Saturday, January 28, 2012

Slow Down, You Crazy Kids, and Get off My Lawn

This week has been just as hectic as last week, in fact almost more so since I had 2 to 4 meetings everyday plus my regular projects, and yet somehow that little old lady and her walker cane and her very patient son continue to hang around in my brain. Taking their tiny measured steps and sharing some French Onion soup or something, I don't know what they are doing in there in my brain, but they are waiting for me and reminding me daily to breathe and calm myself, and shut down that internal trash talk. I've slowed down. I've been less urgent about everything. I've still accomplished what I've needed to, but I can breathe. I've been more pleasant to be around, I think. Maybe ask my co-workers and husband about that part. But I feel a difference. I feel less of a sense of impending doom. I've also worked out more, which I'm sure has helped. I've liked my job better this week. But I still have some work to do.  I'm craving a wide swath of unplanned, unfilled time, but instead Joe and I have managed to fill up nearly every section of our weekend, or at least large chucks of it. So I'll see if I can squeeze some of that in here before Monday. Just a few hours spent in pajamas and messy hair can be powerfully rejuvenating. I think it's the messy hair that helps.

On another note, I would love to regale you with tales of my complete turn around as a ragey, high blood pressured foul mouthed driver, but those would be lies. I still called people mean and silly names this week, (somehow I called someone a "dickshit" yesterday.)  I don't know where it came from, I think it was going to be "dickhead" for a guy, and then I realized it was a woman just too late, I like to be gender specific on occasion when cursing bad drivers, and then it turned into "dickshit." Which is just gross and an odd combination that I hope to never use again. Except I keep saying it in my head, off and on all day because it's so stupid. Anyway, I've made zero effort to fix this character flaw so I think I'll start with trying to save the cursing for the really heinously awful drivers.  I'm impatient and often irritated, but I can train myself to be slower to lose my shit and curse at people. I don't mean that I want to speak in some slowed down lethargic way, like making "motherf&cker" take a minute to come out of my mouth, but I'm going to try to give people more of a benefit of the doubt before immediately calling them a "dumb ass" for turning in front of me and then slowing down. How's your weekend going so far, moron? Oops, I'm sorry I just got carried away with all that cursing in the car talk. How's your weekend going, friend?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Taking the Stress Train to Crazy Town

I was running late on Friday. Meeting my dad for lunch, a lunch I had nearly cancelled because I was so swamped at work and was certain I shouldn't leave, but changed my mind when I realized that the only thing that was going to help me finish the busy, pressure filled day without screaming or sitting hunched over my desk with a grimace of pure anxious frustration on my face, was actually stopping for an hour of food and conversation with one of my touchstones.  I can tell my dad nearly anything and he knows me well enough to know exactly what I want to hear and better yet what I need to hear, with minimal sugar coating.

So picture me in my car, filled with frustration and minor road rage, just that day the stress of the last few months/weeks had settled nicely into a viscous knot in my right shoulder blade, determined to creep up the side of my neck. (This has happened before when I'm stressed, but it's been years. It's always been my body's subtle way of saying "Slow down, crazy.") So I'm hollering in my car at the "stupid, slow mother f%*&er" in front of me. I finally pull into the restaurant parking lot, find a space in the packed lot somewhere near the very back, what feels like a mile away from the restaurant, and then as I'm hustling down the sidewalk to get to the front door, certain that I'm quite late (a whole 7 minutes,) certain that I'm going to be late getting back to the office, certain that the deadlines and urgent needs awaiting me back at the office will catch afire while I'm off eating a turkey sandwich, when smack dab in front of me, blocking the entire sidewalk and entrance to the restaurant is a very old woman using one of those walker canes and being escorted by, who I can only assume is, her doting son.

This is how I feel about the day so far.

