Your Guide to Summer Reading

Your Guide to Summer Reading

Hi friends! Even though we’re well into summer, I wanted to do another book post! I’m changing up my seasonal book recommendations and instead sharing a guide to summer reading, rather than a list of titles. Summer reading is a totally different animal to rest-of-the-year reading. Instead, here’s my approach to what I reach for during the summer:

1. Mass-market paperbacks of New York Times Bestsellers (new…or decades old). Summer isn’t a dark, rainy, ponderous time of year for sitting sedentary in your armchair and contemplating philosophy (I mean, power to you if that’s your thing, but I save that for the winter months). Summer is the best season for tucking a paperback of something light and easily digestible into your purse while you head to the beach or the park; nothing that requires a ton of emotional energy, but good page-turners, nonetheless. Use summer to check out the bestsellers you’ve avoided while you were re-reading classic literature the whole year…(ahem…). My current NYT bestselling paperback is At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon, a delightfully easy, summer read.

book1

2. Memoirs. Summer is a great time of year to read about something entirely new and different, and what could be more different than the first-person perspective of another person’s life? One caveat for me is that they not be too depressing– I love feeling uplifted this time of year (I can read depressing things in fall or during Lent). Memoirs or other first-person experience stories like Mennonite in A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen or Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes can be hilarious or evocative page-turners. I recently re-read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, which recounts his experience walking the Appalachian Trail, a perfect summer theme!

book6

3. Outside-Your-Comfort-Zone genres and subjects. This really gets at the heart of what I reserve summer reading time for– all the things I just don’t feel like reading the rest of the year. I spend SO much time doing re-reads of books and genres that bring me comfort and familiarity during fall, winter and spring that if I’m ever going to try something new it’s usually going to be during summer. Never tried fantasy? Maybe sci-fi isn’t your thing? For some reason there’s less guilt if you don’t end up finishing a book you start when your days are so full of other outdoorsy things, so testing a new genre feels like less of a commitment. This summer I’ve picked up books about other religions I don’t know much about, and I’m dabbling in contemporary fiction which is unusual for me.

book3

4. Non-fiction: history. I spend a TON of time reading historical fiction but again, it’s a good time of year to learn things (I guess that’s true of every season!). History is kind of like time-travel, and as summer is the season for travel and adventure, it’s appropriate to be swept away to other times and places. Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton has been flying off shelves for the last few years, and is a good candidate for a summer read. Some of my favorites are Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraiser, and One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.

book4

5. Non-fiction: other stuff. In the spirit of adventure, I’ve picked up a bunch of educational books on all kinds of topics, and though they aren’t the kind of books you read cover-to-cover, they’re the kind you can learn a ton from just by flipping through. Books on raising toddlers, nutrition, home decorating, dieting…not precisely self-help, but books that definitely help when you want to learn more about a specific topic.

book5

So, there you have it! Happy summer reading, everyone!

Pools, Pies and Other Happy Things

Pools, Pies and Other Happy Things

Hi guys! Hope you had a lovely weekend. It sure did feel summery for the first time in my neck of the woods. It was hot enough to take a dip in the pool for the first time, but I contented myself with reading by the pool yesterday evening instead, lounging luxuriously in a chaise, a bag of new library books at my side.

IMG_0016

I want to share what I’ve been up to lately, which isn’t terribly much, but even so makes me feel like life is moving a light-speed these days! It’s nuts. I remember the heavy, dragging, almost hopeless feeling of slogging through the winter months (reflected in many of my January, February and March posts), feeling like they would simply NEVER end. Now, the days are flying by and I’m trying to keep up with it all!

The main item on our plates at the moment is health and weight (I know, SNORE). I have good news on this score, finally! I know you have patiently read through many posts of mine where I complain about food, cooking, wanting to get fit and lose weight, and all kinds of thoughts on that topic. As it turns out, I’ve finally developed a food routine that works for me, and I’ve lost nine pounds in the last five weeks, just from altering my eating habits. Husband and I are both adding in regular exercise starting this week (expensive gym membership is cancelled and use of the free gym in our complex is being embraced!). This is a fun and gratifying journey, and I hope to continue until I hit my goal. I’ll share more about what I’ve been doing food-wise in a future post. 🙂

As you know, I have a weakness for things from the 1970s. I also have a weakness for embroidery, which I used to do often for fun while watching T.V. with Grandma, or listening to an audiobook. I’ve been wanting to start embroidering again, and happened to stumble upon the greatest find ever while browsing e-Bay last week: Jiffy Stitchery Crewel Embroidery Kits from the 1970s, unopened, listed by the hundreds online for delighted embroiderers/mid-century fanatics like me to purchase!

