Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books everywhere and not enough time to read them all

As of today, December 31, 2013, I have read 78 new-to-me books this year. Seventy-eight! I'm pretty impressed with myself. Thanks to the miracle of Goodreads.com, I know that that was 22,793 pages. Not all were great, though some were outstanding. Some were a trial to get through. Others I vaguely recall.

I started off with a goal of reading 50 new books and watching 50 new movies. I was worried I wouldn't be able to quite do it, that's a new one every week, but I should have known better. I hit my goal in June. And of COURSE I kept going and kept track. I'm kind of proud of the fact that compared to my 78 new books, I only watched 65 new movies, even with Netflix readily available to me.

My favorite books I read this year in no particular order:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - OH. MY. GOD. This author catches you up in her web of lies and deceit and you have no idea what the hell is going on and when you think you've got it figured out she throws a twist at you....and then another one...and then ANOTHER one. Phenomenal. I went out immediately and bought and read her other two books, both of which were just as fantastic, but Gone Girl is my favorite.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - Young Adult lit is so great these days. When I was a kid it seemed like it was mostly Sweet Valley High and Baby Sitters Club (both of which I enjoyed in middle school). I'm loving the renaissance YA is having these days. This book is SO good you can sort of forget that it's about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love. I'm looking forward to the movie.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell - We listened to this on the trip to and from New Braunfels for Thanksgiving and it's so great. I totally identified with Cath. She kind of smushed two different parts of my life into one and I love her. I bought the book before we were done with the cds and reread a couple parts I'd missed and found myself still reading a chapter later, well into stuff I'd heard the day before. I really wish this had a sequel.

New Girl by Paige Harbison - more YA lit. I told you I'm loving it. It's a teenager spin on Rebecca, another of my all time favorite books. I really liked how she twisted it and changed a few things but left a lot of it the same. I especially loved how the Mrs. Danvers character was named Dana Veers.

Ready Player One by Earnest Cline - Even though the main character is a teenage boy, I wouldn't call this YA. It's so good I read it once this summer and listened to the audio book in the fall. Wade lives in a future where overcrowding has decimated the fuel and food supplies. His escape from life is the Oasis, an online user program. It's more complicated than that, but it's really great.

The Selection and The Elite by Kiera Cass - I'm lumping them together because they're 1 and 2 of a trilogy. Again, more YA future dystopia stuff and I loved it. It doesn't hurt that it's a sort-of take on Cinderella and I'm a sucker for a good fairy tale retelling.

Bossypants by Tina Fey - this is her autobiography and while I loved her before, I adore her now. I feel like we could have been friends if we grew up in the same area at the same time.

Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived by Andrew Wilson - I never outgrew my 8th grade fascination with the Titanic. I thought I knew a lot of the stories, but these were all ones I'd never heard before. Stories of kidnapping, doomed marriages, sweethearts frantic to find each other, and people who let surviving a disaster define them for the rest of their lives, some of those lives lasting nearly 90 years after the sinking. It was really interesting and if you've got a mild interest in the Titanic, I'd recommend it.

I've got shelves full of books to read in 2014 and I'm eager to start them all. It's almost overwhelming having so many books I want to read, like where do I start? What if that one is better than this one and I'm stuck in this one for a week or more? (I kinda hate to not finish a book. It rarely happens.) This kind of anxiety is good, though. And if I just can't handle it, I can always pick up one of my favorites and reread it for comfort. Which I do on occasion.

So happy reading in 2014! Get a pile of books your excited about and dig in! I know I will be.

Monday, December 23, 2013

That's a wrap!

I spent an hour on Friday wrapping Christmas presents after about 20 minutes on Thursday night wrapping other Christmas presents and it reminded me of a few things and made me think of a few others. Here's a list.

1. I remember Dad teaching me how to wrap presents properly when I was maybe in middle school. He told me if you do it right, you'll only need 3 pieces of tape, 5 if it's a super big present.

2. If the paper has glitter on it, you might need a whole roll. This is experience talking.

3. So avoid glitter paper. It's pretty, but it's a pain.

4. That, or get the good tape, not the cheap stuff.

5. My grandmother must have ironed her paper or something because I've never seen more beautiful packages.

6. Wrapping presents is kind of a pain, but watching someone unwrap (and not just pull it out of a bag) is nice. Especially if that someone is a kid figuring it out for the first time.

