All posts by Kelli

Korčula, Croatia

Korčula is a 20-mile long island an hour away from Hvar by high-speed ferry. It is also newly one of my favorite places on earth. There are 6,000 residents year-round on the island, and nearly all families have their own wine grapes. I fell in love with the island and its people.

The island has a long history, including yet another fortress built by the Venetians in the 1400s. The island was taken by the Germans in WWII and has gone back and forth between Italian, Croatian, and British rule over time. But really, by this point in the trip we were like, “ooooh. Another turret. Where’s the wine?”
I’m kinda kidding. The walk along the fortress was ridiculously cool and interesting. Marco Polo was born on the island. We walked by his house too, but there was not much to see.
You do, however, feel the Venetian artistic presence. The flourishes on the fortress buildings, including lions, are apparently very much their style. I would like to read more about how the island rebuilt itself after the bombings in WWII. It took a beating. The Yugoslavian war of 1991-1994 did not reach the island, although our taxi driver said many men left to go fight to the south in the city of Dubrovnik.
Trinkets and a bag of sponges — for sale in the little shops in the fortress. We didn’t buy much other than t-shirts.
On one end of the island is a community called Lumbarda. We took a taxi to a local winery here and this is the view from their porch. Those are their grapes, orange trees, olive trees, oh and yep. That’s the Adriatic Sea — right there.
I get how silly food photos are — but let me explain the significance here. This is why I fell in love with Korčula. The woman who served us explained her husband’s family has been on the land for more than 300 years. These are olives from their tree. Proscuitto she hand cut. Cheese they made from local dairy. We listened in wonder as we shoveled homemade bread dipped in their olive oil and drank their wine. It was unreal how fresh and wonderful everything was. And sincerely, as a bit of a wine snob, some of the best wine I’ve had in my life.
In my dream life, I spend my summers on this island writing and wandering. We rent one of those homes with a red tile roof, befriend our neighbors, have long meals over great conversation, and relax in the Mediterranean sun.

Korčula alone is worth visiting Croatia. As fas as logistics go, getting to the country from Arizona is not the easiest. However, beginning next month, there will be direct flights from the East Coast of the US to Dubrovnik, the major city to the south. This would take considerable time off of the trip considering my route involved three flights each way. (I’d do it again tomorrow given the chance! What an adventure!)

Next up: Dubrovnik and the Game of Thrones nerds I was traveling with’s delight.

Hvar, Croatia

Hvar is pronounced “War” and is a large island. We took a high-speed ferry from Split (where we landed) to Hvar. It took a little more than an hour to arrive. Hvar is one of the most charming places I’ve ever visited. A few photos, to remember the details:

The view from my hotel balcony. We stayed in a former palace and we were the first guests they’d had since 2019. The island has up to 10,000 people during the summer, but only 3,000 people live there year-round.
The seaside Croatian hillsides are covered in stone homes with red tile roofs. The homes often have charming shutters over windows.
This large square is normally full of tourists. Instead, we saw little kids playing soccer and selling sea shells to the few tourists silly enough to buy one (us.) The church is closed for repair, but the bells still rang on the hour. There are little shops that line the square, including a grocery store, bakery, bookstore, and clothing boutiques. Even with tourist prices in one of the most expensive places in the country, a great local bottle of wine from Croatian grapes cost $5.
Hvar also has a centuries-old fortress on he highest hill that we climbed up to. It is hard to photograph for a dozen reasons, so you’ll have to believe me. The path to the fortress was a thousand stairs through these narrow stone alleys. At night, they turn into restaurants, bars, and dance floors. I really enjoyed how Croatian custom is to sit with a cup of coffee or alcohol and talk for hours. Waiters won’t bring the bill until you ask for it, allowing for laughter and conversation to go on and on.
Most people here don’t have a garden space, but that didn’t stop people from using the space they had to have plants. I appreciated the creativity.
Being from the desert, I just couldn’t get over the water or shades of blue. While the shoreline is mostly devoid of sandy beaches, people still find a way to get in and swim.

Tomorrow: the island of Korčula, where I’m trying to convince Jason to move.

