When mountains beckon

Bell Canyon Reservoir_Little Cottonwood Canyon

I grew up at the feet of a soaring mountain range, granite-topped peaks that often retained snow year-round melted into forested skirts sweeping down towards my small little town. Mountains ground me, they keep me centered, and are my true heart-home. I mean, LOOK AT THEM! Snowy peaks, springy-green trees that show no trace of the browned, brittle wild-fire dryness of July and August.

Bell Canyon Reservoir_Little Cottonwood Canyon

I have been in Salt Lake this week for work, and I have made the most of the daylight hours after leaving the office by getting into the mountains and soaking in the gorgeous views, the nature-y noise, and fresh pine-y smells.

Bell Canyon Trail_Little Cottonwood Canyon

The melting snow has turned the creeks and rivers into white thunder, storming down the mountains and smashing into rocks and trees. This cold, terrifying sound is like a lullaby to me. I mean, I don’t want to go wading or anything, but I could listen to spring runoff rush down the canyon for hours and hours.

Bell Canyon Waterfall_Little Cottonwood Canyon

A friend and I hiked up Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Bell Canyon waterfall and reservoir (photos above) and while the climb was brutal for my suburban, lower-altitude legs and lungs, it made my heart so, so happy.

Living Room_Wasatch Front

The mountains are so close to the Salt Lake valley, truly you can be immersed in Nature in under 20 minutes. Watching the sun set over the Great Salt Lake, painting the sky in coral and orange and purple, and feeling the chill of the mountains, talking with friends about things important and trivial…all of this soothed my ragged soul and was a balm to my anxious heart.

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We all have parts of our regular life that are essential to us, and I think most of us differ on what, exactly, makes up those essentials. For some it’s a killer pair of jeans, or a specific workout, or maybe a particular app on their phone. Looking at this list I see a lot of contradictions, although needing both sides of the bell curve, avoiding extremes, and trying to find balance seems like a healthy way to move forward, not a contradiction. Right? (RIGHT?!) Lawsy, I hope so. Otherwise I’m a walking contradiction fueled by Diet Dr. Pepper…not that there is anything wrong with that.

My Life Essentials:

Putzing: This is my quirky way of unwinding; I pad around the house, imagining updates and new paint colors, sketching out blueprints and planning renovations in my head. Or I’ll wander around the produce section of the grocery store touching the fruit and veggies. I wander around my own head, touching old memories and looking at old ideas, testing them to see if they still work. I make lists just to cross things off, I imagine fantastical things. Putzing is my alone time, my detox time. I can putz for hours.

Adventure: As a definitive counter-point to putzing, I also crave adventure like, woah. I love exploring new places and trying new things, that could be a city across the country or it could be a new restaurant with some kind of exotic fusion menu. I am an interesting mix of homebody (see above) and adventure seeker, and it can sometimes be hard to figure out which will solve feelings of restlessness or anxiety. But, I need both. I desperately need both.

Books: I remember the first book I ever bought with my own money. I was working two jobs, saving up for my first semester of college and decided to buy The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series and re-read them before the first movie came out in theaters (what up, 2001). I bought the cheapest version the bookstore had—a $4.99 half-sized paperback—one at a time over a few weeks. In the last 15 years I have amassed a considerable book collection and a bonafide library in my office (and the living room). Sitting in front of those shelves, running my fingers over the spines, reorganizing my “To Read First” shelf (yes, shelf) and reliving the stories and memories associated with previously read titles is one of the most calming things I can do at home. (See: putzing) Does this make me materialistic? Maybe. Do I care? No. I’m a paper-and-ink book person and I’m not willing to fight it.

Inspiring and Interesting: My walls are covered in art and my shelves are crammed with books; I’m kind of a bad minimalist that way. But I cannot explain how much joy I get from art on my walls and books on my shelves. I love learning. I love learning about new things, new people, new words, new ideas. I love learning old things for the first time, random facts, chronology of world events, social or geographic history or myth of far-flung places and interesting factoids close to home. I am also trying to have at least one piece of original art in every room of our home, and so far that plan has worked out splendidly (yes, even the laundry room, it’s a tiny watercolor of lavender fields that is just lovely on the lavender walls). (Yes, my laundry room walls are intentionally lavender.) (Stop judging me, they are perfection.)

Razor sharp kitchen knives: I love to cook and I find mincing vegetables therapeutic, but only if my knife is crazy-sharp. I found a gentleman pretty close to me who has a knife sharpening hobby out of his spare room, he is my favorite Arizona discovery so far. For $3-$5 per knife he does his honing magic and I continue to mince.

Chapstick: I’m not talking about lipgloss, or lipstick (neither of which I have worn for years). I’m not talking about Chapstick brand stuff that is pink with a waxy flavor. I will wear Bert’s Bees in a ruby grapefruit color, but I prefer Natural Ice, although it is next to impossible to find in grocery stores, gas stations, big box stores, or boutique stores. Sometimes I’ll find it at REI and stock up. Last fall I finally got the brilliant idea to order a dozen tubes of Natural Ice from Amazon. They are now nicely lined up in my dresser waiting to rescue my chapped and dry lips.

