I’m more than halfway done with my 2016 #BustleReads Challenge. As a reminder, this challenge is supposed to push my boundaries and help me find books outside my comfort zone that still appeal to me. Here’s my first update if you want to see books 1-5 in the challenge.
6. Read a Feminist Sci-Fi Novel:
I went into this book blind, knowing only that it was supposed to fulfill my feminist sci-fi book of the year, was highly rated, and written in the 1970s. I really wanted to know how it could meet all that criteria and honestly I was hooked from the very first sentence. This book has an incredible and gut wrenching plot but beyond that this is a book about people. People can be ugly, they can be brave, they can sacrifice, and they can push on. The people and their relationships with each other really showed you how loyalty, love, and trust can be tested. Combine those qualities with the plot and it’s a fantastic read from Octavia Butler. 5/5 stars
7. Read a Contemporary Collection of Poetry:
I tried to sit with this book and slowly read it. I read the first part, an introduction to the family and their dynamics, then put it aside and went to bed. The book stayed in my mind all night and day and when I sat down with it again, I read the entire thing. I took time to savor some poems, reading them aloud.
Each poem is straightforward but not quite simple. There are four real parts: a broken childhood, the loss of a brother, the loss of a friend while coping, and the loss of a loved one in the midst of it all. The poems are narrative but by the end go out on a hopeful note. Some favorites: “The Gate”, “Practicing”, “Without Music”, and of course, “What the Living Do”.
I read this book after my grandmother died earlier this year. It helped me feel some things I had tried to push aside and helped me acknowledge how messy death (and life) can be. 3.5/5 stars
8. Read a Graphic Novel Written by a Woman:
Like most kids raised in the 90s, I had an obsession with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Through the Woods fits the spirit of those stories but it’s paired with hauntingly beautiful art. The book is just 5 short stories and each story has its own artistic style. The art in “A Lady’s Cold Hands” was so good at contrasting the claustrophobic feeling of parts of the plot with the vastness of the project that lays before the narrator. There’s an image of a wall that should be simple but it says so much.
The stories pray on our own insecurities and fears and still stick to popular legends and tales so while new, they seem familiar. This wasn’t the first graphic novel I read during the year and it wasn’t the last but it was definitely the most beautifully illustrated. This book really took me from appreciating graphic novels to really connecting with them as a storytelling device. 4/5 stars
9. Read a Book Set in Africa, by an Author from Africa:
I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved the variations of storytelling this book followed. The plot was not always linear, there were folk tales and Biblical lore surrounding the plot, but the story always moved forward. The writing was rich and immersive. I haven’t fully processed all of my feelings towards this book because it hits at major themes including war, cultural differences, coming of age, LGBT romance, and family and that’s a huge combo. Somehow including all of that doesn’t weigh the book down and only enhances it. I realized while reading this that I don’t know if I’ve ever read a full fictional novel by an African author and it was a gap that really made an impression after finishing. 4/5 stars
10. Read a Memoir from Someone Who Identifies as LGBTQIA:
I didn’t know what to expect out of a graphic novel memoir. Would it be too distant? Would it still feel like the memoirs I like? Luckily Fun Home really does crossover the genres well. I knew of Alison Bechdel but didn’t know her full family history so every time Alison felt shocked, I felt her shock with her. The graphic novel format really helped it to feel more immersive.
At times the writing style assumed you were just as well read as she was but in the end you could use context clues to gain the message of what comparison she was trying to make. The graphics in here wasn’t quite as “artistic” as some of the other graphic novels I read but it felt more authentic and didn’t try to be something it wasn’t. It worked.
The message of confusion and mixed emotions over so many of her childhood activities really resonated. Even when Bechdel conveyed her ideas that she thought she reacted in this way for this reason, you could still hear her doubt, that “I think” scribbled in the background. It really connected with me for that reason. Looking at the LGBTQIA angle, there’s a really interesting dichotomy in the story that helps you understand how confusing coming out of the closet can be. 3.5/5 stars
At my last house, I fell in love with the schoolhouse look when we added a giant chalkboard to our home. My new house has a few schoolhouse accessories too: a set of lockers, a plan for another chalkboard, and coming soon – some schoolhouse style wall charts. I fell in love with giant botanical art posters a few years ago and never had a perfect spot for it. When I found a spot in the new house, suddenly I couldn’t handle purchasing them at the price points I was finding. Luckily I found a lot of options for purchase when I looked a little outside the box.
As a bit of history, these botanical prints are often better known as Jung-Koch-Quentell charts. ArtPlantae has a well-researched background piece if you are curious about how these charts were used in German schools. You can also purchase The Art of Instruction which includes a look at all of the charts used.
