Monday, November 30, 2015

Wait a second ...

I won't bother explaining why I was at the Arby's drive-thru at 9:10 pm (neither for dinner, nor for a late night snack), but I had to take this pic of their Holiday Hours signage.  It's blurry because I felt goofy and creepy taking it.

I am very much against stores being open for bargain shopping on Thanksgiving Day.  That just sucks.  On the years when I spend Thanksgiving in Ohio, however, I always go out on Black Friday with my mom, sisters, my niece (new addition), and usually a family friend as well.  We avoid all big box stores and arrive at the mall around 6:30am.  There are good deals to be had at many mall stores, and I did well this year at Disney Store, Anthropologie, Macy's, and Nordstrom.  Morning at the mall is crowded but not painfully so.  We go about our business, share some laughs, make some purchases, and take turns carting cumbersome bundles to the car.  I am very kind to those working on Black Friday.  Not to brag, but I usually know and understand the intricacies of the various coupons and discounts, which makes for smooth transactions.  I've seen some overcrowded fitting room return racks and groups of women in matching holiday sweatshirts but never any pushing, elbowing, or trampling.  We eat an early lunch around 11:30 and then head home as things start heating up.  The crowds build, the parking lot gets packed, and many of the best discounts expire.  End scene for us.

In short, I love Black Friday the way that my posse and I do Black Friday.  I look forward to the child-free time with my mom and sisters.  I really enjoy the special lunch. 

But here's where Arby's and I differ:  Black Friday is not a holiday.  It's just not.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The First Gift of Christmas

What if I wrapped one or two presents at a time instead of saving a larger pile for a "relaxing evening of wrapping" that never quite arrives?  Tonight, I decided, "I'll do one."  And I did.  I used this gorgeous gold wrapping paper because I have tons leftover after purchasing it for a special project at our parish.
Then I made some adorable cardinal gift tags, using my special Avery labels and the free design templates at that I have written about before

The first gift of Christmas is officially wrapped.  Fingers crossed that enough progress will be made on our remodeling project this week so that, as of next weekend, there will be a tree to shelter gifts.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and I welcome the gift of hope brightly offered by the first purple candle.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

On the (Hall)mark

Many women have favorite "present-wrapping movies."  The films you tee up when you settle in to wrap gifts or assemble Christmas cards.  Mine have been the same for years:  While You Were Sleeping, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Love, Actually.  Every once in a while, I will mix things up with a Christmas episode of The Office.

My mom and sisters are fans of the films above, but swear by the holiday movies on the Hallmark Channel.  My mom claims she could happily wrap presents and watch the movies all day long.

I'm open to expanding my holiday repertoire.

In an unwelcome interruption to my husband's viewing of the ND/Stanford game, I took advantage of family togetherness to have the experts recommend some Hallmark movies to get me started.

Recent Favorites (responses were fast and furious and often passionate).  I have included key words and phrases I was able to take down ...

Snow Bride -- tabloid reporter

Christmas Under Wraps -- Candace Cameron in Alaska, and the one where she is a doctor

Let It Snow -- Candace Cameron when she is the ad executive and Alan Thicke is her dad

The Royal Christmas

Merry Matrimony -- my niece loved it

Tis the Season for Love

The Christmas Ornament -- Kelly Martin

Sad, but Good
November Christmas -- my mom called it "heartbreaking," one sister called it "hard" and the other said, "it's sad but if you stick with it, it all ends up ok"

A Dog Named Christmas -- two phrases that came up in the discussion of this one were "saves the horse from the mountain lion" and "has flashbacks of the dog he had in Vietnam"

- the ones where someone is a witch
- the North Pole ones
- Cookie Cutter Christmas (uncomfortable, hard to watch)

My sisters summarized the ingredients for a Hallmark Christmas Movie:  return to a hometown or starting over in a big city, reunion with old flame, lead character really loves Christmas, tree lot scene, everything wrapped with big red bow at the end

My sister LAP claims that when there are ten minutes left, she always says, "There's a lot that needs to be wrapped up in ten minutes."  But it always gets wrapped up.

My mom added that kids can watch these movies.

All three stressed that we had just scratched the surface with the titles discussed above.

The movie they are most looking forward to is Mariah Carey's Christmas Melody, which will be premiering on December 19th and which was filmed in our hometown of Cincinnati.  My mom's friend Karen reports that instant potato flakes were used as snow and that Mariah Carey was friendly to the shopkeepers in Wyoming, the area of town where the filming took place. 

I'm ready to get on the (Hall)mark.  Do you have any must-see or must-avoid Hallmarkers for my list?


Friday, November 27, 2015

Lights Out!

Such a full and busy day here that I can barely keep my eyes open, much less write anything of value.  November and NaBloPoMo are nearing the end, but the Christmas season is off to a great start!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Holiday Road

My sister suggested heading to a drive-thru Holiday Lights display this evening.  All my pictures turned out like crap (see above), but it was a delightful outing, especially sharing in the joy and excitement of my little nephew.

The blurry photo above is as we enter a tunnel of white lights.  It's Thanksgiving Eve, and we're about to enter the holiday tunnel.  Things can move pretty fast on the holiday road, and I both want and need to find ways to slow down this Christmas season.

Here's what I'm going to try to circle back to when I'm feeling overwhelmed and tired:

1.  Presence over presents.  Presence over "perfection."
2.  Most everyone I know has most everything they need.  Less can be more.
3.  You don't regret what you can give to those who don't have all they need.
4.  Repeat:  "Thank you for my life, exactly as it is."
5.  Don't rush.  Breathe.  Sit down.  Seek peace.
6.  Think of Baby Jesus and the trust, faith, and courage of His parents.  Empty head of the worries and details and prepare room in heart for Him.    

