Book Challenge: 15 down, 25 to go

Every year, I give in and participate in Goodreads’ Annual Reading Challenge. This year, I went with 40 books since I failed the 2014 challenge to read 45. Here’s what I have devoured this year:

  1. Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School)I figured I’d start with a familiar book and was in the mood for light and fluffy. This hit the spot. I found it to be a really fun YA book and enjoyed the concept of girls training as spies and boys as evil geniuses. Bonus Points: My son read it and loved it.
  2. A Fighting ChanceGreat book! I love her writing style and I am on the same page as her with the issues. I found her work to be super fascinating to read about as well as her path to Congress. I really, really like her and hope her story and her experience motivates more women to get involved in politics.
  3. The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War)I actually had to go back and re-read Old Man’s War because I forgot absolutely everything I read in that book when I read it two years ago. Some serialized books, that’s not necessary but I felt that with this one, it was. It was as fun a read the second time around even as some of hte twists and turns came back to my brain. I have the next three books in this series and do plan on getting to those this year.
  4. Lock InYou know what you read when you finish a book by Jon Scalzi? Another book by Jon Scalzi. This one was actually a bok for my Book Club and I really enjoyed it. One thing that we agreed on in our discussion was that this book could have gone way deeper. This first book felt a bit shallow as far as development is concerned. Scalzi has some AMAZING ideas in here and this book went SUPER fast. It was definitely the kind of book you’d wish you could really immerse yourself into a bit more which is interesting given what the book is about.
  5. Lost in Temptation (Regency Chase Family Series, Book 1)Thanks to Nicole and Maggie, 2015 will likely be the year of the Regency Romance. These books are like potato chips– you can’t read just one. This was the first book of this kind I’ve read and it was good enough to set me off in search of more like it, which I did largely by perusing this post by Nicole and Maggie.
  6. The Book of Life (All Souls)I read book one in November 2012. I read book two in May 2013. This one got read in March 2015. Overall, it’s completely entertaining. I couldn’t put it down once it really got revving. I did have a hard time with the beginning because it has been a couple of years since I had read book two but necessary things clicked into place well enough. These books are just so massive that I really think they’re best read together in one go instead of spaced years apart. I feel like I missed things and probably would have felt more satisfied with the ending had I read them back to back. I think authors who write these mega stories don’t realize how easy it is for readers to lose track for the stories or to even have their feelings for characters change and fade. The authors live with these characters and stories. It’s different for readers especially for readers like me who just aren’t big into re-reading. I say go for it but try and get them all read in the same year.
  7. Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School)We continued with Gail Carriger’s Finishing School and continue to be highly entertained. I think my son read this one in one single day. I’m enjoying the characters as they get older and progress through their training. Such a fun series. This reminds me that I need to request the third one!
  8. Simply Perfect (Simply Quartet)A thing that happens to me when I randomly pick up books at libraries is that I sometimes have a tough time telling if a story is part of a series and where it’s place in a series is. This is what happened when I picked up Simply Perfect. That being said, it didn’t matter AT ALL that this is the 4th book in a series and I’ve read not one of them. The Regency Romance continues with this one. Sometimes, you’re in the mood for unlikely characters, plot twists, and unrealistic happy endings. Sometimes you want to indulge in a world that is simply perfect because the one we live in isn’t. And when that is what you crave, a book like this hits the spot.
  9. More than a MistressMORE REGENCY ROMANCE! This one was pretty fun and extra unlikely and extra scandalous because of the plot twist in it. I highly recommend this one for reading in a hammock, or a bathtub, or in a bed on a stormy day. Might also be fun on a plane but I don’t know because I haven’t been on one of those in years so I’m out of touch.
  10. No Man’s MistressYou know what’s better than one Regency Romance novel in a book? TWO REGENCY ROMANCE NOVELS IN THE SAME BOOK. The story continues with MORE scandalous behavior from this crew. There was a great quote in this one that I’m sad I didn’t write down. The female character says something like “We are not respectable, but we are respected.” That pretty much sums up the funness of this cast of characters perfectly.
  11. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (Love By Numbers)Apparently Regency Romances are highly contagious. As somewhat of a joke, I tossed this one as a suggestion at our Book Club meeting and it WON! My friends are cooler than yours. This by far was the steamiest of the Regency books I’ve read. Like WHOA MOMMA aren’t you totally improper right now? This one was by far my favorite. The main character was buckets of fun. The sexy stuff was tres sexy. While I do have another Mary Balogh waiting for me on my nightstand, I can tell you that I am MOST interested in reading more by Sarah MacLean.
  12. Bite Me: A Love StoryThis is another situation where I wandered through the library and found this book and was like, “OK I’ve read Christopher Moore, let’s read more.” And then when I logged onto Goodreads to tell the world how I felt about it, I found out it’s book 3 of a series. So, the thing with this book is that for the first several pages I doubted my ability to read it. The main character is Abby Normal who is a perky goth teenager. The book is written from her POV and it’s um overwhelming to deal with at first– especially as there is an attempt to catch a reader up in a rapid fire manner. I’ll probably maybe try and read the others in the series because I do appreciate how ridiculous Moore’s books are.
  13. CarameloSo, the second time I went into the library for a stroll I took a different approach. This time, I opened my Goodreads app on my phone, pulled up my To-Read list which is way too long for life, sorted it by author, and went to the Fiction section. I started with A and went through looking specifically for female or non-white male authors because I really do enjoy diversity in my reading selections and it’s easy to get stuck reading a bunch of white guys. This is the first book I read from this trip and boy am I thrilled to bits. Really beautiful story that is truly woven masterfully. There are lots of layers, lots of designs. So much ties together, and often in subtle ways that don’t really occur to you right away. They’re more like an after taste if you will. This is the kind of book that reminds me a great story is wonderful but a great story that is beautifully written is a treasure.
  14. The AlchemistAnother book from my library quest, this is one I’ve waited too long to read and am so glad that I finally did. This is seriously a modern classic. I read this in one sitting pretty much. It’s a perfect story and one that I would LOVE to own because I feel like the re-readability is high as heck on this one with lots of pretty things to find every time. Great, inspiring quotes abound in this one. Give this to someone who is lost. It will light the way.
  15. The Secret Life of Bees This one is another from by recent library quest. I’m glad I’m finally getting to these. Apparently, this one has been sitting in my To-Read list since 2011!! I liked this one as well. It’s a really pretty story, the kind of book you can easily drink in on a lazy day- maybe in a hammock with some iced tea.

