Tuesday, January 12, 2016

december books

December was busy with work and travel, and not going to work for two weeks meant much less time for audiobooks plus falling asleep at night before I could read more than a few pages. I'm hoping to find some great things for January, though.

(A) Maybe In Another Life: I really liked this book! A woman moves back to her hometown and quickly reconnects with her high school boyfriend who was the one who got away. In one version of her life, she goes home with him the night she sees him in a bar; in another version, she doesn't. Both versions of her life story are told concurrently as that one decision completely changes her future. I thought it would be hard to keep the stories separate, but it wasn't, and I liked the idea behind it. This is the second book I've read by this author (Taylor Jenkins Reid) and I really like her.

Did You Ever Have a Family: I expected a lot from this book. I think it was on the Goodreads Best of 2015 or something? It's one of those somewhat meandering books that's mostly about writing style and characterization. Not much happens. There is a central mystery that is slowly revealed, so that did keep me interested, but it wasn't a favorite. I feel like I just didn't get it.

The Deepest Secret: I liked this one but I wanted more from it. It was compared to Defending Jacob, and I can totally see that. It was a crime drama combined with a family drama, but I think the characters could have been expanded upon, or some storylines omitted completely in favor of highlighting others more (part of the dad's storyline was completely unnecessary, as was the amount of detail about the neighbors). As Steph would say, it passed the time just fine, but it wasn't a must-read for me.

The Book Thief: I hate to sound flippant, but I felt like this book was written just so middle schoolers could read it and look for the symbolism as they learned about the Holocaust. Death is the narrator which just felt gimmicky and took a long time to get into. The story was fine but the novel definitely isn't one that adults have to read.

(A) Summerlong: This book was like an indie movie. I liked the characters well enough, and the existential crisis of it all, but nothing really happened. Life just happened to these people, which I guess was the overall point of the book. I really enjoyed the way that a lot of things were expressed and how the facts of everyday life were conveyed, so I want to read another book by this author - this one just wasn't right for me.

Did Not Finish:

Fates and Furies - I didn't care about the main character. He seemed like a jerk and I didn't want to root for him so I barely got out of his college years. Did it get any better?

My Top Picks of 2015 (since I spent very little time online during the holidays and didn't link up)
Love May Fail
I'll Give You the Sun
One Plus One
Landline
Dark Places
You
The Art of Fielding
(The first four were a little quirky with some feel-good romance, the next two made my list for being unpredictable and interesting from start to finish, and the last one just got me. I loved being in the world that author created.)

I learned that any Texas resident can become a member of the Houston Public Library so I'm excited to have double the digital titles to peruse. Thanks to Steph and Jana for always giving me things to add to my list.

Life According to Steph

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

confession: i like... stuff

Over the weekend, I was reading Stephanie's post about the 30 Day Minimalism Game. Minimalism isn't really my thing; I like stuff. In Texas, real estate is relatively affordable so Andrew and I are the only ones living in our four bedroom house. We have plenty of space to accumulate things. However, he hates clutter, so I have gotten pretty good at Tetris-ing all of my stuff into cabinets, closets, and drawers so he doesn't say anything about what he doesn't see.

But I was thinking about it, and we have lived in this house for over a year now. In the past year, I have definitely brought lots of stuff in and I haven't taken much out. I haven't touched closet shelves or rarely-needed drawers since we moved in. So, I probably don't need a lot of that stuff, right? I decided to take on the challenge Stephanie mentioned to see how far I could get.

I started on January 3rd, so I needed to get rid of six total things that day. I cheated as I had already thrown away a sweater that I thought was beyond saving due to pilling and three PJ shirts earlier in the day. I wanted to get ahead of the challenge so I went in my closet and found three shoeboxes (why do I save these? Am I creating a 4th grade diorama sometime soon?), a zippered plastic bag that a comforter had come in, my Fitbit box from a year ago, and a few other things that were easy to toss. Things that I had held on to in case I needed them... in case my Fitbit needed to be returned, or I got around to fixing that (free) keychain, or in case I magically started painting or doing something else messy that required an abundance of t-shirts with tiny holes. It started off pretty easy, so I started taking pics and tossing things or putting them in a bag to take to work and offer to my coworkers since we always share our old stuff.