jiffy

Some designs are more complicated than others, some are PAINFULLY iconic of the ’70s vibe (brown and orange owls, anyone?) and most are just adorable. Because they’re very small designs (they all end up fitting into a 5”x7” frame when completed), they can be done in an evening or two. I ordered myself one for around $8 and completed it over two evenings:

IMG_0007

Oh! It makes me so happy! I can’t justify buying up a whole bunch of these at once, but as they’re inexpensive, I’m definitely going to be getting more here and there to do in the evenings. It’s so nice to have a fun craft to do while watching a movie or listening to music. It makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something while relaxing at the same time!

IMG_0006

After all those months of saying I was going to make a pie, I FINALLY did! I made the strawberry balsamic pie from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds cookbook. Husband generously said it was the best pie he’s ever eaten. As all I did was copy a recipe, I can’t take credit for that but it WAS unbelievably scrumptious and even amid this weight loss journey, I was happy to make room in my daily calories for a few pieces.

IMG_0009

Saturday I made homemade Thai iced tea with coconut milk, and visited two different libraries for all kinds of wonderful books and DVDs. While my stack of books is too huge to share in its entirety, these are two books I’m really looking forward to. I began The First Muslim this weekend and am finding it fascinating. I picked it up because I realized that I know almost nothing about Muhammad or the history of Islam, so I think it’ll make me a more educated person. So far, it’s beautifully written. I haven’t started The Year Without A Purchase yet, but it looks so promising!

The next four weekends are filled with get-togethers, camping trips (for Husband), friends, and summery activities of all sorts and I’m reveling in it. I feel more invigorated and motivated than I have in a long time, and so thankful for that. Husband and I have many other things going on behind-the-scenes that are strengthening our relationship, and it feels good to be in the midst of what feels like a renewal, of sorts.

What do you have going on these days? What are some things currently bringing you joy? Take care, all! ❤

IMG_0012

A Few of My Favorite Things: May Edition!

A Few of My Favorite Things: May Edition!

favs1

Hey world! Here are a few of my favorite things right now:

1. My oldest friend M’s Harry Potter-themed bedroom:

things11

Yep, that case is way bigger than the picture shows, and it is 100% chockablock full of Harry Potter swag. This is the bedroom of dear friend M who is having her first baby in September. I couldn’t believe this room when I walked in– every detail is Potter-themed. I couldn’t photograph all of it, but a few highlights:

things10

A mirror of Erised mirror!!

things12

The wands!! My jaw actually dropped when I first walked in and saw all of the collectible HP stuff. It’s so, so neat.

things13

Also, she has an adorable kitty who I had to share.

2. Packages from foreign lands!

things9

My dear French friend G sent me another care-package. Oh my gosh. I documented last year’s haul for you guys, but this one is (if possible) even more awesome. She sent TONS of amazing-scented body products (shower gels, hair oil, perfume!!), pastries, cookies, tea…I’m spoiled. Extremely spoiled. Check out the beautiful perfume!

things8

A nod to both France and my beloved England. ❤ Husband and I ate TONS of treats the day before yesterday when this arrived, and will continue to do so happily until we run out. Speaking of eating too much…

4. Getting tea at a real tea shop!

things5

For my birthday I decided I wanted to try a little tea shop in our neck of the woods and Husband was cheerfully game, so we made reservations for the closest Saturday…which turned out to be the day of the royal wedding! That made it even more fun! This place was ADORABLE!

things4

That’s a view of the table behind us. The tea was delicious, the food was generous and scrumptious, and we joked about making a permanent standing reservation for every Saturday morning. It was such a treat!

things2

 

things3

Though you can’t tell from the picture, the scones were warm, and the butteriest, flakiest, most amazing scones I’ve ever tasted in either America or England. We took some leftovers home and I finished them on the couch, re-watching the wedding of the year. It was heaven!

4. Books outside of my usual genres:

things6

I’m really trying to expand my mind, folks. I have a hard time not exclusively re-reading books I’ve already read 1,000 times. If it weren’t for fear of judgment by my Goodreads friends, I probably wouldn’t read anything new ever again. But even I know that’s silly. So I’ve started two books Husband grabbed at the gigantic book sale last September that have really piqued my interest– ‘The Crisis of Zionism,” by Peter Beinart and “Under the Banner of Heaven,” by Jon Krakauer. So far they’re both very easy page-turners. We’ll see if I actually finish them both, but I’m giving them a try!

And that’s that! A little snippet of what I’m loving today. What do you love these days?

