My love-hate relationship with journaling

To be candid, my relationship with journaling has been a relationship heavy on the hate side of the equation.

Don’t get me wrong; I like the idea of journaling. The anticipation of writing down cogent ideas that perfectly capture life, the universe, and everything: who doesn’t want that?

But this being human thing isn’t always pretty, and it’s taken me a long time to realize that journaling the mess can be, well, messy.

After some false starts, I finally discovered a journaling method and tools that work for me.

My tools:

  • A composition book
  • A FriXion erasable pen

I love beautiful journals. But I don’t want to mess them up with my scribblings. So they sit pristinely on the shelf, never realizing their potential. So this is a problem. I have been using composition books for note-taking for a while. I like them because they are inexpensive and recyclable/biodegradable. So I decided to give one a try for journaling, and I am happy to report I filled the first one in just over six months. Also, at back-to-school time, there are hundreds of styles available.

Okay, the truth is I like writing with pens, but I hate making mistakes, especially in a journal. I don’t want to mess things up. What is the origin of this feeling? I have no idea. I finally decided to own the feeling and work with it. FriXion pens are the perfect solution for me. I like the way they feel, and they come in lots of colors. A word of caution: FriXion pens are also disappearing ink pens. Add heat and poof! Your words will disappear. This quality makes FiXion pens fantastic for quilting but not for archival writing! So if you are writing for the ages, this might not be the right pen choice for you.

I try to write every day, even if it’s just five words. The five-word tip was passed on by Jessica Brody in her Conquering Writer’s Block class on Udemy, which I recommend. I don’t always write every day, but I write a lot more than I used to! I’m filling journals, people. That’s a win!

Leveling up

This month I added a couple of new specialty journals to the lineup. I have one for my creative work. I use it to track progress on creative projects, which is motivating, and it keeps me honest. I also have a health journal to track what I eat, exercise, how I feel. It’s helpful in tweaking things like coffee consumption, sleep, and diet. I also added a Work and Career journal to think through my strengths and where I want to go in my work life. Four journals seems a bit crazy, but the secret is to shoot for updates or log entries (as explained by Austin Kleon).

Take the next step!

There’s still time to browse the back-to-school aisles at your favorite store and pick up a composition book that speaks to you.

My cat meditation

Lille En, the cat with the Danish name

I drink my first cup of coffee in bed every morning and just about every morning, my cat, Lille En, gets in my lap. This used to irritate me because she would bump and nudge the hand holding the coffee cup and spill coffee on me, on the covers. I usually chased her off or tried to coax her to daddy’s side of the bed but this hardly ever worked.  

And then my beloved dog passed Brin away, and I discovered that my irritation with the other furkids died, too. 

I realized our time together is short. Every morning, coffee time is an irresistible invitation for Lille En. And I realized that changing my mindset completely altered what is otherwise the exact same experience. I am ready for the cat, and now I find that I welcome her. I give her attention and notice how beautiful she is and how soft her fur is. I listen to the sound of her purr. She sometimes wraps a leg around me like an embrace. I enjoy our time together.

This morning I realized it’s a meditation of sorts, not unlike the walking meditation that I like to do. In my cat meditation, I notice the cat, and I don’t think about anything else. Sometimes, Lille En goes to sleep, and I resume my coffee drinking. Sometimes, the coffee grows cold on the nightstand. Either way, I notice I am content.

The Blend

Long ago, I attended a master gardener training on container gardening. My big takeaway from that was the idea of soil mixes. I was amazed to learn that many people don’t just use the soil as-is from the bag that they pick up at the garden center. 

The recipe that I learned is:

  • ⅓ potting soil
  • ⅓ peat moss
  • ⅓ pumice

My friend and fellow gardener is the one who I think started calling it “the blend” and the name stuck. Sounds like coffee and I can ALWAYS get behind that!

For a long time, I stuck to the recipe because I thought, “Who am I to mess with a master gardener’s recipe?”

