July, Currently

CurrentlyStill reading The Brothers Karamazov, and scrambling to finish it before book club tonight! Just like being in college again. Next on my list are Tatiana Soli’s The Forgetting Tree and T.C. Boyle’s San Miguel. Time for some California-themed diversion!

Unpacking from our Palomar/San Diego trip and feeling so grateful for the wonderful time we had.

Getting back into the groove of my weekday routine.

Eating corn and avocados almost exclusively (well, except for my entirely failed sweet lime frozen yogurt…but one bite of that was more than enough!)

Waking up really early some days and just going with it. I love having the quiet time to read or write or call my mom before she goes to work.

Booking plane tickets for an unbelievable trip to a place I’ve always wanted to go!(!!!!) The opportunity to go just dropped in our lap over the weekend, and I am beyond excited about it. I will tell you all about it as soon as we’ve got the details squared away, but right now we are still pulling our hair out a bit over the plane tickets and hotel choices. Hint: it is not the world’s easiest place to get to.

Pinching myself. Hard. (See above).

Feeling really grateful that this summer has not yet been as hot as the last one. Cherishing my sunhat and my air conditioner, and the fact that I can spend most afternoons indoors.

Adoring the prompt for One Little Word this month, feeling so close to my word (open), and thinking I may just have to do it every month.

Feeling super pumped to get back to some of my projects that don’t travel well.

Looking forward to some fun hangouts with friends that are coming up this week.

Showing up late to the currently post because I was away from my blog calendar too long.

Loving that life is full of unexpected adventures, routines and variations from them, hugs and kisses and nectarines and blueberries. There’s so much to smile about.

Palomar Mountain State Park

Palomar Mountain State ParkI totally want to show you the big fun we had in San Diego, but first I had to share this little glimpse of Palomar Mountain State Park. It seems like every time we go there, we discover something new (if the weather cooperates!), and this time we had a cool and breezy afternoon free for exploring. We visited the few little shops in town and then headed down to the park. We only had about an hour before we needed to head back to the telescope by the time we got there, so we wondered if it was worth the fee ($8) to go in for such a short time. Eric and I kind of felt like we should pass, and we had turned around on the narrow road when Eric’s dad suggested that we should give it a go, as long as we were already there. Bless him; he never misses an opportunity for fun and beauty. $8 divided three ways is not very much money at all, and we definitely had about $8,000 worth of fun. As you can see, the landscape is dramatically beautiful, pines and redwoods nestled in a sea of green, punctuated by the calls of hawks and band-tailed pigeons.

Palomar Mountain State ParkIt was amazing to see and identify, with my handy dandy Palomar guide, the flowers and trees. These little firecrackers, which lined every trail, are penstemons.

Palomar Mountain State ParkThis is called Indian Milkweed. Gorgeous.

Palomar Mountain State ParkEric’s dad noticed what we thought at first was one long red and black bug, but it’s two of them. I am so inspired by friend Melissa’s gorgeous bug photography and endless curiosity and passion for identifying insects (check out of her stunning photos here), so I looked up what these guys are. They are milkweed bugs! And they are mating. Wow. What a sight.

Palomar Mountain State ParkHere are two of my favorite guys, standing in front of a 400-year-old incense cedar. Awesome.

Palomar Mountain State ParkBut this was the real find of the day. I had read about them, but never expected to find them. These are mortars used for grinding nuts and seeds by the Luiseño tribe, hundreds and hundreds of years ago. They heated the granite, chipped it with a small stone, and then set a basket of acorns inside the indentation. They ground acorns with a larger rock, and, over time, the indentation grew deep and wide, and the basket was no longer needed. They used the mortars until they were deep enough to bruise the hands of the grinder, and then they formed new ones.

Palomar Mountain State ParkIt was totally amazing to gaze upon this piece of history, and to think of the people who made this place their home.

Palomar Mountain State ParkThis was my face when Eric’s dad discovered them. It’s pretty awesome to explore with someone who never misses things like this!

Palomar Mountain State ParkHere are two happy boys, surveying the landscape.

