Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Summer Reading List (& Books You Should Read Next)

Not being a teacher anymore has been as glorious for my reading life as I'd hoped it would be, and if you're on the lookout for a few great new reads, me not being a teacher anymore will be glorious for you, too, because I'm here to recommend a whole lotta fabulous books today! These are all books that I've read completely over the past few months, and I hope that if you're on the lookout for something new, you'll find something to pique your interest.

If You're Looking for a Gripping Historical Fiction Novel...

I've been on a huge WWII kick lately, perhaps partially because that's the type of novel I myself am writing, or maybe it's just because it seems that every other book coming out nowadays is set during the 1940's. Either way, these are definitely worth a look:

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale is a story of two sisters--one a mother, one a lifelong rebel--who have grown apart from the time their mother died and who, amid the horrors of the World War coming to France, must each find where she belongs and what she is willing to sacrifice in order to defend what she feels is right and honorable.

Although parts of this didn't seem emotionally fleshed out enough, this was a captivating read with an ending that I loved, which more than compensated for the few sections I felt were lacking in emotional weight.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

This book also deals with WWII and people struggling to do their part in the war effort, except this one is set mostly in London and toggles between pages of gut-wrenching prose and passages of brave (but cynical) humor. The book weaves together the lives of four young adults, largely focusing on one in particular, who is a girl coming from great privilege but who wants to set out and embrace a different set of ideals.

Cleave has an unusual writing voice, which often made for some delightful paragraphs that just begged to be read aloud. Occasionally though, his play on syntax and scarcity in his word choice sometimes made it necessary to read some of the passages several times in order to glean their full meaning. If you're looking for a happy book, this is not your pick, but the ending does at least end on a hopeful--if not happy--note.

(Fair warning: both these WWII books grapple with heavy, dark themes, along with some disturbing sections of violence and tragedy. If I remember correctly, the Cleave title also had some strong language in parts.)

If You're Looking for a Book That Expertly Plays with Structure...

Although the conventional format for telling a story obviously must work, it's refreshing sometimes to pick up something that's a little outside of the box. These books would definitely fit that bill:

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

This is actually the first book I've read where the whole story is told through poems, and I found that not only did the structure make it easy to fly through the whole book in about 24 hours, but that the story was well-told and memorable, despite containing about a fourth of the words that most narratives do.

Inside Out & Back Again starts off by introducing you to the 9-year-old narrator Ha, whose family must flee Saigon and seek a better life elsewhere as refugees. This is a beautiful story of strength during hardship and of family unity, and I would LOVE to teach this someday (if I ever decide to go back to teaching middle school). This would be an awesome book to read aloud with a tween.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

 I'd lost count of how many people had recommended this to me before I actually picked it up, but I'm glad I finally took their advice! This novel is set on an island called Guernsey located in the English Channel, and it's based on true events that happened during WWII, where most of the parents made the decision to send their children away while the island was being occupied by Germany. (Interestingly enough, that same piece of history also came up in Everyone Brave is Forgiven).

The unusual thing about the structure of this novel is that the whole thing is told through letters between a group of citizens in Guernsey, who call themselves The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, and a reporter who becomes so fascinated by the history she receives from their stories that she decides to write a novel about it.

There were many things I loved about this book--the likeable characters, the moments of laugh-out-loud humor, the ending--but perhaps one of my favorite things was actually hearing about how the whole novel came together in the first place. (Oh, and I totally looked up Guernsey on the Internet because the descriptions of it throughout the book were so stunning.) Definitely worth a read! I'm only sorry I didn't pick this one up sooner.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

While this book won't win any award for its writing style, I found this novel accessible and fun and a delightful little "snack" of a book that I was able to devour in all of about two days.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is the story of a man who has been made older and grouchier than his years due to personal loss, and he is left barely hanging on to his career as a bookshop owner and to his ties to life in general. Just when he's sure he has nothing left to live for, an unexpected arrival at the bookstore turns his whole world upside down, and he is inevitably changed forever.