He holds her arm gently crooked over his and keeps taking tiny baby steps next to her as they make their very slow procession to the front doors. They smile and chat amiably, she is wrapped in a huge down coat and fluffy scarf.  And my immediate thought is "Damn it, these people are in my way, why are they so friggin slow?" Except I didn't say friggin. I didn't say anything out loud. It's the nasty voice in my head shouting "Why, why, why? Don't they know I'm in a hurry? F*ck!" And then I heard myself and felt how tightly I was gritting my teeth and holding my mouth in this thin lipped scowl. I was scowling and internally cursing this sweet old lady and her kind son. (Let's assume he is kind for this story, he could be a total douche most days, no idea) But here in my head I cursed them and I suddenly felt like a fool. In the ten seconds that these cursing, idiotic thoughts flitted through my brain I caught myself. I stopped myself. I realized that in two months or two years or two decades, nothing that I'm stressed about today will even matter. Being seven minutes late for lunch is minor. No one cares. And nothing is worth cursing old ladies. This is what old ladies do, they are slow. They can take their time. They need to protect their hips. They've earned it. I hope to have someone kind enough to walk me to lunch when I'm ninety. What is the hurry anyway? I think if you live to see your nineties you must realize that there is no hurry anymore. And there never really should have been in the first place.

I stopped in my tracks, in my foul mouthed, aggressively hurried tracks. I stopped cold. I stood there. I waited behind this sweet little pair until the son ushered his mother into the front doors and out of the frigid temperatures. He held the door for me after she walked in. We smiled at each other and at his mother and I said thank you. And the whole time I felt like an ashamed moron. I wanted to hug them both and apologize. Which would have looked insane. But I caught myself, right? That counts for something? This old lady and her cane gave me the exact attitude shift that I needed. The entire day turned around in that moment.

I was seated at a table, my dad wasn't even there yet ironically, and I thought about the rushing, the hurry. What's the rush? Where am I rushing to? What am I hurrying for? Where is it getting me? I'm not talking about skipping important deadlines or dissatisfied clients, but what's the hurry? Half of my stress comes from deadline expectations that I've trained my clients to expect. Maybe I need to retrain them, and myself, for a little while until some projects are finished. Maybe I need to slow down at home too. I'm rushing through books, anxious to get to the end. I want to consume all the wonderful movies and books and tv shows and everything excellent on the internet and Pinterest and blogs and magazines and I want to see it all. What if I miss something? And that's insane. That's Crazy Town. It's impossible. I will never read all the good books. I will never see all the good movies. I will never finish all of my work projects. I'm not supposed to. That's not how it works. So I'm going to slow it down. I'm going to put the brakes on the rush. I'm going to try to catch myself before I begin cursing old ladies, even in my head. My shoulder blade is starting to loosen up already. 

I don't think I can actually change my desire to yell and scream at slow drivers or slow walkers or slow slow slow anyone when I'm in a hurry, but I can stop myself and catch myself before I snarl while shopping behind your grandmother as she feels each peach in the produce section, or while trying to order a sandwich behind your dad as he asks how thin the pastrami is sliced today. I think I will still want to call everyone who irritates me a "stupid mother f^$ker" at least in the car, but I think I can cut back on that as my first response. I think if I'm in less of a hurry to get there, I might not curse everyone who's slowing me down and instead walk along next to them, if consciously having to slow myself down to baby steps now and then.

I've been slowly writing this post in my head since Friday. Planning to do some online research to find a little "no rushing primer" to help guide me as I try to slow my roll, and again, synchronicity, my friend Brenda posted a link to this article called "How Not to Hurry" on Facebook this morning. It was exactly what I needed. I'm not alone. I'm not the only person who probably curses old ladies in my head. And I'm not the only one seeking a change and a different pace for fulfillment. So thanks, Brenda, for posting this when you didn't even know I needed to read it today. I"m going to use this as a little bit of a guide. I'm going to stop trying to compare my level of busy to your level of busy as some kind of success measurement tool. I'm going to find the right level of busy for myself. And I'm going to live my life being as productive and helpful and relaxed and engaged as I can be, and utilizing the least usage of mother f&^ker as possible. At least when aimed at grandmothers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bravely Obey Cribs Edition: The Center Ring

Well, hello there. It's been about a year and a half since I started this little Bravely Obey Cribs tour of our house. Go here, here and here for other rooms, and the exterior. And I've saved the biggest and probably best rooms for today. Our modest 1960's ranch house has some lovely features. The open living space is probably my favorite actually. Since the entry way, living room, kitchen and dining area are all essentially one space with just one dividing wall, a ton of bright windows and a huge pass through separating any of the rooms, it seemed best to just show them all. And since they aren't that big to begin with, I asked Joe for the WIDE angle lens so everything looks extra stretchy and spacious!

