July Reads

Well I definitely got my reading mojo back in July, completing 11 books! (That’s only 3 less than what I read January through June combined!) It’s really surprising since this was a really busy month for us (more on that later). I think part of it was because I read a “boxed set” on my Kindle (a 4 book bundle for the Spellmans series so it was kind of like reading one long book as opposed to 4 separate ones).

But since I read so many books, this is likely going to be a lengthy post, so feel free to skim/skip to books you’re interested — or read the whole thing if you really want to! :)

15. Still Alice, Lisa Genova
This has been my favorite book so far this year (and the first book I’ve given 5 stars since December!). I’ll be posting a separate review for it.

16. Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3), Gail Carriger
The next installment in the Finishing School series. Light reads, some plot points typically predictable for sure, but still enjoyable. I read the first two last year but never posted about them. The story is from the steampunk era and I’m kind of fascinated by it just because of how the mechanicals are described and used. Imagine if things like these actually had been available back in that time, how much different would technology be today?

Sophronia is a 16-year-old girl attending finishing school, but it’s actually a school to teach girls how to be intelligencers. Some of it can be kind of funny (talking about how letter openers and fans can be used as weapons, and how to use seduction techniques to control a man to get the information you need, etc.) She is gifted at learning the various aspects of the “finishing school” and always seems to get mixed up in bigger issues, along with her group of friends, and helps solve them.

Oh did I mention that vampires and werewolves are also in the books and considered legal species? (some of them are teachers at the finishing school). It just throws in a supernatural aspect into the mix.

They’re light reads that you can get through quickly. The next book is expected some time this year.

17. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (The Mysterious Benedict Society #3), Trenton Lee Stewart
I didn’t realize this was a trilogy, thought it was a series, but as far as I can tell, there are only 3 (plus a couple of short stories that fit in between the main books). Like the Finishing School series above, I read the first two Mysterious Benedict Society books back in 2013 but never wrote about them.

This is a story about 4 extremely intelligent and gifted children who help a benevolent Mr. Benedict thwart a bad guy (who happens to be Mr. Benedict’s twin brother) from trying to control the world. Definitely a kids/young adult series. What’s great about the series is that it shows kids that it’s OK to be smart and there is always a chance for happy endings (3 of the 4 kids are orphans).

18-21. The Spellmans 1-4
A fun, witty series about a family-owned detective agency. I’m pretty sure I read the first one ages ago at the beginning of college, but am not 100% sure, as I didn’t really remember the content (but had remembered the title).
Izzy Spellman is the main character, in her mid-20s at the start of the series. They family is definitely neurotic and some of the stuff they do/get away with is amazing; I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t happen in real life!

The series follows the family over a few years and all the shenanigans and jobs they take on. Light, fun reads for the most part. I flew through reading these 4, mainly because it was a “boxed set” on my Kindle.

I recommend it if you’re looking for something quick, easy, and fun.

22. Emerald Green (Ruby Red #3), Kerstin Gier
This is the last book in the Ruby Red trilogy. We meet Gwen again, who only has a limited knowledge of the time-traveling group that she was born into. As noted in the first book, it was her cousin everyone thought would get the traveling powers, but it ended up being Gwen instead. The three books cover a very short period of time, each picking up exactly where the other left off.

Gwen knows something is up and has a feeling the head of the time traveling group is up to no good, but can she expose him and thwart his plans?

Another book/series on the lighter side and quick to read. (maybe that’s why I was able to get through so many books this month — they’re mostly “light” reads)

23. The Tea Rose (The Tea Rose #1), Jennifer Donnelly
I really enjoyed this book and was delighted to hear that it was part of a series. The cast of characters is really well-developed. There were definitely twists and turns and the “I can’t believe they just missed each other!” moments (more than a couple) that spans a number of years and 2 continents. There were also some sad, heart-wrenching moments that made you wonder how so many bad things can happen to one good person/family. But the story was a testament to following your dreams and not letting things hold you back (though sometimes you wanted to smack them upside the head for being so stubborn!), despite the fear.

24. The American Lady (The Glassblower Trilogy #2), Petra Durst-Benning
I stumbled upon the second book in this series. The last time I looked it up, it wasn’t available on the Kindle through either library that I’m a member of. So imagine my delight when I discovered I could get it!

I really enjoyed the first book and so was happy to continue the story of the glassblowing family. I think this was better than the first. Well-written and great characters. It picks up about 15 or so years after the first book ended. It was an interesting location change from Germany to New York and Italy. However, I was so upset with the way the story ended. I was not expecting it at all (sign of a good writer, I think). I definitely shed a tear or two (and probably can’t even blame it on pregnancy hormones since I’m generally an emotional person and tend to cry at books all the time). I got so wrapped up in the story and the characters and it broke my heart to read the ending.