Split, Croatia

The beach in Split. With tourism just starting to return, many of the public spaces previously crammed with visitors are now being used by residents.
Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik, and Zagreb were walkable. We stayed near the water or the city center and were able to walk most places.
The food was excellent. Croatia sits just across the Adriatic from Italy. The seafood was fresh, the eggs yolks orange, the olive oil, wine, cheese, and proscuitto made on site.
Split, Hvar, and Dubrovnik have centuries-old fortresses that we walked through. All were build with rock from local quarries, by hand. At one point, if you were traveling to one of these cities from the rural areas, you were required to bring stone with you. Being in these ancient buildings with their tiny passageways and stone arches reminded me of being in Old Jerusalem.
The day we were wandering Split was a Sunday morning, and first communion for some of the children. It was sweet to see so many families out with their kids. The church bells were ringing.
High speed ferries are common transportation between the larger coastal cities. They are reasonable. Depending on the distance, tickets cost $8-$20 or so. We took several of these and it was remarkable just how fast they go.
I couldn’t get over just how old everything was.

More on Hvar, Croatia next.

This Week

Sewing: Made by Rae emerald top, cut on the bias

Knitting: the Weekender, in a cotton blend

Reading: Purity by Jonathan Franzen — so far so good

Watching: Start Up on Netflix. It is way too violent for my liking, but I’m sucked in.

Cooking: Feta pasta bake, salmon and vegetables, and BLTs with tomatoes from the garden

Gardening: the last of the tomatoes and basil. It is nearly time for the garden to go dormant until fall.

Loving: writing letters to friends and family. I’ve sent a dozen this week as a check in to just say hello. I love good mail! If I won the lottery, I’d buy a letterpress.

Wishing you a lovely week!

~KDW

When Being Stubborn Kills

I’ve found a lot of joy during the pandemic in “perfecting” my crafting. Since joining the Phoenix Modern Quilt Guild, among the many things I’ve finally learned is how to sew a consistent 1/4 inch seam. Come to find out, there is no artistic give in a seam allowance for quilting if you want points to line up.

I’d gotten lazy, thinking that the rules of this craft didn’t apply to me. I was going to do it my way. I didn’t need to wash my fabrics, use a seam allowance, or starch. I didn’t need to use iron to press seams after sewn. I wanted to do it my way.

I was WRONG.

Reading the books, listening to the teachers, and following the rules produces a much prettier and sturdier quilt (leaving improv and art quilts out of this.) If you are making a quilt for someone, especially a baby quilt that will be washed often, sturdy seams are critical.

See those seams? Consistently 1/4 inch and pressed open. Pressed, not ironed. (A whole other lesson I needed to learn.)

I don’t know why our natural tendency is to think the rules don’t apply to us, but watching how cultures have responded to the pandemic, it’s hard to see this as anything other than stubborn Americanism. Why do what others are telling me when I know. I can figure it out. I am smarter.

Am I? Are we?

Most other countries immediately put community before self. They closed borders, limited infections and deaths, and recovered much faster. Not in the great US of A where we made sure to prioritize our freedoms. Our freedom to get sick. Our freedom to die. And now, our freedom not to be vaccinated.

We lost more than 18,000 people to COVID just in my state. That’s a small city in one of our rural counties, completely gone. 18,000 families now eating dinner with a seat empty at the table because we couldn’t get out of our own way and follow basic, well established public health instructions.

Working in public health, the tool of motivational interviewing has never been more useful. We can’t just create the tool and have enough of the tool on hand to save the nation, but we also have to be salespeople and get you to want it, too. We have to get you to believe in science, in truth, when falsity has never been more popular.

God bless America.

God, please bless everyone. If you’re giving out favors to our country, give us intelligence. Give us critical thinking. Give us the ability to better see when we are being hustled.

Teach us to follow the rules when it is in our best interest.

-KDW

Laugh With Me

Do you have a ball? If not, can you get one? And can you throw it about 10,000 times?

I’ve always been a creature of habit. Chalk it up to being raised in a home with a steady schedule, I find comfort in knowing what the day will look like. For many years, this daily habit included running. For an hour or so before every work day, I’d meet a friend and run along the canals in Tempe. Eventually, this routine caught up with my joints and left me hobbling. There wasn’t a huge physical change when I stopped, but the lack of endorphins caught up with me quickly. I still miss the running high, enough to foolishly try to run a few miles here and there every now and then. (If I thought I hobbled before, you should see me the day after one of these optimistic outings. It is not pretty.)

My new routine, thanks to having yet another terrier who won’t sit still, involves an hour or so of walking. We live in a “hilly” area and after 4-5 miles in the heat, both Dolly and I are ready for the day. By the time I’m showered and ready for work at the kitchen counter, she’s conked out on the couch. This time walking allows for listening to books and podcasts, so it isn’t all puppy dog tails and hot sidewalks. We’ve also become friends with all the other neighbors who walk at this time.

