Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bonjour Bebe

Two important questions before I get into things:

1.  Why did I think that horizontal stripes would be a good look pregnant-me on a night where there would be photographic evidence?

2.  How in the world do I always forget to take photos?

Now that that's out of the way...

Ashton (far left) and Meg (just to my right) threw me the loveliest baby shower while I was out in Utah.  Meg has a three year old and is due with her second daughter in a couple weeks, and Ashton has two little boys at home, so I was impressed and honored that they'd had the energy and wherewithal to plan and execute such a wonderful party.

Note: Rachel F. (far right) is pregnant with her 4th (!!) and is due in May.  Don't I have the most beautiful friends?

We spent the evening reminiscing about old times and telling funny stories from growing up.  I've known Ashton and Rachel since 4th grade and Meg since 9th grade, so there are all sorts of award and hilarious anecdotes we remember about each other.

I wish I had thought to get a picture with the whole group, but as I mentioned above, I just plain forgot. I'd like to blame it on the influence sudafed and antibiotics, but I think it's more just that I never remember such things.

The entire group was quite large and was comprised of friends from growing up, college roommates, friends from Paris study abroad, friends from DC who now live in Utah, my mom and aunt and grandmother, and the mothers of my childhood friends.

Not to be trite, but I felt so loved that evening.  It was wonderful to have all of the important women in my life there to celebrate with me.

I opened an almost embarrassing amount of gifts and was near tears all night from the overwhelming generosity of my friends and family.  Maybe Baby is one lucky (not to mention, incredibly spoiled) little girl.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Be-Utah-Ful

A couple weeks after Christmas, Blake and I flew out to Utah to visit my family.  My little brother, Reese (who is actually not so little anymore - 20!), had just gotten back from serving a mission in Berlin for our church and we wanted to be there to welcome him home.  He has spent the past two years doing service in Germany, and though we've emailed back and forth a lot, it was so fun to see him in person.

Blake stayed for a week - it was a miracle he could get that much time during such a busy case- and I stayed on for an extra five days.  Unfortunately, I got my second (?!@*#) sinus infection in a month and spent a lot of the extra days in bed.  Fortunately, I was prescribed another Z-Pak and was able to get out of bed and enjoy the last couple days I was there.

True to form, I forgot to take any pictures of actual interest, but I did get a lot of the beautiful snowy mountains. Oh, and a picture of a picture from a family photo session back in college.  Notice how happy my two tallest brothers look to be there?  Frankly, it was probably a miracle that they even agreed to be photographed, so I'll count it as a win.

Blake and I went up to Sundance a couple times, and although we didn't end up skiing, it was as beautiful and peaceful there as always.  Also, in all the time I lived in Utah, I'd never eaten at the Foundry Grill, so we treated ourselves to a long lunch by the fire while a blizzard raged outside.  It was glorious.  There is nothing prettier than a winter snow storm in Utah.







Monday, January 5, 2015

2014: A Year in (Book) Review - Nonfiction Edition

My last post was getting far too wordy, so I thought it would be best to split it up into fiction and non-fiction.  I guess I just enjoyed a lot of books this year.  Sure there were a few bombs, but for the most part I had pretty good luck.

I try not to let myself by too many books until I've finished the previously-purchased stack.  It's so hard, though, because when I head up to the library book sale and beautiful hard-bound books are only 50 cents each, I invariably want to carry out a whole box full.  I know, I know, there are worse problems to have.

Before I run the risk of a second excessively wordy post, here are my top nonfiction reads for 2014 (again, in no particular order):

1.  They Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.
    Wow. Just wow.  I never would have thought that reading about crew/rowing would be exciting, but I found myself gripping my kindle with sweaty palms during much of the book.  That's the mark of a great story-teller and a well-researched subject.  I would recommend reading this in conjunction with Unbroken.  It has some overlap with the cast of characters, but is much less depressing and stressful.

