Third of the Year Update

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tomorrow is May. Another month gone. With that I'm reminded of my goals for 2013. Goals I made waaay back at the beginning of the year, when, perhaps, I was feeling overly ambitious. To recap: I challenged myself to read 24 books this year. So far I've made it through eight (plus a few kid books, which I don't really count). Best books of the year thus far? Girlchild and The Fault in Our Stars. Holy. In addition, I made a goal to exercise at least 3 times a week. I've made a very noble effort and managed to do this more than half the time. Including one foray into a hotel fitness room when I was on vacation. Yeah, it's not that impressive, but you know. And finally, I made a challenge to write 52 thank you cards this year. You remember real mail, with real postage stamps? For me, it's been a fun way to combine several of my passions: people, writing, pretty paper, and (hopefully) developing an increased measure of gratitude in my day-to-day life. In addition, I challenged myself to learn something new. Which I did and I hope to write about soon. As to our post-it board? Well, we've got 10 sticky notes left. (Fortunately we'll knock out three in May.) So here I go, sailing into the next third of the year.  

Image by me c/o Victoria, Canada. 

Weekend in Pictures

Monday, April 29, 2013

Last week was not the week I'd hoped for. Plans gone awry, an unexpected car accident and a few health challenges. Oy. However I did manage to eke out some adventures in the midst of all that.

Arranged hyacinths to brighten up my living room. | Finally finished our wedding album, just in time for our one year anniversary. | Picked up a vintage basket for my small record collection. | Attended a child's superhero birthday party and walked on a rope bridge. | Bought some new place mats and bold napkins (loving metallic and mustard lately), courtesy of Crate and Barrel. | Scouted out pie in Kimmswick, MO. | Was completely intoxicated by this gorgeous tree found in the staff only section of the Missouri Botanic Garden. 

Music Monday: Nikki Hill

One of the great things about moving to a new city is discovering the local newspaper. Those weekly publications that masquerade as tabloids, but put out weekend festival recommendations, cheap eats, and political gossip. In D.C. I, along with every other commuter, read the Express. In Salt Lake City it was City Weekly. Now, every Thursday, I pick up the Riverfront Times. If you flip to the back section, right before the seedy advertisements, you'll find the music section. It isn't so much of a music section as it is an advertisement for what's playing at local venues. For years I skipped over this section. A shame, to be certain, but now I read with a renewed interest. Who's playing this week? What local performer is on fast-track to national acclaim?  Can I cram in a live show this week? Had I been paying more attention I would have noticed Nikki Hill breezed through my neighborhood a couple weeks ago.

Nikki Hill, a North Carolinian who recently relocated to St. Louis, is a brash blues powerhouse. She writes her own songs and puts on a fierce show. Her husband plays backup guitar in the band. I imagine seeing her live is like experiencing a sudden summer storm — the unexpected force of Mother Nature, reminding you who's boss. Fortunately, Ms. Hill has a new album coming out in just a couple week. Meanwhile, you can listen to Saved as a tempting preview.

More music found here

Friday Favorites: Treat Yo Self

Friday, April 26, 2013

One of the pieces of wisdom I appreciated from The Happiness Project was the admonition to invest in a modest splurge. In other words, Treat Yo Self. Done and done. Research shows blah blah blah little things make a bigger impact in increasing overall happiness than investing in big things. [Source?] If that's true, then you can hardly argue using a modest amount of resources to invest in yourself. Right? Generally speaking, my modest splurges tend to fall into one category: food. Lately though I have tried to be more deliberate about my modest investments. To avoid cluttering my house up with stuff, I prefer to invest in experiences, rather than things. Here are a few of my favorite ways to treat myself: pedicures, massages (make that an Aveda massage please), pretty paper products, luxurious baths, and tickets to live music or plays. And that's it. Simple easy ways to boost happiness. How do you treat yourself?

Record Store Day 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How can I say this without sounding all braggy (that's a word, right?). The truth is, I have awesome friends. Friends that alert me to holidays that I didn't even know existed. Friends that, though they may live miles away from me, are actually some of the closest people in my life. Friends I've laughed with, cried with, traveled with, and lived with. One of my goals for 2013 was to reconnect with the friends I already have, which has been kinda nice. Truth is, my friends are a bright bunch. They have all kinds of impressive skills and varied interests; plus they often introduce me to new places, tastes, and experiences! Which is where Record Store Day comes in.

