Sunday, January 31, 2016

Saving My Life: Winter 2016

I'm linking up with Anne to share what's saving my life this winter.

Norwegian Hand Cream
My hands have become so cracked and dry this winter; they're much worse than they've ever been. So the last time Rob and I were in BJ's, I picked up a three-pack of this lifesaver.  Now I have one in my purse, one in my desk at work, and one in my bathroom.  My hands thank me!

My Library
Always a life saver! 

Reading Challenges
I have joined Anne's reading challenge and a Classics reading challenge.  These are fun because they are forcing me to be intentional about what I'm going to read.  Not that reading whatever I come across is bad, but the challenges force me to think beyond my comfort zone.  I like it.

Moving my phone out of my bedroom
This has been a great one.  I had been using my phone as my alarm in the mornings.  Bad idea.  It's way too easy to reach for it just one last time before bed or first thing in the morning.  There is no email so important that I need to read it while still horizontal.  My evenings and early mornings are going so much more smoothly.  And to think--life always used to be that way!

What I'm Into: January 2016

I'm linking up with Leigh!

I'll provide specific updates on what I read in January on the 15th, but my total book count is down from last year.  One reason is because of the course I took in January.  Another reason was my book selection--I find that the classics can't be (and shouldn't be) devoured over the course of a couple of days.  I have made a small dent in my Christmas books, but there's still plenty left to read--and plenty of cold, snowy winter days left to spend reading!

Almost nothing--what has happened to my must-see TV?  I was there with bells on for the Sherlock episode, and boy, was that ever fantastic!  I recorded it, so one of these nights, I'll watch it again.  Then there is Downton Abbey.  I do so hope Anna and Bates will get the happy ending they deserve--along with Edith.  I'd say they're on the right track so far, but based on last night's hints about Robert (grabbing his abdomen again), I think Mrs. Carson/Mrs. Hughes may have another occasion to wear her wedding coat--and it won't be for a wedding!

Well, there was one other thing I watched in January... and it lived up to the hype.  Almost.  Rob went to Clemson, and this has been a very fun year to be a Tiger fan.  Believe it or not, Rob had to be out of town for work on the night of the big game, so we talked right at the beginning and then during half time.  It was a very exciting game, and a fine end to football for me for the year.

In mid-winter, I'm getting serious about having soup at least once a week.  Here's the problem: my people do not want soup once a week.  They don't love soup.  What??!!  So I usually have to pair it with grilled cheese sandwiches, which they do like.  So far, I've made broccoli soup and a Greek chicken soup.  Also chili...and baked potatoes.  Winter time is when I can buy a five pound bag of potatoes and know that they're all going to get eaten.

After the blizzard last weekend, Rob is finally seriously talking about buying a snow blower.  Even with our generous neighbors helping us with their snow blowers, it still took everyone hours to dig out.  I have learned that I have a couple of favorite shovels--one we had to toss last year because it was broken, and one that is on its way out.  Never thought I'd have a favorite snow shovel (or two!).

January seemed to go by pretty quickly, no?  Only one snowstorm for the month--and only one day off from school.  That number is way down compared to the last couple of years.  I swear, last year, the kids seemed to have a steady stream of three or four day weeks.  Here's hoping that February will be just as gentle!

Modern Mrs. Darcy 2016 Reading Challenge: #1

A Book You Can Finish in a Day

I didn't start this book thinking that I would finish this in a day or that this would be my entry for this category in the reading challenge.  I think this is one of those categories that needs to happen on its own--I don't want the pressure of having to finish a book in a day, you know?

Anyhow, this the second book I've read by this author--the first was The Art of Forgetting, which I enjoyed.  When this story opens, Libby Miller learns that she has a rare and bad form of cancer on the same day that her husband tells her he's gay.  Not a good day by any measure.  Libby grew on me as the book progressed.  At the beginning, I found Libby's faux curse words to be a little much, and her reactions to all of her dismal news just seemed a little far-fetched.  But as the book progressed, she improved.  I recommend this book.

Friday, January 29, 2016

2016 Goals: an irregular update

When I posted my goals, I was not intending to post a monthly progress report, but I do have some progress, and I'm in need of something to post about, so there you have it!

