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  • Archive for December, 2016

    I tried to find a post for my ‘word’ of 2016 but I guess I didn’t end up writing one. I decided my word would be ‘read‘ which seemed more actionable and doable than anything else. If I had chosen ‘run‘ I’m not so sure I would have been very successful. I have yet to figure out a word for 2017 but it may be a phrase instead.

    So, here’s my round up of total number of books read for the year and what they were. I was aiming for about 25 books, approximately two a month; let’s see how I did!

    In alpha by author:

    1. The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron
    2. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
    3. Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors
    4. Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
    5. A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon
    6. The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon
    7. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
    8. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
    9. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
    10. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
    11. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
    12. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
    13. Hiking the Florida Trail: 1,100 Miles, 78 Days, Two Pairs of Boots, and One Heck of an Adventure by Johnny Molloy
    14. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
    15. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
    16. The Backyard Parables by Margaret Roach
    17. The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
    18. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield
    19. Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout
    20. On a Farther Shore by William Souder
    21. The Florida Trail End to End: A Father and His Sons Two and a Half Year Adventure Hiking 1100 Miles Across Florida by Mike Umbarger
    22. The Lady Elizabeth by Allison Weir
    23. The Care and Management of Lies by Jaqueline Winspear

    23, not bad! I probably started at least another 10 books that I either abandoned or put down in the middle of them. I will try to finish some of them next year.

    Out of this list I’d say the top three books would be Big Magic, Fire Season, Lab Girl, and oh hell, a fourth book because I cannot leave it out, The Girl on the Train. 11/23 were non-fiction, 12/23 were fiction; I’m a little surprised at the nearly even split because I feel like I tend towards non-fiction these days but maybe I did make a decent effort for fiction.

    Next year I would like to make the effort to read more of the books on my bookshelf as well as take the year to re-read the entire Anne of Green Gables series. It’s been a good while since I’ve done that and its time to bond with Anne again. Based on how this year went, I think what I averaged is plausible for next year, too. Some months I barely read anything and other months I read more than two books which evened that spread out. If I listen to more audiobooks instead of podcasts there’s a chance this could up the numbers a little more but we’ll see.

    How about you? How much reading did you do? What was your favorite book(s) of the year?

    We went for a hike yesterday afternoon on the Lone Star Trail and really enjoyed the warm weather!

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    I took all of these photos earlier this month, before we had any actual cold weather. We had a night or two early in the month that might have touched freezing for an hour or two overnight but for the most part we just stayed shy of that line. After last year’s mild winter I was kind of hoping for more of the same this year but that was not to be. The strong front came through late evening Saturday the 17th and we woke up the next morning to temperatures around freezing or just above that. The sensitive plants in the garden still looked pretty good but I knew we were in for it overnight the 18th/morning of the 19th and we got it. Temperatures were in the mid 20s in my area overnight with daytime not reaching above freezing well into the day of the 19th. It was enough to nip the cold sensitive plants back and kill the tomatoes, peppers, and basil. The tomatoes were looking so great, too! Oh well, I’ll be starting spring seeds soon enough and now comes the time to clean up the garden and get it ready for another year of growing. I’ve got a ton of photos below with captions beneath some of them showing how the garden was looking before the freeze.

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    Bald cypress showing off down by the pond

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    I stuck a random brugmansia cutting down here and it has done well over the last four years. Barely died back last year but got nipped with the freeze. Will have to trim it back.

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    A jungle of a mess

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    The wild African blue basil

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    Copper canyon daisy

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    Gulf frittilary chrysalis

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    Salvia madrensis

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    Quercus michauxii, swamp chestnut oak

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    A hickory in the yard

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    Rat bastard leaf footed bugs on the tomatoes, tearing them up

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    Bok choi

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    Bok choi and dwarf tatsoi

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    Last weekend I finally got around to making cookies with Forest. He’s become more and more interested in watching us do stuff in the kitchen and I figured it was about time he got a little more involved. I’ve had him mix batter in bowls before with my help but this was the first time we’ve done cut-out cookies. He’s a Play-Doh loving toddler so he’s already familiar with making snakes and balls with that and I have little cookie cutters for him to use with the Doh as well but he hasn’t quite gotten the process down yet. I totally forgot to take photos mid-process so I have after-the-fact photos instead. Needless to say, we made a slight mess but Forest had a ton of fun and really enjoyed eating a few cookies! We don’t give him a ton of sweets but he could easily turn into a Cookie Monster if we let him!

    santaforest
    Remember when he was just a baby???