I am looking forward to reading the last installment of this trilogy, I’m just waiting for it to become available at the library in Kindle format.

Oh Baby!

I’ve mentioned in a few different posts now that we’re expecting. I won’t go into a ton of detail, but thought I’d share a little something :)

This will prevent me from completing some of my 30 by 30 items — like getting a new tattoo, for example — but that is fine by me! In fact, I considered adding “start a family” on the list, but I felt that was a private one that I didn’t necessarily want to broadcast.

Anyway, we’re due in October (now about 6.5 weeks away) and we’re having a boy (we’ll call him Baby D)! We are so excited and can’t wait to meet him.

The pregnancy has been a good one, and has flown by. I did have lots of nausea at the beginning, but then around week 16 it went away. I’ve had some sciatic/back pain throughout and some days are worse than others, but what can you do? He favors my right side and I think he’s resting on my sciatic nerve.

Our parents threw us a baby shower this past weekend and it was so nice! We had a nice gathering of some family and friends and everyone was so thoughtful with their gifts! We got so many cute clothes, I just don’t know how we’ll be able to use them all!

I’m planning to work for as long as I can and then get a 12-week maternity leave from work, so will likely be out through early/mid January (depending on when Baby D decides to arrive).

We really are beyond excited to start this next chapter of our lives!

 

30 by 30: #1 Buy a house

I thought this was going to be one of the harder ones on my list to accomplish, but we did it! (and I feel like achieving this one outweighs not achieving others as buying a house is such a big thing compared to seeing a play on Broadway for example.)

We started seriously looking at houses in April/May and found the house we wanted at the end of June! The sellers wanted to close by the end of July, so we had a short window of time to get a lot of things done. Luckily, I had taken the first week of July off from work so I was able to put a lot of focus on what needed to get done, so it worked out well.

Let me tell you, there’s a lot that goes into buying a house! And it’s pretty overwhelming, especially as a first-time homebuyer. But I think we did alright. :) We had great people working with us (realtor, mortgage advisor, a friend who is a real estate lawyer helped us understand the documents, etc.) so we were happy to have such great guidance, and it made the process a bit smoother for us.

We used August as our last month at the apartment so we were able to take our time with packing up the apartment and getting some work done in the house (mainly painting and changing out light fixtures). We officially moved in last weekend and had the last of our stuff out of the apartment as of Thursday.

The first night in the house felt completely natural. I took last week off of work to get some unpacking and settling in done, as well as to help Sonny get acclimated to a new space before we started leaving him at home alone while we go to work. Today was my first day back to work and he did just fine! (We did have a couple of times where we left him home for an hour or 2 to get used to being here by himself, but not until later in the week).

I’m so happy we were able to find a place we both love before the baby gets here. (we do have to do his room but we have a little bit of time for that — about 7.5 weeks to go!)

30 by 30: #6 Go to Old Silver Beach

I haven’t had a real beach day in years … and it’s been even longer since I was last at Old Silver Beach. I grew up on this beach in the summertime. My mom’s family is from that area and when we were younger, we would all get together at my grandparents house (which wasn’t far from the beach) and we’d all have beach days. It was always so much fun. When it was low tide we could get out to sandbars. We’d spend hours at the beach, and of course we’d always have to get some kind of snack (usually french fries!) from the snack bar. We have a lot of really great memories growing up on that beach.

As we got older, got summer jobs, family moved away, and then eventually got “real” jobs, it became a lot harder to get to the beach. I’ve gone to local beaches around here, but none really ever matched Old Silver and the good times we had there. So I made it a point to add this to my 30 by 30 list.

I had originally reached out to my sister and a few local cousins to see if they’d want to do a beach day (I was planning to take some vacation days during the summer and thought at least one beach day would be a good use of one of those vacation days!). They were all on board, but then we never really got to planning anything. One of my aunts (one of my mom’s sisters who now lives out west) was planning a trip over here and reached out to my mom and some of their other siblings to see who would be able to meet up while they were here. It turned out a few of us could meet and so we ended up doing a beach day at Old Silver and then having a BBQ at one of the houses. It was a nice day. The sun was out, it was warm but not too hot and the water was fantastic. I sat on the beach in the shade and took a few dips in the water, just enjoying the day and the company (and I did get french fries from the snack bar, too).

I didn’t take too many photos, but here’s one!

