that I didn't enjoy it at all, I just probably won't go again in July or with a three year old.  It wasn't that the trip was bad, per se, it was just that it all unfolded at a much fiercer pace than we are accustomed to and by the end of our time there we were thoroughly exhausted.  But we had some really wonderful moments (like going to the White House and getting to pet Sunny Obama!) and those are the ones I hope to remember.

One especially cool thing we discovered: the Young Readers Center inside the Library of Congress!  It was the perfect place to hang out and cool off between tours and museums and monuments.  They had books, obviously, but also coloring sheets and comfy chairs and a puppet theater.  It's a little spot I highly recommend anyone with kids (or anyone who just loves reading, which you don't actually get to do on the public library tour) should check out.  The bonus for us was that we took a wrong turn at some point and got to wander, unguided and totally illegally, through some of the rare book rooms and back hallways of the LOC.  We didn't touch anything or make any trouble but it did give us a fun story to tell.

no place like home

I'm back!  Hoooray!

Our two-week, 4300+ mile road trip ended on Monday, when we rolled up to our wonderful little house and promptly passed out.  Vacation is so much fun but so much work, especially with kids.  And especially especially when it is July and boiling outside and there are crowds and traffic (and hurricanes! eek!) to contend with.

Still, I am not at all complaining.  It was a wonderful getaway and honestly the crowds and traffic and bad weather were such a teeny tiny part of our experience.  We were very lucky.  Most of the time it was sunshine and mountains and scenery that makes your brain just explode with inspiration.

I'm gathering all of my thoughts and organizing all of my pictures so that I can share them with hopefully some bit of insight here.  I always feel like I learn so much on vacations - about the places I visit and the people I meet and generally how I aspire to set up my life - that it takes a few days for it all to settle neatly into my mind.  But I hope to be back tomorrow with more about our travels and all of the new, fun things that are coming up!

p.s. I only got through one book during the trip.  Shift by Hugh Howey, the follow-up to Wool.  I all-caps LOVED it.  Can't recommend that series enough.  

summer vacation

We are getting ready to embark on our summer vacation so it will be quiet here on the ol blog for a little bit while I scrub my house clean (because coming back to a dirty house is unpleasant) and wash every stitch of laundry we own and figure out how to pack it all into the car.

But!  When I do get back I promise lots of details about our adventures (if you want you can follow along on Instagram) and some fun new features here, including a partnership with a brand that I am really excited about!

Until then I hope everyone enjoys the beginning of the summer - tomorrow is the official first day!

art

Even though I have very fond memories of being 8 years old and totally crushing it during YMCA summer camp craft time, I have to admit that these days when it comes to setting up fun artsy activities for my own kids I usually draw a big fat blank.  I have a deep appreciation for art and design, I just don't have a deep well of ideas to draw from and present to my little ones.

We've been doing a lot of perler beads, if you get what I'm saying.

Fortunately for me, there are about a billion and one good ideas on Pinterest and a billion and one super cool, hip, crafty blogs to keep me inspired.  Art Bar is my absolute favorite.  I can not recommend it enough if you are looking for simple, open-ended, kid-friendly art ideas.  I think I pin literally every craft she posts (even if I haven't gotten around to actually making many of them).

There are also lots of "grownup" artists that I have discovered through the wonderful world of blogging and Pinterest.  If you follow any of those yourself then Michelle Armas is probably a familiar name.  Her personality is amazing, she's the kind of girl everyone wants to be friends with and her art speaks for itself.  I've been following her for a few years and it has been fun to watch her style shift and evolve.  One of the most fun (for me) things about Michelle is that from time to time she will reach out to her online community via the blog or Instagram and ask for help naming new paintings.  Imma pat myself on the back here and say that I have a very good track record for naming Michelle Armas paintings.  Literally every time I've suggested something she has used it.  In fact, after the last one I told her I would step off and let someone else have a better chance.  My brain clearly has an unfair amount of Michelle-Armas-wavelength-y-ness up in it.