BLUE wall

This house is the perfect size for two people and maybe one small person with minimal toys. Or the occasional overnight guest. Just call ahead for the guest room. Boy, do we like color. I think that's an understatement. The room is mostly painted a very light grey with white trim, but the one main south wall that runs through the living room into the kitchen/dining area is painted a bright vivid blue, actually called Jazz, after the Matisse cut out painting that uses the same color. And then there's zebra print, and a red couch, and a green chair and some more sedate accessories, like our black leather ottoman for storage or the small side table in black and glass. But mostly it's a heck of a lot of color.

This little candy colored glass mirror is in our entry way, right after you walk in the front door. We bought it while in Florida several years ago, attending our friends Kristen and Sean's wedding, and it's one of my absolute favorite things in the house. I like to think of it as giving visitors a taste of the colors in the rest of the house before they've even walked in the door. But please don't lick it. It looks like glossy hard candy, but I promise you it does not taste like watermelon or green apple. Believe me, I wish.

Entry - ice chest

Then before you can get too far in the house, we have this great antique ice chest that Joe's dad refinished. It's filled with our booze and dog brushes and chew bones and extra candles and flashlights and all that stuff that you don't need everyday, but that you definitely need access to. And of course it holds the mail and a tiny ceramic bowl I bought for Joe when I was in Africa in the 1990's and photos of our nephews and more mail and mail and still more mail.


And there's that massive photo wall I was just talking about the other day. I love this wall. It's got everything important on it. Weddings, babies, cousins, friends, family, vacations. In fact we are reworking it today, taking down some old pictures and adding some new ones. Including a huge collage of photos we took on our San Francisco trip that Joe put together and framed for a Christmas present for us. It will all look a little different than this picture in just a few short days. And that's what I love about this wall. Much like our lives, it's always evolving. Getting better and bigger and fuller, until it creeps all the way down the hall.

Fireplace, nah, media center


I love this Matisse triptych that my dad bought for me when I was in college. It's still makes me smile and I think it looks like it was made to fit here on our wall, perfectly balanced between the two windows. Yeah, Joe took a couple of hours to hang it just right eight years ago and I don't think we'll move it until we sell this house someday. He would not have trusted me to hang it, eyeballing three framed pieces and hoping they are even and level, which is my method, not a good move.

Jay's old chair

This chair belonged to Joe's grandfather Jay. When Jay remarried and moved into his wife Fritzie's house, he got rid of many pieces from his old house and Joe vividly remembered this chair from what they called Jay's "duck room" when he was little. It's long and green and has huge arms for resting your drink on and I love it.

Alessi bowl

One of the best little practical pieces in the room is our ottoman. Flip up the top and fill it with fleece blankets and dust bunnies or close it and cover it with a constantly growing pile of magazines and books on top. Thank you for coming to visit because it forced me to clean up that pile of magazines. We are in these rooms more than any other and they tend to get cluttered and messy faster than I can imagine. Our kitchen table doubles as an office, craft center, mail review spot, and rare dinner consumption location. It's shockingly clean right now and that will last about an hour after these photos are taken.

Floating booksChristmas present

Yeah, we like to read. There are books everywhere. They make me happy. I will always have books. I love e-books but they are not the same no matter what anyone tells you. We just got this rainbow vase for Christmas and filled it with random sticks and finally hung these floating books shelves that we've had for a couple of years. It looks like adults live here.  Almost.

