Friday, January 8, 2021

Find the Silver & Make it Gold

I started dreaming up this post in early September as I was struggling to cope with the state of the world.  It was another exercise in spirit building.  I needed to remind myself that things weren't as bad as it seemed.  That despite all the required precautions, cancelled trips, irregular social gatherings, and refunded concert tickets I still had a lot of fun and good times in 2020.  It was not 2019 level or anything, but it was still a good year.

I love this picture because I am literally holding my stomach from laughing so hard.  It is from the trip to Hannah's place in July.

This exercise in gratitude and spirit-building was really important to me, especially as winter came on and the end of the year loomed on the horizon.  

I could no longer console myself that the new year would make things dramatically different. Or that "2020 is just crazy and we're writing it off!"  I can remember in the early days of spring thinking that "at least it is nice enough so we can just pass the time outside," and "imagine how dreary it would be to have all this uncertainty and social vacuum in the dead of winter!"  

Oh, those early days were really something, when I think back on them.  I had no idea what we were in for.  

As fall bloomed I couldn't laugh at the memes reading "At midnight on New Years Eve let's all take a shot of liquor and never speak of this year again," because the pandemic isn't done yet.  People are still dying.  The fallout is far from over.  Real life...normal...or whatever I might call it hasn't resumed, no matter how much we want it to be.  No matter what the calendar says.  I am cautiously hopeful about the vaccine process and that 2021 will be a more-normal year, shall we say, in due time.  Still, it won't be like snapping our fingers and returning to life as we knew it.  It will require me to continue being patient and keeping me spirits up.

Our livingroom in festive adornment for the Christmas holiday.  

So, I went back through my diary and our photos and our to-do list and I created an Anthology of Silverlinings.  Of highlights.  Of the fun times.  Of the good from this year.

There is always good.  Sometimes it gets drowned out in the chorus of bad... because there is always bad, too.  Matt had to remind me that even 2019--pinnacle of recent awesomeness--had its downsides.  Some really big ones actually, like my dad going through cancer treatment.  Still, at certain points during 2020 I had a hard time seeing the good so much.  There was so much noise.  So.much.noise.  The good was still there though.  All along.  

Spelling it all out was a useful exercise for me, though I am not convinced it will make a riveting read for anyone else.  And, undoubtedly I missed some silverlinings that should have made the list, too.  (Like hanging out on Derek’s porch, say, and going to Rose Park swimming pool for the first time.)  Either way, keeping this list has been a solid reminder to me of the goodness in my life.  

It makes me think of a song from the second Lego movie that really, really spoke to me this year.  Spoke to me so hard it is almost a little embarrassing how meaningful it was.  I mean, this is a cartoon for kids we're talking about here, but...I won't deny it.  The words struck a chord for me and spoke directly into my soul:  "Everything's not awesome, but things can't be awesome all of the time.  It's an unrealistic expectation, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make everything awesome in a less idealistic kind of way.  We should maybe aim for Not Bad, because Not Bad right now would be real great."