This is the first one I helped name: Marco Polo.  The original appears to have been sold and, as far as I know, she hasn't offered it as a print.  Kind of a bummer because I really dig it.

This one is Emperor Metadata (I suggested the Metadata half of that name).  

And, most recently, my personal favorite: The Other Olivia.  I love this one for a lot of reasons, not least of which is how much the name means to me personally - it was the title of the book I wrote last year.  But the fun thing about art is that it could mean something different to everyone who sees it.  

Michelle was sweet enough to send me a print of this one and I am going to get it framed and hung right above my desk, where I can see it all the time.  The Other Olivia is available, both the original and several print sizes, in her shop.  Go get ya one!

unplugging

Happy Friday!  I'm guest posting over on The Happy Family Movement blog today!

Josh and Jenny Solar, founders of The Happy Family Movement, asked for a guest post specifically about how we unplug during the summer and, since we are currently counting down the days to our big ol roadtrip, I knew exactly what to write about.

Click on over to read about why I'm wild for a road trip (and also am a teeny bit crazy).  I mention Mad Libs more than once so you know it's good.

summer

Last weekend we went to the beach for the first time this year.

And yesterday my daughter celebrated her last day of 2nd Grade.  So now it's officially summer.

Our to-do list is filling up fast with sleepovers and playdates and one massive road trip (more about that later, for sure!) and, as excited as I am about everything to come, I'm feeling a definite need to streamline my days and get more organized than I have been in past years.  I'm on the hunt for a really great daily planner (recommendations welcome!).  I've heard good things about Whitney English's Day Designer and my friend Emily Ley is also launching a redesigned Simplified Planner but I don't think I will be able to get my hands on either of those for a few months.  So, for now, I think I just need something basic that will get me through this crazy busy season.  I can't use my phone calendar.  For some reason that has never worked for me.  I want an actual paper space with little lines and numbers where I can dedicate time each day to checking email and blogs and news (I love the Circa app for that) and writing so that those things don't bleed over into our reading and play-doh and running-in-the-sprinkler-because-our-poor-grass-is-toast times.

I love the freedom and spontaneity of summer.  I just want to make sure that, you know, we have the spontaneity jotted down somewhere in a nice, neat, orderly way.

another year

A few weeks ago I wrote about how excited I was to sign my baby up for preschool.  Somewhere in between then and now, I let the nagging voice in the back of my mind speak up a little louder and I realized that I wasn't as excited as I originally thought.  Maybe it was doubts about the school I had chosen.  Maybe it was something to do with the 5,000 words I scrapped from my work in progress, the fact that my original plot wasn't happening.  Maybe it has something to do with her big sister finishing up second grade this week.  Maybe (probably, definitely) it was something to do with my grandmother passing away on Sunday.  There have been a lot of big moments around here, the kinds of moments that naturally result in sitting back and evaluating where one is going and how well this brief and precious life time is being spent.

Whatever the reason, or the contributing factors, I accepted the fact that I don't want to send her off to school.  Which is kind of strange because I do want that time to myself.  I was really looking forward to the freedom, a break from the routine I have been in for the past 8 years.  I'm not one of those gushy moms who just love love loves doing mommy things and is perfectly content to spend every day chasing her kid around.  I'm not.  But I do love my girls and I'm willing to spend every day chasing them around.  I'm willing to give my youngest the same amount of time at home that her sister had.  I'm willing to give her another year of all-day-every-day Barbie conversations and coloring with crayons and library storytimes and yoga in our own living room (that's not a paid link or anything, I just have found that my girls really love that particular kids' yoga dvd so I thought I would share).  

