We're all friends here, right?

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Last Saturday I tried something new. My sister and I went door-to-door, clutching our clipboards, approaching our unsuspecting neighbors about the 2018 Senatorial campaign. (It was sort of scary.) At one door we met a lovely woman who had emigrated from Bosnia. Unlike most of the people we met, who didn't want to talk politics with us, she seemed desperate for change. She told us that she'd come to this country for freedom, but what she found "wasn't freedom." 

She also said, "I usually don't like to talk about politics."

And that line has been running through my head ever since.

I definitely avoid talking about politics at work.

Most of my friends don't want to discuss politics.

Annie and I have discussed the perils inherent in going political on this blog.

But what I think we all really mean is, "We don't want to fight." 

What I wish, more than anything, is that we could talk about the political currents that are tugging (fiercely) at the undercurrent of our lives and seek for understanding and compromise. I still believe that's possible. I still believe that we can be smart, and kind, and passionate and COMpassionate. 

In order to have these civil discourses and in order to understand the multiple points of view that comprise our political landscape, I think first and foremost, we have to pay attention. We need to have a decent grasp of the issues. We need to understand what's happening in Washington. We need to follow how our representatives are voting. 

Thanks to ye olde Internet, staying informed is easy (and super interesting). Here are a few places to get started (chime in if you have something to add):

  • Twitter - I know that a lot of folks my age don't use Twitter. I use it almost exclusively as a news feed, and boy howdy does it get me up-to-date in a hurry. Follow reputable news sources, political figures, activists, historical scholars and people you think speak well on the issues. With a 5-10 minute scan every morning, I know what issues are on the forefront.
  • Subscribe to some online newspapers.  I enjoy the daily briefing they offer via email. Again, this is a quick snapshot of what is going on. Plus, I'm in the know on lots of cool cultural and human interest stories. I'm a sucker for human interest stories.
  • Countable -- This app notifies you when your representatives vote. It does a great job of explaining the bill at hand AND why someone might vote for or against the measure. (I have to admit this one is not super fun for me because my reps NEVER vote the way I want them to.)
  • Talk to activists in your area. I wasn't surprised when folks didn't want to talk to me while I was out canvassing. But I do think they missed out on an easy way to get some good information. I was ready to tell them what my guy stood for -- no ugly talk, no judgment. It's always a good idea to see what the other side is up to. They can have good ideas too! 

A few good gems

Hello, friends! What are you up to this weekend? I've been looking longingly at these days on my calendar for a while now--it's been the light at the end of the midwinter tunnel! G and I are heading south to Charleston SC for the long weekend* (it's our anniversary today--28 years!). We've never been there and I'm excited to finally see it. I've been filling up on Pat Conroy books in preparation. Any recommendations for things to see/eat/do?

A few good gems for your long weekend:

  • Have you tried the Forest app? It helps you control your internet distraction and gives you rewards for time spent focused--you grow "trees" within the app according to how long you stay focused. Best of all, the company donates actual trees to the world as a result.
     
  • I loved this annual letter "10 Tough Questions We Get" from Bill and Melinda Gates. Their responses to these tough questions all fascinated me but the part that caught my eye was Melinda's description of what it's like to be work partners with your spouse and how she handled establishing her own credibility in the room when everyone in the room was looking to Bill. (Melinda seems so cool--would love to take her to lunch sometime.)
  • Are you interested in history, fashion, and/or sewing? Here are 83,500 vintage sewing patterns in an online database from Vogue, McCall's, Butterick, and Simplicity. 
     
  • Speaking of history and fashion, I've been enjoying Lydia Edwards's How to Read a Dress Instagram account. Very cool!
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  • Amy Adams reading a poem ("Why I Wake Early" by Mary Oliver) and telling a joke. (Another person who I think would be a phenomenal friend, don't you think?)
     
  • The key to raising a happy child? "Agency may be the one most important factor in human happiness and well-being." (LOVE this and the research this full article on NPR here cites. Great suggestions on how to become a consultant parent rather than a boss/micromanager.) Hat tip to my friend Jen who sent me this link.
     