After living in several different regions of the country with varying access to ingredients, I have modified this a bit. Pumice has been impossible for me to find outside of Arizona. There are potential sustainability issues with using peat moss. And that proportion isn’t a hard and fast rule. I’ve learned that it largely depends on the quality and type of potting soil that you start out with. Also, different plants–indoor vs. outdoor and cactus vs. tomato plants–have different needs.

Also, Google soil recipes and explore the wonderful world of gardening. There are so many soil mix recipes on the Internet; I’ve tried several, and a few were a complete failure for me. 

So I hereby give you permission to experiment. Use this recipe as a guide rather than a hard and fast rule. Explore other mixes or go by feel and texture. Observe your plants and ask yourself, “Are they doing well? How’s the drainage?” If you see issues with plant growth or waterlogged soil, you can adjust the recipe. I have been known to re-pot a plant to amend the proportions of soil, peat, and perlite. 

Now my recipe is probably more like this:

  • ½ potting soil
  • ¼-⅓ peat moss or coconut coir
  • ¼ perlite

This year I purchased some compressed blocks of coconut coir that were fantastic–and I bought a few that were less so. Same goes for potting soil–I have had some bad blends that I thought needed more work than they were worth.

For my vegetable container gardening this year, I added compost to the mix or used a compost-amended potting soil that I LOVED. I wish I had purchased 10 bags of that stuff. So far my plants are doing well, and all the tomatoes and peppers are setting fruit. The eggplants haven’t yet decided if they are going to play. (Pacific Northwest Gardening is an adventure. Especially compared to other places I have gardened, June and July were downright cold.)

My go-to potting soil is Kellogg Garden Organics Raised Bed & Potting Mix. I don’t like it on its own, but when it’s part of the blend, it feels perfect to me. 

I buy huge bags of perlite from Home Depot or a local garden supply center that I like that has perlite in sizes that I didn’t know existed before I walked through their doors. Wow.

I do add a cactus soil to the blend when I am potting cactus and succulents. I don’t know if it’s essential to do this–maybe adding more perlite would be sufficient, but I tend to rely on the bagged cactus mixes as an ingredient and that works reliably. 

A note about perlite: You absolutely don’t want to breathe in perlite dust. Wear a mask, or better yet, wet it down completely before handling it. I spray it down in the bag or as I am pouring it into my soil can. (I used a large lidded trash can with wheels for my blend.)

If you used compressed coconut coir, put it in a wheelbarrow or a trash can to soak it and give it time to expand. Give yourself time to soak it, tease it apart, soak it some more and repeat until it expands to its full size. (A coir brick the size of a large paver will expand to about two cubic feet.) It’s an easy and satisfying task to tend to while you are doing other things.

Experiment with your soil mix so that it suits your plants and your growing environment. 

Keep going and keep growing!

Ready player two

Playing games asynchronously

I am married to a board game aficionado. My spouse loves games the way I love plants, coffee, and quilts. It’s a big love.

For years he has collected games, and we played occasionally. Sometimes we had long stretches where player two (that’s me) was too __________ to play (fill in the blank, it’s probably accurate).

At the start of the year, we started talking about our goals, and one of his goals was to play more games. He joined a game Meetup, and that was good. But I separately realized that I needed his support for some of my goals, and that meant I had to up my game and be a more active supporter of his game-playing goals.

First step: game room
The first I moved my sewing room upstairs so that he could have a cat-safe game room. (Our cat is a player, she can’t help it.) So, this sounds straightforward, but it was a lot of work for a fabric collector. Unfortunately, this was before I got the FitBit that counts flights of stairs. But I know it was at least 40 trips up the stairs. Also, moving my giant heavy sewing table was no small feat. About halfway up the stairs, I was sure I would not make it. But I pushed through.

Second step: figure out how to play more
The main challenge in playing games was finding an hour to it down and play a game from start to finish. So I proposed an asynchronous approach to board games. He would set up a game that would allow us to take turns independently, and I would commit to playing regularly.

Success!
So this was wildly successful. We have played so many rounds of Splendor, Patchwork and Builders that I have lost count. We play every day. Let that sink in. We play games every day. This daily play is game player nirvana.

