Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What I'm Into: the Old Year's Night edition (December 2015)

I'm linking up with Leigh for the first time in a while.  One of the Maisie Dobbs novels I read took place over the end of a year, and Maisie referred to the festivities on the 31st as Old Year's Night, which I thought was pretty cool--was that a British thing?  A 1930's thing?  Both?  Do they still call it Old Year's Night in England?  So many questions!

So let's break down the year that was 2015:

This was a biggie for me.  After almost 4 years, I left my former employment and started working at my church.  I am working about 10 hours more per week now, but I am still able to be home shortly after the kids get home, which is nice.

My mom and I saw Brooklyn on Christmas Eve.  It was so, so lovely.  So many beautiful handknit sweaters, so many beautiful ladies wearing almost no makeup (such flawless skin!).

Brooklyn was probably the only theatrical release that I saw that I really liked this year.  For the sake of comparison, I also saw Spectre and Mission Impossible this year, and those are the only ones I can remember.  And those were not my picks.

Inside Out was a Redbox pick for us in December, and it was very good.  Leave it to the wizards at Pixar to have all the adults openly weeping by the movie's end.

There is not much to say.  We watched Mad Men's final half season in the spring, and now we really don't have any "appointment TV."  The shows that we watch together (Rob and I) are: 60 Minutes, The Amazing Race, and the NBC Nightly News.  Bobby and I watch most of ABC's Wednesday night lineup (The Middle, Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat, Modern Family), but we usually record them and watch them over the next few days because I have to do a pick-up run over to the dance studio in the middle of the broadcasts. 

I am very, very, very excited about the Sherlock episode that is airing on January first!  And then the final season of Downton Abbey starts a few days later...Rob does not enjoy the costume drama that is Downton, so he will be on his own for a few weeks.

This was an unusual year for us--Rob and I went to Paris in April; Bobby and I flew to Georgia for the day in July; and in August, the whole family went to California.  I don't think I've ever spent that much time on a plane in one year.  For the most part, we all genuinely enjoy each other's company, and seeing things together for the first time is really cool.  Next year, there will not be this much flying!

Two of my favorite things from this year's travels were the dinner cruise along the Seine and walking in Muir Woods.  Two very different experiences, but both were unforgettable.


This year I made a conscious effort to read some classic literature.  This was a direct result of my job change--I work right next door to our senior pastor, and he is always, always reading, and it's usually something good.  I have loaned him my copy of All the Light We Cannot See, and I can't wait to see what he thinks.  Just this week, we discussed Middlemarch, Silas Marner, and Far From the Madding Crowd.  And now I have to re-read The Scarlet Letter (among other things).  See, I can barely keep up!

Before I started reading Middlemarch, I was afraid that all my mystery series and contemporary fiction reading had whittled away at my attention span so that I wouldn't be able to concentrate on a long story told at a deliberate pace.  I took my time with the reading--I knew that Middlemarch was not going to be blasted through over the course of a weekend.  I also paused to take notes as I read.  Those strategies were helpful, and they helped me build up my literature-reading-muscles!

The I-didn't-see-that-coming Department:

Five, six, seven, eight...
Both of my girls take dance classes, and this year our involvement with dance went to the next level.  I was present for all three recitals in June--once as a spectator, and twice as a parent volunteer/ticket taker/director to the bathroom, etc.  It's fun, and I enjoy watching all the dancers and seeing how they improve each year. It's a bit of a lost weekend, though, with no time for anything else.

This September, when the girls went back to dance class, so did I!  I joined several other dance moms in the Thursday night adult jazz class.   I have wanted to join a dance class since we lived in New Jersey (over 10 years ago), and the stars have finally aligned for me to be able to do this. We have so much fun!