  • Finally, a few words of poetry I loved reading this week:
    Driving west tonight, the city dissolves behind us.
    I keep feeling we’re going farther than we’re going,
    a journey that started in the deep inkwell
    out of which our days are written.
    Nothing is said to indicate a monument,
    yet I perch on the edge of some new light.
    -Naomi Shihab Nye, Lights from Other Windows

I love that: "yet I perch on the edge of some new light."
Wishing you all some new light of your own. Have a wonderful weekend.
x Annie


*I have to admit I'm even looking forward to the 6.5-hour road trip down. We've had some of our best talks and planning sessions sitting next to each other in the car, watching the horizon spread out in front of us. Here's hoping for many more years and miles ahead *knocks on wood*.

Dedicated to you: 6 songs for your long weekend

Remember Casey Kasem and his song dedications that went out over the airwaves every weekend?  Oh, man, I loved all the possibilities that involved. Would my name pop up in the local dedications? Should I phone one in? On top of that, I love the idea that a certain song, carefully selected, could be exactly suited to someone's sentiments and current mood. (I feel the same way about books, too, remember?)

 Photo  via

Photo via

In that spirit, here are a few songs that you might like to add to your playlist for this upcoming President's Day weekend. 

For all you cool, alternative, New-Wave-music-loving 80s kids, this reminds me of that vibe:

For road trips, harmonizing, and longing to learn to play the guitar:

For during a soulful solo walk (or for gazing out the window of a train/plane/car)

For if your weekend doesn't go as planned and you need to wallow:

For dancing in the kitchen with your darlin':

For while you make dinner, do the dishes, make the bed:

Do you have songs you love for certain situations? And did you ever call in a song dedication to your local radio?

All hail the cloth napkin

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I've found that in this mid-stage life of mine there are plenty of opportunities to host a dinner party. Kids and their friends, extended family, church folks, missionaries . . . we've run the gamut of dinner guests. And since setting a nice table is one of my favorite things to do, I've learned a few tricks to keep the preparation simple. 

  1. Fresh flowers. Pick some up at the grocery store. I'm a sucker for hydrangeas but always buy alstroemeria because they will stay fresh for TWO WEEKS (if you change the water, ahem). Keep some squat containers on hand and master one or two arrangements. 
  2. Assortment of candles and seasonal deco for the table. I used to pour over Pinterest looking for great centerpieces, and honestly -- I rarely found one that I loved that wouldn't run me hundreds of dollars. Twenty dollars worth of flowers and candlelight can go a long, long way..
  3. Need a last minute runner? In the picture above I used a roll of craft paper and some Hearth and Hand wrapping paper leftover from the holidays. You can also pick up some yardage from Hobby Lobby and hem the edges . . . if you are feeling extremely motivated. But I'm getting old, so motivation is only coming in fits and spurts.
  4. Cloth napkins!!! This is my best piece of "dinner party" advice. Every dinner feels special with cloth napkins. We use them pretty regularly around here. I'd guess you could say that cloth napkins are my love language. Try them! You'll feel fancy, and cared for, and cozy. They are a dinner game changer!

Here are some great napkins to get your collection started:
1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5

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A few good gems

 image via  unsplash

image via unsplash

I think most of the Internet is looking longingly to Spring. As for me, I rather enjoy these dark days of winter. Perhaps this is because Houston only has a sprinkling of dark days interspersed with blasts of warmth and light. But I think the reason I love February is because there is still an element of hibernation, of layers and comfort foods and slow evenings. When I get home from work each evening, I huddle on the couch under a blanket -- sometimes with my laptop and sometimes with just the tv remote clutched in my chilly hand. And I feel okay about these non-productive times. Spring is coming. There will be time to run as fast as I can.

Last weekend was nonstop appointments and meetings and guests for dinner. So, this weekend I'm planning a whole lot of NOTHING. I might bake something. I might lay in bed Saturday morning until I'm bored with my phone AND my tv (can that even happen?). I might venture out to a souffle restaurant I'm following on Instagram. The world is my lazy oyster really.

For those of you wanting to join me in my cozy lethargy, here are a few good gems to while away your day:

  • I LOVED this blog post on finding your voice as a women (and what men must do to help). This is written from a Mormon point of view, but it applies to women in a variety of patriarchal situations: “When people in the dominant group tell non-dominant groups they need to ‘step up’, it continues to lay the workload on marginalized groups.” 

Okay guys, I'm off. I've been trying a 5 AM Crossfit class this week. I sort of like it, but I'm not sure I can ever fully get behind a wake up time in the the 4 AM range. It's just wrong. On so many levels. Have a great weekend! Eat lots o'carbs!