I'm going to try.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Full Circle

Elsewhere, I once wrote about how exciting it was to reclaim Thanksgiving.  After years of having that holiday dampened by college essays and then college papers and then grading papers and then grad school papers and then a dissertation, I have savored the freedom from "due dates" for the past four Thanksgivings.

It was good while it lasted.  Now, my kids have due dates.  It's a new era.  The party feels over.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday, Monday -- 11/23/15

Checking in and looking forward ...
Book Book
I am two-thirds of the way through Jonathan Evison's This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance.  Harriet is on an Alaskan cruise at age 78, but the story repeatedly shifts--Harriet at 28, 56, 78, 75, 36, and so on--so you can piece together the clues and try to understand this woman guzzling wine and drunkenly refusing to relinquish a crab leg on her first night out on the cruise.  Marriage.  Friendship.  Womanhood.  Plenty to discuss here.  Haven't finished yet, but I think book clubs would enjoy it.

What's next for my book book?  I'm waiting until Thanksgiving to start my Christmas reads.  In the meantime, I just picked up these two library holds today.

I finished listening to Matthew Dicks' Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, expertly narrated by Matthew Brown, minutes before starting this post.  I thought the premise sounded strange, a story told from the perspective of an imaginary friend.  After purchasing it during an sale, I definitely didn't rush to read it.  But after enjoying Dicks' The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, I knew I trusted and liked his writing.  This book blew me away.  Budo the imaginary friend is a gifted storyteller and has a unique perspective on the world.  Budo's pure and sacrificing love for his "imaginer" Max was beautiful, inspiring even.  The passages where Budo talks about the differences he has noticed between good teachers and the teachers who are "playing school" was so good (even if I did listen to it and fear that I was the "playing school" kind of teacher), and Max's teacher Mrs. Gosk is my favorite character in a book full of great ones.  Oh, to be or have been a Mrs. Gosk.  A good teacher is everything.  As is a good friend, even if no one else can see him.  This book also includes some elements of mystery and suspense.  Great read, good tears.

What's next on audio?  I still haven't spent my two monthly credits so probably a new release. 

I finally finished The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny, the fifth installment of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series.  I rarely race through these books.  I am reading a bit here or there on my iphone when I can.  There is always a point in the middle of the story when I start to get a little weary of the mystery itself.  Yet, I always love the snippets of poetry and the rich texture of literature, art, and history woven throughout.  Penny has done such a lovely job setting the scene in Three Pines and slowly revealing the characters who live there, as well as the personalities and backstories of Gamache and his team members.  It's everything surrounding the mysteries that really keeps me reading this series.  Is Beauvoir's marriage on the rocks?  What's the deal with Peter Morrow?  I'll start the next one in a few weeks so I can find out.

What's next for my ebook?  Katherine Reay's The Bronte Plot  

What are you reading (in any format)?  Do share!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Stop, Sit, Read

December hasn't begun and it already feels full to bursting.  Several events already on the calendar and an as-yet-unmade-but-ever-growing list of things to be acquired, completed, remembered, mailed, wrapped, etc.  Hours of leisure to cozy up near the tree and read will have to be hard won, but I hope I find/make them.

If I do, here are the books I have on deck.  Elin Hilderbrand's Winter Stroll is the second of a trilogy that began with last year's delightful Winter Street.  Love visiting Nantucket any time of year (via Hilderbrand's novels), and I'm excited for this one because one of my friends, a much tougher grader on Goodreads than I, gave it four stars.   Dash & Lily's Book of Dares is a YA title I bought two years ago with visions of cozy holiday reading in my head.  I adore the cover.  And, speaking of striking covers, Angela Thirkell's Christmas at High Rising is a slim volume, certain to be full of the delightful Barsetshire characters and scenes I enjoy so much.

Any Christmas reading plans for you?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Culinary Highlights, Fall 2015

Some of the best (best as in most delicious to me) things I ate this Fall...

These are the Sloppy Waffle Fries from Redamak's in New Buffalo, MI.  Menu description:  Deep-fried Waffle Fries covered with Sloppy Mak and Cheddar Cheese Sauce.  Sloppy Mak is their version of Sloppy Joe -- it's a bit sweet, but the cheese sauce was a good counter-balance.  It is a good melty cheese sauce that does not taste like stadium nacho cheese sauce.  Hubby and I split these in lieu of traditional fries.  Go big.

On the shuttle bus ride back to the hotel after our good friends' Los Angeles wedding in 2007-ish, all the guests were given In-N-Out burgers to enjoy.  I made quick work of mine, naturally, but remember wishing that I could have the full restaurant experience, complete with a fountain DC.  Eight-ish later, I did.  Tasty, fresh burger and thin crispy fries.  Even better than I remembered. 

If I'm out and about running errands during the week, I sometimes pit stop at Chipotle or eat some Chick-Fil-A in my car.  I rarely lunch alone in a non-quick service restaurant, but last month I did have an early lunch at Ruscello, the cafe in Nordstrom.  I was starving after doing several returns and ordered a salad I had enjoyed once before:  Grilled Shrimp & Arugula Salad with Sweet Corn.  Menu description:  wild shrimp, petite tomatoes, polenta croutons, parmesan cheese crisp, creamy garlic vinaigrette.  I asked for romaine because I am not overly fond of arugula.  This salad is perfection. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Back in Business

After a long thirty-three days without access to our washer and dryer, I am back in the laundry business.  Despite two mega-trips to Foxy's Laundromat (very positive experience) and one laundry session at my neighbor's, I have roughly 15 loads of laundry on deck. 