7. Unless the box is big and/or heavy. Then I hate wrapping.

8. Or oddly shaped so that you have to put it in a box to wrap it.

9. Bags are better than just being handed a box, though. At least give me a LITTLE mystery.

10. When we were kids, Caleb and I wanted to give presents to everyone in our family but we'd have maybe $20 to do so. So we'd occasionally wrap up our own stuff to give away. We always kind of wanted it back, though, so we weren't totally selfless.

11. We'd also wrap our own stuff for ourselves, so we'd have more presents under the tree.

12. Gift cards are so much easier to wrap and give, but not quite as fun to give or receive. The best is something you didn't know you wanted or finding that perfect item that just screams the person you're giving it to.

13. But if you have no idea what to get a person, a gift card is probably the safest bet.

14. Or even if you do have an idea but it's a highly personal item, give a gift card so they can pick it out themselves (books if they're filling out a set, clothing, etc).

15. Wrapping goes by faster if your 3 yo son is in the next room watching Day of the Diesels for the 15th time in a week and you're sick of it and want to get away.

16. Or maybe it's slower, because you have to hear it again.

17. If you have a 14 mo, you can't put the presents out until right before you open them because he will open everything for you. Also, your tree looks half naked because of how high the ornaments are, but that's ok because at least there's a tree.

18. I managed to wrap nearly all my presents with the same roll of paper. I was pretty pleased with that.

19. In the end, bags save the day. Wrapping presents for an hour with Thomas blaring in the background, I started tossing things in bags, even if they didn't quite fit.

20. Don't buy cheap tape. It's worth repeating.

21. Get the paper with grids. It's a lifesaver.

22. Skip the bows. Sure, they're pretty, but they get in the way when you have to pile presents and they get smushed anyway. No one really cares about bows.

23. Unless you do then cover your presents in bows, I don't care.

24. Always always always open the box, no matter what. I've been burned twice thinking the picture on the box was indicative of the contents and was sadly mistaken. One I thought was like a boombox and it was a sweater vest, one I thought was chocolates and was a beautiful hand crocheted shawl. I caught my errors before the thank you notes went out.

25. Write a thank you of some kind, especially to the older generations. Most of them kind of expect it (I know the older generation in my family does). Definitely do it if they're not there when you open the present. Even if it's an email or a fb message saying you got it and thanks. It's just common courtesy people.

26. A small part of me misses calling my friends Christmas afternoon and talking about our goodies. It wasn't necessarily a competition, just excitement.

27. In the end, do your thing: cheap tape, glittery paper with tons of bows, lots of bags with tissue paper, naked boxes.

28. I'm looking forward to tonight when our family opens our gifts as part of our Christmas Adam celebration and tomorrow when everyone else opens their gifts for the big Christmas get together. I'm hoping some of my gifts are of the special "didn't know I wanted this!" variety.

Merry Christmas! Hope you and yours have a great year and enjoy each other's company this week. (Yes, I realize this is an old picture. I can't find my camera cord. If you saw my house you'd understand.)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Traditions

Our family never "did" Santa Claus. When I was a kid, I'd heard of him but I knew he was fictional. I knew he wasn't real and that was ok with me. I'd never known any different. My friends, however, were told he was real. I very distinctly remember the first time I heard of him.

My friend told me about Santa and how you had to be good or you wouldn't get any presents. I was confused because I'd never gotten any gifts from Santa before, just my family. She told me he came down the chimney after you go to bed on Christmas Eve and puts presents under the tree and stuff in the stocking. So that year, I snuck downstairs after bedtime and peeked around the corner into the living room...and saw my parents putting stuff in the stockings. I wasn't horrified because, of course, I'd never heard of this weirdo before.

I told my friend Santa was just your parents, she told her mom, and my mom got a call (apparently I did this with sex later...I was a blabby child). According to my friend's mom, Santa Claus was an important part of childhood and how dare we ruin that for her child. Believing in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus were all magical joys for children. My mom calmly told her that if we lie to our children about these magical beings, when they find out that they're NOT real, what are they supposed to think about Jesus?

