Monday, March 6, 2023

Read in February 2023

My first finish of the month was Kurashi at Home: How to Organize Your Space and Achieve Your Ideal Life by Marie Kondo. I've read all of her previous books, and despite the sometimes woo-woo suggestions of thanking your items for their service, I really like her approach to decluttering. She doesn't tell everyone to get rid of all their stuff, but rather curate your home to only contain items that you love. For some people, that's more items than others. A lot of the content of this book was a repeat from her earlier writing, but I enjoyed the format with pictures and additional sections on constructing your idea morning and days. The promise of "achieving your ideal life" seems a little bit much though. 

I really should have given up on reading Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher. After reading and loving The Shell Seekers last year, I was excited to pick up all of Pilcher's other books. While Winter Solstice did have some cozy moments and settings, the premise was depressing and not much happens. There's a lot of question-and-answer type dialogue. I wasn't invested in any of the characters and I stalled out after a few hundred pages. I had bought a copy of the book though, and a part of me thought I was wasting my money if I didn't finish it, even though it was a slog. (One reason to buy fewer books!) I've heard September and Coming Home are better though, so fingers crossed I can recapture some Pilcher magic with those.

The Secret, Book, & Scone Society by Ellery Adams was recommended by a friend, and it turned out to be a cute cozy mystery. The main setting is a bookshop, with lots of mentions of baked goods, so it's hard to go wrong. The bookshop owner even lives in a train carriage tiny house! The mystery was a little silly as usual in this genre, but it was a fun read in general and I look forward to revisiting this series.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl was a random find at a library book sale last year. I'm trying to read more books that I own, and I picked this up because it was under 200 pages. The first part of the book is about Frankl's experience in concentration camps during the Holocaust. His account is horrifying, but takes a slightly different approach than other first-hand accounts of this time because of his background as a psychologist. He shares a lot about the mental state of concentration camp prisoners, which was something I hadn't heard a lot about. The first part of this book is definitely worth reading; the second half is about his psychological technique called "logotherapy" and wow, this all flew above my head. I'm sure if I had read it slowly and taken notes like I was in a college class, I could have figured it out. But it was way too academic for leisure reading, and I didn't get much out of it.

I was an early adopter of Goodreads, so I have things on my TBR shelf from 2008 - yes, the 2008 that was 15 years ago! At the beginning of the year I decided to either read these books or take them off my list by the end of the year. Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado and Vince Rause was terrifying and amazing. This is the story of the plane crash that occurred in the early 1970s that was the inspiration behind the move Alive. A rugby team, friends, and family crashes in the mountains, and initially there are a good amount of survivors. Searches called off and surrounded by snowy mountains, there is absolutely nothing to eat, so they quickly resort to cannibalism to survive. After nearly 10 weeks two survivors (one being the author) manage to traverse a 17,000 foot mountain and 45 miles of rugged terrain, with no supplies, to find help. I read a lot of survival memoirs, but this was HARROWING. It's one of the most awful situations I can imagine a person being in. This book gets five stars, but I only recommend it if it's something you can mentally handle.

The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni is the fourth book in the Tracy Crosswhite series, and my favorite so far. A crab fisherman snags a crab pot that contains the body of a dead woman. There were lots of twists and turns as Tracy and the other investigators try to identify her and what happened. I highly recommend this whole series if you're looking for a police procedural/mystery with great characters.

Last year I read Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller and absolutely loved her writing style. Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller was my next read of hers, and while I didn't like it as much as Swimming Lessons, there was a lot to love. First of all, however, this book is not a "twisty page turner" as the blurb on the cover claims. The pacing is quite slow and I can see how that may put some people off. As expected the writing is gorgeous and the sense of place is particularly strong. I was transported to a falling-down mansion in the sweltering summer in England. The story definitely had gothic overtones. If you're looking for a slow, atmospheric read that will transport you, you'll enjoy this one.

I also had one DNF (did not finish): Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I really wanted to read more educational nonfiction this year, but honestly I was just bored. I also question the credentials of the author, who has a doctorate in philosophy, not anthropology or biology. There was one section early on where he argues that the agricultural revolution was a bad thing because it brought too many people together to spread disease. He claims that being a hunter/gather was actually better, and even though life expectancy was around 30, that's actually skewed because so many children died, bringing down the average. Uh, not convincing me. I'll take my living children and gardens, thanks.

