8 things I learned this summer

Regular readers know I love sharing a monthly round-up of what I’ve been learning lately, ranging from the (occasionally) significant to the (mostly) shallow.

This spring and summer I’ve been hard at work on my next book, so I’ve passed on the monthly updates. But I can’t go all summer without sharing what I’ve learned, so I’m sneaking in this update right before Labor Day.

1. It’s worth enduring the bumpiest dirt roads.

Doesn’t this sound like the chorus of a country music song? My family visited Colorado early this summer; we were there to see family but got to spend some time exploring, too. On our very first day there we set out to take a hike that Will had read about on the internet—and it quickly became apparent that the “short” ten-mile drive to the trailhead was on ten miles of deeply rutted gravel roads. We have a family of six, and three of us get carsick. YIKES. It was slow and dusty and stomach-churning.

We came THIS CLOSE to bailing and taking an easier trail closer to civilization, but for some reason—I have no idea why—we kept going. And we were all so glad we did. It was a tough climb up, but the views were incredible; it was my favorite thing we did on our trip.

If I haven’t scared you too much, that hike was to the Devils Head Fire Tower Lookout.

2. There’s a poetry-only bookstore in Seattle.

This summer we aired our second mother-daughter episode of What Should I Read Next, featuring recent college graduate Xoe and her attorney mother of the Seattle area. They mentioned a special poetry-only bookstore called Open Books: A Poetry Emporium that they like to visit, in the Wallingford neighborhood, that’s home to more than 10,000 new, used, and out of print titles.

I’ve been to many niche bookshops, and hope to visit many more, but never have I encountered one devoted to only poetry. Till now.

(Listen to episode 192, “Wherever you read, I will follow,” wherever you get your podcasts or right here on the site.)

3. Cut the top off that fiddle leaf fig.

Regular readers know that over the past several years I have jumped down the houseplant rabbit hole, firmly securing my Plant Lady status. My first major purchase was a large fiddle leaf fig, but since then I bought two more smaller ones, mostly because when Kroger ran them on sale for $17, I couldn’t resist.

One of these inexpensive fiddles lives in my daughter’s room (except for the summer months, when we move them all outside), and it’s grown much taller under our care. My daughter came across a passage in a houseplant book (we’ve got lots) about pruning your fiddle to grow into a tree shape, and—thinking we had very little to lose—we tried it. We cut the top right off.

Six weeks later, the plant did indeed branch at the point where we made our cut, and now EIGHT healthy new leaves are growing at the split. We’re both excited to see what happens next.

If you’re interested in trying this yourself, the videos from Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant Resource bolstered my confidence.

Bonus fact: I know I’m not the only plant-obsessed reader because this post featuring 15 books for budding botanists has a zillion pageviews so far.

4. Book people are the best people.

Back in July, I accidentally emailed our MMD Book Club survey to everyone who signed up to get our MMD newsletters. That means I sent it to about 100x more people than I should have. Cue mortification.

I instantly realized what I’d done, and sent out a real quick apology to everyone with some bonus reading tips. And the emails I got back from hundreds of readers were so, so kind. I didn’t need to make a silly mistake to be reminded of how great this community is, but I did make a silly mistake—and your all’s response made me love you even more. Thanks for hanging out here with me in this little corner of the interwebs. You make it a better place, and a better world.

5. Make the Smitten Kitchen desserts.

I love Deb Perelman’s blog Smitten Kitchen, and her cookbooks, but I don’t believe I’ve made a single dessert from her recipes. We don’t eat a ton of desserts around here, but when we do indulge, I want to make it count. Yet it just never occurred to me to give those dessert recipes a try.

But that changed this summer when we visited family and were served several kinds of birthday cake from The Party Cake Builder recipes in Smitten Kitchen Everyday—a cookbook I’ve owned for nearly two years! The fudgy chocolate cake was SO GOOD. It’s not complicated or deluxe or fancy, it’s just a good, simple chocolate cake, and now that I know what I’ve been missing, I am totally making it next time I need that kind of dessert.

6. You can read more Amor Towles, right now.

Earlier this summer I shared 20 greatest hits from 8 years of the Summer Reading Guide. Narrowing 8 years’ worth of guide titles down to just 20 was tough, but I did it—and one of the books I shared was Amor Towles’s ebook short Eve in Hollywood. I felt a little bad sharing this one, because it hasn’t been available for years—or so I thought.

If you’re one of the readers itching for more Amor Towles in your life, good news: you can order a copy of Eve online from Shakespeare & Company right here. And furthermore, you can read Towles’s new short story The Line right here. Happy reading!

7. You can buy plants on Etsy.

I’ve bought all manner of interesting things on Etsy in the past, but … houseplants? Yes! I couldn’t find Audrey ficus and purple oxalis locally, so I ordered them on Etsy, and they arrived days later carefully packed in cardboard boxes. Who knew?

8. You can grind your coffee in the blender.

Our coffee grinder broke this summer, wreaking havoc in our early morning routine. The internet suggested I try a mortar and pestle, but that got me absolutely nowhere. I finally decided to give the blender a try, and while it is LOUD, it is effective. Thank goodness.

