Like my post from last year, I’m sharing my top books for the year. For 2013, I had the added goal of getting through 50 books for my 30 Before 30 list. Thankfully I got all 50 books in by December 30. This year I’ll scale it back a touch knowing I have some giant books on my “to read” list. You can see my 2013 list in full on Goodreads or follow along in my sidebar for 2014’s progress.
This year I had 9 favorites. When I look at the list most of them seem outside of my comfort zone but they all make the list for the effects they had on me. They almost left me with a sense of melancholy since they aren’t all “fun” but the books were as a whole so beautiful that I want you to know that melancholy is a great thing here. I want a book that makes me feel or makes me think and this year’s favorites all do that.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
This book was a humorous take on Byson’s attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. I came away definitely not wanting to hike the trail but with the goal of wanting to reconnect with nature. I started running again, took up hiking and got myself a bike. I plan to spend 2 of my next trips engaging in hiking.
11/22/63 by Stephen King
I know this one is a little old but with the JFK anniversary this year, I figured why not add it to the list. I’m not the biggest King fan but give me a book about time travel, history, love, and mystery and I can’t put it down. This book left me thinking about paradoxes and marathoning Doctor Who again.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Reading this reminded me of my college dinner and a book class with its discussion of medicine and ethics. Henrietta Lacks and her family were focused on just as much as the legacy of her cells. If you don’t know about Henrietta, there are few people who have made such a dent on science as her. I owe my own life to the discoveries that came with her cells and yet her own family’s suffering continues.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
WWII, best friends, female badasses and the biggest heartbreak of the year all in a young adult book. The book itself is set as a confession at the end of a life and it made me really think about the value of my own life.
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Again with my love of nonfiction microhistories. This one has to do with the spread of cholera in Victorian London. I enjoyed looking at the past through the knowledge of the day and seeing how “knowing” and knowing are two very different things.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
I confess I read 3 of Stiefvater’s books this year and wanted to include them all on this list. The Raven Boys mixes private schools, a reversal on the manic pixie dream girl trope, mystery, fate, death, belief, and family in a crazy plot that will probably make you grab its sequel, The Dream Thieves, as soon as you finish. I read this book and was just engrossed and wanted my life to be that exciting.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The following summary is the exact opposite kind of book I should love based on the description: A teenage boy obsessed with video games and peak Gen-X pop culture tries to solve a mystery that’s unsolvable. What that summary doesn’t tell you is that this is a book about overthrowing the worst of society, reconnecting in an isolationist world, and personal growth. I read 8 books on vacation this year and this was the best of the best. It stuck with me because despite being a futuristic young adult book set with my own past, it applies so much to today’s world.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
This book is on nearly every top books list of the year and it deserves to be. It pairs nicely with Ready Player One. This young adult book deals with pop culture, feeling like an outsider and living life with an overwhelming sense of courage every day. The characters were real enough that I wanted the best for them even when they didn’t always get it because life isn’t fair.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Another book set in the future, this one made me so lonely. The author explains how empty the main character feels in his solitude and it just exudes through the pages into you. While this book left me sobbing at times it gave me so much hope in the end that I couldn’t let this list go without including it.
So my second item off my 30 Before 30 list is actually the first one I accomplished. A week before I turned 28 this kickstarted the entire list. Just before my senior year of high school I bought a used car- my Toyota Camry. I had said in college that I’d replace it when I got my first “real” job. Then the economy tanked. Job after job wasn’t what I would define as “good” for so many reasons but in the end, my current one is when I knew I had found a place. Still, I was hesitant to replace my car. It had lasted for so long and we had seen the world together.
I was determined to see my car to the next milestone. We would hit 250,000 miles together and say goodbye.
At this point I thought I could say goodbye. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to make that choice. My car broke down at 250,000.3 miles. I had to walk home the half mile back to my house. Luckily, I had a backup plan. That same week I’d already bought myself a new car and started on this 30 before 30 adventure.
Say hello to my new car:
If it looks a little familiar, it should since I got another Toyota Camry. This one is a hybrid. We got our first hybrid a year before and loved it and had to get another. In the 18 years that passed between each car being built, there were a few changes. My old Camry was state of the art with power windows and locks but this new one has a few more upgrades.
