Thursday, August 8, 2019

Five Faves -- July 2019

Surfacing to share my five favorite reading experiences from the past month ...

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo was everything I wanted and needed it to be.  It included the most moments of heart-bursting joy I've experienced in a book in recent history.  You're invited into the lives of a family over decades.  They are flawed and funny and loving and sometimes selfish and sometitmes lost and it was just wonderful to be there with them for the highs and lows.  Bonus for me was the Chicago/Oak Park setting.  Favorite characters?  Jonah and Wendy.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Aker is perfect for book clubs.  Anyone who only reads the first quarter or so of the book will be saying how the guy seems okay if only he would stop with all that swiping.  Then, those who read on will be thinking that actually, he's a pretty good dad.  But that mom?!  You'll want to judge that mom.  Keep reading.  Then, you're ready for a really good discussion about marriage, gender, power, societal norms, and more.  Very interesting narrative frame for this novel with Fleishman's college friend connecting the stories.

Call It What You Want by Bridget Kemmerer is a solid and satisfying YA novel.  I've loved all Kemmerer's non-fantasy YA novels (I may indeed love her fantasy ones as well, but I haven't tried them as that's typically not my bag).  It's been almost twenty years since I was a high school teacher so I can't accurately judge how realistic it is for kids on the fringe or the outs (for various reasons) to find each other and connect.  I love the idea of readers seeing more expansive possibilities for friendship on the pages of the books they read -- that's my kind of fantasy, I suppose.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center is a breezy read that still has heft.  I enjoyed Cassie's journey and liked learning about life as a firefighter, the station scene, etc.  This novel is a forgiveness story and we can always use more of those (well, most of us can).  I think I've read all of Center's novels and they are all reliable reads.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is beautifully written.  I listened to the audio version, narrated by the author, and I'm glad I did as his lyrical, poetic style lends itself to being read aloud.  Content wise, this book is not easy to read:  the inheritance of war, abuse, opioid addiction, the loneliness and challenge of the immigrant experience.  There's also love and friendship and some beautiful moments of generosity ... a young man finding his way and his words (and with his words).  Not easy to read but worth reading.

Honorable mentions ....
Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey -- There was a time (long, long ago) when I had time to watch rom coms, some of them over and over again.  This book brought me back to that time and I just inhaled it.  Fans of Meg Ryan movies ... treat yourselves!

Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle -- I found this thriller via Hoopla Digital and listened for free because my library subscribes.  Couldn't wait to find out how the two women's stories overlapped and didn't find it predictable nor overly twisty (getting weary of books with twist after twist after twist).

If you follow me on Instagram (I'm @booksandcarbs), some of these blurbs will sound familiar.  If you don't follow me on Instagram, please find me! 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

If You Like It, Then You Should Put a Glue Gun On It


This 'Lil Project has been a long time coming, not because it was tricky or time intensive but because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do.

I've been saving our wine corks for at least five years, probably longer.  I'm not a obsessive wine drinker myself, but the latent hoarder in me didn't want to throw them out.  However, the corks were starting to take up valuable real estate in a kitchen cupboard, falling out each time the door was opened.  Since I've been on a kick with reading de-cluttering books (and actually doing some de-cluttering), I decided it was time to get the cork on with it.

There are some Pinteresting ideas for wine corks out there, but nothing was exactly what I wanted.  I was in Michael's earlier this week and saw this long narrow box for 70% off and felt inspired. 


I did some laying out and selecting (for variety in corkage) in advance.  Maybe you are supposed to soak, clean, or treat them somehow first?  I didn't do that.  I got out the glue gun tin and went to town.


There were still plenty of corks left when I finished the sides so I covered the bottom as well.


I just moved the flowers I already had out in my kitchen into the box.  If I had staged this better, I'd maybe look for more vases or possibly lower ones.  I'll change it up in the future.

My husband's attitude toward most of my 'Lil Projects is somewhere between indifferent and lukewarm, but he was quite interested in this one and seems pleased to have these corks displayed.  Proud of himself for drinking most of that wine himself perhaps.

I'm pleased with the final result and pleased that I've freed up some cupboard space.  Of course, now I'll throw away any future wine corks.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Five Faves -- June 2019

Happy Summer!

Here are my favorite books from the first month of summer break...

You Me Everything by Catherine Isaac
What seals this one is its setting -- a gorgeous family resort in the French countryside.  I liked these characters and rooted for them as they reconciled past with present.

Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand 
This one is Hilderbrand's first historical novel and it was great visiting Nantucket in the past (since I've "been there" so many other times more recently) and during such a historic moment (Vietnam, moon launch, Chappaquiddick, Woodstock on the horizon).  I just loved Kate's family and want to check in on them again in future summers.  Teared up at the beginning and the end.

For Everyone by Jason Reynolds 
Jason Reynolds is a YA author with whom I was unfamiliar, but this book was featured at Joseph Beth Bookstore when I was visiting Cincinnati and so I picked it up.  Short but powerful ... truly a title for everyone who needs inspiration and motivation to keep going, keep dreaming, keep creating, keep doing.  Just loved it.

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary
I've read so many books that reference Bridget Jones's Diary on the cover blurbs that have been so very, very disappointing.  Finally, a book that is worthy of the comparison!  Humor and heart.  Strong friendships.  A heroine you can really care about and root for.  The Flatshare also tackles some serious topics in addition to its very endearing love story.  Thoroughly satisfying.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Two families whose lives intersect over several decades -- love, challenges, changes, and, especially, forgiveness. 

Honorable Mentions...
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren -- super fun and funny summer read!
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane -- slow but lovely story about nurturing friendships
Into the Woods by Tana French -- my first Dublin Murder Squad book, won't be my last
The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay -- fresh start story featuring books and friendships


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.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

2018 Reading Highlights -- Fiction


Better late than never.  I'm writing two posts.  Here's the first:  2018 Reading Highlights -- Fiction.   My descriptions are going to be BRIEF and still this post will be too long. 

I chose this photo of the Elmhurst Public Library at sunset because EPL is truly the beating heart of my reading life.  Not only do they have a wonderful selection of books, often arranged in tempting displays, but their e-resources are unbelievable.  Thanks to My Media Mail/The Libby App and Hoopla Digital, I read and listen to many wonderful books for free.  Because Hoopla is the easiest digital resource to use (if your library subscribes, which I hope it does), I will make mention when a title is available via Hoopla.

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

All I Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin:  Giffin's best book in years.  It's a whole new world out there with social media, even for "good" kids.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith:  I am obsessed with the Cormoran Strike series.  I waited almost two years for this one.  Start at the beginning with Cuckoo's Calling though.  Even my husband is hooked, though he won't gush about it like I do.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty:  Some people found this one to be a snoozer, but I liked the characters and their back stories.  Stick with it.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones:  A tough novel to read, but so well-written and worth it.  If it's unavailable, try Silver Sparrow.

How Hard Can It Be by Allison Pearson:  I waited over a decade for this follow up to I Don't Know How She Does It.  You need to read that one first, but then you won't have to wait ten years for this worthy sequel.

Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles:  Cameron was paralyzed and walks again.  Miracle?  Medical breakthrough?  You'll want to meet Cameron, his sister, and his neighbors. 

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny:  I listened to seven Chief Inspector Gamache books in 2018,  I recommend listening because the narration is exquisite.  My heart about burst at the end of How the Light Gets In, but you can't start there.  You have to start at the beginning with Still Life.  Sorry.

2018 Highlights -- Solid, Satisfying Novels
These books just hit the spot for me. I'm not going to say much more.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center:  Center's best yet.

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi:  Includes witty text exchanges.

I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi:  Premise is the worst, but stick with the story and you'll be glad.  Available via Hoopla.

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood:  Great for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  Available via Hoopla.

One Day in December by Josie Silver:  Read it and imagine the blockbuster rom-com it will be one day (see what I did there?).

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell:  This one was a WOW for me.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh:  Dark, dark, dark, but it worked for me.  You might hate it though.

2018 Highlights -- New Favorite Authors
I will track down all future titles.

Jane Harper:  Great mysteries with cool Australian settings.  I enjoyed The Dry and Force of Nature.

Cherise Wolas:  The Family Tabor asks big questions:  How does one negotiate life without faith?  What happens if you try to bury, deny, discount the past?  Her previous novel also made me think.  I'll come back for more.

2018 Highlights -- New Favorite YA Authors
I am picky about my YA.  I don't like YA novels where teen characters are mouthpieces for adult author social/political commentary or when situations are exceptionally brutal, bleak, or sexual.  I like books that feature interesting teen friendships and relationships with witty, realistic-seeming dialogue.