Sunday, February 26, 2023


On January 31, Cora started feeling unwell, and capped off the night by throwing up all over me. Just like newborn days! But worse! Thus began a month of sickness in our house - I feel like February just slipped by and nothing much happened other than survival. We were never officially tested, but all the symptoms lined up with the flu.

This dusting of snow may be all we get for the winter. Like many places, we've had a warmer-than-usual winter. Usually we'll get at least one significant snow, so it's pretty hard to believe that we're going to get through a whole winter without one. The kids are disappointed they don't have snow to play in, and I'm disappointed because the coating of white makes winter worth it. 

Cora and Mary each missed a whole week of school. They mostly laid on the couch, feverish, never changing out of their pajamas. Poor babies, you know they are really down when they can't muster the energy to complain.

I managed to get the sashing between my quilt blocks done, but I ran out of that particular color. I don't want to buy any new fabric for this quilt, so I'm trying to decide between the darker blue or the purple for the outer border. Unfortunately I missed craft night with my friends while I was sick, so this will have to be pushed off to next month.

Mostly I just sat in this chair. When I had the energy to read, I did, but mostly I was so miserable that all I could do was stare out the window. Luckily the birds were enjoying the bird feeder and I watched a pair of cardinals come and go.

My new activity for the month was going to see a local group called The String Queens. They play lots of covers of contemporary music rather than classical, and with the super-engaged audience (one woman was actually twerking) it was a fun show. It's been years since I've seen a live performance, and it makes me want to seek out more!

February is the start to flower season for me, when I start the first batch of seedings that will go in the ground the last week of March or early April. And so it begins! I will have plants to babysit from now until October. Because I have a detailed spreadsheet, plus experience, from last year, I am spending less time overall figuring out what to start when. Hopefully this means this year will be much less time-intensive.

To cap off the month, as I sat down to write this post, my laptop decided to die. Luckily I have my work laptop as backup, but whew, I will surely be glad to see the back of February. Here's to a better March!

Monday, February 6, 2023

Read in January 2023

And just like that, the first month of 2023 is over. Here's what I read in January.

I started off the year with some quick reads and some books that leaked over from 2022. As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman is a YA graphic novel about a LGTBQ girl who goes on a camping and hiking trip with a church group. As the only person of color, she's treated differently within the group. She ends up connecting with another camper with secrets of their own. Overall it was a meaningful story, but it ended abruptly. It seems like the author intended a sequel which, since 2017, still hasn't been published.

Mary (my 9-year-old) started reading the Harry Potter series last year, fulfilling all of my parenting dreams. I hadn't read the original book since it first came out in the late 1990s. It was every bit as charming and fun to read as I remember, and it makes sense that it's now considered a classic of children's literature. It's unfortunate that JK Rowling has gone off the rails and now writes rambling 1000-page books.

Like many others, I loved Oliver Burkeman's Four Thousand Weeks. I was excited to read his earlier book, The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking which was surprisingly hard to track down. Having finished it, I totally understand why Four Thousand Weeks is  more popular. The Antidote was academic and dense, with a lot of great information. However, it was hard to pull out the main themes and even now I'm having a hard time remembering any takeaways. Maybe appreciate that it could always be worse?

I'm not the type of reader who finds a new series and then races through all of the books, one right after the other. I tend to read one or two books a year, which means it takes me quite a long time to read full series. A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny is the seventh book in the Armand Gamache series (and the eighth that I have read). It focuses on the art world and is largely set in the adorable town of Three Pines, which made it extra promising. It was fine - but I am not sure if Penny's writing style changed in this book or if it just started particularly annoyed me, but all of the sentence fragments were so hard to read! Here's an excerpt: "Because she had no where else to be. No other hospital bed to sit beside. Her father was dead. Killed by a gunman in the abandoned factory. Beauvoir had seen it happen. Seen Gamache hit." Does this get better in later books? Because if not, I'm going to have to give up on this series!

I am a fan of the Ruth Galloway series, and the author, Elly Griffiths has started writing a new series. For some reason these are marketed as stand alone books even though they all feature the same detective. Bleeding Heart Yard is the third book featuring detective Harbinder Kaur. It's a mystery combing modern-day murders with the death of a student about 20 years ago. I enjoyed reading this one and Harbinder is quickly becoming one of my favorite detectives.

Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson was my first read from my 2023 TBR list. I listened to it on audio because I know if I try to read any dense nonfiction it will put me right to sleep! Overall I learned a lot, but this book didn't blow me away like it has the reputation for doing. I was expecting more history and analysis, and while there is a lot (the book is almost 500 pages), there was also a good deal of Wilkerson's personal experiences that read more like memoir. I felt like she was trying to combine two different books into one. She is also really down on America. I can look at the glass half empty with the best of them, but I think we need to have some hope for our country if we want to improve it.

Grow and Gather: A Gardener's Guide to a Year of Cut Flowers 
by Grace Alexander was a Christmas gift. The writing and photos were stunningly beautiful; however the text was so tiny, and many of the pictures were way smaller than they should have been! See all the white space in the middle photo? That said, I really loved this book. Contrary to what the title says, it's not really a thorough guide on growing cut flowers; it's more of a meditation on the seasons with a couple tutorials thrown in. Alexander's description of why she gardens in the Introduction is so spot-on: "I do not garden because it is therapeutic. It challenges me and finds my edges. I do it because I am compelled to increase the amount of beauty in the world. I garden because I cannot not." Grace Alexander has a newsletter if you're interested in more: A Manual for Paradise.

The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley is about a scientist who is pulled out of prison in the 1960s in Russian to work at a top-secret nuclear facility. This book is based on real incidents and I learned a lot about radioactivity (it was more interesting than I would have thought.) Valery, the scientist, uncovers nefarious goings-on and has to try to save as many people as he can without catching the attention of the KGB. With that description, you wouldn't expect this book to be funny - but it was, complete with an octopus. There was also a ton of anachronism and modern idioms, which happened so frequently that it had to be intentional. I recommend this one if you're looking for unique historical fiction.

Did you read anything good in January?

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Depths of Midwinter

January through March are the hardest months for me to get through. The excitement and busyness of Christmas is over, the decorations are down, and there's not much to look forward to. I suspect I'm not alone. I used to think I detested winter because of the cold; while that's certainly part of it, the real reason is the darkness that stretches on forever. In my part of the world we'll get snow a few times, but the days are more typically gray and dreary. The sun won't show itself for days at a time and night lasts forever.

On New Year's Day we had a rare sunny day, and I made sure to take myself out for a walk. Like many parts of the world, we're having a mild winter temperature-wise. Because we live on top of this hill, it gets insanely windy. There's nothing like a strong wind to suck all of the fight and joy out of a person.

Another day I had a strange burst of motivation and took myself and the kids outside to scrounge dried grasses in the field next door. White and gray is the more typical sky for the winter and of course the wind was blowing. I have been wanting to make an all-natural winter wreath for quite some time, and even got as far as picking a bucket full of material a few years ago, and then leaving it in the shed until the spring when I finally threw it away. 

The field is not a beautiful meadow of grasses fit for frolicking. It's full of brambles, half-grown trees, and mostly likely deer poop. Every year a man shows up on a too-small lawn tractor and attempts to mow it, leaving scraggly tufts of grass. It looks terrible. We traipsed around cutting grasses, our pants full of barbs and stickers, getting caught on thorny vines. When my bucket was full, I stood outside, hands freezing, and tied together bundles of dried plants and attached them to a frame I made from some flexible new branches from our crabapple tree. I used twine, so the whole thing can be thrown into the collection for yard waste at the end of the season. I wired the wreath to a fence post where we could see it from the house. It's been battered by the wind but should last until spring.

Sunsets and sunrises are amazing in the winter. I don't know if they make up for the season, but they make it more bearable.

I've been trying to complete several of my many sketchbooks. Sometimes the sheer number of blank pages overwhelm me, so I want to get the total number of sketchbooks in progress down to a reasonable number. I only have 8 pages left in this watercolor book! I don't paint that often but I love being able to see my progress from when I started this book in 2020. Mainly I create paintings from tutorials in books or online, however I do want to start designing my own work soon. 

I'm on my way to finishing my patchwork quilt! I completed the final two squares, leaving the sashing and finishing (which is not a small amount of work). I've loved seeing progress on this project after so many years of languishing in a drawer.

The cat has been so cold. If anyone is sitting down, he is on them. Honestly sometimes it's annoying because he gets in the way and weighs down your legs so you can't move. He's a large cat, maybe 13-14 pounds by now? At least he's tolerant of literally everything.