Do I look sleepy? Don’t let these eyes fool you. I’d really like to chase a ball.

This morning, I got out of a cool shower and realized I feel like myself. For the first time in a very long time, I feel happy and at peace. Give it to endorphins, getting the exercise out of the way first thing, or being back to a normal routine — but I feel good in my own skin. All this walking has my clothes fitting more comfortably and my skin tanner by the day. But more than anything, I’m not crying as much. For many months, I felt a heavy weight of sadness. I carried it with me constantly, and the only way I knew to make it feel better was to make fun of it. I’ve made far too many people I love uncomfortable by cracking jokes about my barren body.

Making friends laugh has been the only way through this; looking at how terrible the situation is and going, “Wow, man. This is awful. Let’s find the funny. Help me find the funny.” And because I have great friends (and spouse), they all have.

Let me tell you, it take a long time to get all of those fertility drugs out of your system, the extra weight off, and to feel like you can watch a sappy commercial or anything on the Hallmark channel without having to wash your face. But this morning, dear Reader, I got dressed and was like, “DAMN GIRL. YOU GOT THIS.” And that was the first time in a long while that I laughed at and with myself, all while screaming Taylor Swift songs to the dogs.

I know how to paint a scene, right?

I’ve come to a place of acceptance that I won’t be a mother, but instead am called to be a great aunt. I have more maternal love and energy than I know what to do with most days, but the neighborhood children, animals, garden, and friends receive this instead. (Thank goodness for the patience they all continue to show. My sister in law, in particular, is the best.) When the occasional moment or day is dark, I find comfort in my faith and the hope that one day, in the next life, there will be children waiting for me, wanting my love.

In the meantime, there are so many people to love and to make laugh here.

~KDW

This Week

Quilt made for Madison and Daniel, who will marry this week. (For the second time!)

A few things we are celebrating and grateful for this week:

Time with friends: This weekend I had a chance to have lunch with a girlfriend, and later to visit other friends at their home and swim with their children. At the lunch, I hugged my friend and she said, “Oh! I think this is the first hug I’ve had from someone outside of my house in over a year!” She squeezed me with intention. I looked around the small cafe to see many others doing the same. People seemed so truly happy to be together.

Swimming with the Mason boys was a delight. Their hunger to learn is constantly bubbling up around them, as they hear words in conversation and ask for definitions. “What does ‘vocabulary’ mean?” They remind me how the simple things also delight little boys. “Aunt Kelli, I just pool burped! That’s when you burp after drinking too much pool water on accident.” And so on. It was fun to listen to them laugh and splash.

Travel: I’m preparing for a trip to Croatia with friends. We leave next week. The closest I’ve been to this part of the world is Israel and Palestine, and they aren’t exactly neighbors. I’m nervous to be gone from home for a spell without Jason, but also delighted to dust off my passport. I can’t wait to see the sea.

Watching: I’m enjoying “Atlantic Crossing,” on PBS. The costumes alone are worth watching, but the storytelling and portrayal of the the Roosevelts is entertaining.

Growing: the tomatoes are starting to wind down. We’ve had bags and bags full this year, which has been nice. I’ve canned and frozen some and given away more this week to friends and neighbors. I’m reminded that once it gets over 100, it will be nice to close up the vegetable beds for a few months and not have this outside chore. The roses, on the other hand, will need more attention. They are still blooming and starting to climb up the trellises. I’ve always wanted a rose garden, so it makes me happy to see this come to life.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful week!

-KDW

Tomato Season

I had a new approach to growing tomatoes this year, namely: try everything. I planted a dozen plant starts from the nursery in our two wicking beds in January. I also started several in pots, and one pot from seeds I’d saved. And I had two pots of tomatoes that didn’t produce a single fruit last year, but made it through the summer and were ready for another try.

They are all doing well. We are swimming in tomatoes that truly ruin us for the rest of the year, they are so delicious. I’ve put away 12 quarts of tomato sauce (that I’ve been sharing with friends and neighbors) and have been reluctantly handing out small plastic bags of these golden beauties. (Reluctantly because while a small plastic bag of tomatoes may not look like much, it is the equivalent of years of work coming to fruition.)