But then I went upstairs, to where I haven't looked around in a while. I came across a bottle of shampoo about 20% full. "Oh, I should keep this," I thought "because who wastes perfectly good shampoo?" But it wasn't my brand. It probably came into our old house during one of my father-in-law's visits. My bathroom is stocked with my preferred brands and the guest bathroom has nearly full bottles of other stuff. I didn't need this; this bottle needed to go. I felt wasteful, but also a teeny bit liberated, like I was breaking a strange, self-imposed rule.

I looked around some more and found a clock ("It's kind of cute and I might want it sometime... but I also hate the ticking of clocks and don't have anywhere to put it"), a top-less apothecary jar (it broke last Christmas and I have yet to find a use for it, so it was easier to part with), and cloth bags in various states that I haven't touched since we moved into this house. Those were mostly easy to part with and will be tossed or given away, depending their states. But then I looked around some more and found travel shampoos, dresses that were given to me during someone else's declutter that I have never worn, and shotglasses that are only slightly sentimental, and I stopped. I (or someone) worked for the money to pay for those things, and they're perfectly good. I might need that shampoo one day and I like that shot glass (that I forgot I had). It was a strange internal battle that I have to sleep on. I'm not sure why I hold on to things like I have some bizarre fear of being without one day and needing my stuff - stuff that I don't think about in my day-to-day life. I've been fortunate to have never been truly without. I guess I look at what I have and feel bad for discarding it while simultaneously wanting to hold onto it tightly in case I am ever one who is without. It's strange and irrational. During my purge, I threw away an old sleep mask. I have at least two others, I haven't been using any of them lately, and the elastic on this one was stretched. I didn't need it and had used it enough to justify the dollar it cost me at Target a few years ago. But, after snapping a pic of it, I almost stopped myself from throwing it away. "It's one mask! It doesn't take up any room..." I rationalized, and started to put it back... but then I tossed it before I could think about it any more. It was of use to me, and now it isn't. It's time to let it go.

Writing this post makes me feel a little crazy, I admit. So far, I have decluttered through today in the challenge, which means I have gotten rid of 21 things. I'm tweeting my progress with pics to Stephanie every few days and keeping up with all items on my phone. I'm not sure how long I'll last, but maybe letting go of this clutter will help me realize that it's all just stuff anyway and I already have all the things I truly need.

Linking up with Kathy and Nadine because my husband says this makes me sound like a hoarder so this counts as a confession, right?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

another goals post

I'm an awful goal setter, but I decided to give it a try in 2015. Did I keep all of these at the top of my mind throughout the year? Not really. But I didn't totally fail.

- Read more. I set my Goodreads goal at 20 which is about 16 more than last year and still seems pretty attainable. We'll see, though. I killed this goal and read or listened to 70 books! I set my goal at 50 for this year to leave more time for podcasts (and maybe writing blog posts?)

- Take Duncan out for at least a 20 minute walk every day, barring bad weather or working past dark. It's good for both of us and helps with my whole fitbit 10K steps thing. I did really well with this one, too. There were very few days where I could take him out and didn't, and on many of those days I had Andrew take him so at least they got some exercise.

- Take more pictures. If you follow me on instagram, then you know I just got a DSLR and I want to learn how to use it. Any good resources to send my way? I'm going to attempt a project 365 but we'll see how that goes... Totally sucked at using the DSLR. I read some great tutorials but didn't retain much from them so I still use auto mode.

- Do something with said pictures. I got really into the idea of a smashbook last year and never used it after the newness wore off. I should change that. Nope. Failure. I tried to make a book of pics from our Napa trip but never finished.

- Acquire a taste for red wine. We're going to Napa in the fall (!!!) and I think only drinking white wine will lessen my enjoyment of the whole experience. I did pretty well with this. White is still my go-to but I enjoy cabs and pinots, especially when they are served at cellar temperature (around 55 degrees). I think room temperature wine is what made me dislike it so strongly.

- Cook more. I hate it, but it's time I tried a teensy bit harder. Baby steps. If my goal was to try, I think I did pretty well. I attempt really easy dishes for dinner, offer to get dinner started for Andrew, and during the holiday season at least attempted to make a little something for every holiday.

