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Sunday, February 17, 2013

What I've Been Reading - February 2013

It's been 2 months since I've done a "What I've Been Reading" post, so I thought it was about time to get caught up.  I've been given so many great books over the last few months - I feel guilty for not getting to them all!
One things I've changed is that I've become a lot pickier about what I read - I'm perfectly fine not reading an entire book.  Life's too short for bad books must be my new motto.
Instead of my typical chronological order, I'm going with 3 categories - books I loved, books I really liked, and books that were pretty good.  I guess a "3 to 5" scale.  I didn't finish, or bother to pick up, anything I thought might be a 1 or 2 in my estimation.
So, here is what I've read over the last 2 1/2 months!

Loved These Books
We read "Wild:  From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" for the Litwits' (my evening book club) January pick.  I truly enjoyed reading this over Christmas break.  The author lost her mother and went through a divorce, pretty lost.  On a whim she picked up a book on the Pacific Crest Trail (a much newer trail from Arizona to Washington State than the Appalachian Trail) and decided to hike 2,000 miles.  On her own.  Having never really hiked.  With an immensely heavy backpack.  Very little money.  And brand new hiking boots.  Crazy?  Yes.  I alternated between rooting for her and wondering how she's still alive.  I highly recommend this read if you like non-fiction.
One sentence goodreads.com description - Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

I received Chloe Coscarelli's vegan cookbook for Christmas and immediately flagged all the recipes I wanted to try.  I don't know much about her background, but I read an article on this book and it referenced her Food Network's Cupcake Wars win.  The recipes look great - regardless of your diet plan.  I'm really looking forward to making time to try several out this year.
One sentence goodreads.com description - Here’s a way to enjoy family favorites and her coveted desserts—including the first publication of her Cupcake War-winning vegan cupcakes—without busting your belt.

Really Liked These Books

Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series is one of the only ones I religiously return to.  All of the 'teen ones in this serious (thirteen, fourteen...) got a little stale for me.  I think one or two of them I didn't even read all the way through - just jumped ahead.  This one though, I liked.  The bounty hunter portion of the book seemed a little more rooted in possible reality than her cartoon-type characters that pop up pretty regularly.  And the Stephanie-Ranger-Morelli storyline was a lot of fun too.
One sentence goodreads.com description - New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is certain of three truths: People don’t just vanish into thin air. Never anger old people. And don’t do what a Tiki tells you to do.

I also received this book for Christmas, a follow up to Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project".  I was anxious to read this one as we started our own local Happiness Project.  I think it's a great follow-up.  While the first book covered broad life quests from religion to parenthood to pursuing passions, this book is focused squarely on one's home, extended family, and neighborhood.  Similar, but not overlapping.  More in-depth and additionally supportive to the project we're in the middle of. 
One sentence goodreads.com description - With her signature blend of memoir, science, philosophy, and experimentation, Rubin’s passion for her subject jumps off the page, and reading just a few chapters of this book will inspire readers to find more happiness in their own lives.

Reached is the third in the Matched trilogy, and a satisfying conclusion.  I didn't care for the second book, as it seemed to try for the Hunger Games audience and felt somewhat out of place in comparison with the first book.  This third book though had a great pace and satisfying storyline.
One sentence goodreads.com description - After leaving Society to desperately seek The Rising, and each other, Cassia and Ky have found what they were looking for, but at the cost of losing each other yet again.

My mom gave me this book when we were at home for Thanksgiving.  I have never read Ann Patchett but several book club friends recommended Bel Canto.  State of Wonder is a fascinating story set in the Amazon rainforest.  No spoilers but the "twist" wasn't my favorite part.  Still a good book.
One sentence goodreads.com description - ...a gripping adventure story and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love.

David put this little book on his wish list and he and I both just finished it.  It's a great book on what to eat to get the best nutrition.  It's not diet-specific and is quoted everywhere - a great read if all of the diet/fitness/health/nutrition advice seems to contradict itself - like I feel like it does!
One sentence goodreads.com description - Written with the clarity, concision and wit that has become bestselling author Michael Pollan's trademark, this indispensable handbook lays out a set of straightforward, memorable rules for eating wisely, one per page, accompanied by a concise explanation.


And now, feel free to laugh at my math books!
We've gotten to a point where the boys' math homework is somewhat beyond my reach.
And there's going to be an issue if David has to travel and the boys need support!
I vaguely remembered some of the topics, but haven't used those formulas and techniques in years and years.  I started with Basic Math & Pre-Algebra in December, then moved straight to Algebra I.  They were a great review for me.  Most of the first book I got pretty easily, but the review was nice. 
I'd recommend these two if you're looking for an Algebra review.