It was sad to see my old car go but my dad (who owns an auto shop) managed to get it fixed and sold to a new home. I had a great decade plus with my old car and I hope this new one can make me just as happy.
One of my easy 30 before 30 goals was having a real Christmas tree. All this one required was going out and buying a tree and tree stand.
It’s never quite that easy. I also needed new lights since my old little fake one required so very few and then I needed a garland of some kind since I didn’t quite have enough ornaments either and then I needed a tree skirt because I didn’t actually have one before, just some fabric. Other than those little additions, this was quite an easy project.
I love putting up ornaments each year. I have always had a red, silver, and gold theme going on with my husband and then we throw on some old favorites. I’m realizing my ornaments kind of have a monopoly on the tree.
I already had quite a few wrapped gifts waiting to go under here. I’m waiting on a few more to arrive and I still have at least 2 to make. Here’s a little photoshopped up dreamy version of my tree.
Nova still isn’t quite sure what to think of the new tree. My biggest worry is that she will try to sneak a taste at the presents. She has learned how to unwrap gifts on Christmas morning and now seems to think every package just might contain a dog bone. Tough luck puppy, those are all hidden till when Santa Paws arrives.Pin It
Since I’ve been MIA for a while, let me back a few things up and share one of the projects I did start this summer. Right around the time I turned 28 I realized I haven’t been entirely productive in my 20s. My 20s started off with me recovering from surgery to have a port-a-cath installed so I could begin chemo 2 weeks later. By the time I was 23 I had survived cancer, graduated college early, started 2 jobs, gotten married, gotten a dog, and a house. That sounds like a lot but I feel like the momentum slowed a bit after that for some projects.
Now that I’m approaching 30, I realize my 20s are missing 4 key things:
- I haven’t been everywhere in the world. Heaven forbid! But the thing about having health issues so early in my life means I know I don’t have forever so I want to go everywhere while I know I can.
- I still have some growing up to do. It’s easy to see I grew up fast in my early 20s but I’ve had a hard time envisioning a future at times because I was so caught up on the past. I want to push myself to new levels and challenge myself in ways I’ve been slacking at.
- I haven’t finished all those loose ends. I’m the queen of starting but not finishing. Just once I’d like to clear out some of those incomplete projects.
- I need to have some fun. I am constantly the serious one. I have no ability to be spontaneous or overanalyze things. I need to enjoy my 20s before they are gone.
I’ve written down 30 big items I want to do before my deadline of July 29, 2015. I’ll be tracking my progress on the tag #30before30 here on my site and on this post. If you know me in real life and want to volunteer yourself to accomplish a task with me or hold me accountable, I’d owe you forever.
1. Hike Machu Picchu
2. Finish the Missouri 100 Miles Challenge
3. Visit a new state
4. Make a map of my travels
5. Run a 10-minute mile
6. Draft a story
7. Be at the next stage of my career (Completed 5/23/2014)
8. Take a class (Completed 5/20/2015)
9. Finish 50 books in 2013 (Completed 12/30/2013)
10. Adopt a family for Christmas (Completed 11/29/2014)
11. Prepare my future finances
12. Finish my advent calendar
13. Make my wedding shadow box (Completed 2/17/2014)
14. Make a yearbook for each year of marriage
15. Get back to my pre-cancer weight
16. Finish a cross-stitch piece (Completed 6/10/2014)
17. Make my T-shirt quilt
18. Find my MSA list and do an item on it
19. “Finish” the house
20. Redo my websites
21. Go to the City Museum
22. Make a family tree
23. Make a piece of furniture for my home
24. Go skydiving (Completed 7/3/2015)
25. Have a live Christmas tree (Completed 12/6/2013)
26. Go on a monthly date night for all of 2014 (Completed 12/14/2014)
27. Host a themed party (Completed 2/22/2015)
28. Make a paella (Completed 6/23/2015)
29. Buy a new car (Completed 7/22/2013)
30. Get a family photo
My coworker Rachel believes in me. I know this because she supported me when I was just an intern, she supported me when I wanted to come back to work for the place I’m at now and she supported this blog. She gets me and she knew I needed a push to start posting again and sharing my loves. She submitted today’s recipe to me in an effort to help me get my butt in gear and post. I needed this push. This past year has been full of changes: my husband and I each started new jobs, I took up weightlifting, and apparently I became the kind of person who tries insane recipes for the internet’s enjoyment. Let me tell you internet, when Rachel supports you it might mean making something horrifying just to see her reaction.
