Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Long Time...

So I thought about my blog today and realized that it has been quite awhile since I've made a post. Not that I haven't been busy...too busy, actually! Life gets too chaotic sometimes, and I feel like I'm just hanging on rather than right on top of things. I'm planning some much-needed time off in the next few weeks to take a breather, and I'm hoping I can clear my head a bit and focus on things that are important to me. Hopefully that means I'll be making even more updates!

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my newest endeavor, which I started as part of this challenge: Jen's 101 Books. I'm a bit of a book nut, so I'm devoting this blog to tracking and rating the 101 books I'll be reading for my challenge. I'll post reviews as I read (I posted all my books from Jan-March 2009 to get started, so take a look).

An additional blog doesn't mean that I've given up on my other 100 challenges -- not at all! I just liked the idea of having a separate chronicle of my giant literary pursuit!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day!

As a resident of North Carolina for much of my life, I have learned one certainty about January: stock up on bread. The mere mention of snow by the TV weather guy will send folks running to Harris Teeter to raid the bread asile (because God forbid we should run out of Nature's Own when there's an inch of snow on the ground). Even though our loaves of whole wheat generally sit untouched and molding in the breadbox, when the weather man said the "s" word last Monday, I did my dutiful bread run. And much to my surprise, when I woke up Tuesday morning -- SNOW! Not just a little snow...lots of snow! Six inches of snow! (You Yankees can quit laughing now...that's a lot for us!)

This was my son's first snowfall, and I was determined to enjoy it with him even though I'm not really a fan of the white stuff. We threw on as many layers as we could and set out the back door to try and make a snowman (#93) -- because what good is snow if you can't make a snowman?

However, it seems my little man takes after me: he hated the snow. Pretty soon his looks of amazement were replaced by cries of, "Noooooo! Mommy, I don't like it!" He hightailed it towards the house after just a few minutes. We spent the rest of our snow day cozied up inside, making "snow" angels on the bedroom floor.
I'll try and find a sled to save for our next snowfall (whether that's this year or two years from now is anyone's guess). In the meantime, maybe we'll head down to the beach this summer and make a "snowman" out of sand.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Read this book: Jessica Z by Shawn Klomparens

As evidenced by several of my blog posts being about books, I love to read and I read a lot. Some of what I read is good, noteworthy fiction; some of it is complete brainless nonsense. And I love it all. But sometimes I'll fall into a book that's so good and so amazing it seems to defy any kind of category I try to put it in, and I'm reading one of those now: Jessica Z by Shawn Klomparens.

This book is like literary crack - I can't stop reading. I was up two hours past my usual bedtime last night devouring its pages. The premise of the book seems simple: Jessica meets Josh, a handsome artist, at a party and immediately falls head-over-heels. She ditches Patrick, her upstairs neighbor with whom she's had a long term "friends-with-benefits" relationship, and starts spending all her time with Josh. When she becomes the subject of Josh's next avant garde art project, their relationship escalates to an intense, volatile level. And in a dangerous and crazy world, the intensity of their relationship may be too much for Jessica to handle.

This book is sexually explicit without being graphic. It is emotionally touching, and at alternate times has (literally) made me laugh and cry. The plot twist of terrorism (suicide bombers) gives the story the all-too-real undertones of fear and urgency. I don't always like Jessica and the other characters; in fact, at times I hate them. But I always care about what happens to them, and I always want to know more.

Perhaps most amazing to me is that the author, Shawn Klomparens, is a man. I'm amazed that a man can so completely inhabit a female's perspective. If I hadn't seen his photo on the back cover of the book, I would've thought Shawn was a woman.

I'm almost done with this book, and I think I'm going to be sad to part with it. I'm not usually one to re-read books, but I'm going to revisit this one down the road. I think this is a story that will stay with me long after I'm done with it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Throwing down the gauntlet...to myself

It's early in the game for this 101 challenge. I'm not quite two months in, and I've been doing so well. But this weekend I broke one of my "rules" - so I'm making myself start again.

