Every year I try to feature the best books I read in a year (See 2012 and 2013’s choices). In 2013 my goal for #30before30 was to read 50 books one last time. I didn’t want to read that many in 2014 so I set a goal of 12. It might seem strange to cut back on reading but sometimes I find a book to be a good excuse not to do something else. Same with my laptop. It’s easy to get sucked away and look up hours later and realize I didn’t fold the towels or swap out the cabinets like I planned. Books are safe and easy and that’s why I love them and need to protect myself from them.
That being said, I still read 33 books last year. Oops. To be fair, I blame lunch breaks at my new job. There’s a ton of construction and no other workers who eat in my lunch space so it’s usually just me, a bowl of soup, and a book for an hour a day. I think that’s a safe way to do it. Read at lunch, read before bed, and take one devoted block of time a week to read. If I can stick to that routine I can read however many pages I can comprehend. Now, onto my favorites from 2014.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My favorite book of the year was Wild. I knew the movie was due out and I loved Bill Bryson’s take on the Appalachian Trail so why not try a read of the Pacific Crest Trail? I figured the book would be a spoiled rich girl getting her ass handed to her by nature and I’m glad to report it was so much more than that. I think a book about grief, loss, coming to terms with bad shit, failures and successes, and bad choices not defining a person as a whole are all lessons worth reading. I read this book at a time where I really did just want to run away from it all and it both encouraged and discouraged me in ways I needed.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
I hesitate to define this book in any way. It reaches out to young adults but reads more like adult fiction. It’s contemporary and set in the past, literary and choppy, spiritual and in search of justice. The book covers a horrible event for the main character’s family and how the events around it begin to define himself as he comes of age. Throw in issues like tribal history, an unfamiliar belief system, justice in a world biased against your people, and how we define friendship and family and this book is far more reaching than an after-school special.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
This book had some holes and some flaws at times but I can’t overlook how captivated I was in my reading of this. I really don’t know how I ate or slept as I read this. Picking it up sucked me in and putting it down just left my brain to dwell on murder and mystery. I haven’t found a lot of books like this one, when considering plot or drama factor. The book covers a girl attempting to solve her own attempted murder and she discovers the impossible is possible.
In Death/Eve Dallas Series by J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts
Worthy of an honorable mention are the In Death books written by Nora Roberts under a pen name. The books follow Lieutenant Eve Dallas as she fights crime in the future. It’s not so far into the future that the technology is unbelievable and the characters she works with are a fun group of personalities. The book series is a good twist on the usual Law & Order style while still sticking to a formula. If you need some fluff books or palette cleansers between your next read, these insert perfectly. I’ve read about a dozen over the last year and enjoyed myself while doing so.
There’s one room in the first floor I didn’t give you much of a chance to see– the pantry. When we first toured the house the pantry was a mess and I was convinced I wouldn’t have the same problem.
The one on the left is from the old owners and the one on the right is two days after I moved in. Try as I might I could not unpack my last 4 boxes of food. It made making dinner difficult when I couldn’t find most items and I’ll admit I was looking for an excuse to try some of the new neighborhood restaurants. After trying a Thai place, a hot dog place, a diner, and getting a little sick of food out I knew I had to address this problem sooner than later.
The pantry is about 8 feet tall and only had 3 shelves. The shelves were sagging and when we took them out of the wall it turned out most weren’t even anchored correctly. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
I had been waiting for the big Elfa sale that the Container Store holds each January. You get 30% off all Elfa parts including installation if you aren’t a DIY kind of person. I was hesitant to buy a system like Elfa when I thought just one or two parts might work and we could custom build something but I figured we needed to start cooking ASAP and this was supposed to be a quick process.
My husband and I got to the Container Store nice and early and got the last spot before having to wait in a queue. Show up with dimensions of everything, from height to width to the depth of your doorframe. The associate helping us did a quick glance at the measurements and then walked us to some displays to talk about our likes and our needs. My top priority involved spice racks, shelving, and dog food storage. My husband wanted to make sure he could find what the recipes I leave him call for and wanted the platinum shelving over the white. After saying yay or nay to certain details, the associate told us to browse the store while she spent 20 or so minutes making a design. When she finished, she found us and had us look it over. This is usually the point where you can make changes but we were sold on the design. She double checked wood colors with us but it was so on target that we were able to hand over our credit card immediately.
