Hellebore: It’s a Helluva Plant

The might hellebore laughs at winter

I love plants, I love gardening and I am always growing something. Every place I have lived has offered a new gardening adventure. And every place reveals a plant that, frankly, kicks ass in the garden.

In the Pacific Northwest, I’m going to say that plant is the hellebore.

Helleborus, commonly called Lenten Rose, is an evergreen perennial flowering plant. That’s garden speak for it looks pretty good all year round. But the really unusual characteristic is that it blooms in January-February. Yes, it blooms in winter. Showy blooms! Long-lasting blooms! It’s been a pretty mild winter here, so all of my hellebores look particularly good.

Pacific Northwest winters are rainy, and everything turns to a rather unattractive greenish-brown mush. But the hellebore keeps it’s good looks and rewards you with flowers well before most other plants. (Only the crocus can keep up with hellebores.)

Any plant that blooms outside in winter has my unconditional positive regard. Any flowering plant that deer don’t prefer gets an extra gold star. And another star for being shade tolerant. It’s a helluva plant! There are many colors, some with variegated leaves and others with double flowers. A Google image search will reveal the incredible variety.

Hellebores grow in zones 5-8b. (Olympia is in zone 8b.) you can find your gardening zone on the USDA website.

Earning an A in Failure

Spilled coffee photo by Kolar.io on Unsplash

After reading The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by the legendary dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, I feel like I received a masterclass in the merits of failure. I’m neither a dancer nor a dance fan, but I am interested in habits and learned about her daily workout ritual while reading Atomic Habits by James Clear (one of my top book recommendations from 2019), and I tracked down a copy of her book.

Dancers and dance lovers will appreciate this book, but it’s a book for all creative people who want to develop and deepen their creative muscle.

Setting my intention for the year: Fail a lot.

The last chapter of Tharp’s book is titled “An A in Failure.” This is timely for me because I decided that failure is one of my intention words for 2020*. I think Failure is a bold intention to set for the year, and it’s a bit scary. I don’t like to fail—no one does. But staying in a safe, failure-free zone isn’t conducive to a creative life. It doesn’t help us to learn and grow. All learning requires failure. I have spent too much of my life staying in my competence zone and eschewing anything that I wasn’t good at doing. Ironically, this includes dancing.

Fail early and often

So, this year, I’m embracing new things and preparing to fail early and often:

  • Language instruction: Quiero hablar español. Puedo esribir en español pero no puedo hablar espanol muy bien. ¿Lo que sigue? “¡Sí, hablo español!”
  • Dancing: I’m not sure where I want to go with this yet, but I want to say, “Yes, I can dance.”
  • Expand my quilt repertoire: I do some things very well. I want to go further. I want to find my artistic voice. What’s next? Being able to say, “I am an artist.”
  • Writing: I am trying to write every day. So far, so good. My 2020 writing goal includes publishing something once a week.
  • Be athletic: Much to my surprise, I have learned to enjoy working out. My next stop is: “I am athletic.”

Share your intention

How about you? Where can you venture out of your comfort zone this year? One of the ways that we hold ourselves accountable is by sharing our goals with others. Share your intention with me, and I’ll follow up with you later in the year to see how things are going.

Need some inspiration to embrace failure?

Here are some of my favorite resources on embracing failure.

* Learn more about setting an intention for the year. The convention is to pick one word. I selected two. Maybe I’m an overachiever. Maybe I’m a contrarian. Maybe there’s a third option.

Slay Your Sugar Habit for 25 Cents a Day

I raised a jar of coins just like this photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash to start tracking my sugar intake

Trying to limit your sugar intake (dare we say addiction?) to the recommended daily allowance? Pull out a pile of pennies and let’s get to work. We can slay that sugar habit!

Nothing focuses the mind like stepping on the scale.

