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:


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


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 


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: 

Love and Friendship
Man Up
The Big Short

Monday, January 02, 2017

Reading Roundup: December 2016

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

This was a quick, romantic read that made me want to spend time in Cornwall. Without giving too much away, there is a time travel element that I wasn't expecting and at first didn't like, but after deciding to just go along with it, I really enjoyed the book.

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

I read this for a book club and we haven't had a chance to discuss it yet. I'm looking forward to talking about it with other people who have a love for O'Connor so I can perhaps learn to appreciate her writing and stop feeling guilty that I just don't get it.

Girl at War by Sara Novic

One of the things I found most disconcerting about this book was that it felt historical in the sense that books about the first or second world war feel. However, the events in it took place during my lifetime and I remember clearly when they were part of the daily news cycle. It's a sobering reminder that violence and war are still happening in the world and aren't just part of the past. As a novel, it was well-written and I enjoyed reading it, although I thought that a few of the characters could have been developed a bit more and the ending was too abrupt. 

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie

I've liked most of McKenzie's books I've read before, and I'm surprised she's not as well known as similar authors like Liane Moriarty or JoJo Moyes. She's especially good at creating characters and settings, and after finishing this book I wanted to read more about the protagonist and her family. However, actually reading it was difficult because of the way it was structured. First of all, I felt like it jumped around too much in time and between characters; and second, there was not an actual mystery that the characters had to solve. Suspense was only created for the reader because the narrators were withholding information, and I found that to be annoying. It would have been a better book if it just started at the beginning point in time and built up, rather than working backward.

The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti

I read a lot of thrillers, and one of my goals next year is to read fewer of them. A lot of them are like this book--I'm intrigued by the mystery and keep reading to the end to find out what happens, but I don't get much out of it or remember the book very well a few days later. This book in particular seems to be like a number of other similar ones that involve a women becoming involved with a rich, powerful man who seems to be the perfect partner, until suddenly he's not and things get crazy. I should have known better.

The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens

The fact that Eskens has experience as a lawyer really shows in this book, where the suspense comes in the legal maneuvering, and by the book's structure that alternates between the two sides of the trial. I thought it was a pretty good read, and then there was a twist I didn't see coming at all right towards the end that really surprised me (in a good way).  I've read another book by Eskens before and also liked it, and I think I'll read another in the future.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

I spent most of the month (and some of last month) slowly reading this book interspersed with others. It's not that it wasn't a good book or that it wasn't compelling reading, but it's too big to fit in my purse to take places and it was so dense that it worked better to digest it in small chunks. I really enjoyed reading it and felt like I learned so much about both Alexander Hamilton and the American revolution. Even if you don't think that you're interested in either of those topics (I didn't think I was), this book may convince you otherwise.


Saving Private Ryan

I've never actually seen this movie before (I'm not sure why--I'm trying to remember what I was doing in 1998), and since it was leaving Netflix this month I thought it was a good choice for New Year's Eve. I was worried about the violence, and although it was gruesome, it didn't bother me as much as I expected it to. There were many great things about this movie and totally deserves its reputation as one of the best movies about war (and one of Spielberg's top films as well).

Saturday, December 31, 2016

I write posts in my head

I write a lot of things in my head and never manage to actually get them down somewhere more permanent. Sometimes I wonder if other people live like this, with a constant stream of narration in their own heads. I don't usually talk to myself directly and I feel weird doing that, but I like to comment on my day, analyze things, and describe them to other people. I've always liked to process things out loud, and since getting divorced this has been a lot harder since I don't have anyone around to do this with. Hence, trying to get back into blogging and journaling. I just need to sit down more often to write out the things I'm thinking. 

We had a good Christmas this year. I hadn't been feeling much of the Christmas spirit since our schedule was compressed and the kids and I were at work and school through the 22nd. During the earlier part of the month I was also still recovering from my surgery, and so we didn't do very many festive things like we usually do. I even procrastinated getting our annual family pictures and preparing a Christmas card. But, on the morning of the 23rd we headed off to the photo studio and had a great time. Then I dropped the kids off at Mr. Fob's for the afternoon and finished up my shopping and cleaning. My parents showed up that night, and then we spent Christmas Eve baking goodies and watching Christmas shows on TV. Christmas day was both low-key and fun. We opened presents, ate breakfast, and went to church. The kids spent the afternoon with Mr. Fob before coming back here for the night. I spent the afternoon just hanging out with my parents, including setting up the new TV for Christmas. 

