Five on Friday (times 2)

Here I am behind in posting again, not even managing weekly posts.  In my defense, I was traveling for work last week, and I came home with a cold that I have been nursing this week.  Notwithstanding illness and an unexpected overnight at the airport Motel 6 in Atlanta on the way home, it was a great trip and a good conference, and (as always) I really enjoyed connecting in person with my fabulous colleagues.  However, I have been somewhat short on time and/or inspiration for much self-created content, and so I once again am sharing with you some of what has inspired me, made me laugh, or otherwise occupied my time these past few weeks.  Since I have had two weeks to collect links to share, you’re getting a double dose today.

Here is one of my science colleagues’ synopsis of our week in New Orleans.  Chris takes the most gorgeous pictures, and he backs them up with good science and information.

I took a few of my own pictures as well.  These are from our field trip day, when we visited several preserves where longleaf pine restoration is taking place.

Relict Longleaf Pine

Relict Longleaf Pine

Pigtail Grass (Sorry, I can't remember the official name)

Pigtail Grass (Sorry, I can’t remember the official name)

Doubtful anyone will think I have become an amazing wildlife photographer -- but I was pretty pleased with this one, especially since I did not have a telephoto lens on!

Doubtful anyone will think I have become an amazing wildlife photographer — but I was pretty pleased with this one, especially since I did not have a telephoto lens on!  Progress, not perfection.  Plus it segues into our next topic.

(Last weekend I took a great photography class — and I am working on more/better shooting in manual.)

I did a presentation on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act at the conference, which had me delving into the history of the Act.  The Act dates from the early 1900’s, when many birds had been driven to extinction (or the brink of it) from over-hunting, some of which occurred in the name of fashion.  That’s a long explanation for why I am including this link to an absolutely horrific budgie hat in the Metropolitan Museum‘s collection.  This hat represents not just an ecological problem, but a sartorial one as well.  Can you imagine seeing anyone wearing anything like that?  I think even Lady Gaga would pass.

I found that monstrosity when reading an article on antique jewelry. Even if you don’t think you are interested in the topic, the interview/article may be worth a look — fascinating stuff.  From Victorian obsessions that led to taxidermy hummingbird earrings to eye miniatures (featured in an exhibit called the Look of Love that I was fortunate to see at Winterthur over Thanksgiving weekend, next appearing at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in May), this exploration of the  intersection of personal adornment with history captivated me.

Sticking with the theme of history and fashion, here is what designers in 1939 thought fashion would be like in the year 2000.  They had the portable phone part right, if not the actual fashion component.

Moving on from fashion to shopping, this study indicated that retail therapy actually works.  Duh.

Further support for mid-day dance parties:  Why sitting for extended periods is bad for you, and what you can do to alleviate the hazards (other than dancing, that is).

We are not Superbowl (or football at any time) watchers in this house.  But for those of you planning a Superbowl gathering, or any gathering really, this is my go-to appetizer that I make pretty regularly.  Around here, we just call it “cheesy bread.”  The recipe is amazing with the Fiscalini San Joaquin Gold cheese called for, but it also works with a wide variety of other cheeses.  I routinely use Fontina, and I recently used a combination of swiss and cheddar that was also quite good.  And I always use light mayonnaise.

On the reading front, I really loved being able to read the most recent Vanity Fair while traveling on the iPad I received for Christmas.  So much better than lugging actual magazines around!  Plus, hello, an article on a French Dominatrix (tying back to my Rihanna song from two weeks ago?).  Reading supplies the best peek inside the gates of realms I will never enter in real life.

During my recent book purging efforts (after all, we do live in a rental and at some point we will be moving again), I made a stack of books that I want to read — some I purchased and never read, and a few that belong to W or one of the kids.  Somehow, one I found in my daughter’s room rose to the top of the pile, Things Fall Apart.  What a fascinating, fabulous read, perhaps because it is outside of my usual range of reading these days.  The themes of societal structure, religion, cultural clashes, colonialism and ethnocentrism have my thoughts churning, in the best possible way.  I highly recommend it, if you do not happen to have read this already.  Now I need to look into the Yeats poem from which the title was taken (The Second Coming).

And last, but absolutely not least, for those of you who have stuck with me this far, I offer this beautiful video entitled “Damsels in Distress,” which was posted to the Orvis site.  Whether you fly fish or not, this video is nothing short of awe-inspiring.  I recommend watching it in HD if possible (just click the HD at the bottom of the video).

