Friday, August 18, 2017

Five Favorites - August 2017

Greetings! Today I'm linking up with Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy for the Friday Five 2.0. The topic du jour is running fuel which you'll see in #2 below but here are some other things I've been loving lately as well.

1) I bought a new pair of prescription sunglasses as a birthday present to myself last month. I do have a sporty pair as well that are 5-6 years old. My prescription hasn't changed much so they are still great for active and outdoorsy activities, but I love having a nicer pair to wear with everyday or nicer clothes.

2) I have changed my allegiance for running fuel from Clif Shots to Honey Stinger gels and waffles. The consistency of the gels is so much better for me compared to Clif Shots or GU. It's a little thinner so it goes down easier without the gunky aftertaste. The waffles are my new go-to right before I start because having to actually chew something while running seems like too much effort!

3) I was skeptical and hesitated to buy these Good Manners Flash Cards but I'm so glad I did. Swede loves them and her manners have significantly improved in the past couple weeks. She asks to look at the cards every day after breakfast and dinner. We'll learn one new card and review the old ones. I don't expect the novelty will last forever but it's been a great kick-start to basic manners. 

4) Also for my birthday, my parents gave me a deeply fabulous Kate Spade handbag. Usually I carry a smaller purse or just throw my wallet and keys into the diaper bag but this purse is great when I need more space and also to look nice. It's especially great on my trips to Denver for work (as seen in the photo above) so I can maximize my carry-on plus personal item limit. I love the pretty blue color too!

5) Last but not least, I bought a new pair of my favorite pajamas, the Asian Wrap Cropped Pajamas from Garnet Hill. Having matching pajamas makes me feel grown-up and sophisticated. I think Audrey Hepburn would have worn matching pajamas.

That's all! What are you loving lately?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Reading Roundup - July 2017

Book Day! I read more books than usual this month so I won't waste any time - Here's what I read in July:

1) The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. 3/5 stars. I know I'm in the minority that I'm not a huge fan of TJR, but I did like this book. It's mostly the story of movie star Evelyn Hugo's career, and many marriages, from the 1950's through the 1980's. I enjoyed the first half of the book in the old-time Hollywood era more than the second half which also started to feel repetitive. I applaud TJR for tackling a subject that does not get nearly enough attention in popular fiction.

2) Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan. 2/5 stars. I really like the premise of this book: New mom Ashley Keller is struggling to adapt to being a stay-at-home-mom in "the world of  Pinterest-perfect, Facebook-fantastic, and Instagram-impressive mommies." It was funny at times but a bit too farcical for me, with all the characters as parodies rather than being true to life.

3) The Widow's House by Carol Goodman. 3/5 stars. This is a ghost story set in a big old mysterious house in upstate New York. I can't resist the big old mysterious house setting! It's creepy and atmospheric in just the right way for me (aka: doesn't keep me up at night) although the plot as a whole is pretty far-fetched even for a ghost story.

4) The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris. 3/5 stars. This book is interesting and thought-provoking although a bit slow at times. As with many nonfiction books I think it would have been sufficient to be a long article in an intelligent magazine. It's specifically aimed at those of us who remember life in our childhoods and early adulthood without the internet, social media, and cell phones. I was heading in this direction anyway but it further inspired me to take another step back specifically that I've started to do internet-free weekends and to leave my phone behind more and more often.

5) The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman. 3/5 stars. Do you think boarding schools are as dysfunctional in real life as they are portrayed in fiction? This book goes back and forth between past and present as Kersti tries to unravel the secrets behind a tragic event that occurred twenty years ago when she was at an exclusive boarding school in Switzerland.

6) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. 4/5 stars. This is a charming middle-grade book, originally published in 1967, about two kids who manage to run away from home to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC for a week. I know I read it when I was a kid but I didn't remember it that well. Interestingly to me, in this era of social media over-sharing, an important idea to the book is that having a bit of secret knowledge can make you feel special and different inside in a powerful way.

7) Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy. 3/5 stars. This book is about three families on a cruise together in South America whose six children aged 6 to 16 go missing during a zip line excursion. The point-of-view alternates between the parents and the children as they try to make their way back to each other. I'm not sure exactly why not but I couldn't really get into this one. The characters didn't seem very well developed and there's so much going on in the background (the attitude of Americans abroad, illegal immigration, the devastating effects of drug cartels) that it was hard to focus.

8) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. 5/5 stars. I couldn't resist this beautifully illustrated new Harry Potter edition. So far only the first two are out with the third coming this fall but chances are I'll collect them all. Obviously I'm very familiar with the HP world but I realized it has been quite some time since I read the books. This one was just as charming and magical and addicting as the first time I read it 17 years ago. [Fun Fact: My very first ever purchase from Amazon was HP#1 in May 2000.]

Also this month I had two DNF's which is pretty rare for me. I might have liked The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti at another point in time but I just wasn't in the mood for grim and gritty. And I picked up The Muralist because I liked B.A. Shapiro's first book, The Art Forger, but the art in this one is Abstract Expressionism, which I don't love, and there's also a sad WWII story, which - I've decided to take a break this year from the sad WWII story.

That's all!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Birthday Week 2017

Hello! I hope that August is going well for you so far. I'm just finishing a really nice week of "staycation" and birthday celebrations.

A rare photo of the whole family together!

On Tuesday I went hiking at Engineer Mountain with my dad and my brother, who was visiting from Las Vegas. The wildflowers were spectacular.

My birthday was on Wednesday. We had dinner with my parents and I asked for the exact same meal as last year - ribs, mac & cheese, spinach salad, fruit salad, although instead of an ice cream cake we tried the Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake from King Arthur. [Verdict: Very good but I haven't quit the search for the absolutely perfect chocolate cake, or maybe I should take those high altitude adjustments more seriously.]

Jonathan bought me many bouquets of flowers and a picnic basket. On Thursday I had a pedicure in the morning then we went for a picnic by the river.

We did have a tough day on Friday as both kids didn't sleep well the night before (which is rare in Swede's case but unfortunately not that rare in Abel's) and consequently we spent the day alternating between manic and melt-down.

Other happenings: We went to the pool three times - There is a fun kids area with water slides, sprinklers, fountains, and a lazy river. I went running several times, of course, and spent time reading. Jonathan and I finished the third season of Grantchester. We visited with my parents and brother. We went to the library, to church, and to a birthday party at the park for one of Swede's school friends.

Abel's latest favorite new word is "truck."

Other delicious things we ate: We went out for crepes downtown, and had ice cream with Jonathan's parents. We had Chinese take-out for dinner one night and Abel, who has been a very picky eater later, could not get enough lo mein. Swede and I baked Not-So-Boring Bran Muffins from Seriously Delish as an antidote to all the leftover chocolate cake.

Baking is seriously business.

Last summer I used my vacation to take off every Friday but this year I decided to take off one week a month in June, July, and August. Four-day work weeks are nice but a whole week off, even - and maybe especially - if you don't go anywhere, feels like a really nice long break.

That's all! Tell me: What's the best birthday you've ever had? The best birthday cake?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Currently - July 2017

Greetings! I haven't been around much on the blog lately (more on that below) so I think it's a good time for a "Currently" post. Here's what I've been...

Watching: The new season of Grantchester. This is one of the few shows that Jonathan and I watch together. We're a couple episodes behind but have been trying to watch one together on Sunday nights. It's a murder mystery set in England in the 1950's with very complex and well-developed characters.

Reading: I only have two books left from my summer reading list but neither has come in from the library yet, so I'm going to start Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy today. 

Also - Some books that Swede and I have enjoyed lately are: I Promise, Wolf Camp, Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker, Not Quite Narwhal, Be Quiet!, and Daddy Honk Honk.

Eating: Mostly vegetarian! We decided about a month ago to significantly cut back on eating meat and it's been going well so far. I've been working my way through a new cookbook - Love Real Food from the Cookie & Kate blog and my new favorite recipe is the taco salad on the cover - The quinoa & black bean "meat" is surprisingly, well, meaty! And delicious.

Also: Pie! I made this creamy coconut pie two weeks ago and a peach pie last weekend.

