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My Pandemic-Friendly 2021 Goals

Oh thank goodness, 2020 is about to be over. Mr.-7-year-old asked me today if that meant the coronavirus would be gone after tonight. I wish, kid. I wish.

I’m excited for today because I feel like the entire world will unite (virtually, in their own homes) to make sure 2020 leaves and welcomes 2021 in with the hopes that it is just not as dramatic as 2020. I’m under no illusion that 2021 will be significantly different from 2020, at least for a good portion of the year. The bar is low for 2021 to outperform its predecessor.

Although my 2020 goals are laughable now with hopes of increased travel and tons of date nights with my husband, that’s not going to stop me from creating some plans for 2021. I did, though, geared my 2021 goals so they are more pandemic friendly.

  1. Continue my daily gratitude journal entry – Earlier in December I started writing three things I’m grateful for every night before I go to sleep. I didn’t get any fancy journal or spend time making it look pretty. I picked up a $2 little fat notebook from the supermarket and leave it on my bedside table as a reminder. It takes 60 seconds to write my thoughts. I have to say that it’s been doing wonders in making me feel better already….though my two-week vacation from work may be helping with that too. Time will tell!
  2. Read 50 books – I had a goal of 25 this year and blew it out of the water by reading 72 books with so much unplanned time at home. I feel like 50 books will be doable. I’m hoping to weave more classics into the rotation this year too.
  3. Explore 4 new hiking trials – One activity we can still do it get outside, and boy am I tired of walking around our neighborhood! Having this goal will help me to get out and explore more. (Plus, I think this will be an easy one because the kids’ Cub Scouts have several planned trails picked out for families to hike each month, so I won’t even have to do a ton of research.)
  4. Have Mommy/Son days – I want to have mommy/son days at some point this year, assuming my husband is up for it. I rarely get any one-on-one time with the boys anymore because we are always all home together…24/7…morning, noon, and night. By scheduling “Mommy/Son days” with each kid, I’m guaranteed to spend some focused time with them. Perhaps I can weave this goal in with the new hiking trials I want to explore.
  5. Try six new meatless meals – I’ve been trying to add some tofu or veggie meals into our rotation. It’s been difficult finding recipes that all of our like, though that’s a challenge even if it’s not a meatless meal. I want to dedicate some time to exploring new options here. I may leverage a service like Hello Fresh to make it easier. We haven’t tried one of these food services yet. It might be a good substitute for takeout.
  6. Walk at least one mile per day – I recognize this isn’t much, but I want to make an effort to get on the treadmill or walk around the neighborhood more often. The thought is that if I can motivate myself to get started because I only have to walk a mile, I may decide to walk longer or perhaps jog instead. If I just want to walk for a mile, great! It’s better than not moving at all.
  7. Meditate for at least two mins a day – Again, this is another small habit I’d like to start that may grow over time. It’s two minutes. I have time for two minutes, even if it’s right before bed after thinking about what I’m grateful for that day. It sounds like a wonderful way to wind down.
  8. Increase our savings and monetary charity donations by a set percentage – This goal helps to keep me focused on watching our finances and knowing that if/when there’s extra money available, we know where we want to put it. If we are offered raises at our jobs this year, then we’ll add the extra money to these goals.

That’s it! Though I feel like eight goals is a lot, I feels achievable. My perspective has changed over the years, though. Even if I only reach half of these goals, I’m still better off and have made progress over inaction. I’ll take that.

Happy New Year!

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

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My Top Ten Reads in 2020

I started 2020 with the goal of reading 25 books throughout the year. Little did I know that I’d be home so much and able to get in significantly more reading time. With just a few days left of 2020, I’m up to 72 completed books! Thanks to the Goodreads app, I know that’s 24,389 pages read. Certainly my highest number ever.