Wishing you all a wonderful week ahead.  I will probably be quite light on posting, with the next two weeks being filled with travel for work and for fun.  What is inspiring you of late?

Diane

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Five on Friday

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To give myself a bit of blogging structure, and to more publicly practice gratitude and take the time to enjoy (and share) life’s joys, large and small, I am going to start posting about five things each Friday.  What kinds of things?  Well, things I have been grateful for, things that have been meaningful or helpful to me (or just made me laugh), just . . . things that have made the past week lovely in some way.  So, here goes:

1.  This article on the daily habits of famous writers.

2.  I was a bit shocked when I realized that one of my favorite Rihanna dance tunes (from a mix on Pandora) was called S&M.  The subject matter may be unmistakable in the linked video, but I don’t always pay close attention to the words when just listening . . .  Oh, well, sometimes even we good girls need to embrace our inner bad girl, even if it’s only for a few minutes of mid-day dancing. Warning: totally NSFW (not suitable for workplace viewing)

3.  Speaking of my recently implemented mid-day dance parties, it is fortunate that I am home alone when I do this, since I am somewhat afraid I look like this dog while dancing.  Only not as cute.  And I do wear clothes.

4.  I seriously am so excited that it is blood orange season.  I can’t wait to make this fennel salad with blood oranges and arugula for dinner tonight.

5.  Sticking with the cooking theme, I am also excited about making these salt and vinegar kale chips tonight, and I have the kale washed and drying on the counter as I write.  I have seen a lot of recipes for kale chips, but I love the one from elana’s pantry for keeping the oil minimized and upping the tang factor with the apple cider vinegar.

And, as a bonus, a shout out to my new favorite app, Evernote.  I kept seeing it on lists of “best apps” and downloaded it not knowing how I would use it.  I have yet to come close to fully tapping its potential, but the more I learn and use it, the more excited I get about its organizational potential.

So, what has brought joy, inspiration, a laugh, a happy tummy, or organization to your week?  Wishing you all a lovely start to your weekend!

Diane

P.S.  Look at me!  I learned how to imbed links!  But I haven’t figured out how to keep the font of the link from being pink and huge.  I will get that figured out by next week.

Hang on, little blog! I’m just out in the “observable world.”

Bluebird January Day

Bluebird January Day

The phrase quoted in this title comes from Garrison Keillor, who recommends that everyone get out in the “observable world” to stimulate their creativity.  Although I just read the phrase today, that’s very much what I have been doing since last I posted.  I haven’t forgotten about the blog, I have instead been DOING things to fuel my creativity and, ultimately, my content.  Combined with my actual, very full-time job, this has left me little time for writing.  So what have I been doing?

  • Walking more, having more mid-day one person dance parties to get myself up from my desk and moving, and adding strength and core training back into my routine.  Not because I “have to” work out for some mythological size I might fit back into some day, but because it feels good, energizes me, and will help me be strong enough and fit enough to do the things I love to do.
  • Buying a DSLR camera, and becoming deeply immersed in learning how to use it and practicing.  I have a lot more learning and practicing to do, but since I signed up for some online and in-person classes, as well as buying (and studying) the Dummies book that goes with my new camera, I am on this.
  • Visiting Evergreen, a local grand-house-turned-museum that I have been meaning to go to forever, since its grounds make up part of one of my regular walking routes.  As the only person there for the on-the-hour tour, I had a lovely experience.  And, best of all, I think I am their new volunteer gardener!  They have groundskeepers and such, but the gardens could use some love (and a lot of weeding), so I let them know I would be happy to take that on.  They were delighted, as am I.
  • Planning and organizing around all the travel I have coming up — lots of it in the next month, with some for work and some for fun (although work trips are generally fun, too).  NOLA, Reno, Cambridge (MA) and Helena are all on the agenda in the next month.
  • Plunging into a major, major book sort (with an entire box ready to go to the used book store), an attic cleanup, and a huge magazine catchup/sort/organize/dump.  Not to mention getting all the Christmas decor down and put tidily away, followed by cleaning and de-needling the house.   Eliminating the clutter and simplifying, both literally and figuratively, figure prominently in my goals moving forward.

