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

Classics
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!