I had two paid holidays this week and then I took the other three days off of work, and it's been rather nice. Sometimes when I have time off work I create too many expectations for myself and try to cram a bunch of things in. This week I didn't make a lot of plans other than spending time with the kids. We've gone out and done some fun things, we've stayed in to play with new toys and watch movies, and we've done a lot of cleaning and organizing. Generally it's been an enjoyable, relaxing week. 

As mentioned, I got a new flat-screen TV from "the kids", which really means it came from Mr. Fob. I was pretty sure that's what it was when they dropped off a giant box a few weeks ago. It used to bother me when he bought big presents for me, especially since I don't reciprocate and the kids just get him little things, but I've decided that I don't care. I still had the old TV we had received as a wedding present back in 2001, as well as the entertainment center we bought a short while later when we first graduated. It was a little bittersweet to haul both of them to the dump on Monday; those two items have been to a lot of places with us and played a big part in our lives for a long time. But, last night I was able to stream the Christmas special of Call the Midwife from my phone to the TV and I thought "man, I'm living in the future!" and it was pretty amazing. 

I'm feeling excited about setting some goals for 2017, but I'm still not sure if I want to set some concrete, specific things to accomplish or just have some guiding principles. I tend to do a little better when I keep expectations low and don't stress myself out too much. This past year I have accomplished a few things successfully. In May I bought a five-year journal at Blackwells in Oxford as a souvenir, and I've kept it up for the rest of this year. It's easy to do since it only takes a minute or two at night and once I got momentum it has been easy to keep to going. I've also started reading my scriptures at night again over the last few weeks. For a while I was doing a more intense study regimen with a notebook and everything, but it was really hard to keep up and I finally just didn't even read my scriptures anymore. I'd like to do that kind of study again, but just getting back in the scripture habit has been working. Now that I don't have to do schoolwork in the evenings anymore, I've started staying off the computer after dinner and reading on the couch instead, which means that when I get in bed I'm not as tempted to read other books and can just read my scriptures for a bit before going to sleep. 

Better sleep habits and starting an exercise routine are at the top of my list for goals for next year, but I'm undecided about the best approach. When I think about goals to set, what keep coming to mind is that I want to be more productive and more connected. I think I might just stick with those ideas and see what happens. Being more productive would mean focusing on consuming less and producing more. More self-reflection and writing, more exercise and self-care, more hobbies and crafts and less time wasted with online reading and social media. Being more connected would mean more time spent connecting to my emotions, more connection to God through better scripture study and temple attendance, more social engagements and spending time with friends, and better parenting to connect with my kids. 

This year I don't have the kids for New Year's Eve and I'm undecided yet about staying up. I've had a few late nights this week so I might just get to bed on time in order to have a fresh start for the new year tomorrow. My other goal for the next few days is to get my yearly review of books up, as well as a post about reading goals. I may not set concrete goals in other areas, but this year I'm going to create my own reading challenge in order to be more intentional about what I read.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Reading Roundup: November 2016

I spent half the month recuperating from surgery, which explains the massive number of books I read. A few of these books were one-day reads. I don't plan to repeat this number in December. 

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

It took me a while to realize that the focus of this book was really the protagonist and not the central mystery. In fact, the mystery itself had a rather anticlimactic resolution that I mostly figured out. The pace of the book was slower than I expected, but in the end I liked it and if the author writes another book about the same characters, I would read it.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

I've never surfed, or had any desire to surf, despite growing up in southern California surrounded by surf culture. However, a number of positive reviews convinced me to give this book a try, and now I think it's one of the best I've read this year. It is a long, dense book, and there were times when I didn't quite understand all the terminology used to describe the waves, but Finnegan is an impressive writer. This book is definitely going on my list of favorite memoirs.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

I've read more than one adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that just didn't work because it was trying too hard to be faithful to the events of the book, particularly the romance. On the other hand, this book does an excellent job of recreating Austen's tone of social critique, and even satire, and I had a lot of fun reading it. Sittenfeld manages to simultaneously mock and adore the Bennett family in the same way that Austen did; as long as you are not too attached to Austen, you probably would adore this book too (just be warned that it is a modern retelling and more explicit in many ways than the original).

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

This is a beautiful and heartbreaking memoir; Alexander's talent as a poet shows in the language, and her love for her husband comes through in every word. I'll admit that reading a book about a happy and fulfilling marriage is a little hard for me, but this was an excellent read.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

One of the things that bugged me most about this book is that one of the characters has a really strange name, and no one ever comments on it or asks about it. That felt really unrealistic to me, especially since the author must have some reason for choosing the name. This book was fairly predictable and the writing was clunky; I only kept reading to see how it ended, and even then I wasn't particularly surprised by the ending. The author notes that she wrote the book particularly to raise awareness of domestic violence, and it did feel like a book that had been created for an agenda rather than one with an interesting story to tell. 