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I’m glad I’m able to successfully cross this off my list as completed!

June Reads

Another 2 books in June…

13. A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire #5), George R R Martin
As mentioned in my May reading post, I read this back to back with book 4. This was another re-read for me. I read book 5 when it came out in 2011. So it’s been a few years since I last read it. And again as mentioned in the May post, there was a lot I had forgotten but I wanted to refresh my memory so I could keep up with the show.

Now that the show has basically caught up with the books, I really can’t wait for Winds of Winter (#6) to be published. And I really hope it comes out before the show does; I don’t want to find out major plot points via the TV show, but as it was originally intended through the books. However, I’m not saying that they show is bad by any means. I think the producers have done a great job with the show and with the resources they have available. But I just want to be able to get the new parts of the story from the books.

This is really such a great and well-written series and you really get attached to characters (which is dangerous in the world of Westeros!). But the depth of the characters and the details really make it stand out from other stories.

I highly recommend you read this if you haven’t yet!
14. The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3), Deborah Harkness
It’s been some time since I read the 2nd book (back in 2013 when it came out), so my memory was a bit rusty at first when picking this up. But I was able to remember enough to keep up with the story and not feel lost. Despite the length (500+ pages), it was a quick read.

This is the last in the trilogy starring Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont and the rest of their family and friends. (I did write a review on the first book back in 2013, but never got around to writing one about the second book). This installment did provide a fitting ending to the story. As with the other two books, there was a bit of action, more science and discovery included in the story. It was nice to see the aunts’ house again too. As I noted with the first book’s review, it was definitely refreshing and interesting to see a science spin on the supernatural.

May Reads

As you can see in my reading list for this year, it’s been slow going and I didn’t even finish any books in April. I found that for a chunk of time early in my pregnancy, I didn’t feel like doing much, even reading. I watched a lot of TV, actually.

I started picking up the reading again in May, though there were only 2 books completed.

11. Titanic: Voices of the Disaster, Deborah Hopkinson
This was a really good book looking into the Titanic from the point of view of her passengers. My dad is a huge Titanic buff so growing up I learned a lot about the Titanic. So from time to time I still catch myself reading a book about it or watching one of the TV specials on History Channel, Discovery Channel, etc.

It was also a sad look into the tragedy, reading the hope and excitement from letters of the passengers and knowing what was coming. Definitely eye-opening though to see what people were like at the time and on the ship. (and I must say that Bruce Ismay was quite a coward!)

A sad fact of the Titanic is that it’s really only famous for its sinking. Had it gone smoothly, it would have only gone down in history as the largest and grandest ship of her time.


12. A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire #4), George R R Martin
This is a re-read for me. I only read it once when I bought the first 4 books back around 2006, and though the 5th book didn’t come out until 2011, I did not re-read book  before reading book 5 (I should have). It was definitely a good refresher as there were some details I definitely didn’t remember. I also wanted to re-read this one because it was being reflected in the newest season on HBO. And to be honest, I really wanted to re-read it more to see where the books and TV show diverged (and there were many places!). A couple of my friends watch the show but do not read the books and we’d do recaps within a day or 2 of the episodes and more often than not when they’d ask a question I found myself saying “well it’s different in the books so I’m not sure how they’ll play it out in the show” or “that doesn’t happen in the books so I have no idea where they’re going with it.”

It’ll be hard for me to separate this from book 5 since I read them back to back (finished it n June, so I’ll write a little more in that post). But there was so much that happened and like I said above, a good amount of stuff that I didn’t remember well. It definitely got me back on track and hoping for book 6 even more now!

30 by 30: #30 Spend a day “unplugged” = no technology!

How about doing one better and basically doing a weekend?

We went camping over 4th of July weekend and were in a dead zone for cell phones. We had to drive about 15-20 minutes just to get cell phone service. (because we have some other things going on here at home, we did need to make the trip once each day, but those are different circumstances and since the vast majority of each day was spent in a no cell zone, I’m counting it as the “unplugged” goal on my 30×30 list!)

It was great. We had perfect weather (mid-70s F during the day with a good breeze). It got pretty chilly at night, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was probably about 45 degrees F!

This is the 4th year we’ve done this camping trip, but the first time doing it over 4th of July weekend (we usually go the 2nd or 3rd week of July). We’ve been going with my cousin and her family. It’s great newer tradition that we’re happy to have started. (she has 2 stepsons in their teens and 2 other younger kids under the age of 3). Next year we’ll have a new camper (our baby!)