The Health Department
First up--and I don't think I went public on this one, but as of January 25, I am now on the decaf.  And I'm trying not to be all sad-face about it--after all, doesn't this now mean that I can enjoy coffee whenever I want?  Why did I decide to go decaf?  The main reason was my head.  I have known for years that I am very sensitive to caffeine.  I gave up colas about twenty years ago, and since then, coffee and chocolate have been my main sources of caffeine.  I drank coffee on and off during my three pregnancies and nursing time.  I would occasionally venture into the 3 o'clock cuppa to get me through the dinner hour.  Sometimes I would enjoy the second cup in the morning--but always, always with the knowledge that this must be either a very, very rare occurrence, or it must happen at the same time every day in order to avoid the dreaded headaches. 

Any deviation in my caffeine intake results in a headache.  The maintenance became too much.  I love coffee. I love super-dark, almost chewy coffee, with sugar and cream.  I love the smell of it, I love the taste of it.  I have several different favorite coffee mugs.  But lately I could feel my body preparing itself for that morning caffeine rush, and I decided that it's time to cut the caffeine.  I am never (I know, never say never) going to give up chocolate, so I decided to switch over to decaf.

I began weaning myself on January 1, and as of the 25th, I'm fully decaffeinated.  The only real bummer is that Rob has not gone decaf, so on weekends, I have to make two pots of coffee.  I've had to spend some extra time in the coffee aisle to find a dark roast decaf, but it exists!

The IT Department
I learned how to back up my phone pictures onto my laptop.  Now I need to remember to delete unnecessary pictures from my phone, because my phone storage is still almost full.  I also purchased Microsoft Office for my laptop.

The English Department
I have successfully completed an online book club course through  I took a course on Jane Eyre, and I enjoyed it.  The first lesson I learned is that I should have been at least halfway through the book before the course started because I had to play catch up that first week.  Each week there was a homework assignment that required me to research something about the author or the book and post it to the discussion board.  Then I had to post comments to at least two other students' postings.  There were also five or six discussion questions posted each week, and there was a short weekly quiz.  It was fun, and a little strange to be going through my week secretly contemplating Byronic heroes and Gothic literature!

I'm already signing up for the next course/book club for February, A Room With a View.

The Physical Education Department
I received a new Fitbit for Christmas.  I knew right away that the 10,000 step daily goal was a stretch for me.  I estimated that I could aim for 8,000 steps for 5 out of 7 days and then 10,000 for the other 2 days of the week.  And I kept missing the goals. 

And then, I changed my daily goal down to 6,000 steps per day.  And I hit or exceeded the goal every single day.

After a week, I bumped it up to 7,000 steps per day.  And I've been hitting or exceeding it every day.  It's like I love to just crush the goal, and I try to see how early in the day I can meet the goal.  No lie--on the Sunday we were shoveling out, I hit 7,000 steps by 10 a.m.

I think I will have to lower my increments as I continue to increase, because on a weekday, there is only so much walking I can do in between my many rounds of driving kids to activities.  I will let you know how this plays out.

The Keeping It Real Department
One of my goals is to post here three times a week.  That has been a fail so far.  Sometimes I think that, like Gretchen Rubin, I'd do better here if I posted daily.  Then there's no room for error.  One reason I don't post daily is content:  what would I say every day?  I don't want this to be an online diary, and I'm sure nobody wants to read an online diary!  In order to successfully post even three times per week, I'm going to need a game plan.  The link-ups are easy--built in content, I know what I'm going to say then.  That's why this is a goal.  You will be able to see the progress throughout the year.

So there you have it--some early progress.  See you again soon!

Friday, January 15, 2016

My Stack of Books: January 2016

Happy New Year, QuickLit!  I'm linking up with Anne again with my reads for the past month.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
I really wanted to love this one--like I wanted to love it as hard as I loved All the Light We Cannot See.  Ironically, that was the novel he was trying to work on when he spent his year in Rome.  I definitely want to go to Rome now.  I marvel at Doerr and his wife--taking off to Rome with newborn twins in tow!  I don't know what Doerr's religious affiliation is, but I wish he had explored that some.  While he was in Rome, Pope John Paul II passed away, so he spent time hanging around the Vatican while the funeral and the conclave took place.  I wanted to know what was driving him to brave those crowds, to be present in those moments.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
If you've read Fangirl, you've heard of Simon and Baz.  I found myself wondering whether this was Cather's version of Simon and Baz, but it's Rowell's.  It was okay.  Because it's a Potter-esque story (magical wizards at a boarding school--a whole magical world), I felt like I spent lots of time translating their language into a Potter equivalent, and that distracted me.  So it's another teenaged love story--she sure can write wistful romance!