When it comes to laundry, I don't hate the chore itself, but I do hate its endlessness.  Sure, I can pat myself on the back for getting clean school shirts ready for the next day or finding and then washing that grass-stained soccer shirt just in the nick of time ... but there's always more waiting.  Always.

It's been a trial to be without in-home laundry, but it's also been liberating not to have it as part of my daily to-do list for these weeks.  Sure, I've stepped over and around the piles of laundry that have been growing in multiple areas of our house.  I've watched my seven year-old head to school in school pants that are practically capris (they were old, but clean!).  By default and lack of clean Costco yoga pants, a couple times I've worn pants that button several days in a row. 

It was both good and bad while it lasted, but the laundry hiatus definitely helped me to carve out time each evening to work toward my daily blog posting goal for November.  Part of each evening will now be spent folding.  Let's hope I can be back in the laundry business and stay back in the blogging business as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Fountain Drink Dissertating

Sometimes when you attempt to write daily blog posts after months of barely writing a thing, you have to dig deep for inspiration ... deep into the bottom of your crowded, messy pit of a purse where your phone is always hiding.*  Then you find that phone, scroll through the 1,362 photos saved there since August and look for some images to use as blog fodder.

May I suggest a writing prompt?  Ahem, here goes:  What sort of soda fountain are you most happy/unhappy to see in dining establishments you frequent?

Fountain A 

I captured this photo of Fountain A at a Potbelly near Northgate Mall in Cincinnati, OH in July of 2015.  I would characterize Fountain A as a "people pleaser fountain."  First things first, Diet Coke is available.  That's all that is needed for me to be happy about the fountain drinks on offer.  I don't share the passionate feelings of some about Diet Dr. Pepper (I'm a regular Pepper, all the way -- the only non-diet soda I will drink), but two people dear to me are DDP-lovers so I like to see a fountain that they'd be really excited about.  A bold move would be a Diet Mountain Dew tap.  I wouldn't touch it, but another someone I love would be thrilled.  I don't want to drink Diet Pepsi, obviously, but I can respect, if not understand, that there is a population that loves Diet Pepsi in the same way that I love Diet Coke.  Potbelly wants to please them, which is nice, but they're not fools at Potbelly.  They know that Pepsi/Diet Pepsi can't anchor a fountain.  The food has to be pretty awesome for me to purposely dine at an establishment that only serves Pepsi products.

Fountain B

Fountain B is not in the "people pleaser" category.  Fountain B is "curated with conviction."  I snapped this pic in October at an In-N-Out Burger in Petaluma, CA.  I don't know the ins-in-outs of beverage distributorship in California, but it seems like some party lines were crossed to gather these fountain offerings.  Someone was like, "Well, for sure we need Coke and Diet Coke.  We'll go with 7-Up for our clear beverage and Dr. Pepper because it's freaking fantastic."  Now, notice that Coke and Diet Coke each take up two spots, a choice that I suspect reflects more than just response to demand.  This move says, sure we could use those two spots for something inferior (like an orange soda), something disgusting (like a blue sports drink), or something trendy (like a fruit-flavored ice tea or a flavored water), but we privilege quality over variety.  Boom.

The discussion of the ice on offer on each fountain is really its own separate topic.

Well, that was fun.  Email me a pic of a fountain that makes you happy/unhappy, and I'd be eager to offer my analysis and impressions. 

*No, I don't have a special spot for my phone in my purse, even though my husband has made the suggestion several times.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Quick Lit -- Autumn Edition

For lack of a better organizing principle, I present the best books I've read and remembered to photograph in October and November.

Paula McLain's Circling the Sun:  Even though I really liked McLain's The Paris Wife, I was planning to take a pass on Circling the Sun.  The buzz words Kenya and pilot and horses just didn't do anything for me.  It was a book club selection so I went ahead and read it -- no regrets there!  I admire McLain's writing (and research) and ended up fascinated by the Kenyan setting and intrigued by the singular Beryl.  Parts of the story seemed underdeveloped to me (the Beryl/Denys relationship, for example) but that may because I felt so immersed in the story that I was eager for even more.  I now want to read West into the Night (Markham's memoir) and Out of Africa (an account of a relationship that is also a part of Circling the Sun).  I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads, which means I "really liked" it. 

I Was a Child by Bruce Eric Kaplan:  This memoir is a very speedy read and one that I "really liked" (4 stars on Goodreads).  Kaplan captures his childhood with a collection of memories, snippets, moments ... often accompanied by illustrations.  It was a refreshing change from the (often self-aggrandizing) "trials to triumph" arc that so many memoirs fall into.  Sharing some sections of Kaplan's memoir (or even the whole thing as it is short) might inspire some quality personal narrative from writing students.

Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen:  Elizabeth Von Arnim's The Enchanted April is just a gem of a book (and should be either free or 99 cents as an ebook) about happiness and the way our thoughts shape our world and experience.  I was eager to see Bowen's revision of this classic.  Nothing will measure up to the original, but Enchanted August was engaging and even enchanting.  I was lucky enough to read it on a long weekend getaway that my husband, kids, and I took to nearby New Buffalo, MI.  It's a perfect vacation read.  I didn't give it a Goodreads rating because sometimes I just don't.