We mainly relaxed, hung out, played some games, attempted a hike (we were led to believe it was fairly flat and easy for small children and pregnant women..not so much! I had to turn around a certain point because it was just getting too steep for me and I was getting uncomfortable).

I did take a few pictures to share, so here you go!

Our tent

Our tent (an 8 person tent for the 2 of us)

Our campsite

Our campsite

View of the river from behind our tent

View of the river from behind our tent

March Reads

Turns out March was a month for reading odd books. These were all books on my To Read list on Goodreads and I was able to get them all from the library on my Kindle around the same time, I guess.

Anyway, I am writing these mini reviews quite sometime after reading them, so bear with me as I struggle to remember specific details!

8. Cinema Lumiere, Hattie Holden Edmonds
I’d say this was probably the one I enjoyed the most of the 3 I read this month. The cast of characters was good, they were well-developed. I enjoyed the main character, Hannah, as well as her shy new office assistant Ian. Their interactions were really good and helped pull Ian out of his shell. The other main character to enjoy was Victor, the elderly gentleman that Hannah had befriended but lost connection with prior to the start of the novel. The novel bounced back and forth between past and present which I thought was a nice build up to the end of the story (albeit, slightly predictable by a certain point). However, it was a story to make you think about your life and make sure that you learn to trust, let go of past disappointments, go for what will make you happy, and keep the ones you love close.

9. The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman
This one was harder to enjoy. Coralie is one of the main attractions in her father’s freak show on Coney Island set in the early 1900s. She has webbed fingers and so her father makes her play the part of a mermaid. She had to endure spending time underwater to improve her lung capacity so she could sit in a tank of water. As the freak show popularity dwindles, Coralie’s father insists he needs to find something that will bring everyone’s attention back, and has a horrible plan to do this.
The story flips between 2 characters’ points of view, Coralie and Eddie Cohen, a young photographer who photographs death and destruction for the newspapers. After a tragic factory fire, he is pulled into the mysterious disappearance of one of the factory workers. As he searches, he and Coralie cross paths and eventually connect in this search.
It is difficult to read some of the passages, such as the description of the factory fire, and how Coralie’s father treats her and his employees (the “freaks”, a cast I liked) and what he makes them do (especially Coralie). He is a strict, harsh man.
In the end it was an OK book.

10. The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton
Another one that had a few harsh characters. Nella has just joined her new husband whom she doesn’t even know. His severe and serious sister acts as his housekeeper. He works a lot and so to keep Nella occupied he buys her a miniature cabinet, which is their house in miniature form. She finds a miniaturist’s ad and reaches out to get small items made for the house. In addition to the ones she requests, she also gets some odd ones (like actual miniature versions of the people in the household and her husband’s dogs). Then strange things begin to happen and she starts to wonder if the miniaturist is predicting or causing what’s happening. She’s afraid to tell anyone what she’s receiving. Some bits of the story were predictable but it was still a decent read. (It’s now July when I’m writing this one, so I can only really do a very light synopsis…)

30 by 30: #13, #14, #26

I’ve decided to combine the posts for these 3 items because they all share the same reason I was/will be unable to complete them by my birthday: we’re having a baby! (I’ll post more about that later :))

#13: Lose 15 pounds
I really didn’t start making a true effort until January 1, when hubby and I started using the MyFitnesspal App and being more conscious of the types of food we were eating and the portion sizes.

Prior to getting pregnant I had lost a little over 5 pounds and I was really proud of myself for sticking with it. Of all the times I’ve tried to lose weight, this was the first time I had written down mini goals. I think it helped because it was more motivating to see “1.4 pounds to go” instead of “11.4 pounds to go” (those numbers are just examples).

#14: Cut 5 minutes off my Calle’s Miracle Run 5K time
I participated in the first 2 Calle’s Miracle Runs which help raise money and awareness for DIPG, a terrible, inoperable brain tumor that affects young children. Most do not survive one year after diagnosis. Family friends started a non-profit, Hope for Caroline, when their little girl was diagnosed in 2013. Unfortunately, she passed away last year. Here’s a link to Calle’s Miracle Run website, where you can learn more about Calle’s story.

This was to be the 3rd year I was going to run, and I had every intention of training and beating my previous time (as you can tell by the title of this 30×30 goal).

After learning that I was pregnant, I was uncertain whether training and running (since it wasn’t something I was doing normally) was a good idea, and so I decided to err on the side of caution and not run. Looking back, I realize I probably could have walked it. I was still in the nauseous period at the time of the Run so in the end I think I made the right decision. I was bummed I didn’t participate, but there’s always next year (and maybe I’ll include a jogging stroller)!

