Check Yourself

I was having lunch today at one of my favorite weekend haunts when I noticed a woman approach a nearby table. The cafe was busy; I’d waited several minutes for a two-top, where I sat reading and occasionally glancing up at the odd variety of Tempe folk who come and go from the accompanying bookstore.
I thought I recognized this woman, so I looked at her intently, trying to place her. Although their table was quite a bit away from mine, and the cafe was humming along with lunch traffic, I could hear her introduce herself to the pair she was joining for lunch. Immediately after shaking their hands and apologizing for being late, she began a 45-minute conversation about her health history, including her mastectomy and gynecological issues. She did all of this, in what my mother would say, in an “outdoor voice.” Loudly and inappropriately, everyone having lunch learned the sordid details of her life.
Of course, as much as my faced burned with annoyance and frustration at hearing such personal details from a complete stranger, I couldn’t for the life of me focus on my book. It seemed her dramatic words danced their way to my table, polkaing and eventually moshing their way to my attention. Fed up, I quickly finished my lunch and left, wondering who in the world this couple could be and why in the world they could possibly want to sit and listen to this nut and her lists if issues — including having “bad energy.”
The scene reminded me of the time I was on a date with a cute OBGYN when I made the mistake of asking him how his day went, just as the appetizer was served. We were eating at a busy Italian restaurant in Phoenix during the dinner rush. Like a scene from a movie, he began talking about ovarian cysts in voz alto when management lowered the music, sending his words crashing into the diners around us. With the same wonderment I fought today, couples cast odd glances our direction as he laughed as his gaffe. I stared down at the antipasto, deciding in that moment that OBGYNs and prosciutto should never mix.


Fall Magazine Review

Dear Finny,
I miss writing you my monthly In Stitches letter — you know, since this time we have two months to finish the project (phew!). And really, I just miss you. Remember when we went to New Mexico in April and spent the weekend gabbing, knitting, drinking margaritas and laughing a the snow flurries that fell on our open-toed shoes?
Well, going through the towering stack of magazines on my nightstand this week, I thought of you and that trip a dozen times over.

NM Ravine

For one, did you see in the October issue of Country Living they featured our lovely New Mexican getaway? The very ravine where we took such silly photos is shown. I snorted remembering us running through the freezing rain to take that photo.

Behind the times

In the same issue, they actually had a small featured titled In Stitches. If Ms. Butler wasn’t a regular contributor, I’d think they were ripping us off.

MSL, October 2007

What did you think of the October issue of Martha? I’m letting my subscription go. I love her and her craftiness, but I need a break. Her recipes are often too complicated and the practicality of her projects questionable. I find myself much more of a Real Simple girl these days. That said — I’m still itching to cook up two Fall recipes featured: pumpkin chiffon pie and sweet potato cannelloni. Yum.
I also got my new Ikea catalog and picked out a purdy new couch and kitchen.

Dream Kitchen, Ikea

The couch is much more of a reality, but how I covet those dish racks. Those Europeans certainly know how to make simplicity elegant.
And then there is the new Lion pattern catalog. Never mind I won’t use the Lion yarn, these designs caught my eye. What do you think?
Needless to say, I haven’t even thought about starting the September/October project. I hope to have at least one of these babies done come Halloween. I could fill it with candy and be the Fairy Bag Mother. Hmm…

Falling for Autumn

It is beginning to look quite a bit like autumn around my house. I tried a new Malbec last night, bought myself a handful of gorgeous orange sunflowers and cooked up a Fall feast.

butternut squash lasagna

Main course: roasted butternut squash lasagna. I’ve made this before, but this time I added a couple grilled chicken breasts and a layer of zucchini. {Yep, I’m eating meat again. And you know what? All of a sudden, I am not nearly as hungry. Protein is a good thing.}

stuffed with pumpkin, butter, spice

This was one of the best lasagnas I’ve made. We also had spinach salad and pumpkin empanadas for dessert. I used this recipe for the pastry and it came out light and just right.

baking away

I filled them with pumpkin puree, a dash of all spice, a dash of cinnamon and a pat of butter. Served with vanilla ice cream, they were a hit.

pumpkin empanandas

I’ve been sewing and knitting a bunch this week too. Alas, my sewing machine was recently in for repair and they have incorrectly adjusted the presser foot so it jumps and hits the plate. It only took me a dozen (no joke) broken needles to figure out what the problem is. Back to the shop it goes today.