Emma Mills:  I started with First and Then, a romance involving football and a play on my beloved P&P.  Stay tuned for reports of the 2019 Emma Mills bender I went on.

Brigid Kemmerer:  I started with More than We Can Tell and have since read another from the Letters to the Lost Series.  Looks like there are some other series, but they sound sort of Sci-Fi-ish so I'm not likely to be going there.  Letters to the Lost though ... I'm all in.

2018 Highlights -- Short Stories
I always think I don't like short stories until I remember that I do.

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld:  Just right.  Smart, witty, ringing true.

Fight No More by Lydia Millet:  These interconnected short stories were a fantastic surprise.  Sad and happy and hopeful.  Available via Hoopla.


2018 Highlights -- For Anne (with an "e") Fans
In case your spot for Anne of Green Gables is as soft as mine is.
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy:  Lovely and heartbreaking to imagine Marilla's life before Anne.  Available via Hoopla.

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg:  This book is NOT fiction, but all those who love L.M. Montgomery's fiction should read it.  I said more here.

2018 Highlights -- Fun/Creepy Reads for Boy Moms
Consider yourself warned.  Who's good enough for your precious boy?

The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances

The Other Woman by Sadie Jones 

2018 Highlights -- Romance
Combination of some steam and a good story.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang:  BOTM pick.  Available via Hoopla.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal:  Reese Witherspoon said so.  Via Hoopla. 

If you're not exhausted, check out Part 2:  2018 Reading Highlights -- Nonfiction.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Revisiting The Blue Castle


Here's my copy of The Blue Castle from the late 1980s.
I was scrolling through #bookstagram the other day and spotted a copy of L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle.  Scanning the comments, I glimpsed someone saying that it was their favorite L.M. Montgomery novel.  Hmmm, really?!  I knew I had read the book but had no memories or impressions of it.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  After I finished off the Anne of Green Gables series in around seventh grade (maybe that's late to read them ... I don't know, but that's when I discovered them), I made it a point to buy and read any other L.M. Montgomery book that crossed my path.  So, I likely read The Blue Castle somewhere between 1987 and 1989.  I can be forgiven for not recalling a book read thirty years ago except that I do remember many other books read during that period.

The L.M. Montgomery titles available via Hoopla have the gorgeous artwork from the new Source Books editions.
Last year, I revisited L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon series as audiobooks checked out via Hoopla Digital.  I did a quick search and discovered that The Blue Castle was also available on Hoopla.  I downloaded and pressed play, and this weekend's listening experience was wonderful!

The Blue Castle is just fantastic.  L.M. Montgomery tells the story of Valancy Stirling, a plain young woman of twenty-nine who has lived a small, dull, stifling life with a proud but fairly miserable family.  She's unmarried and mostly ignored.  She's existing but not living.  Having experienced some heart trouble, she gathers up just enough gumption to see a doctor outside of her family's circle.  The news she receives convinces her that if her life won't be long, she ought to at least live it.  What ensues is an energizing, satisfying story of bravery, friendship, and love.  When Valancy finally realizes she doesn't give a hoot what her family thinks and begins speaking her mind, I was laughing aloud and cheering her on. 

Just some of my L.M. Montgomery books from the late 1980s.
At 44, I loved every second of The Blue Castle, but I guess at 12 or 13, I wasn't that impressed.  Perhaps a middle schooler can't fully appreciate the courage required to explode one's whole world and sever family ties.  I'm now excited to see what other L.M. Montgomery titles I can reread.  Nine years ago while nursing my daughter, I reread all the Anne of Green Gables books on my iphone.  I revisted the Emily of New Moon books last year.  I think I'll head back to Pat of Silver Bush next.

This book is very readable and includes perfect illustrations by Julie Morstad.
I find I am appreciating all of L.M. Montgomery's books even more after having read Liz Rosenberg's House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery this past autumn.  This well-researched account shows how un-dreamlike Montgomery's life was.  One appreciates the spirit, life, and struggle of Anne and Emily knowing how tough Montgomery's own climb was -- that constant interplay between darkness and light.  Heartbreaking, actually, to know that someone who saw and brought so much beauty in and to the world suffered so keenly.  If you are an Anne Fan, please check out House of Dreams

Have you revisited any childhood books as an adult?  Despite the "so many books, so little time" reality of life, my experience with The Blue Castle makes me think I should do more rereading, especially with favorite authors. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

(Lil) Lil Project: Cardinal Art via Post

Today's (Lil) Lil Project is barely a project, but I'm giving myself credit anyway because I had a vision and took steps (literally) to make it a reality.