 

What’s In My Cup?

What’s In My Cup?

cup1

Today, a lovely loose-leaf genmai cha from Mighty Leaf Tea. I’ve just finished a treat of a dinner (a poke bowl from the Poke One in my neighborhood), and I’m sipping this after a busy but productive day while the first Harry Potter film plays in the background.

I’m currently doing my annual re-read of the entire Narnia series, and I’m on the third book (in original publication order– ahem, the CORRECT order!), “Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” which is my favorite of them all. Another book I’m having fun with right now is “The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain,” by the hysterically funny Bill Bryson. I’ve been reading it aloud to Husband and we’ve been in stitches! Bryson is a favorite author of ours, and it’s a great book to get us in the mood for the upcoming trip. Twelve weeks away this week!

A quote that resonates this week:

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them — every day begin the task anew.” ~St. Francis de Sales

What’s in your cup this week? Love to you all!

Things I Love Right Now: April Edition!

Things I Love Right Now: April Edition!

april2

Hello all! I honestly can’t believe it is now April 22nd. Work has been crazy busy, Husband is just beginning to breathe again after weeks of non-stop homework, and I’m finally getting around to posting again! I think time flying is great, because it just means we’re closer and closer to leaving for England!! The trip is still ages away, but all the finishing touches are almost completed, and mostly we are left to dreaming about all the fun things we’ll do and see, which is really getting me through any troubles at work or other places. 🙂 Not that there are too many of those, just the normal amount, for which I am grateful. Onto some things I currently love…

april7

1. The spring weather! Oh my gosh, it has been so gorgeous lately! Today was warm and almost summery, but the last few weeks have seen on-again off-again showers, and double rainbows like this one have been popping up all over the Bay Area. It’s really fun to see them! This is the second pair I’ve seen in the last month or so, and they’re just so magical.

april5

2. Veterinary medicine…and veterinary miracles! Puffy is doing so remarkably well, and we couldn’t be happier. Whatever was ailing her has stayed away, thank goodness, and we hope that it will continue to stay away for as long as possible. Her reprieve was so unexpected that her lovely vet was delighted but flummoxed as well, and all we can do is give her lots of pettings and cuddles and love, and continue to care for her in the time we have left. She is taking daily high blood pressure medicine, and we have her on a special renal diet to support her kidneys, which thankfully she seems to love. How lucky the three of us are that this little miracle was granted her. We do not take her for granted, and have been telling her non-stop how much we love her, and what a good cat she is. She respond with totally uncharacteristic licks, nuzzles and purrs…so really, she must have used up one of those nine lives, and clearly knows it! ❤

april9

april8

3. New luggage! Yesterday I went to Marshall’s with the express purpose of obtaining two cabin-approved size suitcases for our trip. I found these beauties and couldn’t be happier. They had big “cabin-approved” tags on them, though when I measured they were one inch bigger than United Airline’s stated carry-on dimensions in the width…so, we’re going to try to bring them on and see what happens! If they make us check them, so be it. They looked like all the other suitcases marked “cabin-approved,” so hopefully they’ll be allowed. They’re really nice, good quality and can hold a TON. I pretend packed (yes…I really did) and I can easily fit everything I need into that left zippered side, leaving the right side empty for souvenirs…which of course, are going to be the priority! At $60 a pop, I’m quite satisfied. If you ever need luggage, definitely check out Marshall’s or Ross first! They have such a great selection and the prices are so reasonable!

april6

 

april1

4. Healthy cooking! With the weather warming up, I’m getting a renewed resolve to cook (I had really been falling down on it in the last few weeks). Pictured is today’s breakfast and lunch/dinner: toast with avocado, greens and tomato and a salmon poke bowl with salad greens, rice and diced veggies. Both were just delicious! Additionally, I bought two of those big fat, flat bowls at the thrift store today. They were a bit steep in price at $2.99 each, but they are HUGE. You can’t really tell from the picture, but they are just perfect for making these kinds of “Buddha bowls,” as we call them. They’re wide and shallow (rather than deep like the noodle bowls we already have), just perfect for displaying a variety of toppings, so I know they will see a ton of use.

april4

5. Tea. I mean, it’s me, guys. Tea is always on my list of favorite things. This one is Twinings’ loose leaf Earl Grey tea in a teapot that my Uncle M bought for Grandma quite a long time ago, in the very late ’70s or very early ’80s. I just love it. The teacup flips over and lives upside-down on top of the pot when not in use. I don’t use it often, but I got it out today, gave it bath, and enjoyed three cups of tea while sitting outside on my deck, which brings me to #6….

spril3

6. Sitting on my deck in the lovely weather, reading a great book. I know it’s not winter, but I’m four months into the year and haven’t done a proper re-read of C.S. Lewis yet. I think I’m averaging a re-read of Narnia about every six months! I should really branch out more, but if you saw my Goodreads list you’d know that I have in fact read many books for the first time this year, so I feel I’m entitled to a re-read or two (or…six).

