The Island of Unfinished Craft Projects

One of the scenes in the 1964 “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” features Rudolph paying a visit to the Island of Misfit Toys.

Such a poignant scene, that.

Eventually in that stop-motion animated Christmas special, Rudolph redeems the unloved misfits by finding the perfect children to love the train with square wheels, the water pistol that shoots jelly and Charlie-in-the-Box.

Too bad the Island of Unfinished Craft Projects can’t have a similarly happy ending.

While combing through closets and drawers preparing my house for sale, I kept running across trends to which I no longer subscribed.


Cross stitch, anyone? Sadly, my grasp exceeded my reach (“Kay,” by the way, is my sister’s name — apparently I was thinking emoji-esque thoughts about her decades ago). I also found this incomplete gem:


I haven’t owned a cat for more than 10 years.


This mess represents hundreds of dollars worth of beads, wire and tools to make jewelry. Talk about misfits, though. Half of these pendants don’t have holes through which to string a chain:


They’re pretty in their imperfect way. And like the cat cross-stitch, I found these unassembled earrings, lacking only their hooks and enough finishing work to hide the weaving thread. The instructions are long gone.


More recently, I started and couldn’t finish a wine cork wreath. I even have the glue sticks but, alas, not the stick-to-itiveness.


I tried in vain to unload these odd collections on a couple of Facebook marketplaces to which I belong (because they’re hardly worth the gas to drive across town let alone postage to mail across country). But either I didn’t price them correctly or other folks have dark corners in their homes filled with unfinished projects haunting them because I had only one nibble which fell into the same black hole where my creativity was lost.

Now I am faced with throwing them away, which pains my frugal Midwestern soul, or packing them up for a rainy (snowy?) day that may never come.

Head Elf: Now listen you: You’re an elf, and elves make toys. Now, get to work!

[whistle blows]

Head Elf: Ten minute break!

[Hermey smiles, but then the Head Elf confronts him]

Head Elf: Not for you! Finish the job, or you’re fired!




Golden hour


“Those small spaces of time, too soon gone, when everything seems to stand still, and existence is balanced on a perfect point, like the moment of change between the dark and the light, when both and neither surround you.”

~ Diana Gabaldon in Outlander

Every evening at sunset at Knights Key RV Resort in Marathon, Florida, residents gather on the beach to watch the sun slip beneath the horizon. Seagulls perch like motionless statues, watching the water for evidence of dinner, sometimes suddenly diving beneath the surface to fish.

It’s a magical time when people formally recognize the passing of another day. There’s beauty and sometimes a little wistfulness in this simple act.

Mostly a summer book report (a few months late)

With less than two months left in the year, I’m taking an accounting and falling short on some of my goals (all of my goals? let’s not be too harsh).

Like my goal to read 26 books this year.

Last year, I barely managed to read 52 books. It became like work to power through some of those clunkers so I scaled back to a much more manageable 26 — one book every other week. Despite being doable, according to Goodreads, I’m three books behind schedule.

Hmm. Too much electronic Scrabble.

magnoliaThe thing is, I can read a book I love in three days. Like The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines and Mark Dagostino, which I read immediately on my Kindle when it was released.

Not an HGTV fan? OK, you can have a pass. But if you watch HGTV or enjoy a feel-good story about a couple who seems authentically likeable, then you’d like The Magnolia Story, too. It’s a memoir, so I reviewed it in full on my author blog earlier this week.

stone-lakeOne way I added to my book total was by reading the Star Tribune’s serialized novel over the summer. It’s pretty easy to read a half chapter every day between the advice columns and the comics. But Stone Lake by Richard Horberg is, well, not so great. It’s the story of a young teacher in 1949 making some discoveries about life and himself during his first year on the job. It’s set in northern Minnesota (so the descriptions of winter are excellent), but the story kind of goes nowhere. I learned later that it’s Horberg’s first novel and it’s semi-autobiographical, so the 89-year-old gets kudos for that.

I also devoured a couple of semi-controversial books over the summer because I’m like that: I like to determine for myself if a book is good (or bad).

I liked both Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Alexander Eben and Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Both Eben and Levitt have critics in their professional circles and have been accused of selling out, but I still appreciated the way their books built their arguments and told their stories.

