photography, Travel, wildlife watching

Travelogue: Anza Borrego Superbloom 2019

Thanks to all of the rain we’ve had in southern California over the last few months, this spring we are being treated to that spectacle of nature, a desert superbloom!

Two weeks ago while J was on leave, we took a day trip out to Anza Borrego State Park in the eastern part of the county to visit the desert and see the blooms for ourselves. We were not disappointed!

The first thing to know about Anza Borrego is that the town beside the state park is very small, and if you’re going on a weekend, they may close down the roads if they run out of parking. Go on a weekday if you can and you’ll have no trouble finding parking.

The second thing to know is that this is very much a choose-your-own-adventure type of outing, and that there are dirt roads that really require AWD vehicles. (I love taking our Subaru Outback on adventures!)

Finally, NEVER pick or trample the wildflowers, even if you REALLY want that one really cool pic that everybody is posting on instagram. Walk with caution, and be aware of your impact because if we aren’t careful, there won’t be another bloom like this for years.

Okay, now on to the good stuff! Anza Borrego is a pretty open desert park, and there is a small visitor center with bathrooms and accessible trails so you don’t have to go far to see desert flora. They post bloom updates on their website as well, so you’ll always have a good idea of where to go. So helpful!

We pretty much just headed out into the park after a quick stop at the visitor center to buy a day pass (this gets you into all of the day use areas, including the trailhead to Palm Canyon, which is in the back of a campground).

Palm Canyon Trail goes back between two ridges, and when we visited had free-flowing water running through the middle of it. There is a stand of palm trees at the very back and a small waterfall that lets you know you’ve reached the end of the trail.

The flowers in Palm Canyon were gorgeous, but the thing that really set this one apart for me was that we saw bighorn sheep! I’ve wanted to see sheep in the wild for years, but always just miss them when we’ve been out hiking in the desert. The day in Anza Borrego we got lucky– there were FIVE, all hanging out on the ridge just above us! Of course I didn’t have my good camera with me, but it was still a breathtaking experience.

(If you look VERY closely, you MIGHT be able to see a little white dot at the top center– that’s a sheep!)

After Palm Canyon, we grabbed lunch at a local Mexican restaurant (which was slammed even on a weekday because of the superbloom, but worth the wait) and then headed out to see a massive outdoor art installation: towering metal statues in the middle of the desert.

Many of them are ice age creatures, some are dinosaurs, there were giant insects (see photo above), and there was even a huge dragon that goes “under” the road. The area is just open ground and you can offroad out to most of them on trails that are pretty easy to see.

From there we headed even further out into the park, and spotted a lot of wildlife apart from the flowers: turkeys, coyotes  (spotted from the car), and even a black-footed jackrabbit!

There was an area where the ground was covered in desert lilies as well, and we stood in the sunset light watching everything. The desert is so much more colorful and fascinating than I ever thought it would be, and I’m amazed every time we go out into it.

Have you seen the desert blooming?

photography, wildlife watching

Carlsbad Flower Fields: for your flower photo fix!

There’s something really cool about standing in the middle of acres and acres of flowers, the color spreading around you in the springtime air, and the scent of them floating on the breeze.

Confession: I was really excited to go see the hillsides covered in poppies this year with the superbloom. The traffic backlog was the first thing that deterred me, so we didn’t go out when they first bloomed….and then I started reading about the massive impact that humans were having on the flowers and the hillsides. Trampling, erosion, destruction…. Gross.

And then I remembered the Flower Fields in Carlsbad! This is a historic flower farm that grows giant ranunculus plants to sell, and they open to the public for the months of the year when the flowers are in bloom.

This place is massive and beautiful and worth the ticket price. Plus for an extra $5, they’ll even let you take a tractor ride out around the edge of the fields to save the walk! There are also toilets and snacks and places to sit and designated places to sit/stand/pose with the flowers so there is zero impact on the environment. Total win!

The flowers are arranged by color, which creates a rainbow effect across the hillside, a floral spectrum that makes for fantastic photos but also helps the growers organize which bulbs are where for harvest.