Yonder Mountain String Band in concert.
On a dayhike in rimcountry with Matt.
  • January
    • I discovered shrink plastic and made an obscene amount of earrings, pins, and magnets.  I really like tracing photographs and making tiny versions of real life memories.  This would go on throughout the year.
    • Matt and I had an awesome dayhike adventure on the Rims.
    • Our friend Scott had a fantastically fun birthday party which featured his rock band and great vegan nibbles.  I got to dance with three of my former college professors while Scott rocked out.
    • My mom came to visit for her birthday weekend and we had a relaxing good time together.
    • We figured out how easy it was to make tamales in the InstantPot.
    • We went to the Boiling River--always a treat--and saw a flock of about 1,000 waxwings on the hike in.
    • We went to the Rialto in Bozeman for the first time and boogied our butts off to Yonder Mountain String Band.  We stayed with Adam and Clare so it was a two-fer--family time and dancing time!
    • We watched the Super Bowl with Ryan.  Matt made the LVI roman numerals out of pickles.
    • I ordered a puzzle from Shutterfly and it was really fun to get to put together a puzzle comprised of my own photographs!  I went with a Hillberry theme.
    • I got to hang out with Michelle and her sweet baby Sky.
A Kitchen Dwellers concert for Valentine's Day.
Travel fun with Ryan and Bek.
  • February
    • We took advantage of the lack of snow and went on a dayhike adventure to Castle Butte.  We climbed to the top to a place we'd never been before and found some amazing layers of rock that were so loosely attached to each other we could have peeled them back one by one.  We found a bunch of rock carvings created by early white settlers as well as from the indigenous people who have lived and passed through this area.  We've seen the petroglyphs before, but the cattle brands, etc. were all new to us.
    • We met up with some friends to hear David Cleaves' band play at Craft Local.
    • We bought two cases of beer from Yellowstone Valley Brewing as they were going out of business.  It was a lovely way to extend the farewell process.  YVB has such a special place in my heart.
    • Matt, me, his brothers, and Bek flew out to Minnesota together for a cousin's wedding.  The wedding was super fun and it was awesome to get to see everyone.  The weather was unseasonably nice which rocked my socks off since I'd been dubious about the whole Northern MN wedding in February thing.  We had some sidefun, too including a trip to a sweet arcade bar and a really artsy and unusual minigolf course.  This would prove to be our only real trip out of state for the year, though we didn't know it at the time.
    • Matt perfected French Onion Soup based on some advice from America's Test Kitchen.  I love that he loves this magazine.  He's always making incredible things from there.
    • We went to a Valentine's Day pajama party show with Kitchen Dwellers in Bozeman.  They said they had an opening band named Pillow Talk, but it was totally just them.  So, since we arrived in time for the opener (thanks, Josh!), we got to see three sets of Dwellers instead of just two.  It was hilarious because half the crowd was dressed up fancy for V-Day and the other half was literally in pjs.  We were in our pjs, of course.  There were so many friends at this show it was crazy.  I made shrinkeedink Kitchen Dwellers pins to give away in the crowd.
    • We passed the lazy winter days reading in the hammocks in the greenhouse before the plants are in there.  We sure love that winter clubhouse.
    • There was a bittersweet going-away celebration for April and Bryant who moved to Wyoming for work.  Beers, stories, laugh, and games.  
    • We got to boogie to the always lively world music fusion of John Roberts down at Craft Local.
    • There was one of the most magical snowfalls of my life.  The flakes were HUGE and you could watch them fall individually from so high up in the sky because they were so big.  It was crazy cool.  We wandered around the neighborhood staring up into the sky in amazement and delight.  They were really easy to catch in your mouth and made all the trees simply magic.
Quite literally hanging in the greenhouse clubhouse.
Fire and the cosmos in the backyard.
  • March
    • We got a table for a solo Wes Urbaniak gig at Craft Local.  This would turn out to be our last local show of the year, though we certainly didn't know at the time.
    • I finally finished the curtains for the bedroom.
    • Matt got a recipe for shepherd's pie for Test Kitchen and went on a little shepherd's pie making bender.  I think we had it once a week this whole month long.
    • I attended my first live-streamed concert.  It was a solo Clinton Fearon set from The Nectar in Seattle.  That also happens to be my favorite place to see him live in Seattle.  It was really moving and he did good things for my spirit.
    • We had a Simpsons trivia session via videochat with my family and a few interested friends-that-are-basically-family.  The level of dorkdom was off the charts and we laughed a whole lot.
    • At my sisters' suggestion we made little paper mouths and tried to stage photoshoots with the cats with them--you know, Johnny with a handlebar mustache, Ginger with red lipstick, etc.  It was a silly, fun little diversion.
    • We passed more lazy winter days reading in the hammocks in the greenhouse.
    • We had David over to play some bocce in the backyard.  Matt loves bocce way more than me and I'm always glad when someone else wants to play with him.
    • I successfully made yummy yogurt in the InstantPot after a couple failed attempts.
    • We had a going-away bonfire at Josh's, just the three of us, since he's moved to Bozeman for work.  We miss him boatloads.  He's like the brother I never had.  He then promptly gave us his firepit since he wasn't going to take it with him to Bozeman.  We didn't know it at the time, but this would prove to be an essential upgrade in our pandemic year.  
Screenshot from a videochat with 3/5 of the BobLobLaw bunch.  Val was wearing lipstick so Chantz and I decided to put some on, too. 
On a dayhike by the Yellowstone River with Matt.
  • April
    • To compensate for the lack of face-to-face interaction I engaged in quite a bit of of video chats with my sisters, the O'Malleys, Steph, the BobLobLaw Sidney crew, and even my dad!
    • While on an ordinary walk around the neighborhood we took a new route and discovered a really cool (albeit tiny) nature park right by our house.
    • My friend Chelsey dropped off a bag of pre-cut colorful paper hearts.  We chatted for a few minutes and then later Matt and I had a fun creative session filling the kitchen windows with hearts.  We had them up until the end of the year by which point they were quite sunfaded.
    • In the interest of novelty and giving us both a boost, Matt surprised me with a six-course appetizer meal.  He even created cocktails and menus!  It was so sweet and so tasty and we had a really wonderful date night at home.  He's a gem.
    • We'd heard about a relatively new nature park along the Yellowstone River.  We had an absolutely wonderful day exploring at John Dover park.  In addition to lush greenery and the swiftly moving river they had really cool suspension bridges!  That was an unexpected bit of fun.
    • We drove over to Big Lake NWR to do some birding.  What a great way to feel like you're in the middle of nowhere while having hardly gone anywhere at all.  We parked our chairs lakeside and just watched and listened all afternoon.
    • We grew the best vegetable seedlings for the garden ever.  Matt installed an actual grow light instead of just florescent tubes.  Between that and getting the timing right proved very beneficial.  The pepper seedlings in particular have never been so sturdy and lush.
    • The half dead tree that's been menacing us from along a shared fence line finally got cut down.  We were thrilled for a lot of reasons.  
    • I hung a few strands of Christmas lights on the deck.  I thought maybe the whole neighborhood could use a little extra cheer.  I knew I did!  Then it snowed and they looked even more cheery!
    • I read The Stand--largely in the bathtub--and it was just about the most perfect pandemic read ever, I think.
    • We ran into Matt's mom while we were out for a bike ride and she was out for a walk.  We hadn't seen her since the lockdown started so that was an extra nice surprise.
    • We decided to treat ourselves to a little takeout and support our favorite restaurant.  We picked up some Fancy Sushi and went to a nearby park for a picnic on the grass.
    • We saw a line of SpaceX satellites while we were out enjoying a late night bonfire.  We thought we'd seen UFOs for about 12 hours.  When I looked into in the next day it readily became apparent that they were very much Identified Flying Objects instead.  It was still cool though.  They looked kinda neat, like God has a laser pointer or like there was a flock of radioactive flying geese.
    • The peach tree started blooming for the first time and it was glorious with blossoms.  They were so incredibly beautiful and the bees loved them even more than I do.
Ginger helping me out with a sewing project.
On another dayhike by the river with Matt.
  • May
    • I got together for a birthday dinner with my god-sister, RaeLeigh, and her folks.  We ordered Thai take out and told stories.  This was a nostalgic good time for me because it has been decades since I'd shared a meal with her whole family.  Plus, I got to check out their new house with the great view.
    • I finished my first patchwork dress.  A patchwork dress has been a sewing goal of mine for a long time.  I needed to get a little more familiar with both patchwork and dressmaking process though, I guess.  It turned out great and I'm quite pleased.