2.  Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman.
   I'll recommend this with a disclaimer.  There is some language and explicit content, but it's pretty tame.  I barely made it through one episode of the Netflix series, but the book was SO MUCH BETTER.  It was a great look at the inside of the women's prison system.  I really had no idea how things worked in prison and it was a fascinating read.  I laughed, I flinched, I was grossed out.  Unsurprisingly, it made me want to learn more about prison reform.  

3.  Flash Boys by Michael Lewis.
   I'm never disappointed by Michael Lewis.  I enjoyed/was terrified by this look at investment and the stock market.  I'm also fairly certain that maybe I need to just hide all my money under my mattress.

4. Marley and Me by John Grogan.
    I knew going into this that it would make me cry - nay bawl my eyes out.  And it delivered.  Grogran does a great job of describing life with a dog.  Also, he's a pretty engaging writer, which is a definite plus.  Read if you need a good therapeutic cry.

5.  Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan.
   Susannah Cahalan was a young journalist working in NYC when she started having a series of strange medical woes.  Think Exorcist type terror.  It turns out to be an autoimmune disease that is attacking her brain, but it takes ages and teams of doctors to figure out what is wrong.  I loved that it was a memoir told first-person.  Sure, that means its through a filtered lens, but she does a great job of researching the disease and looking at it all subjectively.

6.  Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin.
   Having never learned much about Chairman Mao's reign in China, I was shocked by the information in this memoir.  In western schools we learn so much about WWII and problems in Europe, but almost nothing about China (or Asia) in general.  This wasn't the most beautifully written memoir, but what it lacked in literary genius, it made up for in fascinating information.

 7.  The Black Count by Tom Reiss.
    There were portions of this book that I found fairly boring, but as a lover of French history, it was mostly a page-turner.  I hadn't realized how much of Alexandre Dumas' novels were somewhat biographical (using stories from his father's life).  Also, I loved learning about slavery and black history in France.  I had no idea how progressive France was prior to Napoleon's reign.  Tons of great information that appealed to my love of random facts.

8.  On Writing by Stephen King.
    I haven't read much Stephen King (I'm not a huge fan of scary stories), but I adored this book.  It was fun to get inside the mind of such a successful writer and made me excited to sit down and write on my own.  That, my friends, is quite a feat.
   

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014: A Year in (Book) Review - Fiction Edition

Goodreads is one of my most favorite websites.  I think I've mentioned it before, but it wholly appeals to my love of lists and books - two of my very favorite things.  Also, with as bad as my memory has become lately (I'm blaming it on pregnancy...which has become my scapegoat as of late) it's great to keep track of how much I liked a particular book and why.

2014 was a year full of both good and bad reads.  I kept up with my trend of devouring Young Adult novels and tried to divert my attention to more non-fiction so as to actually improve my mind.

So, it is without further ado that I give you my favorite fiction reads of 2014.

In no particular order.

Young Adult Fiction
1. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.
    Before this year I hadn't really ventured into Australian-authored YA literature, but I've got to say that it's obvious that I've been missing out.  This one started out feeling a bit like a combination of Lord of the Flies and A Separate Peace (both favorites of mine), but took a turn into a more southern gothic feel.  I can't explain it, but it was so beautifully written and so poignant, that I wanted to re-read it immediately after finishing it.

2.  Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.
    Another Australian author who now has my heart.  Think Huckleberry Finn meets Little Rascals meets To Kill A Mockingbird...and you still don't quite have it.  Impressive doesn't even begin to describe it.  It's another one going on my re-read list.

3.  Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool.
    I think this one may be making an appearance as one of my top-10 favorite books.  Ms. Vanderpool is a relatively new author, but she is absolutely magnificent.  The story takes place in a boys' prep school in Maine just following the Second World War.  It's heartbreaking and thought-provoking and I'll be reading it again and again.