The structure on this is unusual because at the beginning of each section, A.J. Fikry (the bookshop owner) has written a "review" of a famous short story or work that serves as a preview of that section. For book lovers (especially those who love classic works and quaint bookshops), this is light reading at its best.

If You're Looking to Reinvent Yourself (or Maybe Just Your Cooking)...

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I did a partial review of this book in this blog post, but just in case you missed it, Big Magic is basically a book that gives you permission to live the creative life you've always dreamed of living, along with giving you helpful frames of reference along the way of what to do when you feel stuck or what happens when you're willing to just go for your dreams.

I heard this book described by someone as being a little "woo woo New-Agey," and I definitely agree with that--there were some parts that were not quite tethered firmly in reality and that kind of made me roll my eyes. But other parts of this were actually really helpful, like where she describes the great paradox of creative living that you must learn to embrace (that your work is of the utmost importance and that your work means nothing at all) and where she shoots down some of the more common myths or stereotypes of the creative life (like the false belief that you must be unhappy or or out of your mind to be a true creative).

I thought I would never pick up a book by Gilbert again (since I loathed her Signature of All Things so much), but I'm not sorry I included this one in my summer reading--it gave me the little push I needed to take some of my own creative pursuits to the next level.

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler

I have already heavily referenced this work in my "Cooking Economically" posts because it is largely what inspired my transition to more intuitive and fiscally responsible cooking (rather than just buying whatever looked good at the moment and letting a lot of it go to waste).

This book combines poetic prose about the power of food with downright practical tips on how to use everything from onion tops to overcooked rice to the dregs of the salad dressing jar. While this book isn't the kind of book you'll want to sit down and devour in an afternoon, it IS probably one of the most valuable books I've ever read when it came to cutting down our grocery bill and helping me to cook based on what I had, not just based on whatever recipe I'd happened to look up.

A must read for anyone hoping to take the departure from only cooking based on recipes to the more exciting world of making up your own.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

Having loved to cook myself for so many years, I figured that this story of a woman inviting random strangers who knew nothing about cooking into her home to teach them all the basics they'd need in order to become fearless home cooks would just be a fun memoir-type book. What I didn't expect was how much I would take away from it as a home cook.

Each chapter covers one of the classes she taught to her students (like knife skills or how to make soup), and while she includes anecdotes about the class itself (and the lives of her students), she also includes generous amounts of cooking knowledge gleaned from her studies at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, as well as just general tips on how to reduce the amount of food you waste and increase flavor in healthy ways.

For me, this book was the perfect combination between diverting memoir and practical self-help, and I fully intend to purchase this to have as a reference guide.
If You're Wanting to Make Your Own Problems Seem a Little Smaller... 

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

Upon being introduced to the Plumb family in the beginning of this novel, it is immediately apparent that there is a seriously messed-up family dynamic at play here. Basically, this book follows the four Plumb siblings as they deal with the complete and utter fallout that happens when their oldest brother lands himself in a heap of trouble that essentially drains them all of the inheritance they'd each been desperately counting on to save them from their problems.

Although many of the characters in this book are distinctly unlikable, this novel reads like a well-written juicy gossip feature, which makes it pretty hard to put down. And by the end, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't end up hating most of the characters after all.

(Fair warning: although this book has a fabulously entertaining storyline and is written well, I can't in good faith recommend it without warning you that it uses a pretty generous smattering of strong language throughout, as well as contains a few pretty explicit scenes of a sexual nature. Consider yourself warned.)

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Lucy Barton is a middle-aged woman who, on the surface, seems to have it all--she is married with two daughters whom she adores and managed to pull herself out of a life of poverty to live comfortably in New York City. Then an operation that was supposed to be simple and straightforward goes slightly wrong, and she ends up having to stay in the hospital for 9 weeks.