Where am I not doing as well?  Well, obviously, writing on this little blog of mine.  Oh, I have actually written a few posts that I haven’t posted — but I haven’t had the time to craft them or, honestly, make them as interesting as I would like.  Still figuring out how to write more creatively and not like a lawyer.  And I could be getting a bit (or a lot) more creative with the healthy food prep and cooking.  Nonetheless, I am pleased with the progress.  Some big steps, some baby steps, but almost all of them are propelling me in a forward direction!

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Chachacha

“The dance does not start on the first beat of a bar.” (Wikipedia, on doing the cha-cha-cha)

Down the Garden Path:  my youngest daughter in my then-new St. Paul garden, many long years ago

Down the Garden Path: my youngest daughter in my then-new St. Paul garden, many long years ago

As I was lying in bed this morning thinking about what I should write today for this little blog of mine, the concept of two steps forward, one step back came to mind, perhaps because a FB friend posted something yesterday about one step forward, three steps back.  But really, that does not describe how I am feeling right now.  At the moment, there may not be quite as much forward momentum as I would like, but I am moving, and it feels good.  Sort of like dancing, forward, backward, cha-cha-cha.  And thus, the theme of this post was born.  I then decided I had best do a search and make sure my concept of the dance was correct before using it as a metaphor, and I found the line above on Wiki, unrelated to the forward/backward/sideways movement of the dance.  It struck a chord (pun maybe intended), reminding me that a dance can begin off the main beat, perhaps not cover a whole lot of new ground, and yet progress beautifully and joyfully.  So here I am, dancing the chacha.

As I have mentioned, the goals that resulted in me creating this blog have more to do with following through on my ideas and creative impulses rather than with starting to do a whole bunch of new things.  Taking cooking and photography to a new level, learning how to garden in a vastly different climate, and going back to other things that I love doing but haven’t been doing as much of late.  Such as reading.  I have to be honest here — although I have always been a voracious reader, I have not been reading a great deal in the past few years.  In Helena, we were always so busy with friends, outdoor pursuits, and remodeling our house (while getting our children through the last few, very busy, years of high school) that my reading time diminished considerably.  Right along with my eyesight, which had always been better than 20/20 until I hit 45.  Honestly, the changes in my eyesight hit me harder than I care to admit, and the inconvenience of needing to find glasses in order to sit down with a book became more of a barrier than made any kind of sense.  Over the years, I grew my collection of readers and salted them everywhere — a pair in each room (three in my office), one  in the car, another in my purse.  That helped, although I still get uselessly indignant about needing to use them.

After moving to Baltimore, there is no question that I have considerably more time to read.  We live in a rental house, so there are no home repairs/maintenance to occupy me, no new gardens to undertake (or old ones to maintain), and no friends to fill my time and keep me cooking for crowds.  And I have read more, but not really as much as I would like.  Thus, one of my goals is to read more (and hopefully find some friends here to discuss books with!).  I got a new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, from my mother for Christmas (thanks, Mom!).  And I started reading it, but then felt guilty about a few unfinished books sitting by the bed collecting a bit of dust.  So I put it down, and picked up a lovely tome I had started some time ago called Down the Garden Path, by Beverley Nichols.  Written in the 1930’s, it is a fabulous (and very funny) story of the joys and challenges he experienced (and the fabulous characters he interacted with) bringing a garden to life.  I am not sure why I never finished it, since I most definitely was enjoying it.  Anyway, yesterday I picked that up and read chapters in between rounds of apathetic Christmas decoration removal.

As an aside, am I the only one who has terribly mixed feelings about putting Christmas away?  On the one hand, it’s nice to get rid of some of the clutter and busy-ness, but on the other hand, once everything’s down it’s just winter but not Christmas (which, as we all know from The Chronicles of Narnia, is a terrible state in which to live).  So I left a few strands of starry starry string lights on the mantle (and of course a wide assortment of sparky Christmas bows on the floor for Cecil’s continued enjoyment).  Which helps, even though things still look a bit stark to me.  But I digress.  Which really, I do a lot of, in both thinking and speaking (and now, I guess, writing).  My older brother commented at a family gathering last fall that he had sort of forgotten how quickly all of us can take a conversation from point A to point F, Z, and then L, never really finishing with point A.  That’s not how he put it (I think the phrase used might have referenced how we have a tendency to go into the weeds), but you get the point.