It makes sense. All those creatures are magical and give us things, even if we haven't really earned them...sort of like Jesus. (Work with me.) If we teach our children about mystical rabbits who bring eggs or fat men who break into our house to give us presents or fairies who break into our house and steal our teeth in exchange for money (now that one is horrifying) then why should they believe us when we tell them about Jesus who was born of a virgin, performed miracles and then died for our sins and rose again? There's nothing in it for us, so might as well lump him in with the other mystical beings.

If you choose to do Santa with your kids, that's fine. I'm not judging you. You raise your children how you feel best. Austin and I choose not to have those guys around. We don't have Santa anything in our house. I'm not going to hate you if you give me a gift bag with Santa on it, or if the boys get something at Easter with bunny ears on it or whatever.

The lack of Santa wasn't our only "tradition," though. For a few years, we brought foster kids home for the holidays, and that was kind of fun. More people around (because five kids isn't enough, obviously) and more presents opened and all that. We also had one that my soulmate says is sad. I find it amusing.

We dumpster dove for our Christmas tree. Every year. Not even kidding.

We lived on ACU hill and right before Christmas, a lot of the college kids would go home and throw away perfectly good Christmas trees...and we'd come along and scoop them up for free. Sometimes they still had ornaments or lights on them. Lots of them had stands. You had to know the right areas to look and we got pretty good at it. Except one year. One year we waited too long and we didn't find a tree. We decorated a floor to ceiling lamp.

That was the year the foster kids felt sorry for us.

I must have been about 7 and I wasn't just horribly disappointed. It was kind of cool that we decorated something different. I remember going out with my older brother to look for a tree and complaining about how cold it was. I hadn't thought to grab a jacket and he wasn't willing to wait for me to grab one. He kept telling me to think warm thoughts. It didn't work. I shivered until he finally got fed up and we went home. Our parents waited too long to load everyone up to go look for a tree and so we didn't find anything. Hence the lamp. The next year we all went out and we ended up with three trees. I think one was fully decorated with a stand and everything. Silly college kids.

The first  year we moved into the house on Orange, 1993, my parents went out and bought a very nice fake tree and it was used for about 15 years. Once Mom and Dad hung a gold star over the family cradle, and that was pretty nice. I think this year will just be a pile of gifts with no focal point...and that's ok too. The tree/star/whatever isn't the main point of Christmas. It's the family togetherness.

And really, that was the best part about looking for a discarded tree. We'd all seven pile into the Suburban and drive around, looking at the lights and saying, in tiers, "OOoooh" "Ahhhh" Ohhhh." We'd enjoy cookies and hot chocolate and marshmallows roasted in the fireplace and movies with everyone piled on the fold out sofabed (the only time we had a tv...another post). We'd go see my grandmother and aunts and open more presents.

We've given up the foster kids, the dumpster tree, and, occasionally, the tree itself. Our family has started our own little traditions, and they're fun: movie and pizza on Christmas Adam (December 23). I'm excited to see what traditions we start in the years to come. And yes, soulmate, I'll stay out of the dumpsters.

No one likes a crazy mama.

I may have lost my mind.

Over the summer, I was in a bit of a funk for many reasons and one of them was that I kind of hate my house. The layout is awkward, it's drafty, some of the rooms are oddly sized, the colors are hideous, and we've only got one full bath and it has a claw foot tub with a suspended shower curtain.

That's what you get when you buy a house built in 1920. I knew getting into it that there would be problems and we've handled them as they've come. I knew the colors were hideous when we moved in, I just kept in mind that I could change them. I knew I wouldn't change them immediately because when we moved in, I was about four months pregnant and it was all I could do to unpack. I did manage to paint the nursery because it was God-awful: a pale green trim with blue and white toile wall paper on one wall and white on the rest of the walls. The house has lots of cracks from the house settling but I choose to see that as character.