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Like just about everyone else who has read this book, I felt like Elizabeth Gilbert was writing just to me--like she's in my head; it was blowing my mind!  I had been resisting reading this book--how could it possibly live up to all the hype?  And yet, it did. 
Pause for "Brush with Celebrity" tale:  A few years ago, I took my daughters up to Frenchtown, NJ for their Bastille Day celebration.  We walked to Gilbert's store, Two Buttons.  I had no expectations of seeing Gilbert, but sure enough, there she was!  Her husband gave my girls some popcorn, and Elizabeth talked to us all--even gave the girls a couple of bracelets.  I was about to fangirl all over her (having only read Eat, Pray, Love), but once I saw the table stacked with all of her other books (this was before The Signature of All Things came out), I felt sheepish and decided to keep my mouth shut.  There you have it--lovely lady, has written way more books than I thought.

Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante by Susan Elia MacNeal
The fifth installment in the Maggie Hope series.  This time, Maggie travels to Washington, D.C. with Winston Churchill to spend Christmas (it's 1941).  As the war progresses, I look forward to seeing whether Maggie goes back undercover.

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
I'll just say this now; if Rowling/Galbraith ever writes a new phone book, I'm going to read it.  There's just no question.  Rowling is so good.  This book was a two-day thrill ride through some very creepy stuff.  I can't wait for the next installment.

The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagan
I checked this out after reading something about Pagan on Laura Vanderkam's blog.  I liked this novel.  Here's what I wrote in my book journal: entertaining--woman learns to take charge of her life--act instead of react; forget transgressions and be grateful for what she has.  I have to tell you, for most of the book I hated the manipulative best friend, but then there was redemption.  I received Pagan's next novel for Christmas, so it'll be on here sometime this year.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
I will paraphrase a review of this book:  when you sell your wife and child for five guineas, you don't ever get over it.  And he never does.  This Hardy novel was darker than Far From the Madding Crowd.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Ah, Jane!  I posted a review of this recently.  I recommend.  If you're done with Jane Austen and want to try a different flavor, give this a try.  This was my 19th Century Classic Book for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

After You by Jojo Moyes
Well, Me Before You just tore me up, so I was very excited to know that there was a sequel of sorts.  What happens to Louisa Clark after Will Traynor ends his life?  What happens to Louisa's family, to Will's family?  The short answer is, life goes on.  The longer answer is spelled out in the pages of the novel.  There is no magic quick-fix to recover from the loss of a loved one, so we go on a journey with Louisa and watch her find her way through.  There were surprises, some heart-wrenching scenes, a few things were predictable.  True confession: I had picked up this book thinking it would be my entry under the "a book you can finish in a day" category because I had plowed through Me Before You, but I started it at a busy moment, and it took me a couple of days to finish. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Back to the Classics: 19th Century

I had already signed up for an online course through edX on Jane Eyre when I discovered the Back to the Classics reading challenge, so this is a two-fer!  The edX class is still on week two of four, so maybe that will cause this review to be mercifully shorter than it would have been had I written it after completing the course!

This was my second time reading Jane Eyre--the first was back in 1991.  I was a senior in college, and I *think* I read it in preparation for my senior thesis on Villette

Jane Eyre, published in 1847, is a bildungsroman of Jane's life.  Here is the blurb from the back cover:
Jane Eyre is an orphan, penniless and plain, but full of courage and spirit.  She has endured incredible hardship to secure her humble status as a governess in the household of her brooding employer, Mr. Rochester.  Jane's sharp wit and defiant nature meet with Rochester's sardonic temperament.  The two become enmeshed in a deep, intense bond.  But Rochester has a terrible secret--a remnant from his past that cold threaten any hope of happiness with this only love.

I liked this novel--back in 1991, and now in 2016.  It's nice to see the plain, poor orphan turn out okay.  I keep comparing Jane Eyre to the novels of that other Jane I love so much--Jane Austen, and I am struck by the differences.  Jane and Rochester are not social equals--such a match would never occur in Austen.  The age difference between the lovers is similar to Emma and Mr. Knightley--though both matches today would have the gentlemen likely added to a sex-offender registry!  What I really liked in Jane Eyre that you do not get with Austen is the "after."  After the marriage proposal has been accepted--Austen wraps it up after that, and we never see what happens after the wedding.  I liked that Jane and Rochester had obstacles to overcome--their aborted wedding ceremony set the stage for the third act of the book, and when Jane and Rochester were reunited, you knew this marriage was going to be a happy one. 