Dog Rose Botanical Poster – The Evolution Store | $219
Hageman Cherry Botanical Chart – Pistils Nursery | $180
Garden Pea Wall Chart – Wallography | £89 (or about $115)
Jung-Koch-Quentell Chestnut Botanical Poster – Art Reflection Studio (Etsy) | $93
TIP: For this piece, using multiple search terms helped but even better was checking international sources since these pieces were originally made in Germany. I was even able to locate these prints direct from Germany but because of the language barrier I ultimately did not choose to pursue them. I did find British and Canadian sources for much less, even when considering shipping costs.
I mentioned earlier I’ve been looking into some cosmetic updates for my guest bathroom. This is the bathroom located on the second floor of my home. It gets a lot of frequent use in my home since we’re both still enamored at the idea of having more than one bathroom.
The space is pretty nice with a full shower and a jetted tub. It also has a nice view in the shower of my neighbor’s window and I’m not down with exhibitionism.Tan tile isn’t really my thing but I also don’t want the hassle of ripping it out. The worst part is that the grout looks pink against the tan walls so I’ll definitely be changing the wall color. I also want a more functional space with some shelves and hooks.
On a design note, I moved the same art and towels from my last house over to the new place. My last house was more transitional, like this:
My towels are showing their age and I already bought a new white shower curtain since my last house had a glass stall. So far my new house has a French Rustic Industrial vibe going on. I want to bring this into the bathroom just a bit. I’m thinking metals and natural-looking woods, lots of white and tan tones, and some natural elements in this space.
This is the general vibe I want while not spending too much on the space.
To Do List:
- Add window privacy
- Paint the walls
- Change the light and mirror
- Remove the towel bar and put hooks on the opposite side of the bathroom
- Add functional shelving over the toilet
- Organize my under sink storage
That doesn’t seem insurmountable, does it?
Do you ever get in a reading funk? There are some times I just get bored with a series or a writing style or can’t handle escapism fiction or another nonfiction book. I graduated with an English minor and remember needing a reset after college but now I fear I’ve veered too far off course yet again.
Enter the #BustleReads Challenge. It’s just 20 books across a variety of categories so you can choose what fits your personality while reading more diverse books. I’m more than halfway through the challenge and I thought I’d give a preview of what I’ve been reading.
The writing style of this book is unlike others I’ve read but it really drew me in. I recognize it’s a translation and I’m not sure if I gained or lost something in translation but I found the writing style enhanced my reading of the plot. At times I found the plot confusing jumping between times but in the end I think it served a purpose. The book covers a transition to adulthood from adolescence in a quick way physically but it takes the long way round on the emotional shift. The book made me think about my own friendships and how they drift apart and how sometimes you’re not fully ready to move on. I think the bigger lesson about emotional availability and being tied to the past made me question if it’s worth it to dwell in the past or more important to process it and move on. The writing was nice, the plot at times a little confusing, but it was the kind of book I couldn’t stop thinking about when I put it down each night. 4/5 stars
2. Read a Young Adult Book by an Author of Color:
I’m not typically into contemporary young adult romances but I read this book as part of a reading challenge and found myself pleasantly surprised. At times I found the characters a little immature but it’s a young adult book so my expectations are adjusted accordingly. I liked Jenny Han’s attempt at discussing culture and the connections with it but at times they fell a little short. I think the part of this book that surprised me was that it was a romance but the real love story involved that of a family. The book is fun and a little whimsical while bringing back some nostalgia. 3.5/5 stars
3. Read a Work of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction Written by a Woman:
This wasn’t so much a post-apocalyptic book as it was a tale of those before and those after. I felt the idea of basing these stories around one man’s life made the book far richer. Tie in the other media references like King Lear and “Survival is insufficient” and you realize how rich the text really is. You can survive a crisis but you must learn how to live again and how to go on and this book isn’t afraid to touch the many ways people respond in crisis. I tend to only read post-apocalyptic fiction written by women (as opposed to men) so this book felt similar in tone to the others I’ve read. 4.5/5 stars
4. Read a Book About an Indigenous Culture:
I was very emotionally invested in this book nearly from the beginning. I feel like it’s the kind of book I would have been forced to read in school and hated but reading it now with the knowledge I’ve gained since school really enhanced the experience. This is a good book, a little preachy at times, and kids in school might hate that. As an adult who has read other works by Sherman Alexie, I enjoyed it and could connect it to other writings I’ve enjoyed. I felt like it really covered the feeling of being immersed in the Native American culture and what it meant to the narrator. 3.5/5 stars
5. Read a Book Before You See the Movie:
I went into this book thinking it was just a book about a serial killer and came out realizing this was almost 2 books in one. The book is very heavily focused on the 1893 World’s Fair and Larson managed to splice in the stories about H.H. Holmes in a very informative way. Unfortunately I felt like the storylines were too separate and didn’t parallel as I had hoped once I got into the concept. It was still intriguing and well informed but unfortunately I wanted more. This book was optioned for a movie but still very early in pre-production so I may have jumped the gun in reading it for this challenge. 3/5 stars
I’ve been trying to add some cosmetic updates to my bathrooms lately. One of the key changes each bathroom needed was a glamorous mirror that could fit the space.
