Monday, June 24, 2013

a video with jellybeans in it.

A friend had posted this on facebook and I thought I'd share it with all of you.

It's a rather startling visual when you think about it. How much time do we all really have left?  And what are we doing with it?

I've been reading this book recently and it talks about the idea of opportunity cost in relation to our time management.  (Not being a business major I wasn't super familiar with the concept, but basically when you make a choice to do one thing you automatically make choices to NOT do other things--ie, if you have $5 and spend it on candy bars you choose to NOT spend that $5 on rent--roughly.) And then introduced the idea of a "stop-doing" list.  As one who lives by my many "to-do" lists I was intrigued. In order to accomplish any goal or make progress toward something (particularly something new) in your life you have to choose to stop doing something else in order to make room/time for it. To start a new exercise program you have to get up 30 minutes earlier. To learn to paint you sign up for a class which means you have to cut back on the time you watch TV.  You get the idea. It's all about priorities and what you are willing to sacrifice in order to do/be something better. (This is a fabulous talk on the same subject.) 

I continually fall prey to this. There are so many things I want to do with my life that I dip my foot into as many pools as I can but I never actually go for a swim in any of them. My book is a prime example.  I tell myself I really want to write and I even go so far as to take a class every now and then, jot down a paragraph or two when the ideas strike and drag a notebook around with me wherever I go.  But I haven't taken the firm step yet of cutting something out of my life to make room for it. I'm still not truly making it a priority.

So, my goal over the next couple of weeks (I'm in the middle of a move right now and packing is the immediate priority no matter how much I want to do other things!) is to find 3 things I can put on my "stop-doing" list, be they big or small, that will carve out a chunk of time I can reclaim for some writing.

Lesson learned: You only have so many hours in a day and nothing you do will change that, therefore you can only change what you do with them. What are you doing with yours?

Friday, June 21, 2013

a good book.

Or a few.  I've been on a wierd reading schedule the last little while with trying to pack and being gone and everything so I haven't read as much as I would have liked.  I've also been in a bit of a slump.  If you follow me on Goodreads you'll have noticed that most of my books have gotten a rather bland 3-star rating, nothing super outstanding.  But here are some of the rare few that have captured my interest and kept me reading  and excited beyond the blah and ordinary.

Nugget and Fang: Friends Forever--or Snack Time?
Author:Tammi Sauer
Illustrator: Michael Slack
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8
Published: 2013
Genre: Picture Book
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG

Nugget and Fang are best friends. And life is perfect until Nugget, a minnow, goes to school and learns that sharks (of which Fang is one) eat minnows! His new friends convince him they shouldn't hang out anymore but Fang is devestated. He tries everything he can think of to tell them he's not going to eat them but it's not until he saves them from a fishing net that they finally believe him and now they're all friends together!

Unlikely friends are a common theme in picture books and the shark one saw plenty of play in Finding Nemo but I think that works in its favor in this case (I kept wanting Fang to burst into choruses of "fish are friends, not food"...though to convince said fish, not himself as is the case in the film) The illustrations are grand with bright and plentiful shades of blue and other tropicals. The texture is great as well; you get hints of wood and oil, sponge, collage and more giving it an authentic underwater feel and the creatures are delightfully cartoonish.

Author: Lauren DeStefano
Pages: 371
Age Range: 13+
Published: 2013
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopia/Sci-fi
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG-13

Rhine is back under her father-in-laws roof but with the help of Cecily and Linden eventually finds herself on the road again with the two of them in tow searching for her brother in an effort to stop his terrorist antics and prove that she is alive. But she finds out Rowan is working for Vaughn and the world she's been trying to escape is not what she'd always believed.