Today, I became the kind of person who makes stuffing cookies.
The cookies start off kind of normal. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Add your dry ingredients. I stared down the stuffing. “It’s just like oatmeal,” I told myself.
It was only as I poured in the hard dried chunks of stuffing ingredients that I began to really wonder if Rachel was angry about all those meetings where I brought up mundane issues I doubt she cared about. Or maybe she wants tomorrow’s potluck to be one of those events where you don’t know if someone’s food has poisoned you. Life is never boring at our workplace.
Once I got the dried cranberries in there it seemed more like oatmeal cookies would be right on target. The recipe says it makes about 15 but it easily made 2 dozen for me.
Alright, so moment of truth- how did they taste?
I have no clue. I was too afraid to try the cookie dough and now that they are baked I plan to enjoy them with all my lovely coworkers in the spirit of sharing and teamwork, just like Rachel taught me. I’ll update you when I know if they are “complex, subtle and completely surprising (in a great way)” like HuffPo says or if I need to update my resume soon.
Update: They taste good! Everyone who tried them liked them. I’d compare them to an oatmeal raisin cookie. The only troubling part was that I couldn’t tell there was stuffing in them.Pin It
I’ve talked just a little bit on here about how last year I went on a trip to Europe. My husband and I started our trip in Barcelona before embarking on a week long cruise. The entire trip was a blast and I still am reminded of it daily. I’ve been trying to incorporate some of the foods I enjoyed on our trip into our meals here at home. Today’s meal is inspired by one I had in Barcelona. It’s not paella (this time) but it was a twist on a classic.
My husband and I each had a pizza while we were there. Mine was covered in seafood while my husband’s was topped with an egg and prosciutto. He loved his pizza and I wanted to try to make it when we got home. I started with my usual pizza dough and prebaked it for 15 full minutes. When I pulled it out of the oven, I topped it with about 1/3 cup of pizza sauce and some cheese. Then I sprinkled on a heaping amount of prosciutto. Right before I put it back into the oven, I cracked 3 eggs over the top.
I put the pie back into the oven and baked it for another 12 minutes. You’ll want to wait until the egg just barely jiggles upon moving the pan. The egg will keep cooking for a minute or so after you pull it from the oven so don’t keep it in too long.
You might be a little afraid of an egg on a pizza but you can think of it as just one delicious breakfast pizza. We ate ours for dinner but no one has to know.
Barcelona as a whole was such a wonderful city. I’m just sad to say I only really spent about 2 1/4 days there. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
The architecture is beautiful, there are mountains and beaches, forts and concerts, parks and markets. You get the beauty of a coastal city and the excitement of a city that never sleeps (except during a siesta).
You can read about my Barcelona experiences on my travel blog.Pin It
When we last left off, my planters looked like this:
I was making these planters for my mom and my husband’s mom and I wanted each planter to reflect a gift I was giving them with the planter. For my mother-in-law, I had found a ceramic piece highlighting her Irish heritage I wanted to hang from the planter. My husband had some ideas on how to make the planter look perfect for his mom.
We attached spindles to the planter and placed finials on top for a decorative accent. I cut down the edges of a cedar picket with a jigsaw the give the plaque a more decorative look. You can see that I attached the spindles to the base I installed to hold the plants inside.
I then painted the planter white (do not use spray paint, trust me on this) and added a stenciled phrase and a hook. Here’s the final look of the planter we delivered to my mother-in-law:
For my mom, I know she loves hummingbirds and I had luck finding a beautiful garden piece at one of my favorite local shops (The White Hare) with some hummingbirds on it. I wanted to mount it to the planter. I used a deck post and finial and screwed them into the planter base. I found a gorgeous hook at Lowe’s that could support the weight of the feature piece.
Now you might be wondering how these planters can hold plants. You’ll want to have something more than just your 17″ 1x2s in each planter holding them up. I used some garden fabric and a staple gun to make a nice base. Once attached, you can pour your potting soil right in and plant some flowers in the nice sturdy base you’ve just made.
