Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: The Year in Books

I keep a spreadsheet (yes, a spreadsheet) to record the books I read each year. In addition to title and author, I also record the date completed, if the book is fiction, non-fiction, and/or YA, if I've read the book before, and if I read the book on my Nook or borrowed it from the library (or a from a person). Below is the list of books I finished in 2013:
  1. Following Atticus by Tom Ryan
  2. manuscript
  3. The Cactus Eaters by Dan White
  4. The Island by Elin Hilderbrand
  5. Protector by Laurel Dewey
  6. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  7. Executive Privilege by Phillip Margolin
  8. Light from a Distant Star by Mary McGarry Morris
  9. Sons and Princes by James LePore
  10. Capitol Reflections by Jonathan Javitt
  11. Why Can't I Be You by Allie Larkin
  12. Unhinged by E.J. Findorff
  13. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  14. Eye of the God by Ariel Lawhon
  15. Secrets by Kristen Heitzmann
  16. After You by Julie Buxbaum
  17. Devil's Plaything by Matt Richtel
  18. Fatal Judgment by Irene Hannon
  19. Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand
  20. Halfway to Heaven by Mark Obmascik
  21. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  22. A Far Haven Fall by Eric Washburn
  23. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
  24. In Walking Distance by Jamie Cannon
  25. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
  26. The Moon by Night by Madeleine L'Engle (re-read)
  27. The Nature Principle by Richard Louv
  28. Sanctus by Simon Toyne
  29. The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion
  30. Brain Dead by Eileen Dreyer
  31. Sea Glass by Anita Shreve
  32. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  33. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  34. Finding Griffin by Barbara Delaney
  35. The Midwife's Here! by Linda Fairley
  36. Midnight in Death by J.D. Robb
  37. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
  38. Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich
  39. The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel
  40. Coop by Michael Perry
  41. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
  42. Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
  43. The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
  44. Wasteland by Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan
  45. Diary of a Wilderness Dweller by Chris Czajkowski
  46. The Declaration of You! by Jessica Swift & Michelle Ward
  47. The Breath of God by Jeffrey Small
  48. Expecting Better by Emily Oster
  49. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
You can see similar lists from previous years: 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006. While I did not post lists for 2010-2012, I still maintained my spreadsheet for those years. I read fewer books this year than the last couple years. I'd like to kick my number back up above 50 for 2014.

Do you keep lists of the books you read? Leave a comment with a link if you share your list on your blog. Happy reading in 2014!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Short Hike up Rocky Mt

Yesterday we took a drive up to Old Forge with hopes of doing some snowshoeing. Unfortunately the snow depth was not sufficient. So the snowshoes stayed in the truck while we bare-booted it up Rocky Mountain. It is a short (1 mile round trip), easy hike with broad views from the summit. We've both climbed it before, although this was my first ascent in winter.

I had my new trekking poles (a Christmas gift from my dad and step-mom), which came in handy with the snow and ice-covered rocks. I've never used microspikes before, but I could imagine they would have made things even easier. I might have to put those on my wishlist next Christmas...

It was an unusually mild day with temperatures above freezing at the trailhead. There was absolutely no wind until we reached the summit, where it was misting and blowing pretty hard.

This is no High Peak, but it is a fun little jaunt.

Looking down on Fourth Lake from the summit of Rocky Mountain

views from the summit

new trekking poles

heading back down into the woods

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas 2013 Recap

There were a few changes to our traditional Christmas activities this year, but many remain intact and perhaps new ones were developing to take the place of the ones being left in the past. For example, I am confident that the friends holiday feast will become an annual event, as it was so thoroughly enjoyed by all of us.

One change to this year's festivities was how we celebrated Christmas Eve. Traditionally, my husband's paternal uncle and aunt have hosted a large family party with a dollar gift exchange and a spectacularly decadent dessert. However, after retiring this year they opted to spend their holiday in Arizona with two of their sons and their grandchildren (and who could begrudge them that?). So my husband's parents decided to invite a smaller group of family members over for a big fried fish dinner from our local fish frying establishment. We marveled at the enormous tree (11-12 feet) and joked about how they were going to have to saw it into pieces to get it back outside. We played the dollar gift game, of which I am decidedly NOT a fan. I can play along though and intentionally "forgot" the cheap crap at their house when we left. Ha!

On Christmas morning we drove back over to his family's house to watch the kids open their gifts from Santa. His parents share a house with his sister and her husband and their four kids, who somehow managed to wait until we arrived at 8:00AM before tearing into their piles of presents. The opening was accomplished with typical swiftness and before long we were heading back home to shower and prepare for the next part of the day.

Shortly after 11:00AM we made our way to my parents' house. My step-mom is undergoing yet another round of chemo and is too weak to stand around the kitchen preparing a big meal, so my husband had volunteered to pitch in (love that man). My father had done all the grocery shopping and went a little hog-wild buying ludicrous amounts of food. For the first time ever we didn't even come close to finishing the shrimp cocktail and I didn't even bother opening four of the fancy cheeses he bought. We also elected to skip the brussel sprouts and the bacon wrapped scallops. Cooking and cleaning up are always more of a challenge in someone else's kitchen and not something I'm super comfortable with (probably because I wouldn't want anyone doing much of either in my kitchen). Naturally the best part of the whole day was watching my three year old nephew take delight in handing out and opening presents. So cute! So smart! So funny! Not that I'm biased or anything.