What did you learn this summer?

P.S. 10 things I learned this spring, and 10 things I learned on book tour.


Leave A Comment
  1. Marsi says:

    Seattle also has a cookbook shop called the Book Larder and a geeky technical/science book shop called Ada’s Technical Books and Café. Both are wonderful. Ada’s has a lot of cool stuff.

  2. Nichole says:

    It feels serendipitous that Smitten Kitchen Everyday is on Kindle special today! I’m a Kindle fan anyway, but I LOVE cookbooks on kindle when viewed on an iPad. I use my iPad in the kitchen for recipes most of the time anyway and as a bonus when I’m in a waiting room I can scroll through recipes instead of instagram!

  3. Sarah says:

    If you’re going to be pruning your Fiddle leaf figs anyways, you should try rooting the cut pieces. I’ve had good luck with just sticking them in a good potty soil and watering them until they grow new leaves (although I’m sure you can get fancier with your methods). Then you can get more without purchase, or gift them to friends.

  4. Lisa says:

    Is there a trick to moving houseplants outdoors for a season without bringing in ants when they move back into the house? Do you re-pot before bringing them back inside?

    • Suzy Bennett says:

      In the past when I’ve moved plants indoors, I treated them somehow to remove any bugs. I’m sure there’s something on the internet about how/what to do.

    • Leslie says:

      We vacuum them all, shower off the ones that love water on the leaves, and occasionally spray a few with a dilute dish soap mixture. Out of the 50 or so plants that go outside for summer, we have almost never (maybe only one or two plants in 10 years) brought in insect pests with this method.

  5. Heather Bowser says:

    Ok book friends. I have house plants and for the first time I have managed to keep them alive for about 6 months now. But I have a few that look sad. I need a book recommendation on plant care. What are your favorites??? I will also post on IG with the #plantstagram (I totally did not know this was a thing!!!)

  6. Kelli Roberts says:

    Oh wow – thanks for the tip about grinding coffee in the blender! It make so much sense- if I can grind nuts into flour, why not coffee? We have a great (and very expensive ) coffee grinder, but if someone moves if from my setting, I can’t always get it back to where I want it. Now I can use the vitamix to get exactly the grind I want!

    (and I LOVE that you used “your all’s” in your post!)

  7. Michelle Wilson says:

    That is one of my all time favorite hikes! You are right about the road though and it’s not much better even if your the driver!

  8. Eleanor Winslow says:

    I have also learned you can blend spices in your coffee bean grinder for amazing fresh spice blends. Just be sure to clean it out well before you put coffee beans in there again unless you want coffee flavored by whatever spices you just blended (which in some cases turns out pretty tasty as well)

  9. Lynda Citera says:

    To read the Amor Towels short story…to the end…one has to purchase a magazine subscription. Such was a tad jarring.

      • Leslie says:

        Anne thank you so much for the information on where to buy Eve in Hollywood. I have been searching for that book for over a year. If Amor Towles had a fan club I would be its titular president. I also thank you for the information on his latest The Line. I will be heading to my not so local B&N this weekend to pick up Granta Issue 148 to read the entire story. It is also available on Amazon where you can purchase the single issue.

  10. Lee Ann says:

    If you haven’t tried the browned butter rice krispy bars from Smitten Kitchen, lose not a moment. They are fabulous.

  11. Thea Monks says:

    I hope you planted the top of your Fiddle Leaf Fig. They are very easy to strike, and you could be giving them away as Christmas presents to all and sundry as your collection takes off.

  12. What a wonderful season of learning and reminders! Love it, Anne, and thank you for sharing so honestly, as always ❤️ It wasn’t summer for me down here in Australia, but over our winter I learned: (1) gas price increases are A THING (I’m talking natural gas, the kind that powers our heater at home, doubled the bill this year, yikes!); (2) it never hurts to give things a go (I’ve been offered amazing opportunities because I threw my hand up, even when I thought I didn’t have a snowflake’s chance); and (3) to borrow/adapt the late, great Toni Morrison’s advice, when the thing you want doesn’t exist, you must build it yourself (I’ve taken matters into my own hands with my book review site and built/figured out some things for myself instead of just sitting around wishing there was a silver bullet solution to tech problems).

  13. Trisha says:

    I found one of those antique hand-crank coffee grinders at an antique shop and purchased it because it was adorable and eclectic. However, it became my saving grace when we lost power for nearly a week (!) this past winter. Between that and my french press, at least I was able to have a delicious cup of coffee.

  14. Fascinating about the fiddle leaf plant! I wonder if the same trick would work on one of my houseplants? I wish I kept the tag on it (because I have no idea what it’s called and just refer to it as the “giant tiger leaf plant” in my head), but I would be all for it branching out rather than growing up.

    Love these little round-ups 🙂

    • Anne says:

      “Giant tiger leaf plant” has me giggling. I don’t know how I’d identify half my plants without instagram—I don’t have a clue what they are, but when I share a photo the readers always chime in to tell me. 🙂

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