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies

I liked that this book took place in a historical setting I haven't read much about before, and the descriptions of the setting really made it come alive for me. I also thought the characters were mostly well-written and their behavior seemed to fit the setting well. There was one character whose behavior was difficult and used to advance the plot, but her motivations were never really fleshed out and I found it hard to understand why she did the things that she did. However, in general I enjoyed the book and I'd read another one by the same author.  
The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

This was another book where I felt like the setting was its greatest strength--it really made me want to book a trip to northern Scotland. The main character bugged me because she was irrationally stubborn and didn't provide much introspection into her thoughts and motivations. That moved the plot along for a while, but made for some difficult reading for a while. 

The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine

This was a quick, one-day read that filled my time a few days after surgery, so my memory is a bit fuzzy since I was on painkillers. I was not able to guess the solution to the mystery and the pacing of the plot was good, but the main characters were not well fleshed-out enough for me to really care about any of them. 

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

The premise of this book is a little unrealistic, and it could have been written in a much more farcical or humorous style (I was actually slightly expecting that). However, Forman manages to make it work as a more realistic book, and I enjoyed reading it.

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Susan Klebold

I've told a few friends that I would cautiously recommend this book--it's excellent writing and gave me a lot to think about, but it could potentially be traumatizing. If you think you can handle it, I highly recommend it.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

I've read a lot of historical fiction about the Second World War, and I love it when someone comes up with a fresher take on it. Cleave alternates between London under the Blitz and the seige of Malta, both parts of the war I haven't read as much about it, and throws in a few other interesting historical details as well. His writing is also really beautiful, and while I didn't always like the protagonist, she showed real growth. My only problem with this book was that it was really, really sad (no spoilers, but be warned). It's a beautiful book, but definitely not for the faint of heart. 

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafazi and Christina Lamb

This was our book club pick for the month, and I'm glad it was because otherwise I might have never gotten around to reading it. I enjoyed it quite a lot--it was both easy to read much more interesting than I expected it to be. I felt like it did a good job balancing the larger story of the history of northern Pakistan with the more personal story of Malala and her family.


The Innocents  

One of my friends has now decided to playfully sum up my taste in movies as "pregnant Polish nuns", but in all seriousness I thought this was a great movie. The acting, cinematography, and pacing of the plot were all well-done, although I feel weird saying I 'enjoyed' it since it's not meant to be particularly 'enjoyable' in that sense. The only thing I felt faltered a bit was the ending, but in some ways it really was the best way to end the story and I began to see it coming halfway through the film.


I had thought this movie was a bit more about the politics or history of the exploitation of unmarried mothers in Ireland by the Catholic church (since I've read a fair amount about that in connection with the movie). Instead, it's really more of a buddy movie/road trip movie, but thankfully the two leads can really pull it off and it was quite enjoyable. 

The Crown

This is a TV series and not a movie, but I watched the whole thing in a few days while recovering so I might as well review it. It's a bit slow in spots, and I sometimes had to look people up in Wikipedia to figure out what was going on, but generally I loved it and may actually watch it again since I missed some parts (I should have picked something less cerebral to watch while taking Percocet). 


Also a TV series, but I watched the entire first season in one day and finished the second rather quickly as well. I love both police procedurals and British TV, so this was a particularly good choice. I wasn't sure about how the second season branched out into new things and new characters, but once the pieces came together in the end, I discovered that it all worked out in satisfying ways. I'm not sure how good another season would be since most of the pieces were wrapped up well.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


I had my gallbladder surgery just about ten days ago, on the seventeenth. The surgery itself went smoothly as far as I can tell (since I don't remember any of it). It was done at the outpatient center attached to the local hospital. I didn't have to show up until eleven, so I had some time in the morning to get the kids off to school and clean my house before leaving. A friend dropped me off, I checked in, and they got me all prepped for surgery (I'd love to have one of those systems that pipes hot air into my pajamas for my bed at home, it would be awesome). There was about an hour delay so I got to watch an episode of Law & Order while I waited--that's my go-to show for lounging around hotel rooms and hospitals. Then they wheeled me into the operating room and an hour later I woke up back in the bed. For the next few hours I drifted in and out of consciousness. I was surprised by how hard it was to wake up, since the only other time I've had general anesthesia was when I had my tonsils out as a kid and I don't remember a lot about that. Finally I was awake enough to eat some jello and go to the bathroom, so they called my friend to pick me up and sent me home. That night my sister-in-law came over to spend the night at the house in case I needed anything. She kindly brought some big fancy pillows that made sleeping much easier. If you are having any kind of surgery like this, I highly recommend getting at least a wedge pillow to help you sleep upright. It's made a big difference for me and I'm still using it since I still feel too uncomfortable sleeping flat on my back or on my side.

