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32 Before 32: The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

I only got into audiobooks recently. My habit was to listen to the news in the car, but over time, the news just wore on me. I grew tired of listening to everyone killing and hating and complaining. I was perusing the books at the Dahntahn Carnegie Library, when it struck me: Forget the news! I’ll just listen to stories!

Dahntahn’s selection isn’t the greatest for books on CD.  I could usually find something that interested me, but not a whole lot. Then I checked out the collection at Main, and I was in loooove. It took a great deal of restraint, but I managed to only carry home 3 books my first visit.

While I was there, I spotted it: The thirty two disc unabridged audiobook of The Pillars of the Earth. I didn’t know much about the book other than I heard it was “good.” And being that it was SO ridiculously long, I felt like listening to the whole thing would be something of an accomplishment, something perfect for my 32 before 32 list.

Pillars of the Earth

I started listening to it right after the new year, and I finished it just tonight. There were a few times I had to turn it off while Baby Beez was in the car, because battle scenes and love scenes aren’t appropriate for young ears (see, I can responsibly parent sometimes!) Sometimes when I’ve got a lot of discs to go through in a book, I get bored and impatient. With Pillars, however, I wasn’t impatient for a second. I was immediately drawn in, and remained entranced for all FORTY ONE hours of the story.

The mini-synopsis: This is a story of a determined monk, and his life’s work of building a cathedral.

But the story isn’t just about the monk and the cathedral. The myriad characters from all walks of life are complex, endearing or horrible, or sometimes both. Their lives intersect in unexpected and complex ways. The story is remarkably layered, but still relatable on an emotional level.

There were two things that I loved best about this book: (1) It left me morally satisfied. The good people get their rewards, the bad people meet horrible ends, and (2) Follett has a talented way of describing the extremely subtle political interactions, both within the clergy, and between the clergy and nobility, in a fashion that is easily understandable to the reader, but simultaneously not insultingly dumbed-down or boringly dry.

I’m not a patient reader. I like things that go fast, and I like the satisfaction of quickly checking books off my list. The enormity of Pillars did not deter me, because it kept me unerringly engaged. It is not often I say this, but I was a little sad when I came to the end, because I enjoyed the story so much.


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2013 and 52 books down

2013 and 52 books down

I’ve got 2 days left in 2013, and I’ve made it to my 52 “fun books” goal for the year!  Some books were long, some were short. Some took weeks, some took hours. Fitting in this much reading time takes some strategy:

1. I have to read before I go to bed. Not “have to” as in I really want to, but “have to” as in “it is absolutely necessary for me to read if I wish to sleep through the night.  If I do not read, I will be up at 2am for several hours, staring at the ceiling or in a panic. Reading is the only successful method I have found for getting a full night’s sleep.

2. I read fast.

3. I listen to books on tape in the car, too. And even though I don’t do a whole lot of traveling, it’s surprising how many books you can get through just doing errands here and there around town.

4. When the rest of the house is watching TV, I’m reading.  I don’t watch much TV at all. I watch American Horror Story and that’s about it. The rest of the time, it’s either Mr. Beez or Baby Beez in control of the remote, and I read.

5. I tend to pick a lot of light, fast books. There were a few heavier books in there, but a lot of them are very breezy fiction or YA.

My favorites from this year’s list were:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan (2012)

We Live in Water, Jess Walter (2013)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (2013)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple (2012)

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier (1938)

The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling (2012)

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green (2012)

What were your favorites that you read this year? What’s on your nightstand for next year?


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Good Morning

Hello. It is Saturday Morning. Well, afternoon technically. It’s 12:05. So far I have survived Baby Beez’ ballet class, got a little coffee, and got a little work done. None of this has been easy. Baby Beez is in the “Fighting about Every Darn Thing” phase which involves a lot of screaming and flailing. Plus she’s aggressively cuddly, meaning that she throws elbows and knees in a crazed race to climb into and monopolize my lap. That makes it very hard for me to any work. I got so unbelievably frustrated and irritated that I was yelling too, and had to hide up in the bedroom to get my work done.

I hate being so angry in response to her WANTING to be close to me. I know that the time for her cuddles is limited. And I never want her to feel like I am pushing her aside to get work done. But sometimes I just need a darn hour to revise a Complaint, and she just needs to WAIT one darn hour (watch Tangled again for goodness sake!) and she’ll get all the cuddles she wants. I am thankful for Mr. Beez running interference today. I try to be patient. But try is not always the same as succeed. And when I don’t do as well as I would wish, I’m glad he is there to help out.

So the remainder of today involves holiday parties and writing briefs. I have two very big filings at the end of the year, which is unusual because December is usually a slow month for litigation. Truth be told, I would rather work hard and bank the hours now, and have a little more room to breathe in the warmer months. Winter is not my thing and I don’t mind spending the hours in the warm indoors takin’ care of business.