Unexpectedly, her mother, who she hasn't spoken to in years, comes to keep her company, and they end up tentatively connecting over gossip about folks in her hometown and lighthearted stories from her mother's past. Although they still can't seem to talk openly about all the big things between them, this 9-week period becomes a reminder to Lucy that her mother loves her in the only way that she knows how, and that life, in all of its complexity, is truly a gift.

Although there isn't much that actually happens in this story (so if you can't handle a slow plot, stay away), this was a gorgeously written exploration of the complicated relationship that connects mothers and daughters forever.

If You're in the Mood for Memoir...

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

I had several blog readers recommend this one to me the last time I did a summary of what I'd been reading lately, and I've got to say, I'm glad I've got readers who have such great taste!

The Glass Castle is the story of the childhood of Jeannette Walls, which could only be called unconventional at best and neglectful at worst. Despite having very hands-off parents who largely pursued their own interests, their nomadic lifestyle and fierce independence produced in Walls the drive and desperation she needed to succeed at her dream of attending college in New York.

What I found the most interesting was that even though her parents had plenty of issues--her dad was an alcoholic, her mother was an artist with little desire to set any kinds of boundaries--and her childhood was fraught with things like winters where they nearly froze or terrible accidents that could have been prevented--this story didn't read as a long string of finger-pointing or blame-slinging; in fact, it reads like a story of acceptance and forgiveness and moving on and thriving despite it all (and maybe even because of it all).

This was definitely a memoir that left me thinking for a long, long time.

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

Because I'd loved The Kitchen Counter Cooking School so much, I decided to pick up this book by the same author, except this particular memoir details the story of her time spent in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu, one of the most famous cooking schools in the world.

While this book also contained the now-familiar blend of recipes and practical kitchen advice with personal experience, I did feel that when all was said and done, I much preferred The Kitchen Counter Cooking School to this one. Although this was a fun read (especially for me since I love me a good foodie memoir), there were parts when it seemed a bit slow and where I didn't find myself particularly invested in the outcome of events. However, if you want an insider's peek at what it's like to attend one of the top-rated culinary institutions in the world, you'll probably find this one pretty enjoyable.

If You Want a Good Tearjerker (with a Little Romance Thrown In)...

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

With the movie for this having come out earlier in the summer, I feel like I'm a bit behind the times. But, considering that I still haven't seen the movie, I figured that I was still good to pick up this bestseller and not have the ending spoiled for me.

Me Before You is the story of a girl who has no idea what she wants to do with her life and who basically has no ambition. When she loses her long-time job at the local cafe, she is forced to take whatever job is offered to her, which means that she ends up as the personal assistant of a depressed quadriplegic who obviously hates her.

Having seen the trailer for the movie well before picking up the book, I had this vision in my mind about what this book would be about, how it would read, and how it would end. Needless to say, I was surprised on all counts. A delightful surprise, with a lot more depth than I was planning for.

These is my Words by Nancy E. Turner

This is another book that several of you well-read blog readers had been recommending for years, and when I heard it come up as somebody's favorite book on my favorite reading podcast, I decided I'd better just see what all the fuss was about.

These is my Words follows Sarah Prine through a 20-year period that covers everything from her family moving West to help settle the Great Frontier to her newfound roles as wife and mother. The book is written as a diary, which Sarah starts when she's just learning to read and write, so grammarians will have to just plow through those first several sections with a hefty dose of chocolate and caffeine handy. But, as Sarah's education improves, so does her writing and her descriptions and her ability to fully paint the canvas of her emotional landscape, and by the end, you feel as if you knew her like a sister, or like you know yourself.

A few thoughts on this one--

First, I loved the characters. I loved how much I cared about what happened to them by the end. I loved that the ending made me cry (because that means that the book was well-written enough to make me emotionally invest in it). Second, I loved how much I could relate to Sarah's honest account of marriage and motherhood---so much of fiction overblows those two things to make the story more intense, but this story (for me, anyway) rang pretty true to many of my own feelings about those two things. However, I will say that this book was often hard for me to read. I found much of it depressing, and I learned pretty quickly not to get too attached to any characters since they could be gone the second I turned the page. While this is a story that was probably very true of the types of hardships that settlers would have regularly faced at the end of the 19th century, I still wouldn't recommend it if you have a hard time with sad books.