Two significant things changed from years prior:

  1. I am here. All the time, I am here. I water, prune, and baby these plants every day.
  2. We visited an alpaca farm last summer in Prescott Valley; one of the weirdest and most exciting souvenirs I’ve ever brought home from a trip: a giant bag of alpaca fertilizer. The rancher told us it was gold for a garden because the pH won’t burn plants. Reader, I think that $5 was perhaps the best money I’ve spent in the last year. Any time we are in the area, we’ll be buying more. (Aren’t you sorry you didn’t marry me? Related: my husband is a trouper. He didn’t blink and eye when I told him we’d be spending the next two hours in the car with a 20 pound bag of animal feces.)

This week we’re enjoying tomatoes in tacos, meatball subs, quesadillas, and I’ll make homemade pizza this weekend. I may not have the farm I always dreamed of, but we are definitely making the most of this urban garden life.

Also, I think I’ve grown out of my need for chickens. I spent 15 years wanting chickens and now that I have a dog that needs a 5 mile walk daily and constant attention, I cannot fathom having one more animal to care for, clean after, and feed. I would still like to find a local duck/chicken egg producer to buy from regularly. I can find them at the farmers’ market, but we don’t go every week and we eat a lot of eggs.

What are you growing?

La Posada

We had a chance to get away last weekend to La Posada in Winslow. It is a historic Mary Coulter-designed hotel on the rail line, and is home to one of our favorite restaurants, The Turquoise Room.

If you aren’t familiar with Mary Colter and Fred Harvey, they are icons in Route 66 Americana history. (La Posada and the Harvey girls are featured in Counting Coup.)

One of the magical parts of writing novels is discovering bits of history that make me want to learn more. Several years ago, we traveled through Winslow and I learned about the Harvey girls. The novel was essentially done, but I went back to the story to add these details.

On this trip, we bumped into a woman who told us about the Winslow Historical Society. Our meeting felt like kismet; she shared that many of the buildings in downtown Winslow, by the railroad, had tunnels originally connecting them. No one knows why, and the tunnels were filled in during the 1970s because the foundations of the buildings were slanting and starting to fail. However, in the cellars and basements of many of the buildings, there is reportedly Chinese writing from the workers who built the rail (and likely had to dig the tunnels.)

Another little gem of Arizona history that I am tucking in my pocket for a future story. It does make me wince that there are photos of white pioneers to be found in multiple places in Winslow, and yet the Chinese workers aren’t mentioned, and nearly all the service staff are American Indian. I’m guessing the history of the land for the northern Arizona tribes is told differently.

A few photos of the grounds and the weekend. Even if you don’t take the time to stay at the hotel, if you are ever in Winslow, make time for the corn and black bean soup at the restaurant. It is among the best dishes I’ve ever eaten.

Monday Review

I have several friends who publish weekly newsletters that I look forward to. They update what they’re reading, what’s happening on their farms, the shows they’re watching, the patterns they’re knitting. You get the idea. (Yeah, I know. I follow a lot of like-minded folks. Don’t you?)

On Mondays, I plan to do the same. The categories may change, but here is what’s happening at our hacienda this week:

Reading: I’m reading and very much enjoying two novels. The first is for a bookclub that met last night. I’ve only got 300 pages remaining. (Whoopsie.) The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is funny. This book is like sipping a great glass of ice tea in a rocking chair on a porch with a cool breeze. It’s delightful. The second book I’m listening to thanks to the Libby app is “The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters.” It is set in Ireland during the potato famine. The main characters are sisters who discover the magical power of their hair. Again, a delightful, easy listen.

Watching: Homeland. I never caught this series when it was on and we just started season one. It is intense and reminds me why I love Claire Danes. (And good Lord. This entire series is an advertisement for Latisse. Her eyelashes are WOW.)

Knitting: The Weekender in Cascade 220 venezia worsted for a Christmas gift.

Cooking: Oh, snap! It isn’t my week to cook. I’m not cooking a thing, other than my lunches because I’m still telecommuting. Jason and I split cooking duties when we got married. I cook and shop for two weeks and then he does the same. Once I was sent home to telecommute full time 14 months ago, I took over the cooking. I was home, and it was easier. (Let’s get honest. It wasn’t really easier, but it gave me something to do every afternoon when my professional calendar had unexpectedly emptied.) Now that there is no return to the workplace for me in sight and that schedule is busier than ever, it is time to return to our previous schedule. We cook different recipes. This is a much needed and appreciated break.

Playing: piano! Tomorrow is my final recital for my first college course in piano and I’m nervous and not exactly ready. I can play a piece perfectly at home a dozen times. Put me in front of a small crowd and my fingers become noodles. We’ll see how it goes. I’m glad to have had the time to take this class and learn to read music.

Your turn. What are you enjoying?

Fondly,

KDW