One of my goals for this year is to try new things: I did two in one week! First, I went to a yoga class at a new studio that was being taught by a friend who is completing her yoga teacher training. It was my first group exercise class since before the pandemic, and it was hard to relax in a room of 20 people, all breathing, some coughing (!!), and little ventilation. I don't think I'll be at that studio again because it's quite far from home, but it did make me want to join more group fitness classes in the future. I used to go all the time to Zumba, yoga, kickboxing, and weightlifting. It became challenging once I had kids to make the classes, although now that they will both be in elementary school this year, it may be more feasible.

Another friend and I decided to try a new cuisine for every letter of the alphabet. This might be difficult for O (Oman) and Q (Qatar). We started with G, visiting an African restaurant serving food from Ghana. I had fish, jollof rice, and fried plantains (which were delicious). Serendipitously there was also a Guatemalan bakery on the same street, and we popped in for some pastries which turned out to be both cheap and tasty. You know it's a good sign when everyone in the bakery ordered in Spanish.

And finally, we had a birthday! Cora is now five years old. How the time flies! Check out that candle - it shoots out a giant flame which lights many candles, while it spins around and plays "Happy Birthday." Luckily nothing caught on fire, and the children were amused, as you can see.

I'll be back in a few days to share my January reads. I've been blogging long enough to know that no one cares about your personal blogging schedule, but I've decided so separate out my book reviews and regular posts for now. Thrilling announcement, I know!

Friday, January 20, 2023

A Trip To DC and December Reads

Let's time travel for a moment, back to the year 2022. Specifically, December. So long ago, right?? With some time off of work, Jason and I were able to leave the kids with Grammy for one night and spend some time in Washington, D.C. This was not a far distance (in fact I used to go into the city every day for work), but there's always a ton of new things to see, do, and eat.

The National Gallery was all decked out for Christmas - those poinsettias were gorgeous. It doesn't take much to make this building look spectacular, though. The National Gallery is split into two buildings, the classical one with older art, and the modern one with - you guessed it - modern art. For this visit we spent most of the time in the older wing. We saw two exhibits, one on Sargeant and another on Vermeer. My favorite time period in art is about 1850-1915, and we got to see a lot of new art from this era, since another museum in DC recently closed and donated most of its collection to the National Gallery.

This Calder mobile has been here for a very long time - I remember it from when I was a child.

They even had a room full of fruit and flower paintings! It's hard to see in photos, but the paint absolutely glowed. And of course I had to stand way up close and try to identify the flower varieties.

As we walked to dinner at an amazing Indian restaurant (Rasika if you're ever in town), we heard chanting and the beating of drums. It turned out to be a protest against the Iranian regime. The photos of those who had been killed in protests were displayed on the Mall, which was a heartbreaking scene. Living in such an international area is always a reminder that everything happening in the world is actually quite close.

The Christmas tree in front of the Capital building was decorated in North Carolina-themed ornaments. Later I looked it up and found out that schoolchildren from the state where the tree is from get to make the ornaments. Oh, and this tree is MASSIVE (78 feet).

We also visited the US Botanic Garden, which was humid and warm on a cold day - and absolutely packed with people. You can't tell from the pictures, but the paths were a solid line of visitors. They had a special display of models of DC landmarks made out of natural materials, mostly sticks and leaves. The models were so intricate and I can only imagine the hundreds of hours it took to build these.

It was a grey day and the sky and buildings blended together. Later in the day on a Saturday hardly anyone was around; the Capital building did seem to be a popular spot for photos. We saw new graduates in their robes and what I am guessing was a quinceanera. 

Union station is the main train station, and where we got off the metro. Every year the Norwegian embassy sets up a Christmas tree there. I have no idea why Norway specifically does this. In past years I've seen much more elaborate displays with running miniature trains, but this tree was still impressively large and twinkly.

I posted my year-end wrap up before I could write about the books I read in December! Again, 10 is a lot but three were graphic novels, which are quick reads.

We Spread by Iain Reid: This novel is categorized as horror, but I didn't see that. It's narrated by an older woman who, after her partner dies, moves into an assisted living home in the woods. Strange things happen, and you can't decide what is really going on: is it a sinister place where the elderly are experimented on? Or, is the narrator being overtaken by dementia? You're left without solid answers in the end, which makes sense for a book about how your mind cannot always be relied upon.

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World and Book Love by Debbie Tung: These were both short comic collections focused on introverts and books. If this is you, you'll enjoy these comics and know exactly what the author is writing about.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller: Thank you to Laura who introduced me to Claire Fuller! This book turned out to be one of my favorites of the year. She has a gorgeous writing style, and the way the book is constructed is unique and masterful. After their father is injured, two sisters return home to care for him and reckon with the disappearance of their mother twelve years ago. The story switches between present day to letters written by the mother, which she has hidden in a few of the thousands of books that have taken over the house. Fuller leaves little clues throughout the book for the reader to put together, which I loved. I can't wait to read all of the rest of her books.

