coffee pot posts, Slow stitch, Wonderfulness

Sunday morning coffee pot post

I turned 62 on Friday, so I can now take Social Security early if I really crashed and burned and had to do it! So I guess that’s a milestone of sorts. Even if I do retire early from my current job, I’m going to try to wait to take my social security payments until I’m full age at 67. I’d probably try to find a part-time or remote job.


Sandy took me to Elm St. Grill in Greensboro and surprised me with four of our friends showing up. The food and drinks were great, and we all agreed that we were a really fun crowd. Joseph cracked me up with a version of Happy Birthday that was very dark and twisted. And I got to go through the tequila torture, TWICE, because the owner said the first time was a practice run. I panicked and got confused about whether thumbs up meant I had enough or to keep going. I could not let that go straight down my throat! Filled up my mouth and almost had to spit it all out. But it was good tequila, and it was payback of sorts for when he did it on his 70th birthday. I slept well that night, and didn’t have a hangover.

I promised to show my stitching since the last time. I didn’t get a lot done, but I started adding buttons and I will be adding some lighter contrasting stitching much later. It is fun because I’m just following my nose, really. Many French knots are on the horizon.


Yesterday I had a much needed massage and my neck feels so much better today. I went grocery shopping and made a big pot of soup. Instead of the stitching, I mostly went down the rabbit hole of switching between my book and my family tree again. Boy, did I have some evil ancestors, but I have found whole new branches of the family to explore those threads back to Scotland and Switzerland. The Welsh branch is fascinating and a bit hard to decipher. So many Owens and Davids and Thomases and Williams, and then they start turning to Owains, and Dauids and Dyfdds and Gwilyms and Gwyllams.

My neighbors made a couple of repairs to the siding that came loose in a storm at the top of the front of the house. I suppose I should be happy to have such great neighbors, and I am, but it also freaked me out and made me feel a little, I don’t know, ashamed? I finally had to go hide so I wouldn’t have a panic attack. (No need to tell me I shouldn’t feel this way, I know that. I am mentally unwell.) We were asking for recommendations to get someone to fix it and they decided that they could do it for us. One of them told me that he didn’t want to do it, but if he didn’t, the other guy was going to do it, and he didn’t want him to do it because he was afraid he would get hurt. Men, I swear. But, hey! That’s one thing off the to-do list.

They clipped out the branches in that area and around the utility wires coming into the house too, and it was a beautiful day, so I got a little front yard clean-up done. My favorite flowers are beginning to bloom and the eucalyptus does not seem to have survived the Christmas cold snap, so I’m going to cut it down and see if I can get some dye out of the leaves.

Little by little I am getting this place cleaned up and less cluttered, although I don’t think anybody would see the difference. I’ve been concentrating on the kitchen drawers, cabinets, and refrigerator. I have squirreled away a lot of food for the dystopian future, and it’s time to use or get rid of a lot of it. Sandy wants to switch my studio to the front room again. Just thinking about it makes my back and neck hurt. But it would force us to go through a lot of the books and knickknacks and art supplies and make decisions. I’m good about keeping my book collection under control, but Sandy has a hard time letting go of even his old computer manuals. My biggest hoarding issue is fabric and paper. I think that I’ve purged my yarn as much as I can go.

I’m looking that that Dorothy table loom across the room, and thinking that it needs to go. I’ve never even warped it up. I think I know the perfect place to donate it – my friend is an art teacher at a school for refugees. The refugees haven’t arrived yet, but hopefully it will happen soon. There’s been a lot of controversy about it.

Latest fun thing: listening to public radio WNCW on Alexa. This morning they’ve been playing old-time country, along with some pop and soft rock from the 50s-60s. I am not a big pop country fan, but I do love the old stuff and “Americana.” Now they’ve switched to Celtic fiddle.

The church bells are signaling that it is noon-time, so I’ll close. Have a great week!

art, New Mexico, Santa Fe, Wonderfulness

Meow Wolf, Santa Fe

Wednesday was Meow Wolf day!

It is difficult to describe this experience. Art, mystery, fun, music – an interactive experience for adults and children. Twisted in many ways. A blurb on the brochure wrapped it up pretty well, but not quite: “Like Pee Wee’s Playhouse on steroids.”

Basically you wander through this Victorian house structure within another building, where a family has disappeared. Throughout the house you find clues to what might be happening. Every door, cabinet, and drawer might open up a portal or a surprise. Once in a portal, there may be fantastical art, music making devices, retro video games, or films.