We still have another round of celebrations to look forward to when my mom and her husband come to visit at New Year's. There will be more presents and more eating and best of all- the visiting. Hopefully, I will have kicked this stupid cold to the curb by then.

I do hope that however everyone celebrated their holidays they were full of happiness and good cheer.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Handmade Gifts

At our friends holiday celebration the other night we were gifted three homemade items: grape jelly, beef jerky, and sugar scrub. These gifts which our friends made by hand with us in mind mean more than any scented candle or bottle of wine possibly could.


I like to buy handmade gifts when possible. This year I was able to for both my father and step-mom (I may share after the gifts have been opened). I wish I had the skills/motivation to make things myself, but I am grateful for both the handmade gifts I've received and the ones I will give tomorrow.

Do you make or buy handmade gifts for Christmas? Do you like receiving them?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Dinner with Friends

Yesterday we celebrated the holidays with a group of close friends. The people in this particular group are interconnected in a variety of ways, both old and new. Three of us went to high school together. Three work together and are union brothers. Three others work together in a less formal way.

The afternoon was spent cooking and talking in the kitchen, then snacking on cheeses and olives before moving to the main course around a simple table that easily accommodated all eight of us. We were so full that we barely had room for the fabulous desserts. I still managed to consume an obscene number of Oreo cookie truffles.

focaccia bread

just about to dig in

It was an afternoon and evening filled with laughs and old stories, good company, and great food... the perfect way to celebrate the holidays.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Eff Yeah" List

Yesterday Nicole from Life Less Bullshit shared on her blog a 4-Step Life Purge (a free, no-BS guide to decluttering your life). Zoink! I love her straight-forward, no-nonsense, lots of cuss words style. This appeals to my desire for advice/suggestions without the flowery, touchy-feely, hippy-dippy crap. So of course I downloaded the guide immediately.

STEP 1 - MAKE YOUR “EFF YEAH” LIST
This is a list of everything you accomplished over the past 12 months, everything you’re proud of, and everything you need to remind yourself to feel good about when you’re all, “I’m not doing anything with my life oh my goddddd.” 
The worksheet provided with the guide is great, but some of my items can't be neatly slotted into a specific month, so my list will be like me (all over the place, haha).

"Eff Yeah" 2013
I wish the list was longer, but it feels good having my badassery so clearly defined. 

If you made an "Eff Yeah" list for 2013 what would it look like?

Monday, December 16, 2013

My Relationship With Food

At this time of year over-eating is a pretty common occurrence. In fact, it's celebrated and enjoyed. Think of the typical Thanksgiving spread and the marathon cookie baking sessions. It's as good a time as any to think about your relationship with food.

I don't have an eating disorder, but I also don't have the healthiest relationship with food. I am convinced it stems from childhood, when I was not allowed to make decisions about when and what I ate. Under my father's rule, if it was on your plate or in your glass it must be consumed. Dinners consisted of a meat, a green vegetable, a starch, and a tall glass of milk. These dinners were prepared and plated by my step-mother and you ate every morsel whether you liked it or not and regardless of whether you still had room in your stomach.

Eating was not something we did because our bodies indicated hunger. Eating was done at meal times and "appropriate" snack times (i.e., after school). To this day, I still struggle to recognize signs of hunger. I still eat meals at traditional mealtimes. I get grumpy when dinner takes place at a later hour (I am so not cosmopolitan), especially when we go out to dinner. I tend to over-eat when we go out because I want to be sure to get our money's worth. I hate feeling like I've swallowed a bowling ball, but I still have trouble stopping when I should.

Even at Thanksgiving if we took food, we were expected to eat every speck on our plate. I can remember the dread I felt when I realized as I was eating that I'd taken too much (again). As soon as I slowed down I could feel my father's eyes upon me. I didn't want to let him down. I didn't want to be like my cousin who would load her plate sky-high and then only eat maybe a third of its contents. (Never mind that she was probably actually enjoying her meal and her holiday, while I was miserable.) If and when I gave in and left food on my plate, my father would take it from me and finish whatever was left, even though he'd eaten a full plate himself. He couldn't stand the idea of his children being as wasteful and irresponsible as he considered my poor cousin to be.

Now I greatly dislike Thanksgiving and find all family meals to be stressful on some level. I've gotten better about leaving food on my plate. I even get a little rush sometimes when I make the decision to leave food uneaten. I try really hard to take our dinner leftovers for lunch at work so food doesn't go completely to waste, but some things don't keep well. I'm learning to accept that it is OK to order seafood or a salad and only eat what I want and not force myself to eat the whole thing. I'm still getting my money's worth by enjoying the meal and the experience. Nothing would be gained by forcing myself to keep eating.

But no matter how much progress I make, sometimes as I shovel another forkful down my gullet I'll glance over at my husband. One look at the expression on my face and he'll remind me to stop. Just stop. Put the fork down.

(Note: I feel obligated to mention that my parents had nothing but the best intentions. They certainly did not mean to create an environment where I developed unhealthy eating habits.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Our Little Tree

I'm feeling a little better about life in general and Christmas specifically after having set up my little table top tree. (I still feel a bit sad about all of the untouched boxes of Christmas decorations in the basement.) Plus, I only have one week of work left before my week and half break. I can't wait for the time off!