A friend of ours put their house on the market and I looked at the pictures and it depressed me. It was gorgeous! I even daydreamed about buying it, but quickly came to my senses. It had features we loved but other features that wouldn't quite work for us and our family. I started to feel worse and worse about my house because I feel like it's ugly and I hate what it says about me. I don't mind the mess, because that's my kids and my family enjoying each other. I don't mind the piles of books in various places because who would? I don't mind most of the furniture because I actually like most of it. I mind the colors. The brown trim is actually kind of maroon. The living room is five shades of ugly. There's a hideous flur-de-lis border in the small hallway and an ugly wallpaper border in the front entryway. The bathroom is an indescribable shade of green. I've grown to accept the blue in the kitchen, mostly by finding curtains that I don't despise. (They're toile for those of you who know me.) I do LOVE the fireplace. It's fabulous. The pink bedroom is...iffy. Our room? God. GOD. The only thing in there worth keeping is (are?) the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Here we are, three years later, and I've painted two rooms in the house: the nursery and the room that was the living room and is now the dining room (it was Longhorn Orange which, as a Red Raider, I couldn't stomach. It lasted over a year). I had the initial goal of one room a year until I got the house how I wanted it, but the more kids you have, the harder it is to paint yourself. I enjoy painting, but it's exhausting and Austin doesn't like doing it so I typically end up doing most of it myself, with my soulmate because she's awesome like that.

So, we decided that we have enough expendable income at the moment to just hire someone to paint for us. Of the six remaining areas of the house to be painted, five are being painted this week. The week before Christmas. Because I've lost my mind.

The painter says he thinks he'll be done by the end of the week. I could have my house completely repainted by Friday! Which would be fabulous. But I'm a hair skeptical. I would actually be ok with it taking a bit longer because I have to vacate rooms two at a time and do it over night. The hallways are first and are empty. The front hall seems massive with nothing in it. Next up will be the living room and bathroom and I have little concern about emptying those rooms. The really scary one? The master bedroom. I have cleared off 5 boxes and several massive piles of books off the bookshelves and there's still at least 2 boxes worth left. Then there's the bed, the chairs, the dressers, the cedar chest, the mobile bookshelves, the nightstands, the closets to empty...so much. I've moved some out already, but it's going to be a crazy evening getting everything out of the master bedroom. Plus my kids will have to be locked in their room while we do all this and you know kids LOVE being locked away.

This week is going to be nuts. I get to move in and out of half of my house, corral my children, wrap presents, put up a Christmas tree, and prepare for Christmas. So if I seem a bit manic this week, that's why. Oh, and the boys aren't in FKO this week, so even more awesome!

No really, it's going to be great. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I will be in love with this house again, instead of just dealing with it. And I'll regain my sanity. Or what I had of it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Carrie's got nothin' on me.

I have great hair.

God, that sounds really egotistical doesn't it? It's true, though. It's thick, grows fast, healthy, shiny, silky when clean...I really like my hair.

I've had my share of unfortuante haircuts/styles, but luckily for me, they were mostly in my youth. When I was younger, Mom had it permed. And it was short. Short, thick hair when permed...forms a triangle. Guess what my brother called me? If you guessed Triangle Head you're super smart. And just as unoriginal as he was. I didn't take care of the perm like I should have so it would start looking fairly ratty until the next one.

Finally, the spring of 7th grade, we cut it all off, leaving me with a haircut that was short and fluffy enough I looked like a Q-tip head. After that, I quit cutting it. At all.

(Seriously...look at that hair. The guard is much prettier. He worked at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland and when asked about how warm his clothing kept him, he said his face and knees were all that was cold except for when a breeze went up his kilt and then his willy was cold. He said all that immediately before this picture was taken. I was unsure how to react...hence the odd expression. Plus he was super cute. I mean just look at him!)

I've never washed my hair every day. On top of it not being good for your hair ANYWAY, it's bad for your skin and my skin especially. I have dry semi-sensitive skin so frequent washing isn't great. I've used a hair dryer and/or flat iron less than a dozen times at home and only dyed it once. I've let it grow out and donated a foot of hair to Lock for Love and similar organizations 5 times (I think...maybe more...I usually donate every 18-24 months, depending on how fast it's growing). And every
time, the person cutting my hair hurts her hand cutting through the wad of ponytail. I brush it only a couple times a week (sad and weird, I know) and I almost always wear it pulled back in a half pony because I have kids who like to pull my hair. I like it short, I like it mid length, and I like it long. I like the color and the thickness (both quantity of hair and the individual hairs...you know what I mean). I like nearly everything about it.

The only thing I don't like about my hair is the gray that's started to pop up. I saw my first gray hair at 17. A few have popped up over the years but since having Elijah...I feel like they're multiplying faster than ever. They're bright white and shiny, so I guess when I finally go gray, I'll look more silvery like my Grandma than gray...so that's nice?