What I did not expect…
I love playing games. I like trying different strategies, and I find that I think up new house rules to add challenging dimensions. I’m sad when a game ends. And now we both long to hear those three little words.
“It’s your turn.”

A kiss from an angel

Buddy the little Brindle

In spite of our best efforts, sometimes, the dogs need to go out in the middle of the night. This task usually falls to my spouse because somehow, I sleep through the “gotta go” wake up calls.

The other night I learned after the fact that some dog (not naming names but he’s a small brindle dog) didn’t take care of all his business on the first outing, and there were TWO outings.

I did wake up after they came in the second time. I know, I know — I’m so helpful. Buddy, the previously referenced brindle, jumped on the bed and came up to the head of the bed to give me a little dog kiss.

Be still my heart.

This was such a Brin move. Brin was my heart dog, and I miss her so much. Brin would always come to my side of the bed after midnight outings to give me a little kiss before returning to her place at the foot of the bed. It was one of her most endearing habits, checking in on me like that.

And then Buddy did the same. It was a message from beyond: a reminder of the enduring power of love — a kiss from an angel.

Removing barriers and embracing a few weeds

Last week, I got up one morning with the birds to work in the yard. We live in the woods but there are several landscaped portions of our yard with gardens and raised beds.

One particularly vexing spot is a section we call weed hill. One corner of our yard in the back slopes down. There are large trees growing there but I guess they weren’t always there because we inherited a lot of weed barrier. 

Nothing is more surprising than finding weed barrier in a rural wooded landscape. And there’s a lot of it.

I’ll let you in on a secret:  I &%$#@! hate weed barrier. In theory, it’s a good idea, but in practice it doesn’t work as advertised. I actually think that it probably needs to be maintained and people skip that step. Instead, there’s a pretty good chance that you will wind up with a weed carpet like we did. So slowly, we’ve been cutting and pulling up large chunks–yards and yards of it. The good news is that underneath is almost completely weed free, a blank slate. The bad news is there’s a lot of it–did I mention that? And unfortunately, a previous owner decided that carpet remnants might be a good substitute for actual weed barrier. 

Um–no. That’s a really bad idea. That cannot be good for the environment. Also, I am here to tell you that I have weeds growing on top of that carpet.

So we keep cutting and pulling one 6-10 foot section at a time. Weed barrier zero is the goal.

The true secret to keeping weeds at bay is probably plant density. PLant enough that the desirable plants give the weeds a run for their money with plants that out-compete them. Mulch helps, too. Last summer, we picked up about 50 bags of free mulch from someone on Freecycle. We are still using it. Freecycle and Craigslist are great places to get free or cheap landscaping materials and plants. 

Also, mindset shift: weeds are a way of life when you have a garden. When we try to be weed free with weed barrier or chemicals or what I call “zero-scaping” (i.e., rocks), there are unintended consequences. Instead I accept weeds as part of the natural world. Pulling weeds can be as meditative as sitting on a meditation cushion. And it connects you to your garden in a visceral way. And unless the weed is an invasive plant that endangers the local flora and fauna or creates a fire hazard, a few weeds here and there are really okay.

I’m not busy

clouds

I’m ashamed to think about the many times that when asked, “How are you?” I answered with some variation of “Busy, but good.” I know now that busy isn’t a feeling. And it’s not a virtue or an excuse. I wore it as a badge of honor for so long, and I took it as a sign that what I was doing was important–that I was important. I willingly and also, at times, unwittingly participated in zero-sum games of oneupmanship in the name of busy.

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but I stopped being busy in the last two years. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not bored or lazy. My days are filled with lots of interesting activities and tasks that I am on the hook for, but busy has been banished. Instead, I have been learning to say precisely how I feel. I am learning to name my emotions.

It turns out that naming emotions puts us on the path to regulating them. And it lets us connect more fully with the people around us instead of erecting the police line do-not-cross-tape of “I’m just so busy.”

So, contact me, will you? I can’t wait to catch up. 

Garden update: June 2019

plants on the light table

How did it get to be June?