My brother bought my mom the flowers for this planter. Once we had it all together, my mom’s planter looked like this:
These two planters were my first real woodworking project. It was great to know I could build one of the many Ana White plans and even more exciting to see that I was able to make each planter match the personality and decorating style of my mom and my mother-in-law. I’m a little nervous that they will expect me to top this next year though.Pin It
We’re a month out from Mother’s Day but I wanted to share my Mother’s Day gifts with you all. Like many other people online, I love to follow Ana White. I remember following her when she still called her site Knock Off Wood and just showed plans that copied the look from high-end furniture stores. She has since diversified and has plans ranging from basic to advanced, indoor to outdoor. Her plans were always a bit of a dream for me since I’ve never even used a saw. I do own my own sander from my dining room table makeover but that was about as advanced as my woodshop skills were.
Enter the basic cedar planter. Ana’s plans showed they should cost about $20 and the other people implied they only needed a few hours to build. I had a week, a wallet, and all the tools. I decided to build two planters, one for my mom and one for my mother-in-law. Looking back, I wonder what inspired such confidence but I’m glad I thought so highly of myself.
For the project you need:
- 2 – 1×3 @ 8 feet long @ $1.35/board
- 1 – 1×2 @ 8 feet long @ $3.24/board
- 3 – 5 1/2″ wide x 72″ long cedar fence pickets @ $1.97/picket
- 2 – 2×2 @ 4 feet long @ $2.87/post (Ana used 1 2×2 @ 8 feet but these weren’t as easy to find at my store)
- 2 1/2″ exterior pocket hole screws (I had these as part of a kit but they can add cost!)
- 1 1/4″ exterior screws or galvanized nails @ $8.47/box (I used decking screws and had plenty leftover)
- exterior wood glue (Had some leftover from another project)
My supplies ran me about $30/planter but my prices varied from the ones Ana listed so price it out in your area. My supply list also included a bunch of usual tools that you can find listed out on Ana’s site but the key ones you might not have include a Kreg jig and a circular saw.
You’ll want to follow Ana’s cutlist as well. One note, the cedar pickets will have a dog-eared edge used in your planter. This is fine, when assembling just keep the dog-ears pointed towards the ground. Once you have cut everything, make the decision if you want to stain or paint these planters. Staining after the cuts will make it so much easier while you can save painting until it is fully assembled.
Lay down two of your 17″ 1×3 pieces parallel to each other. Space them out the length of your cut fence pickets (17 3/4″). You will want some gaps between the pickets, about a nail’s width wide. When you space everything out the way you like, clamp down the arrangement.
At this point I pre-drilled two holes in each plank, just deep enough that they’d go in the base board to mark their place. Then I’d pull the plank off, glue up the board, and pre-screw each screw into the plank. Then you line the board back into place and fully screw it in. That’s a little wordy so let the pictures below do some more explaining.
Here’s a look at a finished side of the planter. You need to make sure you have 4 of these per planter.
Next up- using a Kreg Jig. This tool allows you to make clean corners when building projects. The depths and screw length are basically determined by the size of wood you are using and a handy chart Kreg provides you. Then you clamp your drill guide to your wood and drill into the drill guide holes.
They leave holes that remind me of deer tracks. Then you drill your Kreg screws into those holes and through the board you are connecting it to. In this case, you’ll be doing the 4′ 2x2s posts.
At this point you want to make one more duplicate side with the 4′ 2×2 posts on the end. You’ll then be left with 2 assembled plank walls and 2 walls with posts attached. Now you need to square up your walls and assemble them so there’s a plank in each corner. This step works best if you have a helper handy. One person keeps the planter square and one person screws in the Kreg screws.
When you finally get that finished you’ll have what looks like an assembled planter. The taste of victory is so close but you still need to make a base for all the pretty plants that will fill the planter. You will want to take your 2 remaining 17″ 1x3s and place them several inches down from the top. I used my square to measure the distance and make sure they were level. Then I attached them in with screws but if you have nails handy those are fine too.
Then to finish the basic planter you’ll take your remaining 17″ 1x2s and lay them across the planks, evenly spaced. I failed to do that because I can’t just follow instructions. Instead of making a basic planter, I wanted each planter customized to each mom. So at the end of phase one, I had two planters that looked like this:
By the end of the next post, you’ll see how I was able to customize them to look like this:Pin It
After a top-secret project, I had about a dozen lemons leftover in my kitchen. What to do?