What is Record Store Day?* It's a combination of live music, album releases, hipster fans, and of course, vinyl. This was the 6th annual celebration that happens the third Saturday of each April. It was my first year participating. Saturday afternoon, sun warming my face, I stood outside Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis to listen to one Mr. Josh Ritter. Wow. That man is sure nice to look at. Oh, and his music is pretty great too. And that smile, Whoa, Nelly! Did I mention he sings with his eyes closed? Brilliant. Since then, I have pretty much listened to his breakup album non-stopped. My favorite tracks are Joy to you Baby and In Your Arms Again. Sadly I still haven't purchased a turntable (for shame), which means I left with three CDs. Hopefully they won't revoke my RSD street cred for that.

* Read Katie's informative Record Store Day explanation here
All images by me.

Saturday Night Poetry Slam

Monday, April 22, 2013

In college I would occasionally venture out to weekend poetry slams. Italian soda in hand I'd lounge and listen to brave peers share original compositions. It felt so raw and bohemian. I was nineteen and had just enrolled in my first poetry class with Ken Brewer.

This past Saturday, in celebration of National Poetry Month AND National Library Week, I organized a poetry event to commemorate the occasion. The crowd was small, but I appreciated the intimacy of the gathering. We began by looking at images from Renoir and Monet; examining the color and shape of their paintings. The object of this activity was to understand what impression the artist was trying to convey. The speaker continued, the color and shape of an impressionist painting were like the sensory detail and metaphor found in a good poem.

Poems are interesting pieces of writing. They do not need a meaning or story. Nor do they need to move through space and time. Poems are often ambiguous (consisting of two or more meanings) or just plain vague. Good poems should have tension and resonance. And finally, poems must always be read twice. I suppose the abstract nature of poetry is similar to the abstract influence in modern art. Which might explain why both forms suit me.

We then looked at Ezra Pound's poem.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd; 
Petals on a wet, black bough. 

What, from these words, can we gather about Pound's impression of urban life in Paris? Can you feel the tension within the poem? Do you want to read it again? What words carry the greatest weight? In this poem metaphor creates a richness, paired with the economy of language characteristic to the format.

We were then instructed to create something similar to Pound's piece. This was my attempt.

The parents of fragile newborns;
Oiled kernels, flesh fresh white.  

Of course we didn't have the advantage of multiple revisions (Pound was a compulsive revisionist), however the short activity was a great mental stretch. And as anyone that has written poetry knows, it's hard work. Ultimately, a poem looks smooth only in its finished state.

Music Monday: Houses

 Houses — The Beauty Surrounds
 I especially like the 10 second interval around 2:22. Canvas flapping in the wind; a not-quite silence.
Upcoming shows include stops in both Washington, DC and Salt Lake City. Which means, get on that, friends.

Remembering my Father: Part II

Friday, April 19, 2013

In the mid 70s, shortly after his baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, my father moved, with his mother and two sisters, from Southern California to Salt Lake City, Utah. His thick dark hair and impressive bell-bottoms were fashionable for the decade. Disco was in and my father was hip. He drove an orange ‘69 Plymouth Road Runner and shared the bench seat with his beloved Irish Setter, Ladie.

On the evening of May 4, 1974 my father headed to Cottonwood Mall for a local church dance. He had just finished his freshman year at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. Summer was fast approaching and the air hummed with the energy of adulthood. My mother, who had grown up just a couple miles from the now demolished mall, was just finishing her first year at Dixie State College. She too was attending the Saturday night dance. Throngs of young adults packed the mall hallway, while the chaperon served up tepid punch. But that evening was different. When he met her, he knew right away.