    • We had some top notch tacos and Mexican beer on Cinco de Mayo.  We also read up on the history of this holiday.
    • We had another session of backyard bocce and beers with our friends David and Ben.
    • Matt and I did a Bob Ross painting night together.  I am pleasantly surprised by how much Matt is into the new hobby.  He spent his whole life feeling that he wasn't good at art, but he totally is.
    • We had two get togethers on the patio over at Matt's folks.
    • I had a really great birthday celebration.  Matt and I spent the day at Dover Park down by the river.  I had a  Houseparty game session with my BobLobLaw pals, a video chat with my sisters and my dad, and a superb dinner with cheesecake.  To cap off the excellent day we had a fire and my bowling buddies brought over an Oreo buffet.
    • My sister Lisa's best friend (and one of those basically-family types) sent me an absolutely stunning suncatcher that lights up my house with rainbows.  It was such a wonderful gift and brought me delight over and over and over again all year long.
    • My friend Lacee hosted a fire in my honor so I was able to catch up with my galpals for my birthday.  I got to meet her new pet bunny who was super cute and friendly.
    • We spent a Saturday afternoon hanging on Memo's front porch shooting the breeze and winging metal throwing cards at a target.  An interesting fellow called Sugar Foot stopped on his way by.  He swapped some stories (including some about knowing Dick Cheney when they were both kids back in Wyoming) for a smoke, a sandwich, and a glass of water.
    • The Linden trees bloomed and filled the air with that honeysweet-scent.
    • Matt was thinking about getting me a hammock chair (or sky chair) for my birthday.  A friend of ours happened to offer a pair for sale in still-in-the-package condition.  So, Matt bought 'em and hung 'em in the big pine tree out front.  They're wonderful and it seemed like some sky chair birthday destiny.
    • There were a couple more video chats/digital Houseparties with the BobLobLaw crew and my sisters.
Playing around at Medicine Rocks State Park.
Russian Lilacs in bloom along the roadside.
  • June
    • I stayed a week at Whitetail Forest Service cabin (which technically started in final days of May) and was my Megavacation for the year.  Matt never ended up having a vacation longer than three days this year so I feel extra grateful for the week of solitude and relaxation.  The birding there was off the hook and I put so many miles on my bicycle.
    • We went on a one night backpacking trip at Capital Rock National Natural Landmark.  That is such a unique formation and we felt like we were the only people on the face of the earth.  We rambled over the hills and climbed to high points, gazing out over all that green.  We even found a little waterfall.
    • We made a picnic pit stop at Medicine Rocks State Park on our way home from Capital Rock.  The rocks here were pretty remarkable, too.
    • Our strawberries were exceptionally bountiful this year so we had an awesome variety of strawberry desserts.  I think the galette was my favorite.  Or the strawberry pie Matt baked for our anniversary.
      • Matt transformed some of those berries into dessert which we took over and shared with Matt's parents and Ryan and Bek on the patio.
    • I took a chance and flew up to the hi-line on one of those teeny-tiny airplanes that seat six.  My sister was coming by train to drop off my nephew for the summer.  It made my heart glad to get to hang with my family.  I got to see Lisa, Eli, Mom, Paulette, Grandma Nina, Sarah, and Kel.  
      • The immediate family rented a cabin and spent the night at Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs.  We spent a lot of time there in our youth so it was really cool to go back there with my sisters.  We played a lot of cards and cracked a lot of jokes about how much the water smelled like farts.
      • I was granted permission to go through a closet of vintage dresses on my grandparent's farm.  I'd had my eye on it for almost a decade.  I was too broad-shouldered for much of it, but what a treat either way!  The bridesmaid dresses from my parents' wedding were in there!
    • Matt drove up to the hi-line to pick me up after the time with my sisters.  He decided to turn it into a weekend getaway for our wedding anniversary.  He rented the posh suite in an historic hotel that had--dreams come true--a jaccuzi tub.
      • The next night we made a lovely campsite nestled in a lush, green forest glen near Zortman, MT and found a neat and tranquil old mountain cemetery to explore nearby.  It seemed like a truly great final resting place, if you asked me.
    • We took the kayak out to Lake Elmo for the first time.  It is so cool to see the birds from water level.
    • My dear, dear friend Hannah came through town and we got a brief visit.  I love this girl so much.  There are no words.  She's my soul sister.
Flowers as far as the eye can see in Yellowstone.
Stopping to enjoy the sunset on a bike ride with Matt.
  • July
    • Matt and I were able to spend more time than usual with my nephew, Eli, this year.  He came out to Montana for a month in the summer and then moved here for in-person school opportunities this fall.  Usually we only seem him a couple times a year at best so the extra time together was awesome.  This included grilling, bike rides, a backyard fire, lots of games, hiking at Zimmerman Park, and a daytrip to the Beartooth Pass.
    • Matt and I had a really spectacular daytrip to Yellowstone National Park via the Beartooth Pass.  We hiked to a backcountry geothermal area where the river's edge bubbled with geothermal activity.  Our legs were tired by the time we made it back to the car, but we felt like a million bucks.  There were so many flowers it was like the whole world had gone yellow!  We even saw a family of Mountain Goats.
    • We got together with Matt's folks for a visit on the patio (and some audiobook technology troubleshooting).
    • Our first crop of shallots was off the charts.  Plus they were really cool looking as they grew, almost like an aloe.
    • Our garlic was huge!  Eli was around to help with the harvest.
    • Against general advice and recommendations (and Matt's wishes), I got together with most of the BobLobLaw crew at a fancy house in the Paradise Valley for a long 4th of July weekend.  Fortunately it all turned out well COVID-wise and we had an absolute blast being together.  We swam, went boating, did fireworks, ate, drank, played games, and forgot about the world for a few days.  
A very happy gardener with his first haul of shallots.
The Star Party campout at Hannah's included some driving range fun for the boys.
  • August
    • We had more eggplant than we could eat... all month long.  It was just an endless bounty!  We had to invent an awesome new tomato sauce (a variant of this one) just to use them up in time.  Now we have that to look forward to all winter!
    • We finally checked Ringing Rocks off our to-do list AND got to meet up with my dad and Dana at the same time.  I hadn't seen my dad since mid-December and that was just breaking my heart.  So, we planned a trip where we could meet in the middle and be outside.  My dad and Dana came over to Ringing Rocks for the afternoon with us and then we camped out when they headed back home for the night.  
      • We got to pop in on Adam and Josh on our way back home AND go for a refreshing dip at Headwaters State Park, too.  We sure got a lot of bang-for-our-buck on this particular weekend.
    • The county fair didn't get canceled, but we decided not to go to the modified version that was carrying on.  So, we celebrated with "Fair Food Week" at home instead.  This included fresh squeezed lemonade, curly fries, buttery corn on the cob, pretzels, etc.
    • Matt made a stuffed pizza from Test Kitchen that was like a dense packet of pizza dankness.  It was crazy good.  Like a pizza and a calzone, but better.
    • Matt re-webbed my old-school lounge chair.  It is good as new now.  I love that they can be fixed in a way the modern style of camp chair don't seem to be designed for.
    • I got to hold baby Jessie--my newest Taurus twin, tiny daughter of of pals Kelly and Brian.  I was sure I wouldn't be able to hold her given the pandemic, but then Kelly asked if I wanted to...and I about died with happiness.  She is a gem.  I love babies.
    • We camped out at Hannah's off-grid place in the country for the Perseid meteor shower party.  This is something I do almost every year.  This time Josh and his girlfriend came along, too.  We laughed and stared into the sky at all the cosmic wonder and jammed tunes and generally had the best time.  
      • We also went swimming in the river a couple times to beat the heat.
    • There were some especially gorgeous sunsets on account of the wildfire smoke.
      • Matt listened to a really fascinating podcast about smoke particles and the power of rain to clear the air.  It made us think about the smoke in a whole new way.
    • I got to play Houseparty games with my BobLobLaw friends twice.
    • We discovered a new-to-us greenspace just of the haste of Shiloh Avenue.
    • Matt and I got to go swimming and hang out with Alli when she was staying in a hotel in town for work.
    • Matt built me a little bar for the basement, repurposing an old cabinet we had down there.
    • I made two Magic Wallets for my grandma.  And they actually work!  Like magic!
    • We got together with Matt's parents and Ryan and Bek for another patio visit.  This time Sharon's sister Verna and her husband Mike were there, too.  We sat around the picnic table shooting the breeze and drinking Ryan's beers.
    • I did a majority of my telework from the sunshine of the patio.  It was a killer office.