If I'm being honest, the decision to keep her home is twice as agonizing as the decision to enroll her was (and not just because of the nonrefundable registration fee…).  In a way it makes this year ahead of me much harder than the previous ones have been because I put "school" on the table and then took it off.  The burden will be on me now to provide more structured activities at home to make up for it - because mine is one of those kids who will totally remember and ask, "When am I going to preschool, mama?" so it will be better for everyone if I have some workbooks and little lesson plans in my back pocket.  Not exactly what I would call "home schooling," just slow schooling.  A My Little Pony lunchbox isn't a bad idea, either, even if she only ever takes it out on our patio for lunch.

Having her home will slow everything down.  But not necessarily in a bad way.  It will all be a little more spontaneous and creative.  It will mean less regular progress on my writing and blogging ideas.  But I've done it before, I've written books in the wee hours of the morning and the late hours of the night, in the pickup line at school and on my lap on the couch while Sesame Street was on.  The words count a little more when the time to write them is so tightly rationed.  It may not be my ideal setup but I know I can manage it.

In the end for me it's just another year.  And it's not like I didn't sign on for exactly this.  I chose to stay at home, after all.  If there is one thing I have learned in my (admittedly very few) years of parenting it's that there is never any one right answer, there are a million different and equally meaningful paths to choose.  Sometimes you have to start down one and then backstep to get to where you really need to be. 

the bridge

The other day I posted this picture to Instagram and Facebook, with the caption, "Some days I get here and I'm like, 'I eat bridges like you for breakfast.' And other days I get here and I'm like, 'Yeah…no.' I can get over this side but coming back is twice as steep. It's brutal. I'm sure there's a life analogy there somewhere."

It's a higher, harder ride than it looks from this little iphone shot.  Not impossible, just hard with a 40-pound trailer + 35-pound kid to haul.

Well it didn't take long for the analogy I was searching for to pop up.  Someone on Facebook commented that perhaps I should add a motor to my bike.  It was a serious suggestion.  Not that I should use it the whole time, just turn it on when I came to a bridge or some other obstacle.  I commented back, gently, that adding a motor to my bike would defeat the whole point of riding it.  

Because getting over the bridge as easily and quickly as possible isn't the point.  Actually, getting over the bridge at all isn't the point.  The point is getting over under my own power, building my strength however slowly, starting up and turning back as many times as I need to before that one magical day when my legs are strong and my lungs are full and I find myself on the other side before I've even thought about it.

It's the same way with creativity.  The point isn't to publish the first book you write or to sell out at your first solo art show or to get the first wedding you ever photograph published by Martha Stewart.  Whatever you make, whatever you aspire to put out into the world, the point isn't to get it in everyone's face as easily and quickly as possible.  The point is to work at it, to earn your spot on the shelf (or the wall or the kindle, choose your own adventure here).  So that when you do get to whatever is on the other side of your personal bridge you can be proud of the effort that carried you there, you can truly call it your own.  The process matters, even on the failing days.  That's what makes us better.  We should try to appreciate it, to be grateful for it, and never ever ever give in to the temptation to take the easy way out.  

The work is a gift we can give ourselves every day.  

Although, full disclosure, shortly after I took this picture I started searching craigslist for a lighter trailer because, hey, we don't have to make it harder on ourselves either.  ; )

what I read in April

Is it just me or was April really weird this year?  I don't have a more specific way to describe what I'm feeling but something was kind of off all month.  Maybe it's a chicken or the egg thing with my reading then.  Was my reading list weird because it was a weird month for me?  Or was it a weird month because my reading was so hit-and-miss?  Hard to tell.

I was trying to expand my Young Adult horizons and was not entirely successful.  There were several books that I actually read all the way through but chose not to list here because I wouldn't even know what to say about them.  They weren't necessarily bad and if I were an actual teenager I probably would have loved them.  But I'm 32 and they made me feel 32 and I think it's best to just put those aside and not dig too deeply into it.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi.  The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey.   A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.  Percy Jackson something something something something by Rick Riordan.  Overall, a weird but not unsuccessful month.  You'd think by my age I'd have a firmly defined set of parameters for what I do and do not like to read but it seems I'm still pushing at the edges, trying to figure it out.  It is equal parts fun and frustrating.