Enter Taylor Swift and my love of a local spice shop. Olde Town Spice Shoppe in St. Charles, Missouri always has your basic spices and some blends of its own. They also have local Missouri products. Sadly they do not pay me to pitch for them but I used them for wedding favors and for today’s secret ingredient- lavender. They had edible lavender (meaning not chemically treated) that I just couldn’t leave the store without. Fate set in and shortly after a Vanity Fair article about Taylor Swift mentioned she sipped on lavender lemonade during the interview. At first I rolled my eyes but then I realized I wanted to know what it tasted like and I had all the ingredients. Fate, right?
Start by squeezing about 10-12 lemons into a measuring cup. Your goal is to have about 1 1/2 cups (more if you like a tarter lemonade). Set that aside and start working on your simple syrup. You want to soak your lavender in some hot water with some sugar. Between this and all the lemon squeezing, your kitchen will smell amazing.
Next up you’ll want to strain all that lavender off. I used a strainer first and then passed it through a cheesecloth the second time for perfection. Now add that lemon juice from before. My simple syrup was a bit cloudy looking and my lemon juice was yellow but when I blended them together, magic happened.
Beautiful. Now add water to taste. I split my lemon mixture evenly between two pitchers and added 2 cups of water to each pitcher for 4 cups total. After chilling I finally had a drink. It tasted like flowers, in a way I think that is probably why Taylor Swift drinks it and why I will have to keep on drinking it. It’s refreshing, sweet, and feels like a spring day upon drinking.
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 Tablespoons lavender
- 6 cups boiling water
- 1 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 4 cups cold water
- Combine sugar and lavender in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over the mixture and steep for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Strain the lavender mixture with a strainer. You may want to run the mixture through a cheesecloth if pieces remain.
- Combine the lavender simple syrup with the lemon juice. The mixture will turn a beautiful rose hue.
- Pour the mix and cold water into a large pitcher and stir. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
This past weekend was a relaxing time. It started with a soccer game at Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis. We got to watch Manchester City beat Chelsea. We aren’t the biggest soccer people living in a town without a pro team but it was great seeing everyone enjoying a game together.
I took Friday off work. It was nice since I haven’t missed work this year with the exception of being sick and that’s never a fun reason. It turned out to be the sunniest day of the weekend so I’m glad I did it. While I waited for my husband to get home, I took advantage of Ancestry.com’s bonus war records. Does anyone else do geneology? I like doing it on a weekend like Memorial Day when I can see all the past relatives who fought bravely. I feel like it can bring me closer to my family, even if I’m not with them all.
Thankfully I do have a great family. Nova, Daniel and I had fun taking a walk in the park. My little doggie was thrilled to finally have nice weather to take a nice walk. She’s used to running 5Ks but if the rain comes she will trot right back inside.
Speaking of reasons to trot back inside…
This guy showed up in our yard this weekend. We’re used to squirrels, rabbits, opossums, racoons and a deer or turkey now and then but this weekend we saw a coyote and a snapping turtle. We live next to some underdeveloped park land that got a little makeover this week so I’m wondering if we’ll get more visitors.
It wasn’t just a yard full of animals though. We had a nice grilling session each night. Just us, the dog, some burgers and some beers. Oh, and of course some dessert.
How do you dress up your burgers? We set up some fun burger creations for ourselves this weekend. Here were our top three:
Chicken Parm Burger
- Ground chicken mixed with breadcrumbs and some seasonings, grilled
- Top with provolone cheese and marinara
- Ground beef mixed with Italian breadcrumbs, onion powder and Italian seasonings
- Top with pepperoni, provolone cheese, marinara and some white cheddar
Western Burger (pictured above right)
- Ground beef mixed with BBQ sauce, Monterrey cheddar cheese mix, seasoning salt, ground black pepper
- Top with American cheese, BBQ sauce, pickle, mustard, and french fried onions
The fabulous strawberry pie pictured below came from The Country Cook. I wasn’t sure if I liked strawberry pie but I ended up loving it so I’m glad I tried some. I’m going to go eat some right now in fact.
Before I run off for the night, I want to give you a tease about a project I started this weekend but will have to wait a couple months till it is ready. Don’t worry, I won’t hold you off that long!
(And no, those aren’t potatoes. They smell much nicer than that, they’re just a little naked right now)