    • My friend Val mailed me a pair of beaded earrings she had made specifically for me.  They have saguaro cactus on them under a bright yellow sun and are so flippin' cool I can barely stand it.
    • Our regular farmer's market got cancelled, but Matt and I found a farmer's market that has sprung up on the West End of town.  We secured dill and cucumbers so we could still make pickles.  
    • Matt and I set up a badminton court in the backyard.  I am terrible at it though I find it ridiculously fun.  Basically Matt and I just would see how many times in a row we could volley rather than really playing Badminton though.  It matched my skill set better and was thus more fun.  
Ginger basking in the sunshine in the lush, green garden.
Our favorite overlook on the Pintler Scenic Loop.
  • September
    • We got our first solid crop of winter squash, especially butternut squash.  I don't think we started early enough or gave them proper room before.  They rocked it this year.  We put more than a dozen into the basement storage for winter.
    • The sunsets continued to be particularly amazing because of all the wildfire smoke.
    • We rented a cabin along Rock Creek for Matt's birthday weekend.  We got a huge spread of Indian food at our favorite restaurant, Masala, and enjoyed a dozen vegan doughnuts from Veera instead of baking a birthday cake.   The doughnuts were magnificent creations.  I ate my very first jelly doughnut and my first apple fritter.   The cabin was off the charts--super charming, with a private sauna and a killer screened porch. The creek was bubbling just feet away.  Matt seemed to have a really awesome birthday.
      • We took a sidetrip to the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas which was beautiful, tranquil, and educational. 
    • Matt's mom cooked him up a scrumptious Mexican birthday dinner.
    • Kelly hosted a Vegan Shark Cootchie (or Vegan Charcuterie, if you rather) themed brunch in her backyard.  It was absolutely delightful to catch up with the the gals.  The weather was gorgeous and the spread of nibbles was superb.
      • Lacee's date cuts trees for a living and brought an orphaned baby squirrel they were trying to nourish since the poor thing's treehome was cut down.  I got to bottle feed the itty-bitty squirrel and it was just about the cutest thing ever.  I was about beside myself with awwwww-factor.  Never thought I'd have a squirrel kitten nestled right into my neck, but it happened!
Matt and Eli in a badminton battle.
Jack-o-Lantern Main Street set up on the coffee table.
  • October
    • We got to eat three different kinds of vegan corndogs in rapid succession after years of not having one.   This was kick-started by the homemade corndogs from Fair Food Week and continued by the fact that Natural Grocers started carrying a couple brands of them.
    • I went to Chelsey's fabulous new house for a seasonal apple cocktail, homemade pho, and a micro-clothes swap with her and Julia. 
    • Matt and I tackled the Corn Maze together.  Using Sarah's advice we took only left turns...and I'll be gosh darned if we didn't fly through that thing.  Though, there was a bridge that we failed to navigate well than kept us circling for a liittle while.  The moon on the field was lovely.  There were also some fun balance games, a petting zoo, and other bits of entertainment.  It was our fall tradition that was least altered by the pandemic, I think.
    • We went up on top of the Rims to enjoy the fall leaves as they changed color.  It is such a wonderful overview for that.
    • We carved jack-o-lanterns.  We went with a little gnome house/village sorta theme and it was superbly satisfying and amusing.
    • With much rejoicing I broke a 216 day concert fast by attending an outdoor show with Matt and Josh.  We saw Todd Sheaffer (of Railroad Earth) and Chris Thompson (of Coral Creek).  It rained and was a little chilly...as one might expect for an outdoor concert in Montana in October.  Chris scoped us out in the dirt parking lot of the dive joint right off the highway and said "The bar for live music has fallen really low, huh?"  We couldn't have been happier to be there though!  It was so rad dancing with my friends.  I was delighted by the whole experience.  Chris did a one-man Terrapin that was so friggin' good!  I got to have a brief chat with Todd about how that very same weekend we'd planned to be watching Railroad Earth at Hillberry in Arkansas, but that I was just glad to see him in any way, shape, or form.
      • Josh, Matt, and I went to Norris Hot Springs for a soak the next morning. 
      • On the way out of town we popped in to say hi to Adam and Clare.  
    • My stepsister decided not to postpone (again) and so she and Tony got married in front of the Washington Monument.  We all attended by Zoom.  It was still moving and I am glad we could be there to share in the event, even if digitally.
    • Eli stayed with us for a couple days again.  We played snowminton (i.e. badminton with snowballs), made snow angels, and built snowmen.
    • Our City Council voted to deny a rezoning request I'd organized a protest against beginning the last week of August.
    • I rallied another session of cocktails and stories with the local gals--Casey, Kelly, Steph, Lacee, Jessica--via video chat.  I am so pleased my friends are willing.  It isn't quite as cup-filling as being with them in person, but they still fill my cup either way.  I know that Casey and Lacee in particular aren't the keenest on the technology, but I'm glad they still participate.
    • Matt's mom got some killer deal on carry-out Red Robin so we had a family take out dinner at the folks' place. 
    • I finally managed to finish my first basket weaving project.  Sarah and Keleigh gave me a kit for Christmas last year at my request.  I wanted one after my trip to Petrified Forest National Park.  I gave basket making a go in the spring and was frustrated to the point of setting it aside for many, many months.  The second try is still far from perfect, but it was interesting and I got better as I went.  
    • My BobLobLaw crew got together for a Houseparty game night full of laughs.
    • We had so many tomatoes that we decided to give a bunch away to a handful of friends and Matt's parents.  This was really awesome.  Everyone was SO stoked to be gifted with the garden bounty.  Roger's tomatoes apparently didn't do so well so Matt was especially pleased to be able to share with him.
    • I got to spend a lot of quality time with my great-aunt Mary Ann.  She lives with my second-cousin (her daughter) Julie.  Both of them are experiencing health concerns and I stayed the weekend with Mary Ann while Julie was in the hospital for surgery.  In times like these it is often hard to know what to do to help. This was an easy one though and I was glad to be there.  
      • I brought them one of the jack-o-lanterns and they both seemed to really enjoy the little touch of festivity.
    • I won the Most Funny Costume contest for staff at the college.  This is less impressive given the exceedingly low turnout this year, but I'll take it.  I have a cute little traveling trophy in my office until next year.  My costume was "Wake Me Up When It's Over," and consisted of me wearing my jammies, bathrobe, and slippers and drawing Zzzzzzzs on my black face mask.  I felt like a winner just because I got to come to work in my PJs.
Matt's Bob Ross creation.  I still don't know how they did that reflection on the water...
Fresh sourdough bread with cultured cashew cheese and Italian berry jam.
  • November
    • Kelly, Brian, Jessie, Lacee came over for a fire one night.  Kelly brought over freshly seasoned cider in her slow-cooker and we had a heart-warming good time.
    • Joe Biden/Kamala Harris won the presidential election.
    • My dad came to town for one night.  He delivered a couch my stepsister was getting rid of and that was an upgrade for us.  The new couch is pretty exciting, but seeing my dad made it seem like nothing.  I've really missed him this year.  They also gave us a desk that used to be in the front room of our house in Sidney.  I wasn't sure how much use a desk would get at our house, but it turns out that I love having it.
      • I also went out to eat inside a normal resturant for the first time since March.  To my beloved Olive Garden, home of bottomless bowls of Minestrone and endless breadsticks.
    • Matt and I had our third Bob Ross painting party.  As with both previous session, Matt is much better at following along with Bob.  Seriously.  Matt is really good with the ol' Bob Ross paint-a-long.  It is such a fun process and a total rollercoaster ride--"its awesome, oh, that looks terrible now, wait...it got better...oh, that's horrible, why'd I do that...if you say so, Bob...oh my goodness, that looks great!"
    • Matt and I had a nice Thanksgiving Feast at home, just the two of us.  We talked with my family on the phone and had a family Zoom with my in-laws.  Sharon and Matt usually do the cooking for our holiday meals and they decided Thanksgiving 2020 would be no different.  Matt made rolls, bread, cashew cheese, and individual apple pies to deliver to Ryan and Bek and Roger and Sharon.  Sharon made everything else--everything!  even lefse!--and just told us to swing by and pick it up for home consumption.  It was a homemade feast, takeaway style.  It worked, even if we missed the normal celebratory routines.
    • I had a much-needed night of levity with my BobLobLaw folks playing silly games and drawing silly pictures in Houseparty.
    • I took headphones up to the Rims and jammed out a special Thanksgiving Sunday live stream show with Todd Sheaffer from Zimmerman Park.  It made me laugh, cry, and everything in between.  It was a heck of a view for the concert.
    • Matt surprised me with an awesome and highly-aromatic bath bomb.  I had a nuclear-green soak that smelled like heaven.  