I’ve been looking forward to the release of the BlogHer Food agenda, ever since BlogHer announced that the conference will take place in Miami this year.  It was released earlier this week, and after much thinking and talking with Mr. Beez and thinking some more, I have decided I am not going to go this year.  This year’s conference has a much more commercial focus than last year. Most of the sessions are tailored towards brand/blogger relations, and people who want to turn their food blogging into a career, whether through a book or company or what have you.  It focuses a lot more on the cooking side of food blogging, and has nothing on the restaurant/food enthusiast side of blogging.  This is not a criticism in the least. The conference provides a totally valuable forum for a huge number of people. It’s just not the right emphasis or approach for my interests, so I decided that my time would be better spent just picking my own weekend to visit Miami at another time. I was considering buying my ticket earlier, but now I’m glad that I held off, because I think the event would not be the right fit for me. Big Summer Potluck is still TOTALLY in the cards, and now that I see that Big Traveling Potluck is only a bit of a drive from my Mom’s house, that too is a possibility….gotta choose FAST though, because tickets go on sale Monday!

During the last few weeks I have gone a little crazy with Amazon purchases (lots of sales!), so I’ve got the following books locked and loaded: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt). And the Mountains Echoed (Khaled Hosseini), Burial Rites (Hannah Kent), Orange is the New Black (Piper Kerman), Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card), Books 2-5 of the Song of Ice And Fire (aka Game of Thrones) (George R.R. Martin). I am also 2% into Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace), but I can only hope to get that read by the end of my life, forget the end of this year.
What do yinz guys have on your nightstands?

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Shopping Small with #SmallBizSaturday #ShopSmall and Finding Happiness with @MissBritt

Yesterday we babysat Sandy’s two little ones, and I did what any responsible wife and parent would do, and ditched my husband with all those kids and did a little shopping for Small Business Saturday (to his credit, he’s much more patient than I am, so he’s probably the better babysitter anyway. Also he said the kids were all good.)

My first stop was the Simple Sugars HQ in Sharpsburg which hosted an open house for a Small Biz Saturday shopping event.  You may remember Simple Sugars from ABC’s Shark Tank.  They are a lovely local company who manufactures all natural sugar scrubs.  I’ve never used scrubs before, and I picked up their Grapefruit scrub a few months back, and was an instant devotee.

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I enjoyed chatting with Simple Sugars founder Lani Lazzeri about the various scrubs, the business, and Simple Sugar’s plans for the future.  I’ve been eyeing the Simple Sugars Collection pack, and hoped to pick it up on Saturday, but it is only being sold online (helloooo Cyber Monday purchase).  So since I could not pick up that at the time, I treated myself to a green tea facial scrub, almond body scrub, and pumpkin body scrub for the time being. I also picked up some gifts for others, but no pics here, don’t want to ruin the surprise!

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My next stop was Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery in Millvale for, what else, macarons!  The macaron trend is still going strong and I’ve made it a priority to eat every macaron I can get my grubby little hands on.  In my humble expert opinion, Jean-Marc and Zia Custom Desserts tie for the best macarons in the ‘burgh (although due to the scale of Zia’s small business, you cannot order a mixed dozen of flavors).

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I picked up a dozen macarons plus some croissants.  Although it was very painful to share, I did share these macarons with Sandy, and thereby both made her happy and did not saddle myself with the sugar-laden guilt that comes with eating an entire dozen of macarons myself in one sitting.

Next stop up was Wild Card in Lawrenceville.  Small Biz Saturday was in full swing in Wild Card, the shop was hoppin.

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I picked up some more great gifts which I wish I could show you because they are so darn clever, but again, that ruins the surprise. You’ll have to stop in to Wild Card yourself to examine their marvelous wares.

I’ve spent a lot of time in pajamas over the last few days and have done a lot of for-fun reading.  The pace of work has been, shall we say, like trying to sprint through an entire marathon.  A brief break was in order. Can I really afford such a break right now? Probably not. But it was necessary because December shows no sign of slowing down.  I’ve been suffering a persistent case of the Sunday Night Grumpies lately.  You know, that feeling of dread for the following work day.  And it has not limited itself to Sunday.  I have given this feeling more headspace than I should.  And finally I sat down to really examine what is going on.  The result: I need to adjust my attitude.  These bad feelings are not to be blamed on my workspace itself.  Work is busy, but that is what this field of law is like, and being busy is a good problem to have.  My coworkers and superiors are good people to work with.  I’m treated fairly and paid fairly.  Most of my stress is actually caused by one very demanding and very difficult client.  And goodness knows I’m not going to be able to change this client’s behavior.  The only way I’m going to change the stress this client is causing me is if I stop letting this client stress me out.  I need to let it go.

I am not good at letting things go.  I tell myself “let it go” and do all kinds of deep breathing and yoga classes, but still I let whatever is stressing me persist in having a foothold in a tiny little corner of my mind.  Letting go of stressors does have a flipping-a-lightswitch quality to it.  I experienced that a few years back when I came to the realization after many yoga classes, runs, bottles of wine and bars of chocolate failed to diminish my stress for me, that I am only going to get rid of stress if I decide to let go of it.  Making that decision is the first step, and a big one. But the real work comes in with the thousands of little decisions you have to make every day, in doing little things where you refuse to give worry headspace, and make all those individual little decisions to push stress out.  These little decisions are much harder to actually make than to execute.  The easy path is to accept the stress and feel miserable.  It is a lot harder to focus on the health of your headspace, and make all those decisions to keep it clear of clutter.

