Resolution: January

My 2016 Resolution is to make monthly resolutions based specifically on what is going on in my life in that particular month.  A friend posted on Facebook asking what one word was to describe everyone’s resolutions this year, and my word was “attainable.”  I’m into the whole self-improvement thing and I am not into the whole making resolutions you can’t keep thing.  My least favorite thing about resolutions is going to the gym in January.

So my January resolution is going to be to spend less money during the work day, specifically by (a) generally packing my lunch unless I have lunch plans, (b) parking somewhere cheaper, and (c) only getting plain coffee at Starbucks (which is in my building and therefore somewhat difficult to avoid) and generally only going once a day.  As long as I do these things most days, I will feel like I’ve met my resolution goal for the month.

And I’m not sure at all what any of my other resolutions will be.  I’ll start thinking about February in a few weeks.

Here’s hoping this will work out!  My 25 blog readers will keep me accountable, I know….

Books I Read in 2015

As compared to the past few years, DAMN, I read a lot of books this year!  I’m proud of myself!  I love reading but the past few years it has not been as much of a priority and I’ve struggled to get through the bare minimum of “just book club books.”  Adding to this, I don’t like to read depressing books (generally speaking, any book where kids die or involving WWII in any capacity is out, which is an unfortunately large chunk of the books that people will recommend).

Please forgive me for not taking the time to link to the books on Amazon or whatever.  I trust that you are able to search for them yourselves should you be interested.  Book club books are denoted by an ASTERISK, and books that I particularly think you should read are denoted by a PLUS.  These are listed more or less in the order I read them.

+ / * The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  Yes, everybody read this book this year, and for good reason, yo.  It was really damn enjoyable.  I love a thriller, and an untrustworthy narrator.  Also we all learned that you can by gin & tonics in a can in the UK.

*The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.  An interesting read. I particularly enjoyed the post-WWI “hey, all the eligible men are actually sort of dead, what do we do” element of this, which I think is glossed over in Downton Abbey.

+Cocaine Blues; Flying Too High; Murder on the Ballarat Train; and Death at Victoria Dock, all by Kerry Greenwood.  I became obsessed with Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, an Australian romantic crime drama set in the 1920s in Melbourne (where we have an office), to the extent that I not only watched every single episode of all three seasons, but also read some of the source material.  I recommend either the books or the show (available on Netflix!) or both.  Phryne Fisher is a fantastic character.

*The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker.  A book club book that I did not finish.

The Darlings by Cristina Alger. This was a book club book from a few years ago that I did not read at the time, but I should have, because I liked it. Interesting fictionalization of the financial crisis.

*My Notorious Life by Kate Manning.  An interesting saga set in the mid-1800s in New York City.  A book that I wouldn’t have chosen on my own but ended up really enjoying.

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover and The Season by Sarah MacLean.  Historical romance novels with exceptionally strong and non-stereotypical female characters.

+The Royal We by the Go Fug Yourself girls.  I cannot recommend this book enough. This was a dream to read and I wish I had written it.

*When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  An exceptional YA book with a Wrinkle in Time references.  Really enjoyable.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  For those of you who work with me, we can NEVER TELL GAYLE THAT I READ THIS BOOK.

*The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton.  Also a book that I wouldn’t have chosen on my own (particularly this one as it involved a dead kid) but I really enjoyed it anyway.

Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham.  I enjoy Lena Dunham.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler.  I enjoy Amy Poehler even more.

+Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling.  I enjoy Mindy Kaling possibly the most.  She is the closest contemporary to me age-wise and some of her experiences feel very familiar to me.

*The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  The fantastical descriptions in this book were really great.  I also like a book where you maybe don’t know exactly what’s going on but that’s OK.

+Unbecoming by Rebecca Sherm. I listened to this book.  It was a Nancy Pearl on NPR recommendation and I particularly enjoy her recommendations because (A) I can very easily tell from her descriptions if I’m going to like something and (B) once I’ve decided I might enjoy something she recommends, I almost always do. It centers on a woman named Grace who now lives in Paris and goes by Julie.  There’s a lot of back and forth between present day and events leading up to Grace living in Paris and going by Julie.  The character development is wonderful – a real character study.

