Showing age … and hiding it: Making over my grandma’s buffet

Yesterday, I did something I never thought I would do: I proposed that my hairdresser give me bangs to hide my forehead wrinkles.  Yep.  Years of raising my eyebrows dramatically and making ridiculous faces has resulted in some fine lines that seem determined to become a permanent part of the landscape of my face.

It’s like my parents used to say: If you keep doing that, your face is going to stay that way.  I thought it was hyperbole.  Wrong.

If you’re wondering, luckily I have a sweet and smart hairdresser who simultaneously dissuaded me from bangs while actually making me feel good about having a few fine lines.

Speaking of showing age, I recently inherited a buffet from my nearly 99-year-old grandma.  Grandma doesn’t look a day over 85, but this buffet – which she bought second-hand in the 1950s — had seen better days.  My dad was just about to haul it off to Goodwill when he thought he should ask if my sister or I wanted it.  Silly dad.  Clearly he doesn’t read my blog.  My sister turned it down (Your lost, Marts!), but of course I wanted it.

So, here she is: my grandma’s buffet.  It used to hold her fancy silverware and a few other odds and ends.


As you can see, she was in good structural shape but — like me  — was starting to show her age a little with a few tiny fine lines.


Sometimes, I can look at a piece of furniture and know what it wants to be when it grows up, but this piece was a bit enigmatic.  Was she formal or informal?  Country or traditional?  Finally, I decided that all the crisp lines meant that it might lend itself to an Midcentury modern redo.


I sanded the whole piece with progressively fine sandpaper (100, 150, 22o) to even out some of the years of wear.


I stripped and stained the drawers and doors.  Stripping 80 year old varnish was about as much fun as a root canal, but it had to be done!  After staining, I sealed the drawers with Annie Sloan’s dark wax, pushing the wax into some of the wrinkles and cracks in the wood to achieve a slightly rustic look.  I also modernized the drawers and doors with new streamlined hardware.


I used Valspar’s Furniture Paint tinted to the whitest white they had.  I hadn’t used this paint before, and I have mixed feelings about it now.  It’s advertised as leaving no brush strokes, and I’ll say that it definitely has fewer brush strokes than other paints. However, it took 4 coats of paint to achieve full coverage.  It does have a pretty glossy finish, though, which is exactly what I wanted.


What a transformation, right?  Who knew that under all those scratches and tired stain this beauty existed?side-view


Just for fun, let’s review:


My takeaway from this project?  Some things just get better with age.  I guess the bangs will have to wait.




The 5 Best Things about Fall in the Northwest

Kids are back in school.  Football’s back on the TV.  Fall has arrived in the Pacific Northwest!

When I lived in Arizona, I used to get intensely homesick in the fall.  Sure, there are Pumpkin Spice Lattes, sweaters, and football in the Southwest, but the accouterments of autumn lose some of their luster when the temperature is still in the high 90s.

Here are the five things that I love most about fall in the Northwest:

The Weather, The Weather, The Weather!


It is impossible to overstate the beauty of Indian summers. Foggy in the morning, sunny in the afternoon: fall weather in the Pacific Northwest cannot be beat.  Anywhere.

Fresh Produce


When I lived in Arizona, my community had a “farmer’s market” two or three times a year.  This meant that the local corner grocery store rolled their produce carts outside and pretended they were full of local produce.  Not even kidding!  No fake farmer’s markets are necessary here, though!  The Northwest is a cornucopia of delicious food this time of year, making true garden-to-table eating easy!

The Fair


Where else can you eat a deep-fried-Snickers-on-a-stick, see a thousand pound pumpkin, and take a spin on the Zipper?  Fair week was practically an official holiday in my hometown.  Passing an afternoon pretending to be an expert on livestock and produce, conissuer of fair food, and watcher of the crowds transports me to a simpler time when the fair was a place to see and be seen.


Dahlia Banner

The transformation from gnarly tuber in the spring to vibrant bloom in the fall never ceases to amaze me.  My mom plants about 50 bulbs every year, and walking through her dahlia garden searching for the perfect blooms feels so luxurious — like I’m painting in flowers.

Nature’s Changes


Geese. Leaves. Frost.  I love nature’s colors, smells, and sounds in the fall.  The sweet, musty smell of fallen leaves automatically makes my heart go pitter-patter.