These Books Were OK
I did not know much about this book before I ordered it - probably not a good thing.  I really thought it was going to be more focused on parenting than a series of case studies on programs in inner-city schools that helped kids achieve their academic goals.  There were a few nuggets of good information I could use, but primarily aimed at educators.  And I would be happy to give it to you if it's of interest.
One sentence goodreads.com description - It tells the personal stories of young people struggling to say on the right side of the line between success and failure.

One night on facebook a friend linked to this book on amazon - it was free as a Kindle download for the next couple of hours.  I don't have a Kindle, but then I saw where she mentioned there's a free Kindle app for the iPad.  Well, who knew?  So I downloaded it and read and highlighted sections that I thought David would be interested in.  The author is not a medical professional.  He suffered a heart episode and decided to research heart disease to be able to understand how to improve his health.  It's a good read with sound science, but probably too detailed for most people to just pick up and read.
One sentence goodreads.com description - No matter our age or condition, Don’t Die Early is a plan of wellness and longevity, written for the everyday person who no longer wants to be at the mercy of their provider but wants to take control and become the healthiest that they can.
A great example of a series that I return to, but may not going forward.  This fourth book in the Richard Castle series just couldn't hold my attention.  I read through it, but I never got caught up in it.  I may think twice before checking out the next one at the library.
One sentence goodreads.com description - Facing relentless danger as someone targets her for the next kill, Nikki's search will unearth painful family truths, expose a startling hidden life, and cause Nikki to reexamine her own past.

 This is our March read for my daytime book club, As the Page Turns.  I probably wouldn't have picked it up otherwise.  I've read two other Barbara Kingsolvers and thought they were pretty good, but I'm not the huge fan that many people are.  This story is set in Appalachia and involves love, marriage, and climate change.  Rather mystical and magical at times.

One sentence goodreads.com description - In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel's inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence.

And that's what I've been reading the last few months!
In an effort to "Share in the Interests" (one of my February Happiness Project goals), I've started reading the Rick Riordan books that my boys really love.  Along with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, it'll be nice to have another series to discuss!
And, what have YOU been reading?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Happiness Project

Phew, the last two months have been FLYING! 
When I stopped working I told myself I was only going to volunteer at the boys' school and at our church.  I know how easy it is for volunteer work to take over your life.
This past year, though, I decided to step out and try some new things.
And, wouldn't you know it, a BUNCH of stuff is all happening right now.
But after March and Spring Break, my life will be a little less full :)
New things in my life:
Philharmonic - I started on the local Philharmonic Orchestra board of directors and I'm enjoying it.  It's a big board, full of very active people, and I'm helping with the annual Gala fundraiser - in early March.  So we're in serious planning mode right now.  Can't wait!
Service League - I was invited to join our local Service League (Junior League for smaller towns), and I'm really enjoying meeting so many new ladies!  My committee is the Taste of Chocolate fundraiser, which took place on my birthday last Friday!  So we were in serious planning mode the last two months.  That's behind me now, phew.  But it was a ton of fun and Thomas worked the event with me two nights.
Farrell's - We have a relatively new gym in town called Farrell's Extreme Bodyshaping and I kept hearing great things about their program - from VP's at work to the lady who cuts my hair.  Several people I know from work were all in it, and friends gave me a partial membership for Christmas (lucky me - such sweet friends!)  So I signed up for the 10 week program - all happening right now, of course!  And I'm loving it!  They're killer workouts, but I'm getting really strong and I love it and never miss.  It's 6 days/week for about an hour.  The 10 week program ends with a big celebration party (spouses included) the night before Spring Break.  Just started Week 6!
Elder - I am in my 3rd year as an Elder at church and I just started leading the Youth Nurture committee.  It's a great committee, but the youth in our church stay active!  So I'm active with them.  It's been a fun transition, but I'm in learning mode.
PTO - I agreed after much arm twisting to serve as VP this year at Brennan's school.  It's the most active PTO I've ever seen.  I mean, serious stuff going on, which is great.  But being VP this year means I service as President next year, so I'm recruiting like crazy to fill all of next year's openings.
Visitor's Center Architectural Tour Guide - I've been studying on my own (with the Visitor's Center's help) to be a tour guide.  Been then they decided to offer a class, so I jumped on it.  Of course, it's happening right now as well.  I'm learning so much and am thrilled to be a part of it.  Come visit and I'll take you on a tour (starting in April - I still have a LOT of learning!)
Women's Giving Circle - I joined our city foundation's organization last year and friends asked me to join the Grants Committee with them - which is a 6 week/year assignment.  Of course, it's also happening now!  In fact, on my birthday when A Taste of Chocolate ended, the Grants Committee kicked off their work.  I'm learning a lot and am happy to contribute.  We'll decide which worthy organizations to give our annual grants to in mid-March.
Happiness Project - And finally, another new project that I took on in January, is leading a Happiness Project.  Have you read Gretchen Rubin's 2 books?