I've finished up several trilogies in the last little while and all of them fell very flat; strong and intriguing first installments, weak seconds, and unfulfilling thirds.  This was the best of the bunch, keeping the tension and my interest right through to the end.  It still didn't quite meet the expectations I'd established with the first volume but it was pretty close. A heartbreaking but satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

Doll Bones
Author: Holly Black
Pages: 244
Age Range: 9-12
Published: 2013
Genre: Suspense/Fiction
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG

3 kids spend the bulk of their time playing make believe games involving queens and heros, pirates and quests all acted out using various dolls and toys. But Zach's father thinks its time he grew up and Poppy and Alice are going through changes of their own as they begin to mature. When all of Zach's toys go missing he can't bring himself to tell Poppy and Alice the truth so a string of lies and misunderstandings ensue. Poppy takes it upon herself to bring them together with one final quest. This time they must venture out for real, across state lines to bury a china doll of her mother's she tells them holds the remains of a murderd girl whose ghost has been haunting Poppy's dreams. They go along out of spite and placation but as their quest gets stranger and stranger they realize Poppy may have been telling the truth all along. Equal parts creepy ghost story, quest and growing up this is a great spine tingling adventure perfect for those middle readers who are eager to be seen as older yet still have moments of clinging to their childhood.

Author: Alan Brennert
Pages: 389
Age Range: Adult
Published: 2003
Genre: Historical Fiction
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG-13

A young girl contracts leprosy and is taken from her family on the Big Island to live in the leper colony on the island of Moloka'i. Following her through childhood and on through old age we see her progress through the disease, cause trouble, fall in love, form friendships and lead a beautiful life that touches all she comes to know. Around her the world progresses as well; the Americans usurp power from Hawaii's queen, the world descends into war, pictures begin moving and lights are captured in small glass globes, yet through it all Rachel never loses her love of learning and her longing to discover the world around her and beyond the bounds of her life. 

There's so much going on here with lessons about the history and political background of the Hawaiian islands, the history of the treatment and eventual understanding of leprosy (now known as Hansen's disease) and its effects on the people who contract it as well as their families, and of course, Rachels own story. It's a heartbreaking story of love, life, and beating unbeatable odds. I can't stop thinking about it.
Those are the recent standouts. What have you been reading lately?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

looking back at a to do list and making a new one.

I took a moment to review my New Year's Resolutions earlier this month. The half-way mark is always a good time to reevaluate. (Unless you have fallen completley off the wagon and have nothing to show for your hours of carefully documented goals, then it just makes you feel like a failure!)
Ok, not a complete failure. I've made a bit of progress in some areas (my scripture study, shockingly enough has improved leaps and bounds) but other areas, well, you'd never know I'd made a goal for as little as I've tried to do anything about them. Let's take a look.
  • Visit 5 new states and 1 new country--I've got the goal to visit all 50 states by the time I'm 40 and all 7 continents (and at least 25 countries) before I die. The way things are going down this year I doubt I'll get more than 1 new state in but I'll have 1 new continent and at least 4 countries for sure.
  • Start a bookclub--check! (it still counts even if I'm abandoning it, right?)
  • Take a yoga class--check! (though unfortunately I've had to abandon that too)
  • Play the piano every day--uh, what I really meant was 'look at the piano every day but never actually touch it, ever'...check!
  • Finish a book--writing one, that is. Hmm, I did do a bit of work on it so that's got to count, but I'm not really any closer to finishing than I was in January. I am hoping for some good time to work on this come August though.
  • Catch up my scrapbook--uh, nope. 2 years behind and counting!
  • Attend at least one performance per month--done! Though I haven't made it to as many concerts as I'd like. Curse all you concert buddies who moved on me! I blame you! :)
  • Take a photography class--nope
  • Make pickles--wha?
  • Complete a Pinterest project each month--if by project I meant spending hours and hours pinning stuff and then never looking at it again then I'm a winner!
  • Be on time--Ok, this one I really did put some effort into at first. I'm at least more conscious of the times that I'm late even if I haven't quite transitioned that into actually being punctual.
  • Stop swearing--again, I've made a bit of effort. It still comes spewing out unbidden as a gut reaction to various circumstances but I've gotten better at thinking before I speak and more often than not I think of something besides a curse to say.
Now that I look at it it's really not too shabby after all. Often the goals that are more project oriented are easier to accomplish and dominate in the finished results category while the character building/habit forming type take a backseat or get abandoned altogether and kind of the opposite has happened this time around. There's added proof in the accomplisment of the biggest and least defined goal of all which has taken more of my time and mental energy than I'd anticipated but has surprised me in so may ways. On one sheet I had it listed as 'make a decision and stick with it' and somewhere else I wrote down 'find a new job'. Those were not necessarily the same goal to begin with but they've morphed into my Thailand decision and I'm excited and hopeful with what else will come with that.

