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.

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.

- - - -
- - - -

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?