Category Archives: Miscellany

The Year That Got Away

Hi there.

So it’s been a while; I’m sorry. Last year went by in a blur of nonstop travel and work that just wouldn’t let up. Here are just a few updates on the whirlwind that was 2014.

I read 27 books, not 40 as resolved at the beginning of the year. I just edged number 27 in on New Year’s Eve because my family was kind enough to indulge me and let me read (mostly) uninterrupted for a while, and since I’d started the book in January I thought it was about time for me to finish it. I’ll try this goal again in 2015 — but 40 is a lot of books. Also not achieved? Reading a straight-up non-memoir nonfiction book. I did start one…but it is very long. Do stay tuned for my standout reads of the year: there were a few that were worth talking about, and the talking didn’t happen like it should have.

I became an auntie this summer! Because this is a public blog, I won’t be putting up any photos of my sweet and entirely adorable nephew, but rest assured he gives Prince George a run for his money with the CHEEKS and the CUTENESS.

I ran a half-marathon! I managed to injure myself early in training so I was very happy and thankful just to finish. I know some people talk about crying when they finish a full marathon, but it only took 13.1 miles for me cross the finish line (to Pink Martini’s “Hang On Little Tomato“) taking these shuddery sob-breaths (it would have taken more energy than I had left to actually cry). Then endorphins and the post-run-reward runner’s brunch happened:

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I don’t know what the year ahead holds — wouldn’t it be nice to know? — but like Anne of Green Gables, “I’m going to believe that the best does.

Ffffffffebruary

Winter came early where I live. I marked the descent of this most frigid season to our clime around mid-November last year, and it’s hung around with its usual persistence. The thing is, before Christmas, I don’t mind at all. I expect and might even occasionally delight in snow before Christmas. No, the worst thing about winter is how much of it is left to go after Christmas passes (essentially, all of it).

009The area I live in hasn’t even been hit as hard as other areas, like New York. We’ve had temperatures in the single digits, snow, and wind chills below zero, but it never makes national news. Maybe because I live in the Pacific Northwest, which everyone just expects to have grim, interminable winters.

You try to find ways to make winter bearable. Like telling yourself that these snow-covered trees might be something like what Lucy saw when she emerged from the other side of the wardrobe into Narnia. Or, on a particularly grim-weathered evening, as freezing rain edges into snow, one might imagine oneself inside that Howard Nemerov poem, just watching for the moment when the falling things fly instead of fall.

In post-Christmas winter, it can be hard work to find beautiful, magical things, and most of my coping mechanisms, for better or worse, involve my inserting myself into stories and poems. It’s a reason to read, after all, not that I needed one.

I mostly spent February watching the Olympics (yay Charlie and Meryl!) and cooking. I toyed mercilessly with three different blog posts for you all month long, trying to find fewer, better words. My reading last month was frenetic at best: I tried to read about four different books, but the only one I managed to finish, I essentially hate-read: by which I mean I hated nearly everything about the book but continued to read, bitterly, out of spite and a vague notion that Winter Is For Suffering.

At one point in this book I hated, the “heroine” (it pains me to apply that term to her) burns her winter coat because it got blood on it (don’t ask), but she throws it, whole, onto the fire. WHICH WOULD SMOTHER THE FIRE. BUT IT DOESN’T. LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE IN THIS BOOK OF GIANT GAPS OF PLOT LOGIC, IT MADE NO SENSE. She says she’ll make some excuse and get a new winter coat (implying she has no secondary backup coats), but the very next day she’s pulling on a new one with no explanation of how she got it.

But this raises a question I’ve been struggling with for a while: how do you talk about books you hated? I shy away from being super-negative here on my blog because I don’t want to invite negativity here, but sometimes a book just doesn’t work for me and I’d like to talk about it. If you have any ideas, please share!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with these links: the stages of winter rage (thank you, NPR!), and 5 Reading Rules for Books Lovers of All Ages, from Reading Rainbow. We can do it, guys. The first day of spring is technically two weeks away, so we’re almost there.

Reading Resolutions Revisited

Happy New Year! The time when so many of us resolve anew to Do Better in whatever ways we feel we need to! While I’m always hesitant to set goals like “lose 10 pounds!” (losing weight is really, really hard!), I do try to make the New Year mark a return to reformed eating. The holiday season (which I define as the week of Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve) is a time of guiltless indulgence on my part, in which I eat sugar and other things that are not necessarily good for me with some degree of abandon and almost zero feelings of guilt.

So today at work I brought one of my typical “reformed eating” lunches: Greek yogurt, grapes, and a portion of crackers. I am a very picky eater: the only brand of Greek yogurt I can stomach is Liberté, and if I’m eating yogurt for lunch I prefer Greek because it’s more filling than other types of yogurt. As it happened, when I was at the grocery store, the only Liberté yogurt they had was labeled “Méditerranée”. “How different could it be,” I thought to myself, and put two in my cart without further review.

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Look at my grown up lunch!

Today, I walked back from the fridge to my desk feeling so proud of my responsible and adult-y ways, with my baggy of grapes and container of yogurt. Running high on not having to do the Dance of the Microwaves with all the other people crowded into the tiny kitchen on our floor, I admittedly thought things like “Maybe I will lose five pounds without even trying!”