It all started when I got $75 in Barnes and Noble giftcards for Christmas. That was in the deal - I could use giftcards. So I did...and I did really well; I only went over by $3, and it was mainly just the tax. But then Borders decided to have their "giant post-Christmas blowout" or whatever it's called. And I had all that trade credit at the used bookstore to use up. And then there are all the books from PaperBack Swap coming off of my Wish List and into my mailbox. Long story short, I didn't just break my rule - I broke it spectacularly, and somehow acquired 20 new books this weekend. My shelf is now completely overflowing. So no more!

So I'm officially upping my challenge: I must now read 101 books (yes, 101!) before I can acquire any more. This would empty my "To Read" shelf almost completely. I won't un-count all the ones I've already read towards this challenge (12) since I'm upping it so significantly. I'm thinking this will take me the better part of 2009 to accomplish, but the only time limit I'm setting on it is that I have to have it done by the end of my challenge (which ends in August 2011).

As a result of all of my frenzied book acquiring, though, I will actually accomplish another of my tasks: buying a nice piece of furniture for my house (#51). I need some new bookshelves!

So wish me luck. And if you see me in Barnes & Noble, please escort me to the door!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Plugging Along

So I'm moving along quite nicely with my challenge. I've already completely crossed off three tasks, and I'm keeping up with the ongoing ones just as I hoped I would. Here's what I've been doing lately:

Bye Bye Blondie!
Admittedly, I've been a salon blonde for 10 years. Ten years...that's a lot of highlights! Too many highlights, actually. It was getting way too expensive to maintain the blonde, especially now that my hair has decided to naturally turn darker and darker (hey, at least it's not turning grey!) So one of my challenges (#13) was to embrace my inner (natural) brunette! I went to see Mandy, my hairstylist on Saturday, and she turned me back into a bruntette. There was definitely an initial shock. And I was feeling very unpopular Monday as people walked by me in the halls at work and didn't even say hello (because they didn't recognize me). But you know what? I'm really starting to love this brunette thing. I feel a little more mysterious...a little dangerous. And - dare I say it - a little bit sexy.

Lebanese Food = Yum!
A couple of weekends ago, I tackled two challenges at once by eating at a new Lebanese restaurant called Sitti. I'd never eaten Lebanese food before, so it was a new kind of cuisine for me (#8); and it's a brand new restaurant in downtown Raleigh (#77). The food was fantastic - a yummy combination of my favorite Mediterranean flavors (lemon, mint, feta) with a Middle Eastern twist. I enjoyed my tasty beef Kebabs and Lebanese-style rice (with almonds on top), and some puffy pita bread with a creamy, lemony feta cheese dip. Delicious!

Still Reading
I've been plugging away at Pearl Buck's The Good Earth, the first of my 10 classics (#12) for about a month now. It's actually a good book so far - it's just that I keep getting distracted by other books as I'm reading! So I'll read a few chapters, put it down to start and finish another book, read a few more chapters, etc. My goal is to have it done by the end of the year. I have two weeks - I should be able to manage that, even with my toddler-like attention span.

Feeling Charitable
There are no shortage of charities asking for donations at this time of year. And, unfortunately, in the past, I've been one of the many people who tends to ignore them. But not this year. I've made good on my one charitable donation per month so far (#1), even exceeding that by a couple I've donated to several food drives and St Jude's Children's Hospital, and I'm looking into gift ideas for people that have some kind of charitable contribution associated with them. I know there are hundreds of smaller charities out there who need the support as well - so it'll be my goal to find some of those over the next 31 months. It does feel good knowing that, even if it was in the tiniest of ways, I might actually have helped someone. I also purchased a Christmas gift for a child in need (#82). What did the bookworm Jen buy? A book, of course.

I know I shouldn't covet things, but...
I really love this purse. Reallllllly love this purse! I want this to be THE purse (#19). Unfortunately, it falls into the "prohibitively expensive" category (#56), which is why I've been paying it visits in Nordstrom instead of actually owning it. So I'm saving my pennies, which are starting to really add up, but not quite quickly enough. At this point, maybe I'll be able to purchase this purse by the end of my challenge. If not, at least I'll have enough pennies saved up for something else really special (#14).

Other things I'm working on
I ran out of perfume, so now I'm on a hunt for my signature scent (#18). I'm sniffing my way through all the fragrance counters on my Christmas shopping trips to the mall. So far my searching has left me with nothing but a scent-infused headache, but I'm hoping one day soon I'll find something I love.

