Monday, June 3, 2019

Finds & Buys -- Searching for Sunshine Edition

I can't speak for every corner of the Midwest, but I'll take a stab at summarizing the past several months in my corner:  longest winter ever, followed by the wettest and coldest spring.  I don't know if official weather data confirms my summary, but I can say that with the exception of a handful of glorious days (or at least parts of days), it's been fairly miserable.  I admit to medicating with some retail therapy in the form of unnecessary but not super expensive perk-me-up purchases. 

I've written about my love of Nora Fleming products before.  I couldn't resist the rain boot mini Nora Fleming came out with this rainy spring.

Grocery store flowers are always a good perk-me-up purchase.  I perked up a tube vase from Dollar Tree with some colorful spring washi tape. 
 
My kids don't need sunshine to enjoy popsicles.  We love the Wyler's Italian Ice ones.  They have the perfect texture and come in lots of delicious flavors (the orange is the best).  They're always available at Walgreen's, but I also bought a huge box at either Sam's or Costco.  Apologies that I can't remember which spot.  One warning -- if you don't clarify expectations with your popsicle eaters, you'll find abandoned popsicle tops throughout your house and every pair of scissors you own glued together with fruity goodness.
 
Good smelling cleaning products are a real perk-me-up purchase for me,  I am loving the Vetiver & Tea Tree scent from Home & Planet.  Really fresh, clean unique scent.  No, I don't know what Vetiver is either.

I was at Wal-Mart in search of a baby gate for our new puppy when I spied this giant insulated jug.  So far, I have used it to keep Diet Coke chilled and it has worked like a charm (even over several hours).  Actual goal is to drink more water this summer and this bottle will serve me well.  It was $14.95.  

Knock on wood, but it seems we are finally entering a season of reliable sunshine.  Best news?  Sunshine is a free perk-me-up and you don't have to de-clutter it later.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

LFL -- YMCA Nostalgia Edition

When visiting my parents a couple years ago, I noted that the YMCA near their house had a Little Free Library in front.  I imagined that one day I would walk down there and check it out, but in my recent visits I've never found the time to make that half-mile journey on foot.  This evening, after securing some local food favorites at Kroger to take back to Pleasantville, I parked in front of the Y and my oldest and I finally checked out this LFL.

First off, I love the idea of a LFL in front of my childhood YMCA.  As a girl, I spent what in hindsight seems an inordinate number of hours at the Y.  Back in the 80s, one didn't languish in Pike for session after session.  You could actually learn to swim and advance through the classes Pollywog, Pre-Minnow, Minnow, Guppy, Pike, Fish, Flying Fish, Shark, etc.  Don't quote me on the progression or the class names, but I took them all, not because I had a huge passion for swimming so much as because my next youngest sister had a real passion for swimming and so we all had our "own stuff" to do at the Y.  That being said, more than half of my YMCA visits were spent outside the pool while my sister was practicing or competing.  With no cell phone or tablet to turn to, I had a rotation of things I did to while away my time at the Y:  visit the "new' water fountain near the racquetball courts, watch adults play racquetball from the upper viewing area, hope for a turn with the pool table or foosball, test the dryers in the locker room, pester my mom for change for the gumball and vending machines, read every scrap of paper on every bulletin board, read every plaque on the walls, review the posted swim team records (my sister had one, NTB), and, of course, if I came prepared, read a book.

Had an LFL existed in those days, checking its offerings would have been my most savored ritual of each trip to the Y.  Without a doubt.  Fast forward thirty-plus years.

 
This LFL is a fairly basic model.  The wood is a bit faded, but I like the red-tinted glass.  I'm a big fan of the message:  Travel the world starting with books.  Don't we all want young readers to expand their worlds through books?  I've visited so many cool places in books and can't imagine my life without those "travels."  Side note:  I was interested to note that the phrase "Young Men's Christian Association" is emphasized on the front of the LFL since the word "Christian" has completely disappeared from the Y where I live now.

 Perhaps it's the time of year, but the pickings were slim when we opened it up.