    Thu. | Dec. 22 – I Love … December #AMonthofFaves2016 – Favorite holiday festivities, favorite ornaments, home decor, places to go, holiday drinks, holiday eats, holiday themed reads

    I have a love/hate relationship with December. It’s the darkest month, it’s cold, it’s busy—but for all of that, it is a time to huddle up in the evenings and a time to think over the previous year and ponder the coming year. My kind of December involves mostly wearing pants of some kind but also short-sleeved shirts; a temperature that’s mild with maybe a couple of cooler nights here and there. I actually prefer it to be overcast on Christmas if it isn’t going to be snowing (snow is only when I’m in DFW, elsewhere—Houston or Florida—it is/was never the case) because overcast and a slightly cool temperature makes the day cozier and more fitting for lounging around all day in pyjamas and stuffing ourselves with food. Otherwise 50s at night and 60s or 70s in the day is my ideal December weather.

    Holiday festivities are becoming more fun as Forest is now becoming a kid who can understand it all so I am working to incorporate some more traditions. We bought a Christmas tree once or twice when lived in Melbourne, FL back in 2002-2004 but we never bought one again until 2014 and we had Forest. There are several Christmas tree farms in the greater Houston area and one is just a few miles from our house. Our custom for 2014 and 2015 was to go and cut down our own from the farm but this year the weekends were wonky with bad weather the first weekend in December and a trip out of town the second weekend. Leaving it any later wouldn’t have been nearly as nice to enjoy the tree for the holidays. So, this year Chris bought one from Lowe’s and that’s what we had for the year.

    My mom is the holiday treat maker in the family and usually busts out a variety of waist expanding goodies: puppy chow, toffee, cookies (sometimes), caramel, peanut butter balls (sometimes), are among her usual baked treats at Christmas. This year I made cut-out sugar cookies with Forest and we had a lot of fun! He likes Play-Doh and I think he was under the impression it was kind of like that but he didn’t quite use the cookie cutters all that well so it was mostly a watch-mom-do-it affair. It was fun, though!

    As for other foodstuffs at the holidays Christmas always seems to be the holiday for finger foods with maybe a main dish of ham and a few sides. I’m thinking of doing something similar this year—have the ham and a bunch of little finger foods. I’m a fan of the ham and mustard crescent roll pinwheels, sausage and cheese balls, Rotel dip, and maybe some King’s Hawaiian bread paired with the ham. There might need to be a veggie in there.

    As for what our house looks like this year, we keep the Christmas tree upstairs in the family room/play room because that’s where we have the space so most of the decorations are upstairs. Chris bought fake greenery and lights for the staircase and that makes it look a little more decorated downstairs. I keep a few other decorations downstairs but for the most part it is pretty sparse downstairs. One of these years we will get our act together and put some lights up on the fence out by the right-of-way and maybe do something down on the dock over the pond.

    I did a little digging in my archives and found this post from 2009 with some thoughts about Christmas at that point in my life. 2009 seems like yesterday but it’s now 7 years ago.

    How about you? What are some traditions or favorites for December and the holidays that you have?

    Tue. | Dec. 20 – 5 Must Haves for Winter Survival – shout out your favorite brand or stores or favorite items