Palomar Mountain State ParkThese were just about the most charming picnic tables I think I’ve ever seen.

Palomar Mountain State ParkPart of our hesitation to go into the park was that I was wearing a dress (not exactly the best hiking duds), since we hadn’t planned on doing any hiking. Eric’s dad helped me climb up every rock, gripping both of my wrists, so I wouldn’t miss any of the views. Have I mentioned that he is the best, and I love him?

Palomar Mountain State ParkOn our way out, Eric pointed out these two trees, holding each other. So sweet.

Palomar Mountain State ParkAnd, just for fun, here is the Palomar Mountain Post Office, complete with charming model. The clerk came out to empty the mail box as we were admiring the building, and she told us that the post office needed a haircut. Oh, I disagree. This is the most beautiful overgrown hair style I’ve had the pleasure to see.

Palomar Mountain State ParkAnd, just for more fun, here’s a Palomar sunset we were lucky enough to catch that evening. Eric took some hilarious pictures of my face as I rounded the bend and caught this gorgeous array of colors, but you’ve probably seen enough of my jaw-dropping for one post. Suffice it to say that wonders abounded, and I’m so grateful I had two such beloved people to share them with.

San Diego Summit

San DiegoWe’re back home after a lovely week full of adventures. Here we are, windblown and slightly sunburned, but wonderfully happy at Point Loma. Thank you so much for all your comments this week! I am so looking forward to catching up with you all, and I have tons of great stuff to share from our time in Palomar and San Diego. But for now, it’s time to unpack and settle back in, enjoying the last little bit of time we have with Eric’s dad before he flies back home. I hope you all had a week filled with joy and magic. Can’t wait to hear/read all about it!

Project Life, Weeks 37 and 38

Project LifeSlowly but surely, I am inching my way toward week 52 and having a great time doing it.

Project LifeI hit the February/March border and added one of my cute new owl friends because I could not resist the cuteness. I love how he’s pointing to the picture.

Project LifeThis week captures a lot of everyday stuff that I would probably have otherwise forgotten, like finally acquiring my gym card and being surprised when it said “Dr.”

Project LifeAlso, a good handful of sequins and a Saturday afternoon walk.

Project LifeEric got so excited when they had his favorite apples at the store, and I found this completely adorable and photo-worthy.

Project LifeI spent a lot of happy afternoons with this book and a cup of tea, and I wanted to remember that. In other unrelated news, I love this pink paper. It’s a little out of the ordinary for me (jewel tones forever!), but it worked beautifully with my photos.

Project LifeThe main event this week was a trip to Pasadena’s Art Night. It seems like ages ago, and it kind of was, but I’m so glad I still had my sticker and map. Nothing makes me happier than a map.

Project LifeThis photo was taken at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. I love that they always have sculptures up in this open space.

Project LifeA gratuitous C shot with the map.

Project LifeAnd our gorgeous city hall, all lit up for the night. Have I mentioned that Pawnee City Hall is…Pasadena City Hall? My mind was blown when I realized this. I’m still hoping to get over there someday when they’re filming and see Leslie Knope with my own two eyes.

Project LifeThis post ends as every day should begin, with a cup of strong coffee. My brother and his wife gave us these mustache mugs, and we love them. And, on a slightly related note, Eric and I are discussing options for quicker photo printing to alleviate my always-behind-ness in all matters Project Life. If you scrapbook or make photo albums, what’s your MO? Do you print at home, in a store, or use a service online? I am gathering data, and I appreciate your input. Maybe I can even get Eric to plot said data for me, because who doesn’t love a good graph? Thanks for sharing your experience!

Palomar, The Hanging Garden

PalomarGreetings from cloudy Palomar! It s deliciously cool and breezy here, which is great for exploring, but not so great for observing (more on that later). Eric has a few nights on the mighty 200″, and his Dad and I are here to share in all the adventures. I have been doing some reading about the history of the mountain and the telescope, and I want to share a few of my favorite gems with you. Palomar is an unusual mountain for Southern California–most of them border the desert and are brown, rocky, and scrubby. But Palomar is lush and green, covered with ferns and redwoods and wildflowers.