Loving: Running has been going really well! I am halfway through my training plan for the Thirsty 13 Half Marathon in late August. I've been doing the speedwork from Kara Goucher's plan which has been challenging yet awesome and confidence-building.

Also: Playing board games with Swede (and the fact that we can check out board games from the library), internet-free weekends, fresh peaches, and this series of photos of Abel.

Wearing: New glasses! You probably think they look similar to my old glasses but they are just different enough to be fun.

Also: The summer capsule wardrobe is still going strong! I haven't bought any new clothes (except for a new pair of shorts and a tank top for running) since May.

Thinking about: Social media, blogging, and the internet in general. I've mentioned in the past how I've struggled with (and ultimately quit altogether) other social media such as Facebook and Instagram. Blogging has been more personal for me than any other form of social media and I love the connections that I've made with fellow bloggers, but I still find myself getting too caught up in page views and comments and the ridiculous feeling than any given experience needs to be photographed and shared in order to be validated. I've been posting less frequently this month which I think might be a better balance for me.

Looking Forward To: My birthday is coming up on August 2nd!

That's all! What's new with you?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Swedeisms [Vol.3]

I think it's time for another installment of the funny things that Swede has said lately. [See here and here for earlier posts!]

1) A conversation:
Grammy: What are you having for dinner tonight?
Me: Frozen lasagna
Swede: I like my lasagna better warmed up!

2) A story, by Swede: Once upon a time there was a little girl named Swedey. She went into the woods to give the bear a hug. But there was a big monster who wanted to eat her up! So she ran really fast back to the house.

3) Fog = Clouds that came down from the sky to say "Hello Swede!"

4) The first time we read "Jack and the Beanstalk" together she corrected me that it's "Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an English Muffin!"

5) While playing hide-and-seek: "OK Daddy, Don't move. Be as still as a dinosaur!"

6) Walking home from my parents' house one day with Swede and Abel - She's running ahead and I comment that Abel and I are slowpokes. Swede says: "I'm a fast poke!"

7) At bedtime:
Me: Close your eyes and go to sleep now.
Swede: My eyes don't like to be closed. They like to pop open and roll around in my head all night!

8) We are looking for a horseshoe in a "hidden pictures" game and Swede says: Is a horseshoe to shoo away the horses that are mean?

That's all! I'm looking forward to collecting Abel's funny sayings too once he starts talking more. His early words, for the record, are: Mama, Dada, Yes, No, Ball, Book, Bite, Bubbles - He's got the "B" sound figured out! - Up, This, Hello, and Bye-Bye.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Reading Roundup - June 2017

Book Day! As usual I'm linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books. 

Here's what I read in June.

1) As Good As Gone by Larry Watson. 3/5 stars. Set in Montana in the 1960's, aging cowboy Calvin Sidey returns reluctantly to his hometown to look after his grandchildren for a week. This book is about his Wild West "shoot first ask questions later" mentality coming into conflict with the changing and modernizing world. I liked it but didn't love it. The end was a little disappointing.

2) The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church. 3/5 stars. Meridian Wallace abandons her Ph.D program in ornithology to follow her husband to Los Alamos in the last years of WWII as he works with other scientist to develop the atomic bomb. The book follows her through the '50's and '60's as she struggles to come to terms with that decision and to discover and develop herself as a scientist and a woman apart from the expectations of post-war society. It was OK but not great.

3) Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny. 4/5 stars. This is the sixth book in the Chief Inspector Armande Gamache mystery series and one of my favorites so far. I enjoy the character development from one book to the next, especially with Jean-Guy Beauvoir in this one. I loved the setting during Carnaval in Quebec City. It did wrap up some unanswered questions from the fifth book as well.

4) Celine by Peter Heller. 5/5 stars. I think this is my favorite book of the year so far. Celine is a WASP-y private investigator who has made a career of reuniting families in an attempt to made amends for her own personal tragedy in the past, which we glimpse through flashbacks. She takes a case for a woman named Gabriela whose father went missing twenty years ago from Yellowstone National Park. The writing is so beautiful, especially the descriptions of nature as they move from Colorado through Wyoming and Montana. The characters are fascinating and complex, well-developed yet mysterious. 

5) Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact, and Unsinkable Strength by Kelly Williams Brown. 4/5 stars. This was my non-fiction pick of the month and I quite enjoyed (most of) it. The writing is very funny and conversational while still imparting plenty of good advice how to "practice the arts of kindness, thoughtfulness, good manners, humanity, and basic decency" no matter what the situation. I did enjoy (and find more practical) some chapters more than others, especially, for example, as pertaining to hosting and attending elegant parties which is pretty infrequent for me lately.

6) The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion. 2/5 stars. I loved The Rosie Project but this one was a miss for me. Adam Sharp and Angelina Brown had a brief and intense relationship in their twenties which Adam was never able to truly leave behind. Now, on the cusp of turning 50, he may have the opportunity to rekindle the spark. The first half of the book was OK although Adam is a fairly lackluster hero. I enjoyed the music playlist tie-in. The second half of the book is a little weird. I didn't really like the characters or understand their motivations and decisions at all.

That's all! What have you been reading lately?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

4th of July Weekend 2017

Hey Friends! This was another long holiday weekend for me. I sure do love summer! 

Here's what we've been up to:

Saturday - As usual I started the day with an eight mile run at the gym. I think I'm the only person in the world who enjoys running on a treadmill. In the afternoon we went to the pool which was somewhat fun but unfortunately a little too crowded - I'm not sure how I expected otherwise on a holiday weekend! We had pizza for dinner, then in the evening my parents came over to play Ticket to Ride and I won!

The fearless explorer has discovered a new land!


Sunday - We went to church and then to the fancy grocery store in the morning. Swede and I baked M&M cookies (at her request). I went on a hike with Gumball during nap time. In the afternoon we ran a couple more errands including picking up some new summertime candles at Bath & Body Works which allowed the kids to play on the coin-operated (without any coins put in) vehicles at at the mall. In the evening Swede and I went for a bike ride on the river trail.

This might be my new favorite photo.

Monday - I woke up not feeling very well and so we had a low-key day with a visit to my parents in the morning and a trip to the library in the afternoon.

Popsicle party!

Tuesday - We went to the park in the morning and then everyone, myself included, took a long nap! We had a nice visit with my parents (the hose + the sandbox = endless entertainment) and then had dinner with Jonathan's parents (hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, ice cream). Swede and I went on a nature walk in the early evening.

Other than not feeling my best on Monday (and a few meltdowns from the kids, obviously, but you just have to shake it off) it was a really nice weekend! Another good thing is that I took a break from the Internet as well. No email. No social media. No blogs. No online shopping. It was refreshing to unplug and helped me to be more present generally. I think I am going to try it more often.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Add It To My List [Q2 2017]

Today I'm linking up with Lauren and Bre for Add It To My List. These are all the things that I've enjoyed in the past few months that I think you should check out.

First - New recipes we've tried lately with great success:

     - The Best Chocolate Chip Banana Bread from Cookies & Cups is the best.
     - The Maple Dijon Salmon from Delish is so easy and so delish.
     - This Corn and Bacon Chicken Salad is the perfect picnic sandwich. 
     - Although these Chicken Cesar Salad Wraps are a close second.

Second - Favorite books I've read in the past three months:

     - I love the Chief Inspector Armande Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny.
     - The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden was magical.
     - On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman was a nice little rom-com.

Next - Kid stuff:

     - We've enjoyed playing the Hoot Owl Hoot board game with Swede.
     - All the kids' dishes and utensils are from Re-Play. I love that they are indestructible and made from recycled milk jugs. The kids love the bright colors.
     - I've mentioned it before but we play with this water table every single day.

Finally - Running shoe update:

     - I mentioned in the March link-up that I was loving the Saucony Freedom ISO but the low drop started to aggravate an old plantar fasciitis injury so I switched to the Mizuno Wave Rider 20. I'd never worn these shoes before but they feel very "familiar" and the niggling pain in my heel every morning has gone away again.

That's all! What do you recommend that I should add to MY list?