So, this brings me to the next, and more immediate quest. Summer goals.
I've got about 6 weeks left here in DC and while there will be a flurry of packing and last minute preparations for Thailand I've also decided I need to make an effort to squeeze in some last minute fun as well. It is summer after all. And summer should be filled with all things good. Things like lemonade and movies under the stars and trips to the beach. There's not enough time to do all the things I'd like to and I'm not even going to start on the list of things I want to do one last time before I leave but here are the few things I'm going to do to make this summer count.
  • frozen custard at the Dairy Godmother
  • screen on the green
  • watching a parade
  • seeing the monuments by moonlight
  • a trip to the beach
  • a concert under the stars
  • fireworks
What's on your list?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

a big announcement.

As of today, it's official on all fronts and I can announce it to the world. (or at least to the few of you who read my random posts!) Come October I will be heading off to Thailand to teach English for at least 6 months. It's a decision that has been in the works for several years though the final idea came about rather accidentally. I'm both terrified and thrilled to do something a little more meaningful and a whole lot more adventurous with my life. I still haven't decided what to be when I grow up but maybe a bit of time spent in a place that looks a bit like paradise will help me sort things out!

I'm sad to be leaving the DC area after 7 years and have a few more local adventures planned to cram into the time I have left but I'm also looking forward to spending a bit of time with my family before heading around the world. It's crazy to think what the next few months might bring but I intend to keep you, my three faithful readers, abreast of it all. Never you fear!

And to reciprocate, if any of you out there have been to Thailand or the surrounding areas I'd love to hear about it. What were your favorite moments? Where do I need to be sure to visit? Any tips you'd like to pass on? Anyone who's lived abroad, anywhere? I'll take any advice you can give me!

Monday, June 17, 2013

a music swap!

It's that time again!  Time for a music swap update. This round is dedicated to the tunes of summer and has seen many differing anthems circling through the post.

Summer is about getting up early and staying out late. It’s popsicles and ice cream and watermelon and cookouts in the park or the mountains. It’s road trips and beach trips and no trips at all but just being lazy, laying on the grass in the backyard working on your tan or reading a great book or counting the stars. It’s about first loves and fireworks and feeling like a kid again. And of course, it’s about music.

When I was little my mom wouldn’t let me listen to modern music. At home it was classical, jazz, a few records that made it through from my dad’s high school days and the MoTab. As for the radio I grew up in Salt Lake and we had a local station, KUTR, that played mostly church music. A gospel station for the Mormon set. I was subjected to Janice Kapp Perry and Michael McLean, Saturday’s Warrior and other cheesy ‘uplifting’ tunes (I’ll Build You a Rainbow, anyone? Anyone?!) But finally after some serious familial coercion (god bless you, Aunt Julia!) I was allowed to listen to the Oldies station. Back then ‘oldies’ meant 50s and 60s and I was in heaven. My days were now punctuated with The Beatles, Elvis, Motown standards, Simon and Garfunkel, and my first ‘fan girl’ favorite, The Monkees. These hits became the soundtrack of my life and the basis for many a ridiculously choreographed dance in the backyard sprinklers.

Fast forward a few years to my first real relationship. I’d just graduated from high school and had college on the horizon and the world at my doorstep when in walked a guy who was inexplicably enamored of me. He was sweet and although I wasn’t all that interested in him I was flattered and loved the idea of him. He was a few years older than I was, prepping for med school and, wait for it, was in a band! Yours truly, a perpetually music-stunted individual spent hours that summer watching him jam on his guitar (and I admit it, possibly crushing on his best friend, the drummer) and listening to a wide and varied selection of music that would have made my mother cringe. He even took me to my first two concerts; Sarah MacLachlan in a huge arena and Richard Marx out under the stars. (Outdoor concerts will always be my faves!)