The Jedi mind tricks of raising teens, part 3

Back in 2014 I wrote a couple of posts that I (admittedly pretty ambitiously) called the Jedi mind tricks of raising teens. Unlike the Jedi mind tricks in Star Wars, these tips are not about tactics to get the behavior that you want from the teenagers in your midst but instead ways of changing your own mindset so that you look at them differently and maybe understand them from a different angle, especially in tough times.

To review, here are the previous tricks (the full descriptions are posted here and here):

  1. Time travel forward to the week they are leaving home.
  2. Time travel further forward to watching them parent your grandkids.
  3. Time travel back to when your teen was 2, 3, 7, etc.
  4. Time travel further back to when you were their age.
  5. Adjust your expectations or reframe your role ("oh, I'm my child's external hard drive!").
  6. Think of yourself as a curious anthropologist.

For your consideration, here's another Jedi mind trick to add to your quiver (which is probably not where Jedis keep their mind tricks. Hmmm, I sense that the metaphor is falling apart...) ANYWAY.

I was thinking of the coming-of-age novels I love and how we consistently cheer for the protagonist, no matter how many immature, stupid, hubris-y decisions they make. I wondered what my own kids' coming of age novel would be like, which led me to the next Jedi mind trick of parenting:  Imagine that your teen is a character in a book, a character that you're cheering for, a character who's sympathetic, charming, spunky but flawed. Compassion.

More to the point, if you are the parent to the protagonist, how would you want to be written? I would love to take a cue from Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), Mrs. Weasley (Harry Potter), Kate Murry (A Wrinkle in Time), Marmee (Little Women), Ma & Pa Ingalls (Little House books) and the Cuthberts (Anne of Green Gables). I think their common characteristic is that they seem to know the hearts of their flawed protagonist children--they understand their kids' sometimes outrageous flailing is essentially a feature of good kids figuring out life.  

 I mean....who wouldn't want to be looked at with this kind of benevolent amusement/compassion? 

I mean....who wouldn't want to be looked at with this kind of benevolent amusement/compassion? 

Okay, what's your favorite coming of age novel? Which fictional parents are missing from the list here?

It's just the fun of doing it

This Mr. Roger's video has been making the Internet rounds lately, and it struck a particular chord with me. You see, my art skills fall in the VERY MEDIOCRE range, but making art -- the making and creating -- is one of my favorite things on earth. As you might guess, the finished products of my art-making have generally been VERY MEDIOCRE, which disappoints this competitive, gold-star-loving heart nearly to death. I mean, if I can't be the best -- or at least very, very good -- then what's the point?

But Mr. Rogers, unsurprisingly, has it right.

"Do you like to draw with crayons? I do, but I'm not very good at it. It doesn't matter. It's just the fun of doing it that's important."

I think one of the best gifts of this middle age is understanding how to enjoy the journey. Where I used to rush through a complicated recipe, focused on making it past the finish line, now I'm much more interested in the rhythm of chopping, the thickening of the bechamel, the satisfying crackles off the frying pan. I'm interested in every step of the very-scientific process that turns my jar of yeast and bacteria into a loaf of sourdough bread.

Mixing watercolors on my palette IS the end result. I watch them swirl and change and dry into interesting patterns. I can draw 15 variations of peonies in my drawing notebook and then toss it aside. I have no visions of becoming a professional peony artist. Of selling them. Of digitizing them for mass production. The thing was the 45 minutes of feeling my pen glide across the smooth paper, of creating a peony where there was blankness, of feeling the joy in creating something from nothing.


Want to join in on the making? Here are some places to get started:

  • Skillshare! I love this site. There are about a zillion classes I want to try. My daughter, Madison, and I had a great time with this one.
  • Shutterbean's instagram. She has an incredible blog, but her @thehandwritingclub instagram account shows her making art EVERY SINGLE DAY. It's super inspiring.
  • Take a real, live, in-person class. If you are in Houston, I highly recommend Half Moon Lettering. I've done her calligraphy and chalk lettering workshops -- both were super fun. 
  • Want to try your hand at sourdough? Get started at The Clever Carrot. Her book Artisan Sourdough Made Simple is my go-to reference. 
  • Tell us what you are making!