So, all in all, not too bad. As far as 2016 goes, I want to be more intentional. I want to think more carefully about how I spend my time, what I eat, what my reactions are, and how I treat people. I tend to get hotheaded, I can definitely be lazy, and I get complacent. I want to work to be a better version of me, and it shouldn't take a new year to do that, but I'll use the opportunity to say it. Let's see how it goes.

Monday, January 4, 2016

the end of 2015

I haven't written about life in the past two months at all. Not that anything particularly interesting has happened, but I do like to document things somehow so there it is.

So, since we last talked, I:

- Had a birthday! I wrote about my golden birthday party but my real birthday was a week later. We celebrated by spending all of my birthday coupons and having dinner at State of Grace, which is quite possibly my new favorite restaurant in Houston. Everything from the food to the decor and service is fantastic (minus the wall of deer antlers, I could totally live without those) and we've already been back so you know it's good.

- Went to my second Friendsgiving with my local friends and have since seen them for a movie date, a friend's birthday party, and New Year's Eve. It's nice to have people who live nearby. One of them lives in my neighborhood so we have lofty goals of joining our subdivision's book club this year. I hope we do it. None of them are internet people, which is oddly refreshing. Food is eaten and not photographed and no one talks about likes or stats. I'm so used to the internet that it's almost weird, but it's just how they are. Also, I made rolls from scratch and they were a hit!

- Went to a Rockets (NBA) game and sat in a suite! It was awesome and though the team hasn't been playing well this season, they won that night. Also, suites are as awesome as I thought they would be.

- Saw blog friends at June's first birthday party (gotta love when a non-blog thing becomes a blogger thing), brunched with Heidi, celebrated another friend's 40th with champagne and pirates, and tried to have more social lunches at work.

- Experienced great customer service. Four of the eight Bath & Body Works candles I ordered were shattered upon delivery. In trying to fix the situation, they refunded my card for them, sent me a new candle, and sent me a $40 merchandise credit to me. I was super impressed and I love twitter for making it easy to talk to them.

- "Suffered" through Andrew getting his wisdom teeth out. Honestly, it wasn't as bad as either of us expected. The hardest part was finding enough soft things he could eat that he didn't hate. A week after the fact, I realized how much about surgery day he didn't remember so telling him how ridiculous he had been was actually pretty fun.

- Had a fun night out at Public Services, which is pretty much the only bar I ever want to go to. Houston friends, I highly recommend it.

- Planned poorly for the Christmas season. Every year, I know it's my busiest time at work and every year, I don't shop soon enough and feel rushed and stressed when I should be full of joy. Next year will be different. At least I hope so. By the time I can relax and enjoy the season, it's over.

- We went to Delaware to spend Christmas with Andrew's family. It was a low key trip but we did get to meet my SIL's boyfriend (who has since become her fiance), spend a few minutes at the beach, and play with the cutest French bulldog. I'm lucky to have great inlaws but I missed my family a lot this year, probably because my nieces were in town from Oklahoma for the first time in years and they always make things fun. At least it will make me appreciate next year more, right?

- Went to a mini high school reunion hosted by one of my friends currently living in Singapore. It was great to see her after three years and fun to see others who I haven't seen since we graduated... over twelve years ago.

- We hosted a small New Year's Party with the aforementioned local friends. I made peanut butter chocolate truffles and salted chocolate cookie butter bark and both were hits (and also ridiculously easy!). I was super proud of my Happy New Year background, too.

- Binged Making a Murderer. I really liked it but then I read about what the filmmakers left out and was kind of annoyed with the whole thing. I mean I still think the doc was well done but a lot of the story was left out. I also watched all of season one of Jane the Virgin which I am now recommending to anyone who will listen. I need to go buy season two!

- I'm listening to Serial Season Two and feel so meh about the Bergdahl case. I mean it was a huge deal and of course I would like to know why he deserted, but it lacks the intrigue and the relationship with the subject that season one had.

Korean fried chicken at State of Grace | My Friendsgiving rolls! | My friend's cat at Friendsgiving - he wanted a seat at the table | My FIL's girlfriend's dog, Honey, who I loved | East Coast Christmas 2015 | chalk art at Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware | with my friend since 8th grade (Hi, Michelle!) | Amen, Trader Joe's | Happy 2016 from our home to yours!

That's it in a nutshell. I miss what blogging was to me but haven't made time for it like I could have - such is life. Cheers to 2016!