I turned 44 last week and received a birthday gift from my aunt and uncle.  In addition to a really cool necklace and earrings from the Mill City Museum, I received a birthday message written on a cardinal notecard. 

The cardinal notecard had a lot going for it:  cool, modern lines; the way it featured a female cardinal (most cardinal art features the showier male); a turquoise background (currently can't get enough turquoise); and the fact that it was chosen with love for a niece obsessed with cardinals

"I need to put this little birdie in a black frame to join some of its friends," I thought to myself.  And then, our Saturday was kind of expansively empty in the best possible way and the sun was shining so I took a walk to The Pink Elephant, the hospital resale shop here in Pleasantville.  For $1.00, I found a black frame with the subtlest red/rust accents and knew it fit the bill (or beak).  After walking home, I got out my glass cleaner and spiffed up the frame.  Then, I chose a piece of cardstock from my home stash for the background, popped the notecard into place, and added the new frame to a little cardinal vignette I've got going in the library. 

Ah, the satisfaction of a lil (lil) project complete!



Saturday, March 23, 2019

Audible Monthly Credit(s) Report: March 2019

I didn't want to keep you waiting.  Wink wink.  Here's how I spent my two Audible credits for March.

The first book I chose was Andrew Ridker's The Altruist.  I can predict what negative reviews will say:  characters not super likeable and often annoying, nothing much happens, ending too tidy.  I really liked it though.  It's a family story about people of all ages trying and, through most of the book, failing to get their sh*t together.  But I was interested in the characters and their sh*t and rooting for them to find their way and find each other.  Lots of "just right" details throughout and some humor too.  It's also sort of a campus novel, which I like, and was set predominantly in St. Louis, a city with which I'm somewhat familiar.  The ending was bravely hopeful, and I found it all pretty satisfying.

Lucy Foley's The Hunting Party was also a satisfying listen.  It was a bit predictable (unless my powers of observation and inference are just extra keen, which I doubt), but I enjoyed the ride.  College friends take their annual New Year's trip, this time to a remote string of luxury cabins in the Scottish Highlands.  Great set-up and setting.  This book shifts perspectives and I liked how the story unfolded in layers.  There were multiple narrators, all strong, which added interest.  Solid listen.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Lil Project: Stamp On It!

I've been making my own cards for years.  I find it relaxing to make them and the pleasure I derive from making the card motivates me to actually write and send the notes I've been "meaning to" send.  I don't do anything crazy or complicated.  I usually combine strips of washi tape and printed labels that say thank you, happy birthday, with sympathy, etc.

A recent twist is that I have busted out some rubber stamps I've had for years (and a few new ones that called out to me from the Michael's dollar bins).

Here are some recent creations.


The beautiful colored notecards are from Hobby Lobby.  Blank inside.  Lots of great colors made them easy to enhance with washi tape.

Disclaimer that I try to include with every Lil Project post:  I'm not telling you to make your own cards, just sharing here because it's a lil project that gives me pleasure.  If crafting is not your thing and you'd rather poke your eyes out than make your own cards, that is a-okay. 


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Make Something Good Today ... Thanks! I'll try.

Erin and Ben Napier's Make Something Good Today called my name when I was at the library yesterday.  I've never seen their HGTV show, but something about the book title, Ben's warm smile, and Erin's cute haircut made me want to check the book out.  I started it last night and then, because this was a rare evening with no youth sports or meeting or carpool commitments, had the opportunity to cozy up on the couch late this afternoon and early evening and finish it.

I've been in a project mood lately.  After a long winter that was dominated in January and February by a nearly all-consuming (at least mentally) volunteer job, I am eager to do stuff, make stuff, try stuff, create stuff.  I'll be sharing some of those projects in upcoming posts.  And, spoiler alert:  posting regularly on this site is a high priority project.

In Make Something Good Today, Erin and Ben Napier share their childhoods, love story, and career paths ... the moments and choices that led them to their current life as parents, business partners, and co-hosts of an HGTV show set in their beloved hometown of Laurel, Mississippi.  I liked their straightforward writing style and all the beautiful photos and images throughout the book.  There's plenty of inspiration here for anyone looking to renovate a home, take a creative risk, or make a major life change.

I want to write about two aspects of the book that resonated most with me.