Wow, my garden update feels like one of those cooking shows where they put the uncooked dish in the oven and a moment later pull out the finished dish! 

I assure you, it was nothing like that. First of all, many of my seedlings keeled over when the power went out for days and the temp inside my house was down in the 40s. No light table, no bottom heat, no ambient heat. It was sad. I had to start over with almost everything. Amazingly, my tomatoes made it through snowmageddon, but one variety, a cherry tomato called Cherriette, lagged well behind the others. I thought they would never grow up. (They did.)

I live in the woods and there is no open space that gets full sun all or most of the day. This is a good news/bad news situation. And really the only bad news is providing enough sun to the veggies that demand it. I am trying lots of plants in pots this year and moving them around to find the best spot. 

So–do you think I have a pot problem?

Here’s what did well:

  • Tomatoes
  • Texas Sage
  • Eggplant
  • Squash
  • Cucumbers (though I lost a couple after transplanting)
  • Artemesia (but sooooooo slow to start–but, first time growing from seed!)
  • Yarrow (also slow)
  • Verbascum (first time!)
  • Hyssop (first time!)
  • Asters

I have a couple of these:

  • Bok Choi
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Thai Basil
  • Melons
  • Some miscellaneous flowers including bachelor buttons and Chinese forget-me-nots

#Fail

  • Basil
  • Jerusalem Sage (first time)

Wild success with no help from me:

  • Tulsi Basil
  • Mint 
  • Strawberries (I can’t believe it)

A couple of my bell peppers from last year may be coming back–they are sprouting new leaves. Fingers crossed. 

Some plants will be transplanted into bigger pots or grow bags. I bought some 7- and 10-gallon grow pots to try this year. 

You might notice some other things in the photos that are definitely not veggies. Last year I bought seedlings from the Thurston County Conversation District. I could not dig holes fast enough so some plants went in pots. They all did well and in some cases outperformed their fellow plants that are in the ground. 

How’s your garden this year? 

Surviving a freak snow storm: Eight lessons on preparedness

On Friday, a winter storm moved in and on Saturday it knocked the power out–and it stayed out for the better part of three days. By Sunday, our unheated house was competing with single digits outside and the inside temperature dropped into the 40s. Our hands were unbelievably cold and we started to lose it a little bit. It felt like everything was slowing down. Our short coated dog and cat were shivering. We gave in and packed up for a hotel. We returned on Monday and the power stayed on for the morning and went out again for about an hour. It stayed on for a few hours and then out again. In the meantime, it snowed and snowed and snowed. We were stuck. The power finally came on again this morning (Tuesday) and has thankfully stayed on.

There’s more winter weather in the forecast; we aren’t out of the woods yet. Which is kind of a joke because we live in the woods. We will never be out of the woods. 🙂

I feel like we have been in survival mode. We are trying to learn from this and prepare for future outages now. I think most people don’t think that disasters will happen to them. Not because they are exempt from calamity, but because we are focused on what’s on our plate today. I was not thinking “long-term power outage and no heat” when I saw the weather forecast last week.

Lessons Learned

Lesson number one: it takes us too long to pack and leave. Partly it’s because of having pets, partly it’s because we were trying to save the contents of our refrigerator, but mostly, we just were not as prepared as we could have been. As it turns out, we got out of our neighborhood shortly before the highway was closed.

Lesson number two: a non-electric heat source like a wood burning stove, or a generator or battery backup to connect a heater would have provided a game-changing heat source. A generator or battery backup would have powered the refrigerator, too.

Lesson number three and one we learned: know how to light your gas stove without the electric igniter. This turned out to be easy but it didn’t occur to us until we were on outage number three. It’s a game changer to have coffee, tea and hot food.

Lesson number four: Having a lot of refrigerated backup food doesn’t help you if the power goes out and it just becomes another problem to solve as mentioned in Lesson #1. More canned foods/dry goods would have been better. Snack foods help you cope. You burn a lot of calories when you are cold and shoveling snow.