College brought the introduction of country music and resurgence of the hits of the 80s and I’ve slowly been inundated by alternative and indie music as the years have gone by. I’m still a beat or two behind the musical times and still have a thing for drummers (and pianists, and trumpeters, and banjo players, and bag pipers!) but music of all kinds has remained a constant. I doubt there will be any songs here that are new to anyone, but perhaps that’s for the best. Maybe they’ll work their summer magic and transport you back in time to a happy memory of your own, if only for three short minutes!  (I've linked a few but you might have to just do a little work yourself and check out the others.)

1. Summertime ~Oscar Peterson

2. June Hymn ~The Decemberists

3. The Morning Sun ~Gashcat

4. Summer in the City ~The Lovin’ Spoonful

5. Pleasant Valley Sunday ~The Monkees

6. Summer Breeze ~Jason Mraz

7. I Will Live on Islands ~Josh Rouse

8. Hot Fun in the Summertime ~Sly and the Family Stone

9. Roam ~The B-52s

10. Ice Cream ~Sarah MacLachlan

11. Endless Summer Nights ~Richard Marx

12. Aint Goin’ Down… ~Garth Brooks

13. America the Beautiful ~Martin Sexton

You can go here and here to see two of the other playlists that were waiting for me when I got back from my trip. And there are two others on their way.  What are some of your favorite songs of summer? 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

a day to celebrate dads.

My dad and I have never had the best relationship.  In some ways we are exactly alike and in others we are exactly opposite which has caused a lot of moments of head butting and misunderstandings and frustrations and (in my case) tears throughout my lifetime. That said, my dad is a wonderful person. He is strong and hard working, committed and humble. He has been a constant example of faith and integrity, traits that have shaped many of the choices I have made and the things I have done in my life.  He has always provided for our family, been supportive, and done his best to see that we are happy and successful.

I've always envied my friends who are daddy's girls, those who have their dads wrapped around their little fingers and can tell their dads anything. I don't know that I'll ever have that kind of relationship with mine but a little maturity (on my end) and a few years of physical separation have worked miracles in helping us to learn to appreciate our differences in communicating and in our emotional needs and has brought us closer to that ideal.

So, today I give a shout out to my constant supporter, provider and example. Thanks for all you have done for me in helping me to become the person I am today, for giving me a high standard to live up to and a measure for the kind of man I'd like to marry some day. I love you!

And thanks to all the men in my life who have filled fatherly roles in ways large and small and those who will continue to do so as time goes by.

These last two thoughts aren't mine but express how I feel about the important role of fathers.

"...a father's calling is eternal, and its importance transcends time."
Ezra Taft Benson

"God bless you, dear fathers. May He bless you with wisdom and judgment, with understanding, with self-discipline and self-control, with faith and kindness and love. And may He bless the sons and daughters who have come into your homes, that yours may be a fortifying, strengthening, guiding hand as they walk the treacherous path of life. As the years pass—and they will pass ever so quickly—may you know that “peace … which passeth all understanding” (Philip. 4:7) as you look upon your sons and daughters, who likewise have known that sacred and wonderful peace."

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there. All the ties, power tools and BBQ equipment in the world can't express how much you are needed and appreciated!

Friday, June 14, 2013

a vacation (part 5)

A few last trip highlights before I cease subjecting you all to the travleogue.

*paying over $100 to fill a tiny VW Golf with gas
*eating a meal consisting entirely of chocolate bars
*eating French Fries every single day for almost 2 weeks
*nearly freezing to death and getting snowed on at the end of May (seriously, what is up with the weather lately?!)
*attending church and seeing a movie in a different country
*dealing with a (thankfully mild) case of food poisoning while in a hotel
*traveling countless miles by boat, plane, bike, car, bus, and train
*trying to find room for at least ten pounds of cheese and chocolate in the suitcase
*being reminded of all the reasons why I love to travel, and all the reasons I love home!
*the cold that inevitably hits every time I get back from a trip involving a time change/jet lag (9 days and counting...grrr!)