4.  Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner.
    One of my goals this year was to read through as many of the Printz Award winners and honorees as possible.  This one and the previous three listed are all from that list and it's no surprise why.  Maggot Moon is haunting in a 1984/The Handmaid's Tale sort of way and the ending was not at all what I was expecting.  Although it's YA, I wouldn't recommend it for the younger-end readers as its really quite disturbing.

5.  The Fault in our Stars by John Green.
    I probably don't need to go on about this one as everyone on earth has either sobbed through the book or bawled through the movie.  I almost hated how much I loved it.

6.   Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler.
    Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snickett, surprised me with how well he captured the teenage voice.  I felt like I was re-living high school and found myself laughing out loud at parts. I listened to this as an audio book, which made it particularly entertaining as the reader was so much fun.

7.  Airborn by Kenneth Oppel.
   This felt so much like the swashbuckling adventures of classic literature and I loved every second of it.  I was initially turned off by the cover (I know! How dare I judge a book by its cover?) but five pages in, I was hooked.

Adult Fiction
1.  The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
    Long and full of language and despicable characters, but also Boris.  Boris is one of the most compelling characters I've ever read.  I may have wanted to throw the book across the room halfway through, but those Boris monologues towards the end made it all worth it.

2.  Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.
   This fun mystery perfectly captures the tech generation.  I loved every second of it and hardly a week goes by where I'm not recommending it to someone.

3.  Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.
   I listed to this on audio book and absolutely adored the narration.  It was so cleverly told and so spot-on in its descriptions of suburban life that I wanted to listen to it straight through with nary a break.  Bernadette, will you be my best friend?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Christmas 2014

Here we are a week after Christmas and I'm finally starting to catch up.  Blake woke up on Christmas with a cold and it's gotten worse from there: a sinus infection to end all sinus infections.

I've successfully avoided it this time around thanks to self-quarantine and lots of vitamins.  Poor Blake has had a go of it, though, and is getting very ready to be done with blowing his nose and steaming over boiling pots of water.

Christmas itself was wonderful.  We spent Christmas Eve at Blake's parents' house and enjoyed the usual festivities. The kids put on a nativity program and also take turns performing on whatever instruments they're currently learning.  A couple recited poems like this one:

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow's a mystery. But today is a gift. That's why it's called the present.

I love 8 year olds.

Luckily this year we were spared any renditions of current Taylor Swift songs.  In years past those have been the hardest to keep a straight face through.

My 11 year old niece, Coco, and I played a duet on cello and violin.  She, of course, played perfectly. And I, of course, messed her up.  My fingers are so out of shape.  Also, I'm blaming my staggering stage fright.  Sigh.

Iya and Papa (that's Blake's parents to their grandkids) organized a treasure hunt for the kids to find their gifts.  It was definitely a highlight.  It's so fun to see all 8 of them running around holding clues and looking like they might explode with excitement.  It's one of my favorite parts of Christmas.  Kids make everything more magical.

The rest of the evening was spent feasting on enchiladas and sides (we've all decided that Mexican food should be our new Christmas Eve tradition) and making ourselves sick by eating too many treats.  A good 'eve was had by all.

Because we're getting really old, Christmas morning started out around 7:00 with a long walk for the Bear followed by a leisurely morning in our pajamas while we opened gifts.  Blake and I did a mostly hand-made Christmas for our parents and we had so much fun.  I crocheted afghans for both sets of parents, and Blake printed out a couple of beautiful photos on canvas of loons from the lake this past summer.  It was a hit.  I love doing handmade gifts.  It makes me feel like I'm celebrating Christmas for a lot longer as I'm taking the time to work on the gifts so much earlier than I would have otherwise.

Also, because we're getting old, when our parents asked what we had on our Christmas lists it was all baby-related.  My parents generously bought us our dream stroller and Blake's parents spoiled us with a beautiful high chair and a video baby monitor.  We're getting close to being all set up and I can hardly believe it.  How strange it is that we'll have an 8 month old by next Christmas!