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks:  Mothers, daughters, teenage baggage, road trip, regrets.  This book would be perfect for book clubs.  Short and easy to read.  Plenty to talk about.  Four stars.

Pomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell:  Angela Thirkell books are exactly my cup of tea.  I think I've read five of them this year, and Pomfret Towers is my favorite.  No one captures human nature with humor and also affection like Thirkell does -- an early 20th century British house party is the ideal setting to display it all.  Five stars (for me -- you might be bored or unimpressed).

After You by Jojo Moyes:  I'll just say it.  I gave the book 4.5 stars.  I really liked the book, and I really love the characters I first met in Moyes' bestselling, book club bonanza-ing Me Before You.  Sure, this one doesn't pack the same emotional punch, but how could it?  Did we expect Louisa to become intensely emotionally involved with another man who is contemplating euthanasia?  I thought Moyes did a fantastic job of giving us the what then and what next of Louisa's story.  There was a rooftop scene that really touched me.  Good tears, people, good tears.  Very satisfying read.  Door is totally open for a third book, and I'd walk in for sure!

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway:  This YA title was a solid read.  Some good parent/child dynamics to discuss and a cool but unsettling premise (a kidnapped child returns to his family and life many years later).

One more title to mention, though I neglected to photograph it:  Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes by Jules Moulin.  Fantastical but fun, fast, and enjoyable!  Kind of a steamy read in a good (not icky) way.

I'd love to know what your best autumnal reading experience have been this year ...
Need more books for your TBR list?  Check out the link-up at Modern Mrs. Darcy, the Quick Lit Hostess with the Mostest.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November Lights

3:45 -- Afternoon in November.  
Rain but no snow.  
Damp but not cold.  
Inching toward winter with the hope and light of Thanksgiving and Christmas starting to burn bright.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Decade Later

We purchased these two (very poorly photographed) IKEA bookshelves in 2005 when we bought our first home.  My father-in-law assembled them for us and in our old house, they flanked the French doors leading to our deck.  Once we had kids, we put cloth storage cubbies on the bottom two shelves of each unit to store all the plastic and plush items that entered our lives.  We never did anchor the shelves to the wall so there was always an element of danger present with these shelves.

We brought the shelves along to our new house and put them in the corner of our living room, a temporary solution until we could manage the built-in bookshelves of my dreams.  We no longer needed to store toys in them, and I have enjoyed choosing which books would merit first floor display space and deciding how to organize them (for the record, I have all sorts of random groupings -- books by and inspired by Jane Austen, food writing, everything by Weiner next to my two copies of Franzen books, memoirs, books by British men).

Four years later, it's happening.  The built-ins are being installed starting tomorrow.  Books from throughout the house will soon be united in one phenomenal wall of shelving.  Pinch me.

After surviving a move and being maxed to capacity with volumes, these shelves have seen better days.  It would take next to nothing to knock them down.  My five year-old could do it with little effort. 

I can't say I will miss the shelves themselves, but I can remember with fondness the thirty year-olds who bought them and gave them pride of place in their first home.  I can remember sitting in the couch in that home, nursing babies with a view of books both read and unread.  I can remember being bone tired and bending over to toss wooden puzzles, magna-tiles, and Fisher Price Little People into the bins I stored in these shelves.  I can remember how nicely I thought the grey/green color of the shelves coordinated with a rug we purchased with wedding gift cards but no longer own.

A dozen years of marriage.  A decade with the shelves.  The pages just keep turning. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hashtag First World Problems

I've mentioned already that we have some remodeling projects going on here.

Except in scenarios where I am trying to please someone else ("I don't know.  Where do you want to go to lunch?"), I am decisive enough.

In terms of fashion, I know what I like, what I feel comfortable in, and, usually, where to secure these items.

If someone invites me to an outing or party, I know more or less immediately if I feel like participating (though I may say yes to be nice or because it's the right thing to do).

In terms of decorating, I know what I like, what my husband likes, and what he will tolerate.  I'm comfortable with my not-quite-neutral proclivities.  I do a bit of looking around and then I know it when I see it ... until now.  Until now when I have become easily overwhelmed by styles and finishes of door knobs.  Until now when I am googling "name of regular white paint color that everyone uses."  Until now when I am incapacitated when it comes to choosing some tile for my foyer.

I am that person wanting to talk about tile with anyone who will listen.  Marble.  Slate.  Travertine.  Porcelain.  Versailles pattern.  Herringbone.  Bueller?  Bueller? 

Over a decade ago, my hubby and I had dinner with one of his senior colleagues (not at his current job) and his wife.  Over dinner, she bemoaned the fact that her cleaning person did not change the sheets the way she liked so that, grand sigh, she had to redo those beds after the cleaning person left.  I thought to myself, "Will this be me someday?  Dear Lord, do not let this be me.  Who gives a flip how the beds are made?  The sheets are clean." 

Dear Lord, I'm not asking for real problems, just for perspective.  Thank you for my life, exactly as it is. 

The plan for tomorrow is to pick a flipping tile and move on with my life.    


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Put a Frame On It

When you are posting every day of the month, they can't all be gems.

I've been a framing fool the past few days.  Here's just a sampling.

No.1 -- Two favorite illustrations (from the vintage Big New School book purchased at the Batavia Library Book Sale) arranged side by side in a frame purchased from Kohl's (for free/almost free with discounts, rewards, etc.)

No.2 -- Some clever gal before me had framed a calendar page.  I bought the frame she left at Goodwill and popped in a beautiful greeting card.