Lesson number five: Make sure you own more than one shovel if snow is in the forecast. I have a mini shovel for the car that I bought several years ago after having to dig out my truck bed while out of town. That’s it. Additional shovels are a priority purchase this weekend.

Lesson number six: Have backup water. This morning, we ran out of water. We have a well with an electric pump and we used up everything in the lines, I guess. This morning around 8 am, nothing came out of the tap. We did have jugs of drinking water set aside but not water for flushing toilets. So we got to work melting snow in case we needed it. Luckily we did not, the power came on about an hour later. But I was really wishing that I had filled all of my plant watering jugs (old 1.5 gallon vinegar jugs) ahead of the storm just in case.

Lesson number seven: Clean up ahead of a storm. Run the dishwasher and do laundry. Vacuum. Shower. It’s really hard to clean without light and power.

Lesson number eight: Don’t wait too long to cut your hair or any other self-care activity. I have been putting off the haircut and spent the last several days wishing I hadn’t. Taking a hot shower or using styling tools might be out of the question and you may feel lousier than you have to.

Bright Spots

We didn’t get everything wrong and there were some bright spots:
Our laundry was done.
We had a half tank of gas. A full tank would have been better, but still.
We knew the closest hotel that allows pets (and they were great).
We have a vehicle with 4-wheel drive.
We have a manual can opener.
We had hand sanitizer (and we usually don’t).
We have a propane stove and backup propane.
We have a battery backup for our home network that lasts for a few hours. (We plan to buy additional batteries to extend that.)
Our important papers are organized in a grab-and-go envelope; our current papers are in a portable file box.
We have solar and battery-operated LED lights and two heavy-duty headlamps that helped us navigate a pitch black house and yard.
We have extra batteries, candles and matches/lighters.

Do you have a plan?

Think about what you would do if you are without power. Or stranded. Think about food, water, warmth, and even entertainment. How will you power your devices if you lose electricity? Can you leave quickly if you need to? Do you have a plan for pets and livestock? Ready.gov can help you put a plan together.

Having checklists and packing lists for you, your pets and other family members is a huge help. Under stress or duress, you may find you are not as sharp as you are in your finest moments.

Check on your neighbors

Everyone on our street was in a slightly different boat. Be friendly. Offer to help. Share information. Ask if they are okay.

The hiatus: an ode to a good dog, 15/10

I wrote 66 blog posts at the beginning last year and then stopped mid-May. Maybe you are wondering why. I didn’t mean to check out for so long but I looked at the date of my last post and knew why immediately.

Brin

This is Brin. Plott hound/Lab mix. My long-legged supermodel. My brindle of joy. She was 100% momma’s girl. This dog loved me with a single-minded devotion I have never seen before and may never see again.

Brin was a rescue dog, about six months old when we adopted her. She had THE ugliest puppy photo on PetFinder, seriously, it was bad. Brin had the dog version of the awkward adolescent photo. But I was looking for a dog that was good with cats and she was the dog that I could find. We met her foster mother in the Costco parking lot for a meet and greet. Yes, I joked that I got my dog at Costco. She was such a quiet dog. But cute, pretty brindle coat, sweet face. So we took her home and we learned a hell of a lot about being dog parents.

Brin's gotcha day

Brin found her bark on day two and was never a quiet dog after that. House training took much longer than it needed to because we stupidly thought she would go to the back door when she wanted to go outside. That’s not how she did it. When we finally realized what her “tell” was, it was like understanding a foreign language for the first time. She had been trying to tell us what she needed all along. *We* had to be trained!

It turned out that Brin was an extremely fearful dog at first. She was afraid of people, dogs, basketballs, skateboards, bikes, tile floors, the garage and many other weird things. We crate trained her, and she slept in her crate, but she still managed to pull things in her crate and destroy them. She chewed through several collars and leashes. She chewed the corner of our nicest wool rug. After an ill-considered decision to leave her in an X-pen when we went out, she ate our couch. We learned that she had serious separation anxiety and she had it all her life. We just learned to deal with it. After the couch incident, we decided she needed more exercise so we took her for walks. Or tried to. It was more like taking her for a drag. She started out scared of the world. It took several tries to get past our driveway and then several tries to get down the block and many weeks before we could get past the scary barky dogs at the end of the street.