    • Matt went on a sourdough break baking kick with an accompanying cashew cheese kick.  I love it when this happens.
I made the paper chains as Christmas decorations, but the cats liked them as cat toys, too.  Ho, ho, ho!
Winter camping near Yellowstone.
  • December
    • RaeLeigh surprised me with a tea-of-the-day Advent calendar.
    • Matt located the new vehicle we'd been looking for and the purchase went really smoothly.  We'd been saving and were able to just buy it outright which felt friggin' awesome.  
      • We broke in the new rig camping near Yellowstone that very day and had a wonderful time.
      • We enjoyed a sunset soak at Yellowstone Hot Springs.  
    • The first two weeks of the month were crazy (and inappropriately) balmy weather-wise.  It made for some epic winter cycling and Matt was raking leaves in a t-shirt on December 8th!  I strung up Christmas lights wearing no jacket the next day!
    • My sisters got the Houseparty app after another little nudge from me.  We've sure play a lot of games in there ever since!
      • While Lisa and I were having a Party some of the BobLobLaw group joined the room and we had one of the biggest game session I've had yet.
      • My sisters and I actually had two sister Houseparties in one week, including one for Sarah's birthday.
    • I made another Magic Wallet for my grandma.
    • Sarah's best friend organized an In-Person+Digital hybrid surprise party for Sarah's 40th.  The technology may not have been perfect, but the idea was wonderful and Sarah was certainly surprised.  I'm so happy she has such good friends.
    • My Bunco group hasn't played since February, but Cindy organized a holiday party for us, including a gift exchange.  Cindy left a gift on her porch and throughout the day the rest of us popped by and took the porch gift, leaving another in its place.  The next day we got together in Zoom to open the presents and enjoy a little company and catching up.  It worked out really wonderful and I'm touched that Cindy figured out a way we could still have our holiday party.
    • December isn't always snowy here which bums me out since I grew up in White Christmas country.  So, when we got a few inches of snow we capitalized on it and went out looking at Christmas lights three nights in a row.  The lights are all the more lovely reflected off and blanketed in the snow.  There are many themed neighborhoods in town--Archway Lane, Snowflake Ridge, Candy Cane Lane, Whoville, etc.--and we managed to hit every single one.  We also visited a few individual standouts like The North Pole and Santa's Workshop (which are individual homes where the residents absolutely go nuts with decorating and it becomes a community affair).  
    • We scored the Christmas star (made from blue lights tacked to plywood in a star shape) which hung on the front of Matt's childhood home every Christmas for as long as he can really remember.  Roger was going to dismantle it and asked if we wanted the lights.  Sentimental heart that I am, I asked if we could just take the whole thing!  So, now it is shines from the front of our house instead.  This warms both of our hearts.
    • Val sent me awesome earrings as part of an arts trade--tie-dye for beadwork.  Subsequently a few people have commented on how "dressed up" I looked in our videochats.  It is all the earrings.  I was actually in running shorts and a t-shirt in one case.  ;)
    • Matt made sugar cookies and we had a jolly good time decorating them with colored buttercreame frosting and sprinkles.  I enjoyed at least one to three of them every day.  They were beautiful and so melt-in-my-mouth amazingly tasty.  He eventually made a second batch which we frosted with some of Sharon's leftover sugar cookie glaze-style frosting.  And sprinkles.  Of course!
    • Matt organized a second Appetizers-Only Restaurant at Home-style extravaganza for me since I'd been fretting pretty hard about Christmas plans (or lack thereof).  It was delicious, of course, that goes without saying.  But, it was also just a really lovely and thoughtful surprise to brighten my day.  
    • I appreciated by annual two weeks of paid holiday vacation.  Admittedly, I wasn't looking forward to is as much as in a normal year, but it was still fabulous to have so much time for the cats, baths, playing games, puttering about, going for walks, etc.  I did a lot of reading during these two weeks and a lot of jigsaw puzzling.  I borrowed a bunch of puzzles from Matt's parents.
    • We bought a live Christmas tree from the local hardware store near our house.  With the bubblelights and the family ornaments all arranged it looked really nice and cheery.  I was glad Matt talked some sense into me when I proposed just skipping it this year. Ginger thought that the water basin was for her and had a serious sap-induced cowlick for more than a week.  Johnny kept trying to nibble the long needles, as if they were grass. 
    • Matt made the most gorgeous (and yummy) homemade ravioli.  It was almost too pretty to eat. Almost.  We popped most of them in the freezer for a lazy day.
    • The orchid I've been faithfully tending finally had its second bloom.  It is still going strong with more flowers on the way, too.  Matt got the orchid as a thank you down at the health department this spring, but it has become my baby.  After his co-worker nearly killed hers she gave it to me as well.  I sorta babied them all summer and am immensely tickled they're blooming again.
    • We got together with Matt's folks a few times.  I hit up their Puzzle Library for some Christmas and Winter-themed puzzles to borrow.
    • Matt and I collaborated on a super rad eight-foot long tapestry perfectly sized for our stairwell.  He did the dying and I cut and finished it to the right size.
    • We had another Bob Ross session at home--a fun little desert scene with cactus.  This time, in contrast to all the others, I really liked how my finished painting turned out and Matt is disappointed with his.  I also think the process is getting easier and less stressful as we gain in experience working with oils.  
      • Matt's parents bought us a big set of canvases for Christmas so we have a couple more canvases primed and ready to go for the next session.
    • My BobLobLaw crew organized a Christmas Storytime.  We each read a sweet Christmas book to each other in Houseparty.  It was merry and delightful.
      • And then we played some games, too.  It was super-fun (digital) Christmas party.
      • After telling Memo that he'd inspired me to rally the Christmas Storytime with my friends he (and Jess) stopped by to give us a dramatic Christmas reading of his own around the campfire a few days later.
    • My cousin, Ellen, organized an extended family Christmas Zoom Recital.  This was nothing short of spectacular.  I loved every single minute of it--even when Grandma was having tech problems and couldn't tell if she was muted or not.  There was singing, dancing, trumpet, flute, and piano pieces, a dramatic reading of Twas The Night Before Christmas, and more.  Our family always has a talent show at Family Reunion and this was a wonderful seasonal version of that.  Matt and I did The Holy and the Ivy on flute and ukulele.  I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a new family tradition.  Even in a normal year we cannot all gather together, spread as we are from the coast to the midwest.  But, we all thoroughly enjoyed the holiday spirit and togetherness.
    • Matt and I had a great Christmas at home, just the two of us. We went and looked at the luminaries on Mariposa Lane and ate Italian meatloaf. We played games.  We went for a long walk.  We had a late Zoom with the Schatzke‘s and I talked with my family on the phone and in video chat throughout the day.  I even got to open Sarah's present while she was "there" on video.  
      • We got three new board games for Christmas and all of them are super fun.
      • Matt wore his festive "ugly" Christmas vest.  
      • In honor of The Year of the Bath, I was gifted a splendid assortment of bath goodies.  There were three kinds of mineral salts, a variety of bath bombs, and a bath pillow.  I am already well into using them up!
      • I got TWO new lava lamps this year.  Matt said 2020 deserved two.  One of them has silver lava which is just about the coolest thing ever.
    • Ginger adopted a simple piece of white cotton string as her New-Favorite-Toy.  It came tied around a Christmas package.  Ginger is obsessed with it.  There is no other word for it.  She will play with it until the humans get tired and quit.  She could chase it all the livelong day, it seems.  Chantz called it "Ginger's pet String," which cracked me up and seems fitting.  It has turned Ginger into a kitten again.  She is a playful cat, but this string takes her playfulness to a whole other level.
    • We went on a second camping trip near Yellowstone in the new vehicle on the day after Christmas.  We had the whole campground to ourselves and awoke to a beautiful dusting of snow the next day.
      •  As an added bonus, we got to have a soak at Yellowstone Hot Springs with the Nelson family who were in the area visiting Alli's folks.
      • Matt and I spent the afternoon boulder hopping up this scree field near the campground.  We climbed quite high and the view just kept getting better and better.
    • My sisters and I had another Houseparty on New Years Eve day.  We sang hilariously terrible karaoke, played Uno and other games, and shared in lots of good conversation, laughter, and cats.
      • Lisa handed her phone off to my mom so I got to catch up with her a little while, too.
    • We had Casey over for a New Year's Eve fire in the backyard.  We lit sparklers and shared a toast and told stories and laughed.  
      • She taught us about Cockney slang and ended up giving the Rav4 its name:  The Jam Jar.
The backyard in May.