That and I signed up for the New York Times 7-Day Sugar Challenge right before New Year’s Day. The article linked to a lecture that I am familiar with but hadn’t watched, Sugar: The Bitter Truth with Dr. Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. Yikes, it was the equivalent of a Scared Straight experience, especially right after my many sugary indulgences throughout the holiday season. Sugar addiction is real. Many companies use food scientists to make foods irresistible, and science works.

For the past year, my family has cut back on packaged foods, especially anything with more than three to four ingredients. But the cookies still came home with us. And I love chocolate and chocolate peppermint creamer. I love eating dessert twice a day. But you can guess where that leads.

I did the NY Times challenge, but I went one step further and decided to follow the American Heart Association dietary recommendations for added sugar intake: 25 grams of added sugar per day or about 6 teaspoons/100 calories is the recommendation for women. (It’s 37.5 grams or about 9 teaspoons/150 calories for men.)

Holy geez. It sounds like a lot, but it’s really, really not.

A serving of cinnamon rolls or dried cranberries exceeds 25 grams. And both of these items were in my fridge and pantry. The creamer that I like has 5 grams of sugar per serving (which is really a half serving when compared to half and half): 5 cups of coffee/tea, and suddenly, I am at 25 grams, and that is if I stick to the one tablespoon serving size, and it’s unlikely that I do. This is one of the ways that food labeling misleads us. We underestimate our consumption.

Calorie tracking: Not a Fan

I am one of those people who intensely dislikes tracking what they eat, especially calories and other nutritional information. Still, I knew I couldn’t count on my memory, so I came up with a visual system: 25 pennies, one for each allowed gram of sugar, and two small dishes. Throughout the day, I move the pennies after each meal or snack.
Some days, the pennies are gone by noon. But much to my surprise, by Day 5, the cravings subsided significantly. Some days, I made the pennies last. On Day 7, I ended the day with 15 unused pennies! I felt rich.
Suddenly, I felt like a bargain shopper. What could I eat that had no sugar (jackpot!) or under three grams?

Tapping into my bargain hunter brain

Using money has had an unusual side benefit: I find that I don’t want to overspend my allowance. High sugar items (read “expensive”) have become unappealing. I still get snack attacks, but it’s for fruit or nuts or cheese. The interwebs are filled with Keto/low carb desserts, and I am going to try a few. One of my challenges is that I need to eat a low FODMAP vegetarian diet, so a lot of sugar substitutes are off the table for me. But limitations spur creativity.

Approaching this challenge with a habits mindset

From a habit perspective, removing the high sugar options and replacing them with low/no sugar options helped tremendously. My supportive spouse put all the remaining holiday chocolate and cookies in the freezer. The low/no sugar options were set in easy reach, making it simple to make good choices.
How about you? Do you struggle with sugar love? Have you found good substitutes? If you’ve cut back on sugar, what are some of the best outcomes? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


How I did it

I raided my piggy bank for 25 pennies and set-up two small dishes, one for the bank and one for the spend.

I repurposed some takeout condiment cups and they work great. They are small enough to make the 25 pennies look like a lot.

I work from home so I set the dishes in my kitchen and move pennies from the bank to the spend pile throughout the day. It would also work to move pennies from one pocket to another.

This was my starting point:

  • I measured added sugar, not total sugar.
    See this article for more details about added sugar and the recent changes in food labeling: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/08/well/eat/diet-sugar-nutrition-foods-health.html
  • I did not measure or limit anything else.
  • I am a life-long vegetarian who leans vegan.
  • I stick to a low FODMAP diet for the most part and this way of eating steers you away from processed foods and foods with high amounts of naturally occurring sugar like grapes and most dried fruit.
  • I already made the move away from most processed foods, meaning that we cook most of our meals from whole ingredients. (It’s the snack foods that were getting me.)
  • I started a daily 30-day exercise challenge in mid-December, and exercise is truly the magic pill for everything.

Five to Follow

Canada Geese flying in a formation, Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

I am subscribed to an insane number of email newsletters. Some are fantastic, others get the delete key more often than not.