I'll be off soon on the next great adventure, something a little different this time but all the more exciting. I can't wait to tell you all about it! (Soon, I promise!)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

a vacation (part 4)

There were a few other places we visited briefly including Cologne, long enough to tour the famed cathedral. The rain combined with traffic made it so we pretty much had to turn around without doing much of anything else.

We also spent a few hours in Luxembourg viewing the old casemates and battlements, watching the gurard in front of the Grand Palace, and eating a delicious lunch. We also stopped at the nearby US military cemetery where General Patton is buried along with over 5000 soldiers (most killed during WWII; the Battle of Ardennes and liberation of Luxembourg.)

We took advantage of a few hours of afternoon sun to take a hike to Devil's Gorge near the German village of Irrel and were rewarded with some pretty spectacular scenery.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

a vacation (part 3)

Road trip #2 took us a bit farther north to Amsterdam. Maybe it was the weather (which was finally beautiful--sunny and warm for longer than 15 mintues at a stretch) but I fell in love!

Gone were the rolling hills and fairy tale forests replaced by patchwork quilt squares of green and gold fields stitched together with silvery threads of waterways and canals. Boats and tractors were parked within feet of each other in front of thatched roof farmhouses where cows and geese grazed peacefully beneath the shadow of nearby windmills. And everywhere were people young and old cruising around on bicycles! And yes, the whole place really was that idyllic.

We stayed in a hotel in Volendam, about 25 minutes outside the city that was on a partially blocked street (traffic was only allowed to go certain directions at certain times of day and was closed to all but pedestrians the rest of the time) lined with shops out front and facing the water in the back. The shoreline consisted of billions of seashells making a white but not barefoot-friendly beach while the nearby dikes were grass covered hills that hid the sea behind them.

The city itself was definitely a big city yet somehow was able to retain the charm of the nearby towns. The countless bridges, waterways, boats, and bicycles probably helped. The highlight of the day was a bike tour through town with a quick detour through the Red Light District, past the Anne Frank house (we didn't get there early enough for tickets), and weaving in and out of crazy traffic. We were told that in a city of about 800,000 there are approximately 1.2 million bikes! They are everywhere! And the bike traffic there is comparable to auto traffic in Italy--there are written rules but no one seems to follow them exactly. Mostly it's a free for all with everyone assuming the right of way and lots of near misses. It was a tad intimidating for this non-biker but I survived...and even enjoyed it!

And a close second was the canal tour. It's not called the Venice of the North for nothing! There's something uber soothing about floating around on a boat in the sun. All vacations should include boats. And cheese.

Have I mentioned the cheese yet? There were cheese shops everywhere, just as there were chocolate shops everywhere in Belgium and Germany.  We taste tested a ton of different flavors, watched it being made and then spent hundreds of dollars buying little wheels of it to bring home. (I've had several occassions to relive vacation moments by indulging in a deluxe grilled cheese sandwhich followed by a big of fine chocolate...mmmm!)

We also spent a bit of time in the Rijksmuseum which ended up not being my favorite. It was rather small and was heavy in Dutch influence (of course!) I guess I'm a bit spoiled by having so many opportunities to visit the British Museum, the Met, the Louvre and the Smithsonians but I just wasn't all that impressed.  However, I was struck by the intense color and emotion displayed in this piece by Vermeer and this windmill by Paul Gabriel (though of course, neither of the digital images come close to the beauty of the actual works.)

Bottom line? What a fun place!  If you've never been...go!

Monday, June 10, 2013

a vacation! part 2

Part of our trip was spent hanging out with our amazing family, seeing the sights around their house, chilling with the kids, talking late into the night, sharing memories and making new ones. But thanks to their tremendous generosity we had access to a car and took the chance to venture a little farther from home for several mini-road trips. First stop was Belgium with a day and a half in Bruges and a day in Brussels.

Bruges was charming. Step-gabled roofs, canals, cobblestone streets. Visiting, like so many places in Europe, is like stepping back in time a bit. It rained most of the time we were there but umbrellas often make the best souvenirs and a bit of drizzle definitely cuts down on the tourist traffic you have to fight! 