Right now, I’m reading Middlesex which is another book that has been sitting on my To-Read list for way too long. This came from my library quest as well and even though I don’t think the author counts as a non-white author, I felt that the simple fact the main character was intersex made it worth adding to my list. I’m not too far into it and have found that I’m not as entralled as I thought that I might be. I’m actually in the part of the book where things are weird with the grandparents. I’ve been reading it in slow bites although I’m totally intrigued.

What are you reading?? Have you recently read anything totally awesome that I should add to my list?

Autism Speaks Miami

Hi everyone! This is just a quick post to let you know that I will be participating in this Sunday’s Autism Speaks walk here in Miami. I set myself the very amibitious fundraising goal of $500 and have just 2 days left.

I am hoping that maybe you’ll be in the mood to do a Random Act of Kindness for a stranger and make a donation no matter how small to this fantastic organization. I am walking in support of my boyfriend’s niece and nephew. This is a great cause as Autism affects so many people. The research that has been coming out has been incredible and so many advancements have been made. Your support keeps these developments going.

So, please do consider making a donation today. Maybe pass on a snack or a drink or a treat and put your $5, $10, $15 to use!

Thank you from the bottom of my mutated heart!

Tapping Into Me

A few weeks ago, I realized something really interesting– adults are always telling young people and children that they can’t possibly know what they really want and who they really are because of how young they are. They haven’t lived life, how on Earth do they know what they’re made of? They haven’t been tested.

And yet it occurs to me that this is precisely why young people, especially children, know themselves better than we as adults do. I think that there is this interesting thing that happens to us in life. We start out young and amazing. We know exactly who we are. We know what we like. We know what we don’t like. And we live our lives. Changing your opinion is natural and easy– one day you like pink and then suddenly purple is the best color EVER and that’s that. You don’t like spinach and suddenly you do. Changing your mind isn’t a crisis and people don’t freak out about it– calling you out for flip-flopping on your views or pointing out “But the other day you said…”.

