Sunday, April 13, 2014

April Resolutions

It's almost halfway through April and I've only just now sat down to report on the outcome of my March resolutions (which I did finish in March, I just didn't write anything up until now), and to put my April resolutions on paper. I picked my April resolutions in the beginning of the month and have been working on them, so without further ado...

Say "Well" Instead of "Good" When Someone Asks Me How I'm Doing
This one is really hard for me and I've struggled with it. I'd say I'm doing it about 50% of the time. Although I know that "well" is the correct answer to that question, it sounds sounds sooooo haughty and pretentious to me! But my friend Kate has a thing about using "well," so I told her I'd give it a try. It's hard.

Curb Appeal!
I want to get some hanging plants for my porch and plant some new stuff in my pots. Time for another upgrade of the front porch fairy garden as well. Maybe, maybe, maaaaaayyyyyybbbbbbbeeeee I'll sand/paint/stain the spool table we have out there too. MAYBE.

Buy New Jeans
Every single pair of jeans I own has holes in the crotch. I guess that's what happens when you buy all your stuff from Old Navy. Anyway, I need new jeans. So it's happening this month.

March Resolutions: How'd I Do?

I completed all of my March goals

Finish Divergent
It was ok. I'm not chomping at the bit to read the other two though. And I haven't seen the movie. So I guess that says a lot about my overall feelings on the book. 

Only Read "Fun" Blogs (e.g. Home Improvement, Design) on the Weekends
I did this and it was hard. But I do believe it helped me to be more productive. Now that it's April, I've slipped back into my bad habit of reading every day. However, I did clean out my blog reader in a major way so I only have a few in there now. It keeps my blog reading time way down. Good stuff. 

Build Something with My Kreg Jig
I built this towel rack, and IT IS AWESOME.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March Resolutions

Since I didn't quite complete everything I wanted to in February, I'm going to lighten up a little in March.

Finish Divergent
I've been reading this YA book for like three months. It's (obviously) not grabbing me, but it's time to put my game face on and just finish it. 

Only Read "Fun" Blogs (e.g. Home Improvement, Design) on the Weekends

I love blogs. Bloggy-blog-blogs. I love them so much that they become a time suck for me. And while I find it thrilling to read about the lives of stay-at-home moms who have tons of time to cover all their stuff in gold spray paint and chevron wrapping paper, it's not really productive for me. I need to be reading about stuff that is pertinent to my own career. But let's be real: I'm not gonna stop reading this stuff. It's Swedish Fish for my brain. So I'm limiting myself to only reading them on the weekends this month. It's actually been a great exercise for me because I find myself scrolling through my blog reader and only reading the posts that are actually interesting to me. I believe I've reduced my wasteful blog reading time by 1 billion percent (+/-). 

Oh, did I mention this is really hard for me? It's March 14th and I'm still going through withdrawals.

Build Something with My Kreg Jig
I WILL DO THIS! I am making this towel rack!

I'll be back in April with an update on my results. Fingers crossed they're better than February

Friday, March 14, 2014

February Resolutions: How'd I Do?

Ummmmm...I didn't quite complete everything I wanted to in February. And I haven't even had time until now to write about it, but it's because I've been doing way more fun stuff, like hanging with two of my favorite people who came all the way down from Massachusetts to spend their Spring Break with us. I have to say, I am quite honored by that.

When it comes to my February resolutions, I was going to say that I bit off more than I could chew, but that's not really true. I actually achieved a lot in February; my achievements just didn't fully align with what I set out to do. I'll explain further below.

Read The Fault in Our Stars
Done and done! And it was great. I cried almost the whole time. I didn't write a review. I'm not sure if I will.

Spruce Up the Guest Bedroom
Did it! And it looks really cute. I have before and after photos, but I'm kind of hesitant to post them. I feel like the photos never look as good as real life and it makes my achievement feel less. I don't know. I still might do a post. 