Diet Dr. Pepper: My caffeine source of choice, preferably with a tremendous dose of fresh-squeezed lime, and a straw. I know, I know, “Soda is so bad for you!” and “Aspartame will kill you!” but I can’t help it! The heart wants what the heart wants! To my credit, I have drastically reduced my DDP intake, I now have a 12-ounce can (and a whole lime) at lunch, and drink water the rest of the time. Well, except for weekends, more soda on the weekends. And on road trips. And when I’m stressed or sad…ok, so I might have a DDP consumption problem….

Sunshine: I am one of those people who will never go tanning, I wear sunscreen always. However, just a few minutes of sunshine will lift my mood in amazing ways. I do some of my best putzing sitting in a sunny spot. Seattle weather would probably be better for my skin (and save me thousands on tubes of sunscreen), but

Sparkly Unicorns and Pegasus Ponies: I am (mostly) kidding on this one. (Or am I?)  Hmm…actually? Not really kidding at all, but I should probably define this need as “whimsical sarcasm” instead. A generous dose of whimsical sarcasm is a pretty good explanation of why I send hundreds of funny, snarky, sometimes dirty, and generally giggle-inducing photos and texts in any given week. Yes, hundreds. I guess this is the reason Tumblr was invented, but there is just something about getting a laugh-cry inducing text from a friend that subscribing to a social media feed cannot provide.


My Favorite Non-Essentials:

High Thread Count Sheets: Several years ago my older brother found 1,000 count Egyptian cotton sheets on Amazon for something crazy like $100 dollars. He ordered them immediately. I ordered them immediately. Several other family members ordered them. They are heaven. I don’t care if 1,000 count sheets don’t come in cute polka-dots, or fancy stripes, or chevrons, or mod floral graphic print. I have a hard time sleeping in scratchy sheets and silky sheets are right out. I need 1,000 count Egyptian cotton, preferably white because I’m high maintenance like that.

Office Supplies: I have an unhealthy obsession with office supplies. Stacks of college-ruled paper, packages of Sharpie’s in a rainbow of colors, boxes of unsharpened pencils waiting to be ground to a point and fill a notebook with ideas. I love office supplies.

Fresh Flowers and/or Live Plants: I love having fresh flowers on my dining room table. I have very rarely had anything fancier than a small bouquet from the grocery store, but even $6 dollars worth of tulips will keep me smiling for two weeks. About a year ago I tried my gray-ish-green thumb at houesplants, and except for a few tragedies, I have managed to keep a couple of them alive for quite a while, move to ARizona be damned! We’ll see how long that lasts.


Things I Could Easily Live Without:

Smart Phones: I know, it sounds nuts, but I am becoming more and more anti-smart phone. It’s not that I don’t like the convenience of having a mini computer-communicator-television-navigational system-word processor-camera the size of a credit card, it’s just that after sitting at a computer for 9 hours a day with the expectation to respond to email promptly and answer the phone by the second ring I kind of relish the idea of walking away from technology for a couple of hours. I don’t know, maybe I’m not using my phone the right way, but I very much prefer a larger screen for most of my online needs (actually, my dual-screen set-up has spoiled me forever for even a laptop screen, maybe that means I’m getting old and short-sighted, but a 2×4″ screen just cannot compare to TWO large monitors and task lighting. Sigh. I’m old, aren’t I.

Voice mail: I hate voicemail, hate it. Remember when voicemail used to be an add-on? My cell phone is now also my work phone and I have to retrieve messages, but it is one of my most loathed tasks.

Popcorn: I haven’t had popcorn since I was in junior high, and I don’t miss it. I like the smell well enough, I won’t gag at the movies or anything, but I have absolutely no desire to try it. None.


What are your life essentials? What can you life without? It just occured to me that I haven’t listed people anywhere on here, and maybe there is some deeper psychological flaw that I should be concerned about, but for now I’m just going to disclaim* that Some People are essential, Others are hit or miss, and A Few I could easily do without. (*Disclaim is a verb, right?)

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Format for this post inspired (okay, blatantly heisted) from Stacy at The Cat’s Meow.

Sometimes, I play with oil paint

Oil painting_Zelda_feistyharriet_2016

Several years ago on kind of a whim I bought a set of professional water color paints and a how-to manual. I hadn’t tried using watercolors since I was a kid and, frankly, they are a lot harder than I remembered. You can’t layer paint very well with watercolors, it jut makes everything a muddy-colored mess. Within a few weeks I had given up on watercolor and moved on to oil paint, where the final product is ALL about layering. I watched some YouTube tutorials, read “Oil Painting for Dummies” several times over (yes, really), and got my hands dirty.

Oil painting_windmill with purple sky_feistyharriet_2016

I quickly fell in love with the medium, with the smells of paint and linseed oil, the feel of brushes and palette knives, and the different ways to get paint from the tube onto a canvas: big brush, small brush, fingers, skinny knife, wide knife, paper towel; thick paint vs thinned paint; paint well mixed or paint with stripes of the combining colors still showing. I love mixing up colors, trying to add a bit more yellow, or burnt umber, or viridian to get the perfect shade.