Apparently, I rate books highly. My average rating is 4.2 stars out of five. Even though I read a book as short as 144 pages (Laura Vanderkam’s Juliet’s School of Possibilities) and one as long as 818 pages (Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton), I average books with 338 pages. I will admit that books in the 300-400 range are my preference. There’s enough time to set up strong characters and a good plot without dragging it out forever.

So, which were my favorite out of the 72 books I read? I gave more books than just these 10 five stars. I’m calling these out in particular because I still think about them. I remember their characters and story, plus the way they made me think or feel. If you are looking to set a 2021 reading goal or add to next year’s “to-be-read” list, consider these.

Historial Fiction

The Nightingale – I’ve always had a fascination with World War II stories, particularly those related to the Holocaust. I think it’s largely because I just can’t imagine how people can allow something like that to happen and the great admiration I have for those who endured and risked everything to help the Jewish people. I picked up this book after I really enjoyed We Were the Lucky Ones when I read it in 2019. The Nightingale is about how the Nazi invasion of France impacted two sisters and their relationship.

Fiction

  • Verity – Here’s a caveat from the get-go. I haven’t read a thriller in years before this book in 2020, so I haven’t explored this genre since my high school years of devouring Stephen King novels. However, I’ve read a few other thrillers since in 2020, and Verity still stands out as a favorite thriller and overall book for 2020. I don’t want to give much away, but it’s about an author who goes to live with a family. She moves in to help finish a novel the mother of the family (Verity) started before she had an accident and couldn’t finish it.
  • The Hate U Give – This is a novel written for young adults, but I suggest a broader audience. It’s about a high school girl of color who lives in a poor neighborhood and goes to school in a neighboring fancy school district. She is forced into the public light after her best friend is murdered in front of her eyes. It’s a thought provoking and moving read.
  • Little Fires Everywhere – I enjoyed the interconnectedness of the characters in this novel as a single mother and her daughter move into a progressive, planned community. You see how this family reacts to and intersects with the Richardson family.
  • Such a Fun Age – It’s a realistic tale of how a young Black babysitter and white suburban mother react and relate to each other when the babysitter is accused of kidnapping the baby one evening at the supermarket. Disclaimer: I cringed reading the perspectives of multiple characters in this book and didn’t really like any of them, which is why I initially gave the book only four stars. However, the plot and points I walked away with afterward jumped it to five stars a few months later.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – This is a classic book I read in high school years ago. I sort of remembered the plot and the main takeaways, but I wanted to reread it. I’m so glad I did! It is a powerful story of life in a small Southern town in the 1930s through the eyes of a young girl named Scout. The story is in many ways a coming of age tale as Scout sees how her community reacts to the trial of a Black man. Now I have to decide whether I’m going to read Go Set a Watchman or not because I’ve heard mixed reviews of it.

Nonfiction

  • Alexander Hamilton – This is a lengthy and detailed biography of Alexander’s incredible life and exploration of his accomplishments. It’s dense and long, but a thoroughly good read. I’m not typically the type to pick up a nonfiction title like this, but after being swept up in the Alexander Hamilton musical craze this summer with many others, it was a great deep dive into one of America’s Founding Fathers.
  • Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy By Getting More Done – This is another title by Laura Vanderkam that details time management strategies and time tracking in a way that makes sense to me as a busy and structured working mother.
  • The Four Tendencies – Rubin’s book details four main personality types that give some insights on how you may respond to expectations. This book really helped me relate to others and see their perspectives of work and expectations. It led to some great conversations with my husband, even though he didn’t read the book himself.
  • The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 – Out of all of the books I read this year, this one was the highest rated on Goodreads. I’m not surprised. This book provides accounts from hundreds of individuals significantly impacted by the events of 9/11. You are hearing directly from those involved. Each chapter takes you to a different place as the day progresses, ranging from the Twin Towers, Pentagon, PA, and the President’s plane. It was not an easy read, but it was impactful and well done.