There’s a lot of perks going through the Container Store for your design. One is that they assemble all the items you need for the install and you can pick them up same day or at a later date. We had enough time to go grab lunch and when we came back they walked everything to our car in bags and wrapped up. The other perk is that your Container Store account logs everything you bought, the design made for you, video tutorials, and even the custom instructions for install in case you lose your other set.
Here’s the sketches our designer was able to create for us:
Installation was really easy. I think we drilled in about 10-15 total holes and everything just hangs from the top racks. Here’s the completed look:
Here’s another look without any food in it
There’s still some adjusting I plan to do. The glass storage containers used to be on the counter or in my lazy susan and now all the labels can’t be seen in the pantry. I plan to swap in some different containers as I find items on sale or as the old containers run out. I also might still adjust what I store on the shelf above the dog food storage since it can fit my Kitchenaid mixer in there and that might be a better use of the space. While I figure out those little details, I can keep appreciating the details of the new look.
The shelves have plastic on top of them so nothing can fall through and so I can quickly clean the shelves if something spills.
Those shelves on either side hold soooo much. The ones on the left fit tall bottles or wider containers and the ones on the right hold all those spices I have and the skinny bottles for cooking.
And those drawers, man I wasn’t sure about them. I thought they might not hold enough but I was surprised. You can customize the size of your drawer so in my setup you see a 1-drawer at the top, 3 of the 2-drawers, and on the bottom is a 3-drawer. The top one holds kitchen rags and towels, the next one can fit boxes of rice, breadcrumbs, and chicken broths. The next one holds all our snack foods like applesauce and granola bars while the one below holds all my baking supplies. The bottom one fits all the trash bags, napkins, and paper towels. There’s also enough space between the drawers and the wall that we can fit a step ladder so we can reach all the things tucked at the top like crackers and my cake carrying cases.
Right now I’m trying to budget one expense a month to making over the house and the Elfa pantry was our January project. December’s expense was a sectional that should be arriving any day now, hopefully before I finish the tour. Now that it’s February I’m trying to figure out what to prioritize. Do I get a rug and chair to finish off the third floor? Do I build some shelves and finish off 3 of the bathrooms? I’m really itching to have some part of the house complete so it’ll likely be one of those two options but if there’s a sale somewhere all bets are off.
My new house is located in the Tower Grove East neighborhood of St. Louis City. I didn’t even know about the neighborhood until late 2013/early 2014 when I started scouting future neighborhoods. I’ll include a neighborhood description in a later post, preferably after it gets warmer and I can start taking longer walks.
The new house is 3 stories tall and was built in 1899 as a 2-family home. I’ve been compiling a house history too so expect a history lesson at some point too. In 2012 it was combined into a single family home. We bought it from the buyers who took it over after that renovation was complete.
Since the house is a little overwhelming, I want to break down some of the house tour by floor. It’s easy to get lost in the layout so here’s the basic map of the first floor:
It’s a long and skinny room that’s wide open. I tend to hate open floor plans and when I first walked into this house back in July (5 months before we closed but yet another story for another day) I remember saying “Why did we pick this house again?” which was a little harsh. This house is pretty cool on the first floor but every floor just gets cooler. It just so happens that the first floor is super intimidating from a decorating standpoint. I have many ideas and yet none at all. If you have ideas as you look through the pictures, please oh please scream them out.
This is a shot from the front end of the house looking straight to the back.
And now looking from the back door to the front entry. There’s a lot of square footage in between so I’ll show you some of that too.
One of the coolest things in the living room is the fireplace. This is the best maintained one in the home and one of the best I saw in all my house hunting. That cool design on the front of it is hand painted and all of this tile is original. I’m fairly certain the exterior color scheme is based around the colors here.