The first is the fact that Erin kept a daily online journal for eight years that she called "Make Something Good Today."  We're all familiar with the general idea of a gratitude journal, one-sentence diary, or daily list of signs of God's love.  I've never seen Erin's online journal, but I like the way she talked about it as active and creative:


Writing was a performative act; I wasn't just passively recording what happened but also actively choosing what had happened.  What would be imprinted.  What was worthy of permanence and what could be discarded.  It could be something as simple as the way tree branches looked in the light or a piece of strawberry pie or something larger, such as finishing a house or an elaborate surprise Ben had planned to cheer me up.  On bad days, I'd consciously try to search out the positive or make good things happen so I wouldn't be empty-handed at night when it came time to write.  In this way, the practice has changed my life (XI).


Not for the first time but this time more successfully, I've been keeping a journal with some daily nuggets of goodness.  I haven't given the project a name, which is actually making it easier to just jot down the good moments, interactions, names, sights, feelings, tastes, connections from each day.  I've forgotten a few times, but have been surprisingly consistent.  I started with the pink pages on the left and am now mid-way through the blue ones in the middle.  I tried to take a pic of the actual pages but didn't post it because I became paranoid that my tens of readers would be able to see what I wrote (Why is she so thankful for Thornton's Diet Coke?  She sure comments on the smell of the air a lot).  On the rare occasions when I have gone back and re-read the entries, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude and kind of unworthy of it all.

Back to the Napiers though.  In addition to Erin's confirming the value of recording (creating, seeking, finding) the good in our days, I also found it refreshing to read about people who are DOING things ... designing stationary, building furniture, having dinner with friends, taking walks, painting murals, running for public office, renovating homes, revitalizing their town, starring in their own HGTV show, and etc.  A lot of it sounds exhausting, but I'm inspired by people who take risks, make changes, and have the courage to put their hearts into it (whatever it is for them).

I'm not making plans for my own television series, but I will keep on with my unnamed daily good stuff journal project and will keep making time to try, do, and create the stuff that interests me.  If you're in need of a little inspiration, check out Make Something Good Today.

I'm not planning to go online with my journal, but in case you're interested, here are some bullets of the good in today:
* drop off "I love you" x 3
* caramel crunch cupcake
* one ace and a couple of killer forehands, laughs with Anne on the court
* after-school Rosary community
* Jess making me laugh
* Fitness Marshall dancing with Bibs
* couch, book, no logistics
* Wonder Years scene on the beach

Wishing you many good days and the eyes to see the good in every day.


Sidenote:  Erin and Ben Napier seem like a very happy, loving, devoted couple.  I think it's important to note that solid, loving marriages don't all look the same so don't be feeling blue or like a loser if your husband, like mine, does not make you a hand-crafted book each year for your anniversary. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Audible Monthly Credit(s) Report: January and February 2019

Once again, I'm failing to report in a timely fashion.  To catch up any new readers:  I've been a 2-credit per month Audible subscriber since 2003.  The ritual of spending these credits is a monthly highlight that I have been reporting upon for the past few years.
I spent my first January credit on John Carreyrou's Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup.  I've already written about this book.  It's only March, and I am confident that Bad Blood will be in my top five books of 2019.  This true story is endlessly fascinating to me, and I am so excited to watch the HBO documentary about Elizabeth Holmes.  Before you watch it, I recommend reading Bad Blood.
Not sure why I delayed, but I spent my second January credit in early February on John Kenney's Talk to Me.  The story this novel depicts is one that is going to become increasingly familiar:  the story of how one's life implodes after one does something regrettable/despicable that is caught on film.  Internet-fueled public shamings are part of life now, and I think this novel tackles the topic well, though its ending is perhaps a bit too sunny.  I think I preferred the non-fiction take on this topic in Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed, but still, I'm very glad to have listened to Talk to Me.

Not sure how I bought three books with two credits in February.  Perhaps I had returned something along the way or purchased one of the three books (seems unlikely, but my feeble memory can't reconstruct the events of a few weeks ago).

I chose Jane Harper's The Lost Man because I so enjoyed The Dry and Force of Nature, the first two novels in her Detective Aaron Falk series.  This stand-alone mystery is about past sins and family dynamics and prominently features the punishing heat of the Australian Outback.  I'm basically on board for whatever Jane Harper writes from this point forward and will mostly likely always opt to listen to her books as I love the Aussie narration.

