More on Habits and Rituals

I just finished the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. The book features the work habits of over 150 artists, writers, composers, musicians and poets. The common thread throughout the book is the ritual of going to work as an artist. Many of the people featured in the book had a very set schedule and many were absolutely dedicated to the schedule. There are always outliers of course but I was more fascinated by the people who held rather traditional 9-5 jobs and found time to do their art and writing.

Something that I learned from both my Learning How to Learn class and Productivity Hacks for Writers is that you really do need to rely on habit (AKA  your zombie brain). We have limited stores of willpower and will quickly run through it if that’s the only tool in the toolkit. Habit, on the other hand, becomes more automatic. After taking the productivity hacks class, my latest habit has been to get up every morning at 4:30 am and write. And amazingly, I have kept this up for weeks now. Even more amazing – I even look forward to it. I have blogged every day in 2018  for my Olympia blog. So now I am on the lookout for anything that helps harness the power of habit to get things done. (My other early morning habits are meditating, gratitude journaling and unloading the dishwasher and the drying rack. On even days, I add a workout to the routine.) Believe me when I tell you that it’s easier to do things every day or on a regular schedule.

Last week I read a post on cleaning your house in 20 minutes a day in the Apartment Therapy blog (which I love and recommend: no apartment required). And you guessed it: it relies on habit, making cleaning an everyday habit. But before you get the wrong idea, it’s not a clean your house in 30 days and never have to do it again recipe. Instead, it’s a habit-forming plan to make cleaning an everyday thing so that it doesn’t pile up or leave you with a full Saturday of housecleaning chores. The post includes a 30-day checklist of chores and we started it on February 1. (I know, I know, that’s funny.) So far, so good. It’s easy to do and it makes a difference.

Get ready to start those seedlings

Light stand with seedling tray

January is the time for many gardeners to get excited and start planning their gardens. If you live in Phoenix, the timing is a little different: those tomato plants need to be started right around Christmas Day. In my maritime northwest garden in Olympia, I have to sit on my hands a bit and wait to start seeds until the end of January and into February.

BUT–I can be prepared.

Yesterday, I pulled out my seed tray and my light stand. I purchased the light stand a couple of years ago and it was still new in the package. It’s a Jump Start two-foot grow light. I am happy to report that even after a couple of moves, it’s in good shape and I am really happy with it. It’s just the right size for a flat of seedlings. The stand uses a pully system to raise and lower the light so the light can be adjusted to be close to the seedlings.  I am using a flat that holds 72 peat pellets. I like peat pellets because they are easy and easy to transplant without too much overhandling of delicate seedlings. Plus, if you have things ready before others, you can just swap the seedling for a new pellet. I placed my light stand in the guest room where it’s relatively warm and there’s plenty of light thanks to a large skylight. I am planning to add a heating mat, too. And I set up a timer for the light.

This year, I am also going to try some DIY newspaper pots for squash. You can plant squash seeds directly in the ground and in some cases, that’s probably better, but starting the seeds ahead helps me to be able to see the plants and I do a little better with spacing. Everyone is different so remember that you can adjust methods to suit your style and still be very successful. The best methods are always the ones that work for you.

I made a list of what I want to grow. I have five garden beds in my fenced-in garden area.

  • Tomatoes (two varieties)
  • Sweet Peppers (two varieties including one named after me! more on that later)
  • Yellow squash
  • Delicata squash and another winter squash
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant (mini)
  • Cucumbers
  • Snap peas
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Scallions
  • Leeks
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Melons (two varieties)
  • Ground cherries
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Kale assortment
  • Salad greens

I decided to order most of my seeds from Oregon-based Adaptive Seeds. They sell Pacific Northwest grown, open-pollinated organic seeds. I really enjoyed reading through all of the varieties and selecting new things to try. There is a lot more plant diversity out there than you would realize from a stroll through a typical grocery store produce section. It’s worth repeating that varieties grown for mass marketing are rarely the best tasting varieties. An interesting tidbit that I will share from my Reno garden and Phoenix garden: northwest seed varieties often do well in both Phoenix and Reno. I think that’s because they are short season gardens. Particularly with tomatoes, you need a short season variety that will tolerate cooler temps if you want to harvest tomatoes in either Phoenix or Reno.