Lots of light

Yes, that's a stereo and cable box shelf in our fireplace. We never used the fireplace so we filled it up with things that we actually use everyday. Is that weird? Maybe. Do we care? Nope.

Dining Room

How about the dining room? Are you hungry? Have a seat on these completely randomly awesome chairs that we got from Joe's stepdad. They were chairs in his dental office waiting room and somehow they work perfectly with all of our modern eclectic stuff. Joe made the table in college and while it's a little unstable it's huge and perfect for small dinner parties or wrapping presents or anything where you need a big flat surface. And it's actually clean right now. Oops, not anymore, I'm looking at it a day after I took these shots and it's covered in picture frames and bubble wrap.

Joe's table


And then there's the mask wall. All African, mostly West African, some Baule, Senufo, Punu, and pieces from Ghana and tourist pieces I bought while there or just found and loved in the States. I bought my first mask on a trip to Washington DC in college and I just keep collecting. It's been awhile since I've bought a new one. I've gotten picky and I want the perfect piece. Maybe some spears next?

Living Room

So that's our living room/dining room/entry way. It's bright, it's casual, it's cozy and open but not big. It's the perfect place to read a book and drink a cup of tea. Share a meal with friends, watch a movie on the couch under a warm blanket, or just lay on the floor with the dog while painting my toenails. We do most of our living in this room and it's served us well. I feel happy in here. I think you might too. Call us and come visit. Mac's watching for you out the window right now.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Something Fishy is Going On Over Here

Mustard Roasted Tilapia

I made this.
We ate it for dinner Saturday night, with sweet potato fries out of the bag and baked in the oven (I thought it important to specify that I took them out of the bag first, otherwise melty plastic fries) and a salad with feta and tomatoes and a Raspberry vinagrette.
It was good.
If you like fish, you should maybe consider making it.
Unless you hate mustard, then don't. Or shallots.
Or creamy sauces, or capers. Then skip this and go ahead and make tacos like you planned.
Tacos are excellent.
But if you like these things, and fish, then here is the recipe.
Tips to not do with this recipe. Do not swap out sour cream for the creme fraiche. It gets watery. And maybe cut back the mustard a bit. I don't believe humans are supposed to consume this much creamy mustard in one sitting.
Capers also could be cut in half if you have a tiny knife and patience, otherwise, just use a bit less. They are so salty and capery that fewer of their numbers would make me happier with this recipe.
But it was good.
We ate it and smiled and chatted amiably about how tasty it was. I plan to cook it and eat it again someday. We used tilapia, but only because that's what we had on hand.
You could probably use any fish you wanted, as long as it's not still scaly or whole.
Because I don't deal with fish heads. I like my fish beheaded. I don't like the eye staring at me accusingly.
But any beheaded fish would do.
Buy creme fraiche though or buy that knock off Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cooking Creme, if you can't find creme fraiche. I'm no snob. I hear that stuff is tasty.
Also get whoever you are feeding to do the dishes. That seems only fair. You deserve to put your feet up after making this fancy-pants meal.
Relax and let them deal with smelly fish residue and cooked mustard bits.
They should be grateful and willingly subservient to you at this point.
Otherwise, stop feeding them.
Bellow, "It's just cereal for you next time, ingrate!" And see how quickly they get their hands dirty.
(Let me know how this advice works, I haven't tried it yet.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I Might Prefer Spiders in My Dreams

I woke up sweating and sad and chagrined at 4am on Thursday morning. This is unusual, thankfully. My dreams usually include silly farces or nonsensical surreal madcap adventures, running through empty houses or city streets, rarely anything that effects me beyond waking up, and in a half-asleep mumble telling Joe about the shenanigans that our alter-egos were perpetrating in my dreams. But being shaken awake by the resonance of a dream so realistic and depressing that it most certainly qualified as a nightmare was kind of disconcerting. Not in the childhood fear of monsters in the closet or huge spiders slowing making their way up the bedspread from the foot of the bed type of nightmare, but in that adult nightmare way. That fear of loss and pain and grief that sometimes sweeps over you without your knowledge. I feel really good on a daily basis, let's make this clear up front. I'm happy, healthy, busy. But there's a lot of change going on at my work, lots of projects, and lots of change in my mind and my habits. Good changes, all. But change all the same and I suspect a combination of the stress of that change, the reading/editing of my draft of a novel that is somewhat autobiographical in nature, and several conversations with friends lately, put this nightmare into my head, and it was the very realistic nightmare that Joe and I were getting divorced.