That said, I can totally see why many people would rank it among their favorites. I'm definitely not sorry I finally gave it a chance.


All right, blog readers----it's your turn! What should I read next? (And if you've read any of these titles already, I'd love to hear what you thought!)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Top of Utah Half Marathon

Sometimes when you run a race, all the variables seem to be against you--you don't get any quality sleep the night before, the sky decides to have a temper tantrum and rain down sheets of cold rain from the moment you step onto the starting line, the inevitability of personal loss looms over your head and makes you physically emotional as you slog up and down endless hills, and you miss the end time you planned for by 18 seconds.

That's what happened at my last half marathon.

Sometimes when you run a race, you don't set much of a goal other than to run the whole time, and you're pleasantly surprised to find that you're going to finish sooner than you expected, despite the temperatures being much  higher than what you're used to and despite the injury your running partner incurs just 4 miles from the finish line. Somehow though, despite it all, you end up finishing the race in a time you are proud of (especially since you thought you'd be about 20 minutes later than that, never having run any kind of distance event before), but not having gone for any time in particular, you're more pleased with the idea of finishing period, rather than in doing the thing at a particular speed.

That's what happened at my full marathon.

But sometimes--miracle of miracles--you get dealt a perfect hand of cool weather, a downhill course, enough sleep to get by on, and a healthy thirst to prove yourself. You are happy to discover 3 miles in that this isn't just going to be a good run---this is going to be an AMAZING run: a run that feels easy, a run where at times you feel as if you are flying, a run where you hit all your mile splits and crush a few of them by almost a whole minute, a run where you literally have a tail wind gently but firmly pushing against your back as you head down out of the canyon, a run where you top your own personal best by over five minutes, despite the expectation that this race could very well not go in your favor due to shin splints and personal health issues and a whole lot of other things.

That was what happened on Saturday at the Top of Utah Half Marathon.

I'll never forget it.

I don't think it's much of a secret that I'm coming off of a bit of a rough year. Last July, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that attacks both my skin and my muscles, which explained why I was waking up every morning feeling like I'd been hit by a car and why I would cry (or want to cry) every time I tried to hold Raven for longer than about two minutes. Everything hurt all the time, and when I went into the doctor to check my muscle strength, I could barely press against his hand, my muscle damage showing that my muscles were breaking down at an alarming rate, as if I were sleeprunning for 20 miles each night and never allowing myself a chance to recover.

The treatments for my diagnosis were (and still are) hard, the threat of a new flare-up constant, and the trajectory of my life totally shifted, as the disease stipulated that I had to stop nursing, that I had to lie low for several months and not push myself when it came to exercise or stress or even counting calories, that I couldn't (and still can't) get pregnant until I'm completely off of all of them.

My journey back to a healthy weight and back to what I used to be able to do running-wise has been fraught with obstacles, many of which have been out of my control. But because I love running and because I was determined to get healthy no matter what, I kept on pushing and running and being as consistent as I could be, even though results were always a long time in coming, and many of them never came at all.

 photo courtesy of Top of Utah Half Marathon (Facebook) -- can you spot me going to get a last-minute drink of water?

So on Saturday, when I lined up at the start line at 7 A.M., I didn't quite know what was going to happen. Sure, I had stuck to my training schedule. About a month ago, I had even decided that although I wasn't initially going to go for a PR (personal record), I might as well train a bit harder just in case I was able to beat it anyway. Basically, I wanted to finish this half knowing that I'd put in my best effort, which hopefully meant beating my last time if it was at all humanly possible.

My plan for beating my last time was simple---keep all miles under ten minutes, with about 5 of them being around 9:30, and the last 0.1 mile sprinting as fast as my remaining energy allowed. This was what I had trained for.