But then we get older and people start telling us “You don’t know who you even are” and we believe it I think. Not at first, because we are REALLY confident when we are younger. But definitely later, especially when life starts getting harder. Cruelty comes up. Fights happen. You cry a lot. Things don’t make sense the way they used to. And suddenly, for some of us more than others, other people’s opinions matter– a lot. And that’s when things get really scary and complicated because you suddenly realize– you DON’T know who you are because you tucked yourself away to proctect yourself.

It happens in different ways and at different times. Bullying in middle and high school really get things going. And I mean real bullying not this crazy crap where some kid teases you one day and makes you cry and everyone freaks out. I mean the relentless kind of bullying that happens almost every single day for a year, two years, three… And then, getting involved in toxic relationships which is easy to do when you’ve panicked and hidden yourself away.

Before you know it, you’re in your thirties and you’re clearing the rubble, shining around your flashlight wondering, “Where are you? You can come out, now it’s ok. I get it now. It’s safe. You can’t get hurt anymore because I finally GET IT. They don’t matter, you matter. Where are you?”

You tune your ears to the sound of your heart and you begin to pay attention for even the lightest of whispers. You follow the sound, and it gets louder and louder.

Of course, there are still other voices and it’s hard to drown them out entirely because for years you listened to them more than you listened to yourself. And yeah sometimes the doubt creeps back in but it’s ok.

Me. Finding me in my thirties. How the hell is that even a thing? And yet it must happen all of the time. I imagine people who go through a mid-life crisis do so because their hearts just burst after being trapped for so long and chaos blows in. It’s as if it’s screaming “I’M IN HERE YOU IDIOT! SAVE ME!”

The thing is, tracking myself down again, following the clues, it’s fun. It’s not painful or sad or anything like that. It’s fun and happy and that’s how you know you’re on the right path. You’re around the right people. You’re listening to the right music. You’re reading the right books and watching the right shows. You’re doing the right things. For you.

And it seems silly to think that things like going to musicals, and dyeing your hair, and listening to music could you lead you to you and they’re not really but they help. They make things comfortable. They recreate a time when you were more SURE. They help you remember what it was like when you listened to yourself more than ANYONE else.

So, today being in touch with me means singing along to ska music. Last night, it meant playing with watercolors. The other day, it meant staying in bed with books most of the day and then staying up way past my bedtime lost in a great story. The day before that it meant going to a salon and finally (FINALLY) doing something fun with my hair (hello hot pink ombre).

It means standing up for myself and for my kids. It means loving them and cuddling them and talking with them when they are worried or frustrated or confused. It means watching and listening to them proudly.

It’s pretty cool being me. I like it. I like it a lot.

Make

I like making things. And that is probably the most obvious sentence I’ve ever typed right there. But anyways, yes, I like to make things. The thing is, that when it comes to making things I tend to be majorly Scanner about it. I find a thing that I want to make, I teach myself how to make it, I practice, and then I do it a lot until I get tired of it and stop.

Prior examples include tutus, crochet, knitting, scrapbooks, collage, art trading cards, and embroidery. I am sure there have been others but those are the ones I can remember.

Right now, it’s doodling. I don’t really draw because I don’t really know how and I don’t have that gift that comes to others. I get frustrated with my drawings. But I bought a book called Zen Doodling and I looked up something called Zentangle and Doodling on Pinterest. I exchanged some yarn I had bought for my niece for some drawing supplies and dug in. It was fun! And a friend doodled with me and that was fun too! So lately I’ve been doodling a bit each night and it’s very soothing.

I have noticed that I need to be in a specific state of mind though. I get frustrated if I get interrupted or if I have to keep putting it down. I like to be able to just drown in it, like when I read a book. I have two main exercises that I do. One is I bought a small watercolor sketch pad that is basically 6″ square pages. I use those to do a full piece. The other is an old sketchpad that I have that is more standard size. I use those to explore and practice patterns. So I trace 9 circles on a page and I do a pattern in each one. This comes in handy when I am doing a full piece and am stumped on what to fill in a segment with. Right now, I can tell I’m a rookie because a lot of it doesn’t come organically to me. I don’t really like the patterns that I make up on my own as much as I like the patterns I have found in a book or online. My guess is that intuitiveness comes with practice and confidence. But I really do enjoy it so hooray for making things.