I have a serious and deserved phobia about divorce. The idea of it shakes me to my core. When I hear my friends mention it or even hear of inane celebrities getting divorced I feel a strong sadness for them. My parents divorced when I was 13 and as I've written about here briefly in the past, it tore my family apart for more than five years. I think the repercussions of it, both good and bad, will always color the relationships within my immediate family. So dreams about divorce hurt. I don't like them. I don't like dreaming of walking in my front door and seeing the wall of photos covering our hallway simply gone. I think that's what resonated with me from the dream. We have an enormous long wall covered in black frames filled with pictures of our childhoods, our family and the life we've shared for the last twelve years. To see that in such a visual way, suddenly vanished and blank, with just the nail holes left, hurt me in the dream so much that I sank to my knees in front of it. I woke up just then.


Swimming in emotions and layers of grief and that immediate feeling of loss and sadness that only lasted a few minutes. But it took me back to being 13, hearing that my dad was moving out. But it was worse. Worse because I was an adult in this dream and I had that sudden drowning knowledge that the last twelve years of shared words and intimacy and dreams and travels and growth was suddenly swept away. Gone. But then I was fully awake. I felt the emotions dissipate like fog as the sun heats the day.  I reached over and my husband, my very present, wonderful husband, was snoring away right next to me. I cozied up behind him, clinging to our happiness and letting the reassuring rhythm of our joint breath lull me back to a peaceful sleep.

It stuck with me a bit all day Thursday. But instead of negatively effecting my mood, it made me more conscious somehow. It made me more aware of how lucky and joyful I should be, how I should give Joe more of my undivided attention, and how I need to give more acknowledgment to the way change effects me. I need to journal more when stressful things are going on and maybe talk about it instead of keeping it in my head too much. And so that fleeting drowsy pain served a purpose. I think we dream for a reason sometimes. Working out our reactions to experiences or events in a safer place, where it's cushioned, and ephemeral and floaty, in there where we can't get hurt for long, in there where we can say things to ourselves that we would never say while awake. So I'm paying attention. I'm more aware and I'm ok. And I'm riding along with the change, the ebb and flow of it, and I'm not drowning. Not even in my dreams.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Talking 'bout a Resolution

So a full week and a half into the New Year and 2012 resolutions are hanging in there. Since I haven't made actual resolutions in several years I felt a little skeptical about my own ability to commit, I mean how cliched are resolutions at this point. But I feel really great. I mean great. Lighter, peppy, gung ho, focused, determined. I dropped 6 pounds in a week and a half, worked out fairly consistently, certainly ate much better than around the holidays or before. I'm using My Fitness Pal online and on my phone, thanks to Amy's suggestion and I can't recommend it enough if you have weight loss or nutrition goals. And I think the gang of friends thing is what has really helped so far. Joe's focused along with me in getting healthier and I feel like I've got partners and friends in this weight loss challege with similar goals and determination. And that makes it easier and more fun and more motivating. My gang of friends are working on a goal together, and My Fitness Pal is an ideal tool, the interface is intuitive and it's free and has a large database of foods already loaded, lots of name brands and restaurants too. Plus when you see a long list of all of your friends who've burned 500+ calories running, you feel guilty sitting on the couch eating ice cream.

I made a fool of myself in our basement trying to dance along to the Zumba Wii instructor whose perfectly coiffed spiky hair and washboard digital abs are silly and yet far more coordinated than I am. I've read four books, three excellent and one mediocre. Read 40 pages of my novel-draft-work-in-progress and probably need to hunker down and finish so I can get to the actual editing process. And our basement is straightened up and on schedule for a full makeover and paint job along with our office this spring. 