My soul mate has teased me about coloring my hair since Elijah was born whenever I'd complain about it. I finally confessed that my vanity wouldn't let me start coloring my hair until I was actually 30.

Well....I'm 30. She came over today and brought lunch and we dyed my hair. Two bottles of dye almost seemed like it wouldn't be enough. Luckily it was. Although the rinsing afterward put me in mind of a horror movie. Like that scene in Carrie where she gets in the bath after the prom...or the scene at the end of the recent Evil Dead where it is LITERALLY RAINING BLOOD. That or I survived some horrific massacre. I get a little macabre in the shower apparently...especially with red hair dye splashing all over the tub and shower curtains. Ten minutes of rinsing and it was still running pale red (not pink, pale red. There's a difference) so I gave up and put in the conditioner. And once it dried, I was a little afraid to look.

It's red. Not like Ariel red, more like...I don't even know. I can't decide if I like it or not. I'm going to live with it for a little while before I make any decisions about covering it up or anything. Austin seems to like it and that's what matters, right? I just see it out of the corner of my eye. He has to look at it everyday.

So now I'm 30 and I'm dying away the gray. I'm not the first, I'm not the last. I just feel weird. I've had a good relationship with my hair for 30 years and I'm hoping the chemicals I'm now putting in won't ruin that. I'd rather have healthy gray hair instead of sad, colored hair.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reading is Awesome

I love to read. I have for as long as I can remember. I don't necessarily want to read to learn stuff, but I have if it's an interesting topic. I prefer more to read for an escape and entertainment...and it honestly BAFFLES me when people say they don't like to read for that reason.

I was with a group of college aged women when I was in my mid-20's and they were discussing books. They were anti-Harry Potter without having read them, which I do NOT respect. (If you're going to hate on something, have the decency to know what it is you hate. Read/watch/listen/etc whatever it is you don't approve of first, then I'll respect your right to say it's awful.) I made a comment that I loved Harry Potter. I didn't really need to,  I was wearing a HP shirt. The only other woman my age just shook her head and said she didn't like to read unless it was to gain something spiritually.

To me, that's boring. Sure, read a devotional, read the Bible, read educational stuff to help you in your faith. Whatever. But that's ALL you read? You are seriously missing out. Like...unbelievably so.

I love a lot of different kinds of books: historical, memoirs, biographies, fantasy, romance, young adult, action, mystery, children's books, future/dystopian, combinations of any of the above. And I switch back and forth between worlds so often sometimes it makes my head spin.

And. It's. Awesome.

Without books, I never would have been to Middle Earth or Narnia or Panem or Hogwarts. I never would have met Jay Gatsby or Jane Eyre or Lennie or the Trask family or Anne Shirley, I wouldn't have ridden a raft down the Mississippi or wandered through a cave with nothing but a magic ring and thread to guide me. I wouldn't have solved mysteries or laughed or cried nearly as often. My world would be so small. And I know a lot of you won't get some of the references above and that's ok. Those are just some of my favorite ones. I never would have fallen in love with authors Rainbow Rowell, J.K. Rowling, Robin McKinley, Janet Evanovich, Mark Twain and John Steinbeck. I wouldn't have the right to say, definitively, that I DESPISE Wuthering Heights. That book could be burned and I'd be ok with it. Totally and completely. I'll even get over my fear of matches to light the fire.

I don't know what to do with kids or people who don't like to read. What...what do you DO with your spare time? My niece stayed with us one weekend a while back and when she asked what she could do (we're boring people, we don't do much) I commented I had a whole bunch of books she might like. She glanced through them and said she didn't really like to read. I was flabbergasted (thankfully she seems to have gotten over this). She'd brought a couple books with her and read those, but I had the horrifying thought that it was somewhat possible that my own children wouldn't like to read. Can I disown them for that? Is that ok? I think I'd want some kind of refund for a child who doesn't like to read. So far, they do. Books are awesome to them.

Long rambly rant....end result is...I don't get people who don't like to read. It confounds me. If you can't read well, listen to audio books. You'll be amazed at the worlds you can visit, the people you'll meet, and the things you'll do. And some of them will hang out in your head forever.