One of the great things that came out of this room makeover was that I cleaned my garage. They seem like completely unrelated spaces, but since we don't use our guest room a lot, we had taken to storing stuff in there that did not belong, like Chris's hunting and golf stuff. So I moved that stuff into the garage closet, which spurred a huge garage purge and it looks so great in there now. This derailed my other February goals, but I feel fine about it because I am so, so happy with the current state of the garage.

Watch Four Oscar-Nominated Movies
Fail! I watched Captain Phillips, but that was it. I really liked Captain Phillips, and I know I would have liked at least some of the others. I just couldn't bring myself to sit down and watch them. I still plan on watching Dallas Buyers' Club and maybe, m-a-y-b-e 12 Years a Slave if I can handle it emotionally. We'll see. I don't do well with historically accurate movies about horrific times in history (I couldn't even make it through the first 15 minutes of The Pianist).

Make One Project with my Kreg Jig 

Fail! No excuse. I just didn't get to it.

Bonus: Learn the Basics of American Politics 
I kind of did this. I now know who my congress person is and who the U.S. Senators from Texas are. I actually saw a creepy commercial for John Cornyn and knew what he was running for. I also know why John Boehner was sitting behind President Obama during the State of the Union. I'm still confused about the whole Joe Biden thing. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

February Resolutions

January flew by and it's time to make resolutions for February! I posted here about my January resolutions and how I fared with those. 

These are the things I want to accomplish in February:

  • Read The Fault in Our Stars
  • Spruce up the guest bedroom for special visitors (who are coming in March!)
  • Watch four Oscar-nominated movies
  • Make one project with my Kreg jig (I think it's gonna be based on this one)
  • Bonus: Learn the basics of American politics (like, um, who the Senators are for Texas and what the heck the majority whip is).
Do-able, very do-able. The movie-watching one may seem like a piece of cake, but that one is actually quite daunting. I'm not a movie watcher. The four I think I'm gonna do are Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, and August: Osage County (I know that one isn't technically nominated for Best Picture, but there are acting nominations so I'm counting it).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

January Resolutions: How'd I Do?

Instead of making whole-year New Year's resolutions for 2014, I decided to do monthly resolutions this year. I made three (and a bonus) resolutions for the month of January.

Get up at 5 am every week day
I did pretty good on this one. The last week of January I didn't keep up with it, but it was because I was going to bed too late. I really, really enjoyed having the extra time in the mornings. I didn't do as much of the blogging and reading I wanted to because I found I had to really do active stuff n order to just not fall back asleep. I did get cleaning and ironing and laundry done, so that's awesome. It was really, really hard for me to actually get out of bed (though it always is, whether I'm getting up at 5 am or 6:30 am), but once I did, I was glad to not have to just rush to get to ready for work. I'd like to try to keep it up in February. 

Read The Interestings
Done! Read and then reviewed here

Get our entryway looking like it's part of a house where people actually live
Done! I really like the way our entryway looks now. I wrote about it here (note: the pictures are terrible in the post because that tiny little light-less room is really hard to photograph). 

Bonus: Run three times each week 
I counted this as a bonus because I already work out Mon-Tue-Thu and Wednesday evenings are taken up with a committee meeting. That means I would have had to run every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in January to achieve this, and I knew life had a very good chance of getting in the way of a very specific requirement like that. I am really happy with how much I've been running though. I ran 15.7 miles in January, and I'm up to running 1.5 mile straight. My fastest time is a 11:59 mile. This is not a fast time in the world of running, but it's great for me. In December, I was still running a 13:00+ mile, so I know I'm getting stronger and making progress. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sprucing Up the Entryway

One of my January resolutions was to make our entryway look nicer. It wasn't hard considering it looked extremely bare. We've lived in this house for over 4 years, but I still had never really done anything in there.

Note: the photos in this post are not good. The entryway is small and has no light, and I use a point-and-shoot camera. The wall color looks different in the after pics, but I didn't paint it radioactive yellow; that's just the terrible lighting.The wall color in the before pics is much more accurate (it's like very creamy coffee). 