#26: Take a boxing class
Bought a Groupon: $30 for 4 classes, 1 personal training session, and gloves with ilovekickboxing.com. Was super excited to use it, but again, after finding out I was pregnant, knew this was an activity I would not be able to participate in just yet. And unfortunately, the Groupon was only good for a certain amount of time. This is definitely something I’d like to try at some point!

Pillowcase Dresses

In my catch up post a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was helping out a co-worker who was going on a relief mission by sewing up some dresses. Well, I finally finished the couple I had to do. I was procrastinating a bit, and then when I finally sat down to do them, I was only able to complete one as I had to go out and buy more bias tape, which I wasn’t able to do until yesterday. In total though, it probably only took me 2-3 hours to do both of them.

A little more information on her relief trip: she is going to Malawi, Africa with an organization called Villages in Partnership. She went last year and is returning again to do the same thing: help set up and run medical and dental clinics for the people who live there. They have a list of items requested (like pain medicines for adults and children– like Tylenol, Advil, etc., gently used prescription glasses, and other everyday items.). This year, as I mentioned in that earlier post, she wanted to include home-sewn clothing as well.

The dresses that I hemmed were a couple of different colors: 2 orange ones and 2 purple ones. I kept 1 purple one with me so I could use it as a guide to sew the remaining 2 blue ones.

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purple fabric

They’re very simple to put together and really cute!

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twins

shoulder tie

shoulder tie

close up of fabric pattern

close up of fabric pattern

I’ll be giving them to my co-worker on Monday when we get back to work. I hope they make some of the little girls happy!

Sewaholic Renfrew Top

On one of my trips to Joann’s Fabrics earlier this year, I found a great deep purple knit interlock called Blackberry by Sew Classics in the remnants bin (there was 1 yard left). I didn’t have a pattern in mind at the time, but I loved the color and how it felt and thought I could figure out something to make with it.

I also purchased the Sewaholic Renfrew pattern earlier in the year. I loved the different views and how you can take a mix-and-match approach with the different pieces. To start, I wanted to try View B. (One thing I noticed about the pattern was that piece #5 was marked as piece #6 (so there were 2 #6s on the pattern paper) so I missed tracing it at first.)

After buying the pattern, I thought the Blackberry interlock might be good to use for it. The color would go really well with a pair of work pants.

The pattern called for almost 3 yards for the size I needed, and I thought that might be a lot. I was curious to see if I could eek out the whole pattern with just the 1 yard of the Blackberry interlock.

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Sewaholic Renfrew & Blackberry Interlock

I traced all the pattern piece sizes I needed onto tracing paper and then tried my best to get all the pieces on the one yard of fabric. I almost succeeded! I was so disappointed when I discovered they wouldn’t all fit. I tried a couple of different ways to maximize the amount of fabric, but no luck. Because the fabric was a remnant, I wasn’t sure if they would have more in stock. I hopped online to Joann.com and found that they had more in stock in my local Joann’s!

I bought another yard of fabric and had no problem cutting out the pattern pieces. It was pretty quick to sew together and I was pretty pleased with the result. I’ve worn it a couple of times.

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The fabric ended up feeling a bit thicker than I was expecting when all was said and done. One change I would make is the size of the arm holes on the bodice piece. I would make them a little bigger as the armpit of the shirt is basically right up against my armpit and so can be a little annoying as the day goes on. (I suppose washing it a couple of times has shrunk the fabric a bit more because I don’t remember it being that way the first time I wore it).

When I walked into the living room to show hubby, he said “good job, babe. It looks like you bought it at the store.” I was pretty happy to hear that :)

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I think having a serger would be really helpful with something like this, but alas, I do not have one. Maybe some day…

(side note: I actually completed this shirt on Feb 8, but time got away from me and I just realized I still had this post in draft! I just had to update some references to time)

Playing Catch Up

Hi readers!  (Can I still call you that, do you still read my few sporadic posts?)

Well, life and work have certainly been very busy! So much going on that I’ve really neglected this blog, and I know I’ve said that quite a few times over the last year and a half or so.

Warning: there are no pictures in this post just some recapping, please forgive me :)

I haven’t made a ton of headway on my 30 x 30 list (not really surprised, to be honest, but a little bummed). I still have a few months to go (about 7) so I’m sure I can accomplish some of them! — Although I’m realizing I really don’t need to put an “expiration date” on when I want to do things, I thought it would be fun to kind of challenge myself. (But I’ve basically given up on the picture a day challenge, unfortunately — it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be!) So I think I’ll end up still trying to accomplish these items, even it takes me beyond my 30th birthday.