I have some leftover miscellaneous seeds and they are all going to be used. Not sure that I can hope for great germination but I also know that they will never grow if I don’t plant them. I might have a happy surprise.

Spring is coming!

Seattle Tilth's Maritime Northwest Garden Guide

My copy of the Maritime Northwest Garden Guide arrived today. This is the go-to guide for planning your garden in Olympia and other nearby locales. You can order a copy from Seattle Tilth for $22.00 including postage and it may be the best $22 that you spend on the garden.

January is planning time for gardeners. This is when you get out your seed catalogs, draw a diagram of your garden and make your plans. I like the Maritime Northwest Garden Guide because it has a month by month calendar of things to do, things to plan inside and out, garden chores and more. It also has a very useful and easy to understand crop rotation guide. Finally! I can see clearly what I need to do.

In my yard, I contend with some hungry critters: slugs, rabbits and deer. My garden area is thankfully fenced off so it’s just me and the slugs. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I don’t kill slugs. My husband loves them, I think they are his totem animal. And I have to say that I think they are pretty darn cool. I have no problem relocating them and I don’t mind doing the copper collars around my plants along with other methods to discourage them from eating certain plants. However, I don’t mind if they eat dog poop. They are a fairly good clean-up crew. So we coexist. I might get grumpy later but for now, it’s Kumbaya.

When I moved in, I had a couple of large piles of miscellaneous bricks and granite pieces. Last fall, I put them together to build additional raised beds. Next step is to fill them with garden soil and get ready for planting. I also have a small light stand for seed starting. I just need to order seeds and get to work!

What are you planting this year?

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Seed Starting for a New Garden

We went to a Seed Starting Meetup hosted by South Sound Vegans and Living Green in Olympia. Meetup is an online community/app that helps you to create and make connections IRL with people who share the same interests: gaming, cooking, hiking, politics — you name it–there’s probably a Meetup group for it.

I’ve been lurking in the Meetup world for about six months. I know, I know, I am slow to take the plunge. And then there was a Meetup on seed starting. If you dangle anything plant or garden-related in front of me you are likely to get my full attention.

We met at Encore Chocolates and Teas, 116 5th Ave SE · Olympia, WA.

Wow–so much tea. This is the place to go for tea! I tried the jasmine tea and it was fantastic. I’ll definitely be going back. How did I get out of there without trying the chocolates? I have no idea.  I think I was distracted by the gardening talk. Now you know my priorities!

Anna talked about a wide range of topics related to seed starting and has a new blog dedicated to South Sound gardening called Edible or Else.

Some things that I learned:

  • Anna offered a better explanation of hardening off that I have learned elsewhere: that is, making a slow transition to the outside for seedlings started inside.
  • Keeping seeds cool: I knew that they should be dry–did not make the cool connection.
  • If you have moved around, you know that getting the inside scope on the local growing environment makes all the difference, so I was happy to learn about Seattle Tilth’s Maritime Northwest Garden Guide. You can order a copy for $22.00 including postage and it may be the best $22 that you spend on the garden,

Buying good quality seeds means that the seeds are what they say they are, have been stored properly and are robust enough to sprout. Finding varieties that work well in your area is key. Sometimes, that means letting go of a variety that you grew up with (I’m looking at you Beefsteak tomato) in favor of varieties that match the length and temperature ranges of your growing season. Seed catalogs we learned about:

Another catalog I’ve used is Oregon-based Territorial Seeds for short season, cool temps-tolerant tomato varieties.

In addition to Edible or Else, check out the Northwest Edible Life blog, in particular, the monthly gardening guides.

I am new to gardening in the Pacific Northwest gardening but I am not new to gardening or short-season gardening or cool-season gardening. There are a lot of parallels to gardening in the low desert of Arizona and in Northern Nevada. A lot of people don’t realize that you can’t garden in the summer in Arizona. If you want to grow tomatoes in Arizona, you have to start your seeds in December for a February planting and then it’s a race against the calendar to get your crop before temps go well above 100. Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson was a go-to resource when I lived in Arizona and there’s some overlap in the cool season growing advice. Native Seeds is a nonprofit seed conservation group focusing on Native American seed preservation. Check out this article on cool-season growing. I like their BRAG memory device for cool season growing: Brassicas, Roots, Alliums and Greens. If you want to get started with seed saving, their article on seed saving is a good place to start. This is all to say that even if you are new to the area, you might know more than you think.