The weather is certainly helping it feel very Christmas-y. We've received plowable snow, but nothing compared to what is falling to our north. And more to fall this weekend!

My husband is going to a hockey game tomorrow night, which I have thankfully been excused from attending. I hope I can find a Christmas movie showing on TV or available On Demand. My poor misguided husband doesn't like It's a Wonderful Life, so that would be the ideal choice.

However you're spending your weekend, I hope you enjoy it to the fullest.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Just Write {5}: Christmas Blues

I love Christmastime. I love the music, the lights, the movies, and the holiday episodes on TV. I love the excitement and anticipation.

But I can't be bothered to partake. I haven't the energy to buy a tree, rearrange the furniture, and decorate it. I may drag the little artificial table top tree down from storage. All I have to do is plug that in since it came out of the box with lights and decorations. I may send cards to a few people (but only those that sent cards to us). I will listen to music and watch some movies (I hope). I will get excited for the holiday episodes of my favorite shows (tomorrow: Modern Family!).

I've bought gifts and I will wrap them and I will smile and say thank you and go through the motions, but just like last year and the year before I'm feeling detached. Blue, sad, maybe a little bit of the d-word I try to avoid using.

I don't know how to separate my discontent with my job from the rest of my life. I get so bogged down in the hatred and the rage and the despair that it over-shadows every other aspect of my life. Is this really all there is? Is this really what I'm on the earth to do? It's so pointless. Irrelevant.

I've been reading a bunch of websites and bought a book, hoping to find suggestions, answers. But so far, nothing but disappointment. All I'm finding is touchy-feely, hippy-dippy, kumbaya bullshit. I want practical hands-on, real life, do this and you will feel better about your life. Telling me life is too short to waste it on things you don't love is NOT helpful. Great, I would love to spend my life hiking and reading books. HOW? How exactly do I pay the bills? No one tells you HOW to live the life you want.

I want to enjoy Christmas to the fullest. But I just can't.

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This is my fifth installment of Just Write, "an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments." You can read about this project at The Extraordinary Ordinary. You can read my first four installments by clicking on the Just Write tag.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Sharing Chores

Miriel at seeking Solomon wrote an interesting post on how she and her husband divvy up the housework and chores. While our system is understandably quite different than theirs it seems to work for us. It should be noted that neither of us are super neat or tidy people. We are also older with more established routines, which had an impact on our melding of households.

Chores that I always do:
  • lawn mowing (We like to joke that I have to do this because otherwise my husband would cut down all of the MANY trees in the yard. I will concede that it is a pain in the butt to mow around them all, but it's worth it to me to have them.)
  • yard work like picking up downed branches and dealing with leaves in the fall
  • vacuuming
  • dusting
  • mopping (although this occurs so rarely I'm not sure I should get "credit" for it)
  • dish washing 
  • loading & unloading the dishwasher (He would be happy to help load, but I'm particular about this and prefer to have complete control. However, I hate unloading and would be happy if he wanted to help with that.)
Chores that he always does:
  • cooking (Yes, he cooks each & every meal that we eat at home. He enjoys cooking and used to work in an Italian restaurant. I have NO interest in cooking. None.)
  • cleaning the shower (I can NOT interact with bleach products in any kind of prolonged way, so that task falls to him.)
  • shoveling snow 
Chores that we both do:
  • We each do our own laundry, which we keep in separate baskets and do on different days. 
  • I usually prep the garbage and recyclables, and he usually takes them down to the curb.
  • When it comes to cleaning the rest of the bathrooms, it varies. Whoever decides it needs to be done, does it. We do not keep a cleaning schedule.
  • We grocery shop together, typically on Sundays.
I'm sure I'm forgetting certain items, but this presents a pretty full picture. He works many more hours per week than I do between his regular full-time job and jobs he does on the side (usually after work every day and all day on Saturdays). So I am home more than him and try to contribute by taking care of things that need to be done at home. That said, he does not expect me to do these things and if I feel like skipping something I do. We are very relaxed about keeping house and we both feel like there are much more important things in life. I think we do a pretty good job of being easy-going about the chores and have found a balance that works for us.

Every relationship is different and each person contributes in their own way. Do you struggle to find balance or has it come easily for you and your partner, as it has for us?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Imaginary Lives

Recently I read a post at I, MayB about imaginary lives. The exercise stems from the book, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. My mom gave me this book during the summer of 1998. I was struggling with my first post-college summer job, living alone in the middle of nowhere several hours from home. With this and several other books, my mom got me in the habit of daily writing. Morning pages, or practice writing as I prefer not to limit myself to writing first thing in the morning, has been part of my life ever since.

Coming up with five imaginary lives is one of the tasks at the end of chapter one. I'm not going to dig out my notebooks from 1998 to look for my response from back then, so I will pretend I've never done it before (which isn't much of a stretch since my memory is so bad I don't actually recall doing any of the tasks in the book).

1. Writer - This probably doesn't need much explaining. I think I've made my interest in writing pretty plain over the years.

2. Park Ranger - Specifically at a National Park like Yellowstone or Yosemite. It would be so awesome to work somewhere like that every day!

3. Actress - Hey, we're imagining things here, right? I'd particularly like to be an actress in the Star Trek franchise. If not that, then maybe General Hospital.