So first week of January, so far you are much less depressing, post holiday let downish than I usually feel or expect. The awesome weather and work out endorphins probably deserve some credit for this. But I'm staying focused and trying to hang on to this feeling. I know it may pass. 

Saturday, January 07, 2012

30 Second Book Reviews: 2011 Wrap Up and 2012 Gems

Here's my last book review post for 2011 and a little entry into 2012. I expect 2012 to be a little lighter on the reading. I'm focusing on editing that novel draft that I wrote in late 2010, instead of trying to read everything ever written, so I don't know how many reviews I'll be posting this year. On a side note, I started editing the draft of that novel a couple of nights ago, which for these first few days just means actually reading the draft all the way through for the first time, and I have to say after reading 25 or 30 pages I don't hate it as much as I thought I would. Oh, it's a little boring, not as funny as I'd hoped. The dialogue is a bit stilted and I have a very extended probably totally unneccesary flashback that probably needs to be exised entirely, but it didn't make me weep or vomit to read it. That's a good sign, right? But back to the book reviews!

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley - I stayed up very late finishing this book. Set in both present day and early 1700's Scotland, I loved the main characters, the history, the politics, the twists and turns, the romance and the windy, rocky seaside atmosphere. A really great novel.

Sea Change by Jeremy Page- This book is also set on the sea, but it couldn't be more different. It is a lonely, beautiful poetic novel of loss and grief. Head over here if you want to read my longer review about it for Blogher, but I loved it.

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman - Ok, what's with the water theme? This book terrified me. It's set in the South in the 1930's when a young author and his new wife move into his old family home. Mysterious deaths, un-friendly small town locals and things that growl and go bump in the night. If you like Stephen King or Joe Hill, I highly recommend this one. But don't read it alone late a night. Just don't.

Three Cups of Deceit by John Krakauer- This book, tearing down the myth of the Three Cups of Tea nonprofit empire infuriated and frustrated me. John Krakauer is known for his thorough and detailed nonfiction accounts and this book takes careful steps to research and pull apart the stories told by Greg Mortenson about building schools in the Middle East. This expose of financial shenanigans, poor leadership and flat out lies should be read by anyone who has read Three Cups of Tea. Don't give to this organization. There are many other worthwhile nonprofits out there, this isn't one of them right now.

Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky - Oh that Marie, she is bad. This was another 3.5 stars for me. The writing is deceptively simple and the story a bit convoluted, but I found myself along for the ride. Marie is fascinating, morally flexible and deeply selfish and all of this makes her a horrible person and an excellent character. I loved the sudden ending and Marie's wild luck. Quick crazy little read.

Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles -These were light, silly, but of course intensely dramatic young adult romances. The first one was decently written with an compelling story line. The second, not so much. An amusing read over Thanksgiving.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen - I like Rhoda Janzen. She is hilarious and this book is filled with bright moments of honesty and humor and insight. But it got a little long and I lost momentum after the first half. Worth a read.

Petty Magic by Camille DeAngelis - This was my jury duty book that I devoured the first day that I had to sit around waiting to be selected. This follows the witching family of the Harbingers and specifically Evelyn Harbinger, who though she is an old women, slips into the looks of a young woman to slut it up around town. Her adventures, friends and family, boyfriends and the whole setting of the book are delightful and fun. A little romp to distract me from the horrible chairs in the jury room.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn - Clearly I read nothing of substance while waiting, this is the book I read the second day of jury duty. A total fluffy tart of a book, historical romance, heated arguments, illicit kisses and misunderstandings abound. I liked it a lot.

The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason - I wanted to like this book that follows the story of a WWII pilot but it bored me. The characters were rather flat and unlikeable and I just could never care about where the story was going. It had a happy ending. I guess that's a plus.