    • Lotion: I don’t know about you but my hands are super sensitive to winter’s dry air, even here in humid SE Texas. I have two lotions that I alternate between at home, one is a homemade concoction that my mom made based on a recipe I sent her that uses coconut oil, cocoa butter, and essential oil, and the other is a run-of-the-mill scented variety from Bath and Body Works. I use the latter in the mornings before work and the former at night and whenever my hands are extra dry. I’m not a fan of a lot of ‘lotions’ and prefer the body butter types because they are more moisturizing but I’m trying to use what I have on hand for the most part. It takes me forever to use bath products.
    • Long socks: I am a fan of knee high socks under my pants in the winter. It’s just an extra layer of warmth and it makes you feel a little cozy even if you are going to work. If I’m feeling fun I wear funky socks that are colored or even the toe socks. My funky socks need to be replenished, though, because I’ve worn them so much they are getting holes.
    • Outdoor Research Earband: I bought this almost two years ago for outdoor activities when it is cold (or when it is 60* and windy, because sensitive ears) and I love, love, love it. Keeps my ears from hurting and adds warmth at the same time.
    • Fleece: I brought out the big leather jacket on Monday but that’s because it was in the 20s that morning and I was going to a business event and didn’t think layering two fleece jackets would be appropriate. I rotate between two fleece jackets: one I got a few Christmases ago from my parents that is more of an around the house/yard work/office fleece and my other fleece I wore on the AT/FT and keep it mostly for hiking and camping unless the other fleece is stuck in the wash.
    • Herbal tea: Hot tea is only a winter drink, usually, for me and it is always nice to have a sip of something warm in the afternoon or evening that isn’t caffeinated.

    Wed. | Dec. 21 – Keep It! 5 Purchases That Were Totally Worth It #IRegretNothing #AMonthofFaves 2016 – what did you buy this year – big or small – that you love, bought more of, got your monies worth

    • Avalon Organics Intense Defense Vitamin C Renewel Cream: I’ve never found a night face cream that I liked and hadn’t tried one in awhile but I think I’ve found the one I like in this one.
    • Lemonade by Beyonce: I buy just a few CDs every year and this one made the cut. Excellent lyrics, excellent music, excellent everything.
    • Cheap pens: I can’t even tell you what kind of pens they are but they are ‘fancy’ and from Dollar General. I like them because the ink comes out liquid-like, they write well, and last a long time.
    • The Florida Trail by Sandra Friend and John Keatley: A little pricey because it was published by their small press, Watula Press, however it was worth the investment. This was a beautiful book covering the Florida Trail and its history and it is a little piece of my other home.
    • Dark Chocolate Cocoa KIND Breakfast bars and Nature’s Bakery Brownie Bars: The first is a wonderful breakfast bar or snack and the second is a great afternoon snack when you want a little chocolate.

    Thu. | Dec. 15 – 5 Fave “New to Me” Author Discoveries or Audiobook Narrations This Year #AMonthofFaves2016

    I read a lot of new authors this year but I think Roxane Gay goes down as an author to follow from here on out. Bad Feminist was my first book of hers to read and I suspect not my last. She has another non-fiction book and several fiction books out, including the soon to be released Difficult Women. I think Roxane will be on my to-read list for years to come.

    Mon. | Dec. 19 – Reading Outside My Comfort Zone #AMonthofFaves2016 – Surprise Find(s) This Year

    At one point this year I was looking for an easy read and downloaded a light romance novel Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts. I’ve read romance here and there over the years and at one point really liked them but I think I’ve become a bit of a book snob in later years. Or maybe it was just this book, but I couldn’t muster up the energy to finish it before it was due back into Overdrive. It isn’t that I necessarily dislike romance novels but maybe I need something with more substance? Also, this one was kind of dated; lots of references to early 00s culture which probably didn’t help. I’m not eschewing romance novels but I think I’ll be pickier about them in the future.

    Audiobooks themselves were outside my comfort zone and will definitely be on my radar to imbibe in more next year. I don’t think I strayed too far outside my normal reading range this year.

    Throw me something that isn’t non-fiction, historical fiction, or the hottest new release that I should check out!

    Day 6: Wed. | Dec. 14 – Best Changes We Made This Year #AMonthofFaves2016 – to your Day / Life / Routines / Blog / Habits
    Yeah, yeah, I’m behind. I got sick last week and then got busy so I need to play catch up!

    Forest has been in the family for over two years now and I still feel like I’m trying to adjust my life and routine. It seems every few months there’s a slight change with his development which alters our ability to do something, usually for the better, and then there’s another shift. It’s always subtle, like my ability to cook and bake more because he needs a little less supervision and isn’t constantly needing me to hover over him. That said, I still haven’t found my rhythm to make time for everything I would like to do.