Jessica Hindman's Sounds Like Titanic was an attempt to be thrilled (once again) by a truth is stranger than fiction story, having been so blown away by Bad Blood and by Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark.  While Sounds Like Titanic is a mighty strange tale, I didn't find it as powerful as the others I just mentioned.  Hindman pretends (on purpose) to play the violin as she tours with a strange and strangely compelling composer for several years.  Hindman tries to place this experience in the context of feminism, the female body, her West Virginia upbringing, and her outsider status at Columbia.  The second person point of view makes her conclusions feel a bit too sweeping so that didn't work for me.  Hers is definitely a unique and uniquely American story though.  I'd actually enjoy learning more about the composer.

I put Gregory Blake Smith's The Maze at Windermere on my TBR list after reading a glowing review by Ron Charles.  I loved this novel and its glimpses of Newport at different moments in history.  It took a bit to settle in to all the storylines, but I was intrigued by all of them and liked how they were tied together by questions of power, possession/property, love, class, and marriage/potential for marriage.  I've been to Newport twice, which improved the reading experience.  I wanted the novel to go on longer as I felt invested in all of the storylines and would have been happy to see them endlessly play out.

Any other Audible subscribers out there?  Any credit-worthy listens of late?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bye, Bye, Bye Book-Weeding System

After five years of waiting and dreaming, we were able to install the bookshelves of my dreams and turn our living room into a library.  Three years later, lovely though they are, these shelves (not pictured in their entirety in the photo above) are at capacity.

But how to weed one's garden of books?  Booklovers understand that most of us can't just Kondo our books.  If we'd already read all the books on our shelves maybe, just maybe, we could start eliminating the ones that fell short of that "spark joy" mark for us.  Part of the beauty of having bookshelves, however, is the ability to store books one hasn't yet read.  It's not easy to weed out books that have the potential to spark joy even if we can't remember how or why we acquired some of them in the first place.
This is my laundry room, NOT my kitchen.  Kitchen slightly less C.H.A.O.T.I.C.
Inspired by a book, I came up with a new tool for weeding the book garden.  Earlier this winter, I read The C.H.A.O.S. Cure by Marla Cilley (also known as The Fly Lady).  Cilley has helped thousands with her books and newsletters on cleaning, organizing, and de-cluttering.  The C.H.A.O.S. Cure is a collection of tips that perhaps attempts to cover too much ground, but it did leave me with two extremely valuable takeaways.

First, Cilley's title diagnoses the exact problem that I am battling every single day:  Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome.  I'm not a hoarder living in filth, but I am also not someone who can welcome unexpected visitors into my home without a certain degree of shame and panic. 

Second, Cilley's book gave me a helpful strategy:  Take 5 minutes.  Junk drawer getting too full?  Set a timer for 5 minutes and discard as much as you can.  Bookshelves getting overloaded?  Set a timer for 5 minutes and add to your giveaway pile.  Repeat throughout the house.

I added a twist to my five minutes of weeding my bookshelf garden...

My Bye, Bye, Bye Book-Weeding System
1.  Set timer for 5 minutes.

2.  Stand in front of bookshelves and identify books that were just okay.  Books you are not likely to ever read again.  Books that no one is likely to want to borrow from you or to need for an academic purpose.  Put them in a giveaway pile.  If it's "just okay," it doesn't deserve valuable bookshelf real estate unless it was a gift from someone who sees your shelves regularly or was written or autographed by a friend or family member.

3.  Stand in front of your bookshelves and get out your phone.  Open your Goodreads app.  Now, identify books you have on your shelves that you haven't read yet.  Focus on the ones that you can't even remember why you bought in the first place.  Look up these titles on Goodreads.  What I found is that a bunch of my unread books had average ratings in the low 3 star range (and some even had 2 star ratings).  Life is too short to waste time on a book with an average rating of 2.65 or 3.13 stars (again, unless it was written by a friend or family member).  I weeded out two dozen books easily and without guilt or hesitation with Goodreads as my guide.  A few books that had low average ratings but a higher rating or positive review from a Goodreads friend received stays of execution.

4.  The five-minute timer went off a long time ago.  If you're worn out, call it a day.  You did your time and then some.  If you're exhilarated, feel free to keep weeding.

5.  Donate or sell the books you've weeded out.  (Mine are still sitting in a Macy's bag as I am not sure where I'd like to donate them or if I want to face the humiliation of receiving $6.40 in store credit for them at Half Price Books ... if I'm lucky).

6.  Repeat as often as you can.

How do you weed your book garden?