Impulsive and easily persuaded, my father soon moved from Idaho to Southern Utah to be closer to my mom. After a few months, Joseph and Wendy borrowed his roommate's VW, checked out $75 from the bank and took off to Las Vegas. In stocking feet—shoes mistakenly forgotten for the occasion— my mother married my father at the Little Chapel Around the Corner on April 14, 1975. A year later they were sealed in the Salt Lake City temple. Together they started life as a married couple in St. George, Utah, where they both attended Dixie State College. They lived with Ladie in a trailer home and planted a small vegetable garden. A couple years later, they picked up their belongings and moved to Logan, Utah to continue their education at Utah State University. My father studied management, while my mother worked on a degree in family and human development.

During college and after graduation my father made a living in sales. Whether he was peddling office copiers, motivational tapes, or brick-sized cell phones, his natural people skills and ambition were an asset to his work. At his heart, though, my father was a sportsman. He hunted elk, deer, and pheasants; fished mountain streams and lakes. He played in racquetball tournaments and entered dutch oven competitions, winning handily at both. His outdoor enthusiasm translated into camping and hiking adventures. He liked to travel and often praised the breathtaking beauty of nature. He liked Star Trek and reading. But my father’s greatest love, his crowning happiness, was the woman he married; his companion and confidant.

My father was a romantic. He bought my mother flowers and laid new dresses out for her on the bed. He took her out on regular dates and brought her unexpected surprises. My parents worked together and were dedicated to a common cause. My father had the disposition of an eldest child, which he was, and the discipline of a perfectionist. My father liked things neat and tidy. He was a disciplinarian and an enforcer. I met my father the summer of 1979; he was 24-years-old. I was his first child.

I remember my father in snippets now; stories from a fragmented past, things people tell me. From pictures and people that still speak his name. I remember his deep belly laugh and see his manners manifest in conversations with my brother. I remember feeling both in awe of and scared of him. I remember wanting his approval and his instance that any job worth doing was worth doing right. We clashed, he and I. Mainly because we were a lot alike. But I also remember tender moments. How he made my special birthday dinner (taquitos, beans, and rice), even if it was an all day production. 

On a bleak January afternoon in 1993, my mother gathered her five children together, huddled at the foot of the pink wing-back chair in the living room, to deliver the news. My father had pancreatic cancer. He had 3 to 12 months to live. Our world stopped. We tried to understand the magnitude of her words. What is cancer? Is he going to die? The coming weeks brought out-of-town family, doctor's visits and healing herbs; powerful blessings and a last-minute family trip. Every minute was measured. We rallied together and figured our faith could reverse a terminal illness. Cancer was not in the cards. Disbelief shattered our existence. Then, on an early spring morning, just as the earth was returning to life, with his mother and my mother, his wife, at his side, my father passed away.

Has it really been 20 years already? Pieces filter in as vivid as if they happened yesterday, while other parts fade away, lost to the recesses of time. Do you remember that first Christmas after you left us? We decorated the outside douglas fir with ornaments that reminded us of you; launching dozens of helium-filled balloons into the inky night sky. I think of you still, my father, and wonder, what would our adult relationship look like today? What advice could I ask of you? What would we say to one another if you dropped in for dinner tonight? Honor thy father and mother. Have I?

I believe this parting is only temporary. I believe you are, and have been, involved in my life (our lives) over the years. I imagine you’re busy, doing whatever it is you're doing, but that doesn’t stop you from checking in now and again. From keeping an eye on the ones you miss too. Twenty years hardly seems possible. A lot has changed, as you might imagine.  What hasn't changed is I'm still your daughter and you're still my father. It's springtime again and I remember my father.

*For Christmas of 1976 my mother gifted my father a hardbound journal; the inscription encouraged him to write his thoughts and keep a record for his posterity. Though barely half full, the pages span several years, giving insight to his decisions and personal inspiration. My words are a tribute to his legacy.

**Read Remembering my Father: Part I here.

Local Color: Feeling French

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Missourians have some history with the French, as you might remember. Remnants of French influence can be seen in the state flag and in the names of small towns. Between Louisianan Creole and Canadian French, its cultural influence remains. A little over a month ago Chouquette, a boutique pâtisserie, opened in the middle of the Tower Grove neighborhood. I paid a visit the day after they opened.