I found that if you scooted into a portal through a small opening, say, through the washing machine door or the fireplace, there was an adult sized door somewhere inside. WordPress won’t let me upload the videos, so click on this next photo to take you to the video.


Here’s another video link to click on below. Turn on the audio:


And one more video link to click on.


After Meow Wolf, we went shopping at the Palace of the Governors on the Plaza where the Indian artisans sell their work on blankets. I chose some nice earrings and Sandy bought a sand painting on a tile. We wandered in and out of shops. Sandy tried an oxygen infusion at an oxygen bar to see if it would help his altitude adjustment. It didn’t. I bought a book about Navajo weavers at a used book store.

Dinner was on the balcony patio of Blue Corn Cafe where I ate tamales and their associated brewery’s stout. YUM.

One of the very best galleries we went into was the Antieau Gallery, with the fiber art of Chris Roberts Antieau. As much as I wanted to take photos, I just took one of the poster outside. I may have to buy the book. The manager of the gallery was so informative and friendly, even though we were clear that we were just looking!

More gardening, Wildflowers, Wonderfulness

Spring sprung: Flowers that multiply

Bloodroots are nearing the end of their blooming season. This is one that started with one clump of roots ages ago that I’ve divided and moved around. It multiplies beautifully and provides flowers at a time when little else blooms. They will grow in shade or sun.

This variegated solomon’s seal is perfect for this soggy spot where rainwater runs out of the gutter. A purchase of three plants about ten years ago now fills in an otherwise difficult shady wet spot in my front yard. The flower spikes and foliage is gorgeous. It is just now emerging from winter’s sleep.

Another successful planting from three perennial bulbs of grape hyacinth that I bought around ten years ago. It was getting stepped on and so I dug up the three clumps, divided the bulbs, and replanted along the sidewalk.

I’ve never been able to get a 100% positive ID on this flower, but you see it naturalized in many of the older yards around here, and it is my favorite sign of spring. I think that it is in the scilla family. One “natural” gardening website actually suggested eradicating it and said that she sprayed it with Roundup to no avail. Good for you, little squills. You show ’em who’s boss. (And NEVER EVER use Roundup, and don’t use the word “natural” if you do.) UPDATE: Identification made by Nancy in the comments: Ipheion uniflorum, AKA Spring starflower. Thank you!!!

All these are in the front garden that I’ve been developing over the past decade. Hellebores, hostas, foxgloves, and comfrey take up most of the rest of it.

Idaho-Wyoming trip, National Parks and Monuments, Wildflowers, Wonderfulness, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, Day Three

On Friday, Judy joined us again and guided us to the areas where wildlife is most often spotted. We drove to the Lamar Valley where wolf watchers scan the meadows for members of the packs that were re-introduced there years ago. Judy spotted a wolf and aimed her spotting scope at it so we could take a look. This area with its wide vistas was stunningly beautiful in a difficult way to capture with a photo.

We saw hundreds of bison in this area of the park. At Soda Butte, we joined a small crowd of humans where the bison were very close. The little ones pranced around and butted heads in play. When one large male decided to cross the creek in a place where he could have come at us quickly, we all backed toward our cars while he eyeballed us. Fortunately nobody in this group was stupid enough to think that stare meant that he wanted to be petted.

^^^Click the photo above to see a video of the bison herd.

At the top of Mount Washburn we stopped because someone said there was a grizzly on the hillside across from us. It must have slipped into the trees by the time we parked and got out. The pink of the fireweed was beautiful, though.

One of the big attractions is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone Falls. We viewed it from Artist’s Point and walked down to the edge of the upper falls on the other side of the canyon.

Here’s a petrified redwood tree stump from a time when the climate was very different here. There used to be more of these, which is why this one is fenced off. People, please. This is why we can’t have nice things.

More wildflowers

We said goodbye to Judy and she headed back home to get ready to go on her next backpacking adventure. I admire this woman so much! Thank you, Judy, for your companionship and guidance on our trip!

There was a large bull elk wandering around our cabins with his harem of does. Rangers stayed close to make sure people stayed back from this one. Elks were in rutting season and we heard their bugle calls every morning and evening.