The kitchen is bigger than my last one but has fewer cabinets. You’ll see why that’s not a problem in another minute. What I really love about this kitchen is all the arches. It’s St Louis so you have to have some arches here. The door on the left here is a pantry. At my last house I had a floor-to-ceiling cabinet that functioned as a pantry so I was excited to have something bigger than that when I got here. I’ll post a pantry makeover soon since that’s one of the first projects I did. Next on my task list has to be drawer pulls since opening each drawer takes two hands right now and I can’t do that while cooking.
See why I don’t mind fewer kitchen cabinets? I have even more in my dining room in the wine bar. Or coffee bar. Or tea bar. Or brunch bar. I’m clearly undecided, though wine bar is probably a certainty with the built in wine glass storage and wine fridge.
That door to the left up there goes to the basement. To the right of the wine bar is a door to a powder room. Ordinarily I would assume you all know what a bathroom looks like but I do want to show off at least one neat thing about it.
Okay, that’s two things. The bathroom and many other rooms have functional transom windows. We tend to keep the powder room one closed because well, you know but even our front and back doors have the transom window feature. I’m also really into the vessel sink in this bathroom. It’s not usually my thing but somehow it just works in here.
There’s just so many features like that in this house. There’s original flooring refinished, 5 panel doors, transom windows, dental trim, 12-foot ceilings, 10-inch baseboards, original fireplaces, and all that exposed brick that appears on every floor of the house. Sure there’s growing pains after a move but this house has so many beautiful things that I’m willing to look past it.
If you told me on January 1, 2014 what my life would be like on December 31, 2014 it would be unlikely I would have believed you. On January 1 I had a job that I felt like was finally going in the right direction, working in a historic district just off the same street my great great grandfather worked. I was making a dent in saving money and thinking about traveling to South America (and banking vacation days). I was going to the gym for weight lifting and pilates classes to help stay fit and mentally fit at the same time. I lived in a cozy house in a semi-rural area about 30 minutes away from work and I cooked dinner most nights.
Today I work for a new employer who seems to reward and recognize my contributions. I work out of one of the fastest growing areas in St. Louis that didn’t even exist about a decade ago. I stopped going to the gym when my commute became over 2 hours a day and found myself feeling miserable while my husband took over the kitchen duties and turned out to be an amazing cook. I’ve also moved into a 3-story city home built over 100 years ago right in the heart of St. Louis City. And my husband is still cooking dinner even though my commute is half that of what it was on January 1.
I’ve gone through some major changes this year and not everything was great. Most of it was terrifying. But sitting here on December 31 with the family I love in my new house on New Year’s Eve, I feel full of hope. 2015 will be a better year and I’m in a great place to enjoy it, physically and mentally.
There are so many things I’m thankful for from this year that I really should mention them:
- My parents: my dad was my real estate agent and for months and months he drove into the city, he and my mom became experts in city housing, the market, the crying phone calls when we lost a house, and they even didn’t freak out when we chose to live in a city that the media made look like a war zone
- My employer (the new one): I can’t even begin to describe how incredulous I am when they do something that recognizes the work I do. It’s so humbling and while I took a chance on them, they took a chance on me when I needed it most.
- My employer (the old one): In a way they gave me the shove I needed when I got so depressed that I really felt I wasn’t worth it. It’s hard to leave something safe but some of the people I met there changed my life.
- My girls: Speaking of those people, I cannot believe the three lovely ladies that I’ve grown so close to over the past year. I only met one in 2012 and the others in 2013 and now every month I see them and enjoy drinks or pancakes and they still love me even though I quit working on their team. These girls loved me enough to tell me to get the heck out and that’s friendship.
- My dog: What a patient little demon!
- My husband: Words cannot express how grateful I am to him. Daniel has stepped up to run the entire household while I commuted or cried over bad days and he did it while having his own job and troubles. I know that’s marriage but year 7 was filled with work chaos, house chaos, and not having time for each other. When I log off here I’ll spend the rest of the night with him because he really is the best person I know, even though he’ll deny it.
Here’s a preview of the house and I’ll share more of it with you in 2015.
Enjoy your farewell to 2014 and I’ll see you next year!