I am so in love with autumn and the cooling weather, I am tempted to create an all pumpkin week. Eating squash, wearing sleeves and socks and coming up with great pumpkin carving ideas… The next six months of Arizona weather is the reward for having emerged in tact from the oven that is our 6-month fiery summer. Three cheers for survival!


My Melody Was My Favorite

wrapped gifts

Heidi sent a message a few months ago — would anyone be interested in a “back to school swap?” With fall right around the corner, did anyone else feel the desire for new paper, pens and a school bag? Yes. Not surprisingly, yes. Not only have I always had “a thing for bags” as my mama says, but also love correspondence. I am constantly writing and sending letters, and keep a journal. (You know, where I talk about all the non-Cleaver stuff inappropriate for the Internets.)
When I was young, you couldn’t buy Hello Kitty stationery in Arizona. But there was one shop at a mall in California I found when visiting on vacation. An entire store! Pencils, paper, cute little Japanese characters that made me want to sit down and write a pen pal letter to every girl I’d ever met at camp, in part just to show off my pretty paper. And then seal them with monkichi stickers!
I spent the next few years saving all my babysitting and car washing money to go hog wild in that store each summer vacation. And so yes, I’ve always been a dork — but a dork with sparkly pencils.

art, writing supplies

Imagine my delight when I received this swap from Marian. Not only did she use African fabric for the bag, but she also made a clutch and a moleskin cover. She spoiled me rotten! I simply love her creativity and attention to detail.

fold over clutch
the most perfect moleskin cover ever
elephants, paper and yellow

Thank you Heidi for organizing and thank you Marian for your generosity!


Southern Arizona Road Trip

Yesterday I logged 450 miles in my car, crisscrossing (jump! jump!) across Southern Arizona. I had four freelance travel articles I’m working on for the local paper, and a free day to gather a bunch of photography and interviews. Voila — a day with lots of coffee, lots of driving and catching up on podcasts, and several times when I caught myself feeling a bit like Nancy Drew, out on the hunt for a clue.
Here is a random assortment of photos taken during my day, including the two hours I spent with a nun at a monastery. Nope, that’s not a punch line. And no, I’m not Catholic. It was a peaceful yet unsettling experience.


Hotel Congress Coffee shop

Coffee shop at the Hotel Congress.

Hotel Congress Penny Floor

Floor made of pennies!



Copper queen sign with flowers
old door handles, hotel congress

I love the historic details in these old hotels.

TR room sign

St. David:

Virgen altar art
Sanctuary walkway
sun filled cross

That cross is gigantic — about 6 stories tall. Luckily, St. David has a population of less than 1,000 I’d guess. So no one is complaining too much about the showy monks.


Signed, Sealed and Delivered

{WordPress is acting funny. Anyone else having a problem?}

A few reasons I am grateful this week:

– Time away with friends to recharge has left me invigorated and ready for change.

– Tri training is going exceptionally well. I am feeling stronger every day and it is making me so happy, I feel like I’m radiating cheeriness. (Consequently, I recognize how annoying I am to be around if you are grouchy.)

– I am reading Into the Wild and happened to catch Oprah yesterday, during which she interviewed Sean Penn and the author of the book. Penn just wrote and directed the movie based on this crazy story. Rarely do I love a book so much that I crave more, but this show was like icing on the cake. This sort of sweet literary delight has happened once before; I fell head over heels in love with Wicked, only to find out it was becoming a musical, which I got to see in LA. You know you are a book nerd when you get giddy at the thought of spending more time with the characters.

– My very favorite season is right around the corner and I’m joyfully planning road trips to northern Arizona for pumpkins and leaves, baking squash empanadas, having the patience to transform my dead summer patio into a beautiful autumn garden and wearing sweaters.

