9 things I learned in August

Taking Emily Freeman’s lead to share a handful of things I learned this month, from the (occasionally) significant to the (mostly) shallow. This was a big month, that started with us in the Smokies and ends with my first day of book tour.

1. How to use a custom color in Instagram stories.

Instagram is my favorite social media platform and I do love to watch and share Instagram stories. I was thrilled to learn (finally!!) that I do have more color options than the nine default options that pop up when you’re typing or drawing. In fact, you have all the colors. There’s a couple ways to do it and this article article can walk you through it like just like it did me.


2. Don’t buy the sale fruit at Costco.

Let’s get super-practical. It seems like every time I go to Costco, I come home with one thing that’s already spoiled. So frustrating, right? Usually I trash it and move on with my life, but this time I returned moldy plums to the store.

The kind customer service pointed out that my plums were on sale. I thought she wanted me to know why my refund wouldn’t be huge, but no—she wanted to quietly give me a tip. Don’t waste your money on the sale fruit, she said. We never put fruit on sale unless it’s on its way out. 

Suddenly, so many of my past Costco fails make sense. I wish someone had told me this YEARS ago, but I hope sharing today is the next best thing. (I would LOVE to hear your experience in comments.)

3. Illinois Avenue is the most frequently landed-upon spot in Monopoly.

My kids played quite a bit of Monopoly the last month of summer, and Will and I sometimes got in on the action. Our edition included some tips and trivia along with the pieces and rules and cash. Thanks to the laws of probability and the Chance cards, the most frequently visited square is Illinois Avenue. The least-visited? Mediterranean. And for the love of finishing the game, don’t throw money into free parking.

I loved Monopoly as a kid, but I don’t know if I’ve ever played as an adult before this summer. Back then I saw it as a game of chance; thirty years later I can see the strategy. (According to our edition, the railroads often determine who wins and who goes bankrupt.)

4. Rosamund Pike is back!

In a Jane Austen novel, that is. If you know and love her as Jane in Pride and Prejudice, or the narrator of that wonderful audiobook, rejoice: now she’s narrating Sense and Sensibility in a newly-released version from Audible.

This is pure comfort listening for me and I can’t wait to enjoy this one.

5. The new Cormoran Strike mystery has a pub date.

Book #3 in the series ended on a cliffhanger, and I’ve been searching for news about the next installment for well over a year. On July 10, Rowling announced a publication date of September 18, barely two months away.

I find it interesting how the lead time is often short on much-anticipated new releases, but I don’t know the reason behind it. Do you?

6. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of a very few free national parks.

This month, we visited the Smokies for the first time and were so surprised we didn’t have to pay an entrance fee. I wondered if we’d missed the entrance gate, but nope: the land the park sits on was once private, and nearly a hundred years after the land was donated, a deed restriction keeps it free for today’s visitors.

I learned so much on that trip, camping for the first time since high school, but I’ll spare you the details. For now.

7. In books as in life, timing is everything.

After we returned from our camping trip, I immediately started Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Which begins with a murder. In the Smokies.

At least I didn’t read it before our trip? Or during?  (Shudder.)

8. Fiddle leaf figs like to go outside for the summer.

I’ve never moved my plants inside or outside for the seasons before, but earlier this summer this column convinced me to take my fiddles outside for the season. (Yes, that is plural, because I couldn’t resist buying one more at Kroger when they had them for $17, and when they brought in another batch I did it again. I might have a problem.)

They are doing fantastic, and I am convinced. It sounds like I should have done this for my newish rubber tree plant as well. Maybe next year?

9. Pachinko is coming to the big screen.

Studios buy the rights to books pretty often and it doesn’t mean that the book will definitely make it to the screen or that it will happen anytime soon. Yet with the recent success of Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, we are thankfully likely to see more Asian stories on the big and small screens soon, so I’m going to let myself be excited about Pachinko drama series.

What did YOU learn in August?


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  1. Jess Green says:

    A tip for the national park lovers – many national parks have nonprofit partners you can donate to that help your favorite parks with things like restoration projects, education programs (getting kids into parks), etc. Friends of the Smokies is a great organization to support if you love that park! I happen to work for the Shenandoah National Park Trust, also a great park and great nonprofit 🙂

  2. Marie says:

    Re the short lead time on new releases: I have no idea why they do this, but it totally makes sense to me as a reader. If it’s fresh on my brain, I’m much more likely to keep an eye out for it and either preorder or buy as soon as I see it. If I know about it too far in advance, the excitement will wane and I’ll likely forget about it. Whatever the reason, I’m very glad it’s done this way, and I’ll be waiting impatiently for Sept 18!

  3. Melissa W. says:

    Pike’s narration of Sense and Sensibility is just as wonderful as you’d expect! I knocked out the audiobook in 3 days.

    Audible is releasing a version of Emma on Sept. 4 performed by Emma Thompson, Joanna Froggatt, along with others. I can’t wait!

  4. Re the fruit, I have been buying up extremely ripe tomatoes, which are usually half price. I cook them down into sauce, and I don’t care if I have to toss a bit. The riper they are, the more they have flavor. But I buy them at the market from local farmers, not at a supermarket.
    We had a cookout this summer, and rotten tomatoes were tossed at a target. It was a big hit. The target was set up atop the compost pile, just to make cleanup easier.