Sugar Daddy; Blue-Eyed Devil; Smooth Talking Stranger; and Brown Eyed Girl; all by Lisa Kleypas.  Regina recommended this series to me and I whipped through it.  It’s a fairly traditional modern romance series, all set in Texas, and the characters are interesting and well-drawn.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.  Another one that everyone is reading this year and rightly so.  It’s not “this year’s Gone Girl” – the characters are so different – but it does have an interesting take on the his-perspective/her-perspective element.

*Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.  The dead kid in this book didn’t bother me as much because you knew about it going in and it wasn’t too graphic.  It was a great book club discussion book.

The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry.  I read one of her books years ago, and I only recently found out that Anne Perry is the actual person who was featured in the movie Heavenly Creatures.  So now I’m going to read some more of her books.

Second Life by S.J. Watson. This was another Nancy Pearl recommendation, although I didn’t like it as much as the other one.  I couldn’t really get into the characters.

Truths, Half Truths and Little White Lies by Nick Frost.  I listened to this memoir and, I’m not going to lie, I kind of think Nick Frost might be my boyfriend now. I am now obsessively re-watching Spaced.

*The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming.  The ONLY non-fiction/non-memoir book on my list.  I took some Russian history & literature classes in college, and it was nice to rekindle that knowledge.  The family life details were really fascinating.

 

FOMO

I don’t really have fear of missing out so much as potentially unrealistic expectations of how much I can get done in a certain amount of time.  I also don’t exactly use the weekend to relax.  Here’s me discussing a theoretical but likely weekend with my coworker, Nate.

Nate: What are you doing this weekend?

Me: Well, I have three hockey games Sunday, and I’m supposed to get drinks with someone on Saturday, and the girls were invited to two different playdates that are 45 minutes apart but I figure I can just drop one off, take the other one to the other one, then go back and get the first girl, and then go back and get the second girl, and then we’ll go home and I need to cook five pounds of tomatoes and also I have a hair appointment and I want to finish reading this book about Princess Di.  You?

Nate: We may be going on a bike ride but we’re not sure.

I don’t like saying no to things though.  I always feel like, if it’s something I want to do, and people I want to see, why not at least try to get there?  It’s only been recently that I’ve had to say to myself, look, you’re not going to make it to this event.  It’s in the middle of naptime, it’s a two-hour roundtrip drive, and the girls haven’t eaten lunch in their own house since March.

This weekend, however, was a master class in trying to cram in as much stuff as I could.* Ben worked all weekend** so I was responsible for everything.  “Everything” included:

  • Elena’s regular ballet class
  • A cookie exchange in the South Hills (necessitating travel over bridges and through tunnels)
  • Babysitting our friend’s kid so his parents could go to a fancy party
  • Dek hockey game
  • Getting the girls to church
  • Elena’s special Nutcracker ballet class
  • Making sure my kids had enough food and sleep so they didn’t stage a walkout

And we did it!

The cookie exchange in the South Hills was with a bunch of other bloggers, and I use the term “other” loosely because they update their blogs more than, you know, once a month.  I generally feel like an impostor, but I did bake cookies, so I guess I’m legit?  Regardless, it’s always fun to see Henry in the wild, though.

Cookies

Cookies2

The cookies came in handy with the entertaining-children element of the evening, although these kids together could probably entertain themselves with a ball of yarn.  They had a lot of fun.

Popcorn

cookies were a success

I didn’t take any pictures of my actual hockey game, but I did take a picture of Jake reffing the game before ours because it was his birthday.

Jake (2)

We won the game!  I had a nice assist and felt pretty good about my defensive skills.  I hadn’t had a good game in a while so it was a nice boost for me.

The church/hockey/feeding the children/Zoe’s nap/ballet class element of Sunday was the trickiest, and I felt pretty proud that I sorted it all out.  I had to smell like hockey for a couple of hours to make it happen, but I suppose there are worse things to smell like***?