Well, that’s all for now! Hope you’re all enjoying your April. May is right around the corner and May is both my birthday month and always feels like almost-summer to me, so I’m really looking forward to it. How is your April shaping up? Take care!

 

Spring Break Frivolity!

Spring Break Frivolity!

haul14

Spring really, really has sprung. We drove to our little Sierra foothills destination, the town where both sets of parents live and that Husband grew up in, that I attended junior high and high school in, last Saturday morning. We stayed with Husband’s family for two days and moved into Mom and Dad’s house for the remaining three. Oh, what a wonderful little getaway!

The first two days were full of on-again-off-again snow flurries, but by Monday the skies were clear and by the time we left it was like summer had sprung instead of spring!

Baby Niece and Sister-in-Law visited, and I had the joy of getting to cuddle Baby Niece as much as my heart desired, which was a lot. 🙂 The women of Husband’s clan did a fabulous shopping day Tuesday, and Baby Niece and I got to see lots of things together, like this terribly interesting aisle in Ross:

haul7

…and a Stein Mart, which was new to me. I was so happy and grateful for some good, fun times with Mama-in-Law, Sister-in-Law (I need to get some new aliases!), and Baby, as well as other well-loved family members. It was really soul-nourishing!

Some other fun highlights included a MARVELOUS and truly epic thrift store marathon with Husband. This particular community has many, many decent thrift stores, and we managed to hit most of them on Monday, stopping only to stuff ourselves on $10 Indian buffet lunches– our new favorite thing! Check out a fraction of our finds:

haul20

That’s right– a vintage, ’90s Caboodle. It’s ok, I know you’re jealous. 🙂 Also pictured are a $5 Brita filter, $3 glass water bottle, one of my favorite children’s books about Gus the friendly ghost, “A Confederacy of Dunces,” and a brand spanking new trilogy of my three ALL-TIME FAVORITE books, the Welsh prince trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman! Mine are in tatters!

haul19

THIS. PUNCH BOWL. $12. I put off buying it when I first saw it because who the heck needs a punch bowl? Apparently, I needed this one. I was so captivated with its classic look, beautiful etching, and clean lines that I felt $12 was a steal, and now I have an excuse to make punch. Also, it can easily double as a big salad bowl on a buffet someday, so there’s that.

haul4

Vintage thermos with glass lining, no smells or weirdness! Also, another Weekly Reader chapter book, the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorn, “Anne’s House of Dreams,” a MINT condition “American Girls Diary” from 1990 (when there were only three girls!! I died of American Girl nostalgia), THE most adorable 1970s embroidery, and what I presume is a vintage (? or just old?) Martha Stewart cotton scarf.

haul6

No, these two did not come home with us, unfortunately, but they live in one of the thrift stores and they are just too cute to not include.

haul2

An unexpected haul of vintage office supplies including vintage Swingline 99 stapler in original box with original insert…heaven! Pictured is a vintage (I’m thinking early ’60s) business card organizer, a never-been-touched Rolodex from 1989, aforementioned stapler and staples, vintage hole-punch (made in the U.S.A. by a company that apparently only made hole-punches) and two ball point pen refills, something I had never seen before!

Again, that’s a fraction of our haul, but in total we spent maybe $40? Husband got a great short sleeve button up with palm trees on it and a bunch of computer games from the ’90s he’s been keeping an eye out for. Aside from the Brita filter, we didn’t get anything we really needed, but that’s the joy of thrifting– it was just treasure hunting for things that bring us happiness. We often spend a heck of a lot more than $40 on totally unnecessary things, like meals for example, that bring far less joy so I consider this money well spent!

In between times, I got to visit some great little stores in town, including this marvelous bookstore:

haul21

And this delightful candy store, all decorated and ready for Easter:

haul15

We also had some great meals. We went to a local sushi spot TWICE, and got some fantastic ice cream at a local ice creamery, also twice. It was indulgent and wonderful.

haul8

 

haul18

haul9

haul10

That’s lemon custard ice cream, in case you were wondering. It was divine.

haul12

We also went to breakfast at our favorite local breakfast place once, which was fun.

haul11

That right there is the “Blackstone benedict,” which consists of spinach, bacon, tomato, poached eggs and jalapeño hollandaise. Yeah. I know I had been vegan-ing. In my defense, I had been vegan-ing at HOME, and not on vacation. 🙂 It was even yummier than it looks!

haul13

We also got to stroll around the adorable little town, visit the little shops and honestly, just take a breather! Husband did lots of homework, but taking a break away from home, being with loved ones and getting to exhale while in the midst of heavy studying was, I think, really helpful for him. I know it was for me, and I’m not even in grad school!