That night we ate in the Mammoth Hot Springs Dining Room and planned our trip back through the two national parks south toward Salt Lake City the next day. We decided that instead of exploring Salt Lake City on Sunday, we would swing east in Wyoming and pick up a fifth National Park/Monument for our list: Fossil Butte National Monument.

critters, Idaho-Wyoming trip, Montana, National Parks and Monuments, Wonderfulness, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful Geyser Basin

I guess that I thought Old Faithful would be one solitary nature soul surrounded by humans looking at their phones. In a way, it was, but it was one feature in a large field of thermal pools, geysers, and bubbling springs called the Upper Geyser Basin. While we waited for it to erupt, Judy and I went for a walk around the basin and Sandy hung out at the Visitor’s Center, then saved us seats on the benches for the main event.

^^^Aurun and Anemone Geysers?

Beehive Geyser was one of a few major geysers we did not get to see erupt. It’s just bubbling here. After Old Faithful erupted, we could see a large geyser erupting beyond the trees. We think that may have been Riverside or Grand Geyser. We saw so many geysers – honestly, I had no idea.

^^^Click to see the video of Old Faithful erupting.

The inside of the Old Faithful Lodge was almost as impressive as the geysers.

^^^Critters on the way back to our cabin.

That night we decided to drive five miles to Gardiner, Montana, just outside the northern entrance to the park. We ate bison cheeseburgers at Wonderland Cafe, and they were excellent. I was able to text with my sister and get a wifi signal to check in back home where everyone was prepping for a major hurricane.

Idaho-Wyoming trip, National Parks and Monuments, Wonderfulness, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, Day Two

Judy met us for coffee and we got on the road reasonably early for us. First we drove up to the top of Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace where a good photographer obliged us to take photos of the three of us. This is the lookout over the top of the terraces. You can see the hotel complex in the background on the top photo.

We meandered around the upper terrace and then we went to the Artist Paintpots and then the Fountain Paintpots which was a delight in all senses. We walked the trail up and around to see the mudpots. Bloop, bloop, bloop. Sulfur smells. Crusty textures. Unexpected color.

Artist Paintpots. Click photo to see the video of the mudpots.

Fountain Paintpots:

As artists, Judy and I were particularly drawn to the patterns and colors that the different kinds of bacteria make in the thermal pools.

Judy brought us lunch, which we had “Western style” in the parking lot of Black Sand Geyser Basin.

Okay, break for a new post.


Planning ahead

I’ve reached the point in life where everything must be written down or lost, which seems a little bit scary and sad, but when I look back at my blog posts, I think that the ones where I plan are my favorites. I get to think, “hmmm, well THAT didn’t happen,” or “this was perfect planning (pats own back)” or “next time, I’ll add this.”

The next big trip, because if I don’t get in one trip out west per year these days, I get mighty antsy, will check off three national parks and monuments and two new states for us: Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

I’ve been planning this one for almost a year, and most of it has been paid for except a little bit of housing, parking, all the meals, car rental, and gasoline. Originally the tax refund was going to cover it, but we decided that the tree removal shouldn’t wait another hurricane season, and the tornado that hit Greensboro three miles away in April put this issue on my mind.

We’re doing AirBNB again for the most part, and I used Southwest points for most of the airfare to Salt Lake City and back to Raleigh/Durham. I was a little surprised at how much the airfare was, but I tweaked it best I could. I probably missed my calling as a travel agent, because planning a vacation is one of those things I really enjoy. I’m already looking at options for the big trip next year.

Because I started early, I found a relatively inexpensive room at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone for three nights. We have to go outside for the bathroom, but the room is nice. Before that, we found a super cheap AirBNB room in Twin Falls, Idaho for the first night – the nearest affordable place to Craters of the Moon, which is REALLY in the middle of nowhere. Craters of the Moon will be a short stop on our way to Driggs, Idaho, the closest town we could afford to Grand Teton National Park. That AirBNB room is in a former assisted living home, and it has a bathroom but the showers are on the hall. It seems nice from the reviews and the photos. It’s about an hour’s drive from Jackson.

There is a large wildfire near Craters of the Moon, so I might change this plan if the smoke is too bad. There’s no point in going if we can’t see, but it would be rather fitting if we couldn’t breathe the air at Craters of the Moon, eh?

We’ve made a reservation for whitewater rafting on the Snake River in Grand Teton. This time of year it should only be class II and III, and it’s a big raft so I can sit in the middle and ride. I love paddling, but my left elbow does not. We’ll rent wetsuits since it should be chilly but that is not expensive.

We won’t be doing much hiking, given our physical shape. Honestly, I’d be better off hiking than sitting in the car so much – that is what really makes me miserable. But we’ll stop at least every hour or so to let me walk around a bit.