4. Nun - Obviously, this is a bit of a stretch considering I'm not Catholic (or religious AT ALL), but I find nuns fascinating. This may be a side-effect of my life-long love of The Sound of Music.

5. Literary Agent - Books! More books! The publishing industry seems like a perfect career for book-lovers like me.

Some of these are things I would actually be interested in doing in real life. Some are not. I bet you can guess which are which.

What imaginary lives would you lead?

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Goals: November & December

First, let's see how I did with my goals for November...

1. Continue to meet &/or surpass 10,000 steps a day. Nope. According to Fitbit, I averaged 8,550 steps per day in the month of November. This was due mainly to the dreaded SICK, but it is still a big disappointment. I must do better in December.

2. Finish 4 books. Check! I finished 4 books in November.

     2a. Two of the four books should be YA. Check! Three of the four books I read were YA.

3. Participate in NaNoWriMo. Check! While I only ended up with 8,751 words, which falls well short of the goal of 50,000, I consider this a success. My personal goal was only to write something. ANYTHING. And I did. That is 8,751 more words than I have written in years and 8,751 more words than I would've written if I had not signed up for NaNoWriMo.

4. Post 2 times per week on this blog. Check! I posted 8 times in November, so close enough.

5. Walk/hike somewhere in nature twice. Check! See: Bog Trail and Clark Reservation. I also hiked at Great Bear with my mom and her husband during their visit near the start of the month. (You can read about another hike at Great Bear in October here.)

~ ~ ~

Now for December...

1. Continue to meet &/or surpass 10,000 steps a day.

2. Finish 4 books.

3. Post 2 times per week on this blog.

4. Walk/hike somewhere in nature twice.

5. Use arm weights 10 times during December. I am taking BerryBird's advice and starting with a smaller and more manageable goal since my last attempt in October was too ambitious.

That's all I can think of for now. What are your goals for December?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thankful

I am thankful I live in a place where I am able go for a hike in the woods at any time. We have so many beautiful places within just a short drive. THIS is how I prefer to spend my Black Friday. Or ANY day, for that matter.








More info: Clark Reservation State Park and Council of Park Friends

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Just Write {4}: Pre-Game Warm-Ups

We just devoured a frying pan full of fried bananas that my husband made. We'd had them recently at a relatively new-to-the-area restaurant and both enjoyed them immensely. My husband found a recipe from the restaurant online, and while the result was delicious, it was nothing like what we were served. He has already come up with alternative methods to try on his next attempt. Hopefully, the butter, sugar, and the cinnamon don't negate the nutritional value of the banana. Ha.

I'm finally feeling better! Almost human. I remain slightly more congested than normal and with slightly swollen glands. My energy levels are still sub-par, but still, I feel fabulous compared to where I've been in the last week and a half. Just in time too, as I was not looking forward to being the sick person at Thanksgiving dinner with my husband's family.

The basketball game starts shortly. We missed the exhibitions and some early games because they weren't broadcasted. Something about the move to the ACC. Now I feel a little lost. I use the early games to learn the new players and get back into the swing of basketball season. I need to know the players in order to care about how the team plays. I'm still not thrilled about leaving the Big East. Change is hard, yo.

I am so looking forward to having a four day weekend. I am semi-regretting not having taken tomorrow off as well. It seems like many people did. Twitter and facebook are full of people bragging about their five day weekends. I am jealous. What would be super awesome is if this storm resulted in a snow day tomorrow. It'll never happen, but a girl can dream, right? I don't wish extra-complicated or dangerous travel on anyone, but I just would like to be able to stay at home. Fuzzy blankets, hot tea, couch time. Doesn't that sound better than spending the day sitting at a desk in a stuffy office?

OK, game time. Let's do this.

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This is my fourth installment of Just Write, "an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments." You can read about this project at The Extraordinary Ordinary. If you decide to participate, you can link up on Heather's post from yesterday. You can read my first three installments here, here, and here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Advice

I'm feeling particularly crappy today. Not just physically from still being sick, but mentally and emotionally as well. I'd been hoping for/counting on something happening for the last three months that didn't pan out. It was a kick in the teeth. Extremely disappointing.

Because of this I don't feel much like writing anything new, so I will share something I wrote in the past. It was written in response to other stories posted on Cowbird. 

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I actually like getting advice. When I have a problem there is nothing I would like more than for someone to tell me how to solve it. I am happy to hear any and all suggestions.

While it's nice to hear "that sucks," I would rather hear a response that shows the listener has considered my situation, reflected on it, and has thoughtful suggestions. I think giving advice can be a GENEROUS act because the person has taken the time to think it through.

Even if I am not able to put the advice into action, I want to hear it.

There are always exceptions to this, of course. I find advice given by someone who presumes to be an expert on a subject that they have no personal experience in to be a nuisance.