The Devil in Pew Number 7 by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo - This is a memoir. I like memoirs usually, but written by a very religious preacher's daughter with a tendency toward over the top, flowery and dramatic language, plus a lot of religious references, I just couldn't recommend it. Her family was essentially terrorized by one crazy powerful neighbor in a small Southern town in the 1970's, tragedy and loss followed. I read it because I wanted to see what happened, but I didn't like it.

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow - I loved this book. It's told in the form of an epic poem and it follows a werewolf pack through street battles, love, death and chaos of present day Los Angeles. Does that sound odd? It is, and it's also a fantastic, violent sexy dark noir adventure.

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan - Another unique format, this novel, the story of an unnamed couple's romance, is told through dictionary entries. Each entry or word definition describing a scene or emotion or event in their romance. It's introspective and serious and melancholy and it rings true. It's a lovely piece of writing. Smart, small and a bit morose, but in that sweet way like The Cure can make you feel morose.

And on to the few that I've read so far this year! Though Bloodroot took much longer since it was a 13 hour audio book and spanned December and January.

Bloodroot by Amy Greene - I adored this novel. I listened to the audio version which was superbly done, like sitting in the audience of a small Broadway play while driving to work everyday. It's set in the 1930's through present day in Tennessee, specifically on Bloodroot Mountain and follows the story of the Lamb family: Birdie the grandmother, Cleo her daughter, and most importantly, the center of the story Myra Lamb, her granddaughter, and Myra's children. The six actors on the audio book were impeccable and their accents, tone of voice and emotion so clearly portrayed the poverty, the experience of living close to nature, the way people can be so cruel and yet so kind to those we love, and the deep connections of blood. The way that each section is told by a different member of the family and the masterful way that Greene ties the book together in the epilogue helped make this book one of my favorites.

In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard - I loved this book. It was the first book that I bought to read on my new Kindle and both were Christmas presents from Joe. Nancy Pearl, the librarian and book critic over at NPR, highly recommended it and she was dead on. Set in the late 1970's in Illinois, it is told from the perspective of a fourteen year old girl and took me so clearly back to that age that it was uncanny. Beard is a wonderful writer and manages to capture the innocence, selfishness, hormonal intrigue and social politics of suburban teens in a painful and hilarious manner. Just gorgeous.

The Giver by Lois Lowry - Rather like the less action packed, less violent, less flashy and war prone version of The Hunger Games series, The Giver is set in a Dystopian world were everyone gets along, everyone has polite manners, follows the rules and behaves themselves or they are sent Elsewhere. This was a perfect world until for Jonas, our twelve year old protagonist until we watch his journey from naive child into wise teen, shouldering more of a burden than I could imagine. His discoveries, fury, frustration and ultimate heroic effort made me stop and think, and give greater thought to our culture and the risks that authority with too much control can have on the diverse, insane, beautiful, maddening world that we live in now.

Next up The Lake of Dreams which I'm stuck on at page 35 and not sucked into quite yet, I'll keep trying and then a very short nonfiction about the Catholic saint selection process and then a library book that just came available, The Tiger's Wife and finally, the one I've been waiting for that I just bought and am anticipating greatly, The Night Circus. I cannot wait to begin that one, which is sort of why I'm delaying gratification. It will be all the sweeter when I do read it later this month.

So what are you reading now? Any recommendations?

Sunday, January 01, 2012

December 31: A Big Number and a Big Edit

December 31, 2011
What is your "one word"? One word for this year, one word for next year.

My word for 2011 was actually a number, the number 52. January of last year I didn't make any New Year's resolutions so much as I set out to do these 52 things: cook 52 new recipes, read 52 books and do 52 creative things. And I did it. I read 95 books and reviewed most of them, cooked roughly 54 new recipes often with Joe's help (I'm working on a full list and links to follow shortly, mostly for myself since I failed to actually print out and save most of the recipes, yikes) and while I don't know that I did 52 separate creative things I did enough big creative things that on my terms, I accomplished my goal.

