Happy Holidays

December 25, 2013

Wishing you and your loved ones the happiest of holidays. See you in 2014!


Book(ish) Ends

December 23, 2013

I did it! I completed both the reading challenges I joined in 2013. 

I got off to a strong start with my Mount TBR challenge, and actually read more than 24 books from my own shelves, but the rules said I could count only those books that were on my shelf prior to Jan. 1, 2013. I continued to buy books throughout the year (possibly ending up with more than I started with—I’m afraid to count) and read quite a few of those during 2013, too. I will continue to read from my shelves in 2014, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the only way I’ll be able to make any real headway in reducing the stacks will be if I put myself on a book-buying fast for a few months. I may do this, though I know I’ll find it quite painful!

While I came it at “just” 24 (my goal) for the Mount TBR challenge, I exceeded my goal for the Vintage Mystery Challenge. It was so much fun! I loved the different categories, with names like “Colorful Crime” (“a book with a color or reference to color in the title”) or “Country House Criminals” (“a standard—or not so standard—Golden Age country house murder”). I plan to join 2014’s Vintage Mystery Challenge, which has a Bingo theme. (Click here for a complete list of the books I read for each challenge.)

I’m down to two books left to finish for my year-end reading, Personal Pleasures and Wherever You Go, There You Are. I don’t think I’ll finish them by the end of the year, but you never know. I plan to take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to relax and do some extra reading

Other than the two books mentioned above, what will I be reading? I’m so glad you asked!

I went a little crazy with the library holds, which, of course, all came in at the same time. (I don’t expect to finish all these within my three-week borrowing period—I’m sure several of them will have to be renewed.)

Here is the book bounty:

Unpacking My Bookshelves—Writers and Their Books, Leah Price. I can hardly think of a more appealing book to a nosy book fiend like me. This book will probably inspire a post all on its own. 

The Heroine’s Bookshelf, Erin Blakemore. I’ve only just flipped through this book, but already I wish I had written it.  

Thin Is the New Happy, Valerie Frankel.  I’m already halfway through this memoir of Frankel’s efforts to “exorcise her bad body-image demons, to uncover the truths behind what put them there, and to learn how to truly love herself.” 

Ten Dollar Dinners, Melissa D’Arabian. I am always looking for creative and inexpensive ways to feed the family. 

The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky. Subtitled: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, but Does.” I’m looking forward to reading this book that “empowers readers to look beyond their first response, sharing scientific evidence that often it is our mindset—not our circumstances—that matters most.”

Why We Ride: Women Writers on the Horses in Their Lives, edited by Verna Dreisbach. I can’t wait to read this collection of essays exploring the ways horses have enriched the lives of the contributors, including Jacqueline Winspear, author of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries. With an introduction by Jane Smiley.

You’re probably wondering where the fiction is. I’m already reading Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley, and I’ll pick something else from my own overloaded shelves when I finish that. 

So you see I’ll have plenty to occupy me as the 2013 reading year comes to an end. I’m looking forward to curling up with a cup of tea or coffee and immersing myself in some of these.

What are your plans for year’s end, reading or otherwise?


How to Stay Young

December 18, 2013

“Cynicism makes you old. Wonder, curiosity, and unbridled joy keep you young.”
—Lisa Kogan


Happy National Chocolate Covered Anything Day

December 16, 2013

I’ll take any excuse to eat chocolate—and it would be un-American not to participate in National Chocolate Covered Anything Day, don’t you think? I happen to have some chocolate covered almonds and dried cherries on hand, but there are ever so many things that can be covered in chocolate…even bacon! (I think I’ll stick with almonds and cherries.) 

Even though this is kind of a silly “holiday,” I think it’s good to have silly little celebrations all through the year. Why can’t we make up our own holidays? I’ve been known to celebrate horse and dog birthdays, as well as Marmot Day. If you were making up your own holiday, what would you celebrate?


Link Love: Holiday Edition

December 13, 2013

I'm the only ornament this tree needs...

We don’t have as many holiday decorations up this year as usual, partly because I don’t have the energy or desire to decorate the house from top to bottom (I’m wearing shorts and sweating and that’s just not conducive to putting up holly and evergreens), and partly because Prudy thinks we put up the Christmas tree for her private and exclusive use. She treats it like a jungle gym, and climbs to the top daily (not unlike her sister)—and this is without ornaments and lights. So we won’t be displaying our fancy (breakable) ornaments this year or putting the tasseled runner on the mantel (I’m sure she’d pull it and everything else down on top of her). But it’s all good. We’re expecting a cold front, Nick will be home for winter break, and I’m planning a little personal stay-cation from the usual routine after Christmas.