The chic interior gleams of white marble, with gold leaf accents adorning the walls. White Tolix chairs surround tiny cafe tables, while little tea pots perch delicately on glass shelves. Bundles of lavender add warmth and natural charm, while varieties of expensive butter-laden confections dot the counter. Macaroons (of which I sampled six!) come packed in blue Tiffany boxes, matching the apron clad attendants who are eager to assist you. The store's namesake are like little cream puffs stuffed with decadent flavors of pudding ( I recommend the passion fruit filling). Just stepping inside the store makes you feel fancy. And really, isn't that what feeling French is all about?  

What Matters (May Swenson)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


It may be that it doesn’t matter
who or what or why you love.
(Maybe it matters when, and for how long.)
Of course, what matters is how strong.

Maybe the forbidden, the unbelievable,
or what doesn’t respond—
what grabs all and gives nothing—
what is ghoul or ghost,

what proves you a fool,
shrinks you, shortens your life,
if you love it, it doesn’t matter.
Only the love matters—
the stubbornness or the helplessness.

At a certain chemical instant
in early youth, love’s trigger is cocked.
Whatever moved into focus
behind the cross hairs, magnifies,
is marked for target, injected with
magic shot. But the target doesn’t matter.  

Season of Heartache

The news reports of the Boston tragedy are raw and heavy. I have purposefully avoided images and updates. I rarely write about current events, but this city that I love and have visited a dozen times; whose streets and people I cherish, is struggling and I feel that weight. Far from her beating heart I can only offer prayers. Prayers for a measure of comfort to be extended to those hurting.

This season of the year I am reminded of all the others. People I do not know, strangers impacted by loss. Mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, friends, all approaching another anniversary. I think of them each year. Their collective pain. I imagine their courage has enabled them to move forward. Together they believe tomorrow will be lighter. Tomorrow will be a little easier to breathe.

Waco Texas Siege — April 19, 1993
Oklahoma City Federal bombing — April 19, 1995
Columbine High School shooting — April 20, 1999
Boston Marathon bombing — April 15, 2013

A total of 260 lives lost. Together we shoulder that loss. Together we remember. Together we hope and heal. 

Music Monday: Great Peacock

Monday, April 15, 2013

From their bandcamp website Andrew Nelson and Blount Floyd make music enriched by their native South. Influenced by Pop Melody as well as Traditional Folklore. It's old art for the new generation. Sold. Maybe I am sentimental, but songs about deserts and mountains speak to my western soul.  Also, I'm discovering I have a thing for pedal steel guitar. Who knew?

View full blog to listen to this great band. 

National Poetry Month

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry."  — Muriel Rukeyser

In celebration of words, stanzas, cadence and the essence of our shared humanity, each year we dedicate an entire month to poetry. This expression of art and life. Inhale deeply. 

From the compilation Paint Me Like I Am comes this selection from Marcela Ferlito. 

It seems as though 
We had lost our touch
Are we getting it back?

We were so close years ago
When I was younger
We were like little kids
Always trying something new
Even the things we knew would get us in trouble
With Mom
As the years progressed
Our relationship started tearing 
And wearing out

You saw me changing
But did not enjoy acknowledging it
Did you not know I could change?
That my branches would stem out?
Well, they have
Take these flowers I offer you
Whose seeds are yours

Friday Favorites: Garden Perennials (A - L)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Spring is officially here and weather in the Midwest this week has me itching to be outside. Gardening runs in my genes. My great-grandmother, for whom I am named, her daughter, my paternal grandma, and my father were all gifted gardeners. They turned backyards into beautiful havens; places of vibrant color and accessible retreats. From a young age I remember wandering nurseries and watching my dad select plants for our yard. He turned barren spaces into flourishing beds with hard work and a natural talent. As any gardener knows, spending a fortune on a few flats of flowers or buckets of shrubs is the detriment of feeding a passion. During college and whenever I'd move to a new apartment I'd try to plant a couple bulbs or perennials to ensure I could leave a little marker that would remain long after I was gone. After college I worked for a season at a local nursery in Salt Lake City. My first task was planting hundreds of daylily starts into gallon containers in the corner of a cold muddy greenhouse. As the season warmed I soon started placing weekly orders and learning what plants worked best in a dessert climate and in specific growing conditions. Currently, I've been turning the earth in my first community vegetable garden. And even though I don't currently have a yard of my own, that doesn't stop me from frequenting nurseries and dreaming about the landscape I hope to create one day. In anticipation of that future, here are some of my favorite lesser-known perennials that I can't wait to include in my landscape.* 

top left Agastache (Giant Hyssop), top right Centaurea cyanus (Bachelor's Button/Cornflower)
bottom left Centranthus Ruber (Jupiter's beard), bottom right Gaura (beeblossom)