No.3 -- Flamenco Dancing is not a passion of mine (though I do think Sarah Bird's The Flamenco Academy is a fantastic novel), but I liked the frame.  I popped in the Emily McDowell print I bought in California.

You may be wondering, "Where does this woman hang all this random crap?"  Big reveal on this later, but I have a little room we call the "Mom Cave."  It is between the master bathroom and the closet. It is very hot in the summer and quite chilly in the winter, but it's all mine in terms of decor.  I have been slowly collecting and hanging a gallery wall in the mom cave, an endeavor that gives me tons of pleasure and satisfaction.  Cheap thrills, if you will.

If you like it, then you oughta put a frame on it.
Uh oh oh Uh oh oh oh oh oh oh Uh oh oh
Uh oh oh Uh oh oh oh oh oh oh Uh oh oh 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Poetry in the House

Rediscovered this basket of books which includes several poetry collections (and about twenty Penguin miniatures, a former obsession of mine).
A few weeks ago, my son had to write a free verse poem about the first day of school.  His first draft was very strong, and I enjoyed conferencing with him and pushing him (a bit) to choose some even more specific images and stronger words to capture the day.  He seemed to enjoy the process of writing the poem and took great pleasure in reading it aloud and hearing his words strung together.  Poetry is a really good thing.  I had almost forgotten.  Seed planted. 

Yesterday, Modern Mrs. Darcy posted about poetry -- describing a new ritual of reading poetry before bed and sharing some of her favorite poetry collections.  As I read it, I thought about how I needed more poetry in my life and about how I thought my kids would embrace and appreciate more exposure to poetry.  Seed watered.

This evening, my middle guy wanted to snuggle on the couch tonight and watch a show.  Trying to avoid Teen Titans Go, I checked out the HBO Kids OnDemand offerings and found something titled Classical: Poetry.*  The show has celebrities (and a couple of actual poets) reading classic poems aloud as animated images related to the poems cross the screen.  Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, and more ...

Classical: Poetry also includes segments where children are interviewed about poetry.  There was one boy with a British accent who was very confident and articulate in his discussion of poetry.  My older son said, "That kid is loaded."  I said, "Oh, does his accent make you think he is rich?"  (I was assuming he did not think the kid was drunk.)  "No," he said, "I think he was loaded with all these poetry ideas by the adults making this show."  That made me chuckle, though I assumed he was just a precocious kid.

My middle guy cuddled up and alternated between listening to the poems and asking a million questions about them.  As the show ended, he said, "This show is very pleasant."  And it was.  There is something about just listening to poetry.  Seed growing.

They were both asking about Shakespeare afterwards so I showed them my Norton Shakespeare and my Norton Anthology of Poetry.  I also found a basket of little books (several of which were poetry collections) that I had sort of forgotten about.  We brought them up from the basement.

Maybe seeing these books will remind me to water that poetry seed.  We'll see what grows.

Any tips on sharing poetry with your family?  I'd love to hear them.

*Classical: Poetry might just be the OnDemand title, not the actual name of the show.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Secret S'Mores

I ordered some campfire roasting forks (and these with the gingham bag) last week so that we could use them for a Cub Scout bonfire and s'mores party.  My secret hope is that our family will eventually have a fire pit of our own, around which we can use these adorable and useful sticks.  I was also thinking that campfire roasting sticks would make a cute gift for a housewarming, a family present, or a grab bag -- all packaged up with the s'more fixings.

I don't actually enjoy s'mores, but I do love a nice roasted marshmallow.  Melty on the inside and carbon crusty on the outside.  A burnt marshmallow, if you will.  This culinary delight is easy to produce if you have a roasting stick, a gas stove, and a husband who's out of town (and might give you some grief about this sort of thing were he around).  I'm not sure you could get a golden brown marshmallow with this in-house method.  Even when I thought I was giving my giant marshmallow some clearance, it was igniting.   Ignite.  Extinguish.  Rotate.  Repeat.

One bonus to charring your marshmallow at home:  you can plate it and eat it with a fork.

Do not tell my children about this menu item.

Disclaimer:  The above links go to Amazon, but I don't get a thing if you buy these items because I have no idea how to set up affiliate links and no clarity about whether I'd even want them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Little Project -- Frame of Feathers

I love a "little project."  It feels good to go from start to finish in one evening (or, in this case, ten minutes) and have an end product that makes you smile.

Though I am a recovering teapot collector, the print on the left was not my cuppa.  However, it was in a decent frame that included a mat and cost $1.99 at Goodwill.*  Yep.

I secured the Paper Source 2015 Art Easel Calendar well into 2015 for 50-75% off.  November's feathers caught my fancy right away. 

So ... Clean the frame.  Exchange the tea cup for the feathers calendar page.  Boom.  

Perfect Little Project.

*I had a tennis victory on Friday and treated myself to a quick peek inside the Glen Ellyn Goodwill on my way home.  Lots of good, inexpensive frames to be found there.

Monday, November 9, 2015

No Target Practice Update

Throughout my blogging "career," I have shared my New Year's Resolutions.  You can read all about 2015's resolutions if you want, but today I just want to focus on one:  Stay out of Target in 2015.  Very simple.  I decided I was not going to go into Target and buy things there.

Readers, I've done it (so far) and, readers, it's easy.  No big deal.

Those I have talked with about this resolution have had various reactions ranging from supportive to amused to annoyed to, I suspect, eye-rolling me in their heads.  I'm not trying to start a movement -- just trying to spend less money and to be less indiscriminate about all the stuff rolling into my life.