What are you making these days?

2015 Quarterly Report I

We have to do these quarterly reports for this project I’m on now and I thought to myself, “This is a good tool for LIFE.” And then I thought that maybe a quarterly report would be good to write up here.

Achievements

The new job has been the big one for me. That happened way faster than I had anticipated. I’m really happy with the change.

I have been spending money more mindfully for the most part. I slipped a bit into March and I’m trying to restructure for April but overall I have noticed that I have been able to plan what I want to do with my money and do it. Because of that, I have been doing things that I have wanted to do for many years.

In Progress

As I have been doing every year since 2011, I set a reading goal on Goodreads. This year, I chose a goal of 40 books and am going through them just fine. Of the 11 I have read this year, 9 have been written by women (the other 2 were Scalzi) and 5 have been Regency romances thanks to Nicole and Maggie. In 2014, only 16 of the 41 books I read were written by men and many of them were repeats. I never really set out to read mostly books by women but hey I’m glad I do.

I’ve been working on my home more consistently. I don’t know if it’s the whole gusto of the new year and then the rush of spring but I don’t really need to think about it much. I’ll just ride the wave. I have changed my perspective on a lot of the home-related things and it’s helped tremendously. I have also set up a commission program for my kids so that they can earn some money doing additional chores around the house that I value and feel that when they are done more often, they are easier to manage and beneficial. I’m not looking to achieve a shrine state in my home. I just don’t want to open my door and be hit in the face with unpleasant odors. I don’t want to step on things. I don’t want to be unable to use part of my dining table because of stuff sitting on it. I don’t want to spend 20 minutes looking for something. Oh and I like getting into a made bed– I can’t explain it but it FEELS different. And then the other part is cosmetics and so I am doing what I can when I can there as well. Basically, I prioritized what was important to me as far as the house went and then structured commissions for the kids and my own habits around that and it’s been working pretty swell. And for the looks of things, I’m just on the daydreaming side of that but that’s better than nothing. Pinterest has been very helpful with that.

Social interactions have been mostly up. I did find it to be a mixed bag last month as sometimes being around people was just difficult to do and other times it was very healing. My book club continues to get together and my friends are eagerly anticipating the next get together at my house.

Coming Up

I do strongly feel the urge to do some sort of exercising. I just want to be a little bit stronger, a little bit more flexible. I don’t want to lose my breath when I climb the stairs to see my boss.I need to get going with this one soon. I feel the lack of it very much and I don’t like it.

What about you? How did the first quarter of this year go?

In like a lion, out like a lamb

I went into this year, this 2015, really excited. I felt confident and positive and things were well. Yes, there was some yuckiness to be expected because that’s life but I mean overall, I felt good about this year.

Despite the month of March and what transpired there, I remain positive and confident in what this year holds. March had its very painful moments. I was truly shaken by what happened with my niece. All of it– from the premature birth, to the suspenseful days she spent in the NICU, to her passing, to the funeral, to this Saturday where we placed the tiny tiny tiny urn that held her ashes into the mausoleum, was really intense and painful. And it was also surprising in its intensity. You can’t really anticipate how something will affect you until you go through it I guess.

I have to say though that I feel ok with this tragedy. That is not to say that I am happy that it happened of course. What I am trying to say is that I don’t feel like I have been flung into hopelessness and despair because of it. Yes there has been grief, real and intense grief. And there was is anger and frustration. But mostly there have been teachable moments and I feel that I have embraced them and I feel that I have handled myself better than I may have had this happened a year ago for instance.

I bought a journal for myself right around the time she was born. My sister in law wanted one for herself to document the experience of her birth and what she anticipated would be their life with a baby in the NICU. While searching for hers, I found one that touched me for me so I picked it up.

It said this on the cover:

You can't control the wind but you can adjust the sails.