I popped out to the Liberté web site as I stirred my yogurt to find out the difference between Méditerranée and Greek yogurt. Whereupon I discovered that my “healthy” yogurt lunch was actually made with whole milk (gag) and contained 37% (probably more) of my daily allotment of saturated fat. So, in other words, pretty different from their fat-free Greek yogurt (which also has about half as many calories as this Méditerranée stuff).

As my mother and her mother would remind me, “Pride goeth before a fall.”

On the other hand, the Liberté Méditerranée lime yogurt was absolutely delicious.

The same optimism which inspired me to try the Mediterranean yogurt leads me to make my 2014 reading resolutions, in spite of the fact that I only achieved approximately half of 2013’s resolutions. Which half, you wonder?

I read some nonfiction last year, but nothing that jumped out to me as something my brother-in-law might enjoy. (In the spirit of New Year’s optimism, I award myself partial credit for this one.) I finished Middlemarch in literally the final moments before my thirtieth birthday. (Double points, because it’s Middlemarch.) I read one book originally written in a language other than English (Danish), translated into English (it wasn’t quite blog-worthy; still, full credit awarded). And if my grand plans for a long-distance book club never got off the ground, well, I think maybe that’s on Life, and not on me, so I awarded myself partial credit for this one too (I came up with a list of books we ought to read).

Starting fresh for 2014…should I bite off another classic to try my patience (and yours)? Should I resolve to finally commit to reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell?

According to my Goodreads profile, I read approximately 30 books in 2013, which frankly seems low. I feel as though I must have read more than 30 and simply failed to log them, but in reality, that’s probably true. I certainly started more than 30 books in 2013. So, in 2014, I’m going to try to finish more than 30 books. I’ve certainly got enough material: my electronic stack of books to be read (these are books I’ve already purchased) is nearly forty titles long, and that doesn’t even touch on the list of books I want to read (100+) or the physical books at my bedside, which stare in judgy disappointment at me whenever I choose to re-read Mary Stewart or Georgette Heyer on a quiet evening rather than try something new. Like Nick Hornby once said in the delightful column he wrote for The Believer about the books he bought and the books he actually read in a month, my book-buying policy is almost always “ludicrously optimistic”. So let’s shoot for 40 books read in 2014: at least two originally written in a language other than English and one straight up nonfiction non-memoir book.

I’m also planning to train for (and run in) a half marathon in 2014. And generally to Do Better, which is really more of a daily resolution for me, but it bears repeating.

Here’s to ludicrous optimism! Happy 2014!

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We All Need More Jane Austen In Our Lives

Although I may have given you plenty of reason to believe otherwise, I’m not a fan of the many, many spinoffs from Jane Austen’s novels. To me, generally speaking, the novels are perfect as they are, and I think we should just leave it there.

But, don’t you love the idea of making blackberry jam with blackberries picked on Box Hill, of Emma fame? LondonEats just did exactly that, and the photo of the view looks like it was taken out of one of the movies! Jam from farmers’ market berries just wouldn’t taste the same.

And while I’m against spinoffs as a general rule, if you’re dramatizing some of my favorite stories of all time, well, that’s another story. Which brings me to…

EMMA APPROVED has started! Are you watching? I am! It’s the second web series by the same people who did the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, this time retelling the story of Emma. I was a latecomer to the whole Lizzie Bennet Diaries business — I only discovered this fantastic web series in August, and I unabashedly confess to some serious, serious binge-watching.

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Binge-watching with my very own Charlotte.

You’ll think to yourself, “Oh, the next episode is only 8 minutes,” but suddenly three hours have gone by. My sister says it’s a fascinating new way to tell stories, using the ways many of us document the stories of our lives today (Twitter, Facebook, and that whole mixed bag of social media as we know it).

And finally, I saw the Austenland movie in September. When I read the book ages ago, I thought it was only marginally entertaining, but it works really, really well as a movie (and they made the main character less irritating in the movie). It’s exactly the type of movie you want to have around as the days start getting shorter.

Have you come across any great Austen-related things lately?

Things Have Been Weird

It’s been a weird couple of months. I blame turning thirty back in July. Just, since then…it’s been weird. There were some great things and some other not so great things, and mostly I just didn’t feel one hundred percent like me one hundred percent of the time.

026Some examples: My birthday falls on the last day of a month, the same day my rent is due. In July, and for the first time ever in my life, I forgot to pay my rent. That’s the level of crazy-not-myself I’m talking about. Then, in August, I had to leave town on business and was completely incapable of getting myself organized for the trip, to the extent that I took a cab from the airport to the wrong hotel, got lost trying to find the right hotel, and ended up hailing a rescue cab somewhere toward the end of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. Not quite the auspicious start to this brand-new-to-me decade that I’d hoped for.

020And then! Just this month, the power cord to my computer died a mysterious, untimely death! Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever even heard of anything like this happening before? I hadn’t! I thought those things just worked indefinitely world-without-end-amen! And I didn’t realize the power cord wasn’t working until my computer battery was failing fast and I was afraid of Losing Everything so I shut down and my computer has been sitting cold and silent for a full two weeks while I waited for a new one. Two weeks! Two is too many.

Well, we’re back in business now, ladies and gentlemen. I had so many things to say to you when my computer was dead, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’m pressing restart on this whole thirty thing.