If everything went as planned, I would be able to beat my last time by mere seconds.

 photo cred: Elevate Images (through TOU Half Marathon)

Eleven miles in on Saturday's race, I'd kept ALL of my miles at 9:30 or less, including one in the eight-minute range and several more of my miles mere seconds from it.

It was then that I realized that I was going to CRUSH my expected time and that I was able to see, for the first time ever, that I was, in fact, capable of running a half in under two hours (although it wouldn't quite be happening on this particular day), a goal I had set years ago but never quite believed that I would achieve.

 A big thank you to my mom and stepdad and my friend Kayla and her husband for coming out to see me finish (as well as Matt and Raven). It's thanks to my mom and stepdad that I have pictures at all, actually, since I didn't charge my camera's battery the night before so Matt couldn't get any pictures.

As I sprinted across the finish line with my end time reading 2:02:59, I almost cried with the exultation of suddenly realizing that I had beat my last time by over five minutes, despite weighing almost 10 pounds more, despite not being able to run quite as fast as before in general, despite my muscle disease (which had officially gone into remission only about five or six months ago).

In other words, I had done what I thought was impossible, and I still felt at the end that I could have maybe given just a little bit more.

 photo cred: Elevate Images

I'm so thankful to my Heavenly Father for giving me a miracle when I so sorely needed one--the year ahead is already looking much brighter than the last.

(And now nothing is going to stop me from eventually getting that sub-2:00 half marathon sometime in my life because now I am absolutely sure that I CAN.)

Happy day, indeed!

Friday, August 26, 2016

This Couldn't Even Qualify as Glamping

When we first started doing the (now) annual campout with my family, Matt and I went along with the whole sleep-in-tents thing just like everyone else, despite the campsite being literally up the street from our apartment. Because, after all, how could you do a campout without actually, you know, camping?

So we tried to borrow an air mattress (so we could actually get some sleep), which ended up waking us up every few hours as the air slowly leaked out from some unknown orifice. The morning after, we got ourselves down to the store to get some nice fat foam pads to sleep on (without actually thinking about where we would store them when all was said and done), and we were finally able to get some sleep (like, maybe even 6 or 7 hours if you can believe it).

Then last year, because Raven was still only a couple months old, we decided it would be best for everyone's sleep benefit if we just stayed back at our apartment at night and came back for all the other festivities.

And that might have clinched the deal forever for us (or at least as long as the campout continues to be so conveniently located up the street from us).

So that is why last week, while most of the rest of my family slept in tents up the road, Matt, Raven, and I were all snug in our warm beds, clocking in a full night of sleep while still getting to participate in many of the activities.

Of course, sleeping back at our own apartment means that we do miss out on some of the best bonding times, like the s'mores roasting (which started too late for Raven to participate), the late-night chats and games around the fire, the early-morning hikes to explore the area...

So we might not ALWAYS come back to our place to sleep.

But I've said it before, and I'll say it again--

Sleeping in tents has never been my favorite, so I'm kind of tempted to take advantage of the easy proximity to our apartment for as long as I can.

Even though Matt and I are kind of cop-outs when it comes to the whole sleeping-at-the-campsite thing lately, we still love this new tradition of my family's--it guarantees us at least one adventure during the summer (and one that we don't even have to plan that much and that's almost free), and it's a great bonding time for all the kids, as well as for us adults, too.

I see most members of my family at least once a month, but this campout gives us the chance to more deeply connect beyond just the chatting about what's new lately.

Back to the idea of not actually camping, though---we might just take advantage of it while we can because we know that in a couple years, Raven will absolutely want to spend as much time as possible with all of her cousins, and she probably would not be too happy with the idea of going back home to sleep.

So, I'd say we've just got a summer or two to soak in the luxury of having our king-size bed so close...

What do you think? Are we totally lame for just coming back to our own place to stay?

In other news about this latest campout, have I mentioned lately about how much all the cousins LOVE Raven? I mean, she's basically like their favorite little play buddy ever, and she gets toted along nearly everywhere with my nieces the second they're within sight of her.

