Sunday, March 19, 2017

Weekends

I feel like my last post left things hanging--I did feel sick the next day (Wednesday), but finally on Thursday I felt a little more like myself and by Friday I was feeling great. Last weekend was a good one--the sun came out and we had some nice weather, and I was able to get things done. On Saturday morning I went to the temple, in the afternoon I went to see a movie (Manchester by the Sea), and in between I ran some errands and cleaned my house. 

I realized last month that too often my weekends when I don't have kids are all spent consuming--running errands to buy things or seeking out entertainment. I don't think that's a horrible thing, since I need to maintain my house and feed my family, and I need to relax as well. But I also sometimes worry that I'm not using my time as well as I could. Even though it's been a few months since I finished school, the amount of free time I have without homework still feels a bit overwhelming. There is a lot of potential time on a Saturday and I don't think I want to always spend it all shopping or binge watching TV shows. So for now I'm pondering how I want my life to be and how I really want to use my time. One thing I need to do is figure out how to make more friends and have more relationships with people, but that's hard and scary (right now I can go an entire weekend without kids and never interact with anyone). I also think I need to find start more active hobbies, like hiking or biking, but again that's new and a little scary too. 

This weekend the kids were here and it's mostly been good so far. S-Boogie had an overnight retreat for young women's on Friday, so I just had the younger two kids here. After dinner we ran to the grocery store to pick up a few things. We also spent some money picking out food for the food drive that was happening Saturday morning; there have been times in my life I couldn't be as generous as I wanted to be, and now that I have a bit more money I enjoy being able to contribute to stuff. Friday night the kids wanted to watch the animated Beauty and the Beast, and then yesterday afternoon we went and saw the new version at the theater. Yesterday morning Little Dude had play practice and S-Boogie was still gone, so it was just me and P. Bibby. We cleaned the bathrooms and other parts of the house and went to the library. In the afternoon I took the younger two to see the movie, since S-Boogie had a major school project that's due on Monday, and she's going to see the movie with friends later this week. During the last year we've really transitioned to the stage of life where she's often busy doing school or church stuff, or hanging out with her friends, rather than doing stuff with us. It's a little weird and I don't totally like it, but I can deal with it. I'm glad she has a busy life full of things that make her happy. If her schedule isn't making her happy anymore, then we can talk. 

And now it's another Sunday morning and I feel like that last few weeks have flown by. We're already halfway through March. The time changed last weekend and the weather warmed up, so it feels like things are suddenly sunny and warm all the time. Just two weeks ago everything was gloomy, snowy, and cold. Life changes fast. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Reading Roundup: February 2017

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

I kept waiting for this book to get more interesting, and it didn't. The author hewed too closely to historical events and I felt like she was expecting readers' knowledge of Hemingway's life to provide the tension that is lacking in the book. I had trouble really connecting with the characters and felt like the whole thing just plodded from event to event without much tying things together or creating an actual plot.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult 

I will confess that I generally pick up Picoult's books with fairly low expectations--my experience with her books has been mixed, and for me the main draw is curiosity about how crazy the plot will get before the book is over. I was pleasantly surprised by this book, especially with Picoult's ability to create three separate characters who all have compelling stories. Yes, I'm troubled by some of the cliches in the book and the over-the-top drama of the plot, but it was still a decent book.

My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

I might as well review these together since I read the second book immediately after finishing the first. It took me a little while to really get into the first book because the writing is densely detailed and there are a lot of characters (thankfully the books include a chart of characters at the beginning). After about a hundred pages, however, I started to get really caught up in the story and had a hard time putting the book down. Also, the first book builds to a point that makes it nearly impossible to resist reading the second one (and then the third--which I read the first week in March). There is a lot I could say about these books, but I think it's mostly been said. I loved them and know I will have a hard time leaving their world behind once I read the fourth in the series.

Conversions: Two Family Stories from the Reformation and Modern America by Craig Harline

I've had this book on my list for a few years, but finally got around to it this year thanks to my goal of reading more nonfiction. I wish I had read it sooner since it was so good. I thought both stories, the historical one and the more contemporary one, were compelling, and I liked the way Harline wove them together along with his own insights. This book gave me a lot to think about.