PalomarThere are wild sweet peas growing everywhere. I love them. When we were here a month ago, it was nothing but lupines as far as the eye could see, but now the sweet peas have taken over. I love being able to see that kind of change take place.

PalomarThe name Palomar is Spanish for dovecote, and it was given in honor of the band-tailed pigeons that make this mountain their home (apparently dovecotes are also houses for pigeons–who knew?). I love seeing the pigeons and tree squirrels and everything else that thrives here. So far I have seen a deer, a skunk, and a scorpion (yikes!), but I am hoping to spot an owl and some of the band-tailed pigeons before we go.

PalomarThe mountain air is just fantastically refreshing, and there are pines, firs, cedars, and cypresses as far as the eye can see. And, of course, gigantic pine cones!

PalomarI want to give you a little behind the scenes look at what Eric does here. The magic happens in the control room (unlike in the olden days, when astronomers used to ride all night in the cage at the top of the telescope!). It’s an awful lot of computer screens, and it’s pretty impressive.

PalomarUnfortunately, tonight there is a huge cloud cover, which will prevent them from being able to open the dome. The cloud cover prevents them from being able to see anything, but low clouds also present danger in the form of condensation–super bad for the telescope! For those of you who are interested, here are a few links to some time-lapse videos of the cleaning and re-aluminizing of the mirror. It’s amazing stuff. (And, there is a free documentary about Palomar on Hulu). This is the cloud camera in the control room. As you can see, it’s pretty severe! The planets are marked to the right, and the sources that Eric planned to observe are to the left. Those wire things sticking out are used to thread fishing wire over the camera so that owls don’t land on it.

PalomarHopefully there will be better weather next time, but in the meantime, I leave you with some science humor, the very best kind of humor there is.

Earl Grey Chocolate Cake

Earl Grey Chocolate CakeBelieve me, dear readers, I have many a cool summer salad to share with you. But today is a day for cake. I saw this recipe ages ago and bookmarked it, knowing that I’d never find a better combination of my two loves, tea and chocolate. And my most favorite tea of all time, at that.

Tea and ChocolateI brewed my tea and melted my chocolate. Wherever this was going, I knew it was somewhere good.

Earl Grey Chocolate CakeAt the last minute I threw in a good handful of walnuts because, like a squirrel, I prefer to eat crunchy things in life.

Earl Grey Chocolate CakeThe cake rose beautifully and taunted me from its pan until it was safe to flip it out and dust it ever so lightly with powdered sugar.

Earl Grey Chocolate CakeAnd eat a gigantic warm slice. This cake is wonderfully moist and flavorful. For those of you who are not big tea fans, the Earl Grey flavor is very subtle. And you could reduce it even more if you like. The funny thing is that Eric tastes the tea very distinctly and looks at me with great bafflement when I tell him that it’s very subtle for me. Maybe if you drink Earl Grey every day your tastebuds are immune? In any case, next time I plan to amp it up a bit. I want it to be something of an Earl Grey explosion. The world’s most perfect cake.

Earl Grey Chocolate Cake
Recipe from Real Simple via Shutterbean

6 Earl Grey tea bags or 2 tablespoons loose Earl Grey
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
4 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted & cooled
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup to 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
confectioners’ sugar

-Heat oven to 350° F. Coat an 8-cup fluted tube pan (that’s a bundt, right?) with cooking spray.
-Brew the tea in the water 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags or strain the leaves and set the brewed tea aside.
-Using a mixer, beat the butter, eggs, and granulated sugar until fluffy. Blend in the chocolate. Beat in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, yogurt, and brewed tea (and walnuts, optional). Pour into pan.
-Bake 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out with a few crumbs attached. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes.
-Turn out of pan and cool. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