I am pretty excited about gardening this year and will share I’ll be keeping a garden journal on Instagram @LetsKeepGrowing. If you are a gardener, you know that January is when all of the seed catalogs come out. If you are new to gardening, it’s time to sign up for those catalogs. Get excited, people! Spring is coming.

Let’s get growing!

This post originally appeared on


Happy New Year

There are a couple of things that I want to accomplish: deep work, writing, exercise and creative pursuits. So I am trying to create the conditions that result in more time spent doing the things that I care about.

I have been taking a Productivity Hacks for Writers course on Udemy by Jessica Brody. I can’t say enough good things about her and this class. A lot of the course focuses on developing good habits to be a productive writer but really it’s a great class for anyone who wants to develop good habits. Something that I learned in my Learning How to Learn course is that relying on willpower to get things done is not very efficient — you will just deplete your willpower stores too quickly. Instead, you have to access your zombies, the parts of your brain that will do things for you without resorting to willpower. This is done through habits and rituals. Habits and rituals signal to your brain that it’s time to do something and it’s up to you to develop the habits that lead to the life you want. Brody offers a number of hacks — for your routine, your devices, your workspace, even your brain! — in order to write more.

Deep work is another concept that I learned about via Learning How to Learn, and I just finished reading the book of the same name by Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown. Basically, the idea is to structure your time so that you do more work that feels in the zone or a state of flow. It’s not easy because we live and work in a distracted world and for many of us, our days are fractured by email and social media. Jessica Brody’s class is also a great jump start for operationalizing deep work.

What gets tracked gets done

There’s a work adage about metrics and success that what gets tracked gets done. Something that will help or inspire new habits is starting with some basic metrics about how we spend our time. A couple of apps or pen and paper will help you develop your baseline. I used a FitBit tracker to measure activity and sleep, a Pomodoro timer (I use the Marinara Chrome extension) and an app that tracks phone usage.

I can tell you that despite my beliefs about what’s important to me, I scored poorly on all fronts.

Newport suggests rethinking our relationship with social media and email. This is easier said than done of course because we live in an always-on digitally connected world. He suggests quitting social media for 30 days so that you can assess without the influence of daily addiction. And if you want the shock of your life, install a time-tracking program on your phone and see how many times per day you pick up your phone and how many hours of your day and life you spend on it. In Deep Work, Newport cites research that people grossly underestimate their screen time and in my case, that turned out to be true. I decided that I need to limit access to my phone, so unless I am expecting a work call, I leave it out of arm’s reach. And I am switching to an old-fashioned alarm clock so I can keep my phone off my nightstand. I am also thinking very carefully about how I want to use social media going forward.

Brody also describes a number of apps that help track habits as well as apps that remove temptation and distractions or keep you from feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list. It’s work to change old habits and develop new ones. But as John Gorka would say, work brings more good luck

Here’s to a focused and productive New Year!  

A walk in *the* Garden

At the Desert Botanical Garden, November 2017

A garden’s path can take you anywhere.*

On a recent trip to Phoenix, I visited the Desert Botanical Garden or DBG for short. If you haven’t been, it’s an excellent botanical garden and a must-see destination in the Phoenix area.

It was Take Your Dog to the Garden Day and many visitors had one or more dogs with them. For me, dogs+plants=heaven so I enjoyed the many different dogs wagging their way through the DBG.

I have been fortunate to see the garden grow and change over time. Like all other living things, it’s always growing and the beauty and plant diversity amazes me on every visit. One of the exceptional parts of this visit was the butterfly pavilion, a large enclosed butterfly habitat. I am not going to lie, the list of rules posted at the entrance was a little sobering and the fact that you have to walk very carefully through the exhibit because the butterflies will land on the ground right in front of you made me nervous the whole time. But it was magical to be surrounded by these delicate and beautiful winged creatures. I must have had a look of complete awe on my face–one of the volunteers leaned over and said, “I am glad you got to see this.” Me, too–me, too.

Over time, the DBG has added artwork and raised beds providing layered and complex beauty to the garden. It’s hard not to see, feel and appreciate the beauty of the desert after a trip to the DBG.

When I am gone from this world, I hope the people who love me will think of me when they visit a garden.

*This is the sign that hung above the desk at my hotel in AZ, the newly built Hilton Garden Inn in Tempe. I decided it was a sign on multiple levels.