I guess it is a little late, but here is to a happy New Year for us all!  This year is going to be so full of good things. I will continue to keep my eyes peeled for them.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Books Read (and Listened to) in 2020 + Movies, too

I am pretty much shocked to be writing my annual reading recap.  Time has been so fluid that I can hardly believe 2020 is over.  That was one topsy-turvey year.  The routines and seasonal landmarks that I am used to have been twisted and turned all over the place.  I can't believe 2021 is here.  And at the same time I can.  2020 was paradoxically the fastest year and the longest year all at the same time.

A screenshot from Goodreads featuring some of my 2020 reads.
I am also pretty shocked that I didn't read more during the big pandemic year--with such an unencumbered schedule I figured that'd I read a ton.  Yet I didn't even meet my Goodreads Goal (125 books) for the year for the first time in the eight years I've made one.  

If I am honest, I was too distressed to read a lot of the time.  My brain felt so cluttered with the uncertainty and contentiousness, chaos and sadness that I just wanted to space out more than usual.  I thought reading would be the perfect escape, but I struggled to remain focused.  I'd try to read and end up re-read the same page over and over.  I found it virtually impossible to listen to audiobooks and that's not like me.  My mind wouldn't stop wandering away...  

I sat with a lot of silence this year because it felt good and gave me time to think.  I also watched an atypical amount of TV, namely That 70s Show, the Simpsons, and Sex and the City.  No new episodes, just old comfortable ones.  I streamed music almost constantly, but even that was too emotionally charged on some days (hence relying on the comfy metaphorical sweatpants of TV).  Or, I should say, the television was on....but my mind still might have wandered off somewhere else, I guess.  I just didn't care if it did.

I dabbled some in scrappy little patchwork projects like this monogramed bookmark for my sister Sarah.

I still managed to read 101 books during the dramatic 2020 calendar year.  I'm fine with that.  That's still plenty of good stories flowing into my brain.  "About 101 more than the average American," as Matt told me.  Plus, for the second year in a row, not one book earned the dreaded One Star in my rating system.  So there was quality over quantity, if nothing else.  

Matt, in contrast, read more books than I've ever seen in a single year.  I do believe they were exclusively from the Dragonlance family of books.  He went on a fantasyworld bender.  So, Matt read more than usual and I read less than usual.  It was 2020.  That sounds about right for such a mixed up year.  Why not?!  

Reading in the Greenhouse Clubhouse hammocks back in February.

If I was gonna narrow it down I'd say that This I Believe (vol. I & II) were the most dramatically life/perspective altering and absorbing books that I read last year.  They changed me.  I still can't stop talking about them, sharing links to the recordings from the NPR site with folks I know.  I feel like I learned a lot about the American people.  It gave me hope.  It broke my heart.  It made me laugh and then cry.  It was wonderful.  I listened to them as audiobooks (which was basically like listening to the radio) and then promptly requested print copies from the library so that I could read it all over again so as to more slowly, leisurely ruminate on the words.

A screenshot from Goodreads.  I certainly enjoy their Year in Books review infographic.

My Top Ten Reads of 2020, in no particular order.

  • Holy Cow by David Duchovny
  • Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
  • Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
  • This I Believe, volumes I and II edited by Jay Allison & Dan Gediman
  • Wizards: Magical Tales From the Masters of Modern Fantasy edited by Jack Dann
  • The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card
  • Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • The Stand: Complete and Uncut by Stephen King
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  • Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fiction and Illusions  by Neil Gaiman

As usual, it was incredibly tricky narrowing down the top ten so I'm listing my Honorable Mentions, too:

  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
  • Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle
  • Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party by Ted Rall
  • Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn
Another screenshot from Goodreads:  I am super pleased that my average book rating for the year ended up so close to a four star!  I also think it is saying something that book highest rated by Goodreads users is also the longest book I read last year.  It might be long, but it was worth it.  Plus, it is a graphic novel so its not like it is 1,300 pages of dense text.
I didn't read any absolutely terrible books this year, but there were several that disappointed me in one way or another.  For example, I read the first volume of both the Inheritance trilogy and the Paper Magician series and found them only "meh."  I felt no compulsion to snap up book two in either case.  If book one doesn't  immediately make me want to tear into book two then I just can't see why I'd bother.  Also, I sure wish the editors of The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter had waited until after all the Harry Potter books were published before they put together this anthology.  It seemed premature to publish essays of analysis when the Harry Potter story was only half told.  It made the academic book significantly less awesome, though, to be fair, the two essays on language changes and translating Harry Potter were pretty fabulous and those were the reason I picked up the book in the first place.  They did NOT disappoint me.  They were excellent.  I'm sorta surprised I didn't give it a one star, given all the grousing I did while reading it.  (Ask Matt.)  I guess that just goes to show how fascinating I found the language essays to be.
A screenshot from Goodreads featuring more of my 2020 reads.

2020 Annual Stats
Number of young adult or children's books: 43
Number of adult books: 31
Number of audiobooks (both adult and YA/children): 27
101 Total Books (compared with 129 total books for 2019)

There were a eight books that I read more than once during the year (The Lost Gate, David Duchovny's Holy Cow, etc.) so it is 93 unique book titles.

A screenshot from Goodreads.  Frosty the Snowman came to me via a digital Christmas Storytime I organized with my hometown bestie bunch.  We each took turns sharing a holiday story we enjoy with each other.  It was downright delightful.  I think we should do it again this year.  Alli's was Frosty the Snowman.  Chantz did How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  Val read Jimmy Fallon's 5 More Sleeps 'til Christmas.  Hannah read a copy of Twas the Night Before Christmas that was published in 1910. I read The Gingerbread Man.  Afterwards I realized there is really nothing Christmassy about that story aside from Christmas' modern association with gingerbread.  And that Memo gave us an over-the-moon awesome dramatic reading of it once in the Greenhouse Clubhouse, after we went round looking at Christmas lights.   Memo seemed pleased that he had inspired a digital Storytime with my other friends.