So, back to Down the Garden Path, I was immensely amused by the section that recommended a cocktail or two before heading to the nursery to select plants, since it would free up the spirit of creativity and dampen the potentially negative effects of applying logic and restraint to plant selection.  Since driving is involved in going to the nursery,  I don’t actually advise this, but I got his point.  And I certainly used to love wandering around my gardens with a glass of wine in hand, deciding where changes/additions were needed and planning the next phase (because there was always a next phase).  I also enjoy sitting by the fire with a glass of in hand wine on a deep, dark winter’s night studying newly arrived garden catalogs while dreaming of warmer weather to come.  So his reference to the association between cocktails and gardening made me laugh, and got me thinking back fondly to gardens past and ahead to gardens future.  After that delightful passage, however, the book devolved into a fairly misogynistic rant about women gardeners that I didn’t appreciate quite as much.  Thankfully, I am past that part now and I look forward to finishing the book today.

So, I have already been reading more (and loving it).  What in the world does any of this have to do with the cha cha?   I’m tackling at least one of my goals, reading more.  But I don’t just want to read about gardening more, I would like to somehow do more gardening, despite living in a rental house.  Having no real garden has been something of a gaping hole in my being this past year.  So last week I followed up on a long-term unrealized goal of taking master gardener classes.  And I found out yesterday that the class that starts at the end of the month (the only one offered in Baltimore City in 2014) closed registration in October, which means I must either wait a year or go outside my area to take a class.  On to Plan B, which I have yet to figure out.  Maybe doing some volunteer work at a local garden or the lovely Cylburn Arboretum.  Or finding other classes I could take to figure out how to garden in the tropical (well, from the perspective of a long-term Zone 4 gardener) climate I now live in.  Sadly, it seems that Baltimore does not have the extraordinary community education opportunities that I took for granted when I lived in St. Paul, so it is taking a bit of effort to track down the options that may (or may not) be out there.  But I am trying.  Cha-cha-cha.

I have also been doing massive amounts of research into DSLRs, and I am close to taking the plunge.  However, all the advice on buying your first DSLR camera strongly recommends going out and looking at the cameras, holding them in your hand, making sure the weight/heft/configuration will work for you.  Which makes good sense, and I was going to go out and do that today.  But I look out the window and see rain falling and seemingly immediately freezing into an ice sheet on the street.  And while I am not really afraid of driving under such conditions, I am afraid of all the locals who might be out there driving.  I mean, being real, the drivers here are the WORST and RUDEST drivers I have ever encountered anywhere.  Seriously.  Worse than New York, Boston, DC, Virginia.  And way, way worse than Minnesota or Montana drivers.  But maybe that’s a rant for another day.  My point is, add a layer of ice on the roads to the usual unsettling experience of driving in Baltimore, and staying home today sounds like a better plan.  So I think my DSLR outing (plus a trip to Target for laundry detergent) will have to wait.  Instead, I will bake bread.

I did start sorting through and editing years of pictures yesterday, printing a few favorites of friends and favorite places to put in frames.  I actually (embarrassingly) have an entire gallery wall hung in a hallway, where only two of six frames have our pictures in them.  The others are beautifully, artfully hung (OK, relatively pleasingly hung) with the pictures that came with them.  Oops.  Every time I sit down to print the pictures that will go in them, I become paralyzed by my enormous collection of pictures and am unable to choose.  But here’s the thing — and I keep having to re-teach myself this — I just need to start.  Print something.  Put them in the frames.  Wouldn’t that be better than staring at pictures of people I don’t know in places I have never been to?  After all, I can always change them later if I decide I would prefer something else.  It’s not rocket science.  And thus, I have started printing pictures and placing them in frames.  Cha-cha-cha.

Speaking of the cha cha reminds me of steps, and I am beyond delighted that my replacement fitbit charger finally came.  I lost my charger in November (and I am still not sure how, since it never left my office, unless it left by accidentally falling into the recycling bin) and soon thereafter ordered a new one, borrowing Mom’s when she was here for Thanksgiving to keep me going.  Sadly, no charger came, and the fitbit died completely on December 13.  I have no idea how many steps I have taken since then, but it’s undoubtedly fewer than I would have had if my fitbit had been keeping me on my toes.  I could choose to be unhappy and blame it on  fitbit for not sending me the charger in anything resembling a timely fashion, but really, it’s all on me.  Now I am just really looking forward to getting back on track — whether the steps are forward, backward, or side to side.

So, there’s my progress report.  It could be better, but it could also be a whole lot worse, and on the whole I am grateful and feeling energized.  After all, I love dancing!  How about you?  Forwards, backwards, side-to-side?