The One by John Marrs: Through a DNA test, your perfect match can be identified. This book follows five characters who have found their matches, and all of the complications that ensue. One of the characters is a serial killer, so that was certainly something. Each chapter follows one these characters, and each story was interesting in itself; but the thing that ultimately lost me was that the separate stories never came together. This could have been a book of short stories. It was a quick read and I have also since watched the Netflix show based on this book, which has the same premise but does not follow the book at all.

I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy: A super-hyped book that lives up to its reputation. McCurdy went through some really heavy and dysfunctional years as a child actor. Her mother was emotionally abusive and essentially taught her how to have an eating disorder. There were some graphic descriptions of her eating disorder as well, so heads up if that's something you don't want to read.

Keep it Moving by Twyla Tharp: Twyla Tharp's previous book The Creative Habit is one of my favorites on the subject of creativity, so I picked up this one on a whim. I was initially intrigued because there don't seem to be a lot of self-help books focused on older people. It ultimately boiled down to one piece of advice: keep learning, moving and trying new things as you get older.

Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle: A graphic novel about the author's time spent in Burma, accompanying his wife who worked for Doctors Without Borders. I knew nothing about this country going in, and learned a lot through reading this. 

The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser: I had just finished an audiobook and quickly needed a new one to accompany me on a walk. I was looking for something light, and checked out this one purely based on the description and image of cozy bookshop on the cover. It was so promising: a woman inherits a cottage in Scotland, moves there and works in a bookstore, romance ensues. I learned my lesson with this one: don't randomly pick up books without reading reviews. It was horrible. Do not read it. The male love interest is a terrible person! As the bookshop owner, he refuses to hire her because she is a woman and "they always end up falling in love with me." Then, when he finally kisses her (without her permission) he FIRES HER which I'm pretty sure is illegal? Instead of her thinking "what a jerk", she doesn't want to tell anyone she's been fired because she's embarrassed about it. Oh, and one of the major plot points is that he's fighting with his brother because a long time ago his brother played a mean prank on him, and to get back at him he's decided to sleep with all of his brother's girlfriends/wives for the rest of his life (????) I guess he is just so irresistible that all of these women agree to this? I should have DNF'd this.

Normal Family by Chrysta Bilton: My second book about someone's dysfunctional childhood in a month! Bilton is the daughter of a lesbian mom who used a sperm donor to have her children. It turned out that this man had been one of the most prolific donors for a clinic in California, and had fathered at least 37 children (probably many more). That's actually not the focus of the book - Bilton's mother was quite a character and her childhood is spent moving from mansions to converted office building as her mom becomes involved with many different women over the years. 

And now I can fully be immersed in 2023. Does anyone else not like odd numbers as much as even numbers? At least I'll be 42 this year!

Friday, January 6, 2023

2023 Goals and Works in Progress

Ah, a fresh new year! I just love years-in-review and seeing everyone's hopes and goals for a new year. Even though time is linear, the cyclical rhythm of the calendar always makes me want to take stock and reevaluate.

I had to go back to my post from a year ago to see what my 2022 goals were. Here's how I did:

  • Pay attention to the stores I am purchasing from: This one turned out to be really hard, mostly because I don't buy a lot of random stuff. Toiletries come from Amazon and Target; for gifts my kids usually want specific things that I also get at those two stores. Sure I can buy them some artisan wood toys that cost a lot that they won't love as much as a plastic Paw Patrol vehicle, but at this point in my life that would be a waste of money. I do only buy used books, either from online sellers (AbeBooks is great) or local library sales, and I try to find toys at thrift stores or my Buy Nothing group. I hardly buy any clothes, but when I do I go to the local outlet mall. As a short person (I'm 4'10") I need to try on clothes before I buy them, because the majority of the time they don't fit. I'm tempted by some beautiful US-made artisan clothes, but in reality I'd just have to return them. This continues to be a life goal and I'll buy from local/independent sources when possible.
  • Support artists: Yes! I purchased some cards and a calendar from May We Fly, I'm a patron of Randi Lynn Reed (her YouTube and Website), I bought a subscription to Taproot magazine, and a mug from a local ceramic artist, Sunny Hess Pottery.
  • Waste less food: I didn't set any measure for this goal so I don't know if it was officially achieved, but I feel like we threw less food away this year. I basically elected myself to be the human garbage disposal and ate all the soft fruit and made salads of random vegetables. I also took one for the team and ate all the random baked goods out of the freezer. This included a cinnamon roll from Christmas 2021 which honestly wasn't worth it. 
  • Read what I like: Success! I DNF'd (did not finish) more books in 2022 than I had in a long time. If I felt a sense of dread or overwhelm at how much more of a book I had to read or listen to, I just gave up on it. I don't rate or track these books because even if they didn't work for me, that doesn't mean they aren't great or couldn't be someone else's favorite.