I hope your holiday preparations are running smoothly, and that the weather, whatever it’s doing where you live, isn’t keeping you from enjoying the season. Here is a special holiday edition of Link Love for you to enjoy in between all your activities:

Artist Susan Branch offers free downloadable holiday desktop wallpaper, stationery and other fun stuff (I especially love the bookmarks) here.

Christmas movies can be more than just happy little distractions—many of them, even the cheesiest ones, remind us of lessons worth remembering. Dani at Positively Present reveals some of her favorite movies and their accompanying lessons here.

For the book lovers among us, Belle has some ideas for end-of-the-year book “housekeeping.” 

What are your favorite Christmas traditions? This post lists 50 (!) Christmas traditions for a merry little Christmas. Some of my favorites from this list are listening to Christmas music,  turning out the lights to admire the Christmas tree (well, usually—see above), and making cookies (though I make molasses sugar cookies instead of plain ones).

A very cool thing an airline did for its passengers:

And last but not least, some tips for relieving holiday stress. No matter how hard we try to simplify, it always seems like we need these.

Ho, ho, ho

December Notes

More Snow Promised

December 11, 2013

Many of us keep journals, but while doing so few of us pay much attention to selecting the most precise words, to determining their most effective order, to working with effective pauses and breath-like pacing, to presenting an engaging impression of a single, unique day. This poem by Nebraskan Nancy McCleery is a good example of one poet’s carefully recorded observations. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

December Notes

The backyard is one white sheet
Where we read in the bird tracks

The songs we hear. Delicate
Sparrow, heavier cardinal,

Filigree threads of chickadee.
And wing patterns where one flew

Low, then up and away, gone
To the woods but calling out

Clearly its bright epigrams.
More snow promised for tonight.

The postal van is stalled
In the road again, the mail

Will be late and any good news
Will reach us by hand.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted from Girl Talk, The Backwaters Press, 2002, by permission of the author. Copyright © 1994 by Nancy McCleery. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


Endings and Beginnings

December 09, 2013

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”
—Joseph Campbell

The year is winding down and though I’m having a hard time realizing it’s nearly Christmas (because it’s 85 degrees here), it’s nearly Christmas! And nearly the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014.

Endings and beginnings have been on my mind lately. This year has had more than its share of them. My son graduated from high school and started college. My niece got married, and two beloved family members died. We’re all adjusting to our altered roles and circumstances. Life keeps flowing by faster and faster, with beginnings and endings—change—nearly a constant. Here are some thoughts that have helped me negotiate the tricky emotional terrain of beginnings and endings.

When something significant is ending, whether it’s a job, relationship, or stage of life, we should recognize and accept that the ending is taking place—even celebrate it. Don’t struggle against it because that will only make it harder. Even though I’m thrilled that my son has moved on to college, at first I felt a certain loss of identity—I no longer had a child at home, and all the physical and emotional energy I poured into that role suddenly had no place to go. I was surprised at how much impact that had on me. Celebrating the real accomplishment of raising a child to age 18 and getting him through public school and into college helped me adjust.

Endings can shock us into remembering what’s really important. When something ends, it’s a good time to take stock of where we are and where we want to go. How can we move forward? What positives can we take from what just ended? What types of feelings has the ending stirred up? It’s OK to feel angry or to grieve when faced with an ending. It helps me to repeat the phrase, “Let it happen, let it go.” (And breathe. Don’t forget to breathe.)

Endings are merely times of transition between what was and what will be. Each one is a new beginning—and most people think of beginnings with excitement and anticipation. Something fantastic might be just around the corner! Keeping that in mind can help us accept what ends in our lives, learn from it, and look forward to what comes next.

Is something ending for you? Is something beginning?

Affordable Christmas

Giving Tuesday

December 02, 2013

You’ve heard of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday—how about Giving Tuesday? Tomorrow, Dec. 3, marks the second annual Giving Tuesday (#GivingTuesday), a movement to create a national day of giving on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. Families and individuals are encouraged to be generous in whatever ways they see fit, by volunteering or donating to a favorite cause. Last year, there was a marked increase in charitable giving on Giving Tuesday, and organizers hope for an even bigger impact this year. You can read more about Giving Tuesday here.

Every year as part of our holiday tradition, we like to choose one or two charitable organizations to donate to, and this year, we’ll start by participating in Giving Tuesday with a donation to Affordable Christmas, a program that allows lower-income families to purchase new Christmas gifts for their children at 1/10th of the retail price. 

What are your favorite holiday charitable activities?