As is my tradition, I look at the offerings and play a little "game" of If I were desperate for a new book to read and had to choose one from this LFL, what would I choose?  Since the selection wasn't vast, especially for an adult reader, I decided to think ask myself what 1983 or 1984 Megan would choose.  I think that 80s Megan would be excited to check out Allergic to My Family.  I didn't look inside to the year of publication but the cover illustration took me back and made me nostalgic for the time in my life when I had endless hours to fritter away at the Y (though it was a necessity, not a choice).  I wonder if my daughter will feel similarly some day when she thinks of all the ways she  entertained herself in the hockey area of our Y during her brothers' games.  I will tell you that on our way out the door, I usually remember to remind her to bring a book and some vending machine money, evidence that even in the pre-LFL days, I did learn a thing or two at the YMCA.
 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Dog Gone It

Meet Dandy.  He was born in February and joined our family on April 7th.  It's no coincidence that I haven't posted on this site since April 3rd.

Until last month, I had never had a dog in my life.  I grew up without one and my siblings and I were all nervous/afraid of most dogs (stemming in part from an incident when my brother, as a toddler, was bitten by a stray dog).  As I grew up, I was less afraid of dogs but still not that comfortable around them.  Thus, I was very anxious about welcoming a dog into our family.  My husband and kids eventually wore me down.  My oldest put together two different Power Point presentations about why we should get a dog -- the earliest of which he created five years ago as a second grader.  As a fifth grader, he wrote up a proposal pitching alternative family pets (mostly small rodents and reptiles) artfully intended to make me view a dog more favorably.  Two years later, I caved.  I wanted my kids to have the experience of loving and caring for a dog and prayed that I could open my heart as well.

I'm glad I didn't write about Dandy earlier because a puppy post in the early days would have been a doozy.  The first week gave me major flashbacks of my days as a new mom (short summary of early motherhood for me was that I was an anxious, lonely, decidedly un-breezy mom of a restless baby).  The similarities were unsettling:  getting up multiple times in the middle of the night to take Dandy out so he wouldn't pee/poop in his crate and thus hate being in there going forward; weeding through all the advice out there in books, YouTube videos, blogs, etc.; feeling like I was "on the clock" every time I left the house (similar to when you are newborn's food source) because I didn't want to leave him in crate too long; reckless willingness to buy gear, gadgets, treats -- anything I thought would make things easier; whispering and tiptoeing around the house when he was asleep; a feeling of fear/hopelessness that my life would never be the same again (it won't, but seems less bleak now); and a overall sense of anxiety and uncertainty about what to do and whether I was doing it wrong.  At one point, I was standing in the front yard practicing having him on a leash when I found myself praying that the person walking down the side walk would pause to chat with me -- this was a major flashback to the kind of loneliness and desperation I felt as a new mom.

All of the above sounds dramatic, but welcoming a dog (especially when you are brand new to the experience) is a HUGE adjustment.  And that first week, my husband was out of town for several days (on more of a boondoggle than a command performance), my kids were at school, and I was home just bumbling through the day and trying to figure out how I was going to accomplish basic life tasks in addition to puppy care.  Lots of things happened:  roundworm, vomit, nipping, accidents in the house, and more.  When my sister called me one morning late in the week, I started sobbing.  My husband eventually got home, and my kids figured out that I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown and stepped up their helpfulness.

The adjustment still feels HUGE, but things are getting easier and I am getting more comfortable and confident as a dog mom.  We have a dog trainer who has helped us a ton.  Dandy is able to take short walks, which I really enjoy and which give me hope for longer walks in the future.  We've successfully helped him through roundworm and two other parasites.  Good times.  We no longer wake up in the middle of the night to take him out (though waking at 6am for an hour of rowdy/crazy puppy time is not a major improvement).  Any of the kids can handle being on "Dandy duty" if I need to go somewhere, run errands, etc.  Seeing my husband and kids playing and cuddling with Dandy warms my heart.  I have appreciated my own quiet moments just relaxing with and petting Dandy. Pre-Dandy, I can't tell you the last time when I have sat outside in the sun on a weekday and just, you know, sat there and felt the breeze without trying to read something, check my phone, etc.