    If there’s one thing I see consistently from many people (namely women) post-kid is that sometimes we can be more productive than before we had children. Sure, I’ve lost several hours in my day for things that I previously would have been able to do things but somehow I manage to squish in things that I want to do—most days at least. There has been a lot of prioritizing and me realizing I enjoy doing a lot of different things but needing to focus on one thing at a time—or maybe two things—is about all I can do. Parsing them out throughout the days is also something I’ve had to develop. Maybe I read during Forest’s bedtime and I write a bunch of blogs up on weekends. Or I spend a few hours once or twice a week in the evenings processing photos so I can wrote those blogs out on the weekends. Lunchtime is where I’ve had to co-opt a lot of my time, where I’ve spent time doing a lot of my gardening or working out, depending on the season. For more than half of this year it has been the gardening hour. Once I quit the gym at lunch and dedicated my ‘hour’—read: about 40 minutes, subtracting out time to drive to and from work plus time to shower if needed—I realized that’s what I needed to do to get anything done. I wish I had the luxury to lounge on all of those lunch hours but I don’t. Sometimes they are used for errands and rarely are they used to dilly dally—maybe more so in winter than anything. Even then, I can figure out something else I need to do, chores or creatively, during that hour.

    I wish I could become a morning person, someone who can just jump up and get going with the day. While I have become accustomed to waking up earlier than I used to and enjoy these morning hours more, I still need time to wake up, drink coffee and move slowly. It’s why my goals for morning workouts continue to stall. I know morning workouts would solve a lot of time issues but it is a difficult challenge to overcome. Maybe this will go on my list of things to be better about this coming year, managing morning hours during the work week more efficiently.

    While I guess I have made strides on many fronts in day to day life I don’t think I’m at the level that I need to be for things to click just a little better. This post is a bit of a brainstorm, I suppose, on what I need to work on for next year. I’ve realized over the years that a lot of my hobbies and interests are seasonal and I should play into that more. I also rely on how I feel to motivate me versus pushing through much of the time. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

    I think I’ll refrain from going on further but I can see myself turning this into a post about next year and that’s coming soon. How about you, what positive life hacks or changes have you made this year?

    Day 6: Mon. | Dec. 12 – The Most Unique, Weird or Most Memorable Book(s) Read This Year – not necessarily your favorite book because it could be memorable for how bad or how much you liked or disliked the characters.

    Most Unique/Interesting
    Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout: I wrote about this book in the August book report this year and I think I can put it down as one of the more unique books I read this year. I still do not like Olive, maybe liked her more in her later years, and I hated how she/(the author) said ‘Ayuh’, which is apparently a Down East Maine thing to say. It was annoying. Maybe it translates well when spoken but reading it gave me twitches. The book was unique because of the stories within the story, the perspectives over the years; it gave me ideas for my own writing—some future writing.

    The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer: Also in the August book report was my review of this book and it goes down as the best audiobook listen as well as the most unique. Amanda’s narration plus her use of music interspersed throughout was perfect. I can’t imagine reading the book any other way.

    Day 7: Tue. | Dec. 13 – 5 Books on Our Winter Reading List #AMonthofFaves2016 – which books are your must read this winter?

    This is what I’m currently in the middle of or about to start:

    On a Farther Shore by William Souder: I grabbed this from Overdrive a week ago; it’s a biography of Rachel Carson. While I have Silent Spring and The Edge of the Sea on my bookshelf, I have never read them. Yes, I’m a bad environmentalist. And honestly, while I knew a few basic things about her, this book has shed quite a bit of light into her life before Silent Spring. I’m about 55% done with the audiobook and it is an easy listen. I will definitely be reading her books next year.

    Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield: Welcome to another Jane Austen book reinvented! This is Pride & Prejudice in America circa present day. I first heard about this on the What Should I Read Next? podcast and put it in my queue on Overdrive. It recently came up and I’m only 10% into it (a Kindle read) but it isn’t bad. I am starting become a little weary of all of the P&P reboots, though I don’t mind post or pre P&P stories such as Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife but the remixes are hit and miss. Update: Since I started drafting this post last week I have managed to get about 75% through the book over the weekend due to a car trip. I’ll elaborate more later this month but I am loving this adaptation so much! There’s enough changed to the story for it not to feel tired and sloppily written.

    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: Another ‘must-read’ book by the podcast above and just about everyone who reads on the blogsphere, so it also came available last week. As soon as I finished Eligible I’ve got to launch into this one.

    Aside from books I’ve got a stack of magazines to read! What’s on your winter reading list?

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