Again, I recommend going on a weekday (as with most things), but if you’ve got to go on a weekend, go early or late in the day. We spent about an hour out on the grounds, and stopped for popcorn and homemade lemonade at the end, which was a nice way to end the visit.

no-buy 2019

No-Buy 2019: Spray Paint EVERYTHING!

Do you have random things around your home that just aren’t “doing” it for you anymore? Or maybe things that aren’t quite the right color, or that are things you bought a long time ago and still work perfectly well so there’s no justification for getting rid of them but WOW you’re tired of looking at that trashcan you bought when you were 21 and is kind of coffee stained on the lid?

Okay, maybe that last one is specific to me personally, but I’ve got all kinds of things around that are functional (or decorative) but just aren’t *quite* right. Maybe they aren’t exactly my style but they were close enough and served a purpose when I needed them.

Maybe they were things I found and tried to repurpose to save from a landfill. (I’ll get to a specific example, promise!)

Or maybe it’s just that dingy old trashcan that has nothing actually wrong with it, I just don’t LIKE it anymore. And never really did, but when I was 21 I didn’t think about the trashcan I bought being with me for this long.

Where I’m going with this is that I’ve discovered the joys of spray paint and it’s adding all kinds of color to my life! Just in the last month, I’ve had four different projects involving spray paint refreshing, and it’s been like getting four new THINGS without doing any shopping!

Well, I shopped for paint. But paint is cheap and is included in my “repairing” exemption– I’m fixing something instead of buying a new version. Woo hoo!

Project one: Decorative Pineapples!

I will admit that I went a little overboard when I decided to decorate my dining room with some pineapples. “Some” is the operative word here. But when I started, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, and then I found all of these really modern looking ones on clearance at Home Goods for like $2 each.

And then I realized that what I actually wanted was vintage, more Hollywood Regent style. These wouldn’t work.

I was going to just donate them (being on clearance, they were non-returnable), but then I realized that I’ve also been wanting kind of tiki-style decor for the back patio…..and that pineapples are perfect! Just maybe not in metallic gold and silver.

Break out the spray paint and let’s make it tropical!

It took several coats to get the paint evenly on the metal, but thanks to Rustoleum brand, I was able to get outdoor quality paint for these things, and now they are ready to decorate the patio table for cookouts this summer. Yay!

Project two: Terra Cotta Pots!

I have a whole lot of beautiful Mexican pottery in my back yard full of succulents and other plants. I also have two of the big, cheap, plain terra cotta pots that you can get for really cheap at any garden store. They hold my two aloe plants (Aloe Vera Bradley and Aloe Vera Wang) but they are by nature the color of the red clay in the backyard and also kind of the color of the house and the trim and the patio roof and…. (We live in a dated, neutral-clay color house in southern California. What can I say?) I don’t want to repot the aloe and my goal is to not buy anything….

So I gently covered the aloe plants in packing paper and spray painted those pots to be lovely shades of dark blue and lime green that go with my Mexican pottery! I think they turned out pretty well.

Project three: Decorative Columns!

These columns came with me from Chicago and were rescued from the back alley behind our building. That sounds a little out there if you’ve never lived in a big city, but I can assure you that there are TREASURES to be found if you check beside the dumpsters in the little alleyways behind the buildings.

We had a garage in Chicago (thank goodness) and the dumpster was around the corner, so there was always something interesting back there from people moving in and out. Other alley finds included an antique end table (which I touched up and is the nicest little end table I own), window frames (given away for art), and a trifle bowl.

But about these columns. They clearly “go” together but aren’t matching, and were plain white and showed all kinds of dirt. They also didn’t stand out against the aforementioned mud color of my house…. so I made them teal!

Project four: TRASH CAN TOUCH UP!

So if you’ve read this far, you know the thing I’m probably most excited about is the trash can. I’ve had this thing for YEARS. It has been BOTHERING me for years. It’s white and shows every single little stain EVER, which when talking about a trash can is a LOT over 15 years. But at the same time, it’s been sturdy, has never broken, and there is zero reason to get rid of it and add more plastic to the waste cycle.