A Few Little 50-Cent Home Makeovers

A Few Little MakeoversThank you all so much for your sweet comments on yesterday’s post! I really appreciated each and every one, and I was heartened to learn that so many of you went through a similar trajectory. We’ve got more adventures coming our way: Eric’s dad arrives today (woohoo!), and we’re heading back down to Palomar and San Diego for Big Fun, Round Two. Before we hit the road, here are a few little fun things I’ve been doing around the house lately. They really need to be prefaced by a little discussion of Michael’s. You know, the craft store. And wonderland of cheap fun things! I joke with my friend Hillary about its siren song, but it’s not really a joke after all. The siren song arrives via email and an app on my phone, and also the million times I drive by the store on a regular basis. They have baskets full of so-cheap-it’s-almost-free stuff right out front, to catch the eye of intrepid magpies like myself. Every now and again they have a big clearance, and I spend $10 and have way more than $10 worth of fun. I squealed with glee when I saw that these little owl clips were marked down to 50 cents (for a pack of 6). I had seen them before, but was unwilling to pay $1.99 or whatever other obviously exorbitant price was attached to them. Yay owls!

Refrigerator RoostI think we’ll use some of them for chip clips or to make a little line with hangers for various art projects in progress, but for now I turned a few into refrigerator magnets. You know those magnets that are (allegedly) supposed to keep your shower curtain liner from flying all over the place when you take a shower? I had some of those leftover from our ex-shower curtain liner (rest in peace), so I glued them onto the backs of the clips. Voila, insta-magnets!

Color!I also found these little treasures. 50 cents! There are some limitations to decorating while renting, but mostly they don’t bother me too much. I make up for not being able to paint by plastering the walls with all kinds of brightly colored things. I loved the color palette of these light switch covers, so I bought all of the ones they had. It cost me $4.

Chevron HappinessOn Sunday I went around the house replacing bland plastic things with happy chevrons. I am already in love with them. Tell me all about your cheap decorating triumphs too! There’s no such thing as too much inspiration.

Eaton Canyon

Eaton CanyonI love that living is such a dynamic process. We’re always changing and growing, to the extent that sometimes things about our former selves can be delightfully baffling. Take this, for example: I used to not care very much about nature. As a kid, I was way more into reading than being outside (perhaps this had something to do with my negative sports abilities?). As a teenager, I was into writing angsty diatribes in my journal, daydreaming in libraries, and wandering through museums. In college, oh my heavens, I loved the snow, and it’s probably the only thing that really dragged me away from my computer and my piles of books. I had some kind of nature guilt, I would say. Whenever I did spend time in beautiful places, I was upset that I wasn’t more inspired by them. I felt like I wasn’t enjoying them the way I should, that I couldn’t really enter into them. This strange detachment from the world around me went on until my early years in grad school. I remember going to Point Reyes with seminar reading in my backpack (the memory makes me cringe) and feeling unable to separate the sand blowing in my face and the biting bugs from the scenic views. I remember going to see the pygmy cypresses near Fort Bragg with my brother and wondering why these little trees, so incredibly rare, failed to move me.

Eaton CanyonAs we were wandering through Eaton Canyon this weekend, I was wondering what on earth finally jolted me from that sense of detachment. It was California, I thought, at first. I know of few people who could remain unmoved by the ridiculous bounty of the Bay area’s plant life, its almost obscenely gorgeous natural geographic features. I remember being stunned on my walks to and from school as I saw flowers I had never seen before in my life. And that was part of it, to be sure. But it was also Nabokov who taught me to see. It was Nabokov who taught me the value of knowing the names of things, of holding them close to my heart, of appreciating that most things only grow in certain parts of the world, and so whatever part of the world you found yourself in, you were in for a spectacular treasure hunt.  I sat in on a Nabokov course on in my second year, and suddenly I was thinking of foxgloves as shy girls with freckles, perpetually looking down at their feet. I was imagining the pine needles dashed by the rain into the vertical surface of concrete steps as nature’s five o’ clock shadow. I was exulting in the tiniest new sprouts of ivy leaves, shiny as fresh shellac, considering them the newborns of the world of crawling shrubbery. Suddenly, everything was so beautiful. Everything was so unique. Everything was so fleetingly perfect, so secretly majestic, so playfully hidden in plain sight. It was one of the most joyous times in my life. I still count it one of my treasures, one of the building blocks of who I am.