Giving Thanks

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. — Melody Beattie

Today on Thanksgiving I am thankful for my family: my spouse, my furkids, my parents, my siblings, their spouses, my nieces and nephews, my in-laws, and my many aunts, uncles and cousins. I am very fortunate to be a person who loves their family and to have grown up in an environment that was loving, caring and fun. I enjoy having a shared history with my siblings. Our get-togethers — even when they are infrequent — are filled with laughter and good-natured ribbing. It’s such an incredible gift to be surrounded by so many amazing people and furry creatures. 🙂

I am also thankful for my many friends in (or formerly from) Maryland, Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, Nevada and beyond. You are all so amazing and have made my life better in so many ways.

Today I hope you can turn to your family of origin — or the family you created — and take them in your arms and let them know how much they mean to you.

I also try to remember love that is now a memory, even if it’s grief that carries it in the door. One of my friends posted this essay by John Pavlovitz today and it reminded me that love remains as powerful in our memories as it was in life, if we let it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

5 Easy Houseplants

Plants are my weakness. I love plants and I love them outside AND inside. I meet a lot of people who when they learn I am a gardener, insist that they have a black thumb and can’t grow anything. This post is dedicated to all the black thumbs out there. It’s time to turn those thumbs green! We can do it!

Right plant, right place

The secret always is selecting the right plant and right place. The right plant for you is a plant that matches the space, room temperature, available light and your style of neglect or attention. If you tend to overwater, then it’s best to pick a plant that can survive occasional over-loving. If you often forget that you have plants, pick a plant that prefers to be on the dry side.

Here are some of my favorites.

  1. Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum): This is a plant that seems to endure anything that you can throw at except for cold temps and no sunlight. It’s fantastic in a hanging basket. For me, they have survived both underwatering and overwatering. As long as you have a sunny spot that’s above 55 degrees, please meet your new friend.
    The last spider plant I bought was about $9 bucks at Lowe’s. Spider Plant
    Pro tip: Once you have one spider plant, you never need to buy another. These plants reproduce well, sending out shoots that will bear tiny replicas of the mother plant at the tip. Wait for the babies to get large enough, 4-6 inches and then snip them off and place in a small pot with good quality potting soil. You will need to keep these watered until they root. The babies do need babying. OR – keep them connected to the mother plant and root them in soil by placing a small pot nearby. Plant propagation is a huge thrill and once you learn to make your own plants, you’ll be set as a gardener.
  2. Golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum): This beautiful trailing plant with golden green leaves that will light up a dim corner. It doesn’t need a lot to stay happy and will tolerate occasional overwatering. I purchased a large hanging basket at Home Depot for about $20.00. That seemed a little expensive to me but it was large and beautiful and it made an immediate impact brightening up a dark corner.Golden pothos
  3. Sansevieria (also called snake plant and sword plant and another not-so-nice name): Sansevieria is a beautiful sculptural plant that is a perfect fit for modern decor. There are lots of varieties from very small to very large. This is a plant that seems to like to dry out between waterings and watering once a month in the spring and summer–less in the winter– is often plenty for this tough plant. Do not overwater.
    Pro tip: I have propagated this plant from a cutting as well as division and both worked surprisingly well. I have three completely different-looking varieties at the moment, all from IKEA,  which is a great place to buy plants. I just walk through and see what I like.
    I have sansevieria cylindrica and a mini sword plant that I haven’t been able to ID yet.

    Unknown sansevieria and sansevieria cylindrica
    Unknown sansevieria and sansevieria cylindrica
  4. Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata): This fun and funky plant looks like the long-haired version of its much taller palm cousins and the trunk looks like an elephant’s foot, another common name for this tough plant. This is also a plant that doesn’t mind getting dry but will look better with regular watering. I purchased my current plant at Lowe’s. It’s a  Plants of Steel selection. (I haven’t seen these in the store lately but I thought it was a great idea and good marketing!)Ponytail Palm
  5. Dracaenas: This is a plant that also offers a lot of variety. I have a Dracaena Marginata (Long red-edged leaves on brown branching canes, a star of India with gold and green leaves, and I love the long red and green leaves of this plant. My best specimens have been in a very sunny living room in Colorado that had windows on two sides and outside in Mesa, Arizona on a covered porch. (Note that in the summer, you will need to water houseplants more often if they are outside in a hot climate. Also, plants that like full sun may not appreciate full ARIZONA sun.)  I recently learned that you can prune canes back and I am going to try that with one of the canes that looks like it has a comb-over. All of my current Dracaenas are from IKEA: Song of India, Dracaena Marginata and this unknown little guy. Dracaena Marginata is my go-to plant. This seems to be a plant that will rot if overwatered. Sadly, I have never done well with dracaena marginata tricolor. Someday I’ll figure out the right mix!