My friend Judy is meeting us at Yellowstone and I am so looking forward to seeing her again. We had hoped that she might visit in North Carolina but it didn’t work out this year. Judy is one of the many friends I have made through attending art retreats, and the closest of those. We met at Journalfest in 2009 and have met up again at Focus on Book Arts a couple of times since then. She is an avid backpacker and one hell of a book artist.

Usually I visit my aunt and cousin near Denver in September, and I couldn’t work out the budget to visit on the way or back because I had to be frugal with the airfare. I’m going to try to go out there for a long weekend sometime in the next six months. I miss my aunt and cousin. They are close to my heart. It’s wonderful that I can get a direct flight to Denver from Greensboro fairly cheap, as long as I plan it for certain days.

Anyway, I’ve managed to figure out a fairly cheap way to travel by practice and the magic of the Internet the last few years. I use my Southwest card for everything to get the points. Southwest is my favorite bargain airline partly because you don’t have to pay extra for a small amount of baggage, and we travel light. There are a lot of things that add up behind the curtain when you shop for cheap airfare. Another is that once you set your schedule, they don’t monkey around with it; at least they haven’t in my case. When I’ve had to cancel, they gave me credit to use for the next year. I volunteered to get bumped once, and I got an $800 voucher! Even the gate agent couldn’t believe it and had to check on it with several people. I am not affiliated with Southwest in any way, by the way. They have earned my business.

After we come back, I’m going to Stamford, Connecticut for a long weekend over fall break to take a workshop from Sharon Payne Bolton, one of my favorite teachers, at the Art-is-You retreat, which is one of my favorite art retreats. I have never been to Connecticut either, so I’ll mark off another state. I found a roommate through the Facebook group and we are taking the same class and seem to be totally compatible. I have made so many friends through art retreats and Facebook. It’s one reason I’ll probably never give up Facebook. Unfortunately I’m flying American on this trip, but it was cheaper to fly to White Plains airport than to take Amtrak or fly to LaGuardia or JFK or Newark and take the train, which surprised me. They have already changed my schedule once, grrrr. I don’t like American Airlines, however, I am on a budget. Honestly, I shouldn’t be doing this at all from a money standpoint.

Then in November we are going back to Topsail Beach for another wonderful book arts workshop with Leslie Marsh and Kim Beller! Another 3 day weekend, this time in off-season in an oceanfront hotel, the Jolly Roger. Susanne, Joseph and I are taking the workshop and Sandy will just hang out like a beach bum while we are there. It will be his birthday present. Often November’s weather is still nice at the beach here.

I’ll add links later. It’s time to go do something else. Expect lots of travel posts this fall.

Reading, Wonderfulness

Favorite Books: Adult Fiction

I had to break this down between adult and children’s/YA fiction because it was too hard to come up with a combined list that was short enough for a blog post.

“Lonesome Dove”
Larry McMurtry, 1985

It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living. I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you live.”

“A man who wouldn’t cheat for a poke don’t want one bad enough.”

“Pea Eye loped up and unfolded himself in the direction of the ground. ‘Your getting off a horse reminds me of an old crane landing in a mud puddle,’ Augustus said.

I almost hate to recommend this one, because it spoiled me for so many books afterwards. This book was so great that Sandy and I competed for reading it, so one of us bought a second copy. So funny, so sad, so thrilling, so horrific, so romantic. It’s got it all. I wish I had not read it so that I could read it again for the first time.

In general, I weathered even the worst sermons pretty well. They had the great virtue of causing my mind to wander. Some of the best things I have ever thought of I have thought of during bad sermons. Or I would look out the windows. In winter, when the windows were closed, the church seemed to admit the light strictly on its own terms, as if uneasy about the frank sunshine of this benighted world. In summer, when the sashes were raised, I watched with a great, eager pleasure the town and the fields beyond, the clouds, the trees, the movements of the air—but then the sermons would seem more improbable. I have always loved a window, especially an open one.

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite fiction writers and poets. He writes a lot of nonfiction as well, but I relate better to his ideas through his fiction and poetry. I read all of the Port William books with love, but Jayber Crow is probably my favorite. A minor character in the other novels and stories, the barber of Port William tells his own story and the stories of other beloved characters in the community. The Mad Farmer Poems is my favorite collection of his poetry.

“Cloud Atlas”
David Mitchell, 2004

…Only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!’ Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

“So do not fritter away your days. Sooner than you fear, you will stand before a mirror in a care home, look at your body, and think, E.T., locked in a ruddy cupboard for a fortnight.”

“Nothing is more tiresome than being told what to admire, and having things pointed at with a stick.