As you can tell from the title, Eben makes an argument for the existence of an afterlife. What person of faith can dislike this? Let’s just say scientists aren’t real thrilled with Eben’s “proof” but I found him compelling. And Levitt, through journalist Stephen J. Dubner, encourages readers to look at widelyheld beliefs in a new way. For example, how much can you trust standardized testing and why did violent crime rates go down in the 90s? Levitt’s answers suggest some teachers cheat and legalized abortion reduced the pool of criminals. Controversial conclusions, yes, but Freakonomics propels these types of arguments in a compelling way.

simpsonYou want compelling? Check out The Run of His Life: The People versus O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin. This book convinced me I need to read more works by Toobin. Wow! I seized on it when my sister-in-law passed along her copy because a) I was a news-obsessed newspaper copy editor in the early ’90s (when Simpson killed his ex-wife and was unsuccessfully tried for the murder) and b) I loved FX’s first season of “American Crime Story,” which used Toobin’s book as source material. Absolutely worth reading.

hedgehogI was able to digest all these books pretty quickly, but I also read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery over the summer; it’s a novel few would describe as light reading. It’s more like a treatise on the meaning of life. Set in Paris, it tells the story of an introverted concierge and a preternatural 12-year-old girl who lives in the same building. Amid a beautiful and heartbreaking story, it addresses questions of class, culture and friendship. It’s a thinker.

I’ve got eight books to read by the end of the year in order to achieve my goal. Life is kind of crazy right now, but I’m going to give it my best.

It’s Travel Tuesday: Let’s check out Waco, Texas

It’s Travel Tuesday and today, in keeping with the theme I began Sunday when I mentioned Joanna Gaines in conjunction with decorating the church-renovation-that-was-not-to-be and the book review Monday of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ memoir over on my author blog, we’re going to visit Waco, Texas.

Waco is south of Dallas-Fort Worth on Interstate 35, and my Beloved and I made a stop there on our way home this spring from Yuma, Arizona. April is a great month to pay a visit to Texas; not too hot, not too cold, just right. We camped at Hamm Creek Park near Rio Vista, Texas (northwest of Waco), and the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush flowers growing in the ditches in April were breathtaking.



The Silos

If you’ve heard of Waco, Texas, before it might be because of the government siege of the Branch Davidian’s property near there in 1993. But it wasn’t a religious or political pilgrimage that brought us to Waco. We came for the shopping, specifically Magnolia Market at the Silos, which home designers Chip and Joanna Gaines opened late last year. The couple, who star in “Fixer Upper” on HGTV, spent $1.4 million to transform the vacant Brazos Valley Cottonseed Oil Mill in downtown Waco into a shopping mecca for home décor and food trucks.

Parking is tricky. We found a spot on a nearby street, but apparently there are alternatives. Plan to spend some time there because you might be standing in line. Grab some food at one of the food trucks outside. When we were there, Tyler didn’t even go inside. I stood in line mere minutes, but once inside, it’s a madhouse, kind of like spring break at Disney World.


I took a picture of these tulip bouquets to match my sweater instead of buying one.

For me it was worth it, but bear in mind: It’s a store, not a museum. I left with a T-shirt, a candle and a box of stationery, which is fine with me, but if you’re coming for the design ideas, you might as well stay home and watch the TV show.


Magnolia Market selfie

We would have liked to drive around Waco to see the homes the Gaines’ have renovated, but if there’s a list of such homes or a map that exists somewhere, I couldn’t find it. We found a couple of other cute shops and malls to visit, and we enjoyed that. We did not see the Gaineses. Still, our visit to Magnolia Market felt special being there if only because you can see Joanna’s hand in the selection of items for sale and the way the store and property is decorated. I also found a little bit of inspiration in one of the wall hangings for sale.



Lofty fantasies

As I was sorting through my belongings a few weeks ago, purging stuff in preparation to put our house on the market, I ran across a diary I kept 10 years ago.

I was living a tumultuous year then. One so ridiculous and unbelievable, I wrote a book about it. But to summarize, it was the year I moved out of the house I shared with my husband of 16 years; eventually, we divorced.

Among the entries in that diary I found was a page where I described in list form (of course) how I envisioned the rest of my life. What is important to know is that I made this list when I was no longer coupled and before I met the man to whom I am now married, so theoretically, this list reflected my true wishes, unaffected by anyone else with whom I might be living.

Near the top of the list, I wrote that I wanted to live in a loft in the city.

If you’ve been following this blog with any attention at all, you know that didn’t happen. I currently am living in a big box of a house in the suburbs. It has 9-foot ceilings and what some might consider an open floor plan, but no one would consider it loft-like.

But for a few weeks this fall, my Beloved and I entertained some “lofty” ideas.

We came this close (I’m holding my thumb and index finger a quarter inch apart) to buying this:


Yup, it’s exactly what it looks like: A 125-year-old church.