Welcome, fall!  It’s good to see you, old friend.

What’s your favorite part of fall in the PNW?



Mt. Ellinor, English teacher confessions, and transcendentalism


I have an bad English teacher confession to make: as a student, I never cared much for the transcendentalists, traditional or modern.  Walden Pond and Tinker Creek seemed like bizarre and pointless exercises.  Yeah, the seasons change.  Bugs eat frogs.  Frogs eat bugs.  Moths fly into flames.  Birds fly north and south again.  It snows.  I just didn’t get the obsession with nature.

You see, as a child in the rural Pacific Northwest, I grew up with a view of snow-capped Mount Baker and the Twin Sisters out my bedroom window, cows grazing in my family’s pasture, a bald eagle’s nest in the scraggly tree in the yard, and a salmon-bearing creek less than a 5 minute walk through the field.  On mellow summer days, I occupied myself by catching field mice and toads, reading in the crook of the apple tree in our field, and hiding in the tall grass by our barn with the spiders, impossibly fat with pregnancy as the summer waned.  I didn’t get the transcendentalists because I didn’t have to become one with nature.  Without me even noticing, nature had become one with me.

In my early 20s, I lived in the concrete confines of Phoenix’s city center and a master-planned suburb with uncannily green manicured lawns in the midst of the desert.  I felt entirely unconnected with the natural world, and I finally started understanding the impulse John Muir describes in his book Our National Parks:

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”

Mt. Ellinor, the southernmost peak in the Olympic Mountains, is the kind of hike that underscores Muir’s sentiments.  It’s truly breathtaking.  There are two access points: a higher trail head and a lower trail head, which extends the hike by about a mile and a half.  You need a day-use permit to park at the higher trail head, which also features surprisingly clean restroom facilities.

Chris and I decided to hike from the lower trailhead, which makes for a 6 mile hike overall.  The first two miles meander through the woods.  The sweet aroma of decomposition emanates from every fallen limb and ladders of fungi hang rakishly from the shady side of the trees.

A walk in the woods

After a couple of steeper switchbacks, the trail spit us out at the treeline where bug spray is an absolute necessity.  Horseflies and hornets are not my idea of fun with nature.  I doused myself with so much Deet that bugs repelled from me like they were bouncing off a cartoon bubble.

Out of the Trees.jpg

When we hiked in Hawaii this summer, we got used to boulder-scrambling, so Chris and I were pretty excited about this leg of the hike.  It wasn’t until we got over all the boulders that we realized that there was a very civilized path just to the left of this frame that bypassed the boulders.  Oops.

Boulder Scramble.jpg

We have no pictures of the next little leg of the hike for a very good reason: we were trying not to keel over and die.  It’s the kind of grade that doesn’t look too steep, but when you start hiking it, your quads start informing you that they find it rather steep.   The only good news about bit is that you’re almost to the summit.

C at Summit


Mt. Elinor View

And what a summit it is!  From up here, we were greeted by 360 degree views of the Olympic Mountains, Lake Cushman, Hood Canal, and Mt. Rainier.  The visibility was so great that we could even catch a glimpse of Seattle, almost 50 miles away.

Goat Shot

I’m always thrilled on a hike when I see wildlife, even if it’s a simple as a Stellar’s jay, garter snake, or a chipmunk.  Mt. Ellinor, however, has mountain goats!  We came upon this guy on our way down, but he was way more interested in licking salt off the rocks (why does that make me want a margarita?) than he was in us.  Good thing, as I’ve heard they can be pretty aggressive.

It’s easy to take nature for granted, but there is something soothing, something invigorating, something purely visceral about remembering how small I am against the massive backdrop of the natural world.

Maybe the transcendentalists were on to something after all.


What my Preschool Teacher Said about me and how it relates to A Laundry Room Makeover

A few months ago, I came across my preschool report card in a box of mementos in a closet at my parents’ house.  I couldn’t help smiling inwardly as I read about the precocious child my teacher described until I got to this (I’m paraphrasing):

Katrina struggles more than her peers in the area of perseverance.  When faced with a repetitive task, she often quits before the job is done.