The best way to describe this book is taken from a review I read somewhere – the structure is like a set of Russian dolls. Once you understand that, it’s easier to follow. Many people give up on this one after the second story begins. Please give it a try – they do get some closure. The time frame goes from 1850 to far into the future and then back again in descending order, and the stories range from adventure to murder mystery to humor to sci-fi/fantasy, all linked together by one birthmark in the shape of a comet. I was stunned that they even attempted to make a movie from this book. Considering the challenges, the movie wasn’t bad. I have since read everything Mitchell has published, and this remains my favorite.

“Fair and Tender Ladies”
Lee Smith, 1988

Oh, I was young then, and I walked in my body like a Queen.”

“Then I started crying for it seemed to me then that life is nothing but people leaving.”

“I will remane forever your devoted Ivy Rowe.

Lee Smith is one of my favorite novelists and this is my favorite book by her. Just looking up the quotes for this post made my heart begin to swell for the love of Ivy Rowe. I have an autographed copy and it is one of my most precious possessions.

The Poldark series
Winston Graham, 1945-2002

He thought: if we could only stop here. Not when we get home, not leaving Trenwith, but here, here reaching the top of the hill out of Sawle, dusk wiping out the edges of the land and Demelza walking and humming at my side.”

“Hers would be the perpetual ache of loss and loneliness, slowly dulled with time until it became a part of her character, a faint sourness tinged with withered pride.”

“‘Tedn’t law. Tedn’t right. Tedn’t just. Tedn’t sense. Tedn’t friendly.’

Sadly, I am on the twelfth and last book of the Poldark series, Bella Poldark. I’m going to take my sweet time reading it, too. A lovely Cornish soap opera, this is, but well-written. I stopped watching the newest Poldark series after season one and began reading the books, because I like to form my own vision of the book before seeing a movie or series based on it. Needless to say, I have no problem visualizing Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, though:

So, on to the next bodice-ripping series,

The Outlander series
Diana Gabaldon, 1991-

Oh, aye, Sassenach. I am your master . . . and you’re mine. Seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.

Yes, I know it’s trash. It’s delicious time-traveling trash, though. I stopped reading after the fourth book, “The Drums of Autumn.” That was years ago. These books are so huge that I wanted to read something else in my lifetime. Maybe I wanted you to know that I don’t just read philosophy and self-help books! One day I’ll watch the series, probably.

On the same theme:

“The Time Traveler’s Wife”

Maybe I’m dreaming you. Maybe you’re dreaming me; maybe we only exist in each other’s dreams and every morning when we wake up we forget all about each other.

Audrey Niffenegger, 2003

Betcha didn’t think that I was such a romantic, huh?

The Joy Luck Club
Amy Tan, 1989

So this is what I will do. I will gather together my past and look. I will see a thing that has already happened. The pain that cut my spirit loose. I will hold that pain in my hand until it becomes hard and shiny, more clear. And then my fierceness can come back, my golden side, my black side. I will use this sharp pain to penetrate my daughter’s tough skin and cut her tiger spirit loose. She will fight me, because this is the nature of two tigers. But I will win and give her my spirit, because this is a way a mother loves her daughter.

And everything else by Amy Tan, but I suppose this was my favorite.

The Plague of Doves
Louise Erdrich, 2008

The music was more than music- at least what we are used to hearing. The music was feeling itself. The sound connected instantly with something deep and joyous. Those powerful moments of true knowledge that we have to paper over with daily life. The music tapped the back of our terrors, too. Things we’d lived through and didn’t want to ever repeat. Shredded imaginings, unadmitted longings, fear and also surprisingly pleasures. No, we can’t live at that pitch. But every so often something shatters like ice and we are in the river of our existence. We are aware. And this realization was in the music, somehow, or in the way Shamengwa played it.

One of the most wonderful things about Louise Erdrich is that she has written a constant stream of related books and I haven’t read them all yet. This was the last one I read so I picked it.

Oh, I could go on and on, but I’m going to stop here. I’m sure there is someone fabulous that I missed. The list will never be complete – at least I hope not.

Reading, Wonderfulness

Favorite Books: Nonfiction

“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”
Robert Pirsig, 1974

‘What’s new?’ is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question ‘What is best?,’ a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.”

“Author’s note: What follows…should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.

The first philosophical book that punctured my mind’s shell and led me to think seriously about the cultural American norms of quantity over quality, and fall in love with the foundations of logic. I was assigned this book in Governor’s School in philosophy class but I only skimmed it then. I was 17, in the English concentration, so I had a lot of other reading to do. I came back to it a few years later, a much better age to read this book. It needs to be read thoroughly and slowly. I am re-reading it now.