Here’s Elena posing with the Sugar Plum Fairy ballerinas (I believe they are student dancers and not the actual SPF in the ballet).  She enjoyed the class.

Nutcracker

After this we went home and had a pizza movie night.  Well-deserved!

______________________

*and I still had to say no to a few things!  I really wanted to attend Lou’s Christmas party and the Moms Demand Action walk.  But as I mentioned, I have to draw the line somewhere.

**for anyone who received a package at 9:45pm last night, thank your mail carrier.  It’s not their fault that you didn’t really care if it came on Monday.

***there are not.  I’m just telling myself this.

12 Things I’ve Learned Playing Kickball for 12 Years

Last night we wrapped up our fall 2015 season with a semifinal loss to a team of 25 year old soccer players from the Amazon.  Although I’ve been playing with my current group of teammates for ~8 years (I think? Approximately?) I’ve been playing kickball for 12 years.  (I should clarify that I’ve been playing kickball with WENDY for 12 years; other than time out for our collective three pregnancies we’ve been on the same team the whole time.)

As such I thought it might be time to share a few things I’ve learned.  Because while these 25 year old Amazon soccer players may kick and field better than me, they were literally still in junior high school when I started to play, and I have EXPERIENCE.

  1. Adults can kick the ball further than you remember people being able to kick the ball when you played in elementary school, but now people can catch the ball too.
  2. You should always run like your pants are on fire.
  3. If someone is not forced, you have to tag them with the ball for them to be out. (For those of you who grew up playing Little League, you probably learned this when you were 8, but I learned it when I was like 32.)
  4. Everyone needs to take turns bringing the beer. The person who brings the beer should try to get there kind of early.
  5. Being married to the ref does not necessarily mean that you or your team will get calls your way.  If your spouse is a good ref, it probably means the opposite.
  6. If you think you can catch the ball, or if you know that you cannot, you should try to say something that makes this very clear.  “GOT IT” and “NOT IT” sound very similar, for example.
  7. You can get someone out by throwing the ball at them, but once you throw the ball, you do not have control of it.  If there are other runners, they will keep running.  Unless you’re about one foot away from them, it’s probably better not to throw the ball.
  8. This is not professional baseball.  Go ahead.  Keep running.  Try to get to the next base.
  9. At some point, once you’ve been playing for 12 years, and people are surprised that you play adult kickball, you will become annoyed that they consider it a novelty.  “Kickball???? Like we played in elementary school? But for grownups?” “YES THERE HAS BEEN A LEAGUE IN PITTSBURGH SINCE 2000 AND OTHER CITIES EVEN EARLIER THAN THAT AND BASICALLY EVERYONE UNDER THE AGE OF 45 HAS HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY KICKBALL FOR GROWNUPS.”  This reaction may or may not be justified.
  10. Although you can’t necessarily always beat the 25 year old Amazon soccer players, if you can keep the same group of people playing together for a while, you will be able to win a lot of games.
  11. You should definitely see if your uncle wants to come watch your games.  You will be happy you got to spend that extra time with him.
  12. I have been really lucky to have gotten to play with some of the best players and the best people.

And so begins my six-month offseason.  See you in the spring, kickball!

Shenandoah 2015

We have gone to the Shenandoah National Park area every year since 2009. Our friends Barb & George have gone even longer than that, and they invited us to start going with them, and now they are stuck with us forever.

Some of our trips have been fraught with disaster:

  • In 2010 there was a terrible ice storm and we couldn’t stay at our cabin because there was no power. We also could not safely drive home – unfortunately we were unaware of the second thing, so we drove home.
  • In 2013 we had a six week old baby so we did not go.
  • Last year I blew out a tire in the National Park, so Ben had to drive my car back to an auto care place for VERY EXPENSIVE new tires (since I have a Subaru and you have to replace all at once) (also this was the time when my license was suspended so I could not drive myself).

Relatively speaking, then, this year was fairly smooth sailing! This will be known as The Year That Zoe Decided Not To Sleep Very Much, and also The Year That We Decided to Stay an Extra Day and Were Happy with that Decision.