Here's what I used to buy at Target and my coping mechanisms for 2015.

1.  Beautifully-labeled and great-smelling cleaning products from Mrs. Meyers, Method, and J.R. Watkins.  I signed up for and receive every-other-month shipments of Mrs. Meyers and Method products for minimal shipping costs.  Have I missed out on some Target-exclusive scents?  Yes, and I feel sad/anxious thinking about it but not anxious enough to break my resolution.  Bonus:  the Method Wood for Good spray that I adore and use a ton is much cheaper at epantry.

2.  C9 workout clothes.  I have coped with not purchasing C9 workout clothes from Target by wearing the C9 workout clothes that I already purchased from Target in years past. 

3.  Laundry detergent and fabric softener.  Two different people have asked, "If you're not shopping at Target, where do you buy your laundry stuff and cleaning products?"  I buy these items at the grocery store in the long aisle where they sell laundry stuff and cleaning products and sometimes at Costco.  

4.  Stationary, party favors, and other assorted novelty items with orange clearance stickers.  I haven't evolved into that ideal person who writes lots of notes and hosts lots of parties so I am still sitting pretty without need of further spending on these items.

5.  Kids' essentials like white undershirts, socks, jeans, and girls' leggings that will get a hole in them between the seventh and tenth time they are worn.  I used to buy some of these items at Kohl's and some at Target and now I buy them all at Kohl's, usually with multiple discounts.

6.  Fancy pens and sharpies.  It's not a problem yet, but I have been rediscovering OfficeMax. 

7.  Random grocery items.  The random food items I purchased at Target are purchased at Jewel, Costco, and Sam's Club, just as they've always been.  I never did do my "full grocery shop" at Target.

8.  Toys and birthday gifts.  Plenty of other options:  local toy store, Amazon, movie theater for gift cards.  Plus, I have been buying more clothes as birthday gifts, especially for boys.  I have found performance tees and athletic shorts at Kohl's, Costco, and Sam's that I think make good birthday gifts for boys.  Who can't use more comfortable play clothes?  Plus, Kohl's has lots of choices for local team gear like Blackhawks or White Sox stuff.

9.  The DVDs you see near the store entrance at the Villa Park Target.  I think I bought one DVD at Costco earlier this year.  Mostly, I am not buying DVDs.  No one has cried and said, "But, mom, where are those new DVDs you used to buy us?  We'd like to fight about who wants to watch it, lose the case, drop it on the floor of the van, and complain on a road trip that it is too scratched to watch."

10.  KIND bars.  My go-to spots for Kind Bars are Mariano's (12-pack for $14), (12-pack for $14.68), or Costco (18-pack for about $18, but half of them are Vanilla Bourbon Madgascar which are edible but so lame compared to the Chocolate Sea Salt).

11.  Lamp shades.  There is not an un-shaded lamp in this entire house and there are several lampshades on reserve. 

12.  Melamine plates that are on clearance.  We continue to eat many meals and snacks upon melamine plates purchased on clearance at Target in years past.

13.  Holiday decor.  I don't need any more Christmas decor.  I really don't give two figs about decorating for Halloween or Harvest time or Easter, and I'm not pretending otherwise.

14.  Beauty products and hair stuff.  Jewel and Walgreens are my spots.

15.  Fountain Diet Coke and possibly an ICEE for any kid who had to come along.  Minus the ICEES, these needs are being met.

I can't say that my days of impulse purchases are over.  I have probably channeled some of my spendthrift energies into Kohl's, OfficeMax, and Costco.  However, these stores have far fewer temptations than Target so I think I am still winning at this resolution.

Will I return in 2016?  I think so.  Sometimes it is convenient to stop in Target to buy things I need.  My plan is to put some parameters on my return:  once a month, with a list, and with an awareness that I can live without many of the things within the Target box.

What do my kids think?  They miss Target.  They went with my husband a couple of months ago, and my older son came home and said, "It was great to smell that Target air."  That line convinced me that I was doing the right thing by staying away for a year.

Will I crack in December in the holiday rush?  I told myself when I made the resolution that it would be okay to use if necessary.  So far, I have not done so, but I guess I might if a much-desired Christmas item needs to be secured there.

What's your Target Practice?  Any insights?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Peanuts and Peaches

On Saturday, the boys and I went to see The Peanuts Movie with friends.  It was delightful.  I admit to being impatient with the Red Baron scenes (I felt that way as a girl too), but the rest was visually appealing, sweet, and easy to watch.  I teared up a bit at the end.  I asked my kids if they thought the movie had a lesson, and they both answered no (which is fine -- I know they enjoyed the show).  Good old Charlie Brown reminded me of a few things.  Don't give up.  Be kind.  Be truthful.  Try to do the right thing.  Be humble.  You may sometimes feel worthless and invisible, but good people notice your little choices and see the goodness in you.  I'm not comparing myself to Charlie Brown or anything (I'm maybe a Marcie with a bit of Lucy), just saying I was inspired by him.

I have happy but vague memories of one of my third grade teachers reading James and the Giant Peach aloud.  A couple of years ago, my oldest read and enjoyed this Roald Dahl book.  Today, all three kids and I went to see our local public high school's musical production of James and the Giant Peach.  The songs from the show are memorable and meaningful, and the production was fantastic -- great performances, top notch musical accompaniment, gorgeous sets, and cool and gender-bending casting and costuming decisions.  It's always inspiring to see talented young people who have discovered a passion and are really going for it.  I let it rest in terms of asking my kids about any lessons or takeaways, but in case you are wondering:  You don't have to be alone.  Others people are searching too.  Together, you can find a home.  Bravo, York Drama!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Just popped in...