In 2023 I'll have a lot going on as usual, especially during flower season, so I'm not setting a ton of goals. I would like to:
  1. Publish at least one blog post per month: It's always fun to look back at pictures and record memories of the every day, so I definitely want to keep up with blogging. I wish I could write more often, but with my regular responsibilities, once a month is about what I can handle. One day I'll retire and be a blogging machine!
  2. Have one new experience per month: As a homebody and an introvert I do love my alone time at home; but that comes at the expense of actually experiencing the world. I'm going to be flexible with this goal and keep my options open, so it may look like trying a new restaurant, visiting a museum, taking a class, or hiking somewhere I haven't been before.
  3. Create a list of books to read and then actually read them: More on this at the end of the post.
  4. Finish projects in process and complete some new ones: I have had several crafty projects in progress for years. Over the years my tastes and interests have changed, so I'd like to have room for the new.
First up is this yarn I'm spinning. I think I started this in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. I used to spin quite a lot, but hardly do at all now. There's only so much time in the day! The singles on the wheel have started to get dusty, so I really need to complete this project. I'm guessing I'm about halfway through the fiber.

The next project is a pinwheel sampler quilt that I started as part of a sew-along, but lost interest in. It's entirely possible this was started before I had kids. (My oldest is 9 now, so....) I love how the blocks look, but what you can't see is that the white fabric I used is very cheap muslin. I didn't know any better at the time! I want the white to match, so I will likely just make 2 more blocks and turn this into a wall hanging.

My second in-progress quilt is made from a bunch of old t-shirts. This is the third t-shirt quilt I've made, and in general they are quite fun. And yes, these t-shirts are from 2001-2003. I currently have nine blocks, and plan to make seven more for a total of 16. I already have all the knit fabric ironed on to stabilizer, so it's just a matter of adding borders to the smaller pieces, and then adding sashing in between. I want it to be colorful and scrappy; so far it's headed in that direction!

On Black Friday I bought some sewing patterns: the Redwood Tote, Maker's Tote, Hinterland Dress, and Studio Tunic. I want to clear the decks of these older projects so I can make at least one of these this year.

Reading Goals

The past two years have been all about volume. I read a total of 196 books in 2 years. I've focused on reading for fun and entertainment, but I'm ready to work my brain in a new way. Like a lot (most?) people, the digital world has decreased my ability to pay attention and think. I was an English major, and as such read a ton of classics. I haven't gotten through one in a decade! My strategy is to break things down into small pieces (a certain number of pages a day), and listening to audio without doing something else at the same time (besides walking or knitting, which don't require focus for me). 

I have four categories I want to focus on; I don't expect to get through this list in its entirety. I may substitute or read more or less in one category; I'm starting off excited though!

Non-Memoir Nonfiction
Sapiens by Yuval Harai
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Middlemarch by George Eliot
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Big Honkin' Books
(Middlemarch and David Copperfield both count in this category too!)
The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers (816 pages)
11/22/63 by Stephen King (849 pages)
Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher (936 pages)

Unread Books I Own
(I am starting the year with 56 unread books)
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A book by Kate Morton (I own 3)

Are there any others I need to add to this list??

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 31, 2022

2022: The Year in Books

This year I broke my yearly reading review into two posts: you can see the first half of the year here.

One big change I've made in the past 6 months is that I no longer rate every book with stars. I started to fixate on the rating as I read, and for many books I was having extended internal debates over the rating. So I decided to remove that unnecessary stress from my life, and to just make note of my absolute favorites. Here's what I read during the second half of the year (for a total of 95 books for  2022!)