Diane

Snow Day

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While I adore all the snow we got last night (I think it was about five inches), I don’t think my cherub likes snow here in Maryland any more than he did in Montana.  He almost looks like he’s shivering, poor thing!  Snow in winter makes me feel at home, gives me a chance to wear my favorite vintage faux fur coat, and ensures that I step away from my desk and get at least a little fresh air while shoveling and cleaning off the car.  And I think it’s vastly preferable to the continuous drizzle at 35 degrees F that we had last winter.  I think most of the people around here agree with my cherub, though.  How about you?

Wishing you all warmth and a lovely start to your weekend!

Diane

An Ode to Christmas Decor

Since I started blogging after the new year, I totally missed the boat on posting Christmas decor pictures.  However, on the theory of better late than never, and to work on my “adding pictures to the blog post” skills, here are a few from this year anyway.  For those of you who are thoroughly sick of Christmas decor and have already put yours away, sorry!  Next year hopefully I will be more timely.  But with our fresh coating of several inches of new snow, it’s feeling pretty festive around here today.  Well, to me anyway, although my fellow mid-Atlantic dwellers probably don’t agree.  Since I have the advantage of working from home and don’t need to go out on the roads today, I do have it pretty easy (although that also means I don’t get to take the snow days my colleagues do).

But back to Christmas decorations.  First and foremost, we have Cecil, who obviously adorns our house year round, but who absolutely adores the holidays.  How could he not, with a real tree to sit under, shiny things to abscond with and bat around in the middle of the night, and bows, bows, bows (his favorite cat toy)?

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Last Christmas was our first in this (rental) house after a cross-country move from Montana to Maryland, and we had been here less than a month before Christmas decorating time came around.  Overwhelming much?  So I pinned lots of pictures of decorated chandeliers, but never got around to actually decorating ours.  This year I had some fun with them, and I decorated both the dining room and kitchen chandeliers.  I like the crystals I added to the kitchen chandelier so much that they may stay up even after the holidays!

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Under the picture of narcissus in the dining room seemed the perfect place to put paperwhites.  My committed domestic partner (or CDP, for short) absolutely abhors the strong perfumey smell of paperwhites.  The first year we lived together, I grew some paperwhites and the complaints were endless, so I haven’t grown them since then.  This year I wanted them anyway, and (thus far) he hasn’t complained.  Progress?  Probably not, more likely forbearance on his part!

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And a few more odds and ends:  the top of the bookcase in the sun room (with my favorite new Christmas lights — the starry starry lights from amazon.com), and the wreath I put together after our inspiring trip to Williamsburg in early December.  I dried the orange slices myself, but the quince slices came from Williamsburg.  I want to practice my drying techniques and do more of this next year.

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So, now I know how to post pictures.  One of the biggest things on my 2014 to-do list is to improve my photography and photo-editing skills.  I am researching DSLRs and looking for classes to take, and I am very excited to finally be pursuing this dream that I have been talking about for years.  But, lest you worry that my post-Christmas Christmas decor post means I will always be behind the 8-ball, my content will hopefully become more timely.  And I promise, it will be diverse. So many ideas percolating, but first there is the learning curve to start heading up! What’s on your learning agenda?

Happy Friday to you all.

New Year’s Resolutions

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I am not normally one for making resolutions at the beginning of a new year.  Instead, when I get the feeling that I need to change something to enrich my life, I start then and there, rather than on the calendar’s artificial timeline.  And honestly, none of the changes and enhancements I have been working to implement had starting a blog as a component.  And yet here I am, doing just that.  My goals these past several months have centered around creativity and finding new forms of expression as I find myself living in and adjusting to a new location across the country from family, friends, and familiar pursuits, and I have made progress in implementing these goals.  It struck me when a friend mentioned she is starting a blog that doing the same myself might be just what I need to push myself to do more, learn more, create more, and share more.  In the coming months, I hope to cook new and different things, take more photographs (and learn how to edit them well), learn more about gardening in Zone 7 (as opposed to my Zone 4 comfort zone), tackle some projects that have sat for too long undone or incomplete, and draw inspiration from others of you doing the same.

I hope to make this blog a place where creativity and beauty reign, while still keeping things real.  I’ve started planning some posts and projects, and I am excited to see where this journey takes me, even if only my mother and children wind up reading this blog.

Wishing all who may see this a great start to 2014!

Diane