I was shocked. This might be the most insightful observation anyone has ever made about me.  Yes! I realized in that moment, I do hate repetitive tasks!  I do quit early when faced with them!

What does this have to do with laundry?  It is the ultimate repetitive task! Sort. Wash. Dry.  Fold. Dirty again!  Aside from the sense of satisfaction my Type A part feels when a mountain of laundry is reduced to a molehill, it is — perhaps — my least favorite chore.

This room didn’t make it any better:


This room has no windows, so there’s no natural light available.  It’s also sorely lacking in smart storage!  Yes, I get that there are cabinets and shelves, but I hadn’t gotten around to corralling anything in baskets.  Organization was nonexistent.


Don’t let that empty coat rack fool you: it had about 20 jackets, bags, and hats hanging on it about 2 minutes before I took this picture.

This makeover contains two “firsts” for our home.  For once, I didn’t paint the trim in this room because it was actually stained.  I like the northwest-y, rustic look of stained pine. Do you ever feel paralyzed when selecting paint?  Me too!  However, I decided to mix my own paint for this room from a bunch of left-over paint, and I LOVE the color.  Maybe I have a future in paint design… Would that be a repetitive career?  Probably.

Anyway, here’s how it all turned out:


Can you believe what a difference paint and a mirror make in the room’s brightness?


The dog food and lost sock bucket are now corralled in a metal tray!


Isn’t that dog food tin cute?  My sister-in-law found it at a thrift store and gave it to me for Christmas.  (You can read about our Goodwill Christmas tradition here.)


Inexpensive baskets from Marshalls now hold the cleaning rags, toilet paper, and all the other random objects that used to litter the floor, shelves, and counter.


I have a weird obsession with birds.  If my preschool teacher was to analyze that fact, she would probably point out that birds don’t have repetitive lives.  At any rate, I love that bird print from Ikea!

Now, I have to be honest about our hat-coat-bag storage problem.  This picture might lead you to believe that I have either given up hoarding outerwear or that I have completely organized them.  Neither is true.  Chris built a drop station for shoes, coats, bags, sporting equipment, etc. in the garage, which is right through that door.  So, basically the mess has just moved elsewhere.  At least it’s out of my way!

I could lie and say that this room makes laundry fun, but it doesn’t.  But, at least I have a pretty place to sort, wash, and fold!  Plus, as my pastor reminded the congregation on Sunday, doing laundry means you have clothes to wear and a machine to wash them in. (Okay, I’m paraphrasing again, but that was the point.)  It’s all in your perspective.

At present, there is a load of towels sitting in the dryer.  They’ve been there for almost a week. Guess I’m still working on that perseverance thing.







Traveling the Best Coast of Kauai

Traveling the Best Coast of Kauai

I have been to 13 countries on three continents, roughly 20 states, and 2 of the Canadian provinces, and I have to say that Kauai is now tied with Iceland for the incredibly prestigious award of Katrina’s Favorite Place.  (Note: This award does not come with a cash prize.)

On our last day on the Garden Island, Chris asked me to rank my top 5 “TripAdvisor-Worthy,” moments — not an easy task, considering that at some point, I declared each day to be the best day ever.

Here are some of my favorites:

Kalalau Trail

Do you remember in 2014 when 121 hikers had to be air-evacuated off the Na Pali Coast after heavy rain stranded them?  This was the trail they were attempting. We only did the first couple of miles, which don’t require a permit.  (I’m not that hard-core, although it is now on my bucket list — hiking the Kalalau, not being air-evaced.)

I’ve done a fair amount of hiking in the Northwest, but what we call a “trail” in our neck of the woods usually consists of a civilized gravel or dirt path that meanders peacefully through the woods until it ushers you to a lovely scenic vista.

On Kauai, it seems that trails are essentially dryish streambeds full of boulders, mud, and ropes to pull yourself along as the trail itself hugs enough cliffs and crosses enough rivers (sans bridges) that the state is required to post myriad caution signs so that litigious idiots taking selfies too close to the edge don’t plummet to their deaths, resurrect, and sue the state, saying, “Trail?  That ain’t no trail!”  Kauai, I like your style!