After doing all of this painting in the last few weeks, it suddenly dawned on me…..PAINT would cover all of the stains. PAINT could make it a dark enough color that stains wouldn’t even show. And PAINT would make it easier to clean.

So I grabbed the leftover teal paint from the columns and now the trashcan is a beautiful shade of teal, too!

Basically spray paint is my new favorite thing, and I’m excited to see what else I find to refresh this year with some bright, fun colors!

no-buy 2019

No Buy 2019: Repairing the Coat Tree

One of the most interesting things about this No Buy challenge is that it’s almost like a switch has flipped in my brain, and the compulsive small-item-purchasing has pretty much stopped. I think going into every situation knowing that I’m not going to buy anything has changed my relationship with impulse buying. I never thought much about the small, random things I might pick up (and window shopping is hard when you *could* just get this *one* thing), but the blanket “I’m not buying ANYTHING” statement is…freeing?

The other thing that’s happened that’s really neat is that I suddenly have the funds to do all of the other little things I’ve been putting off for months. There is flexibility in my budget now for lunch with a friend or getting my hair done or whatever other little thing might have needed better planning. And this is without going beyond my budget, and accounting for savings. So yay!

I want to highlight one of our repairing (rather than replacing) projects that we did a couple of weeks ago. For years I searched for a sturdy wooden coat tree for the front hallway, so when I finally found one a couple of years back, I was super excited! It was a two piece affair, and the base screwed into the top. Unfortunately, I think it was a victim of military moving….

…because a couple of weeks ago it essentially snapped in half.

Yeah.

I think what happened was that with getting disassembled and reassembled in the move a year ago the screw started to strip, and over the course of the last year it worked itself out of groove until it was beyond help.

(pardon the bad photo quality, these are screen grabs from the video I took of this process)

But let me emphasize– it took me YEARS to find a coat tree. The last thing I wanted was to have to find a new one, especially when we had all of the pieces! So in the spirit of repairing-to-not-purchase, Jared and I set about DOING CARPENTRY.

The first matter of business was to find a way to reconnect the pieces, and in our toolbox stash we found small wooden pegs from some previous furniture repair. With the pegs in mind, we made a little template to help us mark out four spots in equal distance from the central screw, and marked them with pencil.

We drilled into the four segments with a bit the right size for the pegs, then set about fitting them into place. With a liberal application of a heavy duty (furniture grade) wood glue, we wiggled the two pieces of coat tree back together, and ta da!

Just 48 hours later (after drying) we had our coat tree back! Total cost: $5 for the wood glue, which we now have for any other project that might come along.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was. It’s so difficult to find a coat tree anymore, which is strange because it seems like such a useful item! And when I posted about this on instagram, I received multiple replies asking where I’d gotten mine. The moral of the story is if you’ve got a coat tree, hang on to it! Oh and I guess also that repairing things isn’t that hard if you take the time to do it.

national parking

Indiana Dunes National Park!

It’s official! One of my favorite places to visit while we lived in Chicago, Indiana Dunes, is now the US’s newest National Park!!

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore became Indiana Dunes National Park this month, becoming only the 61st place with that designation in the country. So cool! While the designation doesn’t really fundamentally change much about the park or how it operates (it has been national land since the 1960s and has been a park for over 100 years), it does provide a boost for marketing, while also becoming the first national park in Indiana. So congratulations, Indiana residents!

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

But there are still some cool things to know now that it’s an official National Park! First, according to National Geographic, this 15 mile lakeshore gets about the same number of annual visitors as Mount Rushmore. It’s also the closest thing to a beach that most folks in Chicago are going to experience, and has some legit massive dunes.

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

The dunes are soft sand, and offer a buffer against the storms from the lake to the wetlands surrounding the area. You can hike through the marsh trails (and be sure to note which areas are part of the Indiana Dunes State Park, managed separately from the National Park spaces since regulations are different) or across the dunes. Just be prepared for a workout– the dunes are steep and hiking through sand is no joke!