Favorite Fiction

  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
    • Super cozy story that spanned generations
  • Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
    • Memorable characters and a reminder to do what makes you happy
  • The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell
    • Gorgeous writing and pacing, historical fiction about a lesser-known but fascinating person
  • The Bullet that Missed by Richard Osman
    • Hilarious mystery and characters that are starting to feel like old friends
  • Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
    • Engaging story in a setting that's not often written about
  • Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
    • Amazing construction, beautiful writing by a new to me but soon to be favorite author

Favorite Nonfiction

  • In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom
    • Heartbreaking but moving memoir of losing a loved one
  • The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
    • Creative illustrations and glimpse into the mind of the artist
  • I'll Show Myself Out: Essays on Midlife and Motherhood by Jessi Klein
    • Funny vignettes of a middle-aged mom that I could totally relate to
  • Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention - and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari
    • Great reporting on the impact of technology on our ability to focus
  • Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris (audio)
    • David Sedaris never fails to be hilarious and irreverent
  • I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
    • Shocking memoir of a child actor

Other Fiction Read

  • Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King
  • The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton (audio)
  • Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson
  • The Maid by Nita Prose
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (audio)
  • Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley
  • Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny (audio)
  • The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk
  • The Bat by Jo Nesbo
  • Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (audio)
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • A Career in Books by Kate Gavino (graphic novel)
  • The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell (audio)
  • Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran
  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  • The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid
  • Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
  • Thank You For Listening by Julia Whelan (audio)
  • The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz
  • Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
  • We Spread by Ian Reid
  • The One by John Marrs
  • The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

Other Nonfiction Read

  • Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer (graphic novel)
  • To Shake the Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins (audio)
  • Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
  • Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park by Conor Knighton (audio)
  • Painting Happiness: Creativity with Watercolors by Terry Runyan
  • Menopause: A Comic Treatment by M.K. Czerwiec (graphic novel)
  • Good Talk by Mira Jacob (graphic novel)
  • Anya's Ghost by Vera Brogsol (graphic novel)
  • Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly
  • How to Be an Artist by Jerry Saltz
  • The Book of Delights by Ross Gay (audio)
  • When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (graphic novel)
  • All of This by Rebecca Woolf (audio)
  • The American Dream? by Shing Yin Khor (graphic novel)
  • Passport by Sophia Glock (graphic novel)
  • Everything, Beautiful by Ella Frances Sanders
  • Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung (graphic novel)
  • Book Love by Debbie Tung (graphic novel)
  • Keep it Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life by Twyla Tharp
  • Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings by Chrysta Bilton
  • Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle (graphic novel)
I'm pretty happy with how this last year of reading went. I didn't finish books I wasn't into, and I decreased my habit of picking up random books from the New shelf at the library, and then reading them without knowing anything about them, leading to disappointment. Now I read almost entirely on recommendation, or authors I have read before. 

I didn't set out to read a certain number of books, but I still ended up reading only 6 less than last year (101) when I really worked toward my 100 goals. That being said, I'm a little burnt out! In the past few days I've slowed way down on reading novels, and have picked up some art/design and gardening books to browse through. I also dipped into my huge stack of magazines that have been piling up for months now. 

I have grand plans for reading in 2023, which I will share soon. I've never made a list of specific books to read before; I'm having fun putting one together and dreaming, but like a lot of things, we'll see if actually happens!

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

December Wrap Up

How are there only 18 more days left in 2022? I read an article about how your perception of time really does speed up as you age. This is mostly to do with days being predictable and similar, so you don't notice time passing; the key is to have more novel experiences that slow you down and make you notice new things. That can be hard to do (work amirite?) but I did have two out-of-the-norm events in November.

I took the girls to the Maryland Alpaca Festival. There were surprisingly few actual alpacas, and many yarn/alpaca fur item vendors. If I had been alone, I could have spent hours browsing the booths. But children don't care about yarn and were more interested in the animals and trying to convince me to buy them toys. Alpacas make the best sound, annoyed, and you'd imagine they would roll their eyes too if they could. Both kids agree they would like an alpaca to live in our backyard.

I also took a day off of work to go to Glenstone, a local art museum, with some friends. To be honest, the artwork here is not that accessible. It's like, 3 tables in an empty room. Or a tractor tire. The building is gorgeous though, and the grounds are beautiful if you go on a day nicer than when we were there in the pouring rain. It's very quiet and they don't allow kids under 12, so it's a peaceful experience. It is in a random suburban location and is privately run, and the tickets are free - but you have to stalk the website at the exact moment they are released for the next month. They also don't have labels about the art, you have to TALK to the guides to get information. I feel like I'm not really selling it, but it's actually a great place to visit if you're in the DC area.