Finally, we went to a dog training class. Brin wouldn’t jump in the car so I had to lift her. At class she was so afraid, the trainer put up a screen with a sheet so she couldn’t see the other people and their dogs. After one exhausting class with just her and I (doggy daddy was out of town), we came home and collapsed in a heap on the couch falling fast asleep wrapped up together. That night she slept with me in bed and that, as they say, was that. No more sleeping in the crate. She slept touching me every night for the rest of her days. We had to get bed frames with footboards, also known as a Brin backstop, or she would hog the bed.

Brin grew about 6 inches straight up in that first year. She became a willowy long-legged dog built for speed.

Oh, she really did not know a thing about cats. Much later we realized that she was a hunting dog mix with a high prey drive. She wanted to chase the cats. So that was another thing that we had to work on. She eventually learned that the cats were in charge.

Brin and Kiki

Finally, we took her to daycare and that was a game changer for Brin. And we adopted Hopi, the black English lab with her own incredible story. Brin learned to enjoy the company of other dogs. Eventually, she became confident and social. She still needed reassurance from the staff but she thrived and blossomed. She no longer flattened herself to the ground at the sight of basketballs and barking dogs. She was the “good dog” at daycare, the one that the staff could put with new dogs. She really was darn near perfect. When we got our youngest dog, Buddy, Brin taught our clueless former stray how to play, how to act around other dogs–basically how to be a dog.

In mid-May last year Brin got sick. It was nothing major, more of a nagging thing. She was 12 years old and had always been a healthy solid dog. At her checkup the year before, the vet commented that she had the health of a much younger dog.

She had slowed down ever so slightly but she could still tear around the yard at top speed chasing her pipsqueak brother. But we went to the vet and a fecal test revealed giardia. Giardia is common in wet environments like the one we live in. We got meds and went home. She seemed better but not completely. And then she got fussy about eating, the dog who had inhaled her food for 12 years. An appetite stimulant helped and then it didn’t. At this point, a month of going back and forth to the vet had gone by. The vet finally suggested an ultrasound. She had the ultrasound on a Monday and the results came Tuesday. All of her organs looked wrong, cancer probably. On Wednesday she slipped away.

My heart felt like it had been transported outside of my body and trampled on the ground beside me. Brin was a dog that never let me out of her sight for more than a minute. I had the habit of getting up early and going into the living room to read and write on the couch. Brin was always about 30 seconds behind me, climbing up on the couch beside me, regarding me thoughtfully and then going back to sleep with her trademark dramatic sigh.

After she was gone, I went out into the living room and realized I was all alone for the first time in over a decade. I actually can’t do it anymore, read in the living room, it’s too hard. The emptiness is more than I can bear. A similar thing happened with my office, her bed by my desk lay empty. It was hard to work there for a long time. So the writing suffered. I suffered.

I felt guilty for a long time, thinking that there was something I could have, should have done to save her. But finally, I remembered that life isn’t like that. Sometimes those that we love get sick and die. No one lives forever. Dogs and cats are wonderful companions in life but their time here is short.

After Brin passed away, I spent more deliberate time with our other fur kids. I take more pictures. I stop and enjoy their cuteness. I let the cat take over my lap every morning even when I am trying to drink my coffee. Brin’s parting gift to me was a reminder that our time here is precious. We need to make the most of it every single day.

It’s been almost eight months. We can talk about Brin without crying. Mostly. We found slow feeder bowls for the dogs and talk about how it would have been so great for Brin. I bought brindle dog art from artists on ETSY. I think about how she smelled like Chex Mix. Her concerned look when she thought I was upset. How she beamed love at me. How she would remind me to stop working when I stayed up too late.

Brin and her momma

So here’s the post I just couldn’t write for a long, long time. The post about Brin. I cried several times but mostly it felt good to think about her and write about her. She was momma’s best girl and I loved her with all my heart.