Thursday, June 25, 2015

5 books that changed my life.



Have you ever wondered why it is that some books stay with us long after we close their covers?

How the mere mention of a book title can transport us back to a distant time in our lives, make us smile wistfully and ask ourselves,

“Now what was it about that book again?”

Book lovers know that long, engrossing conversations about books are like food for our soul, they nourish us and feed our voracious appetite for even more books, and more reading.

Personally, there’s nothing that gets my attention faster than seeing a blog post on the subjects of books.

And while hearing about plots are nice. And reviews are helpful.

Do you know what I really want to hear when you tell me about your favorite books?

I want gut reactions. I want passion. I want messy, unedited feelings.

I want to know if this book got under your skin and why.

I want to know the first words that appear on the tip of your tongue when you think about this book, even if it’s only a hint of something, like that moment you recognize a  face in a crowd but you can’t remember their name.

It’s that lingering sensation after you finish a book. That’s what I want to explore with you.

I’ve been wanting to write a post about books that have changed my life ever since we moved and I found myself rummaging through boxes of books I’ve collected over years. Funny how simply running your hand over a book can evoke old feelings. It reminds me of this quote by Maya Angelou:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Well I think books can have a similar affect on us, we might not be able to retrieve specific details years later, but we remember how they made us feel.

Do you agree?

Because today I’m sharing a few books that changed the trajectory of my life. Books that jolted me out of an emotional stuckness I didn’t realize I was in and therefore, changed me from the inside out. Although you probably realize this, like most transformative events timing is everything.

When I look at my selections, I realize that so much of their power came from the shifting ground beneath my feet during the time I stumbled on them; I was young, vulnerable and at a crossroads in my life. Although I didn’t realize it at the time.

These books lovingly introduced me to a place inside myself I was only beginning to know.


1. The Octopus; by Frank Norris

I remember sitting in a office, squeezed between a cheap wooden desk and a gray metal bookshelf crammed with files and textbooks. My history professor was a small, wiry guy with a gray speckled beard and dark, bushy eyebrows who wore jeans and white collared shirts. I was there to get my midterm grade that was based solely on a 40 minute oral presentation and I still remember him staring intently at me over his glasses before he asked me this question.

“So. Do you know what a sleeper hit is?”

I shook my head, unsure how this question had anything to do with my recent performance in class.

“A sleeper hit is well, you know Woody Allen’s movie, Annie Hall?  That’s a sleeper. It’s actually taken the critics by surprise….have you seen it yet?”

He waited until I shook my head.

“.. I’m telling you this because well…that’s you. And I have to tell you.” He nodded toward me as he lit up his pipe.  “I sure didn’t see you coming.”

And this is the moment I’ll never forgot.

He looked at me and said, “You are what I’d call a sleeper. A hidden gem. That—by-the-way, was the best oral presentation I’ve seen in a long time.”

And today, decades later when I think about The Octopus, Frank Norris’s literary masterpiece I think of being captivated by history and layers of family relationships, and how later I would became a therapist whose work was to listen to family histories and deal with complex dynamics.

When I think of The Octopus I remember speaking in front of a classroom and feeling gloriously alive.

When I think of The Octopus I think about a spring day in a windowless office surrounded by old textbooks and the musky scent of pipe smoke.

When I think of The Octopus, I remember what it feels like to be a nineteen year old girl. And the scary feeling of drifting and the joy of being found.

This was the period when I was trudging along in a local community college, buoyed  only by the comforting sense of identity I got as student; I had no one on either side of my family who had ever gone to college. I slipped in and out of the academic world the way a visitor steps into an alternative universe. And before this meeting, I’d had no adult who gave me a second glance.

You are a sleeper, he’d said. A hidden gem. And these words became my lifeboat during a  rudderless period in my life.

Sometimes it only takes a passing comment to awaken something inside us. A few well- chosen words that offer us something tangible to hold on to until we find our bearings.


Have you ever felt yourself adrift in your life?

Was there a person who saw something special about you at a crucial time?   






to be continued: Book 2: Drama of a Gifted Child; Alice Miller



I’m partying at French Country Cottage and Grace at Home








Friday, June 19, 2015

Garden Charm ….5 weekend projects on my list




The other day I came home with 96 feet of outdoor café lights.


Here they are, still sitting in the boxes waiting for us to catch up with our landscaping in the backyard. But have you seen these at your neighborhood Costco yet?