So, overall, our little getaway was just what was needed. It’s not over yet– Good Friday has been productive in many ways, tomorrow’s Easter Vigil will be a three-hour celebration of joy, Easter likely holds a picnic with celebratory foods and sunshiny weather, and Easter Monday is Husband’s birthday! I’m happy to say I don’t go back to the old grind until Easter Tuesday, so I’m going to get the most out of these last few glorious days– days that feel summery and full of hope and joy! Happy Easter to you all!

haul16

Best Spring Reads

Best Spring Reads

springbook8

Oh, how I love book list posts. As springtime is upon us, it’s time for my seasonal book recommendation post. Spring isn’t quite as evocative as autumn or winter, but there are plenty of chilly and rainy days in spring that necessitate a good book and cup of tea, and also sunny days that necessitate a book in hand while having a picnic or a solo bask in the sun. If you find yourself in any of those, or other springtime scenarios, you might want one of the following books on hand:

Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell

springbook1

This little book, first published in 1853, is a delightful series of vignettes about the (mostly female) inhabitants of the little village of Cranford, located (naturally) in the English countryside. It is sweet, charming, wholesome and engaging. It was also made into a BBC One miniseries that is a who’s-who of great British actors– Jim Carter, Judi Dench, and Michael Gambon among many others make their appearances. I highly recommend this little book for an uplifting spring read.

 

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen

springbook2

Oh, my darling Sense! This is my favorite Austen, and the film with Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman is my favorite book-to-movie adaptation of all time. This is a juicy love story, without being sordid (is Austen ever sordid?). It’s a pastoral portrait of women’s lot in Austen’s day, without being superficial. It’s cozy, but complicated. There’s sadness, fear, and regret in large measure, but happiness, playfulness, and romance are even more abundant. It’s beautiful. It’s meaningful. It’s wonderful.

 

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maude Montgomery

springbook3

My darling Anne with an E! Another all-time favorite, this charming book teaches us what real family, real friendship, and real love look like. It also teaches us so many things about being headstrong, doing things we regret, cultivating personal character…so many important, often neglected life-lessons taught by beloved teachers in highly realistic and relatable ways. Who doesn’t want to spend a spring on Prince Edward Island? It’s available to listen to for free as an audiobook on Librivox, for those of you who might prefer to give it a try that way.

 

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

springbook4

Naturally, a story about a garden is perfect springtime reading. I read this classic for the first time last year and loved every second of it. I was a big fan of the 1987 film version with Derek Jacobi, so I knew the story, but the original book was every bit as delightful, mysterious, spooky, and beautiful. A lovely and worthwhile tale, it’s also available to listen to for free on Librivox. A wonderful, floral adventure!

 

The Awakening of Miss Prim, Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

springbook5

I adored this book! It’s about a mysterious man with a mysterious pack of children who live in a mysterious manor house in a mysterious little town that I desperately want to live in. The little town proves to be quite a Twilight Zone…but not in the way you’d think. A charming and funny little book that thrusts the insanity of life in the modern world in our faces, constantly causing us to question what we really believe about daily life as we know it in the societies we have formed. Whimsical and thought-provoking without once being heavy. I highly recommend it.

 

All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot

springbook6

What’s not to love about these true stories from an English country veterinarian? No one writes with such simple, understated wit as James Herriot about such a beautiful topic– new life, animal friendships and life in the English countryside. Are we seeing a pattern here? Be that as it may, stories about lambing are best read in spring!

 

The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter, Beatrix Potter

springbook7

And speaking of lambing, and little furry creatures, no one does them with such charm as our beloved Beatrix. I was given her complete tales for Christmas two years ago and I read it from cover to cover, delighting in the little drawings, the sweet little stories that I knew and loved. Not just for children by any means, re-read these classic tales for yourself and remember why you enjoyed them as a child…or perhaps discover them for the first time if they are new to you. Beatrix Potter’s art is timeless, and her little characters endlessly heartwarming (and occasionally maddening!).

That’s my list! What are your favorite books to read in spring? What are you currently reading, and what do you want to read? Take care!