I read the first book while we were on vacation in Hawaii and knew I wanted to do my OWN Happiness Project this year.  I wanted to reach out to friends in town to see if anyone wanted to join me. 
It took me a month to write the email, not wanting to be laughed at :)
Finally I did and I had a TON of positive responses.  I'm now leading a group of 21 ladies through this year's Happiness Project.  It's been so great.
In January our focus was "Vitality - Boosting Energy".  We all had different resolutions, and a different number of resolutions to focus on during the month.  Mine were around getting the house/myself organized, exercising every day, and going to bed by 10 p.m.  I did really well, and the daily tracking helped a lot.  I was so motivated by everyone's goals.  And our meetings at the end of the month.  It's such a great group of ladies.
In February we are focusing on "Love - Strengthening Relationships" and my resolutions are to underreact, show interest in the boys' and David's interests, and to surprise those I love.  It's been a ton of fun.
We just determined the next 10 months monthly topics, and everyone is really focused on this project.  It's so much fun sharing it with fun people!
And that's what I've been up to!
I had a great birthday last weekend.  Wonderful facebook messages from friends, calls, gifts, time with friends, and my annual movie night/pajama party at my house.  I'm taking the pajamas we collected to our local domestic violence shelter tomorrow afternoon.  That always feels great.
I hope you're enjoying the winter and aren't too buried in snow!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Recent Pics

 How is it already February?
Twice so far this year I have been so proud of myself for writing a "3" instead of a "2" in the date. 
Unfortunately I wrote "2003" instead of "2013"!
Time really is flying.  2003 seemed correct for a second there as I wrote it.

Juts a few recent pics of our adventures.
Our church's Youth Group went skiing and tubing over Martin Luther King Monday.
It was the coldest day of the year so far.  Here I am using my scarf to keep me totally warm.
I look freezing, but I had a great time!!
Steven, Brennan, and Thomas had a ball tubing!

Here's the short course.

While cold, it was a beautiful day.  Here are some beginning skiers.

Warming up with some pizza, fries, and hot chocolate made for a great afternoon.
David and I attended our local "Dancing with the Stars" fundraiser to cheer on one of our neighbors who was part of the "local celebrity" half of his dance duo.  And we were there to cheer on Thomas's confirmation mentor and our wine club friend, Charlie.  Here is the newspaper photo of Charlie who served as the "local celebrity" with Rhonda, his dance partner.  They won!  It was fantastic!  Charlie and Rhonda did an evolution of dance routine that included the twist, Michael Jackson dance numbers, Vanilla Ice, Party Rock Anthem, and Gangnam Style.  They killed it!
What a difference a week makes, right? 
A late January morning looking out the front door, and my 3 men shoveling the driveway after a big snow.

Today the Youth group has their SouperBowl Sunday event (I spelled that right - Souper as in Soup).
After church the Youth serve delicious homemade soups in breadbowls as a fundraiser for their summer mission trips.  Last week they performed a skit to promote their fundraiser.
There is Thomas on the lower level left, serving as a football announcer.

David took me on a tour of his new building at work.  It was just completed and I know David's group is proud to have it just about finished.  This is the atrium joining the new building with the existing building that is now undergoing renovations.  It's a cool building!
There's a courtyard on the top floor that we stepped out onto to see some of the iconic buildings downtown in our city.  Such pretty views!!


Brennan's school had a Colonial Wax Museum on Friday in which all of the 5th graders researched a job from colonial times, dressed up and prepared a backdrop or display.  They also made a sign and button so that when you pushed it, the wax figure would come to life and tell you about his job.
Brennan was a Glassblower and did a great job on his research and speech!

We surprised Brennan with his own flip phone last week.  While he won't be using it much, it will be great to be able to stay in touch when I'm out and he and Thomas are at home.  Now if he can just remember to keep it turned on and charged!

David and I went to our local Philharmonic concert last night.  Gorgeous, gorgeous music performed by the orchestra and sung my Marja and Chasten Harmon, and Cam Collins - saxophonist.  They are local kids who grew up in town and have gone on to New York and Broadway to pursue their talents.  The music was amazing.  The Les Mis and Wicked songs were my favorites.  David was really impressed with Gimme Gimme from Thoroughly Modern Millie.
 And now, for a busy, cold Sunday afternoon!