Movies

Brave

I've actually only seen parts of this movie before, and that was a long time ago so I didn't really remember it. I enjoyed it much more than I expected to, and so did the kids. It was both funny and touching, and I particularly liked the way they animated the mom after she turned into a bear. Obviously I'm getting old because I sympathized much more with the queen than I did with Merida.

Duma

I'd never heard of this movie until I was looking around for something about South Africa that wasn't too intense for the kids. This was a great find--it's an adventure story that teaches some good lessons without being too sappy. We've watched a lot of movies about strong girls, so I was happy to show the kids one about a boy this time, and the cheetah was a big hit with the kids too.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Sick and Tired

According to my blog and Facebook, I have gotten sick during February or March for at least three years in a row now. I wonder what it is about this time of year that makes it easier to get sick? I've also been trying to remember if I got sick this often when I used to stay home with kids. I think I did, but it wasn't as noticeable because it didn't disrupt the routine as much. Getting sick two or three times a year is probably fairly reasonable. No matter how many times it happens, however, I feel stressed about because I have to miss work and other stuff. I also can't fight my suspicion that maybe I'd stay healthier if I took better care of myself. Maybe I should try working harder on that (after I get better).

Early last week, P.Bibby came down with a runny nose and cough. She spent Tuesday out of school with her dad, and then I stayed home with her on Wednesday. I started to get a sore throat on Thursday and I haven't felt good since. I've been dealing with a sore throat, moderately runny nose, chills, and a general sense of feeling like crap for the last six days now and I'm tired of it. Sunday I woke up with a fever, so I arranged for some friends to take the kids to church and stayed home all day. Yesterday morning I went to work for a few hours before leaving. Today the effort of getting dressed made me break out in sweaty chills, so I gave up and stayed home. Tomorrow I'm bound and determined to get to work because I'm tired of hanging around my house feeling blah. 

I'm also tired of feeling like I've lost my momentum. February mostly went really well. I kept up my yoga routine and participated in the wellness challenge at work, earning enough points to get a little extra cash added to my paycheck. I didn't do as well with getting to bed on time (maybe that's part of why I got sick), and instead of watching movies I spent too much time watching Grey's Anatomy on Netflix. Having just finished the third season, however, I've decided not to watch anymore. I like the medical stuff, but I strongly dislike most of the characters and kept thinking "why am I watching this?". I just don't get why the people on that show act the way they do and it irritates me. Plus it makes me want to move back to Seattle. 

I'm crossing my fingers that I can have a more exciting post in a few days when my brain and body have recovered a bit. I haven't done yoga for more than a week and I miss it, along with my other routines as well as my sense of optimism. Right now I'm off to bed with the hope that I'll wake up feeling better. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Reading Roundup: January 2017

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

This is the first time I've read anything by Smith and I mostly liked it. For me, the strongest aspect of the book was the writing. There were many points where I paused and thought "I love this phrase", and the bits of social commentary sprinkled throughout were just as compelling as the quality of sentence construction. The plot was a little hard to follow and the central conflicts were a bit muted, making it hard to want to keep reading at times and leaving me a bit unsatisfied at the end.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This was our book club pick for the month and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've seen comparisons of the book to Harry Potter, but I think that's a little weird since they don't have much in common besides a young protagonist at a school for magic. The tone is completely different in this book and it has a different structure--I love the nested story conceit and Rothfuss does great things with it. Despite the fact that I loved the book, I'm not sure I'm ready to read the second one yet since the third has not been published and I don't want to torture myself.

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

I had to read a biography for a leadership seminar at work, and chose this one based on recommendations from multiple people. Sotomayor not only has a fascinating childhood, she is also an excellent writer.

Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley

This book was better than I thought it would be. Sure there are some unbelievable coincidences in it that drive the story, but if you are willing to just go along with the ride, it's a fun read and a good mystery.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Generally I love Patchett's writing, but this was not one of my favorites. The greatest strength of the book is the character development and I was impressed by the fact that so many different characters were all distinctive and compelling. However, the way the plot moves around in time slowed down the action too much and made it too hard to invest in the story.