Eaton CanyonNabokov and Northern California won me over, and when Eric and I started dating, we did lots of exploring the outdoors together. Neither of us is a serious hiker, but we loved to walk through redwood groves and visit tide pools and learn about all the cacti and rock formations in the desert. Eric is a naturally curious person, and it’s one of the things I love best about him. In the trips that we took together, nature explorations became less of a bonus and more of a main event for me. It was like a whole new world opening up before me.

Eaton CanyonWe saw the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest, we rode to the top of a snowy peak in Aspen, we strolled along every river and stream we came upon. Moving to Southern California, though, was a bit of a jarring experience at first. I missed the freesia and the jasmine and the redwoods and the almond trees. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the muted colors of the desert, the lower and squatter types of plants, the flat plains and the dry and craggy mountains. But now I love them. They hold a beauty all their own.

Eaton CanyonI’ve seen such incredibly improbable succulents here, and more tiny scurrying lizards than I can shake a stick at (not that I would…that wouldn’t be nice). I’ve come to love the sound of sandy gravel crunching under my feet, the sight of one huge agave standing sentinel over a hillside, the scent of wild sage and sweet grass so intoxicating I am convinced I must somehow bottle it up as a perfume. I love it.

Eaton CanyonSo, these are a few of the thoughts that were flying through my head as Eric and I hiked around for a few hours at Eaton Canyon, which is not too far from where we live. It was a happy Saturday excursion. We both wore our hats, and the heat was tempered by a cool canyon breeze. We laughed and smiled and held hands and talked about big things and little things. We pointed out things to each other and said, “Wow.” We felt grateful to be together. We went several miles into the forest, following a lively stream, but we didn’t make it all the way to the waterfall. We’ll have to save it for another day when we get an earlier start, since it was still quite a ways beyond the place where we turned around. (I realize that the sign is misleading–it is not dangerous to go to the waterfall, just to try to climb up to the top of it. Don’t worry, Mom, we would never do that).

Eaton CanyonHere is my mountain man, having a granola bar break. He says now he understands why the early settlers of Pasadena headed to the canyons in the summer–it’s so much cooler!

Eaton CanyonAll along the way, I was mesmerized by the footprints in the sand. They looked like hieroglyphics to me–so beautiful. I took so many photos of them, and I might make a little photo essay out of them.

Eaton CanyonThis whole experience, and the fact that I’d jump at the chance to explore a natural preserve on a Saturday afternoon, reminds me of a few lines from an e. e. cummings poem that I love so dearly:

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

There’s almost nothing I treasure more in this world than my open eyes, my awakened ears. I remember what it was like when they were closed. And now I’ll never take for granted what a gift it is to see, to hear.

Painted Wooden Bead Necklace

Painted Wooden Bead NecklaceMy fantastic friend Hillary came over for craft night this week, and it was big awesome fun. We mostly worked on painting wooden beads, which I expected to come out free of brushstrokes, sparkling with bright and flawless color.

Painted Wooden Bead NecklaceWell, that’s not exactly how they came out, and we laughed a lot about they looked like they had been painted by three-year-olds. Except for the square bead in the center, which came from Hillary’s stash. That one looked awesome. I guess flat surfaces are key!

Painted Wooden Bead NecklaceAnyhow, I wasn’t really planning on making a necklace out of my beads. I considered them basically bead cannon fodder. Except maybe they were the cannon balls, actually. But as I started arranging them by color symmetrically, I started to really like the little weirdos.

Painted Wooden Bead NecklaceI love the color combination, which I don’t think I would ever have chosen intentionally. We just randomly experimented with whatever seemed interesting, and this is what we produced (except that Hillary’s are really amazingly patterned and multi-colored!)

Painted Wooden Bead NecklaceHere is the beautiful aftermath of craft night. I love that I’m still learning that things can grow on me with time. And I love that we had such a great time painting. If you’re having fun, then you’re doing it right. (And, pro tip: if you paint over foil instead of newspaper, you won’t end up with tons of paper stuck to your painted objects. Doubles as palette!) Hope you all had a wonderful holiday!