We left on Thursday, instead of Friday. Last year we found Orr’s Farm Market in Martinsburg, WV, which is en route. It meets all my fall pumpkin patch requirements:

  1. It is not very crowded.

There’s a tractor ride, things to play on, a TON of apples, and pumpkins. We had a great time, and it’s a good opportunity to stop and rest and do something other than run wild at the turnpike rest stop.

I’ve already shared some pictures from this trip on Facebook and Instagram.  Here are just a few more for you, my very special 15-18 blog readers.

The past few years (since the ice incident) we have stayed at the Massanutten Resort, which makes us sound very fancy, but it is not particularly fancy; there are houses of varying size for varying length of stay, and nearby activities. Locally, sort of like Seven Springs, I think. Anyway, it’s great there.

We went to Shenandoah National Park on Friday. We hiked a great, hilly trail with a creek/waterfall alongside us the whole time, and Elena did such a good job with walking the whole way, I was so proud of her.  She did get tired (and so did George).  Zoe alternated between running and being carried.

Please don't make us walk any more

Please don’t make us walk any more

On Saturday we ventured out into downtown Harrisonburg and had a great lunch and gelato.

After a glorious afternoon of rest, we tried our hand at mini golf. As always, Ben won, because he always is sort of effortlessly good at this sort of thing. Elena did really well considering she has never tried to golf before. And Zoe did not run off and/or destroy anything.

We had a lovely time!  Already looking forward to next year.

Toddler Tips

Immediately after I posted my “I had a normal weekend!” blog post, Zoe decided to start acting all crazy, thus confirming my friend Michele’s truism that YOU CANNOT POST GOOD THINGS ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN ON SOCIAL MEDIA, LEST THEY STOP BEING TRUE.

To that end, I’ve been compiling a list in my head of the various places where one should and should not go with a two-year-old. I do not mean “the beaches of Bali versus Lake Erie for a weekend.”  I mean, the places you may or may not want to frequent on a day-to-day basis.

WHERE NOT TO GO

  • Shopping.  This was initially going to be several subcategories, but in the interest of space, it’s best to combine it into one.  You do not want to take your two-year-old to the grocery store (not that I’m counting, but I have 48 weeks left until I can leave Zoe with her sister in the Eagle’s Nest at Giant Eagle) where she may pull over a FULL GALLON OF APPLE CIDER ON TO THE FLOOR.  You do not want to take your two-year-old to the liquor store, AS MUCH AS YOU NEED TO GO, where one of the clerks may say to her, “you were really making me scared” in a non-joking manner.  You do not want to take your toddler shopping for clothes for yourself, a potential task so daunting that I have never, not once, even considered doing it.
  • To any restaurants where either (a) you can hear yourself think or (b) your food will not be on your table within 7 minutes of you sitting down.  This is not to say that you can’t go out to eat.  You can.  You just can’t go anywhere you want.  Also a consideration: at one point in my life, I had high hopes that my children would have subtle, refined palates, but at this point in my life I’m not interested in spending $10 for them to make faces at kale quinoa, so if a restaurant does not have chicken, pizza, or mac and cheese options, we do not go there.
  • To the house of your family or friends who do not have children but who also have a lot of potentially breakable things, sensitive pets and/or really steep stairs.  No matter how chill these people are about their place and their stuff, you will spend your whole visit chasing your child around and yelling “DO NOT TOUCH THE GUITAR” or “WATCH YOURSELF ON THOSE STAIRS” or “LEAVE THE CAT ALONE” at them.
Peanut butter bagels: a solid maybe

Peanut butter bagels: a solid maybe

WHERE TO GO

The absolute two best places to take your toddler are as follows:

  • To your friends’ house, where “friends” is defined as “people who have children, a lot of liquor and food, and don’t care what time you leave.”  You can assume any guitars that are below waist level are free to be destroyed, the cats will all be hiding in the basement, and they probably have a baby gate somewhere.
  • To a family gathering where the adult-to-child ratio is adult-favorable and there is at least one grandparent or grandparent-like person there who will basically steal your child, and you can sit on the couch and watch the sports and no one will ask you to do anything, including but not limited to “feed your children” or “change diapers.”