Bathroom A needed some bling and shine. I immediately liked the Fenestra Mirror from Z Gallerie but at $349 I wasn’t going to be buying it. Luckily the Braden Petite Wall Mirror looked nearly identical (only ½” max dimension difference) but was at least $100 cheaper. Right now you can find versions at Wayfair or Shades of Light.
Fenetra Mirror – Z Gallerie | $349
TIP: Always check sites like Joss & Main, Bellacor, and Wayfair regularly. Items come and go as inventory allows. I managed to have some patience, saw it appear on Joss & Main and paired it with some free shipping and a $5 credit and paid $150 for the mirror. It went out of stock soon after so always be on the hunt!
Well, 2015’s reading list didn’t go quite as I planned. My goal was to catch up on some series so I could move on and try some new authors. I do some of my best reading on my lunch break but I tend to get interrupted so I read some fluff books then and some new ones on the weekend.
Despite the repetitiveness, there were some standout books I read in 2015.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
This was such a tough book to choose because I read it immediately after the partner book by Kate Atkinson, Life After Life. Without spoiling too much, Life After Life is the tale of one woman and her Groundhog Day-like reality but set during WWII and a big family that you’ll fall in love with. A God in Ruins is the story of one of the family members and how his life goes after the danger of WWII has passed but without life necessarily getting any easier. I really liked Life After Life with its touch of mystery and magic but A God in Ruins manages to have some magic and more reality too.
In The Woods by Tana French
There’s something you should know about me: I like mystery, crime, and all things Ireland + Scotland + England. This book ties to much of that together. I avoided Tana French because I did not need to start another series and I knew she had one called “The Dublin Murder Squad” which sounded a bit too cheesy for me. In The Woods had me hooked by the end of the first chapter. It had an unresolved mystery immediately and then jumps into the present solving a current mystery. It gets deep and gritty and doesn’t stop along the way. It was so hard to pick a Tana French book I liked best but this is the one that starts them all.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
I think this is the most out there book I’ve recommended and also one I couldn’t put down. The book starts with a family history for you can’t appreciate the main character(s) without knowing the women behind them. It’s not a spoiler to tell you Ava Lavender was born with the wings of a bird and obviously that makes her different. What surprised me is how much that didn’t matter. This book was a fairy tale of a different kind full of the ugly parts of the world and the most beautiful.
I know most of the internet loves fall but it’s one of my least favorite seasons. It’s a reminder that winter is coming, that the days are growing shorter, and soon I’ll be trapped inside trying to avoid the cold. There are some nice things about fall: I can convince my husband that I should buy new clothes, I can stock up on seasonal teas and coffees, I can read lots of books curled up under blankets, and it’s the perfect hiking season.
To help me survive the transition, I’m always looking for meals that are warm, filling, and full of comfort. This meal does just that. The Beef Bourguignon doesn’t take as much time as Julia Child’s and dare I say, it tastes just as good if not better.
A good beef meal for me pairs well with mashed potatoes and these get that nice sweet and savory flavor you can only get from roasting the garlic first. I followed an Alton Brown recipe and you can’t go wrong with that. Try his potatoes with Beef Bourguignon or on Thanksgiving and you’ll be a happy camper.
The recipe itself calls for a red wine and you should be sure to drink some too. I opted for a Pinot Noir (Line 39, 2013) and it was perfect with the dish and still under $10.
- 2-3 pounds boneless beef (I used a mix of shoulder chuck and beef stew meat)
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 tsp. roughly ground black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 4 ounces bacon, chopped
- 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 2 cups pearl frozen onions
- 2 cups mushrooms, quartered (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Take a large bowl and fill with the red wine, olive oil, onion, carrot, celery, garlic clove, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, and peppercorns. Stir to combine.