It's kind of great really because it means that Raven gets play time, and we get some free babysitting.

Win win.

Thanks family, for not giving us too hard of a time for being lame and coming back home to sleep, and thanks for being so much fun to hang out with!

Enjoy the rest of these pictures (and sorry that Raven is definitely overrepresented in these--that's the danger of making her mom the unofficial photographer of all family events)...

Until next year, family campout!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How I'm REALLY Doing on my New Year's Resolutions

pic of one of my successful resolutions---our latest "day adventure"!

I was due for another resolutions update all the way back at the end of June, but I put it off so that I could get myself back on track before posting. (I know, I know--sneaky.)

Now, two months later, I'm going to just lay it all out there and maybe do some self-reflection about WHY I'm failing so hardcore at some of these goals (and if they're worth trying to salvage, or if it would just be kinder to us all to say that this year ain't the year).

However, lest you think that I've just given up on all my resolutions, I will go ahead with some of the successes (or almost-there successes) first:


For starters, I'm doing the best (by far) at the "Habits" section of my resolutions (and not so hot at the "Challenges" section and the "Pleasures" section). Here's a refresher of what my "Habits" resolutions were:

*Blog at least 12 times a month
*Eat dinner at the table 6x/week with the t.v. off
*Attend the temple once a month
*Read the Ensign cover to cover every month
*Read 40 pages on most days (10 pages from four different books)
*Index on Sundays

First of all, I'm SUPER proud of myself for being pretty close to perfect on my blogging resolution (and the only month that I wasn't, I was stressed out of my mind with end-of-school and end-of-teaching-career stuff, so I think I'm okay to get a pass on that month). My intent with making this particular resolution was to get myself excited again about blogging, and it definitely has worked. Since blogging is my only journal now really, it's become even more important to me that I keep up on it. Plus, I love connecting with you readers--I've really learned a lot from the interactions that have come about because of this blog. So I'm definitely counting this first habit as an absolute success so far, and it's something I intend to keep up.

I'm doing fairly well on my reading habit as well (although I've slightly amended the resolution so that it's just reading 40 pages a day period, rather than trying to split it between four books, which I don't always do). The intent behind this one was to amp up how many books I read this year, and I've already read, at just 2/3 of the way through the year, more books than I did four of the past five years (and if I continue at this pace, I'll have read more than in any of them). I would say I'm successful at this resolution maybe 75% of the time.

Resolutions I'm doing *okay* at are eating dinner at the table with the t.v. off (we pretty much never have it on while Raven is eating, but we'll often turn it on if Matt and I are eating after she does...oops), and I'm off and on when it comes to indexing on Sundays (although there have been several times I've indexed names on a weekday, so surely that makes up for some of the missed ones). I think in the future, anything to do with indexing would be better set as a hard-and-fast numbers goal (like doing 10,000 names a year or something), rather than a habit. Oh, and if we end up making it to the temple this week, we will have gone 6 months out of 8, which isn't perfect, but it's better than it was before when we were in the throes of pregnancy and the newborn stage.

The only habit I've let totally drop by the wayside lately is reading the Ensign cover to cover. I was doing so well for about the first quarter of the year, but the end of the school year and its ensuing craziness really threw me off my game, and I just somehow never picked that one back up. But, once again looking at the intent of the goal (which was to immerse myself in spiritual material more), I've been doing all right, especially since I started a new method of studying the scriptures about a month ago.


*Buy my own domain name and redesign the blog
*Finish the first draft of my novel
*Run a half marathon
*Print my blog out
*Do the Minimalist Challenge
*Try out a new volunteering experience
*Reach my goal weight
*Take a class
*Complete my "100 Hours in the Kitchen" Project

This section is up and down as far as success rate goes. I can basically cross off two of the challenges as completed--I'll be running my half at the end of this week, and I'm pretty sure I've completed the Minimalist Challenge (I just need to sit down and add up the number of items and donate the last box of stuff that's sitting in our room).