You can’t control the wind but you can adjust the sails.

I keep thinking a lot about that. In a way, I guess it’s sort of my mantra right now. You see, something I say a lot is that I am tired. People who know me even mention how frequently I mention my exhaustion.

It’s slowly occuring to me that maybe the exhaustion isn’t due to little sleep or to lots of physical activity but maybe it’s because I’m constantly fighting with the wind.

On Tuesday, my boyfriend went out of town to stay with his daughter while her mother went on a vacation. He came back on Sunday. This weekend, the kids were with their father. This little break from the norm was refreshing. It was also a little eye-opening and I am glad it happened. I wish in a way that it would happen a little more frequently actually. You learn a lot about yourself when you get a few days on your own.

I am the kind of person that tends to set themselves aside frequently. At this point, the why isn’t important. I am thinking that this is not a really good thing to do. I’m not even talking about setting myself aside in a material way– putting the physical needs of others first and then the physical wants of others right after that and then my own needs and my own wants. That is not even really the large problem.

The truth is, I don’t really listen to myself. I listen to other people. I do things because other people think it’s a good idea to do something. I do things because other people like to do them. I’m constantly fighting my own wind. I listen to so many voices, I lose my own in the rabble. So getting that silence if you will was… really nice.

The thing is that I like me. I actually do. I like the kind of person that I am. I like the values that I have. I like the priorities I choose. The thing is that I put the opinions of others above my own and that’s where I get lost. I am fighting my inner self to be more like other people.

It’s so silly.

Having that breathing room this past week helped me see that. I don’t listen to my heart enough.I think, more than anything, tuning into myself this past week was the reason I enjoyed myself so much. I did not feel lonely once.

And I think also that’s why I’m at peace with March. It came in and it had a lot of tragedy with it. But it had some good and beautiful things too. And tha’s life. I am looking forward to the rest of this year. Something tells me, this is one of the most significant years of my life.

 

A loss for words

People often tell me I have a way with words. On a day like today, I wish it were true. My niece passed away today. My brother called me just a few minutes after I dropped my kids off at school. It has been a long time since I heard a grown man sob, choked with grief. I heard it again not too long after when our younger brother called me asking me where I was and if I was going to the hospital. Not long after that, I heard my uncle choke back tears twice. I can’t decide what’s worse– that sound or the sight of a room filled with people you love sitting or standing like zobmbies with red swollen eyes and noses and tracks of tears on their faces. That’s the sight I saw when I walked into the NICU, the last to arrive.

My old co-workers hugged me and talked with me. I got lost when I left. I didn’t care.

I don’t know what to say to my brother and his wife other than, “I love you” and “I love you so much” or “I love you very much”. That’s all I have. That’s all I can yank together. That’s all I can feel. I love them. And I hurt so much because I love them and I see them and I hear them and I think of them and it overwhelms me. Their pain is a vicious one.

Consolations are a mixed bag. On the one hand you know most people are as speechless and awkward as you are and they’re doing the best they can. On the other hand, you really don’t want to hear about the mysterious ways of gods right now or the plans they have that we can’t grasp. Don’t tell me this is part of a plan and don’t tell me this will make sense one day.

It’s not and it won’t.

She was a tiny little thing. I never held her. I never touched her. I gazed upon her and I spoke to her in a half whisper. I doubt she heard me in her plastic box. I saw her only twice in person. Yet she managed to stake a place for herself in my heart and that place is raw and hurting right now.

I have asked for so many prayers the past 24 hours. I don’t know why other than it was the only thing I could think of doing. It seems the only acceptable way to say, “We need support and love right now” without actually saying it. “Pray for us” means “Show love for us” essentially. I think. I don’t know.

Oh my little niece. You made an aunt of me and it wasn’t for long enough. I never held you in my arms but I will always, always, ALWAYS hold you in my heart.

 

New Job is One Month Old

Well, I’ve been in my new position just over a month. I wrote a little bit about it when I was two weeks in so I figured another summary was due.

I really like my new job. I feel like this is the job that I have been wanting for a very long time. It’s not so much the title, it’s the everything else. Titles can be deceptive. Job descriptions can be too but they tend to be more comprehensive.