Here are five favorites:

Morning Brew

“Did you read Morning Brew?” is a common question in our house. It’s a great mix of tech news, business news, world news, and the quirky shiitake that I love. I get credit for referrals. I’m hoping to score a coffee mug someday.


This is a new email newsletter from Bill Murphy, Jr., a former Inc. writer that I like. (His story about quitting a job on his first day makes me feel better and normal every time I think of it.)

Zen Habits

I have had more a-ha moments than I can count reading Leo Babauta’s newsletter. And seriously, he has the best email archives EVER. 

Apartment Therapy

I haven’t lived in an apartment for a long while, but there’s a lot to learn here about plants, home care and cleaning, decorating and more. 


Hyperallergic is an art and art news website with an email newsletter. I learned about it following a story about the largest private collection donation of African-American quilts to the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Three thousand quilts! I was trying to picture how the collector stored 3,000 quilts. I told Robert that I couldn’t picture it, but I was willing to give it a try.

Habits are the new resolutions

Green neon sign that reads: Habits to be made. Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Every year we set resolutions and every year we forget them, often before the shine is off the New Year.

As we head into a new year—and a new decade!—maybe it’s time to approach this admirable but often fruitless activity and work on forming new habits.

Habits are the less flashy cousins of the showier resolutions. Resolutions are often BHAGs—big, hairy, audacious goals; they make a statement. They say to the world, “I can do something that matters.” Habits are smaller, quieter, more straightforward, and often far less grand. But behind their modest exterior, habits are extremely powerful. Habits can change our lives.

Depending on who you follow in the world of habits, you might learn that it’s impossible to stop bad habits—that our only real chance is to replace the patterns that no longer serve us with new ones. This makes sense; habits are a well-worn groove in our brains. Our best hope is to form a new groove.

And for real: who doesn’t love a new groove.

The trick to habit formation is to use an approach like the one that James Clear outlines in his book Atomic Habits (one of my top three book picks from 2019). You can get a jump start with this guide from James Clear.

  1. Make it ridiculously easy to say yes.
  2. Start small. Really small.
  3. Make incremental improvements; break down big habits into smaller ones.
  4. Track your progress. Note that I said progress, not perfection. You are looking at the trend. If you miss a day, get back on track, and don’t look back.
  5. Be patient and kind to yourself. Change takes time. When we rush, we burn out, and that can throw us back to square one.

As with resolutions, it’s tempting to go waaaaay overboard and come up with audacious goals.

Stop right there.

I want you to think small. Habits are building blocks for other larger habits, so trust me when I say that little things pay off. For example, developing a habit of getting up on a schedule can facilitate a whole slew of other habits: reading, exercise, quality family time, and more. Some of these habits offer multiple benefits and enable other habits that lead to accomplishing big goals. Whether you want to create a painting, write a book, learn data science, run a marathon, become flexible, all of these goals start with small habits.

So, here are 10 examples of things that you can do to start small to go big:

  1. Read for 15 or 30 minutes a day
  2. Exercise for 15 or 30 minutes a day
  3. Always take the farthest parking spot to get more steps into your day
  4. Always return the kitchen to ready before you go to bed
  5. Never leave dishes in the sink
  6. Wash underwear and socks every Friday
  7. Change your sheets on Tuesday
  8. Walk your dog before or after every meal
  9. Write a one-line summary of your day (learn more from Austin Kleon)
  10. Make some quick art to explore your feelings (learn more from Sam Bennett)

Pick one habit and start with that. When it becomes automatic or nearly so, pick something else and add it to the mix. Most people select too many things and make them too big and too complicated. RESIST that temptation. Cut it waaaaay down.