It was a smokin’ deal, and by hot I mean it would have cost less than most cars. Let’s just say, it needed a lot of work, otherwise known as a blank canvas to take on every Pinterest dream associated with “loft,” “barn,” “converted church” and “open floor plan.” And the church was located in the center of, well, I think technically it’s a village, so “city” is a stretch, but to be fair, it was within walking distance of the post office, hardware store and local watering hole.

I had visions of turning this:


… into something like this:


This is a picture of a church converted into a single-family home in London. Sale price last year? $15.5 million.

To be completely honest, we weren’t going to renovate a $15,000 dump into a $15 million home, but you get the vision for which we were shooting. We went as far as putting in a offer for the church, measuring every room, shopping for lighting and furniture, and meeting with the building inspector, painters, plasterers, electricians and plumbers.

We were what they call in the trade, “serious buyers.”

For about three weeks, I doodled floor plans, planned the perfect kitchen under churchy-looking windows, weighs the pros and cons of a master bedroom in the choir loft and picked out chandeliers Joanna Gaines herself might have chosen.

We also had parts of the flooring tested for asbestos.

Asbestos, as you may or may not know, was commonly used in building materials in the mid-20th century. And it causes cancer.

The church flooring is full of the stuff. And with all the other repairs and renovations required to make the church our dream home (not to mention the dirty work and sore muscles), we couldn’t afford to asbestos abatement, too (or cancer).

So we rescinded our offer.

I was disappointed, no denying it. But for about three weeks, it was like the time between buying a lottery ticket and learning you’d lost. Those 48 hours when you might win $400 million dollars is filled with extravagant fantasies, and fantasizing is fun. So I was like, “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” you know the drill.

My Beloved now is dreaming of all kinds of other living accommodations and shopping for them with online searches of various precision. As he trips across the internet, he frequently shows me other churches on the market.

But then he’s also talking about building a pole barn in the middle of nowhere.

So I’m not sure I’ll ever get that loft in the city.

But it was fun to dream about it.

Nothing fishy about this date

If Jesus had been Japanese instead of Jewish, he would have fed the 5,000 with two fish and five maki rolls.

Fish and rice is as simple in one land as fish and bread in another.

Add a little soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger, and you transform simple into divine.

My Beloved and I went out for dinner and a movie tonight, and we enjoyed “Arrival” and sushi. Both were sublime.

“Arrival,” starring Amy Adams, is pure science fiction. With a nonlinear timeline to boot. It’s the kind of movie that makes me wish I could write a screenplay like that. Adams is awesome in it. I’ve loved her since I saw her in “Enchanted,” in which she pulled off a live action Disney princess.

I’ve loved sushi since my first bite of it on a business trip to Tokyo. If I tried sushi before that, I don’t remember it. And I’ve tried to recreate the authentic Japanese experience ever since. Sushi in Chicago can be delicious, but nothing beats fresh raw fish prepared by a proud Japanese master. Illinois is just too far from the ocean.

I remember a lunch break with my Japanese colleagues. They suggested sushi and led me to a tiny little basement sushi bar where the entire menu was in Japanese. Of course it was in Japanese. I was in Japan! I wouldn’t have known what yellowtail was in any language. So they ordered a mixed plate of maki rolls, and I struggled to manipulate my chopsticks. It was with this generous group of people that I learned to mix a little wasabi into the soy sauce first before dipping in my roll. And to eat each piece in one bite. Gulp! I remember avoiding the pieces with the big orange fish eggs — I didn’t like how they popped in my mouth (I now love a sprinkling of tiny roe across a fancy roll).

Later that day, I enjoyed sucking salty edamame from the shell with hot sake over happy hour. A habit had begun.

Today my Beloved and I tried a new sushi joint. Salty edamame. Hot sake. Authentic Japanese sushi chefs well practiced in creating maki rolls to tempt American palates.

Like “Arrival,” it was out of this world.

Courage in the face of winter’s inevitability


After standing in the doorway to the deck tonight calling for the dog in the dark (at 5 p.m. — thanks Daylight Savings Time) and feeling autumn’s chilly air for the first time this season, I thought my readers might appreciate this photo of the sunshine I snapped last April.

I have nothing to complain about because as my Facebook memories reminded me this morning, we had snow in Hampshire three years ago today. It could be snowing! I didn’t even really need a jacket when I was running errands this afternoon, so a little chilly breeze on Veterans Day just means the flags flap prettily in the wind instead of hanging listlessly. Oh! And that blessing, too. The whole street is decorated with American flags to honor our veterans, some of whom gave their lives so that I can have the luxury of a fenced in yard where my dog barks unnecessarily, ignoring my calls (I love her, even if my neighbors cringe every time they realize my dog is taking another potty break).

Imagine that, OId Glory fluttering over this home of the free and the brave.