- Cut your beef into 2-inch cubes. Add in the beef to the red wine marinade. Cover beef completely with red wine marinade and marinate from 1 to 24 hours tightly covered in the fridge. Rotate the meat every 6-8 hours.
- After marinading, remove the beef to a plate and pat thoroughly dry.
- Strain the marinade into a bowl, separating the liquid and vegetables but reserving both.
- Heat a large dutch oven to medium high heat. Brown the bacon and remove, leaving the fat behind (about 2 tbsp).
- Brown the beef in batches in the bacon fat, transfer the browned pieces back to the plate.
- Cook the vegetables in the bacon fat and fond until softened and browned, about 5 minutes.
- Add the flour to the vegetable mix and cook another minute until browning. Stir in the reserved marinade. Add the beef and bacon to the dutch oven and pour the pearl onions on top. Bring the dish to a boil.
- After boiling for a minute, reduce the heat to low and cook covered for about an hour or until beef is fork tender.
- After an hour, add the mushrooms if using. Cook an additional 20 minutes, covered.
- Skim any fat on the surface and remove the bay leaf. Add chopped parsley and additional salt or pepper to taste.
It’s finally fall! I have some upcoming work projects keeping me busy, some DIY I have to start on, and a week off of work finally scheduled. September was almost as busy as this month.
There’s a new restaurant in St. Louis that keeps getting all the buzz. Southern has hot chicken and soul food sides. There’s almost always a line out the door but I got out of work early just before Labor Day weekend and managed to get some of that spicy food. Sadly the mac & cheese was already gone but the mashed potatoes won me over as did the greens. They serve banana pudding here but sadly I didn’t have space. I’ll just have to stop by again.
September had the second from last Food Truck Friday. I had some more Seoul Taco (my husband and I are addicted!) and went to the storefront version again on the weekend. We rounded out the meal with some seasonal cupcakes.
The husband and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary this month. We went to The Restaurant at The Cheshire. I went a little crazy and got a prime rib and yorkshire pudding. Totally worth it. The pork belly appetizer is to die for. Seriously, pork belly is my new obsession.
I went to my first music festival. Loufest 2015 was a pretty fun time and with beautiful weather I couldn’t have planned a better way to spend time other than listening to music in Forest Park. Next year though I would love to see more women artists but I enjoyed what I did hear and have to say that Pokey LaFarge was one of my favorite sets of the weekend.
I made it to a Cardinals day game with the husband. We even got to see a win on our afternoon off work.
Anyone read Tana French? I started the Dublin Murder Squad books in September and fell in love with the series. In the Woods and The Likeness were both original and yet familiar to me and the writing style was beautiful. There’s mystery, relationships, and intrigue.
My husband nearly gave me a heart attack hanging this sign but we finally have our first piece up on the brick gallery wall. I’m going with a rustic travel vibe here so my maps will go on this wall too.
My IKEA trip got me planning the guest bedroom/studio. Sometimes I have trouble seeing the purpose of a space. Do I design for myself or for guests? Do I go with something that matches the rest of the house or a space that has its own personality? How often will people really sleep over at my house? I am debating bed v. daybed v. no bed. I’m debating nearly built in shelves from a store v. finding the right vintage pieces v. making my own look no matter the source. I’m debating pink, gold, green, blue, gray, and white. I have some firmer ideas but it’s hard to know where to go.
In an effort to make progress on the guest room/studio, I started cleaning it out. The space has been holding doors from other rooms, a bed no one will ever use, a dog and her crate, all the clothes that can’t fit in our real closet, all the art we don’t have frames for, and all the boxes of craft supplies and books that aren’t in the office. Since our office makeover comes first, I have to clear out space here to fit the office gear. So far I’ve managed to bundle 3 bags for donating and another bag to be discarded but it’s barely a dent. I go back in soon.
On the Web
Overdue for a vacation? I know I am. Here’s what happens when you don’t get away.
Doctor Who is back! Here’s one list ranking every Doctor Who from best to worst. I’ve only seen doctors 1, 9, 10, 11, and 12 (and the War Doctor) so I can’t compare them all.
My neighborhood is being overrun by squirrels. They’ve taunted us, one touched my ankle, and one may have left pizza in another neighbor’s tires. My friend Bethany shared this gallery of squirrels and their pizza when I shared my theories of a squirrel mafia.
We’re trying out our weekend hiking routine we like to do most falls. There’s something about a car ride, a hike with the dog, an outdoor picnic, then back home to curl up and nap on the couch, followed by dinner from the crockpot. This might be why I’m not making progress on the rest of the house. October will be our first month (and spoiler alert: we already did one) but I’m open to some good trails that you might like. 2-6 miles is our target and within 2 hours of St. Louis, give or take.