Back in the Day: Summer Concerts

Back in the DayMy Besfrinn Emily and the equally awesome Ashley suggested the greatest themed Thursday post series: pictures and stories from back in the day. The first topic is summer vacation, but honestly, before I thought of summer vacation, my iPod played two Smashing Pumpkins songs in a row on shuffle (well, one Smashing Pumpkins song and one James Iha song), and I decided that the world needed to see the kind of silliness that Em and I got up to in high school. I met Emily in the tenth grade when she transferred to our school a few days after the year had started. She walked into our English class, and I remember feeling such great sorrow for her that she was going to have to read The Last of the Mohicans, unquestionably the most tedious and dull of the books on our summer reading list, in mere days, when it had talen me many torturous weeks. I felt terrible for her and decided to be nice to her. And then I noticed that she was awesome.

She had drawn Smashing Pumpkins logos on her binders, and I thought this was wicked cool. My brother was obsessed with that band (that is not an overstatement), and I thought they were pretty great too. Before long, we were sharing our nasty cafeteria nachos with each other and planning sleepovers. We used to go out into her dad’s office in the garage and fire up the old modem (modem!) to read Smashing Pumpkins message boards while eating Pancho’s cheese dip. We thought we were so impossibly cool. Our Smashing Pumpkins activities were largely limited to blaring cds and comparing notes on which member of the band we’d marry, along with the occasional gold mine of gigantic concert posters we’d find at the used cd store. Until one day when Em noticed that there was going to be a Smashing Pumpkins concert in Nashville, 3.5 hours away from Memphis, and asked her mom if we could go, fully expecting her to say no.

But she said yes. What?! I am pretty sure she gets a parent halo for that. Em and I spent the summer planning our outfits and dyeing our hair. Yes, dyeing our hair. We got some really tame brand that would not destroy your hair forever (parents’ orders!), and also did not really work. At all. Mine was supposed to be blue, and hers purple. You can only really see it in the hemp hair tie I have no recollection of creating. Ah well. I realize we look full on terrifying here, or actually only I do. Em actually looks really classy. But she always was and always is. She talked me out of putting my fake nose ring in because she is a person of good taste. That’s the best kind of friend. This little card is a Valentine she made for me, with all kinds of inside jokes around the frame, almost all of which I still remember, including the endless nicknames we gave each other. I remember being so proud of those silver tights and my former school uniform shoes, which I painted with my ridiculous array of nail polishes. Those shoes may still be in the closet somewhere at my parents’ house. If I ever find them, I promise a full archeological excavation.

Back in the DayWe took this picture the day we left town, clutching our pillows. Please note my not at all ironic Sailor Moon pillowcase. I was mighty proud of that thing. This is Emily’s house, where her mom still lives, among always freshly cut flowers and the most stately of drinking glasses. I love going there.

Back in the DayThis is not actually a summer concert, but a fall one, based on our velvet attire. Emily came with me to a Tori Amos concert, because she is the best. I loved Tori as much as she loved the Pumps, as we affectionately called them. This picture makes me laugh so hard. We all wrote poetry in high school and vowed never to become pseudo-intellectuals (ha!). We hung out at the local bookstore and conducted “independent surveys” as an excuse to approach boys we thought were cute. Oh my goodness, we were living the life. A retrospective analysis would highlight our love for hyperbolic discourse and a tendency toward excessive effusion. But what else are the teen years for? Besides wearing shoes painted with nail polish, I mean.

Back in the DayThis picture is from a summer music festival, and I have no idea what we were doing. All I remember is that it was really hot, hot enough that I wasn’t wearing my requisite long skirts. I was a really big hippie in high school. And that may deserve a post of its own. But for now, I’m content to look back on these pictures and laugh, and be grateful that I have a friend who saw me through all that fun nonsense and is still one of the people I am closest to in the entire world. Love you, Besfrinn.

Zebra Garden
Here is the totally cute logo for the link-up. You can head on over there to read everyone else’s hilarassing stories. (Hilarassing = Hilarious + Embarrassing)
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