The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

Sometimes I keep reading a book even though I realize after a few chapters that I just don't like it. This was one of those books, and thankfully it didn't take too much time to read because otherwise I'd feel more regret. It's difficult to create an unreliable narrator that's also sympathetic, and this book totally fails. I figured out the central mystery early on, and kept hoping the protagonist would become less obnoxious, but that never happened.

Movies

La La Land

I could probably write pages and pages of stuff about this movie--there is a lot going on here, and I loved every minute of it. I can see why some people didn't like the movie, but it pushed all the right buttons for me (musical, a movie about movies, meta-critiques of the entertainment industry, California, Ryan Gosling, a sad love story, etc). I really want to watch it again so I can examine some things in more detail, and I'm curious to see if I could like it as much a second time. I also could write something very long comparing and contrasting it with Moulin Rouge!, but my thoughts aren't fully formed yet.


Singing in the Rain

This is one of those movies that I've never actually watched all the way through, and after watching La La Land and reading a lot about Debbie Reynolds, it felt like the right time. I watched it with the kids and they loved it as much as I did. It's easy to see why it's such a classic, and it is thankfully one of those classic movies that has aged well. P. Bibby has spent the last month grabbing any stick-like object she can find and tap dancing around the house. 

Other People

The reviews I read of this movie were mixed, and for the most part I agree with them. The strength of the film is in the characters, and the two main actors really make the movie. The plot is a little muddled and sometimes the tone is uneven; it's hard to make a movie that's trying to be both ironically funny and sad at the same time. Yes, life is totally absurd at times, but capturing that tone on screen is tricky. I did also enjoy the way the movie was set in a fairly 'normal' American city, in a regular house, and among people and places that feel much more realistic than many other movies I've seen (I even recognized my towels from Target in the bathroom). 

Hidden Figures

I took the kids to see this movie when we had the day off for Martin Luther King Day. P. Bibby got a little bored and restless, but she still watched most of it. The older two kids really liked it and we had some great discussions about the themes of the movie. I thought it was really well-done, especially the acting by all three of the female leads. 

Anastasia

We needed a movie about Russia, and while I know that this is probably one of the worst options out there as far as having any actual connection to Russia, it's an animation classic that my kids haven't watched in years. I've watched it a few times and still can't decide if I like it--boiling down the Russian Revolution to a grudge by a magical Rasputin (who is pretty darn creepy for a PG animated movie) always feels weird to me. However, the animation style and music are both really great so I guess it's worth a view. We read a few books and had some discussion of the actual history of Russia afterwards.

Arrival

I tried not to read too many reviews of this movie, but apparently I'd read enough to figure out the twist fairly early on (it helps to be familiar with linguistic jargon). That being said, I still loved watching the rest of the movie to see if I was right (I was) and to figure out where they were going with it. I liked that this movie had plenty of interesting action and a compelling plot, but also raised some questions that kept me thinking for quite some time after watching it.

Wadjda

Our family film for Saudi Arabia was much more relevant than the one for Russia. My kids really loved this movie and we had a lot of good discussions afterward about cultural practices in different countries and religions. One strength of the film is that the director includes several different women who respond to life in Saudi Arabia in different ways--I liked that there was not a simplistic depiction of life in the kingdom. Also, it's not entirely a feel-good, cutesy film in the American style. There are some hard things in here that don't get totally resolved in the end. If you want to introduce your kids to more foreign films about life in other countries, I'd highly recommend this movie.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Farewell January

January has never been my favorite month and this year wasn't much of an improvement. First of all, January is way too long. We even had five Sundays this month so it felt like things were really dragging. The weather was really cold and extra snowy--which is great for keeping away the inversion and excellent for this summer's water prospects, but terrible for travel and everything else. Thankfully we're now in February, which is not only the shortest month of the year but also the month for Valentine's Day and P. Bibby's birthday and other wonderful things. 

Actually, January this year really wasn't bad other than being excessively cold and snowy. I started doing yoga a few weeks ago and have mostly kept up with my goal of doing it for five days every week. One of these days I want to be able to go to bed early, get up early, and ride the exercise bike vigorously for half an hour before work. That isn't happening at all yet. However, I decided to start small with some simple yoga, especially since I can now stream YouTube on my cool new TV. Doing a beginner's routine for twenty minutes a night is manageable, and now that I've been forcing myself to do it for a few weeks I actually look forward to it. I've also noticed benefits throughout the day as I pay more attention to my posture and breathing. Last month I also got a massage again after taking a few months off, and I realized that I really need a monthly massage to be part of my self-care routine. 