Around the yard I completed my last two big farming chores for the season: digging the dahlias and planting tulips. This was my first year attempting to save tubers, so we'll see how it goes. I don't think I'm very skilled at dividing them yet, so I may have lost some. I'm also storing some in the clump, which should make it easier to see the eyes (where the plant grows from) in the spring. 

I planted almost double the amount of tulips I did last year - nearly 800! It only took a few hours since I plant them close together in a trench. In the spring I pull up the whole plant, bulb and all, which helps them last longer in storage. Flowers from second year bulbs can be smaller or non-existent, so it's not really worth giving space to plants that may produce nothing. 

I also expanded my garden! I added 2 more rows. The picture is illusion. It doesn't look that big, right? But when you're standing it, you're likely to question your ability to manage this many plants. I was so happy to get this done in the fall so that my spring will be less stressful. It's always muddy, rainy, and miserable in March and this year I will NOT be moving a dump-truck full of dirt shovelful by shovelful!

Mary's birthday is the kick-off to the holiday season for me - she turned 9! 

We decorated the house on the day after Thanksgiving. I'm not a big Christmas person (as you probably have figured out by now), but it's always a good activity to do with the kids during the long weekend. Cora still has no concept of time or how things work, so she's been full of statement like, "Christmas is tomorrow!" and "It's going to snow on December first!"

Above: Actual card photo. Below: The photo I wanted to use.

So I finished some socks. They may be the ugliest thing I have ever knit. I took some leftover yarn and wound it randomly into a ball, joining as I went. The idea was to have color surprises with a scrappy result - well, the color runs were too long, and the yarns clashed. The experiment failed, but my socks aren't visible when I wear them anyway, so they'll go into the rotation. It seems that I have to continually teach myself the lesson that taking the easy way out never pays off.

I only have 9 more pages left in this art journal! Maybe I can finish it before the end of the year. I am always trying to reduce the number of projects I have ongoing (and I have many sketchbooks and journals in progress) because having an unfinished project weighs on my mind. I hope to complete a few sketchbooks in the next year so that I only have one art journal going at a time.

I read several graphic novels in the past month which makes my 9-book total look a little crazy! I don't think I can review this many books in one post, so here are the highlights:

When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed: True story of two boys living in a refugee camp in Kenya. Wonderful art and a heartbreaking story but ultimately uplifting book. This is a middle-grade graphic novel so it's a quick read.

Thank You For Listening by Julia Whelan: Julia Whelan is one of my favorite audiobook narrators, and also an author. This book is romance/women's lit and is quite funny. The story is predictable but my favorite part was the behind-the-scenes mentions of how audiobooks are made. Of course I listened to this on audio, read by the author!

All of This by Rebecca Wolf: Recommendation from Nicole! The author's husband is diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after they decide to separate. I don't think I've ever read such insightful writing about how you can both love and revile someone for how they've treated you. (To be fair, the author also was unfaithful in her marriage). 

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver: I still haven't been able to make a decision about how I feel about this book. In general, it was a good story. It's supposed to be a modern retelling of David Copperfield (which I haven't read), and is narrated by Demon, who is born to a teen mother into poverty. And then, more bad things happen. All of the bad things, constantly! It's wonderfully written and has a lot of action, so I think in the end I do recommend it. It's just not amazing, you know?

The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz: This is the fourth book in the Hawthorne/Horowitz series, and I continue to be amused. Horowitz himself is a character in the books, and in this one he is accused of murdering a critic who wrote a bad review of a play he'd written. There is a Sherlock Holmes vibe to how these books are structured, with clues left in plain sight and a detective who manages to put them all together. 

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner: Recommendation from Alicia! I was expecting a standard police procedural, but this book turned out to be quite character based. I loved the main investigator, Manon, and her descriptions of online dating. If you're someone who likes family drama and wants to read about how a crime can affect those involved, this is the book for you. There is not a ton of actual investigating though and in the end the crime sort of solved itself. There are two more books in this series but sadly the author died earlier this year from brain cancer.

Everything, Beautiful by Ella Frances Sanders was a serendipitous find on the library new book shelf. It's full of gorgeous illustrations and hand lettering on the subject of finding beauty in the everyday. This is one of my favorite topics so this will likely be a re-read for me in the future.

This will be my last post of the year, so very best wishes to you all! Thank you for reading and keeping blogs alive. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to document their every day lives and form connections across the world.