One of the coolest things to experience since welcoming Dandy is the way other people react to puppies and the reminder of how kind people can be.  We've gotten to know our neighbor's granddaughter and her two dogs and had a chance to better know another neighbor who also has a dog.  Bringing Dandy to the sports fields, I've had conversations with other parents of my kids' teammates that I would not have had if not for my furry conversation starter.  People pet him and talk to him (in hilarious baby voices).  Friends have given us gifts of treats, dog toys, and gear.  I sent an email about a month before Dandy arrived home asking local friends with dogs for advice and recommendations, and the thorough, wise, encouraging, practical feedback and wisdom I received was unbelievable.  Dog people are really good people.  I don't think I am a dog person yet but I can see it happening and aspire to the designation.

Until then, I'm trying my best to love and care for this puppy while figuring out how to proceed with the rest of my life -- writing, reading, exercise, laundry -- as well.  I'm sure it can be done, dog gone it.


P.S. -- It was very hard to choose just one cute puppy pic for this post, but you can see others on Instagram:  @ourdoodledandy  Also, I spent an embarassing amount of time curating a Spotify playlist with songs that feature "Dandy" (or "candy" and "Mandy" which can be easily adjusted) in them -- playlist is titled @ourdoodledandy

P.S. #2 -- At any earlier moment in my life, I would be shocked to discover I authored the sentences in the first post-script.  Times, they are a-changing.

 
 


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Afternoon with Gloria Bell, Bill and Ted

Today was pretty much the most springy day we've had all spring, but I had initiated indoor plans to see Gloria Bell with some friends.  Kid/Life logistics kept me from seeing the film last night with some friends from a women's group I'm in so I reached out to see if anyone could catch the show this afternoon.  I didn't know much about Gloria Bell, but it had a high Rotten Tomatoes rating and I liked the images I'd seen of of Julianne Moore dancing.  Looks fun, I thought.  Three of my pals were willing to meet up.

Gloria Bell is a tough movie to review. 

The positives:  great cast (Julianne Moore, Brad Garrett, Rita Wilson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, a grown-up Michael Cera, and even Rudy/Sean Astin in a super strange sequence); great soundtrack (Who can't relate to the pleasure of singing Air Supply while driving?); a few moments that were kind of beautiful/funny/real/joyful, especially between Gloria and her daughter.

Here's the Gloria Bell teaser blurb: "A free-spirited divorcee spends her nights on the dance floor, joyfully letting loose at clubs around Los Angeles.  She soon finds herself thrust into an unexpected new romance, filled with the joys of budding love and the complications of dating."

To me, that description promises something light, fun, hopeful.  And while the movie wasn't the exact opposite of light, fun, and hopeful, it was a bit light on the light and the fun (though possibly, possibly twas a little hopeful at the end).

The negatives... The movie is slow.  I kept thinking, we'll get in the groove here soon, but we never did.  Gloria Bell is likeable, but I never quite figured her out.  As good as the soundtrack is, the score is kind of creepy.  There were moments when the instrumental music made me think something super dark was coming.  Unsettling.  Speaking of unsettling, lots of screen time for a hairless cat.  Also plenty of screen time for Julianne Moore's breasts (small but lovely, I guess, but I didn't need to see them so often).  There's also a lot of drinking and some pot smoking.  One of my friends described the movie as filled with awkward moments (kudos to the actors for making them seem so).  Another said, "This is one that makes you thankful for your marriage." 

One lingering question from the film:  Do clubs where well-dressed, normal looking, middle-aged people dance to 70s-ish music really exist?  Asking for a friend.

I don't feel like I wasted my afternoon, but I don't think I'll urge others to rush out and see Gloria Bell.  Maybe if my friends and I had more to time to reflect and discuss afterward and make sense of it all, my review would be more positive.

But alas, school pick-up was calling so we all moved on.  In the window between movie and school pick-up, I took advantage of the gorgeous day to pop into The Pink Elephant (hospital resale shop).

I couldn't resist this Colorado "candy dish" (which I realized upon bringing home was an ashtray -- Gloria Bell is a smoker, btw).  I washed it and am going to give it to my friend who grew up in Colorado.
Pink Elephant customers could choose a FREE DVD with purchase so I nabbed Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which is actually light and fun, if I'm remembering it correctly.  If we can get our DVD player to work, the kids might like this one.  Or, maybe we'll save it for the RES on our next road trip.  Good feeling to secure a candy dish and a DVD for one buck.

All in all, a good spring afternoon.