I love how when your rub your hand gently up the stalk of hyssop your hand smells like root beer for awhile afterwards. Cornflowers will always make me think of A Room with a View, plus they are edible. Which makes them a perfect garnish for cakes or a colorful addition to any summer salad. Jupiter's beard gives a garden great height and the colors can last into the autumn. Gaura is wispy and magical; just its name makes me happy. 

top left Gaillardia (blanket flower), top right Helleborus (lenten rose) 
bottom left Heuchera (coral bells), bottom right Lupinus (lupin)

Certain varieties of blanket flower contain little individual flowers around the center. Adorable. The low growing flower is perfect next to the low growing helleborus. (Although helleborus like a bit more shade.) Coral bells are star performers. They have the most fascinating leaves— everything from lime green to deep wine burgundy. This plant's fantastic foliage is truly stunning. Finally, tall stocks of pink, white, and purple lupin cover Prince Edward Island for the entire month of July. But you can also find them mentioned in this children's book. I think because we had lupin (among many other plants) in my backyard when I grew up, I've always had a fondness for these regal garden dames.

Now that you know a few more plant names be on the lookout for them. To me, identifying plants makes wandering my neighborhood or visiting a botanic garden a little more meaningful. Happy Spring!

* Conditions and space permitting there will, of course, also be forsythia, hostas, delphinium, iris, echinacea, lilacs, liatris and if the soil is right azaleas and hydrangeas. 

All images courtesy of Flickr CC. 

Pie is the Answer

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Some will tell you that 42 is the answer to life the universe and everything. While that may be true, I have a suspicion that pie is probably the REAL response to nearly every situation in life. Does this blouse work for my skin tone? Where should we go on vacation this summer? What should I do with my life? Pie. Pie. Pie. Simple as, well, pie. Now I'm just being silly, but sometimes life requires you to slap on an apron, mash out some flour and butter (yes, it must be a homemade crust!), and fill it with seasonal heart happy ingredients. Okay, maybe not heart happy, but definitely dancing around the room happy. Which is where rhubarb comes in. Ah, rhubarb. You either love it or hate it. Lucky for me I'm a lover. So go ahead, I give you permission to make a pie this week. Any pie. Share it with people you love. Or not. It doesn't really matter, because in the end, pie is still the answer.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

The bottom crust is a regular pie crust, so use whatever recipe you like for that.

3 c. chopped rhubarb (6-8 large stalks)
1/2 c. sugar
1 3 oz. box of strawberry gelatin
1-2 c. sliced strawberries
Zest from one lemon

1 stick of butter
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. flour

Mix filling and pour in pie shell. Sprinkle with topping. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°and bake for another 50 minutes to an hour.

Special thanks to Michele for sharing her recipe. 

Welcome, Little Lady

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Introducing my new niece, Ella Colleen, born early yesterday morning. Weighing in at 7lbs 11oz both mama and baby are doing fine. In truth, I can't get over how perfect she is; squishy cheeks and all. We love you, little lady, and can't wait to meet you.

Reading Lately / 5

Monday, April 8, 2013

What do we do with ourselves when we find we have failed to become the adults we dreamed of as pious children? 

How do we react when we discover at the core of faith a knot of contradictions?