This week on edX, we've been looking into the Gothic elements of the novel:  the setting in a crumbling mansion, the Gothic hero, the villain, and the plot touching on elements of the supernatural.  Jane Eyre touches all of the bases.

I recommend Jane Eyre for ladies and gentlemen of all ages!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Another Reading Challenge for 2016

I'm putting myself on the hook for another reading challenge for this year: Books and Chocolate's Back to the Classics Challenge.

This one has different levels of participation: I can choose to read six, nine, or twelve books (there are twelve categories to choose from).  I'm going to play it safe and set my sights on six books.  And fortunately, I can cross-over between this challenge and Anne's, so I haven't necessarily committed myself to 18 books.  For this challenge, a classic book is defined as one published or written at least 50 years ago.

I have copied the categories:

1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899. 

2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1966. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later.

3.  A classic by a woman author

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language.

5.  A classic by a non-white author. Can be African-American, Asian, Latino, Native American, etc.

6.  An adventure classic - can be fiction or non-fiction. Children's classics like Treasure Island are acceptable in this category. 

7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. Dystopian could include classics like 1984, and children's classics like The Hobbit are acceptable in this category also. 

8.  A classic detective novel. It must include a detective, amateur or professional. This list of books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction is a great starting point if you're looking for ideas.

9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title.  It can be the name of a house, a town, a street, etc. Examples include Bleak House, Main Street, The Belly of Paris, or The Vicar of Wakefield.

10. A classic which has been banned or censored. If possible, please mention why this book was banned or censored in your review.

11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college).  If it's a book you loved, does it stand the test of time?  If it's a book you disliked, is it any better a second time around?

12. A volume of classic short stories. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories. It can be an anthology of stories by different authors, or all the stories can be by a single author. Children's stories are acceptable in this category also.

I will be posting reviews of these books as I read them.  I haven't decided which categories I'm definitely going to read yet.  (Aside from the first three--those are no-brainers.)

I am so excited about having guidance the next time I'm looking at my bookshelf wondering what to read!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year!

Open the new calendar!  Turn over to a fresh page!  It's goal time again! In no particular order, here I go:

Update my progress on these goals quarterly--it'll keep me honest!

Work-ish/Faithish (occupational hazard of working at a church--are these work goals? or are they more personal, faith goals?  Probably more of the latter)         
participate in a small group
Teach an adult forum

consistently hit 10,000 steps on weekends; strive for 8,000 on weekdays
give blood twice this year

be here three times a week
link up with Anne and Leigh monthly
find another linky party to join

complete Modern Mrs. Darcy's reading challenge for 2016
read at least one book from each category of Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading list
take an online course through edX

research feasibility of a family trip to Hawaii
research possible trips to Europe in 2017 or beyond

learn the rules for getting a driver's license (because this year our oldest turns 16!)
try designating laundry days
add more pictures to the basement walls
put something on our bedroom walls
have friends over for dinner

learn how to move my phone pictures to a cloud somewhere and then delete them from my phone
learn how to get my phone pictures to load to blogger

It's a mixed bag--there's no huge over-arching thing I'm working toward; I'm pretty happy with how things are going, so I want to maintain the momentum this year.  As the year goes on, I'll share how I'm breaking down some of these goals into smaller pieces. 

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 1, 2016

How I Did: the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2015 Reading Challenge

Last year I printed out the MMD 2015 Reading Challenge page, and I've been checking off books as I go.  I never officially joined the Pinterest group last year, and I have fixed that for 2016.

I checked off 10 out of 12, and I'm pleased with that result.  I am going to aim for 12 out of 12 for 2016--goals are good!

Here's what I read in 2015:

A book you've been meaning to read: Middlemarch by George Eliot

A book published this year: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

A book in a genre you don't typically read: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

A book from your childhood: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A book your mom loves: The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

A book "everyone' has read but you: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

A book you chose because of the cover: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

A book by a favorite author: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

A book recommended by someone with great taste: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

A book that currently on the bestseller list: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

That makes ten; I abandoned what would have been number eleven: a book that was originally written in a different language: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

And "a book you should have read in high school" is the only category that I didn't cover.