The joy of being a grown-up
Back in the spring, I don't know whether I could have taken the dance class because I was having so much trouble with my shoulder.  I pulled some muscles in my shoulder back in May of 2014, and by March of 2015, I was having trouble lifting my left arm without pain.  One of the great things about being in my early-mid-forties is understanding the need for self-care, so rather than try to tough it out or hope for spontaneous improvement, I made an appointment with my doctor.  An x-ray revealed some tendonitis, and the doctor prescribed physical therapy.  I'd never gone to physical therapy before, and it's surprising how you can make room in an already busy calendar for something truly important.  I completed six weeks of PT, and now I try to keep up with the exercises. I don't think it's ever going to be completely improved--too many years of being hard on my shoulders, but I feel like I've improved my mobility, and I'm not in pain now.

Unplanned home renovations
Back in September, I posted here with our pictures from our California trip.  I had framed several of them and hung them in the basement.  The very next day, my oldest daughter called me as I was driving home from work to tell me that there was water all over the dining room.  By the time I arrived home, I had deduced that the water must be coming from our fire sprinkler system (required in our township).  Sure enough, there was a hole in our bedroom wall, and water had been pouring out of that hole for hours, raining down from our bedroom, into the dining room below and then down into the basement.  We are finishing up everything this week.  I don't like to dwell on this episode--certainly it sucked, but it could always have been worse--but having so much of our home torn up for almost a quarter of the year is a noteworthy bump in the road.  As I said, it is almost over, but I think I'm going to be paranoid about things going wrong for quite a while.

The unexpected gift of gratitude
While the house was completely topsy-turvy and my mind was a complete scramble, I started a nightly ritual of writing down lists of things I was grateful for each day.  It was a nice way to slow the pace and reflect that not everything was crappy.  Now, even when I may not take the time to put pen to paper, I try to make a mental list when I'm feeling overwhelmed.  It's nice to focus on some positives.

So there you have it, a brief sampler of what I've been doing in 2015.  I hope I'm finishing this year a little wiser and a little kinder than when the year began.  I'll be back in a couple of days to share what I'm aiming for in the new year.  Until then, I wish you a happy and healthy new year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Stack of Books: November 2015

Linking up with Anne--a little late to the party this month!  Things were slower than usual this month.  I abandoned a few books, and for a few days I just wasn't reading anything (oh, the horror!). 

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
I put in a hold request for this during the summer, and it had been so long that I'd just about given up on this one.  Cute.  I hope it's the start of a series.  There were almost too many potential suspects to keep track of, but it was a fun read.

Hollow Man by Mark Pryor
This was a non-Hugo Marston novel about a British expat who works as a D.A. in Austin--and plays guitar and writes songs on the side.  Who also happens to be a psychopath.  This was a one day read.  Gripping and creepy.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
I just loved it.  And now I want to see the movie that came out over the summer.

Silas Marner by George Eliot
Seems the more I love a story the less I write about it.  I feel like this one and Madding Crowd need a book club...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Stack of Books: October 2015

Here we go:

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

I may be one of the last people on the planet to read this.  Oh, so tragic!  Young love + cancer = bereft reader.

The Gift of Failure, Jessica Lahey.

A great reminder to back off and let the kids struggle.  And no sooner had I finished it than I received a text from one of my kids--one of those, "I forgot my homework, can you bring it to me?"  Oh, how I agonized over that one--and ultimately, I didn't take the forgotten homework.

The Life Intended, Kristin Harmel

One of Anne's Flights of Fancy from her summer reading list.  I just loved.  Such great advice for life packed into a sweet and compelling story.  Chick-lit with some real meat on it.

Speak, Louisa Hall

I picked this one up off of the new release shelf at the library.  The author of Station Eleven is quoted on the cover as saying that this novel doesn't remind her of any other book she's ever read.  And I gotta say, that's a true statement.  Six narrators tell their stories--different times, different places.  And it's all loosely related somehow.  Just can't neatly connect the dots.

10% Happier, Dan Harris

I'd heard Dan Harris tell his story on GMA.  Anne mentioned this book, so I thought I'd check it out.  It was pretty good.  I liked how he kept it real--he shared his frustrations and doubts about the process.  One thing that bothered me?  Very narrow page margins.  And really long paragraphs, and/or a smaller-than-I'd-like font.