My miserable attitude made clear that I needed a refresher on the legwork of getting rid of stress.  I downloaded An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness a few months ago, but had not yet started it.  This was the perfect time.

PursuitofHappiness

I have gotten to know Britt through Propelle and Creative Mornings events, and she is quite a lovely person.  I have chatted with her briefly about her book, but all I really knew about it was that it talks about “happiness.”  I figured that since I was not feeling very happy, this was a good place to start with adjusting my attitude.  I’m about halfway through this book, and it is a perfect guide for the space I’m in.  Just like me, when Britt is frustrated, she tends to take the “nuclear option,” which is so counterproductive on so many levels. This book is not kitten pictures and other cute happy things (although those do make me happy).  Rather, this book breaks down the elements of attitude that lead to happiness, and articulates the roadmaps for the kinds of decisions you need to make for you to adjust your attitude and make your own happiness.  Britt does not tell you what to do.  Far from it.  Instead she articulates the tools that we need, but often cannot see, that will enable the reader to forge their own path to happiness.  Exactly what I need for my attitude adjustment.

I’ve spent Thanksgiving Weekend doing a lot of reading, and am feeling more relaxed, and thanks to the roadmaps I’ve been working on from Brit’s book, I am on my way to feeling less stressed (massage and yoga wouldn’t hurt, though).  I have a positive attitude about returning to the office tomorrow, and am fired up to work hard and work well.

Hope you found time for a little breathing space this weekend!

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Super Saturday: Smashed Taters, Partying with a Heartbreaker and Losing Myself in a Book

Super Saturday: Smashed Taters, Partying with a Heartbreaker and Losing Myself in a Book

Oh boy, we had such a nice Saturday today. An extraordinarily nice Saturday. And we didn’t even make it down to see THE DUCK yet, although that is on the agenda for tomorrow, once I cross the finish line for the Great Race.

Last night I finished Helen Bryan’s The Sisterhood, which I didn’t really like, but it wasn’t bad enough to totally ditch. I didn’t realize that I didn’t much care for it until about halfway through, and by that point I was already halfway through, so I decided to stick it out to the end. Which I did. And it was nice to just be done with it and move on to something new. So I started Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.

bernadette

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

I had an inkling I would like it because it kept coming up as “recommended” on Amazon, Goodreads, all kinds of things. I cracked into it, and I loved it. It was one of those rare books that I just wanted to clear out my whole schedule and sit down and read. Semple’s got solid skills at writing light, fun banter. All the characters are completely batshit crazy, but in a super fun way. The whole plot is ridiculous and implausible, but Semple pulls it off in a way that’s funny and kept me wanting to see what would happen next. I stayed up late last night to read it, and finished the rest of it this afternoon. It was simply great.

This morning, after Baby Beez’ ballet class, we went to the Quiet Storm for our farewell visit. We went there with friends for brunch a few weeks back, only to find that the items Mr. Beez and I loved most and craved weren’t on the menu for brunch. So it was necessary to return to get those dishes as our formal farewell. So today, I got my ultimate comfort food: The QS Home Fries.

QS Home Fries

Smashed taters, soysage, tofu (or eggs, your choice), cheese (or vegan cheez) roasted veggies, pickled onions and garlic aioli. Heaven. And I ate the whole thing. Stuffed. Word on the street is that QS has teamed up with Ava lounge to keep both projects open at a North Oakland location. I hope it works out, because my life will be sadder without those QS Home Fries.

After brunch, we celebrated the First Birthday of Judah K, our favorite little heartbreaker! Judah’s such a sweet little guy and his parents are such wonderful people. Judah was born with a congenital heart defect called truncus arteriosis. He has been through several heart surgeries and rough patches and successes. We were so thrilled to get to celebrate the amazing milestone of his first birthday with his family. The party was at the Children’s Home and was partially a fundraiser for the organization/facility, and it was great to learn about all the amazing work the Children’s Home is doing. In addition to doing arts & crafts, eating like 50 cookies, and playing with kids, Baby Beez got a chance to play out on the Children’s Home’s wonderful playground.

Gettin' Crafty

Gettin’ Crafty

As the party went on into that time of day designated as “nap zone,” Baby Beez got progressively wonkier. At one point, some boys a little older than her were roughhousing (not being bad, just being typical over-sugared 4 year old boys) and Baby Beez ran up to me, demanding that I join in the roughhousing:
BB: MOM! HIT THEM!!”
Me: (shocked, kind of embarrassed) No! I can’t hit them!
BB: Can I hit them?
Me: Uh, no.
BB: Can I kick them?
Me: Um, no. How about you color?

It doesn’t look nearly as funny in print now, but believe me, it was funny at the time. And then Baby Beez continued to get ridiculously tired, tried to lick the bathroom door, and I knew it was definitely time. to. go. home.

So we went home and everyone took a 4 hour nap. And it was amazing.

Tonight it’s movies, magazines, a glass of wine and a lot lot lot of water. Tomorrow is The Great Race. Wish me luck!