Coming in at third is any museum or play area specifically designed for young children.

If smocks are provided, we're there

If smocks are provided, we’re there

Fourth is every place else in the world.  Stay home for another year or so.  You can save up some money.  It’s not so bad.

Pittsburgh Pirates: what kind of fan am I, anyway?

PNC Park

PNC Park

I was probably 8 or 9 when I went to my first Pirates game, with my dad and my friend Jill and her dad.  Jill explained to me that Mike Schmidt was the devil (Jill was, and I believe remains, a fairly devoted baseball fan – she knew everybody who played).  I liked Mike LaValliere because he ran like a cute little chipmunk. My dad helped me score the game, which was fine until about the seventh inning when they start making all the substitutions and you have to keep crossing stuff out.  That was annoying.  Pinch what?  But that did help me learn about what all was happening.  Shockingly I was perhaps one of five children in all of the United States who did not play Little League in the 1980s, so I was somewhat unclear on the concept.

I went to some games growing up.  Not a crazy amount, but enough.  I liked Andy Van Slyke and Sid Bream because they were good, and good looking.  (Please keep in mind that it was like 1988.)  I liked Tony Pena.  I was excited about the Bonds/Bonilla era and disappointed, but not enormously so, when the Pirates did not win the World Series in the early 1990s.  I was probably more focused on getting my bangs as high as possible, most likely.  That took a lot of energy.

I did not really live in Pittsburgh from 1994 – 2002.  I was in college out of state (although technically I suppose I was here for most of the season, but NEVER MIND) and then lived in DC.  This was pre-Nationals, so I was living in a city with NO BASEBALL TEAM.  Through all this time I would still root, root, root for the Pirates, because if they don’t win it’s a shame.  But I don’t know if I went to any games.  Probably not. They blew up Three Rivers Stadium and I wasn’t here for it.

I moved back and PNC Park was already here.  Everyone hated the Pirates because they sucked or whatever, so it was cheap and easy to go to games.  So I went to games. Some friends got a group together and I got in with the group.  Mostly they would spend the games drinking at the bar, but I sat in the seats and watched.  Ben and I started dating, and he loves the Pirates, so we went to more games.

Elena's First Game

Elena’s First Game

Then the Pirates started to win more, and tickets were harder and more expensive to get, but now everyone is interested in the Pirates, and from living with Ben I know what’s going on.  I know who most of the players are.  I might even recognize them if I saw them on the street.  I’ve spoken to Clint Hurdle at Starbucks (he said Zoe was cute).  I sit next to Lou at work, who talks about the Pirates approximately 3 hours out of every day, and I’m able to keep up with the conversation (much to the chagrin of our immediate neighbor Ethan, who is excited that hockey season is coming so maybe we’ll shut up already).

So what kind of fan am I?

  1. Fair weather friend?  Clearly not.
  2. Rabid maniacal fan?  Also clearly not.
  3. Fan by proxy? Perhaps.  Maybe if I wasn’t with Ben, I wouldn’t be such a fan?
  4. Native Pittsburgher fan?  I think this is right.  I would never root for another team.  I like the Pirates.  I would go to games if they were awful.  (Maybe not if they pick up someone who starts sliding into other players and breaking their legs, but I don’t really see them doing that, do you?  I mean, certainly Cutch would not permit such shenanigans.)  I enjoy the view of the city from the stadium, and watching the pierogie race n’at, and pretending like I’m going to catch a hot dog.  I’ve been to other games in other stadiums and it is not the same.  (Why don’t some of the other stadiums have random events during the game like pierogie races and hot dog tosses and what not?  I need something else to capture my attention for when they start switching everyone out in the seventh inning or whatever.)

So I think that’s what kind of fan I am, and I’ll be watching the Wild Card game tomorrow (sort of off and on, you know, while we’re putting the girls to bed) and making fun of Jake Arrieta because he looks like Merry the Hobbit and LET’S GO BUCS!!

Hobbit

Hobbit

The resemblance is uncanny, no?

The resemblance is uncanny, no?