A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson

Well, Life After Life was one of my favorite reads of the year.  At first, I was thrilled to be back with Ursula and Teddy and Nancy.  And after a few hundred pages, I was getting restless.  The ending...well, I didn't like this one as much as I did Life After Life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My Stack of Books: September 2015

Linking up with Anne!

Here, in no particular order, are some of the books I have read in the last month.

Kate Atkinson, Life After Life
This was one of my top reads of the summer.  I am an absolute sucker for anything WWII-era, and set in London, no less. 

Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
Post-WWII, set in London.  I'm not sure how this book ended up in my library bag, and I think I'll get more out of this one on a re-read.  So many heavy themes in here--love, hate, faith, God, life, death.

Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety
This was the second Stegner novel I read this month.  Anne raves about it so much--and it didn't disappoint.  It's about not much and everything all at the same time.

Secrets of a Charmed Life, Susan Meissner
At the end of this book, there is a reading group guide or something, and in that section, Meissner mentions Life After Life as an influence--so that's how I got to Life After Life.  Again, this book is right in my wheelhouse.  The descriptions of life in London during the war are so heartbreaking.

The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner
My "starter Stegner" because Crossing to Safety wasn't available at the library at the time.  After finishing the book I learned that this is the third novel to feature the main character.  I would recommend Crossing to Safety over this one.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple
I've seen this one everywhere and finally got around to reading it.  Entertaining. I love stories where you get a chance to see an opposing character's point of view--Liane Moriarty is good at that, too.  This was entertaining.

David Lodge, Therapy
This was a re-read.  I first read this about 20 years ago, and Anne had mentioned David Lodge in a post recently, so I sought this one out.  Toward the end of the story, the characters go on a pilgrimage in Spain.  That stuck with me from 20 years ago, and it still sounds like something I'd like to see and maybe do...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Goals: Around the House

One of my perennial goals is to hang family pictures in our home.  When we first moved into this house ten years ago this week, I was stuck.  I wanted to badly to have this house feel like home, and yet we had just gone through the psychological trauma of de-personalizing our old home so that we could sell it.  I was afraid of nails!

I have improved over the years, and there are a couple of places in our home where I have put up a gallery wall.  Command adhesive strips have really helped--if I want to move the pictures, they don't leave any holes in the wall!

Last summer (as in 2014) we finished our basement.  We had some shelves built into one wall, and last year, I put in most of these pictures.
 It was a good start, but other than that, the walls were left blank.
And that's a lotta wall space!
On our California trip, I brought home cards to frame as souvenirs.  Once we got home, I chose some pictures and ordered enlargements from Snapfish.  I have used Snapfish since back when I used film in my camera--I have pictures from when my son was born on their cloud.  (That son just turned 12 over the weekend.)  And then I took advantage of all of the great coupons at Joann and Michael's last weekend.  And today I used every last command strip in the house for this--the start of our new basement gallery wall.

Here is how it looks next to the bookcase.  There is plenty of room to the left of the frames to add on as we go.  We have many years of past vacations I can add.  In fact, I ordered some prints from our 2014 vacation just today.

I am learning that "slow and steady" is the way to go when making a house into a home!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Trip Pictures (Mike, this one's for you!)

As I mentioned in my last post, we took an epic family trip last week.

Entering Yosemite from CA-140
Our first stop--Tunnel View

The kids seem to be enjoying the day.

View from Yosemite Valley

Can you hear me yelling at the kids?  Especially the one with the camera?  There were signs posted all over about how some fleas (that live on squirrels and other small rodents) have tested positive for plague.  For PLAGUE.

Pictures really don't do it justice--to come into a park and see all these massive granite mountains.

In years past this was probably a riverbed with dangerously rushing waters.  Not so this year.

I'm 98% sure this is Sentinel Dome.

Half Dome.  One of the coolest things I've seen.  Haze in the picture is actually smoke from a wildfire that is about 3 hours away.