Well, geesh, this exercise was enlightening. I seem to have an interest in exploring the many facets and manifestations of hatred: where it comes from, what people do with that conscious or unconscious hatred, and how we can overcome it. Hatred can be covered by how people view each other so differently (all of my fiction titles), what people do with hatred directed toward them (Alexander Hamilton), or how to help others when they are being targeted (The Nightingale and The Only Plane in the Sky).

My 2021 list is not particularly long at the moment, and I’m hoping to read at least 50 books next year. Please share any particularly good books you’ve read that others should check out. I’m always looking to add to my to-be-read list!

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October 2020 Book Recs

A large portion of October has been spent working through Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, but I’m not even close to finished yet. Hopefully I can share my review of that book in November.

This month I finished five books, and I highly recommend them all!

Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done – This is another book from Laura Vanderkam. I have read several of her books and often listen to her Best of Both Worlds podcast. This book is one of my favorites of hers because is embraces my reflect, plan, live philosophy. Vanderkam tracks her time more diligently than I do with the same focus of trying to make the most out of her life and her time.

My favorite takeaway from this book is the notion that you have three selfs: past, present, and future. She presented these various versions of yourself in a way to advocate for taking actions today as your present self that past and future self will appreciate. For instance, my past self likes to look back on happy memories we’ve made as a family and my future self likes to have plans to look forward to and enjoy. As a result, I should focus my present self on creating memories and being in the moment with them as they are happening.

Sex and Vanity – This is Kevin Kwan’s newest book. He is the author of the Crazy Rich Asian series that I loved. This book is in the same vein and was a pleasure to read. It’s about Lucie Churchill, a young woman who feels trapped between her father’s English upbringing and her mother’s Chinese heritage, and how she comes to accept herself and find love along the way.

The Hate U Give – This is a book by Angie Thomas. Actually, it has a bit of a similar theme to Sex and Vanity, with a more obvious focus on the protagonist’s situation of being trapped between two worlds. Starr Carter is a high school girl from a poor neighborhood who is going to school in suburban, upper-middle class neighborhood. Her friend is shot and killed by a police officer and she’s the only witness. The novel focuses on how Starr reactions to this situation and determines what to do next while attempting to fit in at home and at school. It’s a powerful, eyeopening story that is extremely well written.

U.S. Presidents – Ken Jennings, the famous Jeopardy winner, has written a number of children’s books. I figure what better way to get more history in an easily digestible format. I picked up his book U.S. Presidents and devoured it in a couple of hours. Sure, there was certainly some material in there that I already knew, but there was plenty more that I learned about our various presidents. Did you know that Lincoln signed a bill to start the Secret Service on the day of his assassination? Or that Teddy Roosevelt road a horse for 100 miles in one day to stop army soldiers from complaining about riding 10-15 miles per day? I even read sections to the boys, which they seemed to enjoy. Double win!

I Was Told It Would Get Easier – This is Abbi Waxman’s newest novel, which I enjoyed more than her 2019 The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. I Was Told It Would Get Easier is about a mother daughter pair taking a tour of colleges together with a number of adventures that occur along the way. I like how the story is told, jumping between the perspective of the daughter and mother where you see they are more alike they either one likely knows.

I think I’m going to start weaving classics into my “to be read” list in 2021. Any recommendations?

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Friday Fav: Libby App Connects to Your Local Library

It’s no secret that I love to read. Over the past few years, I’ve really jumped backed into this hobby. I started the year hoping to read 25 books, and I’m currently over 50! Thanks, Corona.

What’s really made this possible is my phone’s Libby app. It allows me to access electronic resources from my local library. I can borrow ebooks and magazines with the touch of a finger and access them on my phone or e-reader.

One of my favorite features of the app is the ability to put holds on popular titles. I believe each library may have its own queue length. Mine recently increased to allow me up to 15 holds at a time. The amount of time it takes to get each hold has decreased over the year, I think in large part to people staying home more and spending time getting through their to-be-read list. I typically can get new releases delivered in a manner of weeks.