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

Indiana Dunes was one of our favorite escapes from Chicago. We could get there in just over an hour from home, but it felt like a whole world away. The Chicago skyline was distantly visible on clear days, but in the other directions it was just sand and water and trees. And while the beaches weren’t like being by the ocean, if I closed my eyes on a warm day and pretended…it was close enough to get by.

no-buy 2019

No-Buy 2019: New (free) Couch!

One of the more interesting aspects of this project is that, even just three weeks in, I’m stretching my creative muscles to figure out ways to make things work. Part of that is being on the lookout for opportunities and being willing to jump at them when they present themselves.

Case in point– our old couch has been needing to be spruced up for a while. I have had the intention of getting it reupholstered at some point, but never got the chance with my furniture place in Chicago. Now that we are in San Diego, I needed to research a new place….and from the estimates I was seeing online it looked like it would be $2000+ to reupholster and repair the couch, as the springs were all but shot. OUCH.

Treasure hunting.

Fast forward to last Monday. One of my hobbies is checking the free section on Craigslist once or twice a day. It may sound like a strange habit, but the things people give away are always interesting and sometimes valuable. Monday I saw a sofa pop up that was intriguing– so I sent a message to the poster.

It was an antique reproduction, recently reupholstered in the seat, and it was stylistically similar to much of the rest of our living room furniture (Queen Anne, darker finished wood). The person wrote back that if we could come TODAY we could have the couch. Jared and I hopped in the car and drove right over.

What we discovered was a HUGE golden yellow sofa with carved legs that was NOT going to fit in our car. At all. It had gotten a little damp in some unexpected downpour and one of the legs had come off, but it was solid wood and the springs were perfect. So we decided why not?

It took us over 2 hours of waiting around Home Depot to get a flatbed truck to rent, but before too long we were back to pick up the sofa.

Unexpected kindness.

Challenge: the truck’s bed was full of dirt and we accidentally left our twine in our car, which was back at Home Depot.

And this is where the story turns into a tale of the kindness of strangers. While we were staring at the dirty bed (and look at this couch– if it got muddy there wouldn’t be a way to clean it!), one of the couch owner’s neighbors came outside to work on his car. I asked him if we might borrow a broom. At first he looked a little surprised, but when we explained why, he immediately went and got us one to borrow. Win #1!

The truck was clean (and we borrowed some broken down cardboard boxes to put under the sofa so it wouldn’t rub on the truck itself) but we were still without twine…and needing to go down and back up the valley to get home.

Leaving Jared with the truck and sofa, I walked down the block and saw an upholstery shop. When I went inside, the owner was there working on a chair. “This is kind of a weird request,” I said. “But I feel like you might know where someone locally might sell twine? We are moving a couch.” “How much do you need?” the man replied. “I’ve got this stuff that will last 30 years if you treat it well.” Reader, he unspooled YARDS of this twine and just handed it to me, free of charge. (I took his business card and will happily patronize his shop* in the near future.) More kindness from a stranger. Win #2!

We tied the sofa down, wrapped the cushions to make sure they wouldn’t slip, and drove the sofa home before returning the truck and retrieving our own car.

Add a little elbow grease…

When we got home, we put the sofa in the back yard to dry for a bit. Once the sun set, we brought it inside. We reattached the leg– it was a non-load-bearing leg in the back, and we had extra strength wood glue from another project that weekend, plus tiny tack nails to secure it in place. I attacked the few remaining damp spots with my hair drier, and boom: the sofa is installed.

It’s HUGE. You can stretch out completely on it without banging your head into the arm. But the pillows provide enough support you don’t slump either. It goes with our furniture (other than the coffee table which I’ve been meaning to re-stain anyway) and is in great condition. My friend said it was like finding a unicorn.

Oh, and Caspian thinks it’s his new bed.

Threadwalkers

Local Author Showcase at the San Diego Central Library

This weekend I had the honor of being included in the 2018 Local Author Showcase at the San Diego Central Library in downtown San Diego. The library had over 300 submissions to the program for 2018 (previously un-featured books published after their 2017 showcase were eligible, which included Threadwalkers!) and mine was selected along with a huge number of other awesome local authors.

Threadwalkers on display at the San Diego Central Library

The Friday night reception included a keynote speaker and then snacks in the library, as well as unveiling of the display cases where our books will be on exhibit in the library through the month of February. After that, our books will be available for checkout in the library system for a year. Yay!

L to R: Mya Duong, Jenn Greenhall, Joanna Volavka, Ana Levley, and J. Dianne Dotson

It didn’t take me long to find my book amongst the other black-and-white covers (the cases are very pretty, with books arranged by color or style), and I also had a fun time finding books written by my other local author pals. We had a good time playing scavenger hunt with one another’s books.

I got to meet some new folks, too, and had a very good time chatting about writing and the event and just getting to know other local writers.

Thanks so much to the San Diego Central Library for sponsoring and hosting this event! And if you happen to be in San Diego in February, snap a #Threadwalkersselfie and I’ll send you some swag!

no-buy 2019

Project: No-Buy 2019

*dusts blog*

*wipes away accumulated ads and other garbage*

*shines monitor*

Whew. Is this thing still on?

HELLO. I think the last time you heard from me was at least three months ago. I could check, but…. nah. Let’s just start this fresh.

This year is going to be a big one for me with a lot of moving pieces (thankfully my household is NOT one of those pieces– we’ll be staying put all year, thankyouverymuch!) and while last year was pretty much one long adjustment period (re-settling in San Diego! getting used to school! figuring out school/writing/other balance!), this year is going to be different. Blooming where you are planted means giving yourself ways to grow, right?

And so I’m starting a project. Well, sort of a project. Don’t consider it a new year’s resolution, even though it’s beginning in January. Rather, consider it as Year Two in San Diego.

Some background.

Usually around the time we’ve been in a home for a year, I finally figure out the space well enough that I can organize it and put everything where it ought to have been in the first place. I know that seems like a long time, but the reality is that we move often enough that I have to be very good at just Putting Everything Away so that we can get on with our lives.

It takes about a year to learn exactly how much space is in the spare closet, no I don’t like having my “pantry” on the bottom section of the cabinets, and I can’t reach the shoes in this closet if they are stacked that high. So a year into each place, I pull things out room by room and essentially re-move-in. (This is often accompanied by rearranging the furniture, which Jared has gotten so used to he doesn’t even question anymore why the entire living room set is piled in the middle of the floor at 10pm. This is just life.)

The one-year mark in this house happened to correspond with late December, so it gave me extra incentive to really think about the STUFF we have, and what we need, and how best to organize it. (No, I haven’t been watching that Tidying Up show on Netflix. Everyone asks, and I’m sure the show is helpful for folks, but this isn’t that.)

The Project.

Around that time I also decided that I wanted to try a new approach to my spending habits– and so the idea for a No-Buy 2019 was born.

The usual goal of a “no-buy challenge” is to not spend *anything* for a set amount of time, usually a month. Since I want to last a whole year, I had to make some adjustments. My goal isn’t to stop spending quality time with people or to miss all of the movies coming out this year (or otherwise make myself miserable)– my goal is to stop buying random crap at Target. Yeah, “it’s just $5” or “well, it’s on sale for $7.99” or whatever doesn’t sound like much, but that stuff adds up quickly!

My secondary goal is to really understand (and appreciate!) what I already have. And not only that– to USE what I already have! If I have something in excess (or in sufficient amount even), then I should use that thing and not purchase another one. Yes. Good.

Example: I have STACKS of shoes. (Literally stacks– I stacked them!) But when I have an event to go to or need to dress up, I spend forever fishing through my closet because I can’t find a pair to go with whatever I’m wearing. This is patently absurd. The problem isn’t that I don’t have the right shoes– it’s that I can’t FIND them!

Solution: I pulled every pair of shoes out of my closet (they are all in their original boxes, which helps tremendously) and organized them by type before stacking them back in the closet– in columns. Now when I want a pair of ballet flats? I go to the column of ballet flats and choose a pair! Need some pumps? There’s a column of them! Sneakers? Right here with all of the other athletic/outdoor shoes!

And here’s the magic part: I found shoes in the closet that I forgot I even owned. Shoes that I was so excited about when I bought them, but then forgot. It was like going shopping without spending money!

I’ve gone through my makeup, through my jewelry, through my books and movies, through EVERYTHING and organized it. I’ve even taken a sharpie and written on the boxes when they weren’t clearly labeled (see on the shoes?) to make SURE I know what I have. I want to USE this stuff!

I’ve rambled enough about the Purpose Of This Project. Now how about some nitty gritty?

Here are my No-Buy 2019 guidelines:

  • Purchase nothing on impulse.
  • Use (and use up) what is already here. Clean things out completely.
  • It’s okay to replace consumables. (Mascara runs out. Eyeshadow? I’ve got a drawer full.)
  • No shoes, no clothes.
    • Exemption: if I get a job (volunteer or otherwise) that requires, say, a uniform shirt.
  • Exceptions for:
    • Gifts for others (like the first birthday gift I will send in March to a friend’s kiddo)
    • Tickets to movies/shows/events under $50 (again– the goal isn’t to not DO anything, but to not buy excessive STUFF)
    • Pre-meditated purchases*
    • Organizational tools (like small shelves for the pantry)
    • Tools for repurposing old items (like paint to spiff up an old chair)
    • Haircuts and similar
    • Travel expenses**

That exceptions list is pretty important. I needed to be specific with myself and lay out ground rules, but I also needed to allow myself to function for the year. I don’t want to make myself frustrated after all! I want to be able to maintain this all year, and part of that is leaving room for fun things. The tickets exemption, for instance, is so I can still do fun things, but with a price limit so that I maintain balance.

And that’s it!

Why am I sharing this level of detail? Well, I thought it might be fun to document the year here with you all. I hope you enjoy coming along for this project with me. I’ve already had a couple of adventures, but I’ll save those stories for the next few posts.

Happy 2019!

 

*Pre-meditated purchases include things that I’m looking for long term but waiting for the right specific item– an example would be that I need a new jacket, but I want to get one that I like and that will last for several years. I’ll know it when I see it.
**I am planning some travel this year (more about it later) and would like to be able to bring back a souvenir without guilt.

Threadwalkers

Listen to this: there’s a Threadwalkers audiobook!

Threadwalkers has been out for just over a year, and I so appreciate all of you who’ve taken the time to read it (and leave reviews– it helps others find the book, so thank you!) and who have come out to my events and the like. I really, REALLY appreciate you all!

Back when the book came out, I had several different kinds of requests for “bonus” or other material, and one of the most frequent asks was for a Threadwalkers audiobook.

For all of you: I HAVE GOOD NEWS.

The Threadwalkers audiobook is available NOW!

You can find it in the major audiobook retailers listed in the image (Audible, Amazon, iTunes). Yay! And if you aren’t already signed up for Audible, I have a gift for you:
You can try Audible for free for 30 days, including a FREE download of Threadwalkers! [CLICK HERE]

If you happen to read the audiobook, it would be fantastic if you could leave a quick rating. Those really do help folks find the book, especially when it’s new.

Thanks for continuing to support Miranda!

Threadwalkers

Upcoming Event at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore

HELLO.

Wow, this summer got away from me. What can I say? Grad school and writing a new book and all kinds of things ate my brain and my time. But here we are.

And here we are with another local event!

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore here in San Diego is hosting a Local Author Meet & Greet event on Sunday, September 16, and it sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun! Want to know more? I’ve got you covered!

I’m looking forward to getting to know some local readers, and also connect with other local authors. Let me know if you’ll be there!