What makes this trail special is the Na Pali Coast itself. Between the jet-black rocks, caves, vines, and soaring cliffs, it looks like a herd of stegosaurus are going to come lumbering out of the philodendron, hotly pursued by a T-Rex.  Add in the impossibly blue ocean, and it makes for an unforgettable hike. Plus, the trail spits you out at a pristine beach complete with a lagoon, beach caves, and hundreds of rock stacks created by successful hikers.

It was totally worth the kidney infection and trip to Kauai Urgent Care I got as a result of rationing my water too sparsely.  Not even joking.  I’d do it all again tomorrow.


Wailua River &Secret Falls

Chris and I are fair-weather kayakers in the summer, so we thought we would just rent a kayak on our own and paddle down the Wailua.  However, very few solo permits are issued per day and even if you do get a permit, you’re not allowed to launch your kayak in the river harbor.  So, we swallowed our kayaking pride and took a guided tour with Wailua Kayak Adventures (Shout out to our guide, Cole!).

The kayak trip up the river (Yes, that’s right, you paddle up the river. It’s as placid as a lake.) let us explore the historical political and economic center of ancient Kauai. We then hiked about a mile to Secret Falls.

Wailua Hike

Swimming out to the waterfall, I was so overwhelmed by its beauty and power that I had to coach myself on the basics of the respiratory system.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Literally breathtaking.

Secret Falls


Waimea Canyon Waipoo Falls Hike

Supposedly, Mark Twain famously called Waimea “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” but considering his track record of incorrigible hyperbole, I took that assertion with a big pinch of black lava salt.  I mean, never trust a guy with an alias, right?

Boy, was I wrong!


This photo is the very definition of “pictures don’t to it justice.” See that waterfall in the far upper left corner?  That was the final destination of this hike.


The picture on the left is the top waterfall and the photo below is the top of the big waterfall.  Yep, that’s about an 800 foot drop right behind me.  Right. Behind.  Me.

View from Waterfall Trail

Sleeping Giant’s Chin

We did this hike on the recommendation of a tour guide we met at Kauai Backcountry Adventures.  (Yes, we did the sugar plantation irrigation ditch float they offer that has gone viral on Facebook).

I’m so glad I didn’t read the explanation of this hike in our guidebook or I may have been deterred by the description of the steep incline and the warnings of how dangerous the chin (which is the highest point on the right) could be.  Ignorance is bliss.

Sleeping Giant

It was steep.  The last little stretch was adorned with a “THIS IS NOT A SANCTIONED TRAIL” sign and a rope, just in case you decide to take your life into your own hands and tickle the giant’s chin.  I had to coax consummate rule-follower Chris up the rope with false promises that we would turn around if it seemed too dangerous.  Lies.  I wasn’t turning around for the world.

View from Sleeping Giant

You just can’t beat that view!  You can see the Wailua River, Kapa’a (the town in which we stayed), and Lydgate Beach Park from up here.

BW Sleeping Giant

Pihea Trail & Lookout

I cried on this trail — not because it was too difficult, but because I couldn’t believe such a beautiful place exists.  Seriously.  This trail follows the spine of the back rim of the Kalalau Valley on the Na Pali Coast.

Kalalau Valley

Can you pinpoint where the water meets the sky?  Me either.

We heard that afternoons up here are almost always cloudy, so we resolved to be done hiking by noon.  We were rewarded for our early morning alarms with incredible views on every side.


Off to the other side of the trail are incredible views of the world’s highest swamp, Alakai Swamp.  By the end of our hike, clouds had settled into the swamp, so close that we felt like we could reach up and hitch a ride on them.

Between the beach and all the outdoorsy activities, Kauai captured my heart.  As I said about 10,000 times on our trip, “Best Vacation Ever!”

Aloha, Kauai. See you again soon!

What’s your favorite vacation spot, nearby or far away?


My Summer Reading List

Summer Reading List

Ah, summertime and the living is easy.  School got out really late in Washington this year, so my summer has just begun.  Lazy days of laying in my hammock (and later, on the beach in Kauai!) while reading await.

To me, a good summer of reading takes some balance: something funny, something thought-provoking, something entertaining. Here’s what I’m planning on (or have already read!) this summer:

Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo

Status: Reading it now

Why I’m reading it: I admire Russo’s style and his insightful perspective on small-town America.  His book Empire Falls, which won the Pulitzer in 2002, is one of my favorite books.