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This was originally posted on August 18, 2012 on Cowbird when I was trying that website on for size. I found we didn't make a good match and only posted a handful of "stories" there. Here is another one I've shared previously: Low Maintenance 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

This and That: The Sick Version

  • My husband has been sick all week, and I started feeling poorly Thursday night. Now I am in full-blown misery. Every inch of my body hurts. Fever, chills. An elephant sitting on my chest. So excuse me while I go the route of bullets.
  • My step-mom got bad news about her health and I can't even go see her because I can't expose her to the germs responsible for the misery described above. I am just so happy that she got a six month break and that she and my father were able to take a vacation in September.
  • I ordered my first Christmas gift from the internet on Friday. Such early shopping is quite uncharacteristic, so I'm feeling rather pleased with myself.
  • I've been eating overnight oats every day for breakfast. After the early failed attempts I determined that, for me, simple is best: oats, chia seeds, maple syrup (or honey), and milk. My sick-brain forgot to mix up a batch before bed last night, which made me sad this morning. I had to eat a packet of microwavable instant oats instead, and man, it was like eating glue.
  • I had a fangirl moment recently when I tweeted about reading a book (Catalyst) and the author (Laurie Halse Anderson) replied. O. M. G. I love twitter for all the book related wonderfulness.
  • For some completely bizarre reason I keep thinking about trying to start RUNNING. I have always been a walker. Runners seem, well, a bit crazy. So either I will eventually lose interest in this idea or I will give it a whirl and after about 30 seconds I will recollect why I don't run. Either way I doubt anything will come of it, so you needn't worry about having to read race recaps or anything like that (ha!).
  • I will now retreat to the couch with my blanket and mug of tea. There is a Law & Order marathon on that clearly needs my attention.
I started this post yesterday, but the overwhelming need to NAP won out. I do feel slightly better today, after actually having slept last night. Sleeping is hugely important.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Just Write {3}: First Snows

At the moment the sun is shining, but a steady breeze has been blowing clouds across the sky. Much of the day whenever I looked out the window or walked to the cafe for a tuna fish sandwich snowflakes danced in the wind. It strikes me as funny how quickly we get used to weather changes. The first snow fell just the other day, accumulating less than two inches on cars, lawns, and fallen leaves. This morning I had walked five minutes before I even noticed there was snow on the ground. The weather around here is so changeable that it takes big doings to capture our attention for long.

The other morning I had to go back into the garage to grab my snow brush. Now it sits in its usual spot on the passenger seat floor, already all but unnoticed. The mats in my car still need to be swapped to the rubber winter mats. I keep reminding my husband, but he is always either too busy or uninterested. And I’m too lazy to do it myself. Salt season starts whether you’re ready for it or not.

I haven’t finished leaf removal yet and already the stakes for the plow company have been pounded into our yard. Maybe I’ll get lucky and all of this ferocious wind we've been having day after day will blow the leaves into someone else’s yard. More likely, snow will fall and bury the leaves and I will decide they can stay where they are. Life will continue with a thin layer of leaves rotting under the snow.

The recent time change means I can barely squeeze in a walk after work before darkness falls. The colder weather makes me want to hibernate. I suffer from the lack of sunlight. It takes convincing to climb aboard the elliptical. Thank goodness I discovered I can read my Nook while using the dreadful machine. Otherwise, I’d be curled beneath my blanket, watching TV and bemoaning my sedentary lifestyle. Every year I vow not to let winter beat me. Maybe this will be the year I figure out how to win.

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This is my third installment of Just Write, "an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments." You can read about this project at The Extraordinary Ordinary. If you decide to participate, you can link up on Heather's post from yesterday. You can read my first two installment here and here.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Libraries

I have three library books out currently. One that rides around in my backpack to read during lunch and two more sitting at home, waiting to be read. Library books, especially hardcovers, make me think of my grandparents. They were big users and supporters of public libraries. Not just for books and movies, but I can remember Gram clipping coupons from some sort of coupon sharing file. I have no idea if that sort of thing still exists. I don't tend to spend any time in the library these days.

I go online to reserve books and wait for the email to let me know they are ready for pick-up. Then I stop on my way home from work, scoot across four lanes of traffic, go directly to the hold shelf, and zip through the self-check out. I don't speak to anyone and I get in and out in under two minutes usually.

During college I worked as a work-study library assistant. At the first university I attended for one semester I worked in the basement in the microforms department: microfiche, microfilm, and oddly enough, current periodicals. I didn't spend much time with the current periodicals; mostly I filed microfilm and assisted patrons with the machines. I did not feel welcomed by the other library staff at all.

At the college I transferred to and at which I spent the last three and half years of my undergrad studies, I found myself once again working in the library. This library was much smaller and the student library assistants did everything. We re-shelved books, bound periodicals, and current periodicals. We checked books in and out. We retrieved books from the hold shelf for in-library use. We answered the phones and we trouble-shot the copy machines. I developed an aching pain in my right thumb from shelving bound periodicals, which is still evident to this day some 15 years later.

Eventually another student let me in on the secret: as older students with more seniority we could chose to work the evening shifts after all the regular library staff went home. That meant we had to sit at the main desk to handle all check-outs and phone calls, etc. It meant no more re-shelving. And hours of time to read.

When I wasn't working at the library I went there to socialize (in other words: to flirt with boys). My boys had certain tables they would always occupy. If they weren't there I would go into the quiet study room and, more often than not, take a nap. Thankfully, no one ever yelled at me for snoring.

Are you a regular library user now or in the past? What do you like best about your library? I wish mine had a drive through window!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Bog Trail in November

On Saturday morning I met my sister and her son at Second Home Nature Center. The weather was a little touch and go: temperatures in the upper 40s with occasional sprinkles. No matter, we're almost always up for a romp in the woods. Or, as the case may be, a stroll through the bog.


