joanna irl

my daily life as experienced over a 5 minute period

If much of my life could be summed up into a single incident, I suspect it would be the one that just happened while I was home alone with my cats* on a Friday night.

Some background: I’ve had an insect nemesis for the prior THREE DAYS in the form of a FLY. This fly is equipped with special STEALTH TECHNOLOGY. It has to be. How else could a giant fly vanish for hours (days?) at a time?? It buzzes past me and then vanishes into thin air, I’m certain by activating its cloaking device, and then is just GONE for hours. It’s been BOTHERING me that I couldn’t find this fly.

Prior to tonight’s Incident, the last time I saw the fly was several hours ago, probably around lunch time, buzzing around my office. Even though I immediately closed the door to said office, the fly was nowhere to be found. So I went about my business, waiting. At some point the fly will reappear, right?

Fast forward to tonight.

I was finishing up in the bathroom and downloading a game I used to play onto my phone. It’s a silly little puzzle game from Disney called tsum tsum. It’s been around for years, but I haven’t played in a long time, and wanted to give it another whirl. The thing you need to know about this game is that, after you’ve done the tutorial on how to play, it downloads game data BEFORE you can go into settings and turn off the music.

The music that sounds like this:

So. You’ve got the scene. I’m in the bathroom, washing my hands. Alone except for cats, so the door is cracked open. THIS music is playing on a loop in the background.

And in swoops The Fly.

I slammed the door closed and twirled the hand towel into a loop. I’m reasonably good at knocking flies with a towel. I wait for my chance, and BOOM. The fly is toast. Huzzah! I flush the dead insect and go to toss the towel into the dirty laundry, its mission complete.

The tsum tsum music is still playing in the background.

And then, in my moment of triumph…

…I stepped right into cat vomit, with a single round piece of cat poop lying beside it.

And that, my friends, is what a hopping Friday night at my house is like (because I definitely hopped all the way to the sink to clean my foot).

I suspect there’s more poop somewhere, but that’s future Jo’s problem. Current Jo is figuring out how to get that awful app noise to stop playing already. It’s enough of a circus without theme music.

Looks innocent but is actually culprit of SCARF’N’BARF.

*Being at home necessarily includes cats, so this is no special designation, but I wanted to SET THE SCENE, if you will. Carry on.

joanna irl

2020 is a lot but at least there’s apple picking

Y’know, I had good intentions with getting back into blogging regularly post-grad school, but this year has been A Thing, so I guess just appreciate that this is getting attention at all. 😉

We haven’t really gone anywhere (other than J going on a floaty float for work) in six months. The air has been *not good* thanks to wildfire smoke. Outdoor spaces are crowded at best and overrun at worst. Everything is just A Lot, is what I’m saying.

side of highway with golden brown fields and hazy mountains in the distance

But a couple of Mondays ago I happened to see a post from a newly-opened-for-the-season apple orchard in Julian that was open on Mondays. The air quality happened to be okay that day. And J was home on a random day off. So! Off to Julian we went on a last minute day trip to the mountains!

sunflowers in left-third of photo with hazy mountains behind

It was exactly what we both needed.

orchard row with dirt ground going toward mountains, apple trees covered in apples on either side

Because it was a Monday, we had the orchard nearly to ourselves, which meant we could walk around the back areas without masks (a complete novelty right now!) and take a few photos.

Jared picks an apple from a tree; he's wearing a wide brim hat and glasses, and smiling as he looks over his shoulder

The apples are varieties I’m not as familiar with. We’ve never gone picking up in Julian because it’s such a short season, and often crowded with folks driving up from San Diego, and hot.

close up view of two apples sitting against a tree branch with more apples in background behind them

And it was, indeed, hot. Especially compared to the big farms with large orchards we visited in the midwest.

Jared and Jo sitting under an apple tree smiling. Jared is holding up a full bag of apples.

Despite the heat, it felt good to be outdoors, and we picked two bags of apples. We even drove into town to peek around and managed to score parking right by the Cider Mill to run in and get apple butter! We stopped by the Pie Company on the way out of town and bought the last dozen apple cider doughnuts to round out the day and headed home, tired but happy.

cider doughnuts with sugar coating sitting on checkered paper in a carbboard box

Honestly, I’m not sure I could recreate the perfect timing of it all. But we’ve got a pile of apples for the fall now and I have treats stashed in the freezer for later, and even today the heat has broken and it *almost* (not really, but for San Diego) feels like early autumn.

It’s the little things like this getting me through the year.

two pairs of feet sticking out from viewer (POV: sitting in the orchard) with a bag of apples between them. Apple trees stretch into the distance.
joanna irl

Lessons from No-Buy 2019

Oh hey. I still own a blog. (I feel like every fourth post or so is along the lines of “wow, I haven’t written in forever” but grad school and blogging don’t seem to have meshed well.)

I officially finished grad school this weekend (HUZZAH!), though I turned in my final projects several weeks ago, which means I’ve had some time to reset mentally and take a look at some old, lingering projects (and some new ones I’m excited to share).

As I’m writing this, we’re several months into a global pandemic. This post isn’t about that, but I want to acknowledge that anything I write about for the next bit will be at least flavored by that fact. But that being said– I want to share what I learned from spending last year NOT spending money. There was a lot!

Use what you’ve got

The first goal of my No-Buy 2019 project was to use (and appreciate) what I’ve already got in my life. I started off by organizing everything and really exploring what I already had, and then made a point of making everything very accessible and easy to use. I used up several eyeshadow palettes for instance, and didn’t buy any new eye makeup (beyond when my mascara/eyeliner ran out) for the entire year. So far in 2020 I’ve splurged twice on a new thing to try, but I find that it’s much more intentional now.

It’s been interesting to track my own change in spending. I don’t feel the need any more to have the next shiny thing, because I know there will be another one coming right behind it. Instead, I plan out what I’m going to spend much more carefully. I’ve been wearing more of my shoes again, putting new outfits together with existing clothes I already had, and sourced any crafts I wanted to make from what’s in my office. I now check what I already have FIRST before looking online to see what new thing I can find.

A perfect example of this is my Spring Dapper Day outfit from last year– My friends and I went as the three kittens from The Aristocats, but instead of buying a white sundress or something like that for my Marie-inspired look, I used things I already owned to create my outfit. The only purchase for this outfit was the wide pink ribbon that cost less than $5– and by using it for a belt, I was able to turn a tank and skirt into a vintage looking “dress” with enough left over for a huge hair bow!

Another fun thing I did to “use what I’ve got” was digging out a bunch of old puzzles and things that I haven’t done in years. It’s been long enough for all of them that it was like working them for the first time!

Repairing and reusing

Another skill I got much better at in 2019 is repairing random things. I don’t need to be an expert sewer to mend a popped seam, and I don’t need to be a carpenter to fix a coat rack. I spent a lot of time working on these little repair skills over the year to get more life out of things, and honestly at the end of it all I’m floored at how much I was able to fix and keep using.

Reusing things was a big theme of the year, too, and I really did get very good at spray paint refreshes, where I found old things that weren’t quite what I wanted and turned them into something unique and fun. The pineapples and trash can were certainly part of it, but I took pine cones from a friend’s yard and painted them gold in the winter for a centerpiece, and then this spring I painted a couple of plaster rabbits we’ve had for years to make them new again for Easter. I even refreshed some of my kitchen accessories! It’s been fun giving new life to things.

Buying second hand and vintage

I know I posted before about my love of Craigslist Free (and wow I’ve gotten some great things from there over the last few years) but if I couldn’t find what I wanted, either from my own closet or for free online, then my next step was to check thrift stores and the like for second-hand or vintage things.

A perfect example of this is the dining room chairs I got last fall– I found some gorgeous chairs for sale from someone cleaning out storage, less than 5 miles away. Eight chairs for $150. They needed to be recovered but otherwise were in great shape! So, putting my new repair/refresh skills to work, I was able to finally upgrade our dining set!

Intentional Spending

If you read the first post I wrote about my No-Buy 2019, I left myself room for “intentional spending”. This was to cover things like replacing items I needed or finding things I’d been looking for prior to the No-Buy. (Dining room chairs were on the list!) But this also left me space for small splurges, which I found I had more room for in my budget without buying all the random other stuff.

Behold– the red dress! I bought this dress for homecoming after J’s deployment in November. The shoes I’ve had for ages, but the dress was brand new, and exactly what I wanted it to be– a special outfit for a special day. Plus it’s a classic style that won’t age badly and something I can use again (especially for holiday parties).

Other than the dress, I also bought a few things I needed for travel to India, souvenirs from the trip to Europe with my folks in late summer, and art. (Mostly what I bought was art!) Having room in my budget to support some indie artists I follow, and to have a few small souvenirs, made each small thing I did get special.

Would I do a No-Buy again?

I mean, I feel like I would if I needed to at some point. It was a very liberating experience, to be honest– knowing that I “couldn’t” buy anything took away a mental pressure I didn’t even know I had, and allowed me to appreciate things and then walk away without feeling like I was missing out on anything. It really has changed the way I interact with the way I spend, and how I think about consumer goods.

I’ve also gained a lot of confidence in my skills to make things work as well– I’m more likely to try and repair something myself, or to try and new skill, than to seek a replacement for something. And I’m much more aware of how I spend when I do– and have continued to try and buy second-hand or vintage items as much as possible.

joanna irl

Travelogue: India 2019

In July I spent 10 days in India. It was beautiful and wet and green and challenging and I’m still not sure what all I learned because I think I was at max capacity every day and that a lot of things are still filtering through my brain. Here are some thoughts.

First, some context– part of the reason my blog has gone, shall we say, quiet in the last two years has a lot to do with me being in grad school. I started with Miami University’s Project Dragonfly in spring of 2017 (that’s Miami University in Oxford Ohio, not to be confused with U of M in Florida) as part of the Advanced Inquiry Program, or AIP. It’s a program meant to bring a wide range of folks into the conservation biology field from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, with the idea that the field can benefit from all of our perspectives and knowledge. It’s been, shall we say, interesting to be in this program with a fine arts background, but it’s also given me a chance to pursue things that I’ve been passionate about since childhood and I cannot recommend it enough if you’re looking for a way to get a toe into science-world. 

AIP runs through partnerships with “Master Institutions” that host electives and the in-person portion of the otherwise online degree program, and my master institution is San Diego Zoo Global. (Cool, right?) 

But we were talking about India, right? So, for part of the program, we have the option of taking a course called an “Earth Expedition“– essentially an intensive 10 day experience to learn about conservation happening internationally through various themes explored in each site. Since my focus is on narrative and storytelling for conservation, visiting India was a great opportunity.

India is a fascinating place for conservation because of the presence of sacred groves, pockets of forest surrounding temples and sacred sites connected to the villages dotted across the country. These groves often provide the only remaining resource for native species and are considered* a key piece of conserving biodiversity in an extremely threatened habitat. In order to learn about the ways that cultural narrative and story have preserved these forest remnants, it meant going into India’s Western Ghats.

To give this post a little bit of a lens, I want to talk about it in terms of connections. I honestly think that was the biggest theme for me personally throughout the trip. The reason sacred groves work is, in large part, due to the connection between the local people and the land*. Their beliefs, their culture, their way of making a living is all historically connected to the groves and the land around it. This connection is their buy-in, as it were. But herein lies the rub: in a country where it can be challenging to make a living at all, land becomes a commodity. It can be difficult to persuade folks that standing trees are as valuable as the wood they provide. Long term vs short term investments and all.

This brings us to another connection– our in-country partners and hosts while in India, AERF, and the work they do. AERF has gotten to know the communities connected to the sacred groves and works with them to provide incentives to keep the trees standing. They make personal connections in the villages, train people to be forest protectors, promote conservation through traditional methods**, and more.

Finally, the last connection I want to discuss is a big one: the connection between humans and the other living things on the planet. I think we hear a lot about things like “food webs” and such (and in biology-land there are “trophic cascades” and other things), but the thing that hit me the hardest while standing in the middle of a forest in India, with rain pouring down on me while I looked up at a tree with a height I can only halfway fathom is how connected we all are. The big picture systems of our planet mean that none of this exists without the whole. Heck, there is research suggesting that the minerals that feed the Amazon rain forest come*** form the Sahara desert, halfway across the world. What might the trees in India’s Western Ghats be feeding? (Besides us, and the oxygen/CO2 cycle they help facilitate, of course!)

Want to know more about the Western Ghats as a biodiversity hotspot**** and what makes it so neat? Check out the links below!

Further reading:

*Bhagwat, S. A., & Rutte, C. (2006). Sacred groves: potential for biodiversity management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 4(10), 519-524. (CLICK TO READ)

**AERF. (2019). Conservation on the ground. [Web page]. Retrieved from https://www.aerfindia.org/cg.html (CLICK TO READ)

***Koren, I., Kaufman, Y. J., Washington, R., Todd, M. C., Rudich, Y., Martins, J. V., & Rosenfeld, D. (2006). The Bodélé depression: a single spot in the Sahara that provides most of the mineral dust to the Amazon forest. Environmental Research Letters, 1(1), 014005. (CLICK TO READ)

****Gunawardene, N. R., Daniels, D. A., Gunatilleke, I. A. U. N., Gunatilleke, C. V. S., Karunakaran, P. V., Nayak, G. K., … & Vasanthy, G. (2007). A brief overview of the Western Ghats–Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot. Current science, 93(11), 1567-1572. (CLICK TO READ)

conservation ftw, joanna irl, society of dabblers

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?

conservation ftw, joanna irl, society of dabblers

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.

joanna irl

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!

joanna irl

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.

joanna irl

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.

joanna irl

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.