Synopsis: The novel follows the goings-on in an upstate New York town called North Bath.  Several characters are on loan from a previous Russo novel, Nobody’s Fool, which was his first critically-acclaimed book.  I’m not very far into the book, so I can’t tell you much more than that!


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Status: Finished it!

Why I read it: I was late to the party on this one!  The Goldfinch was a best-seller and Pulitzer winner in 2014.  I wanted to see what all the buzz had been about!

Synopsis: Theodore Decker is in a tragic explosion at an art museum that kills his mother. In shock and under strange circumstances, he leaves the museum with Carel Fabritius’ painting The Goldfinch tucked in his backpack.  He’s afraid to return the painting for fear of prosecution, but the painting changes the course of his life.  Not only is this book beautifully written, it’s a page-turner.  At over 700 pages, it better be!


The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Status: Haven’t started it!

Why I want to read it: They say not to judge a book by its cover, but this cover is gorgeous.  I have to admit, it drew me in.  I also enjoy a We Were the Mulvaneys-style family drama, which this book promises!

Synopsis: “The Nest,” the Plumb family’s trust fund is put at risk by a sibling’s reckless behavior.  Family drama ensues.


The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

Status: Finished it (in less than 24 hours)!

Why I read it: Part of the novel takes place in the San Juan Islands at the same time period (1890s) as my MiL, Ashley Sweeney’s, novel Eliza Waite.  The author is local to me!

Synopsis: When her great aunt passes away, Inara takes over her family’s estate on Orcas Island, determined to turn it into a boutique hotel.  She finds a silk sleeve embroidered in a Chinese style under the stairs and her quest to find out the origin of the sleeve uncovers family secrets.  The present-day story is augmented with chapters that tell the story of Mei Lein, the Chinese-American woman who embroidered the sleeve.  This book is not artfully written, but it is a very engaging story.


I’m a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson

Status: Started it.

Why I want to read it: Bryson makes me laugh, often out loud!

Synopsis: After living in England for 20 years, Bryson returns to the United States.  They say you can’t go home, and Bryson finds this to be rather true.  The book is a collections of columns he wrote about the quirks of modern American society.  Because there isn’t an overall plot, it is easy to read this book in installments, rather than all at once.


The Girls by Emma Cline

Status: Haven’t started yet

Why I want to read it: I read a review of it in Time and since then, it seems to keep popping up in different publications.

Synopsis: A vulnerable girl gets sucked into a Charles Mansonesque cult.  It looks dark but intriguing.


O Pioneers by Willa Cather

Status: Started it (on audiobook)

Why I want to read it: What is a summer reading list without a classic?  Besides, a couple of my former students who took AP Language said it was their favorite book they read this year.

Synopsis: The book follows the story of Swedish-American pioneer family in the early 1900s as they struggle to work the land after their patriarch’s death.  The protagonist, Alexandra, has grit.  I like her.


Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper by Hillary Liftin

Status: Haven’t started it

Why I want to read it: Every summer reading list needs a fluffy book.  The one will be perfect for lazy days on Kauai!

Synopsis: Lizzie Pepper is a movie star who wants to write her memoir.  This book is her fictional memoir.  The author, Hillary Liftin, was a ghostwriter to the stars, so it’s got to be juicy!


I’m sure I’ll pick up some other books along the way as well, but this is a start!

What’s on your summer reading list?





3 Life Lessons I’m (trying!) to learn from my chickens


Well, just like that, our flock is over a year old!  Time has turned these little chicks into full-blown hens.  I still love watching them peck around their enclosure, preferably from the comfort of the hammock I’ve hung in a nearby grove of trees.  Chickens are goofy little creatures, but — being the analytical person I am — I see some life lessons in their silliness

  1. Don’t invent problems.

If there’s one thing my gals love, its drama, drama, drama!  They complain constantly, clucking, flapping, squawking.  It’s like The Bachelor rose ceremony meets the Real House Wives of Wherever meets a college sorority all day every day.

Right now, two of my ladies are broody, which — for you non-chicken-people — basically means they are trying to hatch imaginary eggs.  Yep.  They’re literally sitting on nothing but hay.  This, they would have me know, is difficult work and requires extra complaining, clucking, flapping, and squawking, not to mention feather ruffling and the occasional peck-of-the-hand-that-feeds-them.  Not exactly a tower of brains, my sweet gals.