And on day two the sun broke through the clouds and graced us with a bit of blue sky and an opportunity to take off a few of the scarves, jackets and other non-May appropriate apparel.   We also made must-needed stops at the official Frites (French Fry) Museum, and Chocolate Museum. (I did mention that we ate fries and chocolate every single day, right?  Cuz I was serious about that.  These people take their chocolate and fries very seriously.)

Here I am masquerading as a French Fry.  Bet you can't tell which one is me!

Brussels was a bit of a let-down after Bruges. It had some charms of its own, of course, but overall was just a big city. We stopped by the old 1958 World's Fair grounds to take in the Atomium statue and wander through some of the incredible parks nearby. We made a trek to the Manikin Pis fountain (the famous little peeing boy who was much smaller than I'd anticipated, only about 2 feet can almost see him in the photo!)  We also added waffles to our list of foods we ate way too much of. Sometimes they masqueraded as breakfast, other times as dessert, but they were always topped with a variety of goodness in the shape of fruits, chocolate sauce, nutella, and whipped cream (mmm, how they get those crunchy chunks of sugar inside is a delicious mystery I'm determined to master here on this side of the Atlantic, anyone know the secret?)

We also wandered through Cinquantenaire Park, past the Grand Place and the Royal Palace and headquarters of the EU. There were lots of great sites to see but they all seemed a bit flashy and busy compared to the old world feel of Bruges. If you're planning a trip, I'd recommend visiting them in opposite order!

my sis in front of the EU building
We also made an unplanned detour to the Waterloo Battlefield. Not knowing too much about the battle or Napoleon even (other than what little I remember from high school history and what I've culled from reading Jane Austen, Alexandre Dumas and from listening to the Abba song) it was quite the education. I'd love to say I can tell you all about it but my brain fails to hold onto dates and things the way it should. Suffice it to say, it was a crushing defeat for Napoleon that changed the fate of the entire European continent. Go here  if you want to know more.

It's also interesting to learn about history from a different point of view. While I always thought of Napoleon as a sort of dictator, slowly taking over the world, a tyrant who must be stopped (a kinder Hitler, perhaps?) in Belgium and France (and probably other places) he is colored more as a revolutionary standing up to the traditional monarchs of the day and putting more power in the people's hands. Regardless, the view from the top of the Lion's Mound (a huge hill erected where it is believed the Duke of Orange was wounded) is spectacular and the displays relating the various accounts of the battles and the lives lost is sobering.
That's the end of your history lesson for today.  More tomorrow!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

a vacation!

Apologies for the long silence and new apologies for now inundating you all with vacation photos. Feel free to click off now!

For those of you still with me I'll try to keep it brief. Ish.

My trusty travel partner and I (shout out to the sis) boarded a plane a couple of weeks ago and set off to visit cousins who are stationed at the Spangdahlem Air Force Base in Germany. We spent two weeks alternating between hanging out with the fam and road tripping out to fabulous locales eating our weight in chocolate and french fries along the way.

First up was a stop in Trier, the oldest city in Germany, founded by the Romans way back around 16 BC. Situated along the Moselle River, there are baths, city gates, churches, an amphitheater, and an old throne room among the leftover remains. Oh, and random miniature statues of Karl Marx, "famed" former resident.

And then there was a visit to nearby Cochem, another town situated on the Moselle. We started with a trek up the hill to tour the castle. First built in the 1100s it was ruined and rebuilt several times and has been owned by the town since 1978. It's sort of a mishmosh of styles--Gothic architecture and 19th century French furnishings. The weather (which was mostly cold, drizzly, gray and altogether yech!) made a dramatic backdrop for the views from the top of the peak; the river winding through vineyards dotting the hillsides, timbered buildings and church steeples lining cobble stoned streets. It was very quaint and picturesque.

 And then there was the countryside itself. Rolling hills, farmlands and tiny towns, glowing rapeseed fields and the continually winding rivers. It was the slow-paced, soul healing scenery this girl needed.
More tomorrow!