Thankfully I slept really well that first night, and most of the nights since then. However, that could just be the effects of the pain medication. I did stop taking it a few days ago since it ran out and I didn't really need it. Over the last week my pain has progressed from "I can't stand up without a pillow and I can tell when my drugs run out" to "I feel a little sore now and sneezing is still awful". Recovery has been much easier than it was for my c-sections, but still a bit slower than I expected. I think at this point I am also feeling impatient because I'm not totally back to normal. I'm mostly normal, but my stomach is still bloated and my incisions are tender. I'm also impatient to get back to doing stuff after more than a week of sitting around. I can say that I've been very good about taking it easy by avoiding anything strenuous. The kids have spent a lot of time with Mr. Fob and I've had friends dropping off food. I read a few books, watched quite a bit of TV, and spent too much time playing Tetris on my phone.

As my surgery pain has eased I've also been able to tell that my previous pain and indigestion is totally gone and it's really nice. My digestive system is still adjusting, both from the missing gallbladder and the side effects of surgery and pain medication. I'm hoping that will also clear up soon as well. Generally, this has been a positive experience and at this point I don't regret doing it. When the day of the surgery actually came I was a bit scared and really questioned whether it was the best choice, but now that I've had some time to recover I think it was. Hopefully in another week or two I'll keep thinking that.

Reading Roundup: October 2016

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

One difficulty in writing historical fiction is making the characters at least somewhat relatable to modern readers, while still realistic enough for their setting. One thing authors often do is to make the protagonist some kind of outcast or rebel, which creates conflict and makes them more interesting to current audience. However, this can create a character whose behavior doesn't really fit with the time period. If a book is well-written I can just go along with it and enjoy the story, but sometimes it bugs me. Now that I type all that out, I'm not sure that was really the problem with this book. The main character was pretty immature and didn't really change much before the end of the story. I did feel like the historical details of the setting were well-done, however.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I had mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, Jahren is a compelling writer and I loved the scientific vignettes about trees scattered throughout the book. They were both informative and lyrical, and I learned a lot of new things about botany. On the other hand, I struggled with the rest of the book. Memoirs provide a lot of leeway for writing creatively about oneself, but this book was just too disjointed and evasive for me to enjoy. For example, the first chapter talks all about her childhood, and yet nothing is ever mentioned about her family again for the rest of the book. There are similar omissions, and things alluded to that feel like the reader is expected to make assumptions and fill in the blanks without a lot of context. I think Jahren is a skilled writer and a talented scientist, but this book felt like it needed a bit more editing to work well.

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

This was a great escapist read for a lazy Saturday afternoon, but I could probably recommend several books with a similar premise that are better written. I figured out the central mystery fairly early on in the story and I thought that several of the characters were just too stereotypical for my taste. The descriptions of the setting were, however, a strong point of the book and made me want to plan a trip to Cornwall.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

After reading a few less substantial books, it was a treat to dive into one that was much more 'meaty'. Vyleta's strength in this book is definitely world-building, and the book feels much like a Victorian novel in its prose as well as its setting. I thought the second half of the book got a bit bogged down as the plot became rather complicated, and it veered more towards horror than I was expecting, but overall it was a good read. 

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

The thing that surprised me most about this book was the lack of detail in the setting; it mostly focused on the characters and their interactions, and although I know it was set during the 1840s, it could just as easily have taken place fifty years later than that (or even fifty years earlier). The plot was nicely convoluted and I enjoyed watching all the pieces come together in the end in surprising ways; it's easy to see how this could become a television series (and perhaps it will), and maybe it would work better on screen. 

The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith

I'm terrible at art, but I love to read books about art, both fiction and nonfiction. I really enjoy books that describe the creative process and art in detail, which this one does really well. It jumps back and forth in time, with some of the same characters at different times in their lives, and I thought that all three timelines were well done. This was not the best book I've read all year, but it was quite good and I would recommend it.

Desire Lines by Christina Baker Kline

This book was mostly forgettable--it's a mystery, but I figured out who the killer was fairly early on in the book. The protagonist was also annoying and didn't change much during the book, and many of the other characters were just cliches.

The Lost Girls by Heather Young

This is another mystery/thriller with parallel timelines that eventually intersect when someone in the present figures out new information that explains the past (I read a lot of these, don't I?). I often prefer the historical timeline for various reasons, but in this book I thought the contemporary story was much more compelling. The characters were more believable and sympathetic and I loved the setting; by the time we figured out what happened in the past, I kind of didn't care much, but I was really happy with the resolution for the present-day protagonist.