Last year I started with a ridiculous list of habits that I wanted to work on, 15-20! I started with 3×5 cards and then graduated to a spreadsheet. Don’t do this. Habit tracking became a part-time job. I realized pretty quickly that I could reliably keep track of three things in my head. (Three is a magic number, after all.) So, I focused on three things. Pretty soon, those things became a regular part of my day. I did them without thinking. They became habits. Honestly, I felt like I won the habit lottery! One of my goals was to read more, 50 books a year, or about one book a week. So, I started by switching on the light when the alarm went off every morning and grabbing a book off the nightstand and reading for about 30 minutes. Was it hard at first? Yeah, a little. But now the alarm cues the light and the light signals the reading, and I am happy and amazed to report that I have read more than 50 books this year, something I never thought I would do. We also make the bed almost every day, and I write in my journal regularly. The kitchen stays cleaner, I make and finish more quilts, and I exercise more. I get 10 thousand steps or more most days thanks to my workout Buddy.

Buddy, the Mountain Cur mix

Now I want to work on my creative habits: quilting, painting, and writing. I also want to create a yoga habit and exercise every day. I want to cook more and eat better. I want to tackle some hard subjects. Plenty of habits to work on in the new year! This TEDx talk by Amanda Crowell provides some critical insights into why we don’t do what we say we are going to do. It comes down to identity. If we don’t see ourselves as yoga practitioners, or writers or artists or learners, we won’t be successful in making long-term change in these areas. Take some time to reflect on how you see yourself now and how that fits with your habit goals.

20/20 is the standard for good eyesight, and as the New Year approaches, let’s put down those resolutions and commit to seeing ourselves more clearly and practicing the habits that we need to accomplish our goals.

Habits are habit forming! 🙂

Wishing you many good habits in the New Year!


You can learn more about developing habits from these great teachers:

James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones (I loved the book and recommend his emails, too)

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Leo Babauta, Zen Habits (I recommend his emails)

Daily Stoic (I recommend the emails, and you can choose from daily or weekly formats)

2019: So Many Books

Books, books and more books Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič - @specialdaddy on Unsplash

One of my goals this year was to read 50 books. I haven’t read that many books in a year since I was a kid. Most of the books that I read now are non-fiction which, for me, has always been a different kind of reading. With some help from one of my top recommendations of the year, Atomic Habits by James Clear, I developed a rock-solid reading habit.

The three books that I read this year that I would recommend in general:

  1. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear
  2. Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett
  3. Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna

The three books I would recommend to artists:

  1. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
  2. Art Inc by Lisa Congdon
  3. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne OR Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel

The three books I would recommend to people having an existential crisis:

  1. Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott
  2. What if this were enough? by Heather Havrilesky
  3. The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

I also read:

  1. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff
  2. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
  3. The Mastery of Self by don Miguel Ruiz Jr.
  4. The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist with Teresa Barker 
  5. The Education of Will by Patricia B. McConnell 
  6. Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud
  7. The Best Place to Work by Ron Friedman
  8. Disrupt Yourself by Whitney Johnson
  9. Take Control of Your Life by Mel Robbins
  10. Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
  11. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  12. Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher
  13. Creating Your Best Life by Caroline Miller and Michael B. Frisch
  14. The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner
  15. The Dance of Connection by Harriet Lerner
  16. Happiness is a Choice You Make by John Leland
  17. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  18. Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
  19. This is Marketing by Seth Godin
  20. The Next Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley Ph.D. and Sarah Stanley Fallaw Ph.D 
  21. Everybody, Always by Bob Goff
  22. Ransacker by Emmy Laybourne 
  23. Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
  24. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
  25. Choose Wonder Over Worry by Amber Rae
  26. The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge 
  27. The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman 
  28. Job Joy: Your Guide to Success, Meaning and Happiness in Your Career
    by Kristen J. Zavo and Ellen Petry Leanse
  29. The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
  30. The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh and Lazlo Bock
  31. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
  32. Worth It by Amanda Steinberg
  33. A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death by Dr. BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger 
  34. Crucial Accountability by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, David Maxfield
  35. Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson 
  36. Find Your Why by Simon Sinek, David Mead, et al.
  37. Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor 
  38. Get it Done by Sam Bennett
  39. Start Right Where You Are by Sam Bennett
  40. Reinventing You by Dorie Clark
  41. The Man in the Window by Jon Cohen
  42. The Library Book by Susan Orlean
  43. The Art of the Start 2.0 by Guy Kawasaki

Coaching is my new jam, especially coaching for executives and creatives, so I read a lot of related books. I am also interested in how we can improve end-of-life care for ourselves and others so there are a few books on my list on that topic. And there’s still a little time left in 2019 for another book (or two!). Send me a note and tell me your favorite reads from the past year. I always appreciate a good book recommendation.