That got me thinking: I tend to over analyze and obsess about problems as imaginary as the eggs my girls are trying in vain to hatch.  I’ve wasted countless hours worrying over things that never materialize into real problems.  The funny thing about inventing problems to worry over it makes everything worse and doesn’t make anything better.  As Jesus said in The Sermon on the Mount, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27).  Indeed.  Sitting grumpily on an empty nest isn’t going to hatch a chicken!

2. Stick with the Flock.

Despite their pension for drama, my hens are loyal — almost to a fault.  Whether they’re eating food scraps I’ve tossed in the pen, sunning themselves in our grass clippings, or free-ranging in the yard, they’re in it together.  Oh yes, they might squabble and bicker like siblings, but they stick by each other’s side.  This provides protection from raccoons, eagles, and other potential predators.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that when I (and others, I’m sure) get overwhelmed, stressed, or sad, I tend to retreat from my flock.  After all, I’m an introvert, so I need solitude to rejuvenate my energy.  However, I think that there is power in the flock as well.  Not one of my gals is going to let her best friends fly the coop alone.  Instead, they back each other up.  A good flock of human friends does that as well: they can keep you from making rash decisions, prop you up when you’re falling apart, and celebrate your successes.

3. Pay attention.

As aforementioned, my flock isn’t headed for Yale.   Nope.  In fact, they’re downright stupid.  (Don’t tell them, though.  It will hurt their feelings!) However, a significant amount of their stupidity stems from one personality (species?) flaw: they don’t pay attention.  They wander outside their enclosure and — even though the gate is wide open — they won’t know how to get back into their pen.  Why can’t they just find the gate?  They’re far too busy looking at the ground, the sky, the fence — anywhere besides actually looking at the gate.  I have even walked through the gate in a vain attempt to show them how to get back home, but because they’re totally self-absorbed, they just don’t get it.

It’s also human nature to get so caught up in personal business that we don’t notice our surroundings, especially the people who are hurting among us.  I’m trying to make it my mission to pay attention so that I notice when friends (or the stranger I’m standing behind in the grocery store line) could use a word of encouragement or even just a smile.  Chickens don’t do that — because they can’t smile.  Or talk.  And they don’t pay attention to anyone or anything but themselves.

Happy belated birthday, Groen Family Flock!






How to Make a Sunburst Ball

How to make a Sunburst Ball

Like most crafters, I’m loathe to buy something when I can make it.

A few weeks ago, my sisters-in-law and I saw this cute little gold sunburst at Hobby Lobby.  We considered buying several of them as decorations for my sister-in-law’s wedding, but at $13.99, they seemed a bit extravagant.

We looked longingly at them as we begrudgingly walked away.

Hobby Lobby Ball

That is, until I realized I could make it them, using mostly things I already owned!

You can too!

Here’s what you need: 

1.8″ Floral Foam Ball

8-10 Kebab Sticks

Hot glue gun



Here’s how to create them: 

Cut the kebab sticks into 4″ pieces.

Cut the sticks into 4 inch pieces

You will need about 25-30 4″ sticks.

You will need about 30 sticks

Working one by one, put a dab of hot glue on the end of a 4″ stick and push it into the Styrofoam ball.

Put a tiny glue dot on each stick and poke it into the styrafoam.

As you poke the sticks into the ball (Insert junior-highish joke here!), work on opposite sides as much as possible.  This will help you get a balanced look.

Keep working, doing your best to insert the sticks on opposite sides..jpg

I used Valspar Brilliant-Metal Effects to spray paint the sunburst ball when it was finished.  I’ve yet to find a gold spray paint that I wholeheartedly love, but this one is the best I have used.

Spray Paint

Because there are so many surfaces, the sunbursts take quite a bit of spray paint.  If you’re making more than one, I suggest painting en masse so that overspray will paint the other sunbursts.

Spray paint the sunbursts.

I’ve made 6 sunbursts now for a total of about $12 in supplies — so much better than $13.99 for one!

Sunburst ball

Make this sunburst ball with typical household supplies!