Getting to bed early or even on time has really not been happening. Despite being done with school, for some reason my anxiety keeps flaring up at bedtime and I've been having trouble falling asleep at a reasonable time. And then, of course, lack of sleep makes it harder to manage stress and anxiety. I've had issues with sleeping at various times throughout my life, so on the one hand it feels normal and on the other it's irritating to deal with the same old things again. This month I'm recommitting to at least getting to bed at a good time--sometimes I stay up too late because I'm scared to even try and sleep. My goal this month is to get back in a better bedtime routine by not staying up late reading (and maybe reading earlier in the evening instead of playing Tetris--oops). 

The other weird thing that happened this month is that my pants all suddenly became too big for me. I've never tracked my weight before, but I decided to buy a scale and it turns out that I weigh twenty pounds less than I did last summer at my annual check-up (the last time I got weighed). After my surgery it took me a while to get my appetite back, and even then I still ate fairly small portions of things. Also, last fall I mostly phased out eating treats at night because it seemed to make my sleeping problems worse and irritated my gallbladder. It's just disconcerting because I've never really experienced such a large amount of weight loss, but the good news is that it does put me back down in the healthy weight category for my height. Sadly I have to buy all new pants for work, and I hate shopping, but I'm working on replacing my wardrobe and just wearing baggy pants for a while. I think that if I can use this opportunity get in shape and not put the weight back on, it would be great. 

We're already five days into February and things are going well. P. Bibby had her birthday party on Friday at the local roller rink and it was a bit loud and chaotic. Thankfully we didn't lose any children (it was crowded and six-year-olds like to run off by themselves a lot) and she had a great time. Yesterday I also took her to see the ballet down at the university, and tonight she told me it was the 'best weekend ever'.  Hopefully the rest of the month continues to be awesome.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Reading Goals for 2017

I've never set specific reading goals before, but I feel like last year I didn't read as many of the books I wanted to, and I read too many books that were fun but not satisfying. I also tend to read too many similar books and want to branch out and challenge myself a bit. I've seen a few reading challenges around on the internet, but would rather create my own. Here are some of the goals I have in mind:

At least three books in Spanish

Five books in translation from other languages

Three Mormon nonfiction books
Two books of poetry

One nonfiction book every month

Read all the Whitney finalists in the adult categories

I don't think I'll set any goals in relation to movies, other than to watch more of them. Also, in the past I haven't blogged about movies I watch with the kids, but I'm going to change that and start listing them. When they were younger and I was at home, we watched and re-watched a lot of shows, but now that they're older we don't do that anymore. We do have movie nights or go to see things in the theater, so I might as well include those in my reviews. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Reading Roundup: 2016

(Previous years: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007)

This year I read a total of 89 books this year--it felt like I had read more books than previous years, but that's actually right around my annual average.

I read 69 fiction books and 20 nonfiction books, which is right around my average as well. Every year when I add things up, I'm surprised I don't read more nonfiction. Nonfiction books usually take longer to read than much of the fiction I read, so that's probably part of the problem. Once again, one of my goals for this coming year is to change the ratio and up the number of nonfiction books I read. This year's ratio of author genders also holds no surprises: 61 books by women and 28 books by men. I think the type of fiction I enjoy tends to be female-dominated, and this explains much of this ratio.

I am going to write another post about my reading goals for this coming year, since I'm going to try creating my own personal reading challenge to get myself out of some of my ruts and to be more deliberate about what I read. In no particular order, here are the books I enjoyed most this year:

Fiction

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Nonfiction

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz 
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by
Asne Seierstad

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow 

Movies

I watched more movies again this year, for a total of 15. That's nowhere near my totals from previous years (and it doesn't count things I watched with the kids and don't review on the blog), but now that I'm done with school I have more free time for film again. I also have watched a few TV series throughout the year, and that can take up some of my media viewing time. Some of my favorite movies from this year were: 

Spotlight
Brooklyn 
Love and Friendship
Zootopia
Man Up
The Big Short