The Blue Friends

Peanuts lined up on the fence for the birds.

Steller’s Jays are frequent visitors to our yard. They are large (about 12 inches) crested blue songbirds native to our region. These birds look like they are sporting mohawks, which, of course, makes me love them even more. I call them The Blue Friends.

I know from our time in Reno that they like peanuts in the shell, so I started buying peanuts. I would put them out and retreat to watch the show. One of the amazing things about Steller’s Jays is their ability to stuff many unshelled peanuts in their mouths before flying off to cache them or snack in private.

Pretty soon, I felt like I was being watched when I stepped out on to the balcony. I would hear their distinctive “Skreeka! Skreeka!”

“Hey, Lady,” they seem to say.

And I would often oblige with a bowl of peanuts.

Finally, I had to buy a gigantic bag of peanuts from the local feed store. Now, I put them out almost every morning. This morning, I started work early and forgot about the peanuts along with sunflower seeds in a bird feeder for my little bird friends. I could hear The Blue Friends outside my office and had the odd feeling that they had spotted me through the window.

“Hey, Lady! “

I jumped up to take the peanuts and bird feeder out—anything for The Blue Friends.

Steller’s Jay, photo by Douglas Robinson, Oregon State University on Flickr (CC)

WFH (Work From Home)

Woman working at a laptop biting a pencil. Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

You have probably seen many WFH posts in the past week. I feel like they might be more accurately described as WTF! WFH? posts.

I’ve been doing the remote thing for a while. I hope that I can offer some assurance that it’s going to be okay and that you can do this.

My number one recommendation is to create a routine. You might have to time-shift a bit to accommodate working with kids or furkids, so take that into account.

Over the past year, my schedule has evolved into something like this:


  • Wake up
  • Start my morning routine.
    • Make coffee and feed the cat because she is starving OMG
    • Meditate with the cat
    • Read with the cat
    • Journal with the cat
    • Write*
    • Check the seedlings
    • Work out
    • Eat breakfast
    • Feed the dogs and take them for a walk
    • Get ready for work (For me, that’s hair, makeup and work clothes)
  • Work 8-noon: I stand up and walk around almost every hour (thank you FitBit), and I take a mid-morning break**
  • Break for lunch at noon
    • I suggest making lunch a standing meeting on your calendar. Don’t skip it, don’t eat at your desk, and as a rule, don’t create meetings during lunch.
    • Take the dogs outside and walk Buddy
    • Give the cat a snack OMG
    • Take a few turns in the game du jour (usually Splendor because it’s easy to play asynchronously, get the expansion pack once you’ve mastered the basic game)
  • Work 1-5ish: I stand up and walk around almost every hour (again, thank you FitBit), and I take a short mid-afternoon break**
  • Transition from work to home with what we call Miller Time (usually nachos) and feed the cat OMG***
  • Evening routine:
    • Make dinner
    • Feed the dogs and take them for a walk
    • Do something constructive/creative/fun*
    • Take a few turns
    • Do Duolingo lessons (Quiero hablar español)
    • Check the seedlings

*I’m still working on making this a daily habit.
** If you have access to LinkedIn Learning, check out on the importance of taking meaningful breaks during the work day.
***Miller Time signals the end of the work day. I highly recommend a similar ritual. Sadly, I have no suggestions for dealing with perpetually starving felines.

Saturday and Sunday are similar but my work hours are for creative work and house projects with some playtime and couch lounging thrown into the mix.

I also have a list of things that I do once or twice a week that I associate with specific days (laundry, class, coaching, updating the Little Free Library, watering plants, etc.). You might think that this feels a bit constraining but I find it to be the opposite. It actually frees up headspace to turn my to-dos into habits. 

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. It took me a while to create all of these daily habits, and I didn’t add them all at once. I kept track of things in a Google Spreadsheet for a long time (nerd alert). But less than a year in, I find that many of the things that I struggled to do regularly in the beginning are now habits. I don’t know what the limit is on recommending a particular book, but I recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear if you are trying to develop habits. I love this book. Many of you have received this recommendation, so thanks for letting me fangirl again here. 

Here is a list of articles and other resources that might help you as you transition from working remotely. You don’t need to read them all (although you can, you overachiever), but there’s a lot of wisdom and useful hacks here. 

If you have access to LinkedIn Learning/ training through work or your local library, there are a ton of good trainings related to remote work and virtual teams (and many other topics). Check it out! Your local library probably has an online resources section with cool offerings. I’ll share more on that in a future post. 

Need face time?

I’m happy to meet with you (via Zoom, of course!) to talk through resources and strategies to adapt to WFH. Contact me!

At the end of the day, “We’re all just walking each other home” (Ram Dass). Reach out to others. Ask for what you need and offer what you can. You’ve got this. We’ve got this. 

Nature Marches On

Yellow daffodil photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

For the past few weeks, we have been treated to an amaryllis show in our kitchen. It started with a giant double bloom on the apricot amaryllis that I have had for three years. This was followed by a quartet of velvety red amaryllis blooms that we are enjoying right now. The third amaryllis is a red and white variety, and it’s just starting to open up.

I bought the red amaryllis in December 2018. It was one of those bulbs they sell encased in wax. I searched for information on how to plant them after they bloomed, and the consensus on the interwebs was dire — that these bulbs were doomed to a one-and-done life once they arrived in your home.

I’m stubborn. (Duh.) I decided I couldn’t make things worse, so I removed the wax and the lining beneath the wax. The bulb itself was firm, but it was moldy, and the roots looked bad like they had been encased in tight waxy underpants. 🙂 I rinsed it off and gave it a pep talk before planting it in some new garden soil. I could hear it singing, “Don’t give up on me, baby.”

I didn’t give up, and WOW was I rewarded. I don’t trim my amaryllis (except the dead leaves), and I just let them go at their own pace. For the past two years, that meant blooms in February-March. I was introduced to Amaryllis Man by a friend and fellow plant lover and feel more confident in just letting them do their thing. 

I am in awe of my velvety red friend. It had an assist from me, but it knows what to do. It’s a good reminder in these uncertain times. 

Happy Spring, everyone!

P.S. The daffodils opened up on the first day of spring. How do they know?

Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

Baby Rhino, doo doo doo doo doo doo

Momma and baby rhino. Photo by sarah stockman on Unsplash

What I need right now: more cute animal videos. The penguins are touring the aquarium: yes! Penguins going down the stairs: YES! Fiona, the hippo: YES! The cats with the dominos: YES! 

The dogs wanting their people to stop typing and start petting them: YES! Oh …, wait … – that happens here almost every day. 


But what broke the internet for me is the baby rhino at the Denver Zoo. NO ONE TOLD ME OF THE EXTREME CUTENESS! Watch the video now.

More Fun Stuff

Virtual Safaris with the Cincinnati Zoo:

Weekday, kid-friendly drawing classes with illustrator wendy macnaughton at 10 am Pacific time on Instagram @wendymac

Cover photo by sarah stockman on Unsplash

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 its 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 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:
  • 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