Reading

It’s actually been a slow reading year for me so far, only 10 books, and none finished yet this month! (I just posted my mini reviews for the February books and am drafting the March books). I find that I’m just not really into the books I’ve been picking up. I haven’t requested any e-books from the library in quite some time and some of the books I did request I never got to before they needed to returned. So unlike me!

I did start re-reading book 4 of A Song of Ice and Fire since the new season started on Sunday, so I hope to have at least that finished by the end of the month!

I am still participating in the volunteer reading with my work though due to all the snow storms we had at the beginning of the year we haven’t read nearly as frequently as in past years. I believe the program ends by the end of next month for this school year.

Sewing
Another area I’ve neglected — much more than reading! A co-worker of mine does relief missions each year and is doing another one this year. This time, she decided she wanted to make little dresses for the girls there (as well as dresses and skirts for the adult women). She asked if I’d like to help out and of course I said yes. She gave me a few dresses that were partially complete (I finished the hemming) and then also gave me a couple of dresses that were cut out but needed to be assembled. I need to finish those. (I have a little time as she leaves in about a month). I didn’t take any pictures of the other dresses since I didn’t really do much with them, but I’ll take pictures of the ones I sew together.

I started catching up on blog reading and a number of the blogs I follow are about sewing. It really inspires me to get into it again, so I’m hoping I’ll actually jump into things sooner rather than later. I am planning to make one of the diaper pouch/changing pad combos for my new nephew (he’s a week old today!) but need to pick up a few more things before I can get started. I’m hoping to get to the store this weekend.

Knitting
Not much progress here, either. I had started knitting my first sweater a while back, but had to rip it out and start over (luckily I wasn’t that far into it), which I did the other day, so hopefully I’ll keep up the momentum.

Work
Work was crazy hectic for the first quarter. I got a promotion, which I am super pumped about. I’m still in the same department and have the same manager, but now I have a different focus and have more projects to work on and more responsibilities in some areas, so it’s exciting!

We had a big 2-day off-site meeting at the end of March which I helped to plan and that really took up so much of my time. (We had really started some minor details before the end last year, but the real focus was January through March). I was so relieved when it was over! It went really well and everyone liked the venue, the topics, the presentations, etc. I even gave a presentation! It was my first real presentation to an audience of 100+ people at work, so I was nervous, but I think I did alright. (I got some good feedback from some of the attendees, so I feel pretty confident saying it went well!)

We’re still really busy of course, and I’m taking a certification course to earn my Green Belt in Lean Six Sigma (a process improvement methodology), so it’s not just coasting along now that the meeting is over.

Life
Lots of things going on in life right now, some I’m not prepared to go into detail about yet, but will eventually! My sister just had her 3rd baby, a perfect little boy! He’s sooo cute. As mentioned above he’s a week old today, which is hard to believe already! One of my cousins is due in a few weeks (also a little boy) and we’re excited to meet him, too!

We’re still house hunting, not too seriously yet, but still want to get a house before the year is out. (any advice for first time home-buying is appreciated!)

So I guess that’s basically it right now. I’m hoping to have more regular postings soon. (I know I say that often, too)

February Book Reviews

5. Sharp Objectsby Gillian Flynn
Wow. It took me a couple days to fully process my reaction to this book. Words that immediately came to mind were: dark, twisted, sad, psychological. What a cast of complex characters, each with his or her own issues and secrets. I flip-flopped between 2 characters as the suspects for who committed the crimes in the book and was correct — at least that they were both involved, though in different ways and unbeknownst to each other (how’s that for a cryptic comment?)
It was really well written and it was definitely a page turner (I read it on my Kindle, so a page tapper?). I read it over 2-3 days (technically finished it around midnight/1am on February 1).

6. The Fourth Bear (Nursery Crimes #2), Jasper Fforde
Another clever romp by Jasper Fforde. I love the way he takes the typical nursery rhymes and morphs them into these stories. His writing style is very clever and witty, and has a dry humor to it. Lots of puns, too, which are funny. The characters are really well developed and each have their own distinct personalities. Definitely interested in continuing to read the series.

7. Landline, Rainbow Rowell
I read Rowell’s Eleanor & Park last year so thought I’d give another one of her books a shot. It was definitely a good look into Georgie’s (the main character) mindset. Using her landline telephone to talk to her husband in the past was an interesting concept and I understand that it was a device to help her realize what she needed to do. However, I felt like it took her way too long to do it. It wasn’t rocket science and something that most people would have realized way sooner. Not a favorite book and not sure if I’ll read any of her others.