1. hanging café lights

I checked online and saw they had great reviews so I didn’t hesitate. Because ever since I stumbled on this tutorial I’ve been wanting to add these lights to our new outdoor space.

outdoor living room

The best part of this project is realizing you don’t have to have an outdoor structure…


…or a giant tree to have twinkling lights hanging in your backyard.



2. getting creative with solar lights

Speaking of lighting I saw some creative ideas for using inexpensive solar lights. I haven’t used solar lights before have you?

But tucking them into planters looks like a great idea.



So does this. Taking dollar tree solar lights apart and putting them into Tiki torches.



One project we did complete recently was to plant 4 huge palm trees as anchors for a future dining area. And we plan on wrapping them with white lights like this.

I’ll keep you posted on this project but first we still have to finish the surrounding area around them.


Right now were planning on using pavers with either regular grass or a ground covering between the pavers. Something like this.

If so, this would be the only grass in our little backyard. Because we’re in the middle of a serious drought in California our landscape decisions have been very conscientious of water usage.

3. collecting green bottles for outdoor tablescapes


Here’s something else on my mind. Saving our green wine bottles! Look how pretty they look when they’re displayed en masse…



Looks like I’m going to have to find a new favorite wine inside this shade of green though..which is not so easy to find. Any recommendations?


4. transforming a birdcage into planter

And finally.

Here’s something I can do with my old birdcage I just couldn’t let go of….

add some succulents to it and hang it outside.

I recently discovered a local garden designer---literally down the street--- who creates beautiful displays of succulents. You can see some of her ideas HERE.




And now that we’ve gotten rid of a very oddly placed door—

we actually have some outdoor wall space for a rustic mirror.


Molly Wood Garden Design

5. adding a mirror outside

Something similar to this one but at a great price, of course.

Which means I’ll probably be scouring flea markets and quirky shops for awhile.

(but you know me. I consider that the fun part)



Have a wonderful Father’s Day weekend my friends!!






partying at the French Country Cottage 



Monday, June 15, 2015

delicious white cake recipe…with fresh strawberries and cream


This weekend I had an abundance of juicy, ripe strawberries and I decided to go on a recipe hunt for a really moist white cake.

Are you looking for a dessert for your Fourth of July barbecue?

Because after scouring over lots of ingredients I decided to try this RECIPE and you know what?

It’s a keeper.



After a weekend spent working in the backyard, I was in the mood to enjoy the slow, methodical movements involved in baking a cake.

…when you have to blend each of the five eggs into the fluffy butter mixture before adding the next one…



…and take time to sift together the floor and salt and baking powder in a glass bowl.


This particular recipe used buttermilk, regular milk and vanilla extract whisked together in a measuring cup…

then added into the butter mixture and dry ingredients, blending well after each pour.



There is nothing more enticing than seeing thick, sweet cake batter dripping off the beaters

don’t you agree?


I discovered the key to baking a moist cake is to not over-cook it.

Gotta remember to use that timer.



I frosted the top and middle with vanilla buttercream frosting and served each slice with chilled strawberries and lightly whipped cream.




I hope you enjoy!




Thursday, June 11, 2015

the life changing magic of tidying up…three things



Ok. I might be a little late to the party. But I’m just now reading THIS book by Marie Kondo mostly because the timing was perfect.

After our recent garage sale I got a whiff of how liberating it truly feels to get rid of excess stuff that’s been accumulating over our twenty-seven years of marriage.

And all of a sudden I’m on a mission to go through our entire house with a fresh pair of eyes for the purposes of purging!


Are you one of those people that has a designated place for everything in your life?

Because I am not. And I’ve never been one to master the art of what Kondo refers to as the KonMari Method, which basically says that you cannot keep a tidy, clean house unless you discard all your excess clutter.

According to this view it doesn’t matter how clean your toilets are and how well you integrate feng shui techniques into your home design, the effects will be undermined by the mere presence of excess stuff.



1. According to Kondo storage experts are hoarders.

If you hire Kondo to help you organize your rooms she will insist that storage is not your real problem. And all those expensive storage supplies you got at a bargain price? She will label them ‘booby traps’ and tell you that putting things away only creates the illusion that your clutter problem has been solved.

This is why any successful transformation of your home must start with discarding.

Did you hear that? Don’t even think about cleaning until you discard first.

(Hmm… so this is why we have stacks of storage boxes filled with stuff we actually forgot we had)

And she is ruthless when it comes to procrastination. You must use self control to resist the easy way she says, which is throwing things into a box until you figure out if you want it or not.





2. How to decide if an item should be kept or not?

Touch every single item. And only keep what evokes a sensation of joy.