I’ve been having a bit of a time getting into the Christmas spirit for reasons that will soon be clear. I did make a few attempts to get in the mood though.
One of my 30before30 goals was to adopt a family for Christmas. I had no idea how hard this would be. I work for a satellite location of my main employer so I couldn’t easily join their program, my church wouldn’t be doing theirs until far too late for me to be prepared, and when I called the country social services program they were all out before the middle of November. That’s an amazing thing for all those families but I knew there still had to be a market. I managed to find one via my last employer’s giving tree, getting a mom and her daughter. I made sure to get them everything on their list and threw in a few extra holiday treats and gift cards so they can do some extra shopping too. It was an easy project but one that did make a difference.
The other way I got into the holiday spirit was by going on my last date night of the year. Another of my 30before30 goals was to go on a monthly date night for all of 2014. Date night had to be a meal + an activity. Can I just say I chose the absolute worst year for such a goal? (Don’t even get me started on the goal for Peru…) I had my job go from decent to destructive, I got a new job, had to start a new satellite office for my employer, my husband’s job took up a lot of his time, I stopped working out, my commute doubled/tripled, someone hit my car, a beloved high school teacher of mine passed away from cancer which sent me on a minor freakout, I decided to buy a house in January and spent all year looking, and decided to sell my own home. I don’t mean to say that my year was a bad one but it was unnecessarily stressful and I really just want to move on to 2015 and all its potential. Date nights for this year were hard due to scheduling, snow, stress, and at times being a little unhappy with where things stood in life. That’s probably why I wanted the date nights more than ever but there were moments when trying to grab a meal and a movie seemed like the most painful experience in the world.
Thankfully our December date night was a much better ending to the series. All those issues from before were over. My husband and I decided to take some time off work so this past weekend didn’t have work looming over us. We took my parents out to the Lafayette Square Holiday Parlor Tour in St. Louis. Lafayette Square is an old historic neighborhood in one part of the city. It was hit by a tornado years ago and parts of the neighborhood fell into decay while others aged and needed improvement. Starting in the 1980s the neighborhood improvement picked up the pace and they started renovating what could be fixed and doing matching infill to keep up the historic charm of the neighborhood. Now upscale bars, small businesses, art galleries, and brunch spots have moved in. When you see bad things about St. Louis on the news, know that the city and county are huge places and there are so many great things here.
A few times a year homes open their doors for tours. It’s a great chance to see how people have improved their homes, their antique decor, or just their fun touches on the houses.
After making it to most of the homes we jumped to the county for a meal at Pastaria. Pastaria is run by one of the top chefs in STL and the country, Gerard Craft. Pastaria isn’t one of those snooty kinds of places though. You can get pizza, pasta, and gelato and go home happy. The gelato is always a fun experience. Last time I went I got a salted caramel. This time I ended up with a blackened carrot while my parents ended up with a parsnip one. You just never know what you’ll get except you’ll be stuffed when you leave.
Date nights ended on a good note. I hope in 2015 we can keep making our best attempts to go on date nights and they can be a bit more spontaneous and convenient.
I mentioned in my last post that I am obsessed with Serial. Really, I’ve become obsessed with podcasts as a form of entertainment. I drive over an hour each way to work and sometimes my commute turns into 3-hours round trip. It’s all temporary but my sanity was slipping listening to talk radio. My mind wanders too much right now for audio books so I decided short blurbs of topical programming would be a good form of entertainment.
If you have an iPhone, iTunes is set up to catch and download most programs. It’s really easy.
For me, I have an Android phone and tested out a few apps before settling on Podcast Republic. I like the interface and love that it has some car-friendly options.
Finding out what kind of programming you like is a lot of trial and error. There were some programs I wanted to like but didn’t. Just sample and dabble in what’s out there. Some of my favorites:
This one got its own post but really, if you like crime, True Detective, mysteries, or the #1 podcast in America then start with Serial. Start from the beginning and try not to binge listen (but you won’t be able to avoid it).
Radiolab was the first podcast I’ve listened to. While not without controversy, most episodes touch on scientific topics but it also includes philosophy and individual narratives. Colors is a beautiful episode to start with.