January Book Reviews

I’m going to do something a little different this year in regards to book reviews. I’ve decided that I’ll do a monthly post with a mini book review for each book I completed within that month. On my book list tracker (2015), I’m breaking them down into months and the month will be linked to the review post, instead of the individual books.

So, without further ado, I give you the January book posts (imagine flourishing arm waving as a curtain parts on the stage…just kidding)

#1. Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
This is only the 3rd Jane Austen book I’ve read (the other 2 are Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice).

It was a lot harder to get into than the others. I felt like the writing was harder to follow (though maybe the others were easier for me to read because I also knew the stories fairly well having seen the movies too). As I was reading some of it, it sounded vaguely familiar… I think I may have watched some of the movie before…

Anyway, the story started out so slowly (I think that’s probably why I struggled to stick with it). But the characters were probably what bugged me the most in this story. I had a lot more written about specific characters when I started my draft review (before I decided to do my reviews per month instead of by book), so to condense that I’ll pull out some comments:

  • Fanny – so timid/meek and naïve. She rarely seems to have energy. So much different than Austen’s other leading ladies that I’ve read. I got frustrated when she wouldn’t speak up or stand up for herself (especially in the scene with her uncle where she wouldn’t actually say why she couldn’t/wouldn’t marry Henry). I understand that this is probably more due to the people who “raised” her (including the abuse from her Aunt Norris and the way her cousins – except Edmund – looked down on her), but still. It was hard to think of her as a leading character when she never stood up for herself and took everything they dished out.
  • Lady Bertram – boy, what was the purpose of her at all? Such a lazy woman who can’t think for herself and needs her husband (or her sister) to make her decisions.
  • Aunt Norris – ugh, what a horrid woman. So obnoxious and self-serving. She’s one I would have liked to slap multiple times.

The plot is decent, but it was difficult for me to really get into the story. I actually first started reading this book back in June (2014) and after a couple of days put it down. I didn’t pick it up again until December 27/28ish, and then finished it on January 3.

If this had been my first Austen experience, I’m not sure I would have continued with her other books, so I’m happy that I had read some others first, and I will still read her others. (I read a website that said that Mansfield Park is rather different from the rest of her novels, especially where the leading female character is concerned. I was happy to hear that there is hope for the remaining novels I have yet to read, because I will read them!)

#2. The 39 Clues #4: Beyond the Grave, Jude Watson
The fourth installment in a race for clues around the world. It is a collaborative effort among a number of authors (each book is written by a different author). The story is a little out there, as I highly doubt an 11-year-old, a 14-year-old, and their au pair would be able to do most of the things they do around the world, but I guess that’s the adventure of it all.

I originally read the first one to see if it would be something my niece would enjoy and didn’t really have the intention of continuing on, but then saw that the next books were available through my library ebook catalog, so just kept reading them.

The books tend to focus on one country, person, theme, etc. per book. For example, one book was focused on music, Mozart, and his history. So it’s still educational for kids, which I think is great.

And now I kind of have to admit that I’m curious to get to the end of the series and see what awaits the kids…

#3.  The Girl with the Windup Heart (Steampunk Chronicles #4), Kady Cross
Since this is the last in the series, I don’t want to get into the details and will rather talk generally about the series as a whole. I hadn’t really read much steampunk before this series, and for the most part I enjoy it. Sometimes it’s hard for me to fathom that young characters (mid-teens to 20/21) do what they do, but like mentioned for the series above, it’s part of the story’s adventure. But the ideas, machines, and inventions, are pretty cool. It’d be pretty amazing to see what our world would look like today if some of the things described in these books existed back in the 1800s…we’d certainly be more advanced!

The series is typical in that, at the highest level, it’s a story of good vs. evil. However, it’s not just the good guys vs. the bad guys (though there is definitely plenty of that). Some characters have the internal struggle, too (some are more apparent than others).

I liked the cast of characters, it was rather a motley bunch which made it fun.

#4. The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crimes #1), Jasper Fforde
Oh Jasper Fforde. I really enjoy his books. The Thursday Next series was my introduction to Jasper Fforde when I was in college. And though I enjoyed the earlier books in the series more than the last, I still enjoyed. So a high bar was set for this series, and it was met.

Fforde crafts such quick-witted and funny characters. The dialog between characters has me chuckle out loud from time to time. To take kids’ stories, like nursery rhymes, and turn them into adult crime stories cracks me up (no pun intended with this book, where Humpty Dumpty has his great fall…).

I would love to see this series (and the Thursday Next series) as TV shows or something; I think it would be quite funny to watch.