I actually started writing a short story (#5). I'm not very far with it yet, but the basic idea is in place. Inspiration keeps hitting at odd moments...but at least the writing wheels are turning again.

Push-ups...oh dear. I can stay on my toes (#25) for about 30, but then it's either drop to my knees, or collapse in a heap on the floor. I'm trying to build my upper body strength by lifting weights, too, which means I'm constantly SORE! My chest muscles and triceps are always burning. I suppose that's a good thing. If anything else, I will have nicely-toned arms this summer! :)

My plans for tasks in the New Year: to take some cooking classes (#9), attend at least one cultural event (#20-24), and do to a little bit of traveling, which should help me reach some of my other goals.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bring On the Books!

If you know me well, you know that I love to read. I love everything about books, from the smell of the ink to the sound of flipping pages. I have always wanted to have a library in my house, because I so love the idea of a room filled with books. For me, they are the ultimate comfort.

Unfortunately, lately at my house, they also seem to be breeding like rabbits. My shelf is overflowing, with books piled in upside down, sideways, and every way in between. Some of them have been sitting there for years, others are a little newer. All are begging to be read.

One of my 101 challenges (#3) is to read 50 of these books before purchasing any others. I've been plodding along (I'm currently on books #7 and 8 - yes, I'm reading two at once). But I wanted to spice up this task in another way - so I'm throwing in a few book challenges to make it a little more interesting.

What is a book challenge, you ask? It's a short set of rules and/or topics for reading. It sets a required number of books, and parameters under which the books must fall (e.g. "Read a book with a character's name in the title," etc). There's also a time limit, and in some cases a few extra rules (i.e. you have to post a review of the book once you finish it, read the books in a certain order, etc). Some even award prizes. So with the help of a fun blog called A Novel Idea, I've found three different challenges to help me plow through the stacks of books on my shelf. For links to these challenges (including the rules and where to go to participate) click here. Here are the books I'm going to try to get through by the dates specified.

The 9 for 09 Challenge (December 27, 2008 - December 27, 2009)
Basic Premise: Read one book from each of the following categories. No more than 3 can overlap with another challenge.
1. A LONG book - One longer than you normally read. The Secret History by Donna Tart is over 400 pages, and the print is teeny tiny. Might need a magnifying glass for this one!
2. A Free book - One that was swapped, won, gifted, etc. Fly Me to the Moon by Allyson Noel is a book I won from a site called Free Book Friday.
3. A Dusty book - One that has been on your shelf for three or more years. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok is one I read in high school, but I don't think I appreciated it then. So I bought it to reread it...4 years ago.
4. A Used Book - One that was actually purchased from a used bookstore. I usually swap my books at the used bookstore for trade credit, but I ran out (oops!) But I had to purchase Bubbles Unbound by Sarah Strohmeyer, because everyone tells me this series is hilarious.
5. A Letter book - Choose a letter in your first name. Find it somewhere in the book title. I'll go with the obvious "J" and read Devil in the Junior League by Linda Francis Lee. I love the title of this book!
6. A Strange book - From a genre you don't usually read. In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson is nonfiction, and I don't read nearly enough of that genre.
7. A Cover book - A book with either a pretty cover, or an ugly cover. The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn has a great cover of a girl walking down a tree-lined dirt road in France. It's idyllic - I want to be that girl someday!
8. Alive or Not book - By an author (alive or not) that has won a writing award. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak has an award on the cover (though at the moment I'm not sure which one it is)
9. A Distance book - The author's birthplace and/or the book's setting is more than 1000 miles from your location. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini takes place in Afghanistan...a looong way from NC.

The Numbers Challenge (Jan. 1, 2009 - Aug. 1, 2009)
Basic Premise: Read 5 books with numbers in the titles. That's it.
1. Size 14 is Not Fat Either by Meg Cabot
2. Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham
3. Three Bedrooms in Chelsea by Liz Ireland
4. Thirty Nothing by Lisa Jewell
5. One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

The Orbis Terarrum Challenge (Jan. 1, 2009 - Dec. 31, 2009)
Basic Premise: Read 9 books by authors from 9 different countries.
1. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Japan)
2. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (China)
3. Girl Most Likely To by Poonam Sharma (India)
4. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan)
5. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (Australia)
6. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Nasir Afisi (Iran)
7. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (France)
8. Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy (Ireland)
9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Russia)

Okay, so yes, that's 22 books. And, yes, some of them are quite lengthy. But even if I don't finish them all, I'll have made considerable headway in getting through my bookshelf!