This American Life seems to be a classic for most people. Interestingly I worked for a man featured on TAL this past year. Serial is actually a spinoff of TAL. Think of this show as a glimpse of other people’s lives. A set of favorites include Harper High School part 1 and part 2.
What sounds more boring than a show about finances and the economy? Trust me, I took 4 econ classes in college and hated them all. Planet Money is different. It’s educating while not being boring and helps to discuss all those things you wish the news told you about. This show is a sister program to This American Life as well. When Women Stopped Coding was a recent episode that I loved.
Pop Culture Happy Hour is the perfect palette cleanser. You get a good discussion of something in pop culture, often looked at from outside-the-box ideologies. Then you get a laundry list of what is making the hosts happy. The name of the show really says it all. I’m often inspired to consume new media or look at what I’m consuming in a new way. It’s best to listen to the current ones but I’ll always recommend It’s That Time of Year so Get Ready for the Bells for its epic rant and devotion to the heat and snow misers.
Honorable Mentions: I’m still digesting some of these but I’ll say that Pitch, Criminal, and 99% Invisible have all joined my regular rotation. While I love NPR podcasts these all deserve the love too.
Are you listening to podcasts? What shows am I missing?
If you had told me a year ago that every Thursday morning I would wake up early just to download a public radio production, I would have laughed at you. Snorted really. I am the opposite of a morning person. I’ve been known to stay up late even just to sleep through mornings so I don’t have to live through them.
So what’s changed? Serial. It’s my new obsession and it’s likely infiltrated your life in some way. It’s one story told week-by-week and a spin-off of This American Life (TAL). I was never that into TAL but I had just downloaded a new app for listening to podcasts and downloaded a new episode called “The Alibi” the first week of October. 53 minutes later and I was hooked. There was no turning back.
Serial comes out each Thursday morning. The first episode spells out the premise: in January 1999 a teenage girl named Hae Min Lee disappears. Six weeks later her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, is arrested. He’s convicted and sentenced to life in prison. It should seem open and shut but it isn’t thanks to issues like a witness changing stories, alibis not fleshed out, emerging technologies, confirmation bias, how our court systems work, and that sometimes the justice system isn’t about justice.
The host, Sarah Koenig, does a wonderful job of focusing each week on a niche of the investigation, the disappearance, teenage interactions, the trial, and the resulting prison sentence. This past week she had us focus on the victim, Hae, and what she was like. She wasn’t always a murder victim and she had so many people who loved her and cared about her. Then Koenig focused on Adnan and what he’s like now and I realized that I want justice for both of them, even if I don’t know what that is.
So today I’ll sit in my car and drive into work listening for another week and learning more about the case and myself. I’ll hear the haunting theme music that sends shivers down my spine and I’ll continue to let Koenig weave her story and maybe I’ll learn something more about the case or just myself.
I’ve learned some things in my work for the legal system. I’ve learned people can be bad people and do bad things, I’ve learned people can be good people and do bad things. I’ve learned not all cops, attorneys, and judges are interested in doing what is right but rather what is easy. I’ve learned victims can be hard to sympathize with as they lash out in anger. I’ve learned money can buy a certain amount of influence. I’ve learned that the general public often knows nothing about how the system works.
What I’ve really learned is that the justice system isn’t really about justice and every group of people has outliers. We shouldn’t need the law to tell us how we should treat each other in this world, whether it is with our deeds or with our words. There’s also no shame in remembering that today when I see acts of violence in my city and words of hatred on my news feed. I try to tell myself these are good people doing hateful things because these are people I felt were my friends saying awful things or these are people who are my community acting out in violence. I want to believe in the good in people and yet I wonder how many people I feel I’m giving the benefit of the doubt I’m really just excusing.
There are 3 neighborhoods in St. Louis that were touched by the reaction to Ferguson. One was guarded and protected by police and the National Guard. One was given a chance to protest peacefully and had law enforcement step in when needed. Another was allowed to burn. It’s a perfect embodiment of our community divided in St. Louis and how easy it can be to look the other way.