Roast Chicken with Mustard Butter and Potatoes

And the results are more than just being able to cross that goal off of some imaginary list: I'm a better, more flexible cook. I accomplished part of #37 on my life list. I can roast a chicken and whip up pan-fried fish without the breading all falling off and know the nutty perfection of browned butter and bake bread and mix a salad dressing and I can tinker and adjust and don't have to rely so heavily on the recipe. I read some amazing books and bonded with new friends over them, books that opened my eyes and touched my heart and taught me lessons, and entertained.

And I learned to knit. After 6 months I've almost finished my first scarf. Yeah, it's really long and I'm really slow.  I've nearly finished a huge scrapbook of the last ten years of our life. I wrote 186 blog posts. I took thousands of photographs, all over California and Kansas City and places in between and north and south.


I made new jewelry out of vintage brooches and beads. I made Christmas presents, turning t-shirts into chic little necklace/scarves. I baked and candied and sent treats to friends and family all over. I made a version of one of these for 2012. And I had a blast doing it all. So those were the fun things. I did those. I do those well.


There are always those things that are harder to accomplish though. Not blogged about. Not photogenic and festive and easy to share. They involve much harder work. I ignored some of those things a bit in 2011. With my head in the sand on some more personal issues, sort of frozen and in limbo a bit, I'm trying to find a way to consider this stagnant behavior as more of a coping mechanism that it's time to outgrow.  Because it's easier to just label myself as lazy or weak willed. It's easier to beat myself up and be judgmental instead of examining the reasons for my hiding. I'm not weak-willed or lazy. There are reasons that I froze. They may not be logical or right, but there were and are reasons. Based in fear and uncertainty and old habits.  But I'm getting unstuck.

So when I initially thought about 2011 I felt like I hadn't accomplished much this year. I thought maybe I'd wasted time in getting to where I'm supposed to be.  My fixation on the things I was trying to ignore actually blinded me to all of the things that I'm proud or happy about having accomplished this year. When I stopped looking at the things I wish I had done, turns out, it was a pretty wonderful year regardless.

We celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and took a fabulous trip to San Francisco in honor of that little milestone. I completed my certificate in professional fundraising through the University of Missouri Kansas City. I got a promotion/job title change and a raise. I increased my billable hours and worked with some great new clients. I volunteered again with Literacy Kansas City and had to chance to tutor two new students. I served on a board for a young nonprofit professional organization. We traveled a lot. I wrote ten book reviews for Blogher's Book Club and had two of my reviews chosen as featured reviews. I was published on other blogs, The Gloss, with my horribly embarrassing prom story and Can I Sit By You?, again mining the perils of teenage melodrama for writing material. And I had a post about growing up at Royals Stadium chosen for promotion on Blogher's new Sports Page. These things made me giddy. Because it meant that someone impartial read what I wrote and liked it, liked it enough to publish it online.

I helped kick start the Reverb Broads with Kristen, joining a cadre of smart, insightful and funny writers. I made new friends, through the power of the interwebs and in person. I spent so much time with my family and nephews, and we welcomed our new baby niece to the family and I get to be her fairy godmother.  New babies, new friends, some sad losses in the family too, but it was a full year. It's easy and rather selfish to focus on the negative when my life is delightfully lush and full and blessed and abundant. So that brings us to this new year.

For 2012, instead of focusing on a number, I'm going to choose the word "edit." I want to edit four main things. I will edit the draft of my first novel that I wrote part of for NaNoWriMo in late 2010 and promptly ignored all last year. I will edit my food choices and add in healthier options and rewrite my exercise routine so that it is more fun and less rigid, which always leads me to failure anyway once I miss a workout. I want to edit our house and clear out some of the clutter and wrap up some projects. And I want to edit the way that I've spent some of my volunteer time. I want to find a new organization to support and make sure that I'm sharing the abundance in my life with others.  I've created a pretty fantastic life for myself over here, now it just needs a little editing.

What's your word for 2012? Do you focus on the negative as easily as I do? Are New Year's resolutions just a load of hooey? Did I just use the word hooey?