My curly girls will understand: I did 2 days of an outdoor music festival and my hair didn’t frizz or get out of control. I’ve been using Davines Love line and it is amazing. Pair it with some squish to condish technique and plopping and my curls aren’t going anywhere.
With my overflow closet getting cleaned out, I am doing the unthinkable and inventorying my closet. What’s the oldest shirt you still wear regularly? Not just some T-shirt from a concert or something you wear to clean in but rather something you still keep in your rotation? I have several pieces from 2009 and 2010 that still make appearances. It makes me think about fast fashion and buying lasting pieces. When you’re like me and deal with career changes and weight changes, it can be twice as hard. What brands do you find you can trust to last year after year?
On Wednesday, September 30, the 41st Ikea store will open in St. Louis. Residents can begin lining up on Monday morning but today I managed to get a first look at the brand new store as part of their Ikea Friends and Family Preview Day.
The place was packed for a preview day. As soon as we got inside workers were cheering, handing out bags, maps, anything you could possibly need.
For me on this shopping day, I wanted to mostly stake out the store layout and some new pieces. I work only a block away from the new Ikea so once the fuss dies down I can pop over on my lunch break and grab what I need.
One of my favorite things about Ikea are the room displays. I love seeing wonderful ideas on how to use the products and how to think of new ways to enhance my home.
I also really enjoy all the household items you can purchase from Ikea. I needed some cheap but sturdy dishes for my 3rd floor kitchen and found them for under $1 each. I found lots of office organizing gear, and even plants, both real and fake.
I also really appreciated that Ikea had some special nods to St. Louis in its new store here. They had an exclusive STL piece of art.
The Ikea food court also overlooked some great parts of the growing Midtown/CORTEX area including my workplace, the SLU campus, and the Cathedral Basilica. Speaking of the food court…
I brought along some guests with me for the big event and we all enjoyed some Swedish meatballs before hitting the lower level. I even ran into someone from my office building there and I have a feeling with the $1 breakfasts it won’t be the last time.
When we had enough (aka we hit the time limit for our pass), we went to the checkout. This massive place has a lot of lanes and they are ready for you.
Considering how stressful it must have been, the cashiers were calm, collected, and friendly. Having worked in retail I was seriously impressed and grateful.
After the checkout area you have a chance to buy some snacks or freezer items to take home with you. Those cinnamon rolls are so good despite not being as famous as the meatballs. If you have a long drive back to the suburbs, be sure to grab a snack for the road.
I’m thrilled St. Louis got an Ikea right in the heart of a growing area of the city. They aren’t necessarily a local store but they are investing in the community and I’m already investing in them with my purchases from today.
See more photos from my preview day over on my Facebook page!
I’ve told you I’ve moved but I never did a farewell post to my first house. This house means a lot to me, even though it also drove me crazy at times. My husband bought this house when he was still my boyfriend, I was in college and had just finished chemotherapy. He bought it in 2006, I moved in during the fall of 2007 the day after our wedding, and we moved out just before Christmas in 2014. I lived in this house when there was no kitchen, when we had no bathroom doors and had to cross those delicate boundaries, through cars that drove into the yard and into trees (but thankfully never the house), through getting our first dog, through a break in, and through our learning curve as DIYers.
This house was built in the early 1940s by my husband’s great aunt and uncle. My husband bought it from his great aunt before she died, and now another family member has bought it from us. Because it stayed in the family, we were able to have a simple transaction and the family member was very flexible while we had our infinite house hunting process. Additionally, the relative assured us he wanted to change things like paint colors so he didn’t require us to touch up before we moved. Nice guy, huh? So while I’m not proud of how every room looks here, I can tell you that there’s now a Blues shrine in the space we used as the office and that room seems to get a lot of love. Here’s a shot of the room before we moved in and when we moved out.
And again with the dining room
Here’s a glance at the living room:
The bathroom ended up changing places in the house, hence the major redesign. Here’s what we started with:
And here’s what we ended with:
We had a can of paint ready to go for this room and thankfully the new homeowner has already painted it in a color of his choice. This room was our test room for yellow and we ended up finding the perfect color and putting it in the kitchen. This picture is the last trace of our failed experiments.
That kitchen was really my favorite part of the house. It came out looking so good and while I love my new one, there’s a sense of pride that comes from planning and designing a space of your own.
I’m leaving out the bedrooms and some older exterior shots on this tour to protect our privacy and the new homeowner’s as well. I always thought this house had so much potential and while we found some of it, I know that the new owner will find even more.