However, Libby also has this new feature that I absolutely love that is also contributing to shorter hold times. When a hold becomes available, Libby gives you the option to deliver the hold now or delay it until a future date that you set. This way, you don’t have to start your 2-3 week loan before you’re ready nor lose your place in the hold line.

If you haven’t check out Libby yet, I highly recommend it. I’m all about inexpensive entertainment, and you – in my opinion – can’t get better than free library books that can transport you to any place or time that’s desired.

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September 2020 Book Recs

I love reading in the Fall. The idea of cuddling up on the couch with a good book and soft blanket sounds heavenly! This last September was typical for the mid-Atlantic. We started the month in Summer and ended in Fall.

Here are quick reviews of the four books I read last month.

Last month I mentioned my new-found love for the Bromance Book Club series. This month I read Lyssa Kay Adams’ second book in her series called Undercover Bromance. This book follows the same male book club but this time focuses on a different member. Braden Mack is a Nashville nightclub owner who can dish out the romance advice to others but has a hard time finding lasting love in his own. It’s another light, fun read with several reappearing characters from the previous novel. I can’t wait for the third book to come out later this year!

Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years was a five star read for me about Dannie Kohan, an ambitious Type-A lawyer who lives in New York City. Dannie has her life all planned out (I can relate!) but gets thrown for a loop when she falls asleep one night and seems to travel five years into the future where she has a totally different life with a new apartment and new man in her life. She seems to forget this dream until four and a half years later when her best friend starts dating the man from Dannie’s dream. I thoroughly enjoyed this non-traditional love story.

I was so excited when my library reservation for Hamilton: The Revolution became available earlier than expected. I reserved the audiobook version because it had a shorter hold AND I wanted to hear Lin-Manuel Miranda read sections of the book. Overall, I loved hearing about how the story came together and details about the various collaborators and actors involved. This book is was written by Lin as well as Jeremy McCarter. Lin narrated the footnotes that he personally wrote. My only complaint is that the footnotes are read at the end of the book reading, so you lose the context for the comments. Many times this didn’t matter, but I may need to borrow the paper copy of the book so I can catch all of his notes.

The Absence of Mercy by John Burley is a thriller about Dr. Ben Stevenson, the small town coroner who is responsible for examining the bodies gruesomely murdered by a killer. I had a hard time getting through this book. The story was told in the eyes of too many (all male!) characters that I sometimes got them confused or couldn’t keep them straight. And, without spoilers, I think the book missed an opportunity to explore the perspective of Ben’s wife, dealing with a possible serial killer so nearby and threatening her family. The book also seemed to just end and felt unfinished. I’ve liked other novels by John Burley, so I would try another, but this one certainly wasn’t my favorite.

Please let me know if you’ve read anything particularly good lately that I should pick up.

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Aug 2020 Book Recs

I read nine books last month, and I want to share with you a couple of my favorites! I had a few really good ones that I just have to share.

Verity by Collen Hoover was excellent. I stayed up way too late one night to finish it. It’s a thriller about a woman writer who agrees to finish writing a book series for another author. The original author is injured, so her husband seeks out a new author to finish the series for his wife. Admittedly, I haven’t read much in this genre. I had a few years in high school where I read everything from Stephen King, but that’s about it. And Stephen King’s work is now just too graphic and too far in the horror realm for me. I definitely picked up some more thrillers after enjoying Verity so much!

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes is a debut novel by Kathleen West that just published this year. It’s about two mothers in a high school who are dealing with drama and rumors in a highly privileged school. One mother is a teacher with a “liberal agenda” and the others is a “micro-managing, theater mom” of two high school students. It was a quick read in short chapters from various characters’ perspectives that felt all too real.