For whatever reason I just cannot figure out how to dress for a walk that involves my nephew (he will be 3 years old next week). I am so used to dressing for outdoor activities that require effort. My motto has always been if you're cold, you're not walking fast enough. However, this just doesn't work with a toddler. So the last two weekends I've come home from our walks frozen solid. Please, next time, someone remind me to wear more layers!

The breeze off the lake didn't help with my lack of layers. I'm also a big fan of "there's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothes."


My nephew had a great time throwing rocks into the lake, picking up sticks and leaves, reading signs, and playing with using the telescope.



Even though the weather was a tad gloomy, beauty can be found at the nature center year round. All you have to do is look in any direction, any day.

witch hazel
the tamaracks pop with their yellow-green color
You can read about my October walk at Second Home Nature Center here and see pictures from a walk on the bog trail in August here.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Goals: October & November

First, let's see how I did with my goals for October...

1. Continue to meet &/or surpass 10,000 steps a dayCheck! According to Fitbit, I averaged 10,548 steps per day in the month of October.

2. Finish 5 books. Nope. I read 4.5 books. The last one which I am still slogging away at is pretty boring. I may abandon it altogether. 

3. Continue to post to this blog 2-3 times a week. Check! I posted 15 times in the month of October.

4. Use arm weights 4 or more times a week. Nope. I used them 3 or 4 times at the start of the month and then... nothing. Oh well.

5. Hike at least once at Great Bear Farms and walk at least once at Beaver Lake Nature Center. Check! See here and here. Plus, a bonus walk here.

6. Take one load of clothes to the Salvation Army. Check! See here.


So not bad, other than dropping the ball on the arm weights. Now on to November... Initially I had decided I wasn't going to define any goals for November because I want LESS stress in my life and striving to meet these goals feels a bit like homework. But now I've decided to just pare them down to a more manageable list, especially considering the holidays are approaching rapidly.

1. Continue to meet &/or surpass 10,000 steps a day. Always. This will become more challenging with the weather conditions, but I have to figure out a way to get it done.

2. Finish 4 books. I'm scaling this back for the reasons mentioned above and for the reason to be mentioned below in #3.
     2a. Two of the four books should be YA. Because I want to read more YA. 

3. Participate in NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. While that would be swell, my personal goal is to write anything. I'm serious. I haven't written ANY kind of fiction in years, so I want to use this event as a kick in the pants to just do it. To not aim for perfection. To just get words on the page. Move the story forward. Worry about the rest later.

4. Post 2 times per week on this blog. I don't want to let this slide, even with NaNoWriMo in progress.

5. Walk/hike somewhere in nature twice. Get out of the neighborhood and ideally on trails that are not paved.

I have some other balls in the air and thoughts in my head, but I'm going to leave it at 5 "official" goals. How many and what kinds of goals will you be working on?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Just Write {2}: Our Bedroom

I’m sitting on the foot of our bed with my laptop and a library book. I have about an hour to kill while I hide from the TV downstairs. My husband is watching one of two shows he records that I can’t be in the same room as. One because it is too violent. I had to draw the line when I saw brain chunks on the sidewalk during a typical episode. The other is too scary. I have an extremely active imagination and an already complicated relationship with sleep. Anything that makes it more difficult for me to fall or stay asleep has to go.

I hide out in our bedroom with the electric fireplace running so that it covers the sounds that carry so well up the stairs. Usually I read, but sometimes I pay bills or play Candy Crush. Tonight I’m just writing. I do a lot of “just writing” in my notebook. I've already written at least 5 pages in it today. But rarely do I write anything in our bedroom.

I painted the walls yellow when I first bought the house, before I started dating my husband. The carpet is dark brown, and although it desperately needs to be replaced, I enjoy the combination of colors. It makes me think of brown-eyed susans, which I love. I should get some for the yard. There are flowers in a painting between the windows, but not brown-eyed susans. The flowers were painted by my grandfather. I have his artwork in almost every room in the house. There are more flowers on the glass lamp that I got from my great aunt’s house after she passed away and before it was sold as is, contents included. Over the bed hangs a plywood moon with stairs and a star with an empty shelf. It hung over my father's bed when he was a boy. I thought it was something he and or his father had made, but I recently saw something very similar at an antique show. The small shelf always held a ceramic deer, but when my parents moved it from my bedroom at their house to this bedroom, the deer stayed with my dad. I haven’t found anything I would consider replacing it with.

I love being able to look around the room and feel so many connections to my family and to our shared past. There is, of course, even more history in this room than can be seen with one’s eyes. There are nights when I stood soaked in pee by my father’s bedside until he woke, slipped off my wet pajamas, and pulled me into bed with him and my mom. There are the times my sister and I laid on the waterbed as teens, one on each side of my mom, just talking and laughing. Dog pee that we tried to cover with perfume. An escaped finch recaptured in the cup of my mom’s brassiere.

There are no photos displayed in the room, nor is there a TV. My rules. Not my husband’s. Every now and again he pitches for a TV, but I hold firm. TV watching can be done downstairs in the living room. Where he is now, and where I will return to shortly. After he goes to bed I will watch my soap opera. I don’t subject him to such nonsense.

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This is my second installment of Just Write, "an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments." You can read about this project at The Extraordinary Ordinary. If you decide to participate, you can link up on Heather's post from yesterday. You can read my first installment here.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Experimenting with Chia Seeds

It started with overnight oats. I first read about them on Kath Eats Real Food. Although somehow I failed to notice that the whole point is to eat them cold. Um, no. I cannot and will not eat oatmeal cold. That's just wrong. So I threw the oats in the microwave for 30-45 seconds to take the chill off.