At the top of Sentinel Dome.  Not easy to walk up a big rock at 8000' elevation. But we're smiling anyway.

 A couple of days later, we were heading north to Muir Woods.

Again, pictures don't do it justice.

Sausalito for lunch.

We spent hours (and hours) in the car:  Three hours from SFO to Yosemite.  At least a half hour from our hotel in Yosemite to anything in the park.  Three hours back to San Francisco.  Two and a half hours to Monterey. Another two and a half hours to Hearst Castle.  And then four hours back to SFO in time for the red-eye home. The silver lining to that is that Rob realized that he does NOT want to take a family trip where we drive cross-country.  I'm pretty pleased about that development.  I prefer family vacations where we're in one spot (like the beach) and we generally eat in and just relax.  I don't particularly enjoy trips where we have to unload and reload the suitcases and the car every couple of days.  It's hard enough to get everyone packed up the first time, and to have to worry about re-packing and making sure nothing gets left behind and keeping the dirty clothes separate from the clean clothes...well, it's almost too much.

So that was our summer trip.  Pretty grand.  I'm sure the kids will look back on that one as pretty awesome.

Monday, August 31, 2015

What I'm Into: August 2015 (and a welcome back)

I'm linking up with Leigh for the first time in a long, long time.  Life took me in some different directions over the past year or so, and being here couldn't be a priority.  I have decided to come back, to resume linking up and posting here, because I have missed the conversations.

Today was the first day of school for the kids, and I was very relieved about that.  I started a new job in April, and Rob started in a new position at his work shortly after that.  We've both been adjusting to increased demands on our time, and there have definitely been some growing pains.  We just took an epic family vacation last week, and we are all still suffering from jet lag.  This first week back will be extra challenging!

This blog has had many flavors over the years, and I've decided that as I move forward, it will reflect the things that interest me: kids and parenting, looking good and feeling good, meal planning, and of course, reading. 

But enough with the catch up, let's see what I've been into this August:

Not much watching went on this August.  As a family, we tried an episode of In the Wild with Bear Grylls.  We saw the Kate Winslet episode.  We enjoyed it, but due to a DVR programming failure, we haven't seen any more.  Next up for family viewing: Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!  We had missed the Sharknado hoopla of previous summers.  This was so bad, it was hilarious.  Very bloody--a little too much gore for my taste.  But very campy.

As for personal viewing, I have been watching Doc Martin.

 I discovered this on a British channel when Rob and I were in France.  Rob doesn't get why I like it so much, but it's full of quirky characters and is set in a beautiful seaside town in England.  I think that's all the explanation needed.

Fawlty Towers: One of the waiters we had last week recommended this series.  It's an old British series starring John Cleese.  I admit, I tried watching the first episode on Saturday (after we took the red-eye home from California).  I couldn't stay awake.  I will give the rest of it a shot, but I feel like what was so groundbreaking back then may just be the way it's done now, so it won't feel so new and fabulous to me.  I had a similar experience when I finally saw Annie Hall--25 years after it came out, it didn't feel original because so many rom-coms follow the Annie Hall template now.

I go into major meal-planning mode every September, and this year is no different.  I will share more on this soon.  I also discovered many new cooking blogs through Pioneer Woman--and she has a new book coming out this fall.

I read a couple of the Madame Chic books this summer, and I just loved the 10 Item Wardrobe idea so much that I have given it a shot.  It's more like a 20 Item Wardrobe, but it has made getting dressed for work so much easier.

I had a summer reading plan.  I called it "Three Classics and One New One."  The classics: Middlemarch, War and Peace, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The new one: Go Set a Watchman.  I got three-fourths of this plan done.  I abandoned War and Peace about 40 pages in.  So many names!  So many people to keep track of!  I decided that this might be better winter reading. 

But!  There were many other classics that I read over the summer: Howard's End, Crossing to Safety, Persuasion, and The Spectator Bird, among others.  And there were plenty of titles from Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading List. It has been a very good summer for reading.

So there you have it--August.  It's good to be back.