Oil painting_winter barn_feistyharriet_2016

Now, I am in no means a professional artist, and for now I have no real aspirations to become one. Professionals have taken years and years or courses in color theory and composition and medium; they have spent tens of thousands of hours honing their craft and practicing.  Really, I doubt I will ever attain that level of skill, I prefer “abstract” because for me it’s easier to identify my attempts as such instead of trying to pretend I know how to draw faces or bodies or anything else truly recognizable. I sometimes dabble in reality, but usually give it crazy sky or bizarre colors or something so I don’t have to worry as much about it being too real-looking.

Oil painting_Windmill on the hill_feistyharriet_2016

But, I love it. I think this will be a life-long hobby for me. One thing on my life bucket list is to get paid for a commissioned painting; I would not accept payment for something I didn’t consider at least quasi-professional, so for now I paint for my family, and a few friends, but mostly I just paint for myself.

Oil painting_Spanish monastery_feistyharriet_2016

Ok, so, based on this post you’d think I have a thing for windmills…and, I suppose I kind of do, but mostly I have a thing for color–the crazier the better! Do you have any hobbies you’ve taken up as an adult? Or hobbies that you dabble in for the love of it, and not necessarily because you’re brilliant at it?

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A Few Things I Love: The Nerd Edition

Quite a while ago I wrote a post about things that I loved, this is kind of the same thing, but nerdier.

1. Shakespeare, especially the “boring” histories. I actually have coached a competitive high school Shakespeare team for nine years and I just can’t get enough of The Bard. Favorites include Henry V, Henry VI (parts 1, 2, and 3), Cymbeline, and Richard III. If you aren’t watching The Hollow Crown series, you probably should: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Irons, and Tom Hiddleston, ’nuff said.

2. I prefer Velociraptors to all other dinosaurs, and would like you to know that April is Velociraptor Appreciation Month. (Really.) Put it on your calendar for next year.

3. Fairytales. There’s just something so delightful about life with a little bit of magic in it, isn’t there? I mean, Frozen and Tangled were okay-ish, but Disney’s version of events is absolutely not what I’m talking about here. Fairytales are really morality lessons and teaching stories, right? So the basic concepts of love, hate, danger, death, family, and the unknown weave through all of them. Once while digging around in a University bookstore (which yes, I sometimes do for fun), I found a book that contained different versions of five or six universal fairytales: Cinderella according to the French, English, and Russians; Beauty and the Beast according to Native American tradition, Belgians, and Italians; Hansel and Gretel according to the Germans, and a tribe in Africa; The Three Little Pigs as told by Roald Dahl. I loved reading the same basic story with so many different variations, and since then I have made a habit of collecting fairy tale books. Of course I have the complete Brothers Grimm stories, and Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, and a few hilarious versions of familiar-but-fractured fairy tales, but I also have a book of Icelandic fairy tales, bedtime tales from Africa, The Arabian Nights, a couple of different versions of the most fantastical stories, legends and myths from China, India, and South-East Asia. And did you know John Steinbeck wrote down all the legends and stories surrounding King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table? Also, Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Cymbeline are both fantastic fairy tales. The more you know.

4. Sloths. I’m kind of like Kristen Bell, you guys, with the notable exception being that Blue Eyes has never brought me home a sloth to snuggle. A sloth necklace, yes, with the cute little guy hanging off the chain, but no live sloth. (Note: something to consider.)

5. Maps, maps, and more maps. I had an enormous map of the world on the wall of my bedroom for over a decade, and if I had my way (and more wall space) I’d have maps in every room of the house.

6. Race cars. Not like Indy 500 race cars, or a nitro-engine souped-up Honda, but the long, sleek cars that make and break land speed records at Bonneville

7. Volcanoes!! I became particularly obsessed with the Pompeii and Krakatoa when I was a kid and have since read a handful of thick, non-fiction books about volcanoes, how they work, how they explode, history of eruptions, etc, etc, etc. I have gone SCUBA diving in a dormant crater filled with hot spring water 65 feet deep, I have explored unmarked lava tubes in Hawaii and spent a couple of hours completely transfixed watching lava roll down the side of an active (but not spewing) volcano while smoke filled the sky.

8. Trains. I love trains, my Dad love trains, my older brother loves trains, my nephews love trains. I have my own stripey conductor hat (it says Sr. Engineer on it, btw), and a few years ago I finally got my dream train  for Christmas. It’s a big, G scale, German-made LGB with indoor-outdoor all-weather track, a Santa Fe engine and is in desperate need for a couple more loops of railroad. I like “real” trains too, freight trains and passenger trains and tanker trains, but it’s a lot harder to fit them in a neat little circle of track in my living room. My LGB train has been set up since the day I brought it home, my nieces and nephews and stepkids play with it every time they come visit. I even have two Jr. Engineer stripey hats for such occasions.

9. Narwhals (i.e. swimming unicorns).

10. Lists that have an acceptable number of items.

What nerdy things do you love?

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