For the first attempt I used banana flavored yogurt, milk, oats, chia seeds, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of cinnamon sugar, but it was way too runny and I did not care for the flavor.


The second attempt I used only oats, milk, chia seeds, and maple syrup. Much better!


The third attempt was also a bust. I substituted apricot marmalade instead of the maple syrup. No good.


Not the marmalade, that was fantastic. My sister brought it back from France for me. I think it will be much better on an English muffin. Yum.


So I started looking for other things I could do with the chia seeds. And that's when I read about chia pudding. I modified mine by using regular milk instead of almond milk since that's what I had in the house. I decided to start with a small batch:
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • slug of maple syrup (tbsp?)
It turned out a little runnier than I expected, but it tastes great.


I may or may not make the overnight oats again, but I'll definitely be making the chia pudding again. I'll just add a few more seeds or use a little less milk and hopefully that will thicken things up a tad.

Let me know if you have any fun recipes that use chia seeds.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lessons learned from high peaking this year

It's looking more and more like our mountain climbing season may be over for the year. I have little interest in climbing peaks during the winter months (cold and snow, um, no thanks). My goal was to climb 5 High Peaks this summer, and I actually summited 8, so I am thrilled. Of course, that doesn't mean I wouldn't want to climb more (More! More!) if the opportunity were to present itself. But with 3-4 hours drive each way, jobs, dogs, and a toddler, it isn't exactly easy for my sister and me to make the up-and-back trip to the mountains.

I put together these thoughts on what I learned (or re-learned) from hiking Adirondack High Peaks this year.

1. Wear a comfortable bra. For me, this means a regular day-to-day type of bra. NOT a sports bra. They are too tight and restrictive, way too uncomfortable for 10-12 hours of hiking (plus 3-4 hours of driving up).

2. Change into clean, dry socks on the summit. I've always carried spare socks, but I almost never actually put them on. For prima donna feet like mine, this turns out to help a lot.

3. Carry (and apply) bug dope. And I mean whenever there is a chance of biting insects. Don’t rely on trip reports from the forum. Everyone has a different tolerance level for biting insects. And while I have an exceptionally high pain tolerance level, my tolerance for biting insects is LOW. Very, very LOW.

4. Lacing techniques do matter. For best results, I need to knock my heel down into place before lacing my boots, then twist the laces twice to lock the laces on the lower portion of the boot (surgeon’s knot). On the upper portion instead of pulling the laces through the open hooks from below, I hook them over the top.

5. Take 5 minutes to apply moleskin or a band-aid or to tighten laces during the hike. The hassle will be worth it at the end of the day.

6. Snack, snack, snack. Don’t keep pushing until the summit for lunch. Grazing along the way will keep energy levels up.

7. Don’t forget a bandana. Or two. In fact, always carry a spare.

8. If the weather calls for pants, make sure they are stretchy. If the pant legs put up resistance with each step, unnecessary energy will be expended. Plus, I just can't stand to be uncomfortable in any situation, but on a hike it is extra important to not be bothered by something like pants (or bra, see above).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Just Write {1}

Sitting here looking out the window, wishing there were fewer clouds. More blue, more sun. The house was cool this morning, and I was hoping for enough sunshine for the solar to run. It’s not looking promising though. I don’t want to turn the heat on yet. Plus, I still haven’t vacuumed the baseboards, so I’d have to put up with the stench of burnt dust. Although even when I vacuum there is no way to completely eliminate the smell.

Only one small patch of blue remains visible above the chapel roof. The wind has also kicked up and the crabapple leaves are tossing in the breeze. The colors out my window are less vivid than I remember from last fall. The ivy on the chapel seems less red and more brown. The honey locust leaves seem less golden and more green. And yet both are falling already, so it seems unlikely they will continue to develop more intense color. Maybe the photos in my mind from last fall were shaded by Instagram filters. It seems everything is these days.

I love this view. I could stare out the window for hours. And yet I would give it up in a heartbeat if it meant never having to come here again. Freeing myself from this toxic environment. I would miss this view. I would miss the pigeons that settle on the top of the chapel dome. They are absent this morning, as are all of the birds that typically enter my viewfinder. I have always liked pigeons. Why others harbor such animosity towards them is a mystery to me. I had a pet pigeon once when I was a child. At least, I think I did. Memories, they are slippery things. Why would I have had a pet pigeon? Where would I have gotten it? Did it really get eaten when it was being cared for at someone’s farm while we were on vacation? Fantasy or reality? In this case, I really don’t know.

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This is my first installment of Just Write, "an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments." You can read about this project at The Extraordinary Ordinary. If you decide to participate, you can link up on Heather's post from today.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Morning Hike at Great Bear

Saturday afternoon was supposed to bring rain, so I got up and going earlier than usual. I'd been looking forward to hiking at Great Bear Recreation Area all week. There were 8-10 cars already in the lot, but only one person had signed the register before me. I think people forget (or are unaware of) how important it is to sign the register. In this case, it is less about alerting authorities if you don't return to a trailhead (this register only requires you to sign in, not check out) than about showing usage for the recreation area.