Tada!  This is such an easy craft that it doesn’t even feel like a craft.  It’s modern and glamorous, making a great statement decor piece.  I can’t wait to see how my sister-in-law uses them in her wedding decor!

Happy crafting!



A Writer in the Family: An Interview with Ashley Sweeney about her New Novel, Eliza Waite


It’s not every day you have a published author in the family.  Oh wait!  It will be every day, now that Ashley E. Sweeney, my mother-in-law, has published her first novel, Eliza Waite, with She Writes Press! The book, which has been 8 years in the making, hit stores on Monday.

Eliza Waite is the story of a woman homesteading on Cypress Island (in Washington’s San Juan Islands) at the turn of the 19th century.  Having lost her austere minister husband and young son to smallpox, Eliza feels a sense of connectedness to the island, preferring to stay after all other residents flee.  After a series of events open new possibilities and tear old wounds, Eliza — true to her pioneering spirit — determines to reinvent herself, venturing to Skagway, Alaska to open a cafe for miners. There, she finds baked goods and brothels, friends and old foes, happiness and healing. The book is peppered with real historical characters as well as authentic pioneer recipes.

Because of my proximity to the author, I can’t give the book an unbiased review; however, I did catch up with Ashley to interview her about her writing process and literary influences.

KG – Eliza is a complicated character. How did you get into her mind and encourage her to give up her secrets?

AES –Eliza grew as a character as I delved into her persona and psyche. This process took several years in real time. In that magical phenomenon that takes place as an author writes a novel, I allowed Eliza to grow in her own way, at her own pace. I count it a privilege that I was able to conjure a character and then let her take over. And some of her secrets surprised me!
KG – As early reviewers have observed, setting, both time and place, play an integral role in the novel. Why did you choose the setting? What were you hoping to achieve?

AES – Setting can be considered a character in novel writing. I spent much time and effort creating the atmosphere in Part One while Eliza lives on Cypress Island. I lingered in some scenes in Part One longer than others to allow the reader into the story. Part One evokes loneliness, and readers and reviewers have commented that they feel immersed in the scenes and feel the wind, the cold, and the desperation that the setting educes. I felt that Part Two would not be nearly as effective without the pain, grief, and desolation of Part One, and I hope I am successful in that assumption. Part Two is much more chaotic, just as Skagway was as a lawless boomtown filled with every conceivable fortune hunter and con artist. The setting in Part Two is therefore noisier, dirtier, and riotous.
KG – Eliza is heavily influenced by authors of her time like Kate Chopin. Who are your literary influences?

AES – My heroine—literary or otherwise—is Amelia Earhardt. Earhardt said that “the most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is mere tenacity.” I see that quote come alive in the character of Eliza Waite. Eliza’s decision to leave Cypress Island to join the hordes traveling north to the Klondike is nothing short of fool hearted bravery; but how she succeeds is step by step, or, as another literary influence of mine, Anne Lamott, quoted, “bird by bird.” It’s the putting one foot in front of the other that propels Eliza away from grief and toward happiness; away from failure and toward success. As for authors I admire: Geraldine Brooks, Sue Monk Kidd, Tracy Chevalier, Louise Erdrich.

KG – What do you hope readers take away from Eliza’s story?

AES – My hope is that readers will find the courage from somewhere deep inside to make life-changing decisions—no matter how great or how formidable—and move toward the life that they can only imagine.

KG – I’ve said since I first read the manuscript a year ago that Eliza Waite would make a great movie. Who would be your pick to play the title role?

AES – Hands down, Saorise Ronan. The “Brooklyn” actress has everything I see in Eliza—shy but feisty, and the ability to grow as a character. Ronan’s transformation in “Brooklyn” from a demure teen to a confident young woman mirrors Eliza’s trajectory from an unlovely widow to an enterprising and mature woman. I would also love to see Helen Bonham Carter play the role of Pearly, although a dear friend of mine said she would covet that part! In my dreams, Steiner would be played by Jude Law and Burns would be played by Daniel Radcliffe. Nice.

You can purchase Eliza Waite at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or several independent booksellers, such as Village Books.  (Ashley will even be doing a reading and meet-and-greet there on May 25th!)  Better yet, you can request that your library purchase it and spread the love!

Happy reading,