He is a very clever author and I look forward to reading more of the series (in fact, I’m currently reading book 2).

 

So this was a rather lengthy post. I’ll definitely be mindful of that in future months!

30 by 30: #8 Travel to somewhere I’ve never been

Date(s) completed: January 19 – 23, 2015
Location: England

This was a trip for work, so I didn’t really get much time for sightseeing and touristy things, but it was still a good trip. It was great to interact face-to-face with people I usually only connect with electronically (email, IM, and such).

This post might get a bit lengthy. (you’ve been warned).

I flew over Sunday night into Monday morning. Since Monday was a US holiday, I was able to use it as such and was able to do a bit of exploring. My hotel was in Marlow. What a picturesque little town! I definitely would want to explore further if/when I get the chance to go again.

Church across the Thames from the hotel

Church across the Thames from the hotel

Obligatory photobooth pictures when in England

Obligatory photobooth pictures

Another view of the river.

The hotel had some things that I wasn’t used and at first I thought my lights were broken. Apparently you stick your room key in a little box by the door which will make the light switches work. When you take your card out, they all turn off — good way to conserve electricity!

How to make your lights work

How to make your lights work

They also had a towel warmer and a dial to heat the tiles in the bathroom (fancy!). They also had something in the mirror that would clear out a perfect square if it got all fogged up from the shower steam (super fancy!).

towel warmer

towel warmer

Two things I found strange: half a shower door & the paper lining in all the cabinets and drawers. I felt like I had to stay very close to the shower head so I wouldn’t get water everywhere! (It did heat up really fast which was nice)

Half a door?

Half a door?

Pike?

?

Because I arrived early on Monday morning, I planned to go into London for a few hours to try and see some of the main sights (you know: Big Ben, London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, Tower of London, Museum of London because they had a Sherlock Holmes exhibit, etc.). A co-worker recommended that I do a hop-on/hop-off bus since I only had limited time to be in London and that might provide me with a good look at a bunch of things in a short time. I thought it was a great idea, so I purchased a ticket before I left home. The bus had 4 different routes so I would have plenty of stops along the way.

I picked the wrong bus tour. I got into London (at Paddington Station, which I now know is a bit too far from everything and I should have taken the Tube to another station, but I digress…). I walked for probably 20 minutes to one of the stops on one of the bus routes (near the Marble Arch and Hyde Park) and waited for the bus. And waited. And waited. And… you see where this is going, right? Turns out only one route went to that stop and could take 20-30 minutes between buses arriving. So I looked at the map and decided to walk to the next stop (which had 3 routes stopping at it, which would mean more buses, right? Wrong.) I walked about another 15 minutes to the next stop and waited. And waited. I finally saw the bus I needed! — on the other side of the street. (The entire time I was in the city I think I saw the bus company I needed 4 or 5 times — never where I needed it to be — but the other hop-on/hop-off buses were all over the place and stopping everywhere!)

To make a long story short, I never got on one of the buses. I felt like I was chasing it for a while. I decided to give up on the bus and just walk around a bit. I wandered around London for a few hours instead. Unfortunately, I really didn’t know where anything was in relation to where I was, so I actually never saw anything that I listed above… not even in the distance/on the horizon! I tried to make my way to Westminster Abbey at least, by following the signs for it, but then after a while I didn’t see them anymore. So I gave up and headed back to Paddington. (I’m pretty sure I ended up walking down the street where some of the embassies are…)

Luckily, the day was sunny (though cold) so it was a good, brisk day for walking (similar to weather back here, but the locals couldn’t believe how cold it was!). I got back to the hotel and waited for 3 of my colleagues to arrive so we could go to dinner. We had a nice dinner at a local Marlow restaurant walking distance from the hotel. Also, I had one of the best sleeps of my life that night. I don’t even think I moved. (Basically hadn’t slept since Saturday night since I only slept for about 1 hour on the flight over).

A fun fact: I wore my fitbit that day. I ended up with a total of over 22,000 steps and walked approximately 9.3 miles in that 24 hour time period!

Onto the rest of the week — I worked for the rest of the days and had a couple of work dinners. Productive days and really great dinners with good groups of people, so it was a successful trip. I would love to go back. If I was able to go for work again, I’d definitely tack on some personal days to do proper sightseeing—- and really plan out what I wanted to do! (I’d also see if hubby would travel with me for those personal days so it would be like a mini vacation for us —- and we learned that his cousin in France would only be about a 4 hour train ride away from London on the TGV.)

British pounds

British pounds

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll get a chance to go again sometime this year.

Have you ever been to England/London?