There is no simple answer to describe what is happening in Ferguson and anyone who tries to give you one is ignorant of the entire situation. People are angry about many things. People are scared about many things. People are sad about many things. I don’t think St. Louis is alone in feeling that way. I woke up today deciding I can let those worries control me or I can keep working to bring about positive change in my community. I hope I don’t let me down.
On May 23, 2014, I put in my notice at my last job. The good news is, I didn’t just join the unemployment lines. I had a job offer waiting for me that’s a little outside of my usual expertise but encompasses a lot of the finer points of my background. I don’t know where this job will lead me but I definitely reached that “next stage of my career” distinction that I required for my 30before30 list. Honestly, without setting that goal I don’t know if I would have had the courage to even apply for the job let alone take it. Don’t be afraid to dream big.
I know that taking this job means I may have to sacrifice other priorities on my list, like a bigger trip or some of my activities that involve free time. It also put my family in a better position and sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Maybe I won’t achieve those dreams before I’m 30 but hopefully I’ll have the courage to keep going for them.
At the end of the day, I may have burned some bridges at my last job. In some ways I’m sorry because so many of the people meant so much to me. On the other hand, people there had stopped believing they deserved to be rewarded for hard work and I think some of the discomfort they felt was seeing the status quo challenged. It hurts my heart that so many people feel trapped for so many reasons and not everyone had the freedom to turn their back on the kind of job that just a few years earlier I had dreamed of. I had to leave so I didn’t feel trapped in my own way. We all have choices and we can all learn from the ones we do (or don’t) make.
Despite what people think of me, I took a big step forward.
Tina Fey had it right all along. I finally finished a cross stitch pattern the same week I left my job. Thanks to plasticlittlecovers for making a design that encompasses my life.
My summer started off completely different than I ever expected and that new job gave way to a decision to move from the country to the city. That’s another very long story though and one that isn’t quite over. I may have to come back to it.
Not only am I overdue in writing a post, I’m overdue in writing this post. Heck, I’m even overdue in completing this project. Let’s back up a bit.
I married my husband, Daniel, back in 2007. Since I know some people like origination stories, I’ll say that I met my husband while I was on the job. At Wal-Mart. Hey, it could be worse – my parents met while shoveling horse poop. After years of dating, we got married and this month we celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. I’ve posted about our 6th anniversary and this year we did the whole copper exchange where we gifted ourselves some nice moscow mule mugs, salt and pepper shakers, and spent a nice date getting pizza and gelato.
One thing I did get accomplished this year was making my wedding shadow box. I had an entire container in my basement holding all those leftover wedding invites, some accessories, and a few other fun objects (including the table numbers featured above).
I had a nice shadow box I’d bought from Home Goods forever ago so I loaded up my hot glue gun and got to work. I started with a gold fabric that had been used on the head table. My dress was a gold/champagne shade and all my jewelry had been gold so I used it as a base. The ribbon on the bottom is a strap from one of the bridesmaid dresses. I did a quick measure and then hot glued it once I’d ironed the fabric out some.
Then I started doing some test placements of my invitations, the program, and my bouquet. I preserved my wedding bouquet in a slightly unusual way – with a rosary. Keepsake Rosaries turned the red roses from my wedding bouquet into a beautiful heirloom rosary.
Another decorative twist I included was a fun way of using the flower petals from our tabletops and the little note that was attached to our jams and honeys we gave out as favors. I just glued until it felt right.
Now getting a picture of the final product has been a bit tricky since our home is in a permanent state of reno. Here’s a picture before I placed it all into the frame.
I wanted to find a way to feature some of the wedding music and verses we had chosen and also some photos from the big day. My other favorite feature is that I was able to include the seal we’d used on our invites, just below the photo of me.
Once I got the frame fitted, I wanted to add some additional three-dimensional elements. In came the tiara from earlier and some more rose petals to add a fuller effect.
That will cross another item off my 30before30 list. Don’t worry, it’s not the only one. I did accomplish one of the biggest items on the list even before I was ready to. More on that later of course.