For the third consecutive November, I've spent part of a Saturday morning at a large public works facility in Batavia, IL, returning and picking up popcorn for our Cub Scout pack.  I actually enjoy the drive.  It's nice to be alone in the van (except for piles of popcorn) on a beautiful autumn morning.  When I made the trip last year, I noticed signage for the Batavia Public Library's used book sale and wished I had time to stop.

Inspiration struck as I waited to determine if there were going to be two Chocolate Lovers gift tins available for me to bring home.*  Some quick research on my trusty phone revealed that I was again in Batavia on the day of the library used book sale.  Why not?

Unless I'm mistaken, it was Mark Twain himself who welcomed me to the library.  I won't call his choice of reading material "braggy," but you know...

The Batavia Public Library is a beautiful building, right along (what I think is) the Fox River.  The book sale staff were super friendly and welcoming.  My haul was decent (seen above, minus three books I have already reconsidered and put in my giveaway pile).  I Capture the Castle is an all-time favorite, and I will probably give this extra copy to a friend.  I liked The Fault in Our Stars, but I'm not obsessed with it.  Not sure why I bought it.  I adore Ready Player One but didn't own a physical copy because I listened to the audio version.  The cookbook looks worth fifty cents!

I always look for older children's books because I love the illustrations.  I like cutting mats and framing things that are free or almost free -- book pages, greeting cards, postcards, beautiful pieces of paper.  I will probably only frame one page from each book.  Big New School reminds me of my childhood fantasy about teaching in a one-room schoolhouse like Laura Ingalls and Anne Shirley.  Rosalie the Bird Market Turtle has lively Parisian scenes on each page.  Check them all out below.

My pleasure in this outing was well worth the fifteen minutes and seven dollars spent.  Nice little Saturday morning.
 Breeze blowing through the classroom windows.  Glorious!


*Alas, very high demand for Chocolate Lovers tins so either my popcorn co-kernel or I will be driving back in two weeks.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Norway, November

A very long but mostly very good day is coming to a close, and I am trying to stay true to my pledge and write a blog post each day.  I took this mediocre photo of my gorgeous (in real life) yellow tree on this blustery November morning.  I thought I'd add a quotation about November and call it a day.  A cursory Google search netted the following ...

"November always seems to me the Norway of the year."
-- Emily Dickinson

I'm too tired to track down the context surrounding this quotation, but I had to use it.  Just last week, my son chose to research Norway for his Christmas Around the World project.  He's been bubbling over with enthusiasm for all things Norwegian most of this week ... as one does, apparently, in November.  It's the Norway of the year.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Snackshots -- November

We're only five days into the new month, but I already know what my favorite snack will be.  Tis the season when Costco sells three-packs of Boursin.  Bring it home and spread it on crackers.  Not rocket science, just a reliably tasty snack.  I've also use Boursin in stuffed mushrooms and in deliciously creamy scrambled eggs.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Compliments of Your Library

I subscribe to only one magazine these days (Country Living and only because I never manage to log in to Amazon and cancel the auto renewal in a timely fashion).  Sitting down with a snack and a magazine used to be one of life's little pleasures for me.  The snacking still happens, but I spend that time reading tweets, Facebook status updates, and ebooks on my phone ... unless I have the most recent issue of BookPage, the free book review publication that my library has on offer right as you enter the building.

What I've always loved about magazine reading is its hopefulness -- flipping through pages to find a recipe, decorating idea, quotation, tip, or product that might improve my life somehow.  Even if I seldom follow through, I like feeling glimmers of possibility and inspiration.

BookPage offers inspiration in the form of book recommendations.  In both the BookPage ads and features, I find books to add to my TBR list, my library hold queue, and my "books to possibly purchase" list.

Here are some snippets of traction from November's issue:

* From the LIFESTYLES column, I want to get on the library list for DIY, Dammit!  A Practical Guide to Curse-Free Crafting.  I'm a fairly confident crafter, but it sounds like a fun and funny book.  I don't need to own it, but I'd like to look through it.

* The AUDIO column mentions Anthony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome:  On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World.  I'm not in the mood to read this book right now, but I'll add it to my GoodReads To Read list so I don't forget it's out there.

* The INTERVIEWS section offers my best find of this issue.  An interview with Hannah Rothschild convinces me that I really want to read The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild, "a blistering, uninhibited and hilarious satire of the London art scene."  I don't know much about the art scene in London or anywhere else (except for what I learned reading The Art Forger), but I appreciate satire and would love to learn more about the art world.

I already purchased the much-buzzed about City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg -- the interview makes me want to start it on the sooner side.

* HUMOR brings two nuggets of hope:  Rainn Wilson has written The Bassoon King:  My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy, and I will get in the library queue for that title ASAP.  Jason Gay's Little Victories:  Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living sounds like it might be a good gift book.  Again, will add to library list to preview for future purchase/gifting.

* And speaking of the art world, B.A. Shapiro of The Art Forger has a new book coming, The Muralist, and I first read it about it in BookPage.  I'll put this one on my Audible Wish List as I loved listening to The Art Forger.

* Both the books mentioned in FOODIE FICTION sound promising:  Food Whore by Jessica Tom and Vintage by David Baker.

I could go on and on, but I think that's enough to demonstrate that you should ask about BookPage at your own library.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Fall Haul

I've already written about my love for the library book sale room.  Most of the times I've visited this Fall, it's been slim pickings in there.  Today, we made a quick trip after school to check out Christmas in Norway for a school project, and I had a moment to stop in the room.  Jackpot.