I headed out on the 3 mile loop, but it wasn't long before I was wishing I'd opted for the longer route (~5 miles). I still felt that way when I got back to the car. I guess that will make me that much more eager to go back soon and hike the longer route!


I've spent time at Great Bear since I was a kid. My mom would take us girls and often our friends and hers for picnics, swimming, exploring, playing, hiking, and reading. It was a super fun place for kids with lots of ruins and old buildings to explore. Over the years the area which is now used for hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing had apple orchards and was a source of spring water. One of the old pump houses is still standing near the river.


piles of stones cleared from farm fields
A volunteer organization, the Friends of Great Bear, helps with trail maintenance and has done wonders to improve the park in many ways.

one of the many foot bridges in the park

Great Bear is my favorite place to hike locally. And with my hike there yesterday I can also cross an item off my list of October goals.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Update: The Soap Situation

Recently I happened to reread a post I wrote back in June, 2008 in which I talked about my struggle to abandon my use of shower gel and plastic shower poofs. Truthfully, I'd forgotten about this reluctance that I had once felt since I am now a die hard fan of the bar soap. That got me thinking I should write an update on where I stand with soap usage these days.

At that time I lived alone so having bar soap by the kitchen and bathroom sinks was fine, but my husband prefers liquid hand soap and frankly, it is easier and cleaner than having bars gumming up the joint. So we have glass dispensers that we refill from large jugs of liquid soap. We don't buy individual plastic single use bottles of soap, so at least we are on the better end of what is perhaps not the ideal choice.

In the shower, as I mentioned, I have long abandoned the shower gel and poof combo. I buy locally made soap at the farmers market. It is also one of my favorite souvenirs to buy when traveling, and my family does the same thing when they travel, bestowing me with much appreciated bars of soap upon their return.

I like supporting the local economy, especially since most soap makers are small, family-run businesses. I also like avoiding the use of extra plastic for the bottles to hold the liquid soap and the energy required to transport the plastic bottles. Not to mention the disposal of said bottles.


These are the bars of soap I have waiting to be used currently: one from the local farmers market, one purchased at the Golden Harvest Festival from a local crafter, one brought back from Montana by my parents, and one from sister's recent travels in France. I love the variety and uniqueness of each bar.

Maybe someday I'll learn how to make my own soap. Although that sounds like an awful lot of work...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

I love plants and trees and flowers and pretty much everything you might find at a conservatory. Several years ago while visiting my mother in Detroit we toured the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle. I was smitten. This past weekend when we were browsing local attractions in Pittsburgh I saw there was a conservatory near our hotel. Of course, I wanted to go.

On Saturday morning we checked out of our hotel and walked to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Below are a few of the photos from our visit.



Chocolate Tree


Dahlias

Dahlias

Starfruit - Tropical Fruit & Spice Room

Bananas - Tropical Fruit & Spice Room

Desert Room

Broderie Room
This is the last post from our recent trip to Pittsburgh. You can read about the Pearl Jam concert we attended here and see some of what we saw on our walks in the city here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Visiting Pittsburgh

Our hotel was near the University of Pittsburgh, so on Friday afternoon we walked around and checked out some of the cool buildings on and near their campus.

Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum

Heinz Memorial Chapel
I am always drawn towards doors. The older and more ornate the better.

Stephen Foster Memorial
Log Cabin
We stopped for an early dinner at Primanti Brothers before the Pearl Jam concert. In case you haven't eaten there before (this was our first visit), all sandwiches come topped with french fries, cole slaw, and tomatoes. I ordered the Cheese Combo, but to be honest I was not a fan. My husband really enjoyed his sandwich (hot sausage), but I was unimpressed with mine. I could not taste the cheese at all and the coleslaw was just oily cabbage. So it tasted like an oily cabbage and slightly burnt french fry sandwich. I will not be anxious to eat there again.


On Saturday morning as we walked to the Phipps Conservatory we encountered these crazy padlocks. We had no idea what they were all about until my husband googled them. As it turns out lovers go to the bridge together, hook their lock on to the chain link, and then toss the key into the gorge below to ensure ever-lasting love. It is sweet and has created a cool street art installation.

Love Locks on Schenley Park Bridge
I will share photos from our visit to the Conservatory later this week. You can read about the Pearl Jam concert here, which was the reason we were in Pittsburgh.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pearl Jam in Pittsburgh

My husband is a HUGE Pearl Jam fan. HUGE. He even has a tattoo of some of their song lyrics. He's seen Pearl Jam in concert once before, and so when the tickets went on sale for the fall tour, we both jumped on our laptops and tried to secure tickets to multiple venues. Buffalo sold out before we could get tickets, but we managed to score two for Pittsburgh. And with that our road trip was born...


I haven't been to a concert in a few years (last seen: Tim McGraw at the New York State Fair), but I quickly remembered how much I love the vibe when everyone is over the moon excited for the same reason. I love that feeling.

The concert was awesome. And then this happened...


One of our high school classmates on stage with Pearl Jam! Holy crap. OK, so he's famous in his own right, but I still think of him as the tall, somewhat goofy boy who had a locker near my best friend's. What a weird world. (Sorry for the intentionally vague reference, but still cool, right?)

I've never been to a concert when the band keeps playing music after the lights get turned on. So much fun!


I'll share more about our one night trip to Pittsburgh later this week.