I had three goals for my 2020 reading--Finish my Newbery winners project, carry on with the 50 States book project, and try not to read Harry Potter over and over like a psychopath.  I was successful on all counts.  

  • It took longer than I expect, that's for sure, but I have now read every Newbery Award winner ever.  That was a pretty rad five-year project.  What a nifty slice of American history there!  I'm really pleased with the whole thing.
  • While I checked off another six states, I've still got nine to go until I'll have read a book set in each of the fifty states.  This is a very casual, back-burner sort of reading endeavor, it turns out.  Anyone have a good book set in Iowa they'd like to recommend?  ;)
  • I totally caved and read the first Harry Potter.  Twice.  But it was a totally new experience of the tale though!  I watched the Harry Potter at Home read-along videos as they were dolled out--and then once more after they had all been released.  I can't deny it:  The shared Harry Potter moments did make my pandemic days brighter.  I looked forward to the next one eagerly, curious who would be reading to me, and feeling connected to people around the world.  Plus, I mean, I could have David Beckham read to me all day any day!  :)  It was cool to see the stage actors involved, too.  Given the extenuating circumstances of this year I still consider the Give-Harry-Some-Space goal well accomplished.  I also read a few books about Harry Potter and, technically, finished the UK edition of Azkaban a few days into January 2020, but I started it in December 2019.

Reading in the bath.

My 2021 reading objective is to focus on female authors.  I decided to prioritize this after I read Everyday Sexism.  Like many folks, I've read way more books written by men than by women in my life and I want to work on that.  I'm inclined to say I'll focus exclusively on books written by women, but I think I'll refrain from such absolutes and permit a little wiggle room. 

A screenshot from Goodreads featuring more of my 2020 reads--and my first review of the year.

Below is the complete list of books I read or listened to during 2020.  An asterisk indicates that it was an audiobook.  They are in reverse chronological reading order.

  • A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel (Sean Michael Wilson & Charles Dickens)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children's Crusade: A Graphic Novel Adaptation (Ryan North, Albert Monteys, & Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)
  • You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas (Augusten Burroughs)*
  • A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)*
  • A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
  • The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror (Christopher Moore)
  • Holidays on Ice (David Sedaris)*
  • It's Christmas (Jack Prelutsky & Marylin Hafner)
  • Pete the Cat: Snow Daze (James Dean)
  • 5 More Sleeps 'Til Christmas (Jimmy Fallon & Rich Deas)
  • Frosty the Snowman (Diane Muldrow)
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Dr. Seuss)
  • The Gingerbread Man (Patricia Martin Zens)
  • The Gingerbread Man (Patricia Martin Zens)
  • Skipping Christmas (John Grisham)
  • This I Believe II : More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women (Jay Allison & Dan Gediman, eds.)
  • Strange Planet (Nathan Pyle)
  • Angels in the Vineyards (Jessel Miller)
  • This I Believe II : More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women (Jay Allison & Dan Gediman, eds.)*
  • This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women (Jay Allison & Dan Gediman, eds.)
  • The Lost Gate (Orson Scott Card)
  • The Lost Gate (Orson Scott Card)*
  • The Phantom Twin (Lisa Brown)
  • Political Suicide: The Fight For the Soul of the Democratic Party (Ted Rall)
  • Me (Elton John)
  • The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon (Lana Whited, ed.)
  • Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters (Mark Dunn)
  • Fortunately, the Milk (Neil Gaiman & Skottie Young)
  • This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women (Jay Allison & Dan Gediman, eds.)*
  • Living the Good Life: How To Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World (Helen & Scott Nearing)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Harry Potter At Home Read-a-long (J.K. Rowling)*
  • The Dead Zone (Stephen King)
  • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates (Wes Moore)
  • The Paper Magician (Charlie Holmberg)
  • Wizards: Magical Tales From the Masters of Modern Fantasy (Jack Dann, ed.)
  • Magic for Beginners (Kelly Link)*
  • The Darkest Dark (Chris Hadfield, Kate Fillion, Terry Fan, & Eric Fan)
  • Everyday Sexism (Laura Bates)
  • Mother Goose, a Collection of Classic Rhymes for Little Ones (Bendon)
  • American Gods: The Author's Preferred Text (Neil Gaiman)
  • Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (Gretchen Rubin)*
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Harry Potter At Home Read-a-long (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Bucky F*cking Dent (David Duchvony)*
  • Merci Suarez Changes Gears (Meg Medina)
  • New Kid (Jerry Craft)
  • Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D'Art (Christopher Moore)*
  • Hello, Universe (Erin Entrada Kelly)
  • Timequake (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fiction and Illusions (Neil Gaiman)
  • The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
  • Holy Cow (David Duchovny)*
  • Holy Cow (David Duchovny)*
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Kelly Barnhill)
  • Last Stop on Market Street (Matt de la Pena & Christian Robinson)
  • The Crossover (Alexander Kwame)
  • M is for Magic (Neil Gaiman)*
  • Lucky For Good (Susan Patron)*
  • Lucky Breaks (Susan Patron)*
  • The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate
  • Dead End in Norvelt (Jack Gantos)
  • The Long Cosmos (Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter)*
  • Moon Over Manifest (Clare Vanderpool)
  • The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
  • The Ring of Solomon (Jonathan Stroud)*
  • Ptolemy's Gate (Jonathan Stroud)*
  • The Stand: Complete and Uncut (Stephen King)
  • When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)
  • The Golem's Eye (Jonathan Stroud)*
  • The Amulet of Samarkand (Jonathan Stroud)*
  • The Long Utopia (Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter)*
  • The Long Mars (Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter)*
  • St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets (Annie England Noblin)
  • Volcano Dreams: A Story of Yellowstone (Janet Fox & Marlo Garnsworthy)
  • Saga: Compendium One (Brian Vaughan & Fiona Staples)
  • My Wild Cat (Isabelle Simler)
  • Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer (Barbara Ehrenreich)
  • A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation (Barry Wittenstein & Jerry Pinkney)
  • The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean)
  • Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village (Laura Amy Schlitz & Robert Byrd)
  • Big Cat, Little Cat (Elisha Cooper)
  • The Long War (Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter)*
  • The Higher Power of Lucky (Susan Patron)
  • Eragon (Christopher Paolini)
  • Cats You're Going to Love: Busy Day (Suzanne Green)
  • Big Cat, Little Cat (Elisha Cooper)
  • Izzy, Willy-Nilly (Cynthia Voigt)
  • Comic Epitaphs from the Very Best Old Graveyards (Henry Martin)
  • Home in the Woods (Eliza Wheeler)
  • Cinder Yeti (Precious McKenzie & Edward Tanzosh)
  • The Rough Patch (Brian Lies)
  • Ida, Always (Caron Levis & Charles Santoso)
  • Criss Cross (Lynne Rae Perkins)
  • The Long Earth (Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter)*
  • Kira-Kira (Cynthia Kadohata)
  • Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel (Odyr)
  • Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (David Sedaris)*
  • The Tale of Despereaux (Kate DiCamillo & Timothy Basil Ering)
  • From the Good Mountain:  How Gutenberg Changed the World (James Rumford) 
  • Calypso (David Sedaris)*
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban [UK edition] (J.K Rowling)
  • Harry Potter: A History of Magic (British Library)
We entered Johnny in a pets-and-books social media contest through our public library.  We didn't win the contest--there was no way we could compete for Likes with some of the more unusual pets, like that tarantula--but if you have fun then you've won.  So, we're still winners.  Both the cats were quite smitten with the holiday paper chains I was making to hang about the house.  I had to give them a couple strands of their own to play with.