Lisa Genova's Inside The O'Briens -- It's supposed to be heartbreaking, but I am a fan of hers after Still Alice and Left Neglected so I will probably try this one eventually.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins -- Already read and enjoyed it, but I'd love to be able to lend it to others.  I think my husband would like it.

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith -- I'm trying to keep track of these Austen titles by great contemporary writers.  I have Trollope's Sense and Sensibility and am obviously super excited for Curtis Sittenfeld's EligibleEmma is one of my least favorite Jane Austen books so we'll see what I think of its contemporary re-imagining.  I loved Clueless, of course, so there's hope.

Elin Hilderbrand's The Rumor -- Solid novel by one of my go-to authors.  Will definitely lend to friends looking for a reliable vacation read.

Judy Blume's In the Unlikely Event -- I look forward to lending this book to my mother-in-law and to owning my own copy.  Maybe I can display it next to Superfudge and Summer Sisters.

Five dollars very well spent.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Evenings with Ramona

My childhood copies of Beverly Cleary's books are well-loved to say the least.  These books conjure happy memories of hours of free reading and of trips to the B.Dalton bookstore at Tri-County Mall where I thanked God that I did not live in Canada where those kids had to pay so much more for each book.  I've been tempted by the Cleary box sets at Costco on several occasions, but it seems so special to be sharing my actual books with my actual kids.  Tough to resist my second grade handwriting on the inside covers (usually my name written several times, often in an experimental cursive intended, I recall, to mimic my teacher's lovely script).

When my oldest was in kindergarten and first grade, I read all of the Ramona and Henry Huggins titles to him.  My middle guy got squeezed out of that tradition when he was at that stage.  Surprise, surprise.  But, happily, I am back on track reading the Ramona books to my kindergarten daughter and second-grade son (better late than never).  Big brother has found reason to be in close proximity for most of these read-alouds as well.
Is there a character more lovable than Ramona?  Her energy, her zest for life, her creativity, her spirit, her honesty.  I'm going to dedicate a long and more thoughtful post (or series of) to Ramona once the kids and I finish all the books.  For now, I'll just share two moments from a chapter of Ramona the Pest.

Ramona proudly shows and tells.
Miss Binney smiled encouragingly.  "Is there something you would like to tell us about your doll?"

"I can really wash her hair," said Ramona.  "It's sort of green because I gave her a blue rinse."

"And what do you wash it with?" asked Miss Binney.

"Lots of things," said Ramona, beginning to enjoy speaking in front of the class.  "Soap, shampoo, detergent, bubble bath.  I tried Dutch Cleanser once, but it didn't work."

"What is your doll's name?" asked Miss Binney.

"Chevrolet," answered Ramona.  "I named her after my aunt's car."

Ramona's frenemy Howie Kemp forgets to bring something for the first day of Show and Tell.  Urged by Mrs. Kemp and her mother, Ramona runs inside her house to grab an item to lend to Howie:  an old stuffed rabbit that her cat likes to beat up and chew upon.  Miss Binny tries to liven the bunny up with a bright red ribbon, the ownership of which becomes a source of conflict between Ramona and Howie.

"Is there something you would like to tell us about your bunny?" asked Miss Binney.

"No," said Howie.  "I just brought it because my mother made me."

"I can tell you something about your bunny," said Miss Binney.  "It has had lots of love.  That's why it's so worn."

Ramona was fascinated.  In her imagination she could see the cat lying on the carpet with the rabbit gripped in his teeth while he battered it with his hind feet.  The look that Howie gave the rabbit was somehow lacking in love.  Ramona waited for him to say that it wasn't his rabbit, but he did not.  He just stood there.

I could barely read that final paragraph aloud for laughing.

Here's to more cozy evenings with my old friend Ramona and three of her twenty-first century fans.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Welcome, November

October was a whirlwind.  Two (unheard of) trips out of town with my husband and the packing, planning, logistics, anxiety, and list-making necessary when leaving your kids for a few days (in the hands of beloved grandparents, but still, there are a lot of details to track).

A semi-stalled remodeling project that will be picking up steam very soon but for now has brought a layer of dust and the kind of disorder that comes with all transitions.  And did I mention piles of dirty laundry all over the house?  The end result is going to be beautiful, life-changing even, but it is easy to forget that when one has been 10 days without a washer & dryer.

Cub Scout popcorn sales.  If this phrase means nothing to you, count your blessings.

A variety of situations and conflicts in my community (of which I am aware but not necessarily a part) that have left me feeling tired and disheartened.

The guilt of feeling alternately stressed, annoyed, sad, tired, and/or resentful when I know (I really, really know) that my life is good. 

I'm happy October is over.

I decided to grab today's extra hour and step back up to the blogging plate to take some swings.  This month is about focusing on the things I can change--my attitudes, my outlook, my daily habits, my prayer practice--and seeking peace inside my heart and home.

I bought the print above (the artist is Emily McDowell) while on one of my October trips (I know, "poor me").  I'm going to frame it as a reminder to make November about gratitude.  My life doesn't suck.  It truly never has.  But, we all have those days when we are overwhelmed and anxiety-clenched by the feelings of too much and also not enough.  I had a lot of them last month.

This month is about saying "thank you," counting blessings, focusing on the good, being purposeful, and listening more than talking.  Maybe, just maybe, it will be about writing too.  Almost every year I consider making a NaBloPoMo run.  Here's day one.