  5. Candace Harrison says:

    1. It is easier the 2nd year your firstborn goes to college (but with different concerns when they take their car… and they get a speeding ticket on the way back to school! Hoping that scared him straight – because “sophomore” = wise fool).
    2. Once your firstborn goes to college, your other kid’s school milestones become even more poignant (much to the dismay of my high school freshman daughter ?).
    And I live a mile from a free national park Guilford Courthouse National Military Park and walk there often: https://www.nps.gov/guco/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm
    You will be close when you come to Bookmarks but I prefer the Greensboro Science Center (http://www.greensboroscience.org/ ) if your family accompanies you and if you have time to spare.

  6. Leanne says:

    It seems like this book was announced and the title was released before Rowling had even finished the book. I can’t remember the exact time line but I do remember being surprised at how it wasn’t done and just waiting in the wings to be released. Now I want to go dig through Twitter to find when she actually finished it.

    I wish I knew the best days to go to Costco for the freshest options. Sometimes I pick up their plastic containers of salad mix only to see that the “Best by:” date is one or two days away. I’m the lunatic crawling behind boxes to find the freshest packs in hiding.

  7. Holly says:

    The fiddle leaf article was great (love Steve Bender!) but he didn’t mention when to bring them in. What temps are we talking about? Anyone know?

  8. Sarah K says:

    We went to a free national park this summer too – Voyageurs in Minnesota. It is 40% water with lots of boat access, and I think it’s just impossible for them to police all the entrances so they made it free. It is definitely the least crowded NP I’ve ever visited anyway – it is so remote but really beautiful and worth the trip.
    Something to watch for when you bring your plants in for the winter… bugs. Last fall I got a terrible fungus gnat infestation in my house and it turned out to be from my potted plants that came in from outside. I had to repot everything!

  9. MeganC says:

    I am so excited about the new Rosamund Pike narration of Sense and Sensibility that I signed up for a trial membership of Audible. So glad to hear about this version!

  10. Jane K says:

    Re Costco fruit return: It’s the Customer Service that keeps me coming back to Costco. I once stood in the return line where the customer ahead of me was toting a large decorated sheet cake personalized with “Happy Birthday Bob!” piped across the top. Customer: “They called off the party.” Return lady, “Oh, that’s too bad,” and quickly refunded her money. All done without the suspicious look, the I’ll-have-to-call-a-manager rebuttal, or other customer withering treatment one gears up for when making a return. Go Costco!

  11. Margie says:

    Our favorite house rule for finishing monopoly games is to deal out roughly twenty properties before we begin the game. You then add up the total of your properties and pay the cash amount to the bank as if you had landed on them. It makes the game go quicker because you are basically accelerating through those first eight or so trips around the board when nothing happens.

  12. Ashley S. says:

    I got the book Treasured Lands (aside: it’s amazing!) for my birthday this month and learned that great Smoky Mountains national Park is the most visited park, receiving twice as many visits as the second most visited national park, the Grand Canyon. I didn’t really question why, but I bet being free helps.

    Have you ever heard of the card game Monopoly Deal? We don’t play Monopoly but you can play the card game in like 15 or 20 minutes and it’s really fun. Even my four-year-old almost gets it. We’ve been playing it all summer with the whole family. It was under $4 on Amazon.

  13. Alison says:

    Thank for the Instagram tips. Is there a way to do a solid background and write text on a post rather than a story?
    FYI – The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is on sale for 2.99 tody on Amazon kindle.

  14. Suzy says:

    I just saw that My Brilliant Friend is going to be on HBO in November – 8 episodes. I’ve read two of these, two more to go. This may be old news but news to me!

  15. Katherine says:

    We were gifted a massive rubber plant from a neighbor, once it began encroaching on her living room. I move it outside every summer and it does very well there. I am yet to purchase a fiddle leaf (never seen them at our Kroger!), but I did buy two venus fly traps this spring! Who knew Kroger offered such variety?

  16. Jamie says:

    My husband is traveling in Thailand right now. Last week before he left, he watched a movie about a place crash and extreme survival. Then, as he scrolled thru Netflix the next night, he came upon another movie whose plot was about a family who moved to Thailand and ended up in the middle of a civil war.
    Yeah…timing is everything!!! 🙂

  17. Kelly says:

    I’m so curious to know what you learned while on your camping trip. My family loves to camp and SMNP is our favorite place to visit. Please share your tips with us! 🙂

  18. chloe says:

    The railroads lead to winning because it was designed by anti-capitalists and stolen by the Parker Bros! There’s a great book all about it called The Monopolists by Mary Pilon. I also recommend going to our local indie board game store and letting them make recommendations based on the things your kiddos like about Monopoly. It’s not the best-designed game and we’ve found alternatives that have been more fun and faster-paced games!

  19. Diana says:

    The Smokeys is a great park! Probably the one I’ve been to the most often and we live further away than you! I’m shocked you hadn’t been there! Maybe “free” just reallllly influenced where my parents took their 6 kids…

  20. Terri T. says:

    I thought I had somehow missed the initial Rowling announcement because the lead time was so short. And, also because by the time I saw it there were already 96 people in the hold queue.

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