Monday, April 1, 2019

Snackshots: Q1 2019

Favorite snacks from the first quarter of this year...

I found these Lumpy Bumpy Mandarin Oranges at Marianos.  They are larger than clementines, easy to peel, and SO GOOD.  I've had six in two days and now the kids are in on the act so there's only one left.  Need to hurry back as the packaging warns of "limited availability."

Two things going on in this Snackshot.  First, there are the Nabisco Corn Thins.  Honestly, it's not the most exciting cracker you'll ever eat, but for those of us living the WW lifestyle, the bargain is attractive:  17 crackers for 1 WW Smartpoint.  The Corn Thin is salty enough to enjoy on its own, but I prefer it as a vehicle for other foods (see hummus above and once I even used the Corn Thins as a nacho base). 

Second thing happening in the Snackshot ... carrots!  I think I actually forgot that you don't have to eat raw carrots in their slightly slimy, bagged baby form.  I was tasked with bringing a veggie platter and a fruit tray to a ladies' painting party.  I found some baby cucumbers that I wanted to slice longways (first things to disappear, btw) and thought it would be more symmetrical and visually appealing if I had longer carrot sticks as well.  I got out the Costco peeler I've had since my wedding shower (thank you, Aunt Pat!), went to town, and then sliced them up.  And I haven't looked back.  I've been eating way more carrots that I peel and slice myself than I ever did babies from the baggie.  I'm embarrassed that I forgot peeling and cutting carrots myself was an option.

If you're like me, regular Um, Skinny Pop isn't blowing you away these days.  Sure, it's a caloric bargain, but the plain version is starting to feel blah to me.  I tried the Pepper Jack version at an airport in January and loved it.  It's got plenty of flavor and a lil kick.  I haven't seen a movie yet in 2019 but when I finally do, I'll be packing some Pepper Jack Skinny Pop in my large mom purse.  Outside of airport convenience stores, I've only been able to find the Pepper Jack variety at Walgreens, but as I go there at least thrice a week, it's been easy to stay supplied.  I've also tried the Black Pepper Skinny Pop, which I like but not as much as the Pepper Jack.  I am not a fan of the Aged White Cheddar.

Noted but not pictured because I am pretending I didn't eat them:  two bags of Brach's Conversation Hearts purchased at Walgreens (see above) as part of post-Valentine's Day clearance; a bag of Starburst Jelly Beans because they are amazing, even six weeks before Easter.

Favorite snacks these days?  Do tell.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

#instajoy -- Doodles with @diane.bleck



We're on Spring Break ... in the snow.  My husband and kids are spending most of the day skiing and then returning to our lodgings for plenty of downtime.  Yesterday, so that all the downtime didn't default into device time, I pitched a creative activity to the kids and two of them took the bait.

I showed them the Instagram of @diane.bleck, where she includes lots of doodle ideas and brief how-to videos for doodling inspiration.  We decided on the cabin and skis for obvious reasons.  We were working with a Walgreens sketch pad and the contents of my daughter's travel backpack (hint: lots of gel pens).

We all had fun with the activity.  The kids' doodles turned out better than mine.  I think because they added more personal touches whereas I stuck to the program a bit more.  I love how my daughter drew multiple pairs of skiis and branded them.  My ten year-old son added sun and snowflakes -- I was surprised by how he enjoyed the doodling. 

My daughter and I moved on to bunting doodles next.  The ones featured above are mine.  I can see adding some bunting flair to a thank you note, journal page, or bookmark.  So fun!
My daughter turned the bunting doodling into a real party!  I couldn't be more charmed by her disco ball.
 
If you're on Instagram, follow @diane.bleck for creative inspiration!  I checked out her website and  it looks like she also offers a variety of online courses, which I can see us enjoying in the future. 

This doodling afternoon was another reminder of how fun, relaxing, and satisfying it is to carve out time to do stuff, create stuff, try new stuff, etc. 

Circle back for future #instajoy posts wherein Instagram inspiration and action will intersect.  And, of course, for #bookstajoy posts where I follow up on literary inspirations from #bookstagrammers.
 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

2018 Reading Highlights -- Nonfiction


I was trying for one massive 2018 Reading Highlights post, but it was becoming too unwieldy. Here's Part 2 of 2:  2018 Reading Highlights:  Nonfiction.