So what is it about the job itself that I like?

Well, for one my boss’ management style and my work style mix well. He is really laid back and pretty hands off with as much as possible. However, he is ready to do what is needed or wanted of him and that’s really helpful. He is nice and protective of his staff. Never underestimate the importance of good management. I know this is really hard to gauge from a job description or even a job interview, but I think the first 60 days or so should get you a better understanding.

I like the work environment in that it is pretty darn flexible. Pretty much it seems to be come and go as you please as long as you’re where you’re needed when you’re committed to being there. There aren’t people carefully monitoring calendars and clocks.

I like the work duties that I am responsible for. I like to organize meetings. I like to inform people of what is going on and what is needed from them. I like placing orders for things and making sure they get delivered and paid for.

I like the things I get to collaborate on or that people ask me for my input on. I like being asked for input and it being taken seriously. I like to help with the creative brainstorming for the Outreach Coordinator. I like to contribute to the building up of something.

I like the things that we are studying. I like fish and the species they’re studying here is really beautiful and fascinating. So I like learning more about it and I like that I can do that through my job.

I like that I don’t know how to do everything I’m supposed to do. For instance, I’ll be the data manager for this project. It seems that will be a pretty big responsibility and I’m not really familiar with scientific data management. There is a lot of support to help the group and me so we’re not lost but it feels a bit overwhelming sometimes. Then I remind myself how awesome I am and that I like playing with data and I don’t feel so scared anymore. And I like that uncertainty– that opportunity to prove something to myself. And again, it’s not like I’m being handed this with a pat on the shoulder and a “Good luck” so that helps. I’m confident I will actually be learning a really valuable skill set and that makes me happy.

I like the fact that this is as close to a scientist as I, a non-scientist, can get. It is pretty involved and it has a lot of interaction with scientists who turn out to be people I like. It’s fun to be in an environment where the weird things I find to be really cool are actually not weird at all. I don’t even mean the typical pop culture things because the nerd world is rampant in pop culture. I mean things like finding yourself with a group of people staring at an image of a cell and figuring out the different parts of the cell you’re looking at and you say, “Wow that’s really cool” and everyone chimes in with “RIGHT?!”

So there you have it. The new job is great– a perfect fit, more than I imagined.

Auntie Mutant

When I got home on Friday, my boyfriend came back from his follow up with the doctor. He had some news– he’s pre-diabetic. So we went out to eat a healthy dinner despite the fact he really wanted one last junky one. When we got home, we settled into the couch for cuddles and TV and my phone rang. It was my aunt and when I answered she said, “Mutant what happened?” “What do you mean?” “Your brother sent a text– Baby is coming. Don’t text please.” “WHAT!? I didn’t get it! Let me find out bye.”

My niece was born at 10:32 PM Friday, February 27. She weighed 1 lb, 7 ounces. There was an emergency c-section. All hell broke loose in other words.

My niece is tiny. She is fighting. Every day is a new day. She has had a bad day and an ok day and a great day. Her mother and father are reeling and trying their best. We are trying to figure out what the hell to do for them. We are trying to give them distance without making them feel alone. We are worrying for them and trying to not let them know we are worried for them.

I worked with neonatologists for four and a half years. And now my brother and my sister in law are in there with my niece dealing with all of the things I had heard of during my time there. Now I am just trying to figure out what we can do for them that actually helps not annoys.

We have gotten ideas like doing their laundry, providing them with meals (one family mentioned they left a cooler on the front porch for this purpose), offering to drive her wherever, doing light groceries, running errands, giving them gift cards for things like gas, giving them magazines and baby books, etc. Any other ideas would be great. We are a MASSIVE family and we are usually very close so we know very well how easily that can veer into overwhelming. I bought her a journal and I took my brother a camera. I bought them a board book and I bought a set of muslin swaddling cloths that are pretty versatile. I have made a personal resolution to not bring up anything medical and to not offer advice or anything like that. I caught myself doing it and I decided that’s freaking annoying so I need to shush.

So yay I’m an Auntie! Now we just need lots of patience and good thoughts for my niece and her mommy and daddy.