Here is to a 2021 filled with excellent books and other pleasant adventures!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Making Magic Wallets

This summer my mom tasked me with a small "sewing" project for my Grandma Nina.  My mom understands that my crafting style leans towards smaller projects that can be completed--start to finish--in a day.  In this case, in just a couple hours.  Added bonus:  This is actually a no-sew project.  It is just cutting and gluing.

My grandma is a fan of the so-called "Magic Wallet."  Do you know about these?

For me, they bring to mind Mrs. Peterson, who was a substitute teacher almost my entire 1st Grade year after a fall seriously injured my regular teacher.  Along with a punctilious emphasis on penmanship and a very short and well-endowed physical stature, I remember that Mrs. Peterson made Magic Wallets.  A few years back our paths crossed again on the craft show circuit.  Small world.  She still makes Magic Wallets.

My mom had almost all the required supplies for me--spray adhesive, fabric, and ribbon.  And the worn out favorite I was trying to knock-off.  The only thing I had to find was the rigid cardboard base.  Matting board was suggested, but wasn't available at Jo-Ann's and I was in no mood to shop around.  Ultimately I used some cardboard cake serving platters (aka cake boards) from Jo-Ann's baking aisle.  

Grandma's well loved tri-fold Magic Wallet.

My mom also included a print-out of this free pattern she had found online.  That is what I used as my guide--though the typos drove me a little bonkers.  To make it just a shade tricky, my grandma's Magic Wallet was a tri-panel version with credit card slots instead of the standard two panel Magic Wallet.  I looked for a pattern online, but didn't readily find one that matched Grandma's old battered favorite.  So, I just ad-libbed from Robin's pattern.  

The other side of the well loved wallet.

I made one, learning some of the finesse of working with spray adhesive along the way.  Then I made a second which turned out slightly better than the first, as tends to happen.  I sent her both.  In her return thank you card Grandma was quite tickled that I'd figured out how to make them.  She also asked if I might make one more, but of the basic model this time.  Since her whole retirement community has been on lockdown together for much of the year she doesn't carry her checkbook and cards so much, but still needs a little cash from time to time.  She thought maybe a plain-jane Magic Wallet would be a better fit, given the circumstances.  

It took me a couple months to get around to it...which is really silly given how easy a Magic Wallet is to make, but it all worked out.  When I got Grandma's name in the family Christmas exchange I knew that the time had come.  I made it in red rose fabrics I had leftover from a dress I made (and never posted about).  She loves red.  And flowers.  It seemed right.

Apparently making wallets is my thing.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

New Ride, New Dreams

We bought a vehicle exactly a week ago...and then promptly took it camping that afternoon.  
The previous weekend had been gloriously mild and I lamented the fact we didn't seize on the sunny weather for some sort of big outdoor adventure.  I actually got rather blue and weepy about it.  Our increased time at home has really and truly grown on me....but I can't completely stifle my wanderlust.  Matt could read the signs and said we'd go winter camping that following Saturday.  The forecast still looked good by December standards with high 40s-50s during the day and 20-30s over night.
As the week progressed, Matt found a Toyota for sale that had pretty much all we'd been looking for in our next vehicle.  For the past six months or so he's been scouting around town and online for a Rav4 with specific traits (including 4WD, a full-sized spare mounted on the rear, low mileage, from 2008-2012, etc.) and he finally found one that checked all the boxes.  It worked out so that we paid for and picked it up on Saturday morning and were still on our way to Yellowstone by noon!
What an inauguration!    It seemed pretty dang perfect to me.  Yellowstone in the winter is just as spectacular in a completely different way as in the more popular seasons.
We were told about a year ago that our Corolla was on the decline mechanically.  We joke that she was put on hospice with no major life saving measures allowed.  There are some main engine components that are showing leaks and extreme wear.  Our mechanic said he couldn't say for sure how long it would last--could be years yet or maybe just months, depending on use--but he didn't recommend that we fix it.  Our Corolla is 15 years old and pushing 300,000 miles.  It has been totaled out twice by insurance (hail the first time and when we were hit while parked at a restaurant the second time).  The car is basically a thousand tiny dents and one huge one at this point.  Matt repaired the exhaust system with some specialized epoxy and dryer hose clamps.  And so on.  She looks and sounds quite rough at this point, but so far she's running just fine.  We didn't want that to end while we were up some crazy mountain road or something though. 
The Corolla might still have many miles in her yet--and we kept her, officially becoming a two car household for the first time in a decade or more--but we just don't know how long she'll be up to the task of our heavy road tripping.  In this regard, the pandemic was a two-fold blessing in disguise.  We didn't put nearly the miles on her this year as we typically would and we were able to save money even faster for our car replacement fund since we weren't buying concert tickets and plane tickets, etc.  We were able to pay for the new rig outright which felt friggin' amazing.  I was really proud.  Plus, we were really hoping the Corolla would hold out long enough for Matt to find our dream car...and she did!  Now the Corolla can be our bumming-around-town car which she is still totally suited for.  
In addition to being a reliable ride we also wanted a new vehicle that could double as a mini-RV, of sorts.  An intro into "van life."  It was delightful to get to test that out with some prompt winter camping.  The temps were in the 20s outside and yet I actually got so hot inside my sleeping bag (inside the Rav4) that I had to peel off some layers--including my socks!  The wind was howling outside and would have made sleeping in the tent a bit brisk, I bet. We were so utterly cozy in our new rig, dreaming of the new doors this sort of camping will open for us.  Rugged mountain roads, boondocking, music festivals, all-weather, etc.  Matt is thrilled to have a travel-related idea to research.  He pretty much always has a trip he's planning and he's missed that adventure research.  Figuring out the best way to outfit the Rav4 for our purposes is a good alternate.
I think that 2021 is going to be The Year of the Pryors.  Those mountains are so close, but getting up into them in a passenger car can be tricky and nerve-wracking.  We basically went there once in the Corolla and then never tried it again.  Our higher clearance will permit for a whole new world of adventure there.  I have my fingers (and toes! and eyes!) crossed for a music festival season in 2021, too.
Here is hoping that our second Toyota serves us as well and as long as our first!  On even more rugged and remote adventures!
All photos from our inaugural campout: 
A beautiful bull elk--or Fuzz Butt, as I was calling them,
Boulder hopping with Matt near camp, 
the new vehicle with a Yellowstone backdrop, 
Matt on the upper terrace at Mammoth, 
Undine Falls almost completely frozen solid,
Frozen geothermal features at Mammoth, 
A sunset soak at Yellowstone Hot Springs, 
me on the boardwalk at Mammoth, 
More beautiful fuzz butt under that winter moon.