As with the Fiction Highlights post, I will note which books are available via Hoopla as it is an easy-to-use digital resource to which many libraries subscribe (including my beloved Elmhurst Public Library, featured in photo above).

2018 Highlights -- Memoirs
I like to be inspired, especially by people taking risks and/or living lives totally different from mine.
 
Educated by Tara Westover:  Kids are so much tougher than we imagine and family love so much more complicated and messy.  I said a bit more here.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs:  That Steve Jobs was a strange cat and I feel like his daughter did a good job of telling her story honestly and letting her Steve-focused anecdotes speak for themselves.  Available via Hoopla.

The Year of Living Danishly: My Twelves Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country by Helen Russell:  Would be great for book clubs!  I'm not ready to pack my bags and move to Denmark, but I enjoyed (and learned from) the insights of a couple who did just that.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less by Terry Ryan:  Inspiring story and good glimpse into an earlier (but not always easier) time.  Available via Hoopla (though I had purchased the ebook).

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson:  Humor, historical tidbits, witty and sometimes wise commentary.  A gem!

2018 Highlights -- New Books from Old Favorites
If you can't easily secure the title I mentioned, you're safe finding a backlist pick. 

Calypso by David Sedaris:  Sedaris tackles some tougher topics in this collection, but his keen observations and humor are still present.  His Fitbit essay is an all-time favorite of mine.  This one isn't available via Hoopla, but some backlist titles are.  Try Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Go Ask Ali: Half-Baked Advice (and Free Lemonade) by Ali Wentworth:  Ali Wentworth has written three books and they've all made me laugh.  She's honest and funny.  Go Ask Ali is her latest.


2018 Highlights -- New Favorite (Nonfiction) Author
I will track down all future titles.

Clare Balding:  I read two Clare Balding (British TV presenter and radio host) memoirs this year and look forward to more.  I loved Walking Home: My Family and Other Rambles and My Animals and Other Family.

2018 Highlights -- Practical Inspiration
I appreciate reading to learn.  The older I get, the more I realize how much I still have to learn.

Decluttering at the Speed of Life by Dana K. White:  I've already written about White's first book.  This one was also full of inspiration and practical tips.  Both of her books available via Hoopla.

The Year of Less:  How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders:  I'm always looking for inspiration to spend less and declutter.  My stage of life is different from Flanders' but I learned from her and liked her straightforward, honest writing style.  Available via Hoopla.

2018 Highlights -- Essays by Women
I need to explore this category even more widely.  Lots of good writing and wise women out there.

Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan:  I've read all of Kelly Corrigan's books.  I appreciate her honesty and love her writing style.  I laughed and cried reading this one.

Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter:  One woman's story of drinking and then stopping with lots of larger insights about gender and drinking.  A serious topic but still some funny moments in these essays.

Heating & Cooling:52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly:  These are micro-memoirs not essays, but I feel like putting them here and not above with the memoirs.  They aren't exactly poems but are clearly penned by a poet.  Quick but satisfying reading experience.

2018 Highlights -- Funny Books and/or Funny People
These are books by or about funny people that I really enjoyed in 2018.
 
The Chris Farley Show:  A Biography in Three Acts by Tom Farley, Jr.:  Farley's friends, family, colleagues all share memories, offering a full (and I suspect, fair) depiction of Farley with all his goodness and genius and struggles and flaws and demons.

A Polaroid Guy in a Snapchat World by David Spade:  A friend recommended this one and Spade just cracked me up with his self-deprecating humor.  I tracked down Almost Interesting (available via Hoopla) and that made me laugh as well.  Neither book suitable for children!

My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper:  Hmmm, a lot of people didn't like this, but I enjoyed Kemper's fresh, distinct, engaging voice.  She comes across as much smarter than many of the characters she plays.

The Actor's Life by Jenna Fisher:  This book could also be categorized above with the "practical inspiration" titles.   I'm a huge JAM fan so had to read this one.  I have never had ANY plans to pursue acting, but there is loads of practical advice here for someone seeking an acting career or anyone with a dream.  Don't wait for work!  Find ways to create your own opportunities and projects.  Very encouraging!

What about fiction?  I covered that yesterday:  2018 Reading Highlights -- Fiction.