– The Best of Stevie Wonder on iTunes? The smartest $8 I’ve spent in a long time. I crave new running and cycling music these days and Mr. Wonder has left me smiling and whistling along. I’m considering Enrique Iglesia’s newest CD. Any other good running tune suggestions?

– Friends who’ve expressed interest in knitting.
A. It makes me feel like less of a grannie to have such a hobby.
B. It makes me happy to see others find the meditative, spiritual side of this craft. Once you find your groove, it is relaxing and satisfying.

Three cheers for Friday!

Sewin’ Mama

Blue ribbon winner

Remember this wall quilt? I took a photo of it when visiting my folks in San Antonio during Easter. My mom initially made this Colorado scene as a center for a quilt for my brother. Once completed, she realized:
A. It was too delicate for a boy quilt.
B. My brother wouldn’t really appreciate it.
C. It would look darn pretty hanging in their home.

wildlife, close up of the animals

I love this form of quilting. It looks like she is painting with fabric.

I am so glad she kept it because she entered it in a quilt fair recently and guess what? She’s a blue ribbon winner. I am so proud! She used to dominate the Arizona state fair before they moved to Texas.

Mom, Colorado

Nice work Moms!
Actually, the state fair is set to begin here in two weeks and it makes me a little sad I’ll go and not see her art hanging there, laden with rosettes. Instead, I hope to find Amanda’s photography covered in accolades. She’s entering for the first time. Maybe next year I’ll enter. Do you think they have a category for “most falls off a bicycle?”

Happy? Check.

I am home from Colorado and loving life. Remember my list? My silly, pent-up, can’t-relax-to-go-on-vacation list?
Yep. I went on vacay and accomplished my goals, minus the discipline part. My running shoes remained in the suitcase and a margarita remained in my hand for most of four days. I needed a break from work and the heat; mission accomplished. My swim this morning felt great and refreshing. I can’t wait to ride this afternoon.

That list, in photos:

baby bolero, front

A lime green baby bolero from One Skein completed and delivered to my newest favorite baby on earth: Jonas Finn.

Baby Jonas in his sling

Jonas and his proud mama, Min.

one proud auntie

I am in love.

tiny feet

Seriously. Could he be any cuter? (said in my best Chandler Bing voice.)

Then there were the swaps:

big bag for mama, wee bags for the girls

I’m not showing much of this one yet, but I participated in Heidi’s back to school swap. My partner lives in Australia, hence the summery print. And has three little girls. Big bag for mama, little ones for the wees. Stuffed and shipped and it only cost, ahem, $43 to mail. Yikes.

swing bag in neutrals

Another swing bag for a friend who made a request. I love this pattern in canvas.

There was also plenty of reading (I just finished The Binding Chair. Three out of five stars. I had no idea where the Chinese tradition of binding feet came from and it is a bit shocking!), stretching, cheering for the Broncos and playing dice. A few fun photos of family and Colorado to cap off a perfect vacation:

breck, pre-snow

The view from our patio, pre-snow.

what I think heaven will look like

Two days later, snow-capped peaks.

The Donley clan, minus the mama

Our clan, minus one very unhappy-to-be-in-Texas-without-her-family mama.

Cody, best

My brother Cody and his new puppy Raja.

A wonderful weekend indeed. I hope you are also feeling at peace!

Why, hello exhaustion. Now go away.

I am behind. I may, perhaps just a little, pride myself on being Type A organized, well-rested, well-hydrated and right on schedule. This week has been one of those where I am just too tired to care, or to answer to my inner Bree VanderKamp.
Tri training is in full gear, with seven weeks left to the race and you know what? I ache. After three weeks without weight lifting, cycling or swimming (there was some running and lots of walking in Bolivia), I am sore getting back into my routine. This soreness translates into crabiness and tiredness, which make me daydream at work and crawl into bed hours early just to remain still. It is silly, and I know this time will pass, but I am not a fan of playing catch-up. Especially when the world around me ceases to similarly take a break. My craft table is begging for my return. My garden has turned into the Little Patio of Horrors. My house is dusty. My fridge is bare.
This weekend I am going away with friends to do a bit of pre-October celebrating of Oktoberfest in Colorado. The additional perk is that I’ll be able to catch up with my dad and brother, who will both be passing through — aka, taking me to breakfast. I am also going to accomplish the following within the next week:

1. Finish the knitted baby item that I’ve been working on for 8 months. Seriously, this knitting project traveled with me to Africa and South America and still didn’t get finished. The baby was born today — Jonas, baby boy #3 for Min and Jason. Wahoo! I am going to meet him tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll have a little something wrapped up to be delivered for the occasion.

2. Finish and mail projects for craft swaps I’ve committed to.

3. Read. Rest. Stretch. Run. Repeat.

4. Catch up with correspondence.

5. Read the giant stack of magazines on my bedside that are luring me with their Fall ideas. Fall is my favorite time of year by far. Put fangs and fake blood on Martie and throw her on the cover? And we’ve officially got an issue I’m going to save for ages.

6. Eat healthy. The race and reunion are too close to be goofing off now. Time to get serious about the diet. Good thing I don’t drink beer. It will make being the sober one at Oktoberfest tolerable. If we went to Margarita fest, I don’t know that I’d have the willpower.

7. Be disciplined. There are so many ways I could be more disciplined in my life.

8. Take photos! I’ll be back Monday with loads of pics and stories to share about our adventures north. Hope you have a great weekend and I promise to make the most of my temporary blogging break and return to sanity.


Great White Goof Ball

Last week a friend asked me to take some photos for his new company. He and some friends have created a clothing line that I happen to really like. In fact, I went to one of their fashion shows this summer and broke my “no new clothes” policy and bought one of their tank tops.
This is from the photo shoot on Friday, ala pretty model:


And this would be me in the gift shop at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago last weekend.

Great White

No wonder why my modeling career never got off the ground. That said, I still love that tank. I’ve worn the tar out of it this summer, with a cheapie $5 Old Navy tank underneath. My no new clothing rule is about to be broken anyway. I’ve got that 10 year reunion coming up and I’ve got my eye on a new pair of stupidly expensive jeans and wedges.

On an entirely different note, I read a ton of great books while traveling that are worth mentioning. One of my favorite new books of all time is “The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint.” Wowie, wow, wow, as my friend Erin would say. It is a beautifully written story and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Five out of five bananas absoloodle.
I also read “Other Voices, Other Rooms.” This is Truman Capote’s first novel, which was published when he was 23. His writing is lyrical and so southern. I enjoyed it. Three out of five bananas.
Somebody’s Heart is Burning,” is a good West Africa travel read. I’ve had different experiences traveling through Africa, but I liked what she had to say all the same. It is a good read. Three out of five bananas.
Citizen Girl” was passed along to me by a friend and I couldn’t get through the first chapter. I thought it was horrible. Goes to show you that everyone has wildly different opinions on books because this thing received great reviews nationally. One out of five bananas.
Memoirs of a Geisha” was great and wow, I feel so much better for finally having pushed myself through this read. I have picked this book up and read the first 100 pages about 5 times. Thankfully, I used some layover time to get into the next 100 pages and then couldn’t put it down. Four out of five bananas.
Next up, I read “Snow Falling on Cedars,” which is an interesting read after “Geisha” because they both deal with the Japanese community in the same time period, but in Japan and the US. I was impressed by the author’s knowledge of so many subjects in this book. I felt like he taught me a little about a lot of things, and I enjoyed his story-telling. Four out of five bananas.
I also read through a bit of “Nancy Drew Girl Sleuth” and found the story behind my favorite children’s books entertaining. Three out of five bananas. And Oprah’s BFF Dr. Oz hooked me into reading “You on a Diet.” I did learn some new stuff and I think he’s got solid advice for how you can get your eating habits back on track and find your natural weight. Ah, common sense.

I am currently reading “Wuthering Heights” (I am tutoring a high school student) and “Living Your Best Life Now” — which I am loving.

Have you read anything fantastic lately?