And my favorite new series goes to the Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams. The first book in the series goes by that same title. It is utter fantasy, hilarious, and totally fantastic. It’s like a Hallmark Christmas movie with less cheese (though some!) and lots more laughs. It delivered exactly what I wanted and did it well. It’s about a bunch of celebrity men in the Nashville area who formed a book club to read romance novels and learn how to communicate and form better relationships with women. (Remember, I said it was fantasy!) I read some sections to my husband who politely didn’t mock my book. Just his facial expressions alone, paired with the far-fetched story line, had me belly laughing harder than I have in years.

Let me know if you’ve read anything particularly good lately. I’m always looking for more recommendations.

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Friday Fav: Free Magazines

Years ago I stumbled upon the knowledge that you could get access to many popular magazines for free. They arrive at my door every month as a nice surprise and a reminder to unwind and perhaps end the day curled up on the couch with a cool beverage and some freshly printed reading material.

Sites like Mercury Magazine and ValueMags offer free subscriptions to many popular magazines. You either pick a free magazine currently available on their site or sign up with your email address to receive email alerts when free subscriptions become available. Over the years, I’ve gotten subscriptions to Popular Mechanics, Men’s Health, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents, Family Circle, Redbook, Southern Living, Martha Stewart Living, and HGTV magazine. It’s been great!

What’s the catch? Well, you obviously have to give the company some of your personal information to get the subscription, and they try to upsell you on other magazine subscriptions. (“Get X now for only $2!”) It just takes a few clicks of saying no before you can order the free subscription. For me, it’s a price I’m willing to pay to have free reading material delivered to my door.

I highly recommend checking it out if this sounds like something that might interest you.

Happy Friday!

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

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July 2020 Book Recs

I just squeaked in three books in July. I had a hard time getting back into reading this month after putting Olive Ketteridge in my Did Not Finish pile. I exasperated the issue by starting the month with the very long novel Americanah. Here’s my short review of each book I read last month.

Let’s start with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I wanted to like this book. I kind of did enjoy it. The storyline was interesting. It’s about a young woman from Nigeria who moves to America to further her education and learns what it means to be Black in America. At the same time, her former boyfriend moves to the UK and has his own experiences as an immigrant Black man. Ultimately, the couple meets up again in Nigeria and we see if their love can endure their changes. See? Cool plot, right?

I had two issues with the book. One, it was about 200 pages too long. Two, I felt the book had a bit of an identity crisis. It was trying to be too much. It was a lecture on the America culture and what it means to be Black in America disguised as a novel. The female protagonist is a blogger, so many of her blog posts about American culture are included throughout the book. There were entire conversations added just to have characters debate and share hot political topics, not to advance the storyline or influence character development. I am totally fine with a lecture-based book. I would have read it. I just didn’t like the mixture of fiction and lecture.

Afterward, with a friend’s recommendation, I read Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner. I gave it four out of five stars. This book was more my speed. It was about two sisters who grew up in 1950s Detroit and how their lives diverge from their expectations. It was an interesting exploration of how two siblings who grew up in the same house can have such different life experiences and outcomes.

I ended the month with Emma Straub’s All Adults Here, which I gave five stars. It reminded me of the TV shows Parenthood or This Is Us in many ways, since it’s about family and their multiple dramas. The book is criticized for trying to tackle too many topics in one book, but that didn’t phase me. Like in real life, everyone has their own dramas, life experiences, and challenges that they are dealing with to reconcile their identity with their actions.

This month, I’m looking forward to reading Verity by Colleen Hoover. I have a bunch of library holds coming available soon too, so it’s stacking up to be a great August.

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My 2020 2nd Quarter Book Recs

I started the pandemic barely finding any time to read, but then we eased into a routine and I found I needed an escape from reality. An easy way to do that was to pick up a library book. From April through June, I read 17 books. Here are the top 5 that I gave 5 stars on Goodreads.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was a fun, thoughtful read that is now a Hulu mini-series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. I love the exploration of multiple characters and their relationships with each other as Shaker Heights adapted to artist Mia Warren (Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl joining this wealthy suburb of Cleveland. The interplay between the Richardsons family (in which Reese Witherspoon plays the mother and local journalist) and the Warrens kept me reading.