These are some of the thought-provoking questions in the final chapter of Joanna Brooks' memoir Book of Mormon Girl, which I finished over the weekend. The early chapters recount stories of her peculiar cultural upbringing, including: a devotion to Marie Osmond's beauty guide, aspirations of BYU campus, funeral potatoes and jello salads, Girls Camp antics, pioneer bonnets and root beer. The book is quick and witty, however Brooks is candid in discussing her faith transitions during the early 90s and then again in 2008. I appreciated the warmth in which she recalls her ancestors and her diligence in ensuring her own complicated faith history is successfully passed to her daughters. Mostly though, I related to her experience moving away from a naive zealot to an individual that grapples with cognitive dissonance; and how, despite the contradictions, she continues to return. Over and over again. Returning to the faith community and culture which she cannot seem to leave.

Next up, John Green's latest award-winning novel. And you, what have you been reading lately?

Music Monday: Keaton Henson

Thank you NPR's All Songs Considered for today's selection. Keaton Henson, the reclusive singer-songwriter from the London suburbs, deserves a wider listening audience. His second album, Birthdays, just out, gets me right in the heart. Somber and sullen, even the album title hearkens the passing of time and universal heartbreaks accumulated on this journey we call life.

Keaton Henson — Teach Me 
For more of Henson's music click on over to his website

Easter in Utah

Sunday, April 7, 2013

GH and I returned from Utah early Tuesday morning. We hit the sack at 2:00am and I woke up sick the next morning. This is the third time I've been sick in six months. The Third Time. I'm over it. But enough about that, let's talk about vacation.

Before heading down to Utah's Dixie, I was delighted to spend an entire day with my sister in Salt Lake City. (She opted out of the trip this year, since her first daughter, my new niece!, is due to arrive any moment now.) Lucky for me, pedicures and alfresco lunch at Red Iguana was the perfect way to ease into vacation.

The remainder of the trip was spent cavorting about Zion National Park, whose beauty simply cannot be captured by a little lens; adopting my cousin's adorable baby for a photo shoot; meeting my new six-week-old nephew; embracing family ritual and cooking outdoors. Our food assignment this year was a dessert, which we hadn't really planned on. At the last minute I decided to make sticky toffee pudding. In a dutch oven. I had never made it before and was a little nervous. No, a lot nervous. But the results were dolled out and devoured before I even had time to take a photo. Which, of course, thrilled me to no end.    

The gathering was small this year. We missed our family patriarch and matriarch, and Colleen's warm hugs and sticky buns (addictive caramel breakfast rolls). Oddly enough, our hotel room even smelled like grandma and grandpa (Listerine and toast), which didn't bother me one bit. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't hard. We made it a point to visit grandma in the nursing home before we celebrated Easter. We then visited grandpa's plot at the cemetery. I took GH by the house of my childhood, reliving all the memories made in my grandparent's kitchen. I walked through the empty house and flipped through the photo album. I wanted to hold on to all of it. Every memory and part of my formative, adolescent and adult years. I longed for one more party, but knew the house had changed. Even though I know I'm an exception — few people have the luxury of knowing and associating with benevolent grandparents  for the better part of three decades — I can't help wishing it would stay the same. At the same time though, I felt those absent and the associated missing, was simply another reminder that carrying on tradition is both a beautiful and necessary part of loss. 


Words: Wisdom

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

So these days, I'm on the lookout for grace, and I'm especially on the lookout for ways that I withhold grace from myself and from other people. At first, showing people grace makes you feel powerful, like scattering candy from a float in a parade - grace for you, grace for you. You become almost giddy, thinking of people in generous ways, allowing for their faults, absorbing minor irritations. You feel great, and then you start to feel just ever so slightly superior, because you're so incredibly evolved and gracious.  

But then inevitably something happens, and it usually involves you confronting one of your worst selves, often in public, and you realize that you're not throwing candy off a float to a nameless, dirty public, but rather that you are that nameless, dirty public, and that you are starving and on your knees, praying for a little piece of sweetness, just one mouthful of grace.
-Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

Music Monday: Paper Birds

Monday, April 1, 2013

How is it already April? Crazy. Recently I was invited to an online group of music minded folks. Numerous postings pop into my feed daily and while I wish I could say I listened to everything, that just isn't my reality right now. Here is what I would commend to you however, a folksy group from Colorado that just put out a new album. They're good, and that's no joke. Enjoy!

Paper Birds — As I Am  

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