    Song of India, Dracaena marginata and a mystery Dracaena

Watering tips

Add a reminder to your calendar to check your plants. Stick a finger in the dirt at least an inch to test the soil. If the soil is dry, water, if not, wait a few days. For an 8-inch pot, a cup of water is usually sufficient. Resist the urge to soak the plant unless it feels like the best option or that is the prescribed care for your plant. Wet soil provides an ideal breeding ground for soil gnats and soil gnats can kill anyone’s enthusiasm for indoor plants. In general, back off watering in the winter unless it’s a seasonal plant like a Poinsettia.


I use Jobe’s Indoor Beautiful Houseplants Fertilizer Food Spikes – 30 Pack because they are easy and it’s hard to overdo it and otherwise, frankly, I forget.


I used to think that all plants wanted to be repotted but some don’t and I have learned that sansevieria is one of those plants. It prefers to be snug in its pot. Same with spider plants. When in doubt Google your plant and see what others have to say.

Plants grow

So it’s okay to start out with smaller, less expensive specimens. The $1.99 Dracenas at IKEA are the perfect starter plant.

Need more ideas for plants for beginners? Check out this handy chart from Lowe’s.)

If you want to learn more about propagation, I suggest Making More Plants: The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation.

Happy gardening! Go grow!

Note that this blog contains some affiliate links.

Rebooting your life

These boots are made for walking

In the land of computer support, when all else fails, you reboot and see if that fixes the problem. As you spend more and more time doing support, you get to the reboot step sooner. Pretty soon you begin all troubleshooting by starting with a reboot.

My troubleshooting skills are a little rusty, but they are coming back. (I did boost the Wi-Fi signal to a TV in a little sitting room at the far end of my house with this handy little gadget. Ha! I still have it.)

So the reboot is in process. It’s taking a while, like those old Macs and PCs that I used to support. But I see now it’s the right thing to try. My reboot started back in August when I read this article in the New York Times. It featured engineering professor Barbara Oakley, who is one of the co-teachers of the most popular online learning course of all time, Learning How to Learn.

It was one of those right things at the right time. Intrigued, I signed up. Coursera allows a free audit of classes so you can try before you buy. I checked Professor Oakley’s book, A Mind For Numbers, out of the library and I threw myself into my second online class and my first MOOC (massively open online course). I was blown away by the experience and what I learned. In the course of the next month, I started rewiring my brain. I changed my approach from “I can’t do that” to “I can’t do that yet.” 

I’ve also learned a lot about MOOCs by enrolling in them and it’s been eyeopening. I have turned into an online learning evangelist. Who knew? I think everyone should go to college, but what if you already have more degrees than you know what to do with? What if life or work makes a traditional classroom experience impossible? Or what if online learning is the way for you? I have three classes under my belt and I am enrolled in three more and I have learned a lot. I keep having these ah-ha moments to the point that I think there’s no end to the ah-ha moments.

In addition to throwing myself into learning the content of the courses, I find myself wanting to understand what works and what doesn’t in the world of online learning. I wanted to know why Learning How to Learn is so popular and to dissect why I found it to be so effective. (Professor Oakley also takes learners behind the scenes of the LHTL course in her book Mindshift and the companion online course of the same name.) I am particularly impressed that she “just did it” and learned whatever she needed to in order to make it happen. She used Google to figure out what video equipment to buy and how to setup and use the equipment and she used all her spare time to learn video editing. I am inspired by her grit and determination and have asked myself more than once, “What can I accomplish if I do the same?”

Reboot Virtual Book Club
I started this online reading list for anyone who wants to reboot their life. I think it will grow based on my ever-growing “To Read” Google Doc that is rivaled only by my “Classes to take” Google Doc. I have a lot to learn.

How about you? Who are your virtual mentors? Let me know in the comments or send me an email.

Who’s excited?