Garrett M. Graff’s The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 is a historic narrative of how people close to the attacks in PA, NYC, and DC grappled with the day. It was a long, well researched book that broke my heart hearing of the losses, tragedies, tough decisions, and experiences of those impacted. I’m glad to have read it. I’m even more appreciative that this information was documented.

Oh my goodness, I loved Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better! It really helped me to understand my Questioner/Rebel husband who is the complete opposite of me, the Obliger. Basically, my husband needs to understand the logic behind any decision he makes before he’ll do it, and the more you push him to do it the less likely it is to happen. I knew this, but now I understand why a bit more and have some strategies to communicate better with him. I’m mostly an Obliger. If I tell someone I will do something for them, I’m all over it. It will happen, and you can count on me. Now, if I promise myself I’ll do something (like exercise every day), forget it. I’ll break promises to myself everyday to make room to meet an obligation to someone else. This book led to some great conversations with my husband. I highly recommend it.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty was an engaging read that ended up being more suspenseful than I anticipated. This novel is planned to be a Hulu mini-series as well starting Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, and Manny Jacinto. Kidman’s character runs the resort with help from Jacinto and other staff. McCarthy and eight others portray the guests in for an experience of a lifetime that they will surely never forget.

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale was probably one of my favorites. I haven’t really gotten into many of the currently popular WWII era novels out there, but I couldn’t pass this one up. It’s a story about two sisters in France during the time of German occupation and how both chose entirely different paths during the war. The sisters couldn’t be more different, but they share a caring heart and resilience like no other.

I was surprised I didn’t care for one particularly popular book. I abandoned Olive Kitteridge. My issue was that each chapter introduces new characters, so I’d spend half the chapter figuring out who everyone is and how they relate to Olive Kitteridge. I would have done better, perhaps, if I could dedicate my time to read one whole chapter each time I sat down to read. In a world of constant interruptions from kids, that didn’t happen.

Right now I’m enjoying the 3rd Harry Potter book with the kids and making my way through Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s lengthy novel Americanah. I’m well on my way to my 2020 goal of reading 50 books this year.

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Mid-Year Goals Review

Earlier in the year, I posted my 2020 goals. Whelp, I had no true idea how badly the crap would hit the fan this year, so I’m going to need to modify these a bit. Ha!

  1. Take a family trip to Florida – I just don’t see how a trip to Florida will happen this year. We were hoping to visit during spring break this year, so perhaps we can make it happen in 2021.
  2. Read 25 books – With the extra time at home, I’ve already hit 37 for the year and updated my goal in the Goodreads app to 50. I’ll have to post my recommendations from the second quarter of 2020, but my favorite reads from Jan-Mar are here.
  3. Donate a set amount of money to charity – Thankfully, we’ve donated a good portion of our plan already this year and are on track to meet this goal. I’m thankful my husband and I have reliable incomes that allow this goal to be met.
  4. Go on at least 25 dates with my husband, with at least four of them being to new locations – Well, we got about halfway to our goal before COVID started. In its place, we are occasionally adopting screen-free nights to sit outside on our deck or by the fire pit and talk.
  5. Complete two home projects – Done! Our deck has been stained and redecorated, and we created a mudroom space in the garage. I may attempt to talk my husband into working with me to tackle a few more projects this year.
  6. Complete a 5K race – Ugh, well I was hoping to sign up for a race in May, but the ones I was considering were cancelled. Perhaps this fall?
  7. Floss daily – I’ve officially made a habit of flossing. Finally! Yay!

So, I’m going to choose to take the good with the bad and be happy with what I can accomplish and not focus on what can’t be done. I have an easier time accepting these goals won’t all be met because the cause is outside of my control. There was a time that the lack of control would really get to me, but I’m okay with it in this instance. At least that’s some growth, and that’s really my driver behind having annual goals in the first place.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash