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Welcome (Virtually) to Our Home for the Holidays!

Xmas_Window

By Lisa Brunette

One of the fun activities Anthony and I participated in pre-COVID-19 was the holiday parlor tour here in St. Louis' Lafayette Square neighborhood. It was a treat to tour historic homes - some dating as far back as before the Civil War - all done up for the holidays. We look forward to a day when such in-person events are possible again. In the meantime, we've given the 116-year-old Dragon Flower Farmhouse a holiday makeover and invite you to tour it from the comfort and safety of your own living room.

Fa-La-La-Llama

Speaking of comfort, the below llama pillow comes out only for the holidays... I'm not sure why a pink llama says Christmas, but it certainly does. As you might have learned from our last post on the living room makeover, we've got complementary colors pink and green in the main downstairs space. Complementary means they're opposites on the color wheel, and that makes them a vibrant pairing, as in the pink pillow on chartreuse here.

Llama pillow

The llama theme is echoed in the Christmas tree, as a key ornament. I've hung this one and a couple of other ornaments behind the tree to make the smallish tree seem a bit grander, as well as fill the blank walls left when I removed an antique leather whip and two vintage family photos that didn't look right as backdrop for ol' tannenbaum.

Xmas_OrnamentWall

The tree is strung with white lights and colors that harmonize with the room's palette: pink, green, white, gold, and natural tones from straw and wood. Rather than spending a lot of money just to color-coordinate a tree, I simply split our ornament collection into two categories, these muted tones and another crop all in primary colors, which fit the smaller tree in the dining room. But before I move onto that room, I want to linger here a bit in the living room, with of course the mantel as the focal point.

This Mantel Moment

Xmas_Mantel

I really love how the mantel looks for the holidays. The candelabra on the left is a vintage 1960s Brutalist design, which I found at a tiny thrift window shop that used to be part of a sweet little café owned and run by two women in Chehalis, Wash. The mercury glass candle holders are from World Market, and the brass deer is an antique mall find. I wish I could say I made the stockings myself, but they're from Etsy. (At least I hung them with care!). Yes, Chaco gets a stocking... what did you expect? Zander has one, too, but he's staying in Seattle for the holidays. 

The cube vase on the left is a collectible piece of memorabilia - a brick from the old St. Louis Arena, a major concert and sporting venue for 70 years before it was imploded in 1999. The other vase is handcrafted by an artist, but I picked it up at an antique mall on the cheap and unfortunately don't know anything about who made it.

Here's a variation on the mantel from 2019, with the Brutalist candelabra replaced with a star hurricane lamp, and the balance shifted.

Mantel 2019

Ornament Lament

Thinking about that Arena brick puts me in the mindset to share this holiday tragedy. You see, I went to a good number of heavy metal concerts at that place back in the day, but one of the acts I did not see was Kiss. I've related the whole story previously on the blog, but basically my parents were super strict sort of beyond reason, and they would not allow me to go to this particular Kiss concert in the late 80s, which would have been something to remember and tell your kids about, you know? What I did have, however, was this amazing Kiss ornament, gifted to me by my friend Alyssa Naumann back in the 90s, after she heard my Kiss concert sob story and wanted to give me something to make up for the loss. 

Kiss Ornament

Yeah, that's a Rock and Roll Over Kiss ornament right there, and you'll notice up above I used past tense: What I did have, however, was this amazing Kiss ornament... Past tense because a day or two after I took this photo, Chaco BROKE it. My wonderful Kiss ornament, which I have looked forward to getting out each Christmas for the past 25 years, on the floor, shattered to bits. Because of the CAT.

Words were said, my friends, and a grudge was held... for at least an hour, anyway. Chaco wormed his way back in pretty quickly, I have to admit.

Sigh. 

Red Tree

Have a Ball

The Kiss ornament was on the 'red' tree in the dining room, where a brighter palette prevails, all inspired by the ironic and iconic Miss Fortunato painting, done by Monica Mason, the wife of an old colleague of mine from the St. Louis Science Center. It was part of a series on circus side show acts; Miss Fortunato is "the luckiest woman in the world," because she's so beautiful, all manner of butterflies flock to her face, as if it's a flower (obscuring her face from the viewer). This painting originated in St. Louis, has traveled with me to Miami, Florida, and Seattle, Wash., and has now returned to just a few blocks from the home where it first hung. It fits well in between the moulding detail.

Here we are, all ready for a small dinner party before the holidays. The wool felt balls are from World Market (I can't help it; I'm a fan), and the turquoise table settings are Fiestaware. The vintage side cabinet is probably from the 1940s and was left behind by the previous owner of my house in Tacoma; I added heavy caster wheels and painted it black (it had been puke pink). The top comes off but was damaged in our last move, alas. The pewter candle holders in the two paneled areas are from my sister, Amy, who had them in her home for many years and then kept them in storage after the glass hurricanes broke and her décor changed. When she saw our dining room, she realized they'd be perfect, and she is right.

Dining Room Xmas

This dining room is actually next up for renovation, as that aforementioned brown paint is on full display here, too, covering all of the window and doorway trim, as well as a chair rail that runs the length of the room, which you can see above. We're thinking about a deep blue-green, as this room faces southeast, gets plenty of light, and could handle a darker hue. I'm considering painting the walls, trim, and the above white cutouts all the same color, for a more dramatic, rich effect. Maybe even the ceiling? What do you think? My brother keeps crying 'earth tones,' but that's not really my jam.

That concludes our virtual tour. Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate the holiday. And to all, may 2021 bring you peace, happiness, and the freedom and safety to go... maskless!

Note: This post contains an Etsy affiliate link, but all other recommendations are non-sponsored.

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Cool Announcement Coming Soon... For Now, Lessons from the Garden

Table w coreopsis

 It's hot today, with the thermometer already at 94 degrees and steadily climbing. So I'm inside, working on a cool announcement I'll be making this week, hopefully. In the meantime, here are some pics of my garden. 

I keep moving my household to different homes, so I haven't been able to get to the point of a well-established garden yet, but the upside is that I've experimented a lot. It's fun and creative in a different way than writing. I love playing with the color and texture of leaves and flowers, growing my own food, and the challenges and victories of a totally organic garden. I've rescued many a rose and turned lackluster yards into whimsical retreats. I always leave a place better than it was when I found it.

Rose swirl

Like many of you, I'm sure, I often feel emotionally shredded by dismal environmental news, like bee colony collapse. I'm very sad to have witnessed the reduction in the numbers of butterflies in my lifetime. So much of that feels outside my control, but the garden is all mine. I plant the flowers the bees and butterflies like, and my own hands are the only weedkillers. 

Chive flowers w bee

The garden is great therapy, too. I know I feel restored when I can putter around out there planting, relocating, deadheading, trimming, and the like. But did you know there's scientific evidence that gardens really do reduce depression? There's a microbe in the soil that could actually improve your coping ability, according to this study. Mice exposed to the microbe were much less likely to give up trying to find an exit route when submerged in water (sucky thing to do to mice, though). So working in a garden might actually make you better able to escape the next time you feel in danger or trapped, or at least find a solution to your next big problem!

Other studies show that the microbiome of your garden can be good for your gut. And since we seem to be finding out more and more how important gut health is for general wellbeing, it's safe to say a little dirt can do you good.

As soon as it cools off, I'm going to pick some arugula for dinner. (I love that pungent green, which works well in both stir-fries and salads.) Happy Sunday!

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The Goodness of Gathering

SWWC cookie

It's tempting, when you're freelancing or otherwise working from a home office, to become a hermit. You're finally free of the crowded bus; you no longer have to endure the cutthroat competition for the microwave at lunchtime. Even pants are optional.

But after you've soaked up scrumptious solitude for a good while, you start to crave communication. Someone to bounce ideas off of. Alternative answers to the questions you ponder silently every day. 

That's where writing conferences come in. As a writer, editor, and teacher with 25 years' experience, I've attended many conferences over my career, and I always learn something new at each one. At this year's Southwest Washington Writers Conference, there was plenty to absorb, from the art of cover design to the craft of villainy.

Kyle_cookie

Author Kyle Pratt, who presented at the conference, with his mug on a cookie.

Having recently completed a cover vote-a-thon, I found Gorham Printing rep Kathy Campbell's presentation on cover design very interesting. I hadn't realized that male readers prefer blue covers or that Millennials have a thing for vintage photos from the 60s and 70s. (Hmm... wonder what that's all about... ).

Memoirist Jennifer Lauck's presentation served for me as the perfect follow-up to Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, which I'd re-read right before the conference. Both Lauck and Dillard present a vision of the writing life that requires strong commitment, a dedication to the work, and an active reading practice. I loved Lauck's advice to read a book looking specifically for a particular aspect of structure, such as where and how to turn a scene or develop a character.

  Kyle_carolyn_me

Author Carolyn McCray, me, and Kyle.

I felt more in the mood for craft discussions over business talk, but when I read Carolyn McCray's bio, I realized I couldn't miss her showdown with Kyle Pratt over whether or not to publish exclusively with Amazon. The two presented equally compelling models for how to make it as an indie writer. They've both achieved great success but with radically different approaches.

Which brings me to this: There are so many different ways to be a writer. Sure, you can get advice and take a lot of rules to heart, but the writing life is as wide open as the sky. For example, there's writer Terri Read, who's published more than 40 books with Harlequin since 1993. She thinks of writing in terms of layers of cake, and her process is very structured, to the point of adhering to a set formula. Another conference presenter, Jill Williamson, takes a less structured approach with her self-described "weird books." She devoted her whole talk to villains, pointing out cliches and arguing that "the best villains are the ones readers actually like."

  Kyle_pat

Speaking of villains, get a load of these two. Just kidding - Kyle* and Pat are my fellow members of the Lewis County Writers Guild.

The most rewarding aspect of attending conferences is the opportunity to meet other writers. While there are always plenty of published and veteran authors in attendance, most of the people I meet are noobs just dipping a toe into the writing waters for the first time. So if you're holding back because you don't think you're experienced enough, let go of that right now. I hope to see you at the next one.

*I realize from the pics here it looks like I'm stalking Kyle Pratt. But I'm not. At least I don't think so. I think it's just that we're both becoming less camera-shy. ;)  


Embodying Good Health

Yoga_fly

My husband and I, at the peak of our acroyoga practice.

I've been writing weekly wellness articles for a local "movement studio" where students can take yoga, a sensory-based dance class called Nia, tribal belly dancing, and meditation. I'm a member of Embody and can be found there nearly every day. The owner is running a 90-day fitness program, and the articles I'm writing are part of an exclusive newsletter for those who sign up for the challenge.

Ironically, I've been sick nearly the whole time I've been writing these. Along with a number of others I know in the community, I succumbed to a bug that doesn't seem that bad at first, just a cold, but then it takes up residence in your lungs and won't leave. 

The struggle to write about wellness while feeling not-so-well aside, I've enjoyed tackling topics that are near and dear to me. These have ranged from how to create a network of support for your physical practice to the health dangers of sitting. Because I've practiced yoga in studios for about 15 years now, I bring that experience to bear on my subjects. For example, in this piece on the emotional component of integrated movement practices, I reflect on the multitude of expression I've witnessed and experienced in my classes:

Once a woman who reeked of cigarettes plopped down on her mat during a Bikram yoga class and refused to get back up. She lay there, heavily breathing through the rest of the 90-minute sequence, tears streaming down her face. In vinyasa yoga, I've heard people giggling uncontrollably, or making satisfying 'mmm' noises. I once shared a class with soldiers who'd recently returned from war, and there was an audible moan coming from more than one of them. I've seen--and I've felt--anger, sweetness, pain, happiness, struggle, release; in short, the full spectrum of human emotion.

It's something to be tasked with providing health advice to others. As I've researched, interviewed, and thought about wellness issues, I've learned a lot, too. For me the biggest challenge is in the area of self-acceptance. I should give myself the assignment to read my own article on this topic at least once a day, because it's easy to forget that skinny does not equate to healthy and that weight might actually be a sign of health. It's kind of ridiculous that we have trouble wrapping our minds around this since other cultures embrace these concepts naturally. But damn, is it hard not to judge that body in the mirror when it doesn't conform to societal stereotypes.

The best part of writing that piece, by the way, was including my stepson in it. He LOVED the tribute.

Those of you who read my blog regularly know I've discovered the benefits of living close to my food source here in rural Washington, where I've purchased grass-fed, organic beef, pasture-bred lamb, and of course, organic vegetables right from the producer. I've spent more time than most thinking about food due to allergic sensitivities, and it was gratifying to share my insights in the newsletter devoted to healthy eating. I think it really is as simple as these five rules: 

  1. Avoid Food Fads
  2. Eat Close to the Source
  3. Go for Variety
  4. Lifestyle Changes, Not Diets
  5. The Key Is Prep

Since I'm not a biological mother myself, I had to step outside both my comfort zone and my own experience when I wrote about how your physical practice can carry you through the life stages. It was fascinating to hear Embody Owner Christina Wolf discuss how she juggled opening her studio and becoming a new mother at the same time. Because I'm here at life's middle stage facing the aging process myself, that one was more accessible.

We have just a few weeks to go in the challenge. Next I'll be writing about the histories of Nia and yoga, as well as the importance of sleep and how to keep going once the challenge ends.

There's a true sense of community at Embody. While I've been a part of yoga studios in the past where the owners and teachers pay lip service to "community," but you could practice there for years and not really feel it, Embody's community is genuine. Maybe that's because the small-town setting fosters it naturally, but I also think it's because people here really mean it.