Also, back in my brief middle management days, I insisted on hiring a manager based almost solely on her answer to my question “What is your favorite book?” The woman who conducted the interview with me thought I was nuts, but the applicant’s answer of the above book got her the job with no management experience and she was fabulous at it.

“The Four Agreements”
Miguel Ruiz, 1997

Be impeccable with your word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don’t take anything personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Don’t make assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always do your best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

This is a life-changing book, a small, powerful book that helped me break my social phobias. I was assigned this book in a graduate class around 2005. I keep a copy of the summary of the Four Agreements above on my office wall where I can refer to them often. These agreements seem simple, but they are difficult in practice. Don’t let the cultish sounding “Toltec wisdom” and some of the more new-agey prose put you off. Give it a chance.

“Up in the Old Hotel”
Joseph Mitchell, 1992

The best talk is artless, the talk of people trying to reassure or comfort themselves, women in the sun, grouped around baby carriages, talking about their weeks in the hospital or the way meat has gone up, or men in saloons, talking to combat the loneliness everyone feels.”

“You can hate a place with all your heart and soul and still be homesick for it.

It would be natural to assume that I love this book because Joseph Mitchell is from my hometown and he was my grandfather’s cousin. I didn’t know about him, however, until after he died in 1996, which kills me because I think that he and I would have had some great conversations. For years all I knew about “Cousin Joe,” as my family referred to him, was that he “wrote for some magazine up north.” It wasn’t until I googled him that I learned that magazine was the New Yorker, and that he was internationally famous! He was another fish out of water in Robeson County, North Carolina, but he also could not put his hometown away. I could write a whole post about Joseph Mitchell, but I won’t. Arguably, this book should be on my fiction page. He is known as a news reporter and essayist, so I’m putting it here. This anthology contains pretty much everything he wrote. Read it. It’s fascinating.

“The Botany of Desire”
Michael Pollan, 2001.

When I first heard Michael Pollan interviewed about this book on NPR, I knew that I wanted to read it, but I had no idea how much it would change my ideas not only about agriculture and plants, but the entire relationship of humans with nature. In a nutshell, we have co-evolved with plants.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Annie Dillard, 1974

Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.

Another book for my re-read list. After I first read it, I pronounced it my desert island book. That was a long time ago and I need to see if it is still true. I suspect that it might be.

“Peace is Every Step”
Thich Nhat Hanh, 1990

We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.

A book that helped me get through my undiagnosed panic attacks in the 90s. I learned to love washing the dishes, and I stopped to breathe when the phone rang. A sweet, simple guide about mindfulness.

“Bird by Bird”
Anne Lamott, 1994

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.

This book is about so much more than writing. After I read it, I went on a tear of reading Lamott’s fiction, and bought several of her other non-fiction books. Sadly, I’m not as crazy about the others. But her writing about writing? Wonderful stuff. I know professors who regularly assign the chapter about shitty first drafts.

The Snow Leopard
Peter Matthiessen, 1978

The sun is roaring, it fills to bursting each crystal of snow. I flush with feeling, moved beyond my comprehension, and once again, the warm tears freeze upon my face. These rocks and mountains, all this matter, the snow itself, the air – the earth is ringing. All is moving, full of power, full of light.”

“Have you seen the snow leopard? No! Isn’t that wonderful?

When I was working for minimum wage in a small bookstore, I could not imagine that I would ever have enough money or time off to travel beyond the occasional weekend camping trip nearby. I sank into travel literature like it was manna from heaven. This book did double-duty by feeding my anxious heart with the teachings of Buddhism as well as transporting me to the land of Nepal.

Outside Lies Magic
John Stilgoe, 1998

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, experts advised men to have their kitchens painted apple-green. The experts believed that apple-green quieted nervous people, and especially wives beginning to think of suffrage, of careers beyond the home. Today the explorer of color schemes finds in old houses and apartments the apple-green paint still gracing the inside of the cabinet under the kitchen sink, and the hallways of old police stations and insane asylums.

This small volume took me back to a free-range childhood in which I was a fearless bicycling explorer of the woods, crumbling old buildings, and back roads of my rural hometown. That child still exists within me, and she still has questions about light poles and doorknobs. Full of surprising microhistory that you probably never considered, reading this book will make you look at the ordinary world in a different way. It is a favorite of public historians for good reason.

To be continued…