This is one of her rules I totally get. I’m a tactile person and it makes sense to me that when I hold something I will intuitively feel whether it’s a joyful association or not.

According to Kondo this works especially well with clothes.

I just filled two boxes with clothing I couldn’t remember wearing last. Clothing that just wasn’t “me” anymore.

Although this technique doesn’t necessarily mean tossing out items you’ll never wear; I have a black t-shirt dress my Grandma bought for me off a sale rack that I will never wear. It’s actually for a twenty-something person but now that she’s gone it fills me with joy to see it hanging there, a visual reminder of how young Grandma still saw me.

Do you have clothing and shoes that no longer represent how you see yourself today?

Why do you think you still have those items?





3. Do NOT sort and discard by location. Sort by category.

First you must bring out your designated item from every room in your house, lay it out in the middle of a room to see the total number you own…before you begin to sort and discard.

This is how you begin to understand the way clutter has taken over your life.


This was probably the most helpful tip I’ve gathered from this book so far. It just makes so much sense when I read how she learned this trick. She spent years emptying, sorting and cleaning bathroom drawers only to discover the same items in other drawers around the house. The end result was a constant sense of déjà vu.

The root of the problem according to Kondo, is that most people keep the same items in different places around the house. So when you tidy by location you’re repeating the same work in different rooms.

Instead of tackling one room at a time—Kondo recommends setting goals for specific items.

Clothes today. Bathroom drawers tomorrow.


Last night we finished planting our big palm trees in the backyard and we have the workers coming tomorrow to finish the stucco around our new French doors that lead to the outside.

So I’m the first one to admit that achieving a stream-lined, tidy house is hard right now with drywall dust and garden dirt everywhere.

But that’s ok. Maybe it’s my age but I’m so ready to live my life surrounded only by things I love, and that contribute to my peace of mind…







Can you relate to this post?






I’m sharing this post with these friends:

Share your Style

Grace at Home 

Feathered Nest Friday

Lifestyle Link-up




Tuesday, June 2, 2015





Sometimes reclaiming our power is as simple as starting all over.

Have you noticed this too?

We start something. We stall for awhile, and sometimes we even give up. But there is a certain scrappy power that comes from persisting, from our willingness to keep learning from our stumbles and begin again.

Within each of us is this inner reservoir of strength that we can must stay connected to, that we must feed and nourish through our self care and our positive mindset. But last month I felt myself draining it more than I was replenishing it.

Even when Life is full and bustling with basically good things it is possible for me to lose a sense of balance about my life; my own role as first-born and ‘caretaker’ in my family dynamics means that I can give and give until I suddenly wake up feeling depleted. And finding myself asking questions like, “Why has it been so long since I’ve gone to the gym?” and “Why am I spending so much time doing menial chores when I want to be doing other things?”

Have you noticed how little annoyances grow when we’re not taking care of ourselves?

And so…June is the month I find myself in need of a re-start in a few areas.



 After ending May in a whirlwind of activities that included sending Michael off to Georgia to compete in the National Regatta Championships and then attending his final—very sentimental-- Crew awards banquet, hosting my parents for a much needed visit, continuing our DIY projects ( new French doors installed in a room) and joining a neighborhood garage sale where we finally—finally—have rid ourselves of cumbersome stuff from our old house….


I awoke on the first day of June feeling a surprising lightness.


Suddenly June was looking like my new best friend.


And the first thing I did was go back to the hot yoga studio.

I had traded yoga for the gym several months ago and even though I had a good run with a personal trainer who gave me a set of work-outs that I truly enjoy, I just never felt the same emotional replenishment that I got with hot yoga.

So instead of focusing on what took me so long, or worrying about my abilities to do the poses after so long, I just went back. I signed up again and plopped down on my mat and languished in the joy of being back in the heated room, inside my sweaty body, surrounded by fellow peace seekers.

In fact, before I left  I joined the Summer Challenge going on at the studio which is a commitment to 52 classes in 92 days. Basically four classes a week throughout summer. Which means my name is now plastered on the studio wall making it a definite commitment.

Which is what I needed, to reclaim some balance in my life for something that makes me feel strong and healthy from the inside out.

How about you? Is there something in your life you want to prioritize this month?

Would you like to join me for a little June Self Care?




Before I go here are some other people or projects I’ve found inspiring lately:


We just saw this MOVIE and I loved it…hooray for old fashioned romance!

I’m using this wish-list when it comes time for our kitchen remodel

this gifted writer and her gorgeous food blog

a coastal farmhouse re-model

an amazing couple that will change the way you look at sunsets forever (have Kleenex nearby, seriously)
















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