Any suggestions on what I should read first?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Getting it Together

In one of my favorite scenes in the movie "Bridget Jones's Diary," Bridget (Renee Zellweger) is going on "a full-blown minibreak holiday" with her boyfriend Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). As they set off on their English countryside adventure in Daniel's convertable, Bridget, having a moment of glamour in an elegant headscarf and large sunglasses, says that she feels, "like a screen goddess, in the manner of Grace Kelly." But then she throws her head back into the wind, and her fancy headscarf goes flying off. When she shows up at their countryside destination, her hair is matted and windblown, sticking straight up out of her head. So elegant.

Maybe one of the reasons I love that movie so much is because that's totally something I would do. My own elegant, prepared for anything, with-it moments are always ruined somehow by my inelegance and clumsiness (and in some cases, downright stupidity). Most of the time I feel like I just can't quite get it together. Or, as Bridget says in the film, "it seems as though when one area of your life is going spectacularly, another falls spectacularly flat."

This morning, for example. Despite having to send out a search party to locate my husband's keys at 6:30 this morning (they were in the garage), I actually got out the front door on time. My clothes were ironed for a change, my hair was cooperating nicely despite the cold, my snacks and water for work had been packed the night before. But then I stepped outside to find my car windows covered in ice, and my morning began to unravel. I found myself thinking, "dammit, I forgot to buy an ice-scraper!" for the third time this week. In a pinch, I used my Harris Teeter VIC card to scrape the ice off my windows (it works, don't knock it!), but by the time I got around to the back window, my fingers were frozen solid in my (hole-filled) soaking wet gloves.

Naturally, I needed coffee to warm them up. Last day of work this week - perfect day for a Starbucks treat, right? So I climbed in my now ice-free car and rolled to Starbucks for my weekly Mocha. But, I managed to park in a space that was covered in glass, on which I slipped getting out of the car. Once I got inside and ordered, I proceeded to spill the entire contents of my purse all over the floor, scrambling around on my hands and knees and bumping into my fellow caffeine-craving patrons as I picked it all up. When I got my mocha, I promtply spilled some of it on myself. Of course, it was extra-hot. I nearly got into an accident getting onto I-40. Then I got to the parking lot at work (where I actually got a good space for a change) in time to watch the bus drive away to leave me waiting in the cold for the next one. I stumbled into work 15-minutes late, covered in coffee, hair now frizzy and windblown, gloves soaking wet, and wishing I were back at home in my warm pajamas watching brain-rotting morning television.

It's like Hubris and Nemisis are always playing tricks with me. I get it together in one area and my self-confidence goes up, only to be knocked away spectacularly when I come unraveled. Some days I feel like Super Mommy - I wake up, get my boys and myself out the door on-time, go through the daily work-gym-dinner-bedtime juggling act, and fall into bed with a smile on my face. Only to wake up the next day and realize my clothes aren't ironed, my keys are nowhere to be found, and I forgot to make coffee the night before.

I envy those "together" women who seem to never falter. You know the ones I'm talking about - the ladies with perfect manicures who never have lipstick on their coffee cups (or their teeth), whose clothes always match, shoes are never scuffed, hose always without runs. They're always armed with the answer to every question, a witty comeback at exactly the right moment, and they carry themselves with enviable ease, elegance, and grace. Do they ever have Bridget Jones moments? Or do they just cover them up better than the rest of us?

As I construct my "50 Things About Myself" list (challenge #2), one of my "Improve Myself" items is to work on my "with-it-ness." Maybe one day someone might find me one of those "together women." But, to even it out, another of those 50 items is to learn to embrace the imperfections. I may have more loveably goofy Bridget Jones moments than the average woman, but the truth is that we all have them. And maybe the most "together" women are the ones who can have the clumsy moments and still hold their heads up smiling.

Here's to remembering that the next time I glide into a room like Grace Kelly, only to trip over the doorframe like Bridget.