Header photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič – @specialdaddy on Unsplash

I don’t know who needs this today …

Capturing a shooting star over a bridge. Photo by Alejandro Benėt on Unsplash

I am reading Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna. It’s not at all what I expected. It’s a deeply profound book about understanding who you are and the forces that formed you and your beliefs. If you are lost, temporarily or habitually, or you want to break out of a pattern than brings more sorrow than joy, this is a place to start.

My biggest takeaway so far: to see a shooting star, you need to soften your gaze. Focus will not help you.

unsplash-logoAlejandro Benėt

Gift Ideas

Woman presenting a wrapped gift with a red bow

‘Tis the season! I read today that on top of the regular waste produced, Americans generate an additional 25% more trash Thanksgiving and New Years, about one million tons more waste per week. I think we can do better: we can reduce consumption, buy gifts that last, give gifts that are experiences, and help others. Here are some ideas to get you started. These aren’t affiliate links, just 10 my favorite things, from free to $76.00+. Add your own and remember the Earth we share in all that you do.

Gift of time: One of my all-time favorite gifts is the gift of time. Take someone out shopping, to the movies, help around the house, do some Netflix binging (The Crown, anyone?) Free or nearly so, but you can make someone feel rich.

Gift of listening: Brush up on your active listening skills and give the people you love the gift of listening this year. Everyone likes to be heard. It’s a gift that keeps giving. Free but also so valuable.

Gift of story: Record family or personal stories in writing or with a video or audio recording. Use a composition book, your smartphone, whatever you have handy. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Additional resources available at the Story Corps website. Free and also priceless.  

Cherry Republic: We have been the lucky recipient of a couple of gift boxes from Cherry Republic. The Little Six Gift Box is $65; is the Cherry Cheer Gift Box is $70.

Serrv: buy beautiful gifts from around the world that support artisans (many are women and people with disabilities who might otherwise have difficulty finding work). Delight your loved ones with fair trade, ethically made foods, home items, jewelry and more. My favorites: Divine Chocolate, including the Mini Dark Chocolate Bars, Zanzibar Island Spice, Decorative Baskets, Nativities of all kinds, and much more. I am a big fan of the Layered Peace Wreath. $3.95 and up.

One Simple Wish: Grant a wish for a kid living in foster care on behalf of someone you love. You can sort by gender and geography to make the gift as special as your recipient. For extra fun, make or buy your loved one a magic wand and grant wishes together. Every amount counts.

Splendor: This may be my most-played board game of all time. Since early April, I have played almost every day. We play asynchronously, taking a turn when we have a free moment. One turn at a time has translated into hundreds of games. Check out The Rules Girl for the 3-minute video on how to play. Splendor is available at Target, but I suggest that you pick it up at your local game store if you have one. $40

Cutco: I have had Cutco knives FOREVER. Made in the U.S. and guaranteed forever. They are still sharp, and they are still my favorites. I think the Trimmer is their most versatile knife, $76.

Art Inc: I love this book by Lisa Congdon. Let’s squash the myth of the starving artist once and for all! Signed copy for $16.95

Let’s Make Art box: These monthly art kits contain four watercolor projects and access to online paint-alongs and tutorials. Yes, you can paint a watercolor painting on your first try. Sarah Cray helps the inner artist in all of us! $45 for a single box (and even the box is fun!). I like the Butcher Tray & Brushes Bundle for $20, too.