I had big plans that as soon as I quit my teaching job, I'd be able to go full throttle on many of these things. What I hadn't factored in was that our income would be cut in half, and a lot of these challenges and pleasures cost money that we just don't have in our budget at the moment. So, the challenges that probably won't happen this year because of our tighter budget are printing the blog out and taking a class (unless I take a new exercise class at the local rec center and just count that, since their group aerobics class are just $2). I'd wanted the class to be a photography class, ideally, but I just don't think that's in the cards at this point in time. Maybe next year. (In the meantime though, I'll continue to look up the tons of free online tutorials and tips and try and improve my craft that way.)

Challenges that I'm currently working on regularly are finishing the first draft of my novel (I usually write in it on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a minimum of 500 words each day), completing my "100 Hours in the Kitchen" project, and reaching my goal weight. My weight loss has reached an absolute and utter stop despite my best efforts the past few months, so I've decided that after the half is over, I'm going to shake it up and try something totally new to see if that can't take care of the last of it. That whole shebang will get a post of its own though, so I won't say too much more about it here. I think my "100 Hours in the Kitchen" Project will basically be a success (even if I didn't *quite* follow all my guidelines to the letter) as long as I don't crash and burn near the end, but I don't think that I'm going to finish a first draft of my novel this year, at least at the rate I'm going. However, I did at least get in the habit of writing in it regularly again, which was a big step forward.

As for the blog redesign, I'm relying on outside people to help me, so I'm basically on their timetable. I hope this one will still happen this year.

I haven't decided yet if I'm going to still try a new volunteer experience or not. I recently got a new (voluntary) calling at our church working in a leadership position over the Primary kids, and that's giving me the same kind of warm fuzzies and general usefulness that I was craving with a volunteer experience, so we'll see if I end up pursuing anything beyond that.

 Pic courtesy of my sis @hfoolio


*Take a trip with Matt's family to Oregon
*Travel to the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico in October
*Host a quarterly dinner celebration
*Purchase a large canvas print of at least one of my photos
*Go on a day adventure at least once a month

Sigh. You'd think that a resolutions section entitled "Pleasures" would be beyond easy (and fun!) to complete, but this is by far the section that has suffered the worst. So far, I'm only one for five on these.

First off, the success---

The Day Adventure.

Oh man, what a great idea this was! If nothing else, I'm thankful I came up with this part of the resolutions just so we got in the habit of doing these. So far, we have yet to miss a month with doing our day adventures, and it's been such fun trying out new things and spending that quality family time together and having something regularly to look forward to. I fully plan on this being a habit for life from now on.

As for the others...

The Oregon trip? Due to unfortunate circumstances, the destination had to be changed from Oregon to Island Park. Although it wasn't quite what we'd planned, we still had a total blast on that vacation, so I'm not counting this as a failure--just a lesson in flexibility.

Money is again the issue for counting out the second (and possibly fourth) item on the list--although Matt and I were wise when we had the two incomes coming in to put aside a lot of it, we don't feel financially stable enough at the moment to take any big trips anytime soon. So this one will have to be shelved this year. Canvas prints aren't terribly expensive if you get them from the right place and wait for a good deal, but I still haven't made up my mind whether that's an expense I'm willing to pay.

The quarterly dinner celebration is still kind of within our reach, but I've lost quite a bit of my enthusiasm for it. We had one the first quarter but let life get in the way the second quarter, plus our close friends moved down south. We might still pull this one off for the third and fourth quarters of the year, but I'm afraid the awesome "tea party" idea we had for one of the parties probably won't pan out. Pity.


Anywho, it's been a good year so far--a year full of lots of growth and progress and pushing myself, and even though I'm not 100% there with these resolutions (nor will I be), I love how setting these every year forces me to push myself.

Here's to staying strong(ish) until the end! (At least on the ones I've decided to keep anyway, ha ha.)

Linking up today with Stay Gold Autumn

Monthly Goal Linkup
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