Here are the before pics:

And now the afters:

I re-did that little table/chest, and I actually took some before photos, so I will do a post on that later this week. All in all, I only spent about $50 doing this room. I spent $30 total on the square frames for the beautiful William Rice prints from my 2013 calendar, and about $20 total on those green cloth drawers in the closet and the little chalkboard labels for them. I already had the framed Keep Calm and Carry On print, so I repurposed it in here (it had hung in our living room since 2010, so I thought the living room could stand for a change and I like the print in here). The clock was in our living room also, but we got a new one for Christmas, so I re-purposed this one. Chris doesn't like it in here; we are agreeing to disagree while keeping it in here :-) We have had the rug for years; it was left in our very old, very used Volvo when we bought it in 2006, and it's been with us every since (though the Volvo no longer is).

Other little additions to this room: oil-rubbed bronze (ORB) hooks inside the closet door for guests' purses, and I ORBed the switch plate as well. I'd still like to ORB the hinges and doorknob of the closet door, but it's gonna be a bit of a pain because the hinges were painted over, so I'm gonna have to clean them off with mineral spirits and I just haven't felt like doing that. Another project for another day.

I love this little makeover and I feel much better about guests walking through our front door now!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: The Interestings

Reading The Interestings was one of my January resolutions. I chose it because A Beautiful Mess started a (virtual) monthly book club and this was the first book they picked. Emma wrote the post about it and her call to get reading again after falling off the wagon hit a nerve; as far as I can remember, I only read one book last year (The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling). That's not good. I should be reading more than one book a year.

I put off starting The Interestings a bit. I was in the middle of reading Inferno by Dan Brown when I saw Emma's post, and I wanted to finish it. I put The Interestings in my Nook list to buy and it was $8.99. That felt high to me (I have this thing about paying more than $5 for a book that's not even a real book), so I put it off and then when I went back to get it, the price had jumped up to $11.99. I bought it anyway because reading it was one of my resolutions. I'm so glad I did.

This is a book that was well-received by critics (examples here, here, and here), and I've lately been steering clear of those because I've developed this prejudicial attitude that can be summed up thusly: sometimes I think critically-acclaimed books are like The Emperor's New Clothes. Someone decides a book is good literature and then poof! It’s good, it's literature, even if it's barely readable (ahem, Wolf Hall, ahem). But if it becomes too popular, suddenly it's crap. Ugh. Book snobbery is a huge pet peeve of mine.  But I’m now veering off topic, so back to it.

The Interestings follows a group of friends from their teenage days at an artsy summer camp in western Massachusetts (Spirit-in-the-Woods, a ridiculously pretentious name that is so spot on for an arts camp in the Berkshires) through their early fifties. The story is told in the third person, but the main character is Jules Jacobson, who is a therapist married to an ultrasound technician, living in Manhattan. Most of the characters live in New York City. Jules struggles with the fact that her life feels particularly unsuccessful in light of the careers and income of Ethan and Ash, two other Spirit-in-the-Woods alums that have remained some of her closest friends over the years. Jules does deal with hardships (money struggles, her husband's debilitating clinical depression), but her jealously of Ethan and Ash blinds her to the good things in her life.

There wasn't really a whole lot going on plot-wise, which was fine because the insight into the characters was so good and the writing was very sublime. At first I feared it was teetering on the edge of being a little too stylized (really stylized writing feels gimmicky to me, like the stream-of-consciousness chapters in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close that were almost literally painful to read), but it quickly found its footing and balance, and I ended up feeling that the writing perfectly conveyed some great insights into a few different topics: being a "talented" kid and then growing up to just be "normal"; desperate jealousy of one's friends and acquaintances; living through the unfolding AIDS epidemic in the early 80s, especially in New York City; clinical depression; and dealing with other people changing, developing different interests, friends, and resources.

What I Liked:

More than anything, this book made me think about the idea of what success means, and how that meaning changes based on perspective and expectations. Though she has a loving husband and healthy child, a master's degree in social work, and a somewhat-thriving therapy practice in Manhattan, Jules is never happy and never feels good enough. If she hadn't gone to Spirit-in-the-Woods, hadn't met Ethan and Ash, and had simply lived her life along other normals like her sister and mother, would she feel like such a failure? Do we set our children up for disappointment when we surround them with people who are richer, smarter, more talented than them, and tell them that that are just as smart and talented as those kids, that they can achieve all the things those kids can achieve? Maybe yes, maybe no. It does seem to be the case for Jules, but Ethan blossomed at Spirit-in-the-Woods (though admittedly his talent was never in doubt), and he made the connections there that allowed him to become massively successful.

The characters are generally likeable, though written to be real humans with real flaws. I liked Jules and Ethan the most, which I guess Wolitzer probably did too based on how she wrote them. I obviously disliked Goodman; the author gave him no redeeming qualities. I thought Wolitzer's approach to Ash was really interesting. Ash was entitled, hypocritical, and completely out of touch with the real world, yet it was difficult to actually dislike her. I guess this is why Jules, Ethan, and Jonah (the other original camper who stood the test of time) stuck with her all those years.

What I Didn't Like:

I didn't like the way the second-generation children were written. Well, Rory was ok. Larkin was a weird, Dickensian child who spoke like a tiny adult; I didn't buy her at all (hey, maybe there are kids like that out there, I just don't know any of them). And poor Mo. Mo felt like the sacrificial lamb of the book. Wolitzer really made him out to be quite an albatross for Ethan and Ash. I kept wondering if people who had children or grandchildren "on the spectrum" as Ash liked to say were offended when reading it. I read recently about an outcry that arose when Suzanne Wright (co-founder of Autism Speaks) wrote an essay about autism being a disease that ruins peoples' lives. Some activists were angry about it. Mo really represented a very bleak portrait of autism, and I could see people disliking that aspect of the book if they were angry about what Wright said.

The Bottom Line:

I liked this book very, very much. It was moving (I cried at the end), funny, and touched on so many issues that are just real. It’s not a light, feel-good book, but it’s not dark and desolate either. I guess in that way it’s like life. Up and down, happy and sad, but ultimately beautiful.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Let's Try This Again

It's January 2014, and it's been quite a while (nine months, to be exact!) since I've posted on here. I don't even really know why I stopped posting, but I want to give it another try. I loooooove January and the new year and resolutions, even though I'm pretty terrible about keeping them. For example, I made four resolutions last year and I only kept one (well, half of one really - I donated money every month to Kane's Krusade, my favorite dog rescue group).  But I'm not giving up on resolutions! I will, however, alter my approach to them so that I don't fall into the insanity rut. 

So this is my 2014 approach to self-improvement: monthly resolutions. I'm going to pick a few resolutions that I think I can complete in one month. Some of them will be things that I can hopefully turn into habits, but I won't expect that to happen. They're all kind of centered around some overall goals that I have for myself: read more, run more, blog more, keep doing home projects (even small ones), save money, and get more organized. You know, just self-perfection. No big deal.  

January Goals:

  • Get up at 5 am every week day (and by extension, get to bed on time so that waking up at 5 isn't torture).
  • Get our entryway looking like it's part of a house where people actually live.
  • Bonus: Run three times each week (I'm counting this as a bonus because I already work out Mon-Tue-Thu with my friend Kate and Wednesday evenings are taken up with a committee meeting. That means I would have to run every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in January to achieve this, and life often gets in the way of very specific requirements like that. So I'm going to run as often as possible, but not feel bad if I don't get in a run every Fri-Sat-Sun).
I am so excited about 2014, and there are so very many things I want to do. These goals are a only a small part of that, but I think by keeping my monthly targets